West Accelerates Pressure on Russia

NATO has stepped up in a pleasantly surprising way to resist the Ukraine invasion.

The News:

NBC (“U.S., allies agree to limit Russia’s access to SWIFT banking system“):

The United States and its allies announced Saturday an agreement to take aim at Russia through SWIFT, a service that facilitates global transactions among thousands of financial institutions.

“We commit to ensuring that selected Russian banks are removed from the SWIFT messaging system. This will ensure that these banks are disconnected from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” the leaders of the European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, said in a joint statement.

In a written statement, SWIFT said it was aware of the joint statement on the new measures.

“We are engaging with European authorities to understand the details of the entities that will be subject to the new measures and we are preparing to comply upon legal instruction,” the statement said.

President Joe Biden on Thursday, when announcing new U.S. sanctions against Russia, noted differences among European nations on punishing Russia through SWIFT. Doing so is “always an option,” Biden said. “But right now, that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”

A European diplomat said one reason for the administration’s previous reluctance to push publicly for targeting Russia’s access to SWIFT has largely centered on concerns that doing so would expose and call attention to divisions among the allies about taking the step. The person said the Biden administration has been trying to sell the notion that the U.S. and European allies are in total lock-step and has not wanted to get ahead of where the Europeans are at on SWIFT.

Germany and Italy had been reluctant to include SWIFT as part of sanctions against Russia. Europe’s economy, which is far more closely tied to Russia’s than the U.S. economy, could suffer if Russia was restricted or prohibited from using SWIFT, including if banks are blocked from access.

But the mood on this in Europe has been shifting as Russia’s aggression has escalated.

BBC (“Ukraine: France seizes Russian ship over sanctions“):

France has intercepted and impounded a Russian-flagged cargo ship suspected of breaching sanctions imposed because of the invasion of Ukraine.

The ship, the Baltic Leader, was heading from the north-western French city of Rouen to St Petersburg in Russia with a cargo of new cars.

It is being held at the Channel port of Boulogne.

Russian state media say the vessel is owned by a subsidiary of a bank targeted in recent EU and US sanctions.

A regional French official said such a measure was rare, but called it a sign of firmness.

The US Treasury Department has issued blocking sanctions against the vessel, saying it is owned by a subsidiary of Promsvyazbank, one of the Russian financial institutions hit by sanctions.

Reuters (“Turkey, overseeing passage to Black Sea, calls Russian invasion ‘war’“):

Turkey called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “war” on Sunday in a rhetorical shift that could pave the way for the NATO member nation to enact an international pact limiting Russian naval passage to the Black Sea.

Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey has control over the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits that connect the Mediterranean and Black seas and can limit the passage of warships during wartime or if threatened.

Balancing its Western commitments and close ties to Moscow, Ankara has said the Russian attack is unacceptable but until Sunday had not described the situation as a war.

Axios (“Germany to send thousands of weapons to Ukraine in major reversal“):

Germany will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine, marking a complete reversal in Berlin’s restrictive arms export policy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Saturday.

Why it matters: Germany has for months come under intense criticism for its response to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. The government said its “historical responsibilities” prevented it from shipping arms to conflict zones, and had previously blocked other NATO allies from transferring German-origin weapons to Ukraine.

What they’re saying: “The Russian attack marks a turning point. It is our duty to do our best to help Ukraine defend against the invading army of Putin. That’s why we’re supplying 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 stinger missiles to our friends in the Ukraine,” Scholz tweeted.

NYT (“Putin’s War Ushers In Crisis for Russia“):

President Vladimir V. Putin has ushered in a crisis for his country — in its economy and identity.

The Kremlin is hiding the reality of the country’s attack on Ukraine from its own people, even cracking down on news outlets that call it a “war.”

But the economic carnage and societal turmoil wrought by Mr. Putin’s invasion is becoming increasingly difficult to obscure.

Airlines canceled once-ubiquitous flights to Europe. The Central Bank scrambled to deliver ruble bills as the demand for cash spiked 58-fold. Economists warned of more inflation, greater capital flight and slower growth; and the S&P credit rating agency downgraded Russia to “junk” status.

The emphasis on hiding the war’s true extent was a sign that the Kremlin fears that Russians would disapprove of a violent, full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a country where many millions of Russians have relatives and friends.

Even so, more public figures with ties to the state spoke out against the war, including a lawmaker in Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament. Business owners tried to assess the consequences of an economic crisis that appeared already to be beginning, even before sanctions were fully in place.

[…]

Russians have been stunned at how quickly the economic impact of the war was being felt. The ruble hit its lowest level ever against the dollar, which traded at about 84 rubles on Saturday compared to 74 a few weeks ago. That sent prices for imports surging, while sanctions on Russia’s largest banks wreaked havoc in the financial markets and new export restrictions promised to scramble supply chains.

Some Opinions:

Zoya Sheftalovich, POLITICO (“Putin’s miscalculation“):

Watching Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine play out, it seems the Russian president has vastly underestimated and misunderstood Ukrainians and their president.

Putin, a one-time KGB operative who in 2004 said “there is no such thing as a former KGB man,” has made clear that he lives in a world of the past. The world that existed before the end of the Cold War, a world in which the territories of the former Soviet Union, potentially even the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, are run out of Moscow. A world he is trying to rebuild today.

But the USSR is not Russia, and when you live in the past, you lose touch with the present.

Putin has lost touch with ordinary Russians, despite exercising immense control over what they watch, listen to and read. But to an even greater degree, Putin has lost touch with what Ukrainians think.

It’s the classic mistake of every tyrant: Surround yourself only with sycophants, suck-ups and yes-men, and you never get a reality check in your echo chamber. Eliminate dissenting politicians, and you assume that means you’ve eliminated dissent.

[…]

He seems to have expected to be welcomed in by Russian-speaking Ukrainians as nostalgic for the Soviet heydays as he is. It seems Putin expected Ukrainians to lay down their arms, and for their pro-Western and NATO President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to flee, making space for one of Moscow’s allies. The Kremlin could roll its tanks back to Russia, taking a sizeable chunk of Ukraine with them, and Putin could declare his bogus “peacekeeping” mission over after a few days. He would take some limited casualties, some painful but not devastating sanctions, and then it would be back to business as usual.

[…]

But Putin underestimated Ukraine. The country’s troops have resisted hard and have largely held their cities against a Russian attempt at blitzkrieg. Kyiv claims that its experienced, motivated soldiers have killed thousands of Russians, downed enemy planes and destroyed hundreds of armored vehicles and tanks.

Tom Friedman, NYT (“We Have Never Been Here Before“):

The seven most dangerous words in journalism are: “The world will never be the same.” In over four decades of reporting, I have rarely dared use that phrase. But I’m going there now in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Our world is not going to be the same again because this war has no historical parallel. It is a raw, 18th-century-style land grab by a superpower — but in a 21st-century globalized world. This is the first war that will be covered on TikTok by super-empowered individuals armed only with smartphones, so acts of brutality will be documented and broadcast worldwide without any editors or filters. On the first day of the war, we saw invading Russian tank units unexpectedly being exposed by Google maps, because Google wanted to alert drivers that the Russian armor was causing traffic jams.

[…]

“It’s been less than 24 hours since Russia invaded Ukraine, yet we already have more information about what’s going on there than we would have in a week during the Iraq war,” wrote Daniel Johnson, who served as an infantry officer and journalist with the U.S. Army in Iraq, in Slate on Thursday afternoon. “What is coming out of Ukraine is simply impossible to produce on such a scale without citizens and soldiers throughout the country having easy access to cellphones, the internet and, by extension, social media apps. A large-scale modern war will be livestreamed, minute by minute, battle by battle, death by death, to the world. What is occurring is already horrific, based on the information released just on the first day.”

