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

If Russia Invades

It will just be Donetsk and Luhansk, where they have support. They are not going to be drawn into a guerilla war by trying to control all of Ukraine. Most likely, they will recognize the regions, then move in.

There will be no full-fledged invasion and occupation, though, if the Ukrainian military seriously resists, Russia will destroy it.

Ethno-linguistic map of Ukraine

More on Russia, not directly related to Ukraine, soon.


Open Thread


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 20, 2022


  1. KT Chong

    If Russia invades, I hope China will use the golden opportunity to take back Taiwan. America can’t fight a two-front war with two nuclear powers at once.

  2. KT Chong

    Ukraine has started shelling Donetsk and Luhansk, likely being encouraged by the US to trigger Russia, (oh man the US really wants this fight,) because Russia ain’t gonna tolerate Ukraine killing Russians.

  3. Mary Bennett

    As for Taiwan, we do not need a massive influx of wealthy Taiwanese “refugees”, at least a third to half of which will be in fact mainland Chinese.

  4. StewartM

    KT Chong

    If Russia invades, I hope China will use the golden opportunity to take back Taiwan.

    As Taiwan is one of my favorite countries, I sure the hell hope not, as Chinese governance would make Taiwan worse, not better.

    However, I think you are right in that we’d be handing China this opportunity, all for an obsession with a place as tangential as the Ukraine to the West’s and the US’s interests, and moreover to blunt ‘aggression’ of a weaker potential adversary (Russia is weaker than China) is just plain nuts. It’s like obsessing in the 1930s over Stalinist Russia with Hitler’s Germany on the rise. We had smarter men leading the US back then than we have now (Marshall, FDR) who immediately saw which country was the bigger threat who we should oppose (Germany) and which we should ally ourselves with (USSR), if we had to.

  5. bruce wilder

    Putin, throughout his foreign policy career, has been the Master of the “Frozen Conflict” — reducing chaotic local wars to brittle stand-offs that seem to go on indefinitely, keeping local thugs in power and nationalists hostile to Russia outside gates to a Russian (or Russian ally) ghetto. I suppose Putin’s hope is that the conflict ages into a situation that can be negotiated to Russia’s advantage, though I cannot see that that ever happens within the decades of duration of these conflicts. On the other hand, the destruction and killing are restrained, so there’s that.

    The Russians have tried to turn Donetsk and Luhansk regions into “frozen conflicts” I think, but in a rather restrained way — never so far recognizing their legitimacy (Russian diplomacy is capable of finely nuanced degrees of support for “breakaway” regions inside other sovereign states) and trying to engage in multilateral negotiation with Western Powers to arrive at a settlement — the Normandy protocol and the Minsk Accords, but the politics of Ukrainian nationalism won’t permit it or permit any accommodation of Russian-speakers apparently.

    Then there is Crimea — seized by Russia in 2014 after the violent overthrow of the elected pro-Russian government in Kyiv sponsored by the U.S. The prospect of NATO membership is always explained in the West as Ukraine’s “free choice” of association, but Ukraine joining NATO would commit NATO to recover Crimea from Russia — membership is war on day one. Hello?

    I don’t see a clear path to “frozen conflict” for Putin via actual invasion or large-scale military action. But, the threat of military action puts a lot of pressure on Ukraine, already the poorest country in Europe, beating out Moldova (the scene of another one of those frozen conflicts). There’s no military objective I have seen identified that would strengthen Russia’s hand via active military measures.

    And it is rarely mentioned in the West, but Ukraine may be gaining enough military capability to force the capitulation of Donetsk and Luhansk, if the Russians cannot credibly intervene for fear of the West. Putin may fear he cannot keep the Donbass frozen in the face of a Ukrainian willingness to attack its own cities. So there’s a need for a double-bluff. If the Germans approve NordStream2 and sign up for Russian gas at a good price, will Putin then have too much at stake to risk it when Ukraine heats up the frozen conflict?

