Putin’s War Gets Closer to NATO
Strikes near the Polish border show the real possibility of escalation.
WaPo (“Russian strike on military site near Poland kills at least 35, injures 134“):
At least 35 people were killed and 134 injured early Sunday when a barrage of Russian missiles slammed into a military facility in Western Ukraine about 15 miles from the border with Poland, a NATO member.
The Yavoriv military range near Lviv, also known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has for years been used for exercises by NATO troops and Ukrainians, with Americans on-site as recently as February. Ukrainian officials said they were working to ascertain whether foreigners were present Sunday. The airstrike came a day after the Kremlin warned that it viewed Western weapons shipments as “legitimate targets,” heightening the possibility of a direct conflict with the West.
Spiegel (“Poland warns Russia against using chemical weapons“):
Polish President Andrzej Duda warned on Sunday that the use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer”. In this case, the NATO states would have to examine a reaction carefully, Duda told the BBC. “NATO and their leaders, led by the US, will then have to sit down and really think seriously about what needs to be done. Because that’s when it starts to get dangerous,” the Polish politician explained.
Evelyn Farkas, Obama’s top Russia person at Defense from 2012 to 2015, WaPo (“We can do more to help Ukraine without provoking World War III“):
The conventional wisdom is that the United States and other NATO allies can supply lethal weapons such as Javelin and Stinger missiles to incinerate tanks and planes while avoiding an escalation into direct war with Russia (whose military doctrine includes a lower threshold than NATO’s for the use of nuclear weapons). Under unofficial rules worked out during the Cold War, such proxy warfare is deemed acceptable, while any direct engagement — for instance, between a NATO fighter jet and a Russian aircraft — is out of bounds. In rejecting the Polish offer, U.S. and NATO allies also decided that providing jets to Ukraine from NATO territory would be too risky.
But the logic of that position is not clear. Russia is fully aware that lethal weapons furnished by the NATO powers are being used to kill Russian troops and destroy their equipment, quite effectively in some cases. And those weapons travel over borders from NATO countries to Ukraine, just as any new donations of aircraft would. Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t responded to those arms deliveries as if the United States were entering the war directly, even though Pentagon officials estimate conservatively that at least 3,000 Russian troops have died already. Moreover, Putin and his advisers have their own reasons not to engage in a war with a militarily superior NATO. That suggests there is an opportunity to do more to help Ukraine — and to more quickly end the war with a stalemate or a Russian retreat.
We need to make our own judgments about what counts as escalation and what counts as a reasonable step to help Ukrainians, and not defer to Putin on these questions. After all, he has already asserted that economic sanctions amount to a “declaration of war” (and yet he has not responded as if he believes this). And when considering whether a NATO move would be “provocative,” it is important to remember that Putin provoked all of this — he chose to launch this unjustified war against Ukraine.
Ultimately, we must weigh the dangers of escalation against what is at stake: the real possibility — given the brutal nature of the war so far — of the slaughter of civilians that could rise to the level of genocide. And we should weigh those dangers against what the United Nations calls the “responsibility to protect.” While there are risks in helping Ukraine survive the Russian onslaught, there are also risks in letting Putin’s expansionist aggression go unchecked. If he sees that NATO will sit back and let him take Ukraine, he is likely to turn next to other neighboring former Soviet republics that aren’t in the alliance, such as Moldova and Georgia (which he already invaded once, in 2008).
Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, NYT (“Ukraine War Ushers In ‘New Era’ for U.S. Abroad“):
The war in Ukraine has prompted the biggest rethinking of American foreign policy since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, infusing the United States with a new sense of mission and changing its strategic calculus with allies and adversaries alike.
The Russian invasion has bonded America to Europe more tightly than at any time since the Cold War and deepened U.S. ties with Asian allies, while forcing a reassessment of rivals like China, Iran and Venezuela.
And it has re-energized Washington’s leadership role in the democratic world just months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ended 20 years of conflict on a dismal note.
But the new focus on Russia will come with hard choices and internal contradictions, similar to ones that defined U.S. diplomacy during the Cold War, when America sometimes overlooked human rights abuses and propped up dictators in the name of the struggle against communism.
“It feels like we’re definitively in a new era,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser in the Obama White House. “The post-9/11 war on terror period of American hubris, and decline, is now behind us. And we’re not sure what’s next.”
The attack by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on his neighbor has become a prism through which nearly all American foreign policy decisions will be cast for the foreseeable future, experts and officials said.
In recent weeks, Western officials have spoken in terms that often echo the grand declarations that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks. On Friday, President Biden said that “the free world is coming together” to stand up to Mr. Putin — a phrase reminiscent of President George W. Bush’s talk of how “the entire free world” was at war against terrorism.
In the near term, Russia’s aggression is sure to invigorate Mr. Biden’s global fight for democracy against autocracies like Moscow, making vivid the threats to fledgling democracies like Ukraine. Yet three increasingly authoritarian NATO nations — Poland, Hungary and Turkey — play key roles in the coalition aiding Kyiv. And the United States is grappling with internal assaults to its own democracy.
The war lends urgency to Mr. Biden’s climate change agenda, reinforcing the need for more reliance on renewable clean energy over the fossil fuels that fill Russian coffers. Yet it has already generated new pressure to increase the short-term supply of oil from the likes of Venezuela’s isolated dictatorship and Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian monarchy.
