How Not to Lose a World War between Authoritarianism and Democracy

Joe Biden just announced a second round of sanctions retaliating against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. To understand what he said, it helps to think of the challenge facing Biden: how to avoid losing a World War between authoritarianism and democracy.

Vladimir Putin not only wants to reassert a Russian empire, he wants to do so as a dictator. This is about far more than preventing a democratic Ukraine on his border. Rather, he has been working to discredit the liberal order — both its real hypocrisy, and its claim to work better than authoritarianism — for decades. To do so, he needs to break up US hegemony, split the western alliance, and hopefully, dismantle democracy in the United States. He needs to do so while sustaining his own rock solid hold on power in Russia.

As noted, I think he believed he would have easier early success than he had. I think he believed he could peel off allies (on top of Hungary) within both NATO and Europe, as well politicians and the public within alliance countries. I’m sure he still believes he can use gas supplies and inflation as a weapon to chip away at democracy over time. But thus far, I believe that Biden’s success at undercutting Russia’s efforts to create a casus belli and his ability to achieve some unity thus far made Putin’s gambit far riskier.

Biden emphasized his success in making it clear that Russia was the unjustified aggressor that at the beginning of his presser.

So here’s how to think of Biden’s presser as an effort to not lose a world war between authoritarianism versus democracy.

1. Don’t let it become a world war between authoritarianism versus democracy

As Russia launched its attack last night/this morning, China clearly didn’t know what the party line was yet.

Statements this morning seemed to indicate fairly broad support for Russia’s efforts, with China’s foreign minister expressing support for “Russia’s legitimate concerns on security issues.” Later in the day, while still refusing to call Russia’s attack an invasion, China’s Deputy Foreign Minister declared that, “China is closely following the development of the situation. What you are seeing today is not what we have wished to see,” Hua [Chunying] said. “We hope all parties can go back to dialogue and negotiation.”

China is going to — and clearly had already committed to — help Russia mitigate the economic impact of the response to its action. China shares Russia’s belief it should be able to impose military domination over its sphere of influence (in their case, Taiwan and the South China Sea).

But China has far more to lose from an economic crash and a total split of the world than Russia.

Biden’s not going to persuade China to help isolate Russia. But if he can prevent China from fully backing Russia, he will stave off the worst possible outcome: a world war pitting authoritarianism against democracy.

When he was asked if China would back sanctions on Russia, Biden could have said, “no,” because I’m sure they’re not doing so. But by stating that, he would have incited cries to crack down on China, which is the last thing the US wants right now.

He didn’t answer because it’s not the right question to ask.

Update: The NYT reports on the unsuccessful US effort to get China to stave off this war. It will be interesting to see if China felt they were misled by Putin.

Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials.

Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works. After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said.

2. Retain the tools of hegemonic power

The US has gotten far weaker in the last two decades. But it still retains the tools of global financial hegemony, which is what it uses to impose its will, and which Russia has been aggressively targeting since at least 2006. Russia made exposing America’s abuses of its access to the SWIFT financial messaging system a priority in its efforts to delegitimize US power, most notably with Shadow Brokers releases but also, to the extent it could control such things, the Snowden leaks. And since 2014, Russia and China have put the framework in place to roll out their own financial messaging system to bypass SWIFT.

That system would not replace SWIFT anytime soon. But if it were up and running it could provide an alternative to SWIFT for toxic regimes, undercutting America’s ability to use SWIFT to make human rights demands.

I suspect that’s one of many reasons why Biden did not announce SWIFT sanctions yet. He claimed (and I’ve seen experts on Iran sanctions say the same) that the other bank sanctions (in part, limiting Russia’s ability to bank in Dollars, Pounds, Euros, and Yens) he imposed are just as strong. But one reason to impose financial sanctions via US and UK banking systems rather than SWIFT is because US and UK banking systems remain a lot more irreplaceable right now than SWIFT.

3. Don’t antagonize your allies

The bigger reason why Biden didn’t kick Russia out of SWIFT yet is because key allies — Italy, Germany, and Cyprus — aren’t willing to do that yet. Part of this has to do with buying Russian natural gas. Part of it has to do with their trade with Russia.

All three countries have lagged other allies but are coming around (and as noted in this post, a new coalition government in Germany is still getting its feet wet).

So in the meantime, the US and UK can accomplish much of the same goals by expelling Russia from their own financial systems.

In the meantime, Finland and Sweden look much closer to joining NATO than they ever have before (and will attend a NATO summit tomorrow). In other words, Putin’s insanity may lead to the expansion of NATO, not its fracture.

4. Keep the public happy

Underlying the SWIFT decision and others, of course, is minimizing the impact of inflation, especially spiking gas prices.

Europe is not prepared to forgo Russian gas yet, and won’t be until temperatures get far warmer (and fall-back measures involving gas from Qatar and other sources have been proven).

The need to mitigate the impact of this war on consumers is something democracies have to deal with and why Putin thinks authoritarian government is better! But it’s a key reason why European countries cannot entire isolate Russia, at least not yet.

Update: See Adam Tooze on the exceptions to the sanctions that largely undercut them.

5. Increase Putin’s volatility

When Putin first planned this (as I keep saying) I imagine he thought it’d be easy to manufacture a casus belli that would make it easier to achieve his goals both domestically and internationally.

That failed.

That will make it far easier to isolate Putin internationally.

It will raise the cost of the operation, which seems to have contributed to real apprehensions among Putin’s closest advisors (both his intelligence chiefs and some of the Oligarchs, and even some military officials).

It has also led a significant number of Russians to protest, an unbelievably courageous step. Thousands of Russians have already been arrested, yet more are coming out to protest the invasion.

Perhaps Putin believed he would be hailed as a hero, like he was when he annexed Crimea. Instead, cousins are being sent to kill cousins and a brave handful of Russians are objecting to the barbaric act Russia has taken on.

As it happened, Biden announced a ton of sanctions on Russia’s top banks and some of Putin’s top flunkies. But not on Putin himself. He simply didn’t answer a question about whether the US was doing that.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s the case. Partly, Putin’s wealth is a lot harder to pin down (and some is held by others, who may have been sanctioned).

Whatever the reason, though, the very best kind of political pressure one can put on Putin is via his Oligarchs. Without their consent, his own power would be far more tenuous.

So while I doubt that’s the reason the US sanctioned a bunch of oligarchs but not Putin, it might have the effect of exacerbating whatever discomfort his closest allies have with this action.

Vladimir Putin prefers authoritarianism because its easier to coerce legitimacy than negotiating it. That’s true. It would be far easier if Biden could order China to stay out, if Biden could order Germany to buy off on greater financial sanctions, if Biden could ignore right wing efforts to use financial stress to undermine his Administration.

He can’t. That’s what makes defending democracy all that more difficult. That’s why the sanctions weren’t what the public expected.

Remarkably, however, Biden has done a better job at persuading allies than Putin has at coercing them.

215 replies
  1. scory says:

    100%. And what many people commenting about the Ukraine situation have failed to understand is that none of this solvable by either/or options. Biden provided thoughtful, nuanced options and gave as much information as is prudent — and no more, even when baited by the (mediocre) WH press corps and outright hacks (Peter Doocy).

    • Whirrlaway says:

      It doesn’t make sense to talk about Putin’s “personal wealth” as if he were an ordinary billionaire oligarch. His emerging position is that he owns Russia, to hoard nickels and dimes would be demeaning. Anything he has a real attachment to would be in the care of functionaries (who fight for the privilege). I can see Biden as disrespecting Putin by not attacking what Putin regards as inconsequential, kinda like outing his battle order.

  2. Charles says:

    There’s a great deal western countries can do on their own to weaken Russia. If they got serious about money laundering, started enforcing the tax code, and put a stop to the sort of dilatory taxes the rich use to escape justice, that would be a major step.

    The sheer volume of lies that Russia pumps into our information system endangers our democracy. silencing it isn’t the answer, but exposing it is.

    The Republican Party needs to be confronted on how its political tactics help our enemies. I’m sure that the Republicans would scream if Biden devoted five minutes of his State of the Union to the issue, but it might help.

  3. Rugger9 says:

    Digby has a useful summary of something I’d mentioned before, the stuff Putin has stashed away while being officially frugal. I’m sure much of this is echoed in the Panama Papers (which seems to have gone under the radar), but it also makes it possible that Putin has his oligarchs on a leash.

    The PRC is probably going to help Vlad until it becomes dangerous to them, if for no other reason than it diverts Western attention from the South China Sea area where they have their own plans for conquest. How about the rest of OPEC blunting the Russian leverage by upping their production?

