Fear

In addition to Vladimir Putin’s geographical ambitions, a renewed Russian Empire must be feared by the world. That is what it means to be an empire.

Putin is not getting the response he wants.

He’s been trying to spread fear through his nuclear threats, both those against the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and his and his associates’ talk about nuclear weapons. But the West is not cowering in fear.

There is no physical indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons. Preparations will be observed by governments and other folks who are watching. Russia’s actions at the Zaporizhzhia plant seem to be designed to avoid the worst outcomes so that they can steal the plant for the Russian electrical grid.

The tactical purpose of the fear-mongering is to convince Ukraine and its supporters to back off. That hasn’t worked.

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A Podcast And More

The Globe and Mail’s “The Decibel” podcast interviewed me on nuclear weapons. I think it’s a pretty good primer on nuclear weapons effects.

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I will not link to William Arkin’s article in Newsweek based on his interviews with STRATCOM personnel. It is in honor of this article that I chose the header photo. I am engaging with the article only because people I respect have retweeted it.

There’s a great deal wrong with it, but I’ll stick with three points for now.

  1. In this country, the military reports ultimately to the President. It’s not up to them to argue with him publicly. Further, STRATCOM is not “the military,” as the article implies, but a specialized part of it. It’s not even clear that the people Arkin quotes are representative of STRATCOM.
  2. It’s more than irresponsible to imply that Jake Sullivan has threatened Vladimir Putin with “a decapitation strike to kill Putin in the heart of the Kremlin.” It’s inconsistent with US policy and everything Joe Biden has said on the subject.
  3. The business about an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack hovers on the edge of fanaticism. It’s true that a general nuclear attack might begin with an EMP blast, but EMP alone is not the devastating killer that Newt Gingrich made it out to be.

Arkin is talking to a few people in a very narrow part of “the military,” who have blinkered viewpoints.

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Putin’s speech this morning did less to rattle his nukes than some of his previous speeches. It’s not at all clear that he would use nukes to defend his new “People’s Republics.” Yes, he used those words. I’ll have more to say later, but for now here’s my Twitter thread and one observation from this morning.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Baltic Sea Breaches In Nordstream 1 and 2 Pipelines

Breaches were reported this morning to be spouting natural gas in the Baltic Sea. The pipelines are not currently in use, so this is the gas that was stationary in them. Pipelines are designed so that sections can be shut off, and presumably this has been done.

Seismic observations indicate the breaches were caused by explosions, according to Björn Lund, director of the Swedish National Seismic Network. He is quoted as saying that the explosions were equivalent to at least 100 kg of TNT, which is a lot and probably damaged the pipelines badly. TNT is the standard used for this sort of thing, but the explosives used were more likely C4, which is more powerful per unit weight. Its equivalent would be 72 kg. Underwater mines have also been mentioned.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

What effect will Putin’s war have on Russia? There’s an active trade in historical analogies, but the more I look at those analogies, the more I become convinced that few of them work. They don’t even rhyme.

War in Europe because of an attempted grab by a declining power with no strong allies. It doesn’t fit the Cold War Soviet attack through the Fulda Gap, the objectives of which were never clear – control of West Germany? Disruption of Europe’s prosperity? Perhaps it’s a little like Vietnam, with the technologically favored side being undercut by defenders of the homeland and now a draft of unwilling fighters.

World War I started between major powers who were spoiling for a war and did it very badly. Russia has mobilized three times, I’ve seen more than once on Twitter: World War I, World War II, and now. It went badly for them in World War I.

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Russian Objectives At Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Newsweek published my op-ed on the dangers at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that Russia captured the plant as part of the initial “three-day war” and with the collapse of that objective had to figure out what to do with it. They came up with two possibilities: Frighten Ukrainians and their arms suppliers with the prospect of a radiological accident, and take the power to Russia.

Those two objectives are in conflict, however. A radiological accident would contaminate the plant and at least require a long decontamination before power could be supplied to Russia.

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Why So Many Russians Hate Mikhail Gorbachev

The Soviet Union ran on a command economy. To a great extent, it was isolated from the rest of the world economy. When the Soviet Union came apart in 1991, it had to reconstruct its economy to work with the rest of the world. That would never have been easy.

But as Gorbachev was rightly blamed for the breakup of the Soviet Union, the economic mess of the 1990s was not his fault. However, blame for one meant blame for the other to many ordinary citizens.

Paul Krugman offers economic information from 1990s Russia to show why Russians might have been angry. It was bad.

