Thoughts on Russia's Invasion of Ukraine - Part II

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  • A timeline of relevant events:
    • 2003: The USA invades Iraq to enact regime change and Saddam Hussein is hanged
    • 2004: Putin campaigns in Ukraine for pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych
    • 2004: Pro-western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko wins Ukraine's elections ("Orange Revolution")
    • Apr 2008: NATO declares that Georgia and Ukraine will become part of NATO (Bucharest declaration)
    • Aug 2008: Russia invades Georgia and recognizes two separatist provinces
    • Feb 2010: Yanukovich wins elections against Yulia Tymoshenko
    • Oct 2011: Tymoshenko is sentenced to jail
    • 2011: A revolution helped by Western nations overthrows Qaddafi in Libya and Qaddafi is killed like a dog
    • Dec 2012: The USA passes the Magnitsky Act
    • Nov 2013: Russia pressures Ukraine to reject a trade deal with the European Union leading pro-EU protesters to take to the streets ("Maidan protests")
    • Feb 2014: After months of protests Viktor Yanukovych flees Ukraine in what Russia calls a "coup"
    • Mar 2014: Russia invades and annexes Crimea
    • Apr 2014: Civil war in Ukraine between the government and Donbass separatists
    • 2014-15: Minsk agreements between Russia and Ukraine aimed at ending the civil war
    • 2019: Volodymyr Zelensky, a Jew, wins by a large margin Ukraine's election on an anti-corruption and nationalist anti-Russian platform
    • May 2020-Mar 2021: Anti-government protests in Belarus almost overthrow Belarus' dictator Lukashenko
    • Nov 2020: Pro-Western candidate Maia Sandu wins presidential elections in Moldova
    • Mar 2021: Ukrainian tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, the godfather of one of Putin's daughters, is sentenced to jail for corruption
    • Aug 2021: The USA withdraws from Afghanistan, defeated by the Taliban
    • Dec 2021: German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office and politics
    • Jan 2022: Anti-government protests in Kazakhstan
    • Feb 2022: Russia invades Ukraine
  • Russia the ever Expanding Empire. In a previous discussion i wrote that maybe Russia doesn't make sense anymore because it is the last of the European colonial powers. The others (the British, French, Dutch, Austrian, Ottoman, Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese empires) dissolved after the two world wars. Of course, this is a simplification. Russia was always a different kind of colonial empire. Most of the European colonial empires were maritime empires: they conquered land far away from their borders. Austria (when it didn't control Spain, that had the American empire) was limited to Europe but expanded largely through arranged marriages. Russia was unique in that it expanded its borders both east, west and south through military conquests. Gregory Carleton (Tufts University) has an interesting way to describe how Russia kept expanding and "must" keep expanding. He calls it “defensive expansionism”: Russia views its neighbors as hostile or potentially hostile and the only way to guarantee its own security is to invade them and annex them, but this pushes the border to another hostile or potentially hostile neighbor and therefore this reasoning goes on ad infinitum. Don't trust my view on the Russian empire, trust Putin himself: Putin himself projects the image of Russia as a Eurasian empire founded one thousand years ago by Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev, who converted to Christianity in 988, and heir to Rome and Byzantium (the "third Rome"). Putin is proud that Russia started from the tiny kingdom of Kiev and expanded to become a Eurasian empire. And Putin wants to protect Russia by neutralizing and/or conquering its neighbors. Putin says that Russia has legitimate security concerns, but ignores the fact that Russia's neighbors too have their security concerns. The logic of empires is a logic difficult to understand for Italians who gave up Nice (the birthplace of Italy's national hero) and Savoy (the original land of the first kings of Italy) or for Germans who gave up much of Prussia (the kingdom that created Germany) and even Konigsberg (today's Kaliningrad). The big question is whether the Russian empire, that was never fully dismantled, can ever coexist peacefully with its neighbors: its logic is that any neighbor is an existential threat and therefore must be neutralized or, even better, annexed. In a sense, the present crisis was easy to predict in December 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved: that decision ended 500 years of territorial expansion but one can argue that Russia cannot exist without territorial expansion. No country is able to defend 57,792 kms of border, and in fact Russia has been invaded at least ten times, notably by the Mongols in the 13th century, by Sweden and Poland in the 17th century, by Sweden again during the Great Northern War (1700 - 1721), by Napoleon in 1812, by France and Britain in the Crimean War of 1853, by Germany in 1917 (which caused Russia to surrender in World War I), by Japan in 1918, by Poland in 1921 (precisely over Ukraine) and by Hitler in 1941. The USA cannot get into Russia's shoes: nobody ever tried to invade the USA, and the USA borders only with Canada and Mexico. Note that this means that Putin's Russia is not looking for a "sphere of influence" but for a "sphere of security". Unfortunately, that sphere of security is de facto the entire Eurasia: Russia will always perceive potential threats from its neighbors as long as it has neighbors.
