China Is Telling Russia to Shut it Down Now. “The Hope of Russia’s Victory Is Slim”

Update – Apparently the COSC piece has been censored off social media (Weibo) in China.  That means it is not officially “approved.”  It does not necessarily mean it is “officially disagreed with.”  The Chinese don’t like to wash dirty laundry in public.  Publishing it internationally and burying it domestically could be a way to get the message across without causing too much embarrassment.  The guy who wrote it is definitely not a dissident although I don’t know how much influence he has.
The NYT piece cited was DEFINITELY “Official.” It is arguably just more politely saying the same thing. 

China is telling Russia to shut this failed adventure down.  Find some way to declare victory and get out of Ukraine within 1-2 weeks.  Planting season is coming up and this is making us look bad.

This piece out of China is a doozy.  Astonishing.  Per the last sentence, he’s arguing China should join the global sanctions on Russia.  That would be game over.  I’ve excerpted longer quotes below.  The whole piece is short and worth a read.

After Putin’s blitzkrieg failed, the hope of Russia’s victory is slim…  [As a result of the war] The United States would regain leadership in the Western world, and the West would become more united… American leadership in the Western world will rebound… China cannot be tied to Putin and needs to be cut off as soon as possible.  At present, it is estimated that there is still a window period of one or two weeks before China loses its wiggle room. China must act decisively.To demonstrate China’s role as a responsible major power, China not only cannot stand with Putin, but also should take concrete actions to prevent Putin’s possible adventures..

These sort of pieces are public signals of private, official conversations.

  1. Senior Chinese Foreign Policy Gurus (SCFPG) don’t write English-translated pieces in the “US China Perception Monitor” unless they are meant to be read.  This one seems  intended to publicly state concerns that China doesn’t want to voice “officially.”  It is a real barn burner. 
  2. SCFPG’s also don’t just dash off New York Times opinion pieces for fun.  Not does the NYT publish stuff like this for the riveting prose.

Both of them say the same thing.  This war must end soon.  It is safe to assume China – Russia’s only important “friend” left – is saying this a lot more clearly in private.

The guy who wrote the piece cited above looks to be a heavy hitter. His piece is a real barn burner – quotes below my emphasis.

Hu Wei is the vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counselor’s Office of the State Council (COSC), the chairman of Shanghai Public Policy Research Association, the chairman of the Academic Committee of the Chahar Institute, a professor, and a doctoral supervisor.
“the COSC was initiated by Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and other members of the older-generation proletarian revolutionists in November 1949… to participate in the discussion of public affairs, make recommendations, consult on state affairs… The Counsellors and researchers are appointed by the Premier of the State Council. There are now 57 counsellors, 65 researchers (with the CCICH) and 34 research fellows.”

  • Vladimir Putin may be unable to achieve his expected goals, which puts Russia in a tight spot… At this point, Putin’s best option is to end the war decently through peace talks, which requires Ukraine to make substantial concessions. However, what is not attainable on the battlefield is also difficult to obtain at the negotiating table. In any case, this military action constitutes an irreversible mistake.
  • The Russo-Ukrainian war may escalate beyond the scope and region of Ukraine, and may even include the possibility of a nuclear strike. Once this happens, the U.S. and Europe cannot stay aloof from the conflict, thus triggering a world war or even a nuclear war. The result would be a catastrophe for humanity and a showdown between the United States and Russia. This final confrontation, given that Russia’s military power is no match for NATO’s, would be even worse for Putin.
  • Even if Russia manages to seize Ukraine in a desperate gamble, it is still a political hot potato. Russia would thereafter carry a heavy burden and become overwhelmed… The [Russian] domestic economy will be unsustainable and will eventually be dragged down. This period will not exceed a few years [ie, it would be a rapid decline].
  • The political situation in Russia may change or be disintegrated at the hands of the West. After Putin’s blitzkrieg failed, the hope of Russia’s victory is slim…  With Russia’s economy on the verge of collapse, it would be difficult for Putin to prop up the perilous situation even without the loss of the Russo-Ukrainian war. If Putin were to be ousted from power… Russia’s status as a great power would come to an end.
  • Analysis of the Impact of Russo-Ukrainian war On International Landscape:  The United States would regain leadership in the Western world, and the West would become more united. At present, public opinion believes that the Ukrainian war signifies a complete collapse of U.S. hegemony, but the war would in fact bring France and Germany, both of which wanted to break away from the U.S., back into the NATO defense framework, destroying Europe’s dream to achieve independent diplomacy and self-defense. Germany would greatly increase its military budget; Switzerland, Sweden, and other countries would abandon their neutrality. With Nord Stream 2 put on hold indefinitely, Europe’s reliance on US natural gas will inevitably increase. The US and Europe would form a closer community of shared future, and American leadership in the Western world will rebound.
  • The power of the West will grow significantly, NATO will continue to expand, and U.S. influence in the non-Western world will increase… China will become more isolated under the established framework.
  • China cannot be tied to Putin and needs to be cut off as soon as possible. In the sense that an escalation of conflict between Russia and the West helps divert U.S. attention from China, China should rejoice with and even support Putin, but only if Russia does not fall. Being in the same boat with Putin will impact China should he lose power. Unless Putin can secure victory with China’s backing, a prospect which looks bleak at the moment, China does not have the clout to back Russia. The law of international politics says that there are “no eternal allies nor perpetual enemies,” but “our interests are eternal and perpetual.” Under current international circumstances, China can only proceed by safeguarding its own best interests, choosing the lesser of two evils, and unloading the burden of Russia as soon as possible. At present, it is estimated that there is still a window period of one or two weeks before China loses its wiggle room. China must act decisively.
  • China should avoid playing both sides in the same boat, give up being neutral, and choose the mainstream position in the world… China should achieve the greatest possible strategic breakthrough and not be further isolated by the West. Cutting off from Putin and giving up neutrality will help build China’s international image and ease its relations with the U.S. and the West… China’s top priority is to make appropriate strategic adjustments accordingly, to change the hostile American attitudes towards China, and to save itself from isolation. The bottom line is to prevent the U.S. and the West from imposing joint sanctions on China… To demonstrate China’s role as a responsible major power, China not only cannot stand with Putin, but also should take concrete actions to prevent Putin’s possible adventures. China is the only country in the world with this capability, and it must give full play to this unique advantage. Putin’s departure from China’s support will most likely end the war, or at least not dare to escalate the war. As a result, China will surely win widespread international praise for maintaining world peace, which may help China prevent isolation but also find an opportunity to improve its relations with the United States and the West.

