What Ukraine Should Do Now

 

Vladimir_Putin_12024In a new piece I have up at Forbes, I lay out exactly what’s at stake for the West with Vladimir Putin’s continued aggression in Ukraine. In short, Putin wants nothing less than to unravel NATO. The U.S. has been decidedly unhelpful in assisting Ukraine, even though our allies there are much more reliable than the ones we’ve been arming in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. So what should Ukraine do now? My suggestion:

If I were Ukraine, I might concede Donbass and Crimea on a de facto but not de jure basis. Russia will not let them go under present circumstances. Let the Donbass (or that part that it presently holds) be a problem for Russia and the separatists to contend with; don’t let its self-appointed leaders dictate Ukrainian policy. When the time is right, the Donbass can come back into the fold. I would maintain a formidable standing army to defend the remaining Ukrainian provinces that have come to hate Putin’s Russia with a vengeance. I imagine that Odessa, Kiev, Zaporozhe and Lviv will make short change of self-appointed Muscovites when they arrive to proclaim new people’s republics. Who knows? If active hostilities ended, maybe even Barack Obama would supply defensive weapons. He’s good at shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.

The upshot:

The Ukrainian leadership, which would still control some 80% of Ukraine, could then focus on the reforms the Maidan revolution rightly demanded. Ukraine should listen carefully to reform advisors from the European Union but not hold false hopes of early admission to an EU that fears upsetting Putin. Europe and international institutions should provide the financial backing that Ukraine needs, if anything, as a form of reparations for abandoning Ukraine in the cold.

If Ukraine raises the drawbridge around Ukraine proper, it leaves Putin facing a hostile and armed population that can inflict huge losses on the Russian army, attempting to expand further into Ukraine territory and not backed by the myth of a “civil war” fought by patriotic anti-Kiev militia.

Read the whole thing for my take on exactly how high the stakes are.

There are 15 comments.

  1. Valiuth Member

    I recall the joint press conference that Obama and Merkel gave prior to Minsk II. The German Chancellor said that what they were defending was the notion of the territorial integrity of European nations. I almost choked from laughter. Any agreement made that lets Russia keep any of its ill-gotten gains puts a lie to that sentiment.

    I agree that the only way for Ukraine to survive now is to give up on the land it has lost and somehow fortify what it has left and wait for a better day. The problem is I don’t think they are capable of fortifying what they have, not without significant assistance from the West. Assistance that I just don’t see in the cards. Germany, France, and England I think are scared [expletive]. They know that if they commit to defending the rest of Ukraine there is a good chance Russia will call their bluff, and they honestly don’t know what they will do when that happens.

    If they do nothing they can expect that Putin will keep pushing, if they stand firm they will start a war in Europe that not one of them is ready for. The reality of course is that Putin has placed Europe on a clear path to war. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, and this is so precisely because Western Europe isn’t certain it can and will win a war with Russia.

    • #1
    • February 25, 2015, at 12:53 PM PDT
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  2. Marion Evans Inactive

    Valiuth:The reality of course is that Putin has placed Europe on a clear path to war. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, and this is so precisely because Western Europe isn’t certain it can and will win a war with Russia.

    Questionable. He has bigger problems keeping a huge territory whole (1.7x the size of the USA) on a GDP that is smaller than that of Italy’s and a declining population.

    Ukraine GDP per capita is less than one third that of Russia and its population is expected to fall by 20%+ in the next 30 years. It is really difficult to get excited.

    My guess is Putin wants to end this fight and go back to real problems, like the Middle East. But he doesn’t want NATO in Ukraine.

    • #2
    • February 25, 2015, at 1:19 PM PDT
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  3. Valiuth Member

    Russia will still have the largest population in Europe even if it declines from its maximum, and while its people will continue to be poor its government always finds away to pay for its army. Also what is there to control in Siberia it is an empty Wasteland. If Russia could control it back in 1915 when it was even poorer and had less people it can certainly do it now.

    Also there is nothing for Putin in the Middle East than a series of distractions that he can use to gain leverage on the West to push forward his territorial expansion. You are looking at this guy like he cares about people and their welfare.

    He is a power mad dictator hell bent on glory, with paranoid delusions of conspiracies against him and his noble work. If he wanted Russia to prosper he would never have done any of this.

