Don’t bet on Russia in Ukraine

So parts of eastern Ukraine now belong to Russia, forever, or so Vladimir Putin tells us.

Nice expanded country you have there, Russia. Now let’s see if you can keep it.

It’s perfectly okay for these new areas to be part of Russia though because the citizens there voted to join. Of course, about two thirds of them left when the war started, mostly westward. The Russian army’s main task this week has been to force residents there, sometimes at gunpoint, to “vote”. So it’s not surprising that they did. Who knows whether 98% of them actually voted to join Russia or not but it clearly wasn’t a fair election. These areas are unlikely to be recognized as part of Russia by many countries.

No vote was held in Kharkiv though because Ukraine forces routed the Russians from the area in a surprise offensive they easily won. Now reportedly Ukraine also controls the city of Lyman in Donetsk, supposedly now part of Russia.

Russia’s hold on these territories is fragile at best. Thanks to the courage of Ukrainians and tons of western armaments, Ukraine has shown it has the determination and ability to retake its country through a grinding war of attrition. Russian forces have proven inept for the most part, and succeeded only in pulverizing urban regions with artillery. Oh, I guess they’re also good at war crimes, according to many reports. You don’t want to be a woman in an area of Ukraine occupied by the Russians.

Here’s a good bet: this war is already lost and the Russians have lost it. Whoever has the most will and money wins these things. It’s why the United States was doomed in Vietnam. The best Russia can hope for is that in some nebulous future “peace talks” they keep a sliver of the area they occupy now.

Putin thinks that by mobilizing 300,000 new reservists he can turn this thing around. He threw his best forces at the Ukrainians when the conflict started. These new “forces” will be draftees for the most part and will likely be sent in with minimal training and arms. Much of the arms there have been destroyed, and withdrawing Russian forces have left lots of what remained behind when they hastily withdrew.

The news is reasonably censored in Russia, but it’s not completely censored. YouTube and the Telegram app is available, and they provided Russians who wanted to know the real story with the information they needed. Many of these men are beating hastily retreats outside of Russia if they can. They know if drafted they will just be fodder for Putin’s slaughter machine.

Naturally, Putin is busy raising the threat levels, threatening to use nuclear weapons if necessary. It’s not clear how he could “win” such a war with nuclear weapons. It would kill a lot of people and most of the animals in the area, even if only low yield weapons were used. The radiation levels would likely be toxic to his own forces nearby, or will be when the wind shifts. It’s unclear what value a devastated and depopulated land would be to anyone, even Russia.

Ukraine’s latest tactic is to apply for NATO membership. It’s unclear if they would be admitted, but they’ve proved to be tenacious fighters. Since Russia started this war, Finland and Sweden are likely to be admitted to NATO, making them effectively unconquerable by Russia. Ukraine is sort of part of NATO already, in that they are getting tons of aid and guidance from NATO countries. NATO forces just aren’t actually engaged in any combat.

Effectively, Russia’s worst enemy has turned out to be Vladimir Putin. His tactics have completely backfired and his latest bluster looks more like the actions of someone backed into a corner. At this point, most of his own people aren’t fooled by how badly he botched his invasion.

The one area where he may change some minds is by cutting off supplies of gas and oil to Europe. We’ll see after one winter after a lot of people are freezing if they will endure a second one, with Russia’s pipelines so conveniently nearby. Largely due to the war, inflation is going through the roof in most European countries, and efforts to get new energy supplies from elsewhere may take years to affect. When spring happens, we’ll have a better idea of how effective this policy has been.

But Putin’s 300,000 soldiers will mostly be on paper. There simply isn’t the capacity to quickly replace the lost armaments needed to wage a war. It’s unclear if these new soldiers can even be properly fed. Many of these soldiers are highly vulnerable. There are only a few bridges from Russia into the region still standing. They could be easily be taken out by long range artillery or fighter jets, effectively trapping Russian forces inside of it. That’s probably part of Ukraine’s strategy to route the Russians. They are waiting for the opportune moment. Most likely though with mud season beginning, we can expect little change until the ground hardens again.

We do know that in the interim the Ukraine army can be resupplied and that Western commitment to provide the funds and expertise needed for them to keep going seems endless. It’s the Russians who will have the serious logistical problems.