Wow.  BTW, I agree with all of the above in terms of its impact on China and the likely emerging new world order.  He doesn’t see a tripolar world either…

The Vice Chair of a small, semi-official body established in 1949 isn’t just mouthing off.  His piece is only one side of the debate within China.  Others are presumably arguing the opposing case.  But, arguing in China’s self-interest, how would you write a convincing rebuttal – Why China’s Best Interests Lie with Standing By Putin?  I’d find that a very tough brief to write.

Also note another “semi official” opinion piece in the NYT today. Its a duller read, but note the Author.  Its is not just a Letter to the Editor. Dr. Wang Huiyao (@huiyaowang) is the founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization, a nongovernmental think tank based in Beijing. He advises the Chinese government in that capacity.

“And so, unpalatable as some in the West may find the idea, it is time to offer the Russian leader an offramp with China’s help. On Tuesday, President Xi Jinping of China held a virtual summit with President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, urging a diplomatic solution.”  China has a significant economic interest in a quick resolution to the Russian-Ukrainian war. China enjoys strong ties with Russia and Ukraine and is both countries’ largest single trading partner, though each trades more with the E.U. bloc than with China. Russia and Ukraine are crucial components of the Belt and Road infrastructure program as well as conduits for China’s trade with Europe. China-Europe rail transports have experienced a hundredfold increase since the beginning of the 2010s, but the ongoing conflict threatens to disrupt these trade flows.

Possible Outcomes of the Russo-Ukrainian War and China’s Choice

 

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Putin Has Already Lost Big. He Risks Losing Catastrophically.

What Putin “wants” doesn’t matter.  What can he actually “do?”

As of now, Putin has already lost Russia’s “World Power” status.  He has proven Russia is a paper tiger.  His smaller neighbors will still fear Russia.  No-one else will give much respect.  That loss is permanent – unless Russia achieves an economic miracle capable of supporting the modern military it clearly doesn’t have.

If Putin retreats today, he’ll at least gets his military out somewhat intact.  He can also start working to right the economic ship before it turns turtle.  He still loses, but he clings on at least until the 2024 elections.  Maybe he has the sense to not run?  Go into exile?

If Putin presses on for even a few more weeks or, worse, escalates?  He will lose catastrophically.

A lot of commentators assume Putin can and will keep turning the screws.  “He doesn’t care.  He will just keep shelling until those weak democratic softie Ukrainians gives up.”  This logic starts from the top – What does Putin want? – and works down from there.  (Also ignoring Ukrainian resilience – Democratic societies bend.  Autocracies shatter)

Start from the bottom up instead – What is the Russian Army/Economy capable of doing?  For how long until one or both crack?  Putin has no moral limits, but his straitjacket of practical military and economic limits gets tighter by the day.

On the battlefield, what matters is What is Putins army able to do?  In retrospect, why were we all so surprised the nation that gave us the term “Potemkin Village” had a Potemkin Army?  Every indication is the Russian attack is stalled.  See this tweet thread and article and excellent daily military summary often cited by NYT“Stalled” is a prelude to collapse.  So Russia needs a win in the next week or so.  Or they probably fall apart on the battlefield before they fall apart economically.  Absent a breakthrough in the next few days, Putin’s choice is retreat now (bringing the tanks back) or retreat later (leaving a lot of tanks behind).

Economically, the question is “How much further damage can Russia sustain?”  EU oil/gas sanctions probably break its back.  Existing sanctions are doing tremendous damage that will last for years.  Even if legal sanctions are lifted, Russia will remain “un-investible.” Who is going to put long-term money to work in a country run by a delusional,  mis-calculating autocrat?  Greedy people aren’t dumb.  McDonalds will re-open.  Meaningful investment flows won’t.

Politically, we already have our answer to – “Is Russia Still a 1st tier World Power?”  No.  Putin has destroyed the illusion of Russian power and thus its global influence.  It is a  a 2nd tier regional power at best.  France and the UK have nuclear weapons, but no-one is particularly afraid of them – maybe Belgium and Ireland.  Loose talk of an emerging tri-polar world misses that point.  An economy the size of Spain (with military power sized accordingly) is a supporting act, not a headliner.

So Putin has already clarified we live in a bipolar world.  Russia can either join the sluggish-growth-club-of-Chinese-Vassal-States-to-Be or they align with the EU and US.  Their choice remains to be seen, but Putin has already destroyed the illusion that Russia ever had a 3rd, independent choice – outside of the uneasy, semi-pariah status he has chosen for Russia until Putin goes.

I am hoping someone reaches Putin with truth and he swings the wheel away from catastrophe.  Putin has lost enough already for the rest of us to call it a win.  If he steers into the rocks, his final lashing-out phase could be incredibly dangerous.

Absent that, I am hoping a clever Ukrainian counter-attack cuts off a good sized chunk of Russia forces and precipitates a mass surrender.  Videos of marching prisoner columns will probably break the back of the entire Russian effort.  That will make the decision for Putin and further tie his hands.

My worst case scenario is Putin does something truly awful and precipitates those EU Oil/Gas sanctions.  He has done enough awful already.

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Can German/EU Sanction Russia Oil/Gas? Yes. A GDP Hit, But Manageable. What Price Security?

If Russia escalates, EU politicians can escalate back by banning oil/gas imports (see below).  There is economic space for sanctions escalation if the political will is there.  The impact on Russia would be immediate and likely catastrophic.

Hard logic says “take the economic hit now to secure long-term strategic security.”  You beat a bully by standing up to him.

However, like our beloved American politicians, Eu politicians don’t want to take this step because oligarchs “business leaders” don’t want to take the short-term profit hit.  That is why the EU dragged their feet on the first rounds of sanctions;  Remember Italy’s hoped for carve-out for luxury goods?  Was that fantasy idea really 2 weeks ago?.

As with the first round, EU public opinion will likely force EU leadership’s hands if Russian atrocities spark new outrage – chemical weapons, a nuclear strike, bombing another maternity hospital.  Especially as it warms up and heating becomes less of a concern.

Adam Tooze does a great review of the (German language) debate on the economic impact of sanctions on Russian Gas/Oil.

The surprise conclusion is that European oil/gas sanctions would be a manageable hit to Germany.  On par with COVID, which Germany managed pretty well.  Especially if you assume the sanctions are relatively temporary (months not years).  Covid being a good model for that sort of hit too.

