Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What Do You Do About Putin?

The Only Way To Win Is Not To Play
"Russia without Ukraine is a country; Russia with Ukraine is an empire."-- One of the first things you are taught in Russian Foreign Policy Class
Imagine that, say half of Arizona wanted to secede to Mexico? No way, right? Now imagine that Mexico was heavily armed nuclear power. Still no way, right? Now imagine that America was broken up into 50 individual states and Canada, with nukes, had to decide whether or not to get into a fight over half of Arizona to keep "the States" together.

Imagine California offers Arizona a loan on really good terms not to go. Imagine Texas promises to fight to the last man if Mexico crosses the Texan border during hostilities.

Imagine southern Arizona as part of Mexico.

That's what we're facing in Crimea. There is, simply put, no way to stop Russia from taking Crimea: it's too close, too Russian ethnic, and too insignificant to fight a war over.

So, What? Sanctions?
Sanctions are a given--and they are given not to work. If North Korea can hold out, so can Russia (who is far more important, has far more allies, far more native resources, etc.). We could try "weapons-grade" sanctions like we did with Iran (it gets them to the bargaining table) but, again, Russia is bigger, tougher, already at the bargaining table--just with no real incentive to bargain, and, again, won't care.

How About, Uh, Cold War?
Want to make Putin nervous? Put something scary under NATO command in Poland. Sure--and what? Russia puts missiles in Cuba? Sounds familiar. The problem with escalation is that it tends to escalate. The Cold War was about a very real geo-political land / resource grab by two competing super powers under the auspices of ideology.

Today, absent the ideology, the competition is economic--who will Ukraine ally with for its economic interests? Who's offering better loan terms? Answer: Russia.

Today allegiances are less about freedom vs. tyranny (people are, after all, free to leave Russia--even if Russia is not exactly free if you decide to live there) and more about ethnic groups. If Russia is the "home team" for most Criemans? They're gonna wanna go to Russia.

Fighting a Cold War over this doesn't look like it did in the 60's--it looks like a trade-war.

We'll probably see some of this: sanctions against Russia allies, protectionism as a popular at-home response to overseas politics--but, again, Afghanistan-style invasion looks very, very different today than it did years ago.

In other words, in muddy separatist areas we'll see hot-war fighting (Georgia 2008) but world wide? It's all bank accounts now.

How About Hitting The Oligarchs?
Super rich Russians often live in the US and have holdings here. They're influential back home. What if we grabbed some of their stuff--or some of them? Non-starter: going after individual citizens would prompt Russia to do the same and we have a lot of people and investments of our own private sector over there.

So ... What?
So what could world powers have done to curb Russian aggression? Why, the answer was right under your nose all the time. You're just not going to like it:
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the newly independentUkraine had on its territory what was the third largest strategic nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. It was larger than those of Britain, France, and China combined. On June 1, 1996 Ukraine became a non-nuclear nation when it sent the last of its 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling.
 Emphasis is, as they say, in the original.

That's right? Want to curb Russian aggression? Don't give up your nukes. Want to make sure they don't invade anyone else? Give more people nukes. Now, to stop groups that want to succeed (like, maybe, Crimea) you're going to have to go in and police-state them and deal with terror--the price you pay today for people with a boarder disagreement.

On the other hand, some city busters (which is, uh, what they had) would certainly make Russia think twice about rolling over a boarder Ukraine claimed to own.

Anything Else? How About Ron Paul?
Ron Paul asks an interesting question: Why does the US care what flag flies in Crimea? We can ask another: if the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created to stop Soviet aggression, how come it exists all these years later?

Turns out? Same answer: because Russia is still antithetical to the US and is still active / potentially active as a geopolitical threat. If we allow Russian aggression to go unchecked boarder nations (of which there will be more and more) will cave in to pressure either formally or informally. The technical term for this is Finlandization. The Omnivore is gonna assume you knew that. Ron Paul hopes you didn't.

Is Obama Weak?
Well, maybe: issuing strongly worded threats doesn't look strong, it's true. But compare to other presidents:
  • Bush II: Russians invade Georgia. No real response--what? We're gonna fight a war over Georgia?
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: Germans invade Czechoslovakia. The US does nothing. It doesn't turn out well--but (a) it's not like FDR was a chump and (b) it also shows that serious isolationism doesn't always pay off. Maybe if FDR had issued starkly worded threats Hitler might've been more circumspect about starting WWII for real?
  • Kennedy: Almost blew up the world over Cuba.
Given this sample size it seems a bit twee to suggest that what Obama needs is MORE BETTER SANCTIONS (Rubio--who, to be fair, has some good ideas) or MORE MILITARY (a lot of arm-chair generals who have no idea what follow through on that might actually look like).

On the other hand, Obama does lack the "unpredictability" that George W. Bush probably had. People know Obama won't go into Ukraine with nuclear-tipped armed NATO forces. Probably no one was totally sure about Bush II. Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on whether you think the GOP will win the Senate or not in November (you can say they're not related and you're just a realist--but The Omnivore can read minds).

So What's The Plan?
The Omnivore will attempt to channel: The (indomitable) War Nerd. As TWN has not written anything on Crimea that I could find, I will have to use telepathy and try to figure out what the kind of thing he would say is. Here is The Omnivore's guess!

The Ukraine should announce they have 5kt nuclear weapons and will use them if Putin comes any further than Crimea--for any reason. They should then send terrorist forces into Crimea (really, if someone over there has done their job right, those forces ought to already be there). The idea is to provoke Russian forces into either (a) a slaughter of Crimean civilians which will hopefully be indiscriminate and unpopular, (b) create a totalitarian police state which will make even Russian Crimeans long for the days of crime-driven capitalism, or (c) respond across the boarder into Ukraine.

Calling their bluff.

Which isn't a bluff because Obama or maybe North Korea has secretly armed them*.
Okay, yeah. That's more than 5kt

* If you read The War Nerd, you will probably find he would actually be very unlikely to say the last bit.


  1. * "succeed" --> "secede"
    * "boarder" --> "border"
    * TWN is good, but I think Jim Dunnigan is better.

    -- Ω

    1. I'm a big believer in Strategy Page--and How To Make War in general--but when it comes to suggesting that someone's job is atrocity provoking counter-insurgency terrorism, I don't think anyone beats TWN.

      Thanks for the edit.

      -The Omnivore

  2. He he, you're nuts.
    Btw, I don't think N.Korea to Russia wrt really severe eco-sanctions is a same-same comparison. N.Koreans, seem to be so severely beaten into submission that they don't dare stand up. I think Russians would if economics got bad enough - hell, even the army might as well.

    1. That is true--but on the other hand Russia has trading partners that will still work with it, natural resources and industry Nork does not, and so on. If CRUSHING sanctions hasn't beaten down North Korea then the comparative pansy-ass sanctions we can deploy against Russia won't work.

      -The Omnivore

    2. Well it sure won't get them(him) to leave Crimea - that's a done deal it seems.

    3. Liberals: "Whaaaaaaaah--Putin is beating us up!!"
      Putin: "Crimea river."

      -The Omnivore