[…]

[E]veryone in Russia will be able to watch. As this war unfolds on TikTok, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, Putin cannot closet his Russian population — let alone the rest of the world — from the horrific images that will come out of this war as it enters its urban phase. On just the first day of the war, more than 1,300 protesters across Russia, many of them chanting “No to war,” were detained, The Times reported, quoting a rights group. That’s no small number in a country where Putin brooks little dissent.

And who knows how those images will affect Poland, particularly as it gets overrun by Ukrainian refugees. I particularly mention Poland because it is Russia’s key land bridge to Germany and the rest of Western Europe. As strategist Edward Luttwak pointed out on Twitter, if Poland just halts truck and rail traffic from Russia to Germany, “as it should,” it would create immediate havoc for Russia’s economy, because the alternative routes are complicated and need to go through a now very dangerous Ukraine.

Anyone up for an anti-Putin trucker strike to prevent Russian goods going to and through Western Europe by way of Poland? Watch that space. Some super-empowered Polish citizens with a few roadblocks, pickups and smartphones could choke Russia’s whole economy in this wired world.

Samuel A. Greene and Graeme B. Robertson, WaPo (“Putin’s rule depends on creating foreign enemies — and domestic ‘traitors’“):

To most outside observers (and many Russian experts, too) Vladimir Putin’s actions this past week look shockingly reckless — from his speech denying Ukraine’s right to exist to the recognition of two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine to an all-out invasion on multiple fronts. So irrational does his behavior seem to some that they have suggested that pandemic-induced isolation has unhinged him, heightening his paranoia and aggrievement.

[…]

That the benefits in Russia’s cost-benefit calculations are evident only to its president presents a problem both for understanding the current situation and predicting Putin’s next move. To solve this puzzle, it’s helpful to take the Ukraine crisis out of the realm of foreign policy and put it into the world in which Putin spends most of his time: that of Russian domestic politics. Viewed in that light, the war represents a continuation of Putin’s efforts to govern by presenting Russia as threatened by external forces bent on its destruction, and himself as the only leader who can successfully oppose them.

[…]

Putin’s gamble is that a combination of military success, a powerful propaganda machine and widespread repression will keep domestic discontent under control and, crucially, keep the elite on his side. It is possible that the gamble will succeed, that the fusion of domestic dictatorship and imperial ambition may prove effective. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to be skeptical.

Surprisingly large protests (“solo pickets,” as the Moscow Times puts it, are the only lawful form of protest in Russia) have appeared on the streets of Russian cities. These are likely to be easily suppressed — the Russian nongovernmental organization OVD-Info reported that more than 2,200 people were arrested on Thursday and Friday — but unease is mounting. The Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, a grass-roots group that emerged to oppose Russia’s destructive war in Chechnya in the 1990s, has publicized harrowing pictures of the poor conditions in which soldiers are being housed and fed along the border with Ukraine and launched a video campaign against the war. Any combat deaths on the Russian side are likely to feed this nascent movement.

Discontent is likely to be fueled, too, by Western sanctions that will have both targeted and widespread effects. We simply do not know what price Russian elites are willing to pay for a war that few of them may actively support. While moving against the president from the inside is extremely dangerous, impatience with the costs to the elite of Putin’s rule, and the sense that something should be done about it, may grow rapidly behind the scenes.

If that happens, a war Putin started to solidify his position at home could prove to be his undoing.

My Two Cents:

Things are going far worse, far faster for Putin than I had hoped at the outset of the invasion. Ukrainians have been steelier in opposition and the fast flow of information highlighted in several reports and columns above have made Putin’s task harder.

But I’m most surprised by the resolve of NATO countries, some of whose commitment to the cause has been questionable for decades, going back at least as far as Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik. While the steadfastness of the Anglosphere was predictable, Germany and France, in particular, have been far bolder and shouldered much more burden here than we could reasonably have expected. And, while Turkey’s blocking the Dardanelles and Bosphorus strait is likely too much to ask, the fact that it is even on the table is stunning.

While Ukraine would surely prefer that the West do even more—essentially treating them as though they were a NATO ally—we are placing an inordinate amount of pressure on Putin. And, in addition to the massive economic sanctions, were are quickly arming and resupplying Ukraine. If this holds, Putin’s miscalculation will have been catastrophic.

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

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    It’s not that countries couldn’t shut down or at least dramatically increase the cost of money laundering by Russian oligarchs… It’s that it would also make it harder for the rest of the oligarchs and mega-wealthy tax evaders.

    9
  2. Lounsbury says:

    Pleasantly surprising but also with risk of spillover and confrontation of nuclear powers directly. No mistake, there are no real choices, but the danger is chilling. A French defence minister reminding Russia that we too are a nuclear power….

    He seems to have expected to be welcomed in by Russian-speaking Ukrainians as nostalgic for the Soviet heydays as he is. It seems Putin expected Ukrainians to lay down their arms, and for their pro-Western and NATO President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to flee, making space for one of Moscow’s allies. The Kremlin could roll its tanks back to Russia, taking a sizeable chunk of Ukraine with them, and Putin could declare his bogus “peacekeeping” mission over after a few days. He would take some limited casualties, some painful but not devastating sanctions, and then it would be back to business as usual.

    I think this is the most important.

    Putin but not only Putin (also many of us in the West) thought the Ukraine would be something like the Ghani regime of Afghanistan, a faux nation, house of cards. And were massively wrong. Massively wrong indeed.

    Making the Biden administration public offer to evacuate the Ukranianian president (much reported over here at least) rather maladroit. (On other hand it seems to me they played the lead up very well, the flipping of the infowar game on Putin and intel release seems to have been really spot on, making the Putin bootlickers like Trump, Farage, etc complete fools).

    4
  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    Another drip. The WSJ is reporting that Germany will increase its defense spending to above 2% of GDP. 2% of GDP having long been a target for defense spending by NATO members that Germany, among others, has long shirked.

    2
  4. James Joyner says:

    @Lounsbury: Increased pressure definitely comes with increased risk of escalation. But capitulation isn’t without risk, either, given that it might encourage Putin to test the resolve of NATO at its edges.

    9
  5. Jen says:

    This “pleasantly surprising” response can likely be attributed to two things:

    NATO realizing how tenuous things are as evidenced by the concerted efforts of the last US president to destroy the alliance; and

    Excellent, quiet work done by the Biden administration to shore up support and bolster NATO in an unassuming way, allowing Europe to take the lead.

    In short, thanks to Trump’s ineptitude and Biden’s competence, NATO might come out of this stronger than ever.

    17
  6. Sleeping Dog says:
  7. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Making the Biden administration public offer to evacuate the Ukrainian president (much reported over here at least) rather maladroit.

    I see it completely the opposite, it was masterful to release this and make it widely known. Putin likely thought that Zelenskyy would flee. Making the offer to Zelenskyy didn’t happen in a vacuum, the US probably knew the answer before they made the suggestion.

    22
  8. CSK says:

    Trump took the opportunity at CPAC yesterday to reiterate that Putin is smart, our leaders are, “dumb, dumb, so dumb,” and that NATO is “not so smart.”

    3
  9. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing for not taking action. Not at all. Necessary things are being done. If Putin gets away with this, all kinds of nasty things will follow, small and large. Taiwan comes to mind. In my own investment zone, the Sahara, as the Algerian generals are quite close to Putin & Generals.

    However, Russian activation of their nuclear forces for ‘deterence’ is chilling. More so for people downwind, perhaps than people with the Atlantic between them and this.

