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

The Bottom Line On Ukraine As An Example Of Decision Analysis

I could write a lot of words on this, but let’s keep it simple.

First: Russia keeps taking land.

Second: Putin has far more reserves he can commit than Ukraine does.

Third: this means that the decision about whether to win or lose is Putin’s.

Which do you think he’ll choose.

Oh, there’s considerations around acceptable costs and a possible guerilla war later, but this it the essence of the invasion.

This is a fairly basic but important style of analysis. Ask yourself:

1) Who makes the decision?

2) Do they have sufficient resources and power to enforce their decision?

3) What do they think the right thing to do is? (This isn’t always about self interest, though it often is.)

4) What decision are they likely to make?

You can add bits to this, like “does anyone have a veto?” but this is the essence of it.

This is why I have said for years that nothing would be done about climate change till too late, because the people who have the power to make the decision don’t think it affects them, and do think that the status quo is good for them, so they aren’t going to do anything.

Most reasonably reliable analysis comes down to simple heuristics like this one. Complicated heuristics for social decision making rarely work.



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  1. Tallifer

    “Second: Putin has far more reserves he can commit than Ukraine does.”

    This is true, but I wonder how much NATO can tip the balance, thinking back to how America supplied Russia during WWII or Pakistan supplied and gave bases to the Taliban. I realize every war is a different situation, but economically the Ukraine does not stand alone. As for population, a committed levee en masse trumps a conscript army even if outnumbered.(which I say based on things like the Vietnam War). The Greek Revolt vs the Ottomans also springs to mind, as well as France propping up the rebel Americans. What does your research suggest?

    (Full disclosure: I write this as a Christian grieving that Christians are slaughtering Christians, and as a man with half a tumble of rum in his cup.)

  2. Ché Pasa

    Russia could end this war and they should. It’s not entirely a matter of what Putin says or wants or does. There’s a whole decision-making apparatus in the Kremlin, just like there is in DC and Brussels.

    Russia invaded; Russia can withdraw, or more likely establish new boundaries for the Donbas republics and essentially leave their defense up to their people.

    That’s essentially what Russia did for eight years after the Euromaidan coup.

    Even after the massacres in Odessa and Mariupol and the roving death squad militias killed at will and drove Russian speakers, ethnic Russians and other “undesirables” out of much of Ukraine, Russia largely stood by and watched.

    Now after invading, though, what have they gained? To my eye, nothing. The situation is manifestly worse than it was for Ukrainians and Russians alike — which means, of course, that the Zelensky government and The West bear a huge share of the blame for what’s going on. Their decision process is apparently even simpler: they are happy for this war to continue indefinitely, to the gates of Moscow, to the inner sanctums of the Kremlin.

    Rossiya delenda est , no?

    That was the long-time plan, so why not go for it? “Fight to the last Ukrainian and then fight to the last Russian.”

    I understand that Lavrov is once again cautioning the West and Ukraine about the potential for the conflict to spread and for it to trigger the use of nuclear weapons even as the combatants seek to avoid it. Well, yes, I think we’ve known that all along, and clearly the Western Powers do not care. Or possibly even desire that result.

    And how would that decision come about? There’s a notion that only the Russians would initiate a nuclear holocaust, but it seems to me more likely that the USandNato would launch a first strike on the pattern of the numerous wars of aggression they have launched and engaged in. Also, if there is a nuclear exchange, it may be launched by and from one of the more minor players. And who would make that decision?

    The Zelensky government and its oligarchic and Western backers have no apparent interest in stopping the war. No, they seem thrilled by it. (“War is the Health of the State”). Russia might call a halt to combat and attempt to consolidate its Neo-Novorossiya gains. But that decision depends on the willingness of the other side to desist, right?

    Stalemate. Right?

  3. Tallifer

    For autocracies, “War is the sport of kings” (Louis XIV), but the West just wants peace and the Ukraine restored to its legal international borders (and diplomatic independence). Also, Russian victory of any size in the Ukraine only encourages Chinese aggression towards Taiwan.

    Food for thought about Russia’s long-term military prospects:

  4. Blueberry Hill

    What’s winning? It’s a serious question. If turning Ukraine into a vast burned out forbidden zone hinterland used as a buffer, then yes, Putin may well achieve that objective but at what price? That price must be subtracted from the so-called “win” and when it is, well, the win in Ukraine becomes an overall loss for Putin and Russia.

