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

Under What Circumstances Is Russia Likely to Invade the Ukraine?

Back in 2008, I wrote that Russia would not allow Sevastapol, and thus Crimea, to slip from its grasp. At the time, that view was the decided minority — Russia had “too much to lose,” and I just didn’t understand Russia/European integration.

I’m less certain about the current situation, but as I see it there are two factors. Russia’s been very clear.

  1. Russia will invade the Ukraine rather than let it join NATO. This is the red line. Moscow is a lot harder to defend if troops start from the Ukraine.
  2. While Russia won’t invade only because if the Nord Stream 2 pipeline gets stopped, if that pipeline is decisively stopped, Russia loses a lot of its incentive to keep negotiating with the US and EU.

It should be pointed out, again (because people seem to forget), that Russia is still the World’s Number Two Nuclear Power. A war with Russia has a chance to escalate to apocalypse. To his credit, Biden has said the US will not fight a war over the Ukraine, but there are a lot of forces in the US that disagree. Biden is right (as he was about leaving Afghanistan), and they are wrong.

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Russia is also powerful conventionally. Absent NATO intervention, the Ukraine is not going to win a war against Russia. It’s just that simple (and all this selling them military equipment will simply become a way to transfer that equipment to Russian hands if there’s an invasion), it’s not enough to tip the calculus of whether to go to war. No matter how much equipment gets sent, unless it’s nukes (which would trigger the aforementioned war, similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis almost did), Russia will still be able to crush the Ukrainian military.

Russia was promised, when the USSR broke up, that NATO would not expand past Germany. They feel betrayed; they feel this is a core interest, and they think that nations in their sphere of influence shouldn’t belong to an alliance whose purpose is to fight them (which is what NATO was created for).

I am, as I must tediously keep pointing out, not a fan of Putin, who has done great evil, and who has led Russia into a resource economy trap. But Russia is a great power, Ukraine was part of Russia for centuries, and it is in their sphere of influence. As for Putin, it must be understood that Russians are far better off under his leadership than they were before, and that US-led shock therapy causes catastrophic contraction (i.e., the population dropped because of all the deaths) when applied.

If the US and Europe had seriously wanted Russia as an ally, they wouldn’t have treated it not just as a conquered enemy, but as looting target and ideological straw man. If democracy and capitalism had been made to work for Russia as they were for Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Taiwan, then Russia today would be a sold Western ally, which is what Russians in the 90s mostly saw as the ideal outcome. They wanted to be Europeans.

Instead, Russia is a de-facto Chinese ally. From a geopolitical viewpoint, this is malpractice on a vast scale. China is the actual threat to American hegemony, not Russia, but Russia is important enough to matter — if allied with China. It removes an entire flank the Chinese would otherwise have had to guard against, and flips a powerful military ally to the other side.

Oh, and Taiwan? If there is a Russian war with the West, I’d expect the Chinese to  use that opportunity to force Taiwanese re-unification.

But, bottom line, I don’t think there will be a war unless the West gets very stupid. I could be wrong; there are people who think Putin believes the Ukraine must be re-integrated, whatever the cost, but I don’t see it. The damage to Russia would be too great from sanctions, loss of European markets, and having to fight a guerilla war.

Still, stupidity, on either side, can happen.



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  1. bruce wilder

    I have seen a lot of analyses that focus almost exclusively on “what is Putin up to?” when, objectively, he is reacting.

