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

How to Understand Russia’s Playbook in the Ukraine

It’s ironic revenge for Kosovo and Serbia. Say there are atrocities/genocide, recognize a break-away, then bomb and use troops to enforce your will.

Westerners have never understood how angry the whole Serbian intervention made Russia, who saw Serbia as a core ally. It’s one of the main turning points in Western/Russian relations.

To Russia, this is their “humanitarian intervention.” I’m quite sure Putin finds it very, very funny.



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  1. Keith in Modesto

    I’m anticipating hearing some jingoistic cheerleading when I go to work tomorrow morning from people eager to go to war with Russia. Biden might think that he will get points for being tough with Putin, but the more conservative friends I know are calling him an appeaser and comparing him to Chamberlain. I’m afraid Biden is backing himself into a corner where the only politically viable option is to actively engage militarily in the Ukraine. People often say that leading up to WWI, the major European powers weren’t seeking to go to war, but events took over and no one seemed able to stop it. I hope that’s not about to happen again.

  2. bruce wilder

    The Ukrainian nationalists sometimes play the bad guys with rare conviction.

  3. Soredemos

    I have many problems with the Kosovo episode and the NATO intervention. But the Serbs were actually scum who committed ethnic cleansing during that decade. They weren’t the only ones, and there was a large degree of victor’s justice in how Serbia was punished in a way that Croatia wasn’t. But so close and uncritical is the Serbian-Russian relationship that Russian blogs are the only place outside of Serbian nationalist haunts I’ve encountered things like Srebrenica denialism.

    I hope Putin enjoys his laugh. Because he’s taken a shotgun to both legs with his trolling. He was doing far more damage to the US bloc by simply doing nothing. Now he’s vindicated all the western propaganda, and likely scared NATO into closer cooperation where it was clearly fracturing before.

  4. Eric Anderson

    Putin has handled this with aplomb in the face of the democrats disinformation campaign. Seems to me the blob has worked overtime priming the pump to rain Russia!*we told you so*Russia!*we told you so*Russia!*we told you so* as cover for their politically ham handed attempts to delegitimize trump.

  5. StewartM

    I agree with Soredemos, Putin’s best ploy was to let the boy cry ‘wolf’ a few more times and completely discredit himself.

  6. someofparts

    So now Putin wants a fight and he is laughing about it?

    Is this the Twilight Zone?

    What happened to just not wanting a hostile, heavily armed adversary at Russia’s doorstep? And in what parallel universe did Putin initiate all of this?

    What happened to all the preceding weeks of conversation about the reasons the US is pushing this to keep the Europeans on the reservation and thwart China?

    Has this website been threatened with being taken offline if it doesn’t cast Putin as the warmonger?

  7. someofparts

    I get my news from France 24/7. It is an English language broadcast of a French news service out of Paris.

    This week they have been broadcasting segments where Putin speaks and they just translate what he is saying. One of the things he was saying last week reflect what Keith in Modesto just said.

    “People often say that leading up to WWI, the major European powers weren’t seeking to go to war, but events took over and no one seemed able to stop it. I hope that’s not about to happen again.”

    There was quite literally a broadcast where that is exactly what Putin was warning against. His words, apparently to the Europeans, were something along the lines of (and I am obviously paraphrasing) ‘ if this starts it will happen quickly and all of you will be pulled into this whether you want to be or not, and none of us want that’

    If anyone here can access the French news service I am talking about, please do, and let me know how it sounds to you, because what I am hearing does not line up with what the US is saying at all

  8. someofparts

    This was linked at NC. Complicated, but makes sense.

  9. NR

    This Daily Kos diary (I know, the site in general is awful, but there are still occasionally good things posted there, this may qualify) speculates that water may be a big reason for the Ukraine-Russia conflict:

    The short story is that the Ukraine government cut off the Dnieper River canal to Crimea seven years ago, causing a water shortage and negatively impacting farming there. The result was Russia having to subsidize Crimea to the tune of about $1.5 billion US per year, and fueling dissatisfaction with Russian rule in Crimea.

    Could we be seeing our first water war?

