What If The Bad Guys Win in Ukraine?

The most likely outcome is not a happy one.

WaPo’s Matt Bai offers some sobering analysis in his column, “Our cause in Ukraine is inspiring. It probably won’t stay that way.

These opening weeks in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine have given us two things we hardly thought possible in Washington any longer: clarity of purpose and relative unity.

But if we expect the war to end with Putin’s surrender and President Biden basking in praise from Congress and foreign capitals, we might want to revisit Cold War history. In disputes between nuclear powers, the cause might be clear and just. The resolution generally isn’t.

[…]

As Biden has said, if Russia even tiptoes over the line into NATO territory, we’ll have little choice but to take up arms directly. The same might conceivably be true if Putin unleashes chemical weapons — an option for which he appears to be laying a false pretext.

But absent that kind of broader menace, Biden will be forced to take a realpolitik view that most of us will find hard to stomach. No matter how unjust Ukraine’s fate, he must continue to reject any measure that threatens to put U.S. troops in direct conflict with the Russians.

Anything else would be reckless. Yes, the absorption of Ukraine into Russia would be a human tragedy and geopolitical nightmare. But a shooting war between NATO and Russia would constitute an existential crisis that some large segment of the planet might not survive.

There’s a lot more there, including some historical comparisons, but that’s the gist. And, as much as I dislike it, that’s a more likely outcome than an outright defeat of Russian forces that compels them to slink back from whence they came.

While we’ve spent the last eight years pretending that Putin’s annexation of Crimea is temporary, the cold reality is that we accepted it as the least bad alternative. Would we do the same with two adjacent provinces that 99 percent of Americans had never heard of a month ago? I suspect we would.

Bai’s almost certainly right about the political fallout:

It would be nice if Ukraine required no such painful calculations — if Putin would simply put his tanks in reverse and plead for economic mercy. But Biden must know that he needs to prepare the country for a more agonizing endgame. His job, in the best case, will be to make a negotiated outcome palatable abroad and at home.

If he does, count on this: Our much-needed sense of unity will be shattered overnight. Republicans will scream that Biden is the new Neville Chamberlain, while internationalists in the president’s party will complain that he walked away from human rights.

In that event, though, Biden will have checked Russian aggression without letting NATO get drawn into another world war. History tells us that in a showdown between nuclear powers, that’s what leadership is.

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. And the reality is that Russia is a vastly more powerful country than Ukraine and, if it sustains the will to absorb as many losses as necessary, it’s almost certainly going to be able to force a negotiated peace—if not conquer its neighbor altogether.

Will Biden be excoriated from all sides if he accepts any but the feel-good outcome? Absolutely. But I can’t imagine any US President—not even those who made really hard foreign policy choices like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan—going to war with Russia to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty. Indeed, George W. Bush stood by when Putin took pieces of Georgia in 2008 and Barack Obama did the same when Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014.

Taking the blame for the best possible outcome while avoiding being baited into calamity is the nature of the job, I’m afraid.

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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. SC_Birdflyte says:

    In our national politics, we’ve gone from HST and his motto “The buck stops here” to TFG and his motto “I don’t take responsibility at all.” I’m afraid James is correct.

    1
  2. Scott says:

    If we are excluding the Kuwait solution (tossing out the invader completely), then Ukraine is already lost. Our only solution then is to inflict pain on Russia and, by extension, the people of Ukraine.

    And the reality is that Russia is a vastly more powerful country than Ukraine

    Is it though? Is Russian a paper tiger after all? Back in 1980, when I was going through Officer Training School, we had a briefing (classified at the time) on the Soviet Union. It was titled something like: Is this guy (a Soviet soldier) 10 feet tall? Essentially, the briefing indicated that the Soviet Union’s reputation as a Superpower was greatly overrated. And yet, I thought, why is the public version touted as just the opposite? I wonder if something like that is happening again. I’m just not sure we have to succumb to what the prevailing wisdom is on Russia.

    2
  3. CSK says:

    Then, there are these prognostications by Francis Fukuyama:
    http://www.americanpurpose.com/articles/preparing-for-defeat/

    Prof. Joyner, you may want to change “they” to “the” in the title of this piece.

    1
  4. Barry says:

    @CSK: Ol’ Frank lost his reason to read when history did not end.

    2
  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Define “win”. Show your notes; this will be on the final exam too.

    Seriously, like I said in an earlier thread quoting DS9: Putin can’t defeat Ukraine, he can only kill lots of Ukrainians.

