Why Average Americans Should Care About Helping Ukraine. (Edit: Why They Should Care if Russia Invades Ukraine)

Part of the current impeachment hearings involves Trump withholding congressional approved military aid to Ukraine, who is now engaged in a war with Russia. (My understanding is that Russia invaded and has annexed Crimea, which is a territory in Ukraine.) I think most Americans can agree that this act of aggression is wrong, and I think they can understand, on some level, that withholding aid to a U.S. ally like Ukraine, in their current situation is troubling. However, I’m not sure most Americans understand how helping Ukraine is in the interests of average Americans. I was going to write a post to make a case for this, but I think the following Time article is a good start. Here’s a key excerpt:

…an effective Ukrainian defense against Russian aggression raises the cost of that aggression and (crucially) raises the perceived cost of future aggression.

A Russia that can simply walk over Ukraine is a stronger Russia – a nation that one day may feel emboldened to take even greater risks to secure regional dominance and strain the western alliance. A Russia that is bogged down in a fight against a well-armed foe is less likely to seek another fight – especially a fight with much higher risks.

In my opinion, what the author, David French, is talking about is a lesson from World War II–namely, when one country invades or annexes another, that act of aggression must be rebuffed quickly at the beginning. If not, the aggressive nation will likely act aggressively in the future–until another country(ies) push back hard. The thing is, if you wait too long, the initial aggressor might become really powerful–powerful enough to be a threat to the U.S. In the case of WWII, the U.S. eventually had to join the war–paying a significant price in blood and treasure.

Instead of sending U.S. troops to fight in a massive war, wouldn’t it be better to arm Ukrainians, helping them stop Russian aggression before it escalates? I believe this is one reason helping Ukraine–in terms of helping them defend themselves against Russian aggression–matters to average Americans.

There’s also another, more abstract, but no less important, reason. And I’ll try going into that in the next section later.

33 thoughts on “Why Average Americans Should Care About Helping Ukraine. (Edit: Why They Should Care if Russia Invades Ukraine)

  1. A tweet from the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria:

    What is the world order? That’s a complex and abstract system, but let me point the one concrete, critical element of it that should be easy to understand–namely, the idea of internationally recognized borders, i.e., the geographical boundaries of a nation. Part of the world order involves other countries recognizing and respecting those boundaries. If a nation violates these borders by invasion or annexation, that can be seen as a weakening or attacking the world order. If this happens repeatedly, the current world order will break down. Putin has done this twice in the last 15 years or so–once in Georgia and once in Urkaine–and Ukraine and Russia are in military conflict (war) currently over the territory that Russia annexed (Crimea).

    Because of this, I think it’s reasonable to say that Putin is fighting the whole world order. If he’s allowed to violate internationally recognized borders, then others will too. Pushing back and stopping these actions strengthens the idea that borders should be respected. Why should average Americans care about that? Well, when borders aren’t respected–when powerful nations have license to evade or annex any country or region, that increases the chance for war. War can hurt the average American economically and if the U.S. has to get involved then average Americans who serve in the military may have to be put in harm’s way. This is about wanting a world based on agreed upon rules or a world where the strong get to make whatever rules they want. There are two choices–the U.S. can work towards one or the other.

  2. I didn’t get to read this article, but the idea attributed to Putin–liberal democracy has lived it’s usefulness–leads me to the more abstract reason for supporting Ukraine, both in terms of becoming a functioning liberal democracy and fighting against Russian aggression. If Ukraine succeeds as a liberal democracy that would greatly undermine the narrative above. My understanding is that Putin pushes this narrative to combat the unrest and demand from the Russian people for more respect of civil liberties and reduction in corruption–i.e., a ldemand for a liberal versus illiberal democracy. If Ukraine succeeds as a liberal democracy, Russian citizens can rightly point to it and say, “We want that, too!” That’s a threat to Putin–and all autocrats.

    Why should Americans care about this–especially Americans who are unmoved by other countries wanting freedom and democracy? The answer is that functioning liberal democracies create a more stable world, where trade is more likely and major wars are less likely. Translation: This increases the chances for a better economy and standard of living for the majority of Americans, while reducing the chances of having to send one’s children to war.

    Now, international trade has hurt some Americans. And the U.S. still sends our children into dangerous conflicts. But more authoritarian regimes can make matters worse. America faces two options–a world moving more towards liberal democracy or a world moving away from it, towards illiberal or authoritarian states. The former is much better for average Americans in my opinion.

  3. I haven’t seen this episode yet, and I don’t know if Mr. Taylor would agree with what I wrote above, but he believes supporting Ukraine is in U.S. interests, and I hope he articulates that in a way that anyone can understand. Same with hybrid warfare and how that is a serious threat to our country.

  4. Are we on the verge of a world war?

    I’m not sure if others think this is a hyperbolic question, but there are at least two factors that comes to mind. First, Putin has placed a large number of military forces in position to invade Ukraine. My understanding is that this is the largest amount of forces since WWII. Second, others have mentioned that if Putin invades Ukraine, with minimal resistance from the West, this may encourage Xi to invade Taiwan. If the latter happens, that seems very close to a world war situation–depending on how the liberal democratic powers in each region respond.

    But even an invasion into Ukraine doesn’t lead to a world war, I think it’s a really big deal, and it’s something that concerns me. It would be a direct challenge to a rules-based international system. In this case, the rule is that countries will respect internationally recognized borders. In the early 90s, Sadaam Hussein brazenly violated that rule by invading Kuwait. President Bush forcefully responded–and in my view upheld the rules-based system.

    What will the U.S. and the liberal democracies do this time? I worry the sanctions will not be a stiff enough penalty. Anne Applebaum has suggested that autocrats don’t care if their citizens or their country’s economy suffers, as long as their personal wealth, and their personal wealth of key oligarchs, don’t suffer. Additionally, authoritarian countries are helping each other to achieve this objective, blunting the effects of sanctions.

    By the way, I recommend reading Anne Applebaum’s Atlantic article, The Reason Putin Would Risk War. I’ve heard other reasons, but I agree with Applebaum.


    New intelligence suggests Russia plans a ‘false flag’ operation to trigger an invasion of Ukraine from WaPo

    Sullivan alluded to the new intelligence. “We are firmly convinced that the Russians, should they decide to move forward with an invasion, are looking hard at the creation of a false-flag operation, something that they generate and try to blame on the Ukrainians as a trigger for military action. And we are calling that out publicly because we do believe that if Russia chooses to do that, they should be held to account.”

    The Kremlin has also sought to create the grounds for an invasion through a propaganda campaign that falsely portrays Ukraine as preparing to launch an offensive against separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, U.S. and European officials have said.

    As part of that effort, Russian authorities have promoted a years-old false narrative of the Ukrainian government seeking to carry out genocide against ethnic Russians in the region. According to the Western official, the Kremlin has tasked Russian state media to report on allegations of Ukrainian “war crimes” in eastern Ukraine even though, the official said, there is no evidence for such claims.

    Russian media over the past few months publicized the launch of a website masquerading as a portal set up by human rights advocates in eastern Ukraine. In fact, the official said, it spread false allegations of genocide committed by the Ukrainian military.

    The site, donbasstragedy.info, was covertly created by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, the official said.

    On Friday, the Tass news agency reported, without evidence, that the head of the self-proclaimed separatist territory of Donetsk had announced the discovery of 130 mass graves of “victims of Ukrainian aggression.”

    My understanding is that the Kremlin has history of doing these things, so these claims by U.S. and European officials are credible to me. Has there been any independent verification of Ukrainian aggression or wrong-doing, that would be a legitimate causus belli?


    U.S. intelligence shows Russia’s military pullback was a ruse, officials say from WaPo

    Russian forces have continued to increase near Ukraine’s frontier, officials said, and shelling escalated in eastern Ukraine, adding to increasingly gloomy attitudes in Washington and European capitals that had hoped to forestall war.

    More on possible false-flag operations:

    Two of the U.S. officials said there was additional intelligence indicating a false flag by Russia would involve the use of a chemical agent that would immobilize civilians, then use cadavers to make it appear as though the Ukrainians had gassed and killed civilians. One of the officials said the blame might also be pinned on Americans.


    A potential Russian false-flag action could include a “fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia,” a fake mass grave, a staged drone attack on civilians, or a “fake, even a real, attack using chemical weapons,” Blinken said.

