What future Russia do we want?

It is not possible to see the pictures of dead bodies (320 and counting) and to hear the reports of the barbaric massacre of citizens of Bucha or the recent rocket attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed 50 and injured 98 civilians without feeling outrage towards the Russians and sorrow for the people of Ukraine. Understandable though such feels are, it is not a good state of mind in which to plan for a better future.

In a face-to-face interview with the Editor in Chief of The Economist in Kyiv on March 25, President Volodymyr Zelenskyin defined victory as: “being able to save as many lives as possible…because without this nothing would make sense.”  “The Russian war in Ukraine”  In this spirit, compromises will be made by both sides and a peace deal will be signed. It is for Ukraine to decide what is acceptable to them. But what should we wish for and— via various sanctions around the globe against Russia—what should we press for?

Our hearts cry out for revenge and punishment for Russia’s aggression and inhumane and barbaric behavior. But we would be much wiser to rely more on our minds than our hearts in fashioning the future. Existing and potentially strengthened sanctions will flatten the Russian economy if not lifted. Reallocating confiscated Russian property (e.g., the Central Bank of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves) for the reconstruction of Ukraine may seem justifiable but is surely illegal and no one should forget the role played by the Treaty of Versailles (providing for German reparations for WWI) in bringing about WWII. “How to stop a new cold war”

Ukraine President Zelensky has already indicated Ukraine’s potential willingness to become politically neutral ala Austria and give up seeking NATO membership. While taking territory by force violates international law, the formal return of Crimea to Russia, which is supported by over 80% of its residents, may well be part of a peace agreement. Should the U.S. and EU oppose such provisions? Should?

There are some, not just the defense industry, which profits from war, who believe that Putin is determined to reestablish the Imperial Russian Empire and must be resisted at all costs. We should fight Russia “to the last Ukrainian.” “How to stop a new cold war”  See the following interesting interview of Noam Chomsky: “Chomsky-US policy toward Putin assures no path to de-escalation in Ukraine”

Others, myself included, take seriously Putin’s (and Boris Yeltsin before him) pleas for a European security architecture in which Russia feels comfortable. We believe that America’s Monroe Doctrine is applicable to all major powers. Our true interest is in a peaceful Russia that is a comfortable member of the European continent ten or more years into the future. We should encourage Ukraine’s peace negotiations and our own sanctions and defense policies in that direction. Our defense industries have profited enough from our never-ending wars. Enough is enough. “Economic sanctions”

And we must never forget that our own flourishing rests, in part, on our reliable commitment to the rule of law. Why are we sanctioning Russians living outside of Russia and confiscating their yachts when they have not been convicted of any crimes? “The American Civil Liberties Union helped scuttle a bill this week that would have enabled the Biden administration to liquidate Russian oligarchs’ assets and turn the proceeds over to Ukraine.” “ACLU Ukraine-Russia-Oligarchs”

Our news media are confronting us daily with Russia’s atrocities (facts Russians are unable to see in their own country). It is hard not to want to strike out against Russia in kind. Such short-sighted reactions are not in Ukraine’s, nor the world’s, long run interest. We are, and should behave, better than that. “Ukraine itself is proposing terms that, if backed by a combination of U.S. and European sticks and carrots, stand some prospect of success.” “What can the US really do to protect civilians in Ukraine”  We should not let our short sighted, emotional, anger towards Russia and our military industry get in the way.

The Russian War in Ukraine

“Mariupol. As things have worsened the escape routes, already dangerous, have become more deadly. Oleksandr Horbachenko, a welder, says that when he left on March 18th the city was in a state of collapse, with no municipal services, no drinkable water and no food. He says at least 80% of buildings are bombed out. ‘The whole of the centre is in ruins, with wires and glass everywhere. The worst thing is seeing the corpses strewn across the street. There are hundreds of them rotting away near the central market.’” The Economist: An uncertain outlook”

All wars are terrible, especially when seen up close. Those who recklessly urge them are almost always viewing them safely from afar.  Russia’s war on Ukraine has become tangible to us because the Internet brings it visually to us in our living rooms almost instantly and because Russia’s poor planning and poor excursion on the ground have pushed it to launch rocket attacks on civilian locations. Anatol Lieven: Why the Russians are losing their military gambit in Ukraine”

In an in-person interview of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyin his compound in Kyiv, The Economist staff asked the President how he would define victory.

“’Victory is being able to save as many lives as possible…because without this nothing would make sense. Our land is important, yes, but ultimately, it’s just territory.’ To save everyone, defend all interests while protecting people and not giving up territory is probably an impossible task, he concedes.”