    (Note. All land-based empires have shared the same problem. The German Reich and the Austrian Empire were other examples of nations that were forced to endlessly expand because each of their neighbors was automatically viewed as a potential invader. The Roman Empire made the mistake of stopping the expansion and was destroyed precisely by the neighbors. But all those colonial empires are gone, replaced by ethnic nations, except Russia, which is still a colonial empire. Britain never tried to expand into continental Europe: it's an island and doesn't have this paranoid feeling about bordering neighbors. The USA is an island too, in a sense, because it doesn't fear invasions from Canada or Mexico, and therefore it never felt the need to expand into either country in almost 200 years. Even today's China is an island of sorts: after the Qing Dynasty expansion, China is protected in the south and west by the highest mountains in the planet, by sea in the east, and by mountains, rivers, deserts and lakes in the north. In fact, China's main wars since World War II were fought in the only two weak points of its borders: with the USA in Korea in 1950 and with Vietnam in 1979. Russia, instead, can be easily invaded from all sides: from Central Asia, from Alaska, from Finland and from eastern Europe).
  • This war is about unfinished business. Many historians think that World War II was about finishing the business left unfinished by World War I. It could be that the new crisis involving Russia is about finishing the business left unfinished by World War II: a colonial power in the East of Europe that usurped the protagonist role of the old Western colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy). As long as Russia exists and sits outside European organizations, it is bound to collide with the Western European powers. Journalists like to depict the crisis by pitting the USA against Russia, but it's really a European affair. The crisis (the new "cold war") is also about the unfinished business of the Cold War: the West "won" the Cold War but didn't disarm the loser, and then the loser, feeling unjustly humiliated (the so-called “Weimar syndrome”), rearmed and, some twenty years later, became a military superpower again... does it sound like Germany after World War I?
  • The West created a paradox. The West is certainly responsible in part for the rise of Putin. In 1989 two epochal events shook the world. In March the Soviet Union held its first free elections. In June the Chinese government cracked down on the Tiannamen Square protests, killing scores of pro-democracy demonstrators. The West didn't reward the Soviet Union and didn't punish China. In the following years China became much richer than it was before, while Russia became much poorer. Fast forward 33 years and China is now the world's second economic power while Russia's economy is smaller than Italy's. The West has been happy to use China as its factory and happy to use Russia as its gas and oil field. In 2020 China's GDP per capita passed Russia's: the Chinese are now richer than the Russians.

  • The mother of all problems. One fundamental problem of today's Russia is that it never acquired a post-Soviet identity. Russia right now is simply a nation with a strange autocratic and oligarchic regime that exports its natural resources in return for cash, and then invests the cash into wars. The Soviet Union had an identity (like it or not). Czarist Russia had an identity (like it or not). Post-Soviet Russia is still in search of an identity. That's probably a reason why Putin rules: there's no Russian who has an inspirational view of what Russia should become, other than the nationalist philosophers like Dugin who influence Putin. At the same time, post-communist Europe too has an identity crisis: it is a federation of more or less democratic states that basically believes in protecting the borders of its states. The real purpose of the European Union is to avoid conflicts about borders. The EU doesn't have an army and doesn't have a real executive, so it doesn't do much else than discuss small matters and issue rules about genetically-modified food and toxic paint. It is marginalized on the world stage. Avoid wars over borders is also the main achievement of NATO: no wars between the Western European powers since the establishment of NATO. But NATO, as it is, makes little sense in a post-Soviet world since it was originally designed to protect Western Europe from a Soviet invasion. Both the EU and NATO have certainly fostered democratic and business institutions in countries that had no such traditions. But now it looks like the purpose of NATO is to defend Eastern Europe from the aggressive posture of post-Soviet Russia. Nobody is threatening to invade or topple the governments of West Germany and Italy anymore. NATO is now really about defending the likes of Poland and Estonia, and now even non-member Ukraine. The EU and the USA failed to invent a post-Soviet post-communist paradigm for world order. They simply applied a logic of enlargement to the existing world order. Hence the enlargement of the EU and the enlargement of NATO. NATO should have died with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in March 1991 (the defense treaty among communist countries). In fact, Russia repeatedly proposed to let the OCSE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) take over the role of NATO (with the big advantage that Russia would be part of it). Instead NATO is on the way to become something comparable to the Catholic Church, a supranational entity that imposes political order on a chaotic Europe. Its success story is not a military one: other than fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and bombing Serbia and Libya (neither of which were threats to a member of the alliance), it has rarely fought a battle. NATO's real accomplishments (albeit indirect ones) have been political and economic. In fact both the London Declaration of July 1990 and the New Strategic Concept of November 1991 paint NATO as an institution for economic, social and political stability.
