Ukraine End Game: Putin and Medvedev Discuss Maps, Putting Kiev on the Menu

Putin and Medvedev recently made statements that took an expansive view of what “Russian lands” in Ukraine amounted to. At least as far as Putin is concerned, what he said at the November 3 meeting with members of the Civic Chamber is, philosophically, not all that different than the sort of historical observations Putin had made before. Nevertheless, both Ukrainian Pravada and Alexander Mercouris regarded the Putin remarks as potentially significant, and Medevedev reiterating them would seem to confirm that take. And both suggested that Kiev might wind up as part of Russia. From Medvedev, who loves trolling Western officials:

Now admittedly, Ukraine has plenty of reason to be jumpy, Putin was arguably just ringing the changes on favored themes before a relevant audience, and Medvedev was putting on his usual tough cop hat. Or perhaps both Russian leaders are trying to get Ukraine and the West to understand that Russia will control the end-game and reset their views as to what that could amount to.

Regardless of whether these remarks represent a meaningful shift, they serve as a reminder that Russia is on track to take a maximalist stance in terms of territorial acquisition. For instance, even Russia-friendly commentators wondered if Russia would take Odessa. Most now seem to see that as a given and are adding more sections of Ukraine as potential acquisitions. But as we flagged from the very outset, Russia could lose the peace by not coming up with a good solution as to what to do about Western Ukraine.

So does the renewed talk about Ukraine being an artificial construct carved out of Russia, and of Ancient Rus? Or is this just posturing, to make those paying attention less unhappy about the endgame, to act as if Russia has serious designs on parts of Western Ukraine so that when Russia integrates less into Russia, that the West can claim a face saving success?

Ukraine’s Appallingly Poor Prospects

Things are so bad it is hard to know where to begin.

Big Serge recently posted a fine, detailed account of why it was vanishingly unlikely that Ukraine would achieve its aims of pushing Russia back to Ukraine’s 1991 borders. Admittedly, hindsight is 20/20. At the start of the war, many thought, including many in Russia, that the shock and awe sanctions would cripple Russia, ideally lead to Putin’s ouster or at least severely destabilize Russian leadership, and undermine industrial, particularly military, output. The West also believed what is now clear was its own nonsense, that Russia had a poorly armed and led military, when it was was the US and NATO that had optimized their forces to fight insurgents, and had gotten very good at building super expensive, fussy weapons systems that didn’t necessarily perform all that well when tested. Even worse, it still has not been adequately acknowledged that Russia is ahead in many critical categories, such as air defense, hypersonic missiles, and signal jamming.

What is striking about the current state of play is not simply that Ukraine is losing the war with Russia, and it’s just a matter of time before Russia dictates terms, but that the Ukraine government is acting in ways that benefits the Russian military, to the destruction of what is left of its society and economy.

Militarily, Ukraine is approaching a catastrophic condition. That does not mean a collapse is imminent; key variables include whether the Ukraine military leadership revolts against Zelensky and how hard Russia pushes into growing Ukraine weakness. Russia may prefer to go slowly (mind you, it is making a concerted effort to crack the well fortified Avdiivka1), not just to reduce losses of its troops, but also to more throughly bleed out Ukraine and give the West time to adjust psychologically to Ukraine’s prostration.

Another factor that bears repeating is that Russia knows well this is a war against NATO. That will make the eventual defeat more consequential, even if the US and its minions come up with a face-saving pretense, like Putin was going march all the way to Paris (or Poland) and they succeeded in stopping that. That is one aspect that Big Serge gives short shrift: that this was a messy coalition war, which meant that for Ukraine to message success often trumped realistic assessments (how often was Russia just about to run out of missiles? Or having to raid washing machines for chips?). So not only were Ukraine’s backers not making enough weaponry to keep up with Russia’s output (which Russia then kept increasing), it was not the right equipment. Ukraine first stripped NATO cupboards bare of old Soviet style gear, which their troops were trained to handle. They then got a hodge podge of Western materiel, which they were often not well trained enough to handle proficiently, plus the mix of weaponry created a logistical nightmare. Scott Ritter argued that so many different types of equipment put Ukraine in a worse position.

And that’s before getting to poorly (barely) trained forces. Depending on how you are counting, Ukraine is on its third or fourth army. A recent story in Time Magazine serves as one-stop shopping for the deteriorating state of its forces and its difficulty in replenishing losses. The average age at the start of the war (30 to 35, due in part to a demographic dearth of men in their 20s) is now up to 43. And:

Now recruitment is way down. As conscription efforts have intensified around the country, stories are spreading on social media of draft officers pulling men off trains and buses and sending them to the front. Those with means sometimes bribe their way out of service, often by paying for a medical exemption. Such episodes of corruption within the recruitment system became so widespread by the end of the summer that on Aug. 11 Zelensky fired the heads of the draft offices in every region of the country.

The decision was intended to signal his commitment to fighting graft. But the move backfired, according to the senior military officer, as recruitment nearly ground to a halt without leadership. The fired officials also proved difficult to replace, in part because the reputation of the draft offices had been tainted. “Who wants that job?” the officer asks. “It’s like putting a sign on your back that says: corrupt.”

A new CNN article also discusses Ukraine’s manpower problems, but weirdly tries to spin Ukraine as having headroom by not having yet gone to full conscription. But it does point out that Ukraine has imposed martial law and restricts travel

Ukraine’s military was about 15% female as of 2020, and recent rule changes allowed for conscription of women with medical and pharmacy training, so recent claims that Ukraine is conscripting women look largely to be misrepresentations of existing policy. However, it may still be that Ukraine is using more women in combat roles of late: Dima of Military Summary reported this week of seeing a video of a trench with dead women soldiers in it.

Experts have argued that even with diminishing levels of equipment and shells, that absent a revolt or surrender by the military, Ukraine could keep up a fight for a while. The West, after all, is probably capable of sending in materiel at some level. But the manpower, particularly trained manpower, problem is only going to get worse. And it’s now acknowledged in the Western press as pretty bad.

There’s been much less discussion of the Ukraine economy, which is set to go off a more dramatic cliff than its combat capability. Western journalists go almost entirely to Kiev, and then likely only near government buildings and foreign-official venues (tony restaurants) and so have little feel for day to day life. The reporters who do venture further afield are going mainly to combat areas. We need to do a bit more digging and give a fuller report, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to work out that the near and long-term prospects for Ukraine are terrible, and it was staring out as the poorest and most corrupt country in Europe.

Ukraine is facing a demographic disaster, as Moon of Alabama and others have chronicled. It already had a dearth of young adults due to a birth collapse (similar to what Russia suffered) in the 1990s. It’s no secret that many Ukrainians have fled for Europe and the majority are not expected to come back. Moreover, that population is also likely to skew young. Douglas Macgregor had said that his sources estimate that Ukraine is down from a pre-war population of 43 million to 19 million in the territories the government in Kiev controls. And the scuttlebutt is Zelensky, to keep the fight up, is looking to or has actually started throwing more young people into the meat grinder, by tightening up on essential employment and college exemptions.

And keep in mind that Ukraine is also suffering a high level of debilitation among war survivors. The Wall Street Journal reported months ago that orders for prosthetics might be as high as 50,000. That was before the famed counteroffensive got going.

As we pointed out and the Western press has also been acknowledging, Ukraine has not done a very good job of repairing its grid after the Russian attacks last fall and winter, to the degree it may fall over in certain areas under higher winter loads. Some sources have suggested the repair funds were partly looted. That may be true. But we’ve also pointed out that Ukraine is using Soviet gear and has been exhausting stocks of spared among former Warsaw Pact members. No one is going to set up new factories to do a very large but limited run of various components for Ukraine’s rebuilding. That means that any of the areas that have suffered critical damage that can no longer get replacements from the West will find Russia controls their reconstruction.

Ukraine tax receipts have collapsed as defense spending has spiked. Ukraine projected a budget deficit of $38 billion in March. Given optimistic assumptions about its super duper counteroffensive, one has to think that forecast was similarly optimistic. Set that against two stopgap spending bills with no Ukraine funding and Europe saying loudly that it can’t fill the US money gap. I have no idea what the lag is between allocation approvals and cash actually arriving in Ukraine official coffers, but one would have to think the US till is about to be emptied. And Ukraine will crash from its already fallen level of functioning. In Russia even during its mass privatizations, loss of services and economic/demographic decline, some critical public servants kept working for no or little compensation. Putin made a point of giving teachers their back pay in his early years as President. How much social cohesion is there in Ukraine, particularly after so many have already abandoned it?

Also keep in mind Ukraine had a nominal GDP in 2022 of $160 billion on a nominal basis, nearly $380 billion on a PPP basis. Those figures are likely exaggerated by including the parts of Ukraine that voted to join Russia. So even looking at these results in the most generous way possible, Ukraine is running a deficit of 10% of GDP, when it already has inflation of 30%. Big deficits after a sudden reduction of productive capacity is a textbook prescription for hyperinflation.

We’ve also pointed out the Western reconstruction talk was a bunch of hooey, since private sector types do infrastructure deals only as exercises in looting (we’ve posted on how new-build deals go bankrupt). So at best, this initiative was set to be an exercise in strip mining what was left of Ukraine. That’s now been indirectly confirmed by the reconstruction czar Penny Pritzker herself. From Ukrainska Pravda via Yahoo in Imagine there may be no help: conclusions of US Special Representative’s visit to Ukraine:

Penny Pritzker, US Special Representative for Ukraine’s Recovery, has suggested that officials imagine how the country could survive economically without US aid during her first visit to Ukraine….

Ukrainska Pravda stated that her first visit to Ukraine had left “a rather disturbing aftertaste in many government offices” here.

One of the sources, familiar with the course of Pritzker’s meetings, said that she tried to “lead [them] to the idea” of how Ukraine could survive economically without American aid.