It would be a short term hit because a halt of oil/gas sales likely would crater the Russian economy  Credit would evaporate internally and externally (anticipating default).  Everyone would have to pay for everything with cash up front.  Business that run on 90-days-to-pay credit (from grocery stores to big industrial) would seize up for lack of cash.  The Russian government could step in, but who in Russia is going to trust those rubles are worth anything when they are backed by…. oil and gas revenues.  I guess they could coin the gold reserves and pay with that?

https://adamtooze.substack.com/p/chartbook-97-is-boycotting-russian

 

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Putin Should Take the “Golden Bridge” to Peace Before the Chinese Frog-March Him Across It…

Sometime soon, Putin is going to take an awkward call from his “eternal friend” Xi. China is the world’s largest importer of oil and food.  Xi wants a good year for his coronation.  Russia is spoiling his party.  Especially because China is heading to a bad local wheat harvest.

I learned yesterday that about about 30% of China’s grain imports come from Ukraine.  Come spring planting, China will want Ukrainian fields plowed by tractors, not tanks.  100% of that grain ships through Odessa.  China does not want a sit though a long siege of Odessa.  What about a quick, damage-free take-over of Odessa?  That seems unlikely given Russia’s under-sized Southern forces, limited reserves and performance so far.

Xi is going to tell Putin to take the Golden Bridge.  

Is Ukraine’s Zelensky showing weakness here?  No.  Zelensky is giving Putin a “Golden Bridge**” to a face-saving exit.

Volodymr Zelensky told ABC News on Tuesday that “I have cooled down regarding the question” of NATO membership and said he was open to dialogue on the fate of Eastern Ukraine republics, Donetsk and Lugansky, that Russia recognizes as independent.

Look at what he is actually promising. A return to the status quo that leaves thousands of Russian dead and a lot of its best. most expensive weapons behind.  Putin wins nothing in reality, but can pretend to have “won” something at home.  That is a Golden Bridge.

  • No NATO (wasn’t going to happen anytime soon anyway).
  • Putin can keep the disputed territories (but almost certainly not past the old front line).  Zelensky was clear there would have to be a free and fair referendum election by residents of those areas.  At this point that would at least reflect the old front line and quite possibly Ukraine gets it all back. Ukraine doesn’t really want their old rust belt anyway.  Apparently Russia helped create a pro-Europe Ukraine by taking pro-Russian voters out of the election system – tipping the balance to Europe.
  • Nothing about Crimea.
  • All with the un-stated caveat that agreements made under duress are not binding down the line.

Zelensky understands the situation on the ground is turning in his direction every day the Russians stay stalled (see below).

Putin does not seem to understand the situation on the ground. He should take the Golden Bridge before the Chinese frog-march him across it.  Or his foot-soldiers take it on their own initiative.

if we incite [Napoleon] to desperation, that will cost us useless blood: but if we let him run and give him a decent escort he will destroy himself in the course of a few days. You know: people cannot live on air, snow doesn’t make a very homely bivouac and without horses he cannot move his food, munitions or guns.”
Gen. Mikhail Miloradovich re Napoleon

All the trucks in the world can’t replace lost morale.  You have to pull those people out of the line and give them a break someplace safe.  But for that you need replacements.

Instead of one big push, Russia went with under-sized nudges based on a mis-read of Ukrainian morale and abilities.  Russia is having success is in the South, but their forces there are likely too small.  It appears they have limited reserves.  The Russian forces bogged down around Kyiv lose combat effectiveness every day.  Little onesy-twosy attacks suggest desperation.  You lack the fuel, ammo, and morale to do anything big, but you keep burning those reserves down further to show the boss you are “doing something.”

Russian forces have likely begun renewed offensive operations that ISW has been forecasting, but at a lower level of intensity and a smaller scale than we had anticipated. Individual Russian attacks at roughly regiment size reported on March 8 and March 9 may represent the scale of offensive operations Russian forces can likely conduct on this axis at any one time. The possibility of a larger and more coherent general attack either to encircle Kyiv or to assault it in the coming days remains possible, but the continued commitment of groups of two to five battalion tactical groups (BTGs) at a time makes such a large-scale general attack less likely.

This daily brief has been excellent and balanced so far. They have been steadily downgrading Russia’s outlook for the past few days.  At some point someone (maybe Xi) will have to break the news to Putin.

Per the below, Putin either walks calmly across that Golden Bridge or helter-skelter retreats in shame. Unless he gets a break-though in the next few days.

**I had no idea the term came from Napoleon’s march on Moscow, which is particularly apt. https://ricochet.com/1196928/time-for-the-west-to-start-building-russia-a-golden-bridge/

Czar Alexander was furious Kutuzov didn’t put up a fight-to-the-death for Moscow. But now was the general’s time to shine. Time to build a golden bridge.

“I prefer giving my enemy a ‘pont d’or’ [golden bridge], as you call it, to receiving a ‘coup de collier’ [blow born of desperation].” — Gen. Kutuzov

Kutuzov refused to engage in large battles until he was sure that Napoleon was safely out of the way. Why trap the French Guards in Russia and create a life-and-death struggle for the Russian army?

His subordinate, Gen. Mikhail Miloradovich explained the strategy to a vengeful underling desperate for a glorious set-piece battle:

“The old man’s view is this: if we incite the enemy to desperation, that will cost us useless blood: but if we let him run and give him a decent escort he will destroy himself in the course of a few days. You know: people cannot live on air, snow doesn’t make a very homely bivouac and without horses he cannot move his food, munitions or guns.”

Kutuzov knew that his best weapons weren’t cannons or Cossacks, but the brutal Russian winter and the vastness of the empire. Napoleon was 1,500 miles from Paris; he had lured the French emperor far, far from home. His troops were sick, hungry, and demoralized.

As officers drew up plans to surround the French, Kutuzov knew that the path to victory was getting those foreigners the hell out of Russia.

They cleared the main road back to western Europe and blocked other routes. As the French trudged through mud, then snow, then ice, they were cut down from behind and on either side by ruthless Cossacks. After they had abandoned gear and ate their horses, even more French soldiers died sick, frozen, and starving.

About 600,000 French invaded Russia; about 100,000 made it across Kutuzov’s Golden Bridge.

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What Does Putin Want? Who Cares? What Do His Army And People Want? Revenge of the Henchmen.

