Now they’re worried that sanctions will make Putin behave even worse!

March 4, 2022 • 12:30 pm

Remember, I am not a political pundit. All I can do is express an average liberal American’s worry about politics. So this average liberal was concerned by the NYT headline below (click on screenshot):

The normal first reaction would be “What the hell? First Biden threatens, and implements, in cooperation with other European and First World nations, extremely strict sanctions designed to make life very uncomfortable for Putin. Now, however, they’re worried that the imposition of those very sanctions will anger Putin even more, so that he’ll lash out like a fighting bull stabbed by a picador. Who’s in charge here?” From the NYT:

Senior White House officials designing the strategy to confront Russia have begun quietly debating a new concern: that the avalanche of sanctions directed at Moscow, which have gained speed faster than they imagined, is cornering President Vladimir V. Putin and may prompt him to lash out, perhaps expanding the conflict beyond Ukraine.

In Situation Room meetings in recent days, the issue has come up repeatedly, according to three officials. Mr. Putin’s tendency, American intelligence officials have told the White House and Congress, is to double down when he feels trapped by his own overreach. So they have described a series of possible reactions, ranging from indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities to compensate for the early mistakes made by his invading force, to cyberattacks directed at the American financial system, to more nuclear threats and perhaps moves to take the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.

The debate over Mr. Putin’s next moves is linked to an urgent re-examination by intelligence agencies of the Russian leader’s mental state, and whether his ambitions and appetite for risk have been altered by two years of Covid isolation.

. . .Nonetheless, Mr. Putin’s reaction to the initial wave of sanctions has provoked a range of concerns that one senior official called the “Cornered Putin Problem.” Those concerns center on a series of recent announcements: the pullout of oil companies like Exxon and Shell from developing Russia’s oil fields, the moves against Russia’s central bank that sent the ruble plunging, and Germany’s surprise announcement that it would drop its ban on sending lethal weapons to the Ukrainian forces and ramp up its defense spending.

But beyond canceling the missile test, there is no evidence that the United States is considering steps to reduce tensions, and a senior official said there was no interest in backing off sanctions.

And indeed, from what I hear, the sanctions are playing hob with the Russian economy, exactly as intended. The Ukrainians, though doomed, are fighting back gallantly, earning the admiration of all lovers of democracy. So why are people worried even more now? Well, the nervous Nellies have three concerns:

1.) More hacking. From the NYT:

“If the situation escalates further, I think we are going to see Russian cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure,” said Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who served as co-chairman of an influential cyberspace commission.

I’m sure the Russians are already hacking the U.S. and our allies as hard as they can. But of course we can do the same to them.

2.) Further expansion by Putin. 

Another possibility is that Mr. Putin will threaten to push further into Moldova or Georgia, which, like Ukraine, are not members of NATO — and thus territory that the American and NATO forces would not enter. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is making Moldova one of his stops on a reassurance tour that began on Thursday.

There’s not much more escalation we can use to deter Putin from expanding into other non-Nato countries—or even NATO ones. Will the U.S. be willing to start WW III if Putin decides to take over the Baltic countries, which are NATO members? I doubt it.

3.) Putin goes for the nuclear option, perhaps only as a threat. 

There are larger worries, involving potential nuclear threats. Last Sunday, as the fighting accelerated, Belarus passed a referendum that amended its constitution to allow for nuclear weapons to be based, once again, on its territory. American officials are expecting that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko may well ask Mr. Putin to place tactical weapons in his country, where they would be closer to European capitals. And Mr. Putin has shown, twice this week, that he is ready to remind the world of the powers of his arsenal.

Don’t forget that tactical nuclear weapons are not huge A-bombs like those used in WWII (or the later H-bombs). They are smaller, less powerful, and yes, tactical. They are battlefield weapons, not meant to vaporize cities.

The thing is, Russia doesn’t need them to conquer any of the non-NATO countries in Europe. Though Russian forces advanced more slowly than anyone expected, Putin won’t need nukes to take the entire Ukraine. It’s anyone’s guess what would happen if the Russians used tactical nukes, but it is unnecessary for them to get what they want. They are really threatening the use of major nukes, I think, as a form of psychological warfare.

All bets are off, of course, if NATO declares a U.S. no-fly zone over Ukraine. That would mean allied planes shooting at Russian ones, and that’s a huge escalation of the hostilities—something I would worry about. But we should give Zelenskyy all the damn planes he wants, up until the point where the war is clearly lost. He wants a no-fly zone, and NATO has properly said “no.”

As I’ve said repeatedly, trying to suss out Putin’s mentality reminds me of Tom Nagel’s famous article, “What is it like to be a bat?” (See original paper here.) All I can think of when I try to psychologize Putin are these two lines from the Doors’ song “Riders on the Storm.”

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad

We don’t know what he’s thinking or what he’s capable of doing. But when you see headlines like the one above, which implies that U.S. defense strategists are second-guessing the Biden administration’s actions, it worries me. Good therapists will not diagnose patients they haven’t met, and even if they do, they cannot predict what a maniac like Putin will do.

