Putin’s Offramp?

It's hard to see how this crisis ends.

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The News

WSJ (“Russia Recruiting Syrians for Urban Combat in Ukraine, U.S. Officials Say“):

Moscow is recruiting Syrians skilled in urban combat to fight in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion is poised to expand deeper into cities, according to U.S. officials.

An American assessment indicates that Russia, which has been operating inside Syria since 2015, has in recent days been recruiting fighters from there, hoping their expertise in urban combat can help take Kyiv and deal a devastating blow to the Ukraine government, according to four American officials. The move points to a potential escalation of fighting in Ukraine, experts said.

It is unclear how many fighters have been identified, but some are already in Russia preparing to enter the conflict, according to one official.

Officials declined to elaborate on what else is known about the deployment of Syrian fighters to Ukraine, the status or precise scale of the effort.

According to a publication based in Deir Ezzor, Syria, Russia has offered volunteers from the country between $200 and $300 “to go to Ukraine and operate as guards” for six months at a time.

Chechen forces have also been deployed to Ukraine, according to a Reuters report citing Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the Chechen Republic and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Fighters are also pouring into the country to fight on the side of the Kyiv-based government. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that 16,000 foreigners have volunteered to fight for Ukraine, part of what he described as an “international legion.”

With volunteers from other countries flowing into Ukraine, the conflict there could become a new center of gravity for foreign fighters, said Jennifer Cafarella, national security fellow at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.

NYT (“Arming Ukraine: 17,000 Anti-Tank Weapons in 6 Days and a Clandestine Cybercorps“):

In less than a week, the United States and NATO have pushed more than 17,000 antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, over the borders of Poland and Romania, unloading them from giant military cargo planes so they can make the trip by land to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and other major cities. So far, Russian forces have been so preoccupied in other parts of the country that they have not targeted the arms supply lines, but few think that can last.

But those are only the most visible contributions. Hidden away on bases around Eastern Europe, forces from United States Cyber Command known as “cybermission teams” are in place to interfere with Russia’s digital attacks and communications — but measuring their success rate is difficult, officials say.

In Washington and Germany, intelligence officials race to merge satellite photographs with electronic intercepts of Russian military units, strip them of hints of how they were gathered, and beam them to Ukrainian military units within an hour or two. As he tries to stay out of the hands of Russian forces in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine travels with encrypted communications equipment, provided by the Americans, that can put him into a secure call with President Biden. Mr. Zelensky used it Saturday night for a 35-minute call with his American counterpart on what more the U.S. can do in its effort to keep Ukraine alive without entering into direct combat on the ground, in the air or in cyberspace with Russian forces.

Mr. Zelensky welcomed the help so far, but repeated the criticism that he has made in public — that the aid was wildly insufficient to the task ahead. He asked for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, a shutdown of all Russian energy exports and a fresh supply of fighter jets.

It is a delicate balance. On Saturday, while Mr. Biden was in Wilmington, Del., his National Security Council staff spent much of the day trying to find a way for Poland to transfer to Ukraine a fleet of well-used, Soviet-made MIG-29 fighter jets that Ukrainian pilots know how to fly. But the deal is contingent on giving Poland, in return, far more capable, American-made F-16s, an operation made more complicated by the fact that many of those fighters are promised to Taiwan — where the United States has greater strategic interests.

Polish leaders have said there is no deal, and are clearly concerned about how they would provide the fighters to Ukraine and whether doing so would make them a new target of the Russians. The United States says it is open to the idea of the plane swap.

CNN (“US and Europe weigh plans for Ukrainian government in exile“):

US and European officials have been discussing how the West would support a government in exile helmed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should he have to flee Kyiv, Western officials told CNN.

The discussions have ranged from supporting Zelensky and top Ukrainian officials in a potential move to Lviv in western Ukraine, to the possibility that Zelensky and his aides are forced to flee Ukraine altogether and establish a new government in Poland, the officials said.
The discussions are only preliminary and no decisions have been made, the sources said.

Western officials have also been wary of discussing a government in exile directly with Zelensky because he wants to stay in Kyiv and has so far rejected conversations that focus on anything other than boosting Ukraine in its fight against Russia, two Western diplomats said. They added that there have been discussions about sending one or more members of Zelensky’s government to an external location where a government could be set up in case Kyiv falls and Zelensky is unwilling or unable to get out.

“The Ukrainians have plans in place that I’m not going to talk about or get into any detail about to make sure that there is continuity of government one way or another, and I’m going to leave it at that,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS on Sunday.

WSJ (“Russian Artillery Kills Ukrainian Civilians Fleeing Kyiv Suburb“):

A line of yellow school buses pulled up on a forested roadside in this once-prosperous suburb of Kyiv on Sunday, ready to evacuate Ukrainian civilians. Then the Russian shells started falling.

People dove for cover, hugging the ground. Frightened pets ran into the woods. A man, woman and child were killed. The three bodies fell near one another by a monument to local soldiers who died fighting Germany in World War II. Their gray suitcase stood nearby, untouched by the blast.

In total, eight Irpin civilians were killed by the afternoon, as relentless shelling continued, said mayor Oleksandr Markushyn. A nearby house was on fire after receiving a direct hit. In the distance, plumes of gray smoke rose above Irpin, where Ukrainian forces fought to repel a Russian attack on what is a critical gateway to Kyiv.

Russia’s military insists it isn’t targeting civilians and blames Ukrainian “nationalists” for shelling their own, without any evidence. But deaths are mounting from Russian strikes on residential areas in cities throughout the country, while agreements to evacuate other towns and cities have fallen through.

Some Opinions

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister, NYT (“6 Steps the West Must Take to Help Ukraine Right Now“):

Never in my life have I seen an international crisis where the dividing line between right and wrong has been so stark, as the Russian war machine unleashes its fury on a proud democracy. Russia’s reckless attack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant reminds us just how grave the stakes are for everyone. More than one million people have fled the violence, toward an uncertain future.

President Biden has displayed great leadership, consulting and convening allies, exposing the lie that America’s commitment to Europe is somehow diminished. The European Union has undertaken a remarkable effort to align behind severe sanctions on Russia. Dozens of European countries are sending defensive equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces. But have we done enough for Ukraine? The honest answer is no.

Vladimir Putin’s act of aggression must fail and be seen to fail. We must not allow anyone in the Kremlin to get away with misrepresenting our intentions in order to find ex post facto justification for this war of choice. This is not a NATO conflict, and it will not become one. No ally has sent combat troops to Ukraine. We have no hostility toward the Russian people, and we have no desire to impugn a great nation and a world power. We despair of the decision to send young, innocent Russians into a futile war.

[…]

We have failed to learn the lessons of Russian aggression. For too long, we have turned the other cheek. No one can say we were not warned: We saw what Russia did in Georgia in 2008, in Ukraine in 2014 and even on the streets of Salisbury. And I know from speaking to my counterparts on recent visits to Poland and Estonia just how acutely they feel the threat.

[…]

It is no longer enough to express warm platitudes about the rules-based international order. We are going to have to actively defend it against a sustained attempt to rewrite the rules by force and other tools, such as economic coercion. We must restore effective deterrence in Europe, where, for too long, the very success of NATO and of America’s security guarantee has bred complacency. What happens in Europe will have profound implications worldwide.

