Putin Getting Desperate?

The Russian leader is isolated and under tremendous pressure.

The News:

WSJ (“Ukraine’s Kharkiv Front Line Holds Despite Russian Bombardment“):

Russian forces pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with airstrikes in a bid to break the will of Ukraine’s resistance on the seventh day of the war unleashed by President Vladimir Putin.

Kharkiv residents said the city suffered heavy bombardment overnight and into the morning, including airstrikes that hit residential areas and civilian infrastructure. Kharkiv’s police headquarters and the nearby university building were severely damaged and caught fire. Authorities reported 21 dead and 112 injured in the past 24 hours.

Russian forces also attempted to seize the city’s military hospital, local authorities said. However, the front line held and the city of 1.4 million people remained under Ukrainian control, they said.

The assault on civilian areas shows how Moscow has switched to a strategy of indiscriminate aerial assaults. Its focus at the start of the war on military and strategic targets has fallen away as it tries to demoralize Ukraine’s population.

Kharkiv, whose population is mostly Russian-speaking, appeared to bear the brunt of bombardments that continued across Ukrainian cities Wednesday. The northeastern city has mounted stiff resistance to Russia’s invasion, despite Mr. Putin having cited alleged discrimination against Ukraine’s Russian speakers as one of his reasons for the military campaign.

NYT (“Russian Troop Deaths Expose a Potential Weakness of Putin’s Strategy“):

When Russia seized Crimea in 2014, President Vladimir V. Putin was so worried about Russian casualty figures coming to light that authorities accosted journalists who tried to cover funerals of some of the 400 troops killed during that one-month campaign.

But Moscow may be losing that many soldiers daily in Mr. Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine, American and European officials said. The mounting toll for Russian troops exposes a potential weakness for the Russian president at a time when he is still claiming, publicly, that he is engaged only in a limited military operation in Ukraine’s separatist east.

No one can say with certainty just how many Russian troops have died since last Thursday, when they began what is turning into a long march to Kyiv, the capital. Some Russian units have put down their arms and refused to fight, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Major Ukrainian cities have withstood the onslaught thus far.

American officials had expected the northeastern city of Kharkiv to fall in a day, for example, but Ukrainian troops there have fought back and regained control despite furious rocket fire. The bodies of Russian soldiers have been left in areas surrounding Kharkiv. Videos and photos on social media show charred remains of tanks and armored vehicles, their crews dead or wounded.

WaPo (“In Putin, intelligence analysts see an isolated leader who underestimated the West but could lash out if cornered“):

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second week, U.S. and European intelligence officials say that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears isolated and reliant on a small coterie of advisers who have not told him the truth about how difficult and costly conquering Ukraine is turning out to be.

In Putin, analysts see a leader on edge, fueled by paranoia after underestimating the unified resolve of the West, and at risk of lashing out when he feels cornered. Those concerns have led some policymakers to repeatedly note that NATO will not intervene in the war lest there be any doubt in Putin’s mind.

Putin’s military campaign, which has killed civilians, as well as his order to place Russian nuclear forces on a higher level of alert, has prompted fresh requests from U.S. policymakers in recent days to the intelligence agencies for insights on his thinking, according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Understanding what’s in a leader’s head is one of the most difficult tasks intelligence analysts face. But in Putin’s case, it’s crucial for decision-makers to understand how he might act so they can calibrate their responses and to try to find some way to end the war in Ukraine.

Intelligence agencies routinely conduct analyses of world leaders, and it’s customary for those profiles to be updated and reexamined during a crisis. Now analysts are scrutinizing Putin’s every utterance and movement for indications about his mental state, his temperament and his plans and intentions.

“We ask a lot of our intelligence colleagues these days [about] Putin’s mind-set,” said a U.S. administration official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions. “We understand that he has been isolated during covid and is surrounded by ‘yes men.’ Everyone is looking for fissures when it comes to his grip on power, but we’re not seeing any significant cracks.”

Before the invasion, U.S. and British intelligence analysts had warned that Putin was being misinformed by his advisers, who gave him an overly rosy picture of how easily the invasion was likely to go. Those concerns have been heightened now as the Russian military prepares for what may be a long and bloody battle for the capital city, Kyiv.

WSJ (“U.S. Diplomatic Push for Ukraine Falters in a Middle East Influenced by Russia“):

The Biden administration is pushing its closest Middle East partners to back Ukraine in its deepening war with Russia and for help alleviating the economic fallout—without much to show for it.

From the Persian Gulf’s oil-rich monarchies to Israel, U.S. allies and partners are staying neutral or tempering their criticism of Moscow in a revealing sign of Russia’s growing influence in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the de facto OPEC leader, has rebuffed U.S. requests to pump more oil to help tame surging crude prices, which topped $100 a barrel amid concerns over supply after Russia invaded Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates, which hosts U.S. troops, ignored U.S. lobbying and abstained from a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Russian invasion.

Even Israel, the U.S.’s closest ally in the region, has refused a Ukrainian request for weapons and other military equipment, such as helmets and protective vests, according to Ukraine’s ambassador, Yevgen Korniychuk. Israel fears that choosing sides too openly against Moscow could prompt Russian forces in Syria to respond by interfering with its long-running air campaign against Iranian-backed militias there, Israeli officials said.

Some Opinions:

Mark Hannah, senior fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, WSJ (“The U.S. Shouldn’t Interfere While Putin Loses in Ukraine“):

In his speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin referenced the United Nations charter, praised “the high values of human rights and freedoms,” and claimed his war represents the only “opportunity to protect Russia and our people.” This from a man regarded by many American commentators as an archrealist who makes hardheaded observations about the world as it is and cunningly employs power to reshape it according to Russia’s interests. In Mike Pompeo’s appraisal, the Russian president is a “very talented statesman” and “very shrewd.”

In reality, Mr. Putin’s latest war of aggression is motivated by a toxic mix of nostalgia and fantasy that seems likely to prove self-destructive. Mr. Putin has so far behaved like a man blind to the true stakes and probable consequences of this conflict. And the U.S., which is currently recovering from its own bout of military overreach, has the opportunity to revive a spirit of clear-eyed pragmatism that has been absent from major national security decisions in recent decades.

[…]

The notion that Mr. Putin’s invasion poses a threat not only to Ukrainian sovereignty but to “global democracy” or freedom itself leads some to propose extraordinary responses. Evelyn N. Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia in the Obama administration, has called for an international coalition to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. So far, the Biden administration has prudently ignored this and other such options, recognizing that America’s interests in Ukraine don’t justify risking war with a nuclear-armed Russia. Eliot Cohen has proposed that the U.S. should arm a hypothetical Ukrainian insurgency—which the Biden administration has reportedly considered—to raise the costs for Russia and deter other nations that might be considering malign activities. But Ukraine is a flat country unsuited to guerrilla warfare. Backing an insurgency could ignite a wider conflict between the U.S. and Russia, and increase the violence inflicted on Ukrainian civilians.

The Biden administration should see this conflict for what it is: a big Russian mistake. Mr. Putin is a revanchist leader, seemingly driven more by resentment than reality, who is reaching beyond his grasp. He can’t stamp out Ukrainians’ persistent desire for independence or inspire allegiance to Moscow on the strength of his military might alone. Hearts and minds aren’t won with bombs and bullets. The best he can hope for is the installation of unpopular pro-Russian political leaders propped up by a costly occupation. All the while, crippling U.S. and European sanctions will jeopardize his support among wealthy elites, and Russian military casualties will jeopardize his popularity with the Russian public. Polling last spring by my organization, the Eurasia Group Foundation, found that ordinary Russians are concerned by U.S. foreign policy, and Mr. Putin exploits these concerns to gain popular support. An unprovoked invasion of a neighboring country where many Russians have familial and cultural ties will only weaken Mr. Putin’s self-styled image as a bulwark against Western aggression.

David Ignatius, WaPo (“Distraught dictator or rational actor? With Putin and Ukraine, the evidence is chilling.”):

Recent images of Vladmir Putin convey his isolation and arrogance. The Russian president sits at the end of long tables in the Kremlin, yards away from his visitors — alone and aloof even as he issues threats of nuclear war against the West.

The inescapable question, as the world watches Putin defy international law to hammer Ukraine, is whether he is a rational actor. Is he serving what he sees as Russia’s national interests, or is he a distraught dictator driven by an obsessive desire to force Ukraine into a neo-imperial dream?

Public discussion about Putin’s rationality has grown in recent days. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Friday that “something is off” with Putin. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s chairman, tweeted Monday that Putin was “increasingly isolated.”

Based on Putin’s record and discussions with U.S. officials, his mental attitude appears to be more of a fixation on Ukraine than a broader instability. This isn’t necessarily comforting, given Putin’s extraordinary willingness to take chances where Ukraine is involved.

U.S. officials believe that Ukraine for years has been Putin’s most sensitive issue — one where his normal political calculus doesn’t seem to apply. CIA Director William J. Burns warned at a business event this past December: “I would never underestimate President Putin’s risk appetite on Ukraine.” Putin broods about Ukraine, rages about its tilt toward the West, and schemes to bring it back under Russian domination, U.S. officials believe.

My Two Cents:

lf Putin was anticipating a quick annexation of Ukraine, being greeted as a liberator by the Russian-speaking parts of the population, he was clearly mistaken. That he has surrounded himself by people who tell him what he wants to hear is not only plausible but likely.

As to the question of Putin’s rationality, I side with my colleague Steven Taylor: he may well have miscalculated but he’s clearly calculating. His obsession with Ukraine may make little sense to us but it simply means he weighs the risks and rewards differently than we do. And I’m afraid that makes him dangerous: he may well escalate this crisis rather than admit defeat.

As to the Middle East gambit, of course it failed. The oil-producing states are giddy that their chief export is suddenly soaring in value. Why would they not want to take advantage of that? And I can’t imagine why Israel would jeopardize their obvious interests in Syria over Ukraine, which is of little obvious interest.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, National Security, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. JohnSF says:

    Well, one thing at a time, but ultimately it may be necessary to make the Middle East gambit succeed.
    A year or two from now; or before that if oil prices rise to economy breaking levels.

    1
  2. Scott says:

    As we are reminded once again that Saudi Arabia is not our ally and a better balance with Iran is in our best interests.