  10. Lex

    Indeed, which makes the claims of “gross violation of international law” pretty funny. I expected him to make NATO twist longer. This does undermine his stance on how we all should behave to at least some degree. What comes next is hugely important. Whether Russia sticks to the LoC and whether hostilities along it calm. How the US reacts (so far, pretty laughably) in reality, not what our leaders say in public. It should be clear that he’s not bluffing.

    I’ve followed his career since he first became PM in ‘99 (I was in Petersburg). He’s cautious and methodical. DC and London should take note of his statement on “de-communizing” Ukraine. He doesn’t usually talk like that and the visible anger in his delivery is very atypical. I’m guessing the Russian analysis is that the west wasn’t serious about a diplomatic solution and wouldn’t force Kiev to abide by Minsk. The recent OSCE reports mapping shelling undercut the western media narrative completely. Separatists may have provoked the shelling, but Ukraine has been pounding Donbas. Let’s all hope Kiev has the good sense to not do that to Russian troops.

  11. Barry Fay

    Putin was dead set against allowing Ukraine to join Nato and was not going to be dissuaded by Nato´s delay tactics in bringing them aboard. Nato refused to guarantee no Nato membership for Ukraine even though they don´t even want them ((dey dont havta make no stinkin deals with anyone!). So Putin “annexes” the two breakaway regions at the heart of the, in fact, civil war, thereby assuring no Nato membership. So…….whether the price will be too high remains to be seen. He has already lost the Nordstream 2, which in fact was all America was really interested in – they have been trying to stop it (and really as much trade as possible with Russia) for years! Europe thus becomes more isolated and dependent on America just when it looked like it might become more self-governing. Oh well… (BTW – I live in Berlin and one effect will be continued increases in energy bills – this years gas bill is already 1200 Euros higher!)

  12. Ché Pasa

    “Putin is laughing…” Sure. Why not? This is all very absurdist.

    I have to admit I was wrong about the various chess moves going on. I did not think Putin would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Nor did it seem to me that Russian troops would be deployed therein. All of it seeming to be a waste of energy and resources on worthless territory.

    Well. Only goes to show how little I know.

    The snippets of Putin’s rage-speech I’ve seen justifying these moves seemed out of character, too. Ukraine has never been a country? Oh? “Forced into being?” Well.,.. Fed up with it all he seems to be.

    Ian’s point about revenge for the Kosovo Thing is interesting too. That was a long time ago after all. Fewer and fewer now alive even remember it, and it was far more complicated and bloody on the part of far more players than our propaganda media lets on.

    Kind of like what I saw on the telenews last night about Odessa. Once an ethnic Russian stronghold, now there are few remaining. “Ukrainians” have taken it over. No mention of what happened. The notion of “ethnic cleansing” was simply ignored. Along with the massacre at the Trades Union Building. And other murders around the city. A mention a few days ago suggested that “what happened” in Odessa has been exaggerated by the Russians. Sure. Just like Kosovo and Serbia and the bloody ethnic cleansing of the former Yugoslavia.

    As for NATO’s “defensive” posture, it’s bullshit. After the numerous wars of aggression the USandNato have precipitated in the last 20 years, the idea that this is some kind of defensive alliance is absurd. It’s nothing of the kind. But how absurd is it for the Russian Bear to bait the USandNato? In my view, very.

    Something tells me this won’t end well. And it might have been avoided.

