Vladimir Putin Loves Anniversaries

Today, several Russian news outlets published a story of Russia’s victory in Ukraine.

There have been a number of signs that Russia is working on a timetable, perhaps since as long ago as last November, when CIA Director William Burns told Vladimir Putin that the United States knew he was planning war against Ukraine.

The United States and Britain then went ahead with an information offensive, predicting that Russia would fake provocations for a war with Ukraine. The information offensive ramped up as Russia massed troops around Ukraine. It’s not possible to tell how much of an effect the offensive had on Putin’s timetable, but a number of attempts at provocation, both verbal and physical, failed to convince anyone outside Russia that a war was justified.

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Chernobyl Update

A quick update on the situation around Chernobyl.

The Russians have taken the reactor site. It contains the ruined reactor that exploded in 1986 and fuel storage ponds for fuel elements from three other reactors that were shut down by 2000.

The Ukrainian government’s network of radiation monitoring sites showed a few elevated readings that have fluctuated. The network is now down because the operations staff have left the plant. The readings never reached a level that was dangerous to human health in the area, much less in other places.

Those fluctuating readings are most likely due to the heavy military truck traffic in the area. I expect that the Russians don’t care about those low levels of radiation. Their primary objective in seizing Chernobyl is most likely to control the road to Kyiv from the north.

The ruined reactor is covered by a containment shell. The dangerous material in it is in the basement of the reactor building, protected by the remains of that building and many tons of concrete that have been poured over it. All that is under the containment shell, which is said to be robust to tornadoes. I suspect that a direct artillery hit could breach the shell and allow a small amount of radioactive contaminants to escape, but that solid mass of melted fuel elements, containing uranium and plutonium, is inaccessible.

Here’s a thread from a network of volunteers who monitor radiation around the globe.

Information here is from Twitter and other social media accounts I consider reliable. However, events are changing rapidly.

The photo is from an RFERL photo essay on the containment structure. Many more photos there.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

The Meme War

Every war has them: Tokyo Rose, Lord Haw-Haw. Your side will betray you, your leaders don’t know what they’re doing, come join us on the side of history blah blah blah. They’re part of the propaganda campaign and always will be.

This time around we have social media! And so it starts.

It actually started some time ago. Russian embassies have been shitposting for the past few years. They even hit me with one, but it was two or three years back, and I can’t find it.

This is no surprise.

The US Embassy Kyiv meme has been criticized from several directions. I like it. It’s historically accurate, refutes Putin’s assertion that Ukraine is a creation of Vladimir Lenin, and plays into some of my favorite counterfactuals: What would Russia look like if the Novgorod Republic had taken the lead rather than Muscovy? Or Kyivan Rus? That’s too long ago to work up a counterfactual – too many forking points between here and there – but I do like to think about it.

Back in November, deputies in the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) called on Kyiv to begin calling the Russian Federation Muscovy. It was not fully supported by their colleagues.

Many of those opposed to do so say that advocates are drawing on a 2009 book of fiction by amateur historian Volodomyr Bilinsky that argued that Muscovy was not the successor to Kiyevan Rus “but only a typical ulus of the Golden Horde and had nothing in common with the Eastern Slavs.” Many Ukrainians believe that but historians do not.

So Russia might be able to claim that its meme war is completely defensive.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

The Information Offensive Continues

Russia has shelled a kindergarten in Donbas.

A certain amount of shelling is not unusual in Donbas, but given current tensions, this is ominous. In 2008, Russian shelling provoked a response from the Georgian army, which Russia then claimed as a justification for war. The Ukrainian army has been strictly instructed not to respond to Russian shelling.

Ukrainian President Zelensky is visiting the front.

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Controlling The Narrative

Last week, AP diplomatic reporter Matt Lee badgered State Department spokesman Ned Price about sources for intelligence information. I’m seeing others make similar points to Matt’s on Twitter and in the comments on my latest post at Lawyers, Guns & Money.

The concern is whether the intelligence is accurate, often expressed in a context of the runup to the Iraq war of 2003, implying that the US government might be lying to achieve a particular point. This misses the point of releasing the intelligence and the structure of the situation.

Colin Powell’s testimony to the United Nations was intended to justify an incipient attack by the United States on Iraq. The US intelligence releases are intended to delay or avoid a Russian attack on Ukraine.

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Gendering War And Diplomacy

Anne Applebaum wants to school American and European diplomats in Russian thinking. Her short op-ed gets a number of things wrong and provides an opportunity to point out how gendered thinking about diplomacy and war can undermine analysis.

The headline and subhead are probably not Applebaum’s, but they are of a piece with the text. “Why the West’s Diplomacy With Russia Keeps Failing: A profound failure of the Western imagination has brought Europe to the brink of war.”

In fact, what has brought Europe to the brink of war are Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine and their demands for, among other things, a radical restructuring of NATO. None of this has to do with the “Western imagination.” The headline places the blame squarely upon the failures of failing diplomacy.

War and diplomacy have long been gendered masculine and feminine, respectively. War is physically active, destructive, a display of strength in which one side will dominate the other. Diplomacy has to do with words and has little public display of its actions, which are physical primarily in body language. Masculinity is valued over femininity and thus war over diplomacy. It’s easy, then, to say that diplomacy is a loser and at fault.

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Putin’s War Prep In Place

President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan appeared at today’s press briefing with Jen Psaki. Just before the briefing, a PBS reporter claimed multiple sources had told him that the US had intelligence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had transmitted war orders to his generals. Sullivan said that was not true.

But the Chairman of the Joint Staff Mark Milley had a phonecall with Russian General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov. Their readout was uninformative. Biden had a phonecall with leaders of allies. He plans to spend the weekend at Camp David, where he has full communication capabilities. The Russian Foreign Ministry says that all this is false information by Western countries to incite artificial tensions.

Sullivan said that Russia now has in place the military means for a major invasion of Ukraine. Civilian satellite-photo watchers have been documenting the buildup, most recently the bringing in of troops. Sullivan singled out a possibility of a quick attack on Kyiv but noted there were many possibilities.

He also repeated that Americans should leave Ukraine NOW, for maybe the fiftieth time, but look for the media to find stranded Americans who claim they never heard anything like that after the fighting starts. Embassy personnel from many countries are leaving.

Sullivan also ticked off a list of sanctions that multiple countries will levy against Russia if it invades. The ruble is now tanking.

Just coming through:

It’s still possible for Russia to call off the invasion. They could say that they never intended such a thing, it was all a fantasy of the Western warmongers. The West could say it was a triumph of deterrence. Win-win.

Through all this, it’s not at all clear what Putin wants or why he thinks that attacking Ukraine will get it for him. His demands on NATO and the United States were far beyond anything that might be attained. His quick rejection of the response suggested that he never wanted negotiation. The most bizarre parts of his demands, to me, are written assurances that NATO would expand no further and that the 27 EU countries respond individually.

The next two weeks will tell.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money