Streetwise Professor

February 19, 2022

We Live in Weird Times, Ukraine Edition

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 12:10 pm

The most striking thing about the “Ukraine situation” (quote marks explained shortly) is its weirdness. All you hear about is Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, but Putin’s recent demarche was not only about Ukraine, or even primarily about Ukraine (hence calling it the Ukrainian situation is highly misleading). Instead, Putin has demanded a restoration of pre-1997 eastern Europe, specifically the rollback of Nato and the elimination of Nato forces in inter alia Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltics. To Russia, Ukraine matters primarily to the extent that its inclusion in western security (and economic) structures would exacerbate an already unacceptable status quo.

I am reminded of this classic National Lampoon cover:

In my imagined reboot, Ukraine is the dog, Putin is holding the gun, and the caption is “If you don’t get Nato out of eastern Europe, we’ll kill Ukraine.”

In other words, and not for the first time, Ukraine is a pawn in a bigger game between great powers. Or to shift metaphors, Ukraine is a stage for an elaborate kabuki between Russia and the US (with western Europe playing its usual bit part).

The US character in this drama is particularly weird. The US was hysterically screaming that the invasion is “imminent.” It even named the date–16 February. Then it dropped the word “imminent” for a bit, before resurrecting it. Yesterday Biden said he was “convinced” that an invasion is forthcoming, and even claimed that he knew the ultimate objective–Kiev/Kyiv, i.e., a complete overthrow of the Ukrainian state. (Perhaps this was a veiled attempt to walk back his previous “limited incursion” gaffe.)

But . . . those supposedly in the cross hairs continue to downplay the threat. Ukrainian president Zelensky has told Biden (and the Defense Department, State Department, and various Deep State leakers) to chill. Yesterday the Ukrainian defense minister said that “we estimate the probability of a large scale escalation as low.”

Why is the US so alarmist, when those whom it is ostensibly alarmed about are not? Only weird explanations come to mind. One is that Biden (or more accurately, those really in control) actually want a conflict with Russia. Insane–but plausible, because other agendas are at work here. Another is that this is a cynical manipulation. The government knows Putin is highly unlikely to invade but is exaggerating the threat in order to take credit for his not doing so: “See! We stood up to Putin and he backed down!” (Kind of like my invisible tiger gun. What? You don’t think it works? Well, you don’t see any tigers around, do you?)

I seriously doubt that Putin will invade, on any scale. Or let’s put it this way, any invasion would likely turn out very badly, so a sane Putin would not do it. Yes, that leaves the possibility that Putin is not rational, but then, how could he be deterred?

A large scale invasion–i.e., Biden’s scenario of a drive on Kiev and the overthrow of the Ukrainian state–would saddle Russia with a costly, long occupation at best, and a perhaps an extended guerrilla war. (The nationalist militias that figure greatly in Russian and pro-Russian narratives on Ukraine present a credible threat of such an outcome.) A Ukrainian Ulcer, as it were.

And that is not to mention the consequences of any economic measures against Russia. And most importantly, it would certainly result in the exact opposite of what Putin currently demands: namely, greater militarization of eastern Europe and greater integration of that area into Nato force structures. (The just announced sale of M1 Abrams tanks to Poland is a harbinger of such an outcome.) It would also greatly increase the odds of Sweden and Finland joining Nato.

A more limited operation (e.g., movements focused on the Black Sea coast of Ukraine) would be less costly in terms of the operation itself and the occupation aftermath, but would mainly succeed in extending the front (currently limited to Donetsk and Luhansk) with the concomitant costs, thereby expanding an already draining frozen conflict, and adding another economic sinkhole to the great Russian empire. Moreover, it would almost certainly result in the same western and eastern European reaction in terms of sanctions and bolstering of Nato.

Perhaps Putin’s demands regarding a return to the pre-1997 status quo are a bargaining chip that he will sacrifice for some concessions on Ukraine. Recognition of Russian possession of Crimea and the Donbas, perhaps. And/or preclusion of Ukraine joining Nato and western economic and government structures. Installation of a compliant regime in Ukraine, and de facto Russian veto over the Ukrainian government.

In other words, his reservation price for not shooting the dog is lower than his current offer.

But even this negotiating strategy requires a credible threat to back it. The credibility of the threat to invade Ukraine is dubious, for the reasons outlined above.

Predicting the outcome of bargaining games under asymmetric information is always very difficult, and that’s what we have here. If I had to guess, I would say that the ultimate outcome will be something along the lines that Macron mooted when he met Putin: Finlandization of Ukraine. (Though it is uncertain whether Putin heard him across a 17′ table, which is yet another weird tableau in this already weird drama.)

To me, the most worrisome is not Putin’s mental state, but the mental state of Biden and the real decision makers (who can easily manipulate a weak and befuddled president). US propaganda games and hysteria do not inspire confidence. There are other agendas at work here, and those agendas are not likely to be compatible with a reasoned approach to Ukraine.

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  1. Very well written, I too find it strange that kiev directly contracticts the invasion narrative. The whole thing feels weird indeed…
    I am not so sure an invasion would be that costly, for this assumes that all of ukraine will fight tooth and nail against the russians. It is a common assumption which i do not understand based on my experience with ukrainians of all colours..