Shadi Hamid, The Atlantic (“There Are Many Things Worse Than American Power“):

If there was any doubt before, the answer is now clear. Vladimir Putin is showing that a world without American power—or, for that matter, Western power—is not a better world.

For the generation of Americans who came of age in the shadow of the September 11 attacks, the world America had made came with a question mark. Their formative experiences were the ones in which American power had been used for ill, in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Middle East more broadly, and for much longer, the United States had built a security architecture around some of the world’s most repressive regimes. For those on the left, this was nothing new, and it was all too obvious. I spent my college years reading Noam Chomsky and other leftist critics of U.S. foreign policy, and they weren’t entirely wrong. On balance, the U.S. may have been a force for good, but in particular regions and at particular times, it had been anything but.

[…]

The narrative of a feckless and divided West solidified for years. We, as Americans, were feeling unsure of ourselves, so it was only reasonable that Putin would feel it too. In such a context, and after four years of Donald Trump and the domestic turmoil that he wrought, it was tempting to valorize “restraint” and limited engagements abroad. Worried about imperial overreach, most of the American left opposed direct U.S. military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the early 2010s, even though it was Russian and Iranian intervention on behalf of Syria’s dictator that bore the marks of a real imperial enterprise, not just an imagined one.

Russia’s unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, in Europe no less, has put matters back in their proper framing. The question of whether the United States is a uniquely malevolent force in global politics has been resolved. In the span of a few days, skeptics of American power have gotten a taste of what a world where America grows weak and Russia grows strong looks like. Of course, there are still holdouts who insist on seeing the United States as the provocateur. In its only public statement on Ukraine, the Democratic Socialists of America condemned Russia’s invasion but also called for “the U.S. to withdraw from NATO and to end the imperialist expansionism that set the stage for this conflict.” This is an odd statement considering that Russia, rather than the United States, has been the world’s most unabashedly imperialist force for the past three decades. But many on the anti-imperialist left aren’t really anti-imperialist; they just have an instinctive aversion to American power.

Adam Taylor, WaPo (“Putin’s extreme isolation leaves few world leaders to convince him of a peace deal“):

When conflict erupted between Russia and Ukraine in 2014, following Moscow’s support for separatists in Donbas and its annexation of Crimea, European powers France and Germany played that mediating role in what was dubbed the Normandy format. Belarus’s capital became the site of negotiations that eventually lead to the Minsk agreements. But the Minsk agreements stalled, in part because Kyiv felt they were unfair because they were negotiated from a position of weakness.

Now, almost eight years later, the idea that Belarus could be a neutral party is laughable; Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, dependent on Moscow after huge protests against his rule in 2020, has allowed Russia to use its territory to stage attacks. Though Ukrainian officials have in the past attended peace talks with Russian counterparts in Minsk, they have insisted this time they be held close to Ukraine-Belarus borders.

Paris and Berlin, meanwhile, are likely to be unacceptable to Putin as mediators. Germany is supplying the Ukrainian side with considerable firepower, including antitank weapons and Stinger missiles. France, meanwhile, has provided defensive equipment and more general support to Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron is the only leader in Western Europe in regular contact with Putin, but he has offered grim signals about the Russian president’s readiness for negotiations.

[…]

Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, there was an overwhelming show of support for a resolution to call on Russia to end the war. Even the Taliban in Afghanistan and the military junta in Myanmar signed on. So did Israel and Turkey.

Only five countries voted against the motion, a motley crew of Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, Russia itself and Syria — hardly beacons of diplomacy. But a further 35 countries abstained, including powerhouses like India and China that have so far strived to avoid picking sides in the conflict.

India has offered to facilitate peace talks, though as a major buyer of Russian arms many analysts view it as too scared of angering Moscow. But some diplomats in Western Europe, and even Ukraine itself, believe the path for peace could run not through New Delhi but Beijing.

In an interview with the El Mundo published Friday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that when it came to mediating a peace deal, there was no alternative: “It must be China, I am sure of that.” Borrell told the Spanish newspaper: “We have not asked for it nor have they asked for it, but since it has to be a power and neither the US nor Europe can be [mediators], China could be.”

My Two Cents

The increased Russian brutality further demonstrates Putin’s desperation in this self-created crisis. The price of this invasion is surely higher than he calculated and the combination of Ukrainian resolve and Russian aggression has unified the Western powers to a degree not even the staunchest Atlanticists would have dared hope.

But now what?

The NATO allies have, quite rightly, made clear they are not willing to go to war with Russia unless he invades a signatory to the Washington Treaty. Russia may not be able to install a puppet regime in Kyiv but neither are Ukrainian forces likely able to defeat the invaders altogether, even with increasing materiel supply (and, one presumes, intelligent, surveillance, and reconnaissance support) from the West.

Taylor’s assessment that there really isn’t a party credible to both sides of the conflict to help broker a peace strikes me as correct. So how does Putin wind this thing down in a way that allows him to save face and retain power? I haven’t the foggiest.

The ideal, I suppose, would be for a regime change in Moscow. Maybe the oligarchs rally to oust Putin and replace him with Dmitry Medvedev or some other figure who’s better for business. But that’s likely too much to hope for.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, World Politics
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. Scott says:

    I don’t have the imagination to design an off-ramp for Putin. OTOH, I don’t see how we can allow an inch of Ukraine be retained by Russia. Nor can can we be intimidated by the spectre of nuclear weapons. Calling Putin’s bluff is the only way forward. In my opinion.

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  2. Jax says:

    I feel like we’re being dragged slowly backwards into war. It seems inevitable as long as Putin’s in charge, and I have no idea if whoever follows him will be more “sane”.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    In order to stop fighting, Putin needs to either obtain something he values or fear something worse than withdrawal without achieving his objectives.
    On the “obtain” side, I haven’t heard anyone suggest anything sufficient he wants that the West is willing for him to have. On the “fear” side, I suspect he believes he is a dead man if he inflicts this much damage to Russia and ends up with nothing to show for it.

    The only positive outcome I can see is if Putin is assassinated and the coup leader is willing to withdraw. But while I think the first half of that is possible, from what I’ve heard the Russian people would not be willing to accept the second.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The ideal, I suppose, would be for a regime change in Moscow. Maybe the oligarchs rally to oust Putin and replace him with Dmitry Medvedev or some other figure who’s better for business. But that’s likely too much to hope for.

    Sometimes, hope is all you’ve got. So we put the squeeze on the oligarchs, hoping that their love of the high life will instill the will to put an end to this. One way or the other.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    The most likely short to mid term prediction for Ukraine is more to the same. Eventually Rus will capture the major cities in central and eastern Ukraine, but like the dog that catches the car… At that point Ukraine will descend into a protracted insurrectionist conflict that will bleed Rus for as long as they try to stay in the country.

    The sanctions regime will continue to bite, driving Rus back to the economy of the 1970’s/80’s, empty store shelves and Trabants not BMW’s. The difference is several generations of Rus will have grown up in a world of abundance and opportunity that their grandparents could never dream of. It was one thing for Lenin and the communists to impose a penurious economy on a people that had been living under a similar economy imposed by the tsar and for Putin to imposed poverty on a people that have tasted abundance.

