Tag Archives: ukraine war

Why the Russians did it

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/327-mike-luckovich/M3CWVXFYINEPLGIBUKQMMLTFVE/

The atrocities discovered when Ukrainian forces retook Bucha are in perfect harmony with Kremlin rhetoric.


As Russia retreated from its attempt to encircle Kyiv, Ukrainian forces entering the town of Bucha reported finding the bodies of hundreds of civilians, many of them killed execution-style, with their hands tied behind their backs. Some bodies were buried in mass graves while others were left lying in the road.

My first thought was that it was wise to be skeptical of these reports. [1] It obviously serves the Ukrainian cause if the world believes Russia’s soldiers behaved in monstrous and inhuman ways, or that the Kremlin authorized them to do so. Using atrocity stories as propaganda goes back at least as far as World War I, when the British exaggerated stories of German crimes in Belgium.

Predictably, Russia claimed the Ukrainians had faked everything. This theory, though, is no less outrageous, because it seems to imply that the Ukrainian forces killed their own people when they re-entered the town.

As evidence mounts, I have come around to believing the Ukrainian reports. Independent reporters were brought in quickly and given a lot of freedom to wander about and talk to survivors. Satellite photos and intercepted radio chatter from before the Russians withdrew appear to correspond to some of the bodies found. The more we hear, the more the Ukraine-faked-it theory acquires the common flaw of most bad conspiracy theories: The number of people who would have to be in on the plot has grown beyond reasonable bounds.

The Ukrainian reports also fit with the Russia’s apparent disregard for civilian casualties when it shells cities. The most recent example was the missile attack on a train station in Kramatorsk. Previous Russian campaigns in Chechnya and Syria have been similarly brutal. (A general associated with massive civilian casualties in Syria has just been put in charge of the Ukraine campaign.)

But what clinches the case for me is not anything from Ukrainian or NATO sources, or from the western press. It’s an article called “What should Russia do with Ukraine?” by Russian political scientist Timofey Sergeytsev, published a week ago by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. (Alternate translation here.)

Sergeytsev is not a soldier, not in Ukraine, and as far as I know has killed no one. But he has documented, and state media has published, an argument that would justify (and perhaps even welcome) all the actions Russia has been accused of.

The article revolves around “de-Nazifiying” Ukraine, a phrase that has been the centerpiece of Russian war propaganda. To Sergeytsev, this term means much more than simply deposing the current “Nazi” government led by President Zelensky, a Jewish Ukrainian whose grandfather’s brothers were killed in the Holocaust. The deeper problem, you see, is that the Ukrainian people support Zelensky and don’t want to be dominated by Russia.

De-Nazifying is necessary when a significant part of the people – most likely, the majority – have been sucked into the Nazi regime politically. That is, when the “people are good – the government is bad” hypothesis no longer works.

In other words: the Ukrainian people are not just misled, they are bad and deserve to be punished.

De-Nazifying is the measure applied towards the masses of Nazi followers whom one is not able to subject to direct punishment as war criminals because of technicalities.

… Besides the top leaders, a significant part of the masses are guilty as accomplices of Nazism, the passive Nazis. They supported and indulged the Nazi power. The just punishment of this part of the population is possible through inflicting the unescapable hardships of our just war against the Nazi system, with careful and cautious relations towards other civilians when feasible.

In order to de-Nazify Ukraine, Russia needs total control. A “Nazified” populace has no right to self-determination or democracy.

De-Nazifying requires winning, which means achieving the unconditional control over the de-Nazifying process and the government that maintains this control. Hence, a de-Nazified country cannot be sovereign. Being the de-Nazifying country, Russia cannot practice a Liberal approach to de-Nazifying. The guilty party subjected to de-Nazifying cannot dispute our de-Nazifier’s purpose.

What will Russia do with once it achieves total control?

De-Nazifying the population further consists in re-education through an ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and a strict censorship: not only in the political sphere, but also critically, in culture and education.

Of course, Ukraine will have to be cut off from the West, and especially from Western aid that might rebuild the country after the war.

Their political aspirations cannot be neutral – the expiation of guilt before Russia for treating it as an enemy can transpire through relying on Russia in the processes of restoration, revival and development. No “Marshall Plans” should be allowed for these territories. There can be no “neutrality” in the ideological and practical sense, compatible with de-Nazifying. The cadres and organizations that are the de-Nazifying instrument in the newly de-Nazified republics cannot but rely on Russia’s direct military and organizational support.