    The fact is/remains that many east of the dnjeper are sypathetic to russia and barely speak ukrainian (ruthenian as it was called during the habsburg monarchy), many are neutral with the more nationalist elements focused in the western part…
    Putin just needs to bribe military capable personel to desert, should an invasion start (bribery is common in ukraine)… he can credibly promise them posts in the new power structure once the incumbent elite is replaced…this is how a new elite is born…
    We will soon see what happens

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — February 19, 2022 @ 2:04 pm

  2. “Yes, that leaves the possibility that Putin is not rational, but then, how could he be deterred?”

    That’s an easy one. It is indeed irrational to assume Putin is rational in the same way you are. His model of the world is different. To deter him, you threaten what matters in his model, not what matters in yours. That would take some serious Reagans and Thatchers, of course, not the current woke and/or schröderized crop.

    Comment by Ivan — February 19, 2022 @ 3:17 pm

  3. “Installation of a compliant regime in Ukraine, and de facto Russian veto over the Ukrainian government”

    Because the Ukrainians would not want this, it would require an invasion and occupation regime with a permanent garrison, subject to constant attack (guerilla war at first, followed by IRA-style situation), to keep such a government in power. The only doable solution short of invasion would be Western recognition of Crimea and Donbas and forcing Ukraine to relinquish claims on these regions.

    Comment by Astral Preobrazhensky — February 19, 2022 @ 3:41 pm

  4. Do to Putin’s cronies what Trudeau has done to the truckers. Steal their money, impound their assets, cancel their visas.

    Comment by philip — February 19, 2022 @ 4:32 pm

  5. If I remember correctlly, back in 2015 our dear Professor was predicting Russia getting bogged in Syria with extended communication lines, logistical issues, trouble of materiel supply of its troops… and many other convincing factors.

    Somehow it did not happen.

    Comment by LL — February 19, 2022 @ 4:42 pm

  6. Ukraine needs a few dozen of A-10 aircraft. And Patriot or Iron Dome-lever AA systems. And three or four Arleigh Burke destroyers. But it will not happen.

    Comment by LL — February 19, 2022 @ 4:44 pm

  7. “Ukraine needs three or four Arleigh Burke destroyers”.

    Unfortunately LL, the Arleigh Burkes perform poorly against the Russian Khibiny systems.

    Comment by Crankshaft — February 19, 2022 @ 10:45 pm

  8. Surprised you haven’t seen the correlation Professor between Hilary’s crimes and Epstein cronies hitting the headlines with a sudden need for war.

    Comment by Crankshaft — February 19, 2022 @ 10:49 pm

  9. A working theory – the Dems are generally short of foreign policy successes that allow the American electorate to feel good about themselves.
    Reagan had Star Wars, leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
    This came after Vietnam and the Iranian Hostage Crisis.
    Bush I had the Liberation of Kuwait. There’s a Grand Coalition there as well.
    Clinton got the, ah, Balkans.
    Bush II got Afghanistan and Iraq v2.0.
    Obama didn’t get much at all.
    Biden kitchen-sinked the Afghan pull-out.

    They’re really short of a success over how many electoral cycles?

    Comment by Ducky McDuckface — February 19, 2022 @ 11:41 pm

  10. I too find it doubtful that Putin will launch the full-scale invasion. It would be dramatic shift in his strategy because earlier he preferred to use proxies in Donbas to have a way to partly avoid responsibility. Even during the annexation of Crimea Russia for the first days was denying its role.

    Moreover, it’s strange that Putin makes such decision now while he didn’t occupy Ukraine in 2014 when Kremlin hand more supporters in Ukraine, government in Kyiv was weaker and Putin could still use Yanukovich as legitimate president.

    Comment by mmt — February 20, 2022 @ 6:08 am

  11. There is an emerging view that all of this crying wolf is getting to Vlad, that he has effectively been boxed in WRT to his options. I too doubted whether he had any real intent to invade (why wait so long?), but now he’s faced with just two deeply unpalatable options, go ahead or back down, or some fudge where he keeps his forces in place, further degrading Russia’s military capability (morale??). I did read an interesting piece regarding the impact of this deployment on Russia’s military budget given the country’s relatively modest economy, and that it could take years to recover, even longer with sanctions. He really has bet the house and stands to lose big time.

    Another line being spun is that Russia’s alliance with China means that we should now treat them as a unified threat, not separate entities. Kinda puts a whole different frame on the crisis…

    @Vienna: I think this is central to Moscow’s calculus. No doubt many serving Ukrainians wouldn’t hesitate to swop sides given a fight, but maybe all those volunteers have given them pause for thought. Also, who knows who’s swelled their ranks from Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

    @LL: A10s?? Sitting ducks without the attendant top cover/EW/wild weasel etc. Alas Israel turned down Ukraine’s request for mil assistance, not wanting to annoy Vlad. Even so I doubt Iron Dome could have coped with all those Katyusha-a-likes.

    @Ducky: Ukraine was Obama’s (only?) foreign policy success, flipping the country without barely lifting a finger.

    @mmt: That bemused me too. I recall there was a moment when it seemed inevitable that he’d move against the country, but for some reason he bottled it. At that point in time few people in the West would have been that bothered if he had done so.

    Comment by David Mercer — February 20, 2022 @ 6:45 am

  12. @Prof, a reply which combines a response to this post and to your reply in the previous post.

    I agree with you that there are larger issues at play, for which the propaganda and limited information we are fed is a (thin, almost transparent) cover. The ‘Flatland’ analogy is apt. The problem is that we living in n-1 dimensions can only speculate and conjecture what is going on in that nth dimension (as well as n+1, and so on). Which leaves one vulnerable to being labelled a conspiracy theorist, simply for having the temerity to produce a conjecture!