    On the other hand, NATO did not adapt to a new economic, social and political threat: China, which is much stronger than Russia. The result is that the USA has a military treaty with Japan, keeps troops in South Korea, implicitly protects Taiwan, and has just signed a treaty with Australia and India while theoretically none of these countries is an ally of Germany or Italy or Poland or Spain. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia are not "Atlantic" (the "A" in NATO) but they are as "Western" as any European country, and possibly even more than some NATO members (Turkey and Hungary, for example). And yet they are not members of the Western military alliance.
    Strobe Talbott's essay "Why NATO should grow" (1995) argued long ago that NATO should keep enlarging, and his is still the best argument. Samuel Huntington's essay "Conventional Deterrence and Conventional Retaliation in Europe" (1983) argued that NATO should become an offensive alliance, not just a defensive one (he's the one who later became famous with "The Clash of Civilizations"). But an enlargement to Asia should come with a different name and a different mission: defend all democracies anywhere (some kind of "bill of rights).
    Incidentally, the United Nations itself should be reformed. It was created when India was still a colony of Britain, hence India is not a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council with veto power while tiny Britain and France are. In 1971 mainland (communist) China inherited the seat originally held by the old regime of China (which since 1949 has been confined in Taiwan after losing the civil war) and in 1991 Russia inherited the seat originally held by the Soviet Union, but nobody ever bothered to fix the aberration that the world's third and fourth economies (Japan and Germany) as well as some of the world's most populous nations (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, etc) have lower rights at the United Nations than those two small European countries (France and Britain).
    It is not only the Cold War that ended: it is also the colonial world that largely vanished. These multiple identity crises combine to generate instability in the world.
  • This is not an ideological war. Putin is not heir to the atheist communist regime of the Soviet Union. He is heir to czarist and Christian Russia. Putin is a Russian nationalist who views Marxism-Leninism as an obsolete (and Western) idea. He views Lenin as pretty much an idiot. Putin is a modern European. There is no contradiction in being a European and being wary of Europe. Peter the Great, who ruled from 1682 to 1725, turned Russian customs upside down in order to make it look as European as possible. Nonetheless he fought ferociously to defend Russia from Sweden. Catherine the Great, who wasn't even Russian (she was born a German princess), entertained European philosophers while expanding the Russian empire on the other side of the Urals (she's the one who made it a Eurasian empire) and south (she's the one who conquered Crimea in 1783). Unlike China, which is trying to subvert the US-dominated capitalist system, Putin never said that he doesn't believe in Western capitalism, or that he wants to get rid of the dollar. He has been happy to buy and sell in the Western-dominated capitalist world. Putin has never said or implied that communism was better than capitalism. He is nostalgic about the power and size of the Soviet Union, not about its communist ideology. Putin's problem with the West is not ideological: it's that he feels personally threatened by the West. (And he is right to feel that way, as i wrote in the previous article).
  • The real existential threat. Is Ukraine joining NATO an existential threat to Russia? No, but it is an existential threat to Putin himself. I am not convinced that Putin truly cares for Russia because he has caused Russian economy and Russian society such a big damage that he's either a complete idiot or... he doesn't care. He must know that, whatever he does, he will not go down in history as a great czar of Russia. Is it an existential threat to Putin himself? Yes, he probably felt that the West was after him the way the West went after Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi. If the West expands to Ukraine, it will destabilize his power in Russia.
  • Regime change in Russia. Biden may be serious about engineering regime change in Russia: defending the European Union from a megalomaniac Putin would be extremely expensive. It would be much cheaper to take out Putin than to protect all the possible future victims of Putin.
