As Russia Signals It Can Achieve Maximalist Aims in Ukraine, How Would Russia Manage Kiev and Western Ukraine?

The West has made many bold pronouncements of its intentions for post-war Ukraine…of course, assuming a post-war Ukraine, starting with having Ukraine join NATO and the EU. And Russia has mainly ignored them and until of late, avoided making similar pronouncements. Russian officials had held to the mantra of pursuing the Special Military Operation until all its objectives were achieved. Russia has notably been closed-mouthed about how the war has been going, much to the consternation of some in Russia, who wanted to see Russia playing a more aggressive propaganda game.

So why is Russia acting in what would seem to be an out of character manner, telegraphing a maximalist view of what its Special Military Operation aims translate into when big funding packages in the US and EU are in play? Specifically, that if no one tries to come to a deal soon, Russia will install a more cooperative government, which translates into taking most or all of Ukraine. And Putin has even taken to giving more history lessons as to why Ukraine is at a minimum a branch of the Russian people and has declared Odessa to be a Russian city. 1

One would think Russia would be more circumspect. After all, pointing out what ought to be obvious is still more reality than the Collective West can bear right now. And there is a lot of “If we don’t give Ukraine more money and weapons, Putin will go to Paris” talk. Russian officials saying the end game will likely require more territorial, as in a lot more, can be spun as proof of those fears.

As we’ll discuss shortly, absent a wildly unexpected development, Russia has the capacity to subdue all of Ukraine by force. Normally cautious Russian officials are effectively saying that to Russian citizens, even at the risk of further provoking the US and NATO. That is likely because they know full well what some Western commentators have pointed out, that the West simply cannot begin to compete with Russia in arms production, even before getting to the superiority of Russian systems in most categories. Despite recognition of that sorry fact in some quarters, the West is not making serious efforts to rearm or increase manning levels. And a second, more critical factor with respect to Ukraine is it has burned through nearly all of its experienced soldiers, and is falling short of filling the ranks with new conscripts, who wind up being cannon fodder.

But does the new Russian open show of confidence merely reflect its ability to prostrate Ukraine? Or could it also mean Russia also believes it has come up with solutions to another big problem we flagged from the outset, “winning the peace”? Occupying hostile territory is costly and corrosive. How does Russia plan to get in sufficient good graces with the population in the largely-ethnically Ukrainian west Ukraine?

Towards the very end of this post, we’ll also sketch out how Russia can hoist the West a bit on its sanctions petard and even potentially use other people’s money and assets to win new friends.

How Western Continuing Refusal to Consider Russian Security Needs Means Russia Will Take Matters Into Its Own Hands

Remember that the Collective West has doggedly maintained that it will keep fighting Russia in Ukraine, even if how exactly it will do so looks increasingly in doubt.

For instance, recall how Tony Blinken, in a Washington Post interview with David Ignatius in January, was already thinking about what would happen after Ukraine won…and made clear the US would keep arming Ukraine so as to contain and weaken Russia.2

As Ukraine is now visibly losing the war, the response from the West has been more threat display, such as Lloyd Austin saying that in November the US must not let Russia win, otherwise in a new variant of domino theory, China will be emboldened in Asia. And of course Putin will soon eat up the Baltics too.

We will spare readers more examples of key Western officials saying, no way, now how will they let Russia “win” in Ukraine, whatever that might mean. It was conceivable that if Russia were to stop, say at the Dnieper, that would have been spun as a Western success since Russia would be depicted, contrary to evidence, as wanting to take over all of Ukraine.

But as Western leaders continue to be unrealistic about the state of play, most importantly, showing zero interest in negotiations between Russia and the US, Russia not only will determine the end game (something that was pretty much a given), rationally, Russia needs to take a ruthless view of how it creates new facts on the ground in the territory of Ukraine so as to impede further Collective West action and meddling.

Russian citizens criticized their government, particularly early in the war, for its weak propaganda efforts. But it looks to have played the smarter long game, with considerable diplomatic out-reach and exploiting Collective West inattention to the considerable cost of sanctions blowback on many developing economies.

So it is noteworthy that in the last month of so, Russian leaders, starting with Putin, have been saying in a not very coded manner that if the West does not come up with a way to addressing Russia’s security needs, Russia will settle the matter by force. That increasingly looks like it will include Odessa becoming part of Russia and Russia defeating and replacing the government in Kiev.1

Recall as we wrote a month ago:

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 Post 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:

Admittedly Western officials have taken to flogging the “Russia wants to occupy Europe” trope to insist that more more money must go into the Ukraine burn pit. But there’s no indication that that messaging is in response to Putin, Medvedev and other officials taking a harder line about the Ukraine end game. It instead seems to be a reptile-brain reflex to realizing that the Great Counteroffensive was a big bust. Even if West has no new rabbits to pull out of its hat, throwing more money at the problem will do as a temporizing response.

Has Russia Become More Confident Not Just About the War but Also About the Peace?

It is striking that Russia is preparing the Russian public for an end game for Ukraine that includes Russia taking a lot more territory than earlier contemplated, and is saying that now, when further Ukraine funding is in play in the US and Europe. Perhaps I am reading too much into what I can infer at this distance, but the change in messaging is marked enough that it appears the Russian government came to some decisions and the start of presenting what the post war map might look like is a reflection of that.

One has to wonder if Russia’s shift is a reflection not just about its ability to fully prostrate Ukraine if it needs to, but also having gotten or developed information that indicates that controlling Western Ukraine, if it comes to that, will not be unduly costly. That could be the result of assessments like:

Estimates of the able-bodied adult population that lives in non-ethnic Russian dominated Ukraine

Continuing success in military enlistments, meaning Russia has more than enough men and women to handle peace-keeping and critical reconstruction

Estimates of how many more Ukrainians will flee when its borders are reopened3

Ukraine has engaged only in pinprick-level terrorism, and Russia believes it can’t inflict meaningful harm4

Because this post is already long, I will merely introduce an idea I hope to develop further. What happens to Ukraine’s assets and liabilities?

Let’s start down this line of thinking. If Russia gets Ukraine to surrender, or otherwise achieves regime change without US involvement, it is not hard to think the US and the EU will quickly extend the Russian sanctions to Ukraine. The hope would be to collapse its banking system.

But as far as I can tell, the foreign debt of Ukraine banks is only $1.8 billion. Private external debt seems to lie mainly in other sectors. So Russia could without much outlay prop up the banks if needed. But that would or should mean it also means the Russian Central Bank becomes their regulator, and the entire banking system is under new oversight and rules.

More interesting is the opportunities that a move like this might open up. Recall that Ukraine refused to renew the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation in 2019, so it expired in March. That treaty, by the way, is the one by which Russia recognized the invoilability of Ukraine’s borders, respect its territorial integrity, and otherwise not harm Ukraine’s national security. So Russia has no current treaties with Ukraine at Ukraine’s instigation, particularly with respect to important matters like not invading.

The fact that Russia and Ukraine stopped recognizing each other as sovereign states means Russia has no obligation to act as a “successor” to any Ukraine private or government commitments.

Now if the Collective West were to predictably and reflexively sanction a new Ukraine government, its currency would no longer be accepted in the West for payment. More importantly, Western banks would presumably be barred from remitting payments to Ukraine banks.

Now things get fun!

So pray tell how does Ukraine satisfy its foreign debt obligations when it has been frozen out of the Western payment system? We’re looking at you, IMF.

How do Ukraine asset owners, like rich Ukrainians who fled to Europe, pay taxes on their real estate in Ukraine? On the agricultural land in foreign hands?

What happens if Russia decides, arguably to rescue Ukraine, but of course also to limit its sovereignity, to put Rump Ukraine on the rouble?4 Operationally this would be trickly but since the economy is already in a state of collapse, the usual concern about downside would be moot.

Now of course Russia being very keen about observing legal forms would presumably allow Ukraine asset holders to use any deposits in Ukraine banks to pay tax and other government fees and charges. But Russia can easily use well established banking tricks practices not to make it easy. For instance, in the US, if an account is compromised, the owner must make an in-person appearance in the branch with valid ID to prove it is indeed his account in order for it to be unfrozen. Russia or its proxy Rump Ukraine could similarly require at least one in-person visit from foreign account owners for them to continue to have access to account access. Recall it is also normal for accounts that have been inactive for a certain period of time to be escheated to the state.

In other words, one could anticipate that at least some, perhaps many, assets owned by foreigners in Ukraine would be seized due to unpaid taxes. Russia /Rump Ukraine could auction them to the highest bidder…or for residential property, distribute it by lottery with people disabled in the war (from both sides) and other groups getting preference. Similarly agricultural land could be distributed according to a formula (particularly preference given to family farmers).

So there could be a path to using assets in Rump Ukraine, where the West would have created conditions for their owners to be unable to meet their legal obligations and therefore lose title to them, to then be redistributed in ways that would create good will toward the new Russian overlords.


1 From a recent press and public Q%A session, Results of the Year with Vladimir Putin on December 14, which as Gilbert Doctorow pointed out, did not present anything new, although some of his themes are pretty recent:

There will be peace when we achieve our goals, which you have mentioned. Now let’s return to these goals – they have not changed. I would like to remind you how we formulated them: denazification, demilitarisation, and a neutral status for Ukraine.

Look what is happening in terms of denazification. During the negotiation process, there was a certain stage after the drafting of a possible agreement, which was recently mentioned by officials in Kiev, where, in general they did not agree that some kind of denazification was needed, and they said that there was no fascistisation, no growth of such sentiments…

And when the head of today’s Kiev Administration in front of the whole world gives a standing ovation to a former SS soldier who directly participated in the Holocaust, in the extermination of 1.5 million Jews in Ukraine, Russians and Poles. Is this not a manifestation of Nazism? Therefore, the issue of denazification is relevant. It is true that during the negotiation process we, our negotiators, were told that in principle they did not rule out the possibility of adopting some legislative acts in Ukraine. That was then, during the negotiations in Istanbul.

Now, as for demilitarisation. If they do not want to reach an agreement, then we have to resort to other measures, including military ones….By the way, they got everything as promised. Ukraine received everything, and even more than what was promised by the West. But ever since the start of the so-called counteroffensive, we have destroyed 747 tanks. This is as of yesterday evening. We have also destroyed almost 2,300 armoured vehicles of various types. This is what is called demilitarisation. Alternatively, we can agree on demilitarisation and establish certain parameters. We actually agreed on them during the Istanbul talks, although these agreements were thrown out later, but we managed to reach agreement. There are also other possibilities to either reach an agreement or resolve the conflict by force. This is what we will strive for….

As for normalising relations [with Europe], it does not depend on us alone….

How did the conflict in Ukraine begin? Let us look back, even though it may take three or four minutes. It began with the state coup in Ukraine in 2014…

Do you see the core of the problem? The problem is, as I have always said and as I am saying today, that despite the current tragic developments, Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people. What is happening now is an immense tragedy; it is like a civil war between brothers who stand on different sides [of the conflict]. But overall, they are not, to a large extent, responsible for this.

The southeastern part of Ukraine has always been pro-Russian because it is historically a Russian territory…Crimea nor the Black Sea region has any connection to Ukraine. Odessa is a Russian city. We know this. Everyone knows this. But they [Ukrainians] have concocted some historical nonsense….

But after the 2014 state coup, it became clear to us that they would use force to prevent us from developing normal relations with Ukraine. They spent US$5 billion on that state coup, as the Americans openly admitted, without any hesitation…

That, combined with a burning urge to creep up to our borders and drag Ukraine into NATO – all of this has led to the tragedy. In addition, there has been bloodshed in Donbass for eight years. All this taken together has led to the tragedy that we are now experiencing. They forced us to take these actions.

So, as I say, in a situation where the United States conceived and orchestrated this act with Europe standing by and averting its gaze, or playing along and singing along with them, how can we build relations with them in these circumstances? We would – we did not break off any ties – but they pretend they do not know or remember anything. Only two or three times did they mention the Minsk agreements, saying they were not for real and were never going to be implemented. In 2014, they also signed those guarantees, those agreements between the government and the opposition in Ukraine just like that, and immediately forgot about them or threw them away.

Do you see my point? My point is that they have lost their sovereignty to a large extent, as we can see now, and they are making many decisions to their own detriment. To their own detriment! But they do it, nonetheless…

In fact, we are ready to build relations with the United States as well. We believe that America is an important country on the world stage. But this absolutely imperial policy the country pursues is bad for them, not even for us…

As soon as they change on a deeper level, and begin to respect other people, other countries, start searching for compromises instead of addressing their problems using sanctions and military force, which would create the underlying conditions for restoring full-fledged relations. So far, there are no such conditions. But we are ready for this.

2 From the article Blinken ponders the post-Ukraine-war order:

The Biden administration, convinced that Vladimir Putin has failed in his attempt to erase Ukraine, has begun planning for an eventual postwar military balance that will help Kyiv deter any repetition of Russia’s brutal invasion….

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

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

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

3 From Almayadeen in August:

But this is a regime that has banned all men between the ages of 18 and 60 as well as women in certain professions from leaving the country. There is no free internal movement of citizens. The main exceptions to the prohibition on leaving the country are those unfit for military service, those fathers who have three or more minor children (all below the age of 16), and persons caring for people with disabilities. (The latter exemption only applies if there is no other family member to provide care.)

4 The counterargument is that the US prevented Ukraine from doing much. However, my impression is the sensitivity involved using US/NATO weapons and intel. Stunts like the fertilizer-truck bomb attack on the Kerch bridge, and the recent strike on a Russian train line in Siberia, can be depicted, as the case may be, as Putin-haters acting on their own or the SBU acting on its own. So Ukraine does have autonomy on this front and Russia may have deemed what it (or more accurately, dissidents after the war is over) can do as a manageable risk.

5 The US didn’t try that with Japan, where the US imposed a new Constitution and limited its military to self-defense (that has become a bit of a fiction in recent decades) but the world was on the Gold Standard then plus…Japan used Japanese, and just about no one in the West could read it, which translated into an inability to oversee banking. Even in Peak Japan in the 1980s, the number of Westerners who could read Japanese was remarkably small.

