Putin is now a Fascist, Imperialist War Criminal. He Himself – his Continuance in Office – is now the Biggest Issue in Any Ukraine Peace Negotiations

Tanks Belarus PutinThe death squad war crimes in Ukraine now mean that Putin himself is the biggest obstacle to a peace deal. He won’t agree to leave power, but with him still office, neither Ukraine nor the West is likely to accept the full re-normalization of Russia, by which I mean the rollback of the war sanctions and the re-entry of Russia into normal diplomatic intercourse with West.

This post is based on an op-ed I wrote at 1945.com.

Just as the Kaiser had to abdicate in Germany after WWI, and the Japanese military junta had to step aside after WWII, so will there be enormous pressure to insist on regime change as part of a sanctions relief deal. Biden already blurted this out last week, and now, after the revelation of the war crimes, it is almost impossible to imagine the West interacting with Russia normally again while Putin is still in charge.

Putin is a fascist, imperialist war criminal. He has built an near-fascist regime at home. He has openly invaded another country in an enormous land war not seen in Europe in decades. He has tolerated death squads systematically killing hundreds of civilians to terrorize his opponents.

Because of this, no Western leader will likely ever meet Putin again, and the sanctions will stay on Russia even if it ends the war. Russia under Putin is just too dangerous.

Here is that essay for 1945:

Russian Re-Normalization with Putin in Charge is Likely Impossible after His War Crimes – At some point, the Ukraine war will end. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the war will last years. Even if true, the war will conclude eventually. A part of the settlement will be the ‘re-normalization’ of Russia. This means rolling back the sanctions and permitting Russia to resume normal economic and diplomatic interaction with the sanctioning states.

After World War I, France famously inhibited Germany’s resumption of normal intercourse with the world via the Versailles Treaty. This is now widely seen as an enormous error. Versailles crippled the Weimar Republic and opened space for both rightist revanchist and Marxist revolutionary movements. In time, fascism destroyed a weak interwar German democracy.

A core challenge of any final settlement with Russia be the terms of its re-normalization. Russia is a large, nuclear-armed, consequential power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Even if the war reduces it to middle power status, it will retain enormous potential to cause trouble. We are already seeing the difficulties of fully de-linking from the Russian economy. It owes debt payments to western institutions who do not wish to lose those monies; it supplies natural gas to Europe which has struggled to find alternatives; it, and Ukraine, are food exporters, and those prices look set to rise.

Please read the rest here.

The Post-War Re-Normalization of Russia Increasingly Turns on Whether Putin Stays in Power, especially after the War Crimes

Putin RussiaAt some point the war in Ukraine will end, and Russia will seek to re-enter diplomacy and the world economy, and shed the heavy sanctions and isolation on it. This will be a major part of whatever the final peace deal emerges. (This is a local re-post of an essay I wrote at 1945.com.)

The model of what not to do is, of course, Weimar Germany. France particularly fought the re-normalization of post-WWI Germany. This fired a revanchist far right which eventually destroyed the Weimar Republic. Any final status deal on Ukraine shouldn’t punish Russia so harshly that we drive its domestic politics toward even more radical right voices than Putin’s.

Conversely, this was pretty clearly a war of choice. Russia has to be punished in someway. Also, Russia is now pretty clearly a threat to its neighbors. There is a case against re-normalization – to leave sanctions and diplomatic isolation on belligerent Russia after the war to keep it weak.

This will be a tough balance to find, especially since Putin will likely stay in power which will insure a continuing informal isolation: western leaders will probably never meet Putin personally again; western companies will likely never return with Putin in power.

My own thoughts on the terms a peace deal are here. In short, I think Ukraine should get an indemnity, EU membership, a military, and territorial integrity, while Russia gets Ukraine out of NATO, sanctions rollback, diplomatic re-normalization, Crimea, and Putin in power.

Here is that essay at 1945:

It is now apparent that Russia will not conquer Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has significantly over-reached. His defense ministry recently scaled back its war aims. The army now claims to only seek to gain the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. If Putin follows through on this change, it should take pressure off the Ukrainian capital and the Black Sea coastline.

The War is Stalemated, Perhaps even Turning against Russia

There is obviously much cause for skepticism. Putin has limited his goals because Russia is stalemated in the war, perhaps even on the cusp of losing. It is highly unlikely that Putin has changed his beliefs that Ukraine is a fake country that should be controlled by Russia.