    The descriptions of Putin becoming isolated and perhaps … deranged is far too strong a word but something in that direction from isolation during Covid (as the Politico article evokes)… one can only hope that Russian command will not follow reckless orders (orders that I would have last week dismissed as crazy fear-mongering, but now… outside chances maybe within the real of reality, maybe).

    8
  10. Lounsbury says:

    @Jen: I can not agree. to audiences over here, it felt like the Americans were expressing a lack of confidence. One that should not be expresssed directly. The response was masterful, not the public offer.

    You can spin as masterful double think, but that’s like spinning Putin missteps in the same way.

    This said, the Biden admin has been indeed in my opinion masterful in other aspects in the lead up and largely except this, ratcheting in a well timed way to not get ahead of the EU and NATO members and thus not making the NATO response an American lap-dog response. It requires patience to do that.

    1
  11. Not the IT Dept. says:

    My wife posted something on a blog she follows, and I’m copying and pasting it because I thought it was really good. She’s smart, she married me. Here it is:

    To paraphrase an episode from ST: Deep Space 9: Putin can’t defeat Ukrainians; he can only kill them.

    Ukrainians can’t kill Putin themselves, but every hour Kyiv doesn’t fall, every day Ukraine is not conquered, is another hour where Putin is defeated in the face of the entire world.

    And the western world is finally getting serious about hitting the oligarchs where it really hurts: their bank vaults. Including Putin’s own bank vault.

    Putin will be gone by the end of 2022. There is no way the guys around Putin are going to let Russia be blamed for this fiasco. Better to say it was all Putin’s fault, let him carry the can for it, and then re-group. Probably thinking the west will be satisfied with Putin’s defenestration and things will calm down. They might be right about that, too.

    But we should be ready that whoever comes out on top will be worse than Putin, and will have a score to settle with Ukraine. It won’t be pretty.

    4
  12. JohnSF says:

    News from Germany:
    Chancellor Scholz announces that Germany will immediately increase defence spending by €100 billion.

    That ain’t chicken feed.
    Will also ‘quickly’ build LNG terminals at Brunsbuttel and Wilhelmshaven.
    Implying direct state funding?
    I wonder if EU leaders are prepared to end current EU rules on limits on state subsidies of energy projects.

    4
  13. JohnSF says:

    Further to above:
    Schloz spoke of buying off-the-peg US warplanes but said that next generation of planes AND tanks must be European & mostly French/German.
    Looks like the European defence industry is about to go on steroids.

    6
  14. Kathy says:

    You’d think at his age, Vlad would know you make the case for war and build support for it before you send troops to invade another country, not after.

    Even Bush the younger knew this.

    4
  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Putin will be gone by the end of 2022.

    Ruskie Spox: We are sad to announce that President Putin has suffered a mortal wound in a hand gun accident…

    @JohnSF:

    A possibly hostile and rearmed Germany is the stuff of Russian nightmares.

    4
  16. Lounsbury says:

    @CSK: Trump is literally a traitor to the USA. Really extraordinary.

    If the Republican party continues to kow-tow to him… no real words for that.

    @JohnSF: If you caught the live speech at the Bundestag, not only was the speech something, the enormous applause meeting this announcement – for a German context – was astounding.

    But signs of Putin’s irrational … or at least dangerously deluded response framework are frightening. Activation of nuclear forces, it’s like reliving my 1980s youth.

    4
  17. MarkedMan says:

    A couple of data points.

    Rod Dreher remains a useful idiot for fascists. I checked in as I do from time to time and it appears he had been taking Putin’s side in his columns but now is worried what people might think of him so he’s taking the same tack he took with Trump, i.e. Putin/Trump is personally repulsive but it is liberals fault for giving otherwise decent people no choice but to support such a flawed character.

    The official statement from the Russian Orthodox Church puts no blame but instead calls for all sides to end hostilities as soon as possible. It also manages to work in the claim that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is still subservient to the ROC, something that is no longer true, which reveals the motivation behind their backing (and no doubt encouragement) of Putin.

    The US ROC official statement is that Russia needs to withdraw immediately. ( It’s a little insidevbaseball but there are a number of reasons there is no separate US Orthodox Church, not the least of which is that the majority of priests come from their respective mother church’s.)

    4
  18. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury: Getting leadership out alive is basic 101 in the counter-an-invasion handbook. I have zero doubt that there were multiple plans for separate scenarios to get him out of there alive, and they were most likely all shared with Zelenskyy well prior to the invasion.

    It’s surprising to me that people still don’t seem to understand the role of PR in war.

    11
  19. CSK says:

    Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear forces to undertake “a special regime of duty” as a response to foreign sanctions.

    I hope this is just sabre-rattling.

  20. CSK says:

    Zelenskyy says Russian and Ukrainian officials will meet the Belarusian border for talks.

  21. Not the IT Dept. says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Maybe. Certainly Putin will be very careful not to go near any windows higher than the ground floor.

    2
  22. Jen says:

    @CSK: I just saw that on the NYT live feed. Very disturbing to have Putin putting nuclear forces on alert.

    1
  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    Financial Times is reporting that the run on Russian banks has started and that Russians living abroad are liquidating assets. There are fears that the Ruble will collapse tomorrow when the markets open.

    3
  24. Lounsbury says:

    @Jen: Getting leadership out alive is one thing (and that presumes one is escaping). PR is another. Evidently you don’t in fact understand it, except via the American self-referential lens.

    @CSK: (see above…) prior to Putin launching full scale invasion of the Ukraine (contra ‘just’ eastern Ukrainian provinces) I would have shrugged off. However, Putin’s actual actions leave space to worry about irrational end-of-era decisions

    2
  25. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Kathy:

    Mmhmm. Sun Tzu – wars are moral contests that are won in the temples before they’re ever fought.

    4
  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jen:
    @CSK:

    Thought about this last evening. The NH Air Force Reserve is a airborne refueling unit. There are 8-10, K-46’s and K-135’s visible on the tarmac at Pease from McIntyre Rd. I wonder if they are still there? Daily we hear them overhead doing touch and goes and thinking about it, I didn’t hear any yesterday or this AM.

    Except for the deployments to NATO announced last week, the US has been very quiet about preparation, but you know that it is going on.

    3
  27. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    Putin did hint at this a few days ago when he said that any nation that standing in his way would face “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.”

    I took that to be a threat of nuclear retaliation.

    4
  28. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I wonder what’s going on at Westover AFB as well.

    2
  29. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Lounsbury: I dunno man, in entertainment there’s this thing called “being the straight man”. Zelensky doesn’t get his famous line if nobody offers to evacuate him. I would be happy, and proud, to set that one up.

    8
  30. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: He has to know that would be suicidal and if he were to follow thru, he is farther gone than any of us had imagined.

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    Putin rattling his nukes is solid evidence that Vlad ain’t happy with his army. He’s terrified of losing face if the Russian military performs poorly. I mentioned yesterday that four days in the Russians apparently don’t have air supremacy, which is an eye-opening, WTF moment. You know how long it takes the USAF to gain air supremacy over a weaker opponent? Minutes.

    No doubt the ICBM’s will act as a sort of desperate Viagra for Vlad, but when you’re four days into a war against a much weaker opponent and you have to threaten nuclear suicide, it’s not a good look for the littlest tsar.

    6
  32. CSK says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: @Michael Reynolds:
    I hope you’re both right.

    2
  33. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: In a Twitter thread which has a level of credibility I cannot attest to, it was claimed that the UA knows when the Russian satellites are overhead taking pictures, and they make sure that key assets are moving, so as to frustrate air strike planning.

