Wednesday, March 05, 2014

My guess: Putin won't invade the rest of eastern Ukraine

My civil war predictions aren't so hot, but let's see how my war-war predictions turn out:  I think Putin means to consolidate control in Crimea and not invade the other parts of eastern Ukraine. There are good political and strategic reasons for thinking he'd go after Crimea and not the rest, but I'm basing my guess on the assumption that the smart time to invade another country is when it's unprepared. With a shaky government and unsteady military, that was last week. Now Putin's given the government time to sort out who in the military it can trust, go on alert and start calling up the reserves.

All that would have been predictable in advance to Putin's top military leaders, who would've told him then that if you're going to take east Ukraine, take east Ukraine. I've seen some speculation that he's waiting for a provocation as an excuse to go in, but that doesn't make sense to me - he wouldn't need an authentic provocation when he could just make one up. Every day that goes by makes an invasion more difficult and therefore less likely to be in the original plan.

I could be wrong of course. An invasion will defeat Ukraine's military regardless how much warning time is given, so maybe Putin doesn't care about the cost to Russia, but I'd think he would care about how triumphant-looking and problem-free it seems. A war could also happen by accident, the way people used to think that World War I started.

And then there's the claim that Putin is in an information bubble and believes at least some of his own propaganda. If that's true then it's hard to understand what world he perceives. OTOH, I don't think the actions so far make as little sense from the viewpoint of an authoritarian populist semi-dictator as westerners claim, so I'm not sure this KGB officer is that far unmoored from reality.

So that's my guess of no invasion for the rest of Ukraine, but it shows my level of confidence that I'll just check the news one last time before posting.


UPDATE:  we should also start the timer for news about significant Russian migration and settlement activity in Crimea - I give it six months. Will be interesting to see how our Likudnik congresscritters handle that one. And that btw may be the one good thing about all this for Crimean Tatars that hadn't yet moved back - they won't be stuck across a fortified border.

36 comments:

Monty said...

One of the issues for me is the extraordinary hypocrisy of our leaders over all of this. The idea that Kerry can accuse Putin of interfering in a sovereign country seems amazing to me. Do people not remember Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan etc etc?

We in the West have lost all the moral advantage we ever had because of the mistakes made over the past decade or so. As a result, we have no authority when it comes to stopping deeply authoritarian regimes like Putin's.

Anonymous said...

As Monty says, our past sins come back to haunt us. If invading a country on a flimsy pretext is against international law then Bush and Blair ought to be on their way to the Hague to answer for Iraq.

And Russians are the majority demographic in the Crimea: didn't we establish the right to conquest by migration in Kossovo?

Victor Venema said...

Eli, did Monty (and anonymous in case you can see his email) comment here more often? I have the feeling there is an information war going on below any article or post on the Ukraine.

One wonders why Monty does not simple condemn both the invasion of Irak and the Crimea.

cRR Kampen said...

No worries Eli, you are right. In fact the crisis is over since last week.
What happens now is that Crimea (which became Russian in 1783) will referendum into joining the Russian federation on the 16th of March. Crimean parliament just voted for this 'Anschluss'.
It will likely be a formality.
No reason at all to chastise the czar for it.

Rest of Ukraine will likely stay intact, as both all major powers around and the Ukrainian people (of both ethnicities) prefer.

Monty said...

Victor
I sometimes comment here. Actually, at the moment I'm having a go over at Bishop Hill against some mad skeptics. Of course we should condemn all invasions. I was just highlighting the hypocrisy of the West.

Anonymous said...

And I'm the anonymous: and I do sometimes comment here about global warming. The reason I stay anonymous is I don't want death threats from Global warming deniers.

I appreciate that these days you should be suspicious of anything apparently pro Putin. But I am not a fan of Putin: once he was a communist, then he was a capitalist. Is he trying out Fascism next?

But read again what I wrote. Is there anything there that is not true?

Andrew said...

If there is one huge wake-up call we *should* be getting from this, it's the need for Europe generally to get serious about getting off Russian gas and oil. This being the only real reason why Putin can throw his weight around.

