The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Calm and Perspective About Ukraine

Obviously, the war in Ukraine is bad. Innocents will suffer, people who needn’t have been will die and be crippled, and hurt.

However, I’m seeing a great deal of hysteria or near-hysteria over this, and it mostly isn’t justified. It is unlikely that more people will die in this situation than died due to Iraq — or Libya. Some years back, the Congo had a war in which six million people died, and most Westerners don’t even know it happened. Right now, people are starving to death in Afghanistan and Yemen, and Yemen is constantly being bombed. Etc.

So, on humanitarian grounds, this is no worse than many other wars, and while we don’t know the final butcher bill (and can’t guess very well yet, as we don’t know exactly what Putin intends to do), it’s unlikely to be as many deaths as in the Congo or as resulted from Iraq (as all ISIS deaths must be counted in the tally, etc.).

What makes Ukraine different, emotionally, to Westerners, is that they are white Europeans.

The next question is geopolitical. Ukraine feels more important because it seems like the end of a particular political order. It is not that Russia is recognizing new states and carving up an old state; Israel took the Golan Heights, and Kosovo was created by NATO military intervention and would not exist without it. For that matter, Russia has run this playbook before, in Ossetia (Georgia) and Crimea.

So this is not NEW. It is not something completely verboten or anything, as many claim.

It feels new because Russia defied the US, the EU, and NATO, invading a European state, and did so in the face of huge sanction threats.

But, in geopolitical terms, all that is happening is that Russia is saying, “We are a ‘Great Power’ and we will take the same rights as the US has taken to invade and annex.”

This is not a greater war crime than Iraq, or Libya, or the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon. What it is, is the moment at which the West realizes that the US is no longer the sole “Great Power.”

There is, of course, a small but very real risk here because Russia is a great power, with a real military, and a lot of nuclear weapons. I have seen a fair number of people calling for NATO to intervene militarily, and I don’t think Americans understand what they’re calling for. Since the Civil War, the US hasn’t had a war with an enemy that could hurt them in the continental US. If Russia gets bombed, the continental US will get hit as well. Russia is not Iraq, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Libya. It has a real military and can strike back, even without using nukes.

The rage, the impotent rage and fear, is, I think, because of this. At last, the US has come up against an enemy it can’t just shove around. That hasn’t been the case since the USSR collapsed.

Fortunately, saner heads — including Biden — recognize this, which is why they’re reaching for further sanctions and not intending to bomb, bomb, bomb.

I will point out that I wrote that Russia would go to war if it wasn’t given a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO. Put aside, “But they should be able to do whatever they want,” and look at the situation pragmatically. Drop the emotions.

What is the end result of not signing a piece of paper saying Ukraine will not join NATO?

Ukraine won’t join NATO. Even after the war (assuming they aren’t occupied), they won’t because Russia has made it clear that if they even gesture in that direction, they’ll be invaded again. So the end result is dead people, recognition of breakaway regions, and Ukraine not joining NATO anyway.

Russia will be sanctioned, but it is ready for that. They have stated that if they are cut off from SWIFT, they will consider that a declaration of war. They don’t intend to be slowly choked out like Venezuela, Iran, and Iraq in the 90s. Nor will China allow them to be choked out, because if Russia’s choked out, China knows they’re next. The consensus in DC that China must be humbled and forced into a subservient position in the “rules-based international order” is absolutely iron-clad and bipartisan.

So, for a few years now, I’ve been writing about the next cold war. This is the start of it. It doesn’t include China yet, but they won’t cooperate with sanctions on Russia, so it may not be long before it does. I also have an entire section called “The Age of War and Revolution,” and a discussion of this is the start of it — along with the “The Twilight of Revolution,” a sub-category. Neoliberalism no longer rules Russia, in large part because of the sanctions. In time, it won’t rule China either, and in some ways it never has (they are neoliberal for export purposes, but not internally, and their internal market is huge).

The foolish “End of History” nonsense is now obviously dead. It was always the most stupid intellectual movement of the past 50 years, and only poltroons ever believed it.

History is back.

