Is the Collective West Going Soon to Be Hoist on the Zelensky Petard?

Some of the close watchers of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been talking up the prospects of peace talks. As we’ll discuss shortly, your humble blogger thinks this view is not currently well aligned with reality. Yes, things look to have thawed to the point that the US has backed off of worst-than-the-darkest-days-of-cold-war non-communication with Russia. But while thawing from close to absolute zero to a mere deep freeze is technically warming, it’s still awfully frigid. The two sides have zero bargaining overlap in their positions, which means no basis for discussions. And one of the biggest impediments to any settlement, other than Russia eventually dictating terms, is the leader the collective West has put on a pedestal: Zelensky, with the additional baggage of his Banderite inner circle.

The other big impediment to a cessation of hostilities any time soon is NATO. The US and NATO knows NATO manhood is at stake and that it can’t be seen to lose to Russia. They may be pinning their hopes on Russia leaving a rump Ukraine as a success, when Russia never intended to occupy the entire country.

But the US and NATO seem unable to process that Russia is destroying Ukraine by attacking its energy grid and could do the same to other European countries.1 It’s going to be hard to depict Western-Ukraine-as-failed-state, and a flood of refugees to Europe, as some sort of US/NATO win. But that’s the likely outcome on current trajectories.

Misreading the State of Play

A fair number of Russia-sympathetic, or at least “not buying what Ukraine is selling” commentators appear to have misread some noise in Western press. This may be due to cognitive bias. Anyone other than hardcore hawks in Russia would likely see the war end sooner rather than later. The partial mobilization has brought the war home.

Second, the Ukraine skeptics have a much better view of how the war is going than consumers of Ukraine PR via the Western press, pundits, and policy-makers. To them, it is clear things are not going well for Ukraine and the odds of Ukraine prevailing (pushing Russia out of Ukraine) are zilch, and even regaining much territory, are extremely slim. Surely the people in the West with the inside skinny understand this, and should therefore want to talk terms before things get worse.

The story that kicked off the peace talks hopium was in the WaPo. It was explicit that Zelensky had been told that he needed to look less inflexible about negotiating with Russia but not change his posture. Somehow commentators overlooked the second part of the instructions. The second was the WSJ revelation that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had been communicating with two Russian officials for an unspecified amount of time. That was interpreted as working on a deal, as opposed to bare minimum keeping channels open. Recall also that Russia reported (before this story) that Russia had been getting regular “Don’t you dare use nukes” warnings from a senior level in the US when Russia had threatened nothing of the kind. Russia interpreted these communiques as escalation, not de-escalation. Colonel Douglas Macgregor had insider intel on Sullivan’s most recent communique and he said Sullivan made a coded or overt threat about deploying US/NATO troops. Sullivan had at least alluded to and perhaps fleshed out a “coalition of the willing” entering the war on behalf of Ukraine, as mooted by former general and CIA chief David Petraeus a few weeks earlier.2

The next bit of news that got the “negotiations are happening” crowd out over its skis was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley leaking to the New York Times that he’d told the White House that “Ukraine should negotiate while it’s ahead.” First, Milley would not leaked it if he had won that discussion.3 Milley was made to retreat in the following days, depicting Russia as “really hurting bad” and underscoring that the Ukraine was in the drivers’ seat and the US would be there “as long as it takes”.

Milley’s boss, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took an even firmer position in a speech Why Ukraine Matters last Friday in Halifax, maintaining that defeating Russia was key to US and world security:

The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the course of global security in this young century. And those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out.

Stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic are at stake. You know, the U.S. trading relationship with the European Union is the largest in the world. So when an aggressor manufactures a huge security crisis in Europe, it hits home for everyday Americans and Canadians.

Regarding the similarly-ballyhooed meeting between CIA chief William Burns and Sergey Naryshkin in Istanbul, the White House was announced before and insisted after there was discussion of Ukraine. I see no reason for Naryshkin to bring it up if Burns didn’t.

Nevertheless, some of the press has been noising about peace. It may be the recognition that stability in Europe is starting to crack thanks to spiraling energy costs, witness none other than the Financial Times today one of its lead stories covering protests in Germany, and depicting the participants as from the left as well as the right. From the top:

Were it not for the banners, it could have been a crowd gathering for an early opening of Leipzig’s Christmas market.

Then came the speeches.

“Please do not provoke the police and note that Russian flags or signs that show support for Russia’s armed forces are not welcome!” an organiser declared by loudspeaker at the event this month.

“Germany is serving as a puppet exclusively for American interests and those of Nato,” the first orator warned to the hundreds-strong crowd, a mix of students, families and pensioners. Some carried banners for the German left, some peace flags and some homemade signs drawing complex parallels between the nine-month war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. As the anti-American rhetoric soared, the crowd applauded, jeered and whistled.

“The embargo policy against Russia has failed completely and is being directed catastrophically against ourselves,” the speaker continued, invoking the Holocaust and declaring the war in Ukraine a “paradise” for “warmongers, arms companies and profiteers”.

Another important crack in the party line was a New York Times story that tried to ‘splain why Russia had not run out of missiles, despite repeated claims for many months to the reverse. Late in the piece, someone admitted no one really knew how many missiles Russia had. Ooopsie!

And more recently, there was also the surprisingly open criticism of Zelensky for sticking to the well-disproven story that Russia, rather than Ukraine has shot the missile that landed in Poland and killed two farmers. Even though most commentators accept the notion that a Ukraine air defense missile went astray, Scott Ritter, who says he has direct knowledge of how these systems work, argues the reverse, that it would have needed a radar signal to sent it there and it could have been arranged by someone not very high level in Ukraine (or Poland in cahoots). Corriere della Serra based on an account from Poland also claims the landing was no accident.

Regardless of whether this incident was an accident or by design, it was not a good look for Zelensky to look so eager to gin up a direct conflict between NATO and Russia. From the Financial Times:

Responding to Zelenskyy’s comments, a diplomat from a Nato country in Kyiv told the Financial Times: “This is getting ridiculous. The Ukrainians are destroying [our] confidence in them. Nobody is blaming Ukraine and they are openly lying. This is more destructive than the missile.”

In other words, the intensity and unanimity of support for Ukraine is getting a bit threadbare. But that’s still a long way away from the West being willing or able to turn this supertanker around. It’s invested enormous amounts of hard dollars, economic costs in the form of sanctions blowback, and information space artillery on this project. Most of the great unwashed public hasn’t changed its mind as much as is preoccupied with other matters, ranging from the struggle to pay the bills to preparing for the holidays. And for the most part, there’s still plenty of drumbeating that those evil Rooskies are on the verge of failure. From the Washington Post last week:

With its ground forces battered and losing territory, Russia has resorted to long-range bombing, while it struggles to train and equip tens of thousands of new conscripts, many of whom may have no desire to fight in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s failing war.

The Growing Zelensky Problem

Early in the conflict, Scott Ritter pointed out that Russia had strong incentives for Zelensky to remain President of Ukraine. If a peace ever were to be agreed, Zelensky signing off on it would legitimate it in the eyes of the world, since Zelensky had been built up as a true freedom fighter.

Moreover, so far, despite the tooth-gnashing about Zelensky refusing to drop his insistence that Ukraine was not responsible for the missile that fell into Poland, his continued seeming intransigence about negotiating has elicited annoyed remarks only from Russia. That suggests that Zelensky is still acting on Western orders, per the initial Washington Post story, that Zelensky was supposed to feign willingness to negotiate. From a Washington Post story last week:

There seems to be limited or no willingness to give ground from either side, with Moscow insisting that Ukrainian territory it illegally annexed will forever be Russian land. Ukraine, meanwhile, is demanding Russia’s full withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed illegally in 2014.

The restoration of territorial sovereignty was part of a 10-point peace plan Zelensky presented to G-20 leaders this week. The plan also called for Russia to pay reparations.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday accused Kyiv of setting preconditions for talks, which he said proved Ukraine was not interested in negotiating.

But Ryabkov said Russia’s commitment to its unconditional territorial integrity was unshakable, including “within the constituent territories that were admitted to the Russian Federation recently.” This was not the same as setting preconditions for talks, he said.

Similarly, some interpreted UK Prime Minister running to Kiev with yet another (but only 50 million pound) support package but not noising it up as a sign that Sunak was quietly trying to muscle Zelensky. The UK has been the most fierce supporter of Ukraine and I don’t see a brand new Prime Minister as quickly making a big shift. I agree with Alex Christaforu’s assessment, that Sunak was low-key press-wise because spending more on Ukraine when UK households are hurting is not a great look.

But regardless, events are moving against Ukraine. Russia will continue to take out its electrical grid. It’s very close to the point where large numbers of Ukrainians will have to leave the cities…either to the countryside or elsewhere in Europe. I don’t see how Europe can handle the influx.

But most observers in the West seem unable to grasp that this outcome is possible, even likely. Does Russia turn screws up gradually in the next round, as in whack the power totally in Lvov, triggering flight to Poland, to drive the point home?

The point is that Russia can, relatively quickly, make conditions untenable for Ukraine’s neighbors. Even so, I doubt the West could swallow the terms Russia would want. But even if they did, Zelensky would not agree. He can’t because he is surrounded by Banderite goons and Russia is determined to capture and try them.

One sign of the power of these neo-Nazis (again hat tip Alex Christaforu) is the continued rise of unrepentant Andrij Melnyk, former Ukraine ambassador to Germany. He was shockingly rude and unprofessional in his public statements about Germany. But what forced his resignation was an interview where he praised Stephen Bandera

However, after a short time in the doghouse, Melnyk has been promoted to deputy foreign minister. That’s not a plus for dealing with Russia, evah.

But recall that Zelensky has apparently long been hostage to the Banderite goons, who have beaten up and even killed Ukraine politicians seen as too friendly to Russia. Zelensky campaigned on normalizing relations with Russia and won 73% of the vote. He quickly changed his stance after he took office.

Moreover, the US has helped keep these Nazis a force in Ukraine long after what would have been their likely sell-by date. Scott Ritter recounted how the US funded them after World War II to weaken the Soviets through the fall of the USSR. The US again supported neo-Nazi groups such as Right Sector as part of the Maidan coup. And of late, he US has seen far too many Azov types being feted in the US or having their political stance airbrushed out of press accounts.

