Notes on the War in Ukraine

[This is really a collection of short notes rather than a coherent article, but there are so many of them I decided to split them off into their own post.]

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is in its second week now. Plan A was blitzkrieg: Occupation of the major cities, capture of Zelensky and the rest of the government, and NATO unable to get its act together on sanctions in time to matter. That plan failed due to fierce resistance from Ukrainians, poor planning and execution by the Russian army, and effective coordination between President Biden and the other NATO heads of state.

Plan B is the Grozny/Aleppo approach : bludgeon Ukraine into submission by knocking out utilities and shelling civilian areas. In the words of Tacitus: “They make a desert and call it peace.” That strategy will take longer, the Ukrainians might have too much spirit for it, and meanwhile the Russian economy is collapsing and oligarchs fear for their yachts.

Targeting of civilians appears to be deliberate. Negotiated evacuation corridors for refugees have failed.

In the country’s southeast, hopes that a second attempt to open up safe evacuation routes for civilians in Mariupol and Volnovakha might succeed — after a first effort failed on Saturday — were dashed within hours.

The governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said on Facebook on Sunday that the planned “evacuation convoy with local residents was never able to leave Mariupol today: the Russians began to regroup their forces and heavy shelling of the city. It is extremely dangerous to evacuate people in such conditions.”

This morning’s NYT says that US cargo planes full of weapons are still landing in Ukraine. [I got this wrong, as a commenter points out below. It’s a Ukrainian plane.]

So far, Russian forces have been so preoccupied in other parts of the country that they have not targeted the arms supply lines, but few think that can last.

Cargo planes are big slow targets. I’m not sure how the American public will react when we lose one.

Maybe the best single piece of advice for observing this war comes from Isaac Saul on the Tangle blog: “Don’t lose the plot.” There are a million ways to sidetrack discussions of Ukraine, and a million different rabbit-holes you can go down. And free people should be able to pursue any of those rabbits if they want to. But don’t lose the plot.

An authoritarian leader has invaded a country that posed no threat to him because he believes that country, and its 40 million innocent citizens, belong to him. He told his soldiers they’d be greeted as liberators, and instead they are rightly being greeted with guns and Javelin anti-tank missiles. NATO did not make Putin launch this war. Biden did not. Trump did not. Ukraine did not.

Putin did.

Nobody is being de-nazified and nobody is being liberated. Civilians are being slaughtered. Children are being slaughtered. Watch the extremely graphic videos of what’s happening if that is what it takes to understand it.

Young Russian soldiers are fighting a war they didn’t even realize they were being sent to. Fighters on both sides are dying, at first by the hundreds and now by the thousands. 18-year-old Ukrainian kids wearing kneepads are now headed to the front lines.

Some guy on the internet (Igor Sushko, apparently a Ukrainian race-car driver) claims to be posting a translation of an analysis he got from an analyst in the FSB (i.e., Russian intelligence). Authentic? I have no idea. But it is a fascinating view of the current situation.

The analyst claims that nobody at the FSB knew a Ukrainian invasion was in the works, so they thought the contingency planning was “only intended as a checkbox”. They skewed their analyses to come out well for Russia, because that’s what higher-ups wanted to hear. But now the invasion is really happening and sanctions have been imposed, so the nation is depending on these fantasy scenarios.

We have no analyses, we can’t make any forecasts in this chaos, no one will be able to say anything with any certainty

He paints a gloomy (for Russia) picture both of dealing with Western sanctions and of the logistics of maintaining a force big enough to occupy Ukraine.

And here’s a similar explanation for why the Russian army isn’t performing well.

The Kremlin spent the last 20 years trying to modernize its military. Much of that budget was stolen and spent on mega-yachts in Cyprus. But as a military advisor you cannot report that to the President. So they reported lies to him instead. Potemkin military

President Zelensky is asking for NATO to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine. I understand why he wants that, but I also understand why NATO doesn’t want to do it.

A no-fly zone would mean that NATO planes patrol Ukrainian airspace and shoot down Russian planes that dare to go there. Russia has the world’s second-largest air force and might not back down easily, so maybe that works and maybe it doesn’t. But suppose it does. Russia’s next move is to shoot surface-to-air missiles at the NATO planes. Some of our planes will be shot down, and some NATO pilots will become prisoners of war.

Then NATO has to decide whether or not to defend its planes by targeting SAM launch sites. Now we’re directly killing Russian soldiers on the ground.

The question no one can answer is where this escalation pattern would stop. LBJ couldn’t answer it when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. Eisenhower couldn’t answer it when the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956. And Biden can’t answer it now.

Two NATO presidents most likely to be targeted by Putin the future — Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania and Alar Karis of Estonia — look at the no-fly-zone proposal differently. Nauseda is for it, but he hopes Putin won’t call NATO’s bluff and force NATO to shoot down Russian planes. “If we are decisive, maybe this is the best way to achieve peace.”

Karis is more skeptical: “You probably understand what that means: It means the Western world is going into a war with Russia, and that means NATO is not a defensive organization anymore. This is against our understanding of what NATO is.”

Both of them would welcome US troops being permanently based in their countries, which was not being considered before the Ukraine invasion.

Two articles about the effectiveness of Putin’s propaganda within Russia, especially among older Russians who get their news from official sources.