Have to agree with other posters that the Western habit of intervention on relatively flimsy pretext has not helped, morally.

Oh, and condemning *all* invasions doesn't really help either.. Vietnam into Cambodia? Rwanda?

Cugel said...

My guess would be some Russian sabre-rattling, a conference in Geneva (such a lovely place, whu not?), and a compromise in which Russia keeps Crimea (after a referendum; the rights of people to self-determination being yadda yadda).

And in the US, the Democrats become the party which Lost The Crimea.

Cugelmaus

Dan said...

Andrew: "If there is one huge wake-up call we *should* be getting from this, it's the need for Europe generally to get serious about getting off Russian gas and oil. This being the only real reason why Putin can throw his weight around."

As mentioned here, though, it's also one of the things keeping Russia stable: they get 60% of their government revenue from oil and gas. How do you think they're likely to react if they see western countries pursuing a determined policy to pull the plug on that?

So we're stuck in a pretty unpleasant co-dependency at the moment. Thinking about how this affects attempts to recarbonise just makes me want to crawl under a desk and whimper. Not the sort of thing Putin would do, of course. What a man.

Phillip said...

One high card that Putin holds which will keep the US and allies from doing any more than giving Russia a firm finger wag is that Russia is the sole taxi service to the International Space Station (ISS). If the situation gets too ugly Russia can simply say that due to 'technical difficulties' the ISS needs to be 'temporarily' evacuated - and there isn't a thing we could do about that. And an all-Russian crew could be sent up for a defacto grab. Short of that, Russia could simply double or triple the current $70M price per astronaut for rides to the ISS. Without a manned space capability we have no Plan B.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Phillip,
Russia for all practical purposes doesn't have a space program except that on the ISS. Such a move would do irreparable harm to one of the few areas where Mother Russia can strut her technological stuff. I seriously doubt they are that out of touch with reality.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the Russians don't have some medical students in the Ukraine.

JCH

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Anon@ 6/3/14 6:01 AM: "The reason I stay anonymous is I don't want death threats from Global warming deniers."

Aww! Come on, Anon. Join the fun!

Thomas said...


Andrew, Some did condemn the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. USA and Britain went so far as to support Pol Pot (or rather his allies) with weapons afterwards. Moral is for wimps, something great leaders feel they can't afford.

JCH I agree that Grenada is a relevant analogy.

cRR Kampen said...

What 'invasion'?

Phillip said...

@a_r_i_d_s

I expressed myself poorly. If Russia wanted to, it could kick the US and our allies off of the ISS and continue to operate it as a solely Russian research station. They have the resources to do so since they already perform much of the resupply and orbital maintenance chores in addition to all of the crew transport. Such an action wouldn't mean the loss of the ISS - it would just be a very visible reminder of how impotent we are.

If they kick us off the ISS, what are our options? Send Bruce Willis in to kick ass and reclaim it? We can't even do that hypothetically because we have no manned spaceflight capability. And won't for at least several years.

Brian said...

The hypocrisy claim seems pretty solid to me, as does Grenada.

Except that I don't see hypocrisy as a reason to not do the right thing - it's a reason to not do the wrong thing.

And Grenada also seems better off after Ronnie's flimsy pretext for invading. Maybe the same will be true for both Crimea and Ukraine.

jrkrideau said...

@Phillip

Maybe the Chinese would loan a rocket or two?

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Russia for all practical purposes doesn't have a space program except that on the ISS.

Let's see, Proton, reengined Soyuz 1, Angara, what else have I missed?

Don't even get me started. There is some extremely complex metallurgy and metal treatments on the RD family that I'm not sure even the Russians could reproduce from scratch. It's formulaic. Certainly that's the holdup on domestic production of these engines, besides the fact that they are extremely fussy engines with no intrinsic ability to recover. Musk is light years ahead of everybody except possibly Bezos. The US has an extreme NASA military congressional complex problem, now solved by fiat. Expect them to go quietly only by dragged screaming into the night.

Victor Venema said...