    While it won’t make an immediate withdrawal happen, the inability of Putin’s Russia to raise funds to pay for all of this adventure will be pretty effective and Biden’s comment of checking in a month is about right. As we saw from the last couple of financial meltdowns under Republican administrations, when available credit dries up the economy falls apart and I would predict that Putin will leave before he’s dragged through the streets..

      • TooLoose LeTruck says:

        Gawd… the final line from that article at Foreign Affairs:

        “In a house with more than three times the floor area of the White House and on a vast estate more than 86 times the area of Camp David, Putin is free to indulge his heart’s desires as his country crumbles around him, impoverished by the sheer rapaciousness and incompetence of its president and his accomplices.”

        I’ve never thought of Putin as a sane, rational person but this is a ‘Roman Emperor/French King’ degree of excess…

        Also from the article:

        ” this is not the abode of a confident ruler but the lair of an overgrown manchild.”

        Helps explain why Putin’s comfortable choosing to attack Ukraine…

        Perhaps he’s simply run out of things to steal in Russia…

        • cmarlowe says:

          Oh for those halcyon days when the Leader had to at least answer to the Central Committee. I’m thinking that was better than what we have now.

        • Rayne says:

          I have to wonder how much of this “overgrown manchild” is pure narcissism, or if it’s a cultural thing, or both. He has no sons that I know of, only daughters, so he’s constructed nothing to pass on for the future but merely to play in now assuming a cultural preference for male heirs.

          The invasions Georgia resulting in the occupation of Abkhazia and former South Ossetia, the invasion and occupation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine since 2014 — these are his legacy.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          Ret. General Barry Mc Caffrey was just on MSNBC saying that he thinks Putin is acting bizarrely. He said that Putin’s speeches recently have been full of crazy things like drug deals and Nazis.

          He feels that whatever is going on with Putin is making the situation many times more dangerous.

        • vicks says:

          Putin has always been cruel but calculated, now he is acting as if he has nothing to lose.
          Too Hollywood, I know, but what if he’s sick?
          A madman looking to go out in a blaze of glory for the motherland.
          Because he can.

        • Leoghann says:

          There have been several opinions reported of Putin’s seeming unhinged lately, including one by Finnish president Sauli Niinistö based on an in-person meeting last October. This article quotes him.

          And in a speech in Russia on Thursday, Putin said the purpose for the invasion was “the de-Nazification of Ukraine.” That fits what Gen. McCaffrey said to a tee.

          Also, has anyone noticed that his head seems rounder than it was? In an older person, that can be a side effect of heavy doses of steroids.

  4. Bobby Gladd says:

    I’ve just been going through long Twitter threads of ad hoc smart phone videos showing large anti-invasion street protests in major Russian cities. Mostly younger crowds, people who are not buyin’ Putin’s shit. Heartening, given the courage it requires to do that in Russia these days.

    • timbo says:

      Maybe the younger adults in Russia don’t want to spend a significant portion of the next few years carrying a gun in Ukraine? Yeah, echoes of Afghanistan don’t just reverberate in the US…

  5. nadezhda says:

    Excellent observations, especially on how tricky managing the US-China-Russia triangle will be. Folks looking for another Sino-Soviet split are going to be disappointed, but China and Russia aren’t firm allies either. So getting China to take a stance of benign neglect would be a victory.

    To add to the geopolitical variables, S. Korea, who’s very touchy about borders and sovereignty have indicated they’re all in on the sanctions. Plus the Biden folks appear to have lined up Japan’s cooperation. Why would China want to rile up things in its neighborhood when it doesn’t get that much from Russia.

    One nit – final word should be “them” not “it”?

    • timbo says:

      China certainly wouldn’t mind occupying portions of the RFE if they could get away with it. They’ve got their eyes on expansion in the Pacific and, for the moment, chiefly, reunifying Taiwan with the mainland though…hopefully? Another interesting point is that the only country that has more organized (as opposed to not organized) military and para-military manpower to draw upon than China is Vietnam.The Vietnamese have already fought off the Chinese once and they’re definitely aiming to do it again if China tries to be expansionist down their way; Vietnam definitely will call up folks if China becomes expansionist again.

      • gmoke says:

        Read a Japanese manga about a Japanese businessman working termporarily in Vietnam. One of his Vietnamese co-workers told him that the Vietnamese are the strongest people in the world because they beat the French, they beat the USAmerican, and they beat the Chinese.

        Might be accurate.

        I visited Vietnam just before COVID19 and was extremely impressed with the craftsmanship and diligence of the Vietnamese people.

    • emptywheel says:


      And yes, Blinken et al are doing real diplomacy of the sort we really haven’t had in some time. (I think Obama was willing, but Blinken is doing a much better job at hand-holding, it seems like.)

      • nadezhda says:

        Agreed, very high marks for degree of difficulty and (so far) execution. Blinken and Biden are trying to both lead from the front and from behind.

        It’s extremely tricky. Frex, how far do you trust Macron not to go off on a frolic of his own, when by letting him take some visible leadership you’ve made him implicitly take ownership of wherever the allies together come out. Similarly how far do you lead with publicly sharing intel to push the allies to take the threat as seriously as it warrants when they’re reluctant to believe the worst case scenario. Same story of eventually getting Scholz to Nyet on NS2 while holding off Congress.

        I think the Biden team has been especially lucky to have Stoltenberg as a familiar steady hand at the helm of NATO to help manage intel sharing and divergent expectations and threat assessments. He’s a trusted interlocutor for the anxious Eastern European members, especially the Nordics, Baltics and Poland.

        The biggest disappointment is Borrell as whatever the title is for EU foreign minister. His main jobs seem to be scheduling meetings of the Council and getting press releases out. Of course the EU’s role in all this is awkward. But the EU is also central, given that the Ukrainian protests were Euromaidan, not NATOmaidan, that the EU has non-NATO members like Ireland who will participate in the EU’s sanction package, and that much future economic and political support for Ukraine will be at the EU, not bilateral level. It sure would be nice to have another Javier Solano around.

        The one pleasant surprise has been Ursula van der Leyen. I caught her speech at the Munich conference. She was quite impressive and appeared to be thoroughly in her comfort zone. Then I remembered, duh, she was Germany’s defense minister. I expect she and Michel are together picking up the slack with the Biden team left by Borrell’s uninspiring performance.

        Now if our team in Vienna could just get the JCPOA across the finish line (strangely enough with a lot of Russian help). One of the hallmarks of great diplomats is knowing when and how to compartmentalize.

        • Rayne says:

          I keep hoping negotiations on the JCPOA come off successfully and soon, because Iran is sitting on the second largest proven reserve of natural gas making it the logical alternative supplier to Russia for EU’s needs.

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t know that this isn’t the reason the Saudis refused to increase oil production to reduce gas prices when Biden asked them a week or two ago. Could have been an expression of dismay over JCPOA progress — which their buddy Trump exited — and/or a concern they needed to grab money while they could before they were cut out by Iran.

        • Leoghann says:

          Along those same lines, the biggest, and almost only, association of shale-oil drillers and producers have announced that they plan to keep their production flat and not do any new drilling for the “foreseeable future,” no matter how high the price gets.

          It’s entirely political. They know that the high price of fuel is one thing that’s keeping Biden’s popularity down, and MBS has the same viewpoint. But most of those guys are a pretty patriotic (small p) bunch. The Ukraine situation may change all that.

        • nadezhda says:

          Right you are. It would also be helpful for oil prices if Iran’s supply were to come back onto a very, very tight market.

          Energy supply and prices are just a couple of reasons among many that the US would benefit from getting the JCPOA back in force.

          Unfortunately those very benefits are a double-edged sword, since earnings from energy exports would be a big boost to Iran’s government revenues. And we couldn’t have that now, could we.

          It’s one in a long line of excuses from the folks who insist they’re in favor of a deal, just not *this* deal. I’m afraid we’re currently cursed with Menendez in the chair of Senate Foreign Relations. Not that most of the senior Dems on the committee would be that much better. On bad days I simply despair.

        • Yogarhythms says:

          Sl, and comm’s,
          Water in my eyes reading Patterns by Amy Lowell. Thank for your hope honesty and courage.

    • Rugger9 says:

      It might have been pointed out elsewhere, but one other reason that Putin has to win here is the People’s Republic of China. Recall that the 1904-1905 Russo-Japan War exposed the Russian Empire as a paper tiger, and Siberia has lots of minerals and probably oil too, which is something the PRC currently lacks. While the Western powers are distracted in Ukraine, and Putin (if he’s bogged down for an extended period of time) will be unable to respond it might be a golden opportunity for Xi to snatch some territory.