    This is a huge blind-spot for the West — we cannot see ourselves as motivated, purposeful actors taking unreasonable risks to satisfy overweening ambitions. Of course, “we” and “ourselves” is undefined in my statement. It may be that Everyman in the West is alienated from national purposes to an extent he/she cannot admit without admitting into consciousness the dangerous and hostile-to-all-life nature of “there are a lot of forces in the US [that oppose Biden’s reasonable, prudent stance]”. Those “forces” — that parasitic symbiosis of decay sometimes referred to as “the Deep State” — are routinely disappeared from Western narratives. It is hard for narrators taking a Western viewpoint to even remember that Ukraine has experienced two (!) Color revolutions and remains the poorest country in Europe. Ukrainian nationalism is both desperate to escape the deep poverty enveloping that country and severely hostile to Russia. The internal struggle over political power within Ukraine between groups favoring the EU/NATO and others with ties to and dependence on Russia has been a very rough game. American political consultants (ex Paul Manafort and Tony Podesta) have played a lucrative, corrupting game exacerbating the polarization of electoral politics, which for a time were evenly divided (but are not now). Biden’s own son collected a paycheck protecting an oligarch at the core of Ukraine’s exploitation of its role as the transit gatekeeper for Russian natural gas headed for central Europe. The deep, murky corruption of the West’s participation is rarely acknowledged — instead, there is pious talk of reforms insisted upon by the West!

    Ian is right that from the perspective of idealistic, innocent Everyman in the West, making Russia the enemy is supremely foolish overall. But, idealistic, innocent Everyman is not the rational actor taking initiative here. Nor is he/she narrating events as they happen.

  2. StewartM

    Russia was promised, when the USSR broke up, that NATO would not expand past Germany.

    If the US and Europe had seriously wanted Russia as an ally, they would have not treated it not just as a conquered enemy, but as looting target and ideological straw man. If democracy and capitalism had been made to work for Russia as they were for Japan, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan, then Russia today would be a sold Western ally, which is what Russians in the 90s mostly saw as the ideal outcome. They wanted to be Europeans.

    Because of instead of democracy, we insisted on full-bore capitalism–to a degree that none of our European allies would have accepted either:

    During its December session, the parliament clashed with Yeltsin on a number of issues, and the conflict came to a head on 9 December when the parliament refused to confirm Yegor Gaidar, the widely unpopular architect of Russia’s “shock therapy” market liberalisations, as prime minister. The parliament refused to nominate Gaidar, demanding modifications of the economic program and directed the Central Bank, which was under the parliament’s control, to continue issuing credits to enterprises to keep them from shutting down.

    Yeltsin also sparked popular unrest with his dissolution of a Congress and parliament increasingly opposed to his neoliberal economic reforms. Tens of thousands of Russians marched in the streets of Moscow seeking to bolster the parliamentary cause. The demonstrators were protesting against the deteriorating living conditions. Since 1989, the GDP had been declining, corruption was rampant, violent crime was skyrocketing, medical services were collapsing and life expectancy falling. Yeltsin was also increasingly getting the blame.[note 3] Outside Moscow, the Russian masses overall were confused and disorganized. Nonetheless, some of them also tried to voice their protest, and sporadic strikes took place across Russia.[citation needed] The protesters included supporters of various communist (Labour Russia) and nationalist organizations, including those belonging to the National Salvation Front.

    Yet when Yeltsin sent in the troops against Parliament and against the protesters, *Yeltsin* was praised in the West as the “democrat” when he was actually the autocrat doing the West’s bidding. Should this be any surprise, as this happens in the developing world all the time? Our lords and masters have always been happy to ditch popular government and personal freedom when it blocks their economic theories overseas, and now increasingly are eager to apply internally what they have done to other countries for decades.

    Ian, I’m interested in your critique of Gorbachev’s policies, as Naomi Klein wrote–presenting scant evidence–that he wanted to transition the former USSR to something more akin to the Nordic social democracies (which would be the very *worst* outcome to American and European conservatives; can’t have non-capitalist-y success stories!). I also agree the US pushing the USSR into break-up was a bad idea (Putin maybe an evil man, but I think he’s probably right on that). Funny how people who call themselves “conservatives” are actually radicals, because it seems to me the Burkean conservative solution would have been to remake the USSR into something more positive, rather than abolish it.

  3. rkka

    “and who has lead to Russia into a resource economy trap.”

