Status quo ante bellum: what does it mean for the war in Ukraine

Back in 2011, I wrote a post arguing that

self-defense (including collective self-defense) is justified only to the extent of restoring the status quo ante bellum. That is, having defeated an aggressor, a country is not justified in seizing territory, unilaterally exacting reparations or imposing a new government on its opponent. Conversely, and regardless of the alleged starting point, countries not directly involved should never recognise a forcibly imposed transfer of territory or similar attempt to achieve advantages through war.

What does this claim mean in the context of the war in Ukraine? In my view, it means that the Ukrainian government and its international supporters should seek a ceasefire in which Russia withdraws its forces to their positions of 23 February, without conceding any Russian claims regarding annexations or (if they still operate after the sham referendums) the Luhansk and Donetsk separatist republics.

It is already evident that the Russian army can’t hope to secure a better outcome than this. Judging by hostile leaks and popular opposition, lots of Russians, including in the military have recognised this, even if Putin hasn’t. But, on current indications, it will take a long time before the Ukrainians can recover all the territory currently occupied since the invasion. An early Russian withdrawal would liberate tens of thousands of people from a brutal occupation, as well as preventing vast loss of life on both sides (bearing in mind that the Russian army will increasingly be made up of conscripts, including Ukrainians). And more of the aid flowing to Ukraine could be used for rebuilding, rather than expended in fighting.

A ceasefire wouldn’t imply that Zelensky was going back on the pledge to recover all the territory of Ukraine, including Crimea. The Ukrainian position would be the same as it was before the invasion. But it was clear then that the areas under occupation couldn’t be recovered by force and that is probably still true, particularly as regards Crimea.

An obvious question is whether a ceasefire would give the Russians the chance to rebuild for another attack. In my view, the opposite is more likely. By next year, Russian energy exports to the EU will have ceased, and Russia’s technical capacity will have degraded further through the effects of sanctions and the flight of skilled workers. Meanwhile, Ukraine will have the chance to train its enlarged army, and reorient its economy towards the EU.

Of course, wars change things and an exact return to the status quo ante bellum is impossible. The dead are still dead, the crimes committed during the war will not be absolved, the aggressor can rarely be made to pay full reparation, and so on. Both sides will be worse off than if the war never happened.

I’d be interested in thoughts. However, anyone thinking putting forward a pro-Putin, or anti-anti-Putin position should stay quiet. No comment of this kind will be published, and the commenter will be permanently banned. If you’re in doubt, that probably means you shouldn’t comment.

37 thoughts on “Status quo ante bellum: what does it mean for the war in Ukraine

  1. I’m rather tired of reading earnest arguments that ‘the West’ doesn’t understand Russian aims, or fails to appreciate the sincerity of Putin’s concerns. It’s all too reminiscent of the crap peddled in 2002 to explain why we shouldn’t judge America (and Britain and Australia) too harshly for deciding to commit the crime against humanity of waging aggressive war. After all, 9/11 really made Americans fighting mad!

    The facts are clear. In 1994, Russia agreed in writing to respect Ukraine’s borders and “that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.” Russia has broken that commitment along with another one to respect Ukraine’s borders. The egregious error NATO made was to virtually condone Russia’s aggression in 2014. One of the few things Trump was right about was the idiocy of going ahead with the second Nord Stream pipeline. It sent a clear signal message to Putin that nobody was going to take serious steps to help Ukraine if it meant Europe had to endure some pain of its own.

    It’s impossible right now to see any good way in which the war ends. Neither side is going to suffer a sudden military collapse. The Zelenskyy government appears to enjoy the support of its people. Putin not so much, but even if he were to be removed Kruschev style, he’s not going to be replaced by a bunch of Ukraine-friendly leaders willing to withdraw to pre-Crimean invasion borders. As I’ve observed from the beginning, there’s no reason to expect Putin to be looking for an “off ramp” in the way so many pundits have suggested. The odds are that the resources he can command will ultimately prevail over his smaller neighbour, and that new governments in the NATO nations (especially Washington) will eventually get tired of sending billions of dollars of armaments every month for little reward. Certainly a Trump Republican administration would stop it. Consequently the most likely scenario is a continuing war of attrition, like Russia’s years-long Chechen campaign on a broader scale, with no end in sight until the current balance of forces changes.

  2. I can’t see Putin accepting the borders as at 23 February when he has clearly stated, over many years, that the status quo would be a return to boundaries of the USSR. This may not be the position of the Russian people but they haven’t been consulted – the power lies within the Kremlin.