  • The buffer zone. Russia wants a buffer zone between itself and the "West". Many Western scholars agree that Russia has a point. But few seem to note that the "West" (which at this point is really eastern Europe) does not demand such a buffer. Somehow it is only Russia (the colossal nuclear power) that is fearful of bordering on "Western" countries (Poland, Romania and so on). Furthermore, Russia doesn't seem to need a buffer between its far east and Alaska: only a narrow strait separates them. One should wonder by Russia is so afraid of bordering directly with eastern European countries that have become part of NATO and the European Union. The real answer is probably that Putin doesn't want Russians to know how much better the people of eastern Europe are doing. It is a given that the people of Alaska are richer and freer than the people of Russia's far east. It is not a given for most Russians that Poles should be richer than them.
  • Russia is more democratic than the USA. Many books have been written on Putin. Many see him as a large-scale thief who has created a large-scale mafia (see for example "Putin's Kleptocracy"). Others view him as a competent and devoted leader (see for example Richard Sakwa's "The Putin Paradox"). After the invasion of Ukraine, Putin is frequently called a "dictator". That is funny because Russia is more democratic than the USA. The USA just had a joke of a president (Donald Trump) who, supported by Russia, had lost the election to Hillary Clinton by three million votes. The US president is NOT elected democratically. Trump never had an approval rating of 50%, and Biden seems destined for the same achievement. On the other hand, Putin was really elected by a majority and his approval rating is consistently above 50% (and was not elected thanks to foreign interference like Trump was). The US congress has an even lower approval rating. The USA has a senate in which each state has two senators, regardless of population (hence Wyoming has two senators just like California despite the fact that California's population is 40 times Wyoming's). Look at the two systems objectively, and Russia looks more democratic than the USA, and Putin looks like a more legitimate president than Trump was. Putin has even been compared with Hitler. The two couldn't be more different. Hitler believed in a superior race. Putin never said that Russians are superior to everybody else. Hitler's motivation was ideological and never cared about getting rich. Putin is the richest man on Earth and his friends are billionaires: the goal of his mafia is not to dominate the world but to make a lot of money.
  • War Crimes. Did the Russians commit war crimes? They probably did but the USA is the last country that can talk about war crimes: it has never recognized the International Criminal Court, and for a good reason: US soldiers have often committed war crimes, notably in Iraq in 2005 and in Afghanistan in 2007, and none of the soldiers has been seriously punished. There are soldiers who raped an Iraqi girl and burned her family, and they are free today. In 2020, when the International Criminal Court tried to investigate US officials, the USA slapped sanctions on the court's chief prosecutor as if he was a bandit.
  • Who violated the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15?. Putin claims that Ukraine violated the Minsk Agreements of 2014-15. Those were signed by Ukrainian president Poroshenko and by the leaders of the separatists, notably Alexander Zakharchenko. The Minsk Agreements have been violated by both sides. The main sticking point was that Russia refused to admit that it had troops in the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (the Donbass). The Minks Agreements (point 10) clearly stated that all foreign troops must be withdrawn. The only foreign troops in the separatist regions were Russian troops, but Russia denied that those troops existed, despite the fact that the military commanders of the separatist forces in the Donbas regions, Arsen Pavlov and Igor Girkin were not only born and raised in Russia but still 100% Russian citizens (the former was killed by an improvised explosive device in October 2016, and the latter is a Russian army veteran and former FSB officer). There is also strong evidence that on 13 February 2015 the Russian armed forces (not just Russian “volunteers”) helped the separatists lay siege to the town of Debaltseve. Russia also denied that it had kidnapped Ukrainians. The Minsk Agreements prescribed the release of prisoners, but Russia claimed that its Ukrainian prisoners were ordinary criminals. The most famous prisoners were Ukrainian air force pilot Nadiya Savchenko (the rare female pilot), kidnapped near the border, and filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, arrested in Crimea by Russian troops after Russia invaded Crimea and sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a Russian court on charges of terrorism (you can read for yourself what Amnesty International said of the trial). Ironically, they were both released in exchange for Russians detained by Ukraine, a fact which proves that there were Russian officers and soldiers fighting with the separatists. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko (who is widely seen as a puppet of Russia) openly declared, a few months after signing it, that he was not going to apply the Minsk Agreement. Putin is right that, according to the Minsk Agreements, Ukraine should have granted the separatist regions a large degree of autonomy, which presumably would have included the use of the Russian language. However, there is nothing in the Minsk Agreements that specifically mentions the Russian language. I personally think it is silly to make Ukrainian the only official language of Ukraine (thus disenfranchising millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians) but the Ukrainian government had the right to do so, and probably did so (three years later, in 2017) because it was a way to retaliate against Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia's continued de facto invasion of the separatist regions. Note that in 2017 the president of Ukraine was still Petro Poroshenko. At the time Zelensky was not in politics at all (he was an actor). But there's a more important issue that Putin forgets when he accuses Ukraine of violating agreements: in 1994 Russia, the USA and Britain signed the "Budapest Memorandum" pledging to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity if Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons. When in 2014 Putin invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea and occupied the Donbass, he clearly violated the Budapest Memorandum.