    Another possible casus belli Putin would use to justify invasion:

    The diplomatic sniping came as the long-running conflict in eastern Ukraine heated up. An observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Thursday that it had counted 591 violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, up from 153 the prior day. Western officials have warned that Russia could use developments in the region as an excuse to invade.

    Separatists rained down artillery, mortar rounds and other munitions at the front, the Ukrainian military said in a statement posted to social media. In the government-held village of Stanytsia Luhanska near Luhansk, an artillery strike blew a hole through a kindergarten building. A hole was blown through a wall, and soccer balls were scattered among debris, according to photos posted to social media. Three adults suffered concussions, officials said. No children were reported injured. The Ukrainian military said the village — which has not often been targeted — was struck by 32 artillery rounds.


    Even people in separatist Ukraine question ‘evacuation’ crisis brewed by Russian-backed leaders from WaPo



    U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation from WaPo

    Opinion: What we can expect after Putin’s conquest of Ukraine from Robert Kagan in WaPo

    These simultaneous strategic challenges in two distant theaters are reminiscent of the 1930s, when Germany and Japan sought to overturn the existing order in their respective regions. They were never true allies, did not trust each other and did not directly coordinate their strategies. Nevertheless, each benefited from the other’s actions. Germany’s advances in Europe emboldened the Japanese to take greater risks in East Asia; Japan’s advances gave Adolf Hitler confidence that a distracted United States would not risk a two-front conflict.

    Today, it should be obvious to Xi Jinping that the United States has its hands full in Europe. Whatever his calculus before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he can conclude only that his chances of successfully pulling something off, either in Taiwan or the South China Sea, have gone up. While some argue that U.S. policies drove Moscow and Beijing together, it is really their shared desire to disrupt the international order that creates a common interest.

    One question: Should the U.S. and the West been more aggressive in stopping Russia from invading Ukraine? We can’t see into the future, but one could argue that the West should have nipped this in the bud. If Putin is successful, this may embolden China and other autocracies.

    On the other hand, if the West put their foot down–moving in U.S. troops into Ukraine–this might also have created an opportunity for China to go after Taiwan.

    Another part of this: To what extent will the West’s sanctions hurt Putin and his oligarchs?

    I also think the West should consider something Anne Applebaum suggested: If Putin is going to overturn governments in his neighboring countries, the West will actively support pro-democratic leaders in Russia, helping them overturn Putin.


    This WaPo article catalogues the number of times, over a few months, Russian officials denied Russia would invade Ukraine.

    Some conservative media hosts ridiculed Biden’s warnings of a Russian attack. Now they say it’s his fault. This WaPo collects comments from Fox News and other conservative pundits before Russia invaded and after.


    1. Tracking claims by Russia and U.S., con’t

      White House warns Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, rejects false ‘conspiracy’ of U.S. biolabs from WaPo

      The gist:

      • Russia claims the U.S. has bio-weapons research labs in Ukraine. Side note: I believe China is supporting these claims.
      • The U.S. rejects this claims–also warns that saying this to lay groundwork for using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. They also point out that Russia examples of Russia using such weapons (e.g., Novichok).


      How the right embraced Russian disinformation about ‘U.S. bioweapons labs’ in Ukraine from WaPo

      Tucker Carlson Claims Ukraine Is Making Bioweapons by Citing a Pentagon Official Who Actually Said the Exact Opposite from Mediaite


      Now, U.S. and other Western countries claiming they have intelligence Russians are planning to use chemical weapons. But they’re also basing this on the past actions by Putin.

      During Syria’s civil war, Russia repeatedly provided diplomatic cover and logistical aid to President Bashar al-Assad when Syrian forces used chemical weapons against opposition-held neighborhoods. The Syrian chemical attacks, intended to undermine rebel morale and drive insurgents out of urban barricades, included sophisticated and highly lethal nerve agents, as well ordinary industrial compounds such as chlorine. In the worst attack, in August 2013, deadly sarin gas seeped into basements used by Syrian families as bomb shelters, killing an estimated 1,400 people.

      The detail of the sarin gas “seeping” down into basements is chilling, as I know there are Urkainians hiding in basements now.

      Here’s a NATO official describing the pattern used by Russia in the past:

      The official described the tactics as consisting of “heavy bombardment, flattening of cities, then chemical weapons use to clean basements of fighters, then denying and planting false flags.”

  5. Putin orders ‘peacekeeping’ troops to separatist regions of Ukraine from WaPo

    I think this crosses the line, literally, but also in terms of meeting the definition of invasion. We’ll see how far Putin takes this (i.e., Will he advance the Russian military to the Ukrainian capitol?).

    I believe Putin recognized these separatist regions as independent entities, which would be the justification for his invasion.


    Trump’s reaction to Putin’s invasion

    In an interview with the conservative “Clay Travis and Buck Sexton” radio show, Trump said he was impressed by news of Putin’s actions.

    “Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said. “So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ ”

    Trump said Putin will now “go in” to Ukraine “and be a peacekeeper.”

    “That’s strongest peace force. … We could use that on our southern border,” he said. “That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

    The former president then went on to say that Russia’s incursion “would have never happened” if he had been in office, and accused Biden of not having a proper response to Putin’s moves.

    The relatively minimal concern and alarm over Trump’s sycophancy towards Putin–and the lack of interest in getting to the bottom of this–particularly from Republicans–has been one of many remarkable developments since 2016.


    Mike Pompeo’s praise of Putin is remarkable (in a bad way)–specifically, the way casually and almost cheerily speaks about gently telling Putin killing political rivals doesn’t help him, or that Putin is all about staying in power. He’s not only betraying core American values, but he seems happy in doing so. These statements by Pompeo begs an explanation.

    I’m not being facetious when I say this, but he talks as if Putin has kompromat over him. What are other plausible explanations?

    (2/24/22: Important context. The interview occurred 2/18/2022. He is also dismissive of some of Putin’s claims.)

    What Putin has done and is doing in Belarus is a very important issue as well, as the following article goes into. The Russian Incursion No One Is Talking About from Yasmeen Serhan


    Putin has started military attack outside of the separatist regions in Ukraine:

    The explosions could be heard in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and Kharkiv, in the country’s northeast. A senior Ukrainian official said there were also explosions at the country’s largest airport, in Kyiv.

    Here’s some of what Putin said tonight:

    Putin described the goal of the military operation as ending the “genocide” against the people in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, where Russia-backed separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces since 2014.

    There is no evidence of a “genocide” that I know of.

    “Its goal is to protect people who have been abused by the genocide of the Kyiv regime for eight years,” Putin said. “And to this end, we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. We will also bring to justice those who committed the numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.”

    That last line is disturbing, as it makes me think of the U.S. announcement a few days ago that Putin has a list of Ukranians he’s planning to kill. That last line seems like the excuse he’ll use.


    China, seemingly surprised by sudden Ukraine incursion, denies backing Russian attacks from WaPo

    At a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying downplayed the suggestion that Beijing was supporting Moscow behind the scenes.

    “As for American hints that Russia had China backing it up, I’m sure Russia would be pleased to hear it,” Hua said. “We won’t be like America and provide Ukraine a large amount of military equipment. Russia as a powerful nation also does not need China or other countries to provide [military assistance].”

    China won’t be arming Ukraine? That’s more of a bad thing than a good thing. Ukraine is weaker than Russia and Russia is the aggressor. What are they doing, what have they been doing to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine?

    Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, noted Tuesday that the Chinese policy community appeared to be in “shock” at the sudden escalation of fighting after having “subscribed to the theory that Putin was only posturing and that U.S. intelligence was inaccurate as in the case of invading Iraq.”

    For instance, in an interview on Tuesday, Ma Bin, a Russia expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Chinese publication Yicai that the ball was in Ukraine’s court and “there would not be a war” because Russia still preferred a diplomatic resolution.

    I’m skeptical about this, and this example doesn’t seem persuasive. Putin also claimed there would be no invasion, that the Russian forces were just engaged in military exercises and they would draw down on Sunday.

    While he said China always supports the principle of protecting national sovereignty, “there are some countries that are being used by external forces as a tool to harm the territorial integrity of other nations.” He added, “Lots of people in China say that Ukraine did not manage the balance between powers and that passive approach led to Russia taking this extreme measure.”

    In the run-up to Putin’s announcement, China continued to blame the United States and NATO for being instigators of the conflict, brushing aside warnings from the White House about the Kremlin’s intention to invade.