    Eventually Putin will be pushed from power, but it maybe a decade for that to happen.

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  6. Tony W says:

    The only viable offramp at this point is complete humiliation for Putin – including the Crimea going back to Ukrainian control and Putin losing power, and possibly his life.

    Putin has backed himself into a corner and has no other way out. Perhaps he can claw and scratch his way to “victory” in Ukraine, but he will face brutal opposition to any occupying force, and it will be very expensive in both lives and treasure – neither of which can Russia afford.

    TLDR: Putin made a grave error.

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  7. DK says:

    Taylor’s assessment that there really isn’t a party credible to both sides of the conflict to help broker a peace strikes me as correct.

    Macron or Bennett maybe? Putin just spent 2+ hours on the phone with Macron the other day, no?

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  8. R. Dave says:

    I’m guessing it’ll be something like Cyprus – essentially a lasting cease-fire, rather than a peace treaty, with a de facto division of the country at the current limit of the invading force’s advance. Russia agrees to halt its advance and ends up controlling everything east of the Dneiper, which Putin can very plausibly call a win at home, an independent Ukraine continues to exist west of the river and even though it never formally accepts the division, it agrees not to use overt force to undo it while a “permanent solution” is being negotiated”, the US and EU agree to lift the economy-crushing sanctions on the Russian financial system while retaining the punitive ones targeted against certain individuals and companies, including Putin and his oligarchs, and NATO beefs up its forces, particularly in the east, and expands to include Finland and Sweden. Then we all settle in for Cold War 2.0 and wait to see what lessons China takes from the whole thing vis-a-vis Taiwan.

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  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, I am somewhat skeptical of these stories of Russias imminent collapse. They are a gritty, tough people, willing to endure major hardships when they feel they are attacked. And their government has given them reason to think they are attacked.

    I hope that Putin is getting desperate, but fear he is considering all that’s going on to be the ordinary mess of military conflict, and his many batteries of artillery and thermobaric ammunition will win the day – or perhaps a tac nuke, but that might be reserved for an incursion into Russia.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    The only off-ramp here is Putin’s head stuck on a pike and mounted on the Kremlin wall.

    Seriously. The only solution is a dead Putin.

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  11. Jon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The only solution is a dead Putin.

    Or a live boy? 😉

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  12. JohnSF says:

    @R. Dave:
    The problem with that as a resolution is that the response of people of the designated “Russian zone” is going to be “NO!”.
    I would not care to issue life insurance policies for Russian soldiers or national security guards patrolling in these areas.
    Still less on local collaborators..

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  13. drj says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Well, I am somewhat skeptical of these stories of Russias imminent collapse.

    Russian losses have been horrendous. 20K total casualties (not just KIA) might be a reasonable estimation at this point. (UKR claims 11,000 Russian KIA. Add three times as many wounded and you’re talking something like 40K casualties. Of course, these numbers are certainly overestimations and not to be believed – but 20K doesn’t sound unreasonable.)

    20K casualties would be 10% of the total Russian starting force. I’m no military expert but a unit that has suffered 10% casualties is (I guess) not going to be effective for long. To make matters worse, morale appears to be very low. Senior Russian officers (up to the rank of general) have been killed at the front trying to rally their troops.

    And, of course, casualties will not be equally distributed, meaning that some units will be effectively destroyed for weeks if not months.

    And then, there are reports of Russia contracting Syrians to fight in Ukraine (But how effective are they going to be in a totally unfamilair environment?), as well as pretty ancient equipment being brought out from storage. 95% of Russian units in theater are estimated to be engaged in combat operations, meaning that there are few if any reserves immediately available.

    It all sounds pretty desperate. Something is going to give fairly soon.

    However, as we don’t know much regarding Ukranian casualty rates, Russia could very well still come out on top.

    @R. Dave:

    Russia agrees to halt its advance and ends up controlling everything east of the Dneiper

    Most Ukrainians live east of the Dnieper. It is very unlikely that Russia will have the resources to fully occupy this area. Even the Russian speakers will resist.

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  14. Neil Hudelson says:

    @JohnSF:

    Still less on local collaborators..

    The Ukrainians seem to be very efficient on this matter.

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  15. JohnSF says:

    Interesting reports, if accurate
    Putin’s idea of an “acceptable compromise” off-ramp:
    (1) Zelensky remains pro forma president, but Russia demands Boiko as PM,
    (2) Ukraine recognizes L/DNR as independent (?) and Crimea as Russian,
    (3) Ukraine must amend its constitution and renounce its claim to freedom to join any bloc
    Ukrainians told them to shove it.

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  16. gVOR08 says:

    I heard former Amb. McFaul say there are two kinds of oligarchs, the Yeltsin era oligarchs and the Putin oligarchs, and that our sanctions are mostly hitting the former, who have no real influence on Putin. In his daily Ukraine update yesterday at Balloon Juice Adam Silverman links to a Tweet thread by one Professor Olga Chyzh who goes into more detail and finds it unlikely the new oligarchs will drive Putin out. He’s made them completely dependent on him. Information dense, so hard to excerpt, but she concludes,

    The bottom line: The current sanctions decrease the size of the pie, but the pie is still very large and Putin’s ability to distribute it is intact. No other candidate would guarantee a similar distribution to the current players. And selecting a new candidate is a coordination problem of its own. Hence, the probability of a regime change is low.

    That large numbers of Russians are willing to risk protesting is encouraging, and apparently Putin faces reelection in 2024. But I would think the possibility of failing reelection, even assuming he doesn’t somehow eliminate the election, is small. And the chance of popular uprising smaller. Picture the U. S. with the blood and soil conservatives having a deep history of real grievances and FOX news having a monopoly. I assume 2/3 of Russians are MRGAts.

    A military coup or mutiny seems more likely than an oligarch uprising or popular revolt, but still bloody unlikely. (Does the Russian Federation military still have equivalents of political commissars?) Which leaves hope for a lone assassin, facing way tighter security than the Secret Service.

    “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But I fear any off ramp will have to involve Putin, and Putin might be willing to level Ukraine before admitting defeat. I don’t see Zelenskyy has any option but to hold on and hope. I hope the West, which basically means Biden, is planning an endgame. No one else is likely to.

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  17. JohnSF says:

    Meanwhile, the Russian economy is finding it’s own “off-ramp”, Thelma and Louise stylee:
    1 Russian Ruble equals
    0.0065 United States Dollar

    OK, this made me laugh:
    Moody’s to introduce new ‘shit’ credit rating to better describe the state of Russia’s economy

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  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @drj:

    And then, there are reports of Russia contracting Syrians to fight in Ukraine (But how effective are they going to be in a totally unfamilair environment?),…

    How do you say “Cannon Fodder” in Russian and Ukrainian? This is an admission that the Rus don’t want to send their own troops into the cities, even after they level them.

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  19. Michael Cain says:

    I don’t see any way out other than the military deposes Putin at some point.

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  20. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Vlad misunderstands the idea of an off-ramp. It’s how he gets off a blunder while retaining some face, not how Ukraine gets off being a sovereign nation.