  • Who violated the agreements between the West and Russia? Putin's apologists in the West insists that NATO has repeatedly provoked Russia. That is true ( as i have written in the previous article), but that is only partially true. In the 1990s and even after Putin rose to power there was talk to admit Russia in the European Union and even in NATO. The West didn't see a democratic Russia as an eternal rival/enemy. The problem is that Russia under Putin became less and less democratic, and it became harder and harder to excuse Putin's massacres in Chechnya, the assassination of journalists and dissidents, etc. Putin increasingly stands for the values that the West stands against. Putin's behavior "forced" the West to become more hostile. So Putin is right that the West repeatedly cheated on Russia, but forgets to mention that he is the one who turned Russia (again) into a country embodying the values that the West has been fighting against for more than a century.
  • Putin's miscalculation. Putin may have deluded himself that the USA was weak and NATO even weaker because the USA has been withdrawing from the world for more than 12 years. Towards the end of his presidency Bush was already tired of his own wars, especially since the Great Financial Recession was raging in the USA. Then came the eight years of Barack Obama, who was determined not to get involved in another war and wanted to get our of both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the result that ISIS and the Taliban gained territory from the USA. Obama did nothing to defend Georgia from Russia and nothing to stop the Russians from invading Syria. The USA de facto accepted Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory in 2014. In fact, Obama explicitly spoke of a pivot towards Asia/China. Then came four years of Trump, who basically worked relentlessly for Russia's interests, signed the surrender to the Taliban and sabotaged NATO and the European Union. Then Biden withdrew from Afghanistan and, like Obama, looked more preoccupied with China than with Europe. Putin may have deluded himself that, in the middle of the covid pandemic, the USA was on its way out, and the Western alliance was weak and tired.
  • What Putin can't understand. In my previous discussion i mentioned Putin's viewpoint on Ukraine. Why is it so wildly different from the viewpoint of Europeans and Northamericans? Because Putin assumes that annexing Crimea and Donbass was a legitimate action, therefore the aggressor is Ukraine's government that kept disrupting Donbass with endless mortar shells and sniping. Putin correctly points out that 80% of the firing came from the Ukrainian side, and feels outraged that Russia suffered sanctions while Ukraine didn't. But the problem is the starting point: he assumes that it was ok to occupy Donbass. If someone occupied a Russian region, most of the shelling on that region would come from Russia, trying to reconquer it. Putin does not grant Ukraine the right to reconquer the Donbass and therefore argues that Ukraine is the one that commits most of the "crimes". The West, instead, did not recognize Russia's occupation of Donbass and therefore not only justified but even helped Ukraine in its attempts to regain the region. (Personally, i think that Ukraine is better off without Donbass and Crimea, as i have written, but that's a personal opinion).
  • The chess game between the USA and Russia. One can view the current situation as a chess game. First, the USA encouraged Ukraine to adopt the values and join the family of the West. Then Putin invaded Ukraine to teach the USA a lesson. The USA took advantage of the invasion to lure Sweden and Finland into NATO. and to turn Ukraine into a de-facto member of NATO and in fact into NATO's fighting batallion. Now let's see Putin's next move...
  • As i have written, i am very curious to find out how the USA knew with such certainty that Russia was about to invade Ukraine. No other country believed the USA, not even Ukraine itself, but it turned out to be right on target, a rare achievement for the CIA. I doubt that the CIA has found a way to eavesdrop on Putin's conversations, and in any case it appears that most of Putin's collaborators were as surprised as the Ukrainians. Very few people must have been informed of Putin's intentions. One of these people told the USA. I am curious who that person was, and what his goal was.
  • Putin has an exit strategy, the West doesn't. Putin will win anyway. Even if Russia loses militarily, Putin controls the Russian media so they will declare victory. Putin will win whether he wins or loses the war. The USA on the other hand only has one good outcome: that Ukraine wins, i.e. expels Russia from its territory. The question is not "what will Putin do if Russia loses the war?" but what will the USA do if Russia wins the war?
