Monday 28 February 2022

Russia Invades Ukraine: A Crime – And A Mistake.

Be Careful What You Wish For: Putin has conjured into being the very strategic nightmare he spent the last 20 years attempting to forestall. His actions have given all the nations of Western and Eastern Europe a terrifying reminder of the wisdom of banding together against the Russian Bear.

I’M WHAT’S KNOWN, on the Left, as a “Tankie”. That is to say I am not a reflexive opponent of the Russian regime. In the Georgian border regions; in Syria; and until 24 February 2022, in the Ukraine; I have, by and large, been sympathetic to the aims and objectives of the Russian Federation. More specifically, right up until this past week, I have had a sneaking admiration for the way in which President Vladimir Putin, in spite of finding himself in some extremely difficult positions, has nevertheless managed to checkmate his Western opponents.

But that’s all over now. It’s one thing to silence with tanks and artillery the Washington-inspired braggadocio of Georgia’s opportunistic leader. Or, to throw Russia’s military support behind the least worst protagonist in the Syrian civil war. But, to order a full-scale invasion on Ukraine? That’s not Chess, that’s Draughts – and not even very good Draughts. Putin has over-reached himself – quite possibly fatally.

It is difficult to understand why Putin couldn’t understand just how much ground he had made, diplomatically, by staging large-scale military manoeuvres on the Ukrainian border. The increasingly hysterical shrieks and yells emerging from Washington and NATO Headquarters in Brussels were achieving nothing useful for the West – apart from validating Putin’s critiques of NATO’s expansionist doctrine. As prediction after prediction of a Russian invasion of Ukraine proved inexact, Moscow gave every indication of being grimly amused. The Russian talent for irony and sarcasm was on full display.

Even better, the hysterical reactions of Washington and Brussels, were prompting the appearance of some no doubt very satisfying (to Moscow) cracks in the NATO alliance. To the evident delight of the Russian foreign ministry, Germany and France (both of which are guilty of invading Russia in the past, and then paying a terrible price for their aggression) took up their roles as guarantors of the Minsk Accords. For the price of an extended round of annual manoeuvres, the Russian Federation, and its Belarussian ally, were on the verge of reaping a bountiful diplomatic harvest.

So, what went wrong? How was the Kremlin’s master Chess-player suddenly robbed of both his strategic and his tactical senses?

In the harsh light of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, during which so many of the predictions and descriptions of the Russian armed forces’ battle-plans have been proved correct, it is surely reasonable to speculate that the Americans may have cracked the Russian military codes, giving them full access to all of the Kremlin’s strategic and tactical conversations. Or, they may have a highly-placed spy on the inside who is relaying to them the same information. They may even have both.

For Putin, a political leader schooled in the security services of the old Soviet Union, the revelation of such a catastrophic security breach would be devastating. The paranoid style of politics that pervaded the old KGB would have been intensified in Putin, the former KGB officer, to the point where he may simply have stopped thinking clearly.

If the debilitating revelation that Russia’s national security had been fundamentally compromised was further aggravated by serious disinformation concerning the character and intentions of the Ukrainian Government, then Putin’s descent into an enraged and murderous paranoia is readily explained.

Whatever happened, it was clear, several days out from the invasion, that something in Moscow had changed. RT, the Federation’s worldwide propaganda arm (now unavailable on New Zealand’s Sky Network, it’s former host) seemed to flounder as it struggled to come to grips with the Kremlin’s rapidly darkening tone.

Up until Putin’s rambling history lecture of 22 February, immediately followed by the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway republics, it had seemed as though RT’s leading lights were perfecting their scornful one-liners for the day Russia’s military forces on the Ukrainian border proved NATO wrong by simply turning around and returning to barracks.

Certainly, that was the outcome for which Putin’s government had been preparing the Russian people over the preceding weeks and months – and, it must be said, it was also the outcome the Ukrainians were expecting. Very few people on either side of the border wanted, or were prepared for, a full-scale invasion. The very fact that spontaneous anti-war rallies erupted all over the Russian Federation bears testimony to the shock and dismay provoked by Putin’s aggression against his fellow Slavs.

It is instructive to contrast Putin’s total failure to prepare his people for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine with the many months George W. Bush spent convincing the American people that his equally illegal invasion of Iraq was both militarily necessary and morally justified.

One is reminded of the decidedly unenthusiastic reception given to the Wehrmacht’s tanks as they rolled through the streets of Berlin in the early stages of the so-called “Munich Crisis” of September 1938. The German people did not want war with Britain and France, which is why they cheered to the echo the peacemaker, Neville Chamberlain, as he made his way through the streets of Munich – much to the disgust of the Fuhrer, who most emphatically did want war with Czechoslovakia.