Vice Chairman of Russia’s Security Council, in a recent Telegram comment summarized in TASS, correctly depicted how Zelensky is boxed in:

Nevertheless, “Zelensky does not want any negotiations for quite obvious selfish reasons. Moreover, they [negotiations] are very dangerous for him,” Medvedev continued.

“After all, unless he acknowledges the realities of Ukraine’s break-up, it makes no sense to sit down at the [negotiating] table. Once he admits it, he will be bumped off by his own nationalists who are connected with the army top brass, and of whom he is scared out of his wits,” Medvedev said, describing the situation by the chess term ‘Zugzwang’ (in which each move of a player will worsen his/her position).

This scenario also underscores the mess the West is in if it were actually to get serious about wanting to negotiate (per above, my read on the rash of news is they amount to a combination of optics management plus some personal jockeying; there’s no sign Biden, Blinken, Sullivan, or Austin have changed position), they can’t maneuver around the neo-Nazi infestation the US bred. Zelensky will have to resist any peace overtures. If he were killed, the neo-Nazis would blame it on Russia and use it as a pretext for even more radical positions. After all, how much would it cost the US to provide intel and other support for terrorism?4

So I don’t see any alternative other than for Russia to continue on its current path of prostrating Ukraine. And I’m sure the Russians had worked that out a while back and see nothing that suggests it would make sense to change course.


1 Colonel Douglas Macgregor has also pointed out in the event of an official NATO war with Russia, as opposed to the current half pregnant version, Russia could take out all NATO airbases in Europe save one remote one, in Portugal, in the first hour and a half of the conflict.

2 I’m admittedly depending heavily on Macgregor in this reading, but Macgregor made a point of reading all the press carefully, knows the principals, and has additional info from insiders. None of the others opining on this topic have anything approaching his perspective. And given the way Milley was made to backpeddle massively, and his boss Lloyd Austin just took an very hard line position last Friday, Macgregor’s views appear to have been borne out.

3 See, starting at 0:55

4 See the related John Helmer story today, where Russia is rumored to be considering establishing a very large demilitarized zone to prevent missile attacks. That would also make it harder for terrorists to slip in and out.

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  1. David

    The best way to look at this, I think, is to accept that there are a variety of different positions (1) within governments (2) between governments (3) within NATO (4) within the EU (5) within the G7 and (6) between variations and combinations of these western actors and Ukraine itself, taking it to be a unitary actor for this purpose. Even where the overall objective remains the same, there will be sharp differences on tactics and timing. There will also be professional differences. For example, the US, German and British militaries probably have views privately which are closer to each other than any of them are to their political leaderships. The military can always shrug and say “we did what we were ordered to do.” They don’t bear the consequences, as the political leadership does.

    So expecting consistency, or trying to deduce consistent positions from different statements by different people is a waste of time. What we’re seeing amounts to the shadows of a confused and violent argument going on in all of the fora I mentioned above at the same time. This is exacerbated by the discovery that the West doesn’t have the degree of control over Zelensky it thought it did, but at the same time isn’t really sure how much control it does have, nor how easy it would be to convince him to so whatever the West finally decides it wants. And is I pointed out yesterday “negotiation” is not one thing, but a whole range of possibilities that mean different things to different people.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t think there is anything approaching a violent or even mild argument in the US at the top. The US wants contradictory things, not to lose v. Russia, not to go to war directly, and somehow thinks if they keep this in play, some magic development, like Russia finally running out of missiles, will save them. Russia hatred in this Administration runs deep.

      Mark Milley went rogue and per Macgregor, historically someone who leaked to the press as he did would have been fired. The US at the top cannot accept that we can’t push what we conceive of as a second-tier power like Russia around. At best, some are in the “They have changed their minds, but have not changed their hearts” stage. They understand intellectually that something has to give but don’t yet accept it emotionally, and thus can’t act.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both.

        Further to David’s recent mention of the German and Italian business establishments, their chagrin is that, especially after the withdrawal of that big armoured column from near Kiev and the heavily spun events at Bucha, the bridge and Kherson, no “fait accompli” (my phrase) or “big bang” (theirs) was presented to the west by Russia, which would have enabled the business community and military professionals to urge the politicians to move on, even put heads above parapets. When I mischievously suggested to my former colleagues / counterparts that they meant “we” sell Zelensky / Ukraine down the river, none disagreed.

        David highlights the different position(ing)s. There are many well connected veterans, both professionally and socially, in the City*. They are mainly army, report similar to David and are able to bridge military and business thinking, which seem similar. *Some have political ambitions.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Oh, I agree 100% that there are many conflicts in the UK and Europe and they have to be ever harder to manage. I was amazed the way German businessmen have been so cowed for so long (no warnings save right before suspending some operations?) Much like the fear to push back during Brexit negotiations.

          But the US somehow thinks we can profit or at least not suffer too much. And our defense contractors are making out like bandits.

          1. Stephen

            I agree.

            If you apply brutal realpolitik then the people driving decision making in the US have not lost anything.

            Europe’s dependency status has been enhanced, a cleavage has been created in Russo-German relations that would be mighty hard to heal and there has apparently been no major political cost at home. As you say, at the same time there is plenty of opportunity for the MIC to make money and for personal career enhancement.

            All of this might turn around. Eventually. But unless it does, they will just keep going.

          2. Oligarch Loyalty

            The German businessmen have now shown their true face. Instead of fighting for Germany, they happily deindustrialize Germany and move factories to China.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you. I don’t disagree, but circumstances are beyond their control, as per my reply to Yves.

            2. Tom Pfotzer

              Oligarch Loyalty:

              Is that really true, that Germany-based, German-owned businesses have decamped for China? Can you cite examples?

              This is an important point, and if it’s substantially true, it ought to get widely publicized.

                1. Joe Well

                  They have to go where the energy is. You don’t make chemicals out of just engineering prowess and prestige.

                  An industrial power without its own source of energy is a strange thing.

                2. Felix_47

                  Getting rid of 49000 jobs at the largest chemical plant in the world in Ludwigshafen and they are building a 2 Billion dollar chemical plant in Shanghai or thereabouts, I believe. And it is energy costs. The Greens have an ideology and care little about Germany. The PMC, and the Greens fall into that box, in Germany is largely connected to the USA. Most all of them have studied in the US and have relatives in the US so if all goes down they have a place to go. Germany is a colony of the US and a dumping ground for the millons displaced by US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa and the Balkans. At this point less than half of the people in Germany are bio Deutsch or of German descent. In Berlin one gets around as well with English as German. Most of the migrants that arrive know a little English and no German. So when things get problematic the PMC can move to the US. There is little loyalty to Germany and its history by the current ruling parties. The reaction to the destruction of the pipelines by the leadership is illustrative.

                  1. caucus99percenter

                    That’s the irony. It seems that certain xenophobic predictions over the last fifty years — about elites planning a “Great Replacement” of German and northern European identity with U.S. colonization and a pseudo-American hodgepodge of minorities elbowing each other for a crack at the brass ring of success and urban cultural hegemony — were correct.

                    As an adherent of reason, objectivity, and the scientific method, what does one do when the only observers making correct predictions are allegedly neo-Nazis and everyone else appears to be offering up rosy feel-good ideology-driven b.s. that anyone who cares to can see is contradicted both daily and over the long term by actual events?

          3. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Yves.

            With regard to my former employer, it’s not flavour of the month anywhere, so won’t say anything. This said, and I have heard first hand from the management board, it has long wanted, going back to 2018 at least, to minimise activity in the US (so cash management, foreign exchange, trade finance and limited securities dealing) and devote resources to Asia, i.e. follow the German export machine, as it has since foundation by Siemens et al in 1870. This was as much driven by business and regulatory risk as by the need for the firm and Germany to move from its Atlanticist moorings towards a more neutral position.

            Clients / peers in corporate Germany fear being singled out by Zelensky like Sarkozy and Merkel, Auchan, Renault and Societe Generale were for facilitating the Russian war machine. German firms fear social media pile ons and consumer boycotts and, privately, blame not just the Greens, but US proxies in Europe like the Atlantic Council, European Council on Foreign Relations, Politico (Europe), Henry Jackson Society etc. The US (and its MIC) maintain(s) a network of academics, hacks, former civil servants / diplomats and former military to shill on its behalf. Cross them at one’s peril.

            1. Tom Pfotzer

              Excellent reporting, Colonel. Thanks.

              And also to Martin, Joe, and Felix above. Haven’t seen this quality of reporting on this subject elsewhere.

            2. caucus99percenter

              Yes, after 45+ years of living in Germany, I can confirm that Colonel Smithers’ second paragraph is as accurate a description of the current political situation here as one is likely to find.

      2. Janie

        Re Milley retaining his job: I’ve not seen mention of Truman’s firing MacArthur,r for his talk of bombing China. MacArthur was quite popular after the surrender and occupation of Japan and then the successful landing at Incheon in Korea. I remember the outrage; streets and parks were renamed, and MacArthur gave his “old soldiers fade away” speech.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This does not appear to be accurate. MacAuthur was removed for conducting his own foreign policy:

          In March 1951, secret United States intercepts of diplomatic dispatches disclosed clandestine conversations in which General MacArthur expressed confidence to the Tokyo embassies of Spain and Portugal that he would succeed in expanding the Korean War into a full-scale conflict with the Chinese Communists. When the intercepts came to the attention of President Truman, he was enraged to learn that MacArthur was not only trying to increase public support for his position on conducting the war, but had secretly informed foreign governments that he planned to initiate actions that were counter to United States policy. The President was unable to act immediately since he could not afford to reveal the existence of the intercepts and because of MacArthur’s popularity with the public and political support in Congress. However, following the release on 5 April by Representative Martin of MacArthur’s letter, Truman concluded he could relieve MacArthur of his commands without incurring unacceptable political damage.

      3. David

        There are several different levels here, and it’s useful to keep them separate. At the 50,000 foot level, there’s going to be little disagreement in any capital about what they ideally want: defeat for Russia, Putin out etc. To the extent that elites are now realising that’s a lost cause, then the other objective is to get out of this mess with a whole skin, and something that can be spun as a victory, or at least not a defeat.