    25
  3. JohnSF says:

    Incidentally a thought I’ve had re. rationality.
    Western corporations are, in effect artificial rational actors aimed at maximisation of returns for their, disciplined by the legal obligations of company boards, the trading systems of ownership etc etc.
    It does not stop the doing wholly daft things, at times, frequently due to misperception.
    Nor does it prevent a collective end-state of summed rational decisions within a system being non-rational from a wider perspective.

    Just a thought.

    6
  4. MarkedMan says:

    I don’t see a whole lot to indicate Putin is not rational (i.e. motivations change frequently and seemingly without cause) but I do see some (admittedly slim and circumstantial) evidence that it was desperation that drove him to war. It is undeniable that under his tenure Russia has slid backward. 15 years ago corporate growth strategy was focused intensely on BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Today the inclusion of Russia on that list seems like a joke. By now it is obvious he is not the ruler to bring about an improved economy or improved world standing. And a ruler as ruthless as Putin is unlikely to leave office by retiring. Once the power brokers turn against him, prison or death are his only viable exit strategies, and the death doesn’t have to be natural. So – he has lost those power brokers that are vested in the Russian economy. Did he look to other allies? Perhaps those primarily motivated by the Great Russia vision, such as some members of the military and, of course, the Russian Orthodox Church? However much power the ROC has, their motivations are clear, having never accepted the Ukrainian Orthodox split back in 2018, recognized by the leader of the world Orthodox Churches. They have been seething at what they consider a naturally subservient church, one that should defer to them, taking on an equal status.

    A desperate Putin is a frightening possibility. He may be willing to bring everything down on an impossible long shot.

    3
  5. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF: If I understand Steven’s definition of “rational” it is about predictability. Someone is rational if they have discernible motivations and acts to maximize what they perceive as their positives. Their motives may seem ludicrous or even crazy, and their actions in achieving those motives might be tremendously misguided or foolish, but because they have consistency, they can be engaged with.

    If I understand Steven, irrational would be someone whose motivations are more like impulses. They change frequently and so their actions cannot be predicted, which makes engagement extremely difficult and risky.

    1
  6. Modulo Myself says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Everyone is just talking past each other re: rationality. Going back to what Michael said yesterday about old people–I think there’s something potentially ‘crazy’ in becoming an aging solipsist. Biden is not the type of guy who plays games with the same thought for 20 years. Putin is. He’s the type of guy who would end gathering data on his ex-wife by posting himself in her closet, all just to win her back. In the mind of guy who just is trying to show his love, it’s all reasonable, all rational.

    2
  7. Jen says:

    There’s a chasm between “he’s not rational” and “something seems off.”

    If a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee says “something seems off,” a flag should go up. For all of us.

    Whether Putin is ill or losing the support of the oligarchs or is just believing his own BS, I don’t know. But Rubio and others on that committee have access to a lot more information than we do. If he says “something is off,” we need to sit up and pay attention.

    3
  8. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    As I mentioned in today’s open forum, James Clapper says that Putin is “unhinged.” Perhaps this is hyperbole. Perhaps not.

    2
  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think I must just have a higher standard of rationality. I don’t see how one can rationally pursue an irrational objective. If I decide that I need to wear a tinfoil hat, my construction of said tinfoil hat may be careful and meticulous and I may produce a magnificent tinfoil hat, but it’s still a tinfoil hat, and I’m still crazy for making it.

    Ukraine is Putin’s tinfoil hat, just in case my analogy was too abstruse. Paranoia, hubris, insecurity, nostalgia, these are not rational states of mind.

    8
  10. SKI says:

    He is likely to get much more desperate if the sanctions work across the board like they are predicted to in aviation. See this thread starting here:

    I work in the aviation sector, and I can tell you that for all intents and purposes Russian aviation has – at best – about three weeks before it’s show over.

    Short version: Sanctions will result in plane leases being cancelled, inability to get parts or even access repair manuals, inability to get insurance, inability to pay for refueling or airport charges, etc. will result in 90+% of Russian aviation just … stopping.

    3
  11. Jen says:

    @CSK: I wonder how much of Clapper’s statement is accurate vs. trying to get under Putin’s skin. That’s a distinct possibility.

    4
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    And just to add that doubling down on a lost cause is also not rational. Putin may have genuinely believed Ukraine was not a nation, but they sure as hell are now. Putin has created what he claimed did not exist. Doubling down in pursuit of an idea Putin himself has invalidated, is irrational.

    Putin may have believed (hell we all did) that the West’s economic threats would not be enforced and would do only negligible damage. Well, he was wrong, and Russia is being economically hammered. And unlike Ukraine which is obviously also taking severe economic damage, there is not going to be US/EU money for Russian reconstruction. Ten years from now Russia will still be feeling the impact. Nordstream 2, and with it Putin’s strategy of making the West dependent on him, is dead. Does a rational actor look at this and think, “More, please?” No.

    Ukrainian resistance also makes quite clear that Putin will never be able to pacify Ukraine. Had they laid down he might have held on to that fantasy. But even a conquered Ukraine is going to have a fukton of Stingers and Javelins and small arms, so Putin’s fantasy of a Ukraine re-integrated into Russia is clearly not happening and again, doubling down is irrational.

    IOW Putin has already lost. He’s lost the PR war, he’s lost the economic war, there is no realistic chance that Ukraine will ever be integrated into Putin’s fantasy empire, he has failed to divide the West, he has in fact strengthened NATO, and yet, despite now having no chance of accomplishing his irrational goals, he is continuing to pursue those irrational goals, which is irrational.

    If I decide to pursue my lifelong goal of playing in the NBA, and I then shoot myself in both kneecaps so that there is zero chance of achieving my goal, continuing to pursue that now-impossible goal is irrational.

    6
  13. Kathy says:

    One wonders whether Vlad is getting advice from the portraits he converses with late at night.

    2
  14. JohnSF says:

    @SKI:
    To add to Russian woes in aviation, there is shipping
    Maersk has confirmed it will cease shipping to and from Russia, except for food and medicines.
    Similar shutdowns announced by MSC, CMA CGM, Ocean Network Express, Hapag-Lloyd.
    The UK has closed its ports to Russian ships, and the EU is “considering doing so”; meaning they will.

    Russia is facing a near blockade, which will only strengthen over time.

    2
  15. CSK says:

    It seems we’re getting into angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin territory with this discussion Putin’s rationality. Most of us tend to use the word connotatively rather than denotatively. When a friend says something odd or silly, you might reply, laughing, “You’re nuts.” You don’t mean your friend is clinically insane, of course.

    So far, I agree with everything everyone’s said on this thread.

    4
  16. JohnSF says:

    Despite all this though, I doubt Putin is desperate.
    Furious, yes.
    But the Russian General Staff will be telling him the rapid decapitation has not worked as desired.
    (Carefully avoiding whose plan it was…)
    Saying they can still win by moving up the reserves, blasting their way to victory in the cities, and securing the rear areas with low-grade infantry units and security police.

    3
  17. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    You may well be correct that Russia cannot hold down Ukraine except at unsustainable costs.
    That the West will refuse to accommodate itself to this action.

    But remember, he is both a Russian and a secret policeman.
    A chekist.
    And his ideology, as well as conveniently serving his self-interest and self-esteem, is not without evidence.

    His historical references teach him that with sufficient will and ruthlessness a state can impose it’s will upon subjects for decades, even for centuries.
    That the “common people” are of value only insofar as they of utility to the Molochian abstraction that is the Russian State.
    That Westerners are decadent sybarites, lacking in “spiritual” strength and willpower, weakened by fickle democratic public opinion that can be scared into retreat, or elites that can be bought or coerced.

    You, and I, think is wrong.
    But a considerable amount of Russian history (and much of history in general, come to that) tells him he is right.

    (Ironically, the object his force is now encountering, Ukrainian patriotism, derives very different conclusions form a similar historic background)

    2
  18. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Aviation will get worse. The US closed its airspace to Russian airlines (Mexico really should, too), and Boeing and Airbus will stop supporting Russian aviation. So now they can’t get spare parts or technical support.

    They’ll get them in the black market. They can also ask Iran for advice on how to keep airplanes flying amidst crippling sanctions (hint, lots of very old aircraft).

  19. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I think I must just have a higher standard of rationality. I don’t see how one can rationally pursue an irrational objective.

    In the lay person definition of rationality this makes perfect sense. I think most people use “rational” as a point just shy of “insane” on a spectrum ranging from “Coldly logical and practical” to “Fricking Lunacy”.

    I’m kind of intrigued by the utility of Steven’s PolySci definition though, which I take to be something like “rational = predictable and consistent” but makes no judgement on the soundness of the motivations or the success of any initiatives. This essentially defines “rational” as someone you can negotiate with, or work around, or control. Which strikes me as pretty useful.

    3
  20. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    The first thing to learn about history is that it’s made up entirely of things that already happened, not things that are happening or will happen. Vlad seems to have skipped this lesson.

    Take the very bizarre denazification claim. During WWII, many Ukrainians collaborated with the nazis (as did many in all countries and territories occupied by the Wehrmacht, look up quisling). Notable was a man named Stepan Bandera, a far-right nationalist, whom Vlad has referenced now and then.

    Putin’s current action would have made sense in 1945, had Ukraine wound up independent of the USSR after the war’s end. Not 77 years later, including over 45 years of Soviet rule over Ukraine. You’d think someone during that time would have done something about it.

  21. just nutha says:

    @Jen: On the other hand, if the person saying “something is off” is a Republican, we have to question that person’s motive for speaking. I wish that weren’t the case, but the Republicans have repeatedly shown themselves disloyal to the nation and the population. They have their own agenda, and it might well be as destructive as Putin’s.

    6
  22. just nutha says:

    @Michael Reynolds:I thought we were finished arguing about Putin’s rationality having reached an impasse a day or so ago. Is continuing to beat a dead horse irrational under your definition? I’m guessing the answer will be “no, because…” Surprise me.

    4
  23. Jen says:

    @just nutha: I get what you are saying, but I could read that another way–that “something is off” means “wow, this is REALLY bad but I can’t say anything with more behind it than that because I, like many other Republicans, sat by and watched as Trump cuddled up to this guy.”