    There is nothing Putin can do to rewind the tape back to the week before the invasion began. His reputation is in shreds, his sanity is questioned on a daily basis, his armed forces have been revealed to be – let’s be delicate – inadequate, and his police continue to arrest thousands of RUSSIAN protesters every week. Meanwhile Zelenskyy went on a selfie walk-around in broad daylight through a bombed out city (I assume Kyov) showing the damage done and basically taunting Putin. NATO is stronger that it’s been since 9/11, everyone is holding a bake sale to buy weapons for the Ukrainians to use. There are videos of Ukrainian farmers using their tractors to haul away abandoned Russian tanks.

    How exactly is Putin going to pull a “win” out of this mess?

    9
  6. CSK says:

    @Barry:
    And there’s this:
    http://www.rawstory.com/vladimir-putin-loser-past/

    I try to be optimistic.

    @Not the IT Dept.:
    Indeed.

    1
  7. gVOR08 says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    How exactly is Putin going to pull a “win” out of this mess?

    He can’t. His country will be weakened and his rule will be more precarious. But he can occupy Ukraine, install a puppet government, and brutally attempt to suppress resistance.

    7
  8. Scott says:

    Just listened to this 44 min podcast from NPR Throughline. Pretty good historical context.

    Ukraine’s Dangerous Independence

    Months before Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, he published an essay on the Kremlin website called “On The Historical Unity of Russia and Ukraine.” In it, he suggested that Ukrainians don’t really have their own identity — and that they never have. Historian Serhii Plokhii says that couldn’t be further from the truth. The histories of the two countries are deeply intertwined, but Ukrainian identity is unique. Today, we explore that identity: how it formed, it’s relationship to Russia, and how it helps us understand what’s happening now.

    1
  9. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I’d like to see a post about how Zelenskyy is redefining communications during this invasion. It’s nothing short of genius the way he’s holding back nothing about how bad Ukraine is getting hit, showing it on social media and using the destruction as proof that Ukraine isn’t defeated.

    Any previous situation would have featured the invaded country’s leader in Official Mode where they would deny damage, cover up how bad things are, etc. etc. The world would know they were lying and wait for the inevitable. By telling the excruciating truth and showing it, Levenskyy is setting a new standard for how we look at leaders in the future.

    Maybe the only westerner who understands is Elton John: I’m Still Standing:

    You could never know what it’s like
    Your blood like winter freezes just like ice
    And there’s a cold lonely light that shines from you
    You’ll wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use
    And did you think this fool could never win?
    Well look at me, I’m coming back again
    I got a taste of love in a simple way
    And if you need to know while I’m still standing you just fade away

    3
  10. JohnSF says:

    I’ll just repeat:
    The overall position remains as before:
    – Russia may have a path to “nominal conquest” at enormous cost.
    – It has no military route to a sustainable resolution; it lacks the manpower for a long term pacification and occupation.
    – It is facing potentially terminal damage to its political-economic system in the medium term; avoiding that may require effective subordination to China.
    – It will continue to attempt to leverage a “diplomatic” route out of its strategic disaster .
    – It will fail, if the West remains calculated about not taking the bait.
    – There is no route for Russia to strategic victory IF the “West” retains cohesion; though it may take years to decades.
    – Putin continues to be a frustrated secret policeman who’s in way over his head.

    4
  11. Scott says:

    @JohnSF:

    – It has no military route to a sustainable resolution; it lacks the manpower for a long term pacification and occupation.

    Then, at some point, the war could transform itself from one nation defending itself from an invader to a “War of National Liberation”. If the will is there, that is.

    1
  12. Kathy says:

    To be brutally honest, I assumed from the start Vlad would prevail.

    I see a range of outcomes form Russia taking and annexing some more Ukrainian lands, to installing a puppet regime dedicated to the sole task of kissing Vald’s ass 24/7/365, with varying odds for never ending guerrilla warfare.

    All this because it’s not worth for NATO or the US alone, if it came to that, to risk war with a nuclear power over Ukraine.

    Fantasy scenario: NATO invades Belarus at the request of the local opposition, to restore democracy and install the rightful winner of the last election, making very sure not to drop an ounce of ordnance on Russian territory, nor to engage any Russian forces. But they would happily leave and never return if Vlad left Ukraine status quo ante January 2022.

    I give that scenario a lower chance of happening than a wormhole to a parallel universe where the Justice League exists and comes over to liberate Ukraine.

    2
  13. Jen says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: As you might imagine, I’ve been watching exactly this very closely. (My background is in PR and public affairs, and I’ve done communications work for most of my career.)

    Zelenskyy has completely redefined a few things–including what is expected of a leader whose country has been invaded. He’s raised the bar significantly, and he is using the tools at his disposal very well. It must be giving his security team a collective heart attack, because it’s an intel risk to have him out and about, clearly showing where he is. But that’s exactly why it works.

