Good Friday Morning! I want to start by declaring a halt to all commentary coming from Congress on Ukraine. First, Rep. Adam Kinzinger is spending his days calling for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine. He believes this won’t cause WWIII. Next, Sen. Lindsey Graham called for Putin to get assassinated. Even if you agree with Graham, it’s something a sitting US Senator cannot say.
And that’s only the Republican side of the aisle. Democrats have their own loons. I’m not going to spend time on all of those dumb ideas and statements. I’m also skipping the President’s State of the Union speech because I don’t believe a single word of it matters.
We’ll dig into the possibilities in front of Russia and Ukraine and then look at why we’re in a realpolitik world. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[02/28/2022] Give Volodymyr Zelensky the Nobel Peace Prize – Conservative Institute
[03/03/2022] US Needs Energy Independence, Not Another Iran Deal – Conservative Institute
Russia vaults the world back into realpolitik.
There’s nothing like the threat of a nuclear power plant meltdown to make you sit up and look at the news alerts. Russian forces started shelling a nuclear power plant and Ukrainian defense forces there. The New York Times put together some video footage from security cameras, showing some battles. The IAEA and US intelligence sources indicate that the nuclear plant is fine as of end-of-day Thursday.
The threat of the Russians or Ukrainians making a stupid decision and causing a nuclear meltdown is top of my mind. Chernobyl is not far away. Although that’s the primary concern, the secondary one is equally troubling. If one of Ukraine’s nuclear plants went into meltdown mode, NATO’s calculations on involvement likely change.
My desire, from a policy standpoint, is simple. I’d like to see Ukraine stay free, Russia lose, and NATO/USA remain free of any shooting conflict with Putin. I can live with sanctions and funneling weapons to Ukraine, but I don’t want a shooting match with Russia. A nuclear fallout changes the variables involved for everyone, and the United States likely has a moral imperative to act to prevent any more atomic fallout.
Fortunately, it appears we’re not close to that possibility. Russia attacking the nuclear plants does tell us their actual plot: a siege of Ukraine.
Much of the coverage around Ukraine has been positive in the West, praising the defense of Ukraine. I’m not innocent there. I enjoy reading about the feats of bravery conducted daily by Ukrainians. The positivity masks the reality that Russia is tightening its grip on Ukraine, choking off support, and taking over infrastructure like power plants. The more control Russia has over basic infrastructure, the more they can demand political changes.
Last week, I wrote that Vladimir Putin wanted a quick win, and if he didn’t get that, the war would turn into a grind:
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.
The grind has begun, and it’s gruesome. New York Times confirmed video shows Russia bombing residential sections of Ukraine. Other videos show dead civilians (including children) in bombed-out residential areas.
Europe changing its tunes on sanctions is astonishing — it’s why I think Ukrainian President Zelensky deserves the Nobel Peace Prize — but it means Russia is now isolated. Putin is cornered and focused on victory. Putin is willing to engage in what appear to be clear human rights violations to achieve that victory.
Last week, there were too many variables to see which direction the war would go. As things stand now, there are two options.
We’re in a race to see which happens first: Putin crushes Ukraine, forcing capitulation and a regime change. Or the West’s sanctions and lethal aid funneled into Ukraine cripples Putin’s ability to wage war.
Taking into account those scenarios, there are two questions. First, would China step in to help finance Russia to offset sanctions? Second, do we get to a point where Ukraine and Russia negotiations get us to a negotiated settlement and end of hostilities?
On China, it’s unclear what it plans to do. There are reports some Chinese banks are refusing to do business with Russia. At the United Nations, China is declining to vote like Russia on critical votes that blast Russia’s war. China has opted to abstain from those votes. Behind the scenes, we know the two countries have built closer economic and military ties.
However, out in the open, it’s unclear China has any interest in joining Russia’s war in Ukraine. If Putin could secure a quick victory, maybe China would go along with everything. Without that, China is a tricky situation. Aside from quiet economic help behind the scenes, China is unlikely to create an international response supporting Russia.
That brings us to the second variable: a negotiated settlement.
