This content was originally prepared for the option3 podcast.
Last Things First
Every constructivist has a plan until they get punch in the face by the Realpolitik.
Velina Tchakarova, Dir. for Austrian Inst. for European & Sec. Policy
I am always shocked in the ability of major leaders and experts to resist progress. They will go to great lengths - even subverting their own presumed or stated principles - to avoid change and avert risk. Putin’s elective war is about shifting spheres of influences, post-war IR, and post Cold War dynamics, and globalization.
On a very long twitter thread, PhD candidate and Director of for Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy Velina Tchakarova argues Putin has shored up relations with China since 2014, is positioning himself in Eurasia, and “shifting its COG from an interdependence w W Europe to Eurasia, S, Asia… & even the Indo-Pacific region”. Putin’s goals is to become indispensable power to the US or China or both. She points out that “Ukraine was invaded by Russia not because it was unilaterally striving to join NATO but because it wasn't a NATO member”. The goal for Putin is to keep going.
In short, she says it's a war of assertion or power expression with some goals. Just as the time between WWs was only an interruption, so is the same of Cold Wars, as we are enter a new Cold War ( w China ). Trends include: US-China competition and even decoupling, India-China tensions, potential US/European withdrawal from West Asia, and greater global fluidity.
Venerated or Overrated
Bandwagoning is a strategy for the weak.
According to the great realist, Mearsheimer, Ukraine should never have let go of their nukes. He was likely right about that at least in a conventional sense. I don’t agree with his 2014 Canada and Mexico analogy regarding NATO. It’s a mixed metaphor. It also requires you to believe in the analytical falsity of the liberal hegemony ( while also believing in the empirical nonexistence of the liberal hegemony ). You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The bottom line is that Western influences - with all their baggage - should and, more importantly, would grow if they were to seek greater power and stability. That is axiomatic. I also don’t think that because Russia asserts itself, as April 2008 at the NATO Summit, that the West ought to acquiesce per se. Finland and Sweden are not acquiescing - though conditions have changed since 2008. The whole point of being a realist is strategic confrontation, which institutionalists can pursue.
Power is the ability to affect others to get the outcomes you want, and that can be done by coercion, payment or attraction.
But I find figures like Mearsheimer tragically dated. When I say dated, I mean he has tendencies that predate classical liberalism. His realist sobriety lead him to not support the war in Iraq in 2003, which is sound. I also agree on the periodic necessity of war, better containment of China, and the assertion that Putin is rational. But that does not preclude strategic response to Putin.
His ambivalence on greater concepts of interdependence and compromise seem most outdated. At best, they produce regressive structures that indeed can contain adversaries. At worst, they produce paranoia, even unwarranted aggression, which he is not prone to, and a sublimated form of paralysis, which I am emphasizing here. He is correct that the West has put Ukraine in a strategic limbo. That is perhaps his main point - the security dilemma argument. But the rub lies much deeper. And it's a sticky wicket.
I admit it is hard to determine whether institutions have failed and thus we must pull away from them and allow for rationally, defense-minded Russia. Or precisely the opposition: we need to fortify them more to better contain a belligerent Russia. I take the latter view. It's not only about security for today. It is about institutions and norms. We are only partially in an anarchic international system. It is about values, freedom, and ultimately security across time - into the future.
An Eastern Look
To demonstrate China’s role as a responsible major power, China not only cannot stand with Putin, but also should take concrete actions to prevent Putin’s possible adventures.
Hu Wei, Chinese state intellectual
State professor and Chinese intellectual Hu Wei, who almost sounds himself like a psyop asset, had an interesting take early on in the war in Ukraine. He begins with the point that the "Russo-Ukrainian War is the most severe geopolitical conflict since World War II”. He may be correct. Korea and Viet Nam did not bring conflict so close to Europe, which for better or worse - for racist or not - is where a central balance of power has sat since VJ Day. The world is changing. China rises. And yet, a war on the border of Poland is so reminiscent of WW2 that Wei is reasonable in this notation.
In the same first sentence, Wei says the consequences will be “greater than the September 11 attacks”. Again, he may be right although, as I have argued elsewhere, 911 was almost certainly a synthetic endeavor designed to unify Americans. With a new Cold War, as Tchakarova discusses, China is a sufficient unifying adversary.