  5. Tallifer

    [edit] I was careless in quoting from memory. As far as I can find, Louis XIV never said the words, “War is the sport of kings.” I probably gleaned the reference as a youth from some slipshod popular history book illustrated with photos of oil paintings, whose author felt the aphorism fitting enough to put into his mouth. The spirit of the inventive Herodotus haunts so many writers.

  6. Astrid

    What has Russia gained? A divorce from the abusive and gaslighting West. An understanding amongst its leadership, people, and allies (mostly China) that it was never going to work and continued engagement with the West would only lead to destruction.

    Russia taking a step back is equivalent to Carthage accepting defeat after the Second Punic War.

  7. Being a realist is such a lonely endeavor, isn’t it?

  8. Willy

    Putin justifying invading Ukraine is like Bush justifying invading Iraq.

    Simple heuristics. Except for the neocons, apparently.

  9. Willy

    Speaking of lonely endeavors, I had a friend studying to be a schoolteacher who had strong and public anti-American leanings. “America is living on the backs of the world!” she’d say.

    But would she have given up her privileged upbringing in her father’s luxury home, her new car at 16, or his 50’ sailboat she used to entertain friends?

    Actually, that question is irrelevant. The relevant question is, were her anti-American sentiments ever taken seriously by outsiders?

    I remember the leftist terrorism of the 70’s. I remember studies done about those terrorists. I remember those studies finding that most of those terrorists came from privilege. Of course, those movements petered out and here we are.

    I’m wondering. What if they’d instead, been mostly poor?

    Maybe a bit like if Condoleezza Rice had fought against invading Iraq. I’d think her upcoming lectures about Ukraine and “democracy” would be taken more seriously.

  10. Feral Finster

    This war was entirely intentional consequence of the United States policy.

    The above paper is so accurate, they had to put a disclaimer on it.

    BTW, Willy, the difference between Iraq and Ukraine is that Iraq could not be an existential threat to the United States, while Ukraine has no use to NATO other than as an existential threat to Russia.

  11. Feral Finster

    Che Pasa wrote: “There’s a notion that only the Russians would initiate a nuclear holocaust, but it seems to me more likely that the USandNato would launch a first strike on the pattern of the numerous wars of aggression they have launched and engaged in.”

    One could easily imagine a scenario unfolding thusly: Despite unprecedented amounts of western weaponry and a propaganda campaign that would put Goebbels to shame, Ukraine is facing defeat.

    Confronted with this, Muh American Credibility and a rabid MSM demand that the United States launch airstrikes.

    Biden is pilloried for his supposed weakness and gives the order.

    Russia retaliates and puts a hypersonic missile into a US aircraft carrier. Carrier sinks or is badly damaged.

    Rather than learn from their mistake, the American public demands an even more reckless response.

    It won’t take long before things go nuclear.

  12. different clue

    There are still a lot of Clinton-haters in America. If skilled symbol-manipulators among the Clinton-hater population can figure out how to rebrand this war as ” Clinton’s War”, they will be able to recruit a lot of Clinton-haters to the cause of forcing the Axis of NATO-FUKUS to wind down its support to Ukraine and force Ukraine into some sort of split-the-difference settlement with Russia.

    I read recently somewhere that Zelensky was willing to settle for a ” no NATO never ever” future for Ukraine but he told the NATO-FUKUS governments that they had to be the power-centers to officially say in public that Ukraine would never be allowed into NATO, because if HE said it, he would be assassinated by NATO-FUKUS’s pet nazis carefully sprinkled and dispersed all over Ukraine. And NATO-FUKUS would not make that declaration. That was their way of forcing Zelensky to ” keep the issue of future membership open” so as to keep the war going.

    The RussiaGov’s stated reasoning for launching this pre-emptive strike on a NATOficating Ukraine sounds exactly similar to the IsraelGov’s stated reasoning for launching its pre-emptive strike on Egypt and Syria in 1967. I wonder if the Left Wing Community will be able to bear facing up to the exactness of the similarity of the stated reasonings in the two cases. Would they be able to bear the pain of suspecting that either both pre-emptive attackers had/have a point in their separate times and places . . . . or that neither pre-emptive attacker had/has a point in their separate times and places?

    And if the Left decides that both separate pre-emptive attackers have/had a point in their separate times and places, can the Left suggest to the RussiaGov that the Israel actions immediately after the 67 war show the downside of blowback from trying to “have it all”?