    They were far, far more ready for this than they let on, I think.

    4
  34. Scott says:

    Once Russia went full on invasion, any wobbliness from the West was foreclosed. If he just stuck with occupying Eastern Ukraine, he would’ve got away with it. My mental model of this is now August, 1990, Kuwait. The result has to be for Russia to be tossed out. The only outstanding issue is now Putin. Will he survive or go the way of Saddam.

    1
  35. Beth says:

    So, I’ve got a sort of half formed thought that I’m trying to tease out. Please note, I’m not making any sort of moral judgments, this is all about power. The other thing is that this may just be U.S. based bias.

    Anyway, a lot of the Twitter threads posted yesterday talked about how while Russia was moving material in to position for weeks, they really didn’t have much. They have a lot of people, a decent amount of tanks and ammo, but beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much or any resupply. This has apparently lead to what seems to be a conservative amount of rocket, missile and bomber runs. It seems to me that while the damage and destruction are real and awful, they aren’t total.

    Contrast this with our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan where the first couple of days basically looked like a metal video from the 80s. We were also attacking places that were significantly farther away from us with, if I remember correctly, little to no concern about resupply. Weren’t we launching bombing runs from like Kansas?

    What this makes me think is that while Russia is a nuclear power, their military is mostly failed? Am I entirely wrong?

    One other thing, I wonder if the Chinese are talking a long hard look at Taiwan and wondering if attempting an invasion wouldn’t cause more harm to them then it’s worth.

    I dunno, sorry for the sludge brain on this. I just feel like something is getting missed in all of this and I’m stabbing in the dark to figure it out.

    5
  36. gVOR08 says:

    WAPO above:

    Viewed in that light, the war represents a continuation of Putin’s efforts to govern by presenting Russia as threatened by external forces bent on its destruction, and himself as the only leader who can successfully oppose them.

    I Alone Can Fix It

    The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ […] ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’. – Ron Suskind

    That didn’t work out very well for us in Iraq or Afghanistan and doesn’t seem to be working well for Putin in Ukraine. I fear the consequences of it not working. I very much fear Putin will destroy Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities before he’ll back down. His actions are driven by domestic politics and his drive to hold on to power (and wealth) and he can’t be predicted without knowing unknowable things about the oligarchy.

    3
  37. Not the IT Dept. says:

    If he’s threatening nukes at this point, then it’s a pretty clear display of total lack of confidence in his armed forces. Makes you wonder what conversations are taking place in the Russian equivalent of the officers’ club parking lot today and tomorrow.

    Oligarchs and military leaders did not sign up for this sh*tshow. It’s Putin who’s making their boys look bad in front of the world. Russia cannot fail, it can only be failed.

    I’d love to know what Gorbachev is thinking right now.

    4
  38. Beth says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    They were far, far more ready for this than they let on, I think.

    If this is true, the capability of the U.S. Military and Intelligence services must be truly frightening.

    1
  39. Jen says:

    @Lounsbury:

    Evidently you don’t in fact understand it, except via the American self-referential lens.

    Don’t be an arse. I was born abroad and spent most of my childhood overseas, including a number of years in West Germany at the height of the Cold War. As a result, I know plenty of people within the intelligence community. I’ve done PR work, including political and public affairs PR for most of my career.

    13
  40. Lounsbury says:

    @CSK: That is also how it was interpreted by EU. The High Rep for Foreign Affaires stated to the French news that EU, NATO leadership was taking statements from Putin as only lightly veiled nuclear threats.

    Thus the French defence minister’s own statement around the time the Russian ship was seized, reminding the Russians that we too are nuclear powers. We are living through, I think it is clear, the most dangerous moments since 1989.

    The Turkish potential action just announced (here via Financial Times) can be taken as an act of war.

    20 MINUTES AGO16:44
    Turkey signals it will block Russian warships from entering straits
    Laura Pitel in Ankara

    Turkey has signalled that it will block Russian warships from crossing the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles straits in a significant shift from the Nato member that could trigger a backlash from Moscow.

    Mevlut Cavusoglu, the country’s foreign minister, said that Turkey now considered Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to be a “war”.

    That wording is significant because, under the terms of the 1936 Montreux Convention that governs the use of the two channels that link the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Turkey has the right to prevent warships from crossing if they belong to “belligerent powers”.

    “At the beginning, what Russia was doing was an attack,” Cavusoglu told the Turkish broadcaster CNN Turk. “We assessed it with experts, soldiers, lawyers. Now, this has turned into a war.”

    Though he did not announce the immediate closure of the straits, Cavusoglu said that the Montreux Convention’s 19th article, which sets out the rules for times of war, was “extremely clear”.

    “Turkey had always implemented the Montreux agreement to the letter,” he said, adding: “In these conditions we will also implement the Montreux Convention.”

    The immediate impact of closing the straits would be limited given that Russia has already assembled a large naval fleet in the Black Sea. An exception in the Montreux agreement also means that Russian warships would still be allowed to traverse the straits to return to their bases.

    But analysts said the shift in language was highly symbolic given that Ankara, which has close ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, had previously appeared highly cautious about angering Moscow.

    @Michael Reynolds: one can only hope that the command function is ready to disregard irrational lashing out. I would normally be confident but we don’t know if the command lines contain any direct lines via true-believers.

    @Scott: indeed a enormous misplay. Grabbing more territory in the east and maybe the dam feeding Crimea probably would have passed. But Putin and whomever is playing with him clearly thought the Kiev government would play a Ghani….

    2
  41. DAllenABQ says:

    My cold military analysis – the attacks from the separatist enclaves, Crimea, and the amphibious landing in Odessa appear to be feints, meant to tie down Ukrainian forces but lacking the offensive capability to go farther. The major offensive efforts were aimed at Kyiv and Kharkiv, the two biggest metropolitan areas in Ukraine. I believe these attacks were meant to take the cities in a day or two, with heavy armored formations to follow and fan out into the country at large in classic blitzkrieg fashion. This has not happened, yet. CNN is showing footage of Russian armored columns leaving the city of Belgorod (in Russia, but very close to Kharkiv) heading south. This implies the Russians are committing their heavy units to taking the cities that were supposed to have been taken by the initial, non-armored assaults.

    No military plan survives first contact with the enemy.

  42. Stormy Dragon says:

    But I’m most surprised by the resolve of NATO countries, some of whose commitment to the cause has been questionable for decades, going back at least as far as Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik.

    I suspect this is entirely due to Zelenskiy’s conspicuous bravery during this crisis. No other western politicians wants to stand next to his example and look like a sniveling coward.

    5
  43. Not the IT Dept. says:

    NATO allies in Europe are much closer to the action and have stronger memories than Americans do about war in the 20th century. I’d be damn careful throwing around phrases like “sniveling cowards” to describe people whose first priority is the safety of their own people who could be at risk in ways Americans will never be. This is not the cosplaying manliness we’re used to from our politicians, this is real, and we need to respect that.

    Also, this video clip is making the rounds today, and I think Seddon’s thread is worth reading. Apologies to James for copy-pasting a link:

    https://twitter.com/maxseddon/status/1497923042101575685?cxt=HHwWioCylcHE2MkpAAAA

    4
  44. Zachriel says:

    @Jen: I see it completely the opposite, it was masterful to release this and make it widely known. Putin likely thought that Zelenskyy would flee. Making the offer to Zelenskyy didn’t happen in a vacuum, the US probably knew the answer before they made the suggestion.

    The U.S. as straight man to Zelenskyy who delivers the punchline.

    10
  45. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Also I’d be shocked it US, UK and French intelligence isn’t feeding Ukraine information.

