Ukraine, NATO, and the EU

The West owes Ukraine nothing.


Anatol Lieven argues persuasively that, “We’re now witnessing the consequences of how grossly both Russia and the West have overplayed their hands in Ukraine.” This portion of the essay provides a useful backgrounder:

During George W. Bush’s second term as president, the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries made a morally criminal attempt to force this choice by the offer of a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine (despite the fact that repeated opinion polls had shown around two-thirds of Ukrainians opposed to NATO membership). French and German opposition delayed this ill-advised gambit, and after August 2008, it was quietly abandoned. The Georgian-Russian war in that month had made clear both the extreme dangers of further NATO expansion, and that the United States would not in fact fight to defend its allies in the former Soviet Union.

In the two decades after the collapse of the USSR, it should have become obvious that neither West nor Russia had reliable allies in Ukraine. As the demonstrations in Kiev have amply demonstrated, the “pro-Western” camp in Ukraine contains many ultra-nationalists and even neo-fascists who detest Western democracy and modern Western culture. As for Russia’s allies from the former Soviet establishment, they have extracted as much financial aid from Russia as possible, diverted most of it into their own pockets, and done as little for Russia in return as they possibly could.

Over the past year, both Russia and the European Union tried to force Ukraine to make a clear choice between them—and the entirely predictable result has been to tear the country apart. Russia attempted to draw Ukraine into the Eurasian Customs Union by offering a massive financial bailout and heavily subsidized gas supplies. The European Union then tried to block this by offering an association agreement, though (initially) with no major financial aid attached. Neither Russia nor the EU made any serious effort to talk to each other about whether a compromise might be reached that would allow Ukraine somehow to combine the two agreements, to avoid having to choose sides.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of the EU offer led to an uprising in Kiev and the western and central parts of Ukraine, and to his own flight from Kiev, together with many of his supporters in the Ukrainian parliament. This marks a very serious geopolitical defeat for Russia. It is now obvious that Ukraine as a whole cannot be brought into the Eurasian Union, reducing that union to a shadow of what the Putin administration hoped. And though Russia continues officially to recognize him, President Yanukovych can only be restored to power in Kiev if Moscow is prepared to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and seize its capital by force.

But Lieven’s conclusion is a mixed bag:

For now, the overwhelming need is to prevent war. War in Ukraine would be an economic, political, and cultural catastrophe for Russia. In many ways, the country would never recover, but Russia would win the war itself. As it proved in August 2008, if Russia sees its vital interests in the former USSR as under attack, Russia will fight. NATO will not. War in Ukraine would therefore also be a shattering blow to the prestige of NATO and the European Union from which these organizations might never recover either.

A century ago, two groups of countries whose real common interests vastly outweighed their differences allowed themselves to be drawn into a European war in which more than 10 million of their people died and every country suffered irreparable losses. In the name of those dead, every sane and responsible citizen in the West, Russia, and Ukraine itself should now urge caution and restraint on the part of their respective leaders.

Now, I concur in Lieven’s bottom line view that major war in Ukraine would be a disaster and should therefore be avoided. It’s not at all clear to me that a unified Ukraine is particularly desirable, much less fighting for. As Dave Schuler note over the weekend (see “The Ukraine Crisis in Three Maps” and “More Ukrainian Maps“) how to split Ukraine is by no means obvious. But Lieven hardly overstates the situation when he declares “If there is one absolutely undeniable fact about Ukraine, which screams from every election and every opinion poll since its independence two decades ago, it is that the country’s population is deeply divided between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments.”

But Lieven’s contention that failure to fight a war that Lieven describes as catastrophic would somehow be the death knell to NATO and the EU is a head scratcher. First, avoiding disasters would seem an unalloyed good. Second, aside from some counter-piracy operations, the EU has no history of operating as a military entity. Third, Ukraine rejected entreaties to join both NATO and the EU; in what universe are NATO and the EU nonetheless obligated to go to war to defend Ukraine?

Hat tip:  Robert Wright

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Europe, 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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    I read it the same way. Some good points followed by a nonsensical conclusion.

    Maybe we could start with the fact that NATO cannot fight Russia for Ukraine. Not will not, or should not, cannot.

    What would be the plan? To sail into the Black Sea and be surrounded by Russian land-based bombers and subs? That’s madness unless it’s a secret plan to reduce the size of the Navy. Or are we to launch armored columns through Poland? News flash: Russia is a nuclear power, it’s also Russia, and I’d really like to be in the room when someone suggests to Angela Merkel that her country should be the launch point of tanks heading into Poland toward Russia.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Just as Ukraine is never likely to become a member of Putin’s likely to be stillborn Eurasian Union, it’s unlikely to become a member of the EU, at least not without admitting Russia, too. Its economy is simply too intertwined with that of Russia. Additionally, it simply doesn’t meet the entrance requirements nor will it be able to do so in the foreseeable future.

