Bragging about US Intelligence Assistance Increases the Value and Solidarity of NATO Membership

The US is dick-wagging about intelligence successes again, this time by making it public that its intelligence-sharing helped Ukraine target the Moskva.

Intelligence shared by the U.S. helped Ukraine sink the Russian cruiser Moskva, U.S. officials told NBC News, confirming an American role in perhaps the most embarrassing blow to Vladimir Putin’s troubled invasion of Ukraine.

A guided missile cruiser carrying a crew of 510, the Moskva was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It sank on April 14 after being struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, U.S. officials said. Moscow said the vessel sank after a fire. The Moskva was the largest Russian warship sunk in combat since World War II. American officials said there were significant Russian casualties, but they don’t know how many.

The attack happened after Ukrainian forces asked the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odesa, U.S. officials told NBC News. The U.S. identified it as the Moskva, officials said, and helped confirm its location, after which the Ukrainians targeted the ship.

The U.S. did not know in advance that Ukraine was going to target the Moskva, officials said, and was not involved in the decision to strike. Maritime intelligence is shared with Ukraine to help it defend against attack from Russian ships, officials added.

The news comes amid unconfirmed reports that Ukraine has struck the Admiral Makarov in the last day, which David Axe described as the most important Russian ship remaining in the Black Sea, reportedly with another Neptune missile.

To be sure, even on its face, this dick-wagging serves another purpose. The reports all include details that explain where the US is involved — intelligence sharing — and where it is not — targeting decisions. I noted after the sinking of the Moskva that Ukraine accomplished that feat using Ukrainian weapons assisted by Turkish drones, not weapons supplied by the US or UK. By leaking details of the US involvement in Ukraine’s military success, the US is also making public details about where it is not involved, which extends to the implementation of the most controversial strikes. The US is making the limits of its engagement public, which actually could help avoid escalation (and, if critics were more honest than they are, entails giving Ukraine full credit for the tremendous success it is having).

Nevertheless, this declassification has raised a number of complaints that the Biden Administration invites escalation by bragging about its intelligence exploits.

I think those complaining are ignoring a number of obvious benefits of declassifying this information. First, releasing this information promises to exacerbate three problems that have already badly harmed Russia’s war effort: Putin’s isolation and with it, bad decision-making on his part, poor command structure within the Russian military, and snowballing paranoia in the Russian security community and with it a collapse of morale.

But Russia is likely not the only audience for these leaks. Existing and aspiring NATO members, including the voters within those countries, likely are also the intended audience.

Trump spent four years degrading the value of NATO and doing everything he could to sow distrust in the alliance. America’s past mistakes, most notably in Afghanistan, have made NATO membership more controversial in Europe. Because the Iraq War catastrophe was public while other American intelligence successes were private, it became routine to assume American intelligence wasn’t all that reliable. Russia has done everything it could to exacerbate such controversies, including with information operations targeting anti-imperialist and anti-war activists. Germany was a particular focus for such efforts on Russia’s part.

As a result, when Russia started this invasion, Putin believed, with good reason, that the alliance would crumble. Biden’s Administration did remarkable work, along with key allies, in defying those expectations. But the solidarity of NATO will come under increasing stress as inflation soars, refugees exacerbate housing shortages, and the media attention on Ukraine wanes.

Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden are about to start the process of quickly joining NATO. Russia is already making incursions on countries that border Ukraine. But until such time as Finland and Sweden formally join NATO, they will be in a vulnerable position, lacking the guarantee of NATO membership while having provided Russia a reason to want to strike.

What is being portrayed as dick-wagging offers a number of advantages in this climate. Without exposing sources and methods, it demonstrates that American sources and methods that come with NATO membership are excellent — far better than what Russia could offer (say) Hungary or Moldova, or even Saudi Arabia, right now. By emphasizing the way that the US has offered intelligence but not taken over targeting decisions, the US makes it clear that one can remain sovereign even while benefitting from the advantages NATO offers. The stories make it clear that the superior intelligence accessible with NATO membership can help a vastly overmatched country defend itself against an invader.

This may feel like dick-wagging. But it also makes a tremendous case for the value of alliance with the United States, particularly (for the Finnish and Swedish public) within the framework of NATO.

I wrote in March how important it was — even by his own telling — to have lifelong diplomat William Burns in charge of CIA as the US declassifies such information, because he understood how declassifying intelligence could be used to strengthen alliances.

[U]nder this former diplomat, the Intelligence Community is actually using the intelligence it gathers to gain tactical leverage. After years of Russian intelligence operations designed to split American alliances, that has had the effect of raising US credibility with allies.

Burns said then, and I assume he still believes, that after a career of losing information wars to Putin, “this is one information war that I think Putin is losing.”

I can only assume the US has reviewed these earlier decisions, including the effect they’ve had on strengthening US alliances, and decided that the advantages vastly outweigh the risks.

Update: See also Cheryl Rofer’s comments on this.

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85 replies
  1. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Good points, Marcy! One of these days I’ll write my monster post on my theory of Biden’s information offensive, but that will not be today.

    • emptywheel says:

      I really look forward to that. Biden (and Blinken and Burns) are not getting anywhere near the credit they deserve for what they have accomplished so far.

      • Scott Johnson says:

        As the old saying goes, if Biden were to walk on water, CNN would be reporting that he couldn’t swim.

      • harpie says:

        Yes! WELCOME!
        I’ve often wanted to thank you for your commentary on Twitter, but I’m not actually on Twitter.
        So, THANK YOU, Cheryl Rofer!

        – harpie

        • bmaz says:

          Eh, Twitter may get more scary, we will see how it plays out, but it has not been to date. Marcy, Rayne, Ed, Jim and I all get along “mostly’ fine there.

