Thursday, February 3, 2022

No War in Ukraine

Some Americans think Russia might actually invade Ukraine, but most Europeans disagree. Ivan Krastev in the NY Times:

For the United States and President Biden, who on Wednesday formally approved a deployment of American troops to Eastern Europe, a Russian invasion led by President Vladimir Putin is a “distinct possibility.” For Europe, not so much. A senior German diplomat summed up the divergence. “The U.S. thinks Putin will do a full-blown war,” he said. “Europeans think he’s bluffing.”

Perhaps that’s to be expected. After all, full-scale war is generally as unimaginable for a Western European public as an alien invasion. The many decades of peace in Western Europe, combined with the continent’s deep dependence on Russia’s oil and gas, incline officials to assume aggressive Russian moves must be a ruse.

But the European tendency to accommodate Russia doesn’t explain why Ukrainian officials, after initial alarm, now seem to share the same view. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, last week played down the immediate threat of war, suggesting the situation was “dangerous, but ambiguous.” For a country menaced by 130,000 Russian troops at its border, it’s a striking assessment. What lies behind it?

The answer is surprising, even paradoxical. Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion in Ukraine not because they have a more benign view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. On the contrary, it’s because they see him as more malicious. War, they reason, is not the Kremlin’s game. Instead, it’s an extensive suite of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could turn out to be more destructive than war itself.

I agree with the Europeans here. I think war is too risky for Putin. There has never been a real trial of Russian planes and missiles against western planes and missiles, and there is a chance such a trial might be humiliating for Russia. It has taken 30 years of hard work to rebuild the sad post-Soviet military into a dangerous-seeming fighting force, and seeing that force damaged or thwarted would be a real blow to Russian power. Better to let the threat of war keep everyone on edge and watch the west continue to unravel.


szopen said...

I agree completely. Putin already made buildups on the Ukrainian frontiers in the past, though it never was so publicised as now.

However, as I wrote before, since I predicted no way Putin would oficially take over Crimea, I am no longer willing to predict anything related to Putin.

I'm seeing tons of wild predictions now. It's a pretext to introduce tighter control over Belarus! It's to prevent Ukrainian attack on Doneck/Ługańsk! It's to force federalisation of Ukraine! It's a sneaky policy aimed at choking Ukrainian economy! It's actually 5D chess move to destabilise UE!

Plus I agree Ukraine doesn't seem to be that fearful. While, on the one hand, they are loudly asking for our help, at the same time they continue the offensive display of banderist symbolics even during official Polish visits AND they are blocking some transports to Poland, harming our economy - while our politicians are blindly following so called "jagiellonian" strategy.

David said...


Very interesting. Would you mind explaining what are banderist symbolics and jagiellonian strategy?

David said...


I managed to figure out (using Wikipedia, The Source Of All Truth) that Stepan Bandera was the leader of a ferociously anti-Polish Ukrainian group (also anti-Semite, etc., etc.) and that his modern acolytes in Lviv/Lvov like to do things like name streets after him.

But jagiellonian? Is the Polish government proposing a dynastic union with Lithuania? If we could bring back some winged hussars, that would be cool. :-)

szopen said...


Bandera was a leader of ultra-nationalist Ukrainian movement in 1940s called UPA:

There is a lot of complexity in there, but in short modern Ukrainian right often uses the symbols of UPA. There wouldn't be nothing wrong in that if UPA only fought against Poles and Soviets (Which they did). However, UPA is also responsible of Vohlyn massacres, during which they murdered civil Polish population (including more distant parts of my family). Modern UPA apologists deny that they were responsible, or pretend that it was all staged by Soviet provocateurs, or that in fact Poles were also guilty of similar massacres. Again, this is very complicated subject, but they most basic fact is that massacres happened, at least 50 thousand Polish civilians died murdered in the most gruesome way and it's very sensitive subject.

UPA has the most popularity in the western part and some of the units fighting with the Russians were created by western Ukrainian nationalists (

Banderists symbols are thing like black-red flag or their slogans (like the one they put on their national football team tshirts "glory to the Ukraine! To the heroes glory!" which was the UPA's members greetings.

"Jagiellonian strategy" or more often "jagiellonian policy" is a catch-all term used polemically in Poland, basically describing politics of unconditional supporting eastern countries against Russia, building close relationships with them and establishing strategic partnership. There is something of a dogma "without independent Ukraine there will be no independent Poland". It comes from dynasty of Jagiellons, who ruled a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (what is now Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and in times also Latvia and Estonia - Jagiellonians ruled also over lands of modern Czechia, Hungary, Romania and SLovakia)

Shadow said...

