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

Putin Is Running the Georgian and Kosovo Playbook in Ukraine

As I noted last week, the playbook for Russia in Ukraine is based on what happened with Kosovo.

Putin recognized the breakaway regions, moved troops in, and is now attacking and bombing Ukraine — just as both Serbia and Georgie were attacked. I didn’t expect the general invasion, but I should have, especially since I wrote:

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

I will be surprised (and wrong) if there is a general occupation of Ukraine, but it is possible because of the NordStream cancellation. What will most likely happen is the Ukrainian military will be defeated in the field, as were the Georgian and Serbian militaries, to make the point that they can’t resist, they have to let Russia do what it wants, and, as Putin himself has said, to demilitarize it. (“We destroyed your military, and you will not build one up or let foreign troops in, or we will do it again.”)

If Putin does occupy Ukraine, it will be because he considers it (like Taiwan) nothing more than a breakaway province, considers Western sanctions inevitable (he said so in his most recent speech), and figures, “Fuck it, might as well take the pain now as later.”

It was wise of NATO nations to remove diplomats, as that means it won’t matter if there’s an “accidental” embassy bombing, which is what happened to the Chinese embassy during the Serbian war.

With the announcement that NordStream will not happen, Russia has very little reason to play by Western rules (we can do it, you can’t), and they won’t.

Welcome to the world I have been predicting for a few years. Russia will be increasingly cut off, China is next on the list (they will not cooperate with US and European sanctions on Russia), and the world will split into two economic areas at cold war, though it won’t be immediate unless things spiral completely out of control.

Europe will be hurt badly by this, as they need far more from China and Russia than they do from the US, as this excellent article by Michael Hudson points out.

Welcome to interesting times.

Update: If NATO responds militarily, there is a good chance the war goes nuclear. And if it does, China will use the opportunity to reconquer Taiwan.

Update 2: What George Kennan, the architect of USSR containment, said back in the 90s.




Why Are UK Sanctions on Ruissia So Small?


Calm and Perspective About Ukraine


  1. Michael

    I genuinely don’t know where this goes. In a best case scenario the EU and US just impose more sanctions, but this feels like such a public violation of their authority that they’ll want something more visceral to punish Russia.

    Aside from the practical concerns of “How long can Europe deal with a reciprocal Russian embargo on oil and natural gas?” there’s the question of “Who does Putin turn to instead?” Everyone seems convinced that we’re witnessing a new Sino-Russo alliance, but given their relative strengths (economic, technological, Geo-political) Russia would have to be the junior partner in that alliance and I can’t see Putin or Russia more generally accepting permanent second class status.

    This feels like a hinge point. Just like how Iraq in 2003 upended everything by stripping even the veneer of “humanitarian intervention” from western foreign policy. This is Russia asserting that “We have the will and means to do that too.” and daring the US and EU to stop them.

    I worry what the response will be.

  2. Occasional Poster

    but this feels like such a public violation of their authority that they’ll want something more visceral to punish Russia.

    Ukraine is not a member of the EU or NATO so the US and its European vassal states can’t go all-out nuts on Russia but I agree that the western “response” is going to make things worse.

    This may end up backfiring on Russia in a big way if a protracted war breaks out in Ukraine. If Putin had recognized the Donbass region as a Russian protectorate and left it at that, negotiations and deescalation might have been possible. But a shock and awe style aerial bombardment of Ukraine and possible ground invasion makes that very unlikely, at least in the near-future.

    How the US, which has spent years whipping itself into a frenzy over Russia, reacts to this will be “interesting” to observe. If it kicks Russia out of SWIFT the Russians might well consider that akin to a declaration of war. And how will China react – by giving Russia rhetorical support for its invasion or remaining officially neutral?

    Interesting times indeed.

  3. someofparts

    The Ukranian government is currently shelling Donetsk and Luhansk.

    “I find it likely that the sudden increase of artillery explosions from 80 per day to over 1,200 per day over the last week had an effect on the timing of Putin’s decision.”

    and this from NC –

    “Russia is pretty well insulated from further damage. It is self-sufficient in the most important stuff: food, energy, weapons. It can buy consumer goods and electronics from China and medicines from India (and I highly doubt these two will seriously comply with any USA sanctions regime).”

    “the US will be destabilized, to a much lesser but nevertheless real degree by continuing high energy prices and high prices and inflation in other key commodities where Russia is important.”