    Ummm, no. Putin has divsrified the Russian economy quite a lot.

    When Putin became president, Russia imported roughly half its food.

    Now food self-sufficient, and food exports not only Russia’s 2nd biggest foreign exchange earner, but also climbing the value chain, starting with grains, & moving into soybeans, chicken, pork, & beef.

    The Russian budget balanced at $110/bbl in ’08.

    Now it just takes $44.

    Oil dependence dropping so fast, the Ruble value has decoupled from the oil price.

  4. Dan Lynch

    The fact that, despite a lot of cold war rhetoric, Biden initiated talks with Putin, suggests that war is off the table for now. That’s certainly good.

    But if war happens:
    — the next war will be decided by missiles. Forget WWII-style tanks, battleships, and aircraft carriers.
    — Russia’s missiles and missile defenses are superior to the U.S. missiles and defenses, so Russia would “win” such a war. The Pentagon knows it is out-missiled, hence the “all options are on the table” threats are merely bluster, which Russian culture views as a sign of weakness.
    — Russia’s main concern is defending Moscow from NATO missiles, and Putin has stated clearly that Russia would “respond” to a NATO build up in Ukraine.

    What would a Russian response look like? Well, Russia has many options. Invading and occupying Ukraine is one option, but it would be very expensive, similar to the U.S. attempting to occupy Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. Russia is not stupid.

    Another option would be launching missiles to destroy military assets in Ukraine, but not actually invading Ukraine. Nonetheless, that would risk escalation. Russia is not stupid.

    A more likely option is a tit-for-tat response. If NATO places missiles 5 minutes from Moscow, then Russia will place missiles 5 minutes from Washington & Brussels. That’s easy enough to do with submarines, it’s just a question of ordering Russian subs to patrol off the coast of Washington — and perhaps they already are? But expect Russia to drop a few hints, say having a Russian sub pop up unexpectedly 13 miles off the U.S. coast (in international waters) and launching a hypersonic missile at a dummy target. That would send a message, would it not? That’s what I would do if I were Putin.

    Since the next war will be decided by missiles, any “build up” of Russian troops and tanks along the Ukraine border is not particularly relevant. Since Russia has been invaded from Eastern Europe several times in the past, you cannot blame Russia for posting troops and tanks to defend from a conventional invasion. They would be foolish if they failed to do so. But again, the next war will be decided by missiles, so don’t focus on tanks and troops.

  5. Lex

    I don’t see Russia invading Ukraine unless ascension into NATO looks likely. At that point, Russia’s only two choices are to invade Ukraine of allow NATO to park itself 300 miles from Moscow. Ukraine can’t win against Russia. Even sending a fair number of US troops wouldn’t change anything simply because of geography.

    But it’s not clear that Russia would attempt to conquer and hold all of Ukraine. That would be problematic in a number of ways. I would expect Russia to stop in the eastern half to establish a buffer.

    The problem is that all the major players are making “grand chessboard” type decisions and the commentators (at least in the US) are framing it as freedom and sovereignty. As if the US makes decisions based on doing what’s right. So any attempt to discuss the situation in terms of reality is broken by claims to American ideals and intentions that aren’t operative.

  6. Astrid

    I’m curious about why Ian thinks Putin led Russia into a resource economy trap. I know they are still heavily dependent on income from exploitation of natural resources, but I thought they had substantially grown their industrial economy, in part due to the post-2014 sanctions.

    Before that, they were picking up the pieces from the Harvard Boys’ rampage, so that doesn’t leave much time or money to re-industrialize. Sometimes what outsiders see as wrong choices may just be hard choices forced by the conditions the ground. (Not always, obviously the West had plenty of latitude to make good choices in the last 76 years and choose not to.). So I’m not sure how things could have been done differently. Am I missing something here?