    Zelenskyy is firmly in that space where Putin can’t really know what to do about him–he’s a clear leader, but if Putin kills him, he’s potentially even stronger as a martyr. Imprisoning him wouldn’t fly either.

    6
  14. JohnSF says:

    @Barry:

    Ol’ Frank lost his reason to read when history did not end.

    Really?
    It remains to be seen whether or not history has ended, using Fukuyama’s definition of “history” as competing modes of social order and linked ideologies.
    As opposed to just “events”.

    But what other social models look like being viable long term?
    It’s possible that a Chinese style neo-mandarinate over authoritarian capitalism could be viable long term. Maybe.
    But its power is primarily a negative one, an aristocracy whose political dominance rests upon coercion.
    It does not seem to be that attractive a model for general populations, much as it may be admired or envied by some ruling elites.

    Fukuyama still has a fair chance of having the last laugh.

    4
  15. CSK says:

    @Jen:
    THIS.

    Zelensky has been an actor, a comedian, a screenwriter, and a producer. He’s used that entire skill set to turn himself into a leader.

    3
  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kathy: Yeah, I’m more or less in your camp. Putin can rain down artillery on Ukrainian cities for a long time. The UA tactics are working, but they are slow, and will take a long time to actually destroy Russia’s ability to do that.

    I think the expectation and the status quo of just a few years ago, was that if Putin put in a puppet government, mostly Ukranians wouldn’t care. I mean, the rant that Zelensky did in the TV show he was in that launched his (fictional career) repeatedly said, “and no one cares. YOU don’t care!”

    Thing is, now that’s not true. They care. And because they care, we care. Ruling the country will become quite difficult, even if the UA is defeated. There’s a vast amount of territory there that the Russian Army hasn’t occupied yet.

  17. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    Fantasy scenario: NATO invades Belarus at the request of the local opposition, to restore democracy and install the rightful winner of the last election, making very sure not to drop an ounce of ordnance on Russian territory, nor to engage any Russian forces. But they would happily leave and never return if Vlad left Ukraine status quo ante January 2022.

    IIRC, Belarus and Russia have signed treaties that not only allow Russia to intervene in the event of an armed attack on Belarus, but requires them to do so. Pretty much equivalent to NATO’s Article V, I believe.

    1
  18. Kathy says:

    @Michael Cain:

    I wasn’t aware of that, but I assumed something like this had to exist.

    After all, Lukashenko is merely the satrap of Belarus, by the grace of Vlad the Butcher.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    I’d like to think Fukuyama is right, but I can’t say I find his argument compelling. There’s a short version in the form of an interview with Greg Sargent at WAPO.

    Every professional prognosticator is prognosticating all over the map. I’ve seen some pretty convincing arguments that Putin is pretty secure against coup or popular uprising. There’s a good argument based on the idea that like KSA the wealth comes out of the ground, not out of the economy, so the elites can be bought and the rest of the populace suppressed and ignored. Putin looks pretty secure, and he will continue to look secure until the day he isn’t. And the wealth comes out of the ground only if they can sell what comes out of the ground.

    Allow me to clarify my earlier comment @gVOR08:. Russia can occupy enough of Ukraine to set up a puppet government. But Ukraine is nearly the size of Texas, with a similarly long border and coastline. My best guess is a long, bloody horror story of occupation and resistance. So maybe not a win for Putin, but nothing for us to celebrate either. I’m hoping to be proven pessimistic. And soon. I see the pregnant lady on the stretcher died in surgery, as did the baby.

    2
  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ve maintained from the start that this is two wars, not one: Russia vs. Ukraine, and Russia vs. the West.

    We are winning our war. NATO reinvigorated, Germany arming up, and serious, long-term damage to Russia, not just economically but militarily, diplomatically and in public perception. A year ago we thought Russia was a military peer, it’s not. So this war won’t just diminish Russia’s energy economy but its arms export business as well. Now Putin is groveling to Xi for some crumbs.

    A weakened Russia? That’s a good outcome.
    A strengthened NATO alliance? Good outcome.
    Germany back in the game? As a Jew, well. . . but yes, good outcome.
    Japan, Singapore and Switzerland? Good outcomes.
    Killing Nordstream 2 as the Germans frantically build LNG plants? Good.
    Exposing Russia’s military as second rate? Good outcome.
    Subjecting Russia to years of insurgency armed by us? Excellent.
    A perhaps sobered China? Also excellent.

    There is a horrific human tragedy taking place. But strategically the US is winning. Rather like our performance in WW2, where Europe bled and we made Oldsmobiles.