    Also, stopped clocks are right twice a day so there’s always a possibility that Rubio has just stumbled onto saying something both accurate and worthwhile to pay attention to…

    It’s all conjecture at this point.

    3
  24. rachel says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I side with my colleague Steven Taylor: he may well have miscalculated but he’s clearly calculating.

    Once again, Putin acted on the calculation before that he needed “a short victorious war” to raise his image with the Russian public’s eye. I think this may be the first time it has backfired on him, but that doesn’t make him irrational to have made the attempt again; however, this particular war carried out in this particular way was folly.

    5
  25. Andy says:

    I’m sure he’s getting desperate. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Backing a nuclear-armed autocrat into a corner where he may not see any way out is inherently dangerous and could lead to irrational actions.

    This is why we need to tread carefully. We got to balance ensuring that Russia decisively loses this war while attempting to provide an off-ramp to incentivize Russia to quit. Obviously, that’s not easy and may be impossible. And things will get more difficult as Russia destabilizes.

    Honestly, I think a coup is growing to become the best option, even though that is risky as fuck. I hope the US and NATO are using our extensive mil-to-mil contacts to at least put feelers out. It’s good that Burns is at CIA. There are few people alive today who have more Russian experience and contacts than he does.

    10
  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    I don’t think that months ago when this plot was stewing in Putin’s mind his thinking was, “I’ll burn Ukraine to the ground, then maintain a bloody and costly occupation in a country that adjoins NATO.” There’s no way to call that a win. His original “win” is long gone. So now he persists in pursuing a much lesser goal, despite the fact that this lesser goal would never have justified the risks he undertook to begin with. Sunk costs fallacy: when in a hole, keep digging.

    This was clearly meant to be a bluff. His bluff has been called. Now his best outcome is a wrecked Russian economy, a wrecked Ukraine – support for which will come out of his pocket – and a bunch of corrupt billionaires losing their homes and yachts and shopping trips to Oxford Street. Despite this obviously not being what he intended, he persists. He is incapable of walking it back, damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t.

    The winners in this are NATO, the EU, western intelligence services and the United States. This result brought to you by the guy who thought he was going to be Xi’s good buddy. He was never going to be more than the tail on the Chinese dog, now he’s just an inflamed anal gland. Xi must be furious – Putin has done a fantastic job of reminding the world that there is only one superpower, and that superpower has a lot of friends.

    Come to think of it a KGB agent would have seen similar scenarios. You grab a guy off the street intending to terrify him into becoming an informer. The guy resists. So now you’re down to torture, which makes the guy useless as an informer. If you’re rational you cut the guy loose because he’s of no use. If you’re Putin I guess you torture the guy and get nothing of value in return.

    4
  27. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And just to add that doubling down on a lost cause is also not rational.

    So by this definition, everyone who supported the idea of “winning” in Afghanistan or opposed withdrawal was irrational. We doubled down there for 15 years after it became clear it was a lost cause.

    This is just one example of the limited utility of throwing the rationality argument around.

    3
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    I keep hearing about this off-ramp. No one ever defines it. I suspect that’s because it’s a fantasy.

    1
  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    On the contrary, that’s a perfectly good instance of irrationality. We dug ourselves a hole and kept digging. Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. We do a lot of irrational things, it’s just that we’re rich and Putin is not. Rich countries, like rich people, have a cushion not available to the poor. Afghanistan helped to break the USSR; we shrugged it off.

    4
  30. Michael Cain says:

    In what I think is an own goal, Russia appears to have pulled the plug on Western use of Russian heavy launch vehicles. And the other day they were threatening to stop doing orbit-lifting on the ISS as well. As the only ones who can currently take up the slack, Elon and the SpaceX board must be doing their happy dance. Especially if they decide to charge people the same (higher) prices the Russians charged.

    2
  31. Kathy says:

    I’ve been thinking back to the early 90s when two events relevant to current developments took place: the collapse and breakup of the USSR, and the Gulf War to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.

    I may have more to say about the first later, but the second begs the question: why didn’t Saddam reach some sort of deal when it was clear the US and its coalition would invade, and more so after the air war started?

    He must have known he’d lose, though probably not how badly (essentially his armies in Kuwait were wiped out). He must also have known things would get far worse for Iraq after the war, though again maybe not how bad (like no-fly zones and ongoing sanctions for years and years).

    One possibility is that for Saddam losing face was a far worse fate than losing the war, even if he knew exactly how bad things would be both in battle and in the aftermath. I’m not saying he was too vain to take a setback, though he may have been, but rather that backing down without a plausible claim of victory would result in the kind of humiliation that emboldens ambitious people under him to try to kill him and take power.

    He certainly kept power afterwards, as the Iraqi population suffered for many years.

    This may be the case now for Vlad the Shirtless Putin. A long, drawn-out, bloody conflict amid crippling sanctions might be preferable to losing face.

    BTW, dictators should really plan for retirement. The world would be better off if they did.

    2
  32. DK says:

    @CSK:

    It seems we’re getting into angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin territory with this discussion Putin’s rationality.

    Deep into the territory, well past getting into. It’s arcane, much like the debate over Trump’s lies.

    “He’s not lying because he thinks he’s telling the truth.” Cool story. Every time Trump opens his mouth he says things that are not true, even after being repeatedly corrected. So far as I’m concerned, he’s a liar until proven otherwise.

    I do not buy that Putin has absolutely zero access to alternative narratives. Yes, mental illness — psychosis (the inability to reality test), severe anxiety, paranoid delusion, substance abuse, schizophrenic breaks, personality disorders etc — does exist, and being head of state does not make you immune. Mentally ill people do not just sit in the corner drooling all day.

    His invasion of Ukraine is a deadly, destructive disaster for Russia and Ukraine. There’s nothing rational about it. Turns out some Nazi leaders were drug addicts. We should not rule anything out yet, including sociopathy or madness. If Putin dies of a brain tumor in November, I would not be surprised.

    5
  33. just nutha says:

    @Jen: Rubio still wants to be a future occupant of 1600 Penn. Ave. He’s trying on his “serious furrowed brow look” for advertising purposes later.

    6
  34. Mister Bluster says:

    @Jen:..stopped clocks are right twice a day

    If the clock is digital and has no source of electricity there is no display and the clock is never right.

    3
  35. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Then retirement plan for dictators is the same as for Mafiosi–face down in a plate of linguini with a gaping hole in your head.

    1
  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    In this clip, Charlie Day is clearly calculating, and he has an internal logic, but he’s also irrational.

    1
  37. Mike in Arlington says:

    I think a lot of us are reacting to what appears to be Putin’s miscalculations in planning his invasion of Ukraine, especially since some of those miscalculations seem to be relatively obvious to those of us in the West. With that background, his actions could be perceived as irrational, but as others have said, he seems to be miscalculating, but calculating nonetheless.

    Getting to the title of this post, I wouldn’t call him desperate, not yet at least. He’s hardened his country against such sanctions and I’ve read that Russia’s gas company has been cutting back on the natural gas it’s been providing Germany to keep Germany from building up its reserves so they would remain reliant on Russia.

    That said, I think he’s currently frustrated. He’s increased the violence of the assault on Ukraine and I presume he’s trying to tamp down backlash from his oligarchs. I suspect that he believes that the western nations will come back after the Ukraine invasion is over, and I’m not sure about how correct he is in that. That may prove to be yet another miscalculation.

  38. EddieInCA says:

    The kid in Florida who is tracking Elon Musk’s jet is now tracking the jets belonging to Russian 0ligarchs and also Putin’s own jet.

    https://twitter.com/RUOligarchJets

    https://twitter.com/PutinJet

    That kid has some very large….

    6
  39. Kathy says:

    @just nutha:

    There’s Pinochet.

    His post-dictatorial life shows why dictators don’t retire: they are harassed, poor things, with prosecution attempts for crimes they committed in office, and are not left alone even after they feign dementia to be declared incompetent to be tried. So they have to run out the clock until death finally takes them.

    1
  40. Scott says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It may be my lack of imagination but I don’t see an off-ramp unless Ukraine gives it to him. About 5 days ago, I said that Putin would’ve gotten away with just occupying the Eastern part of Ukraine but when he invaded the whole country he closed off that option. He will have to withdraw whether its voluntary or involuntary. If its voluntary, there may be some secret agreements similar to what Kennedy gave to Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis.

    2
  41. Scott says:

    @EddieInCA: One can dream but it would be great if a couple of F-16s escorted some of those planes to some undisclosed locations.

  42. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    Take the very bizarre denazification claim.

    I see Putin’s references to Ukrainian “nazis” of a piece with GOPs calling Dems “Marxist”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the worst bogeyman word they can think of. And it may work with people in the bubble of misinformation, like Republicans or the Russian population.

    7
  43. JohnSF says:

    Russia does not appear to have many friends on the international stage.
    UN General Assembly vote of censure; 142 votes for, 35 abstained, 5 against.

    Against:
    Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and ….. Eritrea!

    Nice to have friends, eh?

  44. Kurtz says:

    @JohnSF:

    Incidentally a thought I’ve had re. rationality.
    Western corporations are, in effect artificial rational actors aimed at maximisation of returns for their, disciplined by the legal obligations of company boards, the trading systems of ownership etc etc.
    It does not stop the doing wholly daft things, at times, frequently due to misperception.
    Nor does it prevent a collective end-state of summed rational decisions within a system being non-rational from a wider perspective.

    Just a thought.

    It’s hard for me to read any opinion about Putin without thinking, “assumption, assumption, leap, assumption.”

    To your point, corporate behavior has a constructed end goal that orders its decision-making. IR involves apparent goals and actual goals with intentional deception. Corporate behavior can (probably more often than reported) involve deception, but the stakes are mostly different.

    1
  45. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I keep seeing references to this country or that country is supplying, among other things, anti-aircraft missiles, which is to say Stingers which are more or less useless against high-speed jets. We need to be getting meaningful weaponry into the hands of the Ukrainians. If we’re going to leave them to physically fight this war by themselves, the least we can do is give them the proper tools to be fighting it with. We’re mostly assuaging guilt over not actually doing much of anything to stop this by treating this like Afghanistan II & the Ukrainians are mujaheddin – and giving them weaponry suited to that scenario. They’re fighting Sukhois and MiGs, not Hinds.

