Has the West Closed All Its Project Ukraine Exits?

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Many analysts and commentators have been speculating about how the US and NATO will find their way to an endgame in the Ukraine conflict. Some focus, for humanitarian or pragmatic reasons, on a negotiated settlement between the US and Russia. Even though as a matter of form Ukraine would be party to such a deal, with Ukraine now fully dependent on Western arms and funding, there’s no pretending who is really driving this train.

We described earlier how the various factions in the US/NATO side would spend huge amounts of time arguing among themselves to come up with ideas for how exit the conflict that they’d developed in a vacuum, with no substantive exchange with Russia and not even any real consideration of repeated statements by Russian officials, including draft treaties presented in December 2021 and in the aborted peace talks in Marcy 2022.

The new peace chatter seems to amount to:

Ceasefire > *Magic* > Russia goes away with its tail enough between its legs that we and Ukraine can declare victory

At first we thought this dynamic was the result of splits among various key parties. After all, multiparty negotiations are messy.

But upon further reflection, it may be that the West has effectively set boundary conditions for itself that make ending the war impossible….absent changes in leaders of key governments that result in a willingness to relax boundary conditions and/or such a visible collapse of Ukraine’s military that the West has to rethink its self-imposed constraints.

The West wants to have a Schrodinger’s war: to pretend that its involvement in the conflict is in an indeterminate state when the US and NATO are clearly co-belligerents. Keep in mind that so far, NATO members have slipped the leash of Ukraine attempts to depict various shellings as attacks on NATO members

Remember, we and others have pointed out that there is no reason to assume the belligerents will hammer out an agreement, since many conflicts end without a deal. And as we said from very early on, there isn’t good reason to think one will happen here.

A top priority for Russia is to get Ukraine to commit to neutrality or otherwise keep it out of NATO’s hands, while the US position is that nobody outside NATO has a say in who might be a NATO member. And for Ukraine, or at least the Banderites, the war must be kept going as long as possible. Once US/NATO money and materiel largely evaporates, the current Ukraine leaders will be at the mercy of the Russian government, with their personal power and prospects for further enrichment very much diminished. A few might survive and even prosper, but as a group, they will suffer a very big fall.

And as noted the US and NATO are still trying to escalate….or at best, escalating because past measures like the great Ukraine counteroffensive have failed. And worse, Western experts are admitting that Russia has been improving its tactics and weapons over the course of the war, as Simplicius the Thinker recounts in his latest post. So the US, which earlier nixed F-16s for Ukraine now will be sending them. ABC has reported that the US is now likely to send ATACMS missiles, which have a longer range than HIMARS. Many commentators Ukraine will use to strike Crimea and the Kerch Bridge.1

Why do we think the West has caught itself in a bind?

For Russia, the war is existential. Too many Western officials have depicted victory as Russia being so battered that Putin is ousted and even the breakup of Russia. Russian opinion has hardened due those pronouncements, along with Western efforts not just to support the Ukraine war, but also to cancel Russian athletes, performers, and even its culture, and to continued Ukraine missile strikes on the civilian Donetsk city.

At least for now, the US/NATO combine is acting as if the war is existential, even though, as Ray McGovern has pointed out, there is not a shred of evidence that Russia has any interest in acquiring territory in NATO countries. Consider how Germany has allowed itself to be deindustrialized and has not acted in response to the Nord Stream attack, which the German press depicts as the handiwork of its ally Ukraine, and the US cannot plausibly have not known what was up. Those actions show the depth of commitment.

As for Russia’s posture towards Ukraine, Putin rejected the efforts of the Donbass separatists to join Russia prior to the special military operation, and moved to annex the four oblasts that Russia had partially occupied only after the embarrassing pullbacks from Kherson and Kharkiv last year. That left the civilians who had helped the Russians exposed to reprisals, and others in areas where Russia had taken ground worried about Russia’s commitment. But now that sentiment in Russia has hardened and the West is not backing down, Russia seems destined to gobble up more of Ukraine. And what happens to Western Ukraine then is very much an open question.

However the US/NATO position that the NATO will always have an open door policy may wind up being existential for NATO. If the US were to get over itself, it could agree to stop NATO expansion eastward where it is now (not that Russia would necessarily believe that) which might allow NATO to continue to exist only a bit bruised via how badly the NATO-trained and equipped forces in Ukraine fared versus Russia. Instead, NATO is actually doubling down, for instance via the pleasing-nobody compromise floated by a deputy of NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, of Ukraine ceding land to Russia in return for an immediate NATO membership. What about “Russia will not accept NATO on its border” don’t you understand? This sort of thing only further confirms the notion that the West has no interest in considering Russia’s security needs.

And Russia can’t have missed Anthony Blinken’s position when head of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley had the temerity last fall to suggest that Ukraine negotiate after it had recaptured some ground so as to improve its bargaining position. Milley was made to walk his mention of negotiations back at that time. Blinken committed the US and NATO to continuing to arm Ukraine to revisit the war at a later date. Key extracts from his Washington Post interview with David Ignatius:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined his strategy for the Ukrainian endgame and postwar deterrence during an interview on Monday at the State Department….

He also underlined President Biden’s determination to avoid direct military conflict with Russia, even as U.S. weapons help pulverize Putin’s invasion force. “Biden has always been emphatic that one of his requirements in Ukraine is that there be no World War III,” Blinken said.

Russia’s colossal failure to achieve its military goals, Blinken believes, should now spur the United States and its allies to begin thinking about the shape of postwar Ukraine — and how to create a just and durable peace that upholds Ukraine’s territorial integrity and allows it to deter and, if necessary, defend against any future aggression. In other words, Russia should not be able to rest, regroup and reattack.

Blinken’s deterrence framework is somewhat different from last year’s discussions with Kyiv about security guarantees similar to NATO’s Article 5. Rather than such a formal treaty pledge, some U.S. officials increasingly believe the key is to give Ukraine the tools it needs to defend itself. Security will be ensured by potent weapons systems — especially armor and air defense — along with a strong, noncorrupt economy and membership in the European Union.

The Pentagon’s current stress on providing Kyiv with weapons and training for maneuver warfare reflects this long-term goal of deterrence. “The importance of maneuver weapons isn’t just to give Ukraine strength now to regain territory but as a deterrent against future Russian attacks,” explained a State Department official familiar with Blinken’s thinking. “Maneuver is the future.”

Given that the current Ukraine government continues to insist that it must recapture all of the pre-2014 Ukraine, it’s clear that any rearming of Ukraine by the West would lead to new hostilities…and not instigated by Russia.

However, as an aside, the Post also unwittingly tells us why Project Ukraine is doomed. The US has not adapted to the new ISR paradigm which Russia is perfecting with every passing day. As various military experts have pointed out, maneuver warfare (which among other things depends on massing forces to punch through enemy lines) is no longer possible with a peer power. Your build-up of men and materiel will be seen and attacked before you launch your big punch.

Keep in mind what Blinken’s position also implies: the US believes it can run what amounts to a two front war. Blinken posits Russia somehow loses in Ukraine so as to allow the US and NATO to rearm it at their leisure so as to harass, um, pressure Russia further down the war. At the same time US is also determined to Do Something to its official Enemy #1, China. Since economic sanctions are working about as well against China as they have against Russia, what does the US and its Pacific allies have left besides military escalation? Or will mere relentless propaganda be enough to snooker the credulous American public?

So unless the US relents, Russia has no option but to continue to prosecute the war until Ukraine is prostrated or Russia has otherwise precipitated regime change in Kiev. Russia needs to capture Ukraine, either politically or practically. This outcome becomes even more important if the US sends ATACMS. Russia will need an even wider buffer zone (300 km versus 77 km for the HIMARS previously sent) to prevent their use against Russian territory.

However, an undeniable Ukraine loss, no matter how much porcine maquillage US and EU spokescritters apply, will, as Alastair Crooke in particular described long-form in a recent Duran program, will rattle smaller NATO members, who will doubt they can rely on NATO to come to their rescue. NATO may still be fit for purpose as a defensive alliance. However, the fact that the US and NATO members sent in a whole mess of heavily-hyped wunderwaffen that did pretty much nothing to blunt Russian operations, and some of which were impressively destroyed, like Leopard 2 and Challenger tanks and the West is not responding with a Sputnik-level effort to get Western firepower up to Russian levels, means there is good reason to doubt how well the NATO shield would hold up if tested.

Mind you, Crooke explained in a related article that US is (or the hawks think it is) moving in the direction of a long, low intensity conflict, which is consistent with the Blinken remarks above. But that US/Ukraine hope ignores again that the war is generally very much going in Russia’s direction, with Ukraine continuing to throw men and materiel against Russian positions, and Russia only engaging in fairly minor advances in and near Kupiansk to produce even more of the same. Russia wanted to attrit Ukraine and is getting that outcome. And Russia can and will increase the intensity when it suits Russia.

One would think, given both the weakening Ukraine position, and the all-too-obvious need for the Biden Administration not to suffer a visible defeat in Ukraine, the optimal time would be between March and October 2024. However, that still may not take the form of the too-eagerly-hoped for big arrow attacks unless the Ukraine army is severely degraded.2 But the flip side is when Russia finally cracks the last Ukraine line of defense in the Donbass, there’s not much in the way of defensible positions west of Lugansk up to the Dnieper.3

In other words, the way to an end game is regime change. And the weak regimes are all in the West.

1 Admittedly, the US has pushed back the delivery date of Abrams tanks to next year….but they are so heavy they would probably be useless in the soon-to-arrive mud season.

Dima at Military Summary today noted that Russia has not engaged in the sort of massive missile strikes of Ukraine that had been its habit, although it is still regularly striking selective targets, such as yesterday an ammo depot in Kiev, rumored to hold depleted uranium shells. He speculates they are accumulating stocks for big strikes in the winter to again damage the electrical grid. If Russia indeed has been caching missiles, they could also be keeping them in reserve for major retaliatory strikes.

2 Another issue is that Russia knows it is dealing with people who do not have a good grip on reality, and you don’t make sudden moves around crazy people, particularly when they possess nukes.

3 This makes the continuing fight over Bakhmut rational. That is on the third of four Ukraine defensive lines, but the last is seen as weak. If Russia were to move forces up to the Dnieper, it is hard to see how the West could not see that as undeniable evidence of Russian success, which would threaten the position of the Ukraine regime with its patrons.

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  1. Lachlan

    “Russia will not accept NATO on its border”. I wonder what they plan to do about Finland and Sweden? the border is very close to St. Petersburg, they really messed up by failing to achieve a fait accompli. I am not sure that an unequivocal loss will really shake the West that much, Afghanistan didn’t after all. They will just switch to a northern strategy using Finland, Sweden and the Baltics, coupled with operating out of Romania.

    Now these borders will be much harder to sneak things across than the Ukraine one would have been, but still, these are long borders.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Turkiye has not approved Sweden’s NATO application. Sweden is not prosecuting Koran-burners, seeing that as protected free speech. The Turkiye parliament has to approve any NATO application. Even though Erdogan agreed to Sweden’s entry in Vilnius, he now can’t deliver even if he wanted to. And the tone of his remarks below is that Erdogan is not trying to whip his Parliament to get the votes either. This link is from August 21, well after the July 10 commitment in Vilnius:

      The decision on Sweden’s NATO membership will be made by the Turkish parliament, which monitors Stockholm’s actions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters, APA reports citing TASS.