    11
  21. drj says:

    Will Biden be excoriated from all sides if he accepts any but the feel-good outcome?

    I don’t even know what to make of this.

    Biden has already ruled out direct hostilities with Russia. Which means that he already has accepted the possibility of a Russian military victory and Ukrainian defeat.

    And so has everyone who doesn’t want outright war between NATO and Russia.

    What’s Biden to do? Send invincible thoughts and prayers?

    On a more practical note, there would only be reason for recriminations if a Russian military victory would lead to an end to economic sanctions. As long as sanctions stay, Russia is fucked regardless.

    2
  22. DK says:

    @Jen:

    He’s raised the bar significantly, and he is using the tools at his disposal very well.

    Zelensky has been a very courageous and inspiring leader.

    Also, his seeming failure to prepare Ukranians when Russia started massing troops last year — even up to downplaying US warnings of imminent invasion — was a really big blunder and should not be memory-holed.

    FWIW, I’m guessing Zelensky has successfully avoided Putin’s goons because he now knows to take US intel more seriously.

    2
  23. drj says:

    @drj:

    I mean, I’m getting strong Chuck Todd vibes from this Matt Bai character: “How will trying to avoid global thermonuclear war play out with independents in the heartland? Let’s hear what people have to say in this Ohio diner.”

    JFC

    8
  24. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile, the Russian stock market remains closed, and the Russians are asking China for weapons. Second rate news sources are reporting that Putin has placed several intelligence chiefs under house arrest (various foreign papers I don’t know well, Fox, NY Post, no WaPo or NY Times confirmation so far as I can see)

    I don’t see signs of the sanctions regime breaking.

    Russia could win the military action — take control of the cities, kill Zelenskyy, install a puppet government — but they can’t win the war. Their economy will remain in shambles, and their military will be bleeding out just to hold Ukraine.

    That’s not a loss, but it’s not a win either.

    1
  25. DK says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Define “win”.

    As long as the US avoids direct military confrontation, then Putin can win in Ukraine similar to how the US won in Iraq. Mission Accomplished lulz! Now say goodbye to your country’s economy, welfare, domestic tranquility, and credibility.

    Except Russia will be even worse off, because Zelensky has more support inside and outside of his country than Saddam ever did, because Russia has no democratic balance to constrain Putin, and because the Russian economy was several times weaker than the US economic engine, even before Putin’s pariah status.

    A sign of how well things are going is Putin’s reported arrests of spy chiefs and firings of military planners. Putin must be tired of winning.

    Which is why there’s still a depressingly high chance Putin will use nuclear or chemicals weapons to draw Europe and NATO in. Scary!

    2
  26. R. Dave says:

    @drj:

    Will Biden be excoriated from all sides if he accepts any but the feel-good outcome?

    I don’t even know what to make of this. Biden has already ruled out direct hostilities with Russia. Which means that he already has accepted the possibility of a Russian military victory and Ukrainian defeat.

    Sure, but it’s one thing to say that up front and quite another to stick to it if Putin goes full Aleppo on Ukraine or, even worse, brazenly deploys chemical/biological weapons. The political and public opinion pressure to “do something” in that case will be enormous.

    1
  27. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A year ago we thought Russia was a military peer, it’s not.

    I’m torn on the value of this, simply since having their nose rubbed in the fact that they aren’t a conventional military peer may change their mind about how much/little provocation is needed to use some of their thousands of nuclear warheads to the world’s detriment.

  28. Kathy says:

    @DK:

    I don’t think he’s so far gone as to want to bring NATO into the war.

    Granted NATO is not prepared to invade Ukraine to drive the Russians out, but they can fly thousands of sorties and pummel the Russians forces from the air, and to institute a no-fly zone for Russian combat aircraft, including helicopters. I don’t think it would go further than that, like for instance attacking Russian supply lines in Russia, nor weapons manufacturing in Russia, nor going after command and control targets in the Kremlin.

    But any of this would “force” Vlad to use nukes to defend himself. So I doubt NATO ever enters this war militarily, even if Vlad nukes Kyiv and uses chemical and biological weapons in the rest of Ukraine. Nukes change everything (sans nukes, we’d be around WW V by now).

    Vlad might want to make plain that supporting Ukraine, especially delivering weapons, is the same as fighting Russia, therefore he can attack supply convoys going to Ukraine, wherever they may be (like inside Poland). That’s contrary to modern laws of war, such as they are, but we are in the post-norms world now. He can do whatever he can get away with.

  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    That is definitely a concern and I can honestly say I have no idea what we do if Putin starts firing off nukes in Ukraine.