  7. NL

    a) We need a conflict abroad to ‘unify’ the population at home;
    b) We need to project strength to the adversaries in light of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and continuing inability to control the pandemic at home, lest our adversaries perceive us as weak and do something stupid;
    c) We need to project strength to our satrapies, lest the bigger ones may be tempted to break away and worse still make a run for the opposing camp;
    d) In the whole of our history, we have never had an equal ally (if that is even possible); we are the exceptional nation, and this idea about allying ourselves with Russia against China is frankly bunkum: we alone can defeat any regime or a group of regimes in the world;
    e) We will remain the sole superpower for the foreseeable future; we will realize that it is not the notional GDP or quality of life or industry that makes us the superpower – what makes us superpower is that special quality that we have and others do not, it is capitalism, private property, private money and democracy;
    f) The Chinese expansion will run out of steam, what they build up around the world, we will just take or break, eventually they will go home and barricade themselves behind the Great Wall of Artificial Islands and sit there for the next century or so – – which is fine;
    g) Russia will become our territory probably sooner than later, they can moan and groan all they want, we will give them ‘promises’ in whatever form they want and continue our Westward expansion — because we bring them progress and prosperity, and they have nothing, they chose capitalism, private property, private money and democracy in 1990s — ie, they repudiated their values and chose ours, and therefore they must submit to our world.

  8. Mark Pontin

    Ian: Putin ‘has (led) Russia into a resource economy trap.

    I dunno, Ian. In 2021, Russia is now the biggest global exporter of grain, and somewhere between the first and fourth largest exporter of agricultural products.

    This is due to western sanctions against Russia in 2015, following the annexation of Crimea, which then led to Russia banning agricultural imports from the EU, its largest food supplier (then accounting for more than half of all food imports into Russia). That kick-started an import substitution drive as the country scrambled to develop domestic alternatives to European dairy products, fruits, vegetables and meat.

    The result, basically, was that Russia has had its own little green revolution.
    “Russia’s wheat exports picked up by 67% in week ending June 24, corn export also increased, while barley stayed zero.”

    As regards where Russia sells the resulting agricultural produce, it can turn around — not instantly but quickly enough — and sell it _all_ to China instead of the EU, just as it can do with its natural gas.

    Basically, the transcendental incompetence of Western international policy elites has in the last five years instigated a situation where 53 percent of the world’s human population in states like China, Russia, Iran, and others that all border each other in Eurasia — Halford Mackinder’s World-Island — are in de facto cooperative alliance against the US and the EU, and have control of Eurasia’s resources such that they can trade with each other and tell “the West” to take a running jump by sanctioning it.

  9. Mary Bennett

    I happen to be one of those above mentioned ordinary American everypersons. I can tell you that we are neither innocent nor idealistic. That flotilla has long since disappeared below the horizon. I suggest that the question Ian Welsh might want to be asking is: If NATO, meaning us, goes to war over Ukraine, will that provoke an armed rebellion in the USA?

    Has anyone any ideas at all for getting the neo-con and other warmongering factions out of our government and off the public payroll? Voting hasn’t helped. We are now seeing widespread non-participation, not only in govt., but in commercial life as well. Does anyone think that will or can have any effect on national policy?

  10. Soredemos

    Russia has zero intention of invading. Their troops ‘massing at the border’ are actually at training grounds 100 and 150 miles from the border. They annexed Crimea because they needed the ports, but the rest of Ukraine is more trouble than it’s worth. They don’t even want the ethnic Russian Donbass region, the Minsk agreement they helped negotiate (that Kiev has never honored) was to make it an independent region within a federated Ukraine.

    What’s going on now is most likely a Western attempt at repeating Georgia in 2008: start something and then blame Russia for aggression when they respond. The Ukrainian military will assault the separatist regions, then get cut to pieces, just like last time. The hope is that they’ll prove dangerous enough that Russia will have to openly intervene to stop them, which will then be proclaimed by the West as a Russian invasion.