          • DrDoom says:

            Why do we hear crickets from MSM about the antitrust implications of Musk buying Twitter? The last thing the world needs is for an unfathomably rich guy to also control an important communication channel. As if vast wealth were insufficient. I honestly do not understand the addiction to controlling others’ lives.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      I hope you do, too. I’m not on Twitter either, but I’ve always appreciated your comments that I’ve seen in the blog’s tweet feed.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      Ms Rofer, I would love to hear your comments on the possibility of Putin using tactical nukes, especially as we approach May 9th.

    • Eureka says:

      You’re the first place I go when there’s an incident (or “incident”, to see if it’s an incident), always appreciate your expertise.

      **So funny out of the blue I just now recalled a time you were trying to identify some flowers. They were lady slipper orchids — we have the wild orange version, the hummingbirds love them. [Not “on” twitter but for Read Only mode, couldn’t answer then.] Apparently my social-reciprocity brain retained this bit to deliver to you today. Or maybe I asked someone here to tell you. It’s so vexing when you need a plant or insect ID and can’t find it.

    • John Gurley says:

      Yep. Tired of Josh Marshall’s constant hand-wringing over how mean we are to the Russians.

      • Scott Johnson says:

        Marshall often does good work, but he’s one of those who is perpetually concerned that the Democrats might get caught jaywalking while the Republicans make off with the silver.

        And to the extent that the media might treat the two parties differently he might have a point… except he’s PART of the media.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Back in my time dealing with them, it was routine to occasionally poke them with a stick to see what they’d do and if they saw you. Remember the ‘fishing trawler’ AGIs? We’d annoy them too. The Soviets would sometimes return the favors. It’s part of learning about your adversary.

  2. Silly but True says:

    It also serves as direct counter messaging to Putin’s own threats against foreign involvement, which has to get addressed in some manner so that our peer and near-peer competitors understand if they start to forget that we maintain an unfettered ability to project influence in line with our stated objectives.

  3. Ddub says:

    Great post, tying so much together for me (and this marvelous site generally).
    The counterfactual here: Trump and NATO 2022 is nightmare inducing.
    Instead, Putin, without trivializing the horror, has created one of the greatest self owns in history.
    Link to commentary from Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (ret), Commanding General, US Army Europe.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOPr96L0wA4&t=3s

    The question on escalation is where is there to go. Expansion such as what’s occurring in the Transnistria ploy is a side show, and an actual attack on the the Finns or Poles given the current state of the Russian army would lead to more humiliation.
    Maybe not the best time to go under the knife..

  4. Peterr says:

    I love where you’ve gone with this post, Marcy.

    I think there is one other aspect of this intelligence assistance discussion that you don’t mention that deserves highlighting. Just as the US has been providing intelligence and leaving the military targeting decisions to Ukraine, they have also done the same with Ukraine’s information war decisions.

    Zelenskyy clearly has a very good grasp of persuasive communications, both in the domestic Ukrainian setting as well as on the international scene. When someone like this is given more insight into the thinking of his adversaries, it allows him to be that much more effective in countering it.

    It’s easier to point to the deaths of Russian generals or the sinking of the Moskva (and now perhaps the Admiral Marakov) and say “we helped with that” than it is to look at the public communication of Ukrainian officials (not just Zelenskyy) and say the same thing. Even so, I do not doubt that US intelligence about things like where a given unit came from in Russia and what we might know about unrest in Russia has been similarly used by Ukraine.

    What you’ve described, Marcy, is the epitome of a blend of soft power and hard power.

    Contrary to years of right-wing GOP talking points, diplomats at the State Dept and generals at the DOD have long preached this kind of cooperation. Information sharing, communication, and negotiation best work in tandem with weapons development, military planning, strategic positioning, and the actual use of hard power forces. As a career diplomat, Burns has had decades of experience — some good and some not — of this partnership of State and DOD. Sitting at the helm of the CIA puts him in a position that straddles these two worlds.

    • Eureka says:

      I love how Marcy has taken the lead in this framing, too. [cont. from her March post]

      It’s also nice to feel pride (in a sense of relaxed comfort that matches our ideals) in our diplomatic-intelligence apparatus.

  5. harpie says:

    OH! That photo of the cover of the Battleship game…
    Boys playing, GIRLS working and looking adoringly on. OY!

  6. Tom R. says:

    Also keep in mind that we are seeing only the tippiest tip of the iceberg. For every exploit they explicitly brag about, there are a hundred that remain secret. We can see the vague shadows cast by some of the secret operations, but only some.

    In particular, it has been apparent since Day One of the invasion (actually day minus 30) that somebody pwned the Russian command and control networks. I say “somebody” because it was presumably a joint US/Ukrainian operation; I don’t know the proportions. The Russians know that we know, but have been unable to do much about it. This must be driving them bonkers.

    At least as interesting is the converse, i.e. the dog that didn’t bark: The Russians have had years upon years of opportunities to penetrate Ukrainian networks and institutions, and seem to have come up very short. Evidently Zelinskyy was able to clean house. I find this somewhere between impressive and astonishing.

    • rip says:

      Please don’t discount local russian assets within the C&C that are feeding some of the info. I don’t think the russian people/military/info are as loyal to the current regime as we may be led to believe.

  7. TimB says:

    Thank you for this illuminating post. The multi-audience frame is helpful. Another audience is the Russian military, as opposed to just “Russia.” Secretary Austin has already said publically that a US war aim is to degrade Russian military capabilities so that they could not invade another neighbor. The leaks about US intelligence capabilities and activities underscore two things. First, the US is well situated to help the Ukrainians degrade Russian military capabilities. Second, that one particular narrow escalation of the US/R conflict is already underway. There is a balance of threat and action here that I hope the US administration is getting right. The action helps Ukraine in the current war effort. Targeting the action against many of the best Russian warfighting assets pursues the already narrowly escalated US/R conflict. Demonstrating both the capability and the will also discourages, by threat, more aggressive Russian military activities. Boy I hope they are right on that last point.