        But there will be vicious infighting about how to do this in Washington, because there always is. The system is set up to promote competitive warfare among bureaucracies, and I’d be astonished if this is an exception. Milley’s problem was not what he said but that he spoke out of turn. In any democratic system, the military, like other parts of the state apparatus should simply speak according to the wishes of the government, but the fractured and conflictual US system is notorious for every major player in Washington having their own foreign policy, and working to undermine any policy they disagree with. The Pentagon has a long track record of doing this.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          While helpful, this discussion has unintentionally gone astray and has the effect of straw manning the point in the post: with respect to the US, talk of negotiations with Russia, which in the context of what certain pro-Russia commentators are saying, = peace feelers, is not at all what is happening. Keeping lines of communications open and engaging on narrow issues, like the grain deal, does not amount to talking about ending the war. And I’ve seen one of those commentators retreat from his earlier position by acting as if he really hadn’t been talking about peace overtures.

      4. Insouciant Iowan

        Hatred of Russia in this administration is linked to neocon bitterness over their failed attempt to gain effective control over Russia in the ’90s. The neocon grip on policy stance vis a vis Russia relies on a long cultivated animosity among US ruling elites going back to the revolution, spread generously and fed indiscriminantly to an uncritical public for decades by a compliant press.
        A “loss” to Russia by this administration will haunt Democrats for a very long time. Thus Sec. Austin’s remarks about the outcome of this round affective life as we know it for the balance of the century. I’m recalling the ” who lost China” discussions among ruling elites in the US following Mao’s triumph. Democrats, cast as com-symps, were toxic at the very mention of China. It fell to Nixon to set the table for present, um, tensions with the CPC. Neocons will be resort to their moorings with whatever passes for an interventionist element.
        In the end it’s follow-the-money which includes control of Russia’s natural resources. A bonus will be control of a decolonized Russian frontier on China’s north. Neocons cherish realizing Putin’s dream of an empire that runs from Lisbon to Vladivostok with China pincered by land and sea falling like a ripe plum into their hands.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I have no idea what the pain dial has been turned up to by now in Europe. Maybe to level six or seven? But if there were any hopes that this conflict was going to be frozen at the present level, then they can forge it. Although the initiative is shifting to the Russian, if the conflict was frozen in place then the initiative would flow to the Ukrainians once more as western money and resources would flow to Kiev. As one example, the Ukrainians have been shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again. To freeze the present conflict would leave the Ukrainians free to do the same again whenever they were up to strength again. And the same for Donetsk city. And future attacks on the Black See fleet. The list goes on. So no, the war will go on and to the Russian’s timetable.

    But what that means for the west is that the pressure will increase something wicked as winter is about here. Yes, a lot of these self-created problems would go away by dropping the sanctions but we all know that that is not going to happen. If anything, they may even increase. The threat of constant blackouts in Germany alone is bad enough that the German government is making preparation for people to withdraw huge sums of cash to cope with the blackouts as, wouldn’t you know it, cash still works without electricity. So I guess that all those people who put their faith in digital money may be in for a shock. Not sure what the situation will be like in Sweden as they are well down that path-

    It’s going to get ugly overall in Europe next month.

    1. matsb


      Even though electricity prices have gone up and will continue to go up in Sweden (depending on EU agreements), we are largely self-sufficient. So I don’t think we will have to put up with power cuts. Lucky for us! Also, most people seem to have forgotten cash was ever a thing.

      1. Greg

        The thing about modern tech is that it was all globalised in ancient history (in internet time), and the dependencies are buried under long since hardened sedimentary layers of application.

        I suspect countries that are self sufficient for energy will still have faults in solutions like electronic transaction infrastructure (eftpos where i am), because of forgotten dependencies deep in the tech stack that require uptime from a server in a country with intermittent power supply.

        And the redundancy we have in modern systems is probably not sufficient to the sort of “endtimes” scenario a series of major blackouts in Europe represents. I’m not up with modern uninterruptable power supplies for high end servers and farms, but I suspect there may be issues with recharging them after the first few outages.

        We’re sailing straight into the “here be dragons” part of the map.

    2. nippersdad

      How humiliating must it be for the UN inspectors at the ZNPP to have to continue the months long fiction that they do not know where the shelling is coming from after everything about the bombs that hit Poland were out within a couple of days? When this is all over, they are going to have a hard time arguing why they have any credibility at all.

      1. HH

        The UN has to pretend that there is no such thing as an artillery trajectory tracking radar, and the press is happy to go along with this nonsense. To this day, the NYT says that there is no way to determine who is shelling the ZNPP. The U.S. mass media are trying to beat their record of irresponsibility accumulated in the War on Terror.

        1. Louis Fyne

          —To this day, the NYT says that there is no way to determine who is shelling the ZNPP. —

          The Pentagon spent hundreds of billions dollars spent over the years for US space/air-based intelligence platforms—designed to gather precisely this type of information.

          Please ignore that fact, NYT readers.

        2. Greg

          You don’t even need the tech, you can just use the prolific security cameras onsite to track back which direction shells came from. We saw how many cameras there are back when there was fighting at the plant that pushed the panic in newspapers up to 11.

          Or look at the impact site shape.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Rev.

      “It’s going to get ugly overall in Europe next month.” That depends. Yesterday morning, I was out walking in the country, mid-Buckinghamshire, and came across neighbouring cottages with Ukrainian flags on posts and gates and expensive vehicles with Ukrainian number plates parked on the drive. It’s alright for some. I have come across similar in neighbouring Oxfordshire and heard similar from rellies in Mauritius and former colleagues in Istanbul.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Thank you, Colonel. I wonder what will happen if news arrives that several million more Ukrainian civilians are on their way this winter. I’m sure that Sunak will feel obligated to let many in. But since they are thinking of winding down the payments to people for taking in Ukrainian refugees, they may have to be housed in places like school halls and churches now.

        1. Thuto

          I’d love to hear how he’ll spin booting those lower down the immigrants totem pole off to Rwanda while making impassioned pleas to the British public to open their hearts and their homes to Ukrainian refugees.

          1. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Thuto.

            That’s quite easy. Sushi doesn’t have to. Why? Other refos look like us two.

            1. OIFVet

              There is some of that “they look just like us,” indeed. So in Bulgaria, refugees from other parts of the world have to live in shipping containers in refugee camps. Ukrainians live in all-inclusive hotels on the Black Sea coast and any effort to get them to get jobs and move out is inevitably met with resistance from the “they look like us,” “to uproot them (!!!) Is inhumane” and “to make them move out is the same as letting Putin win” crowds. All the while other refugees and poor Bulgarians can only dream to see the Black Sea even for a week. Throw in the Ukrainians’ sense of entitlement and many Bulgarians are heartily sick of them and would love to be rid of them. Ultimately it’s the elites who get to decide and the Euroatlantic crowd is good at making a lot of noise to prevent any steps which would force Ukrainians to stop freeloading and earn their keep.

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Rev.

          Support for Ukraine is ring fenced at national and local level and not being cut. Some well to do hosts are being subsidised on the channel coast, Chilterns, Cotswolds and Thames valley. Plus they can grandstand on social media.

        3. Michaelmas

          I’m sure that Sunak will feel obligated to let many in.

          I really wouldn’t count on that. The Grauniad weeps for how the UK is failing those already in —

          As regards the ‘collective West,’ a substantial motive for some factions in the UK who are involved in keeping this war on the EU’s borders on the boil — not sufficiently appreciated on NC — is that for Brexit to succeed the EU must be substantially degraded, if not destroyed. To the extent that Germany has been the EU’s industrial engine and is likely to emerge substantially de-industrialized from this war, that task gets nearer to being a fait accompli.

          The Brits will then use the Channel to isolate themselves from events overrunning the European mainland, while continuing to seek to sign on with the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership).

          As for Sunak, he understands that UK accession to the CPTPP and general access to Asia is one reason for his being PM. Along similar lines, the UK government has already spent 7 million GBP to establish Welcome Hubs and other support systems for the 123,000 Hong Kong Chinese already resettled in the UK; in a generation or two some of their children will be inducted into UK politics.

        4. chuck roast

          Can’t wait for the blow-back. Thousands of Banderistas bailing with their booty to Chicago, Calgary and beyond. Patriots and martyrs all. With the priests leading the hosannas and fresh energy to the dying ethnic community clubs. Half-time celebrations complete with F-35 fly-overs at the Bears/Packers games, and another two hundred Bill. for the “defense” budget. It’s a great country.

      2. Stephen

        Thank you, Colonel.

        I saw various high end UA registered cars in both Vienna and Budapest during the summer. Not all military age Ukrainian males are shivering in trenches in the Donbass, or living in single hotel rooms. As with many wars, the elite egg on others but do not join in. “I am far more valuable doing PR work”. As we discussed before in comments, WW1 and WW2 were by and large quite different in that regard.

        Not seen too much visible displays of support in Surrey though. On Friday I saw my first such sign for many weeks. It was a brand new tradesman’s type van driving through Esher with a prominent sign on the rear door. It was a Ukrainian flag with a QR code to donate money via the National Bank! Guess the crypto money ran out…..

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Stephen.

          During the summer, Willy Wonka* Poroshenko was spotted dining with his wife and children in central London. He was asked why the two sons and even two daughters weren’t “doing their bit” at the front. The irate punters were asked to leave the premises and refrain from taking photos of diners. *Cocoa magnate in Ivory Coast.

          1. Stephen

            Oh yes, I remember that! It summed the whole thing up for me.

            I did make a comment some months ago on a site that I now rarely read where many people wanted to “support Ukraine”.

            My point was that active “support” might mean fighting rather than being a keyboard warrior. The indignation I received was awesome.

      3. Ignacio

        I saw this summer a few of them (expensive cars with Ukrainian plates) in Jávea (Valencia). It might be we have seen so far the “bright side” of Ukrainian migration with moneyed people that come and spend. It also might well be these are the most conspicuous so there is detection bias.

      4. dandyandy

        On the positive side, Ukrainian flags have largely disappeared from Esher and Cobham which were both totally wrapped in blue-yellow nine months ago.

        There is hope, even if our freshest PM went to Kiev to kiss the ring.

        1. Stephen

          I agree. John Lewis in Kingston took down their Ukraine appeal signs some time ago too.

          Thames Ditton Boat Club still has a flag flying though. It seems to be the only one on that section of The Thames now. My guess is that no one can make a decision to take it down.