    Russia has struggled to maintain Crimea’s viability against Ukraine’s cutting off the water supply. I don’t know if there is a militarily achievable objective that improves Russian ability to water Crimea. And, of course, Ukraine has spent millions lobbying in the U.S. to prevent German approval of NordStream2, which would reduce Ukraine’s leverage over transport of Russian oil and gas to the EU. Ukraine is playing hardball, too.

  6. Ian Welsh

    Last time it looked like Ukraine would win, Russia sent in regulars in civilian clothes and hurt them badly. Might be an issue this time, in the sense of how much equipment can they take with them?

    A “atrocity, so we must defend them” seems like a possible way out, but Nordstream is the one thing Putin really cares about.

    As someone else noted, Europe is fucked if they shut down Nordstream, but Europe is also still dancing to their masters’ tune and there’s a lot of genuine fear of Russia in Europe (ludicrously so, but then the EU and most of its states refuse to spend on their militaries, so…)

  7. Soredemos

    China invading Taiwan anytime soon is a ridiculous concept. They’re as dependent on Taiwanese chip manufacturing as we are. If Beijing tries to invade, Taiwan blows up the factories. Give it another five or ten years when China has built up their own capacity and the calculus might change. But even then, island assaults are difficult to the point of being impossible these days. China may just never try and take the chance (especially not so long as the US Seventh Fleet exists). Taiwan simply isn’t worth the effort.

  8. Lex

    I don’t see an invasion. Even taking ethnically Russian provinces would be a bleeding ulcer. Crimea is different. As important as Peter’s northern port. Sacrifices to keep it are almost certainly considered worth it in ways that a couple of pieces of Noviyarossiya are not.

    The thing to watch, I think, is the evacuations. It could be used to freeze the conflict in a different way and leaves the bleeding ulcer on the other side of the border. Ukraine would have a difficult time recapturing the territory, perhaps more difficult than if civilians are present. And according to the WSJ/OSCE, the separatists are allowing civilians to cross into Ukraine for evacuation as well.

    Russia needs to be careful about the Minsk accords. And it’s trying to split European countries from the US. Invading would be wholly counterproductive so I’d imagine it’s a last resort. In some ways, the evacuation eases potential domestic pressure on Putin. Russian nationalists would go apeshit if something led to large causality numbers in Donbas in this climate. Putin would be in a back down or fight position, and nothing about his career suggests he relishes those. With the Sino-Russian agreements, I expect that the bulk of russia’s military will be pretty permanently positioned in the west. That’s a fly in the US’s ointment of pivoting to Asia while making promises to Ukraine, Poland, etc and trying to keep the Europeans on board. If Russia is going to mostly keep 100K+ troops in its west, the US can’t get away with 35K, mostly not combat ready. And since it has openly said it has no intention of spilling US blood for Ukraine, perhaps Putin can turn all of Eastern Europe into a frozen near-conflict without doing all that much. Possibly even do it in a way that does erode the US relationship with Germany and France. (At least in the medium term.)

  9. ptb

    IMO, EU has been pretty clear that NS2 is, at best, to remain in regulatory limbo indefinitely, so it’s not really in play other than rhetoric. The status quo in Donetsk and Lugansk can persist for a while – they were never the prize, Crimea was.

    That said, if the pro-war parts push too hard, recognition of the mini-republics followed by an R2P style security mission, should be expected. Several direct statements by Russian legislative and executive officials to this effect this year.

    There’s a contingent in NATO, led by the US State Dept, practically begging for the above. Basically a repeat of 2014 but, maybe with more collateral damage to better intimidate those thinking about challenging the empire. But even a token action would be enough for the main goal, which is to blockade the disorganized Europeans from importing Russian energy, get the them locked into dependence on US-controlled energy.

  10. Astrid

    Taiwan is okay but it’s not the perfect democracy that westerners imagine it to be. The politics of the Taiwan independence movement and DPP is explicitly xenophobic against Mainlanders and anyone tracing their ancestry to 1949 Mainland, involves substantial revisionism of Japan’s fairly oppressive pre-1945 regime and historic relationship to China, and it’s openly poking at Mainland China in a situation that could escalate badly. And they certainly played up anti Mainlanders sentiments to win political points against the KMT.