    Yves Smith said that Europe is cutting off it’s own nose to spite Russia’s face.

    To that I would add my own thinking that the US, which has been so happy to levy murderous sanctions on vulnerable smaller nations like Venezuela or Iran are about to get a taste of our own medicine when we find out what it is like to deal with new limits on our access to aluminum, copper, titanium and other critical resources that come from Russia.

  4. Astrid

    I will note that Google is now suppressing linking to the Kremlin events site and even direct access gets an “unsecured site” warning. American free speech my ass. Another speech that is clear and pointed, invokes history and place, that doesn’t hide behind obfuscation and rationalizations. Moon of Alabama analysis seems pretty cogent, there may not be a Ukraine by late 2022.

    I still don’t think the Chinese will invade Taiwan though I supposed they could blockade it to force a surrender if they decide now is the moment to fully break with the US hegemon. Still don’t see it as likely as that will have a chilling effect on it’s relationship with its neighbors and its populace is much softer and not yet psychologically prepared for a hot or cold war.

    Hope nobody here was looking to buy a new car or other durable goods this year. If the Russians could disrupt the Ukrainian spring crop planting season, things can get dicey in Europe. As it is, the Europeans better hope for a mild, windy, and sunny spring. I’m going to order more compost from my township now and buy some Promix bales from my local Agway this weekend, just in case.

  5. Ché Pasa

    Huh. Welcome to more interesting times.

    I’m adverse to making more predictions on how this catastrophe will play out having already missed the mark thinking that calmer heads might prevail in Washington, Brussels, London, Kiev and Moscow. “They don’t want this war,” I kept thinking. But obviously they very much do.

    Meanwhile, I was going through some of what I wrote and posted in 2014 about the coup in Kiev/Kyiv and the aftermath, particularly in Mariupol and Odessa. Most of the videos are no longer active and of course the livestreams I was watching are gone, but there are still a few working compilation videos made and posted by Ukrainian TV stations, particularly of the atrocities at the Odessa Trades Union building, and I wrote descriptions of most of the other videos that are now gone.

    It’s as shocking/horrifying now as it was then. While it’s good to have a view from 30,000ft., what was happening on the ground in many places in Ukraine during and after the Maidan uprising was grotesque and extreme, violent, bloody and brutal. The targets of the mobs (Azov/Pravyi Sektor) roaming the streets were Russians and Russian speakers and anyone who defended and/or helped them. Perhaps thousands were murdered by what were little other than lynch mobs, dozens were burned alive in Odessa, hundreds were shot down by so-called troops in Mariupol, and the Donbas was subject to a siege from the west that killed thousands more until Russia armed the residents. There were no “separatist troops” and almost all residents were unarmed in 2014 as the Azov battalions and other rightist reactionaries moved against the largely ethnic Russian residents of the south and east of Ukraine murdering freely along the way.

    All of this, or most of it, was covered extensively live as it was happening by livestreamers and Ukrainian TV.

    No doubt Putin and the Russian public saw it unfold as it did. If I could see it thousands of miles away in the wilderness of the USofA, so could the Kremlin and whoever cared to watch anywhere in the world. Including the cackling monsters at State who seemed to be engineering the whole thing. (Thanks, YouTube… cough.)

    So. What happened in the rightist (including Nazis and fascists) takeover of the government in Kiev was widely seen and known at the time, and there is still a deep well of anger and outrage at what happened — and not solely in Moscow. Putin may not be someone you’d buddy up with, but his fury at Ukraine and the West has a foundation that goes well beyond the lies and mockery of the last few months.

    The only thing is, revenge is not sweet at all…

  6. someofparts

    As far as what might be triggered by events in Ukraine, I am not, based on what I’m hearing just at this moment, inclined to think that will be a problem.

    I read that when Biden moved the US embassy out of Ukraine, forty other countries followed his lead. Meanwhile, I’m hearing that the leaders of Ukraine are being warned on Russian television (which folks in Ukraine are sure to be watching but people in the West are not) about the steps Russia will take if they keep shelling the eastern provinces.

    Also, as to the hysteria from the US over alleged imminent Russian invasion, someone suggested that this just might, just maybe maybe might be the result of deliberate misinformation from a Russian double agent inside the state department, setting the Americans up to look all silly beans.

    I guess the point that I am busy losing in all this verbiage is that it sounds like Putin is doing a good job of stopping the misbehavior from Ukraine that needs to be addressed without doing something clumsy/careless that inadvertently causes a larger conflict.