          The more affluent districts (lots of lobbyists and corporates?) seem to have been the ones that bought into all this most obviously. Not so many flags in council estates.

    4. NotTimothyGeithner

      I suspect the reviews of Euro leaders are going to be full of stories about plans involving no fly zones, escalation, and then briefings by military officials explaining how difficult this actually would be if it was possible. The expectations Russian oligarchs living in London would force Putin to concede is the other side. There was no conceivable outcome beyond receiving Russian discount gas by May so we would send the Ruskies Blue Jeans.

      Now G7 types don’t have a clue about what to do. Xi glared at Trudeau Jr and Jr scurried away. Biden has a portion of his base that believes Putin stuffed ballot boxes denying Mother her rightful place, and Europe is looking at a Depression.

      My guess is they only see a “scalp” as the only way to keep their political careers alive, but G7 conditions have only worsened in recent months. I think they will just yo-yo between tough talk, calls for negotiations, and scrounging rubbish heaps. Eventually Europe will have to deal with refugees.

    5. juno mas

      Cash may work for person-to-person transactions, but business is fully integrated into an electrically powered, internet linked transaction system. Diesel (scarce)-powered site electrical generators aren’t going to solve many problems.

  3. Jack

    A good analysis Yves. On the other side of the equation I have read some interesting commentary by Escobar and Doctorow on the state of feeling in Russia. The sense I get, particularly after the very recent killing of Russian POWs, is that Russia is not interested in negotiations. That is even possible that Putin cannot negotiate at this point because of the pressures from home. Doctorow has a recent post on this issue; I also don’t think that Russia is interested in using Zelensky as the poster boy for a negotiated settlement any longer. I remember too what Scott Ritter said about Russia wanting to keep Zelensky around as the Ukraine figurehead for a settlement. But that was then. IMO Ukraine has crossed the rubicon and Russia isn’t going to stop until they erase what is now Ukraine from the map. I think they will leave a rump state comprised of western Ukraine intact. That will be their buffer. And of course Putin and Russia will say they are open to negotiations, but I think that is only lip service to placate their allies and appear to be open minded.

    1. nippersdad

      IIRC, Poland and Ukraine were passing laws several months back which essentially make Ukraine a province of Poland. I doubt that Poland will allow another Gaza strip on its’ border, that would be more destabilizing for them than it would be for a fully mobilized Russia. I think the idea of a rump state Ukraine is over; Poland and Romania are just about to get their very own East Germany’s.

      1. John k

        I don’t think it’s up to Poland or Romania. Russia will demand a buffer, and Poland moving into east Ukraine moves nato closer to Russia. Lavrov pointed out the longer range weapons that Ukraine gets, the longer buffer they need. Imo Poland will have to accept whatever terms Russia decides it needs. If they move their army in, it will be destroyed in the same way as Ukraine’s; I can’t see nato getting involved, they’re a paper tiger in this. Granted I assume they don’t resort to nukes.

        1. Polar Socialist

          I think the “buffer” Russians are talking about is a demilitarized, de-nazified and neutral Ukraine. Or what’s left of it. The terms of the peace will include all these points.

          The “right bank” Ukraine will act as a buffer between NATO and Russia. And the Finnish PM will stay awake at nights wondering how secure the impending NATO membership is going to feel.

          1. cosmiccretin

            I don’t honestly believe the (incumbent) Finnish PM stays awake at nights on account of anything whatsoever.

            I may be doing her a grave injustice, but any prime minister so air-headed as – when badly wrong-footed by engaging in atrociously ill-judged behaviour at a night-club – to have sought to atone to the public for it by describing herself as having been suitably chastened by thinking about president Zelensky as exemplar – I kid you not – doesn’t seem to me to rate a moment’s consideration as a serious person, let alone as her country’s prime minister.

            I doubt she has even the glimmerings of an understanding of what Finland’s deciding to throw in its lot with NATO (= Uncle Sam), hook line and sinker, will lead to.

            If only she were untypical in that respect! However, incredibly, she is instead entirely representative of the great majority of her fellow-citizens. Her unctuous genuflection to (saint?) Zelensky might well have resonated with many of them for all I know.

        2. hk

          I could actually see the Russians riling up future Ukrainians about the oppressive Polish aristocrats of yesteryear. After all, Bandera was against Poland even more than the Russians back in 1943-4.

    2. timbers

      “That is even possible that Putin cannot negotiate at this point because of the pressures from home.”

      Do hope you are correct because IMO, Putin is the single greatest threat that could derail a solid Russian victory due to his urge to compromise negotiate and reluctance to use the tools at his disposal to end this war more swiftly.

      With the new (for me) calculus of a buffer zone, I would take a quick guess that might be the 6 regions Russia might want (5 & 6 being Mykolayiv and Odessa) buffered be a dead zone bordered by the new regions no Russian and the Dnieper – which suggest severing all bridges on the Dnieper might help to fortify the Dnieper as a uncrossable line.

      Regarding NATO Manhood – destroy it. An unequivocable absolutely humiliating dragged thru the mud defeat of USA, NATO, Europe and the Collective West is what the world needs and wants. And, it is the only language the West understands.

      1. Kouros

        Among the tools Putin has to use are large numbers of soldiers, with many likely dying. Being reluctant to send Russian men to a certain death should be appreciated.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, I agree Russia has no interest in negotiating and I should have said that clearly. Perils of running way late when drafting and leaving important material out.

      But the Global South is also suffering a lot due to this war so Russia can’t look that bloody minded externally. They need to look at least amenable to talking even if they’ve had it up to their eyeballs with the West.

      The Zelensky mess therefore gives Russia a great pretext for doing what they want to do anyhow. He takes maximalist positions so the Russians don’t look like jerks for not wanting to talk to him.

      I also agree Russia has zero interest in taking to Ukraine when the US can veto any deal. Again Zelensky gives them cover.

  4. Stephen

    “NATO manhood is at stake”. I think this sums up the situation; as indeed is often the issue with ending many wars via “negotiation”. I recall your excellent earlier piece that outlined how wars tend not to end in a negotiation but through victory and defeat. Does feel that this is the case here too.

    Great also to see the hat tips to Alex Christoforou, and he has been very prescient recently. With respect to
    Rishi Sunak there is a clear reduction in the emphasis on Ukraine for the reasons you note but he is far too much of a globalist and careerist to go against the narrative unless he senses that the Biden White House has reversed course. Which it clearly has not. My instinct is that he realises this whole thing is a cluster because he is smart and can read situations so will make sure he does not become too personally implicated in it. But will not stick his head out to drive the reversal of gears. Not a statesman in that sense.

    Alexander Mercouris also speculated last night that Sunak’s visit to Kiev was partly to tell Zelensky to rein in nonsense such as the claims over the errant missile and possibly also to explain that Britain cannot give a blank cheque. The latter feels about as far as Sunak might go in terms of pushing Zelensky and I suspect that all messages are cleared with or even scripted by the White House anyway. In these matters, the British government exerts zero independent policy vis a vis the US. The best form of empire, of course, is always one where the subjects do not realise that is what they are part of.

    The major irony for me is that back in March Zelensky was prepared to negotiate. The US / UK then prevented that. Zelensky has now swung round to being ultra hawkish and is almost playing his role too well. All that seems to be going on is that the west is telling him to tone down the act to make it look more realistic and sympathetic to neutral parties, but not play a different role altogether. Still the same basic hawkish script. Not sure which school of acting applies to all this but am sure there is one somewhere that covers it. Other commenters might have thoughts on that.

    1. Lex

      I don’t remember where I heard/read this recently, but the premise was fascinating to me. Even as late as WWI, these matters weren’t really ideological. Nations could go to war and then negotiate an end to that war; in not a few cases they might even end up being allied shortly after against someone else. In other words, it wasn’t personal. Since the end of WWII it is always deeply personal and ideological … the US always frames it as existential. That makes solving any problem between nations nearly impossible. The USSR did this too, though in my opinion not quite to the extent that the US did.

      The end of the Cold War should have put an end to this ideological / existential notion of national competition. But the US can’t let go of it. At this point I put the situation entirely on the US because pretty much every other nation seems capable of doing things without the ideological hardline. We’re constantly told that Russia is an extremely right wing country, but then Putin comments on Brazilian elections with it not mattering who wins because Russia’s happy to work with leftist governments and he points out that it worked with Lula during his last administration. The president of Cuba got a state visit in Moscow this weekend to attend the unveiling of a Castro statue.

      1. Louis Fyne

        — Since the end of WWII it is always deeply personal and ideological … the US always frames it as existential.—

        Aligns neatly with when the elites started becoming divorced from paying the consequences for war—-namely sending their own kids to die “for the cause.” (of course elite children were always protected to some degree, but pre-1946, your kid looked like a coward for not fighting for the cause and dad generally paid a social consequence)

        Correlation or causation? I’m in the causation camp

      2. Stephen

        I think that American (probably Anglo American) exceptionalism and universalist ideology are a large part of this, as well as the comment by Louis Fyne which makes sense to me too.

        Right now, this has reached its apogee in Woke ideology: any regime that does not embrace it is evil. Ukraine, for example, does not strike me as any more woke culturally than anywhere else in Eastern Europe but the regime strives to create feel good stories that show it as woke in order to pander to the narrative.

        Europe has seen similar ideological struggles too that were portrayed as good versus evil pre WW1. The early stages of the French Revolutionary war when it really was about exporting or destroying the revolution probably count, for example.

        However, I agree fully that the US (and much of the modern day west) embrace this ideological personal approach much more consistently than has typically been the case in history. The Russian government though seems far more rationalist in its approach and has been more reluctant to think that way; albeit this seems to be changing as things develop.

        Of course, the ideology gets suspended too when it suits everyone. Saudi Arabia (until recently) has tended to get an exemption, for example.

        1. David

          Yes, I indeed argued as much here. But I think also that it has a lot to do with the complete ignorance of western elites about what military force is, how to use it and what its limits are. Up until the 70s, western elites had often served in the military, or at the very least lived through WW2. They were aware that winning wars was difficult. Even the generation of politicians that survived into the 90s had been through the fears of Cold War apocalypse. Since the 90s, and beginning with Bosnia, elites have been so detached from real life that they see military power as a kind of magic, which will solve all problems. The growth of what I have called Humanitarian Militarism since that time is predicated on this belief and, because it is essentially magical in origin, no amount of depressing practical experience can show that the idea has failed, it can only be failed, and so next time we must use more force. The idea of an NFZ over Ukraine, for example, could only be put forward by someone who had lost all touch with reality.