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  1. KD

    It is true there has been an increase of rhetoric about Russia occupying all of Ukraine. There are at least two issues:

    1.) Legality. Many view the Russian/Ukrainian conflict as a war. Russia claims to be conducting a “special military operation.” In addition, originally, Lugansk and Donetsk declared independence, and sought the aid of the Russian Federation along the lines of Kosovo with NATO involvement. Subsequently, the Russians held referenda and four oblasts voted to join the RF.

    Whatever a person thinks about the referenda or the declaration of independence of L&D, the intention is to keep the situation out of the framework of a war of aggression which is a war crime. Obviously, in a referenda, it is always more important who counts the votes than it is who votes, but its not inconceivable that Kherson Oblast prefers the RF to Ukraine. I don’t think anyone would believe a vote in Lviv to join the RF. Further, the more RF gobbles up oblasts, the more the remaining population skews pro-Europe, so its not clear how you do a national referenda. I’m not clear how it would be legal for the RF to just annex Ukraine, and Putin has consistently sought some kind of plausible rationale to justify the SMO in terms of international law, as well as providing diplomatic cover in dealing with the Global South.

    2.) Legitimacy: It is hard to conceive of a rump Ukraine wanting to be in the RF, or under the thumb of the RF. Assuming some kind of legal rationale (Lviv votes by 98% to join the RF because the majority boycott the fake referenda, or there is flagrant pressure on voters), no one is going to view the new government as legitimate. There has been discussions of the lack of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority based on their alleged collaboration with Israel. I would see any government in Western Ukraine that is actively cooperating with a Russian occupation as lacking legitimacy in the eyes of its people, as well as internationally. It would just become a perpetual thorn in the side of Russia, the way the Palestinian cause has become a thorn in the side of Israel.

    I note that Putin doesn’t seem to be expressing this “annex the whole of Ukraine” talk, its other functionaries. In addition, the talk is about Ukraine’s capitulation, not Russia taking the whole of the country. There are obvious strategic advantages for RF in having a short border with Poland, rather than a longer border with a rump Ukraine (and the same for Belarus) but I do not see how you get around the problems of the legality of such a move or the political legitimacy. In other words, militarily such a move makes sense, but not diplomatically or politically.

    On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for Russia to make maximalist threats now, while they are winning the war, because it may force people to the table, and it changes the baseline negotiation from territory in exchange for peace, to the preservation of some form of Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for peace.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for this input. Very helpful.

      Please note this post nowhere said that Russia would occupy all of Ukraine, but I should have been clearer on that point.

      But I agree now that Russia is contemplating taking Kiev, where does it draw the line? As we pointed out earlier, Kiev is a sprawling city. Similarly, there are not obvious natural boundaries to the north of Odessa. If Russia plans not to occupy much of Western Ukraine, what will it do to secure Odessa?

      We have in previous posts followed up and expanded on John Helmer’s idea, of creating big de-electrified zones as buffer areas.

      I covered a lot of ground here, and neglected to pick up an observation from a November post, that the “Ancient Rus” above, by implication from Putin, and that was made explicit in comments shortly thereafter by Medvedev, does NOT include Lviv or Galacia. So even if Russia winds up installing a complaint government in Kiev, it most assuredly does not want those pesky areas.

      Of course, there is the open question of…if Russia installs a government, and supports it in, as in shall we politely call it, stabilizing the parts of Ukraine unlikely to join Russia in referenda, what to do about Galacia????

      I don’t see how it can get Poland, particularly under super EU-phile Donald Tusk, to help Russia out by integrating them. How can it create an unsustainable tiny statelet, so that it eventually does get absorbed by a neighbor?

      This is why the seeming show of confidence trouble me, not about the war but what happens next. It seems there are a lot of possible end-states that would be very hard to manage. Has the Russian government nevertheless worked out a lot of fixes? It would seem unlikely but they have proven to exceed expectations.

      Added later: I do NOT read anyone as contemplating Western Ukraine ex Odessa and the part of Kherson west of the Dnieper having referenda to join Russia. I read Putin as saying that a new government would be installed in Kiev. So you have Rump Ukraine, with a fiction of some independence (but no Black Sea access and maybe not its own currency) v. oblasts that choose to join the RF….v. Galacia….but what would its legal status be?

      1. Daniil Adamov

        Hang on. How doesn’t Ancient Rus include Lvov and Galicia? Galicia was a major principality in what has been variably called Kievan Rus, Ancient Rus or Medieval Russia. Indeed, you can see Galich on the map – Galicia was named after it.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Medvedev excluded it. And Putin specifically referred to a document from the 16th century as legitimating Russian claims.

          For instance, when Putin addressed the topic in 2021, he indicated the western boundary was at Kiev and “Chernigov”….which are east of Lviv:

          Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith.

          I don’t have time to run it down now, but the document Putin later referred to as conferring some legitimacy to his position, was based on some officials in “Ancient Rus” petitioning to be part of Russia, I believe due to issues related to the Orthodox Church. Lviv is predominantly Catholic.

          1. Daniil Adamov

            I see, thank you. That does seem like it might be a significant omission, since Chernigov and Kiev were securely in the middle of southern Ancient Rus, rather than on its far end. It’s like saying “the United States from Boston and Chicago to New Orleans” – leaving a big part of it out. Cultural and religious divergence with Galicia, at least in any recognisable form, came later (as mentioned in that link). In the Middle Ages it was an integral part of Ancient Rus (contemporarily, “the Rusian Land”).

          2. Polar Socialist

            I’d like to point out that Ancient Rus was definitely not bound together by one language. The Russian Primary Chronicle, written in Old Russian probably in Kiev around 1116, meticulously goes trough all the tribes present when Rus was established (in 859, according to the chronicle) – and also all the different languages they spoke.

            At Beloozero are situated the Ves’, and on the lake of Rostov, the Meria, and on Lake Kleshchino the Meria also. Along the River Oka (which flows into the Volga), with their own language the Muroma, the Cheremisians with their own language, and the Mordva with their own language.

            For the Slavonic race in Rus’ includes only the Polianians, the Derevlians, the people of Novgorod, the Polotians, the Dregovichians, the Severians, and the Buzhians, who live along the river Bug and were later called Volhynians.

            The following are other tribes which pay tribute to Rus’: Chuď, Meria, Ves’, Muroma, Cheremis’, Mordva, Perm’, Pechera, Iam’, Litva, Zimegola, Kors’, Narva, and Liv’. These have their own languages and are of the race of Japheth.

            From the Ladoga and lake Ilmen to Kazan the northern Rus was populated by Finnic tribes. One may notice in the tribute list tribe called Iam’ which is usually interpreted as Häme tribe occupying at the time a large swathe of Finland from west coast to central Finland.

            1. Piotr Berman

              I think the chronicles etc. were written in Old Church Slavonic, initially based on ancestral dialect of Bulgarian of 9th century. However, until 5th century, Slavs (photo- ?) lived on a relatively compact territory, and differences were emerging gradually, so 12-th century Polish and Russian are closer to each other than to the contemporary languages, and in 10th century, all Slavs would understand OCS. Like with early Mediaeval Latin in Romance countries, the language of the church was following the vernacular to some degree.

              1. Polar Socialist

                Regarding other chronicles this is true, but the Primary Chronicle is the earliest (surviving?) manuscript in Old East Slavic a.k.a. Old Russian a.k.a. new “Church Slavonic with pronounced East Slavic interference” (as wikipedia puts it).

            2. janos

              I have read that commonly the people of Russia refer to Kiev as Mother Russia, Moscow as Father Russia, and St. Petersburg as New Russia – essentially the collective identity of Rus slowly spreading north from the starting point of Kiev, assimilating the locals along the way.

          3. hk

            The religious dimension, I think, is indeed an important part: Ukrainian nationalism, as it emerged in 18th-20th century was, after all, closely bound with the Uniate Church–Catholic as opposed to Orthodox, vis-a-vis Russia but Greek Rite, as opposed to Latin, vis-a-vis Poland. Further, the Banderite regime has shown its hand via persecuting the Orthodox openly. I was always under the impression that the religious divide matched the national sentiments, but how different factions among the Orthodox operated was unclear to me (The Duran folks like to remind us of Jeffrey Pyatt’s role in getting the Patriarch of Constantinople to recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, but where it fits in the big picture is not clear to me.).

      2. Jams O'Donnell

        “Has the Russian government nevertheless worked out a lot of fixes? It would seem unlikely but . . .”

        It seems pretty likely to me that the Russian Government has postulated every scenario they can think of with regard to the end of the war, and put in place the best solution they can in every case. They would be in dereliction of duty not to have done so.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I can tell you that is not possible. Too many scenarios and Game of Thrones like wild card reactions from interested parties, starting with Belarus and Turkiye. Look how Putin already got the main chance wrong, in not anticipating he’d have to go from an SMO to a wider war. He was lucky the West so believed their “Russia is incompetent and backwards” ‘self-talk that they did not react as Russia greatly increased its manpower.

          Similarly, on a small but indicative level, Russia has been criticized for not taking some obvious defensive measures, such as storing military planes in cement bunkers.

      3. redleg

        Just as Russia used US/NATO precedent in the Balkans to launch the SMO, I think that US regime change operations are going to be the template legal basis for Russia to conqueror all of Ukraine, maybe stay for a few decades, and break it into bits. Some of the bits will vote themselves into or ally themselves with Russia, and others (e.g. Galicia) will be left to rot.
        This would accomplishe the goals of the SMO while having the extra benefit of humiliating the US using the US’ own political and legal strategy. To top it off, what political and economic punishments are left for the US to use given that Russia has adapted to sanctions far better than the US allies have? I don’t see any additional actions outside of full nuclear engagement by the US that would hurt Russia pretty much at all.

        1. Greg

          I had the same sort of thought – what US precedent would Russia use to control the rump state?

          The first thing that sprang to mind was a humanitarian intervention. If rump Ukraine is completely busted (as seems likely given the economic and demographic outlook post-war), then it is conceivable that for purely white-hatted humanitarian reasons, Russia needs to step in and provide humanitarian aid and assistance. In US forms, that aid and assistance usually looks very like a controlling interest, and tends to coincidentally result in a fragmented population perpetually on the edge of civil war and incapable of national organisation in their own interests.
          Ie, use Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya as templates for the legal approach.

          It’s very in line with the explicit use of the Kosovo template for the initial SMO outline.

      4. GM

        Please note this post nowhere said that Russia would occupy all of Ukraine, but I should have been clearer on that point.

        They kind of don’t have a choice.

        Not with modern long-range weapons.

        Kamikaze drones have IRBM ranges these days, and you can see that even Yemen, an otherwise totally failed state, boasts very advanced cruise and ballistic missile and drone capabilities in the intermediate range because it has Iran’s backing. Ukraine first, has the backing of NATO, and second, isn’t a random Third world country, but the most developed and industrialized part of the former USSR.

        Whatever rump state remains, unless it is under firm Russian military occupation, will be used for attacks against Russia in perpetuity.

        You see how US bases in Iraq and Syria are being attacked now almost daily. Well, it will be the same thing, but with even more serious weapons, and not against far away military outposts, but against the demographic and industrial core of Russia. Sure, Russia has great air defense, but some things will always get through, and air defense missiles are not cheap. You can’t afford to live like that forever.

        Finally, there is the issue of nukes and NPPs. The remaining operational nuclear power plants are in norther Nikolaev oblast, in Khmelnitsky, and in Rovno. Russia has to control those, for obvious reasons. That leaves Galicia and Transcarpathia as the only regions that are not an absolute must to control. but there is also the geostrategic consideration of connecting to Hungary and Serbia via a land route and thus completing the northern Eurasian transportation link from China.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Please read with more care. The issue at hand is whether Russia takes Lviv and Galacia.

          And defending aircraft carriers, which ever before the Millennium 2002 games were recognized as pork masquerading as big fat easy military targets, are not analogous to territorial defense. Ukraine has made drone swarm attacks on Crimea and Russia has successfully defended against them.

          What Russians has voiced concerns about (even though they have also quickly become successful in defending agains them) is longer range missiles like HIMARS and ATACMS. There are version of the ATACMS that fly up to 300 KM, so far we have deployed the IIRC 70 KM version. Lavrov has said if the West were to use the 300 KM ATACMS, Russia would need a bigger buffer zone around Russian territory. John Helmer has argued it could be a big de-electrified area.

          Russia does not need all of Western Ukraine to secure that physical safety zone but there may be other reasons, like where best to establish fortifications or where key train lines run, that argue for more.

          1. Greg

            There are version of the ATACMS that fly up to 300 KM, so far we have deployed the IIRC 70 KM version.

            About twice that, there was definitely a brief uptick in deep-rear strikes when ATACMS arrived (the chopper strike was a bit past HIMARS range).

            According to a U.S. official, the ones delivered to Ukraine have a maximum range of a bit more than 100 miles (roughly 160 kilometers).


            The storm shadows have 300km range, although there is evidence that Ukraine has at least one missile (the Grom? Neptune? Non-export Storm Shadows?) with range more like 500km.

            All of which is to say, Lavrov’s comment about needing a bigger buffer already applies (and supports the question outlined in this post).

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I don’t understand why you are arguing with me. Wikipedia confirms exactly what I said, the longest range ATACMS are 300km:

              It uses solid propellant, is 13 feet (4.0 m) high and 24 inches (610 mm) in diameter, and the longest range variants can fly up to 190 miles (300 km).


              ATACMS can be fired from the HIMARS platforms. I think a lot of confusion in reporting result from conflating the platform with the missiles fired, here the ATACMS.

              As far as I can tell, there are no missiles called HIMARS. It’s the name of the platform only:


              1. GM

                They got the cluster round ATACMS version with shorter range (and I think people are getting miles and kilometers mixed up here too).

                Which people laughed at originally because of the shorter range, but in reality it was sent precisely in order to hit the airfields close to the front and destroy the helicopters. That is what the cluster version is for — to spread the bomblets around a wide area and destroy aircraft.

