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

Category: Russia and Eastern Europe Page 1 of 15

Russia Begins To Systematically Destroy The Ukrainian Power Grid

Doesn’t seem to be much question: they’re hitting dams (not to destroy the dam, I suspect, to take out the hydropower and the river crossing point) and various other power infrastructure, night after night.

This is something they hadn’t done before: there had been some attacks, but nothing systematic.

This isn’t a new tactic: in the 90s Gulf War, the US took out nineteen of twenty power plants, which led to water treatment and supply issues, which lead to c. one million deaths from cholera. To this day Iraq doesn’t have enough power. They also directly hit water infrastructure, and they used similar tactics in the 2000s Iraq war.

One of the “good” things about the Ukraine war until now is Putin’s refusal to get down into the mud with such tactics, and I’m disappointed he’s now done so. There is some military case: the railroads are electrified, for example, and Russia is getting ready for a huge offensive, probably starting in May.

Of course, after what the US and the EU have condoned in Palestine, they are in no position to complain about such “relatively” mild actions. Putin isn’t trying to cause a famine and commit genocide and the profile of deaths is far different: the Israelis killed more children in a month than both sides in the Ukraine war have killed in years.

An effect of this is going to be another huge wave of refugees to Europe. Pragmatically, though not ethically, this puts more pressure on the Europeans and I’m sure Putin knows that and wants it to happen.

The war is reaching its endgame. Russia is going to crush Ukraine then enforce the peace they want. I would assume they’ll take Odessa and the entire coast, and otherwise just the Russian majority regions and the land bridge, but they’ll conquer far more of that to force Ukraine and the US to the table.

Ukraine will be a complete basket case after the war, and rebuilding will be done on standard neoliberal debt and looting terms. Meanwhile, there will be far more women than men.

The war should have ended a couple months after it started. Ukraine would have ended in far better shape and hundreds of thousand of soldiers would be alive.

But that’s not what the West wanted, and why should they care, after all. They were, and are, fighting to the last Ukrainian.

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The Most Likely “War” With Russia Scenario

Russian troops are now advancing across almost the entire front. It’s slow, but steady. There are no defensive lines built to stop them, the best they’re likely to get is the use of rivers.

Ukraine clearly no longer has enough men or ammunition.

Macron and some other European leaders have discussed sending troops, but sending them to fight Russia is insanity, and hopefully they can see that, since WWIII will suck.

But there’s one play they may feel they can get away with.

Send in “Peacekeepers”. Have them advance to the borders of Russian areas, and use them to secure Odessa and say “we are just separating the combatants.” It’s a way to limit Ukrainian geographical losses and avoid it becoming a land-locked country and the Europeans just bet that Putin isn’t willing to risk or start a war with Europe and/or NATO.

How likely is this? I don’t know. But of the various insane options, it seems the most likely.


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US Sanctions On China’s Chip Industry Have Completely Backfired

The highlight:

According to SEMI’s market research group, China isn’t slowing down. SEMI is forecasting China’s capacity to keep growing at a significant rate over the next few years. For 300mm, SEMI expects China to have 29% of the worldwide capacity in 2026, increasing from 21% in 2022 (Figure 2). The 200mm capacity is expected to grow from 16% to 24%. And foundry capacity is expected to reach 42% in 2026 up from 27% in 2022, outpacing the Taiwan foundry capacity expansions.

China has its goal set on being more chip-independent and spending less than $300 billion a year on importing semiconductors. To accomplish these goals, they are spending a lot of money on fabs and equipment, and in some cases forming JVs to get the right chips for their industries. So, will the European and US CHIPS Acts help to increase Europe’s and the US’s capacity? A little, but as Peter Wennink recently commented, the EU chip goal is unrealistic. I’ll add in as is the CHIPS Act in the US. China has a significant head start and it will take significant investment by the EU and US to catch up, and it is unlikely politicians and shareholders will continue to fund the exercise to reach the desired goal of 20%. (my bold)

The chart:

As for the fabricators which chips are manufactured with, well, China bought tons overseas just before the sanctions hit, BUT:

The bad news for equipment companies outside of China is that due to sanctions against foreign companies selling certain types of equipment, as well as China trying to create an independent chip market, Chinese semiconductor equipment companies are seeing above-market growth. Naura Technology, AMEC, and ACM Research at mid-year of 2023 are seeing 68%, 27%, and 47% growth respectively over 2022.  Most of this is driven by the China market.

