Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Ms. Cat’s Chronicles.
An Ominous Murder in Moscow
The second thought was a byproduct of the first. The prospect of sudden escalation reminded me of a podcast conversation I listened to seven weeks into the war—a conversation that left me more worried than ever that American foreign policy is not in capable hands. The killing of Dugina, in a roundabout way, corroborates that worry.
The conversation was between Ryan Evans, host of the War on the Rocks podcast, and Derek Chollet, who, as Counselor of the State Department, reports directly to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Chollet was recounting diplomatic discussions between Moscow and Washington that had taken place before the invasion. He said something that had never before been officially confirmed: The US had refused to negotiate with Russia about keeping Ukraine out of NATO.
What bothered me wasn’t this disclosure; I’d already gathered (and lamented) that the Biden administration had refused to seriously engage Russia’s main stated grievance. What bothered me—and kind of shocked me—was how proud Chollet seemed of the refusal.
After all, when negotiations aimed at preventing the invasion of a nation you’re friends with are followed by the invasion of that nation, that’s not success, right? Apparently by Chollet’s lights it was.
Last week John Mearsheimer (who seven years ago predicted eventual Russian invasion if the NATO expansion issue wasn’t addressed) published a piece in Foreign Affairs warning that as this war drags on, “catastrophic escalation” is a real possibility. Some people dismissed scenarios he sketched as conjectural. Yet exactly one day after his piece appeared, the real world provided us with a new scenario: daughter of iconic Russian nationalist murdered, leaving her aggrieved father to whip up support for a longer and bloodier and possibly wider war. Every day of every war brings the possibility of an unsettling surprise.
Listening to Chollet talk about what a strategic loss this war is for Putin, I was struck by how excited he sounded about that and by how youthful and naïve his excitement seemed. It would have been poignant if it weren’t scary. And I’ve seen no evidence that his boss at the State Department is more reflective than he is. Our foreign policy seems driven by two main impulses—macho posturing and virtue signaling—that work in unfortunate synergy and leave little room for wisdom.
Bringing this tragic war to a close is something that’s hard to do in the near term and is impossible to do without painful compromise. But I see no signs that the US is even contemplating such an effort, much less laying the groundwork for it. I worry that Chollet’s attitude in April—what seemed like a kind of delight in the prospect of a war that is long and costly for Russia—may still prevail in the State Department. So it’s worth repeating:
(1) A massively costly war for Russia can be a massively costly war for Ukraine and, ultimately, for Europe and for the whole world; and (2) Every day this war continues there’s a chance that we’ll see some wild card—like the murder of Daria Dugina—that makes such a lose-lose outcome more likely.