    OTOH it doesn’t do much for Russia’s arms export business, and with their all-important energy sector in trouble, they can’t afford to lose any source of hard currency.

    The cold-blooded way to look at this IMO is that Russia stepped in it and we should do all we can to make sure they drown in it. I don’t think we should negotiate away the sanctions short of Putin being removed, reparations being paid and all of Ukraine returned to Ukraine.

    2
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    Our counter is Kaliningrad. It’s not Mother Russia and it very vulnerable, connected to Belarus by a single filament of easily-cut road flanked by NATO allies Poland and Lithuania.

    1
  31. just nutha says:

    @gVOR08:

    He can’t. His country will be weakened and his rule will be more precarious. But he can occupy Ukraine, install a puppet government, and brutally attempt to suppress resistance.

    And that may be enough to meet his needs. I certainly suspect that he doesn’t care much about world opinion, and he may be cray cray enough to consult with Jong-eun about how juche works.

  32. drj says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Our counter is Kaliningrad. It’s not Mother Russia and it very vulnerable

    No, it’s not.

    You know that NATO says that any attack on a member state- regardless how small – will lead to full-scale war (and possible nuclear escalation), right?

    In this regard, Russia’s doctrine is the same. This is not a coincidence. It more or less follows from the idea that in order to avoid nuclear war, red lines, once unambiguously declared, must be absolute. (Red lines must also be predictable and credible – but that’s a slightly different matter.)

    Assume that Russia attacks some corner of Latvia. Will we blow up the world for that?

    No, that would be ridiculous.

    But then Russia takes another slice. Nuclear war? Not quite yet, says NATO.

    But then they take Riga (or Warsaw, or Bucarest)

    “Now we will have nuclear war!” says NATO (as they eventually must, unless they are ready to give up everything). And, boom, we’re all dead.

    The only way to reliably avoid such an escalation trap (at least, so far!) is to make sure that your counterparty will never, ever start escalating in such a way. Which means that that every inch of your territory must be declared sacrosanct – which, unsurprisingly, both NATO and Russia have therefore done.

    This is pretty much nuclear deterrence 101. (I highly recommend the link).

    3
  33. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I like your take about the “two wars”. I imagine that if I’m a Putinist, though, I think that the West is decadent, divided, and unable to sustain attention over the long term. Give it five years and they will be back to squabbling and soaking in hot tubs, smoking weed and having unnatural sex rather than the things that make nations great again!

    Is that so? I can’t say for sure that it’s wrong.

    1
  34. Raoul says:

    A poorly motivated country with so-so weapons 0f 140 million pole cannot defeats highly motivated well-armed opponent with a population of forty million. The hatred of Ukrainians towards Russia before the invasion was real, after the invasion I cannot even imagine. I have no idea what nonsense Putin believed or was fed about his fellow Slavs but he was wrong. Now Russia can fight as long as it wants but it will never end. Russia has already lost in a month almost as much as its decades long Afghanistan occupation, and the Ukrainians are barely starting. The war could go on for ten more years perhaps until Putin dies but I don’t understand what is so readily apparent: Ukrainians will never allow Russians in their soil and will fight to death to prevent that from happening and it has nothing to do with being Western oriented and more to do with past and recent history. On Crimea, the whole situation with the peninsula is that is has its own set of facts.

    1
  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @gVOR08:

    Putin may well view a win as simply the things he has placed on the table right now, recognized the two break-away oblasts, Crimea, and a promise not to join NATO anytime in the near future.

    Regime change was perhaps imagined to be easy at the beginning, the wishful thinking Dick Cheney fell into when he imagined we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq, but if he has learned different.

    I believe it would be wise for Zelensky to take the offer on the table now. Stop the carnage and relieve the pressure on Kyiv. Ukraine hasn’t had control of those areas for 8 years anyway, and it appears the plan is not to encircle Kyiv, Putin would have to bring in much larger forces to do that, or take it with a lot of urban combat, but he may have enough to establish a couple fire bases and shell Kyiv into rubble.

  36. Michael Reynolds says:

    @drj:

    In this regard, Russia’s doctrine is the same.

    Actually, Russia’s ‘take’ is that they have the right to take any odd piece of land to which they once held ownership. If Donbas is Russian, then Kaliningrad is Polish. Symmetry.

    Obviously it would be dangerous, but this is in a world where Russia has used chemical weapons or even nukes.

  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I’m sure that’s exactly what Putin thinks. Then again, he thought Ukraine would collapse in three days.

  38. Michael Reynolds says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    So. . . reward Putin? And by extension every other autocrat in the world?

    I wonder what you’d have said in 1939.