The Chinese, pre-sanctions, were not pushing indigenous chip capacity. Chinese companies preferred American, Taiwanese and US chips, seeing them as more reliable than domestic alternatives.

A chip act might have made sense IF the US was genuinely going to re-shore production, far beyond chips or IF it was going to go to war within the next two to three years.

As it is, all it will accomplish in the end is losing the Western absolute advantage in chips and transferring the market leading position to China.

Which brings us to this beautiful, semi-related bit of news:

The effect of anti-Russia sanctions was to make Russia into the world’s fifth largest economy while massively ramping up their weapons production and overall growth rate. Germany has slipped to sixth and Russia is now a firm Chinese ally. It is true that America is making more money by supplying Europe with expensive fossil fuels, but by any rational assessment, anti-Russia sanctions strengthened America’s self-declared enemies, and weakened its allies.

In other words, the policy that Daleep was the architect of was a disaster. Yet he is lauded as capable rather than as a complete fuckup. To be fair, I suppose, he was undoubtedly following orders, but he owns the orders he follows unless he objected to them and predicted their failure.

All of this applies, times ten, to anyone involved in the anti-China sanctions, which have backfired catastrophically.

America, land of the highly paid incompetent fuck up.


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The Carlson/Putin Interview

I think this is worth listening to. I’ve put notes below. It’s not in essay format, just what I found significant as I was listening.

Whatever you think of Putin, at least he’s educated and speak in complete sentences and has a historical understanding (whether you agree with it or not.) He makes Trump and Biden look like the idiots they are.

In fact, Putin makes almost every Western leader look like an ill-educated moron. Orban is an exception. This isn’t a political judgment. I don’t much like Putin, but I can respect him. I can’t respect Biden, Trump, Sunak, Scholz, Macron, Von Der Leyen or my own PM, Trudeau.

Fuck, I’m loving this history lesson from Putin “oh, and here are copies of the historical documents, showing I’m not making this up.”

And Tucker’s expression, looking at Putin is hilarious. Absolutely “WTF, why is he giving me this history lesson.” How many politicians has he interviewed over the years, and this erudite (though really very much a skim) disquisition is alien to him.

Tucker’s kind of stupid, “but we have a strong China the West isn’t very afraid of”. I mean, WTF?

Putin’s point that Russia in 90s and much of the 00s wanted to be part of the West, desperately so, is entirely accurate by my memory and I was around.

Russia /should/ have been turned into a Western ally, and if it had been, China would be /much/ less of a threat. But our politicians (I won’t call them statesman, the last US statesman was James Baker) were fools.

And yes, the war against Serbia was the first great break in Russia’s trust of the West and that the West would obey international law. If Serbia can be broken up, well, why not other countries?

And yes, I remember that Russia asked to join NATO. What a different world that would be.

Pointing out that the US exerts pressure and Western countries obey, which is usually true, and has become more true.

Under Bush, the CIA confirms they are working to support the Chechen rebellion. Of course, Putin and Russia don’t like that.

And then the missile defense system, Putin offers to make it a multilateral defense system which is supposedly against Iran. America refuses.

Russia points out that if they aren’t in the missile defense system, they’ll have to find a way to overwhelm the new defense system–which they did: hypersonic missiles.

And, of course, NATO expansion makes the Russians feel unsafe, which, of course it does, when they won’t let Russia join NATO.

And the point that you can’t make a deal with Europeans, because they will bow to American pressure. But you can’t make a deal with America, because they won’t keep their word.

And Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO is a no go for Russia.

Talking about the coup-d’etas in Ukraine. Which, of course, there was and I said so at the time.

Ukraine can’t have a free trade agreement with both Russia and the EU at the same time since Russian market would be flooded. (Yeah, 100%. Would have been a disaster for Russia. Plus a route for operatives to infiltrate Russia easily though Putin doesn’t say that.)

Russia tells Yanukovich not to use armed force, because US agrees to calm down Maidan. But US doesn’t keep their deal, force is used by Maidan, and the coup happens.

The Ukrainian attacks on Donetsk are the main break point to Putin.

But also, gaurantees against the coup were ignored by the European countries. Again, a loss of trust. Can’t make a deal with the West, especially Europe.

NATO in Ukraine is the red line. (Which is what I always said.)

Then breaking the Minsk agreements. Again, the West and Ukraine won’t keep agreements with Russia.

From Putin’s POV he didn’t start the war in 2022. The war was ongoing, Minsk agreement broken, Donetsk under constant attack. He intervened, yes, but the war was already ongoing.