    This ends when the costs to Russia, not only economic but also in terms of military personnel & materiel, become too great to continue to shoulder. So let’s get serious and enable them to remove Russian planes from the sky on a wholesale basis.

    4
  46. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

    Pet Peeve: This is the laziest, stupidest definition of insanity. It also puts basically every single person into the category of insane. How many people do you know who you think “Idiot just won’t learn…”? Did you remember to include yourself?

    5
  47. becca says:

    Maybe decades of steroid abuse has eaten holes in Putin’s brain. He’s gone all id.

  48. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott:

    There are reports that oligarch yachts are heading toward Montenegro (which is a NATO member) and the Maldives. I expect the any reaching Montenegro to be impounded, the ones heading for the Maldives maybe discouraged by the US, French or UK navy.

  49. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    If we’re going to leave them to physically fight this war by themselves, the least we can do is give them the proper tools to be fighting it with.

    Would you prefer us to join the physical fight? Because that’s how World Wars and nuclear holocausts start…

    We’re going to let the Ukrainians fight this on their own. I would doubt we will even hand Zelenskyy a big bag of cache and the business card to Mercenaries R Us or whatever Blackwater is called these days — dead Americans, even dead American mercenaries, would be a significant escalation point.

    We are backfilling the Poles who are giving the Ukrainians their old fighters (conveniently the same model that Ukrainian pilots have trained on), so that seems significant.

    2
  50. Jen says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Agreed, but assuming this has to be a proxy war, who are this war’s Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos? Hungary has already said no weapons can go through their territory, which cuts off one supply route, leaving Poland as the best through-route.

  51. Jen says:

    @Gustopher:

    We are backfilling the Poles who are giving the Ukrainians their old fighters (conveniently the same model that Ukrainian pilots have trained on), so that seems significant.

    This answers my question, I think.

  52. CSK says:

    @JohnSF:
    Putin’s also got Cuba, Venezuela, and Myanmar siding with him.

  53. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    One of the most annoying things that you do is putting words in other people’s mouths. I said nothing of the sort, so stop it. Just fk’ing stop it.

    I simply suggested giving them meaningful weaponry that stands a chance of helping them effect as much material damage on Russian military forces as possible. Airplanes are great, until you eventually run out of trained pilots. The basic strategy – weaponizing individuals on the ground – is somewhat sound, but you have to give them the tools to be effective.

    2
  54. Mike in Arlington says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I thought that that more sophisticated anti aircraft weapons require more infrastructure and training, and that is one of the barriers to supplying them to Ukraine (also the possibility of one of those systems falling into the hands of Russia), but I defer to those with more expertise in the area.

    The second thing is that some Russian fighters are very sophisticated and fast, but the close-air support fighters, the stinger can be very useful. That said, I’m unsure just how useful the stinger will be overall in the conflict.

    I have a sickening feeling that Putin/Russia is perfectly willing to turn Ukraine into a graveyard, and there’s not a lot that NATO can do to stop it without getting directly involved.

    1
  55. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, if I’m playing a game of chess, and I blunder and hang a piece, one could describe my move as irrational. One might even describe me as irrational for making that move, which was not rational.

    I don’t find this a useful description. It provides no information that “blunder” and “hang a piece” didn’t already provide. Things like “I overlooked that bishop on the other side of the board” provide much more meaningful insight. (This is a thing I have done more than once, by the way). If that bishop were removed from the board, my actions would have been rational, after all. If an onlooker described my action as “irrational” I would feel they were being overly pejorative. People overlook stuff when playing chess. Sometimes even grandmasters do it.

    I am decidedly not trying to change anyone’s word use. What I want to do with this comment is provide some insight into why we are even having this discussion, and where the different views and usages of “irrational” might come from.

    1
  56. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: We really need to bring back the “former-dictator lives on a lavish estate somewhere harmless” model. It means they won’t face justice, but it also means that they stop making things worse. Add a middle option between the Presidential Palace and the Hague.

    Why do we even have Guam if we don’t have a bunch of former-dictators living there?

    I’m not saying that Putin would be particularly moved by brochures showing him what a beautiful estate is reserved for him right up the road from Casa Gaddafi, but had we gotten Gaddafi off the stage before his downfall, we would have prevented a lot of misery, one Benghazi and retained our “if you give up your nuclear weapons program we will not attack you” pledge.

    And then other smaller-scale dictators might be picking out their countertops. The Belarussian guy, for instance, might be amenable to some god awful tropical rococo mashup.

    1
  57. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Jen:

    Poland and Romania as a secondary. As I said though, getting them there isn’t nearly as much as a concern as what is getting there. Planes are great. Keep giving them planes, by all means. Stingers are useless. Imagine how many more planes start falling out of the sky if you start weaponizing people on the ground with Starstreaks? You stop indiscriminate bombing by making pilots too afraid to fly the sorties. We have got to get meaningful weaponry into as many individual Ukrainian hands as possible.

    1
  58. gVOR08 says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    So let’s get serious and enable them to remove Russian planes from the sky on a wholesale basis.

    We can drive a Patriot missile batteries through Poland to the border and tell the Ukrainians go get em, but it’s not something you can drive off and use without extensive training. Are you suggesting we provide covert CIA types as operators?

  59. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    One of the most annoying things that you do is putting words in other people’s mouths. I said nothing of the sort, so stop it. Just fk’ing stop it.

    I literally quoted you.

    “If we’re going to leave them to physically fight this war by themselves, the least we can do is give them the proper tools to be fighting it with.” — that is creating an appeal to the latter by suggesting we really should do the former, but if we can’t/won’t.

    Perhaps you should be more careful with your words, counselor.

    4
  60. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Mike in Arlington:

    Stingers have an effective maximum ceiling of around 3,800m . It’s a low-altitude weapon. Great for shooting down helicopters. Not so much so for attack jets.

  61. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    No, you twisted what I actually said into an appeal for something I never suggested. Pedantry seems to be your MO today. I’m well aware of why this has to be a proxy fight, asshole, and I accept those constraints, but within those constraints, let’s make it a proxy war that Russia won’t soon forget.

    2
  62. Jen says:

    @gVOR08:

    Are you suggesting we provide covert CIA types as operators?

    I don’t know what HL92 meant, but that was exactly what I meant when I referenced Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos. Maybe I’m not being creative enough, but it’s the only clear solution as to how one would get sophisticated, advanced weaponry to them and ensure that it’s deployed correctly, without US forces actually suiting up.

  63. JohnSF says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Current version Stingers have a ceiling of 11,000ft and speed Mach 2.5
    They are quite capable against fast jets if they can be spotted coming; their problem is lack of long range detection.
    Other, radar based, SAM systems would be better all things being equal.
    But: we don’t have time to train Ukrainians to use them. (same applies to current Western jet fighters).

    In any case, in the current air environment, Russia can simply apply enough counter-radar effort to kill them in days.

    Short of full NATO air defence environment (the full bore integrated aircraft/missile/radar/comms system) being inserted, which pretty certainly implies open war,. Stingers are the best option

    All we can do is increase the price for Russia.
    But if Putin is determined upon conquest, he will win.
    And NATO is not going to risk open war and potential nuclear escalation, to stop it.
    Let’s have no illusions about that.

    All that can be done if Putin decides that, is to To rebuild European military power. continue and intensify economic warfare.
    To make it plain it will continue until Russia reverses.
    And gradually extend it to any other country trading with Russia.

    Cold War 2: it could take decades.

    6
  64. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @gVOR08:

    LOL, you guys and this tendency to assume extremes. As if there is no range of portable weaponry at all occupying the space between a useless Stinger missile and a Patriot battery. Sheesh …

  65. Michael Reynolds says:

    Ukraine has some unnoticed advantages, chief among them interior lines. This is how the Confederacy frustrated the Union armies. Ukrainians are moving inside a circle, the Russians are outside of the circle, and with pretty miserable road networks this makes it hard for the Russians to concentrate forces. It’s generally held that attackers need more men than defenders, 2 to 1 or better. So, Russia has greater forces but are they able to concentrate those forces sufficiently to overwhelm defenders?

    There’s also the question of morale. Do Russian soldiers want to die for Tsar Vlad the Shirtless? Are they happy slaughtering fellow Slavs including Russophones? Time will tell, I guess.

    Ukraine has 900,000 trained reservists. Try occupying a motivated country with nearly a million potential guerrillas gleefully armed by NATO and the US. If the West keeps up the sanctions regime and Ukraine mounts an insurgency, Russia will be economically crippled, a good outcome for the US and NATO.

    There’s a lot of talk about Russian technological supremacy, but the tech gap between Russians and Ukrainians is smaller than the gap between the US and the Taliban, or between the US and the North Vietnamese, and those advantages did not hand us victory.

    3
  66. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    We really need to bring back the “former-dictator lives on a lavish estate somewhere harmless” model.

    True. We’re a capitalist country, maybe we should just buy what we want. We spend 2 trillion dollars blowing up Afghanistan, which has a nominal GDP of around 20 billion. We could have bought the place and made everyone an employee cheaper. Putin may not be receptive unless he feels the knives getting closer, but make him an offer. Doesn’t give us a feel good, but it’d be relatively cheap, and bloodless.

    1
  67. Mike in Arlington says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I agree, the stinger has limited range, which really does limit its usefulness. It was that I thought that Stingers were used effectively against the SU-25 (as well as attack helicopters) during the Soviet Afghanistan debacle.

    But having said that, even if I’m right, the SU-25 is an outdated plane and the Russians have developed a number of air support options that aren’t as vulnerable (or vulnerable at all) to stingers.

    Regardless, I’m not sure what other options there are given the necessary training needed for the anti aircraft systems that would be more effective.

    1
  68. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnSF:

    I agree, but how much training is really required to field Starstreaks? I mean, after all, it’s not like we’re really training them on the Stingers we’re sending, so what is the real operational difference (beyond that sweet mach 4 terminal velocity)?

