The Aftermath of the Ukraine War.

To what extent do Ukrainian and Western (NATO/EU) interests overlap? 

                As I understand it, NATO allowed Ukraine to take the initial steps toward membership in the George W. Bush Administration.  However, neither France nor Germany was eager to have Ukraine admitted.  Probably didn’t want to make a permanent enemy out of Russia and—maybe—resented American bullying.  Have they changed their minds on NATO membership? 

Moreover, Ukraine had an on-going territorial dispute with Russia before the current unpleasantness: Crimea and the Eastern Donbas.  Will Russia have to surrender these as part off the peace settlement?  Or will Ukraine have to surrender them as the price of something with which the Russians can live?  Back at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the electoral maps show that Crimea was the area least enthusiastic about leaving Russia for Ukraine and the two eastern oblasts weren’t all that far behind. 

The EU was OK with an Association Agreement with Ukraine in 2014, but not full membership.  They had various requirements.  Have those requirements been fulfilled in the years since?  Then, the place seems to me to be a kleptocracy.  It’s why Ukrainian voters put a stand-up comedian into the presidency.   

Is the West going to get carried away by emotion and shoulder what may be a heavy burden because we admire the Ukrainian people’s resistance to Russian aggression?   Can the West use post-war negotiations to help Zelensky/force Ukraine to clean up its political system? 

There’s been a lot of damage done.  Who pays to fix up things? Who pays compensation for lives lost or ruined?  Russia?  Hard to do if it is permanently closed out of world energy markets.  Ukraine itself? The West? 

The Lesser of Two Evils.

            In 2005, Vladimir Putin told Russians that the fall of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.”[1]  “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had advanced eastward relentlessly, first admitting the former “captive nations”[2] of the Warsaw Pact, then admitting the three Baltic states which had long been under Russian rule.  The United States had used its power to overthrow the governments of Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) and to call for the overthrow of the government of Syria (2011).  Then the Americans left those places in blazing ruins.  For more than twenty years he labored to undo that “catastrophe.”  His accomplishments are not petty. 

            He rose from a low-level KGB officer to be the dictator of Russia, regardless of varying formal titles.[3]  He brought to heel the oligarchs who had “spontaneously privatized” much of Soviet-era industry to their own advantage.  He checked the further disintegration of the Russian Federation by a savage war in Chechnya.[4] 

            Since he came to power, Putin has been advancing the pre-existing Eurasian Economic Union.  This EEU is intended to rival the European Community (EC) and to pull together the economies of Russia and other former Soviet states.[5]  Anyone who has read the history of Nineteenth Century German unification or the history of the development of the EC knows that “butter” comes before “gun” in the dictionary.  In this effort, Ukraine figured as a rich prize.[6] 

He turned to trying to regain a measure of control over the countries that had left the Soviet Union in the wake of its collapse.  In 2008 he sent Russian troops into the former Soviet republic of Georgia. 

            Since the 2011 “Arab Spring” he has opposed the Americans with direct military aid in the Syrian and Libyan civil wars.  In both cases, Russia’s clients are winning. 

            In 2014, after his attempt to lure Ukraine into the EEU foundered, he sent Russian troops into Crimea and the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. 

            He has achieved a measure of success in cozening Turkey, Hungary, and Italy.  Each has its own discontents with the European Union or NATO or the United States.  Then there’s China. 

            The United States and its presidents have been going through a bad patch since the end of the Cold War.  Vladimir Putin seems to be a bad man in a hurry.  That doesn’t mean he will win. 

[1] See:  That fall occurred in the 20th Century, so he’s claiming a lot. 

[2] On the Cold War-era term, see:,Communist%20administration%2C%20primarily%20Soviet%20rule.  On the more broadly applicable “puppet state,” see: 

[3] It speaks volumes to the mentality of the Obama Administration foreign policy officials (and of the president himself) that they were unable to distinguish between form and substance.  Dmitri Medvedev went where Putin sent him and did what Putin told him. 

[4] Wikipedia is as accessible as anything else on this fight.  See: and  For an argument that Putin himself staged the bombing of apartment buildings to justify the second war, see: 

[5] See: 

[6] See: 

History Lessons.

            In 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in major Russian cities in a coup not supported by the majority of the Russian people.  They fought and won a bloody civil war.  Famine savaged the people.  The new government repudiated the debts to foreign investors in Tsarist government bonds and seized foreign property.  The new regime sought to export revolution all around the globe.  As a result, Communist Russia spent many years as a pariah country among the nations.  The new Soviet Union had little trade, no foreign investment, and constant harassment of its foreign operations.  Then came the collectivization of agriculture, more famines, and the purges.  Then Nazi Germany attacked.  A commonly-accepted estimate is that the war killed 20 million Russians.  Nevertheless, by the end of the war, the red flag flew over the Reichstag.[1] 

            It’s certainly possible that the Russian people have gone soft in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Perhaps failed hopes for a swift victory, hundreds of combat deaths, tough—but not complete—economic sanctions, near-universal moral condemnation, and scathing satire on late-night television will bring Russia to its knees.  Or perhaps the badly out-gunned Ukrainians will suffer grave defeats, many additional millions of refugees will flood across the border into the European Union, and Russia will confiscate Western businesses and turn off the gas to Europe as further bargaining chips. 