And it creates a powerful new incentive for the United States to find ways of prying President Xi Jinping of China away from Mr. Putin, who is likely counting on diplomatic and economic lifelines from Mr. Xi amid crushing Western sanctions. But some administration officials see China as a lost cause and prefer to treat China and Russia as committed partners, hoping that might galvanize policies among Asian and European allies to contain them both.
My Two Cents:
To the extent that any of Putin’s war is legal, he’s right that weapons shipments are “legitimate targets.” We are supplying his enemy and he can certainly treat that as an act of war and respond in kind. But, of course, doing so inside Poland—a NATO ally—would be a dramatic escalation. Further, as Farkas (writing well before this latest incident) suggests, it would be unusually provocative given that we have studiously played by the unofficial rules of the game.
Whether Putin is seriously contemplating the use of chemical weapons, I haven’t the foggiest. Clearly, Poland’s leadership is concerned. And, while President Obama infamously made their use in Syria a “red line” and then failed to enforce it, one imagines Putin realizes that NATO is a different kettle of fish.
I put Crowley and Wong under Opinions rather than News because their report is analysis and speculation rather than fact. We shall see the longer-term impacts of all of this. I do, however, agree that NATO is reinvigorated in a way we haven’t seen in a long time and I do believe that will remain the case long after this dispute is resolved. As I frequently argued, to the annoyance of most of my Atlantic Council colleagues, we can cajole the Europeans until we’re blue in the face about their underinvestment in defense but, until they actually perceive a security threat, they’re not going to sacrifice social spending; the domestic constituency simply wouldn’t stand for it. Putin has changed that calculus for the foreseeable future.
I’m starting to wonder if we should just start giving certain countries like Ukraine, Japan, etc. their own nuclear weapons.
@Stormy Dragon:..I’m starting to wonder if we should just start giving certain countries like Ukraine, Japan, etc. their own nuclear weapons.
Kinda’ like the Soviet Union gave missiles to Cuba in 1962.
Nuclear proliferation in your neighborhood.
Who needs it?
The thing is anti-nuclear proliferation hasn’t worked. All the bad actors are getting nuclear weapons anyways, and all we’re doing is creating a world where the good actors are all hostage to the bad actors.
One thing that’s become obvious, for example, is Ukraine was stupid to give up its nukes in the 90s in exchange for security guarantees from the US and Europe.
You’re frequently a font of bad ideas and this is among your worst.
This war is getting really scary. The moral imperative for the West/NATO to do something is growing, and rightly so, but the exact parameters of “doing something” are unclear. The longer the war goes on, the greater the imperative will grow. Set against this moral imperative is the fact that Vlad will not, can not, relent. His personal, foul credibility is at stake. He sees himself as some sort of 21st century Russian Napoleon, willing to push the envelope for the greater glory of himself, masquerading as Mother Russia.
I am quite sure the Pentagon is gaming out oodles of scenarios about what happens next, including nuclear options. If the Pentagon ain’t doing this it is criminally irresponsible. This war is not the same as the Cuban missile crisis, but it is in the same league.
Yeah, the price of gas sucks too.
Unfortunately there are no exact parameters, if NATO is in for a dime, they’ll be in for a dollar or a thousand dollars. War has a rhythm and pace of its own and to start down that road is to lead to an unknown destination.
One may argue that if Russian soil isn’t attacked, nukes will stay off the table. But for a no fly zone to be invoked, Russian air defenses would need to be suppressed, most of which are in Russia proper. The west is doing pretty close to the maximum it can, w/o NATO entering a shooting war with Russia.
The problem is right now that if Russia uses WMDs on Ukraine, we end up in a real dilemma where we can’t afford to do something (and start a nuclear war with Russia) and we can’t afford not to do something (and establish a precedent that Russia’s free to go around nuking its neighbors with impunity).
If Ukraine still had nukes of its own, deterrence increases because they can retaliate on their own and we can just stay out of it.
Mobile SAMs, drones, but for the sake of God, let us avoid precious self déception on nuclear risk with no fly zones whatever legalistic academic labels.
@Sleeping Dog: indeed, maximum bad
No one wins a nuclear conflict. Talk of Russia using battlefield nukes has died down, but what is increasing is the possibility of chemical weapons. Why? More localized damage, deniability, etc, to use a nuke in Ukraine would prove to even the most nationalistic Russian that has been buying Putin’s lies, that this invasion isn’t a simple police action against some Nazi’s to protect Russia loving Ukrainians, but an imperial war that threatens the future of Russia.
In essence, non-proliferation actually INCREASES the risk of a global nuclear war because it creates a regime where the only way to defend non-nuclear nations from nuclear ones is for a nuclear nation to promise to retaliate if they are attacked.
Which creates ambiguity because it encourages other nuclear nations to test if that promise is a bluff or not. In Ukraine’s case, Russia called our bluff and found out that our promises in the Budapest memorandum weren’t true.
If more nations had an independent nuclear deterrent that didn’t depend on a completely different country being willing to commit suicide to defend them, deterrence would actually work better.
The Farkas piece is particularly bad because she, perhaps unknowingly, intertwines and confuses a moral view with cause-and-effect and says some bizarre things.
A stalemate doesn’t end the war.
The reality is really the opposite of what she argues here – accurate judgments about how Putin and Russia will actually react are critically important.
This is the kind of stupid moralized, insular, and parochial thinking that led so many to conclude that Putin would not invade Ukraine and that all of Russia’s longstanding grievances against the West and the US are not legitimate. As if every actor on the world stage must abide by our views on legitimacy. Opinions about legitimacy are subjective and focusing on those is irrelevant for determining what Russia (or any country) will do. And if we want to avoid WWIII and nuclear escalation, then we need to focus on how Putin and Russia are likely to react, and not focus on the insular thinking Farkas (and many, many others) engage in.