And don’t get me started about those liberals who blame Putin’s invasion on the “expansionism” of the U.S. and NATO.

110 thoughts on “Now they’re worried that sanctions will make Putin behave even worse!

  1. It sure is weird to see liberals blaming the U.S. and NATO for Putin’s attack on Ukraine in agreement with people like Tucker Carlson.

    1. The U of C’s Mearsheimer has been making a similar argument (see the recent interview posted by The New Yorker), as did his old friend, the recently-deceased Stephen Cohen (Princeton and NYU). Comparable statements about the possible ramifications of increasing the membership of NATO were also made in the past by Kennan and Kissinger, as well as a few days ago in a piece for the Guardian by Ted Carpenter entitled “Many Predicted That NATO Expansion Would Lead To War.”

  2. “And don’t get me started about those liberals who blame Putin’s invasion on the “expansionism” of the U.S. and NATO.”

    No kidding. That argument is making me crazy.

    1. Even if that were all true, it hardly justifies invading a sovereign nation and committing war crimes. The other argument that drives me crazy is that the US is just as bad at meddling in foreign governments. This is just outright laughable. I say that I live in Canada. The US could take us over easily and we have frequent trade disputes and such yet not once has the US tried to invade Canada since it has been a sovereign nation. They could even pull a Russia and annex Southern Ontario claiming it was part of the territories that became the US and the US wants it back. But they don’t. Because they aren’t Russia.

      1. IIRC, some portion of the U.S. Founding Fathers and their ilk had designs on Canada.

        What are your thoughts on the U.S. Monroe Doctrine and U.S. intervention in Latin America, not to mention other areas of the world? Has this intervention been “laughable”? What was it to the U.S. what happens in Grenada? How did that compare with the expansion of NATO? Would you say that the U.S.’s “sphere of influence” is the whole sphere, and that only the U.S. is worthy to have a sphere of influence? The U.S. seems to think so. Let Mexico explore some sort of association with China and see how the U.S. reacts. The “Roosevelt [TR] Codicil” to the Doctrine states that only the U.S. (and for sure not any nation outside the Western Hemisphere) shall mediate disputes between and among nations located in the Americas. (How does Canada feel about that?) The U.S. is not similarly restricted throughout the world.

        After the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, against what specific threat was NATO directed and its continued existence justified? Seems a Central/Eastern European country could choose to become a democracy without joining NATO. The ease with which it could do so seems proportionate to the degree Russia was/is not threatened by the eastward expansion of NATO.

        1. There was no place called “Canada” when any of the Founding Fathers were still alive. And the opinions of their relatives (“ilk”) have nothing to do with anything.

          Your efforts to draw false equivalence are getting tiresome, as is your use of rhetorical questions to masquerade as arguments.

          Russia’s perception of NATO as a threat is like a motorcycle gang feeling threatened because the police build a precinct house next door to their clubhouse and photograph everyone going in and out. Undoubtedly it is threatening to their conduction of normal business.

            1. Thanks for the link. The museum does a really good treatment of the Canada question. It makes it clear that Gen. Washington was trying to assemble a coalition of the willing among the British colonies and hoped that the colony of Quebec, part of the larger New France which Colonial troops and Native allies had helped England to wrest from France, would join in the independence project. Unfortunately the Quebec populace, almost entirely Catholic and French-speaking aside from the British occupying garrison, proved unwilling to revolt against their accommodating British masters and throw in their lot with the unknown English-speaking anti-Papists. The arrival of liberators from New York did not provide sufficient encouragement and they helped the garrison drive them off.

              Canada was for two and a half centuries only a vaguely defined and shifting concept until the place needed political boundaries as it started to fill up with United Empire Loyalists. The joke is that “Canada” was a Native expression meaning “No gold here”, told to a disappointed Jacques Cartier during his voyages to this vast frozen wasteland, “the land God gave Cain”, in the 1530s.

    2. Yes, that gets my goat, too. Especially the baltic states would have gotten the “Green Men” treatment as well had they not joined NATO by at least 2007/2008.

    3. Lenin’s “useful idiots” are still around, and probably stronger than ever since the West was persuaded to hate itself. One thing we should do is welcome Finland and Sweden into NATO asap, while Putin is preoccupied elsewhere.

      1. That would be the ultimate “In your face, Pootster!”
        However, Finland and Sweden have to apply for membership first. And once they do they have to be admitted as quickly as possible before Putin can do anything about it. He already threatened them if they plan to join NATO.

      2. Putin appears particularly fixated on events in the period surrounding Ukraine’s abortive first formal statehood in 1917-1920 and the early Soviet period, writing at length about the technicalities of Soviet nationalities policies in the Twenties. It is in this context that he asserts that Ukraine as we know it today was created by the Bolsheviks and is essentially “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine”.