      “The process of sending Sweden’s NATO membership protocol to the parliament and the process of its approval is directly related to Sweden’s fulfillment of its obligations. The decision will have to be made by the parliament, how much it will be discussed in commissions, how long this process will take, we do not know. First of all, Sweden has to control the streets of Stockholm. If they [the Swedish authorities] do not do this, if the attacks on our holy shrine (the Quran) continue, then they should not be offended that Türkiye does not approve its NATO bid,” the TRT TV channel quoted Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying.


      So Finland will not be in such a hot position if it is in NATO and its next-door neighbor is not. Perhaps Sweden will relent and prosecute the Koran-burners, but I have yet to see any willingness to do that.

      I also suspect that Crooke in particular had Finland in mind when he was mentioning small countries that would become very nervous about a visible Project Ukraine failure.

      1. JohnA

        Russia already had borders with Nato members such as Norway and the 3 Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (the latter borders Kaliningrad) without too much worry. But Ukraine is a different kettle of fish, e.g. very large and hostile army. So proximity is less the issue than intent. And were Ukraine to join Nato, the US would then concentrate its next colour revolution forces on Belarus.
        Interestingly formerly neutral Finland, has accepted a US base on its territory and yet is squealing that Russia is building a military base close to the Finnish border in response.
        Finland businesses have also taken big hits financially through lose of tourist business.

        1. JessDTruth

          Finland threw away its right to exist as an independent nation when it threw away the most important provision of the treaty between the USSR and Finland which ended the war and recognized Finland as still a nation. That provision was the eternal neutrality of Finland. Very basic. Russia is the successor counterparty and Finland’s obligation of neutrality is still in effect. So under international law, Russia has every right to no longer recognize Finland, and to go back to the situation of 1944. This legal issue could be raised at any time by RUssia, and I suspect it will, but only when the time is ripe. Russia could demand the resignation of all Finnish politicians and the abolition of all Helsinki state organizations which pose a threat to peace. It’s clear that Russia is proceeding one step at a time. Russia missed the window of opportunity between Finland asking for NATO membership and actually getting it, so resolution is years into the future. Meanwhile, Russia has cut off Finland’s economy and that will eventually bite the Finns pretty hard, at no cost to Russia.

          1. Polar Socialist

            Wrong. The peace treaty was signed between Finland one one side and Soviet Union, United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, Canada, India and Czechoslovakia on the other.

            It had nothing to do with sovereignty of Finland, if defined the new border between Finland and Soviet Union, how to normalize relations and limitations to Finnish Armed Forces. Most of the articles were fulfilled (and thus expired) by 1955, when Finland was accepted to United Nations.

            In 1992 Finland, after consultations with UK and Russia (the two Allied nations declared as guardians of the treaty), declared the military articles in the treaty expired. When Finland joined EU in 1995 the Finland declared the rest of treaty expired without any objection from Russia – which at the time was run by a drunkard and being looted by the West, but nevertheless.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          The Baltics depend on Russia for electricity, so that limits how frisky they can get. They were also part of the 2004 NATO expansion. Putin is a patient man….

          As for Norway, they did send weapons to Ukraine but I’ve never seen their contributions touted as having headline value. They also admitted that some of what they were sending was being phased out.

        3. digi_owl

          The Norway border has always been reasonably chill. Red Army even pulled back to its original location after the Germans surrendered in WW2. Yet Norway agreed to form NATO.

          There was some incidents of bluster along it during the cold war, mostly in relation to NATO exercises further south.

          The Baltics was enrolled to NATO in the early 2000s, and i think Putin consider it a great blunder. But at the time Yeltsin was in charge and Russia had little ability to protest.

          And do not forget that Finland was not willingly neutral during the cold war. The story there is long and thorny.

          Finland was for a long time part of Sweden. but then Sweden lost Finland to Russia.

          Then during the Bolshevik revolution Finland declared itself independent.

          The winter war, that Finland effectively lost even if it gave USSR a bloody nose in the process, was an attempt by USSR to reassert control.

          After that Finland effectively assisted Nazi Germany during operation Barbarossa, and participated in invading USSR.

          It went badly, and Finland independently signed a surrender with USSR.

          That in turn lead to Finland having to expel German troops, that ended up withdrawing to Norway.

          From there Germany tried one last push to take Murmansk, it failed, and they ended up being chased into Norway by the Red Army. During that retreat Germany implemented a scorched earth tactic, burning towns and villages across Finnmark.

          Sadly the Hollywood re-tellings of WW2 mostly gloss over the northern campaign. At best they cover the invasion of Norway, and maybe the heavy water sabotage, but otherwise they make it seem like nothing happened in the north those years.

          1. divadab

            You left out Finland’s loss of Karelia to the USSR – the cost of the winter war. And how much of Ukraine will be lost to the Russians in this current war? That’s pretty much up to the Russians, it seems.

            1. hk

              The best case scenario for Ukraine is to become Finland circa 1945. I see no Mannerheim there, despite Zaluzhnyi trying to invoke him.

              More likely scenario: Poland in 1945. Maybe a Russian general of Ukrainian ethnicity will become the new Rokossovsky (and unlike Rokossovsky who griped about being a Pole in Russia and being a Russian in Poland, Ukrainians have long assimilated so fully to Russia so that there are plenty of ethnic Ukrainians in Russia who’d fit in just fine both countries…except maybe in Galicia.)

            2. Polar Socialist

              Karelian Isthmus and Ladogan Karelia, to be more precise. Most of Karelia has been part of Russia since 1000 AD or so, and even the “Swedish Karelia” was lost to Russia in 1721 (having been part of Sweden since 1621). When Russia took rest of the Finland in 1808 and made it autonomous, this part was added to it by Alexander I.

          2. hk

            Fun fact: after losing Finland to Russia, Sweden invited Marshal Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s lieutenants, to be their regent (and heir to the throne) so that Napoleon would help them against Russia. Tuned out Bernadotte loved Sweden more than he hated Russia and refused to join his former master in 1812, then joined Russia instead when Napoleon was driven from Russia.

            Maybe Sweden and Finland should bring in a new clear-eyed regent from abroad again.

        4. Skip Intro

          IIRC, the Belarus color revolution was botched in 2020, sending the country decisively into the Russian camp.

        5. Paul Jurczak

          Russia already had borders with Nato members such as Norway and the 3 Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

          Add Poland to this list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poland%E2%80%93Russia_border. This important geopolitical factoid is often ignored by CW talking heads painting the picture of fear with fallen Ukraine and Red Army at the Polish border again, forgetting that Poland continued to have a long border with Russia (in its various incarnations) for hundreds of years now.

    2. dandyandy

      Other than long border harrasment value, there is not much else for the Scandies to add to the party. Combined population of Finland, Sweden and 3 Balts is ~22m. This compares with ~40m in pre-SMO Ukraine, (and which was armed to the teeth with most modern harware, massive standing army and extensive fortifications they were building for preceding eight years).

      Distance from St Petersburg to Fin/Balt borders matches the distance from Helsinki, Riga, Talinn from the same border. Vilnius is a five minute drive from the Belarus border. Stockholm only just a bit further afield (say ~600km from Pskov); still reachable by any decent missile.

      1. digi_owl

        Also the terrain and such will make it a pointless affair.

        St. Petersburg is flanked by the the Baltic sea and Lake Lagoda, making it a natural choke point. Further east there is Lake Onega, And north from that you end up in the White Sea. And most of the major roads in that area goes north-south, linking Murmansk to Msocow, not east-west as would be beneficial for getting from the Finnish border into Russia.

        Likewise the border between Estonia and Russia is mostly a lake, making the biggest likely threat Latvia. And that is right next door to Belarus.

        Never mind that a winter war up north is no picnic. Cold, dark and lots of snow.

    3. OnceWere

      At the low level of sneaking things across borders it hardly matters which countries are in NATO and which are not. The benefit to Russia of a neutral Finland and Sweden was always illusory if the reality is that they are bought-and-paid for American vassals and have been for a long time. Better for Russia that it is formalized in my opinion. A pawn like Ukraine that can be used and discarded is of more use for the kind of indirect subversion that is the US’s go-to strategy against countries too big for direct military confrontation.

      1. hk

        And Sweden was hardly neutral during Cold War: it was generally considered a de facto ally and was generally kept in the loop and supplied with weapons (yes, the jets were Swedish built, but they were mostly armed with NATO weapons and were powered by NATO engines.)

        1. Leviathan

          Sweden’s Government refusal to release the results of its report into the Nord Stream findings proves your point. A proper neutral country would release this information- Although refusing to say it as too sensitive, rather than inventing a story, can be seen as message in itself, about what Sweden knows.

          1. Polar Socialist

            They also refused to release the results from analyzing Navalnyi’s blood samples because national security.

    4. Bugs

      There’s a cultural aspect to this war too. Those countries are not former members of the USSR and moreover, not Slavs and have no appreciable Russian ethnic population. The few Russians (very well integrated professionals, one has a photo of herself with Chirac on her bookshelf) I know here in France are very broken up about the whole thing. They also hate the Banderites, who they see as ingrate, murderous fascists who destroyed Ukranian/Russian/Belarusian friendship. So a Finnish NATO member on the border is one thing, but a NATO satrapy hell-bent on ethnic cleansing of Russian culture is another.

      1. Sibiriak

        VLADIVOSTOK (Sputnik) – Moscow has no issues with Finland or Sweden and hopes that they will not deploy missiles directed towards Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

        Russia has no issues with either Sweden or Finland related to the security area, related to territories, the official said, adding that “these countries are not waging a civil war against their regions, these countries are not killing Russians on their territory, these countries are not banning the Russian language as the language of outcasts.”

        1. hk

          The catch is that Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are coming increasingly close to doing what Peskov describes (in fact doing some of these things already)….. Of course, he didn’t mention these countries in that statement.

      2. Polar Socialist

        I’m not quite sure what “those countries” is referring to, but the Baltic countries were part of Soviet Union and also Russian Empire, Finland was part of the latter. While Baltic countries have Russian population between 10-25% and Finland mere 2%, the biggest Orthodox church in Western Europe is located in Helsinki.

        No matter how much they will protest today, the matter of the fact is that culturally Finland and the Baltic countries were born under the protection of the Russian Empire. The elite in all of them was Germanic and mostly suppressed the local population until Russia conquered them and saw it fit to encourage the elevation of the folk culture – not out the good heart of the czars, but to distance the populations from Germany and Sweden.

        1. hk

          In case of Lithuania, from the Poles. It’s always amazed me how much Lithuanians dislike the Poles even today (or, at least, in the fairly recent past, i.e. post Cold War)–especially the Lithuanians from actual Lithuania. Some pretty interesting dynamics in the Baltics.

          1. DZhMM

            You just don’t know many Poles. Nobody near them likes them – they are, historically, terrible neighbors.

        2. Bugs

          “those countries” was referring to Sweden and Finland, the subject of the previous comment.

          Arguably, the accession of the Baltics was not considered a problem by Russia because it was still engaged in security arrangements and even exercises with NATO when they were admitted.

        3. cosmiccretin

          Polar Socialist:- “…the matter of the fact is that culturally Finland and the Baltic countries were born under the protection of the Russian Empire”.

          Sorry but you’ve got that completely wrong in regard to Finland.