      Something I wonder about is that Putin hasn’t thrown in all of his troops yet, instead trying to get the Ukrainians to roll over like the Kaiser tried and failed with the Belgians in WW1. It’s something that echoes back to Clancy’s fiction book Red Storm Rising where the ‘A’ units were being held in reserve for a strike toward the Persian Gulf. However, that reason would not apply here since Russia exports its oil. So what is Putin waiting for? Are these troops headed for the Baltics? They seem to be out of place if they are, and NATO is already alerted to their presence and their threat.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The US and UK banking operations are essential parts of global money laundering systems, to which Russian oligarchs (and others) must be addicted. Sanctions that restrict access to them by the top 50 or 100 oligarchs might be effective, but would take time. They would also invite domestic opposition by US and UK elites that profit off those transactions, which would complicate keeping them in place long enough for sanctions to bite.

    • Kenster42 says:

      Exactly. There’s a reason why they call it Londongrad. Belgravia et al are littered with wealthy Russians and the banks are filled with their money. London and New York bankers are not just going to give up their profits to stop a war in Ukraine. Similar situation with petroleum. There was a very good piece about this in the NYT today. Unless very powerful people in the US and the UK decide to make significant sacrifices for themselves and their respective citizens, this situation is not going to get better anytime soon. And Putin is betting on those powerful people deciding to look the other way and keep the money and gas flowing.

  7. greengiant says:

    Everyone has more cards to play. Putin has so far committed only a fraction of the buildup. Ukraine has drones.

      • timbo says:

        Announcements on the 26th from NATO nations about shipping arms to Ukraine ASAP means maybe they won’t run short in defense of their country—hope aid arrives in time to stop the invader’s from gaining/keeping the upper hand.

  8. Chetnolian says:

    One of the reasons the US hasn’t banned Russia fromSWIFT is because it can’t. SWIFT is based in Belgium. The US could at best persuade. Unity in this exercise is so vital that strong arming its own allies, as the US did over Iran, would be poor international politics. And Biden is good at international politics.

  9. Eureka says:

    Biden knocked it out of the park today too in terms of uniting reasonable Americans who might otherwise gripe about him/ the state of the union (so many Never Trumpers proud of their 2020 votes).

    Wildly unpopular opinion (apparently I’m solo in the ‘pro’ column): AnnaLynne McCord’s well-timed video was some CIA-level craft.

    • skua says:

      Strange times. A celeb does nuance. I notice Biden has been too. I’ll join you in the pro column.

      Those of us with Trumper contacts could experiment using nuanced and eloquent dialogue presented with gravitas, utmost calmness and deep listening with them. The null hypothesis is that this will not awaken their discursive mind out of the FoxNews-induced binary fantasy.

      • Eureka says:

        Cooling the mark takes many arts so it’s certainly worth some tries.

        Technically (sociologist Erving Goffman*), a player _within_ the con scheme does the cooling before the mark is let go so they’re not all vengeant vs. the conman. But we with our relationships of however much trust with adjacent Trumpers can take a version of that role and use tailored talk to help let them down out of their fantasies so they don’t feel *publicly* humiliated in their process of leaving him. Shame is by definition the most social of feelings but leave that to cascade privately as applicable.

        I find that empathy for/taking the reporting voice of _other_ marks helps when dealing with Trumpers, too [“I can’t tell you how many vets I know who are disgusted with Trump for _____”; examples]. Note Trump does a low-rent inversion of this part, recruiting sunshine — but with dishonesty, and to inflate himself — with his “People are saying” / “The Generals” / “Sir” stories. Here, instead, you are letting them feel not alone in their betrayal, a betrayal which they might give voice to for the first time because you’ve created that space.

        Plus with some of them it’s best viewed as an open reprogramming process (as with the ever-growing propaganda streams and angles). One I know who never had a problem with vaccination met a new pal at the gun club or work or wherever who filled him with incomprehensible nonsense (websites with “data”-lookups were involved, too). He took it on enough that he hadn’t bothered to get his booster.

        As to nuance and true interpersonal dealings, I think his surprise at my surprise (that this was going on), helped further this convo along. Rich elements matter.

        Straight-up truth does have gentler parts, such as explaining the origins or steam of these ideas in foreign-scaffolded information warfare, where very real Americans like his new friend (but not _him_ of course — yet. Let personalization and ownership emerge voluntarily) get duped and spread it as true believers. You could hear his oh-shit dawning of mortality salience when I said, “And you’re too old to FAFO with this”. The bubble just burst right then and there.

        I always learn a lot in engagements like this with folks who are Trump(isms)-vulnerable.

        • Eureka says:

          *I’ve long done an automatic/effortless version of this. Last year — in anticipation of this year’s 50th anniversary of Goffman’s paper on ~ con-jobbing victims/process — sociologist Brooke Harrington wrote a long thread breaking down Goffman and as I recall it how Trumpers are uncooled marks stuck in the cult, later an article [“Vaccine Refusers Don’t Want Blue America’s Respect – The Atlantic”].

          But she unnecessarily limited the power of social change — getting our fellows and nation(s) out of this long-con — to conservative “coolers” (e.g. prominent GOPers changing course to support vaccination, so their marks stay/move with them).

          Better to find the twitter thread as I recall it was much more informative on Goffman’s work, explaining the dynamics in a way that you can adapt to pertinent scenarios like I describe. Or just get the Goffman paper (“On Cooling the Mark Out: Some Aspects of Adaptation to Failure”) and cogitate, permutate as needed.

          It’s funny because I recall writing a few years back here (to the now-absent Jockobadger, heya if you’re reading) to use your status in common group memberships to persuade and skua asked me how to go about that. Here’s now a piece.

          Look at it this way: if you know a Trumper you are in some type(s) of ingroup status with them. Use it.

  10. BobCon says:

    He needs to have sitdowns with AG Sulzberger, Bezos, the heads of Disney (ABC), Comcast (NBC/MSNBC), ATT (CNN), Paramount (CBS), Hearst (AP) and even Zuckerberg and lay out the stakes and remind them of the role the press played in WW2.

    Not as puppets of Roosevelt, but as people like Edward R. Murrow, William Shirer, AJ Liebling and Janet Flanner who were tough but honest reporters who never lost sight of the higher cause of defeating fascism and preserving democracy. Dean Baquet blandly defending regurgitating 2016 fake scoops with Giuliani sourcing can’t cut it anymore.

    • Rayne says:

      I think he needs to sit down with the entire boards of directors of each — not just the uppermost leadership because they can be compromised in a way the entire boards can’t be since board members often sit on more than one board across different industries.

      Media business models in the US cannot and should not support fascism; their existence and protections arise from democracy and apparently they need to be reminded of this.

  11. Molly Pitcher says:

    On IG, Occupy Democrats just posted that the hacktivist group, Anonymous, “takes down the Russian state propaganda outlet,, in retaliation for Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine.”

  12. klynn says:

    My history of peace movements mentor would be so encouraged by the size of the protests.

    I once told him there would be a day where a Babushka Brigade of thousands of moms, grandmothers and great-grandmothers would march for peace.

  13. Marinela says:

    It is refreshing to see the US president working hard, with integrity, to protect US and the rest of the world in the face of pure evil.
    Can only imagine how Trump would’ve used the war to line his pockets and make himself look like he resolved anything. All for his benefit and re-election.

    • Leoghann says:

      It would have been far worse than that. As soon as the Russian troops started to mass on the Ukraine border, he would have capitulated like he did to Turkey (and Russia) in Syria. The fate of the Ukrainians would have rivaled that of the Kurds.

      • RWood says:

        The fate of the Ukrainians will soon be that of the Kurds. It’s days away at this point, and should never have happened.

        We have a 490 ship Navy that includes 14 Carrier Battle Groups, 7 Marine Expeditionary units, and dozens of destroyers and submarines.

        We have an Air Force with bombers that can reach any point on earth undetected and that are backed up by a swarm of 2500 fighters.

        We have 6,000 tanks and 6,500 attack helicopters.

        We spend more than the next 21 countries combined on defense and 20 of them are our allies. We’re the leader of the largest military alliance in history.

        Yet we can’t prevent one of our allies from being invaded??

        So I have to ask, what are we spending all that money for? It’s certainly not deterrence!

        I’m disgusted by this whole thing. Putin didn’t take Ukraine, we let him have it.

        • Bill McCann says:

          We did no such thing. And it’s no help to suggest otherwise.

          [Nice to see you again at emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; you used “William D McCann” last time. If you prefer the current one please stick with it. Thanks. /~Rayne]

        • Rayne says:

          Give me the legal basis for doing something more than providing material and service support.

          How much of the current problem is a direct result of not having taken the threat to Ukraine more seriously since 2008 — and again, give the legal basis for taking more action since 2008, given the changes in presidential administrations in Ukraine during that period of time.

        • RWood says:

          Legal basis?

          First, show me where Putin cares about the legal basis (other than lip service). Otherwise, the debate is already over.