But in the meantime, while war is awful and always will be (and for the record I’m happy to see war crimes tribunals for Putin so long as the last five US presidents are also in the dock, and I’d even volunteer as the executioner), this isn’t likely to be as bad a war as many other recent ones. So except for the remote possibility of nuclear war, there’s no need to be more upset than you were about Iraq or the six million dead Congolese.

Take deep breaths and carry on. Nothing that is happening is unexpected in the broad strokes.



Putin Is Running the Georgian and Kosovo Playbook in Ukraine


Putin Looks to Win Both the War & the Peace


  1. KT Chong

    You forgot to mention Syria.

    The US has ILLEGALLY invaded and been occupying up to 90-percent of of all oil-producing lands in Syria, pumping and selling (i.e., LOOTING) Syrian oil, and keeping all the money.

    But rule-based world order.

  2. Astrid


    Let me throw in all the Maidan architects (including George Soros, the”open society” NGOs, and the lying MSM rags), the NATO leadership, and a good chunk of the current EU leadership on the same docket, and ahead of VVP. They were given many reasonable exit ramps and they didn’t take any of them.

    And regarding national self determination argument. Zelensky was elected to normalize and make peace with the Russians. The Ukrainian populace didn’t sign up for NATO, nuclear rearmament, or shelling Donbass. So is Russia’s actions really subverting the Ukrainian popular will? Is there ever a defensible invasion? To take an extreme example, do you think the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was a good thing? I know this is a matter of gradients from the US argument in Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, but the last three were unprovoked and based entirely on lies, whereas there are pretty indisputable documentation of provocations in this case.

    I think there’s a sound argument to be made that drawing the redline now in Ukraine saves lives in the long term, compared to letting it fester further. US occupations cause endless deaths and suffering because they can’t act decisively enough to ensure victory or cut their losses and leave. Brutal but effective is better than ineffectual and interminable. Lincoln learned that.

  3. bruce wilder

    Rules for thee, not for me. And, Putin seems to think he is attacking that U.S. attitude as much as a disagreeable Ukrainian state.

    I am guardedly hopeful that the present hot moment in this war (which arguably has been on-going since 2014) will be short, in part because Putin has shown he is a calculating psychopath who prefers the peace of frozen conflict to the messy chaos of boundless hot war. I do not imagine he actually cares deeply about the humanity of lives lost or destroyed, but I do observe a pattern of caring about control enough to prefer to contain even festering chaos. If for no other reason, I would not expect the open-ended butcher’s bill that follows on hot conflicts the U.S. orders up and continues indefinitely.

    I think the surprise triumph of the Azeris over the Armenians in 2020 must have made the Russians very nervous about sustaining their separatists in what remained of those territories without regular Russian forces in place.

    The point of war, except for the American prophets of perpetual war for profit, is to shape the peace and I really wonder what Putin imagines the end game looks like. I suspect the Russians vastly overestimate the number of Ukrainians with any latent loyalty to Russia outside of those enclaves where ethnic Russians have concentrated. Putin’s lament about “genocide” against ethnic or linguistic Russians seems more than simply exaggerated, but it is also not entirely baseless, unfortunately. But, I do not see how bombing Kyiv or deposing the Ukrainian President, if that is what he intends to do, accomplishes a peace. There is no foundation for a pro-Russian government in Kyiv after this, is there? I claim no detailed knowledge of Ukrainian politics, just general human nature in patriotic contexts. Who is going to settle anything with the Russians after this? Who would accept power under a Russian yoke?

  4. Jim Harmon

    I hope calm prevails, but according to SWI (Swissinfo): “France says Putin needs to understand NATO has nuclear weapons.” So there’s that.

  5. Z

    President he/bipartisan Biden, who has verbally supported or voted for almost every … if not literally every … murderous military and sanction action that the U.S. has inflicted upon other countries during his entire political whore career, is calling Russia’s attack on the Ukraine a brutal assault though it has only killed 137 people so far according to Zelensky. I’d bet that more than that got killed in Iraq from single bomb strikes during the U.S.’s opening Shock and Awe salvos that Joe probably fondly remembers as what a night!