    They also did pretty poorly in managing the economy in the past twenty years (there really isn’t much of one beyond TSMC) so well educated young Taiwanese are leaving in droves to seek better job opportunities abroad. I say this as someone who really likes Taiwan and would like to move there one day, warts and all. It’s a lovely place with nice people and fantastic food, but the job opportunities are dreadful relative to costs of living, especially in Taipei.

    China is just not going to militarily invade Taiwan outside of extreme provocations. It hasn’t done so in 70+ years and it’s maintained its peaceful reunification at unspecified future time line. It’s the DPP politicians and US /Japan/ROK who are playing up the China menace for their own reasons.

    China would not want an active conflict, regardless of how Ukraine is handled, because it can’t protect its richest coastal areas (Shanghai to Hong Kong) from Taiwan based munitions and rockets. But also because the Mainlanders do actually see Taiwanese as Chinese and killing Taiwanese is bad politics. It would also result in an ungovernable province that’s likely riven with US funded insurgents and popular antagonism in the populace. Much more likely would be escalating sanctions or at worst a blockade, but I really can’t see the PRC physically invading Taiwan unless really bad shit guess down elsewhere.

  11. ptb

    Re: Taiwan — the declared timeline for reunification is “by 2049”, so the PRC is in no hurry at all on this matter. In light of China’s rate of development in the various means of strategic leverage, another 27 years is an eternity (ie consider China in 1995 vs today). The order of operations here is (1) retire US claims of primacy over the Pacific ocean (2) make the case to Taiwan

    As far as the Russia-NATO spat is concerned, it’s all a win for China. EU becomes fully exposed to global energy pricing, Russia moves development of energy resources to eastward flows, EU loses its energy cost advantage over East Asia.

  12. Ché Pasa

    Some of the talking heads and hairdos on this morning’s Shows were broadly hinting at what this “imminent invasion” bullshit is really about (YMMV): the point, which Mr. Evil Tovarich Vladimir has apparently been going along with, is to reunite NATO after the Trumpistas nearly imploded it, and after the debacle of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

    Mission accomplished, right? Well, not quite. There are still some loose ends to wrap up, but mostly it’s done. Putin gets to show “strength,” but nothing more need be done beyond what’s already happened. Zelensky gets to posture like a strongman, and he’s been playing his role well (helps that he’s an experienced actor, no?) Donetsk and Luhansk are being evacuated of civilians. Will the fighting forces be far behind? Stay tuned. There is no sign at all that Russia wants territorial expansion into even the Russian areas of Ukraine. Let them stew in their own venom.

    For news media, this is all gravy. The more war-chatter the better. And it gives them something else to talk about than rampant wokeism and inflation. Good for the pols. What’s not to like?

    Eventually, everyone can declare victory. Russia will demobilize. Ukraine will continue to be a basket case but with lots more weapons. The Russian minority in the East will be mostly gone. Crimea will stay Russian. NATO will be revived to keep the arms merchants happy. Washington will breathe a heavy sigh of relief.

    Then again, it can all go sideways in a twinkling.

  13. Trinity

    “Vladimir Putin’s desire to invade Ukraine isn’t exactly a secret. Even as Putin talks about a withdrawal of troops from the border with Ukraine the build-up of Russia’s military has been monitored via satellite imagery.

    Obviously the large scale transportation of tanks and of battalions of soldiers isn’t only detectable from space. People living near the Russian border with Ukraine can see this military build-up for themselves. Many of these eye witnesses then post video and photographic evidence of Russia’s preparations to invade Ukraine on social media.”