        • bmaz says:

          That is a silly and impertinent response. Whether Putin cares is completely irrelevant. There is no AUMF, so unless it is part of a NATO action approved by the UN, there is no legal basis for US interaction. Your position, such as may be, is ludicrous and not helpful.

        • harold hecuba says:

          Ugh. Seriously? I’m an idiot and even I know we can’t just waltz in there like John Wayne or Bruce Willis or, or…or Tony Stark and start kicking ass and taking names. The world doesn’t work like that. This “just cut the fucking Gordian knot” isn’t really a truism, and doesn’t even remotely address the implications of what cutting that knot would do.

          There are no good options here, which, unfortunately, is sometimes what happens on the world stage. I WISH we could just go in there and kick ass and take names. But that opens up a whole new set of problems ’cause we don’t operate in a vacuum, and, yes, there are actually laws that we should and need to follow.

          How would you like it if we let cops break laws to catch criminals…wait. Don’t answer that.

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah, perfect examples, fictional cowboys and comic book superheroes. Our contemporary version of fairy tale magic.

        • earthworm says:

          Or, if “fictional cowboys and comic book superheroes” approach — we need more Tintin & Snowy, patiently untangling the clues and solving the impediments, less John Wayne.

        • Rayne says:

          This is a democracy as compared to Putin’s autocracy. Our government can’t take action without the consent of the people obtained through their Congressional representatives — in other words, obtaining the legal basis for action. The debate hasn’t even begun if Congress isn’t having one about more aid.

          Christ, have you not been visiting this site long enough to see us protesting the myriad times the U.S. government has acted outside the Constitution and legislation — in essence acting outside the consent of the governed?

          Nor can the U.S., from an entirely different hemisphere, pull up and start shooting without consent of Ukraine’s autonomy and sovereignty. Has Ukraine formally asked the U.S. government to provide boots on the ground? Have you given a lick of thought to why Ukraine might not do that? Have you paid any attention to Biden’s statement the U.S. would adhere to the policy of “nothing about you without you”?

          If you feel the U.S. should be doing more, stop bitching here in comments and contact your House rep and your Senators. Give them your spiel so that they perceive consent to do more. Again, this is a democracy. Fucking act like it instead of taking a leftist approach to the same autocratic movement the insurrectionists have been taking at acting without consent.

          I’ll even spoon feed you the phone number: Congressional switchboard (202) 224-3121

        • RWood says:

          This is not my first unpopular opinion here and I doubt it will be my last, but I’m going to let it fly anyway.

          I admire this page, and everything Marcy does here, I really do. I also enjoy reading and learning from bmaz, Rayne, and the other commenters. But the commentary has one distinct slant to it: every debate here happens with the idea that the law and the courtroom are all that matters and that everyone views and respects those laws equally and without challenge.

          If only that were so.

          Putin cares about the law only in the sense that it limits any action being taken against him. He knows, and I’ll quote bmaz here “ there is no AUMF, so unless it is part of a NATO action approved by the UN, there is no legal basis for US interaction.” So Putin does what he wishes knowing that NATO’s hands are tied. He’s aware of every restraint there is on the US and NATO, and he’s proven several times already that he’s quite willing to use them against us. He tortures, he poisons, he annexes, he imprisons, and he does these things repeatedly and at will, confident in the fact that we lack both the stomach and the “legal basis” to do anything about it. We’ve proven him correct multiple times. Now we’re once again looking to the law to solve our Putin problem. It’s not going to happen. He entered this war with contingency plans in place to counter any and all actions taken against him and his supporters.

          So pointing out what is legal or illegal in regard to the invasion of Ukraine is just an exercise in futility. GWB never saw the inside of The Hague and neither will Putin.

          Ukraine is now Russia. Zalensky will be either dead or imprisoned for life soon. The tanks will dig in. The snow will melt just in time to build new defensive positions. Summer will arrive. Putin will relax, knowing that it’s ten times harder to remove him than it would have been to stop him beforehand. Western leaders will make a lot of speeches. The US will turn its attention to the next election and the latest celebrity scandal. Emboldened by his most-recent victory Putin will clear the table of the Ukraine plan and pull out the one he has for the Baltic states.

          We can debate the legal ramifications for years, call each other idiots, dismiss each other’s arguments and raise our own for months to come, but I doubt it will change anything.

        • bmaz says:

          This just continues your previous silly and impertinent comment. Again, it is about OUR laws, not what Putin thinks or does. You need to understand that, and not just repetitively blabber things that are bunk. Don’t gaslight our readers.

        • Rayne says:

          You need to make up your mind whether you believe in liberal democracy or not, because that’s the fundamental question at issue.

          Liberal democracy is not inflexible; laws change with the will of the people. Anyone in this democracy has the ability to organize and lobby for change. You appear uninterested in making the effort.

          You also appear not to believe this is worth the time, that some autocratic figure should simply take the zeitgeist’s temperature and do something. Which is pretty much what Trump and Putin and Lukashenko and their ilk offer though the zeitgeist they choose to measure is what serves their interests.

          I won’t speak for Marcy, bmaz, Ed or the rest of our contributors, but I’ll be goddamned if I apologize for believing in democracy over autocracy.

        • Kenster42 says:

          I’ll jump in here on the non-legal, tactical side. It’s complete lunacy from a geopolitical perspective to think that we can put US troops or significant materiel en masse in Ukraine. Are you truly suggesting that the US fight a ground war against Russia in the winter?

          The second we put a single US troop with a gun in Ukraine we’ve crossed a line that has not been crossed since WWII, and we know how that ended.

          I would also say, RWood, that if you truly think this is a good idea I’m assuming that you’ll pick up a weapon, get on a troop transport and stand post at the Ukraine / Russia border, because otherwise you have zero credibility. I’m tired of armchair posters speaking so glibly about sacrificing American lives.

        • Leoghann says:

          They’ve been doing that, and committing our young people, since the Fifties. Why stop now? It’s been months since a large number of servicemen died in a foreign country.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          A stunning lack of understanding about how states engage in warfare, about the kinetic warfare happening now in Ukraine, about the psychological aspects of it of the type practiced for decades, and about the political and legal requirements for engaging in armed conflict.

          The level of strategery implicit in your list of resources is akin to a group of truckers setting off from California and assuming they’ll have the funds, fuel, and associates to form an army of occupation along the entirety of the Beltway. That their aims would have to be abandoned by the time they got to Phoenix was a dead cert. In the case of Ukraine, however, the attempt would most probably lead to global war.

        • timbo says:

          Your so-called facts about current military strengths in the world are nonsense. Also your supposed willingness to risk all out nuclear war at the drop of a hat is not a bright idea.

        • Leoghann says:

          While I believe a case can be made for our having taken much stronger action to Putin’s first incursion into Ukraine in 2014, there wasn’t much chance for that. Hillary Clinton was no longer Secretary of State, and Vlad felt like he could get away with things. The case for the Crimea being historically a part of Russia was made, and it convinced enough people that Russia’s incursion was warranted.

          The problem is, it isn’t 2014, Hillary Clinton is out of government, and we can’t revisit that. In an <a href=";
          interview with the Washington Post through his lawyer, Mikeil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, talks about how he has learned Russia must be dealt with.

          But more importantly, it isn’t 1949, and amazingly, you seem to have forgotten that. Russia did not donate its nukes to the UN in 1989. And this is not a Marvel Comic. Your opinion is not just “unpopular,” it’s a wild, dangerous fantasy, along the lines of “I’ll release the Kraken.”

        • Leoghann says:

          While I believe a case can be made for our having taken much stronger action to Putin’s first incursion into Ukraine in 2014, there wasn’t much chance for that. Hillary Clinton was no longer Secretary of State, and Vlad felt like he could get away with things. The case for the Crimea being historically a part of Russia was made, and it convinced enough people.

          The problem is, it isn’t 2014. In an
          interview with the Washington Post through his lawyer
          , Mikeil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, talks convincingly about how he has learned Russia must be dealt with. But Ukraine isn’t Georgia, and it isn’t 2008.

          More importantly, it isn’t before 1949, and amazingly, you seem to have forgotten that. Russia did not donate its nukes to the UN in 1989. And this is not a Marvel Comic. Your opinion is not just “unpopular,” it’s a wild, dangerous, untenable fantasy, along the lines of S. Powell’s “I’ll release the Kraken.”