Ukraine never had control of those nuclear weapons.
And by control I mean this: There was literally no point at which they could have aimed them at Russia and launched them.
@Stormy Dragon: History since 1945 says your assertions on non-Proliferation are unfactual bollocks and dim witted attempts to boostrap an argument.
Agreed that Farkas’ arty is badly thought through, insular and really poorly thought through – assertions of legitimacy from her PoV are just divorced from real risk analysis. What Putin thinks, not what we think he has to think… As you said it is the kind of blinders-on self-regarding thinking that led mis-analysis of him in the run up.
That said, there is no reason to give legitimacy to Putin’s grievances against NATO and the West. That gives legitimacy it essentially Russian imperialist thinking and that’s to be rejected. Sensitivitity to their view and working with it in mind (rather than brushing away and ignoring) yes. Perhaps you don’t mean to say that.
I otherwise strongly agree with the last.
We never made a promise to defend Ukraine.
This is the contents of the Budapest Memorandum, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances
The problem is that the current official interpretation of “to provide assistance” is considerably reduced from what was represented during the original negotiations.
I think chemical weapons are very likely. Putin is feeling the effects of the sanctions and he is getting desperate. He wants a “game changer” because he is losing this game.
And, this is a point at which our national interests and Ukraine’s differ. Our interests are a weakened Russia and an independent Ukraine, in that order. Ukraine’s are roughly opposite.
It will be distasteful to do nothing militarily, but that’s exactly what we should do. Compared to the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and humanitarian corridors, chemical weapons are just more of the same. The red line has already been crossed.
The sanctions are working. The Russian economy is collapsing. We have to be strong to avoid being provoked into actions that change the game and give Russians leverage over us. We get into a shooting war, and then the sanctions are on the table as a bargaining chip for cease fire.
@Stormy Dragon: You are fundamentally wrong on the facts.
Factually incorrect. Nine nations have managed to weaponize 77 year-old technology. It’s absurd to say that all the bad actors are getting nukes. There are bad actors all over Africa and South America and none have nukes. There are bad actors aplenty in the middle east, and one country in the region has nukes. In fact, of the nine, only Russia, China and North Korea – that’s three countries – can be considered ‘bad actors’ though Pakistan and India are close.
As for good countries being hostage to bad actors, no shit, but it’s been that way since the USSR popped off its first nuke, 73 years ago.
Russia’s longstanding grievances against the West and the US are real, but they are not legitimate. It is Russia’s neighbors who fear them and seek to join NATO. And those neighbors have been proven absolutely correct to fear Russia, who will invade and take what they want by force if they feel they can get away with it. Russia’s grievances revolve around their belief that their neighbors should be subservient to them and that Russia has the right to make them accept that by violence. To call those grievances legitimate means endorsing that belief.
Considerably reduced? What are you talking about? The Western nations promised they would work with the UN to provide assistance, and the Russians have veto power over UN resolutions! That statement very clearly spells out the limitations of the assistance we were guaranteeing and, in diplo-speak, specifically rules out any obligation to assist if Russia attacked Ukraine.
@MarkedMan: that’s Stormy Dragon not Gustopher
We need to be thinking about “asymmetric responses,” i.e., not direct retaliation in an obvious manner, but inflicting real hurt on Putin by hitting him some place he doesn’t expect. Wiser heads than mine might be able to come up with some options.
Meh. The same amoral, useful idiot Carlson-Greenwald-Rogan-Taibbi minority that insisted Putin would not invade despite massing hundreds of thousands of troops at Ukraine’s borders (epic derp) are the same stubborn morons still falling for Putin’s lies and misdirections blaming his invasion on grievances with the US.
Putin is not committing war crimes in Ukraine because of grievances with the West, but because he’s a megalomaniacal dictator who hates democracy and autonomy, and who thinks Ukraine has no right to exist. Similar to why Putin bombed Chechnya into submission, invaded Georgia, genocides Chechnyan gays, murders and jails political opponents, beats and arrest protestors, shuts down media outlets, and blocks social media.
Putin’s useful idiots think being contrarion for contrarionism’s sake is the same as critical thinking (it’s not), that playing devil’s advocate makes them special and edgy. They are too arrogant and dishonest to admit when they are wrong. Fine. But they don’t get to equate those of us who recognize Putin as a liar with themselves, who can’t stop falling for Putin’s lies.
What Russia’s neighbors want does not matter to Putin or to the Blame NATO crowd. Putin and his apologists are permanently stuck in the Cold War, forever locked in the 20th century. So to them, Russia’s neighbors might as well not exist apart from Russia. Hence, why they have to blame everybody but Putin for Putin’s neighbors hating Russia.
The point is that legitimacy is entirely subjective and is usually self-serving. You are, of course, entitled to your own opinion of what is and isn’t legitimate WRT Russia and the US, but so is everyone else, including Russians generally and Putin specifically.
The second point is that it is dumb to premise any analysis of what an adversary might or might not do based on our own subjective and self-serving notions of legitimacy. This is mirror-imaging in action, and frankly, that is the mistake we’ve made with Russia for 30 years – assuming that everything we do is legitimate and everything the Russians do or think is not, and then expecting Russia to magically conform to our view because how can they not see the righteousness of our position?