  3. Ben says:

    The west isn’t going to need to get overly involved. Russia is going to feel extremely negative consequences all on its own. Their financial markets already nosedived today, and their central bank already dipped into its reserve and raised interest rates 1.5%. Their economy wasn’t doing so hot already, this could easily push them into recession.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    Belgravia Dispatch has some typically insightful thoughts on this:


    “But amidst all this sturm und drang that we be mightily Churchillian, we must grapple with some basic realities: 1) The West has no real appetite for a military slugfest with Russia over Ukraine (and while Ukraine could go it alone, perhaps even valiantly, they will not ultimately prevail in any military contest); 2) the U.S. and EU do not always see eye-to-eye on matters Ukraine (putting it nicely, remember the charming bon mot from our Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, Victoria ‘fuck the EU’ Nuland?); and most fundamentally 3) Ukraine matters to Moscow exponentially more than it does to any Western power.

    None of these factors advantage the West in the looming showdown over Ukraine, quite the contrary, they all run to the benefit of Putin. And if we play pretend we’re tough—and double down with sanctions and eviction from the G-8 and freezing transit and accounts and all the rest of it—you can be assured the chances of Putin calling our bluff and invading Eastern Ukraine full-bore will increase materially. Putin after all is not a donkey, and the brandishing of ‘sticks’ will not cow him, but rather in my view further embolden him, even if in a fit of pique and indignation that could involve miscalculation. Put differently, Putin is not an inconsequential figure, he must be engaged with, not wholly ostracized.”

    Once again, I am truly thankful that we did not elect McCain President — our troops would already be on the way there.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    Can my comment be released from purgatory? Thanks.

  6. Jack says:

    I’m sure there were similar articles written when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    And of course, by NATO, you mean the US.

  8. Mu says:

    What many are missing is, like Syria, this fight has no good site for the US to be on. Most people don’t realize that a lot of the Ukrainian revolution was run by Svoboda, the Ukrainian Nazi party, and they are now a member of the government. Quite frankly, if I’d be an ethnic Russian in a country with a “Ukraine for the Ukrainians” government that canceled all minority protection laws as its first act, I’d ask for a protective force myself.

  9. C. Clavin says:


    Once again, I am truly thankful that we did not elect McCain President — our troops would already be on the way there.

    If I believed in God I would be thanking her for that almost daily…but especially today.

  10. wr says:

    @Jack: When you’ve got evidence that Russia is committing genocide — or heck, even mass murder — in Ukraine, then you can start hyperventilating about Hitler.

  11. john personna says:

    Someone on Twitter made the Texas comparison. Once you have too many settlers on the other side of the boarder then self-determination for that region can tip. Hence Texan independence, shortly followed by absorption by the US.

    We may not think it fair that Soviet settlers have this impact … but it is a deep historical pattern.

  12. Enon says:

    When Ukraine agreed to nuclear disarmament, it accepted certain ‘security assurances’ – first from the big five nuclear powers and then from NATO. Not being treaty obligations but rather memorandums of understanding between governments, they are not binding. In the future, though, countries would be well advised not to take such security assurances at face value. Would this not undermine the credibility of NATO?

    From the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Ukraine:

    NATO welcomes and supports the fact that Ukraine received security assurances from all five nuclear-weapon states parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT, and recalls the commitments undertaken by the United States and the United Kingdom, together with Russia, and by France unilaterally, which took the historic decision in Budapest in 1994 to provide Ukraine with security assurances as a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT.

  13. Mu says:

    People keep forgetting that there was no “Ukraine” before 1992. That region had been split between Poland-Lithuania and Russia since medieval times, with a largely intermixed population. No one cared, all that changed was the ruler, the populations didn’t have anything to say anyway. So the borders that are suddenly so sacrosanct were nothing but administrative lines draws up by the Soviets. The Russians in the Ukraine have been there for hundreds of years, they’re not recent Soviet imports like the anglo settlers in Texas were at the time.

  14. dazedandconfused says:

    I think when Putin took the extraordinary step of releasing the Nuland conversation the intention was to make the US public aware that their State Dept was even willing to use the UN to pry the Ukraine away from Russia. He had a point there. WTF are we poking Putin in the pooter by poaching the Ukraine for? What’s our national interest in that?

    The American public thought it was about the f-bomb though.

    If Russia has decided they will have that base or die trying, in a way, it would be criminally negligent to not sit next to it and put and arm around it.

  15. Enon says:


    No Ukraine before 1992? So what was the Ukrainian People’s Republic, borscht?

    Poland ceased to exist as a nation-state for long periods of history, but the Polish nation didn’t cease to exist. Similar to the experience of the Kurds and Ukrainians. (The Jews did not have a state of their own for almost two thousand years, yet did not cease to exist as a distinct ethnicity or nation.)

    Although the history of the Ukraine is intertwined with that of the Rus, they are still a distinct nationality and view themselves as such. (And are close to 80% of the population of the Ukraine.)

  16. Mikey says:


    What’s our national interest in that?