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  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Or that they fear their own troops will be less willing to be brutal against Ukrainians than they were against Muslim Chechens. Which, re @Michael Cain: , could be an indicator of military discontent. I noted above I consider military coup the most likely path to removing Putin, but still very unlikely.

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  22. dazedandconfused says:

    The only off-ramp for Russia I can see is Putin stepping down, and it appeared to me Putin allowed himself to be portrayed as isolated in the run-up. They seem to have deliberately framed this as Putin’s war, not Russia’s. It’s very likely Putin knew this was a big gamble and it’s a logical fall-back position. Putin goes and most people will be looking for a complete re-set on Russian relations.

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  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    If the reports of Russian troops defecting or surrendering when confronted are half true, Putin has a huge problem. An army suffering from terminal morale problems, will not go willing into a meat grinder and if they don’t know that is where they’re headed, they will at the point of engagement. Which raises the question as to whether the Syrians will be anymore likely to take that assignment?

    I don’t see Putin’s ouster anytime soon, whether by the oligarchs or the military. The only short to medium term event that would precipitate his ouster would be 10’s of thousands or 100’s of thousands of protesters in the streets of Russia, demanding that he go. That would give someone with the access and support base the courage to move against Vlad. Putin will be bled for a long time and will only go due to ill health or declining mental acuity.

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  24. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    …most people will be looking for a complete re-set on Russian relations.

    Not this time.

    Not until Russia addresses it’s ridiculous superiority complex, and accommodates itself to just being an equal European country with no divine prerogatives as the “Third Rome ” or whatever the ideology of the year is in the Kremlin.

    Russia was offered that on the demise of the Soviet Union, then by the mid 90’s was trying to reduce the CIS to subordination, and claiming a right to step in as the “protector of Serbia” on whatever spurious ground of “historic ties” or “Orthodox brotherhood” or “Ruusia is a great power who you must consult”.

    Which were primary drivers for eastern Europeans clamouring for NATO membership, and Western European governments dropping their previous objections.

    Then repeated attempted “resets” by Bush 2 and then Obama. Which got zero productive response, just repeated Russian insistences that it should, it was entitled, to be a regional hegemon, the opinions of its putative clients notwithstanding.

    Enough.
    Russia can be an equal, or Russia can sod off.
    Their choice.

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  25. Franklin says:

    Just curious: is there any other disputed land along the borders of Russia that some other country lays claim to? Sure would be a shame if someone else took advantage of this colossal distraction right now.

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  26. MarkedMan says:

    @JohnSF:

    Not until Russia addresses it’s ridiculous superiority complex, and accommodates itself to just being an equal European country with no divine prerogatives as the “Third Rome ” or whatever the ideology of the year is in the Kremlin.

    Hear, hear. Post Soviet Russia had everything it takes to have been a world class player by now, but they pissed it all away.

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  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    I’m curious what you and @Andy think of the supposed FSB leak. Here’s a non-paywalled version.

    It reads real to me. Dire analysis mixed in with institutional bitching.

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  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I’ll re-purpose an old saw that used to be directed at the Palestinians: The Russians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

    The importing of Syrian fighters may be all about domestic politics. Russia has huge reserves but if they mobilize them the party line bullshit about limited ops is exposed.

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  29. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Japan does have a claim on some of the Kuril Islands in the Pacific, which were annexed by the USSR in 1945.

    I don’t see Japan staging a forced recovery to take advantage of the current situation.

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  30. Lounsbury says:

    @Tony W: That is hardly a viable “off-ramp” let alone the only.

    The last round of Russian statements suggesting the war could stop if Crimea was formally ceded, the Ukraine takes forced neutrality (ambiguous, perhaps Finlandisation), and cedes the eastern provinces Russia recognised as independent actually hints that in fact they are looking at an off-ramp as these are less maximalist statements than only some days ago.

    That and UK and US intel says that more Russian troops are not being mobilised, although they have committed essentially all previously positioned troops.

    Hints that the General Staff is putting some boundaries on engagement and the logistical limitations that many observers started highlighting may indeed cause this to grind to a stalement sooner than many thought.

    The Ukranians may indeed then be able to hold out and force a result that might look something like a macro-scaled Finnish Winter War result (that even Stalin had to swallow).

    That is a plausible off-ramp. Can’t say if likely but seems indeed be plausible. It will be bitter tea for all parties (and such a stunning collosal waste of resources and lives), but better than most plausible alternatives.

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  31. Lounsbury says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I read some other informed analyses with intel backgrounds who scanned it as plausible non-fake for various reasons.

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  32. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnSF:

    Enough.
    Russia can be an equal, or Russia can sod off.
    Their choice.

    Sadly true. The best solution would be for Russia to say, “My bad.”, back out, and ask to join the EU. Best for Ukraine, best for the West, best for Russia’s neighbors including vassals. But also best for the Russian economy, and best for the Russian people. But not best for Putin and his oligarchs.

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  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:
    It reads like a Google translation of a bitchy apparatchik who spends much of his time complaining about his bosses.

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  34. JohnSF says:

    @Lounsbury:
    Won’t work; Ukraine might, maybe, just concede Crimea.
    At an absolute outside the “autonomous” bits of Donetsk/Luhansk.
    Maybe “pending permanent settlement”.
    And “neutral status” might be negotiable for Ukrainians (though Russia should have no illusions it would be purely window dressing).

    But at present Russia is still insisting on jamming itself by hook or by crook into a veto wielding position in Kyiv.

    Pretty certainly because the primary concern of the Kremlin, now as in 2014, is not “ethic allegiances” or “NATO expansion”, but the prospect of Ukraine moving irreversibly into the EU economic, and a related process of eroding kleptocratic entrenchment in the economy and local politics.
    (And possibly some idiocies regarding the power structures of the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, but that is strictly third order IMO)

    That is something the Ukrainians won’t concede.

    Especially as they don’t trust Russia not to renege on any terms as soon as the ink is dry, and play games with “border violations” again as in Donbas since 2014.

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  35. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Franklin:

    Beyond, as@Kathy: mentioned, the Kuril Islands, there is Transnistria a province of Moldova. This mornings NYT has a good background piece on the current situation there and Moldovan fears for the near future.

    Stalin moved Russian nationals into various bordering countries, particularly the Baltic states and Putin has laid claims that Moscow has the right and obligation to ‘protect’ those fellow countrymen. There is also the special Slavic relationship that Russia claims to have with the Serbs. And, as mentioned above, Russia tried to intervene in the Balkans war during the Clinton administration that was the result of the civil war that started over the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

    Putin has also claimed interest in having hegemony over areas that were formerly part of the former Russian Empire in addition to the Soviet Union, that places him into countries like Finland, Hungry and Poland (I guess he claims 2 reasons to hold the last two.)

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  36. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Seems plausible at first glance.
    Particularly a apparent bureaucratic issue with Middle Eastern irrelevancies.
    But would an FSB guy, as opposed to SVR/GRU, be so concerned about overseas matters, as opposed to internal? Dunno.

    If it’s fake, it’s well done.
    Good enough for any author. 🙂

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  37. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    Pretty sure most will seek a path to peace and mutual prosperity and not Cold War II myself. Most people, like I say. Certainly there will be some who love the idea, but what would serve for such an admission of equality I can’t imagine.