    I wonder how China feels Ukraine could have handled this better, especially after Putin annexed Crimea. The idea that Ukrainians are being used as tools seems based on the idea that the Ukrainians wouldn’t have a real desire to be become a more liberal democracy and to be more closely aligned with Europe. But I suspect China doesn’t care if the desire is legitimate or not–they, like Putin, understand that if Ukraine becomes a successful liberal democracy that is a threat to Putin. The thing is, Putin’s actions is likely pushing the Ukraine in that direction and towards Europe.


    Don’t mention the invasion: China spins Russia’s war in Ukraine from the Financial Times (2/25/2022)

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    In a briefing with reporters in Beijing hours later, Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, repeated Russian defence ministry statements that Ukrainian cities would not be targeted and questioned whether the Russian invasion should be called “an invasion”.

    Highlight text

    China’s refusal to acknowledge the all-out military assault that has included attacks on multiple cities, including the capital Kyiv, much less join in international condemnation of it, reflects the strength of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, experts said.


    Yun Sun, a China foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center, a US think-tank, said Beijing “has decided to side with Russia” and shifting its stance would be a question of degree, not direction.

    “We all know this [invasion is] blatant trampling over sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said. “China is shaping the narrative that . . . Russia is the aggrieved party, Russia has been pushed and pushed by Nato, is a victim of the international system after the cold war and a victim of the United States.”

    She added: “Another message that has become increasingly salient and vocal is that ‘Ukraine deserved it’ — that came as a really big shock to me.”


    Putin’s attack on Ukraine echoes Hitler’s takeover of Czechoslovakia from WaPo

    1. U.S. Warnings to China on Arms Aid for Russia’s War Portend Global Rift. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken says Washington has indications that Beijing is strongly considering giving military aid to Moscow for the war in Ukraine. from the NYT

      In the OP, from a February 2022 WaPo article, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, “Hua Chunying downplayed the suggestion that Beijing was supporting Moscow behind the scenes.

      ‘As for American hints that Russia had China backing it up, I’m sure Russia would be pleased to hear it,’ Hua said. ‘We won’t be like America and provide Ukraine a large amount of military equipment. Russia as a powerful nation also does not need China or other countries to provide [military assistance].'”

      We’ll see if this proves true or not. I hope it doesn’t–I hope China doesn’t support arms to Russia. If they do, which non-authoritarian countries would want China as a global leader? Which of these countries would want to live in the global order that China–and Russia, North Korea, and Iran–would help build?

      One other important point: China would be significantly helping an invasion that closely fits the definition of “evil” in my view. It’s not just the invasion, but the way Russia is executing this invasion–e.g., targeting civilians.

      Also, there are reports they are taking Ukrainian children, holding them in camps and attempting to indoctrinate them as Russians. I must admit that I do feel some level of skepticism because it seems so over-the-top evil.


      from the NYT

      Asked about the accusations from Mr. Blinken and other U.S. officials, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, suggested that, on the contrary, it was the United States that was implicated in bloodshed in Ukraine.

      “It’s the U.S., and not China, that has been incessantly supplying weapons to the battlefield, and the U.S. is not qualified to issue any orders to China,” Mr. Wang told a news conference in Beijing. Washington, Mr. Wang added, should “stop shirking responsibility and disseminating fake news. China will continue firmly standing on the side of dialogue and the side of peace.”

      We’ll see if this is “fake news.” I really hope China doesn’t give arms to Russia, but this reminds me of Russia claiming they were not planning to invade Ukraine.

      Re: U.S., not China, sending weapons to Ukraine. Not doing so would have increased the chances of success for Russia taking over Ukraine. Apparently China is OK with that. Same with the Russia targeting and killing civilians.

      Also, today President Biden visited Kyiv. Here’s what Eliot Cohen said about the trip in the Atlantic:

      While the president clearly intended to bolster the confidence of Ukraine, and the commitment of ambivalent Europeans and neo-isolationist Americans, his real audiences lay elsewhere, as his remarks about Western strength indicated. Russia has cycled through a series of theories of victory in Ukraine—that Kyiv’s leaders would flee, that Ukraine’s population would not fight, that its army would be crumpled up by a sudden blitz or by grinding assaults. It has been reduced to one last hope: that Vladimir Putin’s will is stronger than Joe Biden’s. And Biden just said, by deed as well as word, “Oh no it’s not.”

      This is a gut punch to Russia’s leader. The Russians received word of the trip, we are informed—and presumably the threat, stated or implied, that they would get a violent and overwhelming response if they attempted to interfere with it. For a leader obsessed with strength, like Putin, that is a blow. His own people will quietly or openly ask, “Why could we not prevent this?” And the answer, unstated, will have to be, “Because we were afraid.”

      This Atlantic article by Anne Applebaum is even better, in terms of analysis and explication of Biden’s visit.

      I liked this about Putin’s mindset and the way he’s trying to win the war:

      Putin thinks that he will win not through technological superiority, and not through better tactics or better-trained soldiers, but simply by outlasting a Western alliance that he still believes to be weak, divided, and easily undermined. He reckons that he has more people, more ammunition, and above all more time: that Russians can endure an infinite number of casualties, that Russians can survive an infinite amount of economic pain. Just in case they cannot, he will personally demonstrate his capacity for cruelty by locking down his society in extraordinary ways. In the city of Krasnodar, police recently arrested and handcuffed a couple in a restaurant, after an eavesdropper overheard them complaining about the war. The Sakharov Center, Moscow’s last remaining institution devoted to human rights, has just announced that it is being evicted from its state-owned buildings. Paranoia, suspicion, and fear have risen to new levels. Many expect a new mobilization, even an imminent closure of the borders.

      Applebaum also mentions that some Europeans feel like they can return to the Europe prior to the invasion (i.e., where they don’t have to focus more on building up their military among other things). According to Applebaum, Biden’s visit addresses both Putin’s strategy and these Europeans:

      Biden’s visit to Kyiv is intended to offer a bracing contrast, and a different message: If the U.S. president is willing to take this personal risk, if the U.S. government is willing to invest this effort, then time is not on Russia’s side after all. He is putting everyone on notice, including the defense ministries and the defense industries, that the paradigm has shifted and the story has changed. The old “normal” is not coming back.

      This is also significant, and suggests to me the Biden WH has their act together:

      But the visit was not just a blaze of one-upmanship, nor should it be understood as the beginning of some kind of mano-a-mano public-relations battle between the two presidents. The White House says the planning began months ago, and the visit is actually part of a package, a group of statements designed to send a single message. The first part came in Vice President Kamala Harris’s speech at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, when she declared that “the United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity” and that Russia will be held accountable for war crimes in Ukraine. The next will be delivered in Warsaw, tomorrow: America will continue to stand by Poland and the rest of the NATO alliance, and no NATO territory will be left undefended.

  6. This KITV segment, which attempted to explain why people in Hawai’i should care about what’s happening between Putin and Ukraine, got my attention. I think it’s an important story for people of Hawai’i, and Americans in general, to understand. Unfortunately, I think the clip is problematic for several reasons.

    First, I think it fails to address the key issue–namely, the significance of one country flagrantly violating the rule that international borders must be respected. If a nation can ignore these borders–if they can claim a neighboring country actually belongs to them–this will lead to a very unstable and violent world–one where the most powerful nations will abuse their power and oppress their own people as well as their neighbors.

    How do we know this? We know this because authoritarian countries are the ones most likely to behave this way, and authoritarian countries, by definition, do not respect human rights and liberal democratic principles–e.g., free and fair elections, the free press and free speech, due process, etc.

    But suppose a country like Russia violates international borders, invades and takes over Ukraine. Suppose they invade or install puppet rulers in neighboring countries (like they have down in Belarus). Yes, that’s not right, but why should people in Hawai’i, or Americans in general, care?

    Here we need to extrapolate out to future scenario, whose likelihood would increase. If Russia does this and prospers, this will embolden other countries to do this as well–most notably China. The rules-based internationals system will begin to fall apart, creating an international system favoring authoritarian countries. These authoritarian countries will get stronger and bolder. The weaker neighboring countries will likely resist, and this will lead to armed conflict and even a world war. I explained the reasons this would be bad, and I’d like to think most Americans believe this is something worth preventing.

