There has been a great deal of discussion in the media lately about what the West will do if Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine. But, as has been pointed out on the podcast, Ukraine Without Hype (12/10/21), Russia has already invaded Ukraine.
The United States and the members of the G7 have threatened “massive consequences” if this current military and support structure build-up on the border with Ukraine turns into yet another full scale invasion by Russia, but what those consequences might be, has not been specified.
It is difficult to imagine Biden approving a military defense of Ukraine just after he orchestrated a disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan. Putin is well aware of this.
And, a number of commentators are arguing that invading Ukraine now would be much less costly and risky than waiting until some future date. Putin has made it crystal clear in an article published last summer that the Russian government considers Ukraine part of Russia, not an independent country.
The Russian kleptocratic autocracy is working overtime to ideologically legitimate an invasion of Ukraine. In Putin’s article (described on MSNBC as a “letter from an abusive spouse”) he clearly appeals to Russian nationalism, arguing that Ukraine as a separate entity is a fiction imposed on people who did not see themselves as Ukrainian. This “Ukrainization” by the leaders of modern Ukraine and their “external patrons,” is a “tragedy” and “forced assimilation” and is “comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against” Russia.
In an article published by the Atlantic Council, it is argued that in order to maintain the loyalty of elites and the population Putin has found it effective to engage in “small victorious wars.” These distract from the fact that the Russian economy has barely grown since 2014. Small wars are profitable and also whip up the nationalism of Russians.
The five-day war in Georgia in August of 2008, was a great popular success in Russia. For the first time ever Putin’s popularity figures reached 88%. Also popular was Putin’s seizure and annexation of Crimea. Once again Putin’s popularity rose.
Whatever the goal, actual invasion or mere threat, Putin already has some of what he wants, the West negotiating over the status of Ukraine in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past.
The 2014 uprising in Ukraine, the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government were severe blows to the pride of Vladamir Putin and the Russian establishment/oligarchy.
Added to the economic importance of Ukraine is the profound cultural centrality of Ukrainian history as part of the Soviet Union, and the political significance of the independence gained by the Ukrainian people.
Putin has reportedly never gotten over the breakup of the Soviet Union, the independence of Ukraine or the movement of the Ukrainian people towards the West.
As was pointed out in the Ukraine World Podcast, Putin and the Russian oligarchy have never conceived of Ukraine as an independent state. They have never considered Ukraine as independent and cannot now accept the status quo.
As Timothy Snyder pointed out, Putin and Russia have never considered Ukrainians as anything but vassals. They do not even negotiate with Ukrainians, but with the West over Ukraine.
And, the status quo, as unpalatable as it may seem, may not remain the status quo much longer.
Putin may feel that the window of time for pressuring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere is rapidly closing.
Not long after Biden took office, Russia announced itself fed up with the status quo relating to Ukraine and NATO expansion.
Also, around the first of the year, Zelensky expressed more publicly than he had in the past, an interest in Ukraine joining NATO.
Since Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, there is no automatic responsibility of the West to react if Ukraine is invaded. If Ukraine joins NATO, however, this changes completely.
Note: I cannot see after withdrawing from Afghanistan, Biden involving military troops in any conflict in Ukraine. Putin, of course, knows this and it adds to the likelihood of intervention.
There is, of course, a great deal of debate about whether Putin intends to invade or just threaten. But, as has been pointed out, not only is there an unprecedented movement of troops, but also a structuring of support for an invasion, like locating medical supplies near the border.
It would probably be an error to suppose that Putin’s choice is binary. Even though U.S. officials persist in talking about the choice as either an invasion with a full scale military operation and seizure of territory, or backing down and not invading. But, as others point out, Putin has stated that he would never invade any territory unless he were certain of victory.
So, a number of regional experts foresee an operation that includes pinpoint strikes and then strategic withdrawals. The object, according to these commentators, is to destroy Ukrainian military capability. Occupation is not the goal.
Putin, so the theory goes, wants to demonstrate to Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet Block that all their efforts towards independence can be negated easily and quickly, leaving them vulnerable and back inside the Russian sphere.
While there have been strides in the development of Ukrainian military capability, it cannot even compete with the highly technological, mobile Russian military expertise.
Putin pursued economic strategies to block Ukraine from moving out of the Russian sphere of influence and toward the west.
In 2014, it became evident that that strategy had failed. Ordinary people rose and drove out the pro-Russia president who had to flee to Moscow to keep from being imprisoned. The Ukrainians made their choice clear when they drove out a Russia friendly president and ushered in the pro-western government.
Putin saw this as a coup engineered by the West and the CIA to divide the Russian sphere of influence. So, Putin seized Crimea.
Putin intended to demonstrate that he cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the west.
Putin also sees the writing on the wall in the policies and actions of Zelensky. In early 2021, Zelensky’s government began cracking down on Russian controlled media inside Ukraine and a Russian connected oligarch. The government also participated in military exercises with Western forces.