Most Russia analysis I’ve seen is myopically top down.  What will Putin do?  What will Putin’s cronies do?  When will they depose Putin?  Who cares?  They aren’t in charge near term or long term.  The more useful questions to ask are…

  1. What will 190,000 Russian soldiers decide to do in the next few weeks?  If they don’t get moving faster in the next week or so, they are as (or more) likely to collapse versus retreating or digging in.    
  2. What will the Russian people do in the 2024 election after the ugly truth seeps in? Yes, they really do have elections in Russia.  Putin and Co. are likely to lose.  Even or especially if they “win” via a manipulated/manufactured sham.  There is nothing so illegitimate and weak as a government holding power through naked fraud.   The gangrenous stench is too obvious.

It doesn’t matter what Putin wants.  What is his army is willing to do?

Behind every good movie villain is an army of henchmen.  Darth Vader’s faceless legions of Imperial Stormtroopers.  The Bond villain’s armies of jump-suit wearing submachine gunners.  Mobs of turbaned or face-painted natives before that movie trope got too racist to sustain.  All henchmen share a few critical qualities.

  1. They are inhumanly willing to die in droves to advance the greedy, odious schemes of an obvious villain
  2. They are inhumanly incompetent – thus “dying in droves” while a tiny band of scrappy heroes gun them down.
  3. They are inhumanly stoic – never blindly howling in animal  pain or crying out for their mothers during the “gunning down” process.  The just slump and – I guess – grit their teeth.

Darth Vader’s Imperial Stormtroopers are perhaps the ultimate henchmen.  They are individually faceless and voiceless behind the armor (allowing a global audience to dehumanize them regardless of race, color, or creed).  The armor is otherwise useless – the Rebels mow them down in droves.  They never bleed. yelp, or shout.  And they never, ever stop to ask Why are we doing this?

Putin is no Darth Vader.  OK, the Russian Army in Ukraine has proven to be Stormtooper-grade-incompetent.  But they are human humans not inhuman henchmen.  They are watching their friends die (very humanly), trying very hard not to die themselves, and very likely asking “why” more often every day.  Especially because Putin didn’t even bother to to create a plausible fig-leaf justification for this war.  In the meantime, they are struggling to stay fed, get diesel, and keep warm.  With motivated people shooting at them with high-precision weapons.  I think poor morale is one reason they keep using the paratroopers with such disastrous results.  Per this fascinating Twitter thread, they are probably one of the few units that can still be relied on to actually press an attack even if they aren’t really well suited to it.  The 82nd Airborne they are not.   “The entire concept of VDV, Russian paratroopers makes total sense if we consider that they are not so much soldiers as the riot police. They don’t need to fight other regular armies, they need to suppress disorganised mutinies and protests”

A low-morale army doesn’t attack very well.  If the alternatives become a fighting withdrawal or surrender, a whole lot of presumed henchmen might prove to be human after all.  Except, maybe, the Chechens and the paratroopers (see thread above).

  • Low morale armies also doesn’t retreat very well;  Retreating is hard, dangerous, and liable to turn into a panicked rout.
  • When asked to dig in and stand still, a low morale army loses energy, will, and (eventually) soldiers at an increasing rate.

If you stall and don’t retreat quickly, the eventual result is likely collapse.

In Ukraine, this suggests Putin has maybe a few more weeks before his army starts to falling apart.  If it hasn’t started to already.  Re-frame the question from “Can Putin’s Army take Ukraine?” to “Can Putin Manage to Extract the Army Out of Ukraine As an Intact Fighting Force With Most of Its Equipment?   The answer is not obvious.   

Putin Likely Loses Power in the 2024 Elections, Even or Especially If He Wins.

2 years from now, Russia will go the polls.  Sure the elections are a sham exercise, but they still matter.  They validate the governments claim on power.

Ukraine is already an ugly mess.  It could plausibly end in a catastrophic, very public retreat/defeat.  Even if Putin manages to avoid disaster, the truth about the incompetent, deadly hubris of the last 2 weeks will have 2 years to seep into your average Russian’s consciousness.  The stories will get out. They will know what was done in their name.  They have lost the propaganda war – the world blames them for all those dead blond children.  Europe will be shifting away from Russian gas for real and for good.  China (the only other local volume gas buyer) will start to lord it over Russia.  It will not sit well.

Putin can still engineer an election win.  But “everyone” will know it was a sham.  The emperor will have no clothes.  He can cling to power, but with diminished legitimacy and authority.  His battered economy will make it hard to rebuild his even-more-battered army.  His only credible military threat will be nukes.  A cornered, angry, illegitimate Putin will be a tough thing to handle.  He will be dangerous.  But he will be on his way out.

The next Russian executive will face a choice.  My economy is too small to support a world-class Army (see “failure in Ukraine.”).  So we are done as World Power although we do have nukes.  So, do I…

  1. …become a vassal state to much bigger, not very nice China?
  2. …join “Europe” and find a slot in the US-dominated but more flexible and pretty obviously richer-living West?

The Russian people will have a voice in that decision.  Which is really the permanent question of Russian identity – look West or East?  What is different today is that Russia may have to lose the illusion it is a power unto itself.  At least until Russia builds a large enough economy – which likely requires a turn to the West and rule of law.  The Ukrainian people had been leaning West for the same good reasons before Putin tried to drag them back.

PS:  Putin likely has limited reserves beyond the 190,000 he has already committed.  Russia has a 1 million man military, but legally no conscripts can be sent outside of the Russian border.  So far Putin has bent those laws (forcing conscripts to “volunteer” after driving them across the border), but he faces a major public uproar if he openly breaks them for a War he has never justified.  You also have to question whether the other ~800k are competent, not needed elsewhere, and motivated to fight?  The Wall Street Journal reported Russia is trying to recruit Syrians to fight in Ukraine.  That should be seen as a sign of desperation not cunning.  It suggests Putin is running out of henchmen willing or able to fight in Ukraine.

PSS:  The Oligarchs are not going to overthrow Putin.  Think about the dynamic as Trump took control of the Republican party.  Did Mitch McConnel or Kevin McCarthy stand up to Trump?  Did most American business leaders?  Or did everyone make an accommodation to keep milking the system to their own ends?  Russia’s oligarchs are likely to do the same.  Watch “The Death of Stalin” for a funny and insightful look at the likely dynamic at the Kremlin.

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Imminent Russian Army Collapse? Actually a Plausible Scenario. “Moscow is Silent.”

Is the Russian Army on the verge of collapse?  The question sounds silly.  But step through this scenario below.

