Streetwise Professor

September 1, 2014

Merkel: No Military Solution in Ukraine. Putin: Really? It’s Working for Me!

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:57 am

As surely as day follows night, Putin followed the most recent EU meeting with an escalation in Donbas. As is their wont, the Euros expressed outrage at Russian actions in Ukraine and threatened increased sanctions, but their body English/German/French/Dutch, etc., screamed  a desire to avoid a confrontation at all costs. The delay of seven days in announcing sanctions was only the most visible manifestation of Europussilanimity. So Putin took his cue, and ratcheted up both the military tempo and his rhetoric.

Per usual, Merkel was the leader of the poodle pack. Even though Germany has agreed to send weapons to the pesh merga fighting ISIS (though Germany is unwilling to, and probably incapable of, assisting in military action in Iraq), Merkel stubbornly doubled down in her refusal to do the same for Ukraine (h/t Ivan):

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, speaking early Sunday after the meeting broke up, said that Germany “will certainly not deliver weapons, as this would give the impression that this is a conflict that can be solved militarily.” But she said further sanctions were needed, as “the situation has deteriorated considerably in the last few days,” and would be imposed “if this situation continues.”

Apparently Putin didn’t understand Merkel’s pronouncement, despite his fluency in German, because he is clearly under the impression that the conflict in Donbas can be solved militarily.

Compare and contrast her stony refusal to arm the Ukrainians to her plaint on the need to arm the Kurds. With respect to the Kurds she said, “the immense suffering of many people cries out and our own security interests are threatened.” First: there is immense suffering in Ukraine, even if it hasn’t devolved to head chopping quite yet. Second: Germany’s own security interests are far more threatened by Putin’s actions in Ukraine than ISIS’s actions in Iraq, as ominous as the latter are. I would say that Merkel is willing to arm the Kurds precisely because ISIS’s threat to Germany is far more distant than Putin’s is.

Merkel’s idiocy is beyond measure. The point of supplying weapons to Ukraine is to deter Russian aggression. The prospect of facing Ukrainian forces amply armed with anti-tank weapons could be just the ticket to get Putin to un-deteriorate the situation in Ukraine. Given Russia’s weak manpower situation, he cannot mount an even slightly extended campaign. His army is still highly dependent on conscripts, and with the one-year conscription cycle, units are deployable for only 4 to 6 months. Moreover, although some losses can be hidden from the Russian public for a period of time, large losses over an extended period cannot. Nations with very small cohorts of young men are especially sensitive to losing them.

Hence, it would not take much of a leap in Ukrainian military capacity to give Putin grave reservations about escalating the military confrontation even further. A liberal supply of selected weapons (as well as intelligence and communications and logistics support) would provide that capacity. But Germany-and the US administration-steadfastly withhold it. It borders on the criminal.

And here’s a puzzler. Germany now ranks as the second largest arms exporter in the world. Since heaven forfend Germany would sell weapons to countries that would use them for aggressive purposes, it must be that the German weapons are being sold to countries that want to be able to defend themselves against aggressors, and by purchasing arms they can deter such aggression. So by making large weapons sales, Germany must be relying on the argument that the deterrence effect of these arms reduces the likelihood that countries will try to solve disputes militarily. But it is unwilling to apply that argument to Ukraine.

Or maybe it’s just that Ukraine can’t pay, so screw ’em.

Back in 2008-2009, I asked whether the situation was more like the 70s (the optimistic view, such as it was) or the 30s (the pessimistic one). I think the answer is now clear. We are in 30s mode, with a craven West cringing before emboldened autocrats in both Europe and Asia.

This provides a demonstration of why history cycles. The politicians who are elected in a time of (relative) peace and prosperity are usually the least fit to keep the peace and stability. They are focused on domestic issues, and take international tranquility for granted. They point to the absence of an imminent threat, and argue that militaries can be slashed. They are masters of projection, assuming that everyone is as pacific as they, and share their desire to focus on economic issues and domestic programs and spending.

But they fail to realize that threats are endogenous. When everyone is a lamb, there is an opportunity for wolves. Predators like Putin can succeed only because stronger nations and groups of nations become soft, let slip their vigilance, drop their guard. They are full of rationales for doing so, but in the end these  are just manifestations of their denial of the reality that not all people, politicians, and leaders think the same way and pursue the same ends.

