The one constant of war is that to the victor go the spoils. This is especially true of lands seized by force. Gaining territory is one of the oldest reasons people go to war. The winning politicians of World War II got to sit down and carve up Eastern Europe as part of the grand chess game. The deck was reshuffled in the 90’s when the wall came down and then things got a bit murky.
Enter Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has used Russia’s territorial claims as a pretext for invading Ukraine. No one can know the real reasons behind Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine but acquiring more land is not one of them. Russia has a gigantic land mass. It does not need more territory. What Russia is short on is resources. If Ukraine were a desert with little arable land, it is likely there would not be a fight going on right now in the streets of Kyiv.
Dictators need talking points to hide behind, so Putin keeps repeating the Russian roots trope over and over. Not to be outdone, a former Polish general decided to claim one of Putin’s cities on behalf of Poland.
No one thinks that Putin is going to return the city, or that Poland is going to invade to liberate the citizens of Konigsberg. What the interview does show, however, is how easy it is to make territorial claims when the same patches of dirt have been traded back and forth over millennia of conflict. The Polish general’s claim is not a serious one, but it does help to illustrate the absurdity of Putin’s talking points as well. These ideas are the types of things that armchair twitter strategists and retired generals talk about.
The realities on the ground are never so black and white. There are large swaths of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. The borders have moved back and forth over the generations, but the people typically stay where they are. This is the difficulty in championing nationalism in eastern Europe. There is a deep history in that part of the world. You can always go far enough back to make current countries irrelevant. The ‘that is our territory game’ is fun to play, but not realistic policy no matter what Putin, Twitter, or retired generals say.