Harry Truman once said, at the beginning of the Cold War, that the Soviets didn’t want a major war in Europe. They just wanted to salami the continent to death. What did he mean?
From various sources: “The salami-slice strategy is a divide and conquer process of threats and alliances used to overcome opposition. With it, an aggressor can influence and eventually dominate a landscape, typically political, piece by piece. In this fashion, the opposition is eliminated ‘slice by slice’ until it realizes, usually too late, that it is virtually gone in its entirety…It was commonly believed that the term salami tactics (Hungarian: szalámitaktika) was coined in the late 1940s by Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi to describe the actions of the Hungarian Communist Party in its ultimately successful drive for complete power in Hungary. Noting that ‘salami, an expensive food, is not eaten all at once, but is cut one slice at a time.’ ”
Vladimir Putin is using the Salami Strategy to try and reconstitute the Russian Empire piece by piece. Georgia was the first slice in 2008. Then the Crimea in 2014. Now Ukraine. He figures, as Hitler successfully did in the Rhineland, that as long as the moves look isolated and would not surely lead to a war against the Western allies, said allies would hem and haw but would not challenge him on the ground. Putin knows his history. Upcoming salami pieces for Vlad will be the Balts and total control over the Stans. Poland could be under medium term threat as well.
But, the Balts and Poland are NATO members. So he can’t use the military option he’s used in Georgia, the Crimea, and is likely about to use in Ukraine. That’s why we note Rakosi above. It will be internal subversion for NATO members and it just may work. The key is a Biden reelection.
If he invades Ukraine Putin will want a little time to digest his conquest. So he won’t move onto another target immediately. If we notice the timeline above there were six years between Georgia and the Crimea. Six years from now, if he’s reelected, would put us in the last lame duck year of a Biden presidency. But Putin does not have to wait that long. Early 2025 or 2026 would be enough time to hit us again.
And it’s not just Biden. The America First crowd has a myopic isolationist streak that historically and today can’t see past their noses. Some want a Pacific pivot. Others see neocon hijinks. Some not to secretly admire Russia. No matter the motivations, if their champion is reelected in 2024 then Putin might have a free hand. Not because Trump is his puppet. Trump has actually been strong against Putin. But because Trump would feel, as he correctly did regarding the Iraq war, that stopping Putin is not worth the price in men and material.
The only thing Putin should fear is a Churchillian figure emerging from the Republican Party. A DeSantis or Cotton or Thune could call the Russian bluff without war and put the bear back in his cage for awhile. There it will await the next Democrat POTUS.