    The Baltic states are emphatic on their rejection of a Russian occupation.

    Comparisons to Hitler now seem more valid, agreements are broken or invalidated as the occasion arises – Minsk being one of many.

    I don’t know the answer to the Putin/Russia situation however his recent mobilisation seems to have incurred some blowback from the locals. The logic of this operation defies analysis, they will lose militarily untrained manpower at an alarming rate and the existing logistical support put under further strain.

    Unlike other wars, this one has the nuclear dimension to consider. Whether Russian generals want to be liquidated may force their hand

  3. I understand that status quo ante bellum is not just a moral principle but is seen by you as a “salient point” (or “focal point”) that both parties might agree to in a negotiation. Is that true for Russia? That no net gains would then have been made by a humiliated superpower? Putin has expended many lives and much financial cost and has recently doubled down though a partial mobilisation of troops along with threats of nuclear attacks. Putin is acting as if he can make Russian progress in this war. That he might walk away with no net gains and face the prospect of his regime being overthrown seems unrealistic. I hope I am wrong but I tend to agree with the discussants above.

  4. On Monday 26 Sep 2022 it is reported that;
    “Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has vowed to liberate the entire country as Russia pressed on with its supposed referendum in occupied areas of Ukraine and so-called election workers accompanied by masked gunmen knocked on doors to get people to vote.

    “Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s armed forces would throw the Russian forces out and retaliate against “every strike of the aggressor”. He pledged that Ukraine’s armed forces would regain control of the southern Kherson region and the eastern Donbas, which includes Luhansk province and Crimea.

    “Zelenskiy vows to liberate all of Ukraine as Russian ‘vote’ continues

    Luke Harding in Kharkiv
    Mon 26 Sep 2022 02.36 AEST

    Brinkmanship has peaked. What can they now raise?
    Russia – Nuclear – tick-as rog points out “Unlike other wars, this one has the nuclear dimension to consider”
    [how does one consider a nuclear strike?]
    Ukraine – [ Zelenskiy] full restoration of status quo ante bellum – tick.

    Zelenskiy is now, as Schelling says – “the latter type”. “Crudely speaking, the latter treat conflict as a type of contest, in which the participants are trying to win”.

    Thomas Shelling names it, with the title of chapter 1, section 1 in “The Strategy of Conflict”;
    “The Retarded Science of International Strategy.”

    How apt.

    Is game theory any use?

    Zelenskiy / Ukraine has full brinkmanship on display. He has ‘doubled down’ against your opinion and sensible reading of the situation JQ – “But it was clear then that the areas under occupation couldn’t be recovered by force and that is probably still true, particularly as regards Crimea.”

    Which imo, takes us back to, as kenalovell points out “The facts are clear. In 1994, Russia agreed in writing to respect Ukraine’s borders” … “Consequently the most likely scenario is a continuing war of attrition”.

    How unsurprising and depressing.

    How long before Russia can fully replace economic infrastructure and tries – eg SWIFT, and markets?


    If asked JQ, would you be involved in negotiating?

  5. You write that” By next year, Russian energy exports to the EU will have ceased, and Russia’s technical capacity will have degraded further through the effects of sanctions and the flight of skilled workers.”

    Why do you assume that sanctions will continue in the event of a cease-fire? Isn’t it more likely that
    if the world sees the end of active hostilities the consensus on sanctions will collapse? As for energy exports, isn’t it likely that some European countries will resume imports of Russian oil and gas and that Russia will build the facilities needed to export to non-European importers?

    Russia waited eight years after invading and annexing Crimea to launch a major effort to re-incorporate the rest of Ukraine into its empire. It seems to me that your proposal assumes that it’s better for Ukraine and the world to have another several years of an uncertain peace than to fight this war to a conclusion now. You might be right, but it’s certainly not obvious that you are.

  6. JQ: “an exact return to the status quo ante bellum is impossible”. Quite so. War aims tend to get ratcheted up as the losses mount, and Ukraine 2022 is no exception. Early on, Zelensky could maybe have accepted the 23 February SQAB, but after Bucha, Mariupol and Izyum, not to mention unpublished combatant casualties easily over 10,000, the Ukrainian people will not settle for anything less than the 2014 frontiers plus war crimes tribunals plus $300bn or so in reparations.