Quote from the source: “At the meetings, Penny tried to get people to think, like, let’s imagine that there is no American aid: what do you need to do over the next year to make sure that your economy can survive even in this situation? And it really stressed everyone out.”

More details: Andrii Hunder, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, told Ukrainska Pravda that Pritzker’s main question during her visit and meetings with businesses was “What hinders success and who hinders it?”

The UP article reads that perhaps the strongest concern among most people who interacted with Biden’s representative was her call not to wait for Western assistance, but to seek areas of growth as if it wouldn’t be coming.

Does the Russian Map Talk Represent New Thinking About the End Game?

John Mearsheimer has argued that Russia wants a dysfunctional rump Ukraine. The same way the US, NATO and Ukraine obliged Russia’s war of attrition game plan by continuing to throw ever weaker forces against Russian lines, so to have they managed to do even more damage to Ukraine’s economy that the war already would have done by pumping up the military and government with support it could not maintain for the long haul, and then withdrawing it abruptly.

However, even though Russia looks like it will eventually impose its will on Ukraine, Russia still faces constraints. The more of Ukraine Russia decides to incorporate, the more it will have to rebuild. Those efforts would compete with another Putin initiative, announced early in the SMO, of greatly improving public amenities in remote areas (I envision manufacturing and mining towns in the hinterlands). Russia is also already facing labor shortages. To some degree, it might be able to redeploy men now working in manufacturing, particularly arms related, to reconstruction. But Russia may face labor constraints on how quickly it can restore infrastructure and buildings.

Putin and his inner circle likely also recognize the risk and cost of tying to hold areas where Russia is not welcome. Putin even said words to that effect early on. Putin also seems to value referendums as validating integrating territory into Russia. These would argue, all things being equal, for limiting the parts of Ukraine that are candidates for integration to ones with a solidly ethnic Russian majority.

To look at an overlapping set of consideration, ever since the Munich Security Conference, Putin has been trying to get a hostile Europe and US to acknowledge and respect Russia’s security needs. So what territorial end state is optimal, or alternatively, the least bad compromise, particularly given that ex Hungary and Belarus, Russia would continue to have hostile neighbors to its west?

This is why both Putin and Medvedev suggesting Kiev might be part of the equation would seem to be a significant shift. There are lots of maps of electoral results that Western pundits have used as proxies for ethnic Russian versus ethnic Ukrainian representation. This one from the Washington Pos is indicative. You can see Kiev is most assuredly in a European-leaning part of the country, as if that were in doubt:

But in Putin’s November 3 speech, he described long form as to how Russia has claims on “Ancient Rus” and that would seem to include Kiev2:

Contrast this with Medvedev’s not-exactly-a-joke earlier proposal:

Admittedly, Putin has said repeatedly, such as in his 2021 article, On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians, that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and the recent divisions were engineered to facilitate control. But it’s going to be hard to put the discord genie back in the bottle.

One guess is that Russia has decided it eventually has to take, or ideally, find some other way to subdue Kiev as the administrative center of Ukraine. But what does it do then? Even if Russia is able to create a puppet state, how does it exercise enough control without it becoming a governance and financial albatross? Remember, Kiev is a physically sprawling city of 3 million, straddling the Dnieper. It would be hard to secure it against the will of its inhabitants….unless, say, even more could be encouraged to decamp.

But it seems any other way, with rump Ukraine entering into some sort of victor’s peace with Russia, is ripe for the West trying to undo that. Perhaps (as we and John Helmer have suggested) Russia creates a particularly impoverished and very low population buffer zone (one way is by de-electrifying it) as a DMZ of sorts.

Again, at a minimum Russia’s leadership recognizes it has ever more degrees of freedom in terms of what Ukraine’s end state might be. And I may not be imaginative enough. But I don’t see how things have gotten much better regarding the potentially festering problem of western Ukraine. Perhaps there have been better remedies bandied about by Russian pundits and pols that have not gotten coverage here. Any reader intel or informed speculation very much welcomed.


1 Even so, some regular military commentators take note of the fact that Russia has a potential cauldron here but does not seem to be working hard to close it. They speculate that Russia is leaving it open to allow Ukraine to feed yet more men and material into this fire, just as they did in Bakhmut. As Big Serge points out:

We need to think about that initial Russian assault in the context of the Avdiivka battlespace. Avdiivka is rather unique in that the entire city and the railway running towards it sit upon an elevated ridge. With the city now enveloped on three sides, remaining Ukrainian logistical lines run along the floor of a wetland basin to the west of the city – the only corridor that remains open. Russia now has a position on the dominating heights that directly overlook the basin, and are in the process of expanding their position along the ridge. In fact, contrary to the claim that the Russian assault collapsed with heavy casualties, the Russians continue to expand their zone of control to the west of the railway, have already breached the outskirts of Stepove, and are pushing into the fortified trench network in southeastern Avdiivka proper.

Now, at this point it’s probably rational to want to compare the situation to Bakhmut, but the AFU forces in Avdiivka are actually in a much more dangerous position. Much was made of so-called “fire control” during the battle for Bakhmut, with some insinuating that Russia could isolate the city simply by firing artillery at the supply arteries. Needless to say, this didn’t quite pan out. Ukraine lost plenty of vehicles on the road in and out of Bakhmut, but the corridor remained open – if dangerous – until the very end. In Avdiivka, however, Russia will have direct ATGM line of sight (rather than spotty artillery overwatch) over the supply corridor on the floor of the basin. This is a much more dangerous situation for the AFU, both because Avdiivka has the unusual feature of a single dominating ridge on the spine of the battlespace, and because the dimensions are smaller – the entire Ukrainian supply corridor here runs along a handful of roads in a 4 kilometer gap.

2 From Putin’s remarks at the November 3 meeting:

First of all, we all know very well – these are the facts of history – that all, as you said, the South Russian lands were given to the Soviet Ukraine during the formation of the Soviet Union.

There was no Ukraine as part of the empire, there were regions, and it came in the 16th century, Ukraine, consisted of three regions: Kiev and the Kiev region, Zhitomir, Chernigov – that’s all. It came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, from Poland voluntarily. We have a letter in our archives – I have already mentioned it – we, the Russian Orthodox people, appeal to Moscow, to the Tsar, and so on. In an attempt to defend our rights, we addressed the same letter to Warsaw: we, the Russian Orthodox people, ask to preserve this and that, demand, and so on.

Then what happened happened. They started to form the Soviet Union and created a huge Ukraine, and primarily and to a large extent at the expense of the South Russian lands – all the Black Sea region and so on, although all these cities, as we know, were founded by Catherine the Great after a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire.

Ok, so it happened, modern Russia came to terms with it after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But when they started to exterminate everything Russian there – that is, of course, extreme. And in the end they declared that Russians are not an indigenous nation in these lands – it is a complete outrage, you know? And at the same time, they also started exterminating Russians in Donbas to the applause of the West.

As it turned out that, although they signed the so-called Minsk agreements for a peaceful settlement with us, they were not going to honour them, as it turned out later, and moreover, they publicly refused to honour them at all. And they also started dragging this entire territory into NATO – brazenly, without heeding any of our protests, without paying attention to our position, as if we did not exist at all. This is what lies at the centre of the conflict that is taking place today. This is the cause of this conflict.

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      1. Jorge

        When I was a lad, watching the “Battle On The Ice” sequence was thrilling. It was, what, 40 minutes long?

  1. The Rev Kev

    ‘However, it may still be that Ukraine is using more women in combat roles of late: Dima of Military Summary reported this week of seeing a video of a trench with dead women soldiers in it.’

    I’ll just post this video link as a separate initial comment for those that doubt that is actually true or not but it is pretty messed up. It’s not supposed to be this way- (56 secs) Absolutely NSFW

    1. Greg

      It’s not clear from that video (assuming its the one with blonde hair) that women are being used in frontline roles any more now than they were earlier. The bodies in that trench looked like they’d been struck with a drone or mortar shell. One dead lady could easily be a medic who happened to be in the area when shells/drones landed. We’ve seen lots of women in medic and evac roles for more than a year now, on both sides of the fighting. I also recall Russian sailor ladies who took out a few Ukrainian naval drones with their mounted guns.

      This doesn’t take away from the main point that Ukraine is now inarguably struggling with recruitment and collapse is probably looming. We saw the ridiculously young boys on the frontline months ago (sorry can’t remember the title to find the video now). It’s all very grim.

    2. BeliTsari

      They can’t just emigrate to Gaza to replace shredded, burnt & crushed household servants & construction contractors? Once sea-side luxury retirement condos & casinos are installed above the remains; there’ll be contingency service gigs for befreckled shiksa (not to mention, all the frack hands, pipeliners & roughnecks just offshore!)

  2. Tom67

    If Russia were to try to take Kiew: very bad news. They might have the military means… But the hatred engendered by this war runs so deep that it would have to be a military occupation. Furthermore the attempt to nullify Ukraine would be regarded by very badly by all the minority regions of Russia. Any further fostering of ethnic Russian nationalism would alienate vast stretches of the country. Either Russia is an empire with an ideology that manages to incorporate different ethnicities or else it will break up. Tertium non datur

    1. OnceWere

      “The attempt to nullify Ukraine would be regarded badly by the minority regions of Russia”

      Would it really ? Those minority regions have probably contributed disproportionally in terms of manpower and thus in sacrifice to the Russian efforts to militarily defeat Ukraine. Exactly how much sympathy do you think the common man in Tatarstan is likely to have for a defeated Ukraine that is reduced to NATO-sponsored terror attacks carried out in the name of Bandera ?

    2. Dwight

      Either [Ukraine] is [a country] with [a civic identity] that manages to incorporate different ethnicities or else it will break up. (My reading of Nicolai Petrov’s argument in The Tragedy of Ukraine – he doesn’t use “civic” in the below article but does in his talks online.)

      United States could have helped fostered that civic identity if it were to be involved at all, but rather it chose the Western Ukraine nationalist side and fostered division for geopolitical purpose.