For how long? Decades, at a minimum.

The de-Nazifying time frame is no less than one generation that needs to be born, brought up and to have reached maturity during the process of de-Nazifying.

In the process, the very idea of Ukraine has to be stamped out, and replaced with the identities of “Minor Russia” and “New Russia”. [2]

De-Nazifying will inevitably also be a de-Ukrainizing, i.e., rejecting the large-scale artificial overblowing of the ethnic component in self-identification of the population of the territories of the historical Minor Russia and New Russia. … Unlike Georgia and the Baltic countries, Ukraine is impossible as a nation-state, as history has shown, and any attempts to “build” a nation-state naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construct that does not have its own civilizational content; it’s a subordinate element of an alien and unnatural civilization.

The territory-formerly-known-as-Ukraine will have to be divided by an “alienation line” that separates Russia-loving people in the east (who could aspire to “potential integration into Russian civilization”) from Russia-hating people in the west (some of whom will have to be relocated from the east). But even the western part will never be independent.

The guarantee of the preservation of this residual Ukraine in a neutral state should be the threat of an immediate continuation of the military operation in case of non-compliance with the listed requirements. Perhaps this will require a permanent Russian military presence on its territory.

Again: This is not some Western analysts’ dark fantasy of what Russians are thinking. This is Russian state media telling Russians what they should think.

So imagine that you are a Russian soldier and that you believe you are entering a Nazi country (which is not really a country, but “an artificial anti-Russian construct that does not have its own civilizational content”) whose civilians bear the “guilt” of treating Russia as an enemy. Imagine that only “technicalities” prevent these civilians from being punished as war criminals, and that “the unescapable hardships of our just war” constitute their “just punishment”.

What would restrain you from committing crimes like those whose evidence is being found in Bucha? After all, it’s only the “other civilians” (not the Nazi-supporting majority) you need to be careful with, and only then “when feasible”.


[1] I hate that people like Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan have poisoned the phrase “just asking questions”. Questions should be asked, but as part of a process of seeking answers.

The problem with Carlson and Rogan isn’t that they’re asking questions, but that they’re not seeking answers. Instead, they ask questions simply to blow smoke and create paralyzing doubt. They imply that the questions they ask have no good answers, invent repressive forces that are trying to stop people from asking them, and cast themselves as brave rebels against those imagined forces.

I remember, early in Covid vaccination campaign, hearing Carlson do this same routine about vaccine safety. It took me less than a minute to google one of his “courageous” questions and discover that it had been asked and answered on the CDC web site. If Carlson didn’t want to accept the CDC’s answer, fine; but to pretend that the authorities had no answer and were trying to suppress the question was just dishonest.

[2] The article identifies Ukrainian nationalism with S. Bandera. (One translation calls the current regime “Banderite”.) I had to look up who that was: Stepan Bandera was a World-War-II-era Ukrainian nationalist who (depending who you talk to) was either a Nazi collaborator or a Ukrainian patriot who tried to play the Nazis and Soviets off against each other.

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.]

https://buffalonews.com/opinion/adam-zyglis-2022/collection_10d8d684-6f18-11ec-8781-d72e4b72c14d.html#2

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.

https://jensorensen.com/2022/03/02/bad-ukraine-takes-russia-putin/

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.

https://twitter.com/TsybulskaLiubov/status/1500166727065350155

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.


https://claytoonz.com/2022/03/05/borschting-for-freedom/

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.

What Can We Know About Ukraine?

https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-bramhall-editorial-cartoons-2021-jan-20220110-wtmocdmrkjearn62tqfkbixqdi-photogallery.html

For weeks I under-covered the Ukraine crisis on this blog, largely because everything I read was speculative, and I didn’t know who to believe. US intelligence said Russia was going to invade. Russia said it wasn’t. Ukraine said maybe, but not just yet. Putin’s government had a long history of lying, but US intelligence’s record wasn’t spotless either. I didn’t feel like I knew anything, so I didn’t write anything. (I recommend this policy to others.)