I like that new map one of the cable news stations is showing. All of Europe is green and Russian is bold red. A very dramatic picture of just how big and intimidating the bear is. It's like having a tumor twice the size of your body attached to your body . . . and it's metastasizing. No wonder Europe doesn't want to think of war.

I marvel at how little Putin says compared to how much Biden says Biden is like a chicken scrambling and squawking around the barnyard making all kinds of noise warning the sky is falling, meanwhile Putin is a lazy old dog lying on the ground watching Biden squawk and scramble. I wonder what he has up his sleeve? He's no one's fool. He's probably watching with great curiosity how Biden operates and how united NATO is.

And all those photos of vehicles, tents, etc amassing on the Ukrainian border, why don't I see any soldiers in them? As to when he attacks, if he does, I seem to remember all of this starting years back during the Winter Olympics hosted by Russia, when those trade talks and agreements between Ukraine and Western Europe became public. Wouldn't it be something if Putin goes into Ukraine during the olympics.

PS: So what happened to the great olympic diplomatic protest. Did a single EU nation join the U.S.? I suspect it's a flop or we would hear more about it from the White House.

David said...


I think sometimes the American media can make Putin look like some sort of genius who knows exactly what he's doing and is completely in control of himself and his country. Actually he makes missteps too. His recent gambit to get a guarantee that Sweden and Finland wouldn't join NATO was an embarrassing flop. Their answer was a unanimous "mind your own business." Not that Sweden and Finland actually have the slightest desire to join NATO. But it seems to me Putin keeps trying to fulfill a fantasy where Russia can make itself seen to be the big boss in Europe, and he keep falling short--obviously except for Belarus.

Shadow said...

He also got a plane shot down over Turkey, and then quickly became BFF with Erdogan. So, yeah, he miscalculates, but I'll never forget how quickly he turned that into an asset. I don't think he's a genius, but he isn't the fool I hear some call him. One big reason he's gotten as far as he has is because people keep dismissing him and his country. He's fascinating to watch. Wherever there is turmoil you find him; he thrives in it. Like those bacteria, he thrives in uninhabitable spaces.

G. Verloren said...


"I like that new map one of the cable news stations is showing. All of Europe is green and Russian is bold red. A very dramatic picture of just how big and intimidating the bear is."

Very dramatic, but very inaccurate.

Most of that big red blob on the map is, in fact, extremely sparsely populated Siberian wilderness. You can basically outright ignore everything east of the Urals, and everything north of a line drawn from St. Petersburg to Perm.

Here's a great map to get a sense of the relative population densities of Russia's various regions:

You can quickly tell that European Russia is the part that matters - and when you recognize that fact, you can see just how much of paper tiger that 'big intimidating bear' actually is.


European Russia has a population of about 113 million. The NATO countries have a combined population of about 944 million.

Russia's total military has about 1 million active troops, with some 2 million reserves, and a military budget of $61 billion. NATO's forces can't really be thought of as active troops and reserves, but they can readily call upon about 3.5 million personnel in the event of war, could draw further "reserves" from their member nations in quite substantial numbers if necessary, and have a combined annual military budget of over $1 trillion.

Russia trying to take on NATO in a straight up slugging match would be at a severe disadvantage, just in terms of raw manpower and resources.

Russia looks big on a map because it has a massive land area, but land doesn't help you win a war unless it contributes something to the war effort. Compare to the how the British Empire used to span the entire world map, and yet the British military was never even remotely of a size to wage war on their European peers without substantial help from allies. Russia has no allies who would join them in a war. They would be utterly by themselves, facing nearly all of Europe.

No, Putin isn't stupid - he's not going to go to war with all of NATO. He has just been poking and prodding to get a sense of Europe's willingness to defend Ukraine. If NATO seemed unwilling to get involved, then Russia could have swooped in.

Now they know that such an opportunity doesn't currently exist. But they're even leveraging that to their own ends - using the increased tensions as a political prybar.

RGH said...

Putin is never going to invade in a way that can look like an invasion that NATO or Europe can point to and say, "you've invaded, we're going actively repel you/go to war!", (a la Kuwait).

If he does anything at all it will be the old salami slicer approach. He'll slice off thin bits of territory (Crimea!) that no one can really object to, too forcefully (after all, Donetsk doesn't really want to be part of Ukraine /s), and before you know it, he's sliced off half the salami.

An analogy I first heard in "The Cardinal of the Kremlin" by Tom Clancy sometime in the mid-80's.