    3. GM

      It’s not the ethnicities inside Russia that are the problem — those understand very well now that first, they are not viable as independent entities and are better off inside Russia, and second, Russian imperialism is not settler colonialist and genocidal, i.e. nobody has any intention of exterminating them. So why rock the boat?

      The real problem is the other post-Soviet countries. If Moscow recovers one of the pieces after such a brutal war, then what are the others going to think?

      You already see this with what is happening in Kazakhstan. Armenia too.

      And Kazakhstan is potentially a huge headache if it decides to rebel because it is an even more strategically vulnerable for Russia piece of real estate than Ukraine, and there are fewer pro-Russian people there. On the other hand, it cannot be directly supplied by NATO if it ever comes to another SMO and it is a much weaker military now than Ukraine’s pre-SMO, but still. Ukraine would be easier to reincorporate than Kazakhstan because Ukrainians are after all Russians who have been brainwashed, but still Russians, there is a lot in common in language and culture. Kazakhs are not like that and the demographics changed a lot since 1989 (Kazakhs actually managed to become a majority only in the late 1980s, before that Russian were a majority, but now they are only 15% and concentrated in the north).

      When the USSR fell apart, it put Moscow in a very unpleasant position, because if it was to ever try to recover those territories, it would potentially have to fight proxy wars against the West across a huge front spanning half of Eurasia (was that the grandest act of treason in human history or anything?). The way it was during the Civil War, and we know that Civil War did not end with a full reconstitution of the country (Poland, Finland and the Baltics managed to escape).

      1. Kouros

        Moldova escaped too and rejoined the western part of Moldova, which by then was part of the Kingdom of Romania…

    4. Detroit Dan


      This seems like a good argument for Russia’s ongoing slow and steady approach to the war. As Ukraine’s losing effort continues, facilitated by NATO, public support in Ukraine will undoubtedly erode. Imagine the American South in the Civil War. By the time that was over, it was relativiely easy for the carpetbaggers from the north to come in. It took decades for the south to reestablish its ethnic identity, and it never again was a military threat.

    5. Feral Finster

      So how did Russia occupy Grozny?

      The idea that Ukraine is ripe for guerilla struggle is one of those fantasies that Westerners like to indulge. If we look at successful insurgencies in recent decades, the one thing that they all have in common is a young population.

      The median age in Yemen is something 19 years old. The median age in Ukraine was over 40, and that from before the war. As it is, the median age of Ukraine’s army is now 43.

      Don’t misunderstand me, NATO will egg on an insurgency, but will it succeed?

    6. Roger

      Kiev is full of those that have benefitted greatly from wartime corruption, together with the hardcore right-sector and Azov elements – all of which will flee. There will also be another big chunk of pro-Europeans who will also flee. The rest will pretty quickly get used to the much higher Russian benefits payments (that do get paid) and much better paying jobs as part of Russia, and much more efficient less corrupt administration. Russia should offer the vacated homes to Russians abroad (e.g. those being abused in the Baltic states), including those in Israel, plus other qualified foreigners and Russians.

      Without the wall-to-wall Ukraine-nationalist propaganda many will learn to love their invader. They all speak Russian as well, with many elites accepting that they talk Russian in private. Ukraine is a made up country and it can be made to disappear in the minds of Kievans, especially when they see the political-economic benefits of being Russian.

  3. Sunny Tzu

    Most of the still remaining power of the West is the fascination it causes. It has been sold for decades how well you can live in Western countries, how free you are. Both are lies, and they were so then and now. One thing is living better than your neighbour, in a material judgement, to say so, and another entirely different is if that system actually works st all, or we are seeing a circumstantial and temporal state of things, I mean, more “temporal” than things usually are.

    The problem is the West is no longer capable of sustain this, we can see clearly in health indicators of the US, and Euro-America (i.e., the EU and its minions) will follow sooner than later. This obviously means that Western fascination will vanish, it is on the verge of happening, and that queue of peoples wishing to join Western world will disappear as if never existed. And from that on, things will be truthly worse. This trick worked very well with the commie world, which was people who actually lived better than most of the world, and only marginally worse than nuclear Western countries (they were semiperipheric), now, except Russia, they are soundly worse, and the gap with the world they wished to join has been enlarging, not shortening.

    And of course, each and every one of Western beliefs will be debunked. Nothing new in the history books. Some things will remain, most of them not. I don’t know how random this will be.

    In despite of Chinese plans, China will become a new idolized pattern. People need dreams, don’t we?

    1. digi_owl

      Basically it worked as long as the leadership needed to appear better than the soviet alternative. Otherwise they risked having the masses rise up and adopt communism.

      But after the USSR disintegrated, there was no low water mark to avoid. And so kleptocracy set in. Now all those welfare systems that as put in place during the cold war is getting eroded and clawed back. Because in the words of Thatcher, There Is No Alternative.

      And China is hardly a new pattern, it is age old industrial protectionism. The same kind that was decried by soothsaying economists since Ricardo wrote about “comparative advantage”.

      1. Sunny Tzu

        I don’t want going that far. Ukraine (still) exists mainly for two reasons: firstly, Western is paying the bill, they think is a good investment (like the Nazis, or the like), secondly, Western has far more traction and atraction that Putin’s Russia, no matter they do. Of course, this doesn’t work on Ukraine’s russophone lands but because of stupidity of Western minds, it could work if things had been made other way.

        The first point is going to die sooner than later. About the second, it’s better Paris than a farm, I suppose, but a farm is (far) better than the collapsed Rome.

        I guess Russians are waiting for the two things, not necessarily both fulfilled, but in a clear way in some point before the end.

        In fact, my guess in the mid-term is that the EU, or whatever remain of it, will go from licking American asses to licking Chinese ones, with not a grain of shame at all.

      2. GM

        Basically it worked as long as the leadership needed to appear better than the soviet alternative

        Didn’t even have to appear, it was enough for people to think it is regardless of how it appeared.

        Hollywood played a major role.

        E.g. as a random example, go back to the first Beverly Hills Cop movie. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone east of the Iron Curtain watching the Beverly Hills parts (and the many other movies in settings like that) thought that this is how everyone in the West lived (Hollywood rarely showed the lives of regular people, and still rarely does it to this day). But in that case they also included a ten-minute opening showing Detroit as it really was in the 1980s. And it was already a run down post-industrial hellscape even then, which you see very well in the movie — abandoned buildings, ghetto areas everywhere, etc. There was no place in Eastern Europe or Russia that looked like that in 1984. A lot of places started looking like that in the 1990s, but in 1984 it was all clean and maintained. And yet I am sure most people in the Eastern Bloc who saw the movie circa 1989-90 thought “wow, this is so cool” even when they were watching those scenes of utter capitalist devastation. They were that captured by the mind control techniques of the West…

        In fact if you go back to the 1980s more generally, a lot of Western fiction from that era is obsessed with urban decay. Because that is what the trend was at the time — large swaths of NYC were a burnt out and demolished warzone, the crack epidemic had hit nationwide, violent crime had reached unprecedented levels, etc. Somehow nobody in Eastern Europe thought to sit down and analyze the situation objectively, evaluate what they had against that reality, and decide to not consent to committing collective suicide. Quite the opposite, as I said, many thought that even that ugly reality was very cool and fascinating. Perhaps because their lives were very safe and secure but also boring

        1. Acacia

          True, and actually you can go back even further to look at films in the 1970s like Taxi Driver or the many films with Charles Bronson “cleaning the scum off the streets”, to see very serious urban decay. While clearly fiction and often romanticized in various ways, the basis in reality for these films is also the likely source of various urban dystopian fantasy films, e.g., The Warriors, RoboCop, etc.

      3. vao

        But after the USSR disintegrated, there was no low water mark to avoid. And so kleptocracy set in.

        That is what I thought for a long time, but now I find this explanation unsatisfactory. The USSR disappeared in December 1991 — but the frantic neo-liberal plundering and destruction of the welfare state began with Thatcher in the UK, i.e. in 1979, and at the latest with Reagan in the USA, i.e. 1981.

        Thus that water mark was fast receding long before the USSR disintegrated. Something else than the absence of an alternative was at play.

        1. LawnDart

          It took people’s brains a while to catch-up, to register what was happening right before them, but even then…

          With the Reagan-revolution, it was a decade or more (if ever) before many persons began to realize the harms that had taken place.

        2. Gaianne

          Vao–while many factors were surely relevant, one thing that changed in that time was US oil production. US oil production–which was the hidden engine to all that US industrial production–peaked in the 1970s and went into decline. Oil could be bought from Saudi Arabia–and was–but this meant money flowed out of the country, reducing profits. And profits had to be maintained to prevent the Saudis from obtaining controlling ownership. Profits could only be maintained by cutting labor, which ultimately meant off-shoring industry wholesale.

          Once that was done the decline of the US was fated.

          We are in the early-middle stages of that decline–it is now visible to everybody–but the final demise is still a good ways out.


          1. vao

            That explanation fails on one important point: the assumption of Thatcher to power coincided with the North Sea oil fields coming successively on line — actually this started a few years before her electoral victory — making the UK energy-independent. That bonanza did not prevent her starting to dismantle the British welfare state.

            1. JohnA

              That bonanza actually enabled Thatcher to dismantle the British welfare state.
              At the time, the welfare state was relatively (compared to today) generous in terms of benefits payable for unemployment etc. This softened the blow for the swathes of people forced out of work by the destruction of British industry and mining etc. North Sea oil paid for these benefits. And then Thatcher started to squeeze them, cutting benefits and propagandising that benefit claimants were lazy good for nothings who lived a life of luxury with no intention of working. Reinforced by the right wing media at every opportunity. So much so that even Labour sings from the same song sheet,

    2. Vishnu

      One is mistaken if they think Russia is superior materially than the West. Manhattan island,NY has a higher GDP than all of Russia.