    If the RussiaGov tries to conquer and hold the entire Ukraine, it will have a huge captive “functional Ukrainestine” of its own creation. Plus a huge and growing diaspora of ” Ukrainestinian Refugees” who will devote their lives to ” Never Forgetting and Never Forgiving” their own New Naqba in the heart of Europe.

    So if the RussiaGov can conquer enough of East Ukraine to keep it conquered long enough to de-Nazify it in excrutiating picky-poo detail ( the capture and maximum exploitation of every last single Ukranazi for best propaganda effect and Narrative Design Engineering project prior to exterminating every single one of them), and build a Big Beautiful Wall of ” Reactive Armor” between East Ukraine and West Ukraine, then the RussiaGov will feel safe enough that it can let the International Axis of NATO-FUKUS up-nazify West Ukraine as much as NATO-FUKUS likes.

    Perhaps they can even permit East Ukraine the life-size foam rubber cardboard replica of Independence. TThe RussiaGov can call its half “Novokraine” and let NATO-FUKUS call its half ” Galiciakraine”.

  13. bruce wilder

    I do not think the decision over whether to win or lose is Putin’s alone. That is the practical tragedy of (this) war — Putin has given up on his previous avenues of negotiation and gone to this one, war. But not a war of extermination thankfully but a war for half a loaf is held in contempt for those he’s fighting for whom war is the loaf.

  14. ptb

    @Astrid – re: what to gain for Russia…. yep, clarity is nice. You can be sure China appreciates the free warning.

    Now there would’ve been clarity anyway if Ukraine with US assistance were allowed to attack Donbas first, and Russia and EU trade partners were then sanctioned all the same as soon as any attempt to defend Donetsk etc were made.

    As it turned out, some important parts of Ukraine’s military were neutralized by a preemptive attack. Going to Kiev didn’t work out. On the other hand territory in the south was liberated from the Azov brigades without the more intense struggle we are now seeing. That’s the tradeoff. The rest was already baked in last year.

    Now if Ukraine’s sponsors are willing to steer the Kiev government into an indefinite war of attrition, in which 300-500 mostly cannon fodder casualties are sacrificed each day in order to protect a few dozen special forces mercenaries and missile/drone squads who are able to inflict some significant but this far lesser damage to Russian forces, then that is what will happen. NATO wouldn’t send their own to be killed or wounded in these quantities, that’s the basis of this war.

    If Kiev’s sponsors steer them into tactics of random strikes against Russian infrastructure or cities that are within their reach, knowing they will suffer the inevitable retaliation but hoping to score PR points from it, that is what will happen. NATO wouldn’t sacrifice their own infrastructure in a similar way, but that too is the basis of the conflict.

  15. Z

    The ultimate power that Putin has is that even if Russia somehow loses the war, he can ensure that they won’t be the only country to lose the war.

    It amazes me how quickly and blithely our rulers have dismissed the threat of nuclear war. And they do it with utter disdain for Russia. We’re out to militarily weaken Russia or, better yet, have Putin’s head. And we’re not afraid of nuclear annihilation. They’re basically daring Putin to do it.

    I’m starting to feel like a real sissy being afraid of nuclear war and all. My, what “courage” these hardASSES have in potentially putting all of our lives at risk to get rid of Putin.

    Even if we aren’t directly killed by the bombs a “small” nuclear war could potentially put our climate and ecosystems over the brink at this very delicate juncture where we had temps 70 and 50 above normal at the two poles only a month or so ago and we’re not even out of April yet and India is already in the midst of a record, life-threatening heat wave.

    2023 ain’t guaranteed to any of us or all of us.


  16. Blueberry Hill

    There’s a notion that only the Russians would initiate a nuclear holocaust, but it seems to me more likely that the USandNato would launch a first strike on the pattern of the numerous wars of aggression they have launched and engaged in.

    I disagree with this entirely. The purpose of war these days for the West is mostly to ensure the ever-growing profits of the Military Industrial Complex. It’s a gravy train for defense contractors, for the military itself with its burgeoning budget and for the media which records record ratings and thus record advertising revenue and profit. Nukes take that all away. Nukes would eviscerate that. Nukes for these Pukes is like a cure for cancer to the Healthcare Industrial Complex. You don’t kill the Golden Goose. The only conviction the Western Elite have is to growth in profit. It’s their God. That’s what they worship. Using nukes is anathema to that.

  17. Hickory

    @Willy many were poor. Look up “fbi cointelpro” on Pirate Bay for a collection of resources on suppression of black revolutionaries (and general social activism).

