It appears that it's extremely likely that there will be war in Eastern Europe for the first time since 1944. While there is obviously no "legal" grounds for Russia's decision, it appears that the Russian leadership has decided that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. It seems clear that Moscow has decided that to use the mere threat of force to win political gain will not achieve their political aims.
How - or if - the rest of Europe, and the world, responds will have a great deal to do with the way this plays out
Consider this an open thread to discuss.
Update 2/21: Fred Kaplan has some ideas about why the attack didn't happen Sunday.
Interesting political note; in case you're wondering why the response from the U.S. Right seems so peculiar, consider that while Putin polls at about 75% negative amongst self-identified Republicans, Biden polls at minus-90%.
Update 2/21pm: Max Seddon (Financial Times Moscow bureau chief) live-tweeting Putin's speech:
Not promising. Worth a scan of the whole thing; sounds like Putin is taking his "I alone can fix Russia by making it the old USSR again!" for a long walk.
Update 2/21 p.m.: I'm reading that Russian maneuver forces are moving into the two eastern oblasts, and particularly towards the city of Donetsk. This is consistent with Putin's speech identifying the eastern regions as part of Russia. Presumably these will complete the takeover of the entire Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts from the Ukraine government.
The real crux of the biscuit will be if the forces along the southern border of Belarus strike towards Kyiv. The distance between the border and the Ukraine capital is relatively short, and the lure for Putin and the Russian Army leadership of a "decapitation strike" must be very strong...
Update 2/24: It now appears that Putin's goal is full-on subjugation of Ukraine.
I'm not sure if this will involve prolonged
Russian occupation; if Putin doesn't, I'll bet his military chiefs
remember both the Chechen and Afghan nightmares as well as the post-WW2
Ukrainian resistance. But the actual conquest is pretty much guaranteed;
the relative strengths of the two militaries all but ensures that T-90s
will be parked in the Maidan fairly soon.
My guess is that after a brief occupation and ratissage
of Ukrainian nationalists the Russians will leave behind a Quisling
government including a mini-KGB/FSB and antipartisan militia to hunt the
resistance. I could see this working at least well-enough to get by in the eastern regions.
How well this will work in Ruthenia is anyone's guess. But "not so well" would be mine.
Now...my further, and more worried, question is whether the success of this move will embolden Putin to go after his other lust-objects, the pieces of the former USSR.
The Baltics? Georgia? One of the lessons of the fascist 1930s is that once a fascist dictator is on a roll he's often unwilling or unable to stop himself.
For a long time I thought that Putin was too canny to go full-on Hitler.
Now? I'm not convinced he has.
But I'm not so sure he hasn't, either.
And...it's worth noting that if there are any "good options" here I don't see them.
Sanctions on Russia? Ask the Cuban government how well that works. Military action? Against a nuclear power run by what increasingly appears to be an aggressive dictator who DGAF?
The brutal reality that young Mr. Putin is reminding us is that in international relations the strong CAN do what they please and the weak WILL suffer what they must.
I don't have to like that and neither do you.
But that changes this atrocity not a whit.
Update 2/25: Juan Cole observes
that Dick n' Dubya's Excellent Iraqi Adventure "enabled" the Russian
invasion of Ukraine. Over here our reliable commentor Sven makes
pretty much the same point.
I have a fair amount of respect for Cole's opinions on the Middle East, and Sven's opinions overall, but I think they overstate the case.
Reassembling the old Soviet Union has been an obsession of Putin's for as long as I've known about Putin. I can't believe that some sort of move to re-absorb Ukraine wasn't on his bucket list for a loooong time; the recent Ukrainian move to try and become more closely integrated with its western neighbors rather than Russia probably moved it up the list as well as making armed force more plausible.
(and, while we're on the subject, who the hell would WANT to be a "Russian" given the current conditions in Russia? Life as an American wage-slave sucks pretty big ass. Throw in open kleptocracy for the discreet American version along with shittier living conditions? Ugh. Our return-to-the-Gilded-Age economy may make life pretty grinding for the 99%, but I can't see voluntarily wanting to swap that for life in the post-Soviet Russia. There's frying pans and there's fires.)
Anyway, I agree with Cole that American foreign policy makes it harder for the U.S. to oppose other's military fucktardry. I agree with Sven that the U.S. and the West has done badly, both in general and in Eastern Europe.
But I disagree that Putin needed any help to decide to kill Ukrainians, or that anyone else deserves to go directly to Hell for that decision.
The U.S. was wrong in Iraq, just as it's been wrong all over the world in places like Nicaragua and Vietnam. Iraq is and was a war crime, making aggressive war, the crime for which the victorious Allies hung Nazi leaders. Dick and Dubya should be in jail, not enjoying a comfy elder statesmen's retirement.
But that simply makes Putin just as guilty.
They all should be sharing a cell in SuperMax, and We the People of the United States should be ashamed for letting them do otherwise.
those Russians who are trying to stop Putin...I have no words, and
doubt I have that kind of bravery. I wish I thought you could succeed. I
hate what I know will happen to you
And I'm just sorry, sorry for this sorry world that has so much wrong in it.
Update 2/26: The fighting continues in Ukraine, with the Russian forces doing surprisingly poorly (relative to the preponderance of weight-of-metal on the Russian side...). I still doubt the outcome is in play - poor or not, quantity has a quality all it's own (just hard on the people in the "quantity"...).
My opinion remains unchanged. As much as the U.S. has been a bad actor globally that doesn't excuse this. In the last words of the guys on Snake Island, "Russian warship, go fuck yourself."
Krugman has a column that makes a good point, though; for all that fingers are pointing at Putin and Russia right now, there's a mote/beam problem related to our own plutocratic/kleptocratic economies and the malefactors of great wealth therein that emphasizes the degree to which We the People have casually let the very sort of corruption endemic in Putin's Russia become less blatant but almost as endemic all over the West.
That makes even economic war problematic.
"There are two uncomfortable facts here. First, a number of influential people, both in business and in politics, are deeply financially enmeshed with Russian kleptocrats. This is especially true in Britain. Second, it will be hard to go after laundered Russian money without making life harder for all money launderers, wherever they come from — and while Russian plutocrats may be the world champions in that sport, they’re hardly unique: Ultrawealthy people all over the world have money hidden in offshore accounts.
What this means is that taking effective action against Putin’s greatest vulnerability will require facing up to and overcoming the West’s own corruption.
Can the democratic world rise to this challenge? We’ll find out over the next few months."
Remember the "Panama Papers"? The revelation of the vast coterie of Western vulture capitalists that were thieving and cheating right alongside the cartoon Latin caudillos, African "strongmen", and Russian oligarchs? Remember how many of them we prosecuted, convicted, mulcted of their stolen lucre, and sent to the Crossbar Hotel?
Yeah, me neither.
I'm not saying "Oh, we're just as bad as Russia, so we can't point fingers." Sure we can - we just need to be willing to point fingers at our own when they go wrong. We haven't done that. The fact that people like Dubya and Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and a gajillion Wall Street thieves and, yes, Trump are still walking around free is living testimony to the degree we've failed.
Putin is still a sonofabitch.
We really need to use this occasion of naked kleptocratic criminality, though, to think hard about how much rope we want to give our own oligarchs.