Wei notes “the blitzkrieg failed” and nuclear war “would put Russia on the opposite side of the whole world and is therefore unwinnable”. In the time since Wei published, people and governments from all over the world have sided with the Ukraine - some literally flying to the region to fight. Keep in mind, the purpose of the Wei post involves advising Chinese interests as much truth seeking per se. That’s where it gets interesting.
He argues that the conflict would strengthen NATO and US's aging hegemony - both of which have happened. As Wei suspected, Germany increased its military budget and Sweden and Finland abandoned neutrality.
The document is quite an interesting portrayal of how the US may benefit from Putin’s gamble. I will note that, according to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, as of March 5, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank both suspended business with Russia on March 3. CNN ran a piece, titled “4 way China is quietly making life hard for Russia” - noting anemic support for the ruble, withholding yuan conversions to dollars or euros, withholding aircraft parts, and withholding the aforementioned infrastructure help.
The TikTok PhD Guy With No Bio
Dmitry Medvedeve…has come out and said that if the West does not stop aiding Ukraine…the four horsemen of the apocalypse are on the way… It shows...how far Russia has declined as a power. Basically, the only leverage Russia has on anyone anymore, is the nuclear capability… [T]his really isn’t very credible… They’ve lost every other forms of leverage they used to have over the international community…. [D]iplomatically they’ve completely isolated[.] [E]conomically, they’re almost irrelevant… [Their] conventional military has shown to be a kind of paper tiger… They still a major regional power, but they’ve been unable to defeat Ukraine, despite the huge disparity in military resources and budget.
Here is my favorite analyst although his lack of a bio is concerning. PhD TikToker @hyphysterialhistory is another fascinating source of analysis. He identified Russia loss early on in the conflict. As others might have seen our ineptitude in Iraq, he has saw something similar though I do not recall him making that analogy. If you listen the podcast version of this blog, you will hear @hyphysterialhistory talk about Medvedev threatening that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are coming.
In the end, I take the rather one-dimensional view of @hyphysterialhistory. Sometimes a one-dimensional view suffices. Russia has started an exhausting endeavor akin to the USSR or the US in Afghanistan or the US in Viet Nam or Iraq. They will bleed out or go home to prevent bleeding out. I am not going to review all the economic costs Russia has experienced except to note how they are hemorrhaging their millionaires and agitating their billionaires. I think Russia wants an out. But too much is tied up in this knot now. So they have to play the drama out.
There are many questions about the bombing of Yugoslavia by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation - meaning primarily the United States. They come down to two fundamental issues: what are the accepted and applicable “rules of world order” and how do these or other considerations apply in the case of Kosovo?
Chomsky, May 1999
Here are several final notes on why the war is happening, Russia war rimes, astrology of the war, illegitimate NATO violence, Neo-Nazis, a Gurdjieffian analysis herein, and, to make a long story endless, a conclusion.
Many factor led to this war. Trump's ineptitude in general is one. Biden’s ineptitude in leaving Afghanistan is two. In the end, Putin wanted to assert himself and Russia to, as Alistar Coleman at the BBC noted it, to reunite "Little Russia" with its Mother as a question of honor, food, and energy.
But I still wonder: why Putin choose February 2022? We would have to revisit the annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and possibly the 2008 NATO summit. Putin’s domestic conditions also factor. We suspect Putin thinks the US is weakening. SolarWinds, the 2016 election, and the rise of China are cases in point. Upon reflection, I see that the 2014 and 2022 episodes in Ukraine appear in lockstep with Obama and Biden's piecemeal admissions of defeat in Afghanistan. Here the realist proves himself.
Some other observations...
It goes without saying Russia is committing war crimes. So did we in Iraq. To learn more fascinating but gory details, consider the case of Jon Michael Turner, rank and branch unverified, and his killing of ‘The Fat Man’. The video link is on SoundCloud; and Google will find it fast. His testimony is so important. Great powers get away with so much.
The podcast version of this piece on SoundCloud notes also have a look at the astrology of the war, which does not bode well for Putin. NATO is not a perfect organization. The questions of illegitimate NATO violence deserves attention…on another occasion.
