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The Simpsons predicted the Ukraine crisis back in 1998

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The rapidly worsening tension between the United States and Russia, not to mention Russia's invasion and annexation of part of Ukraine, has got lots of people talking about a new Cold War. That's overstating things, but it's true that US-Russia relations are at their worst since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Russian foreign policy is at its most aggressive. Even Russia hawks did not foresee things getting quite so badly, quite so quickly.

But someone did: the writing staff at The Simpsons. An old episode, "Simpson Tide," predicted the return of the Soviet Union and a new Cold War way back in 1998, when Boris Yeltsin was president and relations were good. The show began with Simpsons patriarch Homer Simpson joining the Navy, ending up on a submarine that accidentally gets into a shooting match with a Russian sub, and wandering into Russian waters in what is taken as an attempt to defect.

That leads us into this clip, in which Russia's ambassador to the United Nations reveals that the collapse of the Soviet Union was just a ruse:

Obviously this was just a joke about how improbable it would be for a Russian official to push a button and bring back the Soviet Union. And of course Russia's invasion of Ukraine does not mean that the Soviet Union is back. But there is a certain continuity between Russia today and during the Soviet Union, with its aggression in eastern Europe and its anti-Western politics at home.

That continuity, though, actually goes back much further than the Soviet Union, to the Russian Empire of the 18th and 19th centuries. For all the changes in Russia over the last few centuries — from a royal empire to a totalitarian communist union to a capitalist federal state today — some things have stayed consistent in Russian political ideology and the nation's view of itself and its role in the world. That's included a certain tension with the West and territorial designs in eastern Europe.

All of which is to say that, yes, the push-button return of the Soviet Union was a joke, but the return of a specific kind of anti-Western foreign policy and authoritarian governance is not a joke, and in fact is a reality that millions of Russians and Ukrainians have been living with for centuries and are still living with today.

Hat tip to Twitter user @cszabla for flagging the video.