  4. Lex

    The Russian defense budget was published and shows a significant increase in 2024 and then significant decreases for the following two years. These things are obviously subject to change but it does suggest that 2024 is the year to substantially complete the SMO in the minds of the Kremlin.

    I’m guessing as much as anyone, but I’ll guess that most of this winter will remain a grinding, attritional war with Russian pressure all along the front and limited offensives at key nodes. Production, supplies and training of volunteers is starting to peak and build up for sustained operations. Other than the energy system strikes and some artillery skirmishing, Russia mostly took last winter off from the war (really it was preparing). This winter is going to be much harder on Ukraine all around, but especially along the front line. In other words, Russia is timing the whole context for an offensive when Ukraine is weakest, support from the west is dwindling and internal pressure (economic and political) inside Ukraine is high.

    None of that guarantees success. As for where Russia stops I think it will be a practical determination based on the reality on the ground. The Dnieper and Odessa are the logical goals but Kiev will remain a tricky situation because of its position on the river and politics. I suspect Russia won’t demand it but will demand a demilitarized city. On the other hand, if Russia gets most of what it wants in the negotiations to end this (neutrality, etc.) Kiev becomes a bit less thorny.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This makes some sense except there will be no negotiations. Lavrov has said there is no point in talking to Ukraine. The West blowing up the Istanbul negotiations proved, to the extent there was doubt before, that Ukraine has little sovereignity.

      In addition, Putin has long wanted NATO to commit to Ukraine being neutral. Aside from the fact that NATO officials and spokescritters have aggressively rejected that idea, as we explained, even if NATO were to undergo a Damascene conversion, there is no mechanism for “NATO” committing to anything. It would have to be country by country pacts. Think the Balts would ever agree?

      And this Administration will never negotiate with Russia. Trump were he to win would love to talk to Putin, but a treaty would take the approval of 2/3 of the Senate. I don’t see that happening either, even before the Minsk Accords deception making it politically toxic for Putin to agree to anything with the Collective West.

      Plus IMHO you are talking past the critical point of the post: what is Russia going to do about Kiev and the parts of Ukraine which don’t have significant ethnic Russian population? Saying Kiev will be neutral is all fine and dandy. The US will be working on a coup pronto to undo that. So how durable would that solution be if Russia were not in charge in some form….which imposes a lot of costs?

      1. Lex

        Oh I agree. Kiev being “neutral” is a fig leaf. I just don’t expect Putin to be absolutely maximalist when the time comes. IIRC, Lavrov said there will be no ceasefire to facilitate negotiations. Of course there cannot be negotiations with Zelensky because he made them illegal. I don’t expect that Zelensky will still be in charge when the time for serious negotiations comes.

        I also agree on the possibility of negotiations with NATO and/or DC. The solutions are either conquer all Russia wants / can absorb and just stop with a highly militarized border. (In this case I suspect Kiev is left alone.) Or negotiate an end. The west can continue to meddle, but whether “Ukraine” stays aligned with NATO is – or can be – a decision by Ukraine that doesn’t require the US. I suspect that losing political control of Kiev keeps a fair number of people in DC up at night.

        These are the sorts of moving parts I find most difficult, and probably fruitless, to attempt predictions about. The military stuff at least follows some logic, especially Russian military behavior.

        1. Polar Socialist

          One could take the long term view of Russian history, and notice that one defining factor of Russian state’s existence has been pacifying it’s borders. Russia has never had any naturally defensible borders, and unlike many other empire’s, it has had a lot of them. For most bigger states it has been enough to fight and settle with one strong external enemy, but for Russia there has always been challengers at one or more border. Always.

          And that doesn’t include the internal stability issues, if we’re allowed to think Ukrainians for a long time having been more or less Russians (both as citizens and as an ethnicity). From Kiev Rus to the end of Russian Empire there were at least 40 insurrections, mutinies, rebellions and civil wars.

          One could actually come to the conclusion that the 70 years of Soviet Union was one of the longest eras of internal and external stability for Russia. Only one huge civil war and four or so external wars.

          I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe the way Kreml is viewing the issue of “pacifying Ukraine” is somewhat different. Whatever it takes, Ukraine will be eventually pacified according to Russia’s security needs.

        2. Roger

          Russia takes Odessa and the south, plus everything East of the Dniepr plus Kiev. Hungary takes the Carpathian region, Poland its chunk of the West (Lviv, Ivano-Franko, Lutsk, Ternopil) and a small demilitarized, neutral, landlocked and poor “Ukraine” is left. Romania could also take a little piece full of Romanians right on its border with Ukraine, perhaps the Russians will allow that.

          Russia secures its borders and mayhem in the EU breaks out as Hungary, Romania, and Poland grab their bits.

          1. hk

            (Potentially bad analogy, I know). That is sort of what happened with Czechoslovakia in 1939, with the same characters involved (e.g. Poland taking Teschen etc). AJP Taylor suggests that (IIRC) Germans would have expected this to be a down payment of sorts for some sort of future cooperation with Poland, except it didn’t turn out that way when the question came to the Corridor only months later (after decades of dispute)–but this is where the difference between 1939 and 2024 comes in. There is no “serious dispute” between Russia and Poland (well, yeah, there are US missile sites and Polish military buildup and all that, but there is no Russian minority in Poland that the Polish Army is shelling, nor are there “historically Russian” territories occupied by Russophile populations in Poland.) So if the Poles take Lwow, Ternopol, etc., there’s nothing that Russians will want from the Poles in return for the territories (although they would probably be a poison pill that subverts NATO–which is fine by Russia.)

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            NATO members gobbling up neighbors will create all kinds of international problems….and there’s no forum to authorize this. It sounds tidy until you work through it.

      2. Kouros

        After another year of fighting, in which many tens of thousands of Ukrainians, men and women, young and old, will die unecessarily, maby another 100-200K, who can tell, , where there will be energy for another coup and then another coup? Because when it will come to voting, people will be voting for peace.

        There will be no crowd in Maidan this time, and the right wingers and ultra-nationalists will this time be machine gunned by the left over of Ukraine military without any second doubts.

        Many “traitors” (those sold to the west) wil start hanging on the lamposts in Kiev. Because this catastrophe will not be such that Ukrainians will be second class citizens, or no citizens within their own country, like Palestinians are treated by Israel. The evidence will be overbearing, that the West has led Ukraine down the primrose path…

  5. Rob Urie

    Very good piece.

    As I understand it, should the Russians control from Donbas to Odessa as well as Kiev, they would control the major economic and political power centers of Ukraine.

    What Russia wouldn’t control in that scenario is sparsely populated agricultural land that is heavily Galician.

    Without the Russians controlling Kiev, the Americans will never, ever, ever, leave Ukraine. Those imagining that the American political leadership has learned a lesson from its predictable catastrophe missed the glee with which it was able to convince now-dead Ukrainian youth to die for their (American) new vacation homes and imperial ambitions.

    Should the coming winter be cold enough, Europeans who are used to being comfortable will be in for a rude awakening. With Europe being systematically de-industrialized via oil geopolitics, the combination of economic pain and reduced living standards due to energy shortfalls will likely stir political discontent.

    As the Americans have already demonstrated via temporarily funding Ukrainian living standards, they will sacrifice the well-being of the American people to fund their fantasies of global domination without regard to changed circumstances that are less conducive to success.

    For the sake of the world, let’s hope that the Russians don’t overreach, but also that they don’t leave Russia and what’s left of Ukraine open to another round of American imperial hubris.

    1. nippersdad

      “Without the Russians controlling Kiev, the Americans will never, ever, ever, leave Ukraine.”

      I have been thinking that as well, and given that is the case why would the Russians not leave the US in charge so that we can be the face of failure? Add some war reparations to the mix and they could keep Ukraine on its’ knees even as the US is forced to subsidize a failed enterprise. An object lesson here in the costs of empire that might even affect the views of such as Lindsey Graham when he has to beg for money every year to keep it going.

      If all they have left are a few wheat fields that only serve to feed Belgian pigs then maybe those could be repurposed to pay off reparations, and then where are they?

      Are there are other means of taking Kiev than militarily?

      1. Louis Fyne

        coup. which is the (utilitarian) path of least resistance.

        but a coup will only happen when Ukraine is on the verge of unconditional defeat, as for a coup to work, the plotters will have to seize all of Kyiv’s key infrastructure/offices in addition to the presidency. that needs lots of bodies needed by the pro-coupnside.

        and anecdotally (from some social media) there are a lot of pro-regime “enforcement units”

      2. Paul Damascene

        Means other than military?

        Another factor that Yves may not have had room for are the current and future changes one might see within Maidan-controlled UKR itself.

        An additional reason for Russia to go slow is that internal criticism within UKR territory is intensifying. It would be far better for the Maidan-junta to be discredited *before* a Russian takeover.

        Although in Galicia/Poland the game of hating Russia is quite ancient, and internal RUS/UKR tensions existed within the USSR, with help from CIA and Gehlen networks, much of the anti-Russian sentiment that exists–especially in regions with a significant Russophone population–seems to have occurred since 2014. And this has been the product of a great deal of disinformation.

        Russia may hope to give UKR society time to deprogram itself–when the actual casualty numbers become known, the forced conscriptions knowing the battle was lost and lying about it, the corruption at every level, the tens of thousands of KIAs deemed MIA so as not to pay out benefits, the soldiers shot for retreating, the elites in villas in Europe, the sell offs to BlackRock, etc.

    2. Tom Pfotzer

      I concur that the economics of the situation will ultimately – and rather soon “ultimately” – dictate the outcomes.

      Russia has demonstrated its intent and capacity to rebuild the economy where the population wants to be part of Russia. Can the West do the same, if there’s no underlying economy to rent-extract from (via loss of the most economically vital components of former Ukraine)?

      The broader context is instructive: Russia has escaped the attack of the West. Its real economy is flourishing, and seems likely to flourish a great deal more; its got resources and access to great big Asian markets.