    But that wasn’t brutal though I suppose; that was patriotic pyrotechnics. Fireworks and pretty smoke plumes without a thought of the bodies that were blown apart beneath them.


  6. anon

    The media is overreacting as it usually does when it comes to any conflict involving Russia or China. The majority of Americans don’t understand the reasons behind the war in Ukraine. Nor do the majority of Americans support US intervention even if they care a bit more about white lives being lost than those in Africa and the Middle East. I had to chuckle when listening to the news today, calling Putin evil for invading Ukraine, when all I could think about is what you’ve pointed out that this is nowhere near as evil as what the US has done around the globe for most of our lives.

  7. bruce wilder

    I understand the desire of both instant partisans and instant experts to arrive at succinct moral certainty quickly, but I find people who make factual errors, whether unconsciously revealing or consciously grabbing at moral straws, irritating.

    One particular favorite is leading with the only fact learned after locating Ukraine on a map — “Ukraine, the largest country in Europe, . . .” I have seen this several times, including illustrated with a map of Western Europe, Ukraine overlaying Germany. Well, gee whiz, there is a bigger country in Europe . . . I wonder what it is called?

    Then there are the wars of immaculate conception types, who explain Russian actions as inexplicable. No one is saying you have to justify this war, but treat your subject with minimal respect. (Sidenote: if you accuse Putin of war crime, let’s be sure you have called for the prosecution and execution of George W Bush.)

  8. Z


    I’m with you: I look at it as a potential positive development that our rulers get their noses rubbed into their limitations to bully around the world, including their domestic subjects.

    I’ve read a lot people today who are critical of Putin’s moves in Ukraine who generally are fairly even-headed about him and didn’t buy into the whole Clinton created Russia Russia Russia hysteria. Some of them are surprised at his foolishness, his rashness. I don’t buy it. His country is absorbing some punishment, primary economically, that is for sure, but he is also pushing our rulers into a bad position by creating domestic difficulties for them.

    We have had a double digit increase yearly inflation, easy, and our supply chains are thin and weak and still very dependent upon imports from China, Russia’s economic ally. Energy price shocks are certain to add to the inflation and the social and economic uncertainties of COVID are still ominously hovering over everything.

    This was always the danger with our rulers anointing Biden: he is incapable of handling crises because he’s half out on his feet and they still have to trot him out to the public to play president, even if he is merely a figure head. And he also has milquetoast backing among the populace … no one is going to rally around him … so he can’t weather any domestic firestorms he and his administration might bumble into.


  9. Kim

    Thanks for this. My head is exploding with all the rank hypocrisy of almost everyone I know. Also — how little Americans and Brits actually know about the complex history of the Ukraine and its relationship to Russia and so they come out with the worst analysis of this situation.

  10. someofparts

    This was posted by Yves Smith in comments at NC yesterday.

    “Oh, duh! That was what Putin was getting at with his “We are not going to force anyone to do anything” business. I knew it was significant but didn’t put together why.

    So another aim is to get more parts of the east to announce their intent to follow the two initial separatist areas. That makes a ton of sense. It’s another way to destabilize Ukraine while following the Kosovo precedent.”

    I just learned that in addition to the bad way Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine have been treated, Latvia has pursued a comparable policy where the 40% of it’s citizens who speak Russian cannot own property and are official second-class citizens.

    So maybe in areas of Eastern Europe where people are mistreated for being culturally/linguistically Russian, Putin means to create the opportunity for those people to have autonomous areas, which may then legally invite Russians to place them under an umbrella of protection.

  11. Joan

    @Bruce, I’m a bit confused by your implication here, are you saying Russia is European?

    I’d argue that Russia is Russia, with only a small geographic portion (though granted that includes the large cities) having a likely temporary European overlay. Russia is its own thing and will become even more so in the future.

    That at least seems to be the sentiment here. I’m in a country in Central Europe (former Holy Roman Empire) that was occupied by the Soviets. Russian is one of the most common foreign languages studied here. But I don’t think the people view Russians as Europeans, just like us, the way they do Ukrainians. Thus moving on Kyiv is very different from moving on ethnic and linguistic Russian areas. But that’s just what I’m hearing around town in a place in Central Europe, bordering the east, that has a large Eastern European population. I recognize I’m no expert on the subject.