    There’s also a link to the social media in the article, fwiw, or here:

  14. StewartM


    Taiwan is okay but it’s not the perfect democracy that westerners imagine it to be. The politics of the Taiwan independence movement and DPP is explicitly xenophobic against Mainlanders

    The DPP is largely the party of young people, who see themselves as “Taiwanese”, not Chinese. (An good analogy would be Austria and Germany and the rise of Austrian nationality). The KMT is the party of older people, by and large, so that doesn’t bode well for those who want integration.

    Taiwan has a helluva lot better democracy than the US. Everytime I’m in Tapei, I’m running across a demonstration, sometimes with people thrusting pamphlets into my hands.

    I agree that for the educated, wages are low, and that’s a problem, but my own observation is that the minimum wage in Taiwan gives the Taiwanese poor about 25-50 % more purchasing power than their US counterparts. So which country should be more worried about low wages? The problem in such comparisons is that a country like Taiwan which has things like awesome universal health care and a awesome mass transit system, versus the US which has little or none of these, means that workers in the US might get a nominally higher wage which isn’t real, as they have to immediately turn around and hand most of that wage back over to their master class. The Taiwanese are spared such expenses.

  15. Hugh

    I have largely given up on this pseudo-progressive blog.

    With regard to Russia, I have tried for a long time to raise the issue of what happens in and to Russia when Putin is no longer around. Dictators do not tend to age well, and this is especially true of Putin who will be turning 70 in October. If you saw Putin at the Olympics, he was standing stiffly with rigid facies that were positively Parkinsonian. Other than that, he has been largely out of the public eye for the last year and a half. That too is important because he has been completely AWOL on Covid. The official death count is around 380,000. The actual number looking at excess death is more like 670,000. The 380,000 figure would make him Trump bad. The 670,000 figure makes him far worse. The population of Russia has been stuck at 145 million for at least the last 5 years. Putin’s failure on Covid has wiped out any marginal gains there might have been.

    It is important to remember that Putin’s rise began under Yeltsin. Yeltsin was a Russian nationalist. So was Putin. Yeltsin could read the demographic writing on the wall. He broke up the old USSR because he saw that Russia would continue to control most of the land, a lot of the resources, and be majority Russian. Putin did not agree with this. While a Russian nationalist, Putin is also an old-style Tsarist imperialist. He wants Russians first but contradictorily to rule as much of the old Soviet empire as he can lay his hands on or send his troops into.

    For Putin, invading Ukraine and appropriating millions of Russian-speakers is an attractive proposition. It reverses the long term and more recent Covid decline in the Russian population and balances his imperialist ambitions. Putin’s justification, his Doctrine, is that he can invade for any reason anywhere where there is a Russian population. Most progressives have no or highly selective memories. So they refuse or decide not to see how closely this resembles the Ein Volk, ein Reich of the 1930s –because it is Putin who is doing it.

    I would note in passing that NATO poses no military threat to Russia. It is Russia under Putin which has the history of invading its neighbors, the Russian version of Anschluss, not the other way around. I would note too that Putin has no problem with unpopular dictatorships as neighbors, such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, and China. What galls Putin about Europe is the political and cultural threat it poses to his dictatorship and his imperialist goals. He’s not worried about NATO tanks on his border. He hates the idea of increasingly Westernized Ukrainians opting for Europe, not his vision of Empire, and worse Russians in Russia being similarly attracted.

  16. different clue

    @K T Chong,

    I remember a comment many threads ago where you wrote about the longstanding AngloSaxonian hostility to Chinese immigration. Due to time limits, I did not respond at the time but I will respond now: those anti-Chinese laws were all repealed and set aside in 1965 and Chinese immigration has been heavy and unopposed since that time.

    So invoking the anti-Chinese immigration acts from before 1965 is an excercise in ethno-racial self-pity nostalgia.

    And as to the “century of Western Humiliation” which Great Han Lebensraum hyper-nationalists love to invoke, using the Century of Western Humiliation to sanctify Great Han Conquest of the China Sea and Great Han settlerization of Tibet and Sinjiang and so forth is like the Greater Israel Lebensraumists invoking the Holocaust to sanctify the conquest and demographic alteration of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

    Good luck getting anyone else to ratify and validate your ethno-racial self-pity nostalgia.