      I think John Helmer’s notion of an economically impoverished DMZ between what’s left of Ukraine and the rest of the soon-to-be economically prosperous eastern Ukraine makes a great deal of sense. While Russia has the military upper hand, it has a much better economic upper hand.

      And all that will be very, very obvious to EU and what remains of NATO cohesion. How much appetite for very expensive meddling will EU continue to have?

      The U.S. still has to decide what to do about China, and the global south, and their new, very expensive problem in Israel. That’s going to take a lot of oxygen out of the NATO room for many, many years to come, regardless of how much or little power the Neocons retain over U.S. politics.

      And this is why Pritzger’s visit, and her message of “how will you rebuild your economy if you have to do it by yourself” caused such a big uproar. The message is “it’s over, you’re on your own, we (the U.S.) have got bigger problems”.

      The EU has made it very clear that it can’t and won’t fill in the huge gap the U.S.’ departure will create.

      It’s over. Let the economics do the talking henceforward.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        This whole thing started because Russia gave Ukraine a trade deal with better terms than what the West had on offer back in 2013. The US couldn’t let that stand, and went for the coup.

        If Russia can make a serious economic commitment to both rebuilding Ukraine and remaining a trading partner on good terms afterwards, and start doing so quickly, I think that would go a long way to quelling anti-Russian sentiment and bring stability back to Ukraine. Other than the nazi diehards, I’d think most Ukrainians, after the West giving Ukraine the Kurd treatment (thanks for all your sacrifice fighting our wars for us, but things didn’t work out so we’re out of here!), could at this point see that Russia is offering construction, and the West only brings destruction and is not agreement capable.

        1. juno mas

          It seems to me that any reconstruction is going to be impeded by all the spent and unspent ordinance laying on and under the soil. It could be years before this is resolved. Maybe an incremental reconstruction in less damaged areas would be planned.

      2. Lex

        Yes. The long game in a split Ukraine is to develop the Russian territories of the old Ukraine for comparison. I assume that Chinese money will start pouring in as soon the conflict ends. It might not work of course. Not a few Ukrainians believe right now that indoor plumbing is rare in Russia and that Russians hate Ukrainians for their washing machines. But a collapse of the current Ukrainian state likely means a collapse of internal Ukrainian propaganda too.

      3. Keith Newman

        Tom Pfotzer at 9:48 am
        My view for now is that Russia will take, manage and rebuild the historical Russian areas. Helmer’s broad DMZ also sounds likely.
        What to do with the remaining rump is the big question. Riffing off your ”economics will dictate the outcome” perhaps the Russians will also take many or all non-Russian majority areas, not develop or rebuild them much for reasons, allow them to sink into relative poverty with just basic services (water, sewage, waste collection, very basic health care) and let them depopulate themselves by encouraging people to move to the West and Poland, joining the other 10 million or so already there. The Russians in the rump area could also be encouraged to move to the prosperous rebuilt Russian parts of former Ukraine. The non-Russian areas would then become insignificant demographically, no deportations or other overt nastiness required.

    3. Kouros

      If Russia accidentally sends a missile or two on the US Embassy in Ukraine, how long will be until Americans pack their bags and leave? It happened before, we all remember Belgrade 1999.

  6. HH

    I believe that we are on the verge of a U.S. CEO revolt that will sweep the Washington neocons out of power. The warm reception given to Xi by prominent CEOs in SF was a signal to Washington that the non-defense corporate sector will not tolerate a repeat of the Ukraine debacle in a conflict over Taiwan. A single company, Apple computer, the biggest corporation in America, has the resources to fund every Congressional campaign needed to control the committees supporting the neocons. Add the power of all the other non-defense corporations and it is game over for the Washington blob.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      I think this is a very insightful comment. I was also struck by the response of the corporate community to Xi, and how markedly, profoundly _different_ it was from the MSM / Biden Administration / Congressional drum-beat.

      Waaaay out of step.

      I also thought it was a masterstroke of politics by Xi to attend and speak at that APEC summit in SF. I read a whole lot of disparaging remarks about “kissing the ring” and “caved” and all that. I’m sure you read them as well.

      His speech was a work of art; it was aimed at Corporate America, and the rest of the world, and paid absolutely zero attention to the Biden Administration’s theatrics.

      Now you know why he’s the face of China to the rest of the world.

    2. JonnyJames

      I like that thought: Sweeping the neocons/imperialists/warmongers out of power would be great, however I remain very skeptical of such a development.

      BigTech is also intertwined with the Military/Security/Surveillance state as Ed Snowden, and others have shown. The vast majority of Congress, State Dept., CIA, NSA, CFR, Atlantic Council, NSC etc would have to be purged and there are equally powerful, or more powerful,and entrenched interests to contend with. This is a very tall order indeed. Some would like to have the China cake and eat it too, but I’m afraid that won’t last much longer.

    3. Quantum Future

      HH – Juat to add to that solid commentary, corporate America is not happy with the negative results of DEI. I believe the ending of Affirmative Action has begun.

      The “blob” as you succinctly call it, may do something big, nasty and stupid to remain in power, along the lines of shutting off the electricity. We will see.

    4. Susan the other

      A CEO revolt. It was a pleasure to see. Even as Biden managed to clodhop his way through it. The US and the West are flailing. The post war world that worked to enrich the US was our Achilles heel. Funny how that worked. An editorial in RT recently opined that the US could have controlled the world but we failed to create a system based on Justice. We really should have created a better world because now the tables have turned. We have run out of easy oil and oil was the basis for our growth paradigm, aka ponzi. What little Justice there was was fully dependent on enough profit to service debt. Besides which it is no longer a question of growth but of sustainability. Either way, oil is still the critical factor needed to keep economies running. All of our wars are for gas and oil. IMO Ukraine was for access to the Caspian, Iraq to control the Saudis and the Middle East, and now Gaza for the zillion dollar gas field. Venezuela might be the next one. And since seeing a post on how Siberia is discontented and does not want to be in Russia anymore (when did they all have a conference and make that strange announcement?) – I’d bet there’s a huge oil field in Siberia. Russia stopped us in our tracks in Ukraine, but we haven’t given up. Even though it’s gonna be a lot harder to bribe and extort a modern world that has access to the internet, and now with our currency dependent on a high interest rate to keep the ponzi going. It would be lovely if the CEOs managed to create a few jobs for us. And economies everywhere based on sustainability. But back to Ukraine – I don’t think Russia wants to annex western Ukraine at all. They will let that be NATOs problem. And I agree, we really don’t seem to have a plan beyond the American meat grinder, also known as the free market. Just my sense of snow.

  7. The Rev Kev

    As the Russians are fighting this war to remove and neutralize a strategic threat, then it follows that their end game will be to set conditions to ensure that this happens. So for a start the Russians will take the entire Black Sea coastline of the Ukraine – which of course includes Odessa – and leave the rest as a rump state. If they leave the Ukrainians a coastline it will be a constant danger to not only Crimea but also their Black Sea Fleet. As a side benefit, it means that the Russian Federation will join up with Transnistria which ensures their safety and security as well. Moldova would not be so inclined to go after that mini-State then.

    But Kiev? I can see them taking the eastern bank of the Dnieper river which would bring the rest of that city under their watch. For the lands that the Russians take over it will mean a multi-generational effort to cleanse and make safe from all the artillery that hit it. And not just dud rounds but chemical contamination. As the earth is so deep in rich, perhaps they will scrape the top layers and dump it somewhere such as disused mines. But I would not be surprised to see a lot of North Korean workers headed this way.

    The fact of the matter is that the Russians will control the areas that generate about 80-90% of the old Ukraine’s GDP. What will be left will hardly be an economy. The west may talk about setting up all these arms and tank factories but for that you kinda need energy. And the Ukraine contracts with Russia finishes in another year or two. You go into it deeper and ask yourself what the Ukraine will look like demographically in a generation from now and it will not be good. I wonder how long it will take to sink into the Ukrainian people that they have been set up and betrayed. Not only by their own leaders but by the west in general, especially when their will be no membership in either NATO or the EU. And none of this was ever necessary.

    1. .Tom

      Your final point about betrayal is interesting. I wonder if a politics that’s useful to Russia can be built on that. If the West withdraws support and Russia makes a better offer then the corrupt leadership can presumably be bought. Can, meanwhile, the voters be made to see that the West was never really their friend, unwilling to actually step up to the fight so they tricked Ukraine into it. And that if Ukraine wants peace then it has no choice but to be a peaceful neighbor of Russia.

      Idk. It just seems that such a reversal of trust in the West could be possible and surely Russia must be thinking about how to engineer it. This is the only counter point I can think of to Yves’ reply to Lex above.

      1. digi_owl

        Effectively most of Europe is split between urban PMC and the rest.

        It is the PMC that are EU- and US-philes, because their education and profession makes them highly mobile. And they have long been saturated by Hollywood “culture”.

        These are the same ones that hit European streets to protest in response to George Floyd, complete with cargo cult slogans lifted from US social media.

    2. digi_owl

      Odessa also house a US Navy operations center, or at least they were constructing one there back in 2017.

      1. The Rev Kev

        That was going to be in Crimea but since the start of this war, the British have been based in Odessa and the Russians have nailed them a coupla times.

    3. Peter VE

      With all the MANPADS washing around Ukraine, I would be concerned flying in Western Europe once the knowledge of the betrayal sets in.

  8. DJG, Reality Czar

    The lack of moral seriousness is more than plain:

    More details: Andrii Hunder, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, told Ukrainska Pravda that Pritzker’s main question during her visit and meetings with businesses was “What hinders success and who hinders it?”

    Admittedly, Ukraine is falling apart because of its own government’s poor decisions and posturing (we all recall when Zelensky asked for nukes at the Munich security conference). Admittedly, a weak and corrupt state is falling apart. Yet Pritzker showing up and leading M.B.A.-program seminars is a tad too cruel, in my not so humble opinion.