    I think they will get it. (The Navalny (eg) administration would cut a deal on these lines in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. It’s not conceivable with Putin still in power.) Admittedly I’m at the optimistic end of the spectrum of opinion on the war itself, and have been ever since the Kiev retreat. I’m in the minority, but it includes US General Ben Hodges, who predicts the Russian army will return on foot. I think the war will end by Christmas with complete Ukrainian victory. That includes the Crimea: once the Russian army starts collapsing it will no more be capable of defending there than anywhere else. The “sacred Russian motherland” story will not work, everybody knows the odd history.

    What could possibly be going worse for Czar Putin?
    • The bulk of what’s left of the professional Russian army is trapped in an indefensible salient north of the Dnieper. The Ukrainians have cut the four bridges usable for supplies, and Russian troops are only getting a trickle over ferries. Putin has apparently rejected pleas from local Russian commanders to withdraw, even if it means leaving most of their equipment behind. The alternative to Dunkirk isn’t Bastogne but Stalingrad.
    • The brilliantly successful Kupiansk/Izyum offensive has underlined he growing gap in professional competence between the Russian and Ukrainian armies. Sure, it was a thinly defended sector and the Ukrainians took advantage. They still had to confirm it really was thinly defended not a trap, assemble a large mobile assault force undetected by aircraft and drones, and coordinate and supply the blitzkrieg. Now they are starting a second wave in Luhansk oblast, this time slowed – as the Russians also will be – by mud. Do you expect a different result, in Sviatove , Troitske and Starobilsk?
    • Putin has been forced into a “partial mobilisation” to secure enough troops to have a chance of holding on to his gains in Ukraine. It is turning into a spectacular cluster***k. On paper, raising 300,000 conscripts from a pool of 25 million theoretically eligible men should not be too difficult, and most of the eligible will escape. But the combination of excessive delegation to blameable subordinates, hazy criteria, concealed targets and a hollowed-out bureaucracy has led to something close to mass panic, and serious street protests. Putin looks incompetent, untrustworthy and weak. On the ground, the mobilisation won’t have any significant effect until 2023 (ISW) – hopefully too late to affect the endgame.
    • The Ukrainians have won the global media war. Kittens on the front line! Mine sniffer hero dogs! Pretty young women volunteers! The best the Russians can do is a few bought shills and low-IQ tankies, who mostly just look silly.
    • The Germans may haver over supplying weapons, but not over speeding up their exit from Russian gas. The storage caverns are 90% full. Russia has taken on an economy twice its size, and will lose.

    Personally, I am sorry that my Cunning Plan for the Crimea is now a non-starter. This was to kick the sovereignty issue into the long grass for 50 years by making it a de facto independent UN trusteeship. I’d quite fancy the top job (title: Khan), as long as I could count on almond-eyed Tatar houris feeding me grapes in the Livadia Palace while I counted the loot from casinos, tax havens, sunflowers, ecotourism and the like. No, they would never give me the job. More like Blair, Obama, or Merkel (pity about the houris).

  7. Could we add pressure against Russia by cutting them off from the global internet? I mean physically air-gap them. Cut every cable from-to Russia just as it comes over the border? Indeed, several kilometers Europe’s side of the border would do. Since a large number of internet cyber-attacks come from Russia, just cut them off.

  8. Cross-posting my comment from Crooked Timber:
    Would application of the principle of status quo ante bellum to the Eighty Years War, or the April Uprising, or the Ten Days War, or any other war of independence, mean independence not being granted or achieved, on the grounds that at the beginning of the war the territory whose independence was being sought was not independent?

    Apart from that, I do not think the word ‘haver’ means what James Wimberley thinks it means.

  9. The word “haver” means

    1. Brit: to dither
    2. dialect Scot and Northern English: to talk nonsense; babble

    according to the Free Dictionary online.

    I am guessing JW means “dither” though he may mean both. I’ve learnt a new word but I prefer “dither” for the meaning in question. Never heard of “haver”. Maybe its use is more common in England (and Scotland) than in Australia.

  10. I agree that a defensive war ought to aim for little more than a “white peace” – ie status quo – though I think you can legitimately also push for reparations, war crimes extraditions and enforceable treaty stuff to stop them having a second go.

    But I think you should understand the status quo as being 2014, not 2022. Ukraine should absolutely aim for return of its 2014 borders. I think there’s a case to be made for a compromise peace – but Russia needs to compromise. Ukraine should not just halt its troops at the 2022 borders, it should continue advancing.