    That is a most relevant question, and one to which I’ve yet to find an answer. Russia’s interest in Ukraine is tremendous, ours not so much.

    Some of my military friends are pushing for things like naval blockades and dragooning the EU into assisting with security at Ukraine’s borders with EU member nations. None seem to care much about the response these provocations might elicit from Moscow.

  17. Tillman says:

    The conclusion is a bit weird, since Levin’s underlying argument is there’s too much posturing by both sides concerning Ukraine. Odd to end on how a lack of posturing signals the death knell of the EU and NATO.

  18. Jack says:

    @wr: Did I mention mass murder or genocide? I simply believe that President Stompy Feet is acting like Neville Chamberlain.

  19. C. Clavin says:

    @john personna:
    That is exactly right…and the borders in that part of the world have been anything but stable throughout history. In my own family we are not exactly clear if our Grandfather was a Pole or a Lithuanian.
    I suggest you all just take this time to decide what stocks you wish to invest in when the market bottoms…currently it’s down almost 200 points. Or perhaps you wish to invest in Rubles…currently at historic lows.

  20. Dave D says:

    @Mu: Most of the Russians in the Crimea were forcefully settled there during and after WWII when Stalin expelled and exported a majority of the Tartars out of there and into Central Asia. Eastern Ukraine likely there have been Russians there for centuries. However, between the Germans, the partisans and Stalin there was quite a mixing of historic populations to current ones.

  21. PJ says:


    Did I mention mass murder or genocide? I simply believe that President Stompy Feet is acting like Neville Chamberlain.

    So, you know the name Neville Chamberlain, now, please, explain why you think President Obama is acting like him. And why you think that the current situation is like 1937-1939.

  22. Jack says:

    @PJ: This administration is already walking backwards. Putin made President Stompy Feet hislittlebitch for all the world to see and all this administration does is bloviate.

    They are already saying, “well, Putin is just looking out for the Russian interests in Ukraine.” “There is no need to demand a withdrawal.”

    Hell, they are sending ketchup man to do what? Blow Putin?

  23. humanoid.panda says:

    @PJ: Well, clearly what happened in Jack’s world that after the West exhibited weakness and refused to go to war in 1956 over Hungary, 1968 over Czechoslovakia, 1979 over Afghanistan, 1983 over Poland, the Soviets realized our weakness and swept up Bonn, and Paris in 1989. Obama, president for life since 1944 and the Yalta betrayal did nothing, so now we are paying the price, as Russian hordes have taken over Mexico City, and are planning their final assault on Texas.

  24. Stonetools says:

    Saying that the EU and the NATO has no obligation to go to war on behalf of Ukraine doesn’t answer the question of what exactly the US should do, unfortunately. There are a lot of options between doing nothing and sending the 82d Airborne into Crimea.
    There are a lot of economic things the US can do instead and they are already doing some of that. We will see how these economic moves work out. Who knows, Putin might yet back down.

  25. humanoid.panda says:

    @Jack: You know what is the behavior “littlebitches” often exhibit? A pining for a strong, muscular man to lead them and tell them what to do. Given the infatuation people like you have with Putin and his glistening, powerful, chest muscles, I feel like that description fits you much better than it fits Obama.

    In short, how moist do your loins become when you think about a man like Putin?

  26. Mr. Replica says:


    So…what would you do if you were POTUS?

  27. Jack says:

    @humanoid.panda: All President Stompy Feet knows how to do is “lead from behind” and spend other people’s money. The fact that Putin has made him hislittlebitch for all the world to see is simply icing on the cake.

  28. Jack says:

    @humanoid.panda:Criticism of President Stompy Feet does not equate to an infatuation for Putin. I seem to recall Shillery making a statement to the effect that criticism of this administration is not unamerican. But thanks for playing.

  29. Jack says:

    @Mr. Replica: What I would not have done is go on TV and make a “Back Off” statement and drawn another redline with Moochelles’ lipstick for the Russians to cross unabated. I would not have displayed the weakness of a newborn for the last 5 years. I would not have extracted my foreign policy from a crackerjack box.

  30. PJ says:

    Again, how is President Obama actually like Neville Chamberlain and how is this actually like 1937-39?

    Or is Reagan also Neville Chamberlain? (1983 Beirut barracks bombing)
    George H.W. Bush? (For not going after Saddam after he started to kill Kurds.)
    Bill Clinton? (Battle of Mogadishu)
    George W. Bush? (for giving up on Osama bin Laden)

    Seems like according to your rather simplistic view any US President could be called Neville Chamberlain…

  31. Jack says:

    @PJ: I already explained.

    None of the examples you gave correlate to a foreign leader taking over a sovereign nation. And make no mistake, this is not a temporary occupation, the Russian parliament is already drafting legislation on how Russia can “adopt” foreign territories.

  32. rudderpedals says:


    So…what would you do if you were POTUS?