    1
  39. Andy says:

    Will Biden be excoriated from all sides if he accepts any but the feel-good outcome? Absolutely. But I can’t imagine any US President—not even those who made really hard foreign policy choices like Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, or Ronald Reagan—going to war with Russia to preserve Ukraine’s sovereignty.

    The thing is, this isn’t our war. We can and should support Ukraine to the greatest extent possible without triggering WWIII, but it is not for us to dictate any resolution to this conflict. That is something that Ukraine must do and our role should be to support them and not pull a Trump and try to be the boss of this situation.

    As far as the war itself, it is always difficult to make good predictions. War is inherently uncertain and chaotic which is why it is best avoided.

    But at this point, I see a stalemate. I do not think the Russians can win. And by win I mean they are unlikely to achieve the political goals they have for this war. They will make gains on the ground, they will kill many people and also be killed, but I do not think at this point that they will be able to force Ukraine to accede to Russia’s three war goals.

    The size and power differences between Ukraine and Russia are not as important as people think, especially as long as Ukraine gets outside support. If anyone should understand that being comparatively big and powerful doesn’t ensure a victory in war, it should be Americans.

    7
  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    If anyone should understand that being comparatively big and powerful doesn’t ensure a victory in war, it should be Americans.

    And that goes in both directions, as a superpower bested by Pashtuns and Vietnamese, and as the weaker country that nevertheless beat Great Britain. In that latter scenario we are the French, but the French fleet could engage directly without causing a hundred million deaths.

  41. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IMO, it would be an acknowledgement that neither the US nor NATO nor the EU can make this particular autocrat disgorge what he can take, and keep, in Ukraine.

  42. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    It’s not 1939. Really, it’s not. I wonder how long it will be before people consider Hitler so long in the past that what he did is no longer relevant. Surely at some point that will happen. “But what about what some guy did 250 years ago?” will be viewed as silly 190 years from now, perhaps?

    The world is not a fair place, and the only feel-good outcome of this would be Putin surrendering to Ukraine. Unlikely, so I look to saving lives and long term strategy. Putin also loses face by not taking over Ukraine in the proposed scenario, and goes back to a ruined economy with very little hope of mobilizing for an Ukraine II again.

    Please stow that surrender monkey ad-hominem where it belongs.

    1
  43. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Once again that is NOT the offer “on the table”
    Unless there have been subsequent statements, the reports from meetings are that Russia still demands:
    Ukraine must renounce NATO membership
    Ukraine must renounce EU membership
    Ukraine must “demilitarize”
    Ukraine must “denazify”
    Ukraine must unconditionally reccognise seized territory as Russian or “independent”

  44. Gustopher says:

    @dazedandconfused: Is there credible reporting on that offer?

    Last I heard Putin also wanted “de-nazi-fication” which ultimately means an end to independent Ukrainian rule, given the broad definition of Nazi that includes Jews, and the entirety of the southern coast of Ukraine.

    And that does not seem like a particularly sterling offer.

    Plus he probably wants an end to the sanctions…

    1
  45. Gustopher says:

    @JohnSF: I type slow.

    1
  46. JohnSF says:

    @Gustopher:
    Probably quicker, and with lower error rate, than I do. 🙂

  47. Scott says:

    As long as we are musing on a strategy going forward (I won’t call it an endgame because I don’t know if there will be an end any time soon).

    Maybe we need to go on another diplomatic offensive and say we demand to send humanitarian aid since the Russians won’t do that. Even better, tell them that we are going to deliver (with total visibility worldwide) humanitarian aid to a sovereign nation and they better not get in the way. The burden, then, will be on the Russians to escalate, not us. And toss in some escorts for good measure.

    That is my half-baked idea for the day.

    1
  48. Michael Reynolds says:

    I have a question, if anyone knows. Are NATO commanders working on plans for a no-fly?

  49. JohnSF says:

    @Scott:
    Sorry, but goes back to same as “no fly zone”
    Sets up a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia.
    To quote good old me:

    Russia’s optimal goal would be for NATO to abandon Ukraine out of fear of escalation.

    A alternate preferred path on the decision tree would be to draw NATO into direct conflict at a minimally escalated level, in order to solidify “patriotic” support in Russia, and again offer a “peaceful” resolution, designed to achieve war goals via diplomacy.

    No taking the bait.

    Redouble the supplies of materiel, and include longer range SAM systems (if Ukrainians need training on such systems, quietly bring some west and train them).
    Accept that Russia will hit the supply routes in Ukraine; and will conduct ongoing and likely escalating atrocities.
    Make it clear to Russia that if they shoot a single bullet at NATO territory, we will respond, in a manner of our choosing.
    Make it clear to Ukraine (and thus also Russia) we will support them with supplies, money, economic warfare, diplomacy etc as long as they wish.
    But that we cannot and will not engage Russian forces.