  13. Mark Level

    I am no fan of Putin (despite what Hugh would tell you), but I think he is far smarter than the sclerotic idiocy of the senile Biden and insane, blood-lusting Blinken (Blinkered) types . . . World War 3 has not yet started, and if we blunder into it, it will be the constantly failing (no real military “victory” by the US Empire, the Turkey Shoot from the sky of Gulf War I and amazing “triumph” over Grenada don’t really count) since the last possibly “good” war, WW2 when (irony of ironies for those who study history) the Russians were our allies and Germany the clear Bad Actor. . . I agree with Soredemos as to the Serbs 100% but at the same time I saw clearly what the Clintons and their Blob were doing with the intervention there, creating a “morally acceptable” intervention to return to the good old Truman-Nixon-Kissinger playbook of incinerating peasants from the air or the Reagan Fun Times of training soldiers to exterminate Guatemalan indigenous villages under the precept of fighting evil “Reds”. So I did NOT support the intervention against Serbia, and later Clinton moves (destroying Libya so there’s now slave markets there for Sub-Saharan African regions fleeing as refugees) I think clearly justified such caution . . . I’m not often a betting man, but American “leadership” can’t even PRETEND to do anything right anymore, 1 million will soon be dead of Covid in the US (which its leadership both D & R is fine with, as Ian has many time pointed out), no infrastructure is getting fixed (except subsidies to the usual big players and the FIRE sector solicited by the Chamber of Commerce) in the bipartisan bill, since Republican “Daddies” always get what they want and the Dem party $hits on what base it still has. Big corporate VC players are buying out scarce housing and jacking up rents, energy prices swinging way up, Climate getting worse . . . An Us v. Them war will distract the stupidest Lizard brains in the populace for a bit, but it won’t end well, and as occurred with Afghanistan the usual lying apologists will say “Who could’ve predicted” five or ten years after failure was glaringly obvious, with Trillions flushed down the Empire’s toilet. (Then, aww, who would’ve known, we can’t afford government health care!) The Western Roman Empire crashed into chaos due to economic inequality and multiple wars which the miserable poor would no longer fight (lack of social mobility promises to rise), the Rich retreating into private (gated community) Estates to bring on the Feudal Era in the West . . . China most likely wins as the next Byzantium. But I can’t say we don’t deserve it, the populace goes along with the destruction so no other outcome is reasonable or likely. . . But again, I guess it’s “nice” that the Lizard brains can get charged up, wow, we’re killing “the Other”, and it’s worth sending our own children to die– or more likely just paying Blackwater (whatever it’s now called) & Ukranian Neo-Nazi morons to facilitate.

  14. Astrid

    The West has been crying wolf on Russia since the second Chechen war, is more discrediting going to make a difference? If NS2 and Europe freezing doesn’t clarify Eyropean minds, what else would?

  15. profan

    Putin said Russia will recognize LNR / DNR within the borders defined in their constitutions (which is larger than they control).

  16. Mark Pontin

    StewartM: ‘ Putin’s best ploy was to let the boy cry ‘wolf’ a few more times and completely discredit himself.’

    Really? Purely looked at from Russia and Putin’s POV, conversely, why even bother dicking around with the US/NATO/Kiev any longer?

    [1] The Power of Siberia 1 pipeline began pumping gas from Russia to China in October, 2019. Power of Siberia 2 is scheduled to come online this September. If things stay on schedule Russia will by this year’s end already be pumping to China maybe double the gas it now sends the EU.

    ‘Polling by the Levada Center shows that 50% of Russians believe that the US and Nato are responsible for tensions in the Donbas region, while only 4% feel that Russia is to blame.’

    And this from the Carnegie Moscow Center ….
    ‘Those who believe that sanctions could prevent Russia from invading Ukraine or punish it for doing so need to understand that the most hawkish part of the Russian leadership is not opposed to Western sanctions against oligarchs, banks, companies, national debt, and so on. For the hawks, the ideal scenario would be a sovereign socioeconomic autarky, the end of ties with the West, the complete sovereignization of the elite, and the substitution of everything possible, even if that requires assistance from friendly China.’

    [3] Ambrose Pritchard-Evans in the DAILY TELEGRAPH —

    Pritchard-Evans isn’t right about all his claims. But it gives pause for thought about the extraordinary ignorance and arrogance of the US, and the West more generally in following the US lead, that it’s triggered this confrontation when it’s holding a losing hand.

    Here, from the horse’s mouth, as even the NYT belatedly circles around the reality that serious sanctions are likelier to hurt the West more than Russia —
    What’s at Stake for the Global Economy as Conflict Looms in Ukraine

    [4] All this isn’t even to get into the fact that for the next 18 months at least Russia has weapon systems a generation in advance of the US, for as much as that matters when both sides have massive nuclear arsenals.