    Also, we know that in Ukraine there has been a tendency to attach those who hinder success to lampposts.

    As to the situation in Adviivka, I may not want to contradict Big Serge, but the situation is not unique. I recognize it from many battles and sieges in Italian history. The Etruscans tended to build their cities on ridges, just as described above. The Roman siege of Veii is famous and notorious–those horrifying images of the end of the siege when the Romans called on the gods of Veii to abandon the city…

    So Adviivka can go on for years and years, as the Russians let the Ukrainians waste lives and material. It also sounds as though the Russians can shell from higher ground. Adviivka is a “frozen defeat,” for the Ukrainians, just waiting in happen.

  9. ambrit

    Russia could apply the Israeli Method to trans-Dneiper Ukraine; remove the ‘offending’ populations en mass.
    At the end of WW-2, Russia moved around huge segments of the peoples of East Europe. Ethnic Germans were deported from Poland. The Ukraine was created almost from ‘whole cloth.’ Etc. People today are ‘forgetting’ this time honoured program utilized by conquerors to “pacify” formerly adversarial territories.
    Watch closely. If Israel “gets away with” ethnic cleansing in Gaza, the Russians will point to it as legal cover for doing something similar in the Ukraine.

    1. nippersdad

      Putin, however, has been very careful to adhere to international law as it presently exists. I doubt he would infringe such things as laws against ethnic cleansing when he used that as a pretext for going into the Donbass. Doing something like that would undermine the rationales that both China and Russia have been using to gain the support of the rest of the world in places like the UN.

      1. digi_owl

        Heck, Russia has had ample opportunity to indulge in tit for tat shelling of civilians as the Banderites have been doing since 2014. But Russian targeting has been almost surgical in avoiding civilian suffering. Back when they entered Ukraine it seemed almost like they hoped the “Russians” in the border oblasts would rise up and join them. That didn’t happen. But neither did the locals attack the Russian forces. And that seemed to be enough for the Banderites to exact revenge when Russia had to withdraw and reorganize once the peace talks were torpedoed.

        1. nippersdad

          “…that seemed to be enough for the Banderites to exact revenge when Russia had to withdraw and reorganize once the peace talks were torpedoed.”

          If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of it is that Russia is going to make the most of things like Bucha. I have no doubt that they have been making lists going back to 2014 and checking them thrice, all of which will feature in a war crimes tribunal for all the world to see. This may be wishful thinking on my part, but a trial in absentia for such as Nuland would fill the bleachers.

          I think they have gotten a lot of mileage out of throwing our false sanctity in our faces, but nothing like what they are going to get after that war is over. That ledger is getting bigger every day, and our real Nemesis has yet to show up.

  10. Benny Profane

    Great piece, Eve.

    I’m guessing that Kiev won’t be too hard to beat into some sort of peaceful submission. Take away the western, especially American money funding most everything, (Biden: We are funding pensions) and the nice, fairly safe society there that you describe may very well crumble, as the rats scatter. Putin probably wants to do this without destroying most buildings and infrastructure, as Berlin had to be bombed into rubble, but, maybe that will be necessary. I hope not. The big event around the corner is Zelensky either murdered or in exile, taking his cash with him, along with some in his crew fleeing, too. That will be a real wtf moment for the propagandized population and western Ukraine lawn flag owners. That, and hunger and cold will change a lot of minds, of course. As pointed out, there will be plenty of life careers in reconstruction. You gotta eat and sleep somewhere.

    Look at the obedient puppies the Germans have become to the victors of WW2.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I suspect the precedent that worries the Russians most is Chechnya. It broke up into semi-independent entities, some of which were happily pro-Russian, some aggressively anti. Grozny was a nightmare for the Russian army, despite it being tiny in comparison to Kiev or Odessa.

        Even if the Ukraine government is brought to its knees there is no guarantee that we won’t see very organised and well armed groups centered around far right paramilitary organisations declaring de facto independent statelets. Odessa started life as a Greek city state, some local hardmen may try to turn the clock back.

  11. JW

    Russia’s objective must be to reduce Ukraine from a problem to a nuisance. Armenia is a nuisance. Ukraine with a couple of major cities and an agrarian hinterland , with 8-10m population is like Armenia. The US can continue to play its games there but in reality its not going to matter much.
    Using your ‘election’ graphic, the blue areas would be Russian; the areas east and south of Kiev ( east of the Dnieper) would be the low population ‘neutral’ buffer territories; the rest would be rump Ukraine.
    The issue is how does Russia keep the buffer territories ‘neutral’ without alienating the ‘global south’ and at a lowish cost, manpower and finance.
    Life in general is messy, the description I give above is the least messy I can think of.

    1. digi_owl

      The ongoing fear for Russia has been the placement of Missiles that can carry nukes so near Moscow that the flight time can be measured in minutes.

      This is an issue that can be traced all the way to the start of the cold war, and what provoked the Cuban missile crisis.

      Yet DC seem to be completely blind to the hypocrisy when congress critters almost choke on their coffee at the mere mention of potential Russian troops in Latin America. While at the same time USA has basically surrounded Russia with bases.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        In my opinion, this fear is very overstated and misplaced.

        The latest US SSBN’s can almost certainly hit major Russian cities faster and stealthier than any land based missile in Europe as it would be much harder to identify its launch until its almost at its target. Arguably, the same could be said for a stealth missile launched from a B2 or B21.

        1. JonnyJames

          Not just missiles, I would think that Russia has a historical suspicion of (potentially) having hostile forces so close to the Russian heartland as well. If we look at a map of historical imperial Russia or the USSR, this becomes clear.

  12. eg

    I anticipate that Russia will want to deny a rump Ukraine any access to the Crimea, so I expect them to annex all of the oblasts necessary to achieve this goal. Other than that, presumably they will want to impose a DMZ large enough to prevent a repeat of the shelling of any urban areas by the Banderists characteristic of the civil war since 2014.

    I don’t think they will want to “swallow the porcupine” (to use Mearsheimer’s) phrase for annexing all of Western Ukraine.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      To make Ukraine free of conflict, they will need to humiliate the US. And I think the short term path is an colonels coup. As you noted, they’ll need to keep the new oblasts free of random bombardment which means keeping retaliation open without leading to escalation. I think Moscow will be in this until their population tires as they need to dry up the Kiev state and force more militant Azov types West or eradicate them.

      Yellin is declaring onward towards Moscow and Austin just visited. Biden is getting wrecked over genocide despite the apparent expectation Biden would benefit. Im a little worried the White House is going to try to get the band back together to keep Gaza out of the news.

      1. Sal

        You’ve made a good summary.

        I think the key points of the SMO are:

        1. SMO goals were demilitarization, denazification, weakening NATO/West, strengthening multipolarity
        2. SMO goals were and are best achieved via a long war of attrition. A short win is not at all optimal. Taking a long time, “bleeding” as you say, is best. Shoigu says 2025.
        3. Goals will not be achieved mostly because of Russia’s agency, but rather the West’s agency, because the West has formed itself politically and ideologically in such a way that it forces itself to play into Russia’s hands, with the right prompting from Russia. Basically the Jiu Jitsu everyone talks about.

        Given this, Russia’s choices of a final settlement increase and improve with time, as well.

  13. Neutrino

    Pritzker, Nuland and others really need a Chancellorship like the one that Queen Hillary received. Heck, why not toss in some medals, prizes and a few honoraria to boot? That would supplement the rebuilding contract vig. /s

    There needs to be some new word coined that could get across the supreme arrogance, narcissism and sociopathy engendered by those who carve up distant countries.

  14. William Haught

    Just build a wall around the part of Kiev west of the Dnipro. Q: “And who is going to pay for it?” A: “NATOstan!!!”

  15. Feral Finster

    “Ukraine is facing a demographic disaster, as Moon of Alabama and others have chronicled. It already had a dearth of young adults due to a birth collapse (similar to what Russia suffered) in the 1990s. It’s no secret that many Ukrainians have fled for Europe and the majority are not expected to come back.”

    The people I know sent their kids to Europe and are in no rush to call them back home.

  16. Paul Damascene

    Brava, Yves. Still surprising that the occasional Western commentator seems able to connect the dots that MSM experts at best acknowledge in isolation when conceded things are NOT going well for UKR.

    A couple of points of emphasis:
    1. Since it’s clear that the primary adversary is NATO, for which the total mobilization potential of UKR serves as an expendable & politically cost-free land force, it’s reasonable to infer that beyond RF’s stated political goals for the SMO in UKR, other goals will apply to the West/NATO more generally. Yes, the Dec. 21 “Ultimata” but for these to be taken seriously it will likely take significant changes in the West itself– demilitarization & deNazification of NATO itself — the further decline of the EU, accelerating deindustrialization of the European industrial heartland, and in the West more broadly accumulating de-dollarization, debt accumulation, structural inflation, debt-service costs, the malinvestment of Western societies in a broken defense-industrial racket & US military overstretch (from West Asia to East Asia), political turmoil in Western societies, etc.

    1a. One suspects that as RF continues with its massive, break neck renaissance of its full military-industrial potential, RF is expecting a bigger fight w/ US–and that if it doesn’t come if/when RF moves on Odessa, after the SMO the RF may well confront Washington directly to back them off, to in effect counter the neocons’ plans to continue their hybrid warfare against Russia post-UKR (“Unbalancing Russia”). If it doesn’t happen in Odessa this may one day entail something like a back channel demand that the Aegis Ashore bases in Poland & Romania be withdrawn, or Russia will take them out. Cuban-missile time.

    2. Pace Medvedev, one wonders if RF might not take all of the East Bank of the Dnieper up to Belarus–with a Berlin-style division of Kiev–all of the Black Sea coast, since it’s obvious that Western-back stay-behind forces can wreak havoc on Russia’s Black Sea presence if allowed to remain under UKR control.