  3. David Frum wrote a good Atlantic article about how all the economic sanctions work with the getting kicked out of SWIFT. I didn’t understand it fully but I understand more than before I read the article. In explaining all this he mentions how we have to be careful not to totally bankrupt Russia because that would push things too far and cause a non economic sanction response by Russia. Frum suggests that we need to quickly build legislation after this about how and when to use economic sanctions because we have no experience with this situation until now. Here is the article (linked from Apple but you can always google the title).

    I also read about Putin’s meetings with Macron. Macron refused the Russian Covid test because he didn’t like the idea of Russia having access to his DNA. That meant he had to meet at the other end of that long table. There are images of Putin meeting with his own staff this way as well and it’s completely absurd. There are reports of Putin having isolated himself from others for some time and as with all autocrats, he is surrounded by yes men. It seems he has backed himself into a literal and figurative corner with this unnecessary crisis.

    I also read about his inner military circle are completely shocked at how all this turned out and how they did not expect a full scale war. Also, there is commentary about the European response and how it escalated so quickly – Biden thought he’d have to sell the sanctions and he was surprised to discover that not only did he not need to suggest a controlled increase of sanctions but that the Europeans unanimously wanted to hit hard and fast. It is suggested that this is because of living memory of WWII. Germany quickly pivoted from sending helmets to rocket launchers in weeks.

    I think NATO countries should supply planes. We can’t directly shoot down Russian planes but we are in effect fighting in a proxy war and Ukraine needs to defend itself. We are really all in (by proxy).

    1. Matt Levine, who writes for Bloomberg – there’s a daily e-mail, called “Money Stuff”, to subscribers to his newsletter (free, unlike other Bloomberg content) – has written a couple of times now about sanctions, SWIFT, the value of the ruble, and related topics. Since he’s a money man, he makes a bunch of points about money:

      (From his 28 February column):
      “One great theme of the post-2008 financial world is that money is a social construct, a way to keep track of what society thinks you deserve in terms of goods and services. That has always been true, but modern finance has made it more obvious. I think that 15 years ago it was easier to think that money was an objective fact. … .
      … . The fiscal response to Covid-19 reinforced this point: Money is a tool of social decision-making, not an objective thing that you get through abstract merit.

      Russia’s foreign reserves consist, in the first instance, of a set of accounting entries. But in a crisis the accounting entries don’t matter at all. All that matters are relationships, and if your relationships get bad enough then the money is as good as gone.”

      (From yesterday, on oil and gold, and Russian yachts):
      “The international sanctions regime has been fairly careful to exempt Russian energy production from sanctions, despite many calls to sanction energy specifically. It doesn’t matter:

      “Russian energy flows, in theory, are not sanctioned but everyone is hedging their bets for now,” said Anoop Singh, head of tanker research at Braemar ACM Shipbroking Pte.
      “Although Western sanctions have not gone as far as to ban Russian exports, the country’s supply of crude oil and products have clearly been affected either by ‘self-sanctioning’ or because financial punitive measures make it impossible to finance oil trade with Russia,” said Tamas Varga, an analyst at brokerage PVM Oil Associates.

      Elsewhere here’s a good Twitter thread in which Florian Kern expresses skepticism that Russia can make much use of its $132 billion of gold reserves:
      There is just absolutely no way Russia could sell more than 5-10% of its gold reserves within like a month. If Russia was starting to sell, prices would plummet, as there is simply very little market depth (important!) in the gold market.

      If Vladimir Putin came to you and asked to borrow $1 billion, saying “don’t worry, as collateral, I will give you ownership of $1.1 billion of gold that I will hang on to for you in a vault in Moscow,” would you give him the money?
      Less than a month ago we were talking around here, in the abstract, about Credit Suisse Group AG’s oligarch yacht loan risk. Specifically we were talking about a risk-transfer transaction in which Credit Suisse securitized a “portfolio of loans to tycoons and oligarchs backed by their ‘jets, yachts, real estate and/or financial assets’” and sold the first-loss tranche of the risk to hedge funds to reduce its capital requirements.

      As it turns out, lending money to Russian oligarchs to buy yachts is no longer a particularly good branding or relationship-building move.”

      Apologies for the long quote; but Levine makes good points, in a very readable way, about the invasion of Ukraine and its financial consequences, for Russia and for the rest of the world.
      He’s very readable; and here’s a link to subscribe, if you’d like to:

    2. Biden thought he’d have to sell the sanctions and he was surprised … that the Europeans unanimously wanted to hit hard and fast.

      Throughout my lifetime (as a European) there has always been the spectre of the USSR/Russia being antithetical to Western ideals and with large numbers of tanks ready to roll Westwards. European solidarity on this is totally unsurprising.

      1. I think the solidarity wasn’t the surprising thing. The surprising thing was that the sanctions were severe right from the start instead of small and growing as time went on. Historically, sanctions have worked this way in other situations like when Russia annexed Crimea and they never