    I’m not sure it would even get to that; the Ukrainian military is a trainwreck. The nazi militias are likely the only ones with any real morale.

  11. Feral Finster

    Russia and China are not natural allies; quite the opposite. Instead, they have been forced together by American aggression.

    Russia and Germany, by contrast, are natural allies, in that Russia has things that Germany wants and Germany has things that Russia wants and both can obtain via cooperation.

    Germany has technical and management know-how, consumer goods and machine tools for sale. and investment capital seeking a home. Germany needs raw materials, markets and a place to park investments that pays better returns than can be earned in Germany.

    Russia has raw materials for German industry, markets for German products, and skilled labor that can work in German-owned factories to earn profits to pay pensions and benefits for German retirees but without actually moving to Germany. Russia needs to diversify its customers for raw materials, as well as investment capital for development, technology and know-how transfer to modernize, and employment opportunities to Russian workers.

    These needs and offers interlace quite nicely.

  12. rkka


    “…because we bring them progress and prosperity, and they have nothing, they chose capitalism, private property, private money and democracy in 1990s — ie, they repudiated their values and chose ours, and therefore they must submit to our world.”

    Ukraine, under US/EU tutelage, now has deaths exceeding births by over 2-1.

    Nothing says “progress & prosperity” like deaths exceeding births by 2-1.

    Or torchlight parades in honor of a dude who came to Ukraine in the train of the Wehrmacht in 1941 & deluded himself that he was in charge of something.

  13. NL


    The truth is that the Russian communists leaders themselves (Gorbachev and Yeltsin) decided to abandon their communist values and principles and adopt capitalism, private property, private money and representative democracy. We entertain ourselves with the belief that we won the Cold War or that communism is inviable as an economic system. And sure, USSR economy had not been particularly efficient and so forth, but people in the know know that that was not the decisive issue – had the Russian leadership wanted to continue with the communist way of life, they could patch holes up and keep on going for some time (just look at North Korea or China for that matter). The decisive issue was that a key faction in the Russian communist leadership had come to perceive communism as undesirable. The economy was purposefully gutted in something called perestroyka (meaning rebuilding?) — the population was starved; the confidence, pride and ethics in the population that the older communist propaganda had carefully instilled was smashed with no less carefully and – I may add – brutal anti-communist propaganda campaign called glastnost’ (meaning openness???) — the people were expected to self-immolate themselves for living in a communist state and eagerly accept the new order. The purpose of all of this was to manufacture consent of the people to abandon communism and adopt capitalism. And it worked — in 1993 the population supported the budding capitalist Yeltsin over the pro-communist parliament, and Yeltsin ordered the army to shoot at his own people, which the army obliged.

    Why should we feel bad about any of this? We have done bad things to many nations, but Russia is not one of these nations — they did it to themselves. They invited the Harvard’s boys and implemented their economic recipes. I don’t think that Harvard’s boys advice was that particularly bad. The negative momentum from the intentional gutting of the economy in the late 1980s and then all the infighting in the early 1990s kept pushing the economy to disintegration in the later 1990s. And that was a big reason the economy was doing so bad. And second, how do you really know what the Russian ruling boys asked the Harvard’s boys to accomplish — something tells me it was not prosperity for everyone. The Russians complain that we broke our promises not to expand Westward but – you know – anyone who has read a bit of our history knows that our promises are guided by real politics — it is not our fault that the Russians demanded from us and badly wanted to believe our vague verbal promises and then failed to hold us to our promises.

    And here’s the thing — the current regime is a direct descendent of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin’s regimes — Gorbachev still walks the streets of Moscow unmolested and Yeltsin’s descendants are enjoying the looted wealth. After the switch to capitalism came to pass (a true revolution by the way), the newly-formed regime changed the visible leader to someone named Putin, there was an infighting among the new leadership, which came to be known as the oligarchs, with some oligarchs being driven out and dispossessed, and the economic slide was halted but not necessarily completely reversed. The regime is an opaque oligarch-state partnership where major companies are co-owned by the state and handful of individuals. They want us to love and respect them but can’t produce anything competitive in the international markers, can’t compete in the marketplace of ideas and can’t even properly govern their democracy. They should have known that capitalism is all about competition, change and innovation.