The first two comments here are not that far off, but even progressive newspapers where you would expect pacifists to call for negotiations are swamped by pro-invasion comments. Here I could ask if these people are real, the newspaper would not answer.

But read again what I wrote. Is there anything there that is not true?

That is something Pielke Jr could also ask. His and in my view also your statements are still somewhat unbalanced.

Anonymous said...

"That is something Pielke Jr could also ask. His and in my view also your statements are still somewhat unbalanced."

Well I wasn't looking to be balanced, but to compare ny statement with anything Pielke might say is unkind. I am not trying to mislead anyone.

Perhaps I just cannot forget that when the Soviet Union collapsed we had a fleeting chance to establish international law as something to be respected and adhered to. But a US President preferred instead to go steal some oil fields. It is ironic that Obama might be labelled the President who lost the Ukraine when its really just one more instance of us paying for the misdemeanors of his predecessor.

Victor Venema said...

My apologies for the comparison. I wanted to point out that the argument was not that strong.

I am from The Netherlands, a loyal NATO partner. The USA has a law that if the international courts in The Hague will trial an American, the USA will declare war.

Yes, we could use more international law. And Irak and Kosovo were a bad idea and make it harder to protest now for the Western governments. But we can still protest and the invasion of The Crimae is simply wrong and a regression to the 19th century. Even if that protest now hold less moral force.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Elifritz,
Musk is actually dangerous. He doesn't even have any component engineers on staff! Frankly, I think he will be the end of commercial space for decades.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Oh, and Tommy, you forgot Phobos-Grunt!

Cugel said...

When the Crimean 'self-defence' militia suddenly appeared it seemed that some well-oiled plan was being set in motion, but I've come to doubt that. The militia has clearly been in place for some time, and nobody's better qualified to set such things up as the KGB. Somebody clearly activated them, but since then all seems to have been confusion and bluster on the Russian side. It's as if more than one person thinks they're in charge and are issuing orders.

Which is a tad unnerving in the circumstances. Maybe the remarkably peaceful breakup of the USSR really was too good to be true.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

Well I look forward to those out of control reusable rockets careening into the bleachers filled with very important generals, politicians and space policy hacks and historians. Maybe a few congressional and senate aides as well. I can name names.

cRR Kampen said...

Guys, forget it. The most spectacular on this petite crisis is the western bluster that generally shows total ignorance on Russia and Ukraine. The czar couldn't care less.
Remember Georgia's pacification? If you don't, it is because it was such a resounding win for Russia and things are quiet there since.

I'd buy some shares on the Moscow market right now ;)

Anonymous said...

Don't bet on Putin for the long haul. Support for him in Russia is conditional on the economy, which is 85% dependent on booming oil and gas prices. When the bubble bursts, expect trouble. Putin's Russia the Soviet Union lite, and will go the same way.

I think Putin will take Crimea - the game is to stop him grabbing more. He will try to use East Ukraine as a proxy to keep the rest of that country in line. I hope the west prepares for that - what is happening now is shadow boxing.

Putin has lost West Ukraine which will never be part of his "Eurasian Union"; he has gained Crimea, which has only been part of Ukraine since 1954 anyway.

It leaves much pro-Russian votes for the Ukrainians to worry about - they should negotiate its transfer to Russia with guarantees for the Tatars and the Ukrainians that live there. Everyone moves on.

Toby

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Toby,
I think you are right that Putin will take Crimea. However, I think that will be to his detriment. Right now, the Russian speakers in Ukraine keep the politics volatile, but mostly balanced between Russia and Ukraine. If Russia annexes Crimea, that tilts the balance firmly in favor of Europe--in fact, the hard feelings and fears of the Ukrainian nationalists would guarantee it.

If Putin does take Crimea, it will be for reasons of Russian domestic feeling, not because it confers any advantage.

cRR Kampen said...

Toby, Ukraine was USSR. This means the first time the Crimea was out of Russia/Moscow since 1783 was by the somewhat unnatural pact of 1990.

Like Georgia, the czar whose name I don't speak (and yes, I agree to the phrase 'USSR-lite' as well) can take the Crimea without consequence. It is no problem (I talk business here, not personal taste).