It is worth contemplating the historical lessons of the Munich Crisis in relation to the crisis currently unfolding in Ukraine. Had Chamberlain, backed by France and Italy, not signed over the largely German-speaking Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler and, instead, warned him that Czechoslovakia would not be abandoned, then it is highly likely that Hitler’s generals (who were quite unconvinced that Germany could win such a war) would have deposed him in a military coup d’état. Had that happened, it is entirely possible that the Second World War could have been avoided.

The Russian Federation’s possession of nuclear weapons rules out any overt military response on the part of NATO, but the harshness of the economic sanctions regime it has imposed is bound to give Putin’s generals and oligarchs pause.

Nothing is more expensive than full-scale war. While, geographically, Russia may be a vast country, economically it is smaller than Italy. Far from heralding the restoration of Russian greatness, a drawn-out war against Ukrainian resistance fighters (supported and supplied by a ferociously united West) coupled with the debilitating economic and political effects of swingeing sanctions (not to mention the financial and human costs of a prolonged occupation) can only weaken the Russian Federation profoundly.

Even from the perspective of hard-line Russian nationalists, Putin’s wild gambit makes no sense. Indeed, those of a Machiavellian disposition among the Russian elites may come to the conclusion that some of Putin’s more rational geopolitical objectives stand a much greater chance of being achieved if Putin is no longer on the scene. Amidst the palpable and near universal relief which a change of regime in Moscow, followed by the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine, would undoubtedly bring, a comprehensive revision of European security arrangements might end up being welcomed – by all sides.

As matters now stand, however, Putin has conjured into being the very strategic nightmare he spent the last 20 years attempting to forestall. His actions have given all the nations of Western and Eastern Europe a terrifying reminder of the wisdom of banding together against the Russian Bear.

Ironically, the Ukrainians Putin dismissed as “drug addicts and neo-Nazis” stand revealed as heroes and patriots: men and women willing to lay down their lives for their country. Certainly, President Volodymyr Zelensky has demonstrated communication skills even more impressive than those of our own Jacinda Ardern. His social-media broadcast from the heart of besieged Kyiv was nothing short of inspirational. No one, now, is interested in accusations of undue Washington influence, widespread corruption, and neo-Nazi militias.

Russia’s “tankie” support in the West was based on Putin’s moral, political and military jiu-jitsu: his hitherto impressive knack for using the weight and power of his Western antagonists against them; and his skill at exposing the crass hypocrisy of those powers who have never hesitated to commit the very same sins they are forever attributing to Russia.

But, there is nothing clever about Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine. It will achieve nothing but massive material destruction and untold human suffering. Even worse, from the perspective of the unfortunate Russian people, Putin’s invasion has provided an ex post facto justification for their enemies’ most predatory designs .

As the deeply cynical, but nonetheless brilliant, French statesman, Charles Maurice Talleyrand (1754-1838) said of Napoleon’s ill-judged decision to abduct and execute the politically unfortunate Duke d’Enghien:

“This is worse than a crime, it’s a mistake.”

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 28 February 2022.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well those Ukrainian "Nazis" have elected a Jewish leader. Whose running rings around Putin in the public opinion steaks. And has refused evacuation. A better man than Putin all round perhaps?

Ricardo said...

I just felt a shiver of history.

Tanks and combat, the end of winter in February, Ukraine, the city of Kharkov, ... 79 years ago, same ground, Erich von Manstein led the II SS Panzer Corps and two Panzer armies to retake Kharkov and stop the advancing Russians after the annihilation of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

I wonder if there are any surviving Wehrmacht or SS Leibstandarte veterans raising a shaking glass of schnapps to their TV screens as they see burning Russian T72s on the steppes.

sumsuch said...

I hope our solidarity against this new Poland invasion will restore the ideals of reason and democracy we grew up under post WW ll.

How godawful the Free Market revolution has been.

Same size as Italy, or Australia?

Archduke Piccolo said...

'It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake' - neither Talleyrand nor (as equally often thought) Fouche said this. It was one Comte Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe, an official in Napoleon's government. But that's just by the by. Whether crime or mistake, one does wonder what Putin is about, here. Is it 'merely' the case of 'Beware the wrath of a patient man'?

I could see the reason, and the excuse, for Putin/ Russia's actions. And one gets blinded by the obvious hypocrisy and duplicity of the West. But whilst I thought I had figured his end view, I was way off. I can't see his purpose at all. If he has one, it must be damnably obscure.