    The western powers are turning their backs on Ukraine, after having made fools of themselves with a spot of help from a Russian double agent. Then Putin uses Russian media to send a clear message to just the leaders in Ukraine that need to hear it (and all of their remaining supporters), reminding them that besides defeating them on the battlefield Russia will also destroy them economically.

    Putin got the western powers out of the immediate arena of conflict so they won’t get inadvertently embroiled in it. Then, once the rascals in Ukraine see that their erstwhile allies have deserted them, they get a clear message on Russian television telling them that they are the target and Putin is not kidding.

    It sounds careful and well-played to me.

  7. Eric Anderson

    The only upside to this, if one can be found, is forcing the elite’s hand away from financial speculation and back to some form of sane and sustainable industrial policy. Paradoxically, severing ties with China could well be the greatest gift the working class in this could dream of.

  8. Hugh

    It is good to see Ian and the rest of you take the moral high ground and blame everyone but Putin and the Russians for this insanity. I have often said that progressives do everything they can to discredit themselves on anything to do with foreign affairs. Thanks for making my case for me.

    This has nothing to do with Kosovo. It has to do with an aging out of touch dictator who has been telling you for years who and what he is. It is about a dictator who has jumped the shark, as they will. But instead of focusing on Putin, his actions, his culpability, we get these weird justifications him. Serbians promoted ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia, and finally Kosovo. What is the matter with you, Ian, that you find in all that murder some kind of defense for Putin? If the US and NATO sending troops into Ukraine would be risking WWIII, how is Putin sending his army into Ukraine not risking WWIII?

    Putin is doing everything in his power to cut himself off from the West. I say we should let him. With climate change and without the West, the odds of there being a Russia in 40 years is in the single digits. And if you still need historical analogies, how about some that are nearer the mark, like Austria and the Sudetenland in the 1930s?

  9. Mark Level

    I appreciate Ian’s analysis, as always, as well as the thoughtful and intelligent commenters here for the most part. I guess the conventional PMC “Kill ’em All” warhawks we used to see here have migrated to more agreeable “liberal” interventionist Dem party websites like “Lawyers, Guns & Money”, Daily Kos, Josh Marshall’s (big Iraq War supporter) TPM, etc. Not that I miss them. For reliable analysis, beyond this site I greatly appreciate Naked Capitalism, moonofalabama, have recently picked up reading The Saker more often, also Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal, separately or together formerly at the Gray Zone and Moderate Rebels, also Aaron Mate (outstanding & fearless), Katie Halper, etc. Kyle Kulinski mostly has decent takes, maybe not in the same tier, and Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! with her crew is usually quite good as well. Oh, don’t forget Caitlin Johnstone, who hates the fading Empire as much as I do . . . From what I have seen this morning, the last straw for Putin was a Zelensky threat to restart nuclear bomb building in Ukraine. Then they wouldn’t “need” NATO to threaten Russia directly. (Of course Zelensky is just a pathetic puppet and the decision certainly came from The Atlantic Council, Vicki “Fuck the EU” Nuland or Blinkered Blinken.) My predictive powers are as limited as others’ right now, but 3 things I see as likely in the near future– 1. Putin may not be morally better (but is certainly no worse) than the genocidal Cheney-Frum axis that started the Iraq pre-emptive war mechanisms, but he is a hell of a lot smarter and more pragmatic than the arrogant, entitled, clueless pr1cks running the State Dept., DoD etc. Therefore: 2. I predict Putin will strategically take the areas that benefit it or guarantee its safety and no more. Ukraine is no prize, it’s the only part of the old East Bloc that’s still as poor (viz GDP) as it was in 1990 & would be a burden to take or hold. Majority Russian speaking areas may be integrated to Russia, and of course access to the Black Sea will never be sacrificed. The poor isolated areas of Ukraine can be left to languish, I doubt the US/EU will provide them any “aid” beyond weapons, maybe food if things become desperate in the short term. 3. As many others have noted, the EU “is cutting its nose off to spite the Russians’ face.” The same applies to the West, which will be hurt by higher energy and resource costs if the Sanctions are enlarged, pretty much to the same extent as Russia. If there is a winner it will be China. But the “American Century” has ended, whether the Elites realize this or no, the clock cannot be set back. It will be interesting to see how long the Lizard-brained American media consumers, egged on by the stenographer MSM, will support war/sanctions with Russia as gas prices go thru the roof!! Glad that I mostly drive very little anyway.