    • skua says:

      You present a good reason for public dick-wagging – it gets to RU military.
      It will also be getting to civilians/electors across EU/NATO/globe.
      Both of these seem beneficial.
      Though in general I am biased against public dick-wagging. By the US especially as the national psyche has long term militaristic and inflationary issues.

  8. Rugger9 says:

    I’m sure NATO had its reasons about doing this, but I’m not convinced it was the best idea to broadcast it everywhere. After all, NATO’s not supposed to be involved officially and if we are providing intel to Ukraine (FWIW, I do support the idea but not the publicity) I have no doubt Putin will use the reported intervention to justify spreading the conflict. We did much the same thing in the Falklands War for the UK, but had the sense to keep it quiet until after the shooting stopped.

    Sending arms that NATO nations were scrapping anyway is another story, I note Slovakia did so quietly. That had served as a warning to Vlad which he ignored.

    The other thing to consider is the sources and methods used for the intel collection. The FSB isn’t entirely run by idiots (we speculate) and the brains there would know how to connect the dots and set up countermeasures.

    • emptywheel says:

      Much of the intelligence that is being shared is stuff for which source and method will be obvious: a combination of satellite and drone surveillance.

      Honestly, this is not giving away the farm.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Which satellites? Which drones? Capabilities for each? Flight paths to interdict? The signatures, characteristic noises, etc.? Remember that Azovstal was being resupplied until the Russians figured out the paths into the fortress. I still see no good reason to broadcast the data. Ukraine is who needs to know right now, not Russia.

        As I noted, this is going to be seen as an escalation and perhaps de facto alliance which would justify more extreme countermeasures. Tactical nukes are already being floated as ideas for Putin’s next step even though there is really no such thing as a ‘tactical’ nuclear weapon. Wherever a nuke is used there will be huge damage and a large problem for decades (i.e. Chernobyl, Nagasaki, Hiroshima).

        • BobCon says:

          I think it’s right to be concerned about the downsides of all moves, and as you point out, the risks are extremely high.

          But I think it’s also worth taking a step back and accept the larger point that there is serious risk analysis going on here. The weighting of factors and calculation of probabilities may be right or wrong, but the fact that this is happening at all is important and noteworthy.

          This is something that was missing for 12 years during Bush and Trump, and we paid for it dearly. The GOP establishment is simply not capable of serious analysis. It hurts their feelings and the feelings of a lot of their friends to hear this, but their Congressional leaders Michael McCaul and Jim Risch, their supposed experts at places like Heritage and AEI, and media figures like Bolton and Jon Kyl simply do not have the capacity to perform serious analysis.

          It’s worth highlighting the differences, and also stress that if they were in charge, Russia would undoubtably have vastly more leverage and Ukraine and NATO’s situation would be far more dire.

          There is a fundamental grounding in realism in Biden’s policies which has been missing under the GOP, and it makes a huge difference overall.

          • Scott Johnson says:

            The GOP has two main constituencies that are skeptical, if not contemptuous of, diplomacy and soft power: a) an authoritarian voter base that is poisoned through with machismo and false bravado, that hails from various “honor cultures” that view the act of trying to settle differences WITHOUT fighting as fundamentally dishonorable, and think that killing and dying in warfare is often a glorious thing, and b) an arms industry that obviously wants to goose demand for their product, and what better way to do that than have a war.

            The last Republican president who was a skilled diplomat was GHWB, who was previously an ambassador and CIA director before becoming veep under Reagan and then President in his own right. He won his war with Iraq, and did so brilliantly. (Whatever you think of the politics and the aftermath of Desert Storm, by any military metric it was a smashing success, and diplomacy was a key factor in making it so). And he was a one-term President, abandoned by his base over things like “no new taxes” and Ruby Ridge, wherein it was demonstrated that if government troops shoot and kill WHITE people, even neo-Nazi gun-runners, there will be hell to pay.

            His son learned the lesson well. As did Trump. Which is one reason why the foreign policies of both were utter disasters.

        • Raven Eye says:

          For technical resources, I think the capabilities are pretty well known by both sides about both sides. If not to the Nth degree, at least sufficient for the level of detail needed for this campaign.

    • Peterr says:

      The Russians have known this is going on, long before this story was printed, and if Putin wants something to justify spreading the conflict, he could seize on any number of things the West is doing. Printing this story did *not* make it more likely that Russia would expand the special military operation.

      Beyond bolstering the NATO alliance (and NATO-curious countries), what putting this story in public does is play with lots of Russian heads. As I noted last month, Putin operates with the belief that he (and therefore Russia) cannot fail — he can only be failed — and so if there is a failure, it cannot lie with him. That belief has to make lots of Russian generals nervous, as they are the most likely targets of Putin’s wrath. “You told me this would be a cakewalk. You told me it would be over in a week. You told me they would welcome us with open arms. You told me that you could roll over anyone and anything. Is there anything you have told me that is actually true?”

      This story reinforces to those generals what they already know: they are caught between a rock and a hard place. The West has lots of ways to multiply the effectiveness of the Ukrainian forces, and the Russian army is not simply fighting a bunch of ill-trained civilians holed up in a steel factory. The sense that this “special military operation” will end well for Russia has to be fading, and this story only encourages that thinking.

      • madwand says:

        Let’s hear it for a “bunch of ill-trained civilians holed up in a steel factory”.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      My understanding from February on (based on reporting) has been Putin sees Ukraine as not a real state but as (a) a Russian satrapy as well as (b) a Western proxy state. So if it is the case that he believes he is already fighting “the West” then we lose nothing by giving Ukraine all the assistance we can. And the corollary, that we are already in a proxy war with Putin, necessarily follows, though not any strategy in particular, beyond, as noted, helping as much as we can. Giving an ongoing publicity to those efforts helps Ukraine and ultimately reassures allies. That, I take it, was one of Doc Wheeler’s points.

    • Raven Eye says:

      One of the realities of risk management is whenever you execute a risk reduction effort in one place, you increase the risk in one or more other places.

      It sounds too simplistic to be valid, but it just keeps turning up as a truism. Risk management is, in reality, managing the balances of multiple risks.