    4
  46. Modulo Myself says:

    Everyone sane in power should be thinking of ways to give Putin an off-ramp here…it’s clear that he’s isolated and surrounded by puppets, but he has also a ton of nukes. A Russia with the Donbass, with no sanctions and no loss of SWIFT access is better than Putin using tactical nukes in the Ukraine, or, god forbid, worse. The lunatics who are talking about regime change or somehow putting more pressure on Putin are missing the point. Putin has been humiliated already; there’s nothing more, short of a miracle mutiny and coup and a bullet in his head, that needs to happen to him.

    4
  47. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Everyone sane in power should be thinking of ways to give Putin an off-ramp here…

    Or giving whoever ends up being Krushchev an off ramp when Putin gets the Lavrenti Beria treatment.

    1
  48. Zachriel says:

    @Jay L Gischer: I dunno man, in entertainment there’s this thing called “being the straight man”

    Oops. Pays to read ahead.

    Russia’s military spending is about that of the U.K. with a smaller economy. NATO includes the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, etc., not to mention the U.S.

  49. JohnSF says:

    re.Russian nuclear alert.
    There have been recent Russian claim that they “believe” Ukraine is planning to use radiological weapons.
    “We do not want Ukraine to develop a ‘dirty bomb,'”
    Ukraine has responded they suspect Russia may be planning to set off a “dirty bomb” itself and blame Ukraine for it.
    I would not put it past Putin to do so, and then threaten or even use tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

    @Lounsbury:
    Closing the Straits is a massive step indeed.
    There is a major Russian naval force at Tartus in Syria.

    4
  50. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yes. Biden was willing to let Russia know we seem to be reading everything. We let it be known the Russians were well behind schedule, not our estimate, their schedule. We seem to have known their plans in detail. And we would certainly have shared that intelligence with Ukraine.

    4
  51. Paine says:

    Not sure what Putin was thinking. Even if his plan went off without a hitch driving Finland and Sweden into the arms of NATO, GErmany making a significant increase in their defense spending, and crushing his own economy while pissing off the oligarchs hardly seem like a worthwhile trade for a Ukraine puppet state. Did he really think the rest of the world would roll over on this?

    5
  52. CSK says:

    @Paine:
    If he did, then he may indeed be in serious mental decline.

    2
  53. JohnSF says:

    This is HUGE:
    The EU (as opposed to member states) proposes to directly fund and coordinate supplies of weapons and fuel to Ukraine. EU has never acted in this way before.

    Also announces a total closure of EU airspace to Russian aircraft.

    8
  54. CSK says:

    @JohnSF:
    It IS big. That’s 27 nations shutting down their air space. In addition to funding the arms, the EU is also banning Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting.

    What is Putin thinking now?

    2
  55. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF:
    I don’t know about you, but I had not put my money on, “NATO and the EU will significantly outperform expectations.”

    A stronger NATO, a re-arming Germany, an isolated Black Sea fleet, a faltering Russian military, being told to suck eggs by Kazakhstan and a Ukraine that is forging its national myth right now in real time, is, I’m guessing, not quite what Vlad had in mind.

    3
  56. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/AFP/status/1497888319920824322

    The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has called Moscow’s opponents in Ukraine “evil forces”, speaking on the fourth day of the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour

    https://religiondispatches.org/make-no-mistake-if-theres-a-war-between-russia-and-ukraine-it-will-be-a-religious-war/

    My guess the above link is a vast overstatement but still …

    (Power struggle = Russian Orthodox patriarch vs. Greek Orthodox)

  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    @CSK:

    What is Putin thinking now?

    He’s thinking, “I need to put my nuclear forces on alert because I now desperately need the world to stop laughing at me.” It is an astonishing admission of weakness. You know who will not be impressed? Chairman Xi.

    2
  58. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Well, the response he got from the EU probably wasn’t what he expected, either.

    1
  59. Modulo Myself says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Khrushchev and Beria were sharing power. Khrushchev called a meeting and Beria was arrested. End of story. Putin doesn’t even share elevators, let alone power. Getting to him might be impossible.

    1
  60. MarkedMan says:

    @charon: That’s a good article and thanks for sharing it. FWIW I think the commentary overstates how much the ROC instigated this action, but there is no doubt that the ROC has been pushing for this and supports it wholeheartedly. They have never accepted the UOC being split from them in response to the ROC supporting the invasion and annexation of Crimea.

  61. Scott says:

    @MarkedMan: Putin has been known to rail against the deviations (particularly sexual) of the West and the ROC certainly shares those views. This explains the pro-Putin admiration of the US Christian Nationalists whereby they are basically a pro-fascist fifth column determined to gain power.

  62. Gustopher says:

    @Paine: Of course he thought the rest of the world would roll over. He was expecting some sanctions he could live with, and that’s about it.

    Overwhelming force (even if it is not going as well as expected, overwhelming force will eventually overwhelm the defenders), plus a stranglehold on energy needed by the EU, a pro-Russia party in the other Superpower, plus a history of getting away with invasions and incursions — seems like a pretty strong hand.

    Pretty sure that’s what most people in the west were thinking too.

    2
  63. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: The nuclear posturing is just posturing.

    Putin hasn’t even cut the gas flow to Europe yet, has he?

    1
  64. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Putin doesn’t even share elevators, let alone power. Getting to him might be impossible.

    But the thing is, he does. No political leader, no matter how powerful, rules completely alone. Putin still has a base of key-holders his power depends on, and at some point, those key-holders are going to start looking for a replacement that better serves their interests.

    1
  65. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Scott:

    Putin has been known to rail against the deviations (particularly sexual) of the West and the ROC certainly shares those views.

    You’d think ROC would almost want to actively encourage LGBT as a way of alleviating its growing gender imbalance problem. Every gay male couple is two more people who won’t be causing social problems because they can’t find partners.

    1
  66. Lounsbury says:

    @Modulo Myself: It is precisely this danger that is high in my mind. Being probabilistically down-wind (by prevailing winds) of potential ‘tactical exchanges’ (never mind strategic, of course as that global féd over) rather gets one’s attention. I would not think that strategic is very likely to happen but bloody hell tactical I am genuinely afraid about now.

    @Michael Reynolds: I don’t think people are laughing. No, not laughing. Hating him yes, but I am certainly not laughing at Putin.

    @charon: now those bootlickers, they can be laughed

    @JohnSF: massive and escalating, it makes me nervous. It can be an act of war although I trust the Turks to be more symbolic and treaty legalistic about this.

    @Paine: Putin thought – one can solidly infer by executed military action that Putin and his yes men actually believed that the Ukraine would completely fold, and they’d have a 3 day romp, decapitate the govenrment, install a puppet à la Bielorusse, and annex the east. Believing their old Soviet ost-nostalgie agitprop apparently.

    2
  67. Mikey says:

    Danny Gold
    @DGisSERIOUS
    I’m sorry but there’s no hopes of ever being able to occupy a country full of people who just pick up mines and move them while a lit Marlboro dangles from their lips.

    2
  68. Lounsbury says:

    @Modulo Myself: Stalin.

    @Gustopher: People said that about his full-out invasion preparations. They ended up being wrong.

    As for gas to Europe, unless he’s not getting paid for said gas, it would be an entirely incoherent and illogical act for Putin to cut the gas as such funds now will be critical to keep his regime afloat.

    While his nuclear threats may be just posturing, after the launch of this all out war, and understanding Putin is a proud, nostalgic old man with his back to the wall and possibly seeing his entire grand world historic ost-nostalgie plans coming apart, one should not dismiss what a cornered desperate man at the end of his days might order.