  17. Mark Level

    Most of the “commentariat” here I regard as pretty well-informed, but for a solid deep-dive into Ukranian politics since the USSR’s collapse, I highly recommend a TrueAnon podcast from 2 weeks ago, episode 205 with hosts Brace and Liz, plus Mark Ames of RadioWarNerd podcast. All the flirtation with Nazism, crashing economy (the one regional economy that has a GDP the same as in 1990) multiple coups and questionable elections, suspicious violence all thoroughly documented and discussed. (Brace and Mark both spent time in Ukraine in the past, have family from the region). Link at

    Part one broke my brain but look forward to part 2, also up. Additionally, I’m currently working my way thru Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet (Penguin edition, R. Zenith the translator) & found a nice quote that seems timely, “. . . no one knows anything, and the [quick]sand swallows those with banners as it swallows those without.” Anyway, I’m glad NOT to be carrying a banner of war lust and group identity horror and hate for “the others”, even though our violent leaders may drag me down into the quicksand of death with all those who willingly if foolishly signed up for the ride.

  18. Lex

    There not being a “Ukraine” before the fall of the USSR is mostly, technically correct. One might be able to make an argument that a bit of it existed as Kievan Rus, but that was a really long time ago. Mostly Kevin has been held by Russia, while the western Ukraine was part of the polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Things get messy at the partition(s) of Poland. The portions of modern Ukraine currently of such concern were all Novorossiya and part of Catherine’s conquest/absorption of the Crimean Khanate. Russians colonized the area, but they certainly didn’t colonize Ukraine.

    I too was struck by the open anger from Putin. Very uncharacteristic. The only time I can easily recall any similar sort of rhetoric from him was early in his career (still PM) and the second Chechen war when he talked about “killing them in their outhouses”. I take the coming days and weeks very seriously. He is not bluffing and I think he’s ready to give NATO a ground war if it wants one. I hope to god or whoever that someone is talking sense to Ukrainian forces to not do anything stupid.

  19. Soredemos

    There were no national identities in Europe before at least 400 years ago, and really more like 250, even less in Eastern Europe. The smug chauvinist Russian attitude of mocking ‘country 404’ is asinine. Yes, modern Ukraine is fictitious. But so is Russia. Neither of these modern states have continuity with medieval kingdoms, because kingdoms weren’t nations. ‘Subject of a lord’ is not the same as ‘citizen of a state’.

  20. Astrid

    No national identity before 1600. Really? Seriously?

    It’s one thing to say that pre-modern European states are constituted differently and the Habsburgs accumulated their land holdings very far from their ancestral home (but then, just look at the Windsors or the Bernadottes, still happening), but no national identity before 1600!?!!!?

    Is this because I need to stop paying attention to American liberals, for everything but especially anything outside of CONUS? Probably.

  21. Ché Pasa

    I liked Mark Ames definition of “Ukraine” in the podcast Mark Level linked to. “Borderlands” or “On the Border.” What we in the Southwest call “La Frontera.”

    The border shifted between Poland, Austria-Hungary, and the Russian Empire as fate and armies determined, but there was no permanent Ukraine until the Soviet Union (“Lenin”) established it as a Soviet Socialist Republic.

    Which apparently Putin believes was a grave error. Hard to disagree given the behavior of some Ukrainians during WWII (in support of the Nazis) and since the overthrow of the elected Yanukovych regime in 2014. These are bad people who do bad things that if done by someone else would be and have been considered criminal.

    I saw what was going on in Kiev/Kyiv and Odessa in 2014 via Livestream, and I will never forget it. It was a practically non-stop horror show of cruelty, persecution and murder by so-called Ukrainians against anyone they perceived to be Russian or aligned with Russia. Cheered on or perpetrated by Banderists and Nazis. We call it genocide or ethnic cleansing when done by others. But in Ukraine it’s been called “nation building.” And it was supported by dreadful people like that Nuland person still stirring shit in the region. What her and the Kagan clan’s issue is, I don’t know, but these people are monstrous and they’ve been given free rein to do as they will.

    As Ian often says, it didn’t have to be this way.

  22. someofparts

    Soredemos – You were right about Saagar Engetti. His segment on Ukraine on Tuesday was cringe worthy.

  23. someofparts

    I have also found a source that is catching me up on some of the history here. At a minimum it has cleared up the history Ian is referencing with this post.

    Also, a general thanks to Ian and some of the other members of the commentariat here for your patience with my occasional cluelessness and histrionics.

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