    But suppose a world war doesn’t occur. In this scenario, the authoritarian countries are strong and using their power to influence the world. This influence will mean undermining a rules-based systems that value human rights. This also means opposing and attempting to undermine countries that support these systems. That is, they will attempt to weaken and undermine the U.S. and its allies.

    Here, I worry that Americans may not think this scenario doesn’t pose a real threat. The U.S. and its allies have enough military power to counter and avoid military conflict. Maybe.

    But even if this plays out, I think these countries can undermine the West via information warfare, cyber attacks, and corruption and greed. I’ll try to go into this later, but I want to make one point about greed and corruption. Think about the way the NBA, Hollywood and other U.S. companies would put money ahead of liberal-democratic values when it comes to China. I don’t say this in a contemptuous way, as we’re talking a huge market and a lot of money they would sacrifice. But that is the point: China’s market power is so strong that Western companies and governments will compromise their values for it, which strengthens China’s authoritarian government. This is one of the non-military reasons China poses a potentially significant threat to the U.S. and its allies.

    To recap, a functioning international rules-based system is a fair system that provides stability and constrains authoritarian regimes. This is good for citizens of liberal democracies and those that aspire to live in liberal democracies. The disintegration of the system is a threat to both.

    1. This rather grim post by David Frum illustrates why the post above–an attempt to explain the reasons Americans should care about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine–is so important.

      Key points:

      • Russia has created reserve of money that would enable them to cut off natural gas to Western countries, which can really damage their economies
      • The West doesn’t have the time to build and invest in ways to get natural gas from other sources.

      Bottom line: If Russia decides to cut off gas, Western countries will pay a price. Frum points out that the citizens of Western countries may accept this if they understand and believe this is worthy sacrifice. Will enough of them feel this way?


      Hitting Putin Where It Hurts from David Frum in theAtlantic

      The U.S. and EU has announced sanctions on Russia’s Central Bank. I don’t fully understand the reasons this will be so devastating, but it sounds like this move negates or minimizes the benefits of the financial reserves that Putin has build up.


      Just a small note: My understanding is that Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian Deputy PM and Finance Minister (or some title like it) is the one who came up with the idea of sanctioning Russia’s Central Bank. It seems like this was a really original idea–one that Putin was not prepared for. Pretty dang cool!

  7. Why the West’s Diplomacy With Russia Keeps Failing from Anne Applebaum in theAtlantic

    In the article above, Applebaum suggests an approach she thinks would be more effective, writing words the British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, (or any Western diplomat) could have said to Putin:

    Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. I am delighted to join you after meeting my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. This time, we have not bothered to discuss treaties he won’t respect and promises he won’t keep. We have told him, instead, that an invasion of Ukraine will carry very, very high costs—higher than he has ever imagined. We are now planning to cut off Russian gas exports completely—Europe will find its energy supplies somewhere else. We are now preparing to assist the Ukrainian resistance, for a decade if need be. We are quadrupling our support for the Russian opposition, and for Russian media too. We want to make sure that Russians will start hearing the truth about this invasion, and as loudly as possible. And if you want to do regime change in Ukraine, we’ll get to work on regime change in Russia.

    Truss, or Borrell before her, could have added just a touch of personal insult, in the style of Lavrov himself, and wondered out loud just how it is that Lavrov’s official salary pays for the lavish properties that his family makes use of in London. She could have listed the names of the many other Russian public servants who send their children to schools in Paris or Lugano. She could have announced that these children are now, all of them, on their way home, along with their parents: No more American School in Switzerland! No more pied-à-terres in Knightsbridge! No more Mediterranean yachts!

    Applebaum suggests this doesn’t happen because the West lacks imagination–specifically, they think we live “live in a world where rules matter, where diplomatic protocol is useful, where polite speech is valued. All of them think that when they go to Russia, they are talking to people whose minds can be changed by argument or debate. They think the Russian elite cares about things like its “reputation.” It does not.”

    I agree with Applebaum that these things don’t apply to Putin and other dictators like him. But I worry that the problem isn’t a lack of imagination, but corruption and greed by key figures in the West. I worry important politicians, business leaders, academics, etc. are being bribed, blackmailed, or maybe stand to lose money if Western countries adopt Applebaum’s approach. I hear former intelligence officers advocate for the same things Applebaum has, and they also express frustration that they haven’t.

    But if people in high places are corrupt or under the thumb of the Kremlin, that would be a plausible explanation as to why we haven’t seen this approach. This would be really worrisome, as I’m don’t see a clear way to overcome this.

    Garry Kasparov’s suggestions are similar He’s a former chess champion, not necessarily an expert in foreign policy, but his suggestions seems solid to me:

    -Support Ukraine militarily, immediately, everything but boots on the ground. All weapons, intel, cyber.
    -Bankrupt Putin’s war machine. Freeze & seize Russia’s finances & those of him and his gang.
    -Kick Russia out of every intl & financial institution. PACE, Interpol, etc 2/5
    -Recall all ambassadors from Russia. There is no point in talking. The new unified message is “stop or be isolated completely”.
    -Ban all elements of Putin’s global propaganda machine. Turn them off, shut them down, send them home. Stop helping the dictator spread lies & hate.
    -Expose and act against Putin’s lackeys in the free world. If Schröder and his ilk continue to work for Putin, bring charges. Ask the owners & advertisers of networks platforming Putin propagandists like Carlson why they allow it. 4/5
    -Replace Russian oil & gas. Pressure OPEC, increase production, reopen Keystone. You can’t save the planet if you don’t save the people on it.
    -Acknowledge there will be costs, sacrifices. We waited to long, the price is high, but it will only get higher. It’s time to fight. 5/5
    Cannot ignore the political 5th column of Putinists, from the far right & left in EU to the tankies & Trump & his GOP followers in the US. They may have the right to support a brutal dictator’s war in order to criticize Biden, but it’s disgusting and anti-American. Do not forget.


    More suggestions from Just Security: Holding Putin and Russia Accountable: A List of Legal and Policy Options

  8. Best articles I’ve read on Russia-Ukraine War

    Calamity Again from Anne Applebaum in theAtlantic provides a good historical overview of Urkaine and Ukrainians.

    And I might as well put several of Applebaum’s recent Atlantic articles here, as I think they should be read

    Why the West’s Diplomacy With Russia Keeps Failing
    The Reason Putin Would Risk War
    The Bad Guys Are Winning

    Also, this:

    The Kleptocrats Next Door: the U.S. has a dirty-money problem

    Comments on “The Reason Putin Would Risk War”

    Much of this article involves a psychological analysis of Putin, and if it’s accurate, the main takeaway for me is that Putin is terrified of democracy, specifically the potential for democratic revolution in Russia. This terror is existential–that is, it is literally a threat to his life. Let me explain. Putin wants Russians to believe that all political systems are essentially like Russia’s (authoritarian) or that liberal democracies are ineffective and unsustainable. Successful liberal democracies erode that propaganda, and can serve as an example that Russian people can aspire to. The example is even more compelling, and therefore more threatening to Putin, if countries near Russia become, or take significant steps to becoming, successful liberal democracies. These liberal democracies haunt P because they could spark unrest in the Russian people and ignite an uprising that could overthrow his regime–which could then lead to his imprisonment or death.

    But this doesn’t explain Putin invading Ukraine now. A possible answer may lie in the events of the past 10 year or so, specifically, Ukraine’s movement towards cleaning up corruption, becoming a functioning liberal democracy, and attempting to have closer ties to the Europe–in spite of Putin’s attempts to install a puppet ruler, and the dramatic way Ukrainian people chased him out of the country. The invasion could be an act of frustration–a resignation by Putin, that he won’t be able to stop Ukraine from becoming a European liberal democracy unless he invades. If the frustration is intense, that would explain the invasion. Additionally, Putin may have calculated this is the best time to strike, as the the U.S. and it’s allies are at it’s weakest, or will likely get stronger. (Maybe the pandemic and desire to fight climate change might be another factor as well. Sanctions may force the West to rely more on fossil fuels, which they would be reluctant to do.) Finally, to sit back and watch Ukraine, and possibly other countries in the region, slowly more towards democracy, would likely be psychologically excruciating–analogous to the gradual squeezing of a boa constrictor. An invasion would avoid that kind of torture.