Putin’s actions have actually alienated people in Ukraine. Polls indicate that more people than when Zelensky first took office support joining NATO and a move toward the West.
Putin, evidently, does not believe this. He has indicated that a move toward Russia is the will of the people and that Russian forces would be welcomed, regarded as liberators.
And, Putin may estimate that a war now could be less costly than later.
While U.S. officials bandy around the threats of “sanctions” according to specialists, Putin has been sanction proofing the Russian economy since 2014.
And, sanctions on Russia will affect powerful interests around the world. In order to enact meaningful sanctions, Biden would not only have to take on the Russians, but banking and other interests internationally. There is little indication that he is prepared to do this.
What Putin wants is not to annex Ukraine, but to influence it. He wants to alter and control the structure of security in Eastern Europe.
While this mobilization near the border of Ukraine may be only an example of “coercive diplomacy,” the intent is to keep Ukraine out of NATO and get an agreement to limit NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
If Biden agrees to this in order to avoid a war, he will violate the concept of self determination that has influenced policy in the post-war era.
The Daily, NYT (12/8/21) Interview with Moscow Bureau Chief, NYT, Anton Troianovski
Ukraine World Ep. 58: The New Russian Attack on Ukraine.
Pundit after pundit in the corporate media has given the U.S. military enormous credit for coming clean and admitting to the world that they made a “mistake” with the drone strike that killed 10 people in Afghanistan, including 7 children.
It seems evident, however, that the military would have never admitted the tragic error had the New York Times not done a documented investigation of the strike that made it impossible for the military leadership to do anything else.
Because we still had reporters in Afghanistan, in Kabul, they were able to visit the site and document the outrageous irresponsible drone strike. But, the U.S. military has been carrying out drone strikes for 20 years in Afghanistan and almost none of them were subjected to the kind of scrutiny this one was.
In the period that led up to the total withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. military carried out two drone strikes in Kabul that we know of. They initially claimed with certainty that the attack on August 29, 2021 was a hit on Isis. It was not. That means that if we believe them, their rate of successful targeting of Isis was 50%. Is that what we are willing to accept?
CNN and MSNBC are no longer worth watching. This podcast episode, put out by the New York Times, should be listened to by every citizen.
During the past few weeks the corporate news media has been studiously ignoring the disastrous military and humanitarian crisis shaping up in Afghanistan. They have been doing so, I think, because the crisis makes Biden look feckless, ruthless, and incompetent.
For so long, there was almost nothing on the corporate news, but every day it was possible to read about astonishing advances by the Taliban. Every day estimates of how much of Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban increased, and estimates of how long it would be until the Taliban took over Kabul decreased.
I am no foreign policy expert, but even I could see that the Biden withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan was accelerating a Taliban takeover of the country.
The negotiated “peace plan” was non-existent. I never understood what was being “negotiated” with the Taliban in the first place either by the Trump or the Biden administration. One reporter late this week said that the “negotiated” peace process was not only on hold, it was in the basement with the door locked.
And who had the bright idea that the Taliban could be negotiated with in the first place? The group is defined by a suicidal religious refusal to compromise or negotiate with the modern world.
Let me be clear, I did not support the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq but even I acknowledge that once you have invaded and occupied a country you can’t just walk out and leave everyone who has fought with you at the mercy of the enemy. You cannot just withdraw without considering the implications for the population you are leaving behind.
But this is precisely what the Biden administration seems to have done. They either didn’t consider the implications for the population, or they didn’t care. I’m not sure which is worse.
Reports today (Friday) are that members of the Biden administration knew that this disaster was coming. The Joint Chiefs warned them. But the Biden administration decided that the disaster was inevitable (although they have denied this reality). One official was quoted by Peter Baker as saying: It’s a tragedy, but it’s not our tragedy. Who would say something this crass and unfeeling? There is not even much of a pretense of having any empathy with the abandoned population.
And in an effort to make the chaotic, precipitous, and disastrous withdrawal look better, the Biden administration has blamed everyone in sight – except themselves.
Evidently, the defense department that costs us trillions every fifteen minutes, just couldn’t manage to plan a withdrawal from a country they had occupied that didn’t create a humanitarian crisis. How can that be?
Gen. John Kirby, in a painful press conference today, said the Afghanis had every conceivable advantage in the war. A reporter asked Kirby how the Afghanis could have every conceivable advantage and still be losing. Kirby balked at the rudeness of the question, then evaded answering it. He went on to list all the advantages the Afghanis had (airplanes, an air force, more soldiers, etc.). So, according to Kirby, the Afghanis have all these advantages and it’s just a great fucking mystery why they are losing.
The people of this country are told repeatedly that we have the greatest military in the history of the world, but that military just can’t figure out how after twenty years of supplying and training and fighting, to get the Afghanis in a position to hold their own against the opposing force.