Nevertheless, this partial de-escalation is the first step toward resolving the conflict. Now that Putin’s offensive has culminated, he is unlikely to make any major new gains.

Please read the rest here.

The Lesson of the Ukraine War for China against Taiwan is No Longer a ‘Fait Accompli Land-Grab before the World can Respond.’ Now it’s ‘Bombard Them into Submission First’

UkraineThe lesson of the Ukraine war for China in a Taiwan scenario seemed, at first, to be: go for a quick, fait accompli land-grab before the democracies can respond. Instead, the lesson now is: bombard Taiwan into submission first before trying a huge risky landing.

This is re-post of an article I wrote for 1945.com earlier this month. There’s been lots of writing about what lessons China might draw from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, because of the parallels. As I write,

Both are treated as dissident territories by a large, belligerent, autocratic neighbor. Both look to the US and other democracies for help but lack formal alliances with them. Further, the position of the democratic world toward them both is ‘strategic ambiguity.’ Neither can be sure the democracies will help them.

Had the Russian war gone well – specifically, had it been the intended quick fait accompli which won before the West could get its act together – this war might have served as a genuine model: grab Taiwan before the US and Japan can come to rescue and then present the new status quo as the end of hostilities and force the US to be the one who looks like it is escalating.

Instead, Russia is losing, and the lessons turned out to be far different:

1. Mobilized, nationalistic populations will fight tenaciously

2. Autocratic militaries suffer from corruption and morale problems

3. Western sanctions will be far more punishing than expected

The asymmetries between China and Taiwan are even greater than between Russia and Ukraine, so China might be able to win by sheer weight. But that’s what Russia expected too, and the geography is much worse for China. A Taiwan invasion would have to cross 100 miles of water. That is a huge logistical hurdle, on par with D-Day 1944.

So if you’re China, the strategic take-away is to pound Taiwan for weeks before invading. That would activate massive global resistance of course, but that is better than marching in and losing as Russia is doing.

Here is that 1945 essay:

The Lesson of Ukraine for China: Grabbing Taiwan would be Harder than it Thinks – There has been much discussion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an encouragement for China to consider its own land-grab – of Taiwan. Taiwan and Ukraine are indeed in similar geopolitical positions. Both are treated as dissident territories by a large, belligerent, autocratic neighbor. Both look to the US and other democracies for help but lack formal alliances with them.

Further, the position of the democratic world toward them both is ‘strategic ambiguity.’ Neither can be sure the democracies will help them. The logic is that this vagueness will discourage direct intervention by China and Russia. Simultaneously though, the democracies have sought to develop robust state capacity and military capability in Ukraine and Taiwan, to improve their ability to defend themselves and, ideally, deter Russia and/or Chinese attack.

Read the rest here.

The Ukraine War is a Stalemate. What if Putin Escalates to Try to Win?

Russia Su-34Russia is not going to win unless it escalates. So what do we do if it uses a really horrific weapon?

This is a re-post of a column I wrote recently for 1945.com. When I wrote it, it still looked like Russia would win by sheer weight. As we come up on April, a Russian victory is increasingly unlikely. The Russian military, as structured, is too heavy, too poorly supplied, too corrupt, and too reliant of sheer firepower to win.

By winning, I mean something like Russia’s original war aims – replacing the Ukrainian leadership, annihilating its military, or taking territory (Donbas, the Black Sea coast). If you define down ‘winning’ to mean just blowing the place to hell, I guess Russia is ‘winning.’

But Putin has tied his legacy to this war; he’s macho, self-possessed, and desperate for Russia to be ranked as a great, consequential power in world politics. He is likely to escalate to try to win rather than withdraw, even as this war reduces Russia’s claim to great power status even more.

So what do we do if Russia uses a chemical or even tactical nuclear weapon to break the battlefield stalemate? The pressure from the Western public to do something in response would be overwhelming. At minimum, I think much of the objection to a no-fly zone would dissipate. That, in turn, would become a low-intensity NATO-Russian shooting war with the ever-present possibility of it spiraling out of control.

We need to start thinking, now, what we would do if Russia uses non-conventional weapons in a desperate bid to win. Naturally, all our options are bad. Here’s that 1945 essay:

The war in Ukraine is devolving into a grind of limited, costly Russian advances and ferocious Ukrainian counterattacks. It still looks as if Russia will win – if only because it will relentlessly pound Ukrainian cities with artillery – but there is now a reasonable chance Ukraine will fight Russia to a stalemate.