  1. That 40 mile Russian column has been “stalled” for 3 days now.  They can’t stand still more than a few days more.
  2. If the column does not (whether cannot or will not doesn’t matter) move forward, that column must either 1).  retreat or 2).  surrender.  Every day it stays stalled, the likelihood of attack falls and probability of retreat/surrender/collapse increases exponentially.
  3. Either a retreat or a surrender could easily precipitate a general collapse of the Russian invasion.

I’m presenting this as a “plausible scenario” not a prediction.  I plead to zero military qualifications and near-zero information.  But I’d argue this is more common sense than armchair generalship.

Invading forces should be moving forces.  Yet this column has been stalled for 3 days. They cannot stay where they areWhy?  Because standing still creates exponential mental, physical, and logistical stress – leading to collapse.

  1. Go sit in in your car for in cloudy weather a bit above freezing during the day (wet) and freezing overnight (icy).  Imagine that your journey ends at a really grim place like your cousin’s wedding.  Or, say, a place you are supposed to kill people for reasons that no-one has bothered to explain properly but certainly don’t sound convincing.  Also those people are going to try very hard to kill you back.
  2. Actually they are already trying to kill you.  This is a little harder for you and I to imagine, but think about sitting there while people are taking pot-shots at you.  Especially if you are sitting the cab of an un-armored truck.  Although the armored vehicles tend to attract missiles…
  3. If you are an officer, those people are actively targeting you personally.  So doing “officer” stuff (like talking on the radio to HQ) is proving to be a death sentence.
  4. If you are a fuel truck, people are definitely targeting you. How excited would you be driving an un-armored 5,000 gallon Molotov cocktail around to fill up other people’s tanks knowing your behavior makes you target #1?  How many of your buddies have you seen go up in flames already?
  5. The only way you can stay warm is to run the engine.  How many days of fuel do you carry in your vehicle?  How much fuel does the column carry?  How easy is it to re-fuel?  What is your plan for when the fuel/heat runs out?

After 3 days, how would you feel?  Especially if you don’t understand or believe in your “cause.”  After 4 days, how much worse are you going to feel?  5 days?  You are riding an exponentially increasing misery curve.  After 5 or 6 days, you are probably done.  Cold, miserable, angry, disgruntled, sullen, sick.  Definitely not up for invading anything that doesn’t promise hot food and a warm bed.

So the column can’t stand still for much longer.  In the next few days, they must take one of 3 paths forward.

Option 1 – Go forward to Kyiv.  This is what they are supposed to be doing.  So why aren’t they moving?  Per the above, it is hard to see this as a deliberate pause.  Otherwise they’d take over in some town, set up a decent perimeter defense, and find beds.  So why?

  1. Ran out of fuel?  Bogged down in the mud?
  2. Unable or unwilling to fight through Ukrainian resistance?
  3. No-one is in command?  Maybe because the Ukrainians obliterated any vehicle emitting long-range radio signals (and presumably the command staff with it).  Possibly with a little CIA/NATO targeting help?
  4. All of the above?

Option 2- Go Back to Russia.  If you can’t move forward, you should go back.  Regroup.  Find another way.  But they aren’t doing this either.  Why?

  1. Reasons 1-4 above – fuel, resistance, and/or command problems.
  2. Putin won’t allow it.  Or no-one has the courage to bring it up for Putin to decide  – “We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.” (see ** below)

Option 3 – Do Nothing = Surrender/Collapse:  If you don’t go forward or go back, you collapse where you stand.  Collapse = surrender for invading armies.

Now unspool time over the next few days…

  1. As you sit still for just a few days, option 1 slides off the table.  Attacking burns massive amounts of  fuel and morale that is draining away.
  2. As resources bleed down further, option 2 fades with them. Retreating doesn’t take as much fuel, but it does need some.  You could abandon all the gas-guzzling tanks and anti-air defenses?  But will the nice Ukrainians really just let you drive back home in un-armored trucks?  Regardless, you are done as a fighting force.
  3. If you put the decision off for a few days more, your dwindling fuel and willpower leaves Option 3 (surrender) as the only choice.  

I would guess (based on zero expertise or facts) the Attack option has slid out of reach and the column is in limbo between Retreat and Collapse.    A few days more of this and the fuel runs out and it is so very cold…

If that Russian column collapses OR retreats, the whole Russian invasion likely collapses.  Magically transport yourself from that cold, out-of-gas truck to the front lines somewhere else.  But hanging on to the mental baggage;  I have no idea why we are trying to kill these people who are very clearly trying to kill us, especially since I think my cousin lives around here somewhere and my Mom talks about the great trip she took to Kyiv once.

You hear that a huge chunk of your invading army has just…

  1. …retreated.  Leaving most of their heavy weapons behind.
  • …surrendered.  Handing most of their heavy weapons over the Ukrainians, who don’t even need the owner’s manuals to know how to use them.  Meanwhile the surrendered troops are sending text messages home telling momma everything is OK and they are being treated well.  (OK, the Russian Air Force could bomb their own equipment to keep it out of enemy hands.  But think about how that news would play?  They’d also risk the Ukrainians turning those anti-air missile systems back on again…)

So a huge chunk of your fighting force has evaporated.  And a decent chunk of their weaponry is either destroyed or trundling towards you sporting hastily painted Ukrainian flags.  Does this spur you to

  1. …fight harder? 
  2. …get out of this damn war and start walking until I find someone to surrender to?
  3. …hunker down and do as little as possible?  Stop answering the radio?  Shoot yourself in the foot?

One ongoing mystery could be a supporting clue for the “surrender” scenario.  Why haven’t the Ukrainians raked that column over the coals?  The simplest answer is they can’t.  But maybe they don’t want to?  The column is worth vastly more retreating or captured than killed.

  1. The propaganda value is immense.  Per the above.  It might just be enough to knock the rest of Russian forces out of the war.
  2. The materiel value of capture is huge – those tanks and (especially) air defense systems can be re-painted and re-used immediately.  The Ukrainians know how to work them.  The air defense strength alone could be decisive over, for example, the skies of Kiev.
  3. Also note the negative propaganda impact of massacring the column.  A massacre could galvanize Russian public opinion.  Prisoners are more valuable than martyrs.  Trudging, dejected columns of prisoners being fed (televised) mugs of hot tea and soup is more powerful than any other weapon in their arsenal.

This is just a castle in the air.  The Russian column could be saddling up and moving as I write this.  Or maybe they are getting more fuel supplies than I imagine.  But it was still worth thinking through. The longer the column stands still, the more plausible the scenario becomes.  We will see.  And, if not here, then quite possibly elsewhere.