Ukraine centre and west are something else. They are a different ethnicity with a long history. Most of this history is carved by brutal Russian opression. The simple reason the country is 'infested' by so many Russians (now up to a couple of generations) is Stalin's method of 'russification'. In the case of Ukraine this was accomplished by a great, policy induced famine and deportations (like was done with Kaukasian peoples e.g. Chechnia). Relaxation came with Chrustjew - the 1954 autonomy for the substates e.g. Ukraine, partial return of deported peoples from the Kaukasus.

This history has created a kind of Bosnia-heavy from Ukraine. For this reason there is real threat for a large, fault line war, a Bosnia times eight. Such a war would seriously be a loss for the czar; I do not think he is willing to risk that.
Otherwise here lies the task for the Ukrianian people, both them and the large (15 M) Russian immigrant communities.

cRR Kampen said...

I'm in total agreement with Toby's closing remarks.

Anonymous said...

Agree with ray, my "much pro-Russian votes" should be "much less pro-Russian votes".

About 10 years ago the major French multinational I worked for moved a slew of functions (order processing, call centres, financial administration) to Poland and Romania - place with names like Bydgoszcz and Timisoara. West Ukraine could compete for that type of investment in the EU, but I fear for the East Ukraine rust belt - coal and steel, which has possibly a strong pro-Russian element.

However my gut tell me that Ukraine is better off with the EU (for all its problems) than being chewed up and spat out by Vladimir Putin. CRR and I are not far apart, either.

Toby

Steve Bloom said...

Re the update, I will now copyright the phrase "Putin Villages." Inquiries as to where to send royalties may be posted here.

David B. Benson said...

These comments were informative?

EWI said...

"One of the issues for me is the extraordinary hypocrisy of our leaders over all of this. The idea that Kerry can accuse Putin of interfering in a sovereign country seems amazing to me. Do people not remember Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan etc etc? "

No need to go so far. Australia, Central America, South America...

There will be no war over the Crimea, as there was no war over Georgia. The Great Game continues.

1stworldview said...


The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia is sending a ripple effect through out Eastern Europe. With the prospects now for possible cold war starting all over again investors brace for sanctions against Russia. And with the already falling economy of the Ukraine, investors and business are bailing out as fast as they can.

During the next few years, the Ukraine economy will be pushed to its limits. Currently, the Ukraine desperately needs 30 billion in loans to survive, and with ousted former president Viktor Yanukovich having already pulled the country out from the European Union, and the new government wanting nothing to do with Russia, the government will be in dire straits.

The US State department has issued a travel warning urging Americans not to travel to the Ukraine. Tourism is a huge part of Ukraine economy. with hotels, airlines and restaurants depending on tourism. As these businesses cut back, the ripple effect in cities like Kiev, Odessa and Yalta will have devastating consequences on the economy. Just as when the housing market died in the US, the effects were felt world wide. Not only will Ukraine's economy continue to decline, but most of Western Europe's fragile economy will also feel the effects.

One industry that seems to thrive on the situation is the foreign bride market, A Foreign Affair operates four office in the Ukraine. Kenneth Agee the marketing director says, "In the last few weeks we have seen the biggest surge ever on women signing up. Not only have we seen the biggest surge, but we have seen the highest quality of women signing up; doctors, engineers, even some of Ukraine's most beautiful models, With the possibility of war looming over the horizon, American men are looking very desirable." A Foreign Affair 's new member Irina of Kiev says, "America is stable, American men have very good family values. These are important to Ukraine women; we want a good environment to raise our families. With Russian tanks rolling down our streets, I do not see a bright future here for starting a family.

The future does not look good for the Ukraine. Russia has no intention of letting Ukraine have complete independence. Most western Ukrainians have had a strong dislike for Russia for many generations, and will do what ever it takes to resist Russian influence or occupation. This being said, the country will have a long battle and many lines drawn in the sand, from serious economic sanctions to full out war. At this time, it looks like this struggle could go on for a decade or more.