          Finland’s coastal fringes and islands beginning during the late Viking age were settled by immigrants from Sweden, as a side-effect of Viking penetration of /encroachment upon territory further to the south-east via the various rivers (plus portages between them) extending all the way from the Gulf of Finland towards Constantinople (some of those “Varengians” were recruited to serve as the Byzantine emperors’ praetorian guard). They also expanded further eastwards into what is now Russia, founding most importantly – among lesser places – mighty Novgorod. Famously along the way they also established the trading-post on the Dneipre known subsequently to history as “Kievan Rus” and – like Vikings everywhere – proceeded to “go native” (so much so as to become indistinguishable from the locals within a couple of generations).

          The hinterland of what is now Finland (sparsely inhabited by ethnic Finns who earlier had largely displaced the aboriginal nomadic Lapp – “Sami” – inhabitants northwards) became – following upon their conversion to christianity spearheaded (literally) by a crusade led by the semi-legendary (subsequently beatified, surprise,surprise) King Saint Erik aided and abetted by the English missionary Bishop Henry – subject to the Swedish crown. And remained so until ceded to czarist Russia under the Treaty of Nystad 1809.

          Finland has little or nothing culturally in common with Latvia and even less Lithuania. It has a lot more with Estonia, the roots of the respective languages being the same – both belong to the Finno-Ugrian group. During Sweden’s brief period as a great power in the seventeenth century its territories included all of present-day Estonia plus the adjoining Ingria (nowadays part of Russia) and also the land, on which stood the Swedish-Finnish settlement of Nyen, on which Peter the Great subsequently founded St. Petersburg. Sweden also acquired most or all of modern-day Latvia including of course Riga and the northern fringe of Pomerania subsequently absorbed into Prussia.

          In fact if one wanted to be really provocative one might invert your statement, to read “the (antecedents of) the Russian Empire were born culturally under the protection of the Swedish Empire”. Although even so I would concede that that would be stretching things a bit!

          1. Polar Socialist

            I was referring to the raise of the folk culture as the national culture in each of these countries during the 19th century. To the extent that the ruling, so far “international” elite felt it as their own, too.

            The story you tell is a nice one, though. Too bad it has very little to do with reality. The Swedish-speaking population on Finnish coast is from medieval times, and according to archaeological evidence is a peacefully formed mixture of migrants and original population.

            Viking had nothing to do with founding Novgorod, but the Finnic tribes had. Actually, again according to archaeological evidence, it was the Finnic tribes that controlled the northern Russian river routes, few Scandinavian artefacts are inclusive regarding any Scandinavian precence there during the Viking era.

            The hoards and other viking-age findings in Karelia are much richer than those of Sweden (of which most are actually from Gotland, barely part of Sweden at the time. It has been pointed out that the iron age Finnish female costumes actually follow the fashion of Constantinople.

            Vikings had trouble even organizing their own society, but for some reason the fantasy of vikings founding Russia just won’t die. Also the quality and quantity of weapons is much higher in northern and central Russia than in Scandinavia during that time. We should remember that a lot of the European medieval weaponry was invented in warring Central-Asia from where it was transmitted to central Europe by the Slavic tribes.

            The hinterland of what is Finland was until 16th century Karelia. The border run from Kalajoki to Karelian Isthmus. King Erik’s crusade is today largely understood by researchers to be legendary in the specific sense that it only happened in the legend written after his death – unless it was to northern Sweden, largely inhabited by Finns at the time. All the Christian vocabulary in Finnish language is actually of Eastern origin, the first Christian artefacts precede even the viking age, not to speak of the Christianization of Sweden.

            It was long though that Balts replaced the original Finnic population when they arrived to Baltic shores but now, thanks to genetics, we know that they are actually Finnic tribes that merely switched to Indo-European language (a hundred or so Livonians are still holding on). There are a lot of people in Klaipeda, Lithuania, who would be surprised to hear they have culturally nothing in common with Finns – they think their folk costumes, folk dances and folk music are remarkably similar.

            And apologies to all for the wall of text.

            1. cosmiccretin

              “The Swedish-speaking population on Finnish coast is from medieval times, and according to archaeological evidence is a peacefully formed mixture of migrants and original population”

              – Just so. I used “late Viking age” (ie up to around twelfth century), you use “mediaeval”. Same difference.

              “The hinterland of what is Finland was until 16th century Karelia. The border run from Kalajoki to Karelian Isthmus”

              – which demarcation of “hinterland” ignores something approaching half (the traditional grazing/hunting grounds of the nomadic Sami people in the North excluded) of Finland’s geographical hinterland, which seems a slightly eccentric use of that term if you don’t mind my saying so. But if that’s your view…

              “Viking had nothing to do with founding Novgorod, but the Finnic tribes had”

              – you may be right, but I believe today’s Novgorodians would be no less incredulous about that assertion than you describe today’s Klaipedan folklorists as being about mine concerning the absence over recent centuries of cultural affinity (as distinct from genetic) between Latvia’s society and Finland’s. What’s sauce for the goose….

              I suggest we agree to disagree before we bore everyone else to death.

            2. wrehts

              ‘Vikings had trouble even organizing their own society, but for some reason the fantasy of vikings founding Russia just won’t die.’

              ‘For some reason’ – maybe part of the reason is that Russia’s own medieval historical tradition from its very beginning explicitly asserted exactly that ‘fantasy’ as truth – ‘for some reason’ – and elaborated on it with many details that it hardly could have faked even if it wanted to? There is no possible alternative, non-Norse interpretation of the early chronicles of Russia – you either have to accept the key role of the Scandinavians or assume that most of the narrative in these chronicles is made up with unclear motivations, starting from the very names of both main and supporting ‘characters’, since modern linguistics unambiguously identifies them as Scandinavian. Just like Russia’s own early chronicles, both Byzantines and Arabs plainly called the Vikings ‘Rus’, referred to the Old Norse language as ‘the language of the Rus’ and distinguished Rus from the Slavs. The evidence of the written sources from the period is overwhelming. You have to believe in some weird, incredibly elaborate pro-Scandinavian (or ‘anti-Russian’?) time-travelling philologists’ conspiracy that planted and distorted all that textual evidence.

              The reasonings that Vikings were less advanced than the Eastern Slavs, so they couldn’t have established control over them or founded states ruling them, are ridiculous; by the same logic, you would have to deny that the Vikings could have founded Normandy and established control over much of Britain and Ireland, that the Francs could have founded France, the Visigoths – Spain, the Anglo-Saxons – England, or that the ‘barbarian Manchus’ could have founded the Qing Empire. This kind of logic shows the real motivation of the ‘anti-Normanist’ current in East Slavic historiography – nationalist pride, arrogance and insecurity.

              ‘Also the quality and quantity of weapons is much higher in northern and central Russia than in Scandinavia during that time. We should remember that a lot of the European medieval weaponry was invented in warring Central-Asia from where it was transmitted to central Europe by the Slavic tribes.’

              As a matter of fact, Easterner Ibn Fadlan describes the Rus swords as being ‘of Frankish sort’, not ‘of the Slavic sort’ or ‘of the Turkic sort’. You are quite right that Scandinavia itself had relatively poor and obsolete weapons – certainly compared to continental Europe, in particular the Frankish Empire. Indeed, the situation was so dire that the Vikings eventually came to import most of their weapons from the Frankish Empire. Which somehow didn’t prevent them from using these very weapons to raid the lands of said empire and continental Europe in general, to conquer parts of them and found states there. Again, there is nothing unusual and strange in such an occurrence, so your argument is rather weak.

              ‘King Erik’s crusade is today largely understood by researchers to be legendary in the specific sense that it only happened in the legend written after his death – unless it was to northern Sweden, largely inhabited by Finns at the time.’

              It was inhabited by the Sámi people, who were traditionally referred to as ‘Finns’ by the Scandinavians. The settlement by Finns proper only started in the 16th century. The specific crusade of Erik may be legendary, but the general historical dynamics in Swedish-Finnish interactions that it reflects is undeniable, see below.

              ‘All the Christian vocabulary in Finnish language is actually of Eastern origin, the first Christian artefacts precede even the viking age, not to speak of the Christianization of Sweden.’

              ‘The first Christian artefacts’ precede the Viking age in Sweden, too. This doesn’t mean that most of the Finnish population weren’t pagans even centuries later and that there was no possibility for the Scandinavians to conduct crusades against them, just as against the Balts. In one way or another, Swedes subjugated and colonised Finland, so they were the ones who introduced European social and cultural models there, and they were the ones who ended up determining the form of Christianity in it as well – you can’t revise your way out of this basic fact. And the Baltic or Northern Crusades are also just a very basic and inescapable fact of northern European history in the first half of the first millennium, no matter how much some may dislike it. Perhaps some Finns and Balts prefer a fantasy comfortable version of history in which ‘we have always lived right here, so this land has always been and will always be ours’ and ‘we have always been Christian, so we never needed no pesky Germans and Scandinavians to forcibly convert us’, just like Russian nationalists insist that ‘we never needed no pesky Vikings to found our early state and ruling dynasty’. Sorry, but the historical truth, when you include a sufficiently large part of history, is never comfortable for any collective ego.

    5. zach

      The Swedish navy has long drilled with NATO forces in the Baltic region. I can’t speak to Finland, but as Mercouris pointed out long ago the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO in some ways simplifies the Russian defensive posture in that region, since they (Sweden/Finland) have now declared themselves as credible threats.

    6. Raymond Sim

      The ideal way to handle Finland and Sweden would perhaps be to persuade Hungary and Poland to fink out, then re-Finlanidize Finland.

      This may sound outrageous, but it would, I think, represent a historically typical working-out of the balance of power along the Baltic-Ukraine-Black Sea axis. It’s not history Americans read much, but the parties directly involved presumably do.

    7. Louis Fyne

      Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Baltics states are essentially city-states masquerading as “equal partners”

      the combined population of the Nordics + Baltics is barely larger than metro NYC. and economic importance of Nordics + Baltics is (arguably) less than metro NYC.

      The Nordic-Baltic tail wagging the trans-Atlantic dog (with copious amounts of greasing by anti-Russia neocons and neolibs). Insanity!

      1. some guy

        What natural resources of actual value does metro NYC produce? What natural resources do the Nordics + Baltics produce?

        One can argue that economic importance of Nordics + Baltics is less than economic importance of metro NYC as long as one makes the mistake of thinking that money and wealth are the same thing.
        But if long-distance economic and trade relationships start breaking down and money becomes worth less than wealth itself, the NordoBaltics will be able to feed themselves, water themselves, heat themselves, etc. Will metro NYC be able to do any of that?

        1. Altandmain

          Norway for example has oil and fish. So maybe there’s a case for feeding oneself and heating during the winters.

          It’s not much in terms of overall natural resources, compared to say, Russia, but it is something. That’s especially factoring in the small population these nations have.

          I think that the Baltic countries are in a worse state in that regard. They don’t have a lot going for them.

  2. Palm & Needle

    the West has effectively set boundary conditions for itself that make ending the war impossible….absent changes in leaders of key governments that result in a willingness to relax boundary conditions

    For several months now, I have come to think that the planned exit is Trump. (Planned by the US ruling oligarchy.) Biden seems to have been put into the presidency with a mandate to start this war. If it had gone according to plan, they would continue; if not, supposedly wildcard Trump allows for a quick, sudden exit that does not dismantle the narrative of US/NATO power.