    Addendum: Another analogy for Putin-Ukraine may be apt–namely, Mike Tyson’s bouts with Evander Holyfield. Tyson, a figther, maybe even a bully, who would win fights based on intimidation and fear, found an opponent in Holyfield wbo did not succumb to either. Eventually, Tyson resorted to biting Holyfield’s ear, and my theory is that this was done out of a bully’s frustration from not being able to cow his opponent.This current invasion may be akin to biting Holyfield’s ear.

    Also, the following article co-written by Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, gives a rebuttal to the claim that NATO caused Putin to invade, citing examples from the past 30 years.


    Politico interview of Fiona Hill.

    Good New Yorker interview of Stephen Kotkin, an expert on Stalin.

    And if you want to hear an optimistic take on the war, I recommend this recent article by Francis Fukuyama (which isn’t to say that the Kotkin interview as a downer). For what it’s worth, I tend to agree with everything Fukuyama wrote, at least pertaining specifically to Putin and Ukraine.

  9. I’ve been following the events in Ukraine fairly closely, and I wanted to offer thoughts on various topics.

    I’m worried there isn’t a “golden bridge” for Putin to retreat

    Golden bridge is a reference to a Sun Tzu quote I heard–namely, “build a golden bridge for your enemy to retreat upon,” which I take to mean, find a viable and appealing exit from conflict for your enemy.

    If Putin’s main goal is to snuff out Ukrainian democracy, and Ukraine and the West rule that out as an option; and if he fails to defeat the current Ukrainian government, what are alternate paths that Putin would accept? I don’t see concessions like neutrality from Ukraine and independence to separatist regions in eastern Ukraine for guaranteed security and lack of Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs to be sufficient. This will just mean that Ukraine will continue to move towards a well-functioning liberal democracy–and Zelensky will be a powerful beacon to other neighboring countries. (Heck, I think he and the Ukrainians might reinvigorate democracies in the West, including the U.S.–if he can outlast Putin.) As I mentioned, Putin view this as a boa constrictor slowing killing him. Add to this, the sanctions and civil unrest in Russia.

    Even if he were to kill Zelensky and install a puppet regime in Ukraine, he would also have to a) likely withstand a strong Ukrainian resistance; b) quell civil unrest in his country; and c) get his economy back in shape. At this moment, all seem like extremely, maybe unrealistic tasks.

    Another possible option is some way he could be leave for another country (e.g., China) and live in exile. I’m not sure he would except that, though. Certain profiles of him create the sense that he’s a man who bears a grudge and has a long memory (like Trump).

    Barring that option and given that he just elevated the nuclear threat status, I worry that if he doesn’t feel an viable exit, he literally burn down Ukraine and possibly other western countries.

    On that note, I’ll end with a tweet I saw from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. He said that his friends in Russia who know Putin really worried are concerned about that nuclear announcement, while his friends who know him the least are not concerned.

    More later.

    1. It sounds like you’re thinking of a reasonable drawback for the person as well as the officeholder. Two different things.

      I haven’t even heard of offering independence to the separatist regions as a talking point. In fact, I’ve heard (though it’s enormously likely I misheard) that the separatists represent a minority in these regions. Offering independence on the insistence of a vocal minority AND an invading country sounds like a complete non-starter.

      There is still room for Putin to save face, at least in front of his own people. He can graciously pull his military back and say, “This isn’t over,” leaving a DMZ-type situation along the border until he’s no longer in office.

      The only way exile (which I have also not heard anyone mention) seems remotely likely is if there’s an uprising by his own people or his own military against him. Losing a war doesn’t mean a leader has to leave the country. Losing a war can be just what it was in Afghanistan: decide none of this is worth it, rewrite your own history books so your people grow up thinking you won, and plan your next senseless nation-taking.

    2. It sounds like you’re thinking of a reasonable drawback for the person as well as the officeholder. Two different things.

      How so? I understand Putin to be an autocrat, not a leader a liberal democracy. My sense is that autocrats primarily care about themselves, and Putin is no different.

      There is still room for Putin to save face, at least in front of his own people. He can graciously pull his military back and say, “This isn’t over,” leaving a DMZ-type situation along the border until he’s no longer in office.

      This doesn’t work–if Putin’s primary fear is democracy–particularly lead by a grassroots uprising. And the most nightmarish iteration is an uprising that leads to his death. This is a theory I’ve heard from others, and it seems the most compelling to me.

      If it’s true, then I don’t see how he can withdraw now. Ukraine will likely continue to move closer to a liberal democracy and join the EU. (The EU president’s comments today sound like this is only a matter of time.) Sitting around watching this unfold would be torture. (I also think Putin invaded because he decided that Ukrainian democratization is inevitable–unless intervened militarily.)

      At this same time, the Russian and people and the world are agnry at this invasion. Not only has the average joe taken to the streets, but I’ve seen professionals resign or sign letters opposing the invasion. That is, it would be surprising if Putin felt the nightmare scenario could occur in Russia.

      Now, this is all contingent on the theory that fear of democracy is the main driver of Putin’s actions. If something else is the cause, then most of what I’m saying is likely moot.

      1. Leaving for another country is a way out for Putin the man. It’s not a way out for Russia the country or whoever leads it if Putin’s not the man. A Golden Bridge for Putin is one thing; a Golden Bridge for Russia and her people is something else.

        My DMZ comparison was just an example, not a solution. But I maintain there is still some face-saving room through some kind of withdrawal. I’m not smart enough to figure it out.

        That Ukraine will still move toward liberal democracy is a valid point, but I don’t see how it prevents Russia from withdrawing. Withdrawal is defeat, but isn’t that what we’re talking about? If I understand your concept, a Golden Bridge is a way for Russia to lose without being destroyed or humiliated.

        1. That Ukraine will still move toward liberal democracy is a valid point, but I don’t see how it prevents Russia from withdrawing.

          My theory is based on a) Putin fearing democracy, because he sees it as a threat to himself–maybe literally his life; b) he’s determined that he can’t stop Ukrainian democracy without military intervention (because previous attempts have totally failed).

          So, if he retreats and then lets Ukraine slowly become a democracy–which may also spark a democratic uprising in Russia at any point–that would be a tortuous and therefore intolerable situation–for him. If true, his invasion makes more sense, despite the many flaws and bad outcomes. For example, I’ve seen some pundits say the invasion has lead to many of exact opposite of what Putin wants–e.g., a stronger and more unified NATO, peripheral countries wanting to join NATO, etc. They’re not wrong, but if the theory is correct, the invasion might be preferable to watching Ukraine move slowly towards democracy.

          Also, prior to the invasion, Putin used more subtle ways to undermine NATO, the West, and Urkaine such as, weaponizing corruption and greed and information warfare. Those tactics would be useless now–Ukraine is more determined than ever to become a democracy, and the West seems to be really taking the autocratic threat seriously.

          If Putin fears democracy in Russia and the Eastern European countries the most, what options does he have now (to thwart democratization)? And if he doesn’t have any viable options, I feel like that increases the chances of him using nuclear weapons, especially if he becomes suicidal.

          This is why I’m focused on a golden bridge for Putin, not necessarily Russia the country. (I do want a path for Russia and her people to recover, but that seems like a less challenging plan, at least conceptually, than a viable off ramp for Putin.)

          Does that make sense?

          (Oh, one possible “bridge” If Putin retreats, and Ukraine is divided into regions, preventing unity, maybe he’s settle for that? In this scenario, a section of Ukraine may move towards the democracy, but the other section(s) may not–and maybe one or more could be under Putin’s influence, and he’s used them to thwart the democratic region.

          By the way, I got that idea from a Politico interview with Fiona Hill, which I highly recommend.

  10. Echoes of Washington and the American Revolution

    Of all the Founding Fathers, Washington seemed to command the most respect and admiration–in spite of the fact that he wasn’t the most impressive in terms of intellect, while many of the others were. I never really understood the reason for this, even after reading a short biography that set out to address this question.

    Watching Zelensky in the past few days, some of the videos he’s shown, the remarks he’s made, and the fact that he refused American offers to evacuate him, might have done the trick. Like Washington, Zelensky is leading a rag-tag group and struggling country struggling for feedom against a tyrant with a vastly superior military. If you’re a patriotic American, you have to be moved by this. (I understand that the EU’s outpouring of recent support was partly or mainly a result of Zelensky’s recent impassioned plea–“We’re dying here for your ideals.”)