Putin though appears to prefer to live in his surreal fantasies instead. Real life should have informed him of his real options. His choice to ignore reality will only continue to draw Russia deeper into debacle and folly.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proves land wars are so 20th century and democracies are valuable

A week ago, when Russia invaded Ukraine, I remember going to bed feeling upset and morose. I didn’t sleep well. It was a strange reaction to events half a world away, but it’s good to know I was not alone. Lots of Americans are feeling the same way. The invasion of Ukraine has permeated American society the way few events do. It’s woken up pretty much all Americans and they don’t like what they are seeing.

So far Ukrainians have surprised the world by resisting the invasion extraordinarily well. Thankfully, the world is rallying to their side. Almost nobody is rooting for Vladimir Putin, with Donald Trump perhaps being the exception. A lot of Republicans are probably rooting in secret, but it quickly became toxic for Republicans not to support the Ukrainians.

I detected a bit of racism in Americans’ support. There was a lot less concern for the indiscriminate bombing by the Russians in Syria, likely because it’s not a predominantly White country. In Ukraine it’s a war of Whites against Whites.

Part of the reason I didn’t sleep well though was because I understood its magnitude. We thought we had won the Cold War in 1991 when the USSR fell, but this feels like it’s back on again. But the real reason for my disquiet was because this was the first major war in Europe since World War II. I literally was not alive during the last one. Like it or not, we’re in a whole new ballgame.

The world’s reaction to the invasion has been heartening. Russia is virtually alone because really there was no valid justification for it. The pretexts for the invasion were laughable: it was to go after Nazis in Ukraine. And Ukraine’s president is a Jew!

When even Switzerland is thinking of sanctioning Russia, you know just how upset most countries are at Putin’s action. It’s hard to see how Putin wins this. He may succeed in occupying the country for a while, but he can’t keep it. Ukrainians won’t allow it and the rest of the world will provide the resources to make sure they can keep at it. If their goal was to keep NATO in check, it’s much likelier now to expand it.

Moreover, the Russian Army has proven staggeringly inept. Their equipment is old, they can’t seem to maintain supply lines and the resources they need to keep it going are being cut off. Much of its army consists of conscripts and clearly many do not have even minimal training. The Russian Army has clearly degraded and is beginning to resemble a Potemkin village.

The invasion has also paradoxically breathed new life into flagging democracies. When they can see on their TV exactly what it means to be ruled by an autocrat, most people accept the systems of government they got. At least it’s familiar.

Until the invasion, Putin has projected the illusion of competence and tenacity. The invasion proves he is incompetent, as it was obviously a fool’s errand to invade in the first place. In the 21st century, it’s almost impossible to win a conflict through military means, and a win is almost always an illusion and temporary. It’s why we finally got out of Afghanistan last year and our war with Iraq proved such a debacle. You can’t win a conflict where you can’t win the vast majority of hearts and minds. The last conflict we won convincingly was World War II, in part because Japan was an autocracy, and the word of its emperor was enough to end the conflict. These conditions largely don’t exist anymore.

Democratic values are values increasingly not cherished here in the United States. But this horrible invasion may provide an opportunity for Americans to stay with democracy, despite its flaws. No system of government is more stable than one that represents the view of those who are governed. Through gerrymandering we’ve managed to turn our country into one that resembles Russia’s oligarchy. Unlike Russia though we have an opportunity to change course, if we are smart enough to learn from Putin’s unfolding debacle.

What is Putin afraid of on Ukraine?

About a hundred thousand Russian troops are amassed along Russia’s border with Ukraine, ready to invade the country on Vladimir Putin’s command. Whether this actually happens is problematic and it may amount to a lot of saber rattling.

Since 2014, when Ukraine peacefully elected a democratic leader and legislature, it has petitioned to join NATO. It’s choice of democracy was worrisome; but its desire for NATO membership is what Putin is really worried about. Over the decades, Russia’s formerly closely-aligned states on its west have mostly aligned themselves with the West and joined NATO.