    With US pulling the plug on Ukraine, Europe will be caught with its pants down holding the mucky end of the stick, and blame will be placed on the erratic Trump. This is also consistent with the theory that this war is at least in part about the US cannibalizing Europe (especially Germany) in a “great capital” competition.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Hope is not a strategy. A big part of the oligarchy clearly intends (to use that horrible cliche) to do whatever it takes to stop Trump. That above all includes The Blob. Lotta college tuitions riding on the war continuing.

      And even if Trump were to win, he’s great on talk, not very good on execution.

      1. Palm & Needle

        Who’s hope?

        I think Trump will do what he is told, just like Biden does. If the oligarchy decides the US needs to pull the chord on Ukraine, they will be looking for a way to do it that “saves face”. Saving face, here, means preserving the two illusions: US power, and its support for “Western civilization and liberal democratic values”.

        Because Trump is painted as an outsider, loose-cannon, he can be the face of the exit debacle, the scapegoat. A narrative to feed the empire’s vassals can thus be constructed: “It wasn’t a failure of our power, we blame the callous outsider Trump (who abused our democracy); when he is out of office (impeachment/4 years) we will get back on course upholding Western Civilization.”

        A charade of fake opposition will be put in place, and when Trump is out a new charade celebrating the “restoration of democracy”. No actions to mitigate long-term consequences to Europe or Ukraine will be taken. Meanwhile, all policies associated with the break will have continuity.

        All that, of course, only if the powers that be decide to abort their Ukraine plan (and assuming such a decision is not precluded by the course of the war in the next 12 months).

        This kind of dynamic happens all the time in US politics, as elsewhere. The Bush/Obama transition was a similar process, albeit with its own particularities.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Trump did try to leave Afghanistan and his orders were ignored. So it is a mistake to depict him as a tool of the MIC. I think he mainly grandstands but sometimes tries to do thing (China tariffs, initially making nice with Russia) and some he gets checked and pushed into reverse.

          Trump actually does not like war. I think he sees buildings destroyed and that gets to him viscerally. He knows how long it will take to rebuild and at what cost.

          1. Palm & Needle

            Maybe you’re right about Trump. Either way, if what you say is true, and if the oligarchy decides to abort the Ukraine project, then doesn’t Trump fit well into that role for the greater narrative that I described, making it a potential exit plan?

            I suspect the cut/no-cut decision about Ukraine is not made yet. My own opinion is that the oligarchy’s decision will be moot, because of how the war and other geopolitical movements seem to be unfolding. (Here, I admit, hope might be affecting my judgement.)

          2. Turtle

            His quotes about pulling out of Syria because it had nothing but sand and death seem indicative that he sees the cost-benefit balance of wars very differently from the establishment. He seems to have a much higher threshold for believing that the costs of war (like you mentioned, understanding the costs of rebuilding, not to mention all the human capital) justify any potential benefits. Perhaps his simple business instincts serve him better than the traditional approach of attempting 11-dimensional geopolitical chess.

            Personally, I’m horrified by the idea that I may have to consider voting for a Republican for president for the first time in my life – Trump, of all people – to try to stop this madness. At this point, any suffering that he may cause domestically may be a worthwhile price to pay to stop the much higher suffering in Ukraine and elsewhere.

            1. Palm & Needle

              One area where I seem to disagree with you and Yves is how much agency the president has. I think it is less than you both attribute.

              As Yves described, if Trump (or whoever else) tried to do something that goes against a decision of the oligarchy, he will be ignored, or filibustered, or obstructed, or any of the many other tools the US political system offers to block, diminish, or divert the actions of a contrarian president.

              On the other hand, if he tries to take action that is in agreement with an oligarchic decision, then his actions will not be hindered. Mind, a big theater of opposition may well be played out, but the actions will get through anyway.

              The president doesn’t need to be a conscious tool to do what the oligarchy wants; there is a rich variety of ways they can use to persuade, coerce, or quarantine him or her.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                As indicated, Trump did get significant headcount cuts at State, something the Blog clearly did not want.

                You also incorrectly assume that the professionals in government employ and the “oligarchs” have the same agenda. That is not the case. The oligarchs are not unitary and often have competing interests.

                1. Piotr Berman

                  So we were weary and/or afraid of the Borg, and the Blob, but the sinister Blog is out there too? And like salmon proliferate in river head waters, those creates proliferate in the wetlands along lower Potomac and spread from there.

            2. pretzelattack

              it’s the same “lesser of two evils” just the evils reversed. and I agree, Trump is an ahole, but at least he mostly his own ahole, not “theirs”.

        2. jrkrideau

          I am not sure I believe it but it does make a lot of sense. It provides the PTB with a healthy out, one that I don’t, otherwise, see now.

          @ Yves
          Trump did try to leave Afghanistan and his orders were ignored.

          Yes but that was against the PTB. Now they may be willing to use him as a patsy to get out of the mess. Plus it let’s them talk about Trump’s betrayal for years.

          My first impression was that the idea was crazy but I can see it especially as the PTB get more desperate.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            If the PTB wanted Trump in, you would not have seen Russiagate, four prosecutions, and the press with virtually a united voice after him. This line of thinking is a fantasy. Remember that Rex Tillerson sought to and did reduce headcount at State. How is that pro Blob, exactly?

            The State Department’s civilian workforce shrank more than 6 percent overall during the initial eight months of the Trump administration, but that figure masks significantly higher departure rates in critical areas of the country’s diplomatic apparatus.

            In December 2016, the department employed 2,580 people under the foreign affairs occupation series, according to data from the Office of Personnel Management. By September 2017, the most recent data available, that number fell to 2,273, a decrease of roughly 11.9 percent….

            The drop off in foreign-affairs officers reflects a larger overall trend in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s treatment of his agency’s career workforce, said Ron Neumann, a retired 37-year State Department veteran who served as ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain, and Afghanistan. The Trump administration appears to have a unique “contempt” for the career workforce, Neumann said, prompting many top policy experts to leave the government’s diplomatic arm, whether they want to or not.


            1. vidimi

              all those scandals that they manufactured, yes, their primary goal would have been to get him out, but the secondary goal, and probably just as valuable if maybe less solid from their point of view, was to get enough leverage over him to force him to enter into alliances with insiders. I think a similar thing is happening with all the prosecutions against him now : if something sticks, great ; otherwise, he’ll have to bring more pompeos and boltons into the fold to stay afloat.

      2. ChrisPacific

        Trump recently revealed his grand strategy for how he would end the war in 24 hours. He’d tell Zelensky and Putin to negotiate, and if Putin didn’t do it then he would flood Ukraine with weapons and material “like he’s never seen before.” Putin is probably diplomatic enough not to burst out laughing immediately at this ‘threat’.

        I do think Trump would be smart enough not to go all in on victory the way Biden has, and would be open to an outcome that could be spun to his base as a win. So he offers more opportunity for Russia to finesse something. The Blob would of course kick and scream mightily, but they’ll be doing that 24/7 anyway if Trump is elected.

        1. Piotr Berman

          Trump has a terrible record of hiring people that would undermine him instead of implementing his ideas (starting from never completed translation from Trumpese to actionable Simple English).

          1. S.

            It was clear that he didn’t fully control staffing in his administration. Choices that were unacceptable, like Mike Flynn, were swatted down, and he often wound up with hacks from the party like John Bolton who saw their appointments as an opportunity to gather material for tell-all books. This is especially true of Mike Pence, who is now running in the primary as a kind of anti-Trump throwback.

  3. JW

    The awful thing about this is that unless there is a profound change of Leadership and Congress voting in the US, enough arms and money will continue to flow to Ukraine to keep the current regime in place. They cannot end the war or they are dead , possibly practically as well as figuratively.
    Ukraine can still mobilise up to 2m more fit men ( 10% of reduced population of 20m) to train on new arms to provide the 4th ( or 5th army) . It can also call up 2m of unfit men and women to act as the ‘meat’ to defend the front lines in case of a Russian attack . Deliberately used as fodder just to buy time and help exhaust the attackers.
    Unfortunately this could keep this mess going until 2025 or longer. It probably wouldn’t change the outcome eventually, but desperate people will grasp any straw. And if the same mad people are running the State Dept after 2024 election, who knows what they would do?

    1. Weil

      The really awful thing is how the American mind accepts war, violence, subterfuge, lying, assassination and any and all ‘state-craft’ they have seen on TV.

      As for the Ukrainians, they are just one group in the long line of fascist takeover.

      Billions want out of this degrading system of lies and mendacity but US finance has its hands around their throats.

      Meanwhile life is reduced to nothing resembling joy. Expectations have fallen as fast as mortality rates (in industrialized societies).

      And social mobility is down, as is income and share of it by working people.

      Nothing has changed in the last 30 years or more.

      Capitalism remains, and will always be, a criminal enterprise.

      1. Philo67

        Nothing has changed in the last 30 years or more.

        Oh, I would say things have deteriorated significantly in the last 30 years or more.

    2. Darthbobber

      This assumes that they can successfully scrape the barrel that thoroughly without destabilizing their own rule, which I think is questionable.
      Glendower: “I can call creatures from the vasty deep.”
      Hotspur: “Why so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?”

    3. GC54

      Trump if re-elected would have the same prior problem of being unable to staff his admin, especially being a lame duck and loathed by all “right” people from Day 1. Can’t do it all w Tulsi, Tucker, and Col McGregor. If elected Nov 24, i don’t expect him to make it to Jan 25.

    4. itsaclasswar

      If there are still 20m people left in the areas under Kiev control, the proportion of males, especially of those fit for military service, is already significantly reduced. Many are already serving in the military structures, at least 1m. There’s at least half a million wounded and permanently incapacitated, several tens of thousands of amputees. There can’t be more than 6-7m males of all ages left. To mobilise 2m more, fit or unfit, would probably amount to removing a half of all males from the civilian sphere, and it would leave the country paralysed. That’s why they are now reportedly chasing them in Poland.

  4. john

    Scary thing about all this is that no western media, anywhere, shows the slightest bit of concern to discuss the causes of the conflict nor the plight of those living and who have lived in donbass and Luhansk. It is completely jumped over and erased and everyone is told there is simply an unelected madman of a communist, atheist society, bullying for more territory…and this is what 95% of the public believes…and we have already gone thru this scenario multiple times, from the Gulf of Tonkin to weapons of mass destruction.

    1. Rolf

      I remember during one of the debates in 2016, Trump openly called the Bush administration liars re claims of Saddam’s fictive weapons of mass destruction legitimizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s the first time I recall hearing anyone make that point on national TV …”. Not to paint Trump as a truth sayer, but I don’t remember Biden ever making this point — he was all in from start to finish. Even after it became clear that there were no WMDs, that Iraq was a quagmire, Biden failed to acknowledge his own role in promoting the invasion.

      All the Democrats will ever do is show how they can wrap themselves up in the flag as tightly as the GOP. They will never point the finger at themselves as the real problem, never make the point that all the lives and limbs lost, money vaporized, prestige squandered, in the decades of America’s foreign “adventures” have been a f****** disaster, leaving huge numbers in this country impoverished, fearful, divided, and destitute.

    2. digi_owl

      Basically they will not acknowledge that modern Ukraine is a synthetic nation, much like Yugoslavia was. Heck, Crimea and such was not part of any concept of Ukraine until the 1950s!