                Also, they have gotten non-MTCR compliant Storm Shadows by now — there was that strike on Kerch that hit one ship in the dock, and that is past the 300-km range limit — there is no point from which it could have been fired that is closer to Kerch than 350 km. Sure, the MTCR is not an official treaty and is not legally binding, but still, that sets a very bad precedent. It existed for a reason, but is now effectively dead. Also, this means that these are now even legally not Ukrainian, but British and French missiles.

                Of course, Moscow swallowed that one too and didn’t say anything, just as it pretended that the IL-76 base in Pskov wasn’t attacked from the Baltics and that the Tu-141s that hit the strategic bomber airbases in Engels and Shaykovka were not modified and directly guided by NATO, for the sake of not escalating prematurely. But the next thing is a lot more non-MTCR Storm Shadows, plus Taurus from Germany, and eventually JASSMs. And strikes on pre-war Russian territory…

              2. Greg

                Not arguing, just correcting your comment about ATACMS in Ukrainian use having a 70km range in the Ukrainian variant. Tiny part of a larger comment and I probably wasn’t clear that I wasn’t in any way arguing with the general thrust of your comment.
                The detail seems important because the point you were making is stronger given the west has already supplied longer range weapons including several fired by the HIMARS platform. Sorry if my tone was off.

                As you say, ATACMS fired from either the HIMARS, the M270, or it’s variously named EU variants (eg MARS II), is either ~160km or ~300km range.
                The Ukrainians are reported to have the ~160km variant and have used these for several strikes on rear-line Russian airfields (most successfully against several Ka52s ).

                HIMARS in Ukraine mostly fire the M30 GMLRS rocket which has “up to” 92km range, but mostly gets used in the 70-80km range, and is probably what you were thinking of. They used to have the M31 which is the same but a single warhead, now they have the cluster munition (older) variant because the US ran out of the unitary warhead flavours. The M30 are widely used (several intercepted daily) to take out hard points in the frontlines and the occasional ammo dump, plus Donetsk city ( The terminology confusion arises because the standard-use-case M30 and M31 missiles often get referred to just as “HIMARS missiles”.

                There is meant to also be some “small diameter bomb” missiles supplied to Ukraine, which have ~150km range, but no-one seems to be sure if these will ever get there or even exist outside testing ranges and sales pitches in the US (

          2. GM

            The ATACMS is a bit of distraction at present, the real threat very soon will be massed long-range drone swarms.

            But yes, eventually cruise and ballistic missiles too, and without the restriction on striking pre-war Russian territory.

            And no, Russia isn’t successfully defending against HIMARS and ATACMS, it is as successfully defending against them as anyone could, but it is far from 100% success. At this point thousands of Russian soldiers and hundreds of civilians have died as a result of HIMARS strikes (the civilians apparently purely for the sake of the sadistic pleasure of whoever controls the targeting in the US military) and billions in equipment have been destroyed. The ATACMS didn’t cause as much damage as claimed, but it was still a lot more than zero — they did take out several helicopters, and that was just a few of those that were launched.

            Of course a big part of the issue is that while air defense over central Russia is very dense and layered, in the new regions and close to the front it is overstretched. And it isn’t just a matter of equipment — it takes a long time to train air defense crews, that’s one of the most technically demanding parts of the military. So far what has been launched at pre-war Russia in terms of ballistic missiles (whatever Tochka-U stocks Ukraine had left plus converted S-200s) has all been shot down (I think one Tochka-U got through towards Rostov early on in the war, but that’s it). Low flying drones, on the other hand, have been a real pest, despite the massive improvement in their neutralization in the last months, and will continue to be in the future, for objective physical reasons. Cruise missiles will be too (Storm Shadows have in fact caused real issues). And no matter how good your air defense is, it can always be overwhelmed by mass.

            When the electronics factories in Voronezh, the ammunitions manufacturing facilities in Tula, the missile design and production facilities around Moscow, etc. start taking serious hits, and aircraft is destroyed on the ground regularly, we have a real problem. That day may not be far off already, but regardless, eventually it will come, that is the inexorable path of technological development.

            The only real way to prevent such attacks is deterrence.

            With a proxy that exists solely to evade mutual deterrence, that does not apply.

            So logic dictates that the only solution to the problem is to entirely eliminate the proxy.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Your information is poor or alternatively, you are relying on Ukraine propaganda, which is repeated without verification by Western officials. Thousands have not died in HIMARS strikes in this conflict. Even in the first attack, only a portion (on memory 60%) got through and the success rate dropped rapidly after that. I follow this war daily and your claims are wildly inaccurate. This is an incredibly well covered war, with many maps of the conflict and videos, regularly geolocated to confirm authenticity. One of the salient characteristics of this war is Russia’s success in quickly being able to counter any Western wunderwaffen thrown at them. Russian Telegram is full of hypercritical commentators, many with military backgrounds, who are upset that Russia has not been far more aggressive and are all over any actual or perceived Russian military failure. There was NOTHING on Russia Telegram like what you suggest (there would be tons of bitching and moaning if so).

              Where Ukraine has has success is in shelling civilian targets in Donetsk City from Adviika, including with petal bombs There has been much consternation about Russia not stopping that, to the degree that some have argued that Russia had been slow-walking that to keep hostility against Ukraine high.

      5. Paul Damascene

        Interested in both the legality and legitimacy arguments.

        At least under Putin, Russia seems to adhere, to an almost frustrating degree, to some interpretation of international law & norms–one, incidentally, that no West-dominated international adjudicator can be relied on to entertain fairly.

        What are the legal obstacles to:
        * simply dissolving the entity called Ukraine which was a signatory to loans and contracts?
        * installing an entity still called Ukraine that simply declares default on all such loans and contracts?
        * declaring certain loans as abusive and contracts as war profiteering, corruptly agreed to or otherwise void?

        Is it really unthinkable that Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania & even Moldova would accept a ‘temporary administration’ of the parts of rump Ukraine that are most hostile to Russia?

      6. JessDTruth

        I believe the Kremlin will disassemble the Ukraine, one oblast at a time. Russia does not want any Ukraine that could be the nucleus of a future NATO-stan. Russia will handle this one or two oblasts at a time. The first oblasts to get a referendum on their future alliance will be those where the populace will vote to join the RF. I’m sure the Kremlin will do covert polling to avoid embarrassment. I believe the Russian army will continue to move slowly over the next couple of years (because Ukraine is only one front of a slow global struggle), and that army will indeed roll up to the western border of the former Ukraine.

        I seriously doubt Russia would let any oblast become an independent nation, because these regions are poor and have little to lose in a guerilla war. I believe Russia has the sense to not pour large sums of redevelopment money into them. History shows how grateful Romania and Bulgaria are not, after Russia liberated them from Ottoman rule. Also, Russia is burdened with redeveloping the pro-Russia Russian regions. So I expect the oblasts of western Ukraine will be offered the cold hope of being given to Poland juuust as soon as Poland stops being anti-Russian and starts paying reparations for the damage Poland’s mercenaries and arms shipments caused in 2022-2025. Poland will take 20 or 30 years to make such a fundamental change. The Russians are patient. If the Galicians are impatient, what are they going to do about it ? Stage a repetition of the 1945-1955 guerilla war ? Such resistance would further delay their accession to Poland, so not a smart move. After these 404 oblasts become part of larger nations with larger interests, things should stabilize. I expect Ivano-Frantisek to obtain loose affiliation with Hungary, but will not become part of Hungary until Hungary leaves NATO. I suppose the Kremlin wants Hungary to stay in NATO as long as there is a NATO, because Hungary wields a veto there. In short, this is all going to take many years.

        The Ukrainian analyst, Rostislav Ischenko knows Ukraine, has thought this through, and write in some detail. Now he lives in Moscow, not wanting to be murdered like Oles Buzina. Rostislav Ischenko’s recent articles are here, and you can use Yandex translate or Google translate:

        Yandex translate has a 10,000 word limit but Ischenko’s artices are often a little larger, so watch for two numbers on the lower right hand corner of the “translate source” half-page. One is the actual word count, the other is always 10000. You may have to read articles in two parts.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      If we can have ‘Maidan 1’, being perfectly acceptable to (or even organised by) the west, we can also have ‘Maidan 2’ only in the opposite political direction. Which of course, won’t be acceptable to the west, but hey! – that’s hypocrisy for you.

    3. sumant

      Both Legality and Legitimacy ultimately depend on the legal formality of an unconditional surrender. Recall the surrender of Japan. The post-war Japanese society has been controlled by US proxies in various ways. The mechanism of control could be through a “cost-of-war” article in the treaty of surrender that lays out the political and constitutional moves that the post-war government must implement as a precondition for departure of the Russian forces. These could involve stringent laws targeting hate speech and propaganda against Russia similar to the laws criminalizing holocaust denial and Nazi symbolism in post-war Germany. Using these laws as a foundation, NGOs manned by people sympathetic to Russia or controlled by Russia would act as sentinels that keep Lviv and Galicia under covert control. Any troublemakers would be identified early in the game and can be silenced by effective methods developed in the USA.
      An important part of the management of peace would be conveying to the Ukrainian population that they were duped by their European and American idols and heroes. It would be Ukrainians disillusioned by the happenings since 2014 who would pour out their frustrations in social media and TV lamenting that they backed the wrong side and they should have known better. Arestovich has already shown the way. Probably, he is aiming to find a place for himself in the postwar government.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Alexander Mercouris suggested in a video yesterday that the Europeans seemed likely to blame the failure of Project Ukraine on the US, for allegedly not providing enough military support. So Russia may be able to mine Western media and present information from it that supports the thesis that Ukraine was duped and badly used.

        1. JessDTruth

          I used to follow Alexander Mercouris, slogging through his slow and redundant speech, for the few valuable gems. At times I thought his judgment and occasional novel facts were worth it. But when Hamas began their al-Aqsa Flood campaign, Mercouris went way overboard, condemning Hamas in ultra-strident terms and saying their leaders should be brought before the ICC. The ICC? Really? I know Zionism controls the media and analysts are forced to bend their knee or suffer Berufsverbot. Token gestures of subservience are common, but that was not Mercouris back in October. Mercouris only has one possible defense: the theory that he went very extreme in an effort to help his audience realize he was speaking under duress. But it’s just a theory, unfortunately.

          I”m done with him. Life is short and the internet has better analysts.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I watch Mercouris pretty much daily and don’t recall hearing what you describe. Not saying he didn’t say that but he appears to have said it only once.

            First, Mercouris has backed off saying much about the conflict in Gaza and has expressly said that he does not have the level of expertise that he does in Russia-Ukraine.

            Second, it is even now hard to get past condemnation of Hamas. You indicate Mercouris went overboard right after the initial attack. He is now providing under-reported factoids like the IDF contribution to the initial death count.

            It was not until a bit of the way into the conflict that it became obvious that Israel was out to commit ethnic cleansing and worse under the guise of getting Hamas. It was also not until more than a week or two in that it started coming in that a lot of the deaths were due to civilians being caught in crossfire and even Israel blowing up buildings with no Hamas members in them.

            And Hamas did attack a rave. Hard to defend that. I gather there is an argument that some IDF members were there and some of the settlers were there too and are armed to the degree that they are quasi-combattants.

            The big case in Hamas’ favor is that occupied people have a right to rebel. But that’s not often mentioned.

            1. hk

              I do remember Mercouris spending quite a bit of time condemning Hamas, esp its willingness to attack civilians (and that was at the time when israeli civilian deaths attributed to Hamas was much larger, before stories about how trigger happy IDF were coming out). He wasn’t the only one, though: Ritter and Larry Johnson were doing much the same thing (can’t remember McGovern saying something similar). Given the state of information at the time, I don’t think anyone could have stayed away from condemning Hamas while analyzing what was going on there. Going “overboard,” I don’t think, and, at any rate, I think that was not their main point.

  2. schmoe

    An issue I do not see frequently discussed but is important since this is now a war of attrition is the greater the territorial gains of Russia, the greater its ability to “deprogram” the populace from Banderism. Consider that Chechnya is now a peaceful territory with seemingly little overt animosity to the rest of Russia. Obviously controlling what a populace reads is difficult in this era, but Kharkov could probably be integrated even though I have read that its populace is likely more allied with Kiev than Moscow.

    If Russia could take all of the territory east of Dnieper, what will the legacy population of the remainder be, and how many fighting-age men will remain? I have the utmost faith that another war will occur even if it takes forty years (such as France trying to get back Alsace Lorraine after the Franco Prussian War) for it to flare up again.

    I am skeptical about the logistical ability to retake Odessa.

    1. Piotr Berman

      Taking/retaking any major city seems postponed until Ukrainian military crumbles. Russia does not want utterly demolished cities, one or two are OK, done already. Now it may be realistic or not: on the front lines, the balance depends on drones, local superiority differers from one theater of action to another, but Russia expands production faster, I guess. Moreover, Ukraine shows sign of exhaustion of manpower, increasing number of cases of surrender. Those who surrender show decent command of Russian — apparently, easy to learn!

      The historical precedent that may repeat in Russian favor is Brusilov Offensive of 1916. Actually, it had a considerable success, and very positive consequences for allies. But all three participating empires collapsed in 1-2 years afterwards, starting from Russian (and allies that were gained, Romania and Italy, turned against the West allies after the war…).

    2. JessDTruth

      Chechnya is completely different than the Ukraine, and trying to find parallels will not help.
      Chechnya was always a land of devout Muslims with a strong sense of family and community. The CIA-created jihadis were obviously a bullsh*t form of Islam, and the takfiris were defeated by strong Muslims who called out these takfiris for their heresies and US control.

      About 3 hours after Putin became President, he hopped on a jet to Chechnya to meet with Khadyrov. The two men are completely on the same page. The takfiris were defeated in about six months.

      1. hk

        Ukraine is not exactly the land of Banderitism either. Ukrainian nationalism has always been tied with the West, territories formerly under Habsburg rule and where Eastern Catholicism, not Orthodoxy, was dominant. I don’t think Russia will have too much trouble reabsorbing the Orthodox parts of Ukraine–ie about 2/3-3/4. The rest might go the way of Teschen in 1939.