It is now painfully clear that Russia expected a blitzkrieg victory, a quick, in-and-out invasion similar to its ten-day war in Georgia in 2008. A modernized, high-tech Russian military was to roll over a poorly-armed and -trained Ukrainian army fighting for a weak state with low public legitimacy. The plan was, apparently, to impose a Russian stooge in the place of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then go home before the West could organize a response.

Read the rest here.

Mearsheimer, NATO Expansion, and the Ukraine War – M Predicts Russia’s Desire to Dominate Ukraine, but also NATO Expanding to Fill a Vacuum

UkraineEveryone seems to have a take on Mearsheimer and Ukraine, so here’s mine: Mearsheimer’s offensive realism predicts Russian’s desire to dominate its borderlands, but ALSO a NATO effort thwart that via expansion. So its awkward that he blames NATO, because playing international politics toughly is what his offensive realist theory would predict NATO to do.

This is a re-post of an article I wrote a few days ago at 1945.com. I should say to start that I find damning Mearsheimer as some kind of Russian operative or stooge is wrong. He’s been predicting this for years, and he’s an academic with a reputation for integrity. He’s a far cry from embarrassing, pro-Putin hacks like Tulsi Gabbard or Glenn Greenwald.

Still, I think Mearsheimer gets Ukraine wrong, because he only looks at it from Russia’s perspective. His theoretical priors – offensive realism – do predict that Russia will try to control its borderlands. But offensive realism ALSO predicts that

1. those borderlands will try to escape Russian domination (which Ukraine is doing now and Eastern Europe did by joining NATO)

2. Russian competitors will try to help those borderlands escape (which NATO did by accepting Eastern European states)

3. Germany/EU/NATO, for which Eastern Europe is also a borderland, will also try to dominate it (which has indeed been the case historically – Germany and Russia have contested to dominate EE)

4. states with a window of opportunity for gain against an opponent (Russia’s post-Cold War weakness) will take it (which NATO and Eastern Europe did by consolidating expansion when Russian was weak)

In other words, Mearsheimer’s own theory does not predict Russian domination of Eastern Europe as a stable equilibrium but instead predicts a dynamic contest between Russia, the states it seeks to dominate (Ukraine included), and Germany/EU/NATO for whom Eastern Europe is also a borderland.

Here’s that essay on 1945.com:

The debate over the causes of the Ukraine War is intense. In the West, there has been much contention over whether the expansion of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union provoked the invasion. The most famous proponent of that claim has been John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago professor of international relations. Mearsheimer’s core argument is made here and here, and he has recently re-stated it here and here. Others have made this argument as well (here, here, here). The Russian government has even deployed Mearsheimer’s talks to defend its war.

Please read the rest here.

Should We Support a Ukrainian Insurgency if Russia Wins the War?

UkraineThis is a re-post of a column I wrote a few days ago for 1945.com. I think almost everybody’s working assumption is that, yes, we should support an insurgency – assuming the Ukrainians lose the battlefield conflict which still seems likely

The reasons seem pretty obvious: Russia is clearly the aggressor. The Ukrainians are putting up a tough fight. It’s hard not to sympathize with their plight and want to help them as much as possible. A non-fly zone would be super risky, so support for their war effort, including after a battlefield defeat is a good choice.

All that is persuasive to me too, but I would add a few points:

1. The Ukrainians need to make the choice to launch an insurgency themselves. It will be brutal and likely long. We should not egg them on. They need to decide on their own.

2. The Ukrainians can’t use across-the-border safe-havens in NATO territory. A common tactic in insurgencies is to slip into a neighboring country to re-group and avoid the counter-insurgent. The VC/NVA did this in Vietnam, as did the mujahedeen in Afghanistan. But in Ukraine, we can’t have Russian forces chasing Ukrainian rebels on NATO territory. The escalation threat is too great.

3. What if the Russian COIN is extremely vicious and the Ukrainians can’t win? There is a humanitarian argument for surrender if a) you can’t win, and b) the other side is massacring your people in response. I don’t know just how harsh the Russians will be as counter-insurgents, but their tactics in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Syria, and now in Ukraine suggest a future COIN in Ukraine would be harsh.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

Ukrainian resistance is inspiring. Almost overnight, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has become a global celebrity. Stories of Ukrainian grandmothers standing up to the Russians are all over social media (however exaggerated). Ukraine’s chances of winning the war – or more accurately, fighting the Russians to a standstill – are improving with every day it is not defeated. Time is on Ukraine’s side, particularly given Russia’s growing logistical problems.