  11. “I am sorry that my Cunning Plan for the Crimea is now a non-starter.”

    My own cunning plan was to offer it to the Turks (they last had it in 1783, unless you count the Crimean War occupation). Erdogan is the sort of guy, like Putin, who dreams of past glories for his nation – they probably still have fantasies of making the Black Sea a Turkish lake again, to go with their daydreams of a Turkic speaking confederation of the Caucasus.

    Having Erdogan turn full anti-Russian would be a devastating blow to Russia.

  12. PS on the troll anathema. I hate Putin too! Honest! Let me stay!

    But I will stay critical of the dehumanising language of “orcs” to stigmatize Russian soldiers who commit war crimes. Orcs are a purely evil imaginary species with SFIK no souls. They are a problematic feature of Tolkien’s Teutonic myth, and in conflict with his Catholicism. In the latter, even the rebel angels were good once, and if you follow St. Gregory of Nyssa, even these may be saved at the end of time. (The speculation was condemned, but he stays a saint. Let’s hear it for the Cappadocian Fathers!) More practically, orc language distracts from the painful effort to understand how Browning’s “ordinary men”, not very different from us, can be induced to carry out unspeakable atrocities. I’m fine with “Rashists”, since fascism is a human ideology.

  13. James Wimberley: yes, exactly. One thing which our host may not understand is that Ukraine has the military advantage and will keep it into 2023. Ukraine mobilized at the start of March, and six months later they have effective combat units armed with imported weapons. Russia has lost most of its prewar army and most of its best kit, and it can’t replace the kit under sanctions. If the Russian state were more competent, they might have their own new army in spring 2023, but anyone with a smartphone and translation software can see how their ‘mobilization’ is going. So from both a Realpolitik perspective and a Ukrainian nationalist perspective, it makes sense to push on and see if Russian forces collapse.

    Ukraine has been at war since 2014. Another few months or a year to restore the borders of 23 February is not a long time from that perspective.

    If Putin understood the situation he could have called off the war at the end of February and kept the Donbas and Crimea, but by the time he is willing to offer that events will probably have made it irrelevant.

  14. According to Ukraine there was a peace deal hammered out between Russia and UKR but Putin rejected it, it didn’t meet with his objectives. Ukraine concluded that the negotiations were a smoke screen to distract from Russias military build up.

  15. rog: yes, stated Russian war aims have never been modest (remember their “this is the dawn of a new age” editorial?), so its not surprising that once Ukraine saw an advantage, Ukraine stated its own ambitious goals in response.

    If this war ends in a stalemate like the Korean War, the final lines will probably be determined on the battlefield, just like the previous lines in the Donbas were where the fighting in 2014 and 2015 settled down. That is not pretty or democratic but it is what happens when one state tries to annex another.

  16. Referring to Putin’s 21/9 speech, there’s nothing that would indicate a sane and realistic hold on reality – we are having to deal with a deluded tyrant who is dangerous to everyone, incl Russia.

    As for settling for borders, that was done in 2014 and failed.

    Barring unforeseen and unplanned events, the future for the world is not good

  17. Cross post from CT.

    Pity no one has raised poor old forgotten West Papua and the Orwellian nuspeak ‘referendum’ named “Act of Free Choice” in 1969, to justify Indonesia’s take over of West Papua.

    JQ, “I’m starting from the premise that war/political violence that goes beyond the needs of immediate self-defence almost always does more harm than good.”

    You’d better ask Papuan’s too.

    I suggest Donbas etc will have a “rhyming” history. What is the discount rate of suffering and destabilisation and expropriation over a 50 year period? More ire harm or more good. From who’s vantage point?

    Moz @9 says: ” (who haven’t been killed, exiled or imprisoned) got to vote, not just ethnic New Caledonians. The Timor and Papua votes had similar issues. As well as other places too controversial to mention.”

    Which ryhmes with;
    ” The polls, which Russian President Vladimir Putin announced along with the partial mobilisation last Wednesday, have been blasted by the West as a sham”

    “Act of Free Choice
    “The Act of Free Choice (Indonesian:Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, PEPERA, Determination of the People’s Opinion) was a poll held between 14 July and 2 August 1969 in which 1,025 people selected by the Indonesian military in Western New Guinea voted unanimously in favor of Indonesian control.

    “The Federal Republic of West Papua, formed on 19 October 2011 at the Third West Papuan People’s Congress, has declared the New York Agreement and The Act of Free Choice “null and invalid”, and seeks recognition by the United Nations as an independent nation according to international and customary law.”

