Good Friday Morning, and welcome to the fog of war. Dueling narratives about what is happening on the ground are getting spun by both sides. That does not mean that we’re looking at a morally relative situation — Russia’s actions are wrong by any definition. Nothing about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is justified, morally, or legally.
But the war is here, and it’s incumbent to understand where things could from here. That’s what I’m digging into below, links to follow.
- CNN reports that Biden has picked a replacement justice for the Supreme Court. Currently, my money is on Kentaji Brown Jackson (KBJ), who serves on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. SCOTUSBlog did a solid write-up on her. The two other names are Michelle Childs and Leondra Kruger. My read of things is that Childs got interviewed because of her connections to Jim Clyburn. Kruger is arguably the best option, currently on the California Supreme Court. KBJ is my guess because she’s a former Breyer clerk, an Obama shortlister for SCOTUS, and DC court watchers think the court is clearing the docket so that she can leave soon. We’ll find out soon — potentially by the time you read this newsletter.
Where you can find me this week
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[02/25/2022] Preventing another Putin requires killing a Green New Deal mindset – Conservative Institute
[02/21/2022] Biden trying new blueprint to fight Russia – Conservative Institute
Russia, Ukraine, and the unknown path to what’s next.
“Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.” – Abraham Lincoln
Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine, and one of the first land wars in Europe since 1945 has begun. When I say to people that America is still the greatest country on earth despite all the faults, weeks like this are why I say that. America was, is, and will be, the last best hope on earth for liberty and our grand experiment of democratic-republicanism.
When I was in college, I listened to morons talk about how America is an evil country because of [insert any reason here]. This week, and Putin’s invasion, should bury that notion. Putin is the evil one, launching a cruel war against innocent people. All while Europe stands idly on the sideline. Ukraine received promises of US aid in any conflict with Russia, which is why they gave up their nukes after the fall of the USSR. The United States of America built a new world order, unlike anything else in prior history. Now that order is under attack by a barbarian.
So, where to go from here?
First, let’s start with the Tucker Carlson theory, being advanced by Glenn Greenwald on Tucker’s show as I’m writing this up. “Putin would never have gone to war if NATO just promised not to admit Ukraine.” Or, “If we just stop and say Ukraine isn’t in NATO, Putin will back down.”
There are multiple problems with this because it’s not just Ukraine involved. Putin’s demands aren’t just about Ukraine — it’s about all of Europe. He wants to erase NATO’s influence across eastern and central Europe. Here are Putin’s demands from December 2021:
Russia demanded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization roll back almost a quarter-century of expansion by withdrawing forces from eastern Europe and halt further growth, an unprecedented challenge to the U.S. and its allies that could derail efforts to end a standoff over Ukraine.
The proposals set out in two draft treaties on Friday drew a skeptical reaction from the military alliance, which has rejected similar demands before, even as the U.S. and NATO indicated they’re willing to talk with Moscow about European security.
He wants to reset NATO’s membership to 1997 lines. If you did that, you’d have to remove the following countries from NATO: Czechia (Czech Republic), Hungary, Romania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia.
That is, simply put, a complete and utter non-starter. It’s one thing to negotiate a new position with Russia. It’s quite another walk back 25 years of defense building.
In general, the United States and Europe are OK with keeping Ukraine out of NATO. The eastern portion of the country has had Russian troops in it since 2014. With situations like that, you don’t want the security risk within NATO. Expanding NATO within limits is acceptable. Criticizing expanding NATO is certainly up for debate — it got heavily debated at the time. Russia has never liked NATO expansion because they view it as directed at them (and there’s truth to that fear).
Second point, the ending between Russia-Ukraine is not predictable.
This point may seem self-evident, but most don’t fully flesh out the meaning. Here’s what I mean.
First, the end of the conflict is wholly unpredictable. Reports of what is happening on the ground are highly unreliable and all over. Both Russia and Ukraine are proclaiming their victories/losses. Senator Marco Rubio, who is looking at intelligence, said the following:
#Russia’s invasion has already taken longer & been costlier than #Putin expected. Almost certain his military & intel leaders knew this ahead of time but no one dared tell him his expectations were unrealistic
Russia has launched several attacks on Ivano-Frankivsk, Vinnytsia & Lutsk, cities very close to #Ukraine’s borders with NATO countries Romania,Poland & Slovakia. Just one mistake,miscalculation or misunderstanding could set off a broader & catastrophic conflict
#Russia is carrying out deliberate strikes on civilian targets. The purpose is to demoralize the population & diminish the will to resist.
