Let’s imagine for a second that you are a host of a prime-time cable-news program. Say, the most popular such program. (Congratulations!) And let’s say that you like to use that position to needle the establishment: the government, medical experts, the political parties, even the country itself at times.
It can be hard to differentiate your needling and knee-jerk contrarianism from actual opposition to the country’s leadership and policies and your efforts to undercut the conventional wisdom on things like, say, safe, free vaccines, has an obvious downside risk but: so be it. Whatever keeps them tuning in, that’s your philosophy.
Just for the sake of convenience, we’ll call you “Tucker C.” No, wait, that’s too close to a real host. We’ll call you “T. Carlson.”
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Now let’s imagine that your contrarianism and overt affection for far-right authoritarianism as manifested in Hungary and Russia leads you to repeatedly rationalize Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps you said things like this before he invaded:
And things like this after:
Such comments would be ill-advised, T. Carlson. For, as you probably should know, given your lofty status in the information ecosystem, Russia is already bordered by NATO countries and, should it be deemed necessary, the United States can already put missiles on Russia’s border.
To avoid a scenario in which you, our hypothetical cable-news host, might say such a thing, let’s quickly review the member nations of NATO and their orientation relative to Russia.
Here’s a map of the northern hemisphere, looking down at the North Pole. At the top, an upside-down United States atop Canada. At bottom, Europe and Asia. NATO member countries are indicated in shades of purple and green, with purple countries having been members of the alliance for longer.
You can see that I’ve also highlighted Russia (in dark gray) and Ukraine (outlined in black), given their salience to this discussion. And while Ukraine does share a lengthy border with Russia, there are several Baltic countries to the north of Ukraine that share a border with Putin’s nation. So does NATO-member Norway (albeit only for a short, remote stretch).
Let’s zoom in. Here’s the primary region at issue, showing the NATO member countries in green. Belarus is indicated with striping to indicate that, particularly in regard to the conflict with Ukraine, it currently serves as a vassal state to Russia.
To its north are Latvia and Estonia, both of which joined NATO in 2004 — nearly two decades ago. They are connected directly to larger NATO states to the west and represent precisely the sort of threat that you, T. Carlson, insist that Russia wants to avoid.
See that small dark-gray region surrounded entirely by NATO? That’s Kaliningrad Oblast, part of Russia but entirely cut off from the rest of the country’s main land mass. It’s a bit of a historical oddity, and it would be something of a cheap shot to point out that it, too, shares borders with NATO.
But here’s the real problem with your claim, T. Carlson. Putin’s clear goal is to seize Ukraine as it seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014. (That peninsula is visible at the southern end of Ukraine on the map above; were The Washington Post a Moscow-based publication, we’d have colored it dark gray in order not to annoy Putin.) If Russia subsumes Ukraine into Russia, as Putin has in the past indicated he would like to do, he’s going to have NATO at his western border anyway! If the goal is to maintain a buffer from larger NATO states, conquering Ukraine is a particularly stupid way to go about that. Particularly since NATO had long been wary of granting membership to Ukraine, despite constantly threatening to consider it.
I’ve also indicated Finland on the map because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred the Finns to consider seeking admission to NATO as a defensive measure. An unintended consequence but a perhaps foreseeable one: If Putin’s motive were simply to maintain buffers against NATO, he just made that less likely to his country’s northwest.
These are secondary discussions. My main goal here is to prevent you, my innocent (naive?) cable-news host reader, from making comments about the geographic positioning of NATO relative to Russia that are easily undercut by looking at a map. You should not say that Putin’s primary concern is not having NATO at his western border when NATO is already at his western border. You should not argue that Putin is rational in invading Ukraine to keep NATO at bay when his goal of annexing Ukraine would increase NATO’s presence at his border anyway.
Happily, the odds that you become a top-rate cable-news-show host are slim and, even if you did, the odds are low that the instinct to prove how smart you are by insisting being contrarian would lead you to patting Putin on the head. If this situation did befall you, though, I suspect I know what network you’d land on.
Let’s call it Fox N., just to preserve some anonymity.
The latest: President Biden once again called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and noted the grim visuals of mass graves and bodies scattered on the street emerging from Bucha.
The fight: Nearly five weeks into their invasion, Russian forces continue to mount sporadic attacks on civilian targets in a number of Ukrainian cities. Russia has been accused of committing war crimes.
The weapons: Ukraine is making use of weapons such as Javelin antitank missiles and Switchblade “kamikaze” drones, provided by the United States and other allies. Russia has used an array of weapons against Ukraine, some of which have drawn the attention and concern of analysts.
In Russia: Putin has locked down the flow of information within Russia, where the war isn’t even being called a war. The last independent newsletter in Russia suspended its operations Monday.
Photos: Post photographers have been on the ground from the very beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.
How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can help support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.
Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.
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