    I’ll spitball a few of my conjectures here.

    Re. Ukraine: My guess is one of the things going on in the nth dimension is a number of backroom deals under the Democrats’ ‘Pay to Play’ protocol. In return for healthy slices of the cash generated in Ukraine’s (bizarrely underdeveloped) industrial sector (eg board seats for the children of the Democrat kakistocracy, who then kick back ‘10% for the big guy’ who got them into the swivel chairs), the Dems promised ‘protection’ for the elites and their country. Putin’s waving various armoured and shock divisions around on the borders threatens these arrangements. So the Dems are left trying to build a coalition to protect their ‘interests’ – and keep their secret deals secret – in this shabby post-Soviet wasteland. This may partly explain why the Dems lost their shit over Trump’s being lukewarm over Ukraine and seeking reconciliation with Putin – it put all their deals, and their status/position, at risk.

    Re. Rasha: You can bet Putin knows all about these putrid deals, and even without him having to say anything this information hands like Damocles’ sword over the Washington kakistocracy. These aren’t people who like to bargain from a position of weakness, or even to acknowledge their weakness. Not to mention that Putin upset the prospective Pay to Play scam they were going to run in Syria, on the heels of their successful scamming of Libya. So they go on the attack, and Putin is the next Hitler (which isn’t hard to propagandise), Rasha the great enemy, everything negative said about the kakistocracy is ‘Rashan propaganda’ (because it might well be! and they know it! LOL!) The problem they have is, while this worked when the US had no peer competitor, they now have ‘Chayna’ (per Trump) slapping them around in Asia. The tried and tested diplomatic strategy for breaking up a hostile coalition is: 1. find the break point between the coalition members, 2. press on it, 3. ally with the weaker against the stronger. This strategy would argue for allying with Rasha and throwing buckets of mud on Chayna. But these numbskulls, because of their corruption and stupidity, have made that almost impossible. So instead they double down on the anti-Rasha stuff, pushing Rasha closer to Beijing. Worse, because of the structure of the two economic systems, you have Moscow and Beijing cutting trade and investment deals, including for energy products, in currencies other than US dollars. This sort of thing should be setting off DEFCON 1 alarm bells in both the Treasury and the Defence Department (as the army and marines are usually the ones sent in to ‘solve’ this problem when it arises). But, again, corruption and stupidity have cut off the diplomatic route, and the US just doesn’t have the relative strength to strongarm both Rasha and Chayna. I thought it was significant that in a recent agreement the pair decided to settle trade balances in euros, when they could have easily settled in gold. I suspect they are holding that option in reserve, as a final option should Washington go through with its enhanced sanctions and cut Rasha off from SWIFT. Settling oil trades in gold, especially given how the Saudis are positioning themselves, would be an earthquake and could trigger an economic crisis. But anyway, we now have Rasha and Chayna, safe behind their military preparedness, now openly defying the US dollar trade settlement system and threatening the reserve status of the dollar. This is the last thing the kakistocracy want. But it is where their stupidity and corruption have led them, and they have cut themselves off from any good options.

    Lastly, going all tin-foil hat: One of Jeffrey ‘the currency trader who never ever booked a currency trade’ Epstein’s pedo mates Arkancided himself in a Paris prison this week. Ghislaine may just have kicked perennial favourite Keith Richards out of first place in the Celebrity Death Pool. And Prince Andrew has decided to settle for millions out of court rather than have to testify and open his past to discovery. At the same time, this Durham guy is making serious accusations against the Clintons, and no one is stopping him or badmouthing him! WTF?? There is something very serious going on ‘under the rug’ in Washington. It seems that some very powerful people are having a clean-out, and they are protecting Durham and letting him go about his business. I have no idea who they are, obviously, but a lot of the people either being accused or being offed were once untouchable. I wish I knew more about what was going on here, but the truth of this is I think hidden in the n+ith dimension, where mortals such as we are not welcome.

    All that said: I think Finlandisation would be the best outcome for Ukraine. It takes the heat out of the situation, you get a ‘live and let live’ Federation of provinces in the country, and the poor bloody Ukrainians get a chance at peace and prosperity for the first time in n-thousand years. But what’s best for Ukraine and the Ukrainians is not what is best for the kakistocracy. And so we are likely only to get more unhinged shouting from Washington.

    I have other thoughts on why the governing class in Washington appears to have lost its mind, but this reply is already way too long so I’ll save it for another time.

    Love the pic of the novelty-sized negotiating table. Putin is so confident he is almost just playing it for laughs at this point; a natural consequence of having hypersonic nuclear weapons systems that actually work, and having replaced his stock of Federal Reserve Notes with gold, Rasha being the third-largest annual producer of the stuff, behind Chayna in first place – at last count, anyway, before Chairman Xi started hiding the numbers, LOL! – and a delightful island continent full of the world’s most handsome people down in the South Pacific 😉


    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 20, 2022 @ 8:54 am

  13. from the speech by Ukraine’s president at the Munich Security Conference:

    Ukraine wants peace. Europe wants peace. The world says it doesn’t want to fight, and Russia says it doesn’t want to attack. Someone is lying. This is not an axiom, but it is no longer a hypothesis.

    Ladies and Gentlemen!