  • Putin has an exit strategy, the West doesn't II. It is debatable whether Putin will pay a political price at home. Putin's approval rating skyrocketed after the invasion of Ukraine. In general, Russians accept all of Putin premises: a) that Ukraine is not a real nation; b) that Ukraine is historically part of Russia; c) that nazists have seized power in Ukraine with a coup; d) that NATO has consistently violated agreements with Russia; e) that invading Ukraine is a form of self-defense. All of these premises have a degree of truth, as long as one ignores the will of the Ukrainian people. As for the economy, the invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices up, which means that Russia is making more (not less) money out of its exports. In fact, the rouble is now worth more than it was before the invasion. So much for Western sanctions... Europe desperately needs Russian gas and so Russia could even increase those prices. Germany (that wants to shut down its nuclear reactors) and Italy (that doesn't have any) are the weak links inside the European Union. Putin has strong allies within the Western alliance. Trump and his propaganda machine (Fox News) are the obvious ones, but also Orban in Hungary. Trump and Orban and all the right-wing parties of Europe will work constantly to undermine Western determination.
  • The chance of escalation is clearly not negligible. It is not a secret at all that the West is arming Ukraine. Those arms are killing Russian soldiers. If someone was arming the USA's enemy, the USA would not hesitate to bomb them. What will happen if Russia bombs a convoy of weapons while it's still inside Poland? In theory, it should automatically trigger a military response by NATO. This is a very likely scenario.
  • Why no cyberwarfare? A big mystery of this war is that there has been no massive cyberattack by Russia against Ukraine or the West. We all thought that Russian hackers had the power to strike not only Ukraine but even the USA. Did we wildly overestimate the Russian state's cyber-capabilities? Wasn't cyberwarfare supposed to be the future of warfare? Instead this war is being fought with rather old-fashioned cannons, tanks and aerial bombing.
  • Why no cyberwarfare? II Putin doesn't use the Internet and woke up late to the power of the Internet (basically when he was almost overthrown by demonstrations in 2012). The failure of the first war in Chechnya was widely blamed on journalists who created a self-defeating atmosphere. During the second war in Chechnya, Putin easily censored foreign news but didn't know how to censor domestic websites until a group of students in Siberia started attacking them, de facto explaining to Russia's secret services (the FSB) how to do it. Then in 2007 the Russian media went ballistic about a decision by the Estonian government to relocate a Soviet-era statue. Russia hit Estonia with a massive cyber-attack. That attack was the general rehearsal for Russian cyberwarfare that was then deployed in the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Estonia and Georgia were the first cases in which Russia used cyberwarfare not for domestic censorship but on foreign territory. Since then Russia has remained a major player in cyber-warfare. Notably, In 2015 Russian cyber-intelligence disrupted the power grid of western Ukraine. More recently, Russian hackers have staged increasingly more brazen cyber-attacks. In 2020 Russian hackers breached multiple US government agencies (the "SolarWind" hack) and in Russian hackers "DarkSide" disrupted a major fuel pipeline of the USA (the Colonial Pipeline) while Russian hackers "REvil" unleashed a ransomware attack on the IT firm Kaseya that provides software to thousands of corporations. So why nothing happened in 2022?
  • Negotiations - Part I The airwaves in both the USA and Europe are full of politicians, historians and journalists advocating a return to negotiations. For centuries, foreigners have been negotiating the status of Ukraine without asking for the opinion of the Ukrainian people, most recently in 2014. It is about time that the West stops negotiating over the heads of the Ukrainians and let them decide whether they want to negotiate and on what terms and for what. Ukraine is an independent country, not a colony of the European powers.