    As to Ukraine, people in that cesspool had been dying at prodigious rates way before the ‘color revolution’. In fact, death started exceeding birth in early 1990s in most of the former Soviet republics and is a direct result of the communist leadership’s decision to gut the economy and is absolutely not our fault. In Ukraine, death exceeded birth by 2:1 already in the late 1990s. The worst years were probably 1999-2002 – it is somewhat better now — just look up Wiki — because the Western markets opened up a bit to Ukrainian wares and services. They are doing it to themselves. Ukraine seems unable to govern itself. They can’t put together a viable economy or find a leadership that would care at least a little bit about the business of the state, instead of just looting everyone and everything. That’s why Crimea bolted for Russia. Without our intervention, it would be the same thing and probably worse. They want us to rule their country, because they don’t trust any of their own. Now they can sell whatever they have abroad, or at least some of them can migrate to EU and live under some decent government. Eventually US and EU corporations may find some profitable ventures in the country and may be some proper governance and business ethics may rub off on them.

    As to the torchlights, as any people lacking in confidence, they want to emulate a nation that they take to be stronger, which is Germany in the case of Ukraine. Co-incidentally, Germans themselves resurrected torch parades at night — just look at the Merkel farewell torch parade at night:

  14. Astrid

    I suspect that the whole Russia and China are natural enemies narrative is more Western wishful thinking. Looking at their histories, they’re not particularly belligerent towards each other (just skirmishes in late 17th century and some opportunistic imperialism to carve up the decaying Qing Empire). Germany and France have invade the Russia heartland in the last 250 years, despite not sharing a border with it.

    Their tension during the USSR days seems to be more about China’s resentment of Soviet “tutelage” and recovery of some Qing lands, but I don’t believe any of it flared into open warfare.

    The Western narrative about Russian and Chinese irredentism is not reflected on the ground. They want to hold onto certain strategic areas (warm water ports for Russia, headwater areas and sea routes for China) and definitely want to fend off efforts to undermine their sovereignty and regional power/security, but neither are looking to expand substantially. Their shared border are not strategically valuable, are far from their heartland, and would be nearly impossible to guard. Both have large but shrinking populations and quite enough land/people to handle, why would they go to war with each other when it’s far cheaper to be good neighbors and trade?

  15. rkka

    I agree that the collapse of the USSR was an inside job, and the oligarchs in Russia arose under Yeltsin to ensure that the country was completely bankrupt in case the Commies won in ‘96.

    But Boris Nikolaievich exerted sufficient administrative resource to pull it out. Nevertheless, he bequeathed a country that was helpless & bankrupt to his successor.

    Russia is now neither.

    Re Ukraine, “ Eventually US and EU corporations may find some profitable ventures in the country and may be some proper governance and business ethics may rub off on them.”

    Unlikely. Ukraine’s oligarchs still own the Ukrainian state, like Russia’s oligarchs did under Yeltsin. Me Zelensky hasn’t the backbone to destroy their political power & make a better future possible for the 75% of Ukrainians who voted for him.

    Merkel =/ Bandera

  16. Astrid

    “ Eventually US and EU corporations may find some profitable ventures in the country and may be some proper governance and business ethics may rub off on them.”

    Is there a “/s” there that was missed? Considering what we know about Western corporations and Western corporate governance. Proper governance and business ethics?

    NATO might not directly invaded Russia, but it has tried NED regime change and AstroTurf color revolution efforts aplenty (and 1993 was a successful one), not to mention sanctions and encouraging terrorism on its flanks. That Russia pulled out of the downward spiral that pretty much all the other former SRs are still in is a minor miracle.