Why then, asked The Economist, hasn’t the President agreed with Putin on the terms of a peace?

Zelensky replied that: “Everyone has varied interests. There are those in the West who don’t mind a long war because it would mean exhausting Russia, even if this means the demise of Ukraine and comes at the cost of Ukrainian lives. This is definitely in the interests of some countries. For other countries, it would be better if the war ended quickly, because Russia’s market is a big one that their economies are suffering as a result of the war. They would like to see Russia keep certain markets” The Economist: Volodymyr Zelensky in his own words

This should give you pause. The severe economic sanctions being imposed on Russia (leaving aside the legally questionable confiscation of the private property of Russian oligarchs living in England and elsewhere) seem designed to flatten and isolate the Russian economy. Why? To what end?  That certainly doesn’t benefit me or my country. Presumably they are meant to bring an end to the fighting, but what conditions must Russia satisfy to have them lifted? I have heard none stated.

Why hasn’t the U.S. pressed harder for negotiations? Who benefits financially from prolonging this war? Who besides the usual profiters of war (Military Industrial Congressional Media Complex)?

Ukraine–Russia–NATO

Russia has surprised most of us with an all-out attack on Ukraine. What should the U.S., NATO, and Ukraine do now? Each possible answer implies different possible consequences. We would be wise to understand them as well as possible. We should try to evaluate the probable long-term effects as well as the immediate ones.

The fact of the matter is that that we made serious errors since the disbanding of the Soviet Union (the expansion of NATO, establishing Aegis Ashore missiles in Romania and Poland, etc.) that began on Christmas 1991. The effect was that Russia walked away from NATO rather than becoming a member. While all of this is very regrettable, it is nonetheless history. We are where we are now because this history has inevitably influenced the present and thereafter the future of Russian relations with the rest of the world.

While Ukrainian resistance appears stronger than Putin expected, Russia may well take control of parts of Kyiv and other western Ukrainian cities within days or weeks. However, following earlier examples of Russian incursions and given the inadequate size of its forces, it is likely to quickly withdraw after flexing its now stronger muscles in negotiating an agreement with the U.S., NATO and Ukraine.

According to Edward Luttwak tweeting on the afternoon of Feb 24 “Air strikes can reach any target but Russian troops are much too few to achieve a coup de main, the single act that both starts and ends a war. Yes, they control airfields & some city centers. Beyond them individual soldiers & volunteers will start killing Russian soldiers w/o end. They had a missile strike plan viz Ukraine air force, very weak in any case. Russian troops too few to control the country beyond airfields, central Kiev, Odessa, etc., nothing for hostile W Ukraine. Ukrainian soldiers & volunteers will fire & kill Russians. Final result: the end of Putin.”

President Biden has wisely stated that the U.S. will not send troops into Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. While he has rightly condemned Russia’s illegal attack, and together with our European allies has significantly increased economic sanctions on Russian banks, businesses, and officials, though still with significant carveouts, he has correctly, in my judgement, concluded that the cost to our already overstretched budget to fight a war over Ukraine is not in America’s interests.  We care about many people and things in the world for which it is not justified to spend our financial and human resources rather than focusing them initially on our own domestic needs. Some among us may want to rule the world but we can’t afford it either financially or morally. Our military industrial complex, which profits from wars, probably disagrees.

Luttwak claims that “close[ing] the road and rail connections between Germany and Russia… would be the most powerful of all sanctions.” This could be done unilaterally by Poland or the Polish people. “Polish peace demonstrators [could] stop the unceasing traffic of trucks delivering Western European exports to Russia.  German cars, Dutch vegetables, French luxury exports.  That very powerful sanction does not require NATO or EU approval, just some people who care. ‘No bypass’”

More generally, sanctions have historically not been a very effective tool. “A new history of sanctions has unsettling lessons for today” Trade is win win. Both sides benefit. Thus, blocking trade is loss loss. Both sides suffer. Moreover, it is very difficult to design sanctions that hurt the target government more than its people. “Econ 101-How to help Afghans”

Ukraine is more important and relevant to European security than to ours (though one may argue that if Ukraine falls and the democracy in Europe suffers and crumbles, this affects the United States in the long run as well). In addition to financial and military aid to Ukraine, one or more European countries could, outside of the NATO context, send their troops to help defend the existing government of Ukraine.