    Two days ago I was in Donbas, on the delimitation line. Legally – between Ukraine and the temporarily occupied territories. In fact, the delimitation line between peace and war. Where on the one side there is a kindergarten, and on the other side there is a projectile that hit it. On the one side there is a school, on the other side there is a projectile hitting the school yard.

    And next to it there are 30 children who go… no, not to NATO, but to school. Someone has physics classes. Knowing its basic laws, even children understand how absurd the statements that the shelling is carried out by Ukraine sound.

    Someone has math classes. Children can calculate the difference between the number of shelling occasions in these three days and the occasions of mentioning Ukraine in this year’s Munich Security Report without a calculator.

    And someone has history classes. And when a bomb crater appears in the school yard, children have a question: has the world forgotten its mistakes of the XX century?

    What do attempts at appeasement lead to? As the question “Why die for Danzig?” turned into the need to die for Dunkirk and dozens of other cities in Europe and the world. At the cost of tens of millions of lives.

    These are terrible lessons of history. I just want to make sure you and I read the same books. Hence, we have the same understanding of the answer to the main question: how did it happen that in the XXI century, Europe is at war again and people are dying? Why does it last longer than World War II? How did we get to the biggest security crisis since the Cold War? For me, as the President of a country that has lost part of the territory, thousands of people and on whose borders there are now 150,000 Russian troops, equipment and heavy weapons, the answer is obvious.

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 9:20 am

  14. plain and simple – Zelensky told Biden and the US not to be spreading panic

    which is not the same as ignoring the threat

    Russia is not a country – it is a territory which is and has always been held together by force.

    It is now in the hands of a mafioso – Putler.

    Putler has been spending a lot of money firing missiles and artillery into Ukraine, and over 14,000 people in Ukraine have died, not to mention the ones who have been displaced.

    “Ukraine is a nation in search of a state
    Russia is a state in search of a nation”

    Ukraine has implemented an independent, free and democratic state – imperfect though it may be.

    Putler, as a mafioso, wants – more.

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 9:24 am

  15. comment I received from young man in Kyiv:

    No sooner had Zelensky raised the Budapest Memorandum than the German Ambassador hit the airwaves, calling it “nonbinding.”

    Das ist fantastisch! While Ukraine can hardly afford a triad like Israel — with its German-subsidized subs — building a hundred nukes and placing them on mobile launchers looks doable.

    Naturally, I doubt Zelensky will go for it, but that’s something I’d vote for. I’m tired of my country being a doormat.

    Dear finger-wagging folks in Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, go Finlandize yourselves!

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 9:27 am

  16. George Woloshyn: Clearing the cobwebs from the Budapest Memorandum
    By George Woloshyn.
    Published June 7, 2020. Updated June 7 at 6:18 am
    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) hosts the Budapest Memorandum Ministerial meeting with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and British Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, on March 5, 2014. Ukraine’s interim government and France today played down the prospect of a full-blown conflict with Russia ahead of potentially crucial talks on the Crimea crisis in Paris. “We want to keep good dialogue, good relations with the Russian people,” Ukraine’s interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said after meeting his French counterpart Laurent Fabius. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KEVIN LAMARQUE (Photo by KEVIN LAMARQUE / POOL / AFP)
    Photo by AFP

    The Budapest Memorandum guaranteed Ukraine’s security in exchange for its nuclear weapons. Out of the four signatories, only Ukraine has kept its pledges. Even in the face of overt hostility, aggression, and invasion of Crimea by Russia, not one of the other three signatories has come even close to fulfilling its explicit and implied guarantees for protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Minsk agreements are an irrelevant sideshow, that attempts to supersede and disavow the more fundamental security arrangements inherent in the Budapest Memorandum. It is time to revisit the terms of this historical document, and restore US and UK credibility.

    The multilateral memorandum, signed in 1994 by Ukraine, the US, Russia, and Britain, resulted in Ukraine renouncing its status as the world’s third-largest nuclear power, and forswearing future nuclear ambitions. In return, the other signatories provided “security assurances” of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence, sovereignty, and freedom from interference. They vowed to “consult” concerning any violations, and to invoke immediate National Security Council action should Ukraine ever be attacked or threatened with nuclear force. France and China, in separate documents, affirmed their concurrence. Belarus and Kazakhstan signed identical memorandums upon receipt of similar security assurances.

    Ukraine “paid” for those assurances by relinquishing a nuclear stockpile that not only provided for its own freedom from Russian aggression and interference but also eliminated a grave nuclear threat. Its missiles – if left under continuing Russian operational control – could have reduced the whole of the US to a smoldering, radioactive cinder. According to Ambassador Steven Pifer, Ukraine’s 1,900 nuclear warheads, already pre-targeted at the US, “could have destroyed every US city with a population of more than 50,000 three times over….” No other country contributed more to American, British, and world security from nuclear devastation than Ukraine. Significantly, Ukraine set a precedent for nuclear disarmament and non- proliferation that was heralded as the bedrock of global efforts to avoid a nuclear apocalypse.

    In return (per Mr. Pifer), “Washington wrote Kyiv a check for US support in the Budapest Memorandum – albeit hoping that it would never be cashed.” But now, six years into a war that has lasted longer than World War II, and Russia’s breach of every commitment it made in the memorandum, that check has “bounced” for “insufficient funds” to honor its “assurances.” Leaders of other nations with nuclear ambitions – a’ la North Korea’s Kim Jong-un or Iran’s Hassan Rouhani – would have reason to doubt similar “checks” from Washington after observing 7% of Ukraine’s territory ravaged and occupied, with 13,000 casualties, and 1.5 million refugees.