      Heck, the region was not even pushing for independence initially but internal self-governance akin to a US state.

      1. Simon

        Yes. History has been re-written since 2/24/2022. Somewhere in Wikipedia they tried to handle this “two invasions but never left in between them” problem by saying that while 2014 “was an invasion,” 2022 was a “full scale invasion”.

        The USA government also has people in social media and article comment sections promoting the notion that there never was a civil war in Ukraine. The people of the Donbass allegedly had no desire to fight and watched as Russia invaded and fought Ukraine against their wishes. They point to the purported statements of a Russian who went to Ukraine as proof.

  5. LawnDart

    Why should the US look for an exit in Ukraine?

    How would this be in its interest?


    How The Defense Industry Became A Defining Feature Of The U.S. Economy

    Fast forward to 2023, and here is where we stand: Congress in December belatedly passed an omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2023 including $858 billion for national defense, roughly half of which will be dispersed in the form of contracts to the private sector.

    That is, by any measure, big business. In fact, at over $400 billion annually, defense contracts awarded to the private sector are worth an amount equivalent to a quarter of the entire Russian economy.

    The Congressional Research Service estimates the U.S. defense industrial base currently includes over 200,000 companies.

    Of course, not all of the money goes for weapons. It covers a myriad array of commodities and services, from healthcare to maintenance to missiles to fuel.

    But the bottom line is that the defense industry has become a permanent, in fact defining feature of the U.S. economy. In many states, the industry is an engine of growth.

    …past complaints about “misplaced priorities” in federal spending have lost some of their appeal as voters come to realize that defense contracts awarded in Fort Worth or Oshkosh or Palmdale are soon translated by workers into mortgage payments, tax receipts that support schools, and various commercial purchases.


    The USA is a political state with predatory, paracitical, and scavenger-like qualities, and one with no qualms about “eating its own” when conditions merit. Many citizens, the goverened, obediently signal their consent and approval of this system through their participation in the charade of democratic elections every few years. And to be fair, many have little choice but to be subservient cogs in this machine: “a man’s gotta eat…”

    Morals and ethics are wonderful things, and to some, worth more than life itself. But not to most, especially not here in USA, where it’s every animal for itself.

    1. AG

      Excellent info.
      Just today I was asking myself what would actually happen to the US economy if they had not gone through with their UKR master plan.

      Is there any detailed scholarship on the significance of the defense industry for the US today in terms of numbers and comparison with the other sectors? 200.000 companies is huge.

      p.s. German “Berliner Zeitung” on Germany´s industrial demise of what, by its significance, would be the German equivalent to the US defense sector:

      “Many medium-sized global market leaders are preparing to leave Germany. The reason: high energy costs”

      “Concerns about a capital crash of the German economy have now also reached the so-called “hidden champions”: This refers to medium-sized companies that rank among the top 10 or top 3 in their industry worldwide. They are, although often not known to the public, the heart of the German economy. The Institute of the German Economy describes them as an anchor of stability. No country in the world has such a density of top medium-sized companies: Of the 3400 companies recorded in this weight class, 1600 came from Germany in 2020. Many of these companies are now making concrete plans to leave Germany for the first time.”

    2. JW

      tweet by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, which reads, “Standing with our allies against Russian aggression isn’t charity. In fact — it’s a direct investment in replenishing America’s arsenal with American weapons built by American workers. Expanding our defense industrial base puts America in a stronger position to out-compete China.”

    3. redleg

      War isn’t fought with expenditures, it’s fought with weapons and soldiers.
      The US “defense” industry has prioritized making money over making weapons, and has since the 1980s. Expensive, high tech weapons systems might work very well but the limited numbers means that any war fought with them must we won immediately. The US no longer has the industrial capacity (or the will, for that matter) to produce the low tech weapons that are necessary to fight a war, specifically bullets, artillery shells, fuses, transportation, uniforms, shelter, fuel, rations, etc. And where are the soldiers and sailors going to come from? And the Nulands, Blinkens et al. leading the US are itching to fight Russia, Iran, and China simultaneously?
      Once the limited amounts of high-tech weapons are expended, as conserving ammo when in combat isn’t going to happen, the limited low tech options will leave the nukes as the only remaining option.
      The hubris of the idiots running the US is breathtaking in scope and terrifying in risk to humanity.

      1. Glen

        I hate to say this, but what I think the American elite is going to find is that becoming the “Arsenal of Democracy” is going to take a generation, and require a fundamental shift in national policy. Ukraine will have been bled white long before America will be able to support them. And Russia and China are not going to roll over and collapse no matter how much we read about it in the MSM.

        And that’s assuming our elites actually have the stomach to see it through – they don’t. They will go back to the war that they know they can win – bleeding the last drop of blood out of the American middle class.

  6. Michael Fiorillo

    One question I have is, when the mothers and wives of dead/wounded soldiers and forcibly conscripted children start demonstrating against the government on the steps of cathedrals in Kiev, will the Ukro-Nazis and police attack them? Would our Fourth Estate of Propaganda even report on it if they did?

    Mammon forbid something like that occur next year, along with rising opposition to the war elsewhere in Europe – a cold winter would likely focus some minds – which might lead to more detailed leaks about the Nordstream bombing… not a good look for Our Democracy, which between Lawfare to keep Orange Man from running and a sense of cascading bad news for Uncle Joe, seems completely unanchored.

    I guess this is what empires in decline look like.

          1. pretzelattack

            yes, that was his original sin i think. of course, to get in that position in the first place, he probably did some awful things along the way.

    1. Feral Finster

      “One question I have is, when the mothers and wives of dead/wounded soldiers and forcibly conscripted children start demonstrating against the government on the steps of cathedrals in Kiev, will the Ukro-Nazis and police attack them? Would our Fourth Estate of Propaganda even report on it if they did?”

      Such protests and attacks already have happened and nobody in the MSM could care less.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Then I guess the takeaway is, when the NYT puts it on the front page, we’ll know time’s up for this bunch. Silly me, I thought the Paper of Record might report it because it happened, not because it supported a narrative.

  7. NN Cassandra

    The advantage of living in fantasy la-la-la land is that you can be king, hero and winner whenever you choose so. The same people who gave us Iraq and Afghanistan are running Ukraine show now, so I’m pretty sure they will be able to tell themselves they have won in Ukraine too, no matter what happens on the ground And unless there is some regime change like during the fall of Communism and all the apparatchiks in media, think-tanks, and NGOs are tossed out, they will get away with it again.

    As for the rulers of smaller states being rattled about NATO failure. Well, what alternative they have? Even if some of them would be sane enough to see the reality, they can only double down. For them NATO is primarily status symbol, club of all the rich, smart, highly moral and beautiful people, and of course also jobs program.

    1. digi_owl

      They will point back to the early proclamations that Putin must be stopped in Ukraine lest he takes the whole of Europe, and then pat themselves on their backs for a job well done because it didn’t come to pass.

      1. hk

        If the neocons keep doing this, they may wind up making it inevitable to see T90s rolling down Champs d’Elysee or even Pennsylvania Ave in a few years’ time.

  8. Frank

    Positions are hardened all around and, as such, I don’t see an exit for any of the warring parties. Ukraine is just one battleground in what is essentially a world war. I’ve said since the beginning that the US will eventually have to make a choice, either accommodate Russia or go directly to war with it. The US will do everything it can to delay making this decision, but it is still inevitable.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      It’s not much of a choice. There isn’t a no fly zone because the operation would require every plane we have minus the carriers which would just be targets. The idea of NATO expansion into the Ukraine was to strangle trade especially ocean going routes for the New Silk Road and have an ability to keep Moscow under threat.

      W and Obama both said we would move to crush potential competitors.

      The problem is Biden and most Western leaders are weak. Biden is polling behind Trump. The US will be forced out as calamities pile up, but we won’t accommodate. It would spell the end of ambitions from a depraved group of people.

      1. Louis Fyne

        if there ever was a real US/NATO no-fly zone, it would be clear within 7 days that it is a failure.

        God-Richard Dawkins-Buddha-Allah help us all when DC realizes that the bulk of western air force is smoldering and the west will be within an expeditionary air force for years.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Even if those aircraft were based in countries like Poland, if they wanted to fly to Bakhmut to strike there, isn’t that about 1,000 kilometers? And through unfriendly skies? Would the US risk the F-35 in actual combat and risk all those foreign sales? They don’t even want to risk using those Abrams tanks in battle and for the same reason.

          1. digi_owl

            Yeah it would require mid-air refueling, likely with the tankers being inside Ukrainian airspace. Basically making them sitting ducks for Russian SAMs and jets.

            DC thinks it would be another Iraq or Balkans, going up against a demoralized and obsolete enemy. But even over the Balkans they lost a F-117 to sheer hubris.

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              Going off memory from when I was more concerned about escalation. Maintenance is an issue, but the range of the SCUDs meant we could keep airbases and carriers 150km from what they needed to bomb. The combat range of these planes is 650ish km. The distance from Lviv to Kiev is 470 km. Never mind where the air bases are, and we aren’t talking about 16 planes on discount. The Persian Gulf conflict required 3,000 planes for an area not dissimilar in size to Ukraine.

      2. jrkrideau

        A no-fly zone in Ukraine translates to total air superiority à la Iraq.

        Anyone really think NATO is going to take out all the Russian air force and air defenses? It is a pipe dream

        That translates into a full-blown war in seconds.

  9. Louis Fyne

    —-the US believes it can run what amounts to a two front war.—

    let’s shoot for the moon and try a three-front war!

    If there ever is WW3, good chance that Iran will want to exploit that too—-likely by overtly attacking the US presence in Syria and improving its position in Lebanon.

    1. hk

      Remember that some people also want to invade Mexico again, to fight drug cartels, allegedly. Heck, why not invade Canada, too, while we are at it–1812 again, in the new workd and the old.

  10. The Rev Kev

    I am going to take a different stance with this post and look at it through the eyes of the Neocons that have been successfully pushing this war the past two years. And here names like Blinken, the Kagans, Applebaum and Nuland immediately come to mind. After all, without them there would never have been this war nor would it keep on going on like it is. For them, this is the best, and perhaps the only chance that they will have to take out Russia. And the payout? So how much is Russia worth if broken up with all its oils, gas, minerals, timber lands, farmlands gold, diamonds, titanium, phosphates, etc. Tens of trillions of dollars? Perhaps hundreds of trillions of dollars? Certainly enough to get rid of all that excessive debt in the western financial system. Kinda like Grand Theft Country. So what I am saying that it is not so much the west closing all the exits to Project Ukraine but the Neocons to leave countries no option but to do what the Neocons want.

    I can think of only one option where they might be forced to back off and make their own off-ramp and which I call the Cuba Option. Back in the early 60s the US installed nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkiye to reduce reaction time by Russia i.e. get the nuclear drop on them. Russia replied by installing both strategic and tactical nukes in Cuba. So we got a coupla breaks and did not end up with a nuclear winter but it was close. The deal in the end was that Russia pulled their nukes out of Cuba and the US would pull their nukes out of Italy and Turkiye. But more importantly, Russia let the world think that it had won to keep the peace least the US refuse to move those nukes. SecState Dean Rusk said at the time ‘We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.’ And this is the Cuba Option. A deal is made where the Neocons can make it look like – with Russia’s cooperation – that Russia has lost, the Neocons keep their power and prestige, and the west can continue their merry way where the next confrontation against Russia is already being set up – in the Caucus.