  33. Jack says:

    @rudderpedals: I told you what I would not have done. Too much water is already under the bridge to reverse this. Putin knows that President Stompy Feet, over the last 5 years, has shown nothing to back up his “redlines”. The president is all talk and has been for the last 5 years. I don’t have a time machine to go back and erase 5 years of cowardice.

  34. John425 says:

    Seems like the general opinion of this thread is that since Putin is a leftist tyrant, then he can be excused and the invasion can be overlooked.

  35. Jack says:

    @John425: Liberals are still infatuated with Communism, so they excuse anyone with ties to that ideal.

  36. reid says:

    @rudderpedals: I’m guessing it would involve calling Putin a bunch of names like “Poopin'” and “President Horsey McFlexychest”. Seems to be his MO.

  37. anjin-san says:


    Was GW Bush the second coming of Chamberlain when he did nothing about Georgia in 2008? When he apologized to China, cap in hand, to get our crew back in 2001 after the Hainan Island incident?

    The reality is that when major powers are involved in a crisis, our options are limited. Unless we want to engage in a major war.

  38. rudderpedals says:

    @Jack: I know, Obama obviously precipitated the crisis by doing everything wrong, keyed your car, took the time machine. Is there even one affirmative public step you’d take that he hasn’t? If he’s as bad as all get out the indictment should be a lengthy laundry list.

  39. anjin-san says:


    What should Obama be doing that he has not already done? Be specific.

  40. Jack says:

    @reid: Thanks for playing, cupcake. If I wanted the input of a mental midget, I would have told you to vomit all over the internet.

  41. anjin-san says:

    @ Jack

    The president is all talk and has been for the last 5 years

    That’s certainly what Bin Laden and Kadhafi are telling everyone.

    Oh, wait…

  42. Mr. Replica says:


    I asked what you would do. Not what you would not do. Deflections do not work on me, sorry.

    So…what would you do if you were POTUS?

  43. humanoid.panda says:

    @Jack: Yes, “Putin made Obama his little bitch” and “Kerry is going to Kyiv to give a blow job to Putin” do not at all constitute a sexualized hero worship of Putin’s manliness. Thanks for playing indeed.

  44. humanoid.panda says:

    1. In what respect exactly is Putin a *leftist* tyrant? Please, be specific.
    2. Recognizing that the US has limited options viz. Russia, as it did in 1956, 1968, 1983, and 2008 is not the same as apologizing for Putin.
    3. The key point the Putinphiles like Jack can’t seem to grasp is that on his own terms, Putin had suffered a horrible defeat, in that his dream of reattaching Ukraine to Russia is totally dead. Right now, the game is on regarding how much of his dignity he can salvage. In such circumstances, letting your opponent to escape with one tenth of the cake after you ate most of it might not actually constitute appeasement.

  45. wr says:

    @Jack: So, what do you recommend, Winston? Want to send troops over to Ukraine? Declare war on Russia? Want to go ahead and make the case this is in our national interest?

    Or are you just taking cheap shots based on nothing?

  46. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’m sorry, everyone. When did it become a policy to feed such obvious trolls?

    Look, it’s one thing to spank around everyone’s favorite whipping-boy, Jenos. He at least finds smart-sounding talking points for us to tear apart. But you are combatting two commentors who think the height of wit is to call someone a commie. You aren’t dealing with intellectual midgets, as that implies there is some intellect there.

  47. humanoid.panda says:

    @humanoid.panda: Of course, based on your clever contributions on this thread, you might be just suffering from repressed homosexual urges you just happen to misplace on Putin. In that case, my apologies.

  48. anjin-san says:

    @ Jack


    Ah, so what you are really trying to say is “I am an idiot”

  49. humanoid.panda says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Well, the reason I am doing this, besides procrastination on real work, is the fact that a more suave version of this argument (why can’t Obama be more decisive and resolute and leader-like, just like that dreamy Putin, the grand chess-master who just leads with leadership and resoluteness) is basically the official party line of both the GOP and, centrist pundits. In other words, I am displacing my rage at powerful people at the mentally deficient.

  50. wr says:

    @Jack: You know what really makes you look so smart? That you repeat every one of Rush Limbaugh’s little catchphrases. Obviously you are a deep thinker.

    And yes, I know, you’ve never listened to Rush in your life. It’s the standard lie of every dittohead loser.

  51. Mr. Replica says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    I’m sorry, everyone. When did it become a policy to feed such obvious trolls?

    When the degree of difference between a person with O.D.S. and an Internet Troll became almost nil?

    For me, it’s entertaining either way, but I like to prod to see which one I am dealing with.

  52. wr says:

    @John425: Wow. Little jealous that Jack is getting all the troll attention?

  53. C. Clavin says:

    So this guy jack is like the rest of the Republicans…big on complaining…short on actual ideas .
    My guess is that he’s waiting for Fox News to tell him what his ideas are .