Many Russians lost all their savings. The way enterprises were privatized built the oligarch class.

Could it have been done better? Many of the satellites and former republics managed softer landings. A team from Harvard University advised the Russian government on economic “shock therapy.” The US Congress, led by Newt Gingrich’s Republicans, would have nothing to do with a Marshall Plan for the former Soviet Union. They barely were willing to fund a pittance for helping Russia to make its nuclear inventory safe.

Many Russians blame Gorbachev.

Also – why some of the former republics hate Gorbachev. It’s different from how Russians feel. And how Americans can’t transcend their priors about Gorbachev’s legacy.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Russia Tries To Steal A Nuclear Power Plant

For the past couple of weeks, we have been hearing about military activity around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). Of course, the Russian occupation and stationing of military vehicles within the plant is dangerous. Unfortunately, both Russia and Ukraine are motivated to exaggerate the plant’s dangers. For Ukraine, reporting a desperate situation at the plant may motivate its western supporters to increase their support. For Russia, it is a way to rattle nukes without referring to nuclear weapons. Both take advantage of exaggerated fears about nuclear issues.

Add to that Russian threats against the Ukrainian operators, which make it impossible to get reliable reports of the status of the plant from the people who know. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international oversight agency for nuclear plants, wants to be able to inspect the plant, but Russia has refused to allow them in.

ZNPP is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, with six VVER (Soviet design) nuclear reactors. Russia took the plant early in its war against Ukraine, probably as part of its attempt at a quick takeover of the country and installation of a puppet regime. They also seized hydroelectric plants and shelled another nuclear plant at Rivne. It makes sense to secure the power plants in regime change.

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Zaporizhzhia Again

There’s been a flurry of news this past week about Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

It’s impossible to tell what is going on. Both Ukraine and Russia have raised alarms of various kinds since Russia occupied the plant, and most have not played out. It’s to both sides’ advantage to overplay the dangers.

That said, there are real dangers. I’ve written about them. This article is a good summary. And given Russia’s actions over the past six months, it’s hard to rule out any possibility, although so far their actions have been far less than their warnings.

My feeling about the current uproar is that it’s a Russian propaganda operation to distract from Ukraine’s ability to strike inside Crimea. That bodes ill for Russia – it opens another front while Ukraine is working on Kherson, and the uncertainty of how much Ukraine can do in Crimea has got to be stunning. Reports are that Russia has moved planes and helicopters back from the attacks, some of them to Russia.

So I’m not going to analyze (or even present) some of the tweets and claims that are out there. There’s too much, and it probably won’t all play out. If you want to share stuff in the comments, I’ll try to respond.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

US Diplomacy In The Lead-Up To Russia’s War On Ukraine

In its excellent article on the lead-up to the war, the Washington Post describes some of the diplomatic contacts in the attempt to avert the war. The bottom line is that Russia wasn’t having any.

June 16, 2021: Biden meets with Putin. No indication that Putin plans a war, but two weeks later, his screed on Ukraine’s rightful place in the Russian Empire is released.

End of October: Biden meets leaders of Britain, France, and Germany at the side of the G20 meeting.

November 2: CIA Director William Burns meets with Putin, Yuri Ushakov, and Nikolai Patrushev (Putin advisors).

There seemed to be no room for meaningful engagement, and it left the CIA director to wonder if Putin and his tight circle of aides had formed their own echo chamber. Putin had not made an irreversible decision to go to war, but his views on Ukraine had hardened, his appetite for risk had grown, and the Russian leader believed his moment of opportunity would soon pass.

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Russia Continues To Put The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant At Risk

The Russians are…shelling the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant?

This does not make sense, but neither do any of Russia’s actions toward the plant. They took the plant by shelling it and caused a fire that destroyed one of the administrative buildings. They are rumored to have mined the plant. The Ukrainian operators are effectively prisoners. The Russians regularly shell the nearby city where the operators’ families live.

There are a couple of possibilities, not mutually exclusive, for why the Russians took the plant. First, it would be consistent with a plan to grab all of Ukraine and install a puppet government, which seems to have been the initial Russian intent. Having control of power plants would be a good thing. The Russians seized Zaporizhzhia early, along with a couple of hydroelectric power plants. Second, it is a relatively safe military base because the Ukrainians have the good sense not to shell a nuclear plant. The district in which it is located, Zaporizhzhia, is one of the ones that Russia has said it plans to incorporate as it did Donetsk and Luhansk.

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