    “Papua conflict”

    West Papua (province)

  18. KT2, the two things about Papua are that nobody but the Papuans cared and that the occupiers were not a nuclear power which had guaranteed West Papuan independence.

    rog, I was also thinking of the piece which appeared on Russian state media on 26 February and which says (in translation) “the construction of a new world order … is accelerating, its contours are more and more clearly visible through the spreading cover of Anglo-Saxon globalization. A multipolar world has finally become a reality – the operation in Ukraine is not capable of rallying anyone but the West against Russia. Because the rest of the world sees and understands perfectly well – this is a conflict between Russia and the West, this is a response to the geopolitical expansion of the Atlanticists, this is Russia’s return of its historical space and its place in the world.” and “Europe. Whose century (more precisely, half a millennium) of global leadership is over in any case – but various options for its future are still possible.”

    I don’t think Putin is insane but he is clearly as detached from reality as people who spend too long watching TV news. This is a classic problem for autocrats. The kind of negotiating which JQ suggested could only work if both sides had a similar understanding of the situation.

  19. “..the operation in Ukraine is not capable of rallying anyone but the West against Russia.”

    That was in February, Russia has become more isolated as they continue with their war.

    “.. this is Russia’s return of its historical spa….”

    This must be a reference to Kievan Rus, another delusion of Putin.

  20. The authors of the propaganda statement could mean Kievan Rus, or the USSR (Putin has *complaints* about the breakup of the USSR). And that was Russia’s aims at the start of the war.

    Since the war has been almost entirely on Russian soil, its natural that Ukraine wants Russia to pay reparations. Its equally natural that Ukraine wants the Ukrainian children who have been kidnapped for Russification back. I have trouble imagining the Russian government agreeing to either while they have an army in the field, and the Ukrainian government believes that they can destroy the Russian army in 2023 at the latest.

  21. Eric Hoel and “the automatic win button: using a tactical nuke inside Ukraine to defend a contested region or Russia’s border.”

    And a nod to JQ’s suggestion.
    And social media!

    “When social media controls the nuclear codes”

    “But you will die from starvation as agricultural yields plummet in the following nuclear winter, as the latest modeling in Nature shows.
    [Graphic of…]
    “Starving nations as soot is kicked up via nuclear exchanges. Soot levels: 5 Tg = 100 nukes, 16-37 Tg = 250 nukes (as a range), 47 Tg = 500 nukes, 150 Tg = 5000″

    [ Published: 15 August 2022Global food insecurity and famine from reduced crop, marine fishery and livestock production due to climate disruption from nuclear war soot injection” [

    “Of course, Australia survives unscathed without its population starving to death, but that’s pretty much it. Almost a children’s rhyme really. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
    [Phew! – relaxed – not!]

    “… the likely unpopular move of pretending that the West is responding with escalation while working frantically behind the scenes to defuse the situation, which means (a) upping the sanctions as much as possible, (b) stirring up international condemnations, (c) starting peace talks (ones not led solely by the Ukrainian government) and figuring out some deal where Russia gets to keep at least a tiny portion of its gains over the last decade, a fig leaf for Putin’s and Russia’s honor, as well as to assure the Russian government that the loss of the war is not an existential threat and will not get pushed back into their territory or destabilize their administration.”

  22. In answer to my question re game theory above – a little bit of game theory, and lots of weapons, sanctions & diplomacy + a fig leaf.

    “Ukraine war: what game theory can tell us about how negotiations might go”
    Published: March 25, 2022
    Amelia Hadfield, University of Surrey

    “Op-Ed: What game theory can tell us about the war in Ukraine

    “Even if Putin is wrong to believe that he can continue conquering the lands of Ancient Rus, letting Ukraine fall gives him ample reason to entertain such incorrect beliefs — and puts Europe at risk of continued confrontations. The actions of the Baltic states, from their provision of weapons to Ukraine to Lithuania’s stance on Kaliningrad, reveal their beliefs on this. They know that they will be far from safe if Ukraine falls.

    “To avoid nightmare scenarios next winter and beyond, the alliance must act now to strengthen Ukraine’s defense. Only when Putin has no hope of victory in Ukraine will peace in Europe ever be secure.”

    (“Anastassia Fedyk is an assistant professor of finance at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and co-founder of Economists for Ukraine. David McAdams is a professor of economics at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke and author of “Game-Changer: Game Theory and the Art of Transforming Strategic Situations.”)

