Paul Manafort’s patron, Russian oligarch, Viktor Yanukovych, was driven from power in Ukraine in 2014 and fled to Russia to the protection of his patron, Vladimir Putin. But as Russia was losing its foothold in Ukraine, it gained a stronger toehold in Crimea. In 2018, even though Crimea is officially still a part of Ukraine, it remains a staging area for whatever mischief Putin may want to unleash on the West.
When Russia attacked and annexed Crimea, also in 2014, they maintained control of Sevastopol, the home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since 1783. Its total loss, if it necessitated a modern new naval base, would have been hugely expensive—perhaps too expensive for cash-strapped Russia. Which brings us to Grigory Potemkin.
In 1787, as the story goes, Russian Empress Catherine the Great took a trip by boat to Crimea. Her former lover and then-current Governor of Crimea, Potemkin, wanted to impress her with the tremendous progress he had made in building Crimea into a more modern territory and bringing-in Russian immigrants to ward off the potentially dangerous Tatars. But Potemkin, like Russia today, was cash-strapped. So he built villages like movie sets—facades-only—and moved them, like leapfrogging musical chairs, to further along Catherine’s route.
Now, in a fancy dog and pony show with cartoon weapons-technology videos, Putin has announced terrifying new smart long-range cruise missiles that can thwart all of America’s defenses. But are they real, or are they today’s non-existent WMDs? Today’s Potemkin Villages? If they were merely designed to make America spend itself into defenselessness, Trump will certainly fall for it, and Russia could win big without firing a shot. Let’s hope the New York Times doesn’t bring Judith Miller back to tell us that these weapons justify a break-the-bank military build-up.
Richard Smith is an author and policy analyst in Northern Virginia