  14. Philip Jones says:

    From the U.K. Thank you. Another post full of insight from Dr. Wheeler. Could an alternative title possibly be ” How to prevent a World War…..”?
    President Biden has played his diplomatic and economic cards extremely well, but is part of the price of preventing a world war to be inevitably, and sadly, that Ukraine will lose its independence?
    The U.S./NATO/Western Europe and the U.S.S.R. /Warsaw Pact/ Russia have never engaged in armed conflict because of the possible escalation into nuclear warfare and M.A.D. Perhaps this was Putin’s calculation. President Biden did all that was possible to deter the invasion but could not prevent it short of risking a nuclear war. That’s the realpolitik.
    It’s difficult to see how Ukraine can be supplied with armaments now that Russia controls the land, sea, and air entry points. Punitive action on Russia appears to be the only option.
    But we should realise that this is Putin’s invasion – not “Russia’s” or the anodyne “Kremlin’s”. Words matter, let us call it as it is.
    If Ukraine had been a NATO member would it still be an independent democracy, or would we be in the first stages of a world war? We will never know.
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “It seems that the sentiment of humanity evaporates and weakens in being extended over the whole world, and that we cannot be affected by the calamities in Tartary or Japan the way we are by those of a European people. Interest and consideration must somehow be limited and restrained to be active”.
    Have the nations that are now supporting Ukraine truly considered it up till now with “sentiment and humanity” or rather as a geopolitical entity?

    • Rayne says:

      Could an alternative title possibly be ” How to prevent a World War…..”?

      I’d argue we’ve been a world war for some time but it’s been cold/soft due to the use of hybrid warfare. The UK’s problem is that it is stubbornly unaware, its biases played upon easily (as were those of the U.S.). Until the UK realizes that Brexit was part of that hybridized warfare and Johnson’s role is part of the weaponry, Britons will continue to believe there’s something to prevent.

      Think about it: the influx of immigrants from the Middle East which Farage-Ukip railed about during the Brexit campaign was directly related to the heightened geopolitical tensions in Syria, which was being bombed by Russian military.

      This world war embroiled the UK years ago and it failed to recognize it for what it was, with the first nuclear attack occurring on British soil in the form of Litvinenko’s Po-210 poisoning, the soft underbelly further exposed by the nerve agent attack on Skripals. UK was told they were touchable. Don’t get me started on the influx of Russian oligarchs’ money and traitorous enablers like Rees-Moog.

        • Rayne says:

          Or your bias for traditional kinetic warfare with formal declarations of war obscures your perspective. Russia and China both don’t see war as limited by those restraints; China was nice enough to warn us in 1999 about asymmetric warfare and the US’s weaknesses, whereas Russia’s Primakov/Gerasimov “doctrine” should have clued us in long ago (Primakov c. 1997, Gerasimov c. 2013) to policy and execution Putin would adopt.

          Ensuring destabilization of NATO including realization of Brexit fits directly into the long-term global visions of the other two major powers.

        • Philip Jones says:

          I believe I understand what you are saying and my intention is not to diminish the reality or importance of what you are saying. I recognise the reality of your reasoning. When I wrote of President Biden’s efforts to prevent a World War I was referring to literal massive armed combat between nations resulting in millions of deaths, refugees, displaced persons; the gruesome, awful, bloody reality; the devastation of cities; hunger and starvation of millions. I believe that The US and NATO is doing all it can to preserve democracy in Ukraine and Europe, whilst at the same time doing all it can to prevent the catastrophe I spoke of above.

        • timbo says:

          So you feel that war might not break out at any point why?

          Bush and the illegal war in Iraq completely destabilized the old international legal and (theoretically) liberal international legal order. Another US failure in this hybrid war was the destabilization of Libya and Syria (by shipping Libyan arms caches to Syrian rebels)—Libya remains a failed state now a decade later. The neoliberals and neocons saw the roll of the US in the world as an active creator of democracy and/or exploitive wealth opportunities at the expense of rational policies that actually stabilized the world into well recognized economic spheres of influence, ostensibly between China, Russia, and the US/Pacific Rim democracies/EU combine…and failed miserably at their various publicly stated neo goals/initiatives on the international arena. The neos, our neos that is, gave Putin a roadmap on where and how the US and Europe could be weakened. Their international failures in Iraq and Libya showed plainly, openly that the US was no longer in the ascendancy on the world stage. And that Europe, while tentatively somewhat independent from the US on some policies, was also constrained by its own hubris and institutions when it comes to effective collective policy outside of Europe itself.

          Putin has actively encouraged members states of NATO and the EU to develop individual and independent foreign policies and the trend that developed, for the most part, has caused some fracturing of unity within Europe. Brexit is one prime example of irrational national aspirations damaging the cohesion of European policies, at the expense of European economic and cultural cohesion. The rise of rightest governments in Poland, Hungary, etc, have also lead to a lot of dissension within the EU. Now that Britain has been the first country to actively separate from the EU, other EU member countries (up until the past few weeks that is) have been playing the ‘independence-is-possible-for-us-too!’ card when attempting to get their ways at the European Parliament.

          To be frank, Putin and his ilk would prefer that the EU and the US simply not get involved in the other affairs of the world any longer, that we will wilt and shirk when it comes to stopping the use of raw power to subjugate the other world’s democracies. Putin may have miscalculated here with his blatant invasion of Ukraine, although he certainly hedged his bets by threatening to use his nukes if NATO did decide that enough was enough with his war of conquest in Ukraine (and possibly other places in the world too now).

          Note that I didn’t go into how deeply China has been expanding its own geo-economic sphere of influence over this same period of time. But they definitely have. Many countries around the world, chiefly in Africa but now also in growing numbers in places like South America, etc, are in debt/indebted to China for various economic infrastructure projects and outright aid. China has been doing what the US did 30-60 years ago with the IMF, but doing it through it’s own overseas financial and development programs, almost entirely separately from the rest of the world’s financial and diplomatic system. And they’ve been doing it because the EU and US have turned inwards and/or are more concerned with issues of “terrorism!” than actual effective development and infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas of the world (unless there are USG “boots on the ground”, in which case, the US and various bigger European partners had definitely demonstrated a capacity for throwing good many after bad to little general effect).

  15. Tom says:

    I’m hoping Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has the effect of putting the kibosh on the whole Trucker Freedom Convoy blockade protests. Considering what the people of Ukraine are going through right now, anyone appearing in public to blather about “Freedom!” when all they’ve got to complain about is Covid-19 restrictions should be laughed off the streets.

    • dude says:

      I am not sure about the effect on trucker convoys, but the images of Ukrainian citizens armed with AK-47s (or the plywood training cutouts) is going to put a fire under 2nd Amendment enthusiasts.

  16. bg says:

    Greg Palast is promoting an end to sanctions against Venezuela as a way to open the oil spigots to further undermine Putin and protect oil prices across the globe. Is the continued isolation of Maduro government beneficial to US at this point?

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah — Russia was prepping a week ahead of invasion for possibility that US might ask for more cooperation on oil. Russia has been all over Venezuela long enough to have a Wiki entry of its own. How interesting Putin became more invested in the relationship the same year Obama was elected.

      • timbo says:

        Ugh is right.

        (And no wonder Twitler never invaded there—Putin didn’t want him to! “You should take Greenland instead—it’s big and there’s not significant military opposition to speak of!”

    • gmoke says:

      We’re fools if we don’t use this fossil energy crunch to speed the transition to renewables and energy efficiency. But then we’re fools anyway.

      According to this carbon counter (, at the rate at which we are emitting CO2, we have about 7 years and few months before we’ve exceeded the level that makes heating of the Earth another 1.5ºC inevitable.

      The climate movement and the peace movement should work together on positive protest like weatherization and solar barnraisings and regenerating some of the Homefront tactics of resource frugality we accomplished in WWII. I wrote about this idea before the invasion at

      I don’t expect anyone to pick up on this, because we’re fools, but it feels necessary to put these ideas out there.

      • P J Evans says:

        Insulate all the buildings that aren’t already at or above standard. Replace single-glazed windows with double-glazed (which also reduces noise). Solar panels on every building that can handle them. Wind turbines in as many places as wind is reasonable reliable – on ridgelines works.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        Key problems have been:
        1. Senate obstruction: about 40,000,000 more Americans are represented by Dem senators than by GOP senators. The GOP minority has had outsized influence, which they have abused on behalf of legacy interests.

        2. GOP has allied with fossil fuels much more than the Dems. Nevertheless, their devil’s bargain with Trump, Russia, and Putin will leave them in a weaker position by June as their credibility evaporates – Ukraine being a key factor.

        3. Some low-population states (looking at you, Tennessee, and Kentucky) have GOP senators whose constituents *could have* decent jobs creating batteries for EVs. By late spring, they’ll need something to cover their shame, and if Build Back Better works, they’ll use it.

        4. Judging from this week’s turmoil in commodities markets, a whole lot of people managing a whole lot of money did not actually believe that Putin would be batsh!t enough to invade Ukraine. Unclear how this will play out, but ‘rule of law’ has a new resonance.

        5. We may be fools, but desperate people are sometimes willing to pull out all the stops to create change. After this week, it looks like a fair number of people are pissed off and out of patience with Putin.