  18. Feral Finster

    @Bruce Wilder: Russia had made numerous concrete diplomatic proposals, before and after the war.

    All were rejected out of hand.

    For that matter, had Ukraine fulfilled either the Minsk or Minsk-2 Accords, this war would not have happened.

  19. bruce wilder

    I think I meant to say something like, “. . . a war for half-a-loaf is held in contempt by those for whom the war is the loaf”.

    My point: that Putin went to war to force reasonable negotiations — if a negotiated settlement, accepted however grudgingly by Ukraine and its patrons, the U.S. and the E.U., is the goal — that is, the prize for “winning” the war — I honestly do not see how he gets there or what difference having the locally superior military force is going to make.

    The “rules-based” neoliberal international order does not really do negotiation between opposed interests. The “rules” — subtly shifting and never applying to anything the big dog does — create a constrained game that every nation-state is expected to play. In theory, the rules are laid down in multilateral treaties negotiated by great gaggles of diplomats, guided by the gentle, invisible hands of multinational conglomerates and financial institutions.

    Russia has been playing and losing that game at least since 2009 or so and Putin knows it all too well. Russia’s ambitions to escape the middle-income trap and the well-known hazards of being a “raw” resource supplier have been frustrated repeatedly by various means, including the moralistic imposition of sanctions. The NordStream2 project was opposed by the U.S. and Ukraine and Russia persisted to completion and the door was closed in its face — $11 billion at the bottom of the Baltic.

    If you can see the military intervention in Ukraine in the context of this larger, longer struggle with the hegemonic international order led by the U.S. — and how can anyone not see it? — then I am not clear on how Russian military superiority locally in eastern Ukraine can be made a decisive factor. Russia, as far as I can see, cannot force Ukraine into unconditional surrender (and does not appear to want to), so what can they get from Ukraine? Not an end to western sanctions — that’s a battle that will have to be fought with other weapons and in other domains.

    Putin, as some will point out, is a “dictator”. He’s certainly in charge, officially, legally and in practice, of the Russian state. But, is Biden in control of the U.S. state? That seems implausible. And, the whole hegemonic international order is designed to not be agreement-capable — that’s what “rules-based” means.

    I do not see how Russia keeps this war contained in the space where it has local military superiority long enough to get a “win” that sticks.

    I read somewhere — I wish I could give credit — someone’s speculation that Putin’s long game is that he’s planning to depart to retirement in 2024 and wants to set up Russia’s domestic politics to be committed to a nationalism that will resist a color revolution or economic subversion in Russia or its dependents, especially in Belarus and Central Asia. Interesting, but again open-ended.

  20. Willy

    Sound like Feral is antiwar but only at the nuclear level.

    Inside Ukraine and Russia disagreement with the official government position can result in prison time or worse. I’m not aware of this being official policy inside any NATO nations. And so here you are.

    I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Feral implies that NATO propaganda is worse than Goebbels, yet the citizenry is allowed to publicly disagree without fear of anything like an SS showing up to disappear them.

    I can understand why this works in Ukraine. Their PTB has to separate the Ukrainian speakers from the Russian speakers to limit internal sabotage of their efforts, among other reasons. It’s a national interest thing.

    In Russia, assuming their cause is just, not so much. Maybe one can assume that the west is so good with their propaganda that Putin has no choice but to make public disagreement with war policies illegal.

    Could you describe how this psycho-socio-cultural control mechanism works in the so called “free nations”?

  21. different clue

    I thought of an upgrade to the acronyms . . . NATO FUKUS. The FUKUS part stands for France United Kingdom United States. FUKUS.

    So my acronyms upgrade adds the letters EU ( for European Union ) to the acronym FUKUS. Which gives us EUFUKUS. For European Union France United Kingdom United States.

    So the whole acronym becomes . . . NATO EUFUKUS. ( pronounced ” neigh toe you fuck us”. NATO EUFUKUS. Hopefully it becomes so much accepted that it becomes a word the way the acronym SCUBA ( Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) became scuba, which everyone knows. So maybe NATO EUFUKUS will become nato eufukus in the fullness of time, with everyone agreeing on what it means.

  22. Astrid

    Honest pacifists don’t argue that their enemies must unilaterally disarm. They either disarm themselves first or work towards mutual disarmament.

    On the other hand, arguing that your enemies must unilaterally disarm or else they’re belligerent/terrorist has been a staple for empires going back to the Greeks, at least.