  54. John425 says:

    @anjin-san: All in all, Obama will wind up with his fingers up his arse but he could be doing:

    (1) Announce it will not only not attend the G-8 conference scheduled for Sochi but will move to expel Russia from the G-8. Russia doesn’t belong in the G-8 anyway; the other members, the original G-7, have much larger economies with electoral democracies, free markets and the rule of law. Russia is deficient on each count.

    (2) Move U.S. and other NATO military forces into Poland and other Eastern European NATO countries, particularly the Baltic republics. These nations have been extremely cooperative with the United States and have received the back of our hand in return.

    (3) Move to set up the anti-ballistic missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic which Obama scuttled in 2009–on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, when it was an ally of Nazi Germany, in 1939.

    (4) Cut off Russian banks’ access to U.S., European Union and Japanese banking facilities. Such moves squeezed Iran hard enough to get it to the bargaining table.

    (5) Extend the list of Russians barred from the United States under the Magnitsky Act.

    (6) Improve relations with Kazakstan, which has plenty of oil and long boundaries with both Russia and China. Don’t worry overmuch about losing transit rights in other Central Asia republics and Russia, which are currently the sites for removal of military equipment from Afghanistan (because Pakistan is not making itself available). We can just leave it there for the time being.

    (7) Investigate possible environmental damage caused by the Russian port of Kaliningrad, in that geographically disconnected part of Russia that was once the northern part of East Prussia. This sounds like a good task for the European Union.

    Failing that, Obama will remain “deeply concerned” and disregard Burke’s dictum that “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

  55. John425 says:

    @wr: Hey, I’m going to copy the Michael Jackson crotch-grab movement and tell you to “TROLL THIS”.

  56. C. Clavin says:

    #1, #4, and #5 are already either underway or being discussed by the parties involved.
    #2 and #3 prove that you are primarily interested in going to war.
    #6 and #7 are pointless nonsense.
    Let me guess…you were all for invading and occupying Iraq, and still have not admitted you were dead-wrong.

  57. C. Clavin says:


    Thanks for playing, cupcake. If I wanted the input of a mental midget, I would have told you to vomit all over the internet.

    Can anyone explain what that means?

  58. rudderpedals says:

    +1 for coming through with actual things to do. A few of them are excellent. Some of them are just awful. Move troops into Poland?
    Build the potemkin ABM site? The second one is more likely now but that’s not a good thing.

  59. wr says:

    @John425: Yes, well, I can’t say I’m surprised that your only response is to copy someone else. You’ve clearly never had an original thought in your life.

  60. wr says:

    @C. Clavin: “Can anyone explain what that means?”

    “I’m a moron.”

  61. anjin-san says:


    Some of your points, like #1, have merit. On the other hand, move troops into Poland?? Are you prepared to fight a war in Europe over Ukraine?

  62. anjin-san says:


    All in all, Obama will wind up with his fingers up his arse but he could be doing:

    Just did 5 seconds of research and found this from a White House statement issued on behalf of G7 leaders on Sunday:

    We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G-7 and the G-8 operate. As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G-8 is able to have meaningful discussion.

    Certainly somebody has something up their ass, but it’s not Obama.

  63. C. Clavin says:

    You have to feel bad for Republicans today.
    They want to condemn Putin. But they want Obama to be just like Putin.
    They talk about diplomatic solutions (John425 #1,4,and 5)…but they think diplomacy is weak. Or leading from behind. Or something.
    All this complexity and contradiction (ie; the modern world) hurts their little brains.

  64. anjin-san says:

    @ C. Clavin

    We actually should thank the local trolls, they have neatly summarized the GOP position on the crisis:

    1. We don’t really have any effective ideas beyond what Obama is doing already
    2. #1 does not count because Obama sucks
    3. That Putin dude is kinda hot

  65. anjin-san says:


    Investigate possible environmental damage caused by the Russian port of Kaliningrad

    Interesting. Conservatives want to give polluters a blank check here in the USA, but we should investigate environmental damage caused by Russia.

  66. Tillman says:

    @John425: @rudderpedals: Moving troops into Poland is going to be NATO’s prerogative, and we’ll be a part of that discussion pretty soon since Poland and the Baltic states invoked Article 4. It’s highly likely that ABM will be revisited no matter what happens in Ukraine, and that’s Russia’s fault entirely. You just can’t spook your neighbors like that and expect no reaction.

    #6 on your list, John, would just replay what’s going on in Ukraine now, except for drawing a third party, China, into the mix. Given the geopolitical situation, we can’t really ally with the Kazakhs unilaterally.

  67. jukeboxgrad says:

    Yes, “Putin made Obama his little bitch” and “Kerry is going to Kyiv to give a blow job to Putin” do not at all constitute a sexualized hero worship of Putin’s manliness.

    I have noticed so many times that for some strange reason conservatives seem to be obsessed with homosexual sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  68. Mu says:

    Of course, squeezing Russia via economic measures is easy for the US. Sucks so if you’re European and with one switch a quarter of your natural gas supply is shut off. So maybe negotiate until May and warmer weather.

  69. michael reynolds says:

    If Russia wants Crimea there is nothing we can do about it.