A penultimate note. A number of right-wing writers, thinkers, and citizenry have noted the use of Neo-Nazis in the anti-Russia campaign in Ukraine since 2014. To complicate matters, I have even read observations online that Neo-Nazis have supported Russia near or in the Donbas region. And we have other ultra-nationalists in Russia such as Aleksandr Dupin to complicate matters yet further. Let me be clear on two points. One. If I was in the Ukraine and had to protect my neighborhood from Russian tanks, I will coordinate with Neo-Nazis. I’d keep my other fucking eye on them but I would work with them. Two. The War in Ukraine is not a Neo-Nazi endeavor or a psyop. It is a return to Cold War structures, East-meets-West conflict, and ultimately, conflict between authoritarianism and liberal democracy.
A Gurdjieffian Insight
War is due to cosmic forces, to planetary influences. But in men there is no resistance whatever against these influences, and there cannot be any, because men are slaves.
A final note. Master of wisdom and dance, Gurdjieff once observed that war happens because planets get too close to each other. They get upset. And we suffer in response. We are like the hairs of the Earth on edge and suffer our own fates. He also says one as individual - working with like minded folk - might be able to rise above what we calls mechanical influences and the law of accident. Either way, in my belief system, we are held to an account even during war. We need to determine what is going on. I point this out because we see the absurdity war…but only afterwards.
In October 2002, I read an article in the NY Times. Perhaps it was the one written by David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt. It was obvious we were going to invade Iraq regardless of purpose or legitimacy. It was also obviously not a war of necessity. I was against it then and remained against thorough its supposed 2011 conclusion and beyond. I was an Assistant Hall Director at Umich in the Oxford Housing facility. I remember my colleagues, all my immediate colleague, who may have been influence by me, blindly supported the war. Within the confines of a man like Dick Cheney, I see a cold rationality in relation to oil with Iraq invasion. But elsewhere it was ‘food for the moon’ as Gurdjieff would say.
Putin didn’t only choose February 2022 rationally. The planet precipitated a set of influences where human would sacrifice humans for an extra-planetary plan. For this very reason, we see the warcrimes of Iraq and Ukraine.
One can contextualize a Gurdjieffian view usually Western ideas. I read a piece by Professor Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy to get background. He recalls security expert Professor Robert Jervis regarding misperception and miscalculation. Walt says no one plans to have a protracted and difficult war. First, I am not certain he is correct there. But second, and more importantly, wars ARE often protracted and difficult. Western academics such as Walt and Jervis see misperception. Meanwhile, Gurdjieff would agree its a questions of misperception but the source of that misperception he would argue is not simply ‘folly’ or some form of hand-waving that a rational Western academic might see. It’s planetary conflict. Not aliens but planets themselves experiencing tensions.
In one week of war, life within the boundaries of Ukraine has been upended, but the brutal assault Russian President Vladimir Putin launched last Thursday has also reverberated around the globe, steering history in a new direction and switching up 75 years of relations among some of the world’s most powerful and wealthy countries.
March Fisher, Washington Post
History itself - as a function of post-War stability - is abrogating and heading in a new direction. Some have argued that the NATO and Western actors promised not to expand east in 1990. According to my reading, Gorbachev himself said “[t]he topic of NATO expansion was never discussed. It was not raised in those years.” For me personally, when an adversary is bleeding, open the wound further all other things being equal. 14 nations have joined NATO since 1997. Putin has attempted to establish himself as an authoritarian.
Putin and Mearsheimer are anachronisms. Paper tigers. Kings with no clothing. Ukrainians are showing the world how to stand up against ignorant and vulgar power. They are getting raped, murdered, and bombed and still outclassing the Russian army. Medvedev - calling on the four horsemen - is the pinnacle of absurdity and cowardice. This is a grown man resorting to superstition. I may believe four horseman exist. But I know Russia is not in coordination with them - not on any level. We face far greater dangers from climate change.
In the end, Mearsheimer is particularly offensive in the context of all this. Between wikipedia and two authors at duckofminerva.com, I am beginning to see some indications that he has nontrivial vulnerabilities as a theorist. I don't even see the realism in his thinking. Russia is looking quite weak at this time. I don't see myself as an optimist. I just see Putin facing a stacked deck.