          I think the Russians are genuinely puzzled by this. Their history, culture and politics and the continuation of military service, as well as the Chechen Wars, have given them a rather more practical view of conflict. Indeed, it can be argued that one of the biggest errors the Russians made was to assume the West was really capable of logical thought on such issues.

          1. Stephen

            I read that excellent piece you wrote at the time, and commented too. I agree fully that this is another reason.

            The broader lack of reality about war is also underlined by the apparent astonishment that Russia has not run out of missiles and speculation about where they are getting them.

            They are making them, of course. Just as they produced countless T34s in WW2. We have forgotten that defence equipment can be produced on an industrial scale; and needs to be for any serious war.

            Instead, our own defence industry these days seems to be a pure vested interest that is also disconnected from what real war and defence of the country is really about. Aircraft carriers as great prestige platforms, for example.

            1. redleg

              The gigantic weapons factories here in the MSP area- TCAAP, Gopher Ordinance (Which only operated for a month in 1945), and the FMC/NOD plant, have all been left to rot or turned into solvent-soaked cookie-cutter retail space. Even the large Federal Cartridge plant, while still around, is a shell (excuse the pun) of what it was in the 1990s. Having worked at all 4 of these facilities/sites in one job or another, it’s hard to describe how big these sites are/were. FMC had full-size warship mockups inside the building. Gopher Ordinance had a 250 million gallon per day water supply- enough for a large city. Each site had its own rail yard. All gone (although Federal still has a siding). The forgetting of industrial arms-making in the US happened decades ago, and it isn’t coming back anytime soon.
              The so-called leaders of the US do not understand what it takes to fight a war of attrition, and are oblivious to the fact that it will take decades to re-industrialize in order to fight such a war if it’s even possible to do so, given the foreign sourcing of certain critical resources.

          2. Lex

            Aha. I look forward to your weekly publication so I’ll bet that I took the idea from the piece you linked.

          3. Greg

            I agree, but I also think it’s not just being propagated by elite culture.
            I believe the isolation and untouched nature of the US homeland contributes enormously to the increasing detachment of views about military adventures (particularly after the end of the draft in USA).
            As long as the USA has cultural hegemony, and there is no war in the USA itself, we’ll get increasingly unreal ideas about war in the mainstream narratives across much of the world.

              1. Greg

                And echoed across the anglosphere, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand (5 eyes, hmm).

                That lack of personal understanding (of war, horrors) has effects on national policy, no doubt.

          4. hk

            I have a hunch that there’s a strange trend towards faith in “magic” among modern elites: magical science, magical computers, magical biotech, magical markets, magical “democracy,” and magical military. The extent of wilful ignorance on their part about how any of these things actually work (or don’t) is shocking ..perhaps this is why they “trust” that these things all somehow “work” and produce the best possible outcomes, which, conveniently, work to their benefit and/or their sense of righteousness.

        2. eg

          The 30 Years War was shot through with “ideology” but they used to call it religion.

          Looks like Big-Endian vs Little-Endian wars are back in fashion …

      3. hemeantwell

        Re existential threat, even with Stalin’s “socialism in one country” truncation of the Soviet Union’s anti-capitalist project the US had some reason to think of the problem as existential in as much as both internal and external mechanisms of exploitation were threatened. There might be some mileage to be had in thinking of the US as seeing a Soviet or communist bloc as akin to a sterling bloc on steroids, an obstacle to US manufacturing and financial penetration capable of defending itself militarily. And the USSR was seen as supporting left tendencies in the US labor movement.

        Now, after the fall, where are we? Back in the mid-20th c US elites would clearly state their belief that erosion of US economic preeminence would lead to increased domestic class conflict. How much slack is there in the US political economy these days? And what will develop out of a NATO crackup? I’m afraid that the US has TINA’d itself into a corner and Russia’s diplomatic and economic flexibility only enhances the dilemma. The US had an opportunity to be a principal architect of a kind of superimperialist cartel. Instead, it has pursued a strategy of excluding potential cartel members, thereby maintaining a potential for existential drama that can come to define reality.

  5. HH

    The American amnesia machine is so powerful that it was able to disappear the 20-year Afghanistan debacle without difficulty. Compared to that trillion-dollar disaster, the Ukraine blunder is loose change, so the likely U.S. abandonment of Ukraine will barely cause a blip. Rational analysis of world events has become a small niche occupied by smart refugees from dogma-world like Yves, Douglas MacGregor, and Scott Ritter. The Western political establishment resembles an Imperial court intoxicated by its own propaganda of omnipotence. Until Americans feel severe economic pain or direct military defeat, we are going to witness one march of folly after another because stupid ideologues are in control of the “free world.” Up next: the Taiwan debacle.

    1. OIFVet

      Yes, perhaps the US getting the stuffing knocked out of its exceptionalism would be a healthy thing in the long term

      1. LawnDart

        It has to be felt directly and at the personal-level for any lesson to take. They also need to know that any pain and/or discomfort that they feel is a direct consequece for their actions or lack thereof.

        This is the lesson being learned in Kyev today. In… … above the USA, a strong EMP would do the same, albeit, with much more dire results, but if that’s what it take to spare the world from madness…

      2. Kilgore Trout

        Unfortunately for all of us, I fear, “getting the stuffing knocked out of its exceptionalism” is only likely to come at a price too dear for all of us. If things continue as they have regarding Ukraine, a counter-coup to the events of November 1963 may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.

  6. OIFVet

    Regarding the West’s shocking discovery that its control over Zelensky isn’t as firm as it thought. That’s the problem with some actors in a particular role: they forget that they are playing a role. Not to sound elitist, but I will be happy if I never see another “leader” in olive drab tee and perpetual one-week stubble, particularly while his spouse graces the cover of Vanity Fair in a dress that costs more than most of their subjects earn in a year. That’s taking cosplay and role-playing way too far, not to mention bad taste. At least squatting Slavs in tracksuits are being ironic about their choice of wear.

    1. Raymond Oliver

      Thanks for that. I do not read Vanity Fair. Disgusting stuff and really a tone deaf display by Z & spouse.

    1. Robert Hahl

      Mr. Lira isn’t even sure that there is a fertilizer depot in the town, which ought to be a requirement if one is going to circulate this rumor. He also seems to be drifting into nonsense regarding the latitude/longitude of the target being relevant – asserting that these numbers show that Russia might have made a mistake rather than a deliberate attack, like a “fat finger” trade – but that would be the opposite of what Ukraine would like in a false flag.

      On the other hand, a blown fertilizer depot would have destroyed all the physical evidence and the G7 puppets were all together at the G20 meeting, ready to declare war. My guess is that they were (and still are) hoping that a real prospect of world war will trigger a coup in Russia, just like the economic sanctions were supposed to trigger an economic collapse. These guys are big gamblers.

      1. ebear

        Lira is trying to position himself as the next Micheal Moore. Ever seen him without the ball cap? Even Moore doesn’t wear one indoors. Pure opportunist capitalizing on other people’s misery is all I see.

        Speaking of which, I don’t place much stock in any of these YouTube warriors, including the Duran. Macgregor and Martyanov are the only credible voices from the sidelines IMO. Lancaster, Phillips, Bartlett and Lipp are credible sources on the ground. Other than them and a few Russian journalists, the rest are just noise.

        1. Greg

          Agree that most of the accessible war analysis is just noise.
          I would add Brian Berletic to your short list. He is doing a reasonable job of sticking to the provable and being clear about when he’s speculating. I find his stuff to be on the same tier as Martyanov and MacGregor, at least in the last couple of months.
          They all have their crazy moments though.

        2. Robert Hahl

          I don’t agree with the Michael Moore analogy because Lira is not shilling for any political party. I think he is cracking under the strain of a virtual house arrest order in Banderistan, and the imperative to feed the YouTube beast. His sanity (or judgement at least) is hanging by a thread. He needs to slow down.

  7. Ignacio

    The Financial Times excerpt on the German demonstration was outstanding. Given the state of the media, something to applaud. I am pretty sure nothing like that would ever be reported by American based outlets like El Pais. As per the political consequences faced by politicians as mentioned above by David there might be some increasing fear on general discontent and some “Ukraine fatigue” as Mercouris said in a recent video. What I fail to grasp is what the hell people like Scholz or Sanchez are thinking. The only way I can explain their stubbornness is that they are constantly fed with the idea that Russia is in tatters and they want, even need, to believe this is true and this is what US diplomatics might be feeding constantly to keep everybody loyal to the cause.

    1. Cristobal

      Ignacio, I am happy to hear you refer to el Pais as an American based outlet. Absolutely. And RTVE even more so! As to your comment regarding the thought processes of Scholz and Sanchez, for the latter I put it down to the Bienvenido Mr. Marshall syndrome. For the former, probably the 70 or so years of military occupation is responsible.

      Very interesting discussion. Someone above (David?) mentioned the 50,000 foot level. Succesfull negotiatioins only occur when the parties involved are motivated to come to an agreement. The two actual parties here are the Russians and the Americans (with their European hostages – I mean partners). The Ucranian government is nothing more than a barking dog. The Russians are not suffering too much, The Americans hardly at all. Those who are suffering are the European hostages, the NATO members who have surrendered their national interests to those of the Americans militarily (through NATO) and economically (through the EU´s neoliberal policies). This war and the sanctions are killing them. Russia´s willingness to negotiate is ebbing fast in the face of the US refusal. The US has no reason to negotiate. Things are going fine for that country as long as they can keep the plebes in the dark. Geography matters. The US, with moats on both borders, feels invulnerable. It can continue to play the puppet master until its invulnerability is proven false (not likely to happen, Where is the Weather Underground now when we reeally need them?). It seems to me that the struggle may be – in the shadows – betweeen the US and the European countries, some more willing than others to break with the Big Guy. Europe has the most motivation to end the conflict than any of the parties. It will probably go on untill they can force and end.

