Vladimir Putin’s Words

I have not paid enough attention to Vladimir Putin’s writings and speeches. Recent ones seemed extreme, but that could be attributed to propaganda, and I discounted them out of a habit of discounting Soviet propaganda. But I watched his speech on February 21 and changed my mind. Putin displayed extreme emotion during that speech. It was clear that he meant what he was saying.

There’s much speculation about Putin’s mindset and a fair bit of quoting pieces of Putin’s recent speeches. I wanted to see those quotes in context. We can’t know Putin’s mindset. His speeches and an essay are all we have. In this post, I look at Putin’s speech at the Munich Defense Conference in 2007, his 2021 essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” the February 21 speech, his speech of February 24 declaring war on Ukraine, and the victory announcement that briefly appeared on Russian news websites on February 28. (The Russian Presidential website is currently unreachable.) There are several continuing themes, and the emotional tone increases with time.

My main goal in this post is to summarize major themes in those documents, particularly recurring themes. My attempts at analysis will be minimal.

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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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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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Three Reads On Russia’s Threats

We continue not to know what Vladimir Putin intends nor wants with his massive military buildup around Ukraine, accompanied by diplomatic demands, primarily on the United States, that will not be satisfied.

Michael Kofman is one of the best military analysts around, and well able to extrapolate from the military to Putin’s objectives. His latest summary suggests that Putin will take major military action against Ukraine, perhaps to install a Russia-friendly regime in Kiev.

Given the stakes, and likely costs, any Russian military operation would have to attain political gains that give Moscow the ability to enforce implementation. In short, just hurting Ukraine is not enough to achieve anything that Russia wants. While some believe that Russia intends to compel Ukraine into a new Minsk-like agreement, the reality is that nobody in Moscow thinks that a Ukrainian government can be made to implement any document they sign. Such a settlement would be political suicide for the Zelensky administration, or any other. Russia has no way to enforce compliance with its preferences once the operation is over. This is, at least, the lesson that Moscow seems to have taken from Minsk I and Minsk II. Why would Minsk III prove any different? Russia has not struggled in getting Ukraine to sign deals at gunpoint, but all of these have resulted in Ukraine’s continued westward march and a decline of Russian influence in the country. It’s not clear how Moscow achieves its goals without conducting regime change, or a partitioning of the state, and committing to some form of occupation to retain leverage.

Fiona Hill has been looking at Russia for the United States government for more than two decades. She offers what may be Putin’s motivation.

In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way. From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of President Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with U.S. allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness. If Russia presses hard enough, Mr. Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.

For a broader perspective on how to think about the crisis, Paul Musgrave considers how different parties with different priors look at it. (Image stolen from Paul)

What’s most striking about this isn’t that there are different opinions or interpretations. It’s that these narratives begin from such incompatible assumptions about everything from the responsibility for the crisis to the factors that matter for its resolution.

These are three good reads for understanding the crisis.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Well, This Is A Nonstarter

Russia has released a text of a proposed treaty with NATO for security assurances in Europe. It’s short. It’s also not going to happen. The short version is that Vladimir Putin, as he has been saying, wants a sphere of influence in which smaller countries are vassals of the Russian Empire and other major powers agree to stay out.

Russia has been massing troops around Ukraine in a threatening way while claiming that nothing abnormal is happening. Putin has made a few speeches lately that are consistent with this morning’s text. The question is why he feels an urgency to make this happen now.

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Will Russia Invade Ukraine?

Nobody knows. But Russia has been deploying troops around its border with Ukraine, particularly around the Donbas, the area where Russia has been carrying on a small war since late 2014. Earlier that year, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, part of Ukraine.

The latest buildup, according to military experts, looks like it could be in preparation for a major invasion of Ukraine. But why? A great deal of speculation is possible on the basis of official Russian statements and history. It’s hard not to be snarky about some of this – Vladimir Putin seems to live in a land all his own, part pre-1905, part World War II, part nuclear age. Living in a land of his own, however, doesn’t mean that he can’t precipitate a war, so I’ll avoid snark.

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If NATO Hadn’t Expanded

A Swedish fighter-bomber that might have been. Source

There’s an ongoing argument about NATO expansion after the fall of the Soviet Union. Within the western political science community, there have been a number of sub-arguments, including whether Russia was promised that NATO would not expand. That has more or less been settled: Although some statements were made to that effect, they were not official commitments.

More broadly, arguments about NATO expansion tend to assume that if NATO hadn’t expanded, Europe would look about the same as it does now, but Russia would be less aggressive, and more accommodations would be possible.

Having co-chaired a NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Estonia and spent some time working with Estonians on a major environmental cleanup, I’ve recognized that there were many paths that could have been taken by the many actors involved, which could lead to quite different outcomes.

Would the newly independent countries trust Mother Russia? Could Mother Russia keep her hands off them? It would not be a single big decision, but a series of small ones.

At the Duck of Minerva, I’ve written a counterfactual in which NATO doesn’t expand. I’ve based it on events that have actually happened, although in different historical order. The outcome is different than has been assumed. It was fun to write and I think will be enjoyable to read.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Links – June 3, 2017

Every Russia story Donald Trump said was a hoax by Democrats: A timeline.

Watch what he does, not what he says: Trump’s words and budget for NATO.

A devastating portrait of Donald Trump.

Everyone at Vladimir Putin’s table at that RT dinner with Michael Flynn and Jill Stein, identified.

Long read on phishing and faking emails.  When emails are released, consider that some of them may be faked or modified.

What does Russia want? Basically, a sphere of control and for the West to come to its senses. Very much a case of two parties talking past each other.

The historic B-52 bomber no longer carries nuclear gravity bombs. Cruise missiles, yes. Photo from here. Read More