(Not unreasonable. I warned at the time and indeed for decades that this would happen.)

This Putin/Carlson interview is super embarassing to the West. I literally can’t think of a Western leader today who could lay out a case like this, coherently and intelligently. We are ruled by imbeciles.

I mean, I don’t agree with a lot of Russian policy, or how they’re going social conservative. But goddamn, Putin makes our leaders look like incompetents.

Putin claims that he withdrew from Kiev at western request, as a requirement for making a peace deal. As soon as the Russians did, the West ended the peace talks.

Nasty if true and yet another, never trust these fucks and impose a peace by winning the war.

Unfortunately, I find this credible. I don’t know if it’s true, but I believe Putin more than UK PM Johnson or Biden.

Putin: Ukraine’s national identity is based around glorification of Nazi collaborators as heroes, and de-Nazification means ending this national identity.

De-Nazification would be done by making Nazi and Neo-Nazism illegal in Ukraine, in the peace treaty, per Putin.

Putin hasn’t talked directly to Biden since the start of the war and sees no reason to do so.

Putin: US blew up Nord Stream: motive and ability.

Putin: Germany’s leaders are not looking after Germany’s interests primarily.

World should be safe for everyone, not just the “golden billion”.

Using dollar as weapon is one the biggest strategic mistakes of the US. (Putin)

US dollar as trade/reserve dollar, allows US inflation under control, and damaging it by using it as sanctions is a grave mistake. Even US allies are downsizing dollar reserves.

Until 2022, 80% of Russian trade was in US dollars. Now 13%.

Denies fear of Chinese economic power. China’s foreign policy is not aggressive, but looks for compromise. China/Europe economic cooperation is growing faster than China/Russia cooperation.

Bilateral trade with China is 230 billion, and is well balanced. 1992 G7 – 47% of trade, now a little over 30%. Brics only 16%, now higher than G7.

US does not understand the world is changing and does not adapt because of conceit. Trying to resist with force is failing and will fail.

President does not matter, what matters is the elite mindset. As long as American elites believe in domination at any costs the US cannot adapt.

Largest number of sanctions in the world are against Europe and at the same time Russia became 5th largest world economy and the 1st largest in Europe.

Russia can’t really understand the power centers and elections in the US.

US never seems to cooperate, but always to use pressure. In relation to US, cold war elites just kept doing the same thing, and assuming they could win the same way against China as they had against the USSR.

Definitely thinks the US deliberately provoked the Russian invasion. They controlled Ukraine and Ukraine ignore Minsk, talking about joining NATO and attacking Russians in Donetsk/Luhansk and discriminating against Russians in Ukraine.

Believes Zelensky was scared of neo-Nazis when he took charge, and realized the West supported the Neo-Nazis.

Weird series of questions on religion, like “do you see God in human history today”.

Putin: history has its laws and rhythms. Rise and fall.

Some talk on genetic sciences and AI as a threat.

Musk and others involved in AI and genetics need to be regulated.

This should be done by an international treaty.

Russia is willing to negotiate, it is the West who is refusing to negotiation: Ukraine is under US control.

Ukraine cannot defeat Russia strategically, even with NATO support, so it only makes sense to negotiate.

Putin: I know they want to negotiate, but they don’t know how to do so. But it will happen sooner or later.

The war is particular tragic, because to Putin, Ukraine and Russia are still a single civilization with a single soul.

Final Commentary: As I said at the start, Putin makes most Western leaders look like dunces. He can discuss history, economy and politics fluently. He has numbers and dates and analogies at his fingertips.

And yes, as far as I’m concerned, Russia was treated incompetently by the West. They could easily have been made into Western allies, effectively a part of Europe. Moving NATO forward was obviously a threat to Russia when Russia had been promised it wouldn’t happen and when Russia even offered to join NATO.

(Transcript of interview.)

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Ukraine Update Feb 6, 2024

The bottom line here is that Ukraine appears to be running out of both infantry and ammunition and Russia has plenty of both, plus air superiority. Ukraine is now bringing in more women, and is trying to convince EU countries to return Ukrainian refugee men so they can be conscripted.

There isn’t much map movement, but that doesn’t matter, what will happen is that the Russians will keep depleting Ukrainian forces until there simply aren’t enough, then they will leap forward and take a vast amount of terrain unless Ukraine gives them what they wants before then.