His worry about Ukraine joining NATO is not too hard to figure out, as there is more than a millennium of history that shows Russians and other empires can and will invade Eastern Europe and leave behind a lot of death, misery and carnage. Borders in this area of the world are quite fungible. Countries like Prussia and empires like the Holy Roman Empire controlled large swaths of these countries in the past. They are gone, but instead of Mongrel hordes, it’s now mostly Russia which is the threat. Russia likes satellite states on its west to act as a buffer between it and the republics of Europe.

You may have heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Back then the United States was acting a lot like Russia is now. When a foreign threat got too close to our shores, it became unacceptable. The Soviets then wisely withdrew after a tense standoff, and Cuba went back to being officially communist but not a real threat to our national security. Short range nuclear missiles in Cuba though were a real threat for which there was almost no time to react.

Subsequent U.S. presidents have remained exceptionally paranoid. Ronald Reagan’s CIA replaced freely elected governments in Central America with mostly despotic banana republics that we controlled. Reagan eventually sent in the Marines to occupy Grenada in the far West Indies because its citizens had some socialist leanings. Grenada is about 1500 miles from the United States mainland.

From Russia’s perspective, the West is encroaching on it. Since 2004, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia have joined the European Union. All these countries are on or near Russia’s borders. Most of these countries also now belong to NATO. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are no longer Russian buffer states. Basically Belarus and Ukraine are the only ones left for Russia. Imagine if Mexico, the Bahamas, Bermuda and most of the Caribbean were socialist or communist states. We’d be just as alarmed as Russia, if not more.

Ukraine though is culturally and ethnically very tied to Russia; much the way Canada feels tied to the United States because we (mostly) share the same language and dominant ethnicities. If Canada became a communist state, we’d probably feel what Putin is feeling now. We’d be deeply alarmed. Eastern European states want to belong to both the European Union and NATO because they want protection from Russia, which has a history of invading or controlling them. They also like the taste of freedom that comes from being democratic states.

So it’s not surprising in the least that Putin is very alarmed. He wants assurances that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO. If it is, there’s no reason short range missiles can’t be placed there, able to lob missiles at Russia before it can do much in the way of responding to them. He’s feeling cramped in.

Here in the West we wonder what all the fuss is about. I doubt very much that Joe Biden wants to change Russia’s system of government, which is a de-facto autocracy with the illusion of free and open elections. He wouldn’t mind if it happened, but Russia is too big an entity to invade. If it happens, it will happen from within. The United States though is in favor of stable and democratic governments, well, at least some of us are. The Republican Party is of course working hard to subvert democratic government here because demographics are turning against them. Republicans are now completely comfortable with autocracy, providing they are in charge, and many don’t want to lift a finger to help Ukraine.

Putin doesn’t want real democracy in Russia. They tried, sort of, after the end of the Cold War, but communists were quickly replaced with oligarchs. It’s no wonder our Republican party seems so friendly to Russia as it is effectively a party captured by oligarchs. It’s no wonder that Donald Trump wanted to align the United States with Russia, as he felt much more comfortable with autocrats and oligarchs. The whole idea of representative democracy has never agreed with him and, increasingly, with the bulk of his party.

Putin’s interest is likely mostly self-serving. He’s an oligarch worth at least tens of billions, but if Russia were to become truly democratic, it’s likely his wealth and status as an oligarch would go as well. But he likely does read Russia correctly, in that it’s a generally deeply conservative country. Democracy is not likely to fit it well, or at all.

As for what Russia will do, my betting is that no troops will invade Ukraine. But I do expect we’ll see some low level cyber warfare instead, which can probably be attributed to Russia but will mysteriously be missing the electronic footprints to prove it. The United States and its allies are likely to respond in kind.

Occam’s razor makes Trump’s treason look obvious

Back in 2002, when I started this blog, I was looking for a theme. Occam’s Razor obviously came to mind since I thought it would have a largely intellectual bent. It best explained where my head was at, since the principle that the simplest solution was the most likely one is borne out in so many aspects of life. There wouldn’t be many posts on this blog though if I only discussed Occam’s Razor. Today though I return to my original theme to state what looks painfully obvious to me: Occam’s Razor plainly tells us that our president is a traitor.