  • Negotiations - Part II Jeffrey Sachs (one of the US economists who advised Yeltsin in the 1990s during the economic collapse of Russia, from whose rubbles there emerged Putin) and others argue against arming Ukraine and in favor of a negotiated peace. The argument runs like this: the war in Ukraine is rapidly becoming a proxy war between the USA and Russia, and Ukraine is being destroyed. If you want to save Ukraine, make peace between the USA and Russia. To start with, this argument (yet again) forgets that Ukraine is a nation and that its people, represented in a democratically elected government and by a democratically elected president, should agree with whatever the powers decide. Right now the vast majority of the Ukrainian parliament (including those who opposed Zelensky) is in favor of waging war to Russia. Before Westerners like Sachs impose (yet again) their will on the Ukrainian people we should think twice: so far Westerners mainly caused problems and helped Putin become more powerful and more aggressive (and richer). And, to start with, let’s remember that the West is giving Ukraine weapons because Ukraine is asking for them. The West is not forcing Ukraine to take those weapons. In fact, Ukraine is asking for more (not fewer) weapons. The argument for peace negotiations is stronger when one examines the likely outcome of the current Western strategy, which basically consists in 1. giving Ukraine almost all the weapons that Ukraine demands; 2. slapping sanctions on Russia. It is clear that sophisticated weapons will help Ukraine prolong the war, but probably not “win” it, which translates into more deaths and more destruction. It is also clear that sanctions will not work: they haven’t worked in Iran, Venezuela, North Korea. In fact, some sanctions are sending the cost of natural resources higher which may ironically benefit Russia (the top exporter of natural resources). The argument against peace negotiations is that nobody knows what Putin really wants. If Ukraine demilitarizes and never joins NATO, and the West even removes sanctions, Putin may see it as a victory against NATO (not only against Ukraine) and feel encouraged to launch a military strike against other countries, notably the Baltic states. If the West accepts Russia’s conditions to end the war in Ukraine, it may force Ukrainians to accept a peace that they don’t want and at the same time endanger the peace of other nations. That’s the argument against peace negotiations. Both arguments are valid, and I wouldn’t pretend that I am competent and wise enough to choose one over the other. I just caution that neither is clearly better than the other, in my opinion.
  • Negotiations - Part III There is no question that negotiating with the country that started the war while that country is winning is a way to surrender. Anybody asking Ukraine to negotiate while Russian troops have taken Ukrainian territory is asking for Ukraine to surrender that territory. Foreigners may take the chances that Russia will surrender them out of good will only because it's not their land that is being invaded by Russia. Negotiating when one is winning is a lot more likely to result in a better outcome in the long run, even though in the short run it may cause a lot more destruction. That's both logic and history.
  • Negotiations - Part IV Should the West compromise on Ukraine joining the European Union and NATO? I really don’t see why, unless the Ukrainian people think so. Again: the reason to deny Ukraine membership in NATO is Russia's concerns for its security, but the reason Ukraine is asking for membership is its own concerns for its own security. Why should we care for Russia's security and not for Ukraine's security? The mother of all problems in my opinion is the identity crises of both Russia and Europe. NATO, as it is, is a problem because it doesn't include the loser of the Cold War. For example, NATO includes the losers of the World War, starting with Germany itself. The USA has defense treaties with Japan, another loser of that war. The West failed to find a way to include Russia in something larger than NATO that would reassure both Russia and its neighbors the way NATO reassures both Germany and France (despite one thousand years of wars between French and Germans). Not a single country that has become a member of Europe or NATO has lost in economic, military or political ways. On the contrary, many of them are much better off now than before. Unfortunately, Russia was left to its own, and we have to credit Putin with saving Russia from a descent into economic and political chaos.
  • Negotiations - Part V NATO could compromise on something that has always been seen as a contradiction: its mission. NATO is a defensive alliance: each member pledges to help the others if they are attacked. Serbia never attacked a NATO member, nor did Libya, nor did Afghanistan. However, NATO bombed Serbia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2002 and Libya in 2011. NATO could certainly compromise by changing its statute and explicitly forbidding members from joining other members in a war of aggression, no matter what the intentions (I personally think the intentions were good in Afghanistan and Libya, ruled by two brutal dictatorships, not so sure in Serbia). NATO should not behave like a court that decides who is guilty and who is innocent. For example, I think that Donald Trump is a scumbag, but that doesn’t give me the right to bomb his residence. The right to try him for fraud, treason, money laundering, rape, pedophilia, etc belongs to specific institutions. If they find the evidence and prove that he is guilty, there is a process to lock him up. Too many countries (starting with China) view NATO as an “offensive” alliance that arbitrarily decides whom to punish. The USA was right not to negotiate on Ukraine’s membership in NATO (that’s up to Ukraine and to the other NATO members to decide) but it could be a good idea to introduce articles in NATO’s mission that will reassure Russia and others that NATO will never attack first like it did in Serbia, Libya ad Afghanistan.
  • Negotiations - Part VI Putin got Abkhazia and South Ossetia out of his invasion of Georgia in 2008 and he got Crimea out of his invasion of Ukraine in 2014. If he gets the Donbass out of this new invasion of Ukraine, i don't see what will deter him from another invasion. "Pretty please"?