When last week’s blog posted, things were starting to happen in the real world rather than in the imaginations of interested parties: Russia’s forces were staying in Belarus past the previously announced end of the two countries’ military exercises. The pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine were making weird announcements — ethnic Russians should evacuate to Russia to avoid “genocide” — whose purpose seemed to be to give Putin an excuse to invade and save them.

So it looked like something was going to happen, but it was still hard to say what. Maybe Putin was just trying to start a panic in Ukraine, and wouldn’t actually attack. Maybe he’d invade the Donbas provinces he said he wanted to “liberate”, but stop there. The Biden administration said an attack on the whole country was coming.

Well, now we know. Biden was playing it straight with us all along, and US intelligence must have some really good sources inside Russia. The invasion began on Thursday, as Russian troops advanced not just from the east, but from the north (Belarus) and south (Crimea). The whole-country invasion was on. Now Putin was pledging not just to liberate Donbas, but to “de-nazify” the entire country. (Why a Nazi government would be led by a Jewish president like Zelensky has never been adequately explained.)

Since Thursday, the fog of speculation has been replaced by the fog of war. The problem isn’t that we’re all trying to imagine what might happen once things get started, but that too much is happening and too many people are reporting it through their own (possibly distorted) lenses.

Putin’s mistake. Even so, one general conclusion from the last few days seems obvious: Putin guessed wrong.

If the Ukrainian government were what he had been claiming — a corrupt puppet regime imposed on the country by the West — it should have folded under pressure the way the American-established Afghan government did in August. Nobody takes David’s side against Goliath unless they really believe in David’s cause. But the Ukrainian army has been putting up much stiffer resistance than anyone expected, and ordinary Ukrainians (as well as celebrities who could easily opt out) are taking up arms to support the government. (Instead, it may be the Russian army that faces problems with desertion and poor morale, though it’s hard to get solid information about that issue.)

Putin also guessed wrong about NATO. During the Trump administration, NATO had seemed to be on the road to collapse. Trump called it “obsolete” and claimed it was a bad deal for America. He openly questioned whether the US should fulfill its treaty obligations to defend tiny NATO countries like Montenegro or the Baltic republics, if Russia should attack them. He frequently insulted NATO leaders while praising Vladimir Putin, even siding with Putin against US intelligence. (He’s still doing it.)

But rather than shattering under pressure, NATO has pulled together during the Ukraine crisis. Getting all the allies in line has often slowed down the actions Biden wanted to take in response to the Ukraine invasion, but not for long. Agreeing to remove major Russian banks from the SWIFT system, for example, took until Saturday. But it happened. Just about all of Europe has closed its airspace to Russian flights. Arms are flowing into Ukraine from all over Europe, including non-NATO Sweden. The EU is sending fighter planes.

In addition, Putin’s invasion has changed the politics of Europe, and not in his favor. Germany has decided to substantially increase defense spending (a result all of Trump’s nagging couldn’t accomplish). Finland is suddenly talking about NATO membership, and Sweden bristled at Russia’s warning of “serious military-political consequences” if it should decide to join. Even Switzerland is cooperating with some EU sanctions against Russian banks.

The result is that while Russian forces continue to advance on major Ukrainian cities, the operation is moving much more slowly than expected, and the Russians are taking much larger losses. His troops may yet occupy Kyiv and install a favorable government, but if Putin had been hoping for a quick Crimea-style victory that would present the world with a fait accompli and make sanctions (or guerilla resistance) seem pointless, he hasn’t gotten it.

Here’s this morning’s assessment from the NYT:

There was growing evidence that despite its superiority over Ukrainian forces, the Russian military was having difficulties getting a foothold in many regions around the country.

In Kyiv, Ukrainian soldiers have managed to keep most Russian troops out of the city center. In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, where Russian forces have been pounding outlying villages and neighborhoods with artillery, Russian troops briefly pushed into the city center on Sunday, but were driven back by Ukraine’s military, according to Ukrainian officials.

After a short respite, shelling again commenced on Saturday against Ukraine’s busiest port city, Odessa, but there was no sign the city was in danger of falling into Russian hands. And in Mariupol, another port city, the Russian navy’s first attempt to mount an amphibious assault was thwarted, though another effort was in the works, Ukrainian officials said.

Instead, talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments have started. Probably nothing will come of them, because it’s hard to picture what concessions either side could offer at this point. But we’ll see. Meanwhile, the shooting continues.