    Whether he has enough also ost-nostalgic yes-men in lines of commend to effect such, who knows. I hope not.

    2
  69. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    a pro-Russia party in the other Superpower

    Pro-Putin sentiments being expressed at the current CPAC, for example TFG still saying Putin is smart, and TFG is not alone.

    And yet, recent polling shows most rank and file Republicans are siding with Ukraine.

    recently posted:

    https://religiondispatches.org/no-patriarch-kirill-of-moscow-is-not-calling-for-peace-in-fact-hes-putins-accomplice/

    After all, next Sunday Orthodox Christians around the world will observe Forgiveness Sunday, the final day before Lent. On this day, the liturgical practice remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden and calls on individual believers to repent of their sins against others. The period of repentance and fasting ahead would be the ideal occasion for Patriarch Kirill to exercise the authority of Orthodox hierarchs to concretely condemn and punish the aggressors in this situation. He could, in effect, issue his own religious sanctions, cutting Putin, his government, military leaders, and even ordinary soldiers off from the Eucharist.

    But he will not do that. Because Patriarch Kirill is an accomplice to Vladimir Putin and has made the Russian Orthodox Church (once again) an agent of state power. The fact that some in the West are not able to plainly see this is to their detriment, because it blinds them from seeing how power is operating in Russia and beyond. It’s nice to think that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is calling for peace, but he’s doing nothing beyond the bare minimum and his complicity is encouraging the aggressors in this catastrophe.

    Pretty much all the Patriarchs in non-Russia countries are condemning the aggression.

    1
  70. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Modulo Myself: Getting to him might be impossible.

    Nothing is impossible. All it would take is one wo/man on the inside willing to die. Not that I expect one to arise, just saying it’s possible.

  71. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Lounsbury:

    I don’t think people are laughing. No, not laughing. Hating him yes, but I am certainly not laughing at Putin.

    I am. I enjoy watching this jumped up tinpot thug overreach. Of course I do have a dark sense of humor. But if Putin fails, the whole world will get the joke. He had two aces – gas to Germany and the vaunted Russian military. How many aces is he holding now? One? A half?

    1
  72. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Argon: Isn’t that always the problem though? Cracking down on the rich people you don’t approve of always has spillover effect on the people whose money keeps you in office. Quite a balancing act.

  73. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    @Lounsbury: Increased pressure definitely comes with increased risk of escalation. But capitulation isn’t without risk, either, given that it might encourage Putin to test the resolve of NATO at its edges.

    Except the reality isn’t that binary. Anything that isn’t escalation isn’t magically capitulation. That sort of thinking is frankly dangerous and inevitably results in an escalatory spiral that ends badly for everyone.

    That sort of Manichean view, exemplified by the lust I see online to punish Putin and Russia to the greatest extent possible regardless of potential consequences, will displace reasoned analysis regarding cause-and-effect. While I’m morally on Ukraine’s side in this conflict, my view is that preventing a nuclear holocaust must be our primary concern.

    Anyway, I have some additional thoughts on this war:

    As an analytical matter, I would caution people to avoid mirror-imaging, which is currently rampant among pundits. Those who don’t understand Putin’s and Russia’s motives and calculus and then conclude that he must be crazy or somesuch should probably reevaluate their priors.

    I’ve been saying and trying to explain here for months that Russia would go to war to prevent Ukraine from becoming aligned with NATO and that is exactly what happened. This is too dangerous of a situation to let passions and outrage at Russia’s unjust and illegal war combine with bad assumptions and ignorance to overwhelm reason and understanding when it comes to analyzing what is going on.

    Secondly, misinformation, propaganda, and information operations are everywhere. It is not just the Russians doing it. Most “reports” about this war should be met with skepticism, especially shit that appears on Twitter and Tik Tok. Even though Ukraine is on the morally justified side of this conflict, they are still propagandizing for their own ends – and quite effectively.

    Finally, I think people should focus more effort on looking at the strategic picture, especially over the longer term. The critical question, as is usually the case, is “how does this end?”

    It’s looking increasingly likely that Russia will not meet its maximalist war goals and by the same token, Ukrainian forces are not going to march to Moscow to depose the leadership there and they really lack the capacity for operational-level offensives. So if this turns into a stalemate (which I now think is the most likely scenario) then there are a few possibilities:

    1. Some negotiated end to the conflict.

    It’s not clear how this would play out. Russia would not accept any settlement that would result in Ukraine joining NATO while Ukraine very much wants NATO protection. This has been the core factor that’s been driving the conflict over Ukraine since 2008.

    2. Russian escalation.

    They might double-down and utilize more violence to set more favorable conditions. The reports of Russia running out of precision munitions are likely accurate – this is a problem the US has faced in conflicts and so I’m not surprised that Russia would have limited stocks of these munitions. That would mean more use of artillery and other armaments that would cause widespread urban destruction should, as is expected, Ukraine focuses on urban defense.

    Escalation is believed to be part of Russian doctrine which is colloquially known in the west as “escalate-to-descalate” or “escalate-to-win.” Googling those terms will get you a lot of links on Russian nuclear doctrine, but it is also believed to be part of conventional doctrine.

    But there is strong disagreement among analysts – the more hawkish believe that Russia has a lower nuclear threshold and that it has doctrine and strategy to use nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear weapons to escalate their way out of a failed conventional aggression. Personally, I’m skeptical of this hawkish view, but the risks are too great to assume the hawks are wrong…Again, this highlights the importance of attempting to understand Russia’s actions and actual motivations, as opposed to the ignorant moralizing assumptions commonly seen online and in the media. The need to focus on reality and not the blind passions of war is of paramount importance.

    3. Declare victory and go home.

    The Russians could embrace more limited war aims. If they give up on taking Kiyv and forcing compliance on or toppling the Ukrainian government, but are able to take Mariupol in the south, finish taking Donetsk and consolidate gains east of the Dnieper (Russia’s Crimean front has not been bogged down like in the north), then Russia would achieve one of its core strategic aims, which is a land bridge to Crimea. These are also the areas that Russia could likely hold long-term because of the sizable Russian-aligned population there. Russia could declare victory, and pull back from the north and use other means to try to prevent the rest of Ukraine from joining NATO.

    I’m sure there are more possibilities. And it may be the case that Ukraine’s resistance does collapse, though I think that grows less likely with each passing day. War is inherently uncertain and dynamic, which is why it is such a huge risk.

    5
  74. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    If Putin cuts the gas line to Europe, that will be considered an act of war.

    1
  75. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: We’ll never know for sure–whatever conversations took place will be classified for some considerable time beyond the point when someone other than a history/poli sci post doc will be interested. And the reply was masterful–and would probably have been left unsaid to the public in absence of a publicized offer. My past recollection of evacuation of leaders from the area of engagement is that announcements of them are held until it’s too late for the information to do anyone any good. This one piques my suspicions because of that factor.

    Beyond that, believing that the publicized offer was a screw up is Donald Trump-think. Say what you will about no one being wrong 100% of the time and make all the broken clock/watch metaphors you want, but FG is even less useful than a broken clock. In the past, I would have been reluctant to suggest that you think like FG. These days? Meh… not so much.

    1
  76. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: An act of war?

    So, Putin must supply gas to countries that are supplying arms and intelligence to Ukraine, while those countries are seizing Russian assets, isolating Russian backs and closing the Black Sea access for Russian ships or it’s an act of war? The gas that is being used, in part, to power the factories that will resupply the weapons and ammunition?

    Really? That’s your claim?

    It’s a serious escalation of the economic back and forth, but if that’s an act of war than we passed that threshold long ago.