  9. emptywheel says:

    Much of the intelligence that is being shared is stuff for which source and method will be obvious: a combination of satellite and drone surveillance.

    Honestly, this is not giving away the farm.

  10. Notyouraveragenormal says:

    My initial reaction was that the publicity around intelligence was a political move to draw focus on what the US *is* doing and deflect attention away from what it *isn’t* doing e.g. no-fly zone. Essentially, to balance the more hawkish push coming from some angles in the US and from Zelensky. But that view isn’t incompatible with the post, which also makes sense to me. Am sure it was an interesting discussion that preceded acknowledgement of intel support!

  11. madwand says:

    A well written and justified argument for declassifying information which aids the Ukrainians in fighting off the Russians. I’m sure it’s selective declassification in that we know that they know that we are aiding the Ukrainians in this manner and so it might not really matter in these cases. I do share a bit of Rugger 9s concern in the face of will they look for a chance to get even, will they get even? Of course, the game continues as it always has and we have to be on our guard.

  12. Hoping4Better_Times says:

    Moldova is the poorest country in Europe and not a NATO member. There is a Russian break-away region (long, thin slice) between Moldova and Ukraine, called Transnistria with 1000-2000 Russian soldiers stationed there. I have a special interest in Moldova-my Father was born there in 1905 when it was part of the Russian Empire. During WWII, Jews in that area were forced to go to Transnistria and most died of disease or starvation.

    • emptywheel says:

      Not a NATO member and recently replaced their pro-Russian leader. But RU is trying to use Transnitria to open a new front on Ukraine, and non-NATO support for Moldova may be important going forward.

      • Rugger9 says:

        Not really sure that Moldovan front idea would work, since the Russians can’t handle the logistics on the fronts they already have. They would also need to cross hostile territory (free Ukraine and Romania) to resupply and that’s not happening for free. Transnistria is a long, skinny territory that would be ripe for dicing up between Moldova and Ukraine if they really wanted to and I would suspect the number of Russian troops there is insufficient for border security, much less offensive action.

        That’s even before accounting for the Ukrainian reports of self sabotage by Russian troops, and the poor morale which will not be helped by this policy saying that because Moskva’s sinking was an ‘accident’ no compensation would be paid, not even a kopeck:

        https://crooksandliars.com/2022/05/russia-denies-any-compensation-family

        Don’t be cheap, Vlad, if you want to keep this up. Russian soldiers know how to ‘vote with their feet’ first applied to a similarly bungled operation by the last Czar Nicholas II.

      • Scott Johnson says:

        What capabilities do the Russian troops in Transnistria have? Do they have any armor? Artillery? Air support? Sufficient ammunition and weapons for an extended campaign, as opposed to a mostly-peaceful occupation?
        Other logistical capabilities necessary for an expedition? And if they were to leave, who then keeps the Moldavan government from re-occupying the place and reintegrating it with the rest of the country?

        Prior to the start of the Ukraine war, they were a useful “tripwire” force–a way for Russia to say “if you mess with them, you mess with us”. But now Russia is otherwise busy, its military capabilities exposed and thoroughly degraded. Russian boats in the northwest Black Sea have had a habit of sinking of late, and there’s no other way (other than by air) for additional Russian troops to cross the Ukraine.

        If the Russian troops in Transnistria leave, it would be an act of desperation for Putin.

        • skua says:

          An intelligent Russian soldier in Transnistria might be considering deserting. I hope they’re being supported.
          It’s only a 12 hour trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. With 50 seated that only takes some 20 coach trips to save most from being rotated into UKR. Give ’em a ticket to India and a €1000 each.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Probably for similar reasons as I’ve laid out above. Knowing where something was is a good way to pick up specific stuff that might be overlooked otherwise. Even if the general capabilities are well known it’s the particular details that are important, such as the Chinese tires that fell apart, or the pilfering behind much of the logistical issues well documented elseweb (esp. Daily Kos), who exactly is in charge where, why certain weapons or detection systems weren’t used and why certain routes are taken. It’s the better policy to keep what your cards close to the vest.

      However, the specific denial is interesting in its own way, perhaps as a question of maintaining the neutrality policy.

  13. Raven Eye says:

    When I saw just the headline for this topic the first words that popped into my mind were “electorate” and “elected and career officials”.

    With the reunification of Germany and the accession into NATO of former bloc communities there was huge concern in the IC concerning ex-Soviet/now-pro-Russian assets embedded in all areas of the military and government agencies of those countries. Some of those assets were/are more casual, while others were/are very active. A long steady grind for the countries to deal with, and a long, lingering doubt floating in the background of collection, analysis, product production, and distribution.

    This decision to rethink the “product line” and distribution channels is a lesson in how intelligence can reshape the application of real-time and near-real-time intelligence products in the information age.

    In the new intelligence information space, the value of increased sharing and cooperation is clear to the NATO partners, adjacent allies, the EU, and potential adversaries. Even the smallest NATO countries have something to share in this overall construct. The demonstration of the massive intelligence apparatus run by the U.S. and a few of the major NATO players is obvious, but the smaller NATO members can see that they also have a role, and value, in collection. They still have their own assets in European countries, and long, direct, historical perspectives. This can add texture and confirmation to the major collection and analysis efforts.

    Although there will always be limits on the access to product, intelligence in NATO may now be much less of a ”Cool Guy” club than it was in the past.

  14. Temple of Doom says:

    Anyone can look on public flight tracking websites and see (24/7) how many Rivetjoints, Sentrys, global hawks, etc. are in-theater.

    Anyone can look up a Rivetjoint, Sentry or global hawk on Wikipedia and take a guess what sort of intel the RAF, NATO,USAF, et. al. is/has been gathering since late Feb.

    [Welcome to emptywheel. A word of caution: your IP address is in the same range as another user who’s most recent comment was last May. You’re in auto-moderation because this looks like sockpuppeting to the system. /~Rayne]

  15. KenC says:

    I enjoy reading all the intelligent comments here. However there is something that I thought might also be a possibility, however remotely.