  3. Mark Gisleson

    Thank you, this is very helpful. So very difficult to get good information about Ukraine now that Gaza dominates the news.

    1. MartyH

      Mark, thanks for being first to be thankful. IMHO, the changes in the courage of the “Not The West”-ern governments has significantly increased as a result of the Russian actions in The Ukraine and its defense of its economy and global position. One might even conclude that Hamas, the Houthi, and non-aligned nations in the UN are acting on conclusions drawn.

    2. Piotr Berman

      Military Summary is a good source (YouTube) if you can follow a variant of English from Belarus.

      1. WG

        Yes. There are several mappers on Youtube and all basically follow each other and the same sources and appear more interested in a reputation for accuracy than guided by propaganda. Defense Politics Asia (a guy from Singapore) is very good as well. Weeb Union (guy from Denmark I believe), New World Geopolitics (American who was quite good for a bit but has been struggling around changing his format lately) and History Legends (although he pushes his personality more).

      2. Bsn

        “Hello my dear friends”. I believe that Dima (of the Military Summary) has steadily improved his English, in his grammar and his accent is less strong. He is a learner. I’ve learned a few languages and feel I have a grasp on a language when I can understand and use humor. he’s becoming quit adept at subtlety and speaks well.

  4. Tom67

    Russia occupying all of Ukraine is the wet dream of the Pentagon. After WWII it took the Red Army and the KGB well into the Fifties to subdue all armed resistance in Western Ukraine. That was against guerillas that had no support from outside as Poland was firmly in the Soviet camp. Today Poland would play the role that Pakistan played for the Taliban. The problem for Russia and Putin is, that they used great Russian nationalism (that sees all of Ukraine as part of Russia) to mobilise for the SMO. If Ukraine crumbles quickly the temptation (and the clamor) would be great to occupy all of Ukraine. That would be a horrible mistake and I believe Putin knows it. The goldilocks scenario for Russia would be some strongman like Lukashenko that mouthes Nationalist platitudes and has the necessary credentials but works with the Kremlin.
    Apart from that the taking of all of Ukraine would strengthen NATO. If the Russians stay modest I believe chances are that NATO will desintegrate. Slovakia and Hungary have already made very clear that they don´t support this war and want negotiations now. Germany will either head into chaos or else change direction in its policy towards Russia. I believe the first option is the more likely. Either way the course Germany is now on is unsustainable.

    1. Polar Socialist

      Those guerrillas had a contingency of stay-behind SS men supporting them, and they were directly funded by USA.

      Late 40’s the eastern European countries were not yet in the “Soviet camp”, since Stalin was hoping for holistic European security arrangement to prevent Germany from militarizing ever again – so the political orientation of the peanut gallery between Soviet Union and Germany did not matter much.

      1. Tom67

        Poland had a Communist goverment from 1945 which imprisoned tens of thousands of anticommunist resistance fighters – the so called armia kraiova.The Soviets had looked on as the Germans slaughtered the Poles in the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Furthermore there were stationed Soviet troops there until 1993. It is pure fantasy that the support of the West had a meaningful impact on the partisan war in Ukraine. Now – after 30 years of independence – Ukrainians will hardly accept to be incorporated into Russia. Maybe the South and the East will pose less problems for Russia, but not the rest of the country. And Russia isn´t the Soviet Union. The mass torture, exile to Siberia and wholesale slaughter of “enemies of the people” was the way the USSR broke the resistance of wayward nationalities like the Chechens, the Balts a.s.o. Unless Russia returns to those ways she will not be able to govern Ukraine

        1. upstater

          Your dates are incorrect. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising began on 19 April and ended on 16 May 1944. Operation Baration began 22 June and reached the Vistula on 2 August. The Red Army covered between 300 and 500 km. Obviously after that sprint, refitting and rest was necessary.

          It should be noted that the SS units that crushed the Warsaw uprising were mostly Balts. They were probably the same people in the Baltic militias that murdered their Jewish, communist and disabled neighbors 3 years before. Such people deserved time in the gulag.

          1. hk

            Warsaw Uprising, not Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was in August, 1944. In fact, there were Polish communist troops (as part of the Red Army), right across the Vistula (and they were the only “Soviet” troops to aid the AK–whoch got General Berling–incidentally, one of only few pre-war senior Polish officers who joined the Soviets–relieved of duty).

        2. JessDTruth

          “The Soviets looked on as the Germans slaughtered the Poles …” is a bald lie from the worst days of the Cold War, when facts were shunted aside to let the propaganda express roll on. Basically no serious historian supports this fraud. Go read Geoffrey Roberts, any other WW2 historian, or even the popular Youtube channel “World War 2”. The Red Army reached the outskirts of Warsaw after a 300 mile sprint and had outrun their supply lines. The Wehrmacht sent massive armies to Warsaw much faster than the Soviets could resupply. So there never was an opportunity.

          But I’m going to raise this one big step. I believe Britain pushed their Polish colleagues into a premature uprising, fully aware it would fail. London decided it was better to sacrifice their friends and create martyrs (causing bitterness and enmity against the Soviets) for the long term because London had already agreed to Soviet control of postwar Poland. Britain sent some airdrops as I recall, and the Soviets were pushed by London into making a significant number of big airdrops. Nearly all those supplies ended up in German hands because the Poles were not strong enough to collect them and did not control the territory. Soviet officers were airdropped in with the supplies and were captured and killed by the Germans. So the USSR made real sacrifices to help Warsaw.

          I urge you to find some serious sources and compare them to what you were reading. Cold War frauds should not be recycled.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      And the problem with that is that there may not be much of a population left to organise sabotage. The Ukraine has lost at least half its previous population to Europe already, and those remaining in the western part may be very tempted to join the previous exodus – especially if they are given ‘incentives’ by the Russians. These gangster types would then become a problem for Germany and Poland, and the vacant land could be redistributed to Russian veterans.

      This is of course a kind of ‘extremist’ solution, – probably Russia can come up with a better plan.

    3. Feral Finster

      One thing that all successful insurgencies in recent decades have in common is a young population. The median age in Yemen is something like 19 years of age. The median age in Ukraine was over 40, and that figure is from before the war.

      And of course, if you look at Ukraine’s demographics, that picture keeps getting uglier.

      I don’t doubt that the Pentagon and their Polish buddies will try, but Ukraine is not an ideal case.

    4. Altandmain

      It’s not as easy as NATO might hope. There’s the fact that a growing number of people in Ukraine are realizing that they were betrayed. Notably the US failed to re-establish a second wave of anti-Russians in Chechnya.

      Keep in mind that the post-war Ukraine may not have a lot of men left of military age. Most successful insurgencies have large populations of younger males that can fight. Rump Ukraine will have demographics that will be comparable to world wars. So a large Ukrainian resistance might be much harder than the West might be hoping for.

      Agree though – NATO is going to be in chaos. So too is the EU. Over time, the higher energy costs are going to damage Europe more and more.

      1. Greg

        There’s the fact that a growing number of people in Ukraine are realizing that they were betrayed. Notably the US failed to re-establish a second wave of anti-Russians in Chechnya.

        This is an important point. The “stabbed in the back” mythology has always been strong and destructive. It may be useful to Russia to have a chaotic rump Ukraine on its border, if the rage of its population is largely directed westward at the betrayers rather than eastward at the conquerors.

  5. ciroc

    The Wests would welcome Moscow’s expropriation of Ukraine…. It is clear that Kiev has no ability to repay its debts, but if Russia annexes Ukraine and inherits its debts, it can legally offset Russia’s assets against Ukraine’s debts.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please reread the post. Russia has a solid legal basis for not inheriting Ukraine debt. Ukraine took steps in 2019 by which it no longer recognized Russia as sovereign state, no longer honored its borders, no longer agreed to take steps to respect its security. The Ukraine cancellation of that treaty meant that Russia no longer had any of the reciprocal obligations to Ukraine. That includes respecting Ukraine law, and would include contracts made under Ukraine law.

        1. jsn

          And another thing still for Moscow to care.

          What oil/gas they sold to the West they now sell to India (whom the US is antagonizing) and China.

          At least for the time being, they’ve written off the West as non-agreement capable and are successfully courting the ROW.

            1. nippersdad

              Rest Of World. A more comprehensive and less derogatory alternative to Third World or Global South.

      1. daniel

        Whether Russia would generally inherit the state of Ukraine’s outstanding debts is one thing, but Russia may well be held (by the “rules based order”) to have legal liabilities in respect of privately-held assets within Ukraine, if those assets are expropriated or otherwise affected.

        There are already examples of ISDS under bilateral investment treaties being used to pursue arbitration against Russia based on claimed interference with investments made in territory that had been Ukraine at the time of the investment, but that later became part of Russia. While most investment treaties have strict “territoriality” requirements (barring claims in respect of investments not within the territory of the respondent state), those requirements have been, in the case of Russia and Ukraine, interpreted … flexibly. For some examples, see

        Russia still has many bilateral investment treaties in force (including the treaty with Ukraine that provided the legal basis for the cases discussed in the link above). Once arbitral awards are rendered in cases like these, they are easily confirmed in courts around the world pursuant to the New York Convention and then can be treated as unpaid debts. Subject to some exceptions, assets can be seized.

        This is an area where I have some expertise (I have represented several states in ISDS cases) and I would be happy to explain more if it would be of interest.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Please read the post in full. These ISDS cases look to have been launched before Ukraine tore up all treaties with Russia in March 2019. For instance, the treaty you cited makes reference to territorial boundaries. Those all were tossed by Ukraine in March 2019.

          Also as a practical matter, how many divisions do these ISDS panels have? Pray tell how any judgment would be enforced?

          1. daniel

            The BIT between Ukraine and Russia is still in force (it has a sunset provision, which means that it continues to protect investments until 2035–see, but that in in any event not the only treaty that could give rise to liabilities of this nature. As I said, Russia has many BITs still in force, and claims of this nature could be made (in principle) under any of them. For a relatively complete list, see

            So far as I am aware, the rationale for the cases I described does not depend on territorial treaties between Russia and Ukraine. If you have a different view on that, could you explain in more detail? I will do my best to respond, although state to state public international law is a topic with which I am less familiar.

            As for enforcement, Russia is not a party to the Washington Convention, so treaty-based arbitration against Russia will generally be seated in a New York Convention jurisdiction, and will result in an arbitral award that can be enforced pursuant to the New York Convention. The process for enforcement is to take the award to the courts of any country that (i) is a member of the New York Convention and (ii) has jurisdiction over Russian assets not covered by sovereign immunity rules. In the case of Russia, assets like that are not hard to find. For assets not covered by sovereign immunity, the grounds for a court to deny enforcement are highly restricted (basically there has to have been a serious and material due process violation within the arbitration, or something on that level).

            As for your question about how many “divisions” ISDS panels have, I confess that I don’t understand your question. In the vast majority of cases, the (generally three) arbitrators are selected at the beginning of each case, through a process that involves the parties to that case. The tribunal is, in other words, an ad hoc and ephemeral institution. What gives their awards legal enforceability is, in the case of arbitrations involving Russia, the New York Convention.

            Finally, perhaps I should have been more clear that I have no particular desire to support or defend the ISDS system, which I generally find to be a tool of western economic imperialism. My legal practice involves ISDS only to the extent that I sometimes defend developing states against claims like this. My view is that investor claims against Russia made with this sort of rationale would be pretty cynical, and abusive even within the context of an already abusive system. But I do think they are a real possibility.

            1. jsn

              People with guns, legions in a manner of speaking, are the final arbiters of dispute resolution. New York rulings, and by extension US rulings and ISDS rulings, can affect whatever forces New York can muster will resolve.

              The US Federal Government likes to pretend it can enforce New York, Federal, ISDS financial laws globally, hasn’t been too effective lately in Russia, nor with regards to Russia in the Rest Of the World.

              Joseph Stalin is famously said to have asked an adviser, dismissively, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” I believe there’s a Renaissance antecedent that uses “legions” instead to which he referred, but search ramification prevents finding it

              1. daniel

                I see. If Yves’ reference to divisions was a suggestion that ISDS arbitral awards against Russia would be difficult or impractical to enforce, I must disagree. Legally speaking, the enforcement of a New York Convention award is easy (even if Russia completely boycotts the entire process), and significant assets are already on ice.

                Whether that is right or fair is, of course, another story altogether.

                1. Greg

                  Yves was making a reference to this purported Stalin quip at Potsdam –

                  “Winston Churchill suggested to Stalin the possibility of the Pope’s being associated with some of the decisions taken. ‘The Pope,’ said Stalin thoughtfully. ‘The Pope. How many divisions has he?’”


                  You got the gist though – enforcement matters. And I tend to agree that this sort of shenanigans imperils the “frozen” pre-war Russian financial assets. The enforcement problem limits the risk to those assets though (~200bn? started at usd300bn but has been used for some things since the war started).

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    There were reports IIRC six+ months ago that the various officials were unable to locate many of the assets they though they had secured and the total might be as low as just a bit over $100 billion. This is credible because I was gobsmacked to see the Russian Central Bank stabilizing the rouble on Feb 24 and 25, when the sanctions were imposed Feb 22. That meant the sanctions were not at all well in place a couple of days later and the Russian Central Bank could have moved a lot.

                    Suddenly everyone was back to repeating the $300 billion mantra, with no admission as to the missing monies.

                    1. Greg

                      Thanks, good to know.
                      So upper limit of risk for Kremlin is $100bn vs whatever is left in Russia and affiliated countries that retaliate by seizing western assets.
                      Seems like another opportunity for the US/EU to shoot itself in the foot.

                      ETA: I would love to see ISDS used for this sort of stupid political statement though, anything to make it harder to get more ISDS agreements in the future.

                    2. Max Z

                      Heh, I wonder if all those attempts to find a legal pretext for grabbing Russia’s $300 bil failed (or were stalled) not because they haven’t tried hard enough but because they know that the real sum is much smaller than advertised and it would come out from their own reporting if they did that?