** “We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.”

Anyone who wants to understand Vladimir Putin today needs to know the story of what happened to him on a dramatic night in East Germany a quarter of a century ago.

It is 5 December 1989 in Dresden, a few weeks after the Berlin Wall has fallen. East German communism is dying on its feet, people power seems irresistible.

Crowds storm the Dresden headquarters of the Stasi, the East German secret police, who suddenly seem helpless.

Then a small group of demonstrators decides to head across the road, to a large house that is the local headquarters of the Soviet secret service, the KGB.

“The guard on the gate immediately rushed back into the house,” recalls one of the group, Siegfried Dannath. But shortly afterwards “an officer emerged – quite small, agitated”.

“He said to our group, ‘Don’t try to force your way into this property. My comrades are armed, and they’re authorised to use their weapons in an emergency.'”

That persuaded the group to withdraw.

But the KGB officer knew how dangerous the situation remained. He described later how he rang the headquarters of a Red Army tank unit to ask for protection.

The answer he received was a devastating, life-changing shock.

“We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.”

That phrase, “Moscow is silent” has haunted this man ever since. Defiant yet helpless as the 1989 revolution swept over him, he has now himself become “Moscow” – the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

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1). Putin’s Losing. The US is Winning. 2). Putin’s Army Will Quit Before He Does. Lessons from Napoleon.

Two lessons from Napoleon:

  1. Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake. – Even if we could have, the US/Biden decided very early on we did not want to “stop this war.”  The US is reaping tremendous benefit from that smart decision.   
  2. A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon. -I am seeing a lot of commentary on “What Putin Wants” and not much about “What The Russian Army and People Will Go Along With.”  Russia may not be a democracy, but Russians are humans who can vote with their feet.  That is (hopefully) enough to bet on.  Russian can’t keep this up for 6 months… army will fall apart before that.

1. “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.”  A lot of Americans (especially but not only right-leaning) have this idea that “We/Biden could have done more to stop this!!!” We could debate that but we’d be missing the point. 

Biden and the US didn’t want to stop this.  This is turning out even better than the US could have ever hoped for a week ago.

  • Germany cranked up defense spending to 2% of GDP (something we’ve been pushing for over a decade).  They have shut Nord Stream 2.  Europe is shipping weapons and fighter jets(?!?) to Ukraine.
  • “Everyone” is lining up against Russia.  Even super-mercantile Singapore just jumped on the sanctions bandwagon and they NEVER sanction anyone.
  • The Chinese are looking uncomfortable.
  • The Russian people’s interests and Putin’s interests are diverging (see below).

None of the above is a “good” thing.  And the Ukraine is paying a terrible price.  But the “aha” moment for me a few weeks ago was that someone smart had given Biden some good advice.  Biden deserves credit for taking that advice.  If the Russians want to make a terrible mistake, go ahead and let them.  It has worked out very well so far.

2). A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.  An army without morale is just a rabble.  If they are motivated, they will fight for “nothing” (per the quote).  The implied opposite is also true.  If they aren’t motivated, they won’t fight.

Napoleon’s greatest military innovation was the “citizen army.”  His troops actually believed in the cause they were fighting for (at least at the start).  To understand what a big deal that was, you have to understand the old model.

You can’t seriously believe all those feudal peasants fought for their Dukes/Barons/Lords because they “cared?”  So why did they fight and die?  Because they had no choice.

Before Napoleon, roughly 1/4 to 1/3 of a European army was not available for actual combat.  You would line up about 2/3 of your forces and tell them “advance!”.  Then you’d turn to the other 1/3 – lined up BEHIND – and tell them “kill anyone who refuses to advance!”  This is literally true.  Given the choice between certain death and a chance of death, the feudal soldiers grudgingly trudged forward.

You can see echoes of this all the way to WW1.  Why did officers on both sides only carry pistols?  Because they were armed primarily to shoot their own men (if they refused to obey orders). Those brave boys going over the top were still just making that same choice – a chance of death vs.  certain death.

The Russians kept this up through WW2.  If you screwed up or pissed off the wrong officer, you were sent to a penal battalion.  These were sent out as the first wave to “find” all the mines and “expose” the German machine guns/lines.  They often weren’t even given rifles.  Their choice was to walk forward or be shot.  A lot of WW2 history glosses over this very well documented fact with a weird racial fiction that Russians were/are somehow more fanatical than the rest of us.  Very few humans will sign up for even one  “human wave attack”  Almost no-one who’s done it once is signing up for another one.  Unless they have no choice.  Same goes for China in the Korean war etc…

Those days are now over.  Even in Putin’s Russia.  To get your army moving, it is “bits of ribbon” or nothing.

This brings us to the hapless Russian Army in the Ukraine.  The video below shows a bunch of ordinary Ukrainians in a small village blockading an underpass to stop a Russian tank rolling through.  Armed only with live-streaming cellphones.  I have seen another video like it.

Yes, these are very brave (and very ordinary) Ukrainians.  But that is not the point.  Look at how the Russians in the tanks are reacting.  They hesitate,  They contemplate.  The back and forth a bit.  Then they turn around…   They do not want to be there.  They do not want to shoot at these people who look too much like friends and family.

Putin never made a case for war to the guys in the tanks.

Putin failed to make a plausible case for invasion to his own people (much less world opinion).  The guys in the tanks thought they were there for “exercises.”  One day they find themselves in Ukraine?!?  Getting shot at and confronting human barricades?!?  WTF?!?

Put yourself in the driver’s seat of a Russian tank right now.  Even better, an un-armored Russian fuel tanker making the run from the border – truck drivers are rarely the cream of the crop in any army.  What are you talking about with your seatmate and buddy?  What are you talking about with family back home (to the extent you can talk to them at all)?  WTF are we doing here!!!!!!!!  These people are clearly not happy to see us and I have no beef with them!  Pretty soon, you and your buddy are both packing a spare set of civilian clothes.  Looking for that moment where you can slip off, change, and (hopefully) blend into the Ukrainian milieu.

Or put yourself in a tank unit.  Temporarily surrounded by Ukrainians.  You could organize a fighting breakout!  Or you could organize a surrender.  “We are surrounded!  We fought bravely but all is lost!!!  Wink Wink”  With the term “surrounded by hostile Ukrainians” to be interpreted more and more widely as the weeks drag on.  Pretty soon you are actively recruiting (in a shared language) for some “hostile Ukrainians” to “surround” you and get it over with.