    This may be an appropriate time to revisit the Budapest Memorandum and gain a better understanding as to the reasons for its seeming disavowal by many Ukrainians and Westerners. As is often the case, we may have treasures in the attic, but, unless someone comes along and sweeps away the cobwebs and the dust it may never be discovered. So let us do a little house-cleaning and sweep away some of the cobwebs.

    The single biggest “stumbling block” with the Memorandum appears to be the distinction between two similar words: “assurances” versus “guarantees”. A further complexity is found in that ALL FOUR parties agreed to the use of BOTH words – “assurances” in English and “guarantees” in Ukrainian and Russian. According to the Vienna Convention of the Law on Treaties (and the Memorandum is most assuredly a “Treaty”), both the English and the Ukrainian/Russian versions are to be given equal weight.

    Unless it can be shown that one side sought to deceive the other by slipping in words with different meanings, we can only assume that all knew and acquiesced in their intent and meaning.

    So what was the intent and meaning? Simply this: all sides understood that the agreement guaranteed Ukraine as much US and UK support as necessary – short of direct military intervention – to ensure against aggression (Russian or otherwise).

    Hence the Ukrainian and Russian versions used the word “guarantees” (Ukr: harantiyi), and the English version was entitled “Security Assurances” (Ukr: zapevnenyam). There may not be a great deal of light between these two key words, but all parties understood the difference to mean no direct military involvement. Consequently, Ukrainians have not asked for direct US military involvement, but have reason to believe themselves short-changed the level of support implicit in “assurances” and “guarantees.”

    Another cobweb that needs to be cleaned out is the distinction between a “political statement” and a “legally binding” agreement.

    Carlo Trezza, former ambassador for disarmament and non-proliferation, offers his view on the shelving of the memorandum. He claims that its “greatest weakness” is that it is “only politically, and not legally, binding.” He theorizes that the text of the agreement makes a political statement affirming certain principles to which all agreed, but does not commit parties to do much more than “consult” or seek United Nations action.

    The ambassador may be correct on the protocol but falls short on the substance.

    His dismissal of the memorandum’s legally binding nature requires suspension of disbelief. No nation would agree to surrender its nuclear arsenal and risk its independence and security in exchange for… what?… afternoon tea at the Mayflower?

    The “consultation” could only have meant Ukraine’s right to invoke the parties to convene (even if one chooses not to come) and take steps towards “assuring” or “guaranteeing” the commitments made in the memorandum. This view finds support in a detailed 25-page opinion published by Thomas D. Grant, one of the world’s foremost international scholars and legal experts, under the title, The Budapest Memorandum of 5 December 1994: Political Engagement or Legal Obligations?

    Grant concludes: “The state whose security the memorandum guaranteed ….recognized the precariousness of its situation. Whatever the character of the other parties’ commitments, legal or political, the guaranteed state acceded to nuclear disarmament as its side of the bargain…To the extent that it is accepted that the instrument stipulates legal obligations, their context is the law of non-proliferation.”

    The memorandum’s critics have one more arrow in their quiver to try to bring it down to the ground.

    The US Constitution defines a “treaty” as one that has been ratified by the Senate. The memorandum is not a “treaty” within that definition. It is a “congressional-executive agreement,” the closest to a Senate- ratified “treaty.”

    But is it “binding”?


    Professor Barry Kellman, a noted authority on international laws of security, considers the memorandum to be “binding in international law.”

    In fact, it is as “binding” as the overwhelming majority of agreements the US and UK have in force throughout the world, though very few are “ratified.”

    Kellman also thinks that the memorandum does not have “any means of enforcement.”

    Again he’s right, but neither do the vast majority of non-commercial agreements.

    The one enforcement mechanism (Chapter VII of the UN charter) is negated by Russia’s veto power on the Security Council. It should be noted, however, that the NATO Treaty also has “no means of enforcement” other than the trust, honor, and integrity of its members. Yet it has kept Europe secure for 70 years. Ukraine, having contributed more than any other member to NATO’s security, is entitled to no less.

    So what is the relevancy of the memorandum to the war in Donbas, and annexation of Crimea?

    According to General Ihor Smeshko, Ukraine’s leading expert on the memorandum: “It is the only international document that could secure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and preclude the use of military, economic, diplomatic, and informational aggression against us.”

    As a recognized international treaty, it is governed by the terms of the 1969 Vienna Convention.

    Under its terms, the memorandum:

    (a) binds the states to “good-faith” performance;

    (b) came into full force when signed (regardless of any state ratification requirements );

    (c) continues indefinitely;

    (d) allows for juridical interpretation of terms in their context and in the light of their object and purpose (including the parties’ intent as per aforementioned comments on “assurance” vs. “guarantee.”). In short, it stands as a brazen challenge to Russia’s credibility in honoring its commitments, and as a potential scarlet letter of shame and dishonor for America and England if they fail to do so.

    The bottom line is simply this. Regardless of some imperfections in drafting, Ukraine paid a heavy price for the memorandum and the pledges it contains. But neither the Petro Poroshenko nor the Volodymyr Zelensky administrations have publicly and steadfastly invoked its expressed and implied “quid pro quo.”

    Such a diplomatic initiative, based on the memorandum as the touchstone for the parties relations, can turn the tables on Putin, encourage the other two parties to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, acquire more advanced defensive military aid, and stake out the high moral and legal ground Ukraine occupies under it. It is vital not only for Ukraine, but for the US, UK, and world security to restore faith in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation programs.