                    3. JessDTruth

                      The meme that money banked in the West is unsafe and can be frozen by sanctions – or even outright stolen, is a powerful meme in the global struggle. Russia would prefer this meme to appear at least as large as it really is. We won’t know the actual value until the West capitulates and gives the money back.

            2. Yves Smith Post author

              This has gone way astray of the original scenario:

              1. Russia holds referenda in oblasts that look likely to join Russia. Russia not wanting to look bad will choses only oblasts where it is likely and credible that they would approve in referenda. So say Kharkiv, Odessa, Kherson.

              2. Russia installs a captive government in Rump Ukraine.

              3. Russia has the government use the rouble, to make it more captive, ideally, out of the West sanctioning Rump Ukraine.

              So even though I joked about Russia not being a successor (with respect to the obligations of the oblasts) I have not heard of successor claims being asserted with respect to the Donbass. Perhaps that would be an admission the territories are not returning to Ukraine and no one wants to admit that.

              With respect to Rump Ukraine, how would Russia be construed to be a successor? And what happens if the West makes it impossible to pay by cutting Rump Ukraine off from Western banking systems?

              As for private companies, IF Rump Ukraine is sanctioned, it is not hard to see it would be exceedingly difficult for Western owners to make tax and other payments, setting up foreclosures.

              1. zach

                “As for private companies, IF Rump Ukraine is sanctioned, it is not hard to see it would be exceedingly difficult for Western owners to make tax and other payments, setting up foreclosures.”

                Should the Russians push that hard (i detest prognostication, but i don’t believe they will), i think some clever boy or girl will figure out a pretext whereby those frozen foreign currency reserves from earlier will be disbursed to the relevant parties, in the event someone loses their toy factory or plantation to the Russians.

                As far as Odessa goes, the map, and its attendant tactical/operational considerations, hasn’t changed that much/at all since the Kherson withdrawal. Any move west of the Dnieper will be a monumentally heavy lift, regardless of UA force degradation. At the moment, Putin’s words sound like brinkmanship – he will order the move on Odessa, and his staff likely have plans drawn up for it, but he will take every opportunity to end this conflict, in no small part due to considerations you’ve enumerated above.

                1. JessDTruth

                  Odessa is a beautiful city and Russia really does not want to see it destroyed. I’m sure Russia will try to take it without battles there.

        2. nippersdad

          Question: The collective West just stole Russia’s foreign reserves and a lot of their industry (Gazprom in Germany and Switzerland, for example). Even if it could be proven that Russia owed the debts incurred by Ukraine, even if they were proportionally sized to whatever portions of Ukraine Russia is left with, what are the odds that this would not present an opportunity for Russia to present its’ own case in international courts for war reparations?

          Would the collective West want to go through such a thorough vetting of its’ own economic machinations in front of a world community that has also suffered under this regime, or would it just write it all off as a bad debt? Calling into question the validity of the Western world economic order may not be something that they want to go into when it is already under a lot of pressure.

          1. vao

            Western countries should be very cautious and investigate meticulously all the implications of their moves.

            Gazprom, which you mention, is a case in point. Germany first put Gazprom Germania under fiduciary administration, thus prompting Russia to stop gas deliveries to GG.

            Because GG had long-term obligations to its customers (30% of the German market), it had to compensate the loss of Russian supplies by acquiring gas on the spot market — at prices way, way, way above what it paid before, and way, way above what it got from selling it under those contracts. The result: the German government had to provide €13.8G to prevent the bankruptcy of GG; it ended up nationalizing the firm.

            But the problem is not going away. Now that Germany and the EU refuse to import gas from Russia via pipelines, supplies either come from the North Sea, or as (Russian!) LNG — whose price is way, way above gas delivered via land conduits. The nationalized GG, renamed SEFE (Securing Energy For Europe) has kept busy trying to renegotiate, or get rid of those long-term contracts which are permanently bleeding it dry.

            In some cases, such renegotiations were successful — e.g. with Wintershall, and with VNG. But the nationalization of GG implied that contracts belonging to subsidiaries of Gazprom Germania around the world have now become contentious.

            For instance Gazprom Marketing and Trading Singapore (now SEFE M&TS), itself belonging to SEFE M&T London, belonging in turn to SEFE Germany, had a 20-years supply contract for 2.85 tonnes LNG/year signed in 2012, with GAIL, the Gas Authority of India Ltd.

            SMTS stopped all deliveries and is ready to pay the stipulated contractual penalties — 20% of the agreed upon gas price; this is way, way below the difference that the Indians have to pay to acquire the undelivered gas quantities on the spot market. The Indians are understandably furious.

            GAIL is now suing SEFE at the London Court of International Arbitration: either deliver the promised quantities of gas at the contractually stipulated prices, or pay a compensation of €1.8G. Should GAIL be successful, SEFE can expect many other claimants to sue it for breach of contract.

            How many such mines are ready to explode if Western countries try to play hard ball regarding Ukrainian assets coming under the possession of Russia? What about downstream obligations deriving from contracts for Ukrainian agricultural and chemical products, or industrial components?

  6. Polar Socialist

    Larry C. Johnson brought up yesterday ( the idea that when The West finally dumps Ukraine and the Ukrainians realize how they have been betrayed and used against their (newly re-found) Slavic brethen, they could become the most loyal anti-West soldiers of the Slavic World. In the same way the Chechen are now fighting for Mother Russia. Or do an Al-Qaeda and turn against The West on it’s own (but clandestinely supported by Russia).

    While that sounds a bit far fetched, the history of the Western interventions to uphold the neo-colonialist world-order has an undeniable trend of the end-games blowing up on West’s faces.

    1. Tom67

      About Chechens and “Mother Russia”: Russia didn´t win against the Chechens. They turned over pacification to the Kadyrov clan which now rules Chechnya without any interference from Moscow. Not even the FSB can enforce any kind of law there unless Kadyrov wants it. Kadyrov in turn with impunity kills his enemies in the rest of Russia. It is very much a marriage of convenience. Moscow pays tremendous sums to Kadyrov and he in turn provides Moscow with ferocious mercenaries. Nothing symbolizes the state of affairs better than the video of a teenage son of Kadyrov savagely beating up a young Russian in prison who had publicly burnt a Koran. He didn´t burn the Koran in Chechnya but near the Volga and Putin has delivered this little gift to Kadyrov. Mother Russia and the Chechens is no love affair and it will be over when the Russian people get sick of this “lover”.

    2. Bsn

      I don’t think it’s far fetched. Look at what Russia is doing in Mariupol for example. Rebuilding schools, hospitals, roads, infrastructure of all kinds. This puts young men/women to work and brings smile to faces. If the Russians can ship free grain to African countries they can afford to rebuild large tracts of Ukraine. Russian intervention take a different track than the western version. People will notice and appreciate – especially after a couple generations and hard liners have passed away.

  7. DJG, Reality Czar

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post. Let’s hope that we are not still collectively trying to analyze Ukraine seventeen years hence on Naked Capitalism’s thirty-fourth birthday.

    Realism is the theme of this post. Two questions come up: How has the war itself changed and to what point? And what else worldwide has changed?

    As mentioned, Ukraine is thoroughly ruined by the U.S./U.K./Nato policy of “let’s have you and him fight.” From my reading here at NC, I estimate Ukraine war dead at 250,000 military / soldiers and 500,000 military casualties. In short, an immoral policy has shown us what it was good for.

    So the Russians are facing an enemy with few resources. The realist question for the Russians is: How much of former Ukraine does Russia claim, bearing in mind that Crimea and the four oblasts already incorporated aren’t going to be eager to leave?

    It may be that Putin is putting the Russian maximalist position out there to see how it is received. The problem is that the Russians may still think that they can negotiate somehow with the Anglo-Americans, whose negotiating style consists of absurd demands, melodrama, inability to come up with mutual agreement, weird legalisms, and, of course, plain sniveling. (Believe me: I have been through American “negotiations.”)

    Odessa is logical strategically, although I suspect that cutting off all Ukrainian access to the sea would make Odessa a flashpoint: The new Free City of Danzig.

    And what in the larger world has changed? Israel. Let’s be realistic. Anglo-America will let Israel destroy Gaza. Stop kidding yourself that the U.S. government is all that exercised about Gaza. Rishi Sunak just showed up here in Italy for Atreju, the “brainy” festival of the Italian right. That’s about all one needs to know about freedom-loving Rishi and Giorgia Meloni.

    I suspect that the Russians, who have the legitimate excuse of having their own big problem to handle, will let the situation go on in the Middle East. The situation is to their advantage: The U.S./U.K./Nato countries are losing any moral leadership they might have possessed. And what gravitas they had was already a joke and leftover colonialism.

    All in all, the Russians may not take all of the territory under discussion. They may annex Odessa. Then, they may just leave Ukraine to the tender mercies of Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and Ursula van der Leyen, a feckless and corrupt bunch. After all, rump Ukraine being forced into the European Union is going to be a major mess that the Russians can simply sit back and enjoy.

    In short, the Russians are watching others make mistakes that benefit Russia, and the Russians are announcing a plan that may not be their full plan.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I would normally agree about the territorial issue…except Putin and Medvedev (and then the head of the Duma Volodin) in IIRC less than a 2 week period signaled Russia was now seriously considering adding Kiev and other parts of Western Ukraine to the menu. Those remarks were all to domestic audiences. And perhaps I missed it, but I have not seen much note taken in the US/NATO media-sphere of this discussion.

      Recall big cities like Dnipro and Zaporzhihia and of course Kherson straddle the river so marching up to the river and not contesting those cities….? And if Russia takes them, then where to draw the line?

      1. Will

        IIRC, earlier this year Belarus was very unhappy about the prospect of a Poland controlled rump Ukraine (via peace keepers or otherwise) as it would then be surrounded on three sides by NATO. I believe Putin was at least sympathetic so perhaps the “domestic” audience for the recent remarks also includes the Belarusian president (whose name escapes me at the moment). Maybe those sympathies are strong enough to warrant action?

    2. John k

      It could be that Russia is speaking mostly to Russians (and, perhaps, row) not least because it’s not possible to negotiate with the west, and this will be true whether a dem or rep is in office in 2025. Even in the unlikely case the next pres was sincere, the one after probably will do whatever he wants. So maybe best is to just continue what’s in russia’s self interest and ignore the noisy fools.

  8. NN Cassandra

    If West will be dumb enough to sanction and cut off Ukraine, then that will lead to “roubleisation” by default, it would deliver Ukraine to Putin on silver plate, along with de facto wiping out the debts they heaped at Ukraine, further messing with West’s own debt ceilings/breaks accounting nonsense.

    I can’t believe they would do something like that. On second thought, I can totally believe they will at least make strong attempt at that.

  9. John

    Aurelien’s post of August 3 was titled “Reality would Like a Word.” In it he included the “money quote” from “The Great Gatsby”: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

    It has often come to mind as the Collective West continued the smashing up of Ukraine, but as Yves said above the West cannot bear very much reality. Eureka! another literary allusion,T.S. Eliot this time. ” Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

    From Blinken’s triumphalist mouthings last January to the maunderings of Lloyd Austin more recently, reality is a perennial hot potato from which the Blinkens and Austins look away as it scorches Ukraine. Such creatures are skilled at making, even perpetuating, messes then self-righteously indignant should clean up be mentioned.

    They disgust me. They put on gloves to pull the wings off flies. They wonder why the wounded creatures can no longer fly. Then they lost interest and walk away.

    1. Karl

      I wonder if that’s true only for some at the top.

      Others know full well the harsh realities of the things they do. They know there is a significant prior probability they are leading Ukraine (to use Mearsheimer’s words) “down the primrose path” to destruction. But they can afford to be careless about that to achieve other ends. The U.S. (and maybe even Tom and Daisy) know, at some level of consciousness, that they do not bear the risk if things go South while enjoying considerable high upside for oneself (testing weapons, weakening adversaries, decadent escape). Of course, envisioning longer term collateral damage to oneself (deterioration of a “rules based order” and friendships) may requiresmore wisdom or executive functioning than the U.S., Tom and Daisy possess.

      Every mess we create adds to Global GDP, exacerbates security concerns, and helps our MIC. The U.S. gets the upside while unfortunate hot spots (Libya, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, now Gaza) get the downside. What’s not to like?

      If we don’t understand our decision makers (or Tom and Daisy), maybe it’s because we are not raised in the elite class that is used to making these risk/return trade-offs for the rest of us. The 99% are the proles who die in their wars. The 1% profit.

      Not only is there class asymmetry in the distribution of wealth, there is asymmetry in the distribution of risk. I think that explains a lot.

  10. The Rev Kev

    Could this be the Russians doing a bit of shock therapy on the west? Up to now we have had all these western countries talking about re-arming the Ukraine and building weapons factories so that they can churn out the weaponry for the next war against Russia in several years time. Also the Ukraine will not only be joining the EU but will also join NATO and so will have NATO troops and bases set up in the Ukraine. So here Putin and Russia are telling the west that that is not going to happen that. By announcing that they are taking back Odessa, they are also giving notice that after the war the Ukraine will now become a land-locked country. The west will not be able to hide that happening and the sight of Russian troops restoring Catherine the Great’s statue in Odessa will seriously mess with their heads.

    This will also end up messing with Brussels and Washington as now they have to guess where those future borders are going to be and if Russia is going to set up DMZs on the new borders. Or maybe Russia will occupy a few Oblasts for a coupla years like what was done with Germany after WW2. But whatever state the Ukraine will be left in, it will no longer be a threat to Russia and will not become a missile platform to launch nukes at Russia itself with. Of course all those financial firms that were buying up Ukrainian assets on the cheap now may find that all those contracts will be null and void and all that money lost, especially if any of those assets are located in what will be the new borders of the Russian Federation. Russian courts may rule that those contacts have no standing as they were signed by an extinct regime. Sure, those firms can threaten to take Russia to court but I for one would like to know what court that would be in. Cutting off Russia from the west may have been too successful here.

  11. ilsm

    Thank you for this and the commenters!