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  38. DK says:

    @Lounsbury: Wonder how palatable it would be for Zelensky to cede nothing on Putin’s demands for neutrality or a say in Ukranian leadership, but trade away Crimea and/or Donbas and/or Luhansk. They’re full of Russians anyway. Would Ukranians swallow that? Would Putin?

    I do not see Ukranians going for neutrality at all ever. Putin has done more for an anti-Russian Ukranian national identity than anybody not named Zelensky. And Putin just made the case for NATO’s swift expansion into Ukraine, Finland and Sweden. The Russian armed forces has been exposed; it could never successfully confront NATO on the battlefield. Putin’s nuclear weapons are his whole hand.

    What was he thinking? Which of his military or intelligence advisors will be scaoegoated and shot for this?

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  39. DK says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Putin allowed himself to be portrayed as isolated in the run-up. They seem to have deliberately framed this as Putin’s war, not Russia’s. It’s very likely Putin knew this was a big gamble and it’s a logical fall-back position.

    This scenario doesn’t result in Putin being removed from power. This allows Putin and his apologists to blame and scapegoat those who isolated him, who brought him bad information.

    That’s why the intelligence officers are nervous. Oleg Salyukov and his underlings should be too. Putin is not going to take responsibility and his many apologists in Russia and worldwide will be more than happy to let him keep blame-shifting.

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  40. JohnSF says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Plus other Russian claims to rights due “leadership” or “protection” or “security” or “culture” or “religion” or “ethnicity” or “because we wanntss it, my preciousss, we wants it”:
    Bulgaria (Orthodox Slav)
    North Macedonia (Orthodox Slav)
    Montenegro (Orthodox Slav)
    Romania (Orthodox Romanesque)
    Greece (Orthodox, umm, Greek)
    Cyprus (as above)
    Istanbul (because Constantinople)
    Poland, Czechia and Slovakia (Slav)
    Baltics (Russian Empire)
    Central Asia (Russian Empire)
    etc etc etc

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  41. de stijl says:

    It certainly recontextualizes the US invasion of Iraq.

    We invaded and occupied for zero reason because our leader wanted to. Literally faked a reason to do so. A crazy amount of US citizens were all for it. 9/11 bloodlust.

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  42. Gustopher says:

    @DK: Full of Russian speakers, but not full of Russians. Other noted Russian speaking Ukrainians include Zelenskyy — and the sudden burgeoning national identity of Ukraine is very much inclusive of Russian speakers. (Say what you will about a Ukrainian national identity before, this is recrafting it stronger)

    I think Putin would get an active insurgency in Donbas and/or Luhansk.

    Best off-ramp might be to find some actual Nazis (it’s Eastern Europe, there are some Nazis somewhere), kill them, and then proclaim that they have saved Ukraine from the Nazis. And then just try to gaslight the world.

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  43. Kathy says:

    @DK:

    I agree with the first part.

    If belligerent, absolutist dictators had an honest war cry, if would be “Look what you made me do!”

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  44. Jon says:

    @Gustopher: I think we may have some Nazi’s here in the US we can contribute to that project.

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  45. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    The path to peace and prosperity was sought since the collapse of the USSR.
    Despite Russian attempts to assert hegemonic rights in the Balkans and the CIS.
    Despite the ongoing nonsense in Transnistria; after Georgia 2008; even after Ukraine 2014.

    What would constitute “equality” is Russia accepting that it has no more right to assert dominion over its neighbours, or to unilaterally adjust borders by subversion and force than, say Germany would have to attemting another anschluss of Austria or Gdansk, or the UK requiring the subordination of Ireland, or France annexing the French speaking parts of Belgium.

    I certainly have no desire to see Europe returning to being an armed camp, for resources to be wasted on military expenditure and economic disconnection.

    If Russia is willing to negotiate peace with Ukraine on terms acceptable to the Ukraine, and stop acting like an 18th Century atavism in general, fine. Excellent.
    Peace, co-operation, and prosperity for the win.

    If not, not.

    If Russia wants Cold War 2 they can have it, doubled, redoubled, and in trumps.

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  46. dazedandconfused says:

    @DK:
    Russian internal scapegoated wouldn’t serve to re-set relations with the world, I quite agree.

    Ideally to that end it would be a staged defenestration. Putin is 70, has more money than he knows what to do with, and running a place like Russia is a big, tough job. He might have decided if this went bad he would accept retirement.

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  47. Sleeping Dog says:

    @JohnSF:

    A guy could run out of digital ink listing all the places that Russia claims a special relationship. Though we should give them back Alaska…

    As empires go, Russia has always been kind of third rate and chased approval of the West. At least until Lenin and then it took Hitler’s overreach and the Allies being too exhausted from the war to try and push them back. Once they got the bomb, they were secure and a force, but hardly a successful empire.

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  48. JohnSF says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    The Russia/Western relationship has been ambivalent for a long time.
    It was a full participant in Congress System, and especially the Holy Alliance component thereof, till that broke down in the mid-19th Century.
    In large part because the Russian Empire was unable to restrain itself from attempting to dominate the Balkans and the Straits as Turkey declined.
    Not without some good reasons, it should be said.

    Which led to the Crimean War, and the steady move to estrangement from Germany and Austria-Hungary.

    For the rest of period up to 1917 Russia was again pulled back and forth by competing plans for expansion in Central Asia, Far East and Balkans; between Slavophiles and Europhiles; between reformers and reactionaries.
    But so long as the capstone of Tsarist autocracy and the basis of peasant exploitation remained in place, it was unable to change decisively.
    Then came 1917, and the tragedy of a twisted Revolution…

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  49. JohnSF says:

    Ukrainian humour:
    Concerned by his military failures, Putin holds a seance and summons the spirit of Stalin:
    ” Why is everything going so badly?” asks Putin, “What can I do to make Russia victorious?”
    Stalin replies,
    “Execute half of your population and paint the Kremlin yellow and blue.”
    “Yellow and blue! The colours of Ukraine! Why on earth should I do that” asks Putin.
    “I knew you wouldn’t object to the first part,” says Stalin.

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  50. de stijl says:

    I am leaning towards the argument that the oligarchs are going to be extremely pissed that they can no longer cavort through the world fancy free.

    Western Europe and the US are now off limits for the foreseeable future. Most nations in the world.

    A cadre of highly motivated multi-billionaires can get shit done, especially in authoritarian countries where a cook or a doctor or a massage therapist can be easily bribed.

    I would not be surprised if Putin has a sudden and lethal health emergency in the next few months and the new government declares “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” and kinda grovels to be let back into the world’s good graces.

    What’s the fun of being a multi-billionaire if you are stuck being a pariah in all of the fun countries? They take your real estate? They bogart your 2nd best yacht?

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  51. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:
    The oligarchs problem is that they are now only a subordinate pillar of the regime, far less crucial than the siloviki, the “people of power”: commander of eg security police, “elite” military formations, former military/security types in charge of civil departments.
    Frequently motivated by a combination of personal ambition, obedience to the state hierarchy, and Great Russia ideology.
    Generally speaking almost all their wealth is held in Russia; and a lot of them are not necessarily primarily motivated by wealth, but by power and politics.

    Only Putin protects the oligarchs from the potential for “redistribution at gunpoint”.