    Diversion.

    What if the intel actually came from some parties or certain method and means that Russia can actually harm and punish if their involvement were known? This coming out would then be a good sledge of hand by the magician’s assistant. Just maybe?

  16. scribe says:

    Good post, EW. I’m a little less forwardly enthusiastic about sharing with the world, through the press, that we’re sharing info. But this is one where reasonable minds can differ.

    From my POV, just share the info and don’t talk about it.

    Putin knows.
    Sweden and Finland know.
    The rest of the EU, NATO and neighboring countries know.

    The policymakers in those countries know, can – and, as a part of their job – damned well ought to make the case to their populace that going along with the US is an idea far better than going along with Russia or standing idly by while Putin throws his weight around (only to find it’s the dead weight of flab, not muscle). The quality of Putin’s forces can change. Just ask anyone who’s studied the Winter War of 1939-40. Bring in a new ass-kicker and see how things go differently.

    It’s a delicate balancing act. Rubbing anyone’s nose in their own shit is always a dubious enterprise with a high chance of backfiring, doubly so when the guy humiliating himself has nukes in his hip pocket.

    So, care is called for.

    As to Putin trying something with the Swedes and Finns, I think he knows better. Both countries are serious badasses when it comes to getting into a fight. I had a friend (recently deceased) who at one point had been in charge of our Army’s arctic training center. Decades of infantry and general outdoors experience, and in some of the most demanding terrain/weather anywhere. At some point he was over in Finland to observe their troops on exercise. In winter. And he came to the conclusion that, if he had his choice of people to go into combat with, it would be the Finns. Superb physical conditioning, soldierly qualities, widespread familiarity with firearms and a national spirit well aware of what happens if you let your guard down around the Russians.

    The Swedes are much the same. Even though they haven’t gotten into a fight in a long time, they haven’t let their guard down.

    What I see Putin doing – and given the flaccidity his military has shown the world pretty much all that’s left to him – is the one thing he seems to be good at: propaganda and subversion. There are a couple of fronts there.

    In Germany, the SPD seem riddled with people sympathetic to Putin, deprived of their will to see clearly, spineless, or even longing for the old DDR days. The Greens are their usual incoherent selves and the FDP just wants to go back to “Handel” – making deals and doing business. Frankly, their current government has made an art form out of making the late 1939-early 1940 French 3rd Republic look like a bastion of strength. Recall, that government’s response to being encouraged – after a declaration of war – to undertake offensive operations or even some air or artillery raids was to respond “but the Germans will just attack us in response”.

    Dude, they’re going to attack you anyway. And so will Putin. He’s had his operatives killing people in broad daylight in Berlin city parks and all your government did was bleat.

    A few weeks ago (and I recall sharing this with EW in the background, remarking on the glories of English to German translation) there was a long op-ed piece by a serious academic specializing in European affairs where she concluded that Scholz was simply beholden to Putin and until he shook that off, nothing good would come from it. The piece was translated into German and in a German paper. Their translation of “beholden” was the word “hoerig” which, unlike many German words, has only one meaning: “sexually dependent”. It’s a fair comment on the state of their Chancellor, their government and, to some extent, their populace.

    Lately there has been an upsurge of violence in Germany, mostly among the outlaw biker subculture (for some reason, they call their outlaw bikers “Rockers”. Go figure). That niche does have strong ties to the Russian criminal underground (dealing dope and violence) and, both through them and directly, to Putin’s apparat. This is keeping the police occupied. And, as noted upthread, there are no shortage of people who have histories with the former DDR and Warsaw Pact intel services such that they cannot be relied upon to act in the interests of the West.

    In Sweden, their PM declared a week or two ago that their migrant policy had totally failed. They’re in communities which are mostly self-isolated, self-contained, and ripe (especially b/c of linguistic differences) for subverters to get a good foothold and cause a lot of trouble. We’ve seen something along those lines in their recent rioting (in Malmo, IIRC). It’s not often one gets a definitive statement from a head of government that “our policy failed”, but you got that there.

    And, last night, there was some informed speculation (and speculation is likely all we’ll ever get) that the leak of the Dobbs draft opinion may have been an operation not from one or another of our political parties, but rather from one or another foreign intel services hacking the Court’s system. https://reason.com/volokh/2022/05/06/what-if-the-scotus-leak-came-from-a-foreign-hack/ IDK whether that’s it – but it’s a possibility which cannot be excluded. I’m aware of one reported hack of a domestic corporation where the malefactors gained access (to basically everything) through a networked soda machine. (They’ve got to be networked so you can use your bank card when you’re out of quarters.) If it was a foreign hack designed to cause trouble for us, it really succeeded: Ukraine is off the front page and we’re at each others’ throats over something which still hasn’t resolved to a real decision, i.e., isn’t even real yet.

    NB: protesting outside a justice’s home with the intent of influencing their work is illegal. 18 USC 1507. You can look it up. Given Alito did not travel to speak at the 5th Circuit lawyer’s conference like he was scheduled to but instead sent a video, I suspect there have been unpublicized death threats to various of the justices. It’s crazy, but there it is. There was a guy dousing himself in gas and self-immolating on the steps out front of the S.Ct. a couple weeks ago, for “climate justice”, and I don’t think there was even a case on that issue on the docket. People need to vote, persuade, and educate. Go crazy, lose control, and Putin wins because the heavy hand of government will come down and then … authoritarians win.

    Another NB: the Moskva was the single largest warship sunk since WWII. It outweighed the next largest, ARA General Belgrano (ex-USS Phoenix) sunk by the British during the Falklands War, by several thousand tons. And the two sinkings were almost 40 years apart, to the day. (Makes one feel old, having seen the news for both.)

    • Peterr says:

      Good thought-provoking comment, scribe. A couple questions for you . . .