    Furthermore, as a recognized international treaty, the memorandum supersedes – both under Ukrainian and Russian law! – any so-called “Minsk agreement,” especially one extorted to the sound of Russian tanks crossing the border. It offers reasons and venues to work out its imperfections in direct negotiation, or by appeal to US, British and/or international courts and world opinion.

    Everyone concerned with Ukraine’s freedom, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and restoration of US and UK credibility should urge Zelensky to pivot away from Minsk and towards the memorandum while seeking tougher sanctions on Russia and greater military support to counteract its aggression.

    George Woloshyn is a retired senior executive and Senate-confirmed presidential appointee in the Reagan Administration. He had served as head of government-wide civilian personnel security, national security emergency preparedness, and as inspector general of a regulatory agency. He has also been active in philanthropic programs involving Ukraine

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 9:31 am

  17. “…the Arleigh Burkes perform poorly against the Russian Khibiny systems.”

    Oh, I see. So should we scrap them? Same question goes for A-10s.

    Comment by LL — February 20, 2022 @ 9:33 am

  18. Zelensky to allies:



    I wonder what those “severe sanctions” are.

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 9:36 am

  19. “Severe sanctions” would mean that ol’ Brandon sends his bribes back to Ukraine so they can afford to buy more weapons.

    Comment by dearieme — February 20, 2022 @ 9:54 am

  20. @elmer

    ‘Severe sanctions’ may mean the end of the US dollar system.

    Washington may not want to sacrifice the most productive cash-cow it has for this season’s Danzig.

    Putin, sitting on an impressive pile of gold, has Washington by the balls in this regard. Washington hates it, but can’t do anything about it except bitch and moan.

    Time to talk turkey. All wars end in negotiation, so why not start sooner than later?

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 20, 2022 @ 10:15 am

  21. “the poor bloody Ukrainians get a chance at peace and prosperity for the first time in n-thousand years”

    Given that Ukrainians have not been able to count the victims of the Russian brand of peace and prosperity to the nearest million, it would be extremely unwise for them to take such chances ever again.

    Meanwhile, Russia has just announced its occupation forces will remain in Belarus after the “exercises” that were scheduled to end today. So maybe completing the annexation of Belarus without anyone paying attention was the whole point.

    Comment by Ivan — February 20, 2022 @ 11:07 am

  22. @Ivan

    I won’t argue with you on either point. Your second point is uniquely insightful.

    Re. the first: granted; but have a look at the Ship of Fools in Washington and London currently goading Putin into taking Ukraine as his personal chew-toy. Feeling confident?

    Security, like Salvation, can only come from within. Can the Ukrainians form a cohesive elite with which to secure their country’s borders and prosperity? Are we seeing anything like this yet? I wouldn’t bet a single Satoshi on it.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 20, 2022 @ 11:19 am

  23. Can I make a reading recommendation?
    Taras Bulba by Gogol. Gogol, often thought of as Russian, was in fact Ukrainian and read this novella will not illuminate that but also answer such questions as to why Russians (including those of the Dnieper and Kiev) are so invested in drinking themselves flat on their face and brotherhood. Yes, the book is romantic fantasy but reading it reminds one of symbolic attachments that render into shreds dreams of one united Russian people.
    Peter was the first Emperor of all the Russias. (i.e. multiple Russias: Belo-, Novo-, etc etc)

    You ask: Wasn’t Gogol anti-Semitic? And the answer is: haha, most definitely.
    But, like the Zaporozhye Cossacks whom Gogol praised to the skies, there was one group who attracted even more loathing and contempt than the Jews: “… involuntarily halted at the sight of a Catholic monk – one of those who had aroused such hate and disdain among the Cossacks that they treated them even more inhumanly than they treated the Jews.”
    Watch out, Poland!!

    Comment by Simple Simon — February 20, 2022 @ 11:21 am

  24. another take

    Nothing exhibits the seriousness of the Biden administration in connection with Russia’s threatened invasion of Ukraine than sending Kamala Harris to the Munich Security Conference to chime in with prepared remarks. “Let us remember,” Harris solemnly intoned, “[f]rom the wreckage of two world wars, a consensus emerged in Europe and the United States. A consensus in favor of order, not chaos; security, not conflict.”

    Emergency! Call the speech doctor!

    The conference was held at Hotel Bayerischer Hof, situated in the heart of Munich’s historic center. Munich is of course well-known as the site of the Führerbau, where Chamberlain and Daladier treated with Hitler in 1938. In Munich: The Price of Peace, Telford Taylor called it “the Nazi sanctum sanctorum.” It would be most fitting for the parties to use if/when the United States resumes its agreement with Iran some time soon.

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 11:56 am

  25. another comment directly from Kyiv:

    The one enforcement mechanism (Chapter VII of the UN charter) is negated by Russia’s veto power on the Security Council. It should be noted, however, that the NATO Treaty also has “no means of enforcement” other than the trust, honor, and integrity of its members. Yet it has kept Europe secure for 70 years. Ukraine, having contributed more than any other member to NATO’s security, is entitled to no less.

    Absolutely! I consider Minsk to be a viral mutation of BUDMEM-94. As a Ukrainian whose interest in global affairs stems from that era, I can’t think of a more asymmetrical quid pro quo in terms of security since then.