  12. Ché Pasa

    One of the things I remember about Zelensky and his television comedy prequel to his election was his determination to solve so many of the problems from the past — like the Nazi-business, corruption, poverty, separatism, prejudice against Russians and Russian speakers — and to bring peace and harmony between Ukraine and Russia.

    None of it happened. None. Yet he apparently still believes it can. And that — perhaps — he is the one to get it done.

    I’ll go out on a limb and suppose that Pravyi Sektor and Azov Battalion death squads are roaming free, murdering at will as they did during the unpleasantness of the Nazi coup and installation of the junta in 2014, particularly targeting the remaining Ukrainian Russians and Russian speakers not confined to the Donbas. Clue: Zelensky speaks Russian and has done so during the current difficulties.

    Many have proposed that Zelensky is nothing more than a USandNato puppet. But it seems to me he’s much more a puppet of the local oligarchs who are rivals of the Russian oligarchy. And in part, the rivalry between them is driving the conflict. Zelensky may well be caught in the middle, wanting to find common ground, knowing there is common ground, and in the end, just wanting the lunacy to stop. He’s not anti-Russian, and by and large, Ukrainians aren’t either. Yes, there are issues. But those issues are resolvable without the kind of warring we’re seeing.

    If the USandNato would get out of the picture and stay out of the picture — including the removal of the shit-stirring NGOs, many funded by USandNato oligarchs — there could be cause for hope. But for whatever reason, “hope” must be crushed.

    This could well repeat the Chechnya playbook rather than Kosovo and Georgia. Monstrous, yes. And after it was over, Grozny was rebuilt beautifully. The dead were buried or burned, the fields replanted, and life went on. Putin thumped his chest. The World forgot about it.

    I can see an end to this mess with Ukraine dismembered, cut in half basically, up to the Dnieper, with the east including Kiev (and possibly much of the south as far as Odessa) returning to Russia or as an autonomous/independent region (Novorossiya) neither officially Ukrainian nor Russian, and the rump west, with a capital in Lviv, becoming the Novoukrainia, Nazi homeland.

    As long as they’re both demilitarized, I’m sure they’ll get along fine. /s

    Finally, Nato should have been abolished decades ago.

  13. Mark Level

    My own humble contribution for today will by a recommendation for any still not fully briefed on the run-up to war in Ukraine, & a suggestion for long-term developments based around what Ian says regarding sanctions. If you are not up to speed on how the West repeatedly installed right wing Neolib thugs into Ukraine’s leadership to try to take over the country and egg it on as a source against Russia, Brace Belden and Liz Franczak’s “True-Anon” podcast did 3 hours+, 2 episodes of discussions with Mark Ames of “Radio War Nerd” podcast about Western machinations there, roughly 2 weeks ago. All 3 have family ties from Central Europe, that specific area. (Easily found by goggling True Anon podcast on SoundCloud). As Ian notes in passing, Zelensky was elected as a “Peace” & reconciliation candidate, ironic that a Jewish actor playing the President (a la Trump on the Apprentice) on TV in way over his head in politics became head of state when 20% of the Army is Nazi (Azov Battalion) aligned. Zelensky’s popularity had tanked a couple weeks ago when (of course) he danced as a puppet to the West’s war designs and turned 180 degrees from his campaign promises. (No surprise to anyone who votes for Dems claiming “progressive” goals, of course.) As to my 2nd point, I think Ian’s questions about the range and future of sanctions are compelling and important. IF the US is stupid enough to continue over-reaching (which seeks likely) and force “Make the Economy Scream” (Nixon doctrine for Chile) on Russia and all the junior partners/ poodles fall in line (which he notes may not happen), the “de-dollarization” of the competing (“enemy”) economies as predicted by Michael Hudson will be here, with e.g. China, Iran, Venezuela (?), Russia, Syria, et al all stopping Global trade in dollars, it will be a huger negative impact on the already stumbling US economy than rising oil and metals etc. prices. The unintended consequences would be once again a bipolar world, with 2 divided currency choices rarely (?) trading, the death of the beloved Golden Calf of Globalism. (Gold-Sachs and the VC sector will not be happy.) Not that the last 5 presidents (who do all belong in a War Crimes dock) would’ve had the intelligence or humility to understand common sense to know, if you’re out in the woods and bump into a bear, don’t run up to it and punch it in the face.

