61 thoughts on “Ukraine open thread

  1. Should Russia’s enemies, meaning us, try to overthrow him? Not obvious and needs thought.

    For now, I assume assassination is off the table, as it has been for most of history between states (domestic enemies and rebels are a different story). This may change if it looks as if Putin is off his rocker, as his nuclear threat may suggest. So we are looking at other methods of régime change.

    In 1918-19, the Allies considered the new Bolshevik government in Russia as illegitimate and tried to overthrow it, using various sleazy and brutal White Russian forces as proxies. It tells you something that the most effective of these was composed of former Czech and Slovak POWs captured by Tsarist armies, in control of most of Siberia. The Bolshevik armies, led by Trotsky, defeated the Whites. The allied powers called off their interventions, and recognized the unwelcome new régime – fully aware that its aim was to overthrow them. By the time Kennan wrote his famous “long telegram” in 1946, it did not need his acute insight to see that Stalin’s régime was far too strong to be attacked or subverted. The only alternative was the Fabian strategy of containment, hoping that time would allow the USSR’s internal contradictions to bring it to failure. And so it proved.

    The same analysis does not apply to Putin’s Russia. Putinism is a type of Bonapartism, the personal rule of Napoleon III in France. Instead of central economic planning, you have kleptocratic capitalism, with just enough growth trickling down to ordinary people to head off major unrest. Instead of a massive industrial base capable of landing robots on the Moon, the economy is now that of a petrostate with lightweight, technologically backward and uncompetitive industry. Instead of a comprehensive police state, imposing a coherent state ideology from kindergarten, you have a simplistic nationalist narrative of frustrated greatness and grievance spread by a controlled media, combined with targeted repression of dissidents like Navalny. The scheme requires or allows stage-managed elections to create the impression of popular legitimacy. Foreign adventures are likely. It’s panem et circenses; a vaudeville system of illusion, vulnerable to visible failure as in the disastrous war Napoleon picked with Prussia in 1870.

    Putinism is thus vastly more fragile than Stalinism. The offshore wealth of kleptocratic cronies can be frozen or seized. Oil and gas exports can be replaced by renewables, mineral mines dug elsewhere. Potemkin elections can be hacked, the websites of state media subverted. It seems plausible that Putin’s Ukraine adventure, which is bound to end badly for him, is partly motivated by the economic strains of covid, sanctions and a low oil price leading to a slippage in his popularity.

    There is of course an international norm of not trying to overthrow foreign governments you disapprove of, unless they threaten or attack other countries. Which Putin’s Russia has just done. Is this enough?

    That clever tool of Catholic casuistry, the principle of double effect, comes to our aid here. Undeniably, the civilised world cannot accept the Russian conquest, and must set as a firm and non-negotiable goal the restoration of Ukrainian independence. This implies the fall of Putinism. The Baltic states seized by Stalin had to wait 50 years. I give Putin five.

  2. Ikon, don’t you want to “highlight the difference between fascist and democratic attitudes about the rule of law”?

    Even “Churchill was eventually persuaded by the intellectual and political advantages of submitting the war crimes question to the rule of law. It would not only provide a public airing of Nazi atrocities, but also highlight the difference between fascist and democratic attitudes about the rule of law.”

    Time to update your priors Ikonoclast. But I keep forgetting “noun – One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas”. 

    “5. See William, A. Schabas, The Abolition of The Death Penalty In International Law 2 (3d ed.2002)Google Scholar (“Fifty-five years after the Nuremberg trials, the international community has now ruled out the possibility of capital punishment in prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”).

    “6. Those who did object did so on humanitarian and moral grounds, not on the basis of international law. When Uruguay initially objected to the death penalty’s use at Nuremberg, it was accused of harboring Nazi sympathies. Schabas, supra note 5, at 1 (citing UN Doc. A/C.3/SR.811, para. 28 (1957) (statement of representative of Uruguay)). The philosopher Martin Buber objected to the execution of Adolf Eichmann by the Israelis on religious and political grounds. Arendt,Hannah, Eichmann in Jerusalem251 (1963).Google Scholar 

    “7. Maguire, Peter, Law and War: an American Story 90 (2001).Google Scholar Of course, Churchill was eventually persuaded by the intellectual and political advantages of submitting the war crimes question to the rule of law. It would not only provide a public airing of Nazi atrocities, but also highlight the difference between fascist and democratic attitudes about the rule of law.Id. at 91.”


    China – top death penalty.


    countries had completely abolished the death penalty by the end of 2020

    people were executed in 2020 (excluding China) – down 26% from 2019

    of people were likely executed in China, but the numbers remain classified”

  3. Ernestine Gross,

    I hope I am wrong but the West looks weak at the moment and even weaker going forward. Only a full global coalition of democracies has any chance of surviving the Russian / Chinese Totalitarian challenge.

  4. Racist genocidal elitist imperialist warpig criminal Churchill? A great example of the absence of difference between those who can rule the law and those who can afford the rule of law.