    If Zelensky and the Ukrainians can prevail against Putin, I imagine he will be a towering figure, a beacon for democracy–one that could inspire Europeans and Americans to revitalize theirs. (This precisely why he’d be a huge threat to Putin.) I could definitely see myself feeling this way.

    More later

    The momentum of opposition to Putin was something I wanted to see against Trump

    If I were a Chinese official, here’s my takeaway so far

  11. I want to comment on a recent New Yorker interview, with John Mearsheimer, a foreign policy analyst, who is getting some attention because he believes the West is largely to blame for Putin’s invasion.

    In an ideal world, it would be wonderful if the Ukrainians were free to choose their own political system and to choose their own foreign policy.

    But in the real world, that is not feasible. The Ukrainians have a vested interest in paying serious attention to what the Russians want from them. They run a grave risk if they alienate the Russians in a fundamental way. If Russia thinks that Ukraine presents an existential threat to Russia because it is aligning with the United States and its West European allies, this is going to cause an enormous amount of damage to Ukraine. That of course is exactly what’s happening now. So my argument is: the strategically wise strategy for Ukraine is to break off its close relations with the West, especially with the United States, and try to accommodate the Russians. If there had been no decision to move nato eastward to include Ukraine, Crimea and the Donbass would be part of Ukraine today, and there would be no war in Ukraine.

    But suppose Ukraine was basically controlled by a puppet regime (a la Belarus), an illiberal democracy (a la Hungary), or a divided and/or corrupt state (I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head)? Under those conditions, Putin likely wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine. But suppose the Urkainians really didn’t want to live in such a state, but preferred a functioning, liberal democracy?

    In the interview, M believes that Putin would allow this, as long as Ukraine wasn’t part of NATO or the EU, but because I agree with those who think Ukraine having a successful liberal democratic state would threaten Putin, I’m highly skeptical of this. (Given that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples interact and even intermarry, I would imagine Russians would have knowledge of Ukrainian liberal democracy, in spite of Russian propaganda.)

    But if Putin would tolerate Ukraine as a successful liberal democracy–that is, he wouldn’t attempt to subvert it or infringe on their sovereignty–then it’s reasonable to argue that Ukrainians should forgo NATO and the EU. On the other hand, any guarantee that Putin gave would not be worth much in view, based on his past behavior.

    One last word. The idea that the West is at fault–and that Russia is doing just want Great Power countries do, as if Greater Powers are essentially animals in nature, whose actions do not fall within a moral sphere–seems wrong to me. If you aggravate a bear, and the bear mauls you, that’s your fault. But a nation and leaders are humans, not animals in the wild. We can and often should judge actions based on morals and values. Liberal democracy and totalitarian dictatorship are not morally equivalent. Ukraine wanting to be a liberal democracy may threaten Putin, but Putin’s wrong from invading Ukraine for that reason.


    This article by Jonah Goldberg in The Dispatch touches on the false equivalence between Russia and the U.S., as well as the weird position of those who oppose imperialism broadly, and criticize the U.S. specifically, while being indifferent on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

  12. Should NATO intervene militarily now to protect Ukraine?

    There’s several people that I’ve been hearing on twitter making this argument. Rep. Kinzinger is calling for a “no-fly zone,” for example. But I want to comment on some of Garry Kasparov’s comments, who is urging this, warning that if the West doesn’t stop Putin now, the price to stop him will only get higher. (And I believe he’s been using this argument for many years.)

    Kasparov has been vindicated for warning about the dangers Putin poses to the West. I agree with him that the West should have taken Putin way more seriously–that the desire for profits should have been secondary, as it has become now.

    But his call towards military intervention to protect Ukraine seems to go far.

    Before I saw more, I need to make one extremely important point–namely, to call for military intervention out of horror and anguish at Putin’s attack on Urkainians and a desperate desire to save the Ukrainians is wholly appropriate; it is the more humane and righteous position. To sit back and allow the Russians to kill Ukrainians and destroy their cities–while one has the power to stop this–is morally wrong, at least on some level. While I don’t support military intervention from NATO, it’s important to acknowledge all of the above.

    So why am I against NATO intervention? Here is the first and probably the biggest the reason, which I’ve gotten from Tom Nichols: military intervention from the West is the one thing that could save Putin, rallying the military and the Russian people to support the war. Putin has been pushing the narrative that NATO and the West have been out to get Russia. NATO intervening militarily would provide compelling evidence for this narrative (regardless of how flimsy). Russia state media simply showing NATO troops or planes attacking the Russian military might be sufficient to convince the Russia public, as the important contextual details would likely be lost or hidden. Currently, the battle is between Russia and Ukraine–not Russia and the West. Putin seems to be hiding this from the public, while claiming he’s liberating Ukrainians from neo-Nazis. That’s one of his best justifications for invasion! The Russian public and military leadership would find NATO intervention a more compelling reason to fight.

    But again, it must be said: NATO staying on the sidelines comes down to watching Ukrainians get killed. Yes, we’re arming them, but that’s likely not enough to stop a lot of people from dying.

    I believe Kasparov also argues that if we don’t stop Russia now, he’ll attack other countries. I don’t doubt the notion that Putin has those ambitions. However, as Nichols (once again) pointed out: 1) Most of his military will be bogged down in Ukraine; 2) he likely won’t have the funding to support such a campaign, and 3) the plan to invade Ukraine took a long time, but as a military campaign, it has been relatively unimpressive so far. Conclusion: After this, Putin likely won’t be in a position to invade another country. The reasons above seems fairly persuasive to me.

    Here’s something Kasaparov tweeted that I want to comment on:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think Kasparov should feel so vindicated about his recommendation to intervene, militarily, in 2014. For one thing, the problems Nichols brings up above would likely apply in that situation. Additionally, playing a waiting game with Putin could have lead to economic problems or a political uprising that ended Putin’s regime. (I believe there was an uprising in 2011.) If that’s not an unrealistic scenario, then that seems to lessen Kasparov’s vindication–at least with regard to calling for military intervention earlier.

    We’re now at a point where we’re weighing enormous decisions without hindsight. Once we get that, one decision will seem obviously worse than the other. Kasparov could be right–maybe he really has a better understanding of Putin than others (including myself). But is that enough implement his position? It seems flimsy. Given what I know now, I agree with people like Nichols–although, again, this position has horrific implications.

    (With regard to this last point, the U.S. doesn’t stop every massive atrocity that occurs in the world. As distasteful as it is, the U.S. considers whether doing so is in their interests. And Americans who are outraged by this need to consider if they’re willing to spend blood and treasure to stop all of these atrocities. My sense is that in many of these situations large numbers of Americans are not willing to pay this price. Therefore, if there is any finger-pointing at least some of this should be directed at the American public.)

  13. Some thoughts on the war coverage and propaganda from Ukraine and Russia

    • I was following a twitter list, made by a journalist (Josh Marshall) of people covering and commenting on the war tweets about the Urkainians. I finding myself following it less and less because more and more of it seems to be positive. For example, much of the tweets are of destroyed Russian military vehicles. I want the Ukrainians to do well and not suffer, but the tweets feel like propaganda–an attempt to inspire both Ukrainians and encourage more support from Western countries. Both are good things, but I feel the coverage is being distorted in order to accomplish this.
    • One realization–or at least least a truism that has been underscored to me. In war, either combatant must put the morale of their peoples first, even at the expense of truth–at least at times and to a certain extent. (I do think there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Lies can be too outrageous and immoral–e.g., We’re invading to de-nazify a country whose president also happens to be Jewish.)
    • Part of the propaganda involves creating the sense that the Russian people don’t necessarily support the war. This is also something I want to believe, but that’s precisely why tweets/articles/stories pushing this can be dangerous. Here’s a threat that pushes back on that narrative. (Note: I don’t really know this person, but Anne Applebaum, a person I trust, retweeted it and seems to at least consider it seriously.)

    • Here’s a guide to consuming information on the war from On the Media. The guide seems to focus on misleading information from Russia, but ignores possible misleading information from Ukraine and Western outlets. In my view, we should also be wary of information from Western outlets–although, in general, I do think they’re far more trustworthy than Russian state media.

    • Here’s what I’m fairly confident about now: 1) The Russian military is struggling, at least a little; 2) Putin is pounding Ukraine–both the actual cities and citizens. Beyond that, I’m not really sure, and I think I won’t know until much later.
  14. Post for links to Trump’s handling of Ukraine

  15. I agree with this from Tom Nichols in theAtlantic:

    Only one military force in the world can save Putin from utter humiliation now: NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO intervention in Russia’s war on Ukraine could halt that country’s barbarous attacks. But it would mean war between Putin’s regime and the West, and this war would be such a gift to Putin that we should expect that he will soon do everything he can to provoke it.

