I have been a geography buff my entire life, a collector and reader of maps, a student of cartography. My sons have the gene, there are Rand McNally road atlas' and large hard cover World Atlas' in our second bathroom. That's our reading. So it should be no surprise our favorite classic board game is Risk, the geography and war game.
I played day long battles of Risk as a kid with my family, me and dad always being the final superpowers, dad winning the game until I was about 16. After I trounced him for my first ever global domination victory over the forces of father, he never played the game with me again. Maybe it was my victory march across the kitchen, or strut, however you want to see it. Regardless, dad was never a good loser.
I still have an early 80's edition of the game, or is it from the late 70's? I don't know, but there's a good deal of duct tape holding the box together, and the dice collection is a hodge podge of die, red, white and green. I have all the plastic army pieces and territorial cards. We also use coins as extra pieces, quarters represent 25 armies of course. This game survived the drinking wars I played with my buddies as an older teen and into my 20's, many campaigns going long into the night.
I taught my sons how to play Risk, my weathered old map serving another generation of generals. Our last game was in Xmas week 2012. James surrendered command of his forces to Jeffrey, who had been defeated earlier, because he wanted to go to bed at 2am. I then crushed the replacement commander.
Decades ago, after many failed European campaigns, I learned the Ukraine was the most difficult territory to defend. Constant assaults from Asia, Europe and the Middle East made it almost impossible to build a empire from that point on the map. I learned later in life how the board game was true to life in this regard. The Ukraine has indeed been a difficult place on the geopolitical landscape.
Once again the Ukraine is at the center of political and military movement. The Russians have been pushing south for centuries, in search of warm water ports. The Caucasus region has suffered a good deal under the red heel. The Black Sea is the only body of water available to the Russian Navy where the naval bases won't freeze over. They had warships in Sevastopol 160+ years ago when the Ottoman Empire prevented Moscow from expanding south. The British and French were so concerned with Czarist expansion they allied with the Turks to declare war on Russia in the 1850's, the Crimean War. The first use of ironclads in battle occurred in the Black Sea, by the French.
We didn't cover the Crimean War in history class, did we? I know the basics because I read about it many years ago, but aside from The Charge of the Light Brigade most people have no idea of the importance of that war. The allied victory of sorts held Russia at bay and resulted in Ottoman power lasting several more decades in that region, until WW1 swept them away ending the 600 year reign of Turks.
The Russians have always had designs on Ukraine and the Crimea, one for it's expansive agriculture and the other for it's deep ports that don't freeze over. Over the centuries Russians have migrated west for opportunity. Some were resettled by Josef Stalin after he expelled the native Tatars. moving them west to the stans, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Through ethnic cleansing and forced migration Stalin created the Russian identity of Crimea being used today by Putin to justify his military action to 'assure the safety of Russians in the Ukraine."
Holy fuck, talk about a 'long game' ... Stalin planted the seeds for Putin's propaganda.
Of course Putin means "securing the warm water naval base at Sevastopol." ... but that's not good politics. Putin is acting like all other Russian leaders have behaved before him, with the exception of Gorbachev. They have bullied and dominated their neighbors for centuries. What's happening today is merely a continuation of history ... and there's not a damn thing we can do about it unless the United States is prepared for WW3 ... and I doubt we are. I also doubt NATO wants that fight.
Putin knows this. It has nothing to do with Obama. It's a simple calculation of geography and logistics. As much as the right wingers would love to blame Obama, none of their boys, Romney or Lindsay Graham, could not have stopped those Ruskie troops. They were already stationed at the naval base, on Crimean turf, exactly as Stalin planned.
If we invaded Cuba there's not a fucking thing Putin could do to stop us. To suggest otherwise is foolish. The USA and Russia can act in their back yards with impunity. They always have and always will. The next move will be diplomatic and economic, many half measures will be proposed ... but the facts on the ground won't change unless NATO puts boots in the Crimea.
That second move, in reaction to aggression, is always the most difficult, politically and militarily. It requires a great movement of attitudes within many nations, platitudes, fortitude among leaders and the massive logistics of moving men and equipment across a continent to create a dangerous military theater.
Nyet. That ain't happening. Putin will win this game of risk but just like the board game this will be a very long war, the cold war part 2.