    “How Game Theory Explains Why We Have to Sanction Putin — Even If It’s Costly

    “The sanctions against Russia might not end the war in Ukraine. But they might stop the next conflict.


    (Moshe Hoffman is a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, and Erez Yoeli is a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he directs the Applied Cooperation Team. They are lecturers at Harvard’s department of economics and the authors of Hidden Games: The Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior.)

    “Fortunately, a bit of game theory can help us answer this question.

    “Let’s call this the Repeated Sanctions Game, which has two players. In each round of the game, Player 1 (i.e., an adversary such as Putin) chooses whether to transgress, then Player 2 (i.e., NATO) chooses whether to sanction. Transgressing benefits Player 1 (Putin would like to annex Ukraine) but costs Player 2 (NATO would prefer that Ukraine be free). As in real life, sanctioning is costly not just to Player 1 but also to Player 2, who might prefer not to, for example, suffer higher prices or lose revenue from Player 1’s products and businesses as a result. Then Player 2 plays the game again and again — perhaps with the same Player 1, perhaps with another (Putin now, maybe Xi next time).

    “For Player 2 to deter future transgressions in this game, she would have to …”…

    And Economists for Ukraine article;
    [I have no data on the value or bias of this group]

    “No justice, no peace?
    Dan O’Flaherty
    28 July 2022

    “This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Irish Civil War, and the 75th anniversary of the partition of India. Both of these horrible events started with attempts to calm tumult by drawing new lines on a map, and both of them continue to cause tumult today.”
    Wicked problems on many levels.

  23. KT2: other nuclear powers have stated that they would respond very strongly to any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Because the Russian army is wrecked and Russia is isolated, they have lots of options short of their own nuclear weapons eg. annihilating the Russian Black Sea fleet and any Russian aircraft which enter Ukraine’s 2013 borders. We also have to reckon that Putin’s nuclear arsenal is at least as decrepit as the weapon systems which have actually been used in his wars. I don’t think that one or two nuclear weapons would save Russian forces in Ukraine or force Ukraine to submit, and its hard to imagine that a man terrified of COVID would launch a global thermonuclear war.

    Putin is said to not even be an Internet user let alone a social media user, so the title of Hoel’s post sounds like clickbait

  24. True Vagans, nobody cared except the Pauans, and me, and no nukes.

    Even with care and nukes, as I said “….Donbas etc will have a “rhyming” history. What is the discount rate of suffering and destabilisation and expropriation over a 50 year period? More harm or more good. From who’s vantage point?”

    Papua or Ukraine, the only stability “after” a war was WWII and only 70yrs. Not bad. Correct me if I am wrong.

    I was using Papua as an example of another forgotten yet still active resistance.

    And it seems everyone, except optimist James W, thinks without resounding victory by Ukraine and a Russian state so crushed it cannot continue destabilization, this war & “peace”, SQAB or not, nukes or not, will continue and destabilise others and the world for a long time.

    Those, James W especially, who feel Putin will be ousted are imo very hopeful. Putin had 300,000 “guards” under his command before the war. Most went to Ukraine. But a threat to Putin would see a historical peak in defenestration and poinsonings imo.

    At best 3-5yrs and some serious internal strife before Putin goes.

    And some think a SQAB with such a long tail time will be better?

    I’m yet to be convinced.
    As you says Vagans;
    “The kind of negotiating which JQ suggested could only work if both sides had a similar understanding of the situation.”. (See my following comment with  New Yorker piece w Slantchev &  Goemans re “a small group of scholars has focussed on war-termination theory. They see reason to fear the possible outcomes in Ukraine.”)

    I don’t share your reckoning “that Putin’s nuclear arsenal is at least as decrepit” – which sounds like being a bit pregnant. It only takes one.

     “The Russian Federation is known to possess or have possessed three types of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons,biological weapons, and chemical weapons.”… “As of 2022, the Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia possesses 5,977 nuclear weapons, while the United States has 5,428; Russia and the U.S. each have about 1,600 active deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Russia’s stockpile is growing in size, while the United States’ is shrinking.”

    The title if Hoel’s piece was a bit click baity I’ll admit. He has a point. When an election is tight and a social media mob arrives,  with the aid of negative click baity social media, an aspiring hawk may gain wind beneath thier wings. All vague and slim I know, yet a potential for further stupidities. We may ask how many elections between now and WWIII?