    And for that reason I do not think that Russia will cooperate. To do so means that the Neocons keep running things and look for more ways to attack Russia, especially if that creates other wars. Russia has to be seen defeating the Ukraine, NATO and the dozen other countries backing them both on the battlefield and on the international stage. Totally discredit the Neocons and the puppet leaders of western countries that worked with them so that they will lose much of their power and prestige. Because if they do not, it will only ensure more wars.

  11. Lex

    This was supposed to be a quagmire for Putin that would bring him down between Russians needlessly dying in an Iraq style insurgency and economic pressure. Instead Biden’s backed into a no-win corner of his own making, and every day he backs the US further into it.

    It’s true that US media can stop talking about Ukraine tomorrow and in two weeks the American public will have mostly forgotten that the country exists. But as Yves points out, US proxies the world over and especially the smaller “new Europe” proxies of NATO don’t have that luxury. Biden staked the US reputation and its ability to coerce through fear on this conflict which he painted as existential.

    Nuland talked publicly in the last few days about how the goal now is to strike at some of Russia’s most precious assets, that’s the ATACMs. Since actual negotiations are a non-starter, especially given that Biden almost certainly takes the whole thing as deeply personal, what the US has is escalation. That’s it. What that means is hard to guess because the real escalation of US troops deployed to Ukraine in an election year is also a non-starter. It probably means missile strikes on populations inside Russia. Or Ukrainian terrorism.

    But that doesn’t change the calculus. Biden is in a deep bind going into an election. The US is losing its grip on the world as undisputed hegemon. So long as Putin can keep public support for the conflict high enough, he’s got time to continue the chokehold nature of the proxy war.

    I won’t hazard a guess as to when Russia strikes with its own offensive, because I don’t think it’s planned based on anything except facts on the ground. When the Ukrainian forces are are at their lowest point or when the right opportunity presents itself, an offensive of some sort will happen. All Russia has to do is avoid unforced errors.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I agree that Russia will not move into high gear until the Ukraine military is sufficiently broken, by whatever metrics Russia thinks matters. But as Simplicius describes in the linked post above, Ukraine is not far from a collapse. It keeps losing the few seasoned men it has and the replacements are good for only cannon fodder.

      So I think as early as next spring is conceivable but even then Russia would probably want to carefully clear a lot of areas rather than do a big noisy advance. It still has a lot of options going into a Ukraine military end game.

      1. Lex

        Big offensives are probably a thing of the past. The question is whether Russia will (or will be able to) exploit a serious break in Ukrainian lines. I expect Russia to pressure more and more areas rather than try a big arrow offensive.

        I partly disagree with Simplicius on the breaking point of Ukraine. Theoretically there are lots more people to put at the front and plenty more small arms. But the pressure isn’t just military. More men to the front means fewer men doing necessary things in the rear. Economic, political, infrastructure and social pressures can come into play because they can’t be isolated from the military aspect. A failure at any level of the Ukrainian state has the potential to trigger cascading failures.

        That said, and considering my unwillingness to predict a timing for the collapse of Ukraine, spring or summer of 24 seems the most likely for everything to come to a head. That of course is the absolute worst timing for Biden.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Did you actually read his article in full about how bad things are on the front lines? And this is with Ukraine having husbanded ammo for use in the counteroffensive. A lot more people at the front if their expected life is a day will not extend the war by much. I agree he may be insinuating the end is closer than it will prove to be but he is right that it will be, as he puts it, parabolic when it starts kicking in.

          1. Lex

            I did read his article in full. And I absolutely agree about the parabolic trajectory, which is already in process but pretty well covered up in terms of media acknowledgment. Even alt media acknowledgment. My disagreement is in considering the military side as even partially separate from all the other facets. And mostly that the estimates for how many troops Ukraine can field, even his, are too high.

            He’s mostly stuck with his spring/summer ‘24 prediction. Obviously I agree with that in the broad sense. But I wouldn’t be surprised by a Ukrainian military collapse next week either. I read many of his sources and concur that life at the front for Ukrainians is almost as bad as it could be. It will get worse over the next few months. Probably much worse even without a Russian push.

        2. jrkrideau

          Theoretically there are lots more people to put at the front

          Old women and old men?

          I may have posted about this before and certainly Col. Macgregor has mentioned it. A rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation gives Kiev-controlled Ukraine a population of roughly 18-20 million (not counting war dead)

          There are almost no warm bodies left that are not essential to running the state.

      2. Doug Graves

        Yes Yves. Fall weather means mud and the Ukrainian entrenchments will dissolve in the wet. Large armored movement by either side will be restricted. Ukraine is losing artillery pieces and armored vehicles to move troops and supplies. There is a supply issue for artillery rounds (now down to cluster and depleted uranium) and missile stocks must be low as well – especially given their high cost.

        My big fear is that a desperate Zelensky creates a spectacular false-flag attack on one of its allies or a nuclear facility. He has tried this tactic a few times; the Poland missile, alleged attacks on Romania, and the recent missile attack close to where Blinken was visiting.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Technically, a lot of Russian hardware has tracks while the Ukrainian either doesn’t or is way too heavy (a.k.a. Western). This does give the Russians a big edge during the rasputitsa – should there be one this autumn.

          It’s not like the mud season comes as a surprise twice a year and the military has no way of preparing for it.

          Although I did see some comments by the front line troops in the spring that mud is actually good for infantry, because everything looks the same (covered in mud) to a drone and it’s much safer to be out in the open…

    2. hk

      The other problem, too, is that a total obliteration of Ukraine, Poland, or Romania would not necessarily bring Russia closer to a “victory,” assuming that a real “victory” is at all possible in the short to medium term. Hitting any of them (or even Germany or France) harder would not necessarily bring US to heel (and whatever costs suffered by US will be in the long run, not especially noticeable in the near term and unlikely to ratchet up political pressure any time soon.). Whatever plans Russia needs to have must be of quite long term nature and “winning” in Ukraine doesn’t have an important part in it, beyond, I suppose, preventing Ukraine from being used as the base to launch serious attacks on Russia–as long as other NATO countries would not dare allow their territory for used as such. All the more reason to expect nothing “serious” to develop in Ukraine from the Russian side, except more air raids and missile strikes at key sites.

      The only real game changer is if thinly disguised NATO forces show up in large numbers, whether as “American People’s Volunteer Army” and/or as F-16 Alley (analogous to Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and MiG Alley). This would actually force Russians to reconsider their options–bomb Poland and Germany? credibly threaten use of nuclear weapons? (like US considered, with regards Manchurian bases during the Korean War) But it doesn’t seem like these are not going to happen–assuming that the West even has resources to spare for pulling these off meaningfully.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        There is zero evidence of any willingness to mobilize. Even sentiment in Poland, where the government was once sorta gung ho, has cooled to the point that the current leaders might be turfed out in the fall elections, which would really put a spanner in the hard-core warmongers’ plans. Back then, Colonel Macgregor estimated the biggest “coalition of the willing” that could be mustered would be 100,000, which he deemed inadequate. And as discussed above, Russia would quickly re-establish air superiority over Ukraine. They would also do things they have refrained from doing, like taking out all the Internet.

        I think if there was any sign of political will to mobilize, Russia would have started operating differently.

        1. hk

          That’s my point: the alleged game changer can NEVER happen because nobody in the West dares to get that far–and nobody has the resources either anyways. Kaczynski, Scholz, Macron, or Biden are no Mao Zedong. No one in the West dares to gamble on that scale. And the point I keep coming back to is that that’s what it took to just bring about the “freeze” in the Korean War. The West wants to get to an endgame (even a frozen endgame) on the cheap and that ain’t going to happen.

          Having said that, the Russian side does face a strategic problem: what’s their end game? Even completely conquering Ukraine (or, Romania, or Poland, or Germany, or France) would not necessarily “end” the war without forcing the hand of US. That’s going to take a long time and a lot of effort if it can be brought about at all. So the only thing left is that the war is going to continue a loooong time, with the Russians grinding the Ukrainians but not in a great hurry to “win.”

          1. Darthbobber

            Years ago, in the early days of Russia’s intervention in Syria, Lavrov described the United States as “a cat that wishes to eat a fish but does not wish to wet its feet.”

            Sadly, it may also be a cat which can’t perceive the water’s edge.

              1. hk

                A tuna is a pretty big fish, too, and carnivorous as well…. (Altho a picky eater that probably wouldn’t eat cats, but a very hungry tuna…who knows?)

    3. elissa3

      “Biden is in a deep bind going into an election”.

      Maybe wishful thinking on my part, but it seems inconceivable to me that Biden will be the nominee of the Demo party in 2024. And maybe here is the out. It was all his fault. The Demo nominee, whoever it might be, will take, at the very least, a more nuanced view about continuing the war.

      1. Ignacio

        Yep to that. A mummy as a nominee is too unserious except, may be, for the most hawkish among the neocon. Whoever becomes next president, except if it turns to be The Mummy, will at least have to think on policy consequences for the next 4 years and that might give some pause.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I am going to throw down a marker. I called privately at the start of Sept that in six months, Biden will have deteriorated so much cognitively that he cannot field questions and therefore cannot be allowed to make public appearances. He’s now having trouble reading a Teleprompter.

        1. Joe Well

          I would love to know the opinion of the commentariat’s medical and biological experts as to the possibility of a Bionic Man research program to maintain Biden’s cognitive functions. If you compare his campaign trail performance with his primary debate with Bernie…

        2. ambrit

          Consider how long Reagan was “carried” by underlings after his Alzheimers kicked in full force. Nancy consulted the Court Astrologer on serious public business!
          My best guess would be something develops like how Wilson’s stroke was handled. Dr. Jill becomes “Poor Creepy Joe’s” bedside henchbeing, really fronting for the cabal that even now wields considerable power in the Administration. Get Biden re-elected and this can be carried on for years. The only real danger is if “Creepy Joe” actually dies.
          I would consider a sure sign of this strategy being considered to be if the Dems replace Harris as running mate for the 2024 campaign.
          Stay safe, wherever you are.

          1. Darius

            Wilson didn’t run for reelection, nor was he capable of doing so. Reagan’s deterioration also happened mostly in his second term. Jill could by Biden’s Edith Galt, and perhaps the propaganda apparatus is more finely tuned and capable than it was 100 years ago. But I don’t see an incapacitated Biden able to carry through another election.

  12. ambrit

    If it comes to a full on WW-3, expect Megiddo, (The Plains of Megiddo,) and Tel Aviv in Israel to go up first. Dimona might be on the list too. Then the Israeli “Samson Option” comes into play and the oil fields of Arabia become un-usable for a generation.
    Hopefully, the boffins at the Tokyo University will have re-introduced Mammoths into Siberia in time for the Nuclear Winter.

  13. Louis Fyne

    another example of how zero adavnce thought has been put into Project Ukraine…

    let’s say DC announces a NATO-enforced no fly-zone all across Ukraine on Day 1….(just like post- Gulf of Tonkin, *only* intervention by air and trainers on the ground)

    aside from the military impacts,: there aren’t enough airplanes in Europe for a no-fly zone….planes from the US (including air national guard planes) will be needed, and flying against Russia will be nothing like anything any air national guard or active-duty pilot experienced…

    with NATO in the war, Russia issues a NOTAM (civil aviation notice) that every European NATO country is subject to having missiles fly across its airspace.