So after a period of conflict, strife-weary countries turn to softer leaders who sing siren songs, who are temperamentally and constitutionally averse to conflict, who despise martial matters (and who are hence ignorant of them), and who are strategic naifs who think that every dispute can be negotiated. Appeasement is their first instinct, and their second, and their third. They believe in win-win, in give-and-take.

This creates a main chance for aggressive opportunists, especially those of a zero sum mindset. Opportunists who interpret every concession made to them as an invitation to demand more. These wolves upset the peaceful (apparent) equilibrium, ushering in a period of conflict and disorder that the lambs are utterly incapable of addressing. Populations are interrupted from their reveries, and turn to more steely leaders, and the cycle begins again.

In the meantime, however, there is much trouble, suffering, and too often, bloodshed. Ukraine is the first to suffer from this phase of the cycle. It is almost certainly not the last.

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  1. Erm, actually Georgia was the first. Putin-Verstehers spared no effort to not notice it. Luckily, Dabya was still in office, or there probably would be no Georgia by now.

    Comment by Ivan — September 1, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

  2. @Ivan-fair enough.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 1, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

  3. Yes there’s a “roadmap” for what’s happening in Ukraine and that was Georgia. In the French brokered ceasefire, Russia agreed to return her military to her borders. Still hasn’t happened. Also, George war started in Aug 2008 and some mostly unknown Sen. Obama was running for president. I think GW Bush would have acted more forcefully if it hadn’t been so close to the presidential election.

    Re: Merkel. I’ve seen a couple news articles lately that are saying she might have been part of the KGB or E German intelligence before unification.

    I think Germany should remember that KGB Col Putin probably had an office in Berlin — he may be planning on moving back in soon.

    Comment by Jim — September 1, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  4. Which, when you think about it, makes Obama’s look-how-witty-I-am “the ’80s called” even more disgusting. Makes you wonder if he had actually just got off the phone with Chamberlain instead.

    Comment by Ivan — September 1, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

  5. @Ivan, very true, I am coming from the “right” side and you are 100% correct, only problem, people on the left can not find one single thing Obama has failed at, not one, all Kool-Aid drinkers- people on the right can find plenty wrong with Bush, it may be true that the only debate in the country now is betweeen the right and itself.

    Comment by Tom Henderson — September 1, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

  6. @Jim-re Merkel. I had been reluctant to embrace that interpretation, but that becomes more difficult by the day. It is more than plausible that she had some Stasi connection, which has made her vulnerable to blackmail.

    Regardless, what it says to me is that the NSA had more than enough reason to spy on her, especially given the number of other German politicians and bureaucrats who have been found to have been Soviet/Russian assets.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 1, 2014 @ 2:37 pm

  7. @Tom. Yes. Most conservatives, especially of the libertarian bent, are ambivalent about Bush, at best. But progs are totally slaves to the Obama personality cult.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 1, 2014 @ 2:39 pm