  23. different clue

    I finally thought of a geographic name for the collection of countries which collectively comprise the Axis of NATO EUFUKUS. ( Nato Eufukus, if it really catches on) . . .

    And that is . . . Nato Eufukustan. The physico-political territory-on-the-map of all the countries whose governments collectively practice ” nato eufukus “.

    Nato Eufukustan. Ahhh yes. My work is done here.

  24. anon y'mouse

    Willy–i wil take a crack at your questions.

    the “acceptable discussion” fostered by our owned and controlled media is so narrow and so overwhelming that it doesn’t matter what a few small fry on the ground do or say, or whether they disagree nor whether they can prove they have legitimate grounds to disagree.

    isn’t this what Chomsky’s book was about? it’s better if people think that they come to their own conclusions when really, they have no ability to do so because every avenue of coming to a different conclusion has been cut off in a subtle way.

    me in my bedroom disagreeing with the NYT, CNN etc mean nothing. i’m just another loser on the internet. even places like here mean a drop in the ocean.

    and the constant channelling of mass opinion is enough to sweep the doubters along with them. that’s most of the role of “polls”, in my opinion—to make people think that “everyone, or the Respectable Majority, has drawn conclusion x” and make the individual side with the herd.

    to put clear and legal lines around what may and may not be discussed makes the epistemic chains clear. it’s kind of similar to the con that the PMC commentors pull out every now and again about this being the government we “voted for, thus deserve”. no, we voted for concocted media creations already vetted by oligarchs and were given almost no latitude. but casting a ballot is construed as consent, or at least, acquiescence to whatever those people do, which is what their owners have sent them to do.

    it’s also like trying to portray wage slavery as “free choice” of whom to work for and how much oppression to accept from an employer, when all of the local, regional or even national employers have decided that they will engage in similar oppressions, and still the landlords and utility bills need to be paid. this has conned enough people here for a long time that they are “free to go elsehwere” when there’s nowhere else to go.

    i could be misunderstanding you, though. sorry if that’s the case.

  25. Willy

    Thanks anon y’mouse. Feral got me thinking. It does seem that ‘soft’ propaganda appears to be far more powerful than the hard kind. I was hoping he’d elaborate further but he seems to have disappeared. I wanted him to explain his assumptions further without being led.

    Somebody older and wiser once told me that people prefer to believe that they’re coming to their own conclusions, instead of being told what to think or else.

    I’d think that in such a world the clever manipulator would leave behind emotional clues like trails of bread crumbs to their carefully chosen destinations, instead of trying to more forcefully herd the mob with slogans backed by force. This would make Goebbels a fool and neoliberals and corporate libertarians like the Kochs cunning.

    I never understood why the overwhelming majority of my gig-economy supervisors would treat the deviously antisocial cancers in their employ with greater respect than the salt of the earth company guys just doing their best. These cancers ignored all the company slogans about performance, teamwork and value and instead, would systematically ruin the slogan believers who stood in their way. Management typically tolerated this behavior (the “soft” propaganda of rumors and lies) instead of just firing their asses (backing up the company propaganda slogans with force). Made no sense to me, but apparently did make sense to them. Maybe that’s why they were management. Maybe there’s a pithy corollary about all that.

  26. anon y'mouse

    people also struggle to take in the idea that free will is quite possibly an illusion of the mind or ego as well.

    we all would like to think that no one has mind control over us, and shudder to realize that perhaps the best mind control of all is the illusion that there’s no mind control or brainwashing involved.

    your rule-following colleagues were probably seen to be “chumps”. you’re supposed to sell your lies to others in the business world, not believe in them yourself. or as most dope dealers in the streets know–once you start down the road of becoming a junky, your days are numbered as a successful street dealer. you’re not trustworthy when consuming your own product at that level to stay out of trouble with the law nor to pass the correct profits upward in the hierarchy.

    i take the business world to be not significantly different than the world of illegal drugs, except more bureaucracy and lawyers involved.

  27. different clue


    Your supervisors were probably low-middle ranked managers their own selves. They probably saw their high-enough superiors or ultimate owners as being the same kind of antisocial cancers which they saw “some of” their employees as being. They felt that antisocial cancerhood was the way their high superiors attained high superiority and respected the antisocial cancers in their employee as having what it takes to succeed in life. They saw the cancers as “winners” or potential winners. Or at least not suckers, like they saw the salt-of-the-earth work-doers as being.

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