        6. Biden has simply amazed me. The more I watch him, the more I marvel at his creativity and perseverance. Putin appears to have completely underestimated and misread Biden. I agree with EW on all the reasons that Putin moved now, but in addition it sure looks like the Build Back Better and move away from fossils has Putin unhinged.

        7. In my dreams, along with sanctioning Russian oligarchs, some of the enablers at ExxonMobil and BP ought to have some kind of Come to Jesus epiphanies and wake up to the dangers they’ve helped to create.

        • Rayne says:

          While Putin had a long-term strategy in place to destabilize the west going back before 2010, 2014 really hurt him not just because of the Euromaidan in Ukraine but the loss of what I’d estimated at USD$1 trillion in Russian oil revenues after the P5+1 agreement on JCPOA with Iran allowed Iranian oil back into the market. No idea how much of that loss was a direct hit to Putin versus Russia but that kind of money is enough motivation to interfere in a US election.

          We need to be threatening oil producers because they still aren’t changing their business models fast enough, and I know based on personal experience they’ve had business models developing alternative energy in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Shell in particular was investing in alternatives at the time because they had planned on the “end of oil,” and yet somehow after Enron and the Cheney Energy Task Force that all became vaporware.

        • Greg Hunter says:

          Yeah while most do not do the nuance of the Minority set aside program managed by the Federal Government known as the 8a, it was corrupted to include south east Asians (Indians), which IMHO is more systemic racism against African Americans. I have always suspected the designation was designed to draw the USA closer to India, especially militarily.

          Dayton, Ohio is home to WPAFB and is also one of the most racist places in America but our tax dollars were directed to a first generation Indian American, while the African American community in Dayton and much of America is still languishing in decline. See the Making of Ferguson by Richard Rothstein for a good breakdown of Dayton.

          I watched Raj Soin build a multimillionaire dollar company by grifting this program, sell it to BAE and then buy a Congressman (Mike Turner).

          I grew up 10 miles north of Hillbilly Elegy bum JD Vance and he down plays the racism that drove the military and companies to bring briars from the south instead of giving African Americans a fair shake. It continues apace as I still compete against first generation Indian Americans. Lather, rinse, repeat.

          Take a read of the wonderful story of Raj’s rise to power and what a great guy he is….

        • Rayne says:

          India’s too deeply in bed with Russia on aerospace. See — note the hypersonic missile.

          India’s not only helping develop missiles but buying them from Russia.

          They need the rupee exchange to keep this going; it’s also not much of a surprise considering what kind of nationalist fascist Modi is. His craptastic handling of the pandemic especially the sales of HCQ is a perfect example of his moral flexibility.

        • klynn says:

          Agree with your points. While India is in deep with Ru aerospace there are some economic impacts the US, UK and Canada could apply. The Non-resident Indian populations in these three countries (some of the larger NRI populations globally outside of a few other countries) have created an economic dependency by India through remittences to India.

          These countries might consider slow walking banking transfers to India or freeze them.

        • Rayne says:

          True, have to wonder if Pakistan also has similar economic dependency. The problem I see with slowing/freezing bank transfers is a rush to cryptocurrencies which also need to be throttled as alternatives to traditional banking.

          I’ve been keeping an eye on aerospace development since the Buryakov spy case in 2015 (which also involved Carter Page). Buryakov and two other Russian spies had also been spying on aerospace in what I believe was both the US and Canada. And now here we are again, looking Russia and aerospace development.

      • Rugger9 says:

        India has very deep ties to the Russian military complex (indeed their new carriers are ex-Soviet ships refurbished). This came about because while Pakistan was our top ally in South Asia, India had to go to the Soviets since it continues to be Pakistan’s adversary. The oligarchs got their cut too in the refit basically by gouging India to pay up or eat 2 billion dollars’ worth. So, FWIW I suspect India is over a barrel and they have some trouble feeding their populace too.

        The PRC on the other hand doesn’t have that excuse and has apparently decided that Russia’s Ukraine invasion will distract the West from the South China Sea. There was already an issue over the last couple of weeks where PLAN ships in Australian territorial waters (within 12 miles) were shining lasers at RAAF P-8 patrol planes. Keep in mind that short-wavelength emissions like lasers or J-band radars are typically fire control tools which also will herald a missile to follow shortly thereafter. ‘Painting’ with fire control systems is considered an act of war under the rules of engagement and was even when I was sailing those waters.

        We’ll see if the PLA and PLAN accelerate their policy of aggression against their neighbors, especially around the ‘nine dash line’ which was a Nationalist China pipe dream.

        • Opiwan says:

          Shining lasers at patrol/recon/surveillance aircraft is also meant to blind or “zorch” (disable by overwhelming receptors) electrooptic/infrared (EO/IR) and visual systems so that the activity those craft would normally be able to observe goes undetected, even if only momentarily. Of course, the RAAF would take none to kindly to that tactic, either, even if it doesn’t “technically” meet the standard for an overt act of war since it wouldn’t involve use of a fire-control system.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Shining a laser at an aircraft is a serious threat to flight safety and a US federal crime. Among other things, it can temporarily blind a pilot or temporarily ruin their night vision. Even a low-power laser used in business presentations can travel miles. There were over 9700 incidents of it in the US in 2021, up from over 6800 in 2020. It’s no joke.

        • skua says:

          The lasing incident is reported as occurring in Australia’s exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles from it’s coastline).

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        I would think that Imran Khan’s over two hour meeting, face to face, with Putin this week was also a motivating factor. Putin is smart enough to play India and Pakistan off against each other for his own benefit.

        • earthworm says:

          Am unsure of how Imran Khan is with US these days. It might be very useful after his recent two hour meeting with Putin if he consented to share his impressions of Putin’s state of mind with contacts from US State dept, government, or a trusted journalist.
          (Not tattling, of course, but in the interests of greater international understanding.)

  17. Badger Robert says:

    Ms.Wheeler again demonstrates the truth is written, and spoken words are always incomplete.
    Her sentences are amazing structures considering the pressure of world events. The occasional typographical error adds to the authenticity.

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Vlad must be happy with the return on his investments in Brexit and the Tory party (emphasis added):

    That is the crucial context for [Boris] Johnson’s ludicrous claim this week to the House of Commons that no government could “conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money”. That is not only demonstrably untrue, it is an inversion of reality.

    Johnson thereby demonstrates his willingness to lie to the House of Commons (and anyone else) and to having an appalling lack of imagination.

    • Valley girl says:

      Thanks for the link. I have just read the article. This quote is not the most important part, but it says this about BoJo:

      ~~And I don’t think Johnson is personally corrupt or tainted by Russian money; he’s lazy, flippant and unwilling to launch expensive, laborious initiatives that will bring results only long after he himself has left office and is unable to take the credit for them. ~~

      But is it really true that BoJo “is not tainted by Russian money”? Perhaps on the face of it, but there are different ways of being tainted.

      Avoidance of UK libel laws in action? I wonder. I mean as to the part I quoted.

      • earllofhuntingdon says:

        That seems to be a rosy picture of BoJo’s corruption about the time he was making stuff up and lying for a living as a “journalist” covering politics in Brussels. That was more than a decade ago.

        I suspect it is inadequate as a description of today’s Boris, but it does describe what makes him such a useful idiot for those more in line for direct Russian subsidies. Somebody pays for all the things in Boris’s life that he claims to be ignorant about, and they don’t do it because they find him charming and likable. [One too many “Ls” today.]

        • Rayne says:

          Oh, ‘useful idiot’ doesn’t express the right shade of BoJo’s wretched weakness. Reupping:

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I agree, he’s a walking disaster. “Idiot” doesn’t quite capture his blithe cruelty, incompetence, and laziness. But the powers that be don’t seem to regard him as so disastrous that they need to replace him. That’s the incomprehensible to me useful side.

          The only explanation I can think of is that he’s the best they have, the bumpkin with the right pedigree, who distracts from their neoliberal greed and cruelty.

        • Molly Pitcher says:

          I situations such as these, I always try to turn the view the other direction and ask ‘who benefits from BoJo remaining in power?’

    • Rugger9 says:

      The other part of the question concerns Individual-1’s purchase of the Scottish golf courses with money that magically appeared. I would suspect First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s reluctance to prosecute an Unexplained Wealth Order (because the money to prop up these financial losers apparently is still flowing from…somewhere…) might be due to whether it’s a devolved power to Scotland or if Westminster still holds it, especially since a foreign actor is involved.

      The revelations to come may force BoJo and the other Tories’ hands into something like a Royal Commission inquiry about where the money is sloshing around, which would lead to UWO prosecutions. The Ukraine invasion is just moving that process along more quickly due to the outraged realization about just how scummy Putin is.