  14. ptb

    Speaking of the recent Armenia/Azerbaijan war, there was a far more celebrating of the famed Turkish drones, than there was outrage or sanctions. Same for Turkey et al in Kurdistans outside their borders, Saudis in Yemen, Israel in Palestine, India in Kashmir, US in *many* countries to this day…

    Anyway that doesn’t make it right to do the same thing, it only discredits the selective outrage.

    “What next” is more problematic. The military action here may end up as a footnote to the death from starvation worldwide (none being in the targeted countries) from the round of economic warfare that now begins. Economic warfare -> energy commodity supply reduced -> fertilizers -> food. The victim locations are determined strictly by buying power in the marketplace.

  15. Astrid

    I am curious…if your enemies are bastards who deserve to be hung, how do you defend yourself and your people against them? If Putin is “that bastard” for the Russian speakers in Ukraine, what better alternatives can you suggest? He’s been asking in words for 8 years now.

    Is Putin better or worse than Gorbachev? Putin probably ordered more people to their deaths, but who caused greater suffering and death overall? And what good is a Bernie or a Corbyn if they won’t fight for their people?

  16. Z

    As I’ve mentioned before, anytime that all-blessed Israel has a beef with another country you can be damn sure that the “donor class” will get to work and that country will eventually become the U.S.’s enemy.

    During the First Robber Rubin Administration, often referred to in history books as the Clinton Administration, Larry Summers and the Harvard Boyz economically raped post-USSR Russia and arranged the economy and financial markets so that their home boyz ended up with the lion’s share of the wealth. Then after they practically economically destroyed the country while Yeltsin binge drank, Putin came in under the blessings of Clinton and surprised everyone by having the audacity to actually govern Russia for its people and tossed out a lot of Larry’s home boy oligarchs who took their capital and moved to Israel where they received citizenship. Then of course with dozens of well-funded anti-Putin oligarchs in Israel eventually through bribes and blackmails the U.S. became Russia’s and Putin’s enemy as well.

    It’s not the only reason that we have problems with Russia, but it is a big reason. Look at the people surrounding the H. Clinton campaign who drove the Russia Russia Russia hysteria that hyped this to another level.

    A little about the transfer of wealth from Russia to Israel:

    Alex Kogan, a journalist who has covered the Russian oligarch phenomenon in Israel for the local Russian-language press, said that some 30 to 40 tycoons have taken Israeli citizenship or residency, with most staying only part-time or temporarily because of scrutiny over their affairs.

    He said the oligarchs — businessmen who accumulated massive wealth in the privatization process that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union — were motivated by various interests. Some fled Russia because of financial irregularities or dramatic fallouts with Putin that could put them at risk of incarceration.

    Shoot, if Putin really wanted to play hard ball with the U.S. he’d threaten to bomb Israel and the U.S.’s bribed and blackmailed politicians and its Zionist State Department would probably give him Alaska and all the people in it and maybe even build him a bridge over the Bering Sea as a courtesy to keep him from damaging the country they’re most loyal to.


  17. Z

    It’s comforting to know that no matter what calamities our rulers lead us into the Federal Reserve will always be there to support the financial markets.

    Shucks, I wonder why our rulers never learn from their mistakes …


  18. bruce wilder

    Joan: “. . . are you saying Russia is European?”

    Yes, Russia is European geographically and culturally. A huge country, it is also Asian. But the vast majority of citizens of the Russian Federation live in European Russia, west of the Urals and north of the Caucasus. Russian is a slavic language and the predominant religions are Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Russia borders Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia — all claiming to be European.

    For the real pedants, shorn of Crimea, Ukraine is slightly smaller than metropolitan France, so arguably only the third largest country in Europe in territory.

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