The difference between Russia's criminal error or erroneous crime and those perpetrated daily by the United States and its vassal states of NATO, is that the US was and remains in a position to get away with it. They had the press, the global financial institutions, NATO, the United Nations and European politicians all in Uncle Sam's pocket. Russia has none of those assets; a hostile Western press (and suppression of alternative voices), links to SWIFT cut off, hardly a single voice to argue its case (not that Russia will find THAT anything strange).

"Whatever happened, it was clear, several days out from the invasion, that something in Moscow had changed. RT, the Federation’s worldwide propaganda arm (now unavailable on New Zealand’s Sky Network, it’s former host) seemed to flounder as it struggled to come to grips with the Kremlin’s rapidly darkening tone."

That is a very strange observation about an outfit that is supposed to be Russia's propaganda platform. If RT or Sputnik were anything such, surely they would have their narratives down pat? Nope. Not even close. Russia - Vladimir Putin - is not generally known for stupidity or rashness. The question becomes: what contingency plans has he made? If this or that happens, what must be Russia's response? What is his war aim? What his peace aim? Napoleon once remarked that the art of generalship was knowing just how much to leave to chance. It is certainly possible Putin was off in his calculations.

Or has he decided that World War Three having been begun and seriously ongoing since 1945, we might as well cut to the chase? Let's try America's and NATO's methods of geopolitical discourse, maybe?

The world had better hope like hell that is not the case.

Ion A. Dowman

sumsuch said...

Bernie Sanders's ideals lasted 40 years true. Only him. But the true. Versus everyone else.

Why did I know Putin before you and am scared you'll disallow me? Answer those two questions?

Too many scared Left-talkers on Bowalley, TDB and, worst, The Standard. All the feeling up to the blog-holder kills the Movement fucken dead. Allows the dysfunctional bloom of fascism (I can't imagine how the Kiwiblog guy can look himself in his mistaken face).

DS said...

I wonder if there are any surviving Wehrmacht or SS Leibstandarte veterans raising a shaking glass of schnapps to their TV screens as they see burning Russian T72s on the steppes.

Aforementioned elderly gentlemen would almost certainly have realised that they were Not the Good Guys 79 years ago. Chances are it'd only set off PTSD.

Odysseus said...

Putin is clearly no longer rational. He needs to be stopped by his own people before he unleashes thermobaric or even tactical nuclear weapons against Ukrainian cities. He has become a monster.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Aforementioned elderly gentlemen would almost certainly have realised that they were Not the Good Guys 79 years ago."

Aforementioned elderly gentleman have spent the last 70 odd years – if they are still alive anyway – having reunions in which they swear to each other they did nothing wrong, and longing for the good old days.

The Veteran said...

I struggle to see how Putin's unleashing the dogs of war in European square with his statement of nine days ago that all he was doing was undertaking a 'peacekeeping' operation. Gives substance to the thought that he is delusional believing in his own rhetoric. Pictures of him sitting a the head of a very large table 'engaging' with officials of the Russian Central Bank sitting at the other end of the table separated by perhaps 20m suggest here is a man who doesn't want to face/listen to reality.

He is guilty of a grave miscalculation (lets put war crimes to the side for the moment) that will lead to a reset of the balance of power in Europe and beyond.

thesorrow&thepity said...

Your Russia commentary always seems to skip over all of those dead Russian journalists.
Glad to see you're finally beginning to see the light on the true nature of that Kleptocrat in the Kremlin. Just a standover man straight from the KGB cookie-cutter, pickup 'First Circle' & you'll see Putin right there in the pages

Archduke Piccolo said...

I think it is a mistake to call Putin - or his actions - irrational. It is equally mistaken to call him a coward and a bully. A man who once went out alone to face down a mob ain't no coward, ain't no bully, ain't no irrational stupid. Unlike some Western politicians I could name.

I have done a bit of thinking these last few days. I wish to hell Western politicians and the media would also start thinking.

Whether he was right or wrong about this, and I have a feeling he wasn't so very far wrong, I'm guessing that Putin figured he had run out of options. This whole thing isn't about Ukraine, much less about Lugansk or Donetsk, though they are major characters in the narrative. Putin is facing down NATO, in particular the US. The situation is entirely analogous to the Cuba missile crisis (so called) 60 years ago. Then the US stated flatly: get those missiles out, or we will. (This is by the way to set aside the fact that that episode was really the Turkey missile crisis). We came this close -><- to nuclear war on that occasion.

