This is not organized.
Putin is a fucking idiot. Most authoritarians appear to be; they get intellectually lazy because they are used to being able to tell people to do things, and have their minions bend over backward to make things work out non-disastrously. The problem is, that when you’ve been doing that for a while and the wheels haven’t come off the clown car, yet, you haven’t yet figured out that Rudy Giuliani is driving you to the Town and Country for your press meeting – or some equivalent of that. When you’ve taken to being publicly petulant like Putin has, ordering people that annoy him murdered with signature chemical warfare agents, and you get away with it for a while, it really distorts your belief in what’s possible. I guess that’s a problem with believing in the power of possibility: it actually has no power, it’s just a matter of whether your minions can make the possible real.
My guess is that Putin, right now, is really, really pissed off at everybody including himself. None of that will help him in the slightest, but I’ve got to imagine that his brain is a seething mass of “fuck me!” and “what if?” and the ‘what ifs’ are a slim minority. He has advanced himself into a corner. At least he didn’t attack Moscow in the winter, or Stalingrad or Kursk, but he seems to have forgotten slavic peoples’ have a long-standing military tradition of taking tremendous punishment and they just get surlier and surlier the whole time. [I think this is a learned behavior, not something in some sort of slavic genome] but it’s just weird that the president-for-life of a great and surly nation has decided to attack a smaller and still quite surly nation. What the fuck did he expect? Russians have never excelled at the blitzkrieg and arguably the Germans didn’t, either. They excel at getting surly and taking punishment until they can take over-the-top revenge. As an armchair military historian and strategic genius, I always felt that the dictum “never fight a land war in asia” should be shortened to “don’t fuck with the Russians” and Putin’s basically “the Russians” fucking with “The other Russians” (ok, I probably pissed off the Ukrainian contingent of my readership, there, but it was intended as a compliment of sorts)
[Unrelated, Curtis Cate’s From The Jaws of Victory has a great chapter called “the tiny lion and the enormous mouse” which is, of course, about Charles XII of Sweden and how Sweden attacked Russia and the mind boggles. Charles had issues. So did Peter the Great. Some of Peter’s issues were Charles. It’s how the game of monarchy plays out. I loved that book when I was a teenager and it’s on my recommended reading list]
So, I think it’s safe to say from the beginning that Putin’s military expectations were the kind of thing you get when you take Rudy Giuliani or Jared Kushner’s advice: whacked. That may go a ways toward explaining why he decided to execute this very bad idea. On top of that, it ought to have been obvious to him for the last couple of years that there’s a significant “let’s blame everything on the Russians!” lobby in Washington and that they are powerful, self-important, well-funded, and would go absolutely batshit over Russia launching an aggressive war. I’m sure he didn’t expect the degree to which everyone is piling onto him for simply doing something that great powers have always done (hell, the US’ record is demonstrably worse) but he’s even got McDonalds refusing to sell Big Macs in Russia, now. And Facebook is cutting them off, which will ensure that Russian productivity and literacy skyrocket.
There are two things that I think are demonstrably true:
- Most modern wars don’t result in much. We are no longer living in the imperial age where someone conquers part of, say, Belgium, and declares it forever theirs. Until the next war flips its ownership, and there’s always a next war.
- The US and USSR had a “cold war” from the 1950s to the 1990s, at which point the USSR conclusively lost. Now, Russia, with fewer resources than the USSR had, is getting into another cold war and – what the fuck does Putin expect to happen? It didn’t work the last time and arguably the USSR was in a better position. Putin has looked at his menu of options and picked the “fight you will not win” platter with a side-order of crunchy defeat and humiliation for dessert.
Another reason I’m going to say that Ukraine is a strategic disaster for Putin is that we’ve already seen that the US and its allies are happy to sneak advanced weapons to the Ukrainians and let them do the bleeding and shooting and everyone is going to do some dying. Advanced nations don’t win insurgencies against poor rice farmers in pajamas and they really don’t win insurgencies against more technologically advanced nations that are being fed weapons in a steady, metered, dribble. The Red Army is still an amazing thing and Russia’s potential for fielding a massive force is definitely a thing too, but it turns out that there were lessons that superpowers should have learned in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. One of the things that Hitler was pretty good at was diplomatically threatening and disorienting his targets so that his attacks were more effective. Also, Hitler played on ethnicity (in every way) – unlike the US in Vietnam, Hitler could appeal to existing populations, e.g: “we all speak German so lets fuck some people up, OK?” Anyhow, Putin has marched his army into a situation that amounts to a pre-made insurgency. The US is going to ‘Afghanistan’ him. Again. A lot of Ukrainians will die because of those US foreign policy decisions, but what does anyone expect? The US obviously does not give a shit about the Ukrainians; they’re pawns. The US was already setting up an insurgency in Ukraine for Putin to have to deal with and now he’s walked face-first into it.