    Immediately after that NOTAM goes into effect, every civilian airplane in European NATO will be grounded as no airliner or airplane lessor will want the insurance liability of flying in a war zone.

    Day 2, non-EU tourism to France goes to zero. Germany can’t fly out air freight, air-flown Dutch flower exports go to zero.

    If anything the blowback from a NATO no-fly zone will hurt European economies more than Russia.

    Heckuva job Blinkie!

    1. hk

      And about 1000-1500 NATO warplanes are destroyed in a week–all over Europe and beyond, along with perhaps about 3-500 Russian, perhaps (Russians will not engage NATO planes air-to-air at medium to short range if they can avoid it–long range missiles can do a better job), annihilating basically all NATO air forces and they already have no army worth speaking of. Stronger together indeed.

    2. Ignacio

      Besides, the kind of war being waged in Ukraine involves mostly drones and missiles. No-drone zone? How to do that?

  14. Jim Simmons

    I am still scratching my head as to why the US designates Russia as the “enemy.” Russia has stated on numerous occasions that they want good relations (trade) with the US and the West. They even wanted to be a part of NATO.

    1. Goingnowhereslowly

      I used to be baffled by this as well! But I concluded that US foreign policy has been captured by neocon descendants of Eastern European immigrants who were raised on hating Russia for deeds of its imperial past. I’m no historian, but I do know that there is ample reason for, say, Poles to be wary and resentful toward the Russian state. That somehow this history has been allowed to drive the actions of a continental power oceans away from Russia is in no way a credit to either the American polity or the crazed neocons, and is a betrayal of our founding principles. But history is funny that way.

      1. OnceWere

        Are the deeds of the past ample reason ? In that case, as a man with Irish heritage, I’m justified in seeking the total destruction of the United Kingdom seeing that the Irish Potato famine was an act of deliberate imperial genocide that may have been equalled by the Russians but certainly never surpassed. It’s a mad way of looking at the world !

        1. digi_owl

          Look up the Troubles and Northern Ireland in general.

          Thanks to that i believe you will be hard pressed to find public garbage cans in London to this day.

          1. OnceWere

            By the doctrine of eternal historical grievance the bombing campaign should never have stopped. The only way that Ireland can fully guarantee its future safety is to break the UK up into balkanized statelets too small to threaten it. And of course this is entirely justified and reasonable in view of the UK’s bloody imperial past.

        2. Amfortas the Hippie

          yeah…or me holding a generational grudge for that tater famine, the trail of tears, the various massacres of the hugenots, and the thousand or so years of oppression visited on the slavs(<="slaves")
          all of that is in my family history.
          add in both my grandads hated the japanese(pacific theater)…or any old asian looking person, just in case…and stepdad's unwanted hatred of the vietnamese…and on and on and on,lol.
          i'm more interested in my own grudges from my lifetime…not being allowed to get a hip for almost seven years…being made into a folk devil for being upright and honorable…etc.
          but even with those much more recent acts of malice and or neglect…i'm nowhere to be found advocating the bombing of tomball, texas…or the headquarters of disability, inc.
          carrying grudges is for the entitled and insipid.
          us little people hafta move on.

          1. ambrit

            Yeah, but we can take lessons from our “betters” and “move fast and break things” as we “move on.”

      2. RonR

        “neocon descendants of Eastern European immigrants who were raised on hating Russia”

        We have at least one politician in that category in Canada. Unfortunately.

    2. Goingnowhereslowly

      I used to be baffled by this as well! But I concluded that US foreign policy has been captured by neocon descendants of Eastern European immigrants who were raised on hating Russia for deeds of its imperial past. I’m no historian, but I do know that there is ample reason for, say, Poles to be wary and resentful toward the Russian state. That somehow this history has been allowed to drive the actions of a continental power oceans away from Russia is in no way a credit to either the American polity or the crazed neocons, and is a betrayal of our founding principles. But history is funny that way.

      1. Raymond Sim

        The neocons and their ideology, such as it is, represent, weirdly, the extension of Revisionist Zionism from a project to create a Jewish state to a project to create permanent US global hegemony providing a safe space for said state.

      2. schmoe

        I think it is economic control over Russia’s $75T of natural resources. Recall that during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s City of London and Western-backed oligarchs completely looted Russia. At that time, Russia had glowing coverage in the US MSM and no one cared about Chechnya. Once Putin undid the crooked deals that allowed Russia to be looted, the knives were out. Oh yeah, and Russia’s GDP was increased ~150% from 2000 to 2017

        And then he undid the Neocon’s plan to take over Syria, or have it overrun by Gulf-associated jihadists. That was the final straw.

        1. Michaelmas

          schmoe: I think it is economic control over Russia’s $75T of natural resources.

          It’s that, in very large measure.

          schmoe: Recall that during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s City of London and Western-backed oligarchs completely looted Russia.

          Not quite. It was unfinished, incomplete business the US only managed to take partway, with its creation of the Russian oligarch class.

          Then in 2003, when Mikhail Khodorkovsky — the wealthiest oligarch, estimated to be worth $15 billion, and ranked 16th on Forbes list of billionaires — tried to sell Yukos, representing maybe 20 percent of Russian oil and gas fields at that time, to Americans and Putin arrested him and stopped that, that was the turning point, when Putin went from being cast by American commentators and media as our man in Moscow to being the great Russian Satan, Stalin’s heir.

          It was that blatantly obvious.

    3. Kouros

      The amount of wealth Wall Street has syphoned from Russia btw 1991 to 2000 is stratospheric, from 2 Trillion to (Scott Ritter) 20 trillion USD. It was like the first shot of heroin. Since the 2000, the US is chasing the dragon…

    4. Richard

      “I am still scratching my head as to why the US designates Russia as the ‘enemy.'”

      1) Most important, because as long as an independent, powerful Russia exists, the US can’t be the sole superpower in a uni-polar world, running a Rules Based Order (“We make the rules, you take orders”). Note, the US administration is already teeing up its only other serious competitor, China, for when it finishes off Russia.

      2) Secondarily, all of Russia’s resources will be up for grabs when some US toady is installed. Our billionaires want to be trillionaires.

      It’s a plan.

      1. hk

        One semi-serious answer I have is that’s because the Confederacy (eventually) won the Civil War after all and the Russian Empire was the most pro-Union great power at the time….

  15. John R Moffett

    As long as the public in the US remains silent and compliant, I don’t see any reason for the war hawks to change course. In other words, this can go on for quite some time as it is now, and the US public will continue to pretend that nothing much is happening except for strangely higher prices across the board. I could see us being in almost the same place next summer, except that Ukraine will be in much worse shape at that point. Maybe then Ukraine will start looking for options.

  16. Tangle Foot

    This is not about NATO expansion. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has never been concerned about having to defend itself against NATO attack. Exhibit A) If Russia ever believed NATO were a threat, Russia would have built concrete bunkers for its aircraft over the last 20 years instead of parking them in outside in the rain. Iran builds bunkers; China builds bunkers. There are no bunkers at any of these Russian airfields. None. Knowing with 99% certainty that NATO won’t preemptively go offensive, Russia acted with impunity. The belief the Russian security state could do what it wanted without risking very valuable strategic assets was an oversight. The stopgap: Russian strategic aircraft are being covered with tires to defend them from Ukrainian drones. Panic. At anytime, if Russia believed NATO were an actual threat, these aircraft would not be operating from airfields within 400km of the border.

    Russia as a society commits extraordinary violence and repression against its own citizens, so Ukrainians are not treated any different. To Putin, this is an internal matter. Terror and brutality are not part of Russian’s goals, but unfortunately Russia has not developed the capabilities nor doctrine to minimize any deaths, let alone civilian deaths, while it tries to achieve political aims established in a vacuum.

    Item one: survival of the regime. It’s not that other countries are nicer, certainly not the US, but other countries avoid killing civilians out of sheer pragmatism. Russia never had to account for its gulag system as Germany and Japan had to account for their pursuits of enslavement. In this context, the Russian pragmatic approach is mass industrial subjugation, which is ineffective in the age of bidirectional digital media and $1000 drones. It won’t work anymore.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you get your view of Russia out of the USSR era. Under Putin, the number of Russians in prison has dropped from 1 million to about 300,000. The US has a much higher per capita rate of imprisonment than Russia. Russia also has much more open discourse about the war than we do, witness the regular and often heated criticism on Telegram channels on very fine points on what is happening in the battlefield.

      And gee, did you miss Putin’s 2007 Munich Security Conference speech? He had clearly been worried and was getting not far enough in private discussions for him to speak out then. And why does it have the best air defense systems and offensive missile capabilities in the world? Concrete bunkers are a primitive way to protect military assets.

        1. divadab

          Bot or not, its fakery and false assertions are typical of what we get from the controlled media narrative. Responding to its nonsense with reason and facts is a service for which I for one am grateful.

    2. Lex

      Hello Foggy Bottom! You guys need to do better. I understand that this line of argument works on hardcore democratic voters and a handful of Boomers trained by Cold War propaganda that they never shook off. For the rest of us it just sounds silly.

      If the last 25 years worth of US presidents had done for the average American what Putin has done for the average Russian, you wouldn’t need to play this game. I realize you’re probably just a bot, but on the off chance that the account is being monitored there’s opportunity for improvement and putting me on a list or whatever.

    3. NN Cassandra

      If we are going to extrapolate things from how each side runs its war industry and army, then must be NATO/USA who are absolutely sure they will be never attacked by Russia, China or anybody else. It’s frankly amazing how much they flubbed the whole drones thing, for example. Year and half in, the West still doesn’t have mass produced cheap drone, and they don’t even seem interested in trying to fix this. What Ukrainians don’t cobble together, they don’t have.

      1. hk

        Ukrainians were buying a lot of cheap consumer grade drones from China early on. I wonder what’s happened to that over the past year.

    4. OnceWere

      The United States relies as much on internal subversion and economic sabotage as it does on direct military force. It’s true that Russia probably didn’t truly fear NATO tanks rolling across the steppes and NATO bombers taking out their airfields but coup attempts, colour revolutions and sanctions are at the end of the day still acts of war – though obviously few in the West would admit as much.

    5. playon

      The US commits much violence against its own people as well, not to mention having the largest prison population in the world. Nice try.

    6. JustTheFacts

      Kinzhals go through bunkers. Perhaps the safety afforded by bunkers don’t make up for their disadvantages. Presuming of course, that you are correct, and they don’t have bunkers you have yet to notice.

  17. JustTheFacts

    Biden’s “war president” advertisement for Biden’s reelection presented his trip to Kiev as a demonstration of bravery (when it really was theater, since it must have been cleared with the Russians). This re-election advertisement clearly paints him into a box, and makes it impossible for for him to backtrack. Since Russia only loses if it accepts a ceasefire, and 2024 is an election year in Russia, I see no way for this war not to continue unless one side or the other has an offensive and wins. Given the balance of force, that would most likely be Russia. The clear concern is that the other side cannot accept the loss, and further escalates. Unfortunately, Colonel Macgregor says that there are not many steps left between F-16s and mini-nukes.

  18. Pekka Oksa

    Two things.