  • Negotiations - Part VII What the West could do (instead of lecturing Ukraine on what to do) is to take some meaningful action to curb Putin's appetite. The West could use Putin's logic against him: it makes no sense that Kaliningrad is Russian. It never was. Russia stole it from Germany and it is now sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. Using Putin's own logic, the West should not accept this and try to reconquer Kaliningrad (or, better, Konigsberg, as it was called for 700 years). Karelia was stolen from Sweden and Finland and should be reconquered. Chechnya was forced to remain in the Russian federation after two bloody wars that killed up to 100,000 civilians. The West could recognize Chechnya's independence just like Russia has recognized the separatist regions of Georgia and Ukraine. Japan won a war against Russia in 1905 and Japan can claim that U.S. president Roosevelt cheated Japan when he convinced Japan to let Russia keep half of the Sakhalin island. Then, at the end of World War II, Japan was forced to cede the other half. The West could recognize Sakhalin as part of Japan. In fact, the whole of Siberia should not be recognized as part of Russia, according to Putin's own philosophy: Siberia was stolen from descendants of Genghis Khan, i.e. from Mongolia. In other words, the West should not recognize Russia at all if it followed Putin's own logic.
  • Negotiations - Part VIII If Putin conquers large parts of Ukraine, he will be able to boast of quite a loot. A mostly landlocked Ukraine will become a satellite of the European Union in which the European Union will spend billions just to provide basic services and rebuild what was destroyed, not to mention the cost of resettling Ukraine's refugees outside the regions occupied by Russia. (E.g., see this article). Meanwhile, Russia will enjoy the agricultural and manufacturing goods of eastern Ukraine and the ports of southern Ukraine. In other words, Russia will be richer and Europe will be poorer.
  • Negotiations - Part IX NATO keeps saying that it wants to avoid a direct war with Russia. Putin may be testing precisely that assertion and then NATO will be in a lose-lose situation. If NATO sticks to its word, why should Putin stop his invasion? If, on the other hand, NATO prepared for an invasion of, say, Kaliningrad, or Kamchakta, Putin's calculations would be very different.
  • The Future of Russia. The cost of the war combined with the long-term sanctions imposed by the West (including the West's determination to get rid of Russian oil and gas for the future) will certainly make Russia poorer than it already is. Russia's economy is smaller than Italy's, and could become even smaller than Belgium's. Russia would become North Korea on steroids: a very poor country armed with nuclear weapons that can terrorize and blackmail its neighbors.
  • The Future of Russia II. As i have written in the previous article, Russia is on a trajectory to become a vassal of China.
  • The Future of Russia III. As i have written in the previous article i still think that Putin went to China to ask Xi to back him up, ideally with a simultaneous invasion of Taiwan. I don't think Putin went to China to watch the Winter Olympics. The fact that China is limiting its support to repeating Russian propaganda is in itself interesting. If there is one country that could make Putin withdraw its troops, that country is China. Putin would not afford to challenge both the West and China.
  • Geopolitical implications outside Europe. The longer the war goes on, the more likely that poor countries around the world will start blaming the West for the repercussions on their own economies. Those countries, especially the many that abstained at the United Nations, are actually victims of Russia's invasion of Ukraine: that's what caused inflation and scarcity of food in their region. They should have been much more upset with Russia than they were. But as the war drags on they are likely to see the West, not Russia, as the troublemaker, as the cause of their hardships. In March 141 countries voted at the United Nations to demand that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” But the West didn't ask the south Asian countries, the Latin American countries and the African countries what they thought before slapping sanctions on Russia and shipping weapons to Ukraine. Western unilateralism is another dubious legacy of the old order. Who is weaponizing the economy? Who is weaponizing natural resources like oil and gas? The West. Russia never threatened to derail the supply chain. It is Russia's invasion of Ukraine that caused food scarcities in many countries but Russia would happily resume deliveries of corn and wheat if the West gave up on Ukraine. After all, the USA stole California from Mexico and China invaded Tibet, so these "third-world" countries may start wondering what's the big deal if Russia annexes Ukraine, which is certainly more closely related to Moscow than California was to Washington or Lhasa was to Beijing? The decision to slap sanctions on Russia and to arm Ukraine was taken unilaterally by the Western alliance, but that also means that the West will be held responsible for the consequences. The West may pay a higher price than Russia in global politics.
  • The fundamental problem remains that we don't know what went on in Putin's mind. The world is suddenly full of experts on Putin, but the reality is that we just don't know what he was thinking. Reactions to his actions should depend on what his thinking was and is, on his goals, and therefore it is really difficult to have an opinion on which reactions make sense.
  • There is only one thing on which RUssia and the West agree: that Ukraine is important.
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