    My feel: Russia’s interest are served by the US/EU tossing in more weapons, that they have difficulty replacing, into the US’ sunk cost fallacy.

    I see people saying with no logic that “we are hurting Russia with 5% (?) of the pentagon’s bloat” (I added that).

    What these commenters miss is the 5% is mainly the horse shoes which tossed away could not be replaced in the old adage about logistics and upkeep of the horses.

    The SMO could expand the “demilitarization” objective to include the US and EU.

    1. hk

      Better that Western gear should be operated by hapless Ukrainians than properly trained NATO soldiers (reminiscent of the Lorraine campaign, when veteran US tankers in unupgraded Sherman’s made mincemeat of newly raised panzer brigades with greenhorns manning Panthers–except Leopards and Abramses (irony!) are no Panthers.)

  12. Aurelien

    It’s helpful perhaps to consider what the Russians see as the Centre of Gravity here, ie the Clausewitzian point around which all revolves. It clearly isn’t the fighting power of the UA any more, and it isn’t the willingness of Kiev to continue the war, seen in isolation. Rather, it’s the belief in Western capitals that something can be salvaged from the wreckage, and that an “independent” Ukraine can somehow continue in being, ready to be rearmed. So the strategic objective is the inculcation of a feeling of despair in western capitals, and the decision to abandon the whole project. Obviously, this decision will never be unanimous, because nothing in politics is, and there will always be individuals and even political parties who still dream of overthrowing Putin. But if that idea is effectively abandoned by those who matter in government, the Russians will consider that they have won. One way of doing this would be for the Russians to take more territory, yes, but above all to advance through all parts of the country, right up to the frontier, just to show they can do it, and that there is no point in the West even imagining that it can have Ukraine back. The Russians could then impose a peace on Ukraine, and withdraw to an agreed territorial line. (After all, Russian troops occupied Paris in 1814.)

    I continue to think, as I’ve argued before, that a notionally independent Ukraine, with which the West was obliged to deal, through gritted teeth, as an independent country, would be the best outcome for the Russians, not least because NATO and the EU would have to cope with the consequences of the rash promises they had made. I don’t think this means a puppet government, so much as a realistic one, which recognises that it had better be careful in what it does. My limited contacts with Ukraine before 2014 suggest that this was actually the way things were going anyway: an awkward but not conflictual relationship with Russia and an attempt to balance between East and West without annoying their larger neighbour. Now, of course, an infinitely weaker Ukraine will have many fewer options.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      While I agree this would be a sound outcome, a LOT of national leaders would have to turn over for them to be willing to recognize a shrunken Ukraine.

      1. John k

        I read somewhere that there are more elections in 2024 than there will be again for a couple decades. Plus both the Ukraine and israel wars are perhaps changing minds in many places. I certainly think Biden won’t be re-elected.

  13. Michaelmas

    The likeliest hypothesis for Russia’s underlying motivations in announcing it intends a more maximalist territorial annexation of Ukraine might be as follows: –

    [1] Obviously, if the US/NATO intends to continue using whatever remains of Ukraine as a staging ground for further attacks on the Russian Federation, why not remove that option entirely? Then, wherever the US/NATO does site its weapons systems is a few hundred more miles further back from Moscow.

    At least as significantly, though ….

    [2] Russia’s long-term objective is to roll back NATO/US military presence in Europe either to 1997’s configuration or, more ambitiously, to a point where the US is effectively removed from the picture in Europe. Recall that —

    Reagan’s massive military spending program, the largest in American peacetime history … through the strain it imposed on the Soviet economy—was actually responsible for a host of positive developments in Reagan’s second term, including a more accommodating Soviet position in arms negotiations, a weakening of the influence of hard-liners in the Soviet leadership, making possible the glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) policies of moderate Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after 1985, and even the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1990–91.

    Similarly, Russia may intend to lure the EU/NATO into massively expensive weapons procurement programs that (A) will come at the expense of social programs in already-deindustrializing EU nations and thus weaken EU leaders’ legitimacy in their populations’ eyes, and which (B) will be ineffectual in military terms anyway, as pathetic European technical-industrial capability as a result of neoliberalism means that EU/NATO military spending will mostly translate into buying massively overpriced, militarily useless systems like F-35s and Patriots from the US.

    Though US technical/industrial capability in terms of military production is also in deep decline. The current likelihood that the US will remove ICBMs from its ‘nuclear triad’ because here in 2023 it no longer has the technical and financial capability to build new ICBMs is a pretty striking metric, which future historians will likely use to illustrate its collapse from the techno-industrial powerhouse it was in the 1950s.

    We may be nearer the point when the legions go home, in other words, than we might assume.

    1. RockTime

      I am not sure why and based on what the word “maximalist” started being tossed around.

      Russia and Putin in particular, always, and I mean always state their goals in very clear terms so as that even the dumbest imbeciles currently running the West could understand. And the explicitly stated goals are:

      1) Ukraine will NEVER be a threat to Russia ever again (de-nazified, de-militarized, and reduced to Galicia or whatever the rump-territory it will be — that’s actually NOT that important)
      2) NATO will roll back to the 1997 borders (and I am sure even the dumbest in Pentagon understand that there is an underlying “or else”).

      The rump state will be under complete and strict control by Russia, in perpetuity. Sort of like East Germany, except there will be no “re-unification” and ever believing the lying west in the next 100s of years.

      The whole “western Ukraine will launch the guerilla war” is ludicrous for anyone with any understanding of the Ukrainians mentality. Those Ukrainians who will be nominated to run the rump-state by Russia will eagerly, and I mean with the double- or triple- fervor exterminate any “guerillas” with such ferocity that the Gaza situation will look “mild” in comparison. And it will be “converted” Ukrainians exterminating the “bad” Ukrainians, therefore the so called West will have to really work hard to blame Russia for that.

      To me the biggest question now is how Russia will ensure that NATO is pushed back to the 1997 borders (or completely dismantled). Ukraine at this stage is a yesterday’s news. And I suspect now that NATO clearly demonstrated it is a paper tiger and the entire west showed the ROW that it is just a naked king, the military option to ensure the security of Russia is not off the table…

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I suggest you consult the record. Do not misinform readers by asserting rolling NATO back to 1997 was ever an SMO aim. Making Shit Up is a violation of our written site Policies. Please read them before commenting again.

        It is an aspiration at best. This is what Putin said about the SMO on February 24, 2021:

        The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.

        It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory.

        Putin did NOT say anything about NATO in his SMO aims, although by implication a demilitarized Ukraine would be of no use to NATO and he had gone on at great length before in that speech about how the US, Europe, and NATO were threatening Russian security and had harmed the people of the Donbass. So you could take that as implied. In the March negotiations, as most recently recounted, Ukraine was quick to give up on NATO membership but pushed back hard on denazification and was arguing over what level of force reduction would = demilitarization.

        And by what authority do you speak of Ukrainians? You also seem not to understand how brutal the Banderites are. The Nazis regarded them with some horror because their torture methods and enthusiasm for it we so extreme. Despite their comparatively small numbers in Ukraine, they were able to wield disproportionate influence due to their savagery. A big reason conscripts fight is that Ukraine has anti-retreat forces that will shoot anyone who does not take orders or is found to be attempting surrender.

  14. EMC

    A few thoughts. Not strongly held opinions, as this entire discussion is speculative.

    Putin’s speech, to a domestic audience, sounds a bit like a campaign speech. It would play on the surge in patriotism and religiosity recently pointed out by John Helmer and Larry Johnson. Which is also consistent with admittedly limited communications I get from friends in Russia.

    It can also be read as a maximalist negotiating position. Russia will achieve a military victory and have said they won’t negotiate, but also they would negotiate if they had someone to negotiate with. Ukraine is on the ropes. The US is on the ropes. The EU is on the ropes. How much more are they willing to lose?

    At this point, I expect they will take Odessa, in order to secure the Black Sea. I think it is likely they will take Kharkiv. Yes, defensible borders are a challenge. Defensible borders have always been Russia’s challenge. Historically the western border has been quite fungible.

    1. jsn

      The trick here is that while the US, the EU, and Ukraine are on the ropes, no one in authority has as yet paid any price for failure.

      Zelensky appears to be at bat on that, but the fairly clear plan is to foam the runway with him for all the successive puppet masters further up the strings.

      2024 promises to be an interesting year in the West.

  15. nippersdad

    I read these various maximalist positions by Putin, Medvedev, et al as an upping of the stakes for Western negotiators when the time comes and all support for Ukraine has been exhausted. While it seems clear that Odessa and some of the other Oblasts still in the Russian sphere will stay there, the rest will have to come to terms with the result however they may feel about it.

    Call it a wave; the wave finds its’ furthest reach on the beach, but it will inevitably fall back to wherever the tide lets it. They take as much as they can, and then hold referenda to see where the tide line is and leave the rest to the tender mercies of the collective West. In view of how impoverished rump Ukraine will be, it may be surprising how high the tideline actually is.

    The blues on that electoral/protest map look like they might ultimately represent what Russia is after, call that the tideline, but in negotiations one never asks for less than one thinks you can get so the reach of your wave would be those beigey areas. By the time you get into those beige areas you will already have a lot of Galicians you don’t want to have anything to do with anyway, but at least you will have given them a choice, and that can only engender goodwill on their parts. The rest, those striped areas, is only good for forming an economic black hole and exporting Banderites to Europe, servir d’exemple por les autres; not a bad deal for the Russians.

    I think they are going to let the referenda inform the decisions as to how far they will go. The disaster that is post war Ukraine will do much to inform those referenda. The one thing Russia has shown in this conflict is their patience, and they themselves may not yet know where their ultimate boundaries will end up; that will only be determined with time.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      While much of what you say is sound, there will be no negotiations with the West, or at least not before a possible Trump Administration. Hell will freeze over before the Biden Administration would talk to Russia. And if Trump were to talk to Russia, the EU would take exception and do what they could to sabotage the effort.

      By Jan 2025, this may largely be moot.

      1. nippersdad

        I think you are right about that; this is going to be left to Trump. He doesn’t strike me as the type that will be comfortable with whining and lying about the results, as the Obama Administration was about the referendum in Crimea, for years though. I feel like he is going to need some kind of definitive deal cut, even if only to recognize facts on the ground so that he can put a line under the whole debacle.

        This would also play well when he goes after the progenitors of RussiaGate. He may no longer be able to unilaterally take us out of NATO, but he can sure have some fun showing what it has cost us in both money/reputation and hang it around their necks like a dead albatross.

        1. hk

          Whatever the West might do, I suspect that Russia’s starting position will be an established status quo. That means a Ukrainian Union State, like Belarus, in Kiev, possibly accompanied by Poland pulling a reverse of 1939 (I’m still unclear as to what anyone has in mind for Lwow/Lemberg after the new union state is set up in Kiev). There’ll be nothing to negotiate over the main substance: West will have nothing big to negotiate with. They can only decide whether to accept the reality or not, and it doesn’t matter much either way to Russia.

          1. Tom K-ski

            There is one thing Russians will be eager to negotiate – it is a land bridge to Kaliningrad. Lwow oblast will be on the table to be exchanged for the Suwalki gap.

      2. GM

        Here’s the thing — back in 2016-17 I was having this discussion with various people and explaining to them that Trump will be catastrophically bad domestically and is completely unqualified to be a president, but there was no choice but to vote for him, so that there is no war. Because the rhetoric from the other side left little doubt that they wanted to go to war with Russia.

        What happened after that?

        Trump didn’t start a war with Russia, that is correct. But he didn’t do much to prevent it either — Ukraine was being armed in preparation for the war and Russophobia was ratcheted up to the max by the media, in fact using him as a tool to do that, laying the public opinion groundwork for open conflict.

        So in the end we still ended up with a war.

        Ultimately this is all about a resource grab on a planetary scale — the West managed to bribe/influence the late Soviet elites into committing the grandest act of treason in history right when the West was going bankrupt in the 1970s, then lived lavishly off the resulting loot for another two decades after 1989. But eventually the remorseless logic of exponential growth clashed with the reality of Russian elites demanding a bigger cut of the loot, and it became necessary to subjugate Russia even more fully, break it up, and loot it completely, not just partially, in order to buy another few decades of false prosperity (and also to use the territory in order to pressure the Chinese into limiting their consumption, so that those resource flows could be redirected toward the West).

        If Western elites fail at appropriating the resources of northern Eurasia and limiting Chinese consumption, then the two remaining paths are either doing downwards wealth redistribution to maintain internal stability or collapse. The former is completely abhorrent to them, in the latter they will lose everything too. So far they have managed to maintained the system of perpetual growth and upwards wealth redistribution by providing enough crumbs (and circus) to the masses locally through sucking real wealth out of the rest of the world, thus only impoverishing the masses gradually. That will soon no longer be sustainable.

        Given what is at stake, and what happened the last time we hoped for real change, how serious of an analysis is it to think that Trump being elected again will end the war? Much bigger forces are acting here.

  16. ChrisFromGA

    People are a nation’s biggest asset, and Ukraine has something like 50% less humans than it did in the early 90’s.

    So even before the war, I am not sure how Ukraine was ever going to service their sovereign debt. Obviously, things have only gotten worse.

    I don’t have their debt-GDP stats handy, but I seem to recall that Ukraine was always on the verge of default circa 2007-2014.

    Ukraine is in a defacto state of default already, as they cannot pay pensions, government workers, etc. without massive western infusions of cash on an almost weekly basis. Hence, the panic over the aid packages currently held up in the EU and US Congress.

    Any solution to the conflict will probably have to have a default and forgiveness of a certain portion of the debt-berg. A shrunken rump Ukraine with a population of maybe 10-15M, and no access to the Black Sea would be maybe the economic equivalent of Bolivia.

    My question is who, besides the IMF, owns all that debt? What’s their strategy, other than kick the can with more aid packages from the west to fill in the huge chasm of unserviceable debt?

  17. Simmons

    I wish someone would explain to me why the West (esp.US) had sucn a deep seated animosity toward Russia. In an economic sense Russia would be an excellent trading partner. I am looking for the BIG reason.