  8. Great commentary! This has to be the most intelligent commentary, regarding Ukraine, that I have read in a very long time. I am sitting here in Kiev, Ukraine, very closely following events on various news sources from various countries in various languages and am shocked by how badly the EU countries (and Obama) understand Putin’s motivations in Ukraine. I have followed Putin’s anti-Ukrainian hysterics for many years now. He has been preparing Russians and, even the world, for his attack on Ukraine for quite some time. This is certainly the case since the Orange Revolution. At that time, the Russian press went overboard in spreading hatred towards not only the Ukrainian government but even ethnic Ukrainians themselves. This was the Kremlin’s policy. Of course, the press in Russia has not been free or independent for quite some time. “Live TV” has not been around for quite some time, since God forbid, someone could say something critical of Putin without the government being able to control it. In April 2008, I recall seeing various articles and news reports from leading newspapers and news services (BBC, Deutsche Welle, The Telegraph and Daily Mail and many others), from around the world which claimed a toymaker in Ukraine was making Hitler dolls for Ukrainian children and that the dolls were a “big hit”. This was explained as being due to the fact that Ukraine was becoming “fascist” under Yushchenko’s rule. This news was being spread by Russia’s government owned “Perviy Kanal” (Channel 1). In fact the BBC report was practically a direct copy of the Perviy Kanal report. This is probably the first time that I noticed, internationally, that the Kremlin was waging a war against Ukraine and trying to convince the international community that Ukraine was “fascist”. However, there have been many other examples of such anti-Ukraine hate crimes coming from Russia in more recent years. If you look at Russian cinema (unfortunately, you’ll have to understand Russian to pick up on much of this) you’ll notice that the “Ukrainians” in Russian movies are almost always negative persons meaning fascists, evil, cowards, traitors, nazi collaborators etc., etc. In the movie “Match” (2012), anyone who speaks Ukrainian is a Nazi collaborator. Only the Russian speakers are the true anti-Nazi Soviet patriots. Everything else that has to do with Ukrainian culture or the Ukrainian identity is also denigrated. Thinking about this situation now, when Russia is waging a war against Ukraine and is calling Ukrainians “fascists” and “nazis”, it is quite obvious that Russia was planning some sort of a takeover of Ukraine, whether peaceful (through his puppet Yanukovych) or by way of force, for quite some time. It has also been very obvious, to those of us who have followed events in Russia over the years, that Putin true goal is the recreation of a new “Soviet Union” or “Russian Empire” dominated by Russia and lead by him, regardless of whether he calls it a “Eurasian Union” or “Customs Union” or anything else. But without Ukraine, such a “union” could never work. Russia’s population of ethnic Russians is declining fast and Putin needs Ukraine’s human and other resources. But where I can certainly say that Putin is a fool that has no idea about Ukraine or Ukrainians, is that his method of getting Ukraine to join Russia has been through the most evil of means in crapping all over Ukrainians, their culture, history and identity. If he knew anything about Ukrainians, he would have tried a nicer tactic since Ukrainians, unsurprisingly, are only driven away from Russia when they are offended like this. Thus, his new empire is doomed to failure since Ukrainians certainly want nothing to do with Russia for a very long time to come and will fight hard for their independence.

    Comment by Dave Thomas — September 1, 2014 @ 4:55 pm

  9. @Dave-Thanks for your kind words. Russian military attacks on Ukraine are only the culmination of a broad array of other attacks dating back years. You provide considerable detail illustrating just how comprehensive these attacks have been been.

    I am always astounded at Russian attitudes towards Ukrainians. The more Ukrainians attempt to forge an identity independent of Russia, the more crazed the Russians become. It can only be described as psychotic.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — September 2, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

  10. Why doesn’t Poroshenko make a deal with Putin? He has only bad choices in front of him, but many are much worse than others. The Ukraine military is no match for Russia, and NATO and the Western powers have unambiguously announced that they will not come to the aid of Ukraine. Poroshenko can fight, but ultimately will lose the battle, many lives and destroy the livelihood of ordinary Ukrainians. He is fighting for fairness and to save face for a political boundary that has moved continuously over the centuries?… Instead be realistic, and save thousands if not millions of lives. Let the boundary go, and give Putin a land bridge to the BlackSea. Porochekno – make a deal with Putin while you still have leverage, and join NATO at the same time as a trade. Give up SouthEast Ukraine. Even better, let Russia buy SE Ukraine by offering the people compensation for anyone to migrates to Western Ukraine and gives up their property. Many Ukrainians will likely stay as part of Russia, and not want to move. It may not be a “fair solution”, but it is clearly a more peaceful one than Obama/Merkel/Putin/Poroshenko are stumbling into. With Kerry on the job, the crisis is doomed.

    Comment by scott — September 3, 2014 @ 2:54 am

  11. Scott, that will only encourage Putin. Appeasement always fails in the end.

    Comment by Andrew — September 3, 2014 @ 6:20 am

  12. Why doesn’t Poroshenko make a deal with Putin?

    I fear Poroshenko isn’t fighting for Ukraine, but for Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Shame the cretins in the EU capitals and Washington DC don’t realise this.

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 3, 2014 @ 6:24 am

  13. Scott, I am not sure if Putin is still in his right mind. In the literal sense, this is not a rhetoric figure.

    Comment by LL — September 3, 2014 @ 7:11 am

  14. @Tim
    > Shame the cretins in the EU capitals and Washington DC don’t realise this.

    And what would indicate they don’t?

    Realise but refuse to admit it is more like it.

    Comment by Ivan — September 3, 2014 @ 11:14 am

  15. @Ivan,

    Quite, the Lithuanian president is the only one speaking any sense and calling things how it is. I guess because she has more skin in the game than these assholes further west.