Can Ukraine Hang On Another Month?

If Ukraine can hang on for another month, Russia is in serious trouble. By then, the NATO operation to send weapons, ammunition, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine will be running at full speed. Also at that point, the sanctions on Russia will be sinking deep into the crevices of its economy. Most industries and firms will have spare parts and reserves for a few weeks. So for the rest of March, Russians might still be able to have their foreign car repaired, or find a replacement battery for their foreign cell phone. By April that will be unlikely, and small failures throughout Russia’s economy will be cascading into a major crisis.

Read the rest here.

China’s Support for Putin in Ukraine, and Resistance to Sanctions, is Not Just about Taiwan

ChinaThis is a local re-post of a column I wrote recently for 1945.com. If you want to see just how absurd Chinese support for Putin is becoming, here is China’s own version of QAnon.

My basic argument is that Beijing is supporting Russia for reasons beyond just the precedent for its own move on Taiwan someday and desire for Russian support for that. That’s part of it obviously. But I think there at least three deeper reasons, which I initially suggested here on Twitter:

First, ideological. China is an autocracy. It wants other autocracies to survive in order to mask or normalize its own autocracy. It does not want to stand alone, as a authoritarian outlier in a world of democracies with a global norm of democracy. So it will not enforce sanctions on N Korea, nor on Russia. It won’t help its own ideological self-isolation.

Second, strategic. China has an obvious interest in Russia and North Korea playing spoiler to the world’s democracies. If the democracies are busy with North Korean shenanigans and Putin’s risk-taking, they’re not focusing on the East and South China Seas. So why not keep these countries afloat for the distraction value?

Third, economic. Sanctions-running is lucrative. It’s a nice way to get ultra-cheap contracts for NK fishing rights or Russian natural resource exports.

Also, Putin getting himself bloodied against the West is also no bad thing for China, given long standing Chinese-Russian tensions in Asia.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

Ukrainian resistance in the war against Russia has surprised everyone. There is now a growing chance Ukraine may stalemate the Russian army. And even should Ukraine be defeated – which is still likely given the sheer amount of force Russian President Vladimir Putin can bring to bear if he chooses – a Ukrainian insurgency seems increasingly likely. Western support of that insurgency also seems increasingly likely.

In short, Putin will not win the quick war he appears to have expected. Russia will be badly isolated and increasingly dependent on China as an escape hatch from the pressure of sanctions.

Read the rest here.

More on Sanctions against Russia: Yes, Sanctions are Blunt and Limited, but Our Options are Limited; a No-Fly Zone would be very Risky

SanctionsThis is a re-post of something I wrote recently at 1945.com on sanctioning Russia. It pulls from Twitter debates on Russian sanctions I’ve gotten tangled up in (here, here, here).

So everybody agrees that sanctions are a blunt tool. And everybody also agrees that sanctions don’t ‘work’ if you insist that they should achieve some enormous goal like pushing Russia out of Ukraine or denuclearizing North Korea. And it’s probably true that the US particularly overuses sanctions. And finally, it’s common to blame sanctions for humanitarian impacts (although I’d argue that’s more because of internal allocative decisions in the target states, but that’s a debate for another time).

So everybody agrees they kinda suck. So why do we do them? Because they are often a middle option between dovish diplomacy and the hawkish use of force:

Diplomacy is ideal, and in some cases like the Iran deal, it appears to have worked. Trump dumping that deal for sanctions was a mistake. But in tough cases like NK WMD or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, diplomacy seems like too weak a response. NK has a long history of gaming talks to buy time to build its WMD, and it’s pretty clear in Ukraine that Russia is seeking a battlefield solution. So yes, let’s keep talking, but tougher cases probably require a bit of steel in the glove.

The use of force is too much steel in the glove though in most cases. An no-fly zone over Ukraine is a step toward NATO-Russian war, as just about everyone now grasps. Denuclearizing NK by force would likely start another war.

So yeah, sanctions are unsatisfying, but we wind up there, because other options are often worse. Here is that 1945 essay:

The Limits on Sanctions against Russia – The Russian invasion of Ukraine is bogging down. Russia’s poor tactical performance and severe logistical snarls have surprised much of the world, including Putin himself apparently. The Ukrainians are fighting better and harder than expected. Ukraine’s civilian population is rising up. We have all seen videos of regular Ukrainians yelling at Russian soldiers or making Molotov cocktails.

