SocraticGadfly: Ukraine: The Putin endgame and result?

February 26, 2022

Ukraine: The Putin endgame and result?

For important background reading on how we got here, first read my story on broken promises on NATO expansion (plus the history of Ukraine as a nation-state, or not), and then the violation of Minsk Agreements by all parties involved.

People who actually think outside of boxes better than Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté are appalled by Putin. This analysis is very good, noting that Putin had won most of what he sought without firing a shot, but then went off the rails. But comments there note that new fiscal sanctions will probably do little more than the ones already in place. Russia has much more oil than, say, Iran, has little debt, has a more robust general economy and had even, during the past few years, become a food exporter.

James Dorsey, whose thought I greatly respect, offers a stellar take, not calling Putin mad, unlike that UnHerd link, but maybe ... "truculent"? He also differentiates Putin's endgame from Xi Jinping's. I think this is a better take. Putin's not mad. This is calculated, as his "the only nationalism is Russian nationalism in the lands of the former USSR and Tsarist. Russia" have the same take on Kazakhstan as Ukraine. (Dorsey offered this opinion before Putin opted for a more "general" war.)

Dorsey, in line with the comments at UnHerd, notes Putin has amassed great amounts of reserve currency and cut dollar-denominated trade in half. Plus, oil is fungible.

As for sanctions and their effectiveness in general against authoritarian governments? Dorsey references Iran. Pre-invasion Iraq might be another example.

That said, I've said in the past I don't know what Dorsey's big political stance is. That is, how much does he align with the US bipartisan foreign policy establishment? Quoting Anne Applebaum may provide a clue. 

Meanwhile, pivoting from that to the bipartisan foreign policy establishment in general? The WSJ notes how misunderstanding and underestimating Putin has been a long bipartisan affair across multiple presidencies.

Simon Sebag Montefiore called Stalin the "Red Tsar." Maybe, using "Black" not in the sense of anarchism nearly as much as European-type libertarianism, we should call Putin the "Black Tsar."

He's a tsar who does go back pre-Stalin in another way: Caesaropapism appears to be part of his drive. This UnHerd piece notes his appeals to religious nationalism. It also notes Ukrainian Orthodoxy declared itself autocephalous in 2019, backed by Constantinople but rejected by Moscow.

At the same time, other allegedly independent thinkers can be worse than Blumenthal and Maté. At Counterpunch, Patrick Cockburn thinks this will turn out for Putin like invading Kuwait did for Saddam Hussein. I find that more unlikely than likely. Cockburn is right, that American military aid to Ukraine has perhaps gone down a deeper hole than in Afghanistan.

And, with Putin opting for a more general war, the outcome may not be so good. Daily Beast reports that basically "green" draftees are being put in the front line. What's to stop them from deserting, like in World War I of the actual tsars?  Unlike the Red Tsar, Putin doesn't (yet, at least) have the equivalent of commissars at the front, shooting not only deserters but anybody who doesn't give 110 percent. Related to that, the story notes that Russian troops have "regrouped." "Marching to Georgia," either from the Sherman-era original, or Putin's previous intervention in the Caucausians, this is not, perhaps. Related to that? We have to remember that, even though Putin has revitalized the Russian economy, it's still a nation that had entered population decline until 2010, though Putin may have temporarily fixed that, with increased immigration in the last decade. That ain't lasting, either. See here for details.

At the same time, those vaunted sanctions? A day or two after their imposition, they looked like a mix of toothless / aid to big banksters. (Update: Since then, they seem to have more teeth, but still not necessarily THAT much more teeth, even as Putin laughs all the way to the bank with oil prices climbing 50 percent in less than a month.)

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