The NYT talked to several Ukrainians who have relatives back in Russia about how their relatives simply don’t believe them when they talk about the war. Misha Katsurin wondered why his father in Russia didn’t call to find out how he was doing in a war zone, so he called instead.

“He started to tell me how the things in my country are going,” said Mr. Katsurin, who converted his restaurants into volunteer centers and is temporarily staying near the western Ukrainian city of Ternopil. “He started to yell at me and told me, ‘Look, everything is going like this. They are Nazis.’”

The BBC has a similar article.

“My parents understand that some military action is happening here. But they say: ‘Russians came to liberate you. They won’t ruin anything, they won’t touch you. They’re only targeting military bases’.”

Too good a story to check:

In Kyiv a woman knocked down a Russian drone from a balcony with a jar of cucumbers.

And this is what it looks like when you toss a Molotov cocktail at Russian armor as you drive past.

One constant theme in the #Ukraine Twitter feed is a series of tweets and memes comparing Ukraine to Palestine, and calling out Western hypocrisy.

There is some racism and anti-Muslim prejudice involved in the different responses to Ukrainians and Palestinians, as I discussed last week. But the analogy only works up to a point: I see Ukraine/Russia as a much less morally ambiguous conflict than Palestine/Israel. I could discuss this at length, but the biggest difference is this: The Ukrainians are shooting at invading soldiers, not blowing up coffee shops in Moscow. If this conflict drags on for 75 years, Ukrainians may by then be blowing up coffee shops, but the morality of their cause will have become less clear-cut.

Here’s a painless way to get historical background on Ukraine, which is especially important in the face of Putin’s attempt to paint Ukraine as just another part of Russia.

Last week a commenter pointed out that I had ignored the story of racism against Afro-Ukrainians and foreigners of color as they try to escape the war. I found an informative podcast on the topic, which begins with how many Afro-Ukrainians come to be there: When the USSR was trying to promote Communism in Africa, Soviet universities accepted a large number of African students, some of whom stayed. Their children have never known any other home.

The Ukrainian comedy Servant of the People that made made Volodymyr Zelensky famous is available (with English subtitles) on YouTube.

Zelensky and Trump have switched places: Zelensky is a player on the world stage, while Trump has become a comedian.

Former president Donald Trump mused Saturday to the GOP’s top donors that the United States should label its F-22 planes with the Chinese flag and “bomb the s–t out of Russia. And then we say, China did it, we didn’t do it, China did it, and then they start fighting with each other and we sit back and watch.”

That proposal “was met with laughter from the crowd of donors, according to a recording of the speech obtained by The Washington Post.”

Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis segued from talking about Ukraine to gratuitously insulting France. This is why the current generation of Republicans can’t lead alliances. Trump nearly killed NATO, and DeSantis would be no improvement.

The NYT provides advice in case you’re worried about a Russian cyberattack on the US.

And where in American society do you think pro-Putin disinformation might take root? In anti-vax groups. And in the “freedom convoy“:

The conspiracy theory, which is baseless and has roots in QAnon mythology, alleges that Trump and Putin are secretly working together to stop bioweapons from being made by Dr. Anthony Fauci in Ukraine and that shelling in Ukraine has targeted the secret laboratories.

I wonder how long it will be before fringe MAGA politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz start dog-whistling to this segment of their base, and how long before Ron DeSantis et al start following them.

For now, though, Republicans are trying to cover up their long-standing love affair with Putin. The Daily Show would like to recommend medication to help them forget: Tyranol.

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  • Nat Kuhn  On March 7, 2022 at 9:46 am

    Haven’t read super carefully, but what I got from that NYT article is that it is a Ukrainian cargo plane that is ferrying US weapons from Estonia to Ukraine.

  • David  On March 7, 2022 at 9:47 am

    Putin’s orthodox patriarch pal Kirill probably instigated this whole mess when Ukraine’s orthodox church chose separation from Moscow back in November…how come no one mentions this? Orthodoxy is Putin’s base.

  • steveriege  On March 7, 2022 at 9:54 am

    I wonder what you think of these folks and their discussion of the context for the current horror in Ukraine? John Mearsheimer, Ray McGovern, Jack Matlock.

  • Paul  On March 7, 2022 at 11:09 am

    “But the analogy only works up to a point: I see Ukraine/Russia as a much less morally ambiguous conflict than Palestine/Israel. I could discuss this at length, but the biggest difference is this: The Ukrainians are shooting at invading soldiers, not blowing up coffee shops in Moscow. If this conflict drags on for 75 years, Ukrainians may by then be blowing up coffee shops, but the morality of their cause will have become less clear-cut.”

    Important distinction: Russia invaded the Ukraine. The Arab nations invaded Israel, Israel counter-attacked and occupied territory. If the Ukraine counter-attacks and occupies Moscow, and then Russians are blowing up coffee shops in Kyiv, that would be the more direct comparison. The occupied territories result from the war of 1967, in which Israel was on the defensive.

  • Kat  On March 7, 2022 at 1:48 pm

    Pickles: verified (as much as anything can be these days) however, it was not cucumbers but tomatoes!

  • George Washington, Jr.  On March 7, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    There are two problems with a no-fly zone over Ukraine. First, the Russian offense is mostly ground-based. Stopping aircraft wouldn’t have much of an effect. The other problem is that once the first Russian plane is shot down, that amounts to a declaration of war.

  • nedhamson  On March 7, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Reblogged this on Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News.


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