    • #3
    • February 25, 2015, at 1:33 PM PDT
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  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    Paul, you might be a good person to ask. What I’m finding lacking in many of these analyses is old-fashioned Kremlinology. Or more broadly, a basic sense of the domestic constraints and institutions and internal alliances within which Putin has to operate. We have a sense of what Putin wants (that’s pretty clear), but are there any institutional, internal counter-pressures against his vision? Or as the standard question goes: is this Putin’s Russia, or Russia’s Putin? Which other figures would you watch? What kinds of changes or pressures internally might lead to various kinds of behavior from Putin? Who’s the best source on this? (English language, I’m afraid: I just can’t read Russian, which is a real shame.)

    • #4
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:01 PM PDT
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  5. Marion Evans Inactive

    Valiuth:Russia will still have the largest population in Europe even if it declines from its maximum, and while its people will continue to be poor its government always finds away to pay for its army. Also what is there to control in Siberia it is an empty Wasteland. If Russia could control it back in 1915 when it was even poorer and had less people it can certainly do it now.

    Also there is nothing for Putin in the Middle East than a series of distractions that he can use to gain leverage on the West to push forward his territorial expansion. You are looking at this guy like he cares about people and their welfare.

    He is a power mad dictator hell bent on glory, with paranoid delusions of conspiracies against him and his noble work. If he wanted Russia to prosper he would never have done any of this.

    Siberia a wasteland maybe in people but it holds 80 percent of Russia’s oil, natural gas and coal. The man is no saint but the math has to add up, at least to some degree. How do you war on a continent of 750 million people backed by the US when you only have 140 million people, your economy is a disaster and your back country is undefended?

    • #5
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:07 PM PDT
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  6. Elephas Americanus Inactive

    This is a battle between the Sick Man of Europe and the Lazy Man of Europe, and the Sick Man is winning. Putin has read the Western Europeans for what they are – essentially the same old chauvinists they were a century ago when World War I began, then same they were seventy years ago when World War II ended – and knows that, for all their rhetoric of European unity, they wouldn’t lift a finger to help one another. The only thing holding the EU together is their enmity of the U.S.; the only thing holding NATO together is their dependence on it. When the Americans finally caught a mass folly the likes of which could be added to a new addition of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and chose Barack Obama, the singularly most inappropriate man ever to be elected to the office of American president, not once but twice, Putin knew his opportunity had come.

    After all, Obama is a man who is both so resolutely vapid and ideological that he would stubbornly refuse to assist a Western-leaning European nation under threat if only because it was Western-leaning and European. Without America, there is no Europe, and Putin knows that. Until and unless America can reassert itself, glue Europe back together, and finally show Russia that it is once again the superpower it was and not some fourth-string Anglophone nation ranked somewhere behind New Zealand and Jamaica, Putin will continue to kick sand in the eyes of whomever he likes, afraid only of China on his eastern front.

    Valiuth:Also there is nothing for Putin in the Middle East than a series of distractions that he can use to gain leverage on the West to push forward his territorial expansion. You are looking at this guy like he cares about people and their welfare.

    Actually, there is something for Putin in the Middle East: a market. One of the few things Russia can export other than fossil fuels are weapons. A world in conflict is good for Russia, especially since, unlike the U.S., they aren’t sticklers about selling armaments to inhumane dictators who might use them to commit mass murder on their own citizens (e.g., Assad, Khameini, etc.). War is Russia’s business, and business is booming.

    • #6
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:07 PM PDT
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  7. Valiuth Member

    Marion Evans:

    Siberia a wasteland maybe in people but it holds 80 percent of Russia’s oil, natural gas and coal. The man is no saint but the math has to add up, at least to some degree. How do you war on a continent of 750 million people backed by the US when you only have 140 million people, your economy is a disaster and your back country is undefended?

    First off, Russia doesn’t need to defend Siberia from anyone, because no one is actively threatening it. Second, war isn’t just won through numbers, but also through will. Putin is frothing up the Russian people with a continuous stream of propaganda. His army is large enough when compared to the rest of Europe’s. Does it seem like Europe is ready for a war? Does it seem like the US is ready to jump in? A bunch of crazy guys with black flags have cutout a large swath of the Middle East for themselves with nothing but pick up trucks and AKs.

    I’m not saying that Putin can win if we ultimately resist him, I am saying it isn’t certain that our level of resistance will be sufficient enough. That is the problem. We don’t look like a unified force of 750 million people and 30 trillion dollars. We look like a bunch of witless disorganized fools, desperately hoping nothing bad will happen. Putin has all the cards, and dictates the tempo. If he strikes hard enough and fast enough and offers some kind of deal maybe we will fracture and he gets everything he wants and more.