It is very unlikely that Putin would escalate the fighting further, though it is not clear how rational Putin is these days and Russia has nuclear weapons. He was close to crazy to have launched the war now underway in Ukraine. Such European military intervention would likely save the Zelensky government and the negotiated peace (which should have been negotiated a month or two ago on the basis of Putin’s eight demands last December) would still need to mutually satisfy the interests of Russia, Europe and Ukraine.

If Ukraine receives no military help, it might still hold off the Russian army from toppling the Zelensky government. Russia might then be forced to be satisfied to hold the eastern, Russian dominated piece of the pie. The final settlement might take a bit longer in this case, but it might contain similar provisions. As Luttwak has argued above, a full Russian victory is unlikely and is expected not to last for long and would be a huge drain on Russian resources. Russia will surely pay a very high price for (presumably) gaining a government subservient to Moscow.

The longer run (five to ten or more years) consequence of one or another of the above scenarios is, of course, hard to predict but it should be taken into account. If the Zelensky government survives largely on the basis of its own efforts, it might be hoped that Zelensky’s far from complete efforts to clean up and reform his government will continue and be strengthened. A Russian victory (replacing Zelensky–dead or alive–with a Moscow puppet) would surely perpetuate and strengthen the corruption Ukraine has suffered for decades. Putin’s original eight demands would still have to be resolved and agreed in a mutually acceptable way. Doing so in January, of course, would have saved everyone a lot of lives and treasure, but discussions of these issues were hard to find in the American press.  

How this war is settled will also have consequences for American, EU, and Russian assessments of each other’s strengths and interests and thus how to deal with one another in the future. Will Russia revert to an enemy in which we keep our defense industry happy with another cold war or will we undo the NATO inflicted damage of the last twenty years that turned a potential friend to a costly enemy? China has decided to stay out of the fray neither supporting the US-Europe alliance nor the Russians which is a wise decision on their part.

The initial reactions in Russia have not favored Putin. The Russian population was not prepared to shift from seeing Ukraine as part of the family to an enemy that its sons and daughters were dying to overturn. A Russian defeat or even stalemate “victory” could be the end of Putin.  I am predisposed to believe in happy endings, which is perhaps why no one pays me for my forecasts.

We must never lose sight of the fact that Russia is more than Putin, Ukraine is more than Zelensky, and NATO is more than Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. If I had said Biden (or Trump) you would have understood instantly. And among the population are many factions. The U.S. seems rarely to take such domestic realities into account when it decides to march into and take over countries.

In an email February 26, Chas Freeman said: “Regrettably, the place of Ukraine in Europe, which might have been decided through negotiations between Moscow and Washington in consultation with Kyiv, will now be decided through interactions by Russian dictation to Ukrainians without reference to either the United States or NATO.  Russia’s coercive diplomacy failed to elicit an offer to address its longstanding, oft-expressed concerns about the possibility that Ukraine might become part of an American sphere of influence on its border under circumstances in which the United States has officially designated Russia as an adversary.  So, Moscow made good on its ultimatum, and used force.  As it did so, it moved the goalposts.  Now Russia appears to seek the subordination of Ukraine to its domination rather than simply its denial to the United States. This is a tragedy that might have been avoided.  Now we are left to hope for a resurrection of diplomacy when there is no clear path to it.”

On February 25, Pavel K Baev stated that: “Now we know that Putin’s obsession with Ukraine — which constitutes a threat to his regime not because of hypothetic NATO missiles, but because of its choice for democracy and closer ties with Europe — prevailed over common political sense and strategic risk assessments.” “Implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine–Brookings Brief”

But the almost last word should go to Edward Luttwak who tweeted on Feb 26: “Having invaded with too few troops to pull off a fait accompli, with many Russian troops killed because of incautious tactics that presumed no real resistance, Putin has also closed the door to talks with Pres Zelensky: ‘I will not talk with drug addicts and neo-Nazis’. Sanctions.   Not too late to send large numbers of small arms and point & shoot anti-tank weapons to Ukraine via Poland or Slovakia. There are warehouses full of both (+ their ammo) across NATO because of the drastic reduction in force-levels. Ukrainians are resisting bravely and deserve help”

And the final word goes to Thomas Pickering (former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation and other places): “The end result must be respectful, fair, and balanced for the people of Russia and for all other parties. It will take wisdom, time, sacrifice, and persistence. To get there, the U.S. must lead, help to finance, and participate extensively in an international coalition — through the United Nations if possible, outside it if necessary — and listen to all like-minded states.” “Implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine–Brookings Brief”

Diplomacy

What does the press coverage of the Canadian trucker strike and Russia’s threatened attack on Ukraine have in common?  Matt Taibbi’s column on the “The Great International Convoy Fiasco” will tell you. For good measure, he added that “On February 4th, 2004, the Wall Street Journal published, ‘A Historian’s Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight’, about the influence of a Princeton Scholar named Bernard Lewis on George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. The ‘Lewis Doctrine’ was simple. The good professor believed there was no point to asking, Why do they hate us?”