Now, what about the threatened nuclear war? Again, Putin’s being an idiot. I’ve written before that the US has been fairly consistently cheating on arms control treaties, in order to develop weapons systems that are possible war-winners. A nuclear war would still be a massive disaster for all of humanity, but if Putin looks like he’s serious about putting out a launch order, he’ll get a nuclear war all right, but it’ll be a pre-emptive strike by the US on Russia. The US is not a bunch of gentle people who are going to stand around chest-thumping. We are crazy genocidal bastards who should never have been allowed to build a nuclear arsenal. It ought to have been the world disowning the US the way everyone is disowning Russia now, all along. Too late. Putin knows what a bunch of horrible bastards we are and we have unlimited ruthlessness. I don’t believe that the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” still applies – and I’m afraid that the US will convince itself that it has to do the horrible thing to all those poor Russians because, of course it will. The post-Soviet Russians don’t have great command/control and have centralized power in the same way that the US has: there is a small chain of command that can trigger the release of the nukes. I’m sure that both sides have their people in that chain and if someone makes that fateful decision, it’s not going to be a big exchange, it’ll be a lopsided slaughter and the winner may also lose a few cities, but not many and certainly not all. If that happens then the slaughter will be two rounds of horror. There are multiple cruise missiles, right now, with Putin’s name on them, or rather, with his coordinates programmed into them. The new variable-yield pinpoint explosion bombs eliminate the “mineshaft gap.”
Do you realize that nuclear weapons are illegal? Basically, every country except the nuclear superpowers agreed to a treaty that says that nuclear weapons are illegal. [un treaty] 50 nations have signed onto it. They ought to call it “the mice voted to bell the cat treaty.”
The ban prohibits countries from producing, testing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons. It also outlaws the transfer of the weapons and forbids signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed in their territory.
Poland has not ratified that treaty. Germany has not ratified that treaty. NATO countries, of course, are following the US lead in giving the world the finger. I’m guessing it’s because of the “stationed, installed or deployed” bit, and they’ve still got enough human decency to want to be honest about the fact that they’re holding nukes for the Americans, ready to go.
Putin’s complaint is that the US has surrounded Russia with a ring of fire, and he’s right. And his response to that ring of fire is to threaten? What the fuck, Vlad. It’s just like the cold war scenario: a nuclear war may be unwinnable but if you go that way, you’re damn sure going to lose one.
It’s not going to happen, but I wish this situation results in an increased (not lethally increased) awareness in the younger generation that nuclear weapons really are a thing. That the governments of the world that talk about freedom and self-determination have also prepared hellfire for them, in case they exercise too much freedom and self-determination. Young people have to learn from this that, yes, nuclear powers build those weapons so that they can threaten ultimate horror and that they’ll make that threat unhesitatingly the moment they are severely balked. Obviously Putin shouldn’t command a nuclear arsenal, but that’s only because none of them should. They are all ready to kill us.
“I probably pissed off the Ukrainian contingent of my readership, there”
I’m curious how blasé you’d be about the possible reaction if you were to describe the situation in Palestine as “basically the Arabs fucking with the other Arabs”.
Reginald Selkirk says
I think it’s interesting which weapons it is OK to give and which it is not. Shiny new fighter jets are out, tanks are out. Poland wanted to donate some Soviet-era Mig-29 jets, but apparently the Pentagon just found out and is having a melt-down. But missiles are OK.
The West Is Giving Thousands of Tank and Aircraft-Busting Missiles to Ukraine
Reginald Selkirk says
I was musing the other day about how modern technology might improve anti-tank weaponry. Most existing weapons are delivered in one of two ways: Either they fly through the air like a missile or artillery shell, or they get planted in the ground and explode from there, like a mine.