  5. Baerbock (German foreign minister) gave an interview Yesterday in which she opposed strickter sanctions against Russia on the grounds that those would also hurt Germany – the electrical grid might get unstable without Russian Coal and Gas supplies (a claim which seems to be rather contested). If you think the sanction mentioned was to ban imports of those, you would be wrong, she was talking about swift exclusion. Ugh. Rewable stocks were almost all up 10% or more two days ago.

  6. Putin is not using anything like the full force of the Russian military against Ukraine. He is holding back: holding back far heavier weaponry and many heavier divisions. Operations to date equate only to targeted strikes and reconnaissance in force.This is a rational calculation. It is possible to be rational and logical in applying a morally bad policy. The rationality and logic are relative to the methods and goals.

    Putin does not want to destroy the prize he wishes to take. Therein lies his problem. He fights with one hand tied behind his back so as to not destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and production potential more than necessary for his purposes of takeover. Ukrainian resistance being stronger than he calculated, Putin now has to decide how much to ratchet up his deadly and destructive force. The more he does so, the more he destroys his prize and alienates much of the world.

    There is some evidence that morale is not high among Russian ground troops. There is also some evidence that their logistics are poor. Such evidence is anecdotal at this stage, admittedly. Why such problems would affect long prepared spearhead troops when the opposition has nor real capacity to disrupt logistics is interesting to contemplate. Which units were selected for this job? I speculate here, but are the “death’s head” type shock troops and heavier ground weapons behind the reconnaissance spearheads? Will they be used next?

    While Putin’s goals and methods have a kind of rationality, his motives are irrational. His political motives are purely revanchist. His psychology is driven by narcissism and megalomania. Like Trump he is an entitled, old, fat, white man-baby who hasn’t been told “no” often enough. Once thwarted, even if only temporarily, will his next moves be irrational and antithetical to his goals: tantrums in a word? After the temporary halt of spearhead forces, the conflict enters a more dangerous phase. How much is Putin willing to raise the stakes? He has the strike-power and the sheer masses to do it. But he may well shatter his prize.

    Will things start to unravel around Putin? How much domestic people support does he really have? How effective will his oppressive regime be in stifling dissent? Long term, only degradation and damage to Russia’s moral, political, economic and military force can occur from this expeditionary misadventure. The age of expeditionary and imperial war is over. The world is full. The world’s resource prizes are already all claimed. There are no “backward” native peoples left in possession of significant tracts from whom land and resources can be stolen with impunity. Leaving aside morality, the cost-benefit equation of expeditionary imperial war has changed profoundly in the transitioning to a full and over-full world. The gains of attempted conquest or regime change by brute force are temporary, the losses much higher and longer lasting. Just ask the USA after its multi-trillion dollar, multi-casualty Middle East failures.

  7. Svante, no argument re Churchill as “Racist genocidal elitist imperialist warpig criminal”. Plenty of them as you’ve pointed out re “war is NOT rare”.

    Not the point. Even Churchill, for reasons you may or may not agree with, realized the death penalty served little purpose, and not putting them to death might inflict some sunlight.

    Human nature casts a long shadow over sunlight though. As we are seeing in Ukraine.

    I also remember you Svante, in one of your more philosophical ‘we are all one’ comments invoked “now”.

    Deciding to kill warmongers and genocidal maniacs AFTER a war, IF we have them contained, only makes for mobs AND … polarized crowds,
    ● one side baying for blood, and
    ● the other side baying for blood.

    I will not take part in THE AFTER the fact retrobutive MOB.

    Making for matyrs for wars forever. Like bad debts ‘we’ rail against.

    Why has no one else commented about killing Putin? Afraid? Harboring black thoughts? Amygdala only engaged. Fight flight and or freeze responses activated. Cheering on whilst cowering?

    If, as I expect this triggers some of you, Lifeline’s number is 13 11 14.

  8. The place for war criminals is not Hell, but an Oubliette. Instead of a death penalty, let them live out the rest of their days in darkness and without human comfort.

  9. It’s worth noting that an ex-comedian who once acted a role as a president of Ukraine, has, in this moment, been fighting for his country, but where is Putin? Is he out there, fighting? Or having a lavish dinner, spa, and a little nap?

  10. KT2, “and not putting them to death might inflict some sunlight.”

    But they were mostly put to death. That was always going to happen. They murdered almost unbelievable numbers of other POWs without show trials. Sunlight? Even the camera lies. Churchill from the shadows with, still, “look away, look over there”. It’s an industry.

    Your point in fact was “the difference between fascist and democratic attitudes about the rule of law”

    To which I said and say (slightly corrected):

    “A great example of the absence of difference between those who can rule the by law and those who can afford the rule of law.”

  11. Ikonoklast. Evidence please that Putin is fat. He likes to parade his he-man physique. This is unusual among autocrats and populists, see Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, the Kims, Mao in spite of the swim. Teddy Roosevelt and Schwarzenegger were rare showoffs on the democratic side.

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