    PLUS a sliver running up past Transnistria, to connect up with Romanian, Hungarian & Slovak territory, along the underbelly of the Galicia that would revert to Poland. Or if Russia really is expansionist, perhaps they take the eastern half of Moldova and return the West to Romania.

    1. Lefty Godot

      The minimum seems like it should be, in addition to the four (five with Crimea) oblasts that Russia has already claimed: Sumy, Kharkiv, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv, and Odesa. The rest might be divided into several rump states. But it’s hard to imagine things getting to that point before early 2025, after the line of combat has taken a couple of stepwise moves to the west. And that’s assuming the neocons don’t go nuclear along the way.

    2. Kouros

      The western historical Moldova is already part of Romania, since it was one of the two polities that voted for union (the other one was Wallachia (Romanian Country- Gallawach/Wallach = Roman).

      Eastern Moldova is now R of Moldova. Transnistria was the area that the Soviets baptised as SSR of Moldova in 1924, to maintain their claim on Eastern Moldova (taken in 1812), despite the fact that it was never Moldavian.

      But by international law, if Moldovan majority votes to re-unite with Romania, legally Transnistria becomes legally Romanian territory and part of the NATO, with all that entails.

      Furthermore, because the ethnic minorities are well protected in romania due to the somewhat signifficant Magyar population, there won’t be much to complain that the Russian and Ukrainian minorities are persecuted.

      It can go many ways, but if Russia can claim to strive for Russky Mir, same thing should be valid for Rumansky Mir.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Of course it does not hurt that the present leader of Moldova, who was elected in a dodgy election, also holds Romanian citizenship. You think that they will follow international law if they try to join Moldova to Romania by holding a referendum or just go the Kosovo route and have the parliament declare a fait accompli? Pretty sure that most of the people in Transnistria want nothing to do with NATO much less the EU and I am not even sure that a majority of people in Moldova want to go that route either. Lots of cross border families in this region.

        1. Kouros

          Almost half of the R of Moldova holds Romanian passport, a tidbit of information RT doesn’t deign to disclose on its reporting about Moldova and its “sold out” president. And yes, Moldovans moved for work in Romania and Europe do vote in the state elections, as it is done in any other country that allows voting.

          And the last pool I have seen, more than 50% Moldovans wanted union and more than 75% of Romanians wanted union.

          And Romania is a tad less corrupt than Moldova or Ukraine. Also, police doesn’t do asset forfeiture in Romania.

  17. sausage factory

    Re: Avdeevka – Why put the lid on the pot when the meat is still jumping into it.
    Its good that discussions are happening now before the end game collapse happens, Rump DMZ with everything East of the Dnepr and Odessa in Russia would seem to be preferable but a balance has to be sought between expense and border stabiltiy/encroachment.
    I always thought the Americans would be smart enough to roll negotiations in with some sort of NewSTART/weapons restrictions/reductions talks, US can’t afford to spend trillions on trying to match russia in nuclear delivery vehicles, hypersonics and other areas, makes sense to use ukraine in an exchange/barter scenario. But maybe they aren’t that smart and will finally go over the edge in trying to keep up and thus cause a USSR style collapse in the irony to end all ironies..

  18. TMartin

    Sooner or later, Ukraine’s Army will collapse. Then Russia will dictate the terms of the aftermath. The ‘natural’ boundaries run along the Dneiper to Odessa. Note: Had Ukraine executed a strategic retreat a year and half ago to west of the Deniper and strenghened their army, , a negotiated solution might have been possible, as Russia would not have wanted to become engaged in urban warfare in a heavily defended Kyiv or in ‘partisan’ type warfare in the countryside. As it is now, the US neocons overstepped and should be held accountable.for their decision making.

  19. JessDTruth

    Russia will have a ready-made excuse for doing nothing to help Galicia, and to undermine the residents desire to unite with the West. Russia can negotiate with Poland for years about whether Poland will be given Galicia. Since there’s a good chance of Galicia slipping out of Russia’s control, Russia would not need to develop it economically. That would be Poland’s task, if negotiations succeed. While negotiations drag on, it will become clear to Galicians that Poland’s help is not worth while. They can also study the history of how the Austro-Hungarian empire helped some of the locals to genocide the native Rusyns and to drive them out. Also in the meanwhile, the former “404” regions will slowly come back to life, and the comparison will help Galicians to realize their moral bankruptcy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There will be tremendous pressure in the West NOT to negotiate with Russia because negotiating with Russia over the disposition of Western Ukraine will be seen as legitimating

      1. Russia status as conqueror of the parts it wants to integrate

      2. Russia’s status in having a say about Western Ukraine.

      So IMHO na ga happen.

  20. Mickey Hickey

    When I was 6 or 7 years old in Ireland in the 1940s’ we were taught that France and Ukraine were the bread baskets of Europe. When the potato crops were blighted across Europe in the 1840s’ countries with grain survived with relatively little damage. Under Communism, Russia increased its grain production enormously. Ukraine has over 50% of its land suited to grain production,this an enormous source of wealth which it exports at a rate of $27 billion USD per year. Europe is very much reliant on Ukraine and Russia for food and fossil fuels. The West would be well advised not to meddle in Russia-Ukraine relations unless thay want more expensive food.

  21. Joe Well

    Am I being naïve, or would this be the first time post-WWII that a country has actually annexed (not just made a buffer state out of) another country’s territory that it didn’t previously make a legal claim to? Like the bad old days of wars of conquest? Wouldn’t it give Russians pause to set this precedent?

      1. Revenant

        “Didn’t previously” is doing a lot of work there. Russian empire claimed Novorossiya and Soviet Russia gave it away to Soviet Ukraine. Where do we date the previously to…?

        If we accept the premise, I think there are arguable counterexamples to your question in Israel (no legal claim to anything it occupies illegally), British Indian Ocean Territory, Iraq and Kuwait (since reversed), various bits of naughty business by India (Kashmir, Sikkim etc), possibly Malaysia’s incursions on Borneo

    1. ChrisPacific

      There is a Russian plausibility argument on this already, summarized by Yves here in the prefix to John Helmer’s article.

      If a legal claim is needed then one will be found, probably along the above lines. Nobody but Russia and Russia-aligned countries will recognize it, but that’s just business as usual for anything Ukraine-related at present anyway.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Putin did, see the post about historic Russian lands and Ancient Rus.

      Also at least as far as Lugansk and Donestk oblasts are concerned, Putin observed the forms: recognized them as countries, entered into a mutual defense pact, and had their leaders ask for help (as they had been since 2014).

  22. John k

    I’ve long thought the 9 dark and light blue oblasts would joint russia. Imo talk of Kiev is just talk, perhaps helping the west save face (we saved Kiev!) plus, as said here there is much on the Russian plate and limited manpower to go around… just a pop of maybe 155-mil counting the 9 oblasts, and those will be very busy with infra. But driving most to eu by taking out electric would ease the problem of using the rump as a vast DMZ between the new Russian border and nato. can’t believe suggestions russia would allow any nato country to grab some bit.
    Imo they will move when the ground freezes, seems clear they would logically move while west is focused on ME.
    Nato has been shown to be a paper tiger. I wonder if Russia begins applying pressure on the baltics in a couple years. Energy, trade etc.

  23. Ignacio

    Western Ukraine including Kiev will be a problem and not only a Russian problem but also for the Collective West which will have responsibilities for its reconstruction (more for the stumbling EU than for the US). Hate can go both ways. This signals that it will be necessary for the Collective West to assume the new situation and reach an agreement with Russia. As for today this looks impossible. It would be in the best interest to the EU, at least, to reach an agreement with Russia but if we keep locked in confrontation with Russia the EU has to be prepared to suffer some of the consequences.

  24. Synoia

    No mention of the EU, NATO and Germany. The US has lost it influence in the EU, and one can see a possible agreement between the EU, Germany and Russia after a change of governments in EU Countries.

    One cannot see the US dictating policy through NATO after this almost complete of failure of NATO to be effective, and a clear demonstration that the US is a self absorbed, greedy partner,

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      Please read the post with more care. It mentioned US no longer funding Ukraine budget and likely not to, Penny Pritzker visits, US/weapons stocks being drained.

      I mentioned NATO that NATO can’t commit to Ukraine neutrality even if it wanted to due to its screwed up governance structure.

      Germany has no independent say, witness the Nordstream pipeline bombing and the way it was muscled into providing Leopard 2 tanks when it didn’t want to.

  25. GW

    My ancestors were so-called White Emigres from the old Russian Empire. I grew up reading about how seriously the Russians took their buffer zones. Strategic depth was always their answer to economic, technological, and industrial inferiority with the West.

    I’ll always remember that day in 2008 when I read in the news that the US and NATO had earmarked Ukraine for eventual membership in the alliance. A cold flash swept through my body and I almost felt nauseous.

    I knew right then and there that many, many thousands of people were going to get killed in a war in Ukraine. At least. There’s simply no way Russia could, or would, allow Ukraine to absorbed into NATO.

    15 years later my premonition has come to pass. The only upside is that it didn’t go nuke.

  26. Aurelien

    At the very highest strategic level, the Russians want secure frontiers, and a stable future relationship with the West. As a number of us have argued, this will be hard or impossible to achieve now through negotiations, because the situation is hopelessly complex, and the chances of the West ever establishing a coherent negotiating position are close to zero. In any event, treaties can be denounced and then we are back to where we started . I wouldn’t rule out agreements, joint declarations, even treaties on points of detail with individual nations, but these will simply be the writing down of de facto arrangements that already exist, generally on points of detail and administration. They will not create or guarantee anything that does not exist already.

    The Russians probably have a good idea just how desperate a state western militaries are in, and that, when the war is over, they will be the unquestioned military power in Europe. As we’ve discussed, genuine western rearmament is a mirage, and the United States will never again be able to project serious military forces into Europe and sustain them. If the Russians are told that the US will never give up on Ukraine, I suspect their answer will be,”how interesting.” Because, whilst the US can sulk as long as it wishes (think Iran) it won’t have the capacity to do much of anything on the ground.