    And it really pains me to have to say that.

    3
  50. Zachriel says:

    Ukraine may well end in stalemate.

  51. steve says:

    ” If anyone should understand that being comparatively big and powerful doesn’t ensure a victory in war, it should be Americans.”

    Sure, but we set limits on what we would do. Looking at what the Russians did in Afghanistan and Grozny I am not sure they play by the same rules. I’m inclined to think that they become less inhibited about their killing and they actually control Ukraine for a while. However, at this point I think the rest of the world likely keeps supplying the CI effort by Ukraine which follows and I dont think Russia can afford that. My caveat would be that if Russia does not accelerate soon I think they likely start running out of critical assets so they might not be able to control the entire country. In that case I think they withdraw to the east and claim that territory.

    Steve

  52. steve says:

    Nice explanation of what Putin means by Nazi.

    https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1503053699798769666

  53. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Not as far as I know, but Estonia, a NATO member, has just called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

  54. dazedandconfused says:

    @Gustopher: The demilitarization (total non-starter as that would be surrender) and denazification (gobbltygook, essentially) is off the table, and was but a comment made by the ambassador, it’s wasn’t part of the original list of demands. It’s a fluid situation still, no matter what some insist. Here’s a pretty recent article on the matter.

    https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/ukraine/2022/03/could-zelensky-and-putin-agree-a-ukraine-peace-deal

  55. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Staff planners plan out everything.
    The question is, are the higher command and national command contemplating it?
    I’ll eat my hat if they are.

    Off the scale dangerous.

    And also “no fly” is of marginal use anyway as Russian strikes still appear to be mainly missiles and artillery. To handle those you would need full-on theatre air defence net and counter-battery strikes.
    Might as well send in the heavy metal boys and be done with it,
    And get ready to duck and cover.

    IMO: redouble the missile supply.
    Turn the whole south west Ukraine into a killing ground.

    2
  56. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Scott:

    And toss in some escorts for good measure.

    I believe they’re referred to as “compensated companions” now.

    1
  57. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I have a question, if anyone knows. Are NATO commanders working on plans for a no-fly?

    That information would obviously not be public. But I think the answer is both yes and no:
    – No in the sense that I doubt there is planning specifically for a NFZ because a NFZ is the same as war with Russia.
    – Yes in the sense that we do have, I’m quite sure, existing contingency plans that cover various scenarios for a war with Russia that would already cover something attempting to be a NFZ.

    And I would guess the US and NATO would be very wary of any leaks about plans, because plans imply intent, and would undercut the message that a NFZ is off the table.

    2
  58. CSK says:

    Pfizer says it will continue sending medicine to Russia, but the company will donate the profits to Ukraine.

    4
  59. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Interesting.
    I was relying on reports from Turkey.
    But Vock is usually well sourced.

    If Moscow has genuinely shifted on “demiltarise/denzaify” and is not playing bait and switch games again, there might be hopes for deal.

    As Zelensky has offered discussions re. NATO, and even before the invasion there was at least one occasion on which a Ukrainian diplomat said the Ukraine would not rule out NATO and accept neutral status (if I recall wording correctly, it was a BBC radio report and can’t find via google) “on a unilateral basis” and “as an unreciprocated concession”
    Diplomats are usually very careful with their language: the implication being that a multilaterally guaranteed neutrality might be conceivable in return for concessions from Russia.

    However, there remains one key sticking point: Zelensky has stated, and Ukrainian officials repeated, that Ukraine will not concede that EU membership or partnership is non-neutral, or rule out such relations.
    To do so would be to inevitably return Ukraine to the Russian econmic sphere, and thus have profound political implications within Ukraine.

    It would be political subordination by the back door, and a deal breaker for Kyiv.

    So, hope for peace, perhaps, but not too much, just yet.
    Putin is a master of just this sort of poison pill tactic.

  60. Andy says:

    @JohnSF:

    While interesting and a potential outcome, I think there is much for fighting before either side would consider that.

  61. Kathy says:

    It takes a while for the bigger power to tire of war, especially when it’s conducted outside its borders. It can take longer for the person in power, or for Vlad the Butcher, to admit defeat, or that no victory is possible.

    This could go on for years.

  62. Michael Cain says:

    @JohnSF:

    …that Ukraine will not concede that EU membership or partnership is non-neutral, or rule out such relations.

    I believe it was you that pointed out to me the other day the EU treaties include military mutual defense provisions at least as strong as NATO’s. Don’t see how Ukraine can finesse that if they pursue EU membership. Maybe EFTA membership wouldn’t carry the same responsibility?