    That’s the reality. The very most we can do is raise the cost marginally. That’s what we’re doing. But if they want Crimea, they’ve got it, and everyone needs to figure out that fundamental reality.

    Now, after they take Crimea, we can exploit this for some marginal gains. I would guess Poland is thinking real hard right now about increasing defense expenditures. The Baltic countries and Finland have got to be not liking this much. The ‘Stans as well. There are intelligence and diplomatic gains to be reaped. Possibly even some useful defense increases in Europe. (!)

    But nothing we can do, nothing we should do, nothing we are going to do, is going to stop Putin from taking Crimea. The question now is whether he wants Eastern Ukraine as well. In which case Poland, the ‘Stans certainly, (Betcha Kazakhstan is liking those US air bases right about now) and possibly even the EU (!) might consider making concrete defense moves.

    Don’t overestimate Putin. This is very likely a stupid move for him, long-term.

  70. Dave D says:

    @John425: @Mu: #4 seems untenable for any country but the US. As the UK has already backed off any real sanctions.

  71. michael reynolds says:

    Oh, and I’ll mention one other country: China. An aggressive Putin on their disputed, occasionally-fought-over border? I suspect they’ll be wanting to consult with Washington.

  72. Dave D says:

    @michael reynolds: It doesn’t seem like it based on the commentary coming out of Xinhua or by the statement their ambassador made before the UNSC earlier today. It seems they are playing both sides right now, asking the West to work with Russia to end this, but also to respect Russia’s historical ties with the region. If there is one thing the Chinese are very good at it is taking an incredibly long view of both the past and the future on the diplomatic stage.

  73. rudderpedals says:

    I agree with Michael. Crimea’s a tar baby and Putin’s going to have a hell of a time getting rid of it. Good weather now and fracking could fill the gap for the EU while they build a gas pipeline to Egypt and Saudi.

  74. rudderpedals says:

    @Dave D: Wow. Does government represent anyone other than BP and the City?

  75. john personna says:

    Pundigs are saying that they might make it harder for Russian oligarchs to spend their money in the west.

    I’m not sure if that can work, or work without impacting oil and gas flows. We’ll see.

  76. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave D:
    Long-term the Chinese share a border with Russia and we are far away. The Chinese are as capable of stupidity as anyone (as they have demonstrated for a long time) but in the end the geography will begin to assert its importance.

  77. michael reynolds says:

    @john personna:
    I’m going to guess that there are other sunny beachy places that will still accept Russian money.

  78. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: I agree. Putin, while an innovative tactician, seems to be rather weak in strategic thinking. He’s good at winning battles but I don’t think he really plans for the long game which, unfortunately, is also a fairly good description of American policy-making.

    I think this makes the odds of conflict between Russia and the West more likely as time goes on.

  79. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Yeah, sadly that’s true. Russia returns to its usual position as the looming externality of Europe, forever primitive, forever brutal, always just about to make it into the civilized nations club, and falling short.

    They went straight from brutal and incompetent tsars to brutal and incompetent committee chairmen to a brief interlude with a likable drunken buffoon, to a new dictatorship. We’ve left the Communist Party behind and are returning to Russian Orthodoxy, now featuring Tsar Vladimir The Latest.

    The only thing they’ve ever done really, really well is suffer. No one suffers better than the Russians, and if they don’t have a good reason to suffer, they’ll invent one. Beyond that, though, they are the drunken lout of nations.

  80. Grewgills says:

    The cupcake troll has a new name.

  81. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The only thing they’ve ever done really, really well is suffer.

    I had to think of this: Depeche Mode – Suffer Well (Video)

  82. C. Clavin says:

    Sarah Palin is now out with some Putin love on the American version of Pravda….

    “Look, the perception of Obama, of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness,” Palin told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

  83. Tillman says:

    People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil.

    I can’t believe she got through that one without mixing it up. “…as one who wrestles oil and drills for bears.”

    This is the kind of crap that occurs when nationalism becomes a partisan preoccupation. To Godwin it up a bit, I don’t recall anyone in the Allies admiring Hitler’s manly bravado as he marched on France.

    No, even worse. This is what happens when you think your country’s control over world politics won’t end. This is decadent.

  84. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yeah, sadly that’s true. Russia returns to its usual position as the looming externality of Europe, forever primitive, forever brutal, always just about to make it into the civilized nations club, and falling short