With the Ukrainian military broken, and the Russian army able to advance as it pleases, Russia will be able to dictate surrender terms, and that is what they will be. At the least: all Russian speaking areas, the coast, Crimea and the land bridge and Austrian style neutrality.

It should be pointed out that unless NATO is willing to declare war, the US has no leverage.

There’s nothing America (the EU will just do what the US tells it to) can give Russia that matters: Russia doesn’t need sanctions relief and is better off without it: their economy is doing better because of the sanctions forcing internal development than it did before the sanctions. (Yes, folks, despite what you’ve been told all you lives, free trade with everyone is stupid and always has been.)

Russia is winning, Russia will win, this was always obviously going to be the case.

May 16, 2022 I wrote who would win and lose from the Ukraine war. Re-read the article. For all intents and purposes I got everything right, except that Russia has benefited even more economically and my “marginal victory” was wrong: Russia is winning a significant victory, strategically speaking.

Sanctions will force more import substitution and help overcome the “resource curse”, making it cost-effective to make more things in Russia

If you want to know the future, read me. I don’t get everything right, no on does, but I get far more right than most.

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Russia Is An Imperial State While America Is A Plutocratic Oligarchy

An oligarchy, as we use the word today (the dictionary definition is different) is rule by the rich, because they are rich. (A feudal king may be rich, but his power is not primarily a result of his wealth, but rather his wealth is primarily a result of his power.)

As I have written a number of times before, Russia is NOT a plutocratic oligarchy. America, on the other hand, is. What wealthy American elites want is what they get, and what ordinary people want they don’t get: this was shown clearly by the Princeton Oligarchy Study.

When Putin took control of Russia he broke the oligarchs.

In the summer of 2000, Putin met in the Kremlin with about two dozen of the men regarded as the top oligarchs. The meeting was closed, but reports later said he made them a sternly clear deal: Stay out of politics and your wealth won’t be touched…

By then, Berezovsky had already begun criticizing Putin. Within months, he left Russia for the United Kingdom and was granted asylum in 2003. Ten years later, he was found dead in his home; a disputed post-mortem examination said he appeared to have hanged himself.

Gusinsky, whose media holdings were critical of Putin and even satirized him, was hauled into jail amid an investigation of misappropriated funds; within weeks, he agreed to sell his holdings to an arm of Russia’s state natural gas monopoly, and he left the country.

Khodorkovsky, regarded as Russia’s richest man at the time, lasted longer, establishing the Open Society reformist group and showing increased political ambitions. But he was arrested in 2003 when special forces stormed onto his private plane and spent a decade in prison on convictions of tax evasion and embezzlement before Putin pardoned him and he left Russia.

I remember reading an article where one of the oligarchs shut down a factory and there was great protest. Putin not only forced the oligarch to re-open the factory, he was there when the oligarch made the announcement, glaring at him and treating him with contempt.

The oligarchs are not in control of Putin or the Russian government (though they have some influence at the provincial and civic levels.)

Now the AP article points out something very smart: that Putin is creating a new group of oligarchs loyal to him, by giving them resources seized from foreign countries leaving Europe. Smart to notice, and smart of Putin, though his successors may regret it. In a way this is very similar to feudalism, though it involves money and resources not armed men and land.

The new oligarchs will be loyal to Putin and probably this successor. Their children may well not be loyal to Putin’s successor’s successor, however, and that person will have to show the whip hand or cut a deal, or both. If they ever succeed in taking control of the government (and they will eventually if the system continues) then it will be very bad for Russians, same as oligarchic control of the US has been very bad for Americans. A “King” often uses the commons against the nobility and thus supports the commons to some extent, a king who is ruled by the nobles acts with them against the commoners.

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Let’s add another data point: Russia has vastly ramped up its military production. The US could not do so, the companies who make the weapons said they’d do it, but have been very slow about it because they make more money that way. In Russia, however, in 2022, Medvedev, Putin’s lieutenant stated:

“The goal has been set for a scrupulous execution of the government’s defense contracts in all of its key parameters, [and] prevention of disruptions in the supply of equipment,” he wrote on Telegram. “Attention has been drawn to the fact that all contractors could be held to account, including on criminal charges… Supervision over the execution will continue.”

Although I can’t find it, in another case he gathered them together and explained to them what Stalin did to those who didn’t make production quotas.

You can’t get clearer, or more threatening than that.

Russia’s weapon manufacturers serve the state. They make a profit and those who run them are allowed to become rich, but only if they meet their quotas.