There are other explanations out there but even for Donald Trump these other explanations look ridiculous. For example, I could go with the solution that he is a reflexive narcissist and such a complete dunderhead that even he has no idea that he is a traitor. I can’t discount this altogether but while Trump is pretty dumb and incredibly self absorbed, he’s not that dumb. If he is, well his narcissistic personality disorder is one for the textbooks.

Yesterday’s widely panned press conference after his two-hour “summit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki though should have made even the most partisan Trump supporter reel. Even for them, it should have been one of those “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” moments. Trump is so eager to please Vladimir Putin that he will take his word that the Russians had nothing to do with trying to influence the 2016 elections and throw the entire U.S. intelligence community under the bus if necessary.

Just late last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russians for hacking into our election systems and political party websites at the behest of the Russian Federation, which is to say at the behest of Vladimir Putin. He identified them by name. A federal grand jury confirmed these indictments. This means in the unlikely event these people come to trial the evidence against them is solid. This evidence was accumulated by our intelligence agencies. Rest assured they have the goods on them and could prove their guilt in a court of law. This is because we have a vast (though at times imperfect) intelligence system that collected voluminous data on them. It’s so voluminous that Putin is likely astonished by its breadth and specificity and is wondering what spies he has in his government.

While these twelve are likely beyond the reach of our government, the same can’t be said about Mariia Butina, a Russian who arrived here a few years ago on a supposedly student visa and who was arrested yesterday for attempting to set up back channels between the Russian Federation and the Trump campaign. It’s not like there is any question about her guilt. She did a great job. Ask Donald Trump Jr. Ask the NRA, which met with her and apparently illegally channeled Russian money into its election fund to elect Trump. At least we have custody of Butina. It’s unlikely she will be a free woman again, at least not for many decades.

When following a trail, sometimes you only have a few breadcrumbs to go on. In the case of Trump’s collusion and treason there are large turds (and scattered Chicken McNugget containers) every ten feet along this trail.

It’s all in plain sight. (“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Later that very day, the hacking began.) Doubtless Robert Mueller is piecing it all together and I doubt he is breaking a sweat finding the evidence. But also ask yourself: what would you want from a U.S. president if you were Vladimir Putin? Would you want a president that would try to break up NATO as well as the G7? Someone that would start trade wars and call our closest neighbor Canada an enemy? That would okay Russia’s annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine? That tacitly supports Russia’s support for Syria? Can you name one thing that Trump has done that Putin would find offensive?

It’s not hard to see how Trump was compromised. We know for a fact at Russian oligarchs kept him in wealth through the Great Recession through loans via Deutsche Bank, facilitated by soon to be former Justice Kennedy’s son. (Curious that he resigned after he had appointed his law clerks for next year.) Trump looks up to his hips in money laundering, mostly by Russian oligarchs paying inflated prices for his condos, likely at the insistence of Putin. No Russian agent had to break a sweat trying to compromise him; the only thing he smells is money and like a bloodhound he follows it with single-minded focus.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, Trump has been compromised and has been used by the Russians for a long time. They simply could not have picked a better Manchurian president. Russian intelligence plays a long game. They baited him decades ago, fed his vanity and ego and played his family like a fiddle. They also played the Republican Party by feeding its obsessions and vanities. We saw this when they changed the party’s platform on Russia and Ukraine. No other explanation comes even close to being plausible.

Republicans are in denial but I’m betting that the astute ones know they are supporting a traitor. Many of them don’t care. They are democratic in name only; and freedom is a principle that only applies to people in their socioeconomic class. Like Trump, most of them love the idea of an authoritarian government, as long as they are in charge and thus feel some kinship with a dictatorial regime. Trump sees Putin and a Russian alliance as part of a great white hope strategy. By aligning with other bigots he can perhaps make America white again and use Russian resources to do it.

The only problem is that he swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and its derived laws. He’s obviously doing the exact opposite. Because of this, he should be impeached and convicted, but this depends on a Republican Party with a spine it no longer possesses. It’s quite possible though (yet still unlikely) that after a disastrous midterm they will finally inhale the smelling salts and throw this bloated orange bastard overboard. After impeachment and removal, he should be tried for being the traitor that he is and has been.