  8. Lex

    I don’t think that there’s a peace deal or even a road map to one, though I admit that deep behind the scenes there may be movement towards it. I see that possibility primarily because the US has a history of cutting and running when a situation is no longer advantageous to it, and a very long history of betraying its proxies. However, it’s in a difficult position because of the amount of soft power it has pumped into this situation which has made a regional conflict that shouldn’t mean all that much into a near-existential conflict for the US. So even if it wants out, it’s in a very complex situation where getting out won’t be easy (unless Russia really, really lets it off the hook).

    What I do note is all the chatter on the Ukrainian media/telegram side that there is a deal. That’s important because it undermines Zelensky in more ways than one. It also serves the Russian purpose I would think. The only other thing I note is the slow turning of the US media. It doesn’t mean much yet, but I do think that it’s indicative.

    1. Karl

      I agree with all of your points:

      I don’t think that there’s a peace deal or even a road map to one….the US has a history of cutting and running….The only other thing I note is the slow turning of the US media…

      I draw these conclusions. 1) Ukraine under current leadership is not agreement capable. 2) The West’s “Ukraine fatigue” will accelerate. 3) The US will, per customary practice, look for a way to cut and run.

      A scenario suggested by the above: MSM chorus starts to Blame Zelensky, US politicians start to wobble, Sunak visits Kiev and lets it be known that the Florida mansion is ready.

      Writing on the wall may be clear as soon as mid-December. Look to see if the National Defense Authorization cuts Ukraine funding well below what Biden requested.

      Next up: “Congress increases arms sales to Taiwan.”

      1. Greg

        The only question I have about this scenario is “what is Russia doing?”. The scenario as you’ve outlined it removes all agency from the Russians, and assumes nothing of significance happens on the ground between now and when the US gets bored. Which is reasonable if its the usual “US vs weak brown country”, but not in the current war.
        I think we’ll have to wait until the winter campaign season is well underway before we can draw any real conclusions about how this schemozzle is going to fizzle out.

  9. Carolinian

    Sounds like the root cause here is that the US deep state is joined at the hip with the never stopped being fascist Ukrainian deep state and therefore there is no solution short of the unconditional surrender we dealt to Nazi Germany. The elites thought their control of the media would allow them to put a touchie feelie face on the hypocrisy of it all, just as they did in the Cold War era of the “quiet American.” But Vietnam dealt the armchair bombadiers a hard slap of reality and Russia is doing the same. Our only hope, ironically, may be Putin who seems reluctant to sacrifice Russian lives in order correct Western stupidity.

    By this theory it’s hardly surprising that the UK upper class would be the most rabid since their 19th century of imperialism was built on the civilization versus barbarism rationalization and they cling to it still. My country–once a colony itself–revolted from the idea once and perhaps should do it again. It could be that’s why a revival of the America First movement as represented if feebly by Trump seems so threatening to that deep state. They were always out to defeat the “Vietnam syndrome” and eventually, after yet another catastrophe, may have to name it “the Ukraine syndrome.”

    1. Cristobal

      As regards the US history with post WWII Fascism, both Ucranian and German, you might be interested in some articles by Cynthia Chung. She publishes on someting called the Rising Tide Foundation and also on Strategic Culture. There is a three part series on the CIA. She notes that Allan Dulles, who was head of the CIA in its early years, said that during the war, the US was fighting on the wrong side.

  10. LawnDart

    Zelensky can’t negotiate– the nazis would have his head, literally, as they already have with several other “pro-Russian” (or “defeatest”) politicians. And the US as well as Russia want to keep him in place otherwise they’d have to deal with real crazed violent degenerates: Zelensky is predictable and controllable.

    There are some suggestions in Russian media that the SMO could end next Summer, and zero suggestions or expectations that there will be some kind of Winter lull or negotiations until the objectives have been carried-out– on the contrary: they say that this is their season to fight because the “warm countries” of the West can’t handle it.

    This morning I did a Yandex search using the terms “Ukraine surrender (capitulation)” (Украинская капитуляция), and I would encourage anyone wishing more information on the subject to do the same.

    1. NotThisAgain

      Zelensky can’t negotiate– the nazis would have his head, literally, as they already have with several other “pro-Russian” (or “defeatest”) politicians.

      Yes, but from the West’s perspective, that may be fine, as it may provide NATO a way out of this mess (“We supported Ukraine so long as it was a democratic country led by an elected government. We will not support an unelected assassin”)

      Bizarrely, Russia may have more to gain by keeping Zelinski in power than the NATO countries. Maybe Putin should extend Secret Service-like protection to the guy :)

  11. indices

    I wonder quite a bit about another elephant in the room that is constantly minimized by the White House and the powers presently in control, namely the role played by Hunter and Joe a few years back, considering their apparently deep involvement in Ukraine business and politics… apparently there was a great sigh of relief that the Republicans saw such a mediocre outcome in the midterm elections, and that hopefully the heat is off somewhat, at least for the moment. Inquiring minds would like to know what was going on back then, with Hunter and Joe.

  12. Mark Gisleson

    As the old adage says, “politics ain’t beanbag.”

    Maybe this war’s inevitable outcome will get average citizens to demand better press coverage of our politicians. Afterwards no one will be able to say the press did its job. Ignoring actual [family blog] nazis in real time is an amazing feat of journalistic prestidigitation, making the real story disappear through distraction and misdirection (mis- and disinformation).

    1. All Ice

      The public’s growing refusal to watch propaganda pretending to be news and CNN’s surprising new expected cancellations and firings show that the media is capable of being reformed. Maybe.

  13. Expat2Uruguay

    Yves – is the post on the “Zelensky Petard” complete? It is 11 am EST, but the note remains…

    [If you see this note, it means the post is not yet complete because reasons. Please come back at 7:30 EST]

  14. Maxwell Johnston

    I see no prospect of imminent peace talks. RU will continue to clobber UKR’s power grid, driving millions of refugees to the EU. I’m not even sure that RU will bother mounting an offensive to seize the coastline; no point in shedding blood when they can make territorial gains at the (eventually, post-winter) negotiating table. I think RU’s goal is to win the economic war, driving EU pain levels so high that the EU heavies (France, Germany, Italy) ram a peace deal down UKR’s throat. EU solidarity is collapsing faster than I thought. Not directly UKR-related, but there’s quite the kerfuffle between France and Italy re migrants from Africa. Italy has well and truly had enough. Scroll down in the linked article and watch Meloni’s attacks on Macron, it is really something to see (hard to believe that Draghi and Macron were besties just a few months ago):

  15. BlueMoose

    Just wanted to add that the Polish press/gov’t is not at all happy with Melnyk’s reappearance on the scene.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Meant to reply to this earlier when I read it. I saw earlier how Melnyk has demanded that Germany give Russia an ultimatum-

      ‘A tweet challenging the German leader to do more for Ukraine was posted by Andrey Melnik, now a Deputy Foreign Minister, on Monday. The diplomat, who was promoted last week, dismissed Scholz’s demand that Russia “end the war” against Ukraine, calling it “mere words”.

      “Russia understands only strength. Give [Russian President Vladimir] Putin an ultimatum. With painful consequences,” Melnik told the chancellor, without specifying the exact terms of the proposed threat. He added a picture of himself in a T-shirt against the backdrop of a snow-covered landscape, making a V-sign with his hand.’

  16. hk

    One interesting observation is that seems to be lost among all the talk about the West willing to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian is that Ukrainians are also willing to fight Russia to the last American city. As soon as the West tied it’s fortunes to Ukraine, Ukraine transitioned from being the puppet to puppeteer. It can always threaten to die and saddle the West with the grave humiliation of “having failed to save it,” and the longer the pretense of omnipotence continues, the worse the humiliation will be–acknowledged and widely known weakness is a justified excuse, but if you insist that you are omnipotent, the “failure to save” after commitment to it is either abject cowardice or grave and persistent deceit. Now, Zelenski can do almost anything he likes and force the West into having to choose between bad outcomes, and every Western leader has been falling to the hope that some miracle black swan would save them after piling up all that gambling debt (I can’t believe a govt official (albeit Ukrainian, I think) actually said this on record).

    1. Kouros

      Very true.

      Ukraine was promised the sky and the Ukrainians will scream from the top of their lungs for the promised sky.

      One can see in ten or more years the Russian shock troops led by Chechens and Ukrainians, dismantling NATO, country by country…

      1. Stephen

        Yes, I tend to think too that a Russia Ukraine rapprochement will be an eventual outcome of what will be seen as western “betrayal”. Stranger things have happened in history!

      2. hk

        Worst of all outcomes for the West. It will have paid a high material cost, still be humiliated, and will have earned long enmity of the Ukrainians on top of all that.

    2. David

      It’s clear that all along Zelensky and co have assumed that the West is their trump card, and that if they could only mobilise the West totally on their behalf, they would win. Given the history of the West getting involved in, or involving itself in, wars from Bosnia to Libya, this probably seemed a winning strategy. But the strategy depended on the West being more powerful than Russia, and being able to act with strategic freedom, which has not been the case. Some, at least, in Kiev, have clearly been under the impression that NATO will eventually arrive to save them provided their situation looks desperate enough, and that all they need to do is keeping waving the bloodstained bandages.

      Which produces a dilemma to which there is no obvious solution. The only way for Zelensky and co to save themselves is if NATO successfully intervenes, which it won’t and can’t do. But it’s unthinkable, at the moment, for NATO to make what would be an acceptance of defeat by letting the Russians win. So the answer is …..

      1. Greg

        Something along the lines of “NATO successfully prevents Russia from invading Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. Putin is too weak to challenge the might of NATO, and is trapped at the Russian border along the Dnipro. The collapse of the Russian economy is imminent as Putin is more isolated than ever.”

        To translate – I think the only viable exit is for western media to spin a victory for NATO and defeat for Russia out of a situation in which Russia gets everything it asked for at the start, plus what it’s added through the SMO.

        1. Glen

          I think you are right. The Mighty Wurlitzer can be spun up and “Elvis has left the building” will ring out. And the American public will move on.

          Has Zelensky every taken a good hard look at what remains of modern society in Iraq and Afghanistan? Those countries were WRECKED, and America left. (OK, we’re still there, but don’t tell the American public – they think we left.)

          The MIC will move on to where ever the next easy buck can be made. There will be no more easy bucks to be made in Ukraine.

    3. Karl

      Lloyd Austin’s assertion of the stakes makes me nervous:

      The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the course of global security in this young century. And those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out.