  10. bruce wilder

    Nevermind Putin’s playbook — consider that Putin is just reacting, having a statesman’s temper tantrum, after having tried to be reasonable and diplomatic and principled (in an international relations sense), has lost for Russia at every turn in every sphere, economic as well as geopolitical.

    The winners are the arms merchants of Northern Virginia, who will see Pentagon budgets continue to increase supplemented by a soon-to-be solid increase in NATO spending.

    The arms merchants and their colleagues and allies in the so-called Intelligence Community have successfully used Google and Facebook to stifle dissent and criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

    In every news media explainer, every crazy thing Ukrainian right-wingers have done to prevent a negotiated settlement is shaded or simply disappeared. Every move to the East of NATO is forgotten or minimized. NATO is an innocent “defensive” alliance in this telling — the wanton destruction of, say, Libya in defiance of the UN Security Council forgotten as irrelevant.

    I do not say Putin is in any way “justified” in this act of war and terrible violence. I say only that he has been provoked by reckless fools both in Ukraine and in the U.S. foreign policy blob.

  11. Hugh

    It is hard to see how Ian could be more wrong about Putin and Ukraine. There are times when you stand up and speak out or sit down in shame. Ian has already got his chair picked out. You don’t make false equivalences (Kosovo) or lay down strange impossible conditions (sanctions on Russia who did invade Ukraine only if the US which did not invade Ukraine gets them too). Ian, you are so turned around and upside down on this, you need to seriously rethink your values. That you can’t come out clearly and condemn Putin and this madness, that you try to justify and explain it away, well if that is where you really are, you can always tell yourself that you lasted longer than Glenn Greenwald before you sold out, although I doubt if your terms were anywhere near as good as his.

  12. gnokgnoh

    someofparts, no, not exactly. Are you watching the news in the last 12 hours?

  13. Glau

    Kinda suprised by the fact that “US intelligence agencies are always wrong” seems to drive most of the emotional responses to this. Especially since the US is barely involved.

    Any meat culpas from the people insisting two days ago that Russia wouldn’t invade?

  14. bruce wilder

    Do not expect anyone in an official capacity to admit that NATO expansion has now provoked long expected blowback. Expect instead arguments for bigger spending on armaments.

    To protect little Europe from Russia protecting itself from the U.S. supporting various nationalists hostile to Russian nationalists.

    All because people are more interested in feeling righteous than simply negotiating the inevitable conflicts of interest.

  15. Ian Welsh

    You know, I once wrote an article on Putin being evil, but that wasn’t enough for the people who think everything is Putin’s fault. Of course he invaded and that’s on him and Russia, same as when America invaded Iraq and didn’t get hit by a single sanction.

  16. NR

    Ian has consistently described Putin as evil for as long as I’ve been reading his blog (over six years now, I think?)

  17. Ian Welsh

    Nothing is more tedious than someone who demands another person write what they want to write and who won’t stop the demands.

    Hugh is no longer welcome as a commenter here. I’m sure he’ll find another blog that meets his requirements.

  18. Ché Pasa

    What did I just hear on the “news?” “This is the first European war since 1945! Horrors!”

    WTF? So Kosovo didn’t happen? The break up of Yugoslavia didn’t result in years and years of slaughter, genocide, war? Sarajevo was never destroyed? Revisionism has become insane.

    Understanding Putin’s and the Kremlin’s point of view about Ukraine and Nato is not at all the equivalent of approval or defense of this warring. No, it’s an awful thing that shouldn’t be happening, and it wouldn’t be if there were any governing wisdom left in the world, or at least in the corners of the world most of us live in. Putin has launched a preventive war, the kind that Cheney/Bush said was justified when they did it. Aggressive war is a war-crime in and of itself. All the perpetrators should be in the dock, but guess what? They’re not.

    What has been done in the name of ‘security’ whether by Putin or our own bloodthirsty governments is an obscenity. But nothing is done to the perpetrators, hardly even a clucking of tongues any more.

    Nothing was done to the murderers in Ukraine in 2014 either — oh, except some of those who murdered Russian-speakers got medals for their bravery. I witnessed Ukrainian TV coverage of a police van at the Odessa union hall taking away more than a dozen severely injured survivors of the massacre there. Most of them, we’re told, were never seen again.

    I don’t defend the combatant sides. Evil is as evil does. We’ve seen way too much of it.

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