  69. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IOW Putin has already lost. He’s lost the PR war, he’s lost the economic war, there is no realistic chance that Ukraine will ever be integrated into Putin’s fantasy empire, he has failed to divide the West, he has in fact strengthened NATO, and yet, despite now having no chance of accomplishing his irrational goals, he is continuing to pursue those irrational goals, which is irrational.

    What are the costs — to Putin, not to Russia — of continuing the war as opposed to stopping it?

    If he’s worried that admitting defeat will trigger a coup, then continuing to fight a hopeless war at an enormous cost to the Russian people and economy is a completely rational decision. The goals at the start of this were Greater Russia, but the goals now might just be to hang onto power.

    3
  70. JohnSF says:

    @CSK:

    Putin’s also got Cuba, Venezuela, and Myanmar siding with him.

    It wouldn’t have surprised me, but my data source Axios (only actual list, well map, I could find) shows:
    Myanmar – yes
    Cuba – abstain
    Venezuela – no data (odd that; wonder if it means they ducked the meeting entirely?)

    2
  71. just nutha says:

    @Kathy: Pinochet is an outlier. He’s not as much a mafiosi as a corporatist asset used to remove a government when the people vote in someone the forces for goodness and democracy don’t approve of. Remember, the “democratic nation states” only approve of democracies where “the right people” get elected. “Step outta line, the man come and take you away.”

    1
  72. CSK says:

    @JohnSF:
    The map I saw had Cuba and Venezuela committed to Putin.

  73. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92: You may not have intended to suggest it, but your words definitely did. And we are currently at a spot where people who should know better are calling for a no fly zone over Ukraine, so I’m absolutely going to poke at people who are suggesting that a path of escalation would be the preferred path.

    Are you ok, counselor? You seem agitated. One might even say “irrational”.

    2
  74. CSK says:

    A bounty of one million dollars on Putin’s head:

    http://www.jpost.com/international/article-699098

    1
  75. dazedandconfused says:

    On the isolation of Putin, I believe the Russians are quite aware the images, ridiculously long tables, the dressing down of his security chief, and perhaps even the uncharacteristic rantings paint Putin as isolated, so I believe this is deliberate. It’s a feature, not a bug.

    The Russians want this to appear to be Putin’s, not Russia’s war, so I think the planned end, or perhaps ultimate fall-back position, may be for Putin to step down when whatever the goals may be are achieved or deemed unachievable.

    1
  76. Mike in Arlington says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I don’t know if this is actually an impediment, but the Starstreak is a British weapon, we may not be in a position to supply them directly to Ukraine.

  77. Sleeping Dog says:

    Earlier today I read a piece making the case for getting more Javelins into the hands of the Ukrainians. Heat tracking, easy to train on, 2.5 mile range and will take out tanks, armored personnel carriers etc. Makes more sense than a Patriot missile battery.

    1
  78. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Starstreaks are a British weapon, not American. Which means (among other things) that there are a lot fewer of them lying in storage somewhere to just give away. Wikipedia says the UK’s original purchase was only 136 systems!

    They also, as others have pointed out, require significantly more operator expertise than Stingers. In particular they are not 100% self-homing but require the targeting unit (ie operator) to keep the target painted (though not with a laser).

    I too would like to see more effective AA capabilities available to the Ukrainians, but I’m not sure they exist without also putting NATO operators on the ground in Ukraine. And that tremendously escalates the risk of WW3 happening.

    Others have recently mentioned Poland providing older jets to Ukraine. That seems to have fallen apart in the last 24 hours, unfortunately. It’s not clear to me why, but that is the current reporting.

    FYI to our hosts: The last few weeks I simply cannot use the Reply feature. If I try the message simply will not post. Using an iMac on the latest OS 10 and latest Safari. Clicking Reply seems to work in that it fills in the post reference in the message box, but when I click Post Comment it will pause, does not provide a posted or failed to post message, and the screen refreshes with no message.

  79. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Kind of a Fletcher Memorial island?

  80. JohnSF says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I understand some Starstreaks have been sent; problem is very limited stocks.
    Apparently only a six operational batteries of Starstreak
    (No link, Radio 4 report and an informal personal contact. Quick google shows a Daily Express report, though I’m always a bit dubious of the Express)

  81. Jay L Gischer says:

    One way this could go, which even seems more likely than many others, is that the Russians rely heavily on artillery within secure zones, and pretty much commence to blowing up everything of value in the targeted cities until the Ukrainians cry uncle. This doesn’t put a lot of troops at risk, or cost a lot of gasoline, either.

    I think they are pretty close to being able to do this. I don’t know how this will end, and I’m not going to make predictions. I think the artillery is more important than the air forces, which are really expensive to operate.

    I mean, we’ve already seen thermobaric shells, it seems.

    I don’t know where this is going, but it could be a long haul like @JohnSF says.

  82. Slugger says:

    Uncomfortable question: at what point should the Ukrainians lay down their arms. Putin was willing to shed a great deal of blood in Chechnia, and a replay of the siege of Grozny is likely. It’s great to cheer for the Ukrainians from the safety and comfort of our living rooms, but simply waiting out Putin, who is not immortal, might be a prudent choice. The Poles tried to oust the Germans in 1944 ahead of the advancing Red Army to prevent a Soviet takeover of their country; they got massive destruction of their city, 300,000 civilians killed, and the Soviets took over anyway.
    I believe that empires are inherently unstable and full of centrifugal forces. The French, the British, and the Soviet empires fell apart. The Putin empire won’t last either.
    We all want to see bad guys fall, but sometimes you have to let them win in the short run.

  83. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    So now one scenario for an end-game beginning to show it’s face…
    Former Ukraine President Yanukovych is currently in position in Minsk, brought there by Putin. Allegedly there is some kind of Russian Special Operations intended to re-install him as President. Yanukovych lost the Presidency in 2014 in a landslide election with Zelensky getting 70+% of the vote.
    Can this entire episode really be about another teary-eyed coup attempt by aggrieved losers?

  84. SKI says:

    @Slugger: That is a decision for the Ukrainians and only the Ukrainians.

    4
  85. just nutha says:

    @CSK: In my world, “on someone’s head” bounties are way more expansive than the sort of mere “for the arrest of” type discussed in the article. You got my hopes up and now, reading the article, they’ve been dashed. 🙁

  86. SKI says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Yes but not exactly as Yanukovych isn’t the one driving the bus. Putin wants Ukraine to be part of Russia and wants to start by installing a puppet government. He has a puppet leader pre-selected based on past service in the same role.

    1
  87. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    1) I wonder if something like this would ahve been sufficient to remove Mangolini from office (probably not).

    2) This guy better buy some Geiger counters to test everything he and his family eat and drink.

  88. JohnSF says:

    A point on one short term development and another longer term strategic/economic implication.

    Javier Blas:

    Surgutneftegas, the Russian oil producer, ***fails for the 3rd consecutive time*** to sell Urals crude via its regular tender. I can not recall ever a situation like this: there are not buyers for Russia oil, even at record discounts

    Well now, so oil is ALWAYS a fungible commodity, eh?
    Perhaps not so much.

    And a longer term big picture indicator (IMUHO):

    In Europe: natural gas prices are now 10 times the level of this time last year.
    Thinking to myself: that must work out about €19o per megawatt-hour (different units of calculation for gas prices are a proper pain).
    Now, a study showed a fairly conservative estimate of current costs for synthetic methane production coming to €150/MWh. (caveat: study is by a business group interested in the tech)
    So at current prices syn-methane from wind and nukes potentially cheaper then fossil fuel!
    Oh ho.

    Perhaps being long hydrocarbons in a high-price world not the ideal position for a country to be in (waves at Russia)
    Paging Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie, BDI please pick up on the white courtesy phone…

    1
  89. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Actually, they didn’t. Your pedantic twist implied a course of action implicit in them which was not expressed. You seem to do that a lot, but I won’t lob hypotheticals as to why you seem compelled to do it. It’s a shitty way to engage, but I’m sure that you have your shitty reasons for doing it. I’m just in favor of getting effective weapons into the hands of the people tasked with actually doing the fighting (and, just incidentally, the dying). The more effective, the better. You seem focused on pointing out the problems with anything that is being suggested without actually suggesting any course of action yourself. I’m being a will. For reasons passing understanding, you (as usual) are being a can’t.

    If you don’t prefer escalation, what is your preferred path? For Ukrainians to keep sacrificing themselves until Russia either gets tired of killing them, or have you just decided that this is a lost cause and therefore you can lob jejune commentary about how sad it all is without the inconvenience of ever having to actually stake out a position?

    1
  90. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JohnSF:

    Best I can tell, 7,000 of them have been produced, and it was just an exemplar of the fact that there are far better and more effective weapons in existence than the largely do nothings we’re sending them. It almost amounts to virtue signalling. Find the best options that are available, acquire them, and get them on their way.

  91. CSK says:

    @just nutha:
    Maybe it’ll start a trend.

  92. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @SKI:

    Agreed. Our purpose, indeed our moral imperative, is to do everything within our capability to support them until they make that decision, if they indeed ever do.

  93. dazedandconfused says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Yanukovych did not run against Zelensky. He beat someone else. He went out of office when he fled the riots, not from losing an election.

    I’m a bit surprised to see him again but not too much. Putin despised him in 2014 for both being weak and stupid. Yanuk flaunted his ill-gotten wealth in a most unseemly way for Ukraine. However there may be no one else willing to do what Putin has tasked him to do.

  94. Kurtz says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Good analogy. Games of perfect information are useful to this discussion, because it shows that even in those games, the very best make mistakes. Now, how could any expert claim that they have enough information to know x or y in the game of geopolitics?

    1
  95. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Fuq – I knew I should have double-checked that.
    Still…

  96. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Ukrainian resistance also makes quite clear that Putin will never be able to pacify Ukraine. Had they laid down he might have held on to that fantasy. But even a conquered Ukraine is going to have a fukton of Stingers and Javelins and small arms, so Putin’s fantasy of a Ukraine re-integrated into Russia is clearly not happening and again, doubling down is irrational.

    This. The Afghans famously said, “We did not fear the Russians. We learned to fear their helicopters.” Stingers. Javelins. A couple thousand Swedish shoulder-held anti-tank weapons with the advantage over the Javelin that you can shoot and then run like hell because you can discard the launcher. The West is providing Ukraine with weaponry intended to make any attempted occupation very painful, not to let them try to go toe-to-toe with the Russian military.