The first step would be buying some used tanks and blowing them up in various interesting ways. Where, actually, are their vulnerable spots? What if you plug the gun barrel? Are there any ports to get to the occupants? What about the engine, or knocking off the treads?
Then I have in mind something that gets planted like a mine, but doesn’t stay there. When a tank is within range and it gets triggered, it has some limited robotics with which it climbs out of the ground, perhaps climbs up the tank, and applies its explosives to the tank in the most efficient way.
This isn’t new. It has been going on in places like Syria and countries in Africa for some time. The Russians actually did reasonable well in these little proxy wars. In remote countries not US allies the US was willing to give up and leave when it got expensive because the US didn’t really care. And is common for tyrants of all types Putin’s ego eventually got inflated too far. The people around him wrote up long reports saying victory was because of Putin’s superior leadership and the quality of the Russian military when in reality it was because the US, the EU and China all couldn’t be bothered to spend more then whatever change they happened to have in their pocket.
Russia has also, not so much with advanced technology but with number of ready missiles. How many they actually can launch at the drop of a dime right now? Probably nobody knows, not even Russia. I do think they can make a big enough mess it won’t matter who theoretically won the war. Russia will lose more cities for sure but nuclear winter and radioactive contamination will make victory pyrrhic.
… and take away some toys from the Russians.
The Guardian has an interesting article which mentioned e.a. two seemingly unrelated things, killed Russian generals, and the “super expensive Russian military cryptophone system Era” having stopped working:
My guess is that the cryptophones have US-American chips in them that were developed or altered with the help of some three-letter-agency at Fort Meade. And that voiceprints of Russian generals are stored also at said location.
Interesting recent statements by Russian spokesperson. They emphasize more the protection of Crimea and Russian backed independent territory. They may be outright lies but they may be angling for declaring victory and going home. Likely both depending on how the war goes.
The city of Kyiv is ancient, and it has always been populated by a mix of different cultures and ethnicities that are absolutely not Russian.
Kyivan Rus’ wiki
Varangians are Norse, but they had no problems intermarrying with their neighbors and trading partners. The trade networks reached from North Africa to Siberia. The Varangian Guard were elite military units in the Byzantian empire. Rus’ is the genitive of the name Rurik.
Kyiv has been a distinctly Eastern European city for 1200 years, and it’s also a perfect trading hub as long as you also control Kherson and Odessa.
Ukrainians are not Russian anymore than Canadians are American.
Reginald Selkirk says
That raises an interesting question: in a battle of nuclear winter vs. global warming, who wins?
Well, first off let’s be clear: we lose. This is an academic question, not a realistic one. And I’m ignoring the radiation effects entirely.
I expect nuclear winter would dominate in the short term. I am seeing numbers like “1 to 4 years” or “a decade.”
But global warming is a longer term threat. Vaporizing lots of things might have a short term spike in CO@ emission, but wiping out a large portion of the human species should severely roll back the use of fossil fuels. But I believe the amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and similar such greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere are enough to supposedly have an effect for centuries.
I prefer my global warming without nuclear fallout. I’m sure the US state department has been screwing with Ukraine for awhile now, and that there are oil contracts and pipelines driving the politics.
All that attempted brouhaha over Hunter Biden probably has a grain of truth, like any good lie.
It’s not just farcebook (not a typo), some are calling on ICANN to cut off and isolate the entire Russian internet. ICANN refuses to, claiming “it will isolate Russians from information”. As if they aren’t already. At the very least, ICANN should stop Russia from having SSL, leave their websites exposed.
(Sidenote: I loved how the Russian military were forced to use unencrypted phone because they destroyed the Ukrainian cell phone networks. Hilarious.)
The US and others’ argument against a No Fly Zone was fear that Ras-Putin would use nukes in response. I don’t buy it. He’s stupid, but not that stupid. This shouldn’t just be a repeat of Afghanistan, it should be a repeat of the Libya-Chad “Toyota War”, which the Chadians won against a superior force by unconventional fighting. The Russian army is just as immobile, slow, and poorly trained (plus bad morale) as the Libyans. Make it a No Fly Zone, do like the US did in Afghanistan: give the Ukrainians stingers and anti-tank weapons. This will be over in a month.