  25. Putin – more dangerous than democrats and dictators;
    “The trouble, Goemans found, lay with the leaders who were neither democrats nor dictators:” … ““For a war to end,” Goemans said, “the minimum demands of at least one of the sides must change.” This is the first rule of war termination. And we have not yet reached a point where war aims have changed enough for a peace deal to be possible.”

    “In a terrifying blog post, Goemans’s former student Branislav Slantchev laid out a few potential scenarios.”. (fn^ Slantchev)

    “How the War in Ukraine Might End
    “In recent years, a small group of scholars has focussed on war-termination theory. They see reason to fear the possible outcomes in Ukraine.

    “In his dissertation, and in his subsequent book, “War and Punishment,” Goemans laid out a theory of how and why some wars ended quickly and others dragged brutally on.

    “More recent theoretical literature had acknowledged the two-sidedness of war, Goemans writes, but here, too, important aspects had been missed.

    “War theory imported from economics the concept of “bargaining,” and wars were thought to begin when the bargaining process—over a piece of territory, usually—broke down. The most common cause of the breakdown, according to war theorists (and again borrowing from economics), was some form of informational asymmetry. Simply put, one or both sides overestimated their own strength relative to their opponent’s.

    “But there were other kinds of wars, in which factors besides information predominated. These factors, in part because they did not play prominent roles in economics, were less well understood. One was the fact that contracts in the international system—in this case, peace deals—had little or no enforcement mechanism….This gave rise to the problem known as “credible commitment”: one reason wars might not end quickly is that one or both sides simply could not trust the other to honor any peace deal they reached. In his 2009 book “How Wars End,” Goemans’s colleague Dan Reiter used the example of Great Britain in the late spring of 1940, after the fall of France. … the British fought on, because they knew that no deal with Nazi Germany could be trusted. As Winston Churchillput it to his Cabinet, in his inimitable way: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

    “The other factor that had been ignored …was domestic politics. States were considered unitary actors with set interests, but this left out the internal pressures placed on the government of a modern nation-state. Goemans created a data set of every leader of every war-fighting country between 1816 and 1995, and coded each according to a tripartite system. Some leaders were democrats; some were dictators; and some were in between. According to Goemans,
    – democrats tended to respond to the information delivered by the war and act accordingly; at the very worst, if they lost the war but their country still existed, they would get turned out of office and go on a book tour.
    – Dictators, because they had total control of their domestic audience, could also end wars when they needed to. After the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was such a leader; he simply killed anyone who criticized him.

    “The trouble, Goemans found, lay with the leaders who were neither democrats nor dictators: because they were repressive, they often met with bad ends, but because they were not repressive enough, they had to think about public opinion and whether it was turning on them. These leaders, Goemans found, would be tempted to “gamble for resurrection,” to continue prosecuting the war, often at greater and greater intensity, because anything short of victory could mean their own exile or death. He reminded me that on November 17, 1914—four months after the First World War began—Kaiser Wilhelm II met with his war cabinet and concluded that the war was unwinnable. “Still, they fought on for another four years,” Goemans said. “And the reason was that they knew that if they lost they would be overthrown, there would be a revolution.” And they were right. Leaders like these were very dangerous.”

    “The scope and complications of the war foreclose a quick resolution. “This is what made World War One so big, this is what made World War Two so big,” Goemans said. “It’s not just ‘I want a piece of territory because my ethnic brethren are there.’ It’s—all this shit.”

    “When we first spoke, in early September, Goemans predicted a protracted conflict. None of the three main variables of war-termination theory—information, credible commitment, and domestic politics—had been resolved.”

    fn^ Slantchev


    September 25, 2022
    By Branislav Slantchev

    “… Because I happen to think that the bad predictions about the consequences of a Russian victory are correct. And if Putin gets away with this, we will not be able to draw any red lines to him or others. More instability and annexations will follow, and our world will rapidly shrink.

    “This is it now. It’s for all the marbles.”

  26. My optimism is supported by the historical analogy with Napoleon III’s Second Empire, 1850-1870. Like Putin’s similarly long rule, it enjoyed broad but shallow support, with large payoffs to business élites, lesser but still real economic benefits to the masses, and a showily aggressive foreign policy. But when the imperial army suffered a catastrophic defeat at Sedan, Napoleon surrendered to the King of Prussia without bothering to make clear in what constitutional capacity he was doing so. Bonapartism more or less evaporated instantly – unlike monarchism, which had far greater ideological coherence and staying power. Macron has dined at the (Orleanist) Count of Paris’ chateau. Nobody cares who the Bonapartist pretender is.