    (Especially in context of “we know the nuclear posturing is just posturing, as he hasn’t even cut off the gas supply.”)

    1
  77. CSK says:

    Canada has denied air space to Russian flights.

    1
  78. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jay L Gischer: “They were far, far more ready for this than they let on, I think.”

    Considering that Putin had been shopping this invasion around the various powers for about 2 or 3 weeks, it would have been more surprising if they hadn’t been ready. Militarily small =/= Dumb. Not letting on was just excellent statecraft.

    2
  79. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    Western estimates of the population being “Russian aligned” should often be regarded with very large levels of caution.
    Being Russian speaking doe very much not correlate to identifying as “Russian”.
    And even identifying as Russian does not necessarily entail a desire to be a part of the Russian polity, especially under its current government.

    As I persist in reminding people, the Donbas area which a lot of commentators say must desire union with Russia because they speak Russian, voted by over 80% for independence in the referendum of 1991.
    Even Crimea voted for independence, albeit by a lower margin: 54%

    If Russia tries to hold these putatively “Russian” zones, either by annexation or as some sort of “Little Russia Republic” there is a fair chance they will face ongoing insurgency.
    And that the Ukrainian will not passively accept the seizure of a large area of their country.

    Russia could have a bleeding ongoing war on it’s south western frontier for decades.
    And while it does, I very much doubt that Europe will readily renormalise relations.

    Things have gone too far.
    Russia is now an adversary.

    1
  80. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    So if this turns into a stalemate (which I now think is the most likely scenario)

    A stalemate that is likely to require a very large, constant commitment to keep a stalemate.

    That’s just kicking the can down the road to prevent an inevitable loss. We did it in the Middle East for decades. (Is it China’s turn to invade Afghanistan?)

    I don’t think Putin is irrational. I do think he miscalculated. At some point, he’s going to be building his own off ramp, with whatever face saving lies he wants to tell himself and his country.

    And we have to keep the pressure on to make that sooner than later.

    I don’t think Putin gets to keep chunks of Ukraine this time around. If his goal was to keep Ukraine from being aligned with the west, he might not even want to — carving off the sections that don’t want to be aligned with the west would be counterproductive.

    1
  81. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    It’s not my claim. It’s what a couple of state department people have said.

    1
  82. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Andy:

    There has been a report that Ukraine and Russia have agreed to meet at Belarus border to discuss some sort of settlement. Though it is not clear if there will be a cessation of fighting to precede it. Giving up the eastern provinces would be the core of settlement, but non-alignment with NATO will be harder to finesse, since the goal of joining NATO is in the Ukraine constitution.

    I’m pessimistic about a settlement and expect Russia to grind out a victory but not have a peace.

  83. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Zelenskyy now says he doesn’t want to meet at the Belarus border. I don’t think he’s holding out much hope that these talks will be productive.

    1
  84. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Yes, I’m aware of the differences and complexities. But there is real geographical divisions in Ukraine.

    As I persist in reminding people, the Donbas area which a lot of commentators say must desire union with Russia because they speak Russian, voted by over 80% for independence in the referendum of 1991.
    Even Crimea voted for independence, albeit by a lower margin: 54%

    A vote that was taken over thirty years ago in completely different geostrategic circumstances is of limited relevance today. The fact that there is a long-running pro-Russian insurgency in Donbas and that there is a lack of a pro-Ukrainian insurgency in Crimea proves that old vote doesn’t mean much anymore.

    If Russia tries to hold these putatively “Russian” zones, either by annexation or as some sort of “Little Russia Republic” there is a fair chance they will face ongoing insurgency.
    And that the Ukrainian will not passively accept the seizure of a large area of their country.

    There could definitely be an insurgency. The point is that an insurgency in the east would likely be much easier for the Russians to handle than in the western part of the country. That could very well be an acceptable cost for the Russians, particularly if there are local auxiliaries who would do most of the actual counter-insurgency effort.

    As for Ukraine not accepting the seizure, what will they do? They have done well in defending urban areas from Russian attacks, but retaking territory from a larger army with much more firepower would be…challenging.

    @Gustopher:

    A stalemate that is likely to require a very large, constant commitment to keep a stalemate.

    I agree that a military stalemate cannot last which I why I listed three potential routes out of the stalemate.

    I don’t think Putin is irrational. I do think he miscalculated. At some point, he’s going to be building his own off ramp, with whatever face saving lies he wants to tell himself and his country.

    And we have to keep the pressure on to make that sooner than later.

    I agree with that too but I do worry that the completely justified outrage in the West at the invasion might close all offramps, back Putin and Russia into a corner, and destabilize the country. Destabilizing a large country with an authoritarian government and huge numbers of nuclear weapons on heightened alert is inherently dangerous and uncertain.

    Again, I hope there are clear minds that are cognizant of the risks who don’t succumb to the natural desire to maximize punishment and retribution.

    3
  85. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I mean, yeah, there’s the weeks of chest thumping. But it has been, what, 8 years since Russia occupied Crimea. I think if you’re Ukranian, you envision that there will come a moment where Putin tries for more. And so you prepare for it, but do your best to avoid open provocation.

  86. charon says:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/how-the-west-should-respond-to-putins-nuclear-provocation/622943/

    In this heightened state of alert, it is easier to make mistakes yet there is less time to correct them. This is not yet a direct threat to the United States, but it is a signal from Putin, and a gamble.

    I had expected that Putin might resort to raising the nuclear-alert status if the invasion of Ukraine went poorly, but I am surprised that he reached for this measure so soon.

    And the invasion is, indeed, going poorly for Putin. The Ukrainians did not greet the Russians as liberators. Russian military performance has been worse, and Ukrainian military performance has been better, than many observers (including me) might have expected. Russia still has plenty of time to start bringing down a lot more force on Ukraine, but that will begin a bloodbath and Putin will have to admit that his earlier confidence in a quick victory was unwarranted.

    This all suggests that Putin’s order—conducted on television and captured on video—is a measure aimed as much at a domestic Russian audience as it is at the West. He may be hoping to produce a kind of Cold War rallying-around-the-flag among the Russian people. Or, at the least, to increase the sense that protest during a nuclear crisis is even more traitorous than usual.

    Had Putin wanted to send a message solely to NATO, he could have merely given the order to the Russian chain of command, and Western intelligence and defense sources would have picked it up immediately. We know what such an order sounds like and what kind of activity would follow it.

    What should the U.S. do?

    For now, the sensible, and confident, American answer should be to do nothing. This might seem counterintuitive: The Russians have gone to higher alert, and it would seem only prudent to answer this with a reciprocal raising of U.S. alert status. But that Cold War reaction would, I suspect, exactly what Putin wants. He’s in a jam and he’s trying to look strong, and part of the way he can do that is to turn his hare-brained scheme in Ukraine into a gigantic Russian-American confrontation. Putin would like nothing better than to take everyone’s mind off Ukraine and focus us all on a game of nuclear chicken.

    We should not take this bait. There’s no good strategic reason to give Putin what he wants, and we should hope that President Biden will pointedly ignore this obvious provocation.

    4
  87. charon says:

    @Andy:

    A vote that was taken over thirty years ago in completely different geostrategic circumstances is of limited relevance today.

    Are you seriously proposing Russia is more attractive vs. Ukraine now than it was then?

    5
  88. Andy says:

    @charon:

    Are you seriously proposing Russia is more attractive vs. Ukraine now than it was then?

    What do the facts on the ground tell you?

    If you want to claim that a vote taken 30 years ago is dispositive of opinion today, then I think you need to show your work.

    Consider domestic US politics as an analogy. The vote totals in the 1992 election do not tell us much about contemporary politics in 2022.