    Dunno, Mike. I’m going to gently disagree with you here. I don’t want to just write Russia off as a nation of brutes, tempting as it is to do so. Russia is the land that gave us Doestoyetsky and Tolstoy,Tchiacovsky and Rachmaninoff, the Bolshoi Ballet and Faberge. Beauty has come out of Russia too. Russia isn’t Putin just as Texas isn’t it’s Republican politicans.
    Let’s follow Stephen Covey and seek first to understand, then be understood ( Hokey, I know).
    If you look on this map, its pretty clear that the country we call Ukraine started out as a narrow strip on the southern border of the now vanished Polish Kingdom and expanded greatly as a Russian imperial project. Later, as a result of USSR Russification policy, southern and eatsern Ukraine and Crimea was added out of what in 1917 was Russian territory In light of that, it is absurd to think of the borders of Ukraine as sacrosanct and you can understand why Putin doesn’t think of it as a seperate country.Since 1991, Ukraine has a seen a succession of corrupt, inept regimes, the latest of which was pro-Russian. That regime was overthrown by non-democratic means and replaced by a pro-Western regime. In the meantime, NATO-an anti Russian military pact- has been moving stealthily closer to the Russian border.
    Faced with allthat, it’s not all that surprising that Russia might feela need toflex its muscles. After all, we did much more than that in Panama when the regime there didstuff we didn’tlike.
    It looks at this point thatRussia maty be taking a step back becauase of the threatened economic sanctions, which is good. IT may actuall;y be that Putin, and not Obama. may have miscalculated here. I still think that Crimea is going to end up as back under direct Russian control, regardless of what happens with Ukraine.

  85. C. Clavin says:

    Of course the guy with mom jeans got rid of OBL and Ghaddafi and got Health Care for millions of people.
    Putin…his people are so well off. The elites have deserted him, the youth detest him, he’s totally corrupt…and the entire basis for this Ukranian move is that he got embarrassed by events he couldn’t control.
    That’s where Republicans are at.

  86. michael reynolds says:


    I am looking at this from Putin’s point of view. Russia has made great inroads with the West. It was briefly in the club. Respected. More or less accepted. We were all willing to play along with Russia’s narrative of democratization. We all gave them due props for WW2 and were willing to shrug off the subsequent horrors of Communism.

    But that wasn’t good enough for our Tsar Vlad or for the Russian people. Putin didn’t want to put the USSR behind him, he wanted to be bigger, more important than the head of state of a country of corrupt drunks with oil. He started in with the Soviet nostalgia. And the Russian people were right there with him. He undercut democracy and the people supported him. He edged back toward overt political repression and the people loved it. He decided to launch a soft pogrom against gays and arrest some harmless girls protesting and make common cause with the butcher Assad.

    Now, all of that can be subjected to reasonable man analysis where we come up with this or that psychological or historical explanation. But the underlying truth is that the Russians saw freedom and backed away. They prefer paranoia and suffering. The fell off the wagon as we all suspected they would. And now their moment in the sun is over and the tyranny comes creeping back in, cheered on by its inevitable victims.

    Dostoyevsky was a long time ago.

  87. C. Clavin says:


    I can’t believe she got through that one without mixing it up. “…as one who wrestles oil and drills for bears.”

    Or: “…one who wrestles bears in oil…”

  88. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    . But the underlying truth is that the Russians saw freedom and backed away

    As Chou en-Lai reputedly said about the success of French Revolution, “It’s too early to tell.” Believe it or not, there still are Russian liberals out there, like Kasporov, fighting the good fight. They have a long and uphill climb ahead of them, but they are there.
    I think we have to understand that democracy is more than installing the machinery of elections. It might be another generation because Russia becomes truly democratic. The old generation has to die off, before a new generation can enter the Promised Land.Until then, we are going to have to deal with “tsarist eruptions” from regimes in Moscow. The proper response should be calmness and firmness, and not d!ck waving. Containment worked in the past, and will work again, I think.

    The conservatives who want Obama to go to Defcon 3 over Crimeam in order to show “strength” is going to be shown to have overreacted once again, IMO. What’s frusrating is these idiots never learn, and never admi tthey’re wrong.
    According to the morning reports, it seems like Putin is de-escalating., so it seems more likely there will be a peaceful resolution. That’s good. Ukraine is still a hot mess, though, and this could still go pear shaped.

  89. Dave D says:

    @stonetools: It is probably prompted by the markets opening and the Russian markets fell another 10%. His economy cannot survive the market instability, neither can his rule. There are some analysts arguing that Putin moved because the revolution exposed the embezzling and pilfering of the Ukrainian economy and he was afraid the sentiment would spread to Moscow. If his nation’s economy stays in freefall and collapses it won’t be long until there streets are full of more people than they can quickly arrest.

  90. wr says:

    @Tillman: ” To Godwin it up a bit, I don’t recall anyone in the Allies admiring Hitler’s manly bravado as he marched on France.”

    But before then, I believe the American right was quite taken with Hitler for the manly way he put down commies and labor unions. Much better than that crippled sissy in the White House.

  91. Mikey says:
  92. C. Clavin says:

    Seems like Palin and McCain and Butters are out of touch with real Americans…

  93. Tillman says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now, all of that can be subjected to reasonable man analysis where we come up with this or that psychological or historical explanation. But the underlying truth is that the Russians saw freedom and backed away.

    I don’t know why, but reading that made me immediately think of this.

  94. C. Clavin says:

    Merkel said earlier this week that Putin seemed a little crazy on the phone, and “in his own world”.
    Now after today’s, news conference, more people are thinking Putin may have gone around the bend.