    • #7
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:27 PM PDT
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  8. Valiuth Member

    Claire Berlinski: Or more broadly, a basic sense of the domestic constraints and institutions and internal alliances within which Putin has to operate. We have a sense of what Putin wants (that’s pretty clear), but are there any institutional, internal counter-pressures against his vision? Or as the standard question goes: is this Putin’s Russia, or Russia’s Putin?

    That is a good question. Is this madness limited to Putin only or does it run deep within the Russian State. If it is limited to Putin we might be able to wait him out. On the other hand nothing prevents Putin from altering the organs of Russian politics to mirror his own goals and madness. The longer he holds power the more he can shape Russian institutions in such a manner that his psychosis will outlive him.

    • #8
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:34 PM PDT
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  9. Marion Evans Inactive

    Valiuth:

    First off, Russia doesn’t need to defend Siberia from anyone, because no one is actively threatening it. Second, war isn’t just won through numbers, but also through will.

    1) Not actively, but could be actively when the equation changes.

    2) War is won through both. I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    • #9
    • February 25, 2015, at 2:53 PM PDT
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  10. MisterSirius Member

    Marion Evans:

    I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    The Mongol hordes vs. China comes to mind.

    • Population .8 million vs 115 million.
    • GDP might be hard to figure, but pastoral nomadism vs sericulture (and a Great Wall).
    • Technology is in the same realm as GDP.

    Ah, but were the Mongols a “country.”

    • #10
    • February 25, 2015, at 3:20 PM PDT
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  11. Valiuth Member

    Marion Evans:

    Valiuth:

    First off, Russia doesn’t need to defend Siberia from anyone, because no one is actively threatening it. Second, war isn’t just won through numbers, but also through will.

    1) Not actively, but could be actively when the equation changes.

    2) War is won through both. I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    Mongol hoards over ran a vastly larger and technologically superior China.

    • #11
    • February 25, 2015, at 4:11 PM PDT
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  12. Valiuth Member

    MisterSirius:

    Marion Evans:

    I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    The Mongol hordes vs. China comes to mind.

    • Population .8 million vs 115 million.
    • GDP might be hard to figure, but pastoral nomadism vs sericulture (and a Great Wall).
    • Technology is in the same realm as GDP.

    Ah, but were the Mongols a “country.”

    Well thanks for that. Also I would like to say that Mohamed and his followers swept through many nations larger and more powerful than themselves.

    In the end I agree that both will and means are necessery, but will is by far the most important factor. Those who want to fight and think they can win are far more likely to do so than 10 times the men which lack the motivation, but have ample ammunition and uniforms.

    It is important to remember that many armies look good on paper, but that hardly counts if actual fighting begins. If Russia is ready and willing I sure pray to God Europe will be too, because if they are not I don’t care how big their numbers are the Russians will cut through them long before we can get there to help.

    • #12
    • February 25, 2015, at 4:23 PM PDT
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  13. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Marion Evans: 2) War is won through both. I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    How do you think Rome fell? They just lost the will, and kept negotiating and giving in.

    Both Lenin and Hitler were heavily outnumbered, and took control of their country and then much else besides.

    In all these cases, will triumphed over size and theoretical capability.

    • #13
    • February 25, 2015, at 6:43 PM PDT
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  14. Brian Clendinen Member

    iWc:

    Marion Evans: 2) War is won through both. I doubt that you can find a single instance in history where a country could subjugate another country with 5 times its population, 10 times its GDP, and a superior technology.

    How do you think Rome fell? They just lost the will, and kept negotiating and giving in.

    Both Lenin and Hitler were heavily outnumbered, and took control of their country and then much else besides.

    In all these cases, will triumphed over size and theoretical capability.

    Also you have the Babylon’s destroying the Assyrians, and then the Meds and Persians conquering Babylon. Then you have Alexander the great.

    • #14
    • February 26, 2015, at 9:08 AM PDT
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  15. Steve C. Member

    “Also I would like to say that Mohamed and his followers swept through many nations larger and more powerful than themselves.”

    Arguable. The Byzantines and the Persians had been fighting each other for years. Neither side had a level of military dominance they had once enjoyed.

    • #15
    • February 26, 2015, at 10:26 AM PDT
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