    The U.S. and Europe should resist such provocations.

    Simply put, Nichols’s reasons, which I share, come down to two things:

    1. Narratives are everything. In this case, if NATO intervenes, Putin will use this to patriotism and grievances towards the West, held by the Russian public and Russian military elites. Deny Putin this narrative, and the chances of demoralization from the military and protest from the public increase. Putin can’t win if these sentiments are strong.
    2. NATO involvement increases the likelihood of nuclear war. Here’s NIchols: “A nuclear crisis is not an orderly duel or a game with rules, but rather a maelstrom of poor information, conflicting signals, and highly charged emotions. To make matters worse, Putin has always been a poor strategist, a risk-taker who foolishly sets in motion—as he has done in Ukraine—forces he cannot control.”

    If the first point is true, then Nichols’s predicts that Putin will likely try to bait NATO involvement, which could include using chemical weapon, bombing a nuclear power plant, or some other provocation–like increasing the attacks on civilians. Nichols advises the West shouldn’t take the bait, and I agree. But what that means is the possibility of seeing more horrific deaths in Ukraine.

    On another note:

  16. Cyberwarfare

    Inside Ukraine’s online defence: the battle against Moscow’s cyber attacks and The secret US mission to bolster Ukraine’s cyber defences ahead of Russia’s invasion from Financial Times

    Why You Haven’t Heard About the Secret Cyberwar in Ukraine op-ed from Thomas Rid in the NYT


    NYT piece starts with the news that the U.S. gov’t removed malware from various systems worldwide, but then it also gives an overview of the various cyber attacks since January 2022, ostensibly related to Russia’s invasion to Ukraine. The article also discusses concerns about potential cyber attacks in the U.S. Here’s a quote that stood out for me:

    “I am perfectly well aware that if Russia as a nation-state decided it wanted to attack the national infrastructure of the U.S., including what I’m responsible for, I don’t have much chance of stopping them,” said Peter Fletcher, the information security officer for the San Jose Water Company, which is part of a group that manages water services in several states. “The entire Russian nation-state versus Peter? I’m going to lose.”

    Mr. Fletcher said that he was prepared but that smaller water companies than his own often struggled to keep up with cybersecurity demands. Many of them rely on outdated technology to pump and treat water, which could make them attractive hacking targets, he said.

  17. About a month into Putin’s invasion into Ukraine–with likely war crimes being committed by Russia–Trump pulls a “Russia if you’re listening, part 2”


    Charlie Sykes, of theBulwark, pointed out that there’s an extended clip where Trump begins by saying, “As long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country, let him ex…” (It sounds like he was going to say, “Let him explain why the Mayor of Moscow’s wife gave Biden money.) The fact that Putin is an adversary and even enemy of the U.S. not only doesn’t prevent Trump from seeking his assistance–with damaging Biden–but Trump seems to see point this out as a good motivation for damaging Biden and indirectly the U.S.

    By the way, Aaron Rupar posts the clip, but Sykes mentions that Trump’s spokeswoman, Liz Harrington, tweeted out the clip–so it’s not just distorted clip to make Trump look bad.

    Here’s the extended clip:

    Here’s something else. Trump mentions Hunter Biden and China, but he says something about not wanting to get into because China hasn’t invaded Taiwan yet(!), but he says, “That’ll be next.” I’m not sure what “that” refers to. But when I first heard this, I thought he might mean he would call on China to release dirt once they invaded Taiwan–because then the hostility between China and the U.S. would be greater, and China would have a reason to damage Biden. I could be reading into this a bit, but would anybody be surprised if this accurately reflected Trump’s thinking?

  18. Inside the Ukraine power plant raising the specter of nuclear disaster in Europe from CNN

    The potential for some nuclear accident in Urkaine is so scary to me, I’ve largely avoided reading stories about this, but I decided to read the article above.

    Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russian forces, which seized the plant in March, of storing heavy weaponry inside the complex and using it as cover to launch attacks, knowing that Ukraine can’t return fire without risking hitting one of the plant’s six reactors — a mistake that would spell disaster. Moscow, meanwhile, has claimed Ukrainian troops are targeting the site. Both sides have tried to point the finger at the other for threatening nuclear terrorism.

    The remaining article seems to suggest the Nuclear facility has been damaged via shelling(?)–but they never address whether this is from the Ukrainians. It’s totally believable the Russian military are launching attacks from the power plant, and if they’re causing significant damage, it would be understandable if the Ukrainian military would attack the nuclear power plant….although that seems insane. I need to get more information on this.

    The article mentions the U.S. and its allies calling for ceasefire and creating a demilitarized zone around the power plant. If China wants to be a seen as a legitimate world leader, they should also push for this. By the way, if things go south, I’m putting considerable blame on China. To me, they have leverage to really discourage Putin. And even if they’re more limited than I think, I don’t see any evidence they’re trying to dissuade Putin–just the opposite (at least initially).

    Update on offering a “golden bridge” to Putin

    My views on this have changed quite a bit–namely, this is not something I’m thinking about; that is, I’m far less concerned about Putin doing something crazy, without a way he can leave while saving face.

    Now, the greater priority for me is for Ukraine to decisively defeat Russia on the battlefield. I think this is the primary way to stop Putin, and/or get him to negotiate in some good faith, substantive way. I see him as a brutal dictator who will only stop if you bloody his nose badly–and show him you can and will do so in the future.

    The downside is the possibility that he will use nuclear weapons or do something equally horrific–which is not to say he isn’t doing horrific things now–he is. People who hold my position have to be able to address this. What if Putin does use nuclear weapons, what would they say?

    Here’s my response:

    1. My sense is that Putin has made these threats in the past (including during their invasion of Ukraine), and the threats seem to be merely that.

    2. Not aiding Ukraine because of the threats or Ukraine backing down because of these threats will make things worse–for Ukraine, obviously, but for the West as well in my view. Doing so will give Putin what he wants, and will further embolden him. Putin is a brutal autocratic ruler, and my sense is that he won’t stop unless he’s made to. In this specific instance, Ukraine winning in the battlefield is a huge part of this.


    I’m glad to hear this.

  19. This is an epic NYT report on the Russian invasion and the Russian army.

    The conditions of the Russian military, described in this report are pretty remarkable. For example, a soldier, ostensibly a sniper, had to use wikipedia to help him know how to use his rifle. I have to wonder the extent to which these descriptions are pervasive/typical.

    Also: why was our assessment of their military so off? (My understanding many believed the Russians would achieve a quick victory.)

    But the big takeaway for me is an underscoring of the problems associated with authoritarian regimes–namely, the leader surround himself with yes man, which can lead to overconfidence and hubris, which in term lead to catastrophic mistakes. Another problem is valuing loyalty over competence and integrity. This leads to corruption and deterioration and dysfunction of institutions.

    Since 2016, Lord Acton’s axiom–power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely–has been reaffirmed. Also, relatedly, hubris in leaders is a danger that a society should be wary of–especially, when the leader is extremely talented.

  20. “How the algorithm tipped the balance in Ukraine”part 1 and part 2 by David Ignatius of WaPo

    These two reports cover the ground-breaking use of technology by Ukrainian military. Here’s how I understand this innovation. Basically, the Ukrainians, with the help of Western allies, have tech that can utilize data from satellites and other sources (mostly public/commercial?) to identify the enemy’s position, choose the most appropriate weaponry, given the situaiton, and then analyze the results. Conceptually, this doesn’t seem so innovative. Indeed, it makes me think of Tony Scott’s Enemy of the State, but I guess military units haven’t been able to implement this concept (and the current AI seems new).

    Here’s how Ignatius describes it:

    The “kill chain” that I saw demonstrated in Kyiv is replicated on a vast scale by Ukraine’s NATO partners from a command post outside the country. The system is built around the same software platform developed by Palantir that I saw in Kyiv, which can allow the United States and its allies to share information from diverse sources — ranging from commercial satellite imagery to the West’s most secret intelligence tools.