    Gorbie thought he was picking between obviously failing Communism and Nordic style social democracy. Maybe he was a trusting fool considering the West’s track record in LatAm, Africa, NEA, and Greece/Italy, but he got deposed before he had a chance to change his mind. DPRK is not what anyone wants to model their countries on. China in 1990 was considerable poorer than Russians and just went through a potential color revolution scare (and was only 15 years removed from the traumas of the Cultural Revolution-where pretty much the entire 1990 Chinese leadership got locked up and”struggled against” for years), hardly something to model on. You can’t point to their success 30 years later (after going through plenty of corruption and environmental degradation) and say it’s obvious that the USSR should have done that.

  17. NL

    “You can’t point to their success 30 years later… and say it’s obvious that the USSR should have done that.”

    If it were my country, I would not be able to absolve Gorbie and Co of responsibility for the calamity and tens of thousands of dead own people and say — hey you know, they had good intentions, who would’ve known what they did would turn-out this way — they just wanted a Scandinavian style democracy. In America, Gorbie would’ve been run out of town way before he could inflict a significant amount of damage. That’s the strength of our system. Notwithstanding what I write about our political economy elsewhere, it is still more caring and responsive to the needs of people than the communists have ever been. Lenin & Co goaded the people into communism with huge casualties, Gorbie & Co ushered them out of communisms and back into capitalism with the same cynicism. No wonder the Russian population is depressed, demoralized and nihilistic. Their regime lacks morality, legitimacy and vision. Their achievements are paltry; they still fully live in the fumes of the communist era, unable to move on culturally, economically and technologically. They can’t produce strong leaders. When we talk about Putin being a great leader, we are really just buttering up an effective leader that is to our liking. Out of pure sport interest, it would be interesting to see Lukashenko & Co run Russia. Lukashenko may not be very competent, but at least he has energy and will-to-power.

    If we wanted to get rid of Ukrainian oligarchs, we could easily do that — seize their money, which they all keep either here in the US or UK or some offshore territory that we control. I hope you do not really believe that offshore accounts are actually hidden from our monetary authorities. The problem is lack of investment opportunities and an unskilled labor force with poor work ethics.

  18. NL

    ..buttering up an ineffective leader that is to our liking… typo…

  19. Astrid


    I don’t believe a West that hates their own governments and characterize large chunks of their own citizenry and often family members as irredeemable, is anymore able to resist bad governance. What was exported abroad had now fully come home to roost. Even with a 50 year track record that’s as clear as day, USians are still stupid and gullible enough to believe that one head of the plutocrat funded uniparty should be supported while the other head and it’s supporters are demons. This is replicated throughout most of Western Europe and the Anglosphere. The Western Left being systematically undermined and murdered, our elites are shocked, shocked I tell you, that xenophobic right wing parties are capturing the attention of a growing party of their restive populace.

    How much harder would it be for a USSR citizen in 1987, sick of queuing, sick of the bloody war in Afghanistan, sick of seeing petty corruption and people living better than you by breaking the rules, and listening to VoA and thinking maybe capitalism would be blue jeans and cars and nicer apartments and a chance to get really rich. Why would they be better able to comprehend the lies and malicious intentions of the Western elite?

    Things are more clear in hindsight, but in the 90s and early 00s, China looked like it was going for a pretty rotten version of capitalism where tens of millions were made redundant and forced into tiny pensions and told to make do, often in dying industrial cities with few other work opportunities. Meanwhile hundreds of millions were uprooted to work in coastal cities (largely their choice, but the social and cultural implications of this mass movement is still felt in their children and home villages today). The logistics of making sure this mass migration would be controlled was the horribly unfair hukou system, where being born to a Beijing or Shanghai parent automatically set you up for far superior social benefits and opportunities than someone from Anhui or Guizhou can dream about. The stories about corruption and amorality were everywhere, and there was a universal feeling that if you helped people outside your family/friend circle, or if you didn’t take when you had a chance, you were being a dupe. In the DPRK and Cuba, the impact of the break up of the USSR was more disastrous than in the former SRs, perhaps millions of Koreans starved to death.