Now that there is a war and a real risk of escalation with the potential for a nuclear conflict we must not engage in that kind of magical thinking – we must analyze the potential reactions by Russia and others to our policies and actions in terms of real-world cause and effect and not our own subjective notions of legitimacy.
As the great Richard Heuer wrote:
@Stormy Dragon: In Ukraine’s case, Russia called our bluff and found out that our promises in the Budapest memorandum weren’t true.
As @Gustopher pointed out, there was no promise of a military protection. The U.S. has fulfilled its obligations, and then some. This is more similar to the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. The invasion of Ukraine is a broken promise by Russia, which pledged “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”
And, worse, useless.
We don’t have the tools to enforce moral judgement against foreign heads of state — not without conquering them, at least. And at that point, whether their reasons were legitimate or not is basically just a detail.
I should remind you that I (and many others) correctly predicted that Russia was likely to go to war over Ukraine for the reasons we said they would. The suggestion that we are too arrogant and dishonest to admit we were wrong is rich. The problem for you and people like you is that you cannot admit that we were right. We knew the war was likely and we knew the justifications that Russia would use to attack – you didn’t.
What is happening here is that people like you are dishonestly trying to portray accurate analysis as support for Putin or Russia’s actions. As I say all the time here, explanation is not advocacy.
And now that the war is on, you remain unable to make that distinction and are unable to disassociate your Manichean views from what is actually happening, much less make predictions or estimates about what might happen based on anything but a “Putin is bad…durr” level of logic.
So what’s dishonest here, and perhaps it’s child-like self-deception, is the idea that Russia and Russia’s actions exist in an apothecary drawer, divorced from any outside influence.
It’s like trying to argue that the civil war in South Sudan had nothing to do with the US policy that created that rump state, or that Islamist-based violence directed against the United States has nothing to do with US policy in the Middle East. Or even that the Oklahoma City bombing had nothing to do with Waco and Ruby Ridge. No one in their right mind would blame the Oklahoma City bombing on the ATF, but it would be stupid to argue that there is no relationship and influence there. And it is that distinction that you are unable or unwilling to see or acknowledge.
@Andy: While I agree with you broadly, at the same time it is analytically objectionable to mirror back the Russian assertion of legitimacy with an implication that there is a clear objective fault on the side of NATO (and that if NATO had not done X, Y or Z, this all would not be happening). Which resides on a rather strong assumption, one that historical track record says is not well-founded, that Russian would not have adopted authoritarian hegemonic position otherwise. In fact that is dubious.
On this I fully agree and that article was terrible and myopic (and the ridiculous pretence of “humanitarian corridor no fly zone” as if academic parsing will change air power confrontation. As if in hot exchanges targetting there are going to be any meaningful dinstinctions when real time responses are needed. Idiotic self-deception if not outright dishonest spin.
To remove any doubt, I absolutely fully agree.
Only objecting to use of phrases that convey a legitimation of the Russian hegemonic PoV. Of course understanding the Russian sensitivities and their deep foundation in the political psyche, and Legtimate or Illegitimate right now is distinictly an academic distinction…
I’ve decided that the empty lot next to my house is within my ‘sphere of influence.’ If the old man who owns it tries to sell it to my neighbor, two houses down, I will take it as a direct attack on me. Only by selling the lot to me, and to no one else, can I feel safe in my near-abroad. If I have to I will set fire to the lot in order to enforce my sphere, and it won’t be my fault.
And as an illustration of the unexpected and dangerous manner things can evolve, the Financial Times reports the Russians are requesting military assistance from China.
The Russian strike near to the western border, and its recent comments about weapons supplies being “legitimate targets” (carefully omitting where they might hit) is yet another example of the tendency of Putin and his circle to think “mind games” are very clever.
They can both induce fear in certain areas of western political/public opinion; and induce over-demonstrations of NATO involvement in others.
Russia’s optimal goal would be for NATO to abandon Ukraine out of fear of escalation.
A alternate preferred path on the decision tree would be to draw NATO into direct conflict at a minimally escalated level, in order to solidify “patriotic” support in Russia, and again offer a “peaceful” resolution, designed to achieve war goals via diplomacy.
The quest for the “Munich option” continues.
Combining conquest and diplomacy is a very difficult trick to pull off; and he lacks both the skill and the strength.
Russia does not have the conventional means to seal off the supply lines to Ukraine using stand-off weapons alone.
He would need to commit the Russian air forces at near maximum to do so.
That will run into the Ukrainian air defences that have almost certainly been deployed for exactly this contingency.
(i.e. Why Ukraine has not thrown its remaining air strength away trying to hit Russian columns)
Putin might be tempted to extend such strikes to NATO territory; but then he runs into NATO air defence, including an unannounced extension of the SAM engagement zone, and watches the Russian air force being chewed to pieces.
The overall position remains as before:
– Russia may have a path to “nominal conquest” at enormous cost.
– It has no military route to a sustainable resolution.
– It is facing potentially terminal damage to its political-economic system.
– It will continue to attempt to leverage a “diplomatic” route out of its strategic disaster .
– It will fail, if the West remains calculated.
– Putin continues to be a fascistic mystic secret policeman who’s in over his head.
The details of the division of Sudan may be partially attributable to US policy.
However, the underlying divisions between north and south Sudan are nothing to do with any decisions made in Washington.
The US is neither creator nor resolver of most national conflicts.
Generally, it is merely trying to manage them.
The accuracy of apprehending what another party desires may be useful for the details, or tactics, of response.