    This is algorithmic warfare, as Karp says. Using a digital model of the battlefield, commanders can penetrate the notorious “fog of war.” By applying artificial intelligence to analyze sensor data, NATO advisers outside Ukraine can quickly answer the essential questions of combat: Where are allied forces? Where is the enemy? Which weapons will be most effective against enemy positions? They can then deliver precise enemy location information to Ukrainian commanders in the field. And after action, they can assess whether their intelligence was accurate and update the system.

    Data powers this new engine of war — and the system is constantly updating. With each kinetic strike, the battle damage assessments are fed back into the digital network to strengthen the predictive models. It’s not an automated battlefield, and it still has layers and stovepipes. The system I saw in Kyiv uses a limited array of sensors and AI tools, some developed by Ukraine, partly because of classification limits. The bigger, outside system can process highly classified data securely, with cyber protections and restricted access, then feed enemy location data to Ukraine for action.

    To envision how this works in practice, think about Ukraine’s recent success recapturing Kherson, on the Black Sea coast. The Ukrainians had precise intelligence about where the Russian were moving and the ability to strike with accurate long-range fire. This was possible because they had intelligence about the enemy’s location, processed by NATO from outside the country and then sent to commanders on the ground. Armed with that information, the Ukrainians could take the offensive — moving, communicating and adjusting quickly to Russian defensive maneuvers and counterattacks.

    Another way the new technology helps is by identifying which military units are ready for battle. (This refers to Palantir software that helps the U.S. military.)

    Milley was frustrated by an antiquated data system that made it hard to gather details about what units were ready for battle. The Army, like so many government institutions, had too many separate repositories for information.

    Palantir technicians showed me an unclassified version of the Army database they helped create to address that problem. You can see in an instant what units are ready, what skills and experience the soldiers in these units have, and what weapons and ammunition are available. Logistics problems like this once took weeks to solve; now there are answers in seconds.

    Another use of technology:

    Simultaneously, the Pentagon was exploring the use of artificial intelligence to analyze sensor data and identify targets. This effort was known as Project Maven, and it initially spawned a huge controversy when it was launched in 2017. The idea was to write algorithms that could recognize, say, a Russian T-72 tank in drone surveillance images in the same way that facial recognition scans can discern a human face.

    (emphasis added)

    Ignatius’s raises pitfalls of this technology:

    But what if an entrepreneur decides to wage a private war? What if authoritarian movements gain control of democratic societies and use technology to advance control rather than freedom? What if AI advances eventually allow the algorithms themselves to take control, making decisions for reasons they can’t explain, at speeds that humans can’t match? Democratic societies need to be constantly vigilant about this technology….

    …Looking at the Ukraine war, we can see that our freewheeling entrepreneurial culture gives the West a big advantage over state-run autocracies such as China and Russia — so long as companies and CEOs share the same democratic values as Western governments.

  21. How Citizen Spies Foiled Putin’s Grand Plan for One Ukrainian City from the NYT

    I’m a little wary of reports like this because they feel like war propaganda. So I take my feel-good reaction with a grain of salt.

    But my main takeaway is the way this is another example of how this war feels like a much older war–namely, WWII. In this article, the Ukrainian citizens of Kherson reminded me of the French underground resistance. This seems odd–because the Russian invasion just seemed like the type of threat that no longer existed–or at least other threats (like terrorism) were much more likely.

    Here’s another takeaway:

    Kherson’s occupation government, run by Russian military commanders and Ukrainian collaborators, wasted little time pulling down Ukrainian flags, taking over Ukrainian schools, trucking in crates of Russian rubles, even importing Russian families. Perhaps nowhere else in Ukraine did Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, devote so much money and violence, the carrot and the stick, to bend a city to his imperial will.

    Russian families began to move into apartments vacated by fleeing Ukrainians. Russian children, who residents said were the children of intelligence agents, became a common sight in Kherson’s parks and supermarkets.

    Something about these actions, especially moving Russian families into the city, disturbs me–as it seems to confirm that this is an imperial war, not out of legitimate concerns of Russian security.

    I don’t want to keep making new posts, but I also wanted to mention some of the heinous acts by the Russians. One of the most appalling is the taking Ukrainian children to Russia.

    Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Russian authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals, who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.

    In fact, this mass transfer of children is a potential war crime, regardless of whether they were orphans. And while many of the children did come from orphanages and group homes, the authorities also took children whose relatives or guardians want them back, according to interviews with children and families on both sides of the border.

    More on this later.

  22. I like a lot of the points made by Navalny here.

    One thing I’m concerned about and feel might be missing–namely, a narrative that can adequately replace the narratives about Russian identity–specifically, Russia as a great nation on the world stage. I have some doubts that simply pointing to economic prosperity, as an endpoint, will be enough to satisfy and resonate with Russians. I feel like economic prosperity has to be woven into a narrative that can make Russians feel like great people.

    Or, a Russian leader has to help the Russian people transition to an identity that is more modest.

    Both seem like really difficult tasks, with no clear answers in view.

  23. I agree with David Frum’s thread on negotiations between Russia and Ukraine–specifically, the conditions where he would support a negotiated settlement. (Good historical overview as well, starting from the 1990s.)

    Since 1991, post-Soviet Russia has fought two wars inside Chechnya. It has waged wars across internationally recognized borders against

    Georgia (twice)
    and Ukraine (2014 and then again in 2022).

    Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war and between Armenia & Azerbaijan.
    It’s often claimed that “all wars end in negotiations.” But to date, none of post-Soviet Russia’s many wars have ended that way. 3/x
    Instead, post-Soviet Russia’s wars have tended to freeze into perpetual unresolved conflicts, with Russia retaining chunks of other people’s territory – enduring international opprobrium – and waiting out any ensuing sanctions. 4/x
    A reason that post-Soviet Russia’s wars end as “frozen conflicts” is that they have ended on terms more or less satisfactory to Russian leadership. Russian leaders have never seen any need for a more formal resolution that might require some concession to adversaries. 5/x
    If the 2022 invasion of Ukraine were to end today, it would end as another “frozen conflict.” From a Russian point of view, there’d be little to negotiate. They’ve still got Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They didn’t colonize the rest of Ukraine, but they mauled and terrorized it.
    The status quo is acceptable enough to post-Soviet Russia. So when prominent people urge negotiations now, they are urging a policy that would award Russia a good-enough win – and leave Ukraine broken and vulnerable to further Russian aggression/pressure.
    What might induce Russia to change its established pattern and -for the first time- negotiate an end to a war that it started? Only one thing: fear that the war is trending in a direction even more unacceptable than any concessions necessary to end the war Russia started. 8/x
    To get to negotiations with Ukraine, Russia needs to genuinely fear that it could lose its war against Ukraine- lose catastrophically enough that negotiations become a less unacceptable alternative to Russia’s leaders. 9/x
    The way to get to negotiations is, therefore, to arm Ukraine to the point where Russian leaders fear defeat.

    The way to thwart negotiations is to withhold arms from Ukraine and leave Russia’s leaders with hope they can preserve the status quo. 10/x
    To put it more formally, Russia’s preferences look like

    Russian victory > frozen conflict > continuing war > negotiations requiring concessions.

    The West can only “jump to negotiations” after it has denied Russia any hope of success from first three preferences. END

    (emphasis added)

    Frum doesn’t mention something else as well: This would likely embolden other authoritarian rulers who also perceive the status quo as a “good enough” win. To maintain the current rules-based international system, Putin–and the other authoritarian countries–have to perceive the ending of this conflict as something a painful loss.

    On another note, while I think Mitch McConnell is one of the worst Americans in my lifetime, him saying this is a good thing:

  24. U.S. spies learned in mid-June Prigozhin was planning armed action in Russia from WaPo

    A few days Prigozhin made a public announcement about the criticizing the invasion of Ukraine, pointing out the threat of NATO was false reason. I’m not an expert, but I thought this was a significant announcement–revealing Putin’s waning control over the country, and/or a death sentence for Prigozhin.

    Things got crazy when Prigozhin and his Wagner troops took over a defense headquarters and seemed to be marching towards Moscow–only for this to end in an ostensible deal, where Prigozhin turned back and headed to Belarus.

    I don’t know what’s going on–or what to believe–but this all seems very bad for Putin, and good for Ukraine and the rest of the liberal democratic world.

    Someone commented that the morale of Russian soldier must be incredibly low. That would be my feeling as well–how could it not, if we’re getting accurate information, including the most relevant.

    I feel like really dramatic things could happen in the next few days or weeks—some good, some bad.

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