            The peace settlement following the First World War left many people disappointed or unhappy.[2]  Germany suffered territorial losses, had to agree to pay heavy reparations, and had its sovereignty limited by disarmament.  At Versailles, “Meester Veelson” and other progressives denied Italy the territorial gains promised to it in exchange for entering the war in 1915.  Japan found its wartime efforts at empire-building in China checked.  Russia lost vast chunks of territory through the Western-sponsored triumph of national self-determination.  While German grievances won substantial redress during the Twenties, Italy and Japan remained dissatisfied. 

            The Great Depression transformed international relations, just as it did in domestic matters.  The conventional economics of the time commanded budget cuts and military spending suffered.  Democracies turned toward domestic reforms, or became paralyzed, or just collapsed wherever it had failed to sink strong roots.  In the decidedly un-capitalist Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had seized to power in the late Twenties.  The Depression brought Adolf Hitler to power in Germany, while the government of Japan increasingly fell under the control of imperialist soldiers.  Italy’s Benito Mussolini ranked as the senior dictator in the group, although he had little yet to show for his tenure in terms of expansion.   

            The democracies were hard put to deal simultaneously with three open and one covert aggressors.  In the Thirties, the United States turned from partial engagement in international affairs to a deepening isolationism.  France’s interests and resources were almost entirely European.  Britain had the means to fight one war, but faced enemies in the Far East, the Mediterranean, and Central Europe.  Things had to get much worse to change policies. 

            Today, Russia, radical Islamists in the Middle East equipped—or almost—with nuclear weapons (Iran, Pakistan), and China all can be counted as dissatisfied powers.  Where to start? 

[1] Nicholas Riasanovsky, A History of Russia (1977) is cold and comprehensive. 

[2] Raymond Sontag, A Broken World, 1919-1939 (1971) remains a valuable guide. 

Miscellany on Ukraine.

            Russia has 900,000 military personnel; Ukraine has about 200,000.  Russia has 3,400 tanks; Ukraine has 1,000.  Russia has 1,400 military aircraft; Ukraine has 130.[1]  Even faced with a Ukrainian “nation in arms,” Russia is likely to win this fight.  It is likely to be much more distressing to Western television audiences than it has been so far.[2]  

            The invading Russians obstruct the evacuation of civilians from besieged towns and cities for the same reason that the Ukrainians want the civilians evacuated.  Evacuation reduces the strain on the Ukrainian defenders.  Evacuation of non-combatants facilitates turning the town into a pure urban battlefield where conditions favor the defense.  If Ukrainian forces want to save the civilians, they could surrender.  They don’t want to surrender.  They want to fight. 

            Ukraine has an on-going territorial dispute with Russia.  In 2014, the Russians seized Crimea and fostered rebellions in two linguistically heavily Russian administrative districts in eastern Ukraine.  Admitting Ukraine to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) before these territorial disputes are resolved will just entangle NATO in those disputes.  So, the peace settlement after this war will probably involve Ukraine surrendering those territories to Russia.  It may also involve the neutralization of Ukraine on the Austrian or Finnish models.[3] 

            The list of political figures who were assassinated is a long one.  Rarely are dictators on them.[4]  They got to the peak of power by being devious and ruthless.  They pay attention to their personal security.  Vladimir Lenin died of natural causes.  Joseph Stalin died of natural causes.  Adolf Hitler killed himself on the eve of capture after the defeat of Germany.  Italian partisans captured and executed Benito Mussolini when he fled after the defeat of Germany.  The Americans captured Saddam Hussein and turned him over to Iraq’s government.  They executed him.  Hoping that someone close to Vladimir Putin is going to kill him is foolish. 

            It is reported that the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia and the emir of the United Arab Emirates recently declined to take phone calls from President Joe Biden.  I conjecture that they think that the United States is neither a reliable friend nor a feared opponent.  First, they’re out in the open.  What if many other leaders feel something similar but haven’t declared themselves yet?  Second, if they are right, what do Americans want to do about it?  Painful choices loom. 

            For much of the early, critical phase of the Cold War, American presidents had a group of deeply-experienced and practical-minded men upon whom they could call for advice on foreign policy.  These “Wise Men”[5] helped guide the United States through a series of problems.  Does President Biden have an equivalent group of advisors?[6] 

            This whole thing is a can of worms. 

[1] Matthew Luxmoore et al, “NATO Members Resupply Weapons on a Historic Scale,” WSJ, 9 March 2022. 