    In 1994, I was a 14-year-old captivated by all things West. I grew up enjoying songs like “Circle of Life” by Elton John, whose fans include the Kuchma family. I knew our leaders sucked and I opposed our forced nuclear disarmament. Still, like many pro-Western Ukrainians, I thought that Western leaders could do us no harm. I never thought that two decades later BUDMEM-94 would be reduced to a gentleman’s agreement and quietly memory-holed by Western leaders and media.

    Zelensky, did the right thing by defying Biden’s advice and going to Munich, the cradle of appeasement. If anything, he did a great job raising awareness of the words “ran” and “doom” in the word memorandum.

    Comment by elmer — February 20, 2022 @ 11:57 am

  26. Q. What was Trump originally “impeached” for?

    A. Asking about Ukraine.

    What if Putin is guarding Ukraine from the US “cleaners”

    Comment by Joel — February 20, 2022 @ 1:53 pm

  27. “have a look at the Ship of Fools in Washington and London”

    Compared to what? The US established diplomatic relations with the USSR in 1933, in the wake of the horrific forced famine aimed at crushing Ukrainian resistance, and Walter Duranty got a Pulitzer for helping the coverup. After WWII, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army fought against the Russians well-equipped through lend-lease. And anyone still remember that “Chicken Kiev” speech? I would say, Washington and London of today are nowhere nearly as detrimental to Ukrainian freedom as they have been historically.

    Comment by Ivan — February 20, 2022 @ 4:46 pm

  28. Simple Simon:

    Peter I did create himself an Emperor in 1721, but it was his father Alexis who was first titled Tsar of the Great, the Little and the White Rus.

    Comment by LL — February 20, 2022 @ 4:52 pm

  29. Cynical comment. Biden/Harris need a war. Their people think that Americans will rally round the flag and improve their poll numbers. I think that is truly what this is about at its core.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — February 20, 2022 @ 7:23 pm

  30. I am not a huge fan of going to war. Especially after what we have been through over the past 20 years. A counterpoint which was mentioned above is that Putin is a bully. You don’t appease a bully. You punch them in the mouth.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — February 20, 2022 @ 7:29 pm

  31. But Jeffrey, the biggest bully in the last twenty years has been the USA.

    Comment by dearieme — February 21, 2022 @ 11:45 am

  32. As of this morning, looks like VVP has outplayed all the armchair generals.
    By adopting tried-n-true German scenario with Alsace, etc in 1940.
    Invasion of the buffer “states” will be his next chess move. Just to provide assistance to the harassed and abused local Russian population, you know.

    Comment by Tatyana — February 22, 2022 @ 9:39 am

  33. @31 “the biggest bully in the last twenty years has been the USA.

    You obviously don’t live in southeast Asia.

    Comment by Pat Frank — February 22, 2022 @ 11:49 am

  34. Pat, and you obviously don’t live in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria. What has China done abroad to equal those slaughters?

    Comment by dearieme — February 22, 2022 @ 4:46 pm

  35. Don’t I remember the USA/NATO using aggression to carve a secessionary state out of an internationally recognised sovereign state? I refer to Kosovo and Serbia.

    Comment by dearieme — February 22, 2022 @ 4:49 pm

  36. That was quick:

    Dearie, did you fell to body snatchers? Come out and say it loud: US is an imperialist! colonialist! capitalist racist white mysog…rrrr…rrrr…

    Hoi much did chinese comrades pay you?

    Comment by Tatyana — February 22, 2022 @ 5:13 pm

  37. @34 dearieme — Iraq had been under a no fly zone from 1991 after Saddam murdered over 300,000 Shia. And attempted the genocide of the Kurds. And had invaded and occupied Kuwait. And used weapons of mass destruction against Iran and the Kurds. Saddam allowed terrorist groups to freely set up shop in Baghdad.

    National sovereignty is forgone after any one of these offenses. Iraq under Saddam had committed all four.

    Christopher Hitchens on the Iraq war. Very worth watching.

    Afghanistan under Shaykh Omar housed Osama bin Laden while he planned the 9/11 attack, provided material resources, and defended him afterwards. That’s an act of war.

    The response should have been to obliterate the Omar regime and leave. But the US tried to turn Afghanistan into a functioning state; something the Afghanis themselves haven’t been able to do for 500 years. Noble idea, big mistake.

    Still, you have to admit that women and children, and free-thinking men, were much better off when the US was there, than they were before the US arrived or now after the US is gone. The Biden regime’s exit was a studied outrage.

    Libya and Syria were the personal adventures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama; the one a hubristic madwoman and the other a progressive anti-American. Their machinations cannot be counted as extending the prior history of US policy.

    Comment by Pat Frank — February 22, 2022 @ 8:15 pm

  38. @Pat. I thought you had been against the war in Iraq (one of those rare instances where we actually agreed with each other)? It takes me back two decades, you recounting the justification for the invasion. I remember debating at the time that if these triggers for ‘foregoing sovereignty’, as you so succinctly put it, were universally applied, the US and its allies were going to be busy for decades.

    Re Afghanistan, the country would have eventually gone to pot regardless of how the US withdrawal was implemented. Luckily for you it happened on the Dems’ watch, another bloodied shirt or whatever to wave at every opportunity.