    Look at the startling turnaround in Russian public opinion since partial mobilisation was announced. The war had been going badly ever since week 2 in February, but the apathetic Russian public still went along with it. Suddenly there was a real if slight personal risk to Russian young men (draft of 300,000 divided by 25m eligible men = 1.2%). Instantly, mass protests and flight to the borders. That was before yesterday’s humiliating and bloody defeat at Lyman, with more to come both in Luhansk and Kherson. Putin clearly has not got total control of the information space, and reality is getting through – partly through right-wing milbloggers who support the war but blame the generals for incompetence. They aren’t wrong, but Putin takes the big decisions.

    BTW, ISW have an interesting and convincing professional argument against the risk of Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons that deserves more coverage:
    “The Russian military in its current state is almost certainly unable to operate on a nuclear battlefield even though it has the necessary equipment and has historically trained its units to do so. The chaotic agglomeration of exhausted contract soldiers, hastily mobilized reservists, conscripts, and mercenaries that currently comprise the Russian ground forces could not function in a nuclear environment. Any areas affected by Russian tactical nuclear weapons would thus be impassable for the Russians, likely precluding Russian advances.”
    THe Russian generals who would have to deliver the nukes (more than one) are presumably aware of this problem. The argument does not of course apply to a terror attack on a city, but the political price for that would be immense and the risk of nuclear escalation very high.

  27. Thanks James. As always your grasp of history and diplomacy ahines through.

    I hope you and Understanding War are correct.

    I just cant see Putin surrendering as “when the imperial army suffered a catastrophic defeat at Sedan, Napoleon surrendered to the King of Prussia”.

    Fire Putin needs combustible material, oxidising agent and a spark.

    Lets hope your conditions – defeat, real risk, and the spark – bubushkas on the streets,- lead Putin to capitulate or flee. Soon.

  28. It’s as if the USSR was back in business; a body weakened by corruption, nepotism, fear and top down governance.

    Despite the errors made during the Soviet Finnish war nothing has been learned; the Russian army lacks both resources and ability and the fear of execution restrains communications to commanders. Military leaders have been sidelined while political forces prevail. Putin does not have the requisite military expertise and is unable to be made aware of the real situation.

    If you can believe the reports the Ukrainians are marching through Russian lines at 20km/day

  29. Too big to fail – Elon Musk 105m followers. JQ ? followers.

    And social media. Who, how and with what reach could this have been achieved before social media?

    “Zelenskiy hits back as Elon Musk sets up Twitter poll on annexed areas of Ukraine

    “Outrage and condemnation over billionaire’s suggestions including formally making Crimea part of Russia

    “Dear @elonmusk, when someone tries to steal the wheels of your Tesla, it doesn’t make them legal owner of the car or of the wheels. Even though they claim both voted in favour of it. Just saying,” Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, tweeted in response.

    “Musk, who is also chief executive of SpaceX, followed up his first tweet with another poll: “Let’s try this then: the will of the people who live in the Donbas & Crimea should decide whether they’re part of Russia or Ukraine.”

    “He said he didn’t care if his proposal was unpopular, arguing that he did care “that millions of people may die needlessly for an essentially identical outcome”.

  30. It has to be remembered that there have been a number of peace negotiations since the 2022 invasion. In the list of requirements Russia demanded Ukraine to demilitarise and de-Nazify, whatever that means.

    A number of Ukraine negotiators were poisoned and one was shot dead.

    Putins aim is to destroy Ukraine.

    He will use the nuclear option to achieve his goals.

  31. An entertaining argument against a SQAB solution for Ukraine is that the insufferable Elon Musk has just endorsed it. Argumentum ad billionarem I know, but. The former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany tweeted a reply literally telling him to f* off. Zelensky’s put-down was more diplomatic. Bang go the prospects for future Tesla sales in a wide swathe of eastern Europe.

  32. rog: “demilitarise” means “become incapable of resisting Russian invasions, like in the Crimea in 2014”

    Putin keeps making nuclear threats then backing off (just like he threatens NATO but refuses to take military action). That might change, but so far his bluster does not lead to action.

  33. After reading Anna Politkovskaya, who detailed the scope and depth of corruption and incompetence in Russia, I’m sure that the pressure being placed on Putin’s government will cause it to implode. This pressure is a direct consequence of his disastrous war on Ukraine.

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