    Comment by Tim Newman — September 3, 2014 @ 11:58 am

  16. The problem with any deal is that we have zero confidence that Putin will make no more demands. The man has consistently lied throughout the entire Russo-Ukrainian War, and his statements make it very clear he envisioned Russia obtaining a much larger piece of Ukraine.

    The leaders of NATO thought Crimea would be the end. Then they thought the anti-Kiev insurgency would be limited to the Donbas until it exploded across all of “Novorossiya” – that didn’t end until the local population got fed up with the police not keeping law and order and took matters into their own hands. Once the pro-Moscow thugs knew people would fight back (and were too far away to have Russian weapons and agents arrive to assist them) the revolt completely collapsed. It didn’t end in Kharkhov, Odessa, or Kherson because Putin decided to restrain his appetite, it only ended because resistance made it impossible.

    Nobody has any reason to believe Putin’s goals would end at autonomoy of the Donbas. The idea that Poroschenko can make a deal and end the conflict is false. There is every reason to believe Putin just needs the conflict to be kept at a certain level because it current status is creating problems for him. Since this is so, once the conflict deescalates to an acceptable level to Putin and Poroschenko has taken political damage for the deal, and the West becomes less concerned, Putin will escalate it again in an attempt to take more land.

    At some point, Ukraine has to fight. At some point, the security of NATO is so endangered that support to Ukraine must be given. Better to do it now while the Russians are so far east than when they are in Odessa.

    Comment by Chris — September 3, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

  17. If Russians are adamant there are no Russian troops in Donbass, then we certainly can help the Ukrainians with airstrike campaign, right?

    Comment by LL — September 3, 2014 @ 1:34 pm


    At least someone is beginning to make sense.

    Comment by LL — September 3, 2014 @ 7:22 pm

  19. Poroshenko making a deal with Putin is the opposite of appeasement…(Didn’t anybody here play Risk or Stratego?). Belgium in WW1 and Poland in WW2 can hardly be considered guilty of appeasement before those countries were overrun by Germany. Strong neighboring parties do the appeasing (or reneging) It was the military powers (UK,France, USA) that are guilty of appeasement in that era, and same ones guilty today. Poroshenko’s options are limited, and he should act to maximize his interests now that the Western powers have clearly signaled that Ukraine is on his own militarily. Be strategic- slow Putin down and keep him from coming to the Baltics by negotiating a deal. Instead if you let him overtake Kiev, he may be even more emboldened by the weakness in the West.

    How different this battle might have been in Jim Baker had not convinced the Ukraine to give up its nuclear arsenal in 1990.

    Comment by scott — September 4, 2014 @ 2:23 am

  20. @scott
    > Instead if you let him overtake Kiev, he may be even more emboldened by the weakness in the West.

    Euromaidan has clearly demonstrated that Ukrainians are fed up with Putin’s control over Ukraine, be it via use of force as you fear or via threat of force, as would be under the “deal” you propose. Putin’s being more emboldened is something for the West to worry about: he is already emboldened enough by the West’s pusillanimity, as far as Ukraine is concerned. The West can and probably will insist on continuing to behave arbitrarily idiotic vs the Russian threat, but to insist that Ukraine has to surrender so as to lower the chance that the West will pay the full price for its idiocy is a bit too much. Ukraine’s best strategy is to raise the perceived threat to the West by all reasonable means, not to lower it by an illusion of piece.

    Comment by Ivan — September 4, 2014 @ 5:17 am

  21. erm, that was peace

    Comment by Ivan — September 4, 2014 @ 5:21 am

  22. @Ivan- good point it maybe in Ukraine’s best interest to escalate the threat to existential levels, and move the flash point and bloodshed further west. But with friends like OboMarkel (arbitrary & idiotic), many Ukrainians might simply prefer to live under the predictable tyranny of Putin than the capricious NATO alliance (VICE news has some good footage of this).

    Even without the Russian military threat lapping at my doorstep, I am worried that NATO could not find its way out of paper bag.

    Comment by scott — September 4, 2014 @ 8:15 am

  23. “the predictable tyranny of Putin”? or … predictable (maybe) but preferable?

    Comment by Dixi — September 5, 2014 @ 7:52 am

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