For many weeks the American press (I apologize for lumping our somewhat diverse collection of newspapers into one camp) have been shouting that Russia might invade Ukraine any day now. Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, says that that is nonsense and to please stop saying it. I am inclined to believe him over our newspapers.

Something similar is going on with the striking Canadian truck drivers. The message in both cases is that we need to be tough. Arrest them and remove their trucks that are blocking the border with the U.S. Beef up our troops in Europe and tell Putin all the nasty things we will do to him if Russian troops cross the border. The mindset that reacts in these ways is not in our national interest.

Why are the truckers striking and why is Putin demanding a rethink of European defense architecture? While Putin has told us explicitly what he wants, to my knowledge no meetings have occurred between the Canadian truckers and the Canadian government. We may or may not sympathize with some of the Trucker’s concerns, but the proper (dare I say adult) starting point is to sit down with them and understand what they want.  At least the Biden administration is talking with the Russians, but it would be healthier if more were said in the Press about these talks and the issues that Russia has raised, and less about the potential for, if not eminence of, war. Such discussion of the pros and cons of mutually acceptable options are out there, but you need to search for them.

The role of diplomacy (the first intergovernmental tool of civilized nations) is to understand the concerns and desires of the other side. That is the essential first step in seeking out areas of common ground that each side can live with. War is (or should be) a last resort.  I am sure that Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, etc. can figure out other uses for their manufacturing and technical capabilities. “National Defense”

To whom or to what am I loyal?

I am an American. I believe strongly and am loyal to the principles of individual freedom and limited government embedded in the American Constitution. I have also been a Republican all of my life because I judged that the Republican Party best reflected the above principles. But in 2016 I changed my party registration to Libertarian because I no longer believed that the Republican Party remained faithful to my political beliefs.

I have followed the testimony in the Impeachment hearings investigating high crimes and misdemeanors by President Trump. Generally, I have relied on press summaries but I watched the live full testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, Jenniffer Williams, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, David Holmes and Fiona Hill.  Ambassador Sondland was a large contributor to the Trump campaign and was rewarded with the appointment as Ambassador to the European Union, an assignment that included Ukraine.  Amb. Sondland has no foreign policy experience. His testimony, however, set a high standard for frankness and openness. He came across as very bright and (now) well informed. In his testimony, however, he obviously wished to justify the role he played in attempting to persuade the Ukrainian President to agree to Trump’s request for a “favor.”

The testimony of Ambassador Sondland and the others (including Bill Taylor, George Kent, and Kurt Volker) left no doubt whatsoever that President Trump, operating through Rudy Giuliani, tried to bribe Ukraine’s new anticorruption President, Volodymyr Zelensky, to publicly announce an investigation of Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and of the Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.  Hunter Biden–former Vice President and current Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son–served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, from 2014 to 2019.  “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Pence and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were among those whom Ambassador Gordon Sondland said were aware of the pressure on Ukraine for probes that could damage President Trump’s political opponents” Sondland said there was a quid-pro-quo

It is common for our foreign policy relations and aid to be based on quid pro quos. That is to say that we provide aid when conditions are met that we think service American interests.  What is involved here, however, is President Trump using American tax payers money and the powers and influence of his office for his personal political advantage.  In fact, his actions toward Ukraine are quite contrary to our American interests (which is a stronger, less corrupt Ukraine on the border of Russia).  In my opinion the now well known facts of Trump’s behavior visa vie Ukraine is impeachable.

For a while I still held out hope that there would be Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who would honestly seek the truth of Trump’s behavior. I was sadly disappointed. Congressman Devin Nunes couldn’t get beyond repeating old discredited claims and his demand that the whistleblower testify. The idea that the secondhand claims by the whistleblower of impropriety by Trump would add anything to the firsthand testimony we have now heard doesn’t pass the laugh test. The council leading the questioning for the Republicans is pathetic–a real embarrassment. He seemed to only strengthen the case against Trump.

In my opinion many of the policies being advanced by many of the Democrat presidential candidates need to be effectively countered. I am losing hope that the Republican party is still capable of doing that.