However, conceding those objective, or according them legitimacy in a carefully constructed system of moral neutrality may not be such a good idea.
The UK in 1939 had come to understand fairly well what Germany desired.
And we were willing to declare war (never forget, we declared war on Germany, not the other way around) and kill Germans in the millions to frustrate those desires.
Notwithstanding that Germany would probably have been open to a peaceful solution; we were not.
This was an approach only sustainable because the British (or at least the UK decision elite) had considered the German grievances and argumentation of legitimacy and concluded, after due reflection: “Sod that for a load of bollocks.”
(Another footnote: this was not due to German genocidal acts either: those came after UK determined Nazis delenda est at whatever cost in German dead.)
Similarly, the US only had to stand aside from Japan’s pursuit of imperium in Asia to have peace in 1941.
The West could have averted the Cold War by allowing the Soviet Union to dominate as it wished in post-war Eurasia.
Understanding what an adversary wants often means an increased understanding of the need to deny him those goals.
(Oh, and to humiliate and scorn him as well, but maybe that’s just my nasty nature.)
Of course we cannot engage in direct military attack on Russia, due to their nuclear arsenal.
Cold War 2: containment and destruction by economic attrition.
It will take decades, but it will get the job done.
@JohnSF: it seems to me your point on how a limited direct conflict with NATO serves Putin is neglected by those clamouring for the direct intervention that No Fly would mean.
@JohnSF: indeed, as the alternative to was and is not a peaceful situation but rather some menu of ongoing southern insurgencies and a different configuration of war, not peace. In fact if a finger needs to be pointed, its old Imperial administration map drawing and department turf allocation
Sudan and it’s southern border goes back first to Anglo-Egyptian relations, the French and the Canal, bond issues, Gordon, Kitchener, the Mahdi, young Winston Churchill and a cast of thousands of dervishes.
Thence into tediously intricate details of late 19th century diplomacy involving Britain, France, the (sort of) Egyptian government, the Abyssinian Empire, assorted unpleasant slavers, and Germans and Italians as a chorus in the wings.
Fashoda Crisis nostalgia (not).
Reminds me of Palmerston’s comment re. Schleswig-Holstein:
In my view, what is dubious is the counterfactual you are suggesting, that Russia would be an authoritarian state bent on taking Ukraine regardless of what the US did. There is really no evidence for this while the evidence for my position is quite strong.
I discussed some of this history in two long comments in this thread.
Focusing on this, are you arguing that there was no alternative NATO action that would have resulted in a different outcome? This is the problem I have with labeling criticism of NATO and US policy as “blame” that legitimizes Russia’s action. My view is that it’s quite obvious we could have avoided this war.
For example, a lot of people now contend that we should have granted Ukraine NATO membership long ago, while Russia was weaker and unable to prevent it.
Or, put another way, it was a mistake to string Ukraine along with empty promises of NATO membership for 14 years, endlessly playing into well-known Russian fears, leaving Ukraine in an uncertain and vulnerable position during that time, and instead we should have admitted Ukraine right away.
That is a criticism of NATO and US policy, does that mean that those who argue we should have done something different are blaming NATO or using “phrases that convey a legitimation of the Russian hegemonic PoV”?
Which I’m not doing, despite accusations to the contrary. Analysis is not advocacy.
Well, of course there are possible alternative course that might have averted this war.
For instance, instead of accepting Russia as an equal participant in the international order after the end of the Cold War, perhaps, when they reverted to hegemonic pretensions in the Commonwealth of Independent States and in the former Yugoslavia, on the spurious grounds of “Russian speaking minorities” and “historic Orthodox Slavic alliances”, we should have responded accordingly.
That is, by reverting to Cold War until Russia ended its fantasies of hegemonic right.
Opportunities missed, eh?
You might care to consider what Putin himself has said on the subject.
As well as various other Russian politicians and commentators in the ruling elites.
Or such ideologues as Aleksandr Dugin or earlier Ivan Ilyin.
To ignore this mindset in favour of “understanding” Russian policies as based on rational pursuit of security is to engage in the very “mirror-imaging” you deplore.
But the endpoint of your analysis appears to be that a meliorative solution may be found.
Very optimistic of you.
My view is rather more pessimistic.
That unless Russia is compelled to adjust its goals to conform to our will, it is too dangerous to tolerate, and must be contained, isolated, and eventually reduced to compliance, in a renewed Cold War.
Western aims and theirs in Europe are incommensurable; just as were those of the civilized world and the Third Reich.
It’s regrettable, but there it is.
Great Russian national fascism has a “rational” interest in subordinating Ukraine to its will.
We have a rational interest in subordinating Russia to our will.
And also as with the West in relation to German fascism: we are right, they are wrong.
An attitude which annoys the Russians no end.
Such a shame.
Paralysis by over-analysis IS a thing. There is no need to be debate angels on pinheads with Russian grievances, legitimacy vs illegitimacy, NATO missteps and encroachment, etc. It’s all bullshit.
This is the bottom line: Ukraine forcibly cut their Russian puppet strings in 2014 setting a collision coarse with the Russian ethos of “Russia NEVER forgets…”
They were offered chances to return within the Russia orbit but said: “Nah–we’re good Vlad.” Putin gave them one last chance with the light decapitation phase of the conflict–which the Ukrainians answered with a hardy “FUCK YOU.” The Military objective of the current phase of Putin’s campaign is simple: It is merely to PUNISH Ukraine for the audacity of a Peasant province to reject their rightful rulers.