So Putin - forget the 'paranoid' tag: that explains nothing, even were it true - and Russia decide that as the US and NATO is shovelling billions of dollars worth of military hardware into Ukraine, right on their border, where a civil war was ongoing, that hardware has to go. NATO won't remove it, so Russia must.


I believe that taking them out with missiles could so easily have gone turnip-shaped - been altogether misunderstood and misread, with the consequences we can guess - Russia's military concluded it was not an option. Better to put boots and tracks on the ground. This approach might even explain in some degree the apparent timorousness of the Russia Air Force that has 'baffled' Western observers. Russia is doing the best it can to ensure its moves and motives are understood - or at least, does not lead to a cataclysmic misunderstanding.

Why now? Could Putin have carried on (successfully) as he had been doing? He must have felt that time was fast running out. IF he had to strike, which must have assumed such likelihood as to seem absolutely certain, then he has to do it whilst Ukraine's membership of NATO was still problematical. Once that membership was a given, even if only pending, then such an invasion would have brought upon a catastrophe. To have accepted NATO's nukes on his borders would be the catastrophe deferred, and, more immediately perhaps, a renewed round of the plundering to which the US subjected Russia 20-30 years ago. This his attempt, in the face of the US unilateral 'First Strike' policy, to keep the thing contained.

All this is my own conjecture, based on bugger-all information but what I can glean from the few sources I can access in this country.

It is no cowardice for the sake of you own nation's security, to face down an organisation that commands fifteen times your own military expenditure. This is no longer Ukraine versus the Donbass separatists, nor Russia versus Ukraine. This is Russia versus NATO - or, to be more accurate, Russia versus the United States.

Ion A. Dowman

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've been dredging up memories from Intro. Hist. Warf. Which I studied at Massey some years ago, and I'm wondering exactly what's going on. The normal Russian doctrine is massed artillery barrages, which are noticeable by their absence. Is Putin afraid of what effect these might have on world opinion? Is he playing some deep game, trying to preserve infrastructure for when he takes over? Or is there some deep underlying corruption within the Russian system which means that they simply don't have the resources for this sort of thing because the money has been peculated (if that's a word). There is some speculation about this with regards to fuel, which seems to be in short supply. Who knows – I don't think Intro. Hist. Warf. It necessarily gives me enough of an insight here.

What essentially worries me is that there is no end in sight – no endgame, for Putin as it were. I suspect he expected a walkover and the quick imposition of a puppet government, and now that hasn't happened he has no idea what to do. Except perhaps a lash out in all directions. I'm really glad now that I live in a small country at the arse end of the world which can feed 30 times its population, although "On The Beach" scenarios seem to be cropping up in my mind every so often.

sumsuch said...

Interesting, the Russians haven't taken much land. Largest country in Europe apart from Russia (which has always had trouble viewing itself as part of Europe). Difficult to know what's going on over there from the top of my 'heed' (affected Scottism). Not sure why the Western Media think it's a great achievement that this country hasn't folded after a week. That 40 miles of weaponry on the road to Kyiv has brought out a great gnashing of teeth from folk wishing for airforce strikes, which would require foriegners.

aj said...

The war we are witnessing is not a “war scare” gone wrong but a spectacularly violent escalation of a long war of attrition.
Ukraine has been involved in a shooting conflict with Russia since 2014 and in that conflict, whether the West recognized it or not, both Russia and the Ukrainians themselves saw Ukraine as a proxy of the West.

I think Archduke Piccolo is right. Russia has calculated the cost of action now is less than the cost the nation in the future.

I also doubt Putin alone makes this decision. It will be a decision between Putin, Lavrov, and other top advisors including military leaders.

Anonymous said...

This (verbatim) in from a Ukrainian born friend in Moscow in response to my wonering why Putin has gone for the grand slam rather than just Luhandsk/Donetsk which the west probably would have worn.

He might consider it is better to take more in order to guarantee the less later.
But the question is even much deeper than all those political issues.
If you know some opponents call Russians names like "cotton wool".
In some aspects it is true due to the Russian inherited calmness and tolerance.
Hundreds of years they absorbed lots of edgy characters around and within.
Left without that the Ukrainians started jumping and wounding up themselves.
At the same time they have much less limits of tolerance. Lots of discrimination facts from their part against the different races while the evacuation goes come now in Euronews. And as millions of them are now getting to Europe it will be theirs business now to absorb all those fanatics when they start jumping around. And we will see how much human cotton is in store there.

P.S. Omicron has passed through. Almost everyone has got one. The restrictions are almost down. Other issues are on time-table now.