      • Ken Muldrew says:

        The ‘reluctance to prosecute’ is entirely due to it being a former president of the United States. Honestly, this is as far-fetched as the Spanish judges who were going to indict GW Bush.

  19. Tom says:

    Wondering how the Russians will treat Ukrainian civilians who have taken up arms to defend their country—as legitimate soldiers or as what used to be called “franc tireurs”, or terrorists?

  20. joel fisher says:

    No doubt I’m being too simplistic, but doesn’t an invasion come down to an armed robbery on a grand scale? And don’t the robbers have lots of stuff in the West? Let’s just take it. But if we take their stuff won’t that leave us vulnerable to having them take our stuff? Let’s see….who has the most stuff and where is it? We could also do a trade cutoff? The Russians have natural resources, but does anyone really want any product–vodka and depressing poetry don’t count–that Russia makes? Phones, cars, movies…the list of things we have that don’t come from Russia is pretty long. What makes the “Let’s just take their stuff” program so alluring is that it pretty much just effects rich Russians and not the Russian people at large. If we simply seized every condo sold by TFG to a Russian guy, who would be hurt?

  21. surfer2099 says:

    I don’t understand why people think sanctioning the Oligarchs and not Putin will do anything. I think this action is misdirected and almost useless.

    In an autocracy, there is only one person in charge who holds all the power. And that person does that out of fear. The Oligarchs are only there to assist Putin and make some money ONLY as Putin allows. Otherwise, they get shipped off to Siberia.

    In other words, the Oligarchs are replaceable units only put there by Putin to help him run the country, and nothing else. Yea, they have compensation for helping him, but it’s not as if they have any actual influence or power to affect Putin and so taking away their funds doesn’t really do anything since Putin could can simply kill or replace them at will.

    • Rayne says:

      Where do you think Putin’s wealth comes from? Drop back and go do some digging into how he acquired his wealth. Go to Digby’s Hullaballoo — she spelled it out.

    • SAO says:

      This! The oligarchs are rich because Putin allows them to be. They have little political power and they have no military power. They don’t have the ability to call up generals and say WTF? They don’t have the ability to get the people out on the streets in rallies. If they staged a coup, they’d have no legitimacy and the FSB wouldn’t back them up.

      It has the likelihood of Peter Thiel and Charles Koch being able to get rid of Trump — in a country where the media is controlled, so you can’t spend billions on Lincoln Project-style ads on all TV channels non-stop.
      And they’d have the legitimacy of a Koch-Thiel coup, too.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Putin may be the kingpin, capable of inflicting mortal terror on others. We saw that in the staged “meetings” between Putin and his ministers, supposedly illustrating the process through which he declared war on Ukraine. But he has to keep oligarchs as a group wealthy and together in order to keep wielding that power. As he gets older, his grip threatens to become less secure, the standard fate of monarchs. The politics that follow would be, to coin a word, byzantine.

      • observiter says:

        Might enjoy the documentary “Citizen K” about the (ex)oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky (oil/energy, once Russia’s richest man).

  22. klynn says:

    This thread by Rob Person that Marcy noted on Twitter:

    – would make a great indepth media news piece but I would add what the data means for Russian youth and young adults in terms of their future.

    [FYI – link edited to remove tracking. You can self-edit Twitter links in the future by deleting everything from the question mark to the end. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  23. pace pace says:

    Just to contribute to the legnthening list of some international cultural reactions:

    § Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra announcd Thursday that
    F.O.P. (Friend of Putin), Valery Gergiev would no longer lead a series of upcoming concerts in various venues, while..
    § Munich Mayor, Michael Reiter has given Gergiev (Munich Philharmonic Orchestra Chief) until Monday to distance himself from his long time best bud in the Kremlin or else lose his post.
    § His Holiness, Pope Francis confronted the Russian embassy to the Holy See today, rellaying deep concerns and casting characterstic shade.
    § >50,000 souls have fled Ukraine so far
    § The €U is discussing yet further sanctions and hurt- opportunities to “degrade the Russian economy”

    Note: cultural embarrassment is more painful than the financial punishment and Gergiev (Netrbko, next, maybe?) s Russia’s ear to Europe’s ear and a bg cultural hero- soon to lose face whichever way he choses to answer Mayor Reiter’s ultimatum.

    • klynn says:

      The confrontation by the Pope to the Russian Ambassador to The Holy See is quite important and historically significant. Additionally, it shows support toward the historic Catholic community in Ukraine.

      Wonder if the Vatican will consider exercising their UN vote?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It’s usually the other way round: heads of state call ambassadors into their presence. Francis would have been making a point about humility and the importance of not going to war, or doing so with the least cost in human lives and treasure. If it achieves nothing else, Russia will have succeeded in pauperizing Ukraine and its people, keeping them subservient for a generation.

  24. L. Eslinger says:

    Which oligarchs would choose to risk defenestration by even mentioning a potential challenge to Putin?
    Who could a disaffected obscenely rich Russian talk to without concern for a leak to Putin’s security operatives?

    Putin owns the muscle that allows certain people to squeeze the country for profit, which they doubtlessly must share with the godfather, and who probably keeps track of every particle of wealth that his vassals touch.

    The Russian oligarchs who now exist have survived a cut-throat selection process that has likely eliminated any with an appetite for personal risk. They may not be happy about what Putin is now doing, and they may lose a big chunk of their wealth, but does anyone expect any of them to challenge Putin, or cut and run (and run, and run) and actually have to compete for money and the power it buys?

  25. Valley girl says:

    fwiw – interesting but ….

    BREAKING: UK bans Russian private planes from its airspace

    Reply from Stedman:
    The problem with things like this is that almost none of the Russian elite register their planes in Russia. They’re registered in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, St Kitts, Bahamas, Cyprus, Marshall Islands, etc.

    The offshore facilitation must be crushed first.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Much like ships and private yachts, luxury aircraft are registered in flags of convenience: states with the lightest of tax and regulatory regimes and the least disclosure. Ireland, of course, is a major hub for aircraft leasing and financing. Like Trump’s use of cell phones, there is, too, the convenient borrowing of someone else’s aircraft, registered in the least inconvenient jurisdiction.

    • timbo says:

      My understanding is that aircraft owned by Russians on the sanctions list are banned regardless of their nation of registration.

      • John Lehman says:

        Seriously though, we’d probably be much, much closer to a strong world peace if the Security Council members didn’t have that kind of veto power.

        Maybe some sort of simple world majority.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yes, it would be helpful if the mechanisms could be amended. But remember, the UN and its SC exist only because the US and the other permanent members at the time (colonialists all) insisted on a single-party veto. A lot has changed since then, but not that.

  26. mospeck says:

    Marcy, you used the term “doom-scrolling” the other day, and then so did my sister, so I had to look it up. And it’s what I’ve been doing and could be that 5k dead today is not enough. I mean vlad is only like 5′ 5″ and maybe that’s why he tries too hard. But that’s an obs by my shrink who said it’s all just his theory and probably way well off base. Sorry, but feel I have a duty to report — like a title IX coordinator or CNN on the bridge.
    shrink has been spot-on on other things like me just skipping the thorazine and listening to classical music without the words

  27. Badger Robert says:

    What is the effect of economic sanctions on Russia with respect to the ability of Russians to influence US and UK politics? And how does that affect the Russian worldwide covert operations?

      • Badger Robert says:

        And the other part to be determined, what affect do the sanctions have on Trump, his sons, their golf courses, and the LLCs that own so many condominiums in Trump licensed properties?

        • bmaz says:

          Probably none, but I don’t know. Might constrict the amount of money that could flow from sanctioned individuals?

    • timbo says:

      Hopefully they can get a grip on who owns what in a timely fashion? Has a large audit like this been done in the past—anyone know?

  28. Badger Robert says:

    In the near term, there is a good deal that could be done with air power, and remote controlled drones to help the Ukrainians. That is unlikely, though it was done in the Serbian/Bosnian conflict, I believe.
    In the long term, as Russia occupies Ukraine, a naval blockade is possible. That does not involve a land war in Ukraine, but would require cooperation of several nations.

    • bmaz says:

      How is this naval blockade going to work? Suppose Russia sends in some cargo ship escorted by a destroyer, then what? As to air and drone power, engaging above Ukraine or Russia is no different than sending in land forces. The US is not going to do that.

      FWIW, according to Zelensky, Turkey is effecting a bit of a naval blockade in the Black Sea. Not sure that is going to work either, or how aggressive it really is. Are they really going to fire upon a Russian warship? I find that hard to believe.

      • Badger Robert says:

        How was the blockade handled during the Cuban missile crisis?
        Which nations have the ability to enforce the blockade? Its doesn’t involve land war and would make the noose tighter.
        The use of air power is unlikely, so there is not much point in discussing it. Though I think it would be seen as not the same as a land war.