    2
  97. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IOW Putin has already lost. He’s lost the PR war, he’s lost the economic war, there is no realistic chance that Ukraine will ever be integrated into Putin’s fantasy empire, he has failed to divide the West, he has in fact strengthened NATO, and yet, despite now having no chance of accomplishing his irrational goals, he is continuing to pursue those irrational goals, which is irrational.

    This was kind of my issue with the political science use of “rational” in the other thread: it was basically turning politics into “The Secret”. If Putin just believes hard enough that Ukraine can be annexed, then it’s perfectly rational to try and annex it. If everyone else thinks that an impossible goal, it’s not a sign he’s disconnected from reality; we’re just seeing information differently than him.

    2
  98. CSK says:

    The Russian ambassador to the U.N. is calling stories about Ukrainian civilians being killed “fake news,” and also informed them that “the legitimately elected president [of the United States] was overthrown.”

    Trump must be thrilled.

  99. Slugger says:

    BTW, Putin’s irrationality might be his version of Nixon’s Madman Theory. You act crazy enough that your opponents have to include the possibility that you are totally irrational in their calculation. It makes their strategies more difficult.
    Additionally, I agree that the Ukrainians should make their own decisions. I would personally like to see a humiliating loss for Putin, but the Ukrainians are the ones who are risking their lives.

    1
  100. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I keep hearing about this off-ramp. No one ever defines it. I suspect that’s because it’s a fantasy.

    It may be a fantasy. But the fact that Ukraine and Russia are holding talks in the middle of the war suggests there might be room for a way out of this mess.

    And the character of the initial invasion combined with Russia’s demands at the first round of those talks, strongly suggests that Putin’s aims are more limited than alleged maximalist claims, like remaking the USSR.

    With respect to the debate over anti-aircraft systems, that is (or was) in my wheelhouse. Modern manpads are definitely a threat against fighters, though less so than rotary-wing and slower aircraft (like the SU-25). We’d need to sent a lot of them and they may not shoot down a lot of Russian fighters, but they would force a change in tactics and flight profiles that are militarily significant.

    The problem with sending more advanced systems is support and training. Without that, such systems are more like an albatross than an advantage. Manpads, like ATGM’s, are very simple to use, easy to carry, require little maintenance, and are very effective at what they do. And Manpads are risky, because they can also shoot down Ukrainian aircraft. Aircraft are difficult to visually ID in a combat environment.

    If anything, we could acquire more of the air defense systems Ukraine already uses and is familiar with. But air defense is much, much more than just weapons, you need networks to coordinate fires, prevent fratricide, and you also need surveillance systems to detect, ID and prioritize targets. It was, for example, Britian’s system of radar and command-and-control during the Battle of Britain that allowed a smaller air force that had taken massive losses to beat back the Germans. Nothing has really changed since.

    With respect to helping Ukraine militarily, we are doing pretty much everything we can short of actively and openly engaging in hostilities. We are in a de facto limited alliance with Ukraine. From what I’ve seen so far, we are doing just about everything short of sending in our own military forces. And Russian nuclear weapons are the only thing that is stopping us from doing that.

    2
  101. JohnSF says:

    Before he started this, Putin might have tried looking west and channelling his inner Napoleon:

    “There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world.”

    Citing a “change of era”, Macron says he is convening a summit of EU’s 27 heads of government at Versailles (under France’s EU presidency) on March 10/11 to discuss a step change in European defence policy.

  102. grumpy realist says:

    @Andy: Except that if Putin did all this invasion stuff in order be willing to settle for the two breakaway territories, it was a piece of lousy overkill. He’s managed to convince nearby everyone in Europe that damn it, they really do need something like NATO and an increased military to make themselves as “indigestible as possible”.

    3
  103. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    And Russian nuclear weapons are the only thing that is stopping us from doing that.

    There must be US and NATO pilots salivating over that 40 kilometer long supply column. Highway of Death 2.0.

  104. JohnSF says:

    But If Putin is starting to worry, he still has some business partners willing to strike deals:
    Pakistan’s President Imran Khan agrees a major trade deal with Russia.

  105. Michael Reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    This is why I’m skeptical of an off-ramp. Putin already has his chunk of Donbas and Crimea. I think Andy’s wrong and Putin wants the whole pie. I place more weight on character analysis, so I think this is an ego thing for Tsar Vlad the Shirtless. At this point what in God’s name would qualify as a win for Putin that would justify the cost?

  106. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    Well, there you go, I mean if you have that sweet Pakistani market, why do you need the US and EU and Japan? Out of curiosity, I wonder how a Paki-Putin Pact would work given the obvious geographical impediments to trade.

  107. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    It had crossed my mind as to how the gas would be getting to it’s destination, and what an awful shame it would be if something were to happen to it en route.

  108. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    An off ramp requires Ukraine to sacrifice land for peace. Or rather, for “peace.” What keeps Vlad from launching another war next year?

    Suppose he took the two puppet states, plus a land corridor to Crimea and what remains of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, including Odessa. That would be a terrible result for Ukraine. Russia would get to control its sea trade as Vlad pleased.

    But that’s not his objective. He clearly wants to place his puppet on Ukraine. Later, perhaps, he and the puppet can put on a show of long negotiations resulting in Ukraine “returning” to Russia. That should look just great in Vlad’s mind as the capstone of his life and career.

    1
  109. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Reading through this thread, I see everyone is just flat ignoring the links I posted very early yesterday re: Putin’s war goals.

    So, to repeat,

    https://twitter.com/TimothyDSnyder/status/1498356818501898242

    1/8. Russia has a history of aiming for quick and decisive strikes against Ukraine, failing, then revealing the aims of the operation in media prepared on the assumption of success.

    2/8. Such a sequences of events unfolded in 2014 during a Ukrainian presidential election. Russia tried to hack Ukraine’s central election commission so that it would present a far-right candidate, who in fact got less than 1% of the vote, as the winner.

    3/8. The hack failed, but Russian media had been prepared for its success; and Russian television went on air with falsified results and even digital images that matched what the hack was supposed to produce. (link deleted)

    4/8 Something similar seems to have happened with the invasion of 2022. Like the hack in 2014, the invasion did not lead to the expected result. This left Russian media with prepared material which, since it assumed success, reveals (or confirms) the goals of the Russian invasion
    5/8 (contains kinks, will post separately)

    6/8. No doubt most such material was never published or quickly removed. This article seems to have slipped through. It was written for approved Russian media on the assumption of a quick Russian victory, and so reveals the goals of the invasion.

    8/8. Further anticipated is the creation of a unified Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusian entity, and the rebalancing of world order in a “new epoch” of Russian domination over a humiliated and divided West.

    To cut to the chase, here is an English translation of the broadcast:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1z7zQiS-99mhqmJqJ-r-a2MJct5Q3MT1XpSTB6uj0ezI/edit

    To simplify, the end state is a Greater Russia including Belarus and Ukraine as, effectively, provinces of Rreater Russia.

    2
  110. charon says:

    @charon:

    5/8 Linky as follows

    https://twitter.com/christogrozev/status/1498029060085075969

    So indeed, this was meant to toast a Greater Russia outcome that never happened. Here’s the plan the author had – and apparently, was seen as endorseable by state media:

    Interesting replies to this tweet.

    (I am fairly confident in the legitimacy of the text I linked to here:

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1z7zQiS-99mhqmJqJ-r-a2MJct5Q3MT1XpSTB6uj0ezI/edit )

    1
  111. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “At this point what in God’s name would qualify as a win for Putin that would justify the cost?”

    I suspect (WAG) his aim is: annex Crimea; set up a “federalised with vetos” Ukraine (Donbas, East around Kaharkiv, South ? , Central round Kyiv, West centred Lvov/Ruthenia)
    On assumption his mafiya allies and security police grip on Donetsk/Luhansk will prevent any economic shift to the EU zone (NATO is a total red herring) and that with govt decapitated Ukraine can be moved back into the kleptozone, so no-one in Russia gets any funny ideas, and Great Russia and its ruler dominates, as is their right.

    His problem is, he totally misunderstands post-2014 Ukrainian national politics.

    (At some point I need to do a post on an explanation of Ukrainian politics and patriotism, the post-2014 shift, and why a lot of outsiders totally misunderstand Ukrainian nationality and politics, as told to me by a Ukrainian friend of a relative eight years ago. I’ve since seen nothing that contradicts it, and a lot that accords with it.)

    4
  112. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    The same things which prevented the US from putting up a no-fly zone in Syria, and over Kyiv…nukes.

    The domino theory is really weak. Putin simply can’t muster up the sort of conventional mass force that Nazi Germany did. His own people started protesting this on Day One. Very different from what existed in Nazi Germany, and if he were to engage in direct conflict with NATO it would be MAD.

    Whatever his goals are they’re probably limited to Ukraine, and discouraging things like supporting color revolutions within the Russian sphere should the same conditions crop up somewhere else.

  113. DK says:

    @Kathy:

    An off ramp requires Ukraine to sacrifice land for peace. Or rather, for “peace.” What keeps Vlad from launching another war next year?

    Ukraine joining NATO, whose commanders are now wholly unafraid of Russia’s armed forces.

    In lesx than a week, Putin made it possible for Biden to strengthen NATO into perhaps the world’s strongest geopolitical alliance and for Zelensky and Ukranians to expose the softness of Russia’s overrated military.

    For what? An occupation that could destroy the Russian economy and bleed Russia of lives and treasure indefinitely. Ukrainians will never accept a puppet goverment, investors will keep Russia at arms length, and Europe will have to decouple from Russian energy and its low defense spending fantasies.

    Is it palatable for Zelensky to refuse any promise not to join NATO but give Putin Western recognition of the regions that were already under Russian control (Crimea, Donbas)? Or is that a fantasy?