[2] See: 

[3] See: 

[4] Lesser figures do get assassinated.  Czech soldiers killed Reinhard Heydrich.  Terrified fellow-Communists killed Lavrenti Beria. 

[5] See Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986).  The six were Robert Lovett, Dean Acheson, Averill Harriman, John J. McCloy, Charles Bohlen, and George Kennan.  To this list might be added others like Clark Clifford and Paul Nitze. 

[6] JMO and I come in peace, but Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton doesn’t strike me as much of a bench. 

Shaking the Tree to See What Comes Loose.

            For a while now the world has been experiencing a return to Great Power Politics.  This isn’t the same as the “rules-based system” sponsored by the United States for many decades.[1]   It’s far from the “Olympianism” imagined by many Europeans.[2]  It’s more like the hard-headed international relations of the Nineteenth Century.[3] 

            China and Russia have challenged the established order and the established codes of conduct.  Military force is being used in Ukraine and might be used in Taiwan.  So far, Russia has been easy to punish, but hard to stop by non-military means.  America’s economic campaign to get China to negotiate—tariffs and other measures—hasn’t brought compliance.  In the United States and elsewhere, people are starting to think about more traditional means of eliciting better behavior.  One of these is military power.  Another is alliances. 

            Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) out of its post-Communist funk.  That is reassuring.  However, the crisis also has suggested that the foundation of other alliances have been undermined. 

            After the Second World War, the global prosperity of the non-Communist world rested upon on several pillars.  One of them was cheap and abundant energy.  American recognition of the need for energy security led to American security guarantees.  The role of energy in global prosperity empowered the oil-producing countries who belong to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  American engagement helped manage the constructive behavior of the Middle East oil-producers by getting them to balance their own profits against global needs.  Ever since the “oil shocks” of the 1970s, the United States has been off-setting many of its own costs by selling advanced arms to the oil states.  China’s dependence on imported oil restrains adventurism. 

            Walter Russell Mead[4] has excoriated the Middle Eastern policy of the Obama administration.[5]  The velvet-glove-without-iron-fist treatment of Iran, the ridiculous hopes placed in the “Arab Spring,” the mishandling of anti-government movements in both Egypt and Syria, and the desire to end the American involvement in Iraq made clear the administration’s willingness to pay a high price to “pivot to Asia.”  Middle Eastern leaders began looking to Russia and China.  That shift continued under the Trump Administration. 

            Now Saudi Arabia opposes increasing pumping more oil in the midst of gas price spikes.  It has a production agreement with Russia.  Time for a reset says Mead. 

[1] See, for example:–does-he-mean-the-us-gets-to-make-the-rules/ 

[2] According to the late John Keegan, “Olympianism” “seeks to influence and eventually control the behavior of states not by the traditional means of resorting to force as a last resort but by supplanting force by rational procedures, exercised through a supranational bureaucracy and supranational legal systems and institutions.”  Keegan regards this as delusional, but widespread.  He describes the “Olympian ethic” as “opposition to any form of international action lying outside the now commonly approved limits of legal disapproval and treaty condemnation.” (John Keegan, The Iraq War (2005), pp. 109, 115.   

[3] That diplomacy has often been derided by intelligent, well-educated, and well-intentioned fools such as President Woodrow Wilson.  Nevertheless, it managed to prevent any general European war between 1815 and 1914, while also facilitating the imposition of Western rule over non-Western places that would not adapt to the modern world. 

[4] On Read, see: 

[5] Walter Russell Mead, “The Cost of Neglecting the Middle East,” WSJ, 4 March 2022. 

Understanding Ukraine for Dummies-Like-Me.

On the theory that no one really has more than a few hours to get some additional background on the present crisis, here are some recommendations.

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia. Vivid memoir of fighting in an improvised army in a war between an over-matched kinda-sorta democracy and an authoritarian rebellion.

Isaac Babel, Red Cavalry. Collection of short stories (based on his own experiences) about Red Army troops fighting in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921).

            Both of the above books are a fast read.  Unless, you know, you find yourself lingering over particular passages, or you later feel the need to go back and read the book again even though the present unpleasantness has passed and it’s a sunny day when you should be doing some yard work. 

Andrzej Wajda’s movie “Katyn.” In Polish, but with English sub-titles. What happened in Poland in 1940 happened all over the USSR (especially in Ukraine) for a longer period. It’s on Youtube for the moment.

            NB: The guys in the blue hats are NKVD.  This was the successor to the OGPU, which was the successor to the Cheka.  It was the predecessor to the KGB, which was the predecessor to the current FSB.  Doesn’t matter.  A leopard can’t change his spots.  Vladimir Putin started out as a KGB officer. 

Anne Appelbaum, “How Putin and His Cronies Stole Russia,”…/how-he-and-his-cronies…/