    So from the Russian point of view, there is little point in pushing further than they really have to. Taking and trying to hold Kiev, for example, would simply encourage the diehard anti-Russians in power in western states, and provide their bellicose rhetoric with some credibility (Warsaw will be next!). I’ve long thought that the best Russian strategy would be to create a buffer-state in Ukraine, with a government that was not so much pro-Russian, as simply realistic, and consequently reluctant to get embroiled in any more NATO adventures. Such governments are reasonably common after wars, and the Russians could also offer them incentives to behave reasonably whereas the West probably doesn’t have the resources now to encourage them to behave unreasonably. A small, weak, poor, rump Ukrainian state which was closely tied to Russia but retained the ability to control its own domestic security would be ideal from the Russian perspective, and also encourage the West to recognise facts, and settle down to a new relationship.

    It’s a while since I was there but, from what I remember, Kiev is far too large and extended a city to occupy militarily, though I wouldn’t rule out the symbolic taking of the city as part of the surrender process (there would be no negotiation except on points of detail) and maybe a small military presence thereafter for “liaison” purposes. But that would be it.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Kiev always seems to me to make more sense as a hostage city than an occupied one. With the newly extended Russia to the east and south, and Belarus to the north, a government there would have very little room to manoeuvre. It would surely be much cheaper and more effective to keep it in this precarious condition than taking it.

      The one thing nobody talks much about, but I think will become very important, is infrastructure (especially dams) on the Dnieper. Whatever happens, some sort of agreement will have to be made over dam maintenance and operation and water quality (what if Kiev dumped all its sewage into the river making downstream reservoirs into unusable stink holes? If Russia does not control both banks then there will always be the potential for future conflict unless there is a formal deal.

      1. John k

        Imo Russia needs and will require a puppet gov in Kiev. Military will surrender, maybe coup z. Simple offer after no power, Russia fixes power in exchange for puppet gov that rules the rump, backed by Russia missiles etc.
        I wonder if the nukes under Ukraine control are fixed to blow off containment, imo prevailing winds are southwest.

  27. Willow

    Russia is ratcheting up the negotiating ladder. Before the Ukraine offensive Putin was offering to let West have Odesa in return for a settlement of some form. Now Odesa is off the table and Kiev is the new negotiating focal point. If West doesn’t roll over before the next Russian offensive Kiev will be taken. (West unlikely to accept). There has been enough of a demographic shift since start of the war that Kiev maybe more easily absorbed by Russia than many think. On top of this West is now seen as impotent so there won’t be the popular revolts of the past. More immigrants for Europe. Kiev neutral or in Western hands is more of a threat to Russia. No more Berlins. Russia will leave the oblasts on European border as a Ukrainian rump, as much for the geopolitical narrative as being liberators and not conquerors, with a least a oblast width west of Kiev as a DMZ. This will be the price of Ukraine attacking Russia internally with Western weapons.

    Reconstruction manpower help will come from China, Iran, & NK.

    1. Willow

      Reconstruction help could also come from Türkiye which would be a huge economic upside making the split with NATO worth it. A Chechen stronghold in Odesa (or even sizable presence in Kiev) to consolidate Russian power would also likely attract significant SA & Gulf States funding.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Kiev was a city of two million. That’s a whole different level. Not to excuse Israel,, but if people want to fight,, it’s going to take forever or be costly without turning the place into 1945 Berlin. My gut is the Kremlin (Putin and the sane) are trying to come up with a new prize to avoid this.

      They can control traffic to Kiev but within.

      1. Willow

        Patriots that want to fight have already fought and died (or crippled). What’s left will either emigrate (progressives), move to Lviv (grifters following Western aid), and those that now hate the West just as much as Russia. It will take two generations before West can even think about turning the tables. If the ‘West’ still exists in two generations. US gov’t is burning money too quickly and even if a non-Trump candidate wins the next election there won’t be the money to support a ‘Ukraine’ or any meaningful resistance in Kiev.

    3. Frank

      Yes, this is absolutely right. People here still fall for the western narrative that this is a war between Russia and Ukraine, when it is really Russia intervening in a Ukrainian civil conflict. As such, Russia does not have to militarily occupy Kiev at all, only to defeat it militarily, comprehensively. There are plenty of pro-Russian Ukrainians ready to take power of any and all regions that have been conquered. These will naturally vote for becoming part of the Russian Federation. Furthermore, after having been under their repression and bombardment for the past decade, they have the political will and motivation to use harsh enforcement against their former oppressors.

      There won’t be any Iraq style insurgency. The demographics just aren’t there. Because this is a war of attrition, instead of shock-and-awe, most of those willing to take up arms against Russia will have been killed or maimed. Those who survive will be exhausted and cowed into submission. Russia knows how to win the peace, and it always fights its wars with a laser focus on its ultimate political objectives (they even call their wars military-political campaigns).

  28. David in Friday Harbor

    Thanks for the link to the transcript of President Putin’s meeting with the Civic Chamber.

    Speakers didn’t only include representatives from Donetsk; the Mufti of Russia also spoke at length. I don’t pretend to “get” the politics of the multi-ethnic Russian Federation, but Putin always impresses me as being diplomatic (he has Medvedev to act as his agent provocateur). The Mufti of Russia reminded the group of the large number of Muslims in the Russian military. I imagine that their loyalty is being firmed-up by the West’s implicit participation in the ethnic cleansing/genocide in Gaza.

    More important to the reading of tea leaves is Shoigu’s defense budget — more spending in 2024 and less in 2025. Wonder what is happening in late 2024? Could the former Viceroy of Ukraine be voted out? Without massive U.S. spending the AFU (and the government) will certainly collapse and the Russians will be in a better position to dictate the negotiated settlement that their initial February 2022 SMO incursion seemed aimed at facilitating until blocked by Blinken and Johnson.

    I’m still getting furniture deliveries by strapping young men of military age who proclaim, “No English, Ukrainian.” I suspect that most of the pro-EU faction now live in the actual EU and are hoping for permanent status there (I’ve read that they number in the millions). It will be much easier to pacify a Kharkov, Odessa, and Kiev depopulated by the seekers of EU passports, but I think that we’re about two years out from a settlement.

  29. Raymond Sim

    The map of protests and election results should be viewed bearing in mind that those events came before things like the anti-Russian language campaign and the revelations about the Maidan shootings, to say nothing of the authoritarian measures adopted even before the war.

    The political landscape of Kiev and its eastern hinterlands is likely very different now.

    It’s pure speculation on my part, but I would think Moscow’s degrees of freedom might extend to a sort of Hong Kong solution – perhaps a “Kiev Autonomous Republic”.

    If rural reconstruction is part of the pitch, it might prove very appealing.

    I would add that miltary conquest of Kiev might be acheived, albeit slowly, via a sort of soft siege, allowing Ukrainian economic collapse and humanitarian corridors to get most of the enemy out of the city, and employing locals as much as possible for the mopping-up and civil affairs work.

    All of which is to say that I think Moscow does indeed have options that aren’t so easy to see from afar.

  30. Roland

    I think NATO will escalate unless, by some chance, Trump is able to win in ’24.

    This is not a short war. If NATO wants to keep waging it, it will go on. Shortages of this-or-that don’t matter much, since Russia can’t stop Western arms production without escalating on their own part. As for money, that matters even less, since the West has gone to MMT. Political will is the question, rather than military or economic means.

    Politically speaking, within NATO there is little significant opposition to more war. Strange to say, the strongest poltical opposition to the war in any of the NATO countries comes from a maverick billionaire in the United States, and he has been under constant assail (Nobody who wasn’t already a household name, and grossly rich, could possibly have held up to such a storm as Trump has endured. Even when out of office, he has been attacked in the headlines every single day).

    Turkish policy is a study in ambivalence. Hungary is too weak to matter. Elsewhere, most of the spectrum is fully war compliant. There is not even much public debate. Meanwhile, the marginal voices are being openly suppressed.

    The overall motive is not hard to recognize: the Western elites think they deserve to rule the world. For the Western elites, Ukraine is not about Ukraine. The big question is about say-so. The Western elites now typically lose their minds whenever they encounter any defiance, whether abroad or at home. Why else all the Putin hate, all the Trump derangement?

    This is not a rational thing for the Western elites. For them, it’s an identity thing. Rationally speaking, there was never any reason for conflict with Russia, or with China. The Russian and Chinese elites were eager to join the global finance capitalist oligarchy, as long as they were treated with proper regard.

    But Western elites, as it turned out, never thought of globalization as anything other than Atlanticism writ large. And Atlanticism, of course, is the polite name given to Pan-Anglo nationalism.

    It’s an identity thing. Western elites–the politicians, the financiers, the academics, even the entertainers–cannot conceive of themselves as ever being anything other than the everlasting world leaders of their kind. The mentality of the US official defense doctrine is broadly true of all Western elites in all areas of endeavour: they will not accept anyone else as a peer, ever again. It’s like a sincere religious belief. To them, any other future seems like the end of the world. Therefore, Western elites will risk the world, or even ruin the world, rather than lose their identity and sense of destiny.

    Don’t expect rational. Expect a lot of violence. For God’s sake, you can just see the Western elites working themselves up to do all kinds of horrible things. Censorship and repression at home. And abroad, slaughter without apology.

    We’re on track for the world’s first nine-digit war. Over a hundred million dead.

    When reading history, it’s common to wonder why a civilization eviscerated itself the way it did. Notwithstanding all the very learned chapters written about causes and developments, it still takes a lot of vainglory to really make it happen. And today’s West is nothing if not vainglorious.

    Escalation is irrational, unnecessary and ruinous. But I think that it will happen, because the leaders of my society are the sort of people who are forever convinced of their own success, even as they leave a trail of costly and dishonourable failures. These leaders retain control of a substantial social legacy which they have yet to squander. They will squander it.

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