      1) Got a link to that “long op-ed piece by a serious academic”?

      2) What’s your take on the opposition CDU/CSU?

      3) The relatively quick decision to boost the German defense budget strikes me as a huge break from the past, and seems to contradict at least some of your description of the current government here. I agree with the general picture you paint, and was surprised when the government took the bold step (for Germany) of such a boost in defense spending. Your thoughts?

      • scribe says:

        My bad: on review of my sent box I found I had not sent both the German and English versions of the op-ed to EW, when in fact I had sent them to a German-speaking friend. Here are the links to both the German and English versions. The English originally was published in the LA Times
        the German version
        US-Zeitung kritisiert Ukraine-Politik von Scholz – Deutschland ist Putin hörig – Politik Ausland – Bild.de https://www.bild.de/politik/ausland/politik-ausland/us-zeitung-kritisiert-ukraine-politik-von-scholz-deutschland-ist-putin-hoerig-79862536.bild.html
        The English original
        Op-Ed: What will it take for Germany, Europe’s heavyweight, to stand up to Russia? https://www.yahoo.com/video/op-ed-germany-europes-heavyweight-100118987.html (yahoo.com)
        Somehow, “…beholden to Putin” at the very end turns into “ist Putin hoerig”, i.e., “is sexually dependent upon Putin.” (Which you can see in the link, too – it reads “Deutschland ist Putin hoerig”)

        The op-ed was written by Anna Grzymala-Busse, a poli sci professor at Stanford.

      • scribe says:

        On your questions #2 and #3 above:

        The CDU/CSU is in the middle of the expected kind of leadership shakeup that one sees when a parliamentary party loses power after an extended time in power. Given Putin’s behavior since February, right after the Ampel-koalition* took over, it turns out Merkel didn’t do her own party any favors by tut-tutting Putin. There were some recent local elections, post-invasion, where the CDU/CSU took it on the chin. The Bavarian branch, CSU, just had one of its leaders quit/fired for being a difficult boss. Sort of the usual kind of getting rid of someone when he’s not winning. The candidate who won the right to run for Chancellor in the past election was basically the hairball least-threatening to Merkel. She made an art form out of taking women leaders in the CDU/CSU and shipping them into places where they would be no threat to her remaining in office. Von der Leyen, now heading up the EU, was the most recent example.

        So, long story short, the CDU/CSU will get some time in the wilderness to sort out their internal disarray and wait to have some governmental scandal/bad policy results or others crop up to give them a chance at winning an election. I’d thought there was a chance internal divisions in the coalition over defense and shipping arms to Ukraine would have done that, just a couple weeks ago. But apparently all the government people involved decided it was too early in the coalition to go busting it up and came around.

        #3. I’ll believe it when I see it, when it comes to Germany upping its defense budget let alone providing military equipment to Ukraine. Let alone building up their own military. By way of examples: they today have about 3 1/2 army divisions. During the Cold War, West Germany had 12 (active) and more reservists than you could shake a stick at, because they had conscription. The old East Germany had 6 (active), plus coordinate numbers of reservists, also conscripted. Hell, the Weimar Republic fielded 10 under the Versailles Treaty, and those rapidly expanded to “many”. Their force today is all-volunteer, and they’re having a hard time filling the slots.

        They had a hard time fielding, deploying and supporting a small peacekeeping force that went to the African desert, Mali, IIRC. They recently returned. Astonishing numbers of their vehicles – armored and not – aircraft and ships are deadlined because of poor maintenance and non-existent maintenance budgets. In other words, they couldn’t go to war if they wanted to.

        And they don’t. Over the last decade or so the defense ministry has been turned into a chick job. And I mean that in all the negative senses. The government has placed women with little or no military knowledge in charge – Merkel used the defense ministry to sideline her rivals – and given them one brief – cut the budget. It’s worse than when Christie Todd Whitman headed EPA. The abuse the latest defense minister took in the press after Putin invaded was simply astonishing, and her ignorant, near-bimbo behavior didn’t help. She deserved it, IMHO. She reviewed the desert peacekeeping force, in the desert, in 3 inch pumps. https://www.bild.de/bild-plus/politik/ausland/politik-ausland/lambrecht-traegt-bei-truppenbesuch-pumps-soldaten-sauer-auf-stoeckelschuh-minist-79758704,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html (the article is behind a paywall, but you only need to see the picture, and it isn’t). The uniformed head of the military recently said publicly that in his 41 years of military service he’s never been so embarrassed as he is by the current state of the German military.

        I’m a little off-point, but I think that digression will help illuminate what else I’m going to say.

        The Germans are seriously dragging their feet on military aid and will do anything they can to avoid coming across with it. They made themselves the laughingstock when the sum of their donation at the beginning was 5,000 helmets and some medical supplies. Klitschko, the mayor of Kiev and former heavyweight boxing champion, mocked them mercilessly on world media. The DDR-leftover Soviet-era Strela (SAM-7) shoulder-launched anti-air missiles they sent were mostly useless as they had been stored for 30 years in (effectively) damp basements and were full of mold.

        After Scholz made his speech, there was a period of about 2 weeks where there was significant backroom infighting going on between pols who wanted to do what Scholz spoke about and those who didn’t. For a while, based on the coverage, I had significant doubts that they would follow through on Scholz’ speech. I still have some. And there will be considerable foot-dragging by those who don’t want to go along, every step of the way.

        They recently agreed to send some, few, modern Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, only to run up against the fact that the ammunition for the main gun, a 30 mm autocannon, is made in Switzerland and the Swiss won’t allow its being sent into combat zones. So the Germans threw up their hands. And, AFAIK, they have done nothing since to sort that out. Similarly, they are discussing sending some near-obsolete Leopard I tanks (a good tank in the 60s, 70s and early 80s) but they have to be taken out of mothballs and that’s going to take at least a month, maybe more. The manufacturer is going to have to rebuild or repair them and who knows what bottlenecks exist in the spare parts realm. Assuming the parts can be found.