No-one is actively refusing orders (they still shoot you for that).  But no-one is pressing the attack.  The point of the spear gets more and more blunt.  The artillery will keep blasting and the bombs will fall for a while.  But the defensive lines will get more porous and the artillery-men (who assume they are protected) will take casualties and demand more protection (taking troops from the attack).  They will start melting away too.  The pilots change change into civvies and bail, but they will fly higher and higher to avoid the missiles.  In a few month, the Army will have “collectively “stopped” the war no matter what Putin says.

Putin can get more savage.  Bigger bombardments.  Deploy real thugs like his Chechen mercenaries.  But the increasing atrocity will just speed the ordinary Russian soldier’s (and citizen’s) abandonment of Putin’s cause.  When a bunch of Chechens get trapped and massacred (ps I am not 100% Certain of this report, but its a great example true or not), what Russian is going to jump into his tank to drive off and save them?  How fast and how far is he likely to go?  “Sir, we fought bravely but we could not break through! Wink Wink…

The most important thing the Ukrainians can do is make sure the Russians know prisners will be treated kindly.  Offer them passports!  Putin may never surrender, but his Army will.  Individual by individual.  Russia may not be a Democracy, but people can still vote with their feet.

https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1497973474576506883?s=20&t=pzTNdNP67nihTHYvHIocQg

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Putin is Already Losing in Ukraine

I’ll start by noting I don’t write anything here to be “right.”  Nor do I pretend to superior insight much less information.  I’m just writing to collect my thoughts in the vein of quite possibly wrong but hopefully thought-provoking.

So Putin went ahead and did the dumb thing.  2 days into invading Ukraine, he is already losing.   

  • Militarily (for real):  The Pentagon and UK MoD have both noted the Russian Army likely hasn’t met its Day 1 objectives.  Which is their polite way of saying “If I were in charge of this operation, I’d be shitting bricks right now.”  They have also noted the Ukrainians are fighting well and their command and control has held up. Ukraine wins here by not losing.  Russian “wins” here by…. (I really have no idea at this point).
  • Militarily (perception):  This is not the US’s brand of “surgical” video game warfare the world is used to watching on TV.  The photos and video show the result of bitter, ugly fighting leaving dead Russians and burnt out Russian vehicles in its aftermath.  As I noted before, if Putin wins ugly, he loses.  The US army has looked invincible in its wars.  The Russians look vulnerable.
  • Hearts and Minds (Ukraine):  I have no idea if Putin thought he’d be greeted with flowers, but the Ukrainians clearly seem to feel otherwise.  Any who might have been ambivalent to start aren’t anymore – especially as the shelling and killing goes on.  This likely torpedoes a puppet government exit for Putin.  More important, that resistance will gnaw at his Russian support.  If you are a Russian soldier, you are not feeling the love right now.  And Ukrainian is close enough to Russian you are going to hear it in words you understand from people who look a lot like you.  If you are a Russian civilian, you are going to be seeing it and hearing it from (former) friends and family.  The uglier it gets, the more disheartening it will be (if you are Russian).  Especially if you are a Russian soldier who ends up tasked with propping up some puppet government against the wishes of “cousins” who very clearly hate you.
  • Public Opinion (Europe):  Russia just got kicked out of the Eurovision song contest.  I laughed at first, but it measures the depth of popular response in Europe (who are getting a whole lot more news on this than we are).  Right now, Europe (OK, Germany mostly) is dragging its feet a bit on sanctions.  I would guess that another week of fighting, refugees, and horror will feed a groundswell of popular demands to get tougher with Russia.  Germany’s paid-for-politicians will find it increasingly hard to waffle their way out of something that hurts their precious client’s pocketbooks.
  • Public Opinion (World): The ugliness of it all is not helping Russia anywhere else either.  At some point even the Chinese might finally start edging away.

So how does Putin get out of this?  I have no idea.

A few bullet point observations below.  And yes, I am playing armchair general and yes, I know I have no real clue.  The point of this blog is not to “be right.”  I’m also indulging in a little armchair general-ing with no illusions as to my qualifications.

  • The recurring image of the war so far is a wounded blonde, bravely smiling woman who looks like (and might well be) one of those oddly healthy-looking senior citizens who feature in financial service commercials looking forwards to their comfortable, affluent, well oiled retirement.  Except her head is bandaged and she is covered in blood in front of a shattered building.  Wounded White People is not a good look for Putin.
  • The Ukrainians seem to be doing to the Russians what the Russians usually do to the Germans and French.  Retreat into the vast interior expanse and then wait for chances to strike back viciously.  If they can cut off and destroy some Russian units (followed by heavy news coverage), it is going to get harder and harder for Russia to sustain enthusiasm for this war.  Especially among the poor guys fighting it against their “cousins.”
  • It turns out the Russians export most of their gas to Europe via 2 pipelines.  One runs via the North Sea (Nord Stream 1).  The other runs via the Ukraine.  If some enterprising Ukrainian (or faux-Ukranian) were to figure out how to blow up a big, metal, multi-kilometer pipeline full of flammable gas that is admittedly running on the seabed, then Russia would be reduced to supply gas via a pipeline that runs through Ukraine!  This would seem to give the Ukrainians some pretty solid leverage – less over the Russians and more over the foot-dragging Germans.  No idea how practical that is, but…
  • An obvious sanctions idea is to cut off all air travel links to Russia.  Not all global carriers would follow through, so the Russians could still take connecting flights to get most places.  But taking the big US and European carriers off the table (plus private jet landing rights) would send a fairly powerful and immediate message to ordinary (affluent) Russians.
  • The Russian Army have a few weeks until mud season (which may have already started).  That is a depressing, wet, cold, and miserable time to be running around outdoors even without people trying to shoot you with bullets and/or dirty looks.

The Ukrainians are paying a terrible price here.  I need to end with that.  But Putin is already losing.

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Ukraine – Putin’s Got All He’s Going to Get (Without a War). So We’ll See.

If Putin is rational, he’d played this mess out to the most face-saving “win” he’s going to get.

It “feels” like the point where the whole Ukraine drama comes off the boil (returning to a simmer) or we’re going to have a major land war in Europe.  Not sure how it resolves, but if we are going to have a standstill this is likely when it happens.  Just thinking this through on paper here.

In retrospect, it was obvious Putin would choreograph his point of maximum tension for today.  Why?  Because the Winter Olympics ended yesterday.  Why piss off the Chinese?

At this point, he’s gotten about all he’s going to get short of outright war.