    3
  114. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    But he had a 14 year civil war going on in those Oblasts, no water in Crimea and the only access was that ridiculous bridge from the Azov side. To borrow from Melville, “It tasks me”

    1
  115. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Whatever his goals are they’re probably limited to Ukraine

    Lest it passed your notice, Putin has taken advantage of the situation to effectively annex Belarus.
    If he does not intend to secure Transnistria as well I’d be surprised.
    “But that’s all I want want, for now, honest!” says Vlad.
    Well, how nice of him

    And if the people of Ukraine say “No, Won’t” how does he deal with that?
    And if the people of somewhere in the “Russian sphere” decide to stage a colour revolution against the kleptocratic pseudo-democracies in place, they might even start in Russia.

    nukes…

    Maybe Putin will end up threatening to nuke Moscow.
    That will teach those wretched peasants!

  116. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    He had a 8, not 14, year conflict in those oblasts (since 2014, remember).
    And not even all of those; the mafiya never controlled any but the southern halves of them, for good reason.
    And those conflicts were sustained by Russia; Putin could have terminated them at any time he wished.

    And are you still going on about the water supply red herring?

  117. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    My bad, I was thinking of “since 2014”

    In what way is mentioning the water situation in Crimea a “red herring”?

  118. charon says:

    Here is the end of a David French newsletter:

    Read and share this article on the web.

    So, per the admonition:

    The first hint that something was off with the initial Russian war effort came in the very first hours. As violent as the strikes looked on television, I knew they were nothing compared with the kinds of aerial and artillery campaigns that typically begin attacks on sovereign nations with intact armies, as is the case with Ukraine.

    Then, as the days wore on, that sense that something was off hardened into a consensus. The initial Russian plan was a costly failure, in part because—incredibly enough—it minimized Russian strengths and maximized Russian weaknesses, apparently in service of a strategy that seems to have been predicated on terrible intelligence that underestimated the Ukrainian military and overestimated Ukrainian support for Russia. But don’t think Russia can’t or won’t change its approach. It has not lost this war, and its “victory” may be truly terrible to behold.

    To understand Russia’s early missteps, consider where the Russian military is strong and where it’s weak. Its strength is defined by its firepower. The Russian military possesses an immense amount of long-range artillery. It has invested in rockets and missiles that grant it the ability to pound its opponents from a distance. During wars in Chechnya and Syria, it demonstrated the capacity and willingness to bury its enemies in rockets and bombs.

    There’s a reason, for example, that Grozny, in Chechnya, was once called “the most destroyed city on earth.” The Russian military essentially obliterated the city to defeat Chechen rebels during the Second Chechen War. More recently, Russian forces in Syria have been ruthless, committing war crimes, according to the United Nations, in a largely successful scorched-earth campaign that has helped prop up the Syrian government.

    Russian firepower helps mask Russian weaknesses in the training, discipline, and skill of its rank-and-file soldiers. It’s still a heavily conscript army, with soldiers drafted for a year of service. A soldier is barely competent after a year of training. Moreover, while elite Russian units do exist, the average Russian-army unit isn’t on par with leading Western militaries.

    Yet even highly skilled and better-equipped Western militaries would do more to shape the battlefield before directly attacking an enemy force. The U.S. military, for example, does not fling its troops at relatively intact defensive formations. Americans forget that the 100-hour ground war during Desert Storm was preceded by a weeks-long aerial campaign designed to degrade Iraq’s army. The hours before the ground attack were preceded by a thunderous artillery barrage that blanketed Iraqi positions and demoralized Iraqi troops.

    We also fought aerial campaigns in the Balkans that destroyed enemy ground forces so thoroughly that no follow-up NATO ground attack was necessary for victory.

    Yes, Russia launched missiles and conducted air strikes to begin the war, but the opening bombardments were obviously and transparently not enough to seriously damage Ukraine’s ability to resist. The Russian military appears to have both conducted risky airborne operations deep behind enemy lines and hurled its poorly trained troops right into the teeth of Ukrainian defenses without truly trying to break them first. That’s why I thought something was off in the initial attack. Terrifying though it was, it was nothing like what it could have been.

    Compounding the tactical error, Russia divided its forces, striking a very large European country from multiple directions at once, with no one single striking force possessing the ability to decisively punch through Ukrainian defenses in the opening days.

    Why would Russia do this? We likely won’t know the answer for some time, but the most probable reason is the simplest—a catastrophic intelligence failure. Russia seems to have believed that Ukraine would collapse. It didn’t begin its invasion with a truly intense aerial or artillery bombardment because it didn’t think that would be necessary. Why destroy a city you intend to almost immediately control? Why risk inflaming Ukrainian (and world) opinion when you’d be presenting the international community with a fait accompli—something like the Crimean takeover, except on a national scale?

    But for all of the stories of Russian failure, here is the very bad news: Russia will far more likely respond to battlefield setbacks the way it traditionally has—with overwhelming firepower—than by seeking peace. The history of warfare (including the history of Russian warfare) is replete with examples of early failures and terrible command decisions. But armies tend to be learning organisms. If the fight doesn’t go as they expect, they adjust tactics.

    Indeed, as much as Ukrainian resistance has inspired the West, it’s hard to believe that a few days of fighting have chastened Russia or deterred President Vladimir Putin. Much more likely is that he believes he has no choice but to press on to victory. To preserve his power, he has to win. Prediction is a dangerous business, but the likelihood now is that Putin will step on the gas and increase the violence and intensity of his attack. The possibility that he’ll halt his forces in place—to say nothing of retreating from Ukrainian territory—is far slimmer.

    Putin can still lose by winning. In other words, the cost of his likely battlefield victory could be so great that it ultimately diminishes Russian power or even destabilizes his regime, but even so, imagining a scenario where Ukraine wins outright is difficult. NATO-supplied weapons may bleed the Russian army, but they seem unlikely to turn the tide on the battlefield. One can hope that the combination of Ukrainian courage, NATO weapons, and low Russian morale can turn the tide, but the odds against Ukraine are long.

    Indeed, we don’t possess a great deal of information about Ukrainian casualties and equipment losses. We don’t know how much longer it can go toe-to-toe with Russian invaders. Russia is still a much stronger nation. It still possesses immense firepower. It can choose to go “full Grozny” and turn Ukrainian cities into the most destroyed cities on Earth.

    Yes, that would further galvanize world opinion against Putin, but he’s already isolated. He’s already sanctioned, and the Russian economy is already “reeling.” Moreover, it’s still early in the conflict. If the Russians ultimately break through, seize Kyiv, and kill or capture Ukrainian leaders, hope will give way to despair, the people of Ukraine will pay a terrifying price, and true independence will once again be a distant dream.

    This is not a movie. There is no script that gives the underdog the victory in the end. NATO’s renewed solidarity is of limited benefit to Ukrainians under fire in Kyiv. Germany’s increased defense budget does absolutely nothing to destroy the miles-long Russian armored convoys now inching down Ukrainian roads.

    The West has woken up. NATO is united. Russia has already been made to pay for its aggression. But its army is still in Ukraine, grabbing more territory every day. It may learn from its mistakes, growing more aggressive to both destroy the Ukrainian resistance and deter additional foreign interference in the fight. If Russia does ultimately break Ukraine, the first flush of hope is likely to be forgotten amid the ashes of defeat.

    4
  119. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    In what way has Belarus been “annexed”? Looks like the same guy in charge to me, and I had been unware of any points of contention between Putin and him.

  120. Stormy Dragon says:

    @JohnSF:

    Pakistan’s President Imran Khan agrees a major trade deal with Russia

    That reminds me, now that we no longer need them for logistical support access to Afghanistan, we should be sanctioning the crap out of Pakistan too.

    3
  121. JohnSF says:

    Because you have repeatedly stated you think it was a key aspect of Russian requirements from Ukraine.
    But that they were not saying so openly in order to not publicly confront Zelensky about the issue so that negotiated, but not publicised, deal could be done.

    It seems to me that flattening Kharkiv with MLRS bombardment is an awful long way to go to avoid a topic being discussed in public.

  122. dazedandconfused says:

    @charon:
    I believe the term he’s searching for is pyrrhic victory.

  123. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    I believe it an important economic aspect, and those things have been known to be at the root of wars. It’s not a red herring, unless you wish to imply dishonesty on my part.

  124. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Looks like the same guy in charge to me

    Looks, indeed.

    Since he accepted Putin’s assistance to put down the protests in 2021 Lukashenko can’t take a crap without Putin’s sign-off.
    And the referendum last Sunday was a nice bit of 86.62% decoration.

    If you believe Lukashanko would last till tomorrow lunchtime if he tried to terminate his alliance with Putin, you really do need more coffee.

    2
  125. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Not dishonesty.
    I’ve said before, IMO you are searching for a rationalised explanation of Putin and Russia’s actions that other than the combination of Great Russian ideology, kleptocratic/autocratic interest, and sheer rage at defiance.

    The Crimea economic explanation might be valid in other circumstances; but never mentioning in negotiations, then launching a war, including threats of nuclear confrontation, to achieve it without raising it in public?
    Does that really make any sense?

    Especially as in the context of Russian agriculture, Crimea is little more than a rounding error.
    In 2017 total Russian production of wheat alone was around 70 million tonnes.
    Crimea approximately 1.4 million tonnes of all grains.
    Even in early harvest wheat it’s marginal compared to the zone between the lower Don/Volga and the Caucasus Mountains.

    It really isn’t the thing you seem to think it is.

    The only significance is that it does effect (embarrassingly) the local economy of north Crimea.
    But all that in a century would not cover the costs Russia is incurring now.
    It is ludicrously disproportionate.

    If that was in fact Putin’s motivation and reasoning, he really would be crazy.

  126. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    Have you researched how much the Russians have had to spend in Crimea since they took it over? How many people they will have to relocate if the water problem isn’t solved?

  127. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    I see you’ve dropped the assertion Belarus was just annexed as part of the Ukraine operation to an assertion that it’s still Russia’s BFF. We are in agreement!

  128. Kathy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    A Pyrrhic defeat would be so much better for the world.

    That would be when you don’t just lose, but are also ruined. Like Saddam in 1991.

  129. JohnSF says:

    …how much the Russians have had to spend in Crimea
    How many people they will have to relocate…

    Spend: lots of money; hard figures almost impossible to come by.

    Relocate: Russians sometime say “no problems” sometimes “we are so persecuted!” depending on what message they are trying to convey.
    Maximum would be entire population of Crimea, some 2.25 million or thereabouts.