        Compare this to the American response. When Zelenskyy came out with his “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition”, American civilian ammunition manufacturers donated 5 or 10 million rounds and cranked it out in a couple days, some gunmakers donated runs of small arms, the State Department both issued the necessary permits – ITAR and other regs make it very hard to legally ship anything weapon-related across international borders – and worked with the UKR government to arrange shipment and delivery. This was all done in days, not weeks. The ITAR permits can themselves take months in normal times. I think the ammo was arriving inside of a week, maybe two.

        Part of the Germans’ problem is a hangover from before the invasion. As late as February, one of the big debates coming up was about proposed EU regulations regarding what was called “taxonomy”. The idea was to define future commerce around the concept of “sustainability”, and that concept was centered around climate change. Under the taxonomy, if a line of business was deemed “sustainable” then it would have access to things like the banking system, and generally be allowed to operate. OTOH, if the Eurocrats deemed a line of business “not sustainable” then it would be barred from access to the banking system and from investment. The idea was to concentrate on business lines that were climate-friendly and eliminate those that were not. (Kinda like how all the marijuana businesses here have to be all-cash and have no bank access whatsoever.)

        You can see where this is going. This was really a way of achieving policy ends that couldn’t be achieved through normal legislating and governing. At the top of the list to be deemed not sustainable was the armaments (i.e., defense) industry. Followed closely by internal combustion engines. So, in anticipation, there was surely diminished investment in the industry. And now they need it.

        The other part is that the Germans have really turned into a nation of lotus-eaters. They grew quite accustomed to living a nice, comfortable life behind the shield and sword of the American military. This is one place where, like him or not, Trump was right in demanding they pony up their promised share of defense. It seems clear in hindsight that because he was the ugly Trump they were going to ignore him and take their chances on Putin. Just like they did with Too-cool-for-school Obama and that Idiot-Texas-cowboy Bush. I suppose they figured their “Wandel durch Handel” would work, or that they could stall him long enough for some magical resolution where he’d see the light, or just die before he got too close. The one thing they were very, very good at was finding excuses to justify cutting their defense budget. And in feeding Russian oligarchs more and more money.

        In short, as to Putin the Germans suffered from the same delusion the appeasers in Britain’s upper classes suffered from when confronting Hitler. They were comfortable, they had a lot to lose from a fight, they didn’t want to risk their precious sons in senseless battles somewhere, and they figured they could put him off until next week, next month, next year. Kick the can far enough down the road and he’d be someone else’s problem, if indeed he was a problem at all. To the extent they paid any attention what he said, they figured it was for internal consumption, the ravings of a funny little man.

        Only he, like the dictators of 80 and 90 years ago, was quite, quite serious. (He’s using the same playbook, BTW.)

        The British learned the lessons of appeasement and have not forgotten them. To a somewhat lesser but also different degree, the French learned them too. They haven’t forgotten them. The Poles have had entirely too much experience to forget, and a lot of it in the current generation. They were ecstatic when Trump proposed stationing American troops in Poland for training; they wanted to rename the post “Camp Trump”. The Germans were only too happy to see the Americans off. No more convoys gumming up the Autobahn. And we Americans, the propaganda of the Cold War sunk in and sunk in deep. I find myself calling them Soviets almost every day. The Germans never learned those lessons.

        So, to return to my initial take – I’ll believe the Germans will pony up when I see them doing it, not before. In the meantime they’ll drag their feet and have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to carry out their obligations to the Alliance and, for that matter, Western Civilization.


        *(“stoplight” coalition, named for the colors of the parties forming it – Red = SPD, Green = Greens, Yellow = Free Democrats)

    • skua says:

      There are anti-immigrant sentiments being promoted by white nationalists.
      Having clarity about what the Swedish PM said would help in this area.
      “Sweden’s failure to properly integrate large numbers of migrants has led to the creation of parallel societies and gang violence, according to left-wing Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.”
      https://www.eutimes.net/2022/05/swedish-prime-minister-says-integration-has-failed-after-migrant-riots/
      The PM pointed at a management issue.

      • scribe says:

        Which is what I said: “It’s not often one gets a definitive statement from a head of government that ‘our policy failed’, but you got that there.”

        What you have to, and don’t seem to, recognize, is that one can blame left-wing or right-wing or religious fanatics or irreligious fanatics for whatever is the latest upset. The key thing to creating that upset – which is what we can expect Putin to do – is two fold: (1) there has to be a charismatic organizer who can hold a crowd’s attention and get them to follow, and (2) someone has to fund it. There’s not a lot of profit (or even income to cover costs) in being an “activist”, “organizer” or loudmouth. Yet they have to eat, pay for rent (for themselves and for the rally halls) and so on.
        Putin’s operatives can find charismatic loudmouths anywhere on the political spectrum. And they’ll be willing to spend money.

        Remember, their objective is to destabilize Western society. It doesn’t take a lot of people to cause a rumpus way out of proportion to their numbers. They just have to be well-placed and loud enough. It took only one leaker, two reporters and an editor and publisher to blow up American society with the Dobbs draft.

        • skua says:

          I don’t seem to recognise?
          You also wrote ” … PM declared a week or two ago that their migrant policy had totally failed.”
          Which seems very much like the sort of take that Putin minions and Tucker Carlsen will be using.

          • scribe says:

            That was the reporting in the foreign language newspapers. Quoting her.

            Don’t try to pillory me because I report something your prejudices don’t like. IDGAF about honest reporting triggering you.

              • bmaz says:

                Yeah, don’t do that. We have known Scribe since before this here fine blog was even called Emptywheel. He is about as far from Tucker Carlson as is possible. Apparently people are really chippy rolling into Mother’s Day. Don’t do that.