All the other bullshit narratives are engineered to play for various target audiences to keep Russian from (long-term) being perceived as a global villain and pariah state. This is simply: “How dare those “f@#king peasants disrespect Russia. I’ll teach them a lesson in respect”
With all that said–I still see this a family quarrel between sister states/cultures. None of our American boys and gals need to risk their lives to intervene in this. Its going to be hard to watch in the next few months. It’ll be like the scene in Saving Private Ryan where the sniper wounds a target as bait to acquire additional targets. We must not take the bait. We have a situation created by Russian miscalculation and bumbling that, if we play it correctly, can damage their Military projection capabilities for decades.
In Military Doctrine, Strategy is not about outcomes, it is the perpetual jostling for favorable positioning from which to implement ones National power. We cannot save the Ukrainians now, that ship sailed 18 months ago when the Russian buildup began. They are in the fight, committed to the fight, and would rather die than be a Russian client state. We can use their willingness to sacrifice to de-legitimize the last of Cold War thinking in Russia and force a recalculation of Russian history wrt the Baltics/Eastern Europe by Russians. That’s not to say that they will (or should be “Western”) but the “Soviet” mindset has not done very much to uplift Russian culture or their place in the world.
But you weren’t right, and you’re still lying about the real reasons Putin invaded, just like you’re lying about the those who can’t think any further than “Everything Is Always America’s Fault…durr” spending all of February insisting Putin would not invade.
So it’s not surprising that you’re now tripling down with phony, move the goalposts strawman arguments.
Putin’s actions do have acknowledge outside influence: democracy at Russia’s borders and Ukraine deciding that Ukraine should decide Ukraine’s fate — neither of which a megalomaniac dictator with delusions of 18th Century Russian imperialism can stand. There was no negation of outside influence. It’s just that you won’t acknowledge what the real outside influence is, because then you’d have acknowledge Ukraine’s right to autonomy, and that Putin and his apologists can never do.
And everybody knew the fake justifications and lies Putin would tell to justify the unjustifiable. The difference is unlike the useful idiots, most in the West recognize them as lies. You do see that distinction. You’re just lying about it because you don’t have the integrity, maturity, or moral clarity to admit when you are wrong.
Y’all aren’t fooling anybody but yourselves.
Btw, only people with no decency, no sense of right and wrong, and no humanity think having morals is a bad thing.
The world’s problem — Putin’s problem — is a total and utter lack of morals. The world needs more decency, more shared humanity, not less. The glorification of moral sickness is a major problem.
@Andy: If your position is that there is strong evidence that somehow the USA and NATO expansion caused Putin to be who he is, or even was a principal, then no I don’t think there is “strong evidence” except if you are ironically removing any internal Russian political-cultural agency and making everything they do about the Outsiders. An ironic pretence given your argument for understanding the other side.
It appears your analysis only goes so far as (as like the S. Sudan) as to locate an outside blame as a contrararian counter-argument about West / USA focused on the West as White Knights narrative, and really utterly ignores internal agency or the other side’s own deep history, political and cultural. It’s frankly unhinging your statements.
Contrarily poking at the West as White Knights has a certain utility. Up to a point. You’re quite over that point.
While by no means am I a particular supporter of NATO expansion, am open to the analysis that the original expansion may have been a real error, jumping from
Russian instutitioinal power history back to the end of the Tsars rather indicates the deep rooted internal Russian cultural and political forces that threw up or spit out Putin are ones that hardly needed NATO doing pretty much anything to snap back to a wounded and predatory Hegemon’s view of its rightful position including a position that has to include the outright subservience of the satellites in its near-abroad. There is no necessary security threat analysis that drives that, that is old Kremlin political culture with a strong dose of Russian version of Blood & Soil thinking.
It is in fact a rather peculiarly history blind contrarion, blind to internal Great Russia poitical culture, to presume that Putin and the intelligence group culture he came from (and is hardly the sole example) would be reasonable lads if not for NATO, that somehow once for internal Russian reasons they reverted to the old, well-trodden internal political paths of the old authoritarian habit, that had NATO not expanded they’d be playing nice with the Baltics, with the Ukraine, and even Poland. That takes making a peculiarly (as again with the Sudan) myopic and birthed from the head of Zeus kind of history.
The same NATO that was with some real reason being called moribund, in effective, and as President Macron said some two years ago, “brain dead”… one had to be properly searching for an excuse for a grievance to latch onto NATO really. And they were, for old Great Russian, Kremlin as hegemon reasons. NATO may properly be said to have blundered into giving a few excuses here and there, but not more than that, and the security state Kremlin around Putin were clearly oriented to finding such, not because of NATO but because of internal culture. And there the real blame from the real agency arises. Not outside, inside.
He did not say that. He’s being absolutely wrong-headed but he did not say that in particular.
For that particular article his critique is correct, although he’s massively wrong on the implied idea that Putin & collaborators are somehow principally a product of reaction to NATO.
Oh? And using the word “moralized” as a pejorative sneer means what, pray?
@DK: It means that empty moralising and posturing without being rooted in real consequences is not a positive. In that particular context he was right. That ‘analysis’ was the worst form of moralising posturing unrooted in real consequences.
It did say having morals is a bad thing, it said moralising posturing is a bad thing. And it is.
Just FYI, I have a degree in Russian and Eastern European History, studied in the USSR (and was in that country during the Gorbachev coup), was a Russian military analyst for part of my time in the intelligence community, and am well-versed in Dugin, et al and the background of Eurasian nationalism.