    (1) It seems that some of the commenters mistakenly think that Sweden has a border with Russia. Finland and (NATO charter member) Norway, yes, but not Sweden.

    (2) More serious.

    > … after the embarrassing [Russian] pullbacks from Kherson and Kharkiv last year.

    Has the revisionism begun already? I clearly recall that at the time, here and with like-minded pundits, the Russian slowly-slowly approach was highly praised as a cautious way to minimise the loss of life amongst Russian soldiers and civilians, which would, amongst other things, keep the homefolks and the global south happy. By the same token, when the pullbacks from Kherson and Kharkov came, they were explained away as brilliant strategic withdrawals from territory the Russians didn’t really want anyway, a genius stroke of yielding empty land in order to lure the Ukrainians into over-extending themselves. It is only now that even Scott Ritter has begun admitting that there were engagements last year where the Russians got the shit kicked out of them. Yes, that would be embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong. The fog of war is real. Moreover, the relentless western propaganda about how the Ukraine is “winning” is simply disgusting. But we all need to be careful to avoid allowing our geopolitical proclivities to spin our real-time assessments.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The pullbacks were embarrassing to Russia, even if militarily sound and very well executed. The two are not inconsistent.

      They not only created a lot of upset in Russia (criticism on Russian TV as recounted by Gilbert Doctorow) but also exposed that Russia indeed had too small a force to operate effectively along the entire extended line of contact, even after shortening its lines somewhat. The Kharkiv pullout, followed by Surovokin being made the new theater commander and having to appear on TV to reassure the public but even then warning of the need to make “difficult decisions,” was a sign that the Russian leadership was executing a fast course change as a result of the belated recognition that Russia needed to move on to Plan B (Plan A having looked like a great success until the UK and US scuppered the peace talks in Istanbul).

      The other big problem with the pullbacks, as Russians would be well aware and was mentioned in the post, was that anyone who had been Russia friendly, or presumed Russia friendly (as had been able bodied enough to leave and hadn’t) during Russia’s Kharkiv and Kherson occupations and was not able to evacuate to Russia (Russia did try to get civilians out too but that was not its top priority) was exposed to reprisals. That flipped out pretty much everyone in the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts, since Russia could just as easily feel the necessity to make tactical retreats there, and expose even more to the tender mercies of the SBU.

      So all of the fast course changes in September-October, including the annexation of the four oblasts to reassure people in the then-occupied territories that Russia would not abandon them and the partial mobilization, were de facto admissions that the pullbacks demonstrated Russian weakness, which correctly alarmed a lot of exposed civilians (and even more breakaway republic officials and militia members) and Russia needed to Do Something.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russian grinding is not dithering, as witness the failure of the Great Ukraine Counteroffensive and the West having to send moar better wunderwaffen.

      1. Feral Finster

        If the United States wanted to de-escalate, they would find a pretext to do so.

        They don’t, and have lost all fear of Russia.

        1. Synoia

          Many senior US officials would be discredited d and possibly be laid off, if not demoted.

          They like their sinecures and positions.

          1. Feral Finster

            So what happened after Afghanistan? After Vietnam? After Iraq?

            Far as I can tell, the same crew are in charge as before. As I said, if the West wanted to de-escalate, they’d find a reason to do so. Some leaks about Ukrainian corruption and human rights abuses would find their way into the press, not the nonstop drumbeat of Kiev cheerleading that we hear today.

            1. richard

              Re Afghanistan pull-out:

              That event (in August 2022) was the Biden gang clearing the decks for the Ukraine war as they planned it — a Ukrainian offensive to clear Donetsk and Luhansk of militia, end self-government, and clear out as many Russians as possible.

              The pullout was deliberate. The cock-up wasn’t.

  19. Carolinian

    Crooke in above link

    One lesson from ‘conflict’ that I learned, early was that the ‘rationality’ that seems so plausible; – so logical to those coming from stable, ordered, prosperous states, and which was generally expressed as ‘why don’t they understand that continued violence is not their interest’; ‘Can’t they just ‘split the difference’ and move on’ – becomes incrementally more and more a minority position.

    The distress, the pain of human loss, the angst of extended conflict, shapes a different mode of psyche: war psyche. It is one that does not readily accept the humanistic calculus. It wants the ‘other’ to suffer, as ‘they’ have suffered. The rationale of ceasefire, of acquiescing to ‘realism’, can seem inadequate psychologically, even if rational politically.

    Blame it on Tolkien? After all the Ukies call the Russians “orcs” and view them as movie characters. Tolkien was big during the Dubya reign too when everyone was either “for us or against us.” Peter Jackson’s first movie was a big hit.

    Fantasy fic may do us in. Call it a Game of Thrones.

  20. playon

    If Russia strikes a facility containing depleted uranium in Kiev, what happens to that radioactive material? Shipping that stuff to Ukraine seems an extremely bad idea.

      1. dandyandy

        But having real uranium bobbing about is even worse. I am thinking, Russians have seen what kind of eternal biological damnation AngloSaxon DU munitions have deposited in Serbia only 20 odd years ago. And they still remember how the good old original German Nazis and their acolytes caused 25 million Russian deaths. And I would not be surprised at all if at the first sight of uranium, depleted or not, being deposited anywhere in Novorossiya or the 300+ (Or 500?) Km security belt adjoining it, someone in Russian armed forces were to drop a proper Hiroshima strength uranium laden slug on Lvov and/or Ivano-Frankivsk.

        Pour encourager les autres.

        ‘Cos they thought they defeated Nazism, that vile racist murderous ideology, 78 years ago, but here it is back in its full Nazi pomp and glory, shining boots and all, firmly in power in every single regime in Europe as well as USA and its gofers in Japan Korea and Australia.

        I am sitting here in London and I know if proper nukes start to fly, we are within first ten targets. I cannot even tell my wife and kids.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      it gets turned to a plume of radioactive dust, and scattered by whatever wind happens to be blowing.
      same thing, just on a greater scale, as what happens when such munitions are used as intended…see:Iraq. Iraq hasnt even begun to realise the full fallout (!) from USA’s use of DU 20 years ago.
      six toed cats will be the least of the problems, going forward.

    2. jrkrideau

      f Russia strikes a facility containing depleted uranium in Kiev, what happens to that radioactive material?

      It does not get on the agricultural land. As an ex-farm boy, if we have to have it, I am more than happy it’s in a city. It will be a lot easier to deal with.

      1. RonR

        Phosphate rock from Idaho, complete with an uranium content was made into fertilizer at a plant in Calgary Alberta. This was in the 80s. I don’t know how long the operation lasted.

  21. Starry Gordon

    I think some attention should be given to centrifugal social and political forces in the US. The fact that there is no substantial protest against the war(s) and other imperial business is not a sign of support or even consent; it is an ominous silence of apathy or even hopelessness.

  22. Tom Pfotzer

    Does Russia want an off-ramp?

    Suppose Russia keeps winning – militarily in Ukraine, politically via fragmentation in EU, and consolidation in Asia, Africa and South America, and economically via BRI integration, autarky, and materials and energy sales everywhere.

    If that continues, Russia has absolutely no incentive to provide or agree to an off-ramp.

    If I was in Putin’s position, I’d view Zelensky as the perfect character for the role of chief provocateur in the Ukrainian theater.

    Zelensky is thoroughly discrediting the West via ineffectual prosecution of the war compounded by rampant corruption and the world-wide theater-viewing of the rapid, total destruction of Ukraine from within.

    I’m trying to identify an aspect of this situation that Russia doesn’t want to perpetuate; the only item comes to mind is the welfare of Russia’s soldiers.

    I am not currently concerned about the nukes. The one thing we can be sure of about the NeoCons is that they care about their own skin, and aren’t eager to become potato chips.

    The neocons have lost the initiative in a most public way, and neither Russia nor China are going to help them out.

    I see this war between Russia and China .vs. the West’s social order continuing for some years to come because of the socio-economic losses facing the West, the gains from corruption and profiteering for the few, coincident with the continued ruination of any nation foolish enough to cooperate with the NeoCons.

    Meantime, BRICS and BRI and Russia-China deal-making will continue to accelerate. Non-West trade is the real prize, and Putin and Xi are fully aware of and committed to it.

  23. Susan the other

    Conflating the posts here. If the UN can pass a resolution to become a taxing authority based on global equity and sustainability, then it is just one stumble away from actually finding its dentures in defense of peace. Putting the UN in a position to make its own sanctions against anything that disturbs peace and messes with sustainability goals. No? It would also be possible to impose a new accounting system based on sustainability debits and credits. The misdemeanors and felonies could really add up. And I doubt the Schrödinger defense would fly in plain satellite view of all the destruction and waste.

  24. TGL

    hypothetically, if today all BRICS countries dumped treasuries and demanded payment in something besides dollars, what would the endgame in Ukraine really look like?

    because Ukraine is just a test case battle in the new long war for global control of debt.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The US is sovereign in its own currency. Japan has been running massive monetary and fiscal stimulus for decades and had had it central bank monetizing its debt. No hyperinflation.

      Dollar holdings by foreign governments have not budged despite the SMO once you correct for the Saudi government holding moving out of SAMA into its sovereign wealth fund and the Chinese switching from Treasuries to Agencies (and recently doing some selling of all reserves to defend the currency)

      So please do not sell this bogeyman.

  25. David in Friday Harbor

    Reading the post and comments above has been profoundly depressing.

    It’s clear that there is no “end game” for Washington — other the slow annihilation of the “Ukrainian” armed forces in the service of ginning-up more political payola via weapons sales by private-equity owned arms manufacturers built to thrive on America’s “Forever Wars.”

    The real “winners” in this sh*t-show are the 6 million-odd “Ukrainians” who slipped-off to the EU and USA early-on in the conflict, cynically taking advantage of their status as refugees to access the “goodies” that were the underlying premise of Euromaidan.

    These facts make escalation of the conflict all but inevitable. How that escalation will play-out is wildly uncontrollable. The introduction of longer-range ATACMS is blood-curdling because the Russian government will have no choice but to respond in kind to terrorist acts committed on Russian soil.

    The real question is whether China and the growing BRICS+ community can convince the UN General Assembly to neutralize the Security Council in order to isolate and neuter popular support for the US and NATO “Forever-War” machine through sanctions that throttle-back access to the consumer goods that only they can supply. I look around the room and see only foreign-made goods, from the chair I’m sitting in to the keyboard I’m typing on. On top of that layer cyber-warfare and life in the USA, UK, and EU can quickly transform into North Korean levels of misery.

    Throw another Ukrainian on the fire! Another glass of wine, my dear?

    1. Glen

      I agree, depressing.

      This has turned into a “tipping point” in geopolitics.

      I have a slightly different take on the losers and winners:

      Losers – Ukraine, it has effectively ceased to exist as a country, and I don’t see how it recovers. Even if America “wins” it’s going make Ukraine pay the price, it’s going to become a neoliberal hellhole.

      Tipping point – The collective west vs. Russia. Whoever “walks away” from this will lose except Russia cannot walk away. Looks like the neocons will take this one right to the brink if they have their way.

      Winner – China. In hindsight, this will be another sure fire full on stupid American FP decision, like invading Iraq. Iran won that one. China wins this one.

      This has been a strange one to watch. I think America elites just assumed Russia was much weaker than it turned out, and American elites have been caught writing checks they cannot cash showing a much weaker hand since the git go.

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