This war is not the blitzkrieg Putin hoped for. Ukraine will not consensually join a Russian sphere of influence. Resistance is widespread, and Russia will need to leave an occupation army for some time if it hopes to solidify its gains. Hence, even if the Ukrainian military is defeated on the battlefield – which is still probable –a Ukrainian insurgency seems likely.

Please read the rest here.

Reflexively Applying the 1938 Munich Analogy to Ukraine – and Every Other Conflict – Just Shows You Need to Read More History and Watch Less TV

MunichThis is a re-post of an essay I just wrote for 1945.com.

I find it intellectually exhausting how often we use WWII analogies to analyze military conflicts. Particularly Americans seem to be obsessed with re-playing 1938 and the Munich conference again and again, with a foreign opponent – communists, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, Putin – as Hitler and a ‘weak’ US president as Neville Chamberlain.

I have long suspected that the commonplace use of Munich is because:

a) Everybody knows some basic history of WWII, if only from the movies

b) Linking anything to the Nazis automatically raises the stakes and demands attention for your argument

c) the Munich Analogy abets laziness by Americanizing foreign conflicts. The entire discussion devolves into  a debate about whether the US president is weak/Chamberlain or strong/Churchill. So you don’t need to learn anything about the conflict, and all these reporters with no training in strategic studies can still talk about these conflicts like they know what they’re talking about.

But there are lots of conflicts out there which might serve as better models of the current Ukraine war, such as Soviet-Finnish War or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So before you start in with the worn-out Hitler Channel WWII analogies, go read more.

Here’s the 1945.com essay:

The world is rallying around Ukraine in the war. Indeed, it is remarkable just how much the Ukrainian side has dominated the battle for global public opinion. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin, seemingly trapped in an autocrat’s information bubble, appears to realize that now. Because the war is so overtly aggressivetanks rolling across borders in Europe – the media’s analogies to Adolf Hitler’s aggressive war in Europe were probably inevitable.

Please read the rest here.

Ukraine: We Won’t Put Up a No-Fly Zone, but We do have Other Options: Sanctions, Weapons/Ammo Assistance, Humanitarian Aid, even Foreign Volunteers

Russia T-80 TanksSorry for not posting for awhile. I have commented heavily on the war on Twitter. Please follow me there. I have also been writing a lot of columns on the war for 1945.com this week. Go here.

This post is a re-up of something I wrote for 1945 this week. Basically I argue that we should stop focusing on whether or not to establish a non-fly zone (NFZ). We are not going to do that. It is way to dangerous. I know the Ukrainians want an NFZ, and we want to help them, but risks of spiraling, kinetic exchanges between NATO and Russia are just too great.

Enforcing an NFZ would require NATO to shoot down Russian planes and helicopters, or at minimum target air defense on the ground. Russian operators would die. NATO pilots would too as the Russians shot back. Pressure would rise on both sides to respond elsewhere and with greater force. That escalation risk is scary. Both are nuclear-armed with large militaries. That constrains us.

Perhaps if the behavior of Russian forces in Ukraine really becomes terrible and extreme, we will reconsider. But that strikes me as a unlikely at the moment. Putin is a gangster, but he’s not Hitler. He also has a strategic interest in not levelling Ukraine and igniting an insurgency in response to occupier brutality.

I would also point out that NATO publics do not want to risk a war with Russia even if you do.

But we can, and are, sending lots of weapons, ammunition, and humanitarian aid, effectively funding and equipping the Ukrainian war effort as the Ukrainians themselves fight it. Sanctions will push up the price of the war for Russia. Even foreign volunteers are now going there.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

Ukraine’s resistance to Russia is genuinely heroic. People around the world have been moved by the inspiring imagery on social media. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has become a global celebrity overnight. In this passionate moment, there have been widespread calls for the West to do more.

This is tempting of course. The NATO alliance sits right across the border. Ukraine borders three NATO members. That enormous convoy of Russian armored vehicles north of Kyiv is an attractive target, and Ukraine does not appear to have enough assets to strike it. Zelensky has asked for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Strategically, this makes sense for the Ukrainians. Russian airpower substantially outguns the Ukrainian side. The incompetence displayed on the Russian side this week will likely slowly give way. The sheer weight of Russian power will likely be brought to bear in the coming month. Ukraine will still probably lose the conflict – even if the likelihood of that is lower than we thought last week.

Read the rest here.