    Anyhow, back to the issue at hand. I thought Vlad’s ‘live’ TV broadcast with the assembled yes-men, cronies and hangers-on – sorry, “security council” – was very telling. I know you all have a secret soft spot for the man, but didn’t you get the vibe that he was looking rather disheveled and downtrodden, and that the assembled audience were less-than-enthusiastic about the planned adventure? Mishustin’s response was fantastically off-script – if I were him I’d stay away from any open windows…

    Comment by David Mercer — February 23, 2022 @ 4:43 am

  39. “US is an imperialist! colonialist! capitalist racist white mysog…”: well of course it is apart from the misogynistic bit. (Unless you count the Trannie Terror, of course).

    The obvious parallel is the US vs Mexico. Two Gringo republics seceded from Mexico and were eventually admitted to the American Federation. The US also land-grabbed huge chunks of Ukraine – oops, sorry, – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nevada. I realise that was just “manifest destiny”. I am appalled that Putin didn’t include that expression in his speech. What can his speechwriters have been thinking of? It’ll be the gulag for them, presumably.

    Ignoring all the mendacious moralising from Washington, the first important question is whether Putin is Napoleon/Hitler/most 18th and 19th US Presidents, or Bismarck/Count Cavour. I don’t know the answer and neither does anyone else in the West, I imagine. If he does to rump Ukraine what Hitler did to rump Czechoslovakia we’ll have the answer. The next important question is what the West should do about it, if anything. Decades of eco-fascist lunacy have put us in a horribly weak position.

    Comment by dearieme — February 23, 2022 @ 6:14 am

  40. Eco-fascism news: “The Biden Administration will suspend or delay new federal oil and gas leasing after a court ruling against the method by which it calculates the social cost of climate change, they declared Saturday night.”

    Comment by dearieme — February 23, 2022 @ 9:03 am

  41. As so often, if you want to read something reflective in the public prints you have to turn to the Anglosphere’s best newspaper:

    Comment by dearieme — February 23, 2022 @ 9:27 am

  42. @deari: Hitchens is misremembering for effect in that article. We had no problem with Putin right up until, well Ukraine in 2014, when he had some epic visage-slippage. Before that it was all sunshine and roses – Partnership for Peace, tea with the Queen etc etc. If you recall, Russia even supported our action in Libya, and we didn’t really give a toss when they flattened Grozny or gave Saakashvilli a kicking.

    Unfortunately for him Ukraine got tired with his dead-hand bullsh*t and chose a different path. Since then he’s been brooding over its loss, lashing out at imagined enemies in the West, and generally being a prize pain-in-the-ass.

    “What the West should do about it, if anything”

    Typical defeatist, apologist nonsense, just like Craig’s “Just let Putin take it” (AKA “Wah! What can we do anyway, mummy??”). To be honest you guys never really come across as the sort of people who’d step up in a crisis, despite all your big talk. There’s plenty we can do without firing a shot (and even then..) – asset seizures, boot them off Swift, making Russians persona non grata in the West, close down RT etc etc. Hell, I’d even table fast-tracking Ukraine’s NATO membership, exceptional circumstances and all that.

    Comment by David Mercer — February 23, 2022 @ 10:49 am

  43. #37, Pat: spot on, on all counts.
    #39, dearie: you’re saying as if it’s something bad! all these “chunks” are much better off within the US than in Mexico – you can see the balance of people coming in on our side of the border vs. moving out. Or, at least, the balance that WAS, before the fascists woke and made every effort to destroy our country.
    And it’s so funny to see a Brit to call US colonialist!

    Comment by Tatyana — February 23, 2022 @ 6:09 pm

  44. Looks like the balloon has gone up.

    Comment by SRP — February 23, 2022 @ 9:35 pm

  45. Well I guess I’ve got the answer to my question “What would Trump have done in this situation?”

    Ukraine-Russia crisis: Donald Trump praises Putin’s aggression as ‘wonderful’ and ‘genius’

    Jesus, and you guys still rail at Biden.

    Comment by David Mercer — February 24, 2022 @ 4:28 am

  46. Now we know: Putin is a Napoleon/Hitler/US President not a Bismarck/Cavour. What a pity but there it is. As for Trumpy McTrumpface, I understand he was talking about Putin’s phase 1 i.e. recognising Ukraine’s Texas and California, rather than phase 2, an invasion of rump Ukraine/rump Czechoslovakia/rump Northern Mexico. I can’t check; the link to Sky News doesn’t work for me.

    I suppose he could argue that an independent Ukraine is like an independent Confederacy and must be crushed at all costs. It was a lousy argument then and it’s a lousy argument now. Poor old Ukrainians; how will they like rule by carpetbaggers?

    @Tatyana: it may turn out that Ukrainians will be much better off within Russia than in independent Ukraine. Does that justify Putin’s action?

    @David Mercer: about Biden – I refer the honourable gentleman to comment #40.

    Comment by dearieme — February 24, 2022 @ 5:14 am

  47. Let’s go, Brandon.

    “Biden Reverses Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Waiver, Reverts To Trump’s Sanction Policy”

    Comment by dearieme — February 24, 2022 @ 8:24 am

  48. This whole post didn’t age well. At any rate the same shill we come to expect from the prof. Dems bad, repubs good. As if trump was some jeanous that didn’t praise Putin and Kim. He would never allow his boss to invade Ukraine. This more than comedic.

    Comment by Chuck McDuck — February 24, 2022 @ 12:10 pm

  49. $46:
    To both your assumptions. The rehearsal already happened in 2014, the answer is obvious.

    Comment by Tatyana — February 24, 2022 @ 12:32 pm

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