    If a country is economically struggling and the people are restive, even a good leader would be challenged to find a good path through. They can’t know the outcome ahead of time. The policies of Yeltsin were indeed transparently awful and he should be damned for it. But I don’t think Gorbachev could have predicted that outcome when he advocated for Perestroika. Nor do we in the West see the strings pulled to subvert anything that goes against the West, from the terrible IMF policies against countries in need and oppressive IP regime, to active support of terrorists and “freedom fighters” and active war against perceived weak targets.

    I don’t think Putin was/is weak given the hands that he was dealt. Even after 20 years for Russia and 40 years for China of economic growth and social stabilization, they’re only at a point where they can oppose the West very carefully and strategically. They are always careful to emphasize their objectives as lawful and limited, seeking to maintain a status quo. This is because they know that while the West is no longer able to build things, it can still blow them up and leave smoldering ruins everywhere they go.

  20. different clue

    I have a hypothesis, just to see if events match it or not.

    I think the BidenGov knows very well that the RussiaGov has no desire to invade Ukraine to conquer any parts of it. I think the BidenGov is strutting and posturing its Toughness Superiority Stuff for visible effect. The intended audience is the American public.

    When Russia ends up not invading Ukraine, the BidenGroup will claim this shows how ToughGuy Biden deterred the Evil Putin from invading the way he was planning to do. Biden will then campaing in 2024 on ” he saved Ukraine from Putin.”

    It could work, if the evil Neo-Wilsonian Liberal Interventionists don’t succeed in their conspiracy to get an actual overt war started between America and Russia.

    Just a hypothesis. We will see.

  21. StewartM

    Hmm, my earlier post pointing out Gorbachev’s goals as being those of a social democrat who believed in ‘socialism’ and in the continuation of the USSR never made it. I feel that Gorbachev can be faulted for tactics and judgement, but not for what he intended to accomplish. He never was for neoliberal shock doctrine and in fact was against Yeltsin for his neoliberal policies later (he compared them-rightly–akin to Stalin’s collectivization efforts, which they were, as acts of enclosure).

    Anyways, here’s an interesting article from an independent Russian news source:

    Notable excerpts:

    Gorbachev absolutely did not want to rebuild the socialist foundations of the state and society. He honestly believed that socialism still harbored enormous inner reserves and that it was worth tapping these resources, like when they’d discovered the Samotlor oil in the 1960s (which sent the country into stagnant suspended animation), and that everything would roar immediately to life. Among his speechwriters and companions in the Politburo, Gorbachev often shared his thoughts about Lenin’s writings as he revisited the texts. Gorbachev believed sincerely in socialism. “More democracy, more socialism” — that was his slogan.

    Ideologically, he intended to loosen the dogmatic reins and rediscover “the good Lenin” as opposed to “the bad Stalin.” In foreign policy, he wanted to end the confrontation with the West, especially when it came to nuclear weapons. With the economy, he wanted to accelerate growth.

    If Gorbachev wanted anything, it was to preserve socialism and the Soviet Union. After 1990, he was in fact the president of the USSR and he wanted to remain in this role. He resisted the separatism of the Soviet republics and he waged a war against Boris Yeltsin, who was interested in Russia’s soverignization. Gorbachev launched the Novo-Ogaryovo Process, trying to save the Union even without the departing Baltic states. August 20, 1991, was supposed to mark the culmination of these efforts: the signing of a new Union Treaty….

    The article goes on to assess the Soviet Union’s weaknesses and problems and why they could not follow the later Chinese model. Ian, I’m interested in reading your analysis on this.

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