Marcus Ranum says
I was not adequately clear that I was talking culture, not blood lines. I reject the idea that there are such things as bloodlines and have posted my reasoning before.
Ukrainians are not Russian anymore than Canadians are American.
In terms of culture, that’s right, unless it comes down to the poutine.
Marcus Ranum says
The MOAB that the US made its grand guignol demonstration of in Afghanistan was a thermobaric. What’s the big deal? I think the warheads on hellfire missiles are, too. It’s incompetent journalism to be making the ooh aah sounds over that.
@12 Man on street corner admits he’s wearing a hat.
Cutting off the internet would interfere with the ability to wage cyberwar and isolate the Russian people from any information. They know their sons and husbands are deployed, and protesting is being criminalized. The populace is being kept as ignorant as possible by the putinistas.
Making sure they can still communicate with the rest of the world benefits everybody but Putin.
Now if they could just do something about the troll farms.
Reginald Selkirk@3the Javelins and NLAW missiles that are apparently proving so effective in Ukraine do take advantage of a known weakness of tanks. They’re top attack weapons, which hit the top of tank turrets, where the armor is much thinner than the front and sides.
One thing this war may do is hurt exports of one of Russia’s major exports, weapons. Foreign buyers may lose trust in the effectiveness of Russian arms given how badly many of them seem to have done.
I was enlisted USMC infantry about two decades ago, and the weapons companies (maybe platoons? I was a medium machine gunner, I didn’t know/care what the mortars and assault kids were up to…) were starting to play with the Javelins back then. and from my perspective, the USMC is pretty slow to take up new (and typically expensive) weapon systems… very big on “tradition” and similar nonsense, and very willing to send the grunts in with old, out of spec, barely “serviceable” gear…
It ain’t exactly new technology (although, to be fair, I don’t have any clue what currently is…), but from what I remember, it was pretty much a point-and-shoot-and-walk-away deal – shoot it at the armor/tank, the projectile has some sort of on-board computer and optics (?) that would sorta “track” the target during flight, and as it neared the target, eventually fly up, and then come pretty much straight down on top of it. As others have already mentioned, from what I remember, most tank armor was initially designed for fighting head-on/other tanks/etc., so pretty heavy on the front, not so much on the top
I did so many miserable training drills where I had to provide “security” for a tank. I really hate tanks. like, you tankers think 5 mph is slow, well you get out here on your meat legs and try and keep up with a full pack, weapon and ammo…
So, I’m doubly glad to hear of Ukrainians destroying tanks, both that they are resisting a numerically superior military force, and also because, fuck tankers…
Alan G. Humphrey says
One of my random cold war thoughts is about motivation. A possibility is that Putin has found a perfect way to enrich Russia in the long term by disrupting the world economy and moving coordinated responses to global warming farther into the future. Even with all the talk of replacing expensive oil and gas there is going to be a big increase in their use just in the responses to this war and its impacts, not to mention the use of oil and gas to build the infrastructure needed to more quickly make these energy efficient products. In the end Russia gets an ice-free Arctic Ocean and a bread-basket Siberia while much of the world has to deal with rising sea levels, and they don’t.
Marcus Ranum says
Alan G. Humphrey@#17:
A possibility is that Putin has found a perfect way to enrich Russia in the long term by disrupting the world economy and moving coordinated responses to global warming farther into the future.
That’s far from the craziest thing I’ve heard. But it seems too strategic for someone like Putin, who is looking at the end of his political life in the near future.
Eh, Canadians are basically half-frozen Americans. From the outside the distinction is fairly minor. East/West and urban/rural cultural elements overshadow a lot of national cultural differences.
On the inside, ho boy are there differences, but from a bird’s eye view they are essentially indistinguishable. Just like Rob up there would say about Fucking Norwegians. Look all the same from up top, and you basically couldn’t distinguish a Dane from a Norwegian from a Finnish-Swede, it looks a lot different when you’re on the ground. It’s really a matter of scale and perspective. For example there is a currently ongoing fun debate about what it means to be Norwegian and you have it between 3rd gen immigrants who feel, but aren’t treated as Norwegians, and ‘natives’ who get treated as Norwegian, but don’t feel like that means anything. It’s details all the way down, and they matter when you are there, but it’s really, really hard to get a grasp on it from the outside. It doesn’t quite absolve Markus’ shorthand, but I think it’s relevant.