  • Fully occupied and effectively re-absorbed Belarus.
  • Occupying the “breakway” regions of Ukraine.  With useful ambiguity if that includes Ukrainian land (across the current front line) claimed by those regions.
  • Looking tough in front of the Russian people and the world.

Note that the first 2 “wins” aren’t really much of a change from where we were a few months ago.  Although Belorussia’s now-gelded dictator Lukashenko might disagree.  Actual Russian troops on the Polish border is also a little more scary.

Putin has also lost a lot already.  His initial calculus was (probably) Biden is a wimp and Europe is easy to split apart and I can extract concessions from them if I press hard enough.  That has proven wrong.

  • No concessions gained.  If anything, his actions have served to unite them.  Germany putting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the line was a big loss for Putin.
  • Pushed Ukraine farther away (today’s speech claiming it for Russia will only exacerbate that).
  • Set off a likely for-real effort by German/Europe to diversify away from energy dependence on Russia.
  • Repelled everyone that really doesn’t like the idea of old-school wars of conquest, which is “most people in the world” these days.
  • Given “everyone” a lot of reasons to avoid investing in Russia.

If Putin goes forward with war, he risks losing more and I still can’t see what he gains?  Maybe I’m not seeing some halfway move that gets him more out of Ukraine with the long-term war-of-occupation pain. Otherwise, he stands still here.  The rest of the week is about everyone finding ways to normalize the situation.

In bar fight terms, the bully making all the noise gets to stomp out looking tough, but the other guy doesn’t actually get punched.  And we all sort’ve know the bully was bluffing, but we do him (and the other guy) the favor of not pointing it out.

If he isn’t rational?  Or if there is some benefit I’m not seeing (very likely)?  Or some internal threat pressing him forward?  Then we’re going to war.  But it likely resolves this week.

He can’t keep the troops out in the field forever (ran into a good Twitter thread about how they are getting drunk, cutting down all the trees for firewood, and selling off their rifles in Belarus).  Also the mud makes the whole area impassible as we get into March.

So we’ve hit the likely point of maximum panic and uncertainty.  We have learned that.  We don’t know (yet) how it resolves.

From a market/economy perspective, I’d note that a land war in Ukraine actually doesn’t change much for most things.  OK, energy prices will stay high (but they are already high).  Europe will have a freak-out.  It does increase the (small) risk the Russians blunder into a confrontation with NATO.  But mostly the world will just keep going about its day.  Provided you don’t live in the Ukraine.

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Ukraine – Putin Can’t Afford to Lose Even One Battle. He Also Can’t Hide The Horror of War Behind Brown Skin and Turbans.

More reasons why Putin’s best interests lie with avoiding war.  Does he understand where his best interests lie?  I have no idea.  He wouldn’t be the first leader to do something stupid and ill informed.  But we do know it would be stupid.


If Putin “wins ugly” in Ukraine, he loses.  The world has gotten used to the “surgical,” low-casualty, effortless ease of the United states invading Afghanistan or Iraq.  Putin would have to match that apparent ease militarily.  He is almost certain to fall short of that bar.  Just one lost battle risks making Russia look like a 2nd rate power. In basketball terms, never get into a 3 point shooting contest with Steph Curry.

Militarily, the US has set a ridiculously high bar that “everyone” just expect all top-tier nations to clear.  We will benchmark Russia against the seemingly effortless US war-fighting playbook.  Cool videos from precision missiles.  A few unlucky American dead and wounded.  Confusion and abject terror on the opposing side.

The US has picked on weak targets.  The Ukraine is a pretty well guaranteed to win a few battles along the way.  It has the latest anti-tank missiles.  It will have the best satellite and signals intelligence NATO can offer.  Against that backdrop, consider this imaginary news piece.

Reuters Feb 28, 2022:  Russian public opinion is reeling from viral TikTok videos after a missile ambush incinerated all 31 tanks and 93 crew of the 6th Tank Brigade.  Unexpectedly high casualties overall are casting a pall over the Kremlin’s efforts to portray the invasion as a success.  It is also raising questions about the true competence and capabilities of the Russian Armed Forces.

Just a few “lost” battles and Russia ends up looking like a 2nd rate power.  Even if they win the war overall.   The Ukrainians, the US, and (hopefully) Putin know this.


Putin’s other problem is best said plainly.  Putin’s forces would be be killing, maiming, and displacing White People –   “people who look like us.”  Not only in US/European eyes, but in the eyes of ordinary Russians.  The US’s lopsided wins on the battlefield didn’t come with a sympathetic (to the West) counter-narrative.  The other side’s view was ugly – thousands maimed, killed suffering, and displaced.  But the other side’s view was obscured by brown skin, turbans, and other marks of foreignness that gave “us” license to de-humanize the suffering of those “others.”    It will be a lot harder for viewers to deny the humanity in the Ukranian TikTok videos…

The last 20-30 years of conflict have hid behind a long history of “colonial war” narratives.  People of a certain age (like me) have seen all those movies.  A few hundred plucky British or French troops with Maxim guns mowing down thousands of howling  Brown-skinned “turbaned natives” – with colorful costumes and heapfuls of overt racism served to accompany.  A lot of US “War in the Pacific” and “Cowboys and Indians” movies fit this trope.  Russia has is own “War in the Caucuses/Asia” equivalents.

Unfortunately (for Putin), the Ukraine is largely made up of… White People.  They don’t wear turbans.  The viral TikTok videos of tearful refugees and sobbing children will all be White People wearing normal White People clothes driving normal White People cars in normal White People settings. People with family and personal ties to Russia and the (huge) Ukrainian community in the US.

Those videos will be seen and the humanity will stand out. Their stories are likely to be “heard” in a way that dying, desperate Afghan/Iraqi stories were not.  This is an ugly truth.  But lets hope Putin understands it is true.


As a thought exercise, ask what Putin would actually get from invading Ukraine?  What would define “victory” in his terms?  A few more chunks of the Eastern Ukrainian Rust Belt?  Uneasy control of Odessa?  A long land corridor to the Crimea that he’d have to defend?  He’s definitely not getting the NATO climb-down he keeps asking for.


A final note.  I think a lot of (traditionally Republican) investors are investing their politics here.  They see Biden, the Democrats, and the Europeans as wimps.  They see Putin as “strong” and they secretly – shhhhh! – admire him for it.  So the markets are over-weighting the likelihood of invasion.  We may well get an invasion, but the weightings of the bet seem wrong.  Every day that drags by without an invasion is also going to make the current market negativity seem less and less reasonable.

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