This is my take on the war in Ukraine. I have included some Youtube channels that I think have some reasoned thoughts on the subject. It will take you many hours to watch them all. Only military and policy geeks need apply.
But first, here is an interesting blog from the POV of a refugee from Crimea.
The war is Russia’s fault. Putin in specific. I did not see a delegation of Russians in Kyiv in the days before the invasion feverishly working on a resolution. As a general rule, the folks who fire off the first missiles and roll tanks across the border without making the slightest attempt at negotiation are “at fault.” That’s the end of that.
Putin did make a couple of demands of NATO, part of which was kicking out existing NATO members. He knew they couldn’t be fulfilled. Just about every major European leader made a pilgrimage to Moscow to try to work things out. Every one of them came back saying Putin isn’t interested in negotiations. Offers of mediation by neutral countries weren’t just rejected, they were ignored.
One of the clauses in the NATO charter is that a country must have no border disputes in order to join. So in 2014, when Putin’s little green men infested Crimea and Donbas, Ukraine became ineligible. Their chances were already zero due to opposition by other NATO member countries who took Russia’s security concerns more to heart than we did. Worrying about Ukraine joining NATO was just a pretext.
Now, if you know about Putin’s speeches and his previous writings, it is pretty obvious he did not believe Ukraine had any right to be an independent state. To get to that conclusion he had to ignore centuries of history as well as the Memorandum of Bucharest – that Russia signed – which promised to protect Ukraine’s borders and soverignty. But he is a great man, in the mold of Stalin and Peter the Great. He can reach whatever conclusions he wants.
One gets the sense that Putin really believed Russian troops would be welcomed with flowers – or at least meet little organized resistance. It is written all over the assault on Kyiv. One of the prices one pays for the isolation of being Czar is that nobody will tell you when you’re full of shit.
I go through all this because it is pretty obvious to me that short of a pro-Russian coup in Kyiv, nothing was going to stop the invasion.
We’re now pumping arms and ammunition into Kyiv as fast as they can absorb it. Most of the legacy Soviet gear – and the western gear that is easy to learn – has been sent. We’re currently limited by how fast we can train them on western systems. Stuff like M777 howitzers and HIMARS rocket launchers take time to learn. The question is… should we?
There is a line of thought that says that war is simply bad and if we don’t send weapons Ukraine will be forced to fold and it will be over and many lives and resources will be saved. We should be encouraging Zelinsky to sue for peace at whatever price the Russian will offer. If you don’t think the results matter beyond ending the killing, that’s a perfectly reasonable approach. Pacifists would hold to this.
It is also a reasonable approach if you don’t care about the results beyond reducing the risks of Great Power conflict. If the Ukrainians start to win, it will back Putin into a corner and he maybe might feel an existential threat and go nuclear. We should be encouraging Zelinsky to sue for peace at whatever price the Russian will offer. Might makes right. That’s the neoRealist school of foreign policy. Very similar to what we’re hearing from Henry Kissinger.
The Ukrainians feel the war is worth fighting. That is what matters. As long as that is true, I’m willing to help. Political freedom, economic freedom, freedom of conscience, national soverignty. If there is a “good” war to be fought, then surely those values are what make it worth fighting.
I guess I’m not a neorealist. I want the Ukrainians to win and I think there’s a measurable chance of it. Winning for Ukraine is denying the Russians their initial victory conditions. To win they need to keep a viable democracy, a viable economy, and independent foreign relations. Brownie points if they can kick the Russians back to their pre-Feb 24 lines of control. OTOH, so far the Russians have lost in just about every way a country can lose. International prestige? Economically? Strategically?
As far as I can tell, the war on the ground is coming to a grinding stalemate. No victory there, though Putin will spin it. A lot of Russian boys go take some empty buildings that they just rubbled. They “win” the rubble but now have a lot of dead Russian boys. If Russia manages to keep Donbas, do they have a plan to rebuild it? The land itself is of no military value except to launch an attack from.
And it appears today that the Ukrainians killed yet another Russian General.
Thinking about another thing. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Iraq again. None of these were declared wars. Putin must be copying the US playbook. Maybe full war status would evoke too much protest. At least now, in theory, only volunteers have to fight in Ukraine. Calling up vast numbers of conscripts might raise eyebrows, take workers out of vital industries, and it would take months to train them. Maybe he can’t afford full mobilization. Maybe he doesn’t have the weapons to arm any more troops than he has now. Already pulling T-62s out of the reserve stockpiles. Tanks that are 60+ years old.
The Russians are not a global superpower. They haven’t been since 1989. Nuclear weapons will deter anyone from threatening Russia directly. OTOH, they have neither the draft age population nor the economy nor the technology to do anything other than bully their neighbors or small third world countries. A superpower wouldn’t have fallen flat on its face in Ukraine. There’s no knocking them out of their place – they aren’t in that place.
Of course, we want Russia’s forces drained. There are Russian politicians on television declaring that Poland is next. Poland knows this and is Ukraine’s biggest ally in the war. Every former Warsaw Pact member lives in fear of the return of Russia. A triumphant Russia would then easily take Moldova as a light snack and potentially move on to lightly defended NATO territory. If the Russians are worried about having their military forces drained, all they have to do is stop fighting.
Nobody imagines that an invasion of Russia would be anything but a massive blood bath, probably ending in mushroom clouds. OTOH, an invasion of NATO offers no such threat unless Russia used them first. Most of NATO’s eastern flank countries are small and have almost no military (2% of Estonia’s GDP doesn’t get you much) and trivial NATO forces on hand (out of concern for Russia’s security interests). They could be snapped up before we could react and would not take kindly to being vaporized by their allies in the process of chasing the invader out. Nukes to defend the eastern flank are out.
Europe really wants nothing more than to suck on the straw of cheap addictive Russian energy exports and go back to sleep. They can’t do that with a militant and aggressive Russia in their backyard. Why can’t you just play nice?
I really don’t give a damn about Russia’s “security concerns” because they are made-up excuses for war. Nothing changed in 2021 or 2022 to provoke this. Putin had simply been building his forces up until demographic pressure and a crappy economy wouldn’t let him build them any farther. Germany and other parts of Europe were addicted to Russian energy. Half of NATO was turning pacifist, even the US President had called to end the alliance, and after Afghanistan, the US appeared weaker than ever. He saw a chance and went for it. He was blinded to his own weakness by pride and by advisors who were really sycophants. Real security comes from mutually beneficial relationships and Russia threw them away.
If Trump were still President, it might have worked.
If Ukraine gives Putin a bloody nose, so much the better. The USA has surely withdrawn from our own share of failed expeditions. Russia hasn’t since the 80s. Maybe they need to relearn the lesson.