  95. michael reynolds says:


    That is my favorite movie. I must have watched Airplane! A dozen times when you add up all the partials and clips.

  96. anjin-san says:

    Russia test fired an ICBM today. I wonder if Palin had an orgasm when she heard about it.

  97. C. Clavin says:
  98. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    But then there is this blog post:

    Further, please, don’t get me started on the whole “Putin’s lost his sanity” thing. That to me is a clear indication that no one is even remotely ready to consider the full spectrum of reality. Calling a leader crazy is a political cop-out. It’s intellectually lazy. It’s an easy way of telling the home crowd: “I can’t deal with this dude, he cray-cray,” and then you get a free pass. That’s bullshit. That isn’t statesmanship. It’s not responsible. It’s cowardly. It’s also a sign you are ethically bankrupt, not to mention strategically incompetent. You engage with the people you must, not the people whom you wish you could. The world is not Burger King, you cannot always have it your way. It simply does not work that way.

    and this comment:

    This comment from Quax makes me feel a whole lot better about Merkel: As a German speaker I can say authoritatively that the word by word translation of “he lives in another world” takes on a completely different meaning in English. When a German says “er lebt in ein anderen Welt” this uses exactly the same words and sentence structure, but it means “he looks at the world completely differently”.

    I am inclined to think that Putin isn’t cuckoo, but is responding to his own political imperatives. Here’s another good column from Peter Biernart that turns on hishead the usual right wing mantra of a weak America in retreat. Money quote:

    For his part, Russian President Boris Yeltsin warned that extending NATO violated the “spirit of conversations” between Baker and Gorbachev, and would produce a “cold peace” between Russia and the West. It didn’t matter. In 1995, NATO went to war against Serbia, and then sent peacekeepers to Bosnia to enforce the peace agreement that followed. This new, Eastern-European mission paved the way for further expansion. By 1997, it was clear Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic would enter the alliance. In 2004, NATO admitted another seven former Soviet bloc countries, three of which—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—had been part of the USSR. In 2009, Croatia and Albania joined the club. Six former Soviet republics—Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—now link their militaries to NATO’s via the “Partnership for Peace” program. All five former Soviet republics in Central Asia—Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan—provide NATO countries with some basing, transit, refueling, or overflight rights for use in the Afghan war.

    From Putin’s perspective, in other words, the United States hardly looks in retreat. To the contrary, the post-Cold War period has brought one long march by America and its allies closer and closer to the border of Russia itself.

    Putin might be seen here as trying to draw his own “red line” against what he sees as the inexorable advance of NATO. He may also be trying to forestall his own crazy right wing who wants him to “roll back” NATO , starting with Ukraine . Either way, he may not be the Machiavelli, manipulating the feckless Western leadership, the way the right wing media portray him. He is even less, IMO, the crazy Hitler type.

  99. Tillman says:

    @C. Clavin: Satire is dead. Long live reality.

  100. Dave D says:

    @Tillman: This whole situation has been Godwin’d from the beginning

    We expect the Russian want to justify their invasion of Ukraine. They now say in the media that Bandera run and attack the synagogue – but nothing like this. Provocation may be – someone can change clothes Ukrainian nationalist and start to beat the Jews. I’m not afraid of comparison – as the Nazis did during the Anschluss.”

    Yaakov Dov Bleich- Chief Rabbi of Ukraine in response to repeated Russian claims of anti-semitism out of Kiev and the need for the Russian protection.

  101. anjin-san says:

    Off topic but noteworthy:

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a “big chunk” of January’s increase in consumer spending (0.4%) and personal income (0.3%) can be attributed to Obamacare.

    “On the incomes side, the law’s expanded coverage boosted Medicaid benefits by an estimated $19.2 billion, according to Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The ACA also offered several refundable tax credits, including health insurance premium subsidies, which added up to $14.7 billion.”

    “Taken together, the Obamacare provisions are responsible for about three-quarters of January’s overall rise in Americans’ incomes.”

    “On the spending side, the BEA is assuming Obamacare is responsible for a $29 billion increase in health-care services.”

  102. pylon says:

    John425: here’s a tip – when copying without attribution, you need to watch out for grammar, including changes in the subject pronoun. Obama is not an “it”.

    Also, try copying a source better than Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner:

  103. dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Now, all of that can be subjected to reasonable man analysis where we come up with this or that psychological or historical explanation. But the underlying truth is that the Russians saw freedom and backed away. They prefer paranoia and suffering. The fell off the wagon as we all suspected they would. And now their moment in the sun is over and the tyranny comes creeping back in, cheered on by its inevitable victims.

    Dostoyevsky was a long time ago.

    Check out Frontline’s “Return of the Czar”, or one of the books about that time.

    Not many people will tolerate mafiaocracy for long. There were something around 2 milllion more deaths than there should have been. Can’t fairly judge that choice without knowing what the conditions were in there.