    2
  89. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    The facts on the ground are that both in the Crimea and the Donbas a lot of pro-Ukrainians have either fled (sspecially in the Crimea) or are terrorized into acquiescence (especially in Donbas).

    And plainly the Ukraine lacks the military means to retake them.
    However, that does not mean Russia will hold them peacefully.
    You may care to consider the history of British rule in Northern Ireland, for some indications of the options open to determined nationalists in these circumstances.

    Also, in the current circumstances, unless a valid Ukrainian government (i.e. not a puppet installed in Kyiv by Putin) agrees, then I really can’t see many, if any, European state recognizing a partition (including even the seizure of Crimea, now) as legal.
    So sanctions will continue.

    As I said, Russia is now an adversary.
    An off ramp of some sort may be granted; maybe a peace conference in Beijing.
    But the terms will have to be acceptable to Ukraine.

    Putin may calculate he can slaughter and scare his way to a diplomatic victory, as he aimed for from the outset, and snatch that “victory” from the failure of his initial plans.

    I rather doubt it.
    Things have gone too far.

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  90. JohnSF says:

    EU announcement by High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell:

    ‘We’re going to provide even fighting jets. We’re not talking about just ammunition.’
    EU countries will send “fighter jets” to Ukraine at Kyiv’s request to help it counter the Russian air and land assault, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Sunday.

    Initial additional briefing indicate countries with MiG 29’s (Poland the main one IIRC), which Ukraine also operates, will transfer them and parts supplies etc.
    Probably to Ukrainian dispersal bases in the Carpathians.
    Also quite possibly Su-25; operated by Bulgaria, and held in storage by Czechs.

    Congratulations, Mr Putin.
    You have cone more to move the EU to becoming a strategic military/political Power in five days than umpteen European politicians achieved in five decades.

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  91. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    However, that does not mean Russia will hold them peacefully.

    And I never suggested they would. I was floating the potential that Russia would accept taking and holding these areas as “win” for their invasion and that they would likely be able to hold onto them. The sentence you seem to object to in my original comment is this:

    These are also the areas that Russia could likely hold long-term because of the sizable Russian-aligned population there.

    I stand by that analysis – I do think Russia could hold those areas for a long time. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be an insurgency or that it would be peaceful.

    Similarly:

    You may care to consider the history of British rule in Northern Ireland, for some indications of the options open to determined nationalists in these circumstances.

    And yet the British were able to hold onto Northern Ireland for a very long time.

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  92. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    My main point is that you seem to continue believe that “Russian speaking” = “Russian aligned”.
    President Zelensky is a Russophone, by origin.

    Doesn’t appear to have made him noticeably Russian aligned, that I’ve noticed.
    And he is far from unusual.
    Odessa for instance is primarily Russophone, but also overwhelmingly Ukrainian nationalist.

    Language and national identification align a lot less often in a lot of situations than a lot of people think.

  93. Gustopher says:

    @charon:

    Are you seriously proposing Russia is more attractive vs. Ukraine now than it was then?

    Not going to assume Andy would answer the same way, but in some regions? Absolutely.

    First, there’s the very practical aspect — if you are an apolitical, on-the-fence type of person living in one of the Russian held regions, you might just want peace more than you want to be dragged into conflict. You work in a clothing shop or something, to feed your family, do you care whether your taxes are going East or west?

    Second, I expect that there is a hell of a lot of propaganda. We’ve seen in this country that people will consider mild public health measures to be a horrible socialism after consuming RT-lite Fox. Will you believe that the Jewish Nazi Russophone is committing genocide against Russophones ? Maybe not, but you’re not sure. And while you’re Ukrainian, of a sort, the Russians are your brothers.

    But, what should be keeping some in the Kremlin up at night is that if Putin wins a partition of Ukraine, the remainder will be far more Western aligned. Rather than a mostly moderate buffer, they will have brought the border between Russia and Europe into stark relief and a lot closer.

    Consider the US if Texas, the Deep South and other Republican enclaves were carved off.

  94. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    I have never claimed that “Russian speaking” = “Russian aligned.” If that is what you think I’m suggesting then you are strawmanning what I wrote.

    That said, it’s simply a historical fact that the eastern oblasts have many more people that have an affinity for Russia than is the case in western Ukraine. The “facts on the ground” that show this are the anti-Ukrainian insurgency in Donbas, which would not be possible in any oblast west of the Dnieper, and the lack of an anti-Russian insurgency in Crimea.

  95. Sleeping Dog says:

    @charon:

    Remember Rumsfeld’s prescription, if you have a small intractable problem, create a larger problem around it. That is what Putin is trying to do.

  96. dazedandconfused says:

    @Andy:

    re:

    I agree with that too but I do worry that the completely justified outrage in the West at the invasion might close all offramps, back Putin and Russia into a corner, and destabilize the country.

    I suspect the only off-ramp for Russia is to disassociate themselves with Putin. If the operation fails, or perhaps even if it succeeds, the smart move would be for Putin to retire or be retired, and a staged defenestration can certainly be made to happen.

    I like to think Putin was smart enough to have gamed out the scenario of failure, saw the same thing, and resolved to accept it if need be. He is, after all, 70, and running Russia can not be an easy job. Only off-ramp with a positive outcome for Russia that I can see, anyway.

    With Putin out of the picture there would be a lot of people who’ve been deeply frightened by all this looking for a re-set in East/West relations, certainly.

  97. charon says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    To repeat what I already linked earlier:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/how-the-west-should-respond-to-putins-nuclear-provocation/622943/

    For now, the sensible, and confident, American answer should be to do nothing. This might seem counterintuitive: The Russians have gone to higher alert, and it would seem only prudent to answer this with a reciprocal raising of U.S. alert status. But that Cold War reaction would, I suspect, exactly what Putin wants. He’s in a jam and he’s trying to look strong, and part of the way he can do that is to turn his hare-brained scheme in Ukraine into a gigantic Russian-American confrontation. Putin would like nothing better than to take everyone’s mind off Ukraine and focus us all on a game of nuclear chicken.

  98. charon says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    I like to think Putin was smart enough to have gamed out the scenario of failure, saw the same thing, and resolved to accept it if need be.

    It would be nice were that the case, but Putin looks like he is highly resistant to acknowledging or accepting that he made a mistake. He may just have a
    predilection to just double down when anything goes south.

    He is basically just a mob boss but on a grander scale, such people are hard put to retire gracefully, and he has to be cognizant of mutinous underlings as a possibility, he must be under a lot of stress.

  99. dazedandconfused says:

    @charon:

    The invasion is but a week old and his goals are unclear, it’s a bit early to be expecting acknowledgement of failure.

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  100. Andy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    That would be the best result, but it seems unlikely at this point. But as you noted to Charon, it’s still early days.

  101. Gustopher says:

    Belarus has carefully considered the situation with respect to the sanctions being imposed on Russia and decided “I want some of that!”

    They have 50,000 troops, mostly conscripts, according to Wikipedia, which means that they will likely not be able to supply a number of forces that will lead to a quick victory for Russia. Probably more than a token force, but nothing decisive, unless they just send their entire military, leaving themselves open to attack from… Lithuania?

    They are also renouncing their non-nuclear status, and welcoming Russian nuclear weapons on their territory, which is fun.

    Ah, puppet states. They’re much like real states.

  102. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    Belarus has carefully considered the situation with respect to the sanctions being imposed on Russia and decided “I want some of that!”

    Lukashenko belongs to Putin, if anything bad happens to Putin, likely the same happens to him.

    For reference, found this link –

    https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/02/attack-on-europe-documenting-equipment.html

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