    And any discontent oligarchs face that old problem:
    “Come at the king, you best not miss.”

    It’s losing the siloviki that will be Putin’s real nightmare.
    But I suspect things will have to get a lot worse, both for the economy and in the fighting, before that happens.

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  52. dazedandconfused says:

    @de stijl: It is possible what happened to Putin is similar to what happened to us in Iraq II, they believed their own BS. They believed that inside every Ukrainian is a Russian waiting to be liberated. “…they will greet us as liberators.” -Dick Cheney.

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  53. Kathy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I’m pretty confident by now in saying: no people will ever welcome invaders intent in taking over as liberators.

    They will welcome third-party troops who’ve come to kick the invaders out, as happened in WWII in western Europe, or in Kuwait in 1991. But only so long as they don’t set up an occupation of their own.

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  54. de stijl says:

    @JohnSF:

    Some siloviki are amenable to being bought.

    Not all of them are crazed ethno-nationalists.

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  55. de stijl says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Okay. I kind of get why no one is bringing up the US invasion of, and occupation of Iraq.

    It would detract from the message about sovereignty and the heroism of Ukrainians.

    But amongst us smart people, our war – our invasion, occupation of Iraq is spot on applicable. Down to decapitation of the government. Sometimes literally.

    Invading another country for no reason other than that you can and you want to. We had the smarts to invent reasons that the world community kinda accepted, at least did not immediately declare “Shenanigans!” about. Involved the UN. Bullshitted the UN.

    As we were to Iraq, Russia is to Ukraine. Minus a limp “okay, whatever” from the world community. And obviously Zelensky is not Hussein.

    20 years ago, we were acting very much like Putin / Russia is today.

    No one brings it up because it is a very uncomfortable truth. If Putin is evil, we were evil, too. We kinda did the same thing Putin is dong now.

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  56. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    I’m pretty confident by now in saying: no people will ever welcome invaders intent in taking over as liberators.

    Indeed. One of the facts of life seems to be that people will gladly die for the right to be oppressed by one of their own.

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  57. de stijl says:

    I know this makes me sound petty and mean and vengeful, but if Putin were to die from plutonium poisoning, that would make my year.

    Reap what you sow, motherfucker!

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  58. Ken_L says:

    I suppose it’s inevitable in the era of the 24 hour news cycle that a war which is still raging after almost a fortnight seems interminable. Surely something must crack soon to provide the exciting climax?

    It took 8 years for the Russians to end resistance in Chechnya. The attempt to do the same in Afghanistan lasted 10.

    The Afghan War quickly settled down into a stalemate, with more than 100,000 Soviet troops controlling the cities, larger towns, and major garrisons and the mujahideen moving with relative freedom throughout the countryside. Soviet troops tried to crush the insurgency by various tactics, but the guerrillas generally eluded their attacks. The Soviets then attempted to eliminate the mujahideen’s civilian support by bombing and depopulating the rural areas. These tactics sparked a massive flight from the countryside; by 1982 some 2.8 million Afghans had sought asylum in Pakistan, and another 1.5 million had fled to Iran. The mujahideen were eventually able to neutralize Soviet air power through the use of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles supplied by the Soviet Union’s Cold War adversary, the United States.

    The Crimea was occupied in 2014. A civil war has gone on in the Donbas ever since. There’s simply no reason to believe Putin is facing a crisis because he didn’t get a lightning victory. It’s much more likely that Russia is prepared to keep slogging it out for as long as it takes. And as time goes by, the impact of sanctions on NATO members will cause domestic political problems for their governments and make them the ones looking for an off ramp.

    I take no pleasure in making these kinds of observations, which elsewhere get me labelled a “tankie”, but we need to see this war for what it is, not as something likely to be resolved within a few weeks with an outcome satisfactory to ‘the west’.

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  59. Ken_L says:

    @de stijl: I’ve been very entertained by the strident demands in America that Putin be dragged to The Hague to face the International Court of Justice. You know, the court America not only refuses to recognize, but sanctioned a couple of years back for daring to suggest it might prosecute Americans for war crimes.

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  60. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Winter War. Finland. Karelia.

    The Russians changing their stated parameters now suggest that’s the potential path. Not as is, but something in those lines (ex-demilitiarisation, but probably like Finland giving up in writing “offensive weapons.”)

    Barring a coup d’état in Russia, this is our best possible real world option. Not calling it a likely result – afraid rather a grand-scale Syria could be the most likely result – but it is the best real world option.

    Of course the real result if done is an Ukraine truncated on the East and Crimia, and “neutral” but one that like the Baltics and Finland, seethes with hatred for the Russian state.

    @DK: Palatable is not a platonic ideal. How palatable was it to the Finns in 41/45?

    What is palatable when one’s blood is up and still have supplies and rations is different than what is palatale as the Russian artillery grinds on implacably month after month (See Syria, See Tchechnia). Of course the Russians too have a likely palatability evolution, as humiliating as this experience is to the General Staff, being shown to be an incompetent large scale force.

    Similar factors in the two part Finnish Winter War with Russia/Soviet Union – not identical but similar

    @Michael Reynolds: I read it, and indeed it felt plausible to me, but it was the reading of others specifically familiar with such saying it felt plausible and had signs of being genuine that was more convincing than my own read. Still, one can’t know if it’s been ‘augmented’ – a real doc salted with convenient encouraging things. I do hope though that the nuclear observation is correct.

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  61. Lounsbury says:

    @Ken_L: Only item is as per reading on the Russian supply chain and ability to keep this large scale mobilisation going, there is a real limit and deadline for them, 3 weeks or so has been the estimate I have read. Given the severe supply line problems clearly documented, that seems very plausible.

    As such, there is a limit – enhanced by Western sanctions – to how long the Russian army can grind at scale before becoming offence ineffective and bogged down. It gives then Ukraine a dim hope, a Finland 1945 type hope. Fight to a stalemate in essence. Keeping the East and Crimea are probably impossible but stalemating the Russians (at terrible, terrible cost) might … might be in reach if they can prevent breakthrough

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  62. JohnSF says:

    @de stijl:
    Because the US (and UK) had entirely legitimate cause for war:
    Iraq had repeatedly violated the cease fire agreement of 1991.

    That had been the reason for the “Desert Fox” airstrike campaign of 1998.
    Iraqi ceasefire violations of various kind persisted.

    Whether the invasion of 2003 was wise is another matter.
    In those it should probably have restricted to a limited war, aimed at destruction of military capacity and an imposed treaty; or an occupation force much larger, capable of imposing control.

    The US and the UK made the mistake of going down the rabbit hole of the minutiae of “weapons of mass destruction” and inspections, and argumentation at the United Nations.
    And still more allowing the whole matter to get linked to some chimercal speculations about links to al Qaida.

    Neither were relevant to the legal basis:
    Iraq had violated the ceasefire of 1991, therefore returning to a state of war.
    And the Coalition states were therefore entitled to prosecute that renewed war to a conclusion.

    For that reason the legal basis was entirely different; and so was the political one, the behaviour over more than a decade of the government of Iraq.