                    • bmaz says:

                      Heh, I got invited to go over for the race, and I just laughed. The course looked like shit to me from the second it was drawn up. It was even worse than I expected. “But bmaz, there will be stars at Miami!” Lol have they never been to a GP before?? I’ve been to a bunch, and there are stars at all of them. It is the most bourgeoisie sport in the world. Nice bit for Gasly though, he is a good kid with a ton of talent. Needs better equipment though.

                    • bmaz says:

                      Oh, I pretty much went for free because friends in the biz. And with passes/badges you could not even buy on the market. Travel and food and drinks were mostly it. That joyride is over, those days are very long gone now, and that is okay at this point.

  17. e.a.f. says:

    those singing the tune of releasing information will cause more problems, need a new song or rather a whole new band. It is good for people to know the U.S.A. helped in providing information to Ukraine. It says loud and clear, even if the U.S.A. doesn’t send soliders, they can provide you with the best information available. That during a war is very valuable.

    The providing of information to other NATO countries is not going to cause more problems, Russia is going to do what Putin wants regardless. Knowing the U.S.A. can and will provide information to Ukraine may even give Putin pause before he escalates.

    Liked the post!

  18. erniesfo says:

    Interesting, and Rofer raises some interesting points.

    The “information theater”/media “fog” of the current crisis is at least as thick as in the run-up to the US Invasion of Iraq in 2003. The NYT article is the latest fog bank to roll in. Just like here in San Francisco, the next bank is due in 20 minutes.

    In 2021 Biden “set” the information theater when he announced in advance “massive” sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion. Put on notice, Russia has had at least some time to prepare and mitigate where possible the coming sanctions in cooperation with its allies. Facing these sanctions, Russia still chose to invade.

    The NYT piece is about “dick-wagging” with “benefits”. However, I’m not so sure about the benefits part of the equation. Most every war produces these kinds of pieces with their calculations and miscalculations attached. Pre-invasion Russia certainly anticipated the funneling by US/Nato of intelligence to the Ukrainian military and that this would represent a considerable force-multiplier. Yet Russia still invaded.

    Sure, the US and the Biden Administration is trying to erect contactless causal boundaries by publicly saying is “We ARE loading the gun, but we’re NOT pulling the trigger. And oh yeah, WE HAVE NO IDEA who the victim will be…” I just don’t find this formula convincing, comforting, or, just as important, insulating. But I can see it as being an escalation.

    A far more important consideration, in terms of developments and outcomes, and especially those on the ground to date, was the decision by Russia to delay full operations until after the close of the Beijing Olympics on 2/20/22.

    It strikes me that many in the press and even in the think spa community have overlooked or, at best, downplayed the fact that the relationship between Russia and China has undergone a major transition from rapprochement to entente in the last year. It is now full alliance – one that “in its closeness and effectiveness, exceeds an alliance.” If the Joint Statement by Russia and China on 2/4/22 did not make an impression on Biden, perhaps he got further clarification during his Zoom call with Xi Jingping on 3/18/22. In any event, the WH readout of the call is one paragraph. Meanwhile, no Joint Statement.

    On 3/28/22 DOD quietly updated it’s National Defense Strategy. China is, surprise, now Threat #1. Russia is not even listed in it’s top 4 priorities. Perhaps this explains US FP?

    Talking about force multipliers, I would not be at all surprised if China is providing and sharing all kinds of intelligence – military, economic etc – with Russia. That’s what allies usually do.

    Re Roefer on chemical weapons, any use by any party of course needs to be investigated. However, to date there has been no confirmed use by any party. Besides lack of evidence to date, the recent repeated claims by Ukraine’s Azov Battalion are not bearing truth for the usual reasons. As for as “Victory Day”, militaries usually understand that wars have their own timeline and red letter days. I don’t think Russia started manufacturing or handing out “Mission Accomplished” hats and t-shirt merch back in February. I think Russia understands, for better or worse, that it’s objectives are far-more long-term in importance than a parade.

    The war is a catastrophe and a dangerous one. This conflict cried out for a negotiated settlement long before it began. It’s crying out still. The difference now is that there is blood everywhere. The Ukrainian people are paying a massive price. Those who think and glibly talk of “bleeding” Russia and “winning” this conflict over “years” are just nuts. The only true “winner” of this mess will most likely be China.

    • bmaz says:

      This is horseshit. It is not a joined “war”, it is an extermination. And to pretend otherwise is asinine. And her name is Cheryl, not “Rofer”. You want to pull Greenwald/Jacobin garbage on Twitter, fine. But do not waltz in here with that garbage.

      • erniesfo says:

        Hey bmaz! I didn’t “waltz” in, more like “stumbled across”. I’m not “pretending” about anything. Sorry we disagree on whatever it is that we disagree about here. Obviously meant no offense to Ms. Cheryl Rofer. No idea what the “joined” is in reference to. Also no idea what you’re referring to re the “Greenwald/Jacobin garbage” as I’m not a big fan of the former (as you know if you follow my TL) and don’t subscribe to the latter. I have the ability and even, FWIW, the professional training (though not really required) to come to my own assessment on the subject matter discussed.

        Also, hope you’re not affected by the fires.

  19. ollie says:

    100%. All of your points are solid and encouraging. I’m so sick of the constant criticism towards the president. also great comments, as usual.

  20. JR in WV says:

    Since the beginning of the russian invasion of Ukraine I have learned that one of my best friend’s grandparents, who I had thought were russian, were actually Ukranian. His wife is Polish, and her family (father and uncles) worked with my family in my hometown.

    Mike’s grandparents were in Philadelphia, where I met them more than 50 years ago now. They spoke little “American” but Yiddish and Ukranian Russian. Now, of course, long passed away. Were sweet people, given their historic background.

    Mike’s father had a tiny book and candy shop in north Philly, which I later learned was really more of a bookie gambling shop, which made sense as I couldn’t see someone sending kids to college on $50 worth of candy a week…

    Anyway, hoping so hard the brave people of Ukraine overcome the war crimes of Putin and his military dogs. So much evil in the latest European land war, so obvious most of the evil is by Putin’s russian military.

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