      I can well understand why Austin would think this. But he could have said: “The outcome of the war will humiliate the US. Well, so what is new? But we’ve been there before many times. And maybe the subsequent restructuring to a multi-polar world order is an evolution we must accept.” But that (perhaps?) requires a Hegelian breakthrough that only a very long cold winter and the complete destruction of Ukraine’s energy grid will likely bring about (alas).

      It’s when one side is clearly losing (the West in this case) and can’t shake off its self-induced trance of “must win at all costs” that Chicago public school students must go through civil defense drills (just like I did in the ’50’s).

      I am hoping guys like Milley, who know something about war and carnage, will end up winning the day (eventually) by counseling sanity. I think his “leak” expressing the wisdom of “negotiating what you can while you’re ahead” shows where the uniformed ranks in DOD stand on this issue. They’ve been the adults in the room from the start.

  17. Boomheist

    An excellent summary, Yves. It seems, for the moment, Russia is essentially stalled (but advancing slowly and relentlessly). I think the critical change coming will be the cold weather, which, to date, has been slow coming (today in Kiev it is just above freezing and some long range forecasts show such mild temperatures – for this time of year – holding until early December, a couple weeks from now). It is easy to posture and strut, and make declaratory statements of will and force, from a podium in Washington as long as the situation in Ukraine appears somewhat static. Maybe this will be the warmest winter ever in recorded history in Ukraine, the ground never freezes, and people can survive indoors somehow. But, if the winter cold eventually arrives, and suddenly it is well below zero for days on end, then everything changes. Millions will flee to the west, or east, millions more will remain in place and risk freezing to death, the ground will freeze and Russia will be able to travel across the plains, while in Europe energy and gas shortages will intensify. What will NATO and the West do then?

  18. Carlos Munoz

    Neither Yves Smith nor any commenter has considered the GOP congress coming in January.

    Although most of the “RINO” GOP is nominally pro war, there is an important minority of both House and Senate antiwar Republicans. That could.. and might.. make a huge difference. Especially as the disaster evolves.

    The GOP will likely impeach Joe Biden (on his China corruption) but if Hunter Biden is pulled in (the infamous laptop) then Ukraine corruption is solidly on the table. Not to mention the humongous FTX scandal with Ukraine ties. If Trump picks up the thread as part of his 2024 campaign (he already made Ukraine a standard part of his pre-midterm rally speech) then the antiwar and blame-Biden rhetoric increases ten fold.

    So, these very important US domestic political vectors need to be part of any complex analysis. Anyone care to reply?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not buying it. Republican support for the war has been overwhelming. Yes, the few dissenters have been Republican but stress few. Every Congresscritter has major defense contractor and/or defense interests in his district. War is big business.

      And I doubt Biden will be impeached. They’ll harass him non-stop via investigations instead.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        I see those FJB signs everywhere. I think they feel the crypto stuff especially inures the GOP. Margerie Green is on it, but to me it feels like a trial balloon. It won’t take down GOP members the way a proper investigation into Libya as opposed to benghazi might.

        Don’t forget revenge. Team Blue held 2 impeachment trials and defied Cheney’s spawn.

      2. Karl

        True, but consider the ritual blood-letting if Biden “loses” Ukraine for the West, which seems probable.

        Harassment, yes, but maybe even impeachment hearings. They’ll find a pretext. In private they’ll be glad Biden took the off-ramp, but it will be Benghazi squared. They’ll dig up all of Sullivan’s and Blinken’s power point presentations, etc.

        Zelensky, ensconced in Florida (or wherever), could get a contract to spill all on Fox News every night. And of course, Trump saying “loser Biden” every time he utters the name.

        Well, he got himself into this mess.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Americans are extremely parochial. No one cared that he left Afghanistan in a shambolic manner. The Rs may try making a campaign issue of it but I think most Americans will be happy to be out once they take stock of the spending drain. And Team Dem will blame Zelensky and/or the feckless Europeans.

          So I may be proven wrong but I think this won’t matter much domestically.

  19. XXYY

    I think the idea that if the Americans propose to negotiate an end to the Ukraine war, the Russians will instantly be amenable, is strictly wishful thinking.

    In order to hold negotiations you have to have a negotiating partner that is reasonably trustworthy and will make the effort of negotiating worthwhile. The US has abrogated or ignored virtually every treaty with the USSR/Russia in the last several decades, and at this point the Russians openly regard the US as “non-agreement-capable.” In between abrogating treaties, the US makes no secret of the fact that they want to overthrow the Russian government and break the country into a group of Bantustans that will be easy to exploit.

    In short, the logical assumption would be that the US is proposing negotiations only to gain time or to reposition itself for some other attack on Russia. Under those circumstances, there would be nothing to be gained by negotiations and much to lose.

    Now that Russia is in a dominant position, NATO is collapsing, and the US is obviously in the hands of senile incompetents, this is a good time for Russia to continue its present course regardless of US wishes.

  20. DDJ

    As much as we all can get distracted by the great manoeuvers. Even to degrees of skipping a shower now and then between say, holidays to Mag aloof:
    The shifts to a negotiated settlement could align at pace when countries in Europe are treated to sustained political reaction on the streets by people trodden further into poverty and desperate existences.

  21. Karl

    I wonder — from the very high quality and depth of discussion on this forum — if many commenters are ex-(or current) CIA/DOS/DOD/MI6?

    Whether or not this is the case, I hope this commentary on NC is a good indicator of “what’s in the wind” behind the scenes within the highest councils of the US and NATO. If so, decision makers are struggling with these arguments while trying to buy time as long as they can with “stay the course” public posturing.

    The Victoria Nulands in our government have dominated the policy making so far. But the Milley’s are undoubtedly gaining traction. One hopes.

    1. Lex

      Not me. I was offered a job at DoS circa 2002 after passing the testing, but I couldn’t bring myself to become the tip of the spear for the empire. As I look back on that decision I have realized that I would have ended up working directly for people like Nuland. At the time I was young, single and fluent in Russian.

        1. Lex

          LOL. It was already the era when it wasn’t cool like Arabic. I assume I would have ended up getting sent to Afghanistan or Iraq or something just because I was single and male.

    2. NotThisAgain

      The Victoria Nulands in our government have dominated the policy making so far. But the Milley’s are undoubtedly gaining traction. One hopes.

      Does anybody have some insight into this pseud-paradox as a broader trend? It is always assumed (I think–correct me if I am wrong) that DoD has outsized influence in government, and yet it is DoD that seems to be the most reluctant to enter into foreign (mis)adventures. The State Department is chronically underfunded and under-resourced, and yet it seems to be the one that is most inclined to send in the military, and it seems to win the behind-the-scenes skirmishes given how many times the military gets thrust into these roles.

      I can understand why the military doesn’t want to get involved, and I can (sort of) understand why the State Dept wants to send in the military, but why is it that the department with the most money and most force seems to have the least influence in terms of its use, and why does the underfunded department seem to get its way so often? And if it can keep getting its way, why doesn’t it at least demand more resources and higher budgets?

      I’m sur there is an obvious set of reasons here, but I can’t see it.


      1. MichaelSF

        Perhaps it is that the military is supposed to be under the direction of the civilians, and not the other way around? It is the job of State/Spooks/White House to gin up wars to send the military to go and fight. The military is not supposed to have the option of saying “we’ve decided to fight/not fight in this country” on their own initiative.

        1. jsn

          US Generals idolize our Oligarchs, thinking the latter have creative genius in proportion to rewards “The Market” has excreted on them.

          DoD knows it doesn’t know how to create wealth, only spend it. The illusion of creativity our business propaganda produces has military leadership as befuddled as MSM has the population generally on geopolitics.

          I’m not any more optimistic about Generals figuring out they need to definancialize the economy than I am that politicians will sort out open ended Defense budgets degrade defense or that coddled digital spooks fighting wars as video games will realize the people they’re killing will eventually be they’re own kids. Everyone wants a promotion, but no one wants to be in charge except narcissists who barely understand the stakes, and when they do, don’t care. Collapse to some level where competence still exists seems to be the only way out. It may be a long fall before recovery can start. One can hope for a new, visionary leadership, but certainly not expect it.

      2. Polar Socialist

        Maybe it’s just that MIC has outsized influence in DoD and government, so one could easily confuse the actors.

        For example, I’ve understood that Air Force is not happy about F-35 (being so expensive to use and yet it’s a hangar queen), but that’s what they have been told to be happy with. And order more, or else…

      3. David

        Not a USian, but by my observation what happens in Washington follows a standard script that’s been around for thirty years now. The balance of power in governments after the Cold War moved heavily towards Foreign Ministries on international humanitarian and conflict issues, and also, in many countries, into the hands of Development Ministries, often the most bloodthirsty of all. This has nothing to do with size or budget, but a lot to do with politics, and the ability of these organisations to surf on the public mood of disgust and the desire for someone to Do Something, inflamed by an irresponsible media and NGO community.

        So you get meetings which go as follows:

        Political Leadership: There’s the crisis in X, with fighting and people dying. We must be seen to do something.
        Foreign Affairs: Send in the military! Kill the bad guys and rescue the victims!
        Defence: We’ve looked at that. There’s nothing practical we can do that won’t make the situation worse and get people needlessly killed.
        Foreign Affairs: So you’re saying we should just leave them to die?
        Political Leadership: We’ve got to do something or we’ll be dumped on by the media and NGOs and our political enemies. Can’t you do something?
        Defence: Like what?
        Political Leadership Anything. You’re the experts. Just do something.

      4. Lex

        In the US the state department became just the public facing branch of CIA decades ago. One could argue the stage was set by the Dulles brothers way back, but it’s different. NED, USAID, RFE etc are all pure intelligence ops run through State. Combine this with no political differentiation in DoS positions and you’ve got what we see.

        Nuland is a great example. She got her first job under Talbot in the Clinton admin, but moved seamlessly to influential positions in the Bush admin (worked directly for Cheney and then NATO), followed by a high position under Obama and was deep in Biden’s (VP) Ukraine team. She took four years off when trump came along, but then got a promotion and appointed by Biden again. There is no variety of opinion on the FP side. It’s partly the rise of think tanks but also likely intelligence agency related.

      5. HotFlash

        My dear NotThisAgain,

        Thanks for this question. I have no answers, but your most pertinent and puzzling question, it gives me furiously to think.