Earlier this week I listened to a podcast where the panel was pointing out that supply lines were a problem in Afghanistan. Supply lines? Twenty years and they haven’t figured out how to secure supply lines? Even my cat knows not to go further away from the door than he can safely run back should there be a threat. And they can’t figure out secure supply lines? I just find this preposterous. What the bleeding devil have they been doing for twenty years?
A lot of the feedback on Twitter consists of people arguing that the very fact that we have been in Afghanistan for twenty years legitimates the withdrawal. But, nobody is objecting to the withdrawal, it’s the way the withdrawal is carried out.
As Paul Riekhoff said on Nicolle Wallace’s show the other night, this was a “reckless” withdrawal. Riekhoff’s honesty about the situation made me wonder if the producers on MSNBC knew what he was going to say. (The next night I don’t think Wallace even talked about Afghanistan). Riekhoff lambasted the Biden administration’s withdrawal. And Riekhoff, like Kevin Baron from Defense One, stated flatly that the administration was not “leveling” with the American people.
The refusal to “level” was painfully obvious in the Pentagon presser this afternoon with Gen. John Kirby. Kirby couldn’t even bullshit with any talent the obfuscation was so blatant. Kirby stood at the podium and spewed nonsense. He looked like a man experiencing a severe attack of piles as he fielded questions from reporters.
He was fine with questions like that from MSNBC’s Pentagon correspondent. After a day when every conceivable TV pundit repeated like a parrot: “The administration was not surprised with what happened but at the speed with which it happened” she asked if the administration was surprised at the speed with which the take over had happened. Seriously?
Another reporter doggedly tried to get Kirby to say that Kabul was “isolated.” “Would you say Kabul was isolated?” He asked repeatedly. Kirby verbally danced all over the universe refusing to say that Kabul was “isolated.” We all fucking know that Kabul is “isolated.” What is the purpose of a journalist taking up valuable time trying to get Kirby to say the word? Kirby said everything under the sun else except that Kabul was “isolated.” What goddamn difference does it make if he uses the word?
I don’t think I have seen such a blatantly pathetic Pentagon press conference since Vietnam, and even then the brass talked the bullshit with some panache. Kirby just seemed to be desperate to finish, desperately uncomfortable, resentful of meaningful questions. John Kirby is a bad liar and bullshitter. If they are going to try to pass off this level of (do you believe me or your lying eyes) bullshit, they need to get another spokesperson.
And, it seems that we should have learned (with the best military in the history of the world) that the solution to a badly thought-out war is not (or should not be) a badly thought-out withdrawal. Evidently not.
But the thing that keeps sticking in my craw and going through my mind for the past few days is why? How could the Biden administration be so inept as to create this situation? Who was this precipitous withdrawal designed to please? I just can’t think of anybody placated or pleased with this hair-brained withdrawal. Why, after breezing through the deadline in May that the Trump administration had set, did Biden rush headlong into this withdrawal that seems so badly planned.
I will give just one example. On another podcast about Afghanistan the commentators were pointing out that the Taliban ratchets up fighting in the Spring and then makes a big push over the summer. Then, I suppose because of the weather, they retreat to bases in Pakistan in the fall and fighting dies down. The panel members were pointing out that if Biden had just waited over the summer and pulled out most of the troops in the fall, it would have helped immensely. So, what was the problem with that small change?
And there another thing that keeps going through my mind. This is in response to a comment made on the Majority Report (a great podcast). The guest was saying that there are many competing factions represented within the Biden administration – progressives (damn few), conservatives, moderates, hawks. When some policy or appointment comes up that sparks strong opposition among these groups, they fight it out vociferously. Fine. But when all this fighting and debate occurs, when positions are entrenched, Biden evidently does not step in and make a decision so everybody can go on. Biden refuses to take make a decision that might alienate somebody and so everybody retreats to their respective corners. The result is that nothing gets done. The example that was being talked about was an appointment that had remained vacant for months.
I can’t keep from wondering if something like that happened here. There was such strong disagreement about what to do, everybody was fighting and pushing and Biden just walked away (sort of like he’s doing in Afghanistan) and nothing got done. The withdrawal just ticked on without Biden taking control. It was easier to do nothing than to make a decision. Now, the administration is facing not only a humanitarian crisis, but a political disaster.
I have watched Fox News, OANN, and that other channel of Steve Bannon’s in the past two days. You can bet they are making hay over this situation. And, to my great discomfort and consternation, I agree with some of the commentary.
A final thing that makes me uncomfortable about this situation is how similar it is to the way Democrats are handling the serious threat Republicans pose to the continuation of democracy.
Democrats are so engorged with hubris, so convinced that the world is the way they want it to be, they are leading us into disaster at every turn.
I fear that they are going to do with Republicans exactly what they are doing with the Taliban – negotiate without reason, rely on the good intentions of murderous men determined to assume power at all costs and then when these men pull off a religious based authoritarian take over, wring their hands and say it was not the outcome they had anticipated.