Not sure why you would conclude that. My view is very pessimistic which is why I’m upset that more wasn’t done to prevent this war.
“Our” will? Who are you speaking for exactly here?
The problem I have with you DK is your behavior. I don’t mind disagreement, but you seem unable to disagree without accusing people of lying or being dishonest. You don’t know me and the self-righteous assertion that I’m being dishonest is not something you could conceivably know, so the accusation is patent bullshit.
Secondly, I’ve laid out the case for my predictions and made them before this war started. You simply ignore those facts, arguments and history and just keep asserting that you are right, I am wrong and I am lying. The only thing that does is tell me you cannot defend your position on the merits.
Anyway, I don’t play that game. If you want to have a discussion, I’m open to that, but you really need to stop with the ad hominem. I’ve been commenting on this blog consistently for about 17 years. I can make bad arguments, wrong arguments, or get my facts wrong, but I doubt that few if any of the regulars here would accuse me of dishonesty.
I would like a pretty unicorn too.
I share the aspiration that the world needs more decency and humility. It’s one thing to aspire and work to promote such goals, it’s quite another to deconstruct complex geopolitical situations into a simplistic good guy vs bad guy binary and then call anyone who disagrees with your simplistic framing a liar.
This isn’t just about Putin. That is the point that I think most people keep missing. Opposition to NATO expansion wasn’t invented by Putin – it’s a position that’s been widely held by Russia/Soviet leadership, elites and the generally public for the last 30 years.
Cause and effect is not blame. I’m surprised that you, of all people, cannot see this distinction.
For example, the US invasion of Iraq precipitated a cascade of events across the region over the last 20 years. Is the US, therefore, to “blame” for all those events because of the invasion? No! But it’s indisputable that many of those events would not have happened if the US had not invaded. Cause and effect.
Pretending that US policy and actions have no effect in order to avoid the appearance of “blame” makes no sense to me.
The point is that most of the rest of the world does not see the US as White Knights. That is just a fact, it is not contrarily poking at anything. What I’m suggesting is that we should not kid ourselves and assume that that everyone else sees us as White Knights and then assume they are bad if they don’t.
Regardless of what you or I or DK thinks about the legitimacy of Russia’s various complaints against the west, it is not “contrarian” to point out that those complaints actually exist among Russia’s leadership and population, that they have long existed, and that they motivate Russian behavior.
I never said Putin and his collaborators were principally a product of that. Rather what I’m objecting to are the various claims that NATO and NATO expansion are completely irrelevant and have absolutely nothing to do with Russian perceptions and behavior. That’s what people have been trying to argue here and it’s simply ahistorical and factually wrong. Again, I would point you to the mountain of evidence on this point, much of which predates Putin. Not to mention that preventing NATO expansion to Ukraine is one of Russia’s primary war goals! Yet people just handwave that away and assert that NATO is irrelevant, despite the overwhelming historical evidence to the contrary.
Finally, this distinction isn’t academic. Because understanding how Russia actually views this conflict – as opposed to the simplistic binary favored by some – is critically important for us to formulate an effective response while avoiding inadvertently crossing a red line that would escalate the conflict. And Russia’s motivations, its war goals, and what circumstances would cause Russia to escalate all hinge on understanding what Russia’s actual motivations are, which the simplistic “Russia bad” characterizations do not do.
“We” stands in for the “West” or “NATO and other allies and associates”.
Though in particular the point of view of the EU states.
I would have thought that was obvious from the context.
It did not stand for you, me and Barry from down the pub.
Congratulations on your qualifications, incidentally.
Mine are probably rather less impressive, only sufficient for a slight passing acquaintance with the subject.
Just a handful of courses, from decades ago, in Russian and C/SE European history, and having some Ukrainian relatives.
I was actually assuming you were familiar with Durgin, at least, from things you have said previously.
The point I’m trying to make is that Russia may be pursuing what it considers a sensible policy in using relative power to compel Ukraine to conform to it’s preferences.
Or even to re-absorb both Ukraine and Belarus.
But that the basis of those goals is essentially an argument with history; resenting the collapse of the Russian/Soviet empires, and interpreting events on that basis.
Hence the mistaken assumption that Ukraine was a sham state, and that Russian speaking Ukrainians would readily accept Russian rule.
Given this disconnect from reality, policies seen as rational in the Kremlin might well seem both insane and dangerous to others.
Russia may be pursuing perceived interest in using relative power to compel Ukraine to conform to it’s preferences.
It may equally be in the interests of the other nations of Europe, and the West in general, considering the ideological basis of those Russian goals, to use relative power to compel Russia to conform to their preferences.
I agree there is a ton of that and that desire and expectation of Russian “greatness” is the major cultural driver. But it’s not the only happening, and there are also other factors at play too.
China is essentially doing the same thing using different (and smarter) methods. The greatness of China and the desire to right historical wrongs committed by the West are central in understanding their actions.
Taiwan is an interesting comparison in this regard to Ukraine and particularly with regards to US policy.
I mention that not to brag but to save you the time from telling me who I ought to read, which came across as condescending. If that wasn’t the intention, then my apologies.
But speaking of Dugin in particular, in a quick search of the site, I found this comment I wrote back in 2014. The original link to the Dugin piece is now dead:
Well, at least I’ve been consistent and I think my assessment then holds up very well eight years later.
I can’t wait for DK to lecture me about how I was a liar in 2014 too.