    Both costs and relocation (that 2.25m maximum being somewhat absurd, in case you hadn’t guessed) would be utterly trivial next to the consequences of this war.

    It might have been rather easier, and cheaper, not to mention a good deal less burdened with bloody carnage, to do a deal with Ukraine.
    Say, returning the Donetsk/Luhansk occupied zones, and guaranteeing navigation via the Straits of Kerch, in exchange for agreed transfer of Crimea and a water supply agreement.
    Or something like that.

    Instead, Putin’s careful rational calculations get him:
    – multi-billion dollar war
    – thousands to possibly tens thousands dead
    – pretty certainly insurgency that’s very likely to reach out and touch Moscow
    – sanctions that could break the back of the Russian economy, and won’t be lifted until he ends the invasion, if it takes decades
    – European neighbours contemplating re-armament on a scale not seen since the 1950’s

    But still, “Never mind, at least I avoided the embarrassment of mentioning water supplies in public!”

    2
  130. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I see you’ve dropped the assertion Belarus was just annexed as part of the Ukraine operation to an assertion that it’s still Russia’s BFF

    You see nothing of the kind.

    I said:
    “…to effectively annex Belarus.”
    Which is the case.

    Lukashenko was already Putin’s client after last years semi-revolt; with Russian troops in Belarus, he is reduced to complete subservience.

    Lukashenko has spent 18 years trying to keep from being reduced to a mere satrap of the Kremlin. Now he has no choice but that.
    “Votes to give up non-nuclear status” indeed.

    3
  131. Just nutha says:

    @Andy: have talks started? Last I heard, Zelensky was not willing to come based on what would be discussed.

  132. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    The water issue was never a secret, it’s just not widely reported in the Western press, like a lot of important things.
    https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2017/1/4/dam-leaves-crimea-population-in-chronic-water-shortage

    https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/21/the-devastating-human-economic-costs-of-crimeas-annexation

    Putin may be taking a page from Rumsfeld’s book of tricks: “If you can’t solve a problem, create a larger problem around it.”

    This is just one of the problems which may have factored into the Russian thinking, which I have mentioned. It assumes rational thinking taking place somewhere in there, which I know will offend those who adhere to the model that Putin has become irrational, so no offense taken.

  133. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    You parsed your sentence there. The full sentence I was confused by:

    “Putin has taken advantage of the situation to effectively annex Belarus.”

  134. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Actual Satraps had more autonomy, if for no other reason that it took a long time to send messages to the Persian capital.

    They probably engaged in less graft, though.

    1
  135. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    OK, I shortened the sentence, thinking the full version not needed; you consider this quibble-worthy, so…

    Reply, Version 2: Comment Boogaloo:
    @dazedandconfused:

    I see you’ve dropped the assertion Belarus was just annexed as part of the Ukraine operation to an assertion that it’s still Russia’s BFF

    You see nothing of the kind.

    I said:
    “Lest it passed your notice, Putin has taken advantage of the situation to effectively annex Belarus.”
    Which is the case.

    Lukashenko was already Putin’s client after last years semi-revolt; with Russian troops in Belarus, he is reduced to complete subservience.

    Lukashenko has spent 18 years trying to keep from being reduced to a mere satrap of the Kremlin. Now he has no choice but that.
    “Votes to give up non-nuclear status” indeed.

    Happier now?

    1
  136. charon says:

    @JohnSF:

    What the Atlantic thinks:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/02/russia-creeping-annexation-belarus/622878/

    In the space of a month, Vladimir Putin has effectively managed to transform a former Soviet state into an extension of Russian territory, in full view of the United States and Europe, without firing a single shot in the country. This isn’t unfolding in Ukraine but neighboring Belarus, which has served as a home for Russian troops and military hardware since the start of the year, ostensibly because of planned drills between the two countries’ militaries. Over the weekend, the Belarusian government announced that the 30,000 Russian troops on its soil—Moscow’s largest deployment on Minsk’s territory since the end of the Cold War—could be there to stay.

    Regardless of what happens in Ukraine, this is a major victory in Putin’s war with the West. The move not only represents a violation of Belarusian sovereignty, but poses a significant challenge to NATO as a security guarantor in the Baltics: Belarus shares a border with three NATO members. Still, few leaders outside the Baltic region have said anything about the announcement or how they plan to respond. The cost of doing nothing could be enormous.

    3
  137. Gustopher says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Your statement was very clear, “If we’re not going to do X, we should at least do Y.” That’s a construction that very clearly states that X should be on the table.

    If someone were to say “If we are not going to exterminate the Jews, we should learn to live with them,” you would be quite right to draw attention to the former. Especially if the former has entered the common discourse.

    And, when we have a former NATO commander advocating that we join the fight, that really has entered the common discourse. https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/02/27/breedlove-nato-commander-russia-ukraine-war/

    When we have questions about direct military involvement during White House Press Briefings, it’s in the common discourse.

    The greatest danger we face right now is hot-headed, dim-witted people trying to escalate.

    You might wonder why I wouldn’t give you the benefit of the doubt — it’s because, counselor, I think you’re a crazy fucking loon prone to supporting violent solutions to establish your idea of order. Your reaction to the disorderly protests after the police killed Freddie Gray, where you wanted the police to respond with violence to the protests against police violence has stuck with me. And it was reinforced in the years since with your reaction to BLM.

    If I were a less charitable person, I would assume that you only encourage violence against darker skinned people to enforce order, but I think it goes deeper than that. Or that your definition of beneath you is not simply racial. Strong anti-BLM tends to go with war hawk though.

    If you don’t prefer escalation, what is your preferred path? For Ukrainians to keep sacrificing themselves until Russia either gets tired of killing them, or have you just decided that this is a lost cause and therefore you can lob jejune commentary about how sad it all is without the inconvenience of ever having to actually stake out a position?

    I think the Biden administration has been playing this almost exactly right. Crushing sanctions to disrupt the Russian economy so the cost of the war is too high. There’s not much to say there.

    I would have liked Biden to stick a line into the Ukraine portion of the SOTU that if Putin will withdraw his forces behind the internationally recognized borders, the sanctions would end — an easy promise because enough of Europe would go squishy at that point anyway that the sanctions would be easier to circumvent.

    I would like Biden to be clearer that there will be no US feet in any shoes directly involved on or above the ground in Ukraine. Below ground too, just to be thorough. No invasion, no special ops, no trainers, no contractors, no pilots, no mechanics… none. We will provide the logistical assistance we can, and supplies, but Ukraine is not under our nuclear umbrella, and we are not committing American forces into a direct conflict with a nuclear power and risking escalation.

    I think it would have been a fine time to say “Belarus, welcome to your sanctions.” It wouldn’t affect Belarus as much as Russia, but it would have been nice.

    Beyond that — it’s up to the Ukrainians how much they want to fight, and how. If they want to wage pitched war and get their cities bombarded, we should support them. If they want to announce that they pretend to surrender, and stand down with the clear caveat that they will slit Russian throats while they sleep, then again we should support them. If they want to give up, we should very grudgingly support them. If they want to negotiate land for peace, then again, we should grudgingly support them.

    That’s Ukraine’s choice, not ours.

    If Russia gets its act together, Ukraine will lose the conventional war. Russia might not get their act together before the costs of the war are too high to continue. That’s Ukraine’s gamble to take, not ours.

    If Russia does get its act together, they will win the conventional war, and then fail to win the occupation — it will constantly cut them deeply and the price in Russian blood will be high. Eventually, Russia will leave, just as we left Iraq and Afghanistan, and just as Russia left Afghanistan. If Ukraine wants to shift to this phase early, to avoid their cities being shelled, that should be their choice.

    We should be clear with the Ukraine government with what lines we will not cross under any circumstances, and which ones are kind of soft, and which ones we will cross right now. And we should keep the sanctions and isolation of Russia as high as possible so the cost of war is too high to pursue for long. And Ukraine should make the best choices for Ukraine.

    Ultimately, I think Ukraine gives up legal claim to Crimea, and negotiates water rights, and everything is a very fragile peace and everyone wonders what the point of it was. But again, that’s Ukraine’s choice.

    6
  138. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    What are the costs — to Putin, not to Russia — of continuing the war as opposed to stopping it?

    The longer the economic pain goes on, the weaker Putin becomes. Not just figuratively, either, Russia is going to be badly hurt. Also, the longer it goes on the more the oligarchs get pissy because their mistresses can’t go to Oxford Street or Rodeo Drive. And if the military finds itself in a trap, losing men to no purpose, the army may become a problem. Russia’s not a country, it’s a big crime family, a mafia, and the Godfather stays the Godfather only so long as the money flows. I’m not making a prediction, just saying there are a lot of men in Russia who’d like to be President for Life.

    1
  139. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Dear G-d you’re a pontificating asshole.

    4
  140. dazedandconfused says:

    @charon:

    IMO that piece over-wrought. Belarus has eagerly aligned with Putin in this war, such arraignments do not automatically a client state make. Is there anyone who thinks Belarus wasn’t already in Russia’s back pocket?

    1
  141. charon says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    So now we argue which adjectives are right for our subjective assessment of the Belarus-Russia relationship? I can’t see where that gets us anywhere useful.

    2
  142. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The longer the war goes on unsuccessfully, the weaker Putin is. But, is he weaker if he gives up now, or if he pursues it for two months and pulls off a victory or splits the sanction regime apart?

    A lot can change in a few months — from stupid random chance to well laid plans. If you were Putin, would you accept a big loss now and a likely challenge to your power at home, or play for time while trying to find a better endgame?

    Putin fucked up. Things are clearly not going as expected. I don’t think we can tell whether he is earnestly doubling down or letting things play out while trying to find a way to fundamentally change the situation. He’s always been a rational actor before, so I’m assuming he still is one as there’s nothing he has done so far that suggests otherwise.

    (It’s Gorbachev’s birthday — I expect Putin was hoping to install a puppet in Ukraine to celebrate the birth of the man who let the Soviet Union fall apart.)

    1
  143. charon says:
  144. SKI says:

    @charon: No one reads the comments… 😉

    1
  145. dazedandconfused says:

    @charon:

    Nevertheless, if Belarus has no problem with hosting Russian troops it is not a violation of their sovereignty.