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  63. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    The difference is that all the evidence indicates that the Russian offensive was planned as:
    – Primarily a rapid strike of armoured spearheads and special forces desant to take Kyiv, destroy and replace, the Ukrainian political leadership. and secure military staging positions .
    – Secondly, securing key military objective for potential continuing operations: Kyiv itself, with transport links and airport; Kharkhiv; south coast from Donbas to Crimea; north of Crimea to Dnipr.

    Except for the Crimea to Dnipr crossings area none of these objectives has been obtained.
    And the failure of the Kyiv plans in particular have led to a monumental logistic dislocation on the lines of advance, and signs of major attritional losses on the edges of the assault columns.

    It is probably within the capacity of the Russians to remedy this. Though they may have to swallow the humiliation of a limited retreat from Kyiv to untangle their supplies.

    But they appear to have already used up a significant proportion of their planned supply allocations. Redoubling effort is not going to be easy.
    But it could be done.

    But even then taking Kyiv is unlikely to collapse Ukrainian resistance.
    The south west region alone is roughly the size of England; with a dozen sizable cities, and the supply routes to Poland, Romania and (potentially) Hungary.

    And the far south west contains the Carpathian Mountains.
    They could well become a meatgrinder for a Russian offensive.

    Once again, Russia can push through to military victory.
    It then faces the task of sustaining an occupation in the face of almost certain ongoing insurgency.
    This alone is likely to require hundreds of thousands of troops to sustain.

    The economic burden will be considerable.

    Ukraine is a far bigger task than Chechnya, where the main issue was controlling the borders and taking Grozny, after which Russian aligned Chechens imposed their control

    Also, the impact of current sanctions on Russia is going to be enormous.
    It is facing hyperinflationary price rises of all import goods.
    A lot of imports it will not be able to obtain at all.
    The concomitant gradual debilitation of significant sectors of the economy that require imported goods to function.
    And a near total cut-off of external capital investment and trade in key areas.

    the impact of sanctions on NATO members will cause domestic political problems for their governments and make them the ones looking for an off ramp.

    Perhaps. Then again, perhaps not.
    Russia is now seen by a lot of European elites (and a broad section of the general public, but that is secondary) as too dangerous to be tolerated on present terms.

    The likely outcome as of now is the Russia grinds its way to a “victory” by late summer.
    It then attempts to control Ukraine, and indeed Russia itself, on top of a slowly collapsing Russian economy, at massive costs in money and life.
    Putin and the Great Russia core of the government will shift to effective total police stte repression in Russia itself.

    NATO meanwhile will establish Cold War 2.
    As energy and strategic industry autarky is established, and miltary establishments returned to 1980’s level or greater, it will steadily be capable of enforcing an econmic disconnection between Russia and the rest of the world, on the basis of “choose us, or choose them”.

    Eventually Russia will be unable to sustain itself as an isolate Power.
    Just as the Soviet Union was unable to do so.
    But the duration of resistance is uncertain, depending on the capacity to accommodate to economic stagnation and impose political repression.

    It could take from five to twenty five years.

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  64. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Yes… regrettably this is the most likely path.

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  65. grumpy realist says:

    Think that this is another case of a ruler getting high on their own supply. And no one dares tell him boo. Hence the debacle.

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  66. dazedandconfused says:

    @de stijl:
    It’s easy to demonize but sometimes stupid is the real culprit. I understand the narrative is this just popped up out of the blue, but in fact there has been a slow burning civil war going on in Donbas for 8 years now, and the Ukrainians have sworn to never stop fighting it, or give up fighting for Crimea. and that’s the offer the Russians have placed on the table now. There are reasons, right or wrong, this did not spring out of nothing.

    Zelensky was elected on a platform of normalizing relations with his powerful neighbor, what happened to that effort seems to have been what Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal wrote about here.

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  67. DK says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I understand the narrative is this just popped up out of the blue,

    Where at? My understand Putin has been invading neighbors and killing innocents for 20+ years, long recognized as an authoritarian megalomaniac with delusions of imperial grandeur.

    Are “neo-Nazi paramilitaries” the reason Putin bombed his own people in 1999 to create an excuse to flatten Grozny and Aleppo? Why Putin invaded Georgia in 2008? Why Putin invaded Crimea in 2014?

    Are “neo-Nazi paramilitaries” why Putin murdered Nemstov and jailed Nalvany? Why Putin has shut down independent Russian media outlets and banned use of the words “war” and “invasion?” Why he lied to the conscripts he sent to the front lines as cannon fodder?

    Are “neo-Nazi paramilitaries” why Putin’s cops are stopping Russians in the streets to scroll through their phones? Why Putin’s police have beaten antiwar protestors and detained 14,000 Russians who won’t buy his phony “it’s NATO and the neo-Nazi paramilitaries” canard?

    Have Rubinstein and Blumenthal written about the genocide Putin is waging against Chechnyan gays?

    The narrative among Putin’s apologists is to whitewash Putin, believe his lies, and claim his actions are somebody else’s fault, but they think the rest of us will buy the “Putin is super concerned about protecting people from Nazis” whataboutism? Not today Satan.

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  68. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    @de stijl:
    No, that is not the offer the Russian have placed on the table now.

    They also demanded a veto over Ukrainian links with either NATO or the EU, and (at least at first) that Ukraine should have a new prime minister “acceptable” to Russia.

    And as for the ongoing fighting in the Donbas since 2014, OCSE reporting indicate the majority of clashes being initiated by Russian forces.

    Not to mention the fact that Russia could easily end any problems of conflict, by simply leaving the areas it seized in 2014.
    But that, of course, is unthinkable.
    Because reasons.

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  69. DK says:

    @de stijl:

    20 years ago, we were acting very much like Putin / Russia is today.

    No one brings it up because it is a very uncomfortable truth.

    No one brings it up because it’s already been litigated and not particularly relevant. Okay, so Iraq was evil. Noted. Now what? Saying so doesn’t change anything about what’s happening now (except contributing to war weariness and American hostility to US imperialism that is keeping American troops out of Ukraine, a decidedly positive development).

    Zelensky is not Hussein, Putin is not Bush, America is not Russia, and 2022 is not 2002. Iraq was a disaster, as the hundreds of thousands who protested it across America already knew. But it was a disaster on its own merits, context, and contours. It’s not any more or less of a disaster based on what Putin is doing in Ukraine, and vice versa. And it has no bearing on the fact Putin’s war Ukraine is wrong and should be opposed.

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  70. dazedandconfused says:

    @DK:
    It’s the notion that the Russians just went down and bombed those places for the fun of it that I differ with. It’s shallow thinking and not the whole story. Calling Putin Satan…unhelpful at best.

    If you want to figure out the best way to stop a war IMO we must figure out what the other guy is thinking, not what we want them to be thinking so we feel better about killing him.

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  71. Ken_L says:

    @DK: That’s a bit of a cop-out. America has been waging wars on foreign soil since the 19th century to ward off perceived threats to its national security, most recently from “communism” and “Islamofascism”. Nor has it ever hesitated to intervene militarily in Central and South America to squash what it deemed to be groups or governments hostile to the USA. The invasion of Iraq was not a discrete event, but part of a consistent pattern of America’s national security philosophy. I condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine for exactly the same reasons I condemned America’s occupations of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor have I seen any evidence that many Americans feel their country has been morally in the wrong. At most, they concede that errors of judgement were made. America’s current national security principles mean it will not hesitate to wage aggressive war again in future if it feels its interests are threatened. For example, I have no trouble at all envisaging a future administration sending troops to occupy parts of Central America to halt an increasing flow of illegal immigrants.