And? I have a problem with hypocrisy. You are free to asses others as “Manichean,” “child-like,” out of their minds and even “stupid.” But then playing the victim of others ad hominem. Come on bro.
It is both “ahistorical” and deeply dishonest — no matter the appeals to credentials — to demand Putin’s actions not be divorced from context while divorcing NATO’s creation and expansion from Russia’s 500 year-history of paranoid, expansionist, militaristic autocracy that endlessly threatens Russia’s neighbors.
It’s all about Russia’s fears and what Russia finds to be sensible policy. What about the fears of Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria etc? Why does this discussion ignore what those countries find to be sensible policy?
Because to acknowledge their fears as legitimate, and their moral, democratic right to set their own sensible policy accordingly, means acknowledging that America is not the only country with agency and that NATO did not just spring up like magic for the sole purpose of bombing Russia, which it has not done. In fact NATO expansion is a rational bulwark against a half millinneum of Russian autocrats kiling and subjugating neighboring states — a bulwark instigated by the agency and rational fears of Russia’s neighbors.
To many of us, Saddam was a bad guy and bad actor. Yet we still recognized that as a flimsy pretext for Bush’s Iraq War, that America would deserve gets full blame. From Ivan the Terrible to Putin, ‘Blame NATO’ is just the latest in a long line of flimsy excuses for Russia’s fetish for waging bloody, expansionist wars against her neighbors. If it wasn’t NATO, it would be something else. So Putin’s Russia must take blame just as America has.
And yes, sorry, it is a plain lie to claim that those who see and say that (which includes at least one brave employee of Russian state TV) are blind to history, thinking inside a vacuum, and/or somehow unaware of the Kremlin’s justifications. Boris Nemstov called Putin a “pathological liar” just before Putin murderered him. Putin is lying about NATO just like he lies about most everything. If NATO were not a thing, Putin would still think Ukraine were his, just like Stalin, Peter the Great, and Ivan The Terrible.
Because I’m discussing the motivations that underlie Russian behavior. No one is suggesting that the opinions of other countries don’t matter in a bigger context.
Yes, that is what you keep asserting. Your assertions are not truth much less fact, especially since your method to support them is to accuse those who disagree with you of dishonesty.
Dude, I linked above to a comment above that I made eight years ago predicting what would happen with Ukraine based on an analysis of Putin’s ideology and the justifications he would use.
Here it is again, almost exactly 8 years ago to the day (emphasis added):
Wow and 8 years later it turns out my assessment was correct. And I wasn’t alone in predicting what kind of man Putin would be and what his motivations were. Our predictions came true and yet here you are saying I’m a liar.
And the problem that you don’t realize is that instead of accounting for what we knew about Putin long ago, and what we know about Putin’s attitude toward Ukrain was, US policy continued to waffle on Ukraine, dangling NATO membership without ever closing the deal and allowing Putin to build up his military power to make a play at Ukraine.
If you are as concerned as you claim about the fate of Ukraine, then you really shouldn’t be pissed at me, you should be pissed at the US and NATO waffling all these years and not admitting Ukraine before Putin acted on a war he had been foreshadowing for almost a decade – something I and others had been warning about for years.
Ukraine was (and is) nowhere near close to ready for NATO membership, yet another reason why nobody should be falling for Putin’s lies around NATO expansion into Ukraine.
I should be pissed at the person I’m pissed at: Vladimir Putin. Maybe you, Greenwald, Taibbi etc might also consider blaming the war on…the dictator waging the war?
Thankfully, even within Russia and despite the censorship and brutality, many get it. To wit, from a reformed Russian state TV propagandist whose courage puts the rest of us to shame:
Among those lies:
– It’s NATO’s fault
– It’s America’s fault
– It’s Russophobia’s fault
– It’s Ukraine’s fault for having a Nazi goverment
– It’s Ukraine’s fault for having a goverment of drug addicts
– It’s the fault of the genocide Ukraine is waging on Russian-speaking Ukranians
– It’s the fault of US-sponsored Ukranian chemical weapons labs at Chernobyl
– It’s Hillary Clinton’s fault
– It’s Hunter Biden’s fault
– It’s Lenin’s fault
– It’s teh gays and their pride parades
– It’s everybody’s fault except Vladimir Putin, and on and on and on
I don’t find it singularly impressive that a prediction from 2014 eventually overlapped with Putin’s nonstop barrage of lies, delusions, and false pretexts. How could it not have? But just because Putin says “I want to denazify Ukraine” does not require I pretend Zelensky is a Nazi.
Putin is a megalomaniacal autocrat who bombs easy targets, fears liberty and democracy, is incapable of honesty, and thinks Ukraine has no right to exist. The fault is with him. And yes, he is a very bad guy, durr. This would not be happening if Putin weren’t a lying scumbag and a murderer with zero morals.
Ok, I give up. You are serially unable to distinguish analysis from advocacy and blame.
You refuse to support what passes for your arguments and instead just dishonestly accuse others of lying while making assertions and declaring it to be fact.
Oh, one more thing:
Well, we’ve been telling people like you that Putin was likely to attack Ukraine for a long time, which has now happened. If you admit that Ukraine wasn’t ready for membership, then that suggests two things:
– That the US and NATO actually knew Russia was going to attack and did nothing.
– That the US and NATO ignored the warnings and thought it was all a bluff.
Which theory do you subscribe to? Or will you just keep repeating your mantra of what a bad man Putin is, as if we haven’t been telling you and others that for years.