    1. nippersdad

      Just my opinion, but it seems there are two anti-Russian groups at play here. One, call them the Clintonites, experienced the thrill of sending in the neoliberal shock troops and pillaging Russian resources. They ultimately lost that grift when Putin became president of Russia, and have been grinding their teeth ever since over the loss.

      The second group would be those who seem to overpopulate our foreign service and university history/diplomatic teaching apparat; those who actually descend from families who left Ukraine/Eastern Europe over the last hundred years and have axes to grind.

      They have taken advantage of cold war propaganda to ensure that no grudge goes unsatisfied. I think that would be your big reason right there. Regular people really do not care all that much about foreign policy, and have outsourced it to a small, inbred and evergreen cadre with grudges and self serving motivations.

      1. tegnost

        My 90yr old mom has cold war on the brain so there’s that angle as well, feeds the evil russian psyche…and makes tds very easy to conjure because of course the evil russians will scheme. No assembly required…wants me to read alan furst novels so I’ll understand what we’re up against

        1. nippersdad

          Yep, that generation has got it bad. My Dad is both a Bircher and an Objectivist. He turns purple whenever Russians come up. He is not any better on China, either.

          I once told him I wanted to go to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and I thought he was going to go into seizures.

      2. Karl

        Don’t forget those who still grieve the humiliation of the Charge of the Light Brigade, and want to re-start the Crimean War.

    2. EMC

      It goes back at least as far as the split between the eastern and western churches. No, we haven’t gotten over it. It seems to be in our reptile brain. The fungible western border without many natural defensible features has played its part.

    3. lyman alpha blob

      Russia has a lot of stuff the West wants, and they for some strange reason won’t give it away for free.

      That seems to be why most wars are fought, despite claims to the contrary. The Greeks didn’t attack Troy to get Helen back; they needed resources they didn’t have at home at a better price than what was currently on offer by those to the East.

    4. eg

      I think the antipathy of “the West” to Russia is at least as old as fears of the British Empire that the Czars would eventually gain an overland route to the jewel in the crown — India.

      Hence “the great game” in Afghanistan and the Crimean war.

      Presumably the US inherited this animus after the British Empire collapsed; certainly the subsequent Cold War didn’t help.

  18. Detroit Dan

    If I were Putin, I would try to incorporate Ancient Rus (including Kiev) plus Novorossiya. These areas are plausibly pro-Russian, and based upon the experience in Chechnya can be brought into the fold. For that to work, the existing Ukrainian alliance with the West has to be thoroughly discredited, a process which is well under way. Russia doesn’t want to have to lay siege to these cities so much as see the civil order disintegrate. The military pressure in the outlying areas will be such that the mobilization effort in the big cities will continue to dissipate morale. Eventually, proRussian political and military forces will be strengthened in Kharkiv, Kiev, and Odessa as Western control disintegrates. Slow but steady seems the way to go, giving the West further time to implode without a strong incentive to get its act together.

  19. upstater

    This remains an anti-Russian crusade, detritus of Versailles. Meanwhile on the Baltic front, Latvia continues poking Russia in the eye (NYT

    In a Baltic Nation, Fear and Suspicion Stalk Russian Speakers

    The discrimination and stripping citizenship front native Latvian Russian speakers is a step up from Ukraine’s pre-2014 policies and outside of Donbas pre-2022. Recall Latvia is one third Russian and Riga is majority Russian. Their behavior is appalling, like bulldozing graves of Red Army soldiers, some of whom were no doubt Latvian communists and Jews that fled in advance of Barbarosa. Or the annual commemoration of the Latvian SS divisions.

    How these modern day Nazis behave – and think they can get away with it – is astonishing. How does ethnic cleansing of Russians and permanent conflict benefit states like Ukraine or the Baltics? Indeed, their largest export since the collapse of the USSR has been their ethic bretheran.

    While there may be big arrow Russian offensives offing in the southern Dniper Donbas or Kharkov (oblast, not city) as the Ukrainians run out of shells and cannon fodder, I have a hard time seeing a Russian military conquest capturing and occupying large cities like Kiev or Odessa. They will likely play a long game using the horrific meat grinder attrition until the Banderites collapse from lack of western support. It is just now beginning ro happen; the neocons will almost certainly prevent collapse before November. After it will look like Saigon or Kabul. Maybe then there will be a more circumspect junta in Kiev to negotiate with.

  20. Lamped.usa

    With front lines essentially static for the past 14 months, and in the absence of any reliable information about men and tank losses, maximalist claims by either side appear premature.

      1. Lamped.usa

        West has similar goals against Russia. Although it’s hard to see while Ukraine financing is in limbo, future scenario is less certain than you make it look.

        1. hk

          That’s news to me. From the beginning of the conflict, Western leaders, from Biden downward, have been harping about how to destroy the Russian state (although the specific end result they specified varied a bit): if the Western leaders wanted to attrite Russian military and demoralize the Russian people, it would be the means to destroy the Russian state. Russian leaders talking about (de facto) destruction of the Ukrainian state is a very new development.

  21. Feral Finster

    The irony was that, before WWII, the principal folk devils of the Ukrainian nationalists were Poles and Jews, not Russians.

    The Ukrainian nationalists of the 1930s were well aware of the famine in Ukraine and didn’t much care, since, like the fascists they were, they were all about The Nation whilst caring little for the individuals constituting the nation. Besides, Soviet Ukraine enjoyed cultural autonomy, in contrast with the aggressively centralizing and polonizing Polish Second Republic. And of course, when WWII started, the UPA leadership were mostly cooling off in Polish prisons.

    The enmity towards Russia really started when those same nationalists recently sprung from prison found out just how little I.V. Stalin cared about their ideas for how Ukraine should be run. And of course, the USSR became the mortal enemy of Nazi Germany. Meanwhile the Germans made good use of the Ukrainians, as police in Occupied Poland, concentration camp guards, cannon fodder, and other odious tasks.

    But the UPA still took time out to massacre Poles. I don’t know a single Polish family that didn’t suffer as a result of the Ukrainian terror.

    For that matter, during WWI, the Germans and Austrians feared that the Galician population was sympathetic towards Russia, and responded savagely.

    1. vao

      The irony was that, before WWII, the principal folk devils of the Ukrainian nationalists were Poles and Jews, not Russians.

      Was it so really?

      When Petliura ruled, he allied with the Poles to slaughter the Jews and fight the abhored Russkies — whether whites or bolshies. Unsurprisingly, nowadays Petliura is a national hero in Ukraine.

      And before Petliura those Ukrainian nationalists were suspected to ally with Russia against their German overlords? (till WWI the Austrians called themselves “Germans” in their empire — which also included Magyars, Slavs of various kinds, Romanians, Italians, Ruthenians, Jews…)

      From what I see, it looks as if Ukrainians, or more precisely Galicians, are prone to hating everybody with murderous passion. I would not like to cross their path once they turn on the treacherous Europeans who did not help them sufficiently in their righteous fight against the Muscovites.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Petliura did give Galicia to Poland in exchange for military help, even if Galicians had been in majority of his army, so he really was not the current kind of nationalist even if they think he’s their hero.

        It seems that he did his best work for Ukraine while publishing a Russian language newspaper in Moscow. Go figure.

        What I’ve read about the early years of Banderite movement, it looked like a national-romantic death-cult – it was more important to sacrifice oneself than actually be useful. Lots of that going around at the time, though.

    2. alfred venison

      meanwhile, on the other side, the WW1 Canadian government placed its Galician (Ukrainian) immigrants in concentration camps for the duration of the war, because it feared they might be sympathetic to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  22. Lefty Godot

    I wonder if there will be one Rump Ukraine or whether the Russians will tolerate (or even encourage) some of the oblasts to be autonomous countries, for instance Zakarpathia and Ivano-Frankivsk. It does seem like, to have an adequate buffer, Russia has to incorporate everything along their pre-2023 border with Ukraine and along the Black Sea into the Russian Federation, but is it practical to expect one country comprising the leftover oblasts to stay out of reach of Atlanticist mischief-making and subversion? Perhaps you diffuse some of that risk by having several countries between the new Russian borders and Poland.

    Although the Ukrainian soldiers are fighting very bravely and fiercely now, the one thing that comes through clearly in all that Putin and Lavrov say is that they are really in an undeclared war with NATO now, and that won’t end even if they take over all of Ukraine. As long as the Clinton-Obama-Biden neocon agitators occupy positions of responsibility in the State Department, Defense Department, and the intelligence agencies, and their counterparts in Whitehall remain in place, that war will drag on with occasional slowdowns and flare-ups.

    The disparity in approaches between each side comes from the West’s fixation on propaganda victories over substantive ones. Like corporate executives who only care about this quarter’s results, the neocon planners are most overjoyed when they can score a propaganda win for the current “news” (infotainment) cycle. Having a longer term military and diplomatic strategy beyond wishful thinking is less in evidence.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      To be an independent country, you need a currency, a central bank, and banking system. Oh, and they need to be connected to private payment systems too. We discussed this in the context of Greece. This takes years. You can’t do “country out of a box”.

      If these countries were on the rouble. they’d be regarded both by Europe and the locals as not even remotely independent.

      1. NN Cassandra

        Where there is a will, there is a way. Czechoslovakia was divided in matter of months, including currency. However I don’t think whatever remains of Ukraine will further break up into independent statelets, I don’t see any significant internal national identities beside the basic East/West divide. Even in Zakarpatia where Hungary is trying to stir the pot, only about 10% of people count themselves as Hungarian.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Not germane. That was in 1993 and they had from 1989 to prepare. Many banking systems were manual. It takes years to do any large IT coding project. All bank messaging now is via computer.

          1. NN Cassandra

            In 1989 Communist regime fell, and while obviously things were brewing, the decision to split was made in July 1992, only then things got going, which is why for example the currency split was done by putting temporary stamps on banknotes.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Please see our MASSIVE literature on Greece going back to the drachma in 2015. It is simply operationally not doable in any time frame under years. 1993 is the stone age bank tech wise compared to now. Please do not keep arguing from an irrelevantly old example.

              You can’t even get hard currency in circulation in less than a year. You need to design it, print it, kit manufacture and install new ATM trays (it can’t be similar to the old currency as far as ATMs are concerned) and then actually distribute the funds to ATMs (which our Clive who at one time ran ATMs stressed is non-trivial too).

  23. John k

    The 2004 and 2010 election maps show the same pattern, heavily Russian leaning southeast of the diagonal roughly from the west edge of Kharkov and Odessa oblasts. Awkwardly a division here would not utilize the dnieper river as a boundary for any stretch. Still, west of this diagonal might, other than Kiev itself, be mostly farmland, so a compliant Kiev regime might, with drone etc patrols, manage to minimize terrorism from the west. Plus, as mentioned, the exodus to the eu and lack of men probably minimizes terrorism recruitment while oversight and missiles might be sufficient to curtail large incursions around Lvov.
    Plus, perhaps many of those that fled to Russia on account of war will return to the new Russian oblasts given those areas look to have opportunity as they become Russian, so east Ukraine is repopulated while west areas empty out.
    Thinking about the post-war financial issues… I don’t know have any such background, but seems to me if the rump is nominally sovereign they could pass any laws regarding taxes and titles without messing with Putin’s legalistic concerns; and Russia anyway seems unlikely to want west corps in the rump.
    It wouldn’t bother me much if imf/world bank/west corps lose their collective shirts over this fiasco, and maybe such losses will persuade our oligarchs that these adventures can incur losses. Maybe they’ll lose interest in a pivot to Taiwan.

  24. Kouros

    I would start with the situation in Ukraine first and emblematic of it is the clip with a city councilor detonating 4 or 5 hand grenades during a city council meeting:

    Then you have the former advisor, Arestovich, admitting that Ukraine bet on the wrong side…

    These are both emblematic and it will start to be quite big undercurrents in the remaining Ukrainian population. All the while, the Kievian youth doesn’t want to die for “democracy”.

    After Avdeevka is taken and Ukraine moves more surely into a defensive posture, I suspect the spring will bring even more advances with more Ukrainians killed, material destroyed and territory occupied.

    It will be hard to have a cohesive Ukraine, with maybe some hyperinflation starting. A blockaded Odessa and Kharkhiv can fall from within, no need to get into a Battle for Budapest as in wwII. Not the first time in history. It is true that some hardcore Ukrainians would rather have everything destroyed than leave it for the Russians to take, but as we have seen, not even German generals obeyed Hitlar to abandon Paris in ruin…

    As for defensive borders, this is nonsense. How much were NATO armed Ukrainians “shock troops” were able to advance south in the counter-offensive? A similar line of defense can be built north of Odessa in no time. The steppe there is really not conducive of anything, not for amassing of troops and material and not even for infiltration by small groups. And linking it with Transnistria would be easy-peasy and then Russian troops can stare down at NATO over the Rivers Dniestr and Danube.

    Sattelites and drones can offer a very good coverage, as well as well positioned ground observation centres, maned by real troops, not automatic systems like what Israel had.

    As for the relation with the west, given the lack of internal cohesion within each western country and between these countries, and the relative ease that will be to keep them at bay (there will always be a sufficient number of Russian males, and females willing to enlist to insure security and cast a threatening shadow on the west), I don’t think Russia should worry what the mean club girls says and does (cannot do much, this is why they are mean girls, lashing with their tongues). The West does need its face dragged through the mud a bit and Russia should accept talks only after right supplicating noises are made from all relevant parts, including US legislature…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      They weren’t hand grenades. They were flash bangs. The guy who tossed them did not throw them far.

      But those can and do hurt people at close quarters and did in this case.

      As for the defenses in the South, one of the YT channels (History Legends?) showed that they actually needed to defend only certain choke points, which they did in depth. The rest of the Surovikin line did not have to be as dense due to limited practical routes for sending enough forces in to cut the land bridge. So defending open steppes would entail a lot more construction. And remember the Maginot Line, the history of these fortifications is mixed.

      In other words, yes the Russians could do this but I am not sure it is as generalizable as the Surovikin Line would have you believe….and BTW it was never tested! Ukraine never got to it. They have their big crumple zone before that.