    As to China thinking a Ukraine-Russia war would provide good cover to conquer and re-incorporate Taiwan . . . . that assumes the existence of intelligent life within the DC FedRegime.

    Do you see any signs of intelligent life within the DC FedRegime?

  17. different clue

    Naked Capitalism offers a link to an article by John Helmer of Dances With Bears about the Russia/NATO/Ukraine situation which is worthy of reading.

    It is called ” Russian black box defence against American booby-trap offence”. The only quibble I would have with a title like that is that I am increasingly coming to see that NATO itself is a Euro-Brittanic conspiracy against America, using America as its muscle to advance Euro-Brittanic objectives in Europe, one of those objectives being to keep America enslaved as a “prisoner of NATO”. The pro-EuroNATO anti-American leadership elites in Washington are EUro-Britain’s running dog lackey flunky stooges and colonial branch office elites in charge of keeping America in NATO for Euro-Britain’s special exclusive benefit. So calling this an “American” offensive seems more and more out-of-date obsolete thinking to me.

    Anyway, here is the link.

  18. Ian Welsh

    This isn’t a progressive blog, it is a radical blog, written from a left-wing POV and has been since about 2013.

  19. Mark Level

    Give up, Hugh. Support for the wonderful, Exceptional Empire and all the “benefits” it brings to conquered lands (looting, killing of union organizers and poor people, rape-murder of nuns in Central America, all done to lower the wages of our colonies so Unions in the US can also be gutted long after its industrial base has been exported by Globalists) derived therefrom may provide profit$ or prestige to well-connected, “smart” members of the “liberal” (let the Homeless starve, and create more homeless by making Health Care unaffordable so one serious illness puts families out in the street) PMC class like yourself, most of the rest of us see the “patriotic” “kill the Darkies” garbage for what it is . . . Anyway, best of luck to you, perhaps since you’re so “starry-eyed” about the Imperial Blob, one of Tom Friedman’s or David Brooks’ columns will come true and maybe the elite DemoPublican duopoly will install a Hillary– Liz Cheney ticket so we can go to war with the Entire World. It’s not beyond the range of possibility, since the denizens of your chattering class regularly promise us it’s coming, right? . . . anyway if your dreams come true I’m sure all your Raytheon stock will pay off so it won’t matter what happens to the rest of the world, right? Igniting world wars worked so well in 1914 and again in ’45, didn’t it? Well, for a few it did . . . I’m really glad that you stand strong with the great humanist Madelaine Albright, who candidly told Leslie Stahl some years back that UNICEF’s having documented a half million children killed by US sanctions “against Saddam”, and a half million more dying soon, well, “the price is worth it.” Glad she stood strong in her book about how Donald Trump (who I despise) is a dangerous “Fascist”, and people like herself are morally pure defenders of “democracy.” You must be so proud to be a respected fellow traveler of that class of Imperial Ghouls, I will say you obviously do sincerely believe in what you advocate, and can live with the idea of millions exterminated without the simplest doubts. How satisfying that must be!!

  20. Paul Damascene

    Some view Russian troops crossing into Ukraine–even supposing this is primarily about Ukraine–would be their 3rd or 4th best option.
    1. Let LDNR deal with it, w/ EW & targeting support.
    2. Support LDNR forces further, if losing ground, w/ missile, artillery, counter battery fire & no-fly zone over LDNR territory.
    3. On UKie territory: Stand-off destruction of neoNazi paramilitary & military units, command & control, decapitation strikes of neoNazi leadership; destruction of NATO weapons, infrastructure & weapons platforms, forces.
    4. Imposing military / naval no-go zone over NATO expansion territories, waters to humiliate NATO may be preferable to invading Ukraine, the latter of which is a diplomatic loss without upside; they may prefer a diplomatic defeat w/ a military upside.