#Russia has 3 objectives over the next 72 hours
-encircle & cut off #Ukraine forces in the east
-deny Ukraine the ability to resupply via airports and the Black Sea
– Set the stage to install a pro-Russian interim government in #Kyiv
#Putin nuclear threat last night was not a surprise. For years now #Russia’s military doctrine in a war against NATO calls for the use of battlefield nuclear weapons in order to “escalate to deescalate” & force a negotiated ceasefire.
Russia wants to find a way to close the loop and get what they want: a puppet government or total control of the country. To the extent that Ukraine delays Russia’s ability to do that, the longer they hold out, the harder it is for Russia to pull things off.
If Russia does pull that off, it’s unclear whether western Ukraine or its people would consent to Russian control of the region. For example, 13 Ukrainian soldiers reportedly told Russian soldiers to “F*** off” over the radio right before the Russians blew up the facility and killed them all. That’s not the stance of a people who plan on not fighting back.
But again, we’ll see. It’s unknown what will happen here. Ukrainians could win independence, Russia could roll, or we end up in the middle. It’s hard to see a version of this, absent Russia up and leaving, which doesn’t end in extensive bloodshed.
I need to point out here the difficulty of taking over Ukraine and the potential bloodshed involved is why I largely downplayed the scenario we’re in right now. It will take blood and money to accomplish what Russia wants. Unless they score a quick victory here, all other plans require time and manpower. If a quick win doesn’t materialize, it turns into a grind.
Russia is playing a risky game. This invasion isn’t like 2014, Crimea, or Georgia; Putin is going for the whole enchilada. Russia does not have the resources to accomplish a siege of Ukraine; it’s not a “Great Power” anymore. Russia can go in and cause a lot of death on both sides. One early report from a Lithuania minister suggests early reports aren’t good:
Russia has lost over 30 tanks, about 130 armoured vehicles, 7 aircraft and 6 helicopters overnight in Ukraine.
Unfortunately, Ukraine’s struggle resulted in 137 casualties, including 10 officers. 316 people were wounded.
Absent a speedy resolution, these numbers will climb. The other aspect of Russia’s actions is domestic opposition.
Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, people protested the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Estimates say that as many as 1,700 people got arrested for protesting in the streets. Remarkably, the brutal arrests do not seem to be quieting things down in Russia — those people are courageous.
The third and final point: the regime change of some kind is coming.
I believe it’s unlikely some muddled middle version of all the above versions plays out. Either Ukraine loses this, or Russia expends so many resources that Putin loses his grip on power. Michael Brendan Doughtery makes a solid point on Putin’s perceived goals:
If this is all true, it suggests that Russia’s objective is not total reabsorption of Ukraine, but changing its regime to one that is “neutral,” disarmed, and solicitous of Moscow. Most will respond that this is a distinction without a difference, but it’s not. The similarity is compliance from Kyiv. But occupation and direct rule from Moscow would be much more miserable for everyday Ukrainians. An attempt to absorb a larger slice of Ukraine or all of it would give credibility to the theory that Putin’s aims are primarily revanchist and expansionist, and that Putin is entirely mad. This is a theory worth entertaining after Putin’s quite mad speech earlier this week.
If, however, he is seeking regime change, it suggests he is already thinking about the limits of Russia’s power.
Russia has to strike and win fast. If that fails and a grind ensues, Russia could still prevail and install a new government, or Putin’s adventures burn through the Russian people’s patience. Sanctions and bodybags going back home to Russia could make Russians think differently about the dangers of protesting — or make the oligarchs around Putin think differently about who holds power.
Where things go from here is entirely up in the air. It’s a war, confusion abounds, and both sides are fighting over the narrative. But I think the options of where things end are much broader than just the future of Ukraine. We could be looking at a wholesale reshaping of Russia and the American order.
Links of the week
Is an anti-Xi resistance emerging? – Cindy Yu, Spectator
Unprecedented sanctions are cold comfort to Ukrainians – Emily Peck, Axios
Biden: Wait Another Month or So to See if Sanctions Are Working – Jim Geraghty, National Review
A Pre-Modern War Demands Pre-Modern Thinking – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
The risks looming for markets, inflation and supply chains from the Ukraine crisis￼ – Nicholas Glinsman, Intelligence Quarterly
The aftermath of the 1973 embargo and its relevance for today – Nicholas Glinsman, Intelligence Quarterly
Sanctions Are Not Enough – Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon
European Energy Firms Rush to Buy Russian Gas After Attack – Yahoo Finance
Trial opens for men accused of funneling millions to back Hillary Clinton in 2016 presidential race: Prosecutors say campaigns were unaware of efforts to disguise true sources of funds, which flowed to GOP coffers after Trump won. – Politico
Wuhan lab leak theory ‘accepted as likely behind closed doors at No 10’: Biosecurity expert helping Government to prevent future pandemics claims ministers consider leak as most likely origin of Covid pandemic – Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!