Russia is a modern imperial system, similar to the early Roman one. The governors are hand chosen by Putin from his loyalists (he likes ex-bodyguards) and the bourgeoisie serve him. When Wagner rebelled, not one governor supported their rebellion, even in the first 24 hours when they seemed to be doing well.

America is an oligarchy, Russia has an emperor. The emperor is old, and the question is who will be his successor, which is why key lieutenants like Medvedev and Kadyrov (the governor of Chechnya) are competing in loyalty and fervor.

Both countries have elections, in both countries the elections have little effect most of the time, though their existence does allow the possibility of change thru them. In America, the leader changes, but since Reagan, the fundamental policies haven’t. In Russia, well, Putin is always re-elected, though it is also true that he has always been popular in Russia, with his opposition a minority.

Indeed, that opposition, largely urban professional types, are weaker now than ever, with many of them leaving Russia due to the war.

Putin, like the kings we discussed above, uses the commons against the nobility, to help keep them in check. He does care about his popularity.

So, again, the US is a nominal democracy which is actually a plutocratic oligarchy, and Russia is a nominal democracy which is actually an imperial system without family succession.


The Conditions For Peace In Ukraine

I recently listened to a long podcast with Mearsheimer. One of the hosts discusses Putin floating the principles of a possible peace deal.

I don’t see how it can happen. The US and Europe have admitted that they went into the Minsk agreements intending not to keep them, and that is after the US betrayed Russia over Libya, getting their vote based on telling them that it was not intended to be a regime change operation.

Putin is said to have spent a couple days watching the video of Gaddafi being raped with a knife, then killed. Focuses the mind on what happens if you trust the wrong people and what the West wants done to its enemies. (People wonder why Putin hates Hilary, this is why.)

So, there can be no deal, because Russia and Putin don’t believe that the West in general and the US in particular (they have contempt for EU leaders who the know simply follow US orders) can’t be trusted to keep it.

That means there’s really on one way to have a peace deal: hostages.

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It’s an old idea. If there’s no trust, in the old days you had people the other side cared about, usually family members, live with you. Break the deal and they get it in the neck.

So if there’s to be a deal with Ukraine, there have to be hostages, and they have to be given to Russia. Not people, in this age, but something the US cares about. Perhaps the contents of Fort Knox? Perhaps something else? (Suggest possibilities in the comments.)

I personally can’t think of anything that would be enough, so I can’t see a peace deal now.

The deal will happen when it’s a surrender deal. When the Ukrainians firmly admit they are losing and losing badly. And world war I style deal, where the victor sets the terms.

As such, I don’t see Ukraine keeping Odessa, for example. The deal will be ugly.

Ukraine Has Lost

It’s all over but the shooting, as the saying goes.

Avdiivka is being encircled in record time. The US is transferring its attention to Israel and Palestine. The Russians now have the largest armaments industry in the world for the stuff that matters, and North Korea and Iran are supplying them massively (though Iran may be about to be distracted.)

Back in March 2022 Ukraine could have negotiated peace terms. My guess is that the next negotiations will be surrender terms.

It was always clear, and I have said so consistently from the start, that Russia was going to win. Ukraine cannot win a war of attrition with Russia, especially when Russia has air superiority and far more artillery and artillery shells.

The West has been unable to ramp up weapon production, mainly due to the arms industry being a very small oligopoly who are interested in earning more per unit and maintaining bottlenecks.

Last year I read in an article that Medvedev, I recall, explained to Russian arms company execs, in excruciating detail, exactly what the Soviets did to plant managers who didn’t meet quotas in WWII. Since Putin has a record of dealing harshly with capitalists who cross him, this was taken seriously. The West isn’t really taking the war seriously, except maybe Poland and the Baltic republics, and Poland has essentially no arms industry of its own.

U.S. News now ranks Russia as the most powerful military in the world. I suspect they’re overstating the case, but Russia is certainly number two or three. My suspicion is that, as in the Cold War where USSR military strength was constantly overstated, this has to do with wanting more money for the military budget.

The sooner Ukraine negotiates, the better deal they’re going to get. Fortunately for them, Russia would be insane to take non-Russian majority areas anyway. The real risk is the coastline, while it isn’t all majority Russia, the urge to make Ukraine into a landlocked country will be immense. And certainly Russia wants Odessa.

In a larger sense the loss of Russia to Chinese alliance is the loss of any chance of defeating China. The biggest geopolitical blunder of the early 21st century, and the end of the oil and gas deals with Russia is the end of German/European energy intensive industry, which is a LOT of it.

Oh well.

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