  63. The Q says:

    JohnSF asks “But what other social models look like being viable long term?”

    I got one for you. A model which taxes top marginal income at 90% and capital gains at 45%. A model that vigorously enforces anti trust and monopoly laws to prevent vast accumulations of market power, and doubles real wages for the middle class every 24 years. A model that opens paths for tens of millions of blacks and under 21 year olds to vote. A model which has a third of its workforce unionized and college costs equal to less than a year’s minimum wage. A model which restricts unlimited campaign cash contributions and encourages transparency.

    And finally a model that guaranteed for 80 years a stable, prosperous European continent that had never seen such sustained peace and non belligerent conflict in a thousand years.

    This model was alive and well until the boomers came along and phucked it up to enrich our own version of America oligarchs.
    Now instead of debating the meaning of a verb in Plato’s Republic in the original Greek as did our Framers, we are stuck on which is the proper “pronoun” when “they” get mad if not addressed correctly.

    Not sure if a limey can ever get the nuances of being American anymore than I can understand the infantile obsession of the Brits over useless royalty.

    4
  64. steve says:

    Anyone have an idea or read anything about the true presence of Russian trolls/misinformation efforts in the US? Some of the stuff I read supporting Russia among the right wing is so bizarre it is hard to believe it is anything other than Russian trolls. OTOH, some of them seemed to really believe that democrats eat babies.

    Steve

    3
  65. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Cain:
    That aspect is a bit ambiguous.
    On the one hand Lisbon Treaty Article 42.7:

    If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
    This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.

    OTOH the second sentence is presumed to cover formal neutral status; Austria is neutral by State Treaty of 1955; Sweden, Ireland, Finland and Malta maintain they are formally militarily neutral, but not bound to be so constitutionally.
    Denmark is the real oddity; it’s a member of NATO but the only EU state to have a formal “opt out” from the defence agreement.

    At any rate, the key thing is that 42.7 “aid and assistance” is generally taken to not imply an automatic nuclear guarantee by the EU nuclear power: France.
    Unlike NATO, which is always assumed to have the nuclear component.
    And of course, NATO includes a Superpower: the USA.

    As I say, grey area, but EU and neutrality have been accepted as compatible in the past.
    Crucially, accepted by Russia, in regard to Austrian treaty obligations, when Austria joined in 1995, and lack of objection to the Lisbon Treaty 2007.

    In fact, Ukraine is unlikely to gain EU membership for at least a decade.
    Turkey has been on the doorstep since 1987, and no closer to admission in reality.
    A candidate state has to meet a lot of criteria, be in a position to institute the acquis communautaire and not get vetoed by any member.

    EFTA or EEA or similar is more likely in the short to medium term.
    But that brings up the real reason for Russian hostility, just as in 2014.
    Alliances etc are tertiary issue IMO.
    The primary objection of Moscow is the detachment of Ukraine from the political economy of the kleptocracy.
    The secondary one, the affront of a state asserted to be a component of “Great Russia” leaving the Russian hegemonic sphere of dominance. (There is actually a bit of a religious issue here as well; Orthodox clerical politics.)

  66. JohnSF says:

    @The Q:
    Yes, but IIRC Fukuyama himself has said he thinks the European state model closer to the likely evolving outcome of mature democracy than then the contemporary US.
    Something along the lines of the current US being an outlier in terms of individualism, religiosity, nationalism, and hostility to welfare.

    Democratic market polities can cover a lot of ground, after all.
    From continental American in various shades of Republicans and Democrats etc to European Christian Democrats, English Conservatives, through various shades of liberals to British Labourites to Scandinavian Social Democrats and frankly neo-Marxist Democratic Socialists.

    It seems that the categories Fukuyama is ruling out as viable civilizational political alternatives are old fashioned aristocratic-monarchic reactionaries, and ideological totalitarians of right or left.

    I don’t think Fukuyama has argued the current state of American politics is optimal, but then I have never followed his pronouncements that closely.
    I certainly rather doubt they are.
    And I definitely don’t think the current government and politics of the UK is in a happy place.
    (Don’t get me started on Johnson, the Brexiteers, and the degradation of contemporary British Conservatism.)

  67. While we’ve spent the last eight years pretending that Putin’s annexation of Crimea is temporary, the cold reality is that we accepted it as the least bad alternative. Would we do the same with two adjacent provinces that 99 percent of Americans had never heard of a month ago? I suspect we would.

    But this is really what is in cause at this moment? If Putin had occupied these two provinces some weeks ago, probably the crises will have ended a few days after; the main problem is not these 2 provinces – is the rest of Ukraine