  22. BillC

    A bit late for this minor note, but … The Corriere della Sera story, published in their Veneto Region edition, does not express suspicion that the missile might have been intentionally aimed across the border. The story repeats twice the now dominant (if slow to gel) western media explanation that it was an anti-missile shot gone astray.

    The assertion first appears as fact in the introductory paragraph by the story author and is stated a second time in a direct quote of the agricultural entereprise’s co-owner, Federico Viola, reported to be a Veneto Region native residing in Warsaw since 1990. The only hint of an alternative explanation is Viola’s remark, “But it seem it was an accident. We hope it doesn’t happen again ….”

  23. NotThisAgain

    The story that kicked off the peace talks hopium was in the WaPo. It was explicit that Zelensky had been told that he needed to look less inflexible about negotiating with Russia but not change his posture. Somehow commentators overlooked the second part of the instructions.

    Here are a few thoughts from somebody who believes that the US would negotiate right now if it could (and who also believes that it can’t–Russia is going to get absolutely everything it wants now that these Western ******s have so thoroughly screwed themselves without any way out and it cannot take Western positions seriously, and so it has no reason to negotiate anything). I do not feel very sure about my viewpoint and as always, I am happy to admit that I could be wrong–this is just my working hypothesis:

    1) The point of the WaPo leak was that the story was clearly deliberately leaked for posturing. However, you seem to take the position that the first part was deliberately leaked and that the second part was inadvertently so. I take both parts to have ben deliberately leaked–meaning that the administration is telling WaPo’s readership to not take negotiations seriously just to provide some bare minimum fig leaf justification for negotiation.

    2) I don’t know Milley’s reasons for leaking what he did, but why are you so sure that it wasn’t one of the many hundreds of trial balloons? The western propaganda has been so vitriolic that there needs to be some preparation for laying groundwork to negotiations. The best approach would be to state the obvious–that this is about as good as it gets for Ukraine, and that any delay in negotiations just weakens its position.

    3) NATO’s manhood may be at stake, but even the densest chimp in the White House must now be realizing that short term emasculation is likely better than medium/long term NATO dissolution. Whatever US/NATO initial calculations, it is clear that nobody seriously considered the possibility that Europe could be impacted over the winter. Winter is now here, and a series of severely idiotic planning decisions (or complete absence of planning) now means that half of Western European countries view their governments as at best inept, and if this continues they will view the US with increasing animosity. It is hard to imagine how this could possibly benefit the US going forward.

    So, faced with a series of unpalatable decisions, I guess the US would likely decide to find some way to justify going back to the negotiating table, especially given the complete animosity of the US public towards further escalation. This way to return to the negotiating table will inevitably be done through leaks to prepare the public.

    Again, I could be wrong–it would be nice to get a rebuttal from the readership so that I can improve y mental models/interpretations going forward.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Regarding #2, Colonel Macgregor, who knows Milley personally and some of the other players, said Milley did this for selfish reasons (like so as not to be blamed when the shit hits the fan) because that is what he consistently does. The fact that he was made to walk it back double pronto in the form of making hawkish statement of support for Ukraine and his boss Lloyd Austin did even more so says this was not something the officialdom even wants aired as an idea

      Regarding #3, the officialdom, particularly the White House, State, and the National Security Adviser, do not believe Russia can beat us/NATO any more than we were able to swallow that mere guerrilla warriors could beat us in Southeast Asia.

      1. Cristobal

        Regards your point #3 Yves, I think The Russian military also understands that the White House, State Dept and NSA believe that NATO can beat Russia in a real war. That is why the Russians have been eliminating their weak links over the past couple of months in preparation for a real war with NATO and the US officially involved. The Russians are preparing the ground for this via their electro-shock therapy. Maybe they are waiting for the weather to turn, or maybe hoping that the Europeans will finally come to their senses and NATO will break down (there are hopeful signs), and that the big push will not be neccessary. Dunno. When it does happen it will be time for team Biden to put up or shut up. Not if but when.

        1. Eric377

          Should NATO launch its own deelectrification effort? Deelectrification seems to truly pressure the party on the receiving end of it. Sure it would be a bigger mess for some time, but if this is a “manhood” test of some kind, no sense just absorbing the punishment. Make Russia operate in a degraded Donbas, Crimea and say first 50 kms of eastern Russia prior to SMO. If you want a settlement, maybe need two parties thinking that the current situation hurts like heck and needs to end.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            1. NATO is incapable of doing so. It does not have anything even remotely approaching Russia’s array of precision missiles in number or quality. Russia also has world-leading air defense and signal jamming. Russia thirdly has air superiority and so could/would shoot down any aircraft we sent in.

            2. If NATO were to attack Russian territory, and Russia deems Donbass to be Russia as a result of the recent “liberation,” Russia can and likely would take out all NATO airbases in Europe save one that is a bit remote in Portugal. Colonel Douglas Macgregor has pointed out Russia has the ability to do that in at most 1 1/2 hours after a NATO attack.

  24. Lex

    I saw an interesting little fact from one of the Ukrainian telegram (I think it was Rezidant) that purports to have inside information … but probably doesn’t. The claim was that Ukraine has used/lost about 45% of the materials sent from the west over the summer, mostly in Kherson and Kharkov. Now with supplies being slowed somewhat, that burnthrough is problematic.

    I agree. That sort of usage on the material sent for the gains achieved is not good or favorable for the future, particularly with what appear to be more and more constraints one what can be spared for Ukraine. If that 45% number is true, I could see it pushing the US towards needing to find a way out of this. Not because it wants to but because the cost/benefit is unsustainable if the goal is complete liberation of all 1991 territories (even deleting Crimea from that, it’s not feasible).

  25. Tom Pfotzer

    I don’t think that “NATO manhood is at stake” is the main reason the negotiating positions are so far apart.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant, Yves, but I did pick up that sense in some of the posts above.

    The West wants what Russia has, and thinks it has to regime change Russia, and then China, in order to secure the West’s continued status atop the socio-political stack.

    That’s what’s at stake, and that’s why the hysteria and unlimited funding for the conflict.

    NATO’s “manhood” is simply a bunch of career military and career politicos doing what they’re told to do. If they got told tomorrow to back off, that’d be perfectly fine so long as the paychex continue to show up regularly in the mail. The hysteria fog machine would flip off just as fast as it flipped on.

    Many older, retired career military people seem to be echoing this view. They don’t see a lot of principle at work, they see career-advancement calculus at work.

    And I think that also explains what David said above, about the rampant internecine bickering among political factions in DC (and elsewhere, no doubt). Every gang has their own “people” stationed across the bureaucracy, and the gang is where the paychex are cut from.

    “gang” in this context is, for example, NeoCons, or Dem / Repub. Those gangs. Those gangs are the groups that Trump purported to disrupt or disregard.

    The one thing all the US Gov’t gangs have in common is that they wish to remain near or at the top of the stack. That they agree upon, and that’s why our foreign policy isn’t going to change much absent a very visible and rather sudden fiasco imposed from without.

    And the fiasco has to move fast, otherwise it won’t attract the attention of the American public.

  26. Greg

    Missile Monday has passed this week without any major launches, so it looks like whatever is going to happen, it probably won’t happen this week.

    Obviously the Russians could change up their regular schedule, but it has been a trend for a few months now. Odds are a quiet week.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I believe I saw something today about an Ukrainian estimate that if Russia doesn’t strike again, they can fix the grid by March 2023.

      1. Greg

        I suspect the Russians were paying attention when Ukraine said it would take them two weeks to repair damage. Why bother hitting again until that two weeks is almost up?

      1. Greg

        Did it? I thought it was Tuesday morning my time (is Wednesday morning now). My mistake.
        Regardless, no air raids reported last night either,.

  27. Karl

    We are now in a classic 2-player game (US-Russia). From a game-theoretic perspective, the win-lose stakes are getting frightening.

    Game Theory was inspired by poker. Now, the pot is rapidly growing to the point where it’s basically the world as we know it. Each side keeps raising and there is no turning back.

    Here’s a wrinkle in the game: the player with the weakest hand can keep bluffing, but if that fails, blow up the game (nukes). Eventually, the player bluffing has to actually make an extreme threat and hope for the best. It’s as if each player has a red button they can press.

    Here’s another wrinkle: the one who presses the button first suffers the least damage. So, even the player with the strongest hand has an incentive to press the button first.

    The behavior of the US is explainable as signalling the intention to go for broke. Then Putin has to decide: is the US bluffing? Signalling is crucial in game theory. Stationing the 101st airborne in Romania, for example, is such a signal.

    This is why continued escalation is so frightening. At some point the “singularity” will be reached….

    1. WJ

      This is a great comment. The biggest risk is indeed that the seemingly unending micro escalations of the United States will bring us to the very brink of this. You have a declining superpower run by a supremely ignorant, pompous, and self-entitled political class who are desperate to prevent a shift that, geopolitically, is inevitable, but whose ramifications, combined with their own hubris, might very well lead them to do the unthinkable.

    2. Michaelmas

      Karl: Here’s another wrinkle: the one who presses the button first suffers the least damage. So, even the player with the strongest hand has an incentive to press the button first.

      Horse manure. MAD means mutual assured COMPLETE destruction.

      That’s what the SSBNs, the submarine leg of the nuclear tripod, ensure. If the US fires first, Russia has numerical superiority in terms of warheads, and, additionally, systems like the Deadhand/Perimeter system and loitering nuclear munitions like the Status 6/Poseidon torpedoes that can lurk for weeks and months to destroy whatever remains of the US eastern and western seaboards.

  28. Thomas Wallace

    It isn’t a defeat for NATO, because Ukraine isn’t a NATO member. It is simply a country that wanted to be a NATO member. But is only a de facto member. The US hasn’t decisively won a war since WW 2, but when it fails to win one of its adventures, there are no serious consequences for the US.
    The Neocons got a freebee … a proxy war with Russia. And can now claim that Russia is no longer a threat to NATO. Never mind that it never was. Ukraine punched well above its weight. It was grand, but we never signed up for war with Russia. Whatever manhood Neocon’s may have had have been lost in its lengthy string of defeats. Plus they declared victory in the info war.
    Russia still has to win on the ground. Although the destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure is a big start. The US never seemed to understand that Russia had an ability to significantly escalate. The info war can simply rewrite the narrative.

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