    I’m sure many Russians believe America’s righteous indignation about Ukraine is the height of hypocrisy. They have good reason to think so. That does not, of course, alter the atrocious nature of their own country’s behavior.

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  72. Ken_L says:

    @Ken_L: Damn random italics.

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  73. JohnSF says:

    @DK:
    @dazedandconfused:
    The problem is when what the other party is thinking, and desires to achieve, and the means they employ, may be an entirely rational pursuit of their goals.
    But those goals, and those means, are wholly unacceptable to the other party.
    As Russian demands are to Ukraine, and Russian means are to Europe and the United States.

    Japan was not bombing and massacring in China in the 1930’s for “the fun of it”.
    But that did not make their demands any more tolerable to either China or the United States.

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  74. DK says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    It’s the notion that the Russians just went down and bombed those places for the fun

    It’s not for fun and it’s not Russians. It’s Putin. And we know why he’s bombing Ukraine, it’s because he thinks Ukraine has no right to self-determination and no right to exist. We don’t have to guess Putin’s thinking on that: he said so.

    We also know from Putin’s 22-yesr dictatorship, his bombing of Chechnya and Georgia and Crimea, his censorship and destruction of Russia’s free press, his indiffrence to the death of Russian conscripts, his murdering and jailing of political opponents, his genocidal campaign against Chechnyan gays, and his surveillance of and attacks on Russian antiwar protestors that Putin is a pathological lying killer hostile to liberty, democracy, and automony; is dedicated to rebuilding Imperial Russia; and does not give one single crap about human rights or stopping Naziism.

    If you want to “figure out” what Putin is thinking you can just look at two decades worth of his words and deeds. Instead of pushing intellectually lazy whataboutbothsidesism to rehabilitate him as some tragically misunderstood enigma.

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  75. DK says:

    @Ken_L:

    I’m sure many Russians believe America’s righteous indignation about Ukraine is the height of hypocrisy.

    Cool story. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is full stop wrong, period. Whatabout what “America” did 20, 60, 120 years ago does not change that. Calling it a cop out because I’m not interested in changing the subject to whatabout is not going to stop anyone from opposing Putin’s actions, nor should it.

    I vocally opposed Iraq before it even happened and know plenty of Americans who thought that war was morally wrong, protesting for years even up to the White House gate. So I don’t even feel the littlest tiny bit of hesitation in slamming Putin’s Russia. Not even a little bit.

    If Biden was a 22-year dictator who had Trump murdered and Bernie thrown in jail, who flattened Havana to take over Cuba in 2000, who had invaded Canada in 2008 to install a puppet government, who had annexed Baja California in 2014, and then two weeks ago said Mexico had no right to exist and started bombing Mexico City while shutting down social media and everything except White House TV, then I’d care about complaints of American hypocrisy.

    But I don’t, sorry. When Zelensky morphs into Saddam Hussein or when 100,000 Russians show up in Moscow to protest Ukraine the way 100,000 Americans showed up in New York to protest Iraq, I’ll listen to Russian bleating about hypocrisy. Til then, the only thing I’m interested in is Putin leaving Ukranians alone.

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  76. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    Britain waged war on foreign soil in 1939 to ward off perceived threats to its national security, from “fascism”. Shock horror.

    We actually declared war on Germany, before they had done us a single bit of harm!
    Such aggression!

    Not to mention 1914, when the Reichswehr were just taking a brief road trip scenic detour through Belgium!

    And viciously declaring war on Japan, too, when they had simply had a little local misunderstanding with you Americans at Pearl Harbour.

    Are we not wickedness incarnate?

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  77. dazedandconfused says:

    @DK:
    The offer currently on the table allows Zelensky to stay in office, so apparently the resistance has changed Putin’s stance.

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  78. Ken_L says:

    @JohnSF: None of your masterly
    sarcasm is remotely responsive to my comment.

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  79. Ken_L says:

    @DK: Can’t you discuss two separate issues? One is the atrocious Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The other is the way US actions over the last 70 years have degraded any prospect of having a rules-based order of international relations that punishes the use of force for anything but self-defense. Your position is the equivalent of “This is no time to talk about gun control laws” every time there’s a mass shooting.

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  80. DK says:

    @Ken_L: Can’t you stop trying to change the subject? US actions over the last 70 years are not why Putin is a 22 year dictator who genocides gays, murders political opponents and thinks Ukraine has no right to exist. What were the Soviets doing for the last 70 years? Passing out candy and rainbows, waiting to take their cues from the US?

    Your position is the equivalent of “Yeah Republican rhetoric is causing an increase in hate crime that is getting people killed right now, but Democrats that are now dead filibustered the Civil Rights Act 60 years ago.” Or “Yes, right wing transphobia is contributing to trans women being murdered in record numbers right now, but Hillary opposed gay marriage in 2008.”

    Okay thanks for the history lesson. And? Now what? Maybe we should drop history books on Ukraine. Clearly, that’s what’s important right now while they’re being bombed. “Sorry Putin is killing you, but whatabout Vietnam? Yeah, that’s was something. You’re welcome for the help. Bye!”

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  81. JohnSF says:

    @Ken_L:
    Of course it is responsive.

    You referred to America “waging wars on foreign soil since the 19th century to ward off perceived threats to its national security, most recently from “communism” and “Islamofascism”.

    I was pointing out that the UK waged war to ward of perceived threats to it’s national security.

    It is not the waging war, or the military intervention in itself that is necessarily a damnable act.
    It is why it is done, and is it appropriate to the threat.
    The United States, in each of the cases you refer to – Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq – have good reasons for being seen as in response to use of force by another party.

    It is arguable that the US acted disproportionately or unwisely in those cases.
    But that is another issue.

    There is also the possibility that a rules-based order that punishes the use of force is only as strong as the force that underlies it, but that is also another issue.

    (As for masterly sarcasm, no, that was merely a little light exercise)

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  82. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    The offer currently on the table allows Zelensky to stay in office…

    Indeed, and how remarkably generous of him
    Perhaps Ukraine could offer the same terms regarding President Putin remaining in office as an acceptable response?

    However, the problem is Ukraine continues to view key Russian demands as unacceptable:
    – ceding the LNR/DNR zones as “independent” at the expense of their Ukrainian inhabitants
    – ceding the Crimea to Russia
    – legal limits on Ukrainian armed forces
    – a Russian veto on Ukrainian relations with the EU

    The other problem is that Ukrainians, with good reason, simply do not now trust the Russian government not to pocket any gains, and then restart hostilities at their convenience.

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  83. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:

    In theory, but after withdrawing and going back to his shattered economy it will not be so easy to mobilize for Ukraine II.

    The time may not be now, but of the Russians manage to position heavy artillery around Kyiv it will be, and at that point the offer might be off the table so it would be best to consider it before that happens.

    Donbas is now filled with people who hate Putin, and he’s not real popular in Crimea at the moment either. His vaunted military has been revealed to be a clown-car in uniform, and his nature is now apparent to his people.

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