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1010628/a-us-history-lesson

Ukrainian morale. I spent much of the weekend glued to Twitter’s #Ukraine, where Ukrainians posted videos shot out their windows, and pictures of themselves and their neighbors, in addition to spreading stories and memes that are floating around in Ukraine. (In theory, anybody can post, including pro-Russian sources. But the tweets of Ukrainians and Ukrainian sympathizers have dominated.)

I had to keep resetting my cynicism filter. These are raw, unverified accounts, and many are posted by people who are trying to keep each other’s spirits up in the face of harrowing threats. Something you see posted ten times might be ten echoes of a single falsehood. (For half an hour, I was sure that hackers from Anonymous had taken over Russian state TV.) Undoubtedly mythmaking is happening, and maybe some of it is well-constructed propaganda. And yet it’s hard not to be moved by stories like

My thoughts keep coming back to this couple, who moved up their wedding date so they could be married before they went to war. “After their wedding, Arieva and Fursin, 24, a software engineer, prepared to go to the local Territorial Defense Center to join efforts to help defend the country.” I look at the picture below and wonder if they’re still alive. I hope so.

Twitter also provides many images of Ukraine’s incredibly photogenic women soldiers, from the first lady on down. And seeing Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik hold a Kalashnikov, as she prepares to defend her home, illuminates Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s gun fantasy. It’s like glimpsing the movie star who wears the dress your neighbor thinks she looks so good in.

And finally, there’s President Zelensky (who has to keep posting videos to refute Russian propaganda that he has left the country). As one tweet put it: “If Zelensky dies he’s a martyr. If he lives he’s a hero.”

Putin has worked so hard on his manly image; it must really gall him to see Zelensky upstage him like this.

International support. I wish I could remember where I saw this observation, but someone described Putin’s Ukraine invasion as the worst propaganda disaster since the Kaiser invaded neutral Belgium.

NATO countries that border Ukraine are all preparing for refugees. Suddenly the issues about immigrants have vanished. (I’m sure that being mostly White and Christian makes a difference.) #Ukraine tells of Romanians waiting at the border to offer Ukrainian refugee families a place to stay.

Rallies in support of Ukraine happened all over the world this weekend, like this one in Berlin.

The whole world seems to be lit up in Ukrainian yellow-and-blue.

Morale in Russia. The Russian soldiers have no idea why they’re fighting. Particularly in the western part of the country, Ukrainians clearly don’t want to be “liberated”. And because Ukrainians look and sound so much like Russians (and typically speak pretty good Russian), it’s hard to dehumanize them as “gooks” or “ragheads”, as Americans did in Vietnam and Iraq. Putin’s soldiers are killing their cousins, and they know it.

It’s very dangerous to protest in Russia these days, but thousands of people have been. From the outside, it’s hard to know whether that’s a radical fringe or the tip of a iceberg. Russian celebrities overseas have not denounced Putin directly, but many have spoken out generally against war and left the rest to our imaginations.

What is clear is that there is no broad upswelling of support for the invasion. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was met with widespread jubilation inside Russia. That’s not happening now.

The delay in finishing off Ukrainian resistance is giving sanctions a chance to work. Ordinary Russians will soon feel the bite. The value of the rouble is plunging and there are worries of runs on sanctioned Russian banks.

Like its soldiers, Russia’s citizens don’t understand why this war is necessary. Putin can control the state TV, but information blockades are difficult these days, particularly when so many Russians have relatives in Ukraine. His claims about “liberating” and “de-nazifying” Ukraine can’t be very convincing. And while the government can hide its casualties for a while, eventually soldiers either communicate with their families or they don’t.

More worrisome to Putin, though, has to be the effect of sanctions on his fellow oligarchs. They’re losing billions, and losing access to the billions more they have stashed in the West. To the extent that Putin’s regime resembles a Mafia, the history of Mafia gang wars may apply: Often they end when one family’s capos decide that continuing the war is bad for business. They hit their own boss and make peace.

As Josh Marshall has laid out, none of this would matter if the Russian forces were having a quick and easy victory. The deed would be done, and the rest of the world would just have to get used to it, even if they didn’t like it. Ukrainians would be intimidated rather than angered. NATO politicians might posture, but in the absence of any effective actions to be taken, they would soon run out of steam.

But Ukraine is holding out, and that opens up all kinds of alternative futures.