  25. XXYY

    It’s worth pointing out that even if Russia wanted to negotiate a solution to the Ukraine conflict, how would they actually do it and who would they do it with? It’s been made quite obvious that an agreement with any US-controlled entity is not worth the paper it’s printed on, and at worst will be immediately ignored, and at best will be ignored in the future once the US has used the intervening time to its advantage. If there is no one to negotiate with, then there is no alternative but to keep going until the opponent has been reduced to dust in one way or another. The Russians know this very well from first hand experience after driving various European invaders all the way back into their home cities in Europe at various times.

    So, especially with their opponents on the run and having no chance of putting up a decisive fight, the Russians seem free to do whatever seems best to them whenever they want to do it.

    All the stories in the western press about “freezing the conflict,” or “negotiating an end to the war,” are so much whistling in the dark.

  26. David in Friday Harbor

    It’s fun to play Magic 8-Ball, but as I read translations of Putin and Medvedev’s remarks putting forth what appears to be a “maximalist” position my take is that they are playing domestic Russian electoral politics. There is an election in March and they want to gin-up voting in order to present a strong front to the rest of the world. This is especially important to them in the wake of the embarrassing coup attempt by that conveniently deceased clown Prigozhin.

    The U.S. is also facing an election in 2024 and it is a toss-up because of the potential of RFK Jr. getting on the ballot. He is making noises about getting on in all 50 states, and he has some financial backing that might accomplish that feat. The late Kevin Phillips posited that the U.S. electorate can only “throw the bastards out” and will simply cycle through a series of “protest votes” against the perceived “establishment” candidate. If he can get on the ballot RFK Jr. will siphon-off protest votes from both Biden and Trump, making the outcome a crap-shoot.

    The Russian leadership know that they can’t negotiate with Tweedle-Biden/Blinken-Dumb so they have a further reason to gin-up popular support for continuing the war until the fog clears in Washington. Sadly, this will require more grinding attrition and further casualties on both sides of the Dnieper — and Russia is running-out of expendable prisoners and mercenaries to throw at the front. They will try to minimize casualties.

    Only then will Russia be able to foist the economic train-wreck of a neutral rump Ukraine onto the EU while reclaiming the Black Sea littoral as Novorussia.

    1. nippersdad

      “…and Russia is running-out of expendable prisoners and mercenaries to throw at the front.”

      Last I heard they have had no difficulties in raising troops, and the volunteers, alone, are about forty thousand a month per MacGregor et al. They are treating no one as expendable, and that likely explains both why they are having so few problems with recruitment and why we are having so many.

  27. Ignacio

    If I recall correctly, Arestovich, former PR arm of Zelensky, has said or written a piece in which he lamented what a big mistake for Ukraine was to follow the advice of the West and play the proxy war against Russia. Blinded by the incessant flow of money from the West, the later under the guise of apparent strength, wisdom and might but decadent. I think he wrote something to the tune of Ukraine maving made a gigantic mistake by choosing the alliance with the losers in the big game.

    If many, among the influential ones in Ukraine, think the same as Arestovich, won’t they be very careful not to repeat the same mistake again and be very reluctant to run again on NATO instructions without considering the will of their important neighbour to the East and North? No matter what the Western morons believe about Ukraine willing to be the permanent punching-ball of Russia.

  28. Willow

    Given precedent of the four Oblasts voting to join the Russian Federation, Russia will absorb the parts of Ukraine it wants into Russia proper. This negates need to ‘manage’ regimes and risk new Maidan coups. This also gives Russia clean control over access to the Black Sea. Don’t think there will be a national referendum for all of Ukraine to join Russia. Leaving a rump Ukraine west of Kiev centred on Lviv has advantage of providing somewhere for the pro-Europeans to go and attract all the Western aid grifters (self-interested trouble makers) away from Kiev. This means ‘Ukraine’ continues to exist supporting the narrative of Russia as a liberator not a conqueror. Having the two western NPPs in the remaining rump (& not Russia’s responsibility) and within range of a new Russian border provides interesting at-risk threat optionality in Russia’s favour. Kiev however, will now need to be absorbed into Russia to solve the problem once and for all. Ukraine sealed Kiev’s fate by attacking Moscow.

    That said, I can’t see the West accepting the above. It would be a huge historic, generational, setback to West’s overarching strategic objective to control the Three Seas – Azov, Black & Baltic. UK has been obsessed with Crimea for nearly two centuries now. Given US/UK’s willingness to cross core geopolitical ‘moral’ lines (& geopolitical common sense) in the past, it’s more than likely they will be compelled to try something drastic to stop Russia in their tracks – soon.

  29. alfred venison

    If Russia doesn’t take Odessa, NATO will, which is utterly unacceptable to Russia. Therefore Russia will take Odessa. IMHO. -a.v.

  30. alfred venison

    I discovered this book at the beginning of the SMO and found it very helpful in furthering my understanding Galicia, especially the introductory chapters on the sociology, politics, religion, economics of the region at the end of the 19th century. I post it here in the hope it may be as helpful to others as it has been to me. At any rate, its free at The Internet Archive, so if it turns out a bum steer then its at least a no expense bum steer. -cheers, a.v.

    John-Paul Himka, “Socialism in Galicia : The Emergence of Polish Democracy and Ukrainian Radicalism (1860-1890)”, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute, 1983.

  31. Irrational

    Thanks for this excellent post and discussion to Yves and everyone!
    Regarding the assets and liabilities of the banking system, just over 50% of the Ukrainian banks are state-owned.
    MDBs will still lend to them because (1) most MDBs support private sector business by lending to banks which on-lend to SMEs, (2) there is a nice state guarantee in place.
    That means there is probably considerably more net foreign debt than the stats show (though not by an order of magnitude difference). This is my speculation at this stage, would have to dig further.
    Some sources:
    (the quote on state ownership below the first graph)
    (on supranationals’ exposure to Ukraine)

  32. Altandmain

    Yves, I suspect that Putin already has a plan that he is not telling anyone outside of the Kremlin – Putin has never struck me as an impulsive figure that does not have a long term plan. Putin isn’t like, say, George W Bush, who with the neoconservatives, clearly had no plan to rebuild Iraq after their 2003 invasion on false pretenses and was unable to defeat the insurgency for that reason.

    Putin sometimes makes mistakes, as his recent admission about being naive on the West and how he thought they wanted a partner, when they really wanted a Boris Yeltsin-like puppet to help the loot Russia, but overall his judgement has been solid for the 24 years he’s been in power. Certainly Putin has shown an ability to self-correct that Western leaders lack.

    If I were to guess, Putin would likely have been partnered with China. The Chinese will play a big role in the reconstruction of both rump Ukraine and now the part that has rejoined Russia – which I will call by its historical name, Novorossiya. It will look like what is happening in the current 4 Oblasts that are under Russian control, but only on a larger scale. The location means that this area is going to be a big part of the Belt and Road project.

    There’s a precedent of the reconstruction. Chechnya and Grozny. There will begin a major infrastructure reconstruction effort and ultimately, the Chechens were successfully re-integrated into Russian society.

    Ultimately I think these people will be ‘won over’ as you suggested because the difference in actual freedom and prosperity will be immediately clear, almost overnight. There were many videos of ex-Ukrainians shocked at the speed with which Russia began improving infrastructure all over Donbass, paving huge amounts of new roads and simply having civil services that didn’t function under Ukrainian rule—like street cleaning, snow and garbage removal, building renovations, new water-pipelines and infrastructure works, etc. Seeing this, most people quickly shift their mental and ideological allegiances, and gain an appreciation for their new governance.

    Economic performance drives political legitimacy. Russia will rebuild its new Oblasts. I would expect that Russia and China will work together as well on rump Ukraine. The results from Crimea (Russia has spent a lot on infrastructure there as well) and the 4 Oblasts are certainly room for optimism.

    Between the better infrastructure, and better economic prospects, I don’t think that there is going to be the level of opposition that NATO intelligence agencies desperately need for an insurgency. It’s important to consider that a growing amount of Ukrainians understand they were used by the West that doesn’t care about them. Keep in mind that the Chinese can also quickly build at a pace that astounds the West.

    The end result might end up something like Chechnya, which become quite loyal to Russia. Notably, Chechens have fought fiercely for the Russians in this conflict Someday, Ukrainians may end up as some of the most fanatically passionate Russians. It may end up in a union like Belarus, although with challenging demographics, having lost so many in war.

    What about the West? I don’t think that Putin cares about the West. Note his other comments about him being naive about trusting the West. He thought he could work with them as partners, when in reality, all they ever wanted was to turn him into Boris Yeltsin to try to loot and ultimately, Balkanize Russia.

    In other words, the Western opinion doesn’t have much weight on the fate of Ukraine anymore. They don’t have the military capabilities and industrial base to stop the Russians. They West has lost. They can scream in anger and double down on propaganda. Their attempts at trying to destabilize Russia using intelligence agencies has clearly failed. The West will have no choice but to bear the terms that Russia sets for Ukraine.

    The US may, as Putin has indicated, sign a deal with the US in the future, but I suspect that Russia will be in a position to set many, if not most of the terms of any future agreement. Europe will likely suffer economically and see a major living standards decline. This will likely bring radical political change in the future.

    To be honest, if Europe ends up in truly dire situations, with costly energy, it might have too much to deal with internally to focus on Ukraine and trying to wage a Cold War against Russia. The same might be the case in the US, especially if there is a big showdown between the rich versus ordinary citizens someday.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, Russia will not rely on China. Putin in his recent speeches has been banging on about Russian sovereignity. Russia has more than enough natural resources. The issue is military subjugation. Russia will not invite a foreign army in, ever. Its other issue is labor shortages and it has been considering guest worker programs with comparatively poor countries. China is not on that list.

      1. Greg

        On the labour shortages aspects, the rumours about North Korean construction workers in Mariupol and elsewhere are persistent, so there’s probably some truth there.
        To my mind it would make sense as part of a wider economic agreement that includes North Korean manufacturing capacity for shells and rockets (both of which have been seen in Russian positions now, with favourable reviews from the troops), and Russian expertise for missile design (which is not proven but seems likely). The train traffic between the two nations has spiked significantly this year (e.g.

        It will be interesting, if Russia does take a larger part of Ukraine (like the middle setting on the Big Serge/Will Schryver maps from earlier), to see how they leverage their international position into the reconstruction and remediation efforts. Mine clearance as well as building are going to be huge efforts.

  33. Matthew G. Saroff

    I’ve said this before, and I will say it again, if Russia achieves its goals, and all that remains is a Ukrainian rump state, at least the western half of that rump state, (Galicia) and perhaps all of it, will end up under the de-facto control of Poland.

  34. Frank

    It’s hard to imagine a stable situation where there is any part of Ukrainian territory left not under Russian control. I suspect, and have thought since February 2022, that Russia will annex the country in its entirety. As for the West, Ukraine’s fate is non-negotiable. What is negotiable is a new security architecture for Europe that takes into account Russia’s security concerns.

    In terms of controlling the Galicians, people forget that this war began as a civil conflict within Ukraine. There are millions of East Ukrainians who have borne the brunt of the war for the past ten years. These people’s reward for that suffering and resolve will be running the entirety of the former country’s territory. They will be highly motivated to ruthlessly suppress any and all resistance. This means uppity Ukrainians will face three choices, emigrate to the west, resign themselves to Russian rule, or resist and ultimately end up either in jail or dead.

    Russia is arguably the world’s most militarily successful nation currently in existence. It doesn’t just know how to fight. It also knows how to subjugate.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please look at a map. Ukraine is a huge country. The people running any police services in Western Ukraine will either be from West Ukraine or Russia. The accents and some of the language use is different parts of the country, as some readers have described at length.

      After World War II, denazification in Germany didn’t go as far as advertised because the US needed them to run government services.

      Fortunately the hard core, actively militant Banderites are almost all easily identified since they loved getting tattooed with Nazi insignia. So the really dangerous ones can be rounded up. But what about the next layer of people, not active militants but firmly anti-Russian?

      Put it another way, name me a country that has succeeded with long-term occupation. This is not easy. The Russians need to find a way to get the loyalty or at least tacit acceptance of most of the people.

      Recall also it is VERY easy for trigger-happy people (and soldiers are super trigger happy, we see this in the ex-soldiers who wind up as cops) to over-react to perceived threats and shoot innocents. So aggressive occupation has the potential to lead to accidental death-by-occupier of innocents, which would further antagonize the subjugated population.

      1. Tom67

        Bingo, Yves! You put it very consisely! If Putin is smart – and I believe he is – he will do exactly as Aurelian has sketched above.

  35. skippy

    Amazed … always said Russia would slowly grind this down whilst providing international space for others not keen on the Western past agenda. Heck it does not ever need to win, crush Ukraine, just slowly bleed all the proponents out, which will play out politically as unwashed get the treatment and then the only response will be more authority – waves at Hayek …

  36. Jonathan Mills

    Surely there is still a slight chance that the US will put boots, tanks etc etc on the ground in Ukraine, especially if by a miracle or otherwise Biden wins in 2024? Can it all be kept nearly in place, building endless defences etc until the 2024 election? We all know how well a real war goes down for the economy of a nation. It will be exceedingly difficult for the US neocons, and NATO, to give up on Ukraine. Yves, most of your article was about what could/would Russia do with Ukraine, their objectives. But remember Ukraine have been quite adept at halting Russia’s advance, for…two years! They haven’t even been able to push Ukraine away from missiling Donetsk! The very real desire has been in place for 60+ years to fight Russia, Ukraine is still this opportunity for the US/NATO gang.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      We are falling well short in meeting our annual recruitment goals, which are MUCH lower than Russia’s. And China is a much higher priority.

      1. Jonathan Mills

        Unfortunately recruitment problems will not be on a list for the idiots in charge of the US policy or the tin pot generals. You are too generous with your assumption they will not do something completely stupid like send 100K soldiers and 100 Abrams to Ukraine! Think Vietnam, Afghanistan?

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