Russia and Ukraine have engaged in negotiations. At the same time, Russia is bombing residential areas, and Putin has called for the “denazification” of Ukraine. If you’re calling one set of people Nazis, that doesn’t leave much room for negotiations. It seems likely Putin wants the extermination of the entire Ukrainian government and anyone supporting it. Ukraine wants to survive as an independent state from Russia.
Russia responds directly to strength and power. Putin believes Ukraine is weak and conquerable. Further, Putin is cornered and focused on delivering considerable pain to prove the West has no control over him. A caged animal is a dangerous foe — that is doubly true for a nuclear-armed adversary.
There’s not much bringing those two opposed positions together.
Those factors tend to lead me to the reality that we’re in a brutal grind between the two countries. Russia is focusing on squeezing the life out of Ukraine like an anaconda. Ukraine is going to respond in kind to the Russian forces they encounter.
Western estimates already place the number of Ukrainian refugees at over one million, with strong beliefs that the number could climb to five million. US estimates say around 5,800 Russians have died, and 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers. Estimates of civilian deaths vary widely, with no helpful measure. But with bombs falling in residential areas, fatalities and injuries cannot be good.
The big question here is whether or not the economic sanctions levied against Russia will amount to enough to cripple Putin’s war. If sanctions don’t work, we have returned to a realpolitik world. I tend to agree we’re already there, as Noah Rothman argued in Commentary Magazine:
Is it any wonder then that the Ukrainians lament their failure to develop a nuclear deterrent? A nuclear umbrella is quite clearly the chief guarantor of security. You can bet that Ukraine isn’t the only nation living in the shadow of an aggressive neighbor that is coming to that same conclusion. What imperiled nation would allow itself to be negotiated out of its commitment to its own survival?
Pity the institutionalists who banked on a future dominated by geostrategic cooperation over luxury crises like climate change, arms control, corruption, and economic development. Statements like those made by Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, expressing his “hope that President Putin will help us stay on track with respect to what we need to do for the climate” are laughably naïve. All of this was predicated on the fantasy that there is such a thing as “international law.” Raw, hard power was always the chief arbiter of events in the anarchic—that is to say, lawless—international environment.
The law is dispassionate. It is applied neutrally, and it is enforced by a constabulary empowered to preserve comity by virtue of a political consensus on its legitimacy. In the global environment, there is no consensus, no neutrality, and no constabulary. There is only force. “I thought we lived in a world that had said no to that kind of activity,” Kerry has lamented without acknowledging his terrible misapprehension.
We have not been thrust into a new world today because of Russia’s act of unprovoked violence. We’ve merely been reintroduced to the world as it always was. For decades, global peace was preserved by an international security architecture we all take for granted. That enterprise was underwritten by the preponderance of American military might, not some illusory matrix of diplomatic niceties, international agreements, and bureaucratic red tape.
If there’s any silver lining to be found in this horror show, it is that perhaps the West will wake up and recognize the delusions it has labored under for generations. A Western world resolved to check the threat posed by revisionist actors with overwhelming force—one that doesn’t put its faith in modern contrivances to do the work of compelling aggressors to abandon their perfectly rational ambitions—might emerge from this crisis with a more durable conception of how to preserve the peace. Maybe, but I doubt it.
I doubt it too. The Obama junior varsity team populating the Biden administration has been woefully inadequate for the moment. Europe got organized behind Ukraine because of Zelensky his bravery. The White House has played catch-up behind that, not the White House. Biden still has America importing Russian oil. Further, they’re focused on delivering another Iran nuclear deal to get access to Iranian oil.
Until then, the only thing left is to watch the brutality unfolding in Ukraine.
Links of the week
Beware wishful thinking when it comes to the Ukraine crisis – Charles C. W. Cooke, NYPost
Biden Tries a Great Reset – Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon
A Tale of Two Speeches in Biden’s State of the Union: The president was on the offensive when vowing to confront Putin — and on the backfoot when touting his domestic agenda. – Jeff Greenfield, Politico
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Update: Lane You Just Left Moving Again – Babylon Bee
Thanks for reading!