        • bmaz says:

          Lol, are you kidding? Cuba had no warships capable of doing diddly squat. Russia does, including battleships and aircraft carriers. Are you really advocating that Turkey, or even the US, is going to get in a shooting battle with them?

          Also, under every applicable doctrine, there is absolutely no difference between a land war and air war.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          First rule of holes…

          Ships are hazards to other ships whenever they are in close proximity. That’s inevitable when trying to impose a blockade, which is also an act of war.

          The Black Sea and its outlets to the Med are tight waters. They are further constricted by expanding egos. Trigger fingers get itchy, ammunition is fired, body bags and acts of revenge ensue. Given the geography, air forces would certainly be involved. It’s a ticket to a much wider war that would involve many more people.

    • pablo says:

      If we send them drones/w missile, and our guys control them from the ground from Arizona, does that mean we are at war with Russia?

      • bmaz says:

        If they were US military controllers, maybe. To my knowledge, the only sophisticated military drone control programs in AZ is at Fort Huachuca. Extremely unlikely they would be controlling on behalf of another country.

  29. Badger Robert says:

    But as bmaz has often stated, the US won’t have much impact on world fascism if it cannot defeat fascism internally.

  30. Molly Pitcher says:

    I am following ukraine_defence on Instagram. I have been surprised to see how janky much of the captured rolling stock of Russia appears to be. I would appreciate Rugger or some of the other commentators with military expertise weighing in on the state of the Russian military.

    I was under the impression that they were expending a lot of their GDP on arms.

    • P J Evans says:

      I’ve seen tweets indicating that they had supplies enough for three or four days of war, but they didn’t expect the response that Ukraine has had. And now they can’t get resupplies on hardware, because a lot of that is from places like Finland and Slovenia.
      (Note that the Russian tanks are running out of fuel. Ukraine is taking down highway signage: the locals don’t need them, but the Russians do.)

      • Ken Muldrew says:

        I’m all for wishful thinking, but highway signs? A shitload of satellites beaming time signals to your cell phone beg to differ.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          No fuel, but a smile and an earnest offer to be towed back from whence they came.

          Patton must be laughing his ass off in his grave. Tanks are not meant for long-distance travel. They guzzle fuel; their heat, noise and vibration exhaust their crews; and their treads need a surprising amount of maintenance.

        • Epicurus says:

          It is approximately 1,280 km from Volvograd on the eastern border to Kyiv. For reference purposes, it is about 1,200 km from Normandy to Berlin. The Russians are probably using several different tank models. The operating range is probably 150 to 250 miles per tankful, depending on the tank. Russians have always used the interchangeable part theory of tanks. If one goes down, say by enemy fire, the tank is cannibalized for parts for all the other tanks.

          They may have outdistanced food and fuel, but that seems wishful thinking. More than likely the Russian battle plan anticipates resistance so they are insuring they have adequate air cover and other infantry protection for the tanks before exposing them unnecessariiy. (The Hunt for Red October: “The Ruskies don’t take a dump without a plan, son. So what’s their plan?”) Additionally, this isn’t a tank vs. tank battle. The Russians can take their time getting to and overcoming each resistance point.

          The big question is how the Russians are using their helicopters and close air support in relation to Ukranian defensive tactics. I don’t see much about that.

          For what it is worth, the Russian military sees this as a huge training exercise. They have new weapons to test. They have combat training to be put into reality. Their future majors and colonels and senior ncos are being tested right now as junior officers and junior ncos.

          I doubt Patton is laughing his ass off. Wasn’t it Patton who said, say in relation to the Snake Island Ukranian that stood up to the warship, make some other, poor, dumb bastard die for his country?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Distance has to be tied to time, weather, mode of transport, and level of opposition. Tanks require frequent maintenance. They are ferried to a battle area, when possible, for a good reason: the quickness with which they go through fuel and treads. One doesn’t have much time to field strip a broken tank for parts when one is trying to implement an invasion. Besides, doing so is a forced opportunity, not a plan.

          Patton would have welcomed any failure of Russian arms. But he would have poured scorn over any commander whose tankers got lost or ran out of fuel on a roadway, when unopposed by serious armored opposition, while implementing an invasion plan that had been prepared for months.
          One does not blithely invite global scorn and economic retaliation to run a training exercise, even if that’s what Putin calls his large-scale, unprovoked aggressive war.

          Yes, Patton was all in favor of making the other poor dumb son of a bitch die for his country rather than his own men. But if you have to go, the Snake Island defenders did it well: they won the propaganda battle, if not the physical one, just as Zelensky is doing repeatedly against Putin.

        • Rayne says:

          He may still be a n00b with that newer email address — at least that’s my suspicion. I’ll poke around and see if there’s anything else which might be hanging him up.

          ADDER: Okay, checked the dip switches and nothing obvious appears to put earlofhuntingdon into auto-mod. I suspect it’s at a level I can’t touch — his VPN may be the issue, and it may happen when certain IP ranges are used by the VPN.

          For security reasons we may simply have to ‘escort’ you into the comments, EoH.

        • Epicurus says:

          I was a tank platoon and company commander for years. I understand tank maintenance and fueling support requirements. I know how they get to battle areas.

          I don’t know how many tanks the Russians have in Ukraine. If one or two or three or four is/are lost or out of fuel I think it would be a serious mistake to extrapolate what caused that problem to the remainder of the Russian tank force. The Russian commanders and logistical support staff are learning quickly.

          Putin isn’t calling it a training exercise, but most large military forces, including the Russians, would see it in two parts – political
          and military. On the military side, it would be seen as a unique opportunity in a variety of ways to evaluate all manner of things that have been only theoretical to this point. That is just how military people think. Afghanistan as an example was the US training ground for tactics, weapons, and personnel evaluation that will serve as the basis of our military doctrine and leadership for years into the future.

          I have great admiration for Zelensky and those fighting. But in reality this is their battle of the Alamo. No one is coming to help them. Probability is high that they will fall just like Travis and his men. The problem for Ukraine is there is no Sam Houston with his army coming to save Ukraine. As a commander Zelensky has options. One of the big ones is if he can somehow preserve his fighting force rather than having them die fighting the Russian Army so that even when the probable Russian victory comes, the resistance to follow from the surviving fighters embedded in the population will drain Russian occupation mightily and create a severe internal reaction in Russia. I think it a mistake to kill off my fighting force, as Travis did at the Alamo.

        • Rayne says:

          Sure, sure.

          ADDER: Sure, sure, right.

          ADDER-2: …

        • bmaz says:

          So, just give up?? Seriously? And what in the world makes you think Putin won’t take out this “fighting force” along with the entire government?

        • Epicurus says:

          I was suggesting what Zelensky just did. He agreed to negotiations. He bought time and probably lives.

          I have no idea what Putin will do.

    • Epicurus says:

      The defense-intelligence firm Janes has a great deal of specific information on the internet re: the state of the Russian military (or probably any other country for that matter). Just search for something like Janes summary of Russian military.

      The CIA has a factbook on most countries on line. Just search for CIA factbook Russia for just about everything you might want to know about Russia.

    • WilliamOckham says:

      No military expertise for me, I’m a pacifist. However, it seems really odd to me that almost all of what we’ve seen of Russian forces so far in Ukraine are soldiers who are younger than their equipment. I mean literally, we’ve seen tanks that are models from 40 years ago crewed by kids in in their early 20’s (and some teen-agers).

      That’s … not what serious invaders usually do when they want a quick win. Does this signal that Putin’s military doesn’t want to commit their best troops and equipment? I don’t know. It’s just weird.

      • Rayne says:

        There’s definitely something off — like the Russian national guard knowing about deployment for invasion a week in advance. Why the national guard? And then the deployment of Chechens. Are there not enough Russians?

        I have to wonder what COVID really did to Russia.

        • skua says:

          What positives would a deliberately failed first attempt (or whatever it is that we are seeing) create for Putin?

          I can’t identify any positives for Putin whilst remaining in bounds of normality. But that could be down to ignorance or lack of imagination.

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t Putin will make a second attempt; it will be continuous until he’s stopped by other means. He’ll merely dispatch successive waves.

          I worry about the Chechens being deployed.

  31. tinao says:

    Here Mr. Putin, this is for you, you old son of a bitch.

    Evolution of Spirit

    How to tame the dragon of imbalanced masculinity
    take your little lump of carbon
    shape it to the heavens.
    Not just one Lord of War
    but the true balance
    God and Goddess
    to help you begin
    real Initiation, Peace, and Plenty.
    Like a veil lifting
    harmony always existing
    to full sail home where we all belong.
    Leave behind the draining ego dragon of domination.
    Find the eternal dragon that is inside
    and outside you.

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