  21. Hugh

    Not that progressive and certainly not radical. It is not enough to write some posts and walk away. You need to defend those values in your comments section. Otherwise you end up with what you have, wall to wall trolls, all of them peddling various delusions and conspiracy theories. No attempt to understand anything. The few progressives or radicals or what you will who did show up here could always expect lots of yelling and name calling. But real discussion? Come on.

  22. someofparts

    Well, no matter how cynical I get, my opinion of the reptiles who run this country is still too upbeat. Seems that the bellicosity with Russia truly is part of a larger plan to surround and contain China. I wish I were kidding.

  23. Astrid


    As measured by being responsive to its people’s needs and rule of law, the PRC is also doing a hell of a lot better than the USA these days. The USA is not a functional democracy by any measure that matters, so almost any half functional country will look much better by comparison.

    I don’t know the nuances of Taiwanese politics, since mostly I get my information second hand from US based Taiwanese friends who obviously have their own biases (this is always the danger of “my friend from xyz says such and such about their home country” as those populations are not representative of their home country and often exaggerate the negatives to justify their decision to emigrate). But the rhetoric coming out of DPP is pretty bigoted against a Mainland China that will be their major trading partner and “big brother” whether inside or outside of the formal political entity of PRC. I don’t think the PRC really cares about Taiwan enough to waste blood and treasure on it. Any arrangement with Taiwan will be fine as long as it (and eventually rest of East and SE Asia) stop being US satrapies.

    I’ll take your word on the thoughts of the young Taiwanese, but I think the PRC expect there will be a shift as the US influence weakens and as they get better on soft power. There’s been a strong layer of white worship amongst all Chinese since the century of humiliation, as they look to the West as the vanguard of modernity. The discrepancy in COVID response is the first clear sign of the West as a “paper tiger”. Once the US recedes from the picture, the current and next generation may reassess their options. And the good things you mentioned were put in place by the KMT government, whereas the economy has gone nowhere in successive DPP governments. So, how long is identity politics going to work versus bread and butter issues?

  24. Feral Finster

    Ian: I lived in Ukraine for many years. I speak Russian and Ukrainian, although I have not a drop of Slavic blood in me, nor am I related by blood or marriage to a Russian or a Ukrainian. So I have no ethnic dog in this fight.

    I know plenty of people from Donbass, including members of the local militias. They never saw a Russian soldier. They wish that Russia would invade.

    Hugh wrote, predictably:

    “I would note in passing that NATO poses no military threat to Russia. ”

    The very first combat mission of NATO was to attack Yugoslavia. Anyway, if he feels such pity for Ukraine, Hugh is welcome to get his helmet and backpack and go fight. The Nazi paramilitaries fighting for Kiev gladly take foreign volunteers.

  25. StewartM


    I agree that the KMT-DPP is fixated on “the China question” and thus the problem of pay in Taiwan for the educated is neglected. But having been in Taiwan a number of times, the English newspapers I read there are very concerned about a Chinese takeover or attempted takeover. When there was the problems in Hong Kong, it was covered daily with many anti-Chinese comments by leaders. I think even the KMT people would not want to be incorporated into China without there being major concessions.

    The biggest thing that bothers me in Taiwan there is too much “white worship”, but I agree that’s probably going to change. Asians are realizing how incompetent the West is. But China itself is not their model.

  26. Astrid

    “But China itself is not their model”.

    What other model? Can’t be Singapore as that’s what the Chinese and the KMT modeled their economic development on, you need competent authoritarianism to make that work. Japan is also a one party state that succeeded on economic development and faultered in the past 30 years because the US forced them to handicap themselves. Maybe ROK except DPP seems more analogous to the corrupt conservatives there and Korean society is very hierarchical and not pleasant.

    DPP can’t do economic development and it can’t do competent authoritarianism, they seem to be a bunch of idpol posers to me. Maybe it’s a good decision politically as that’s kept the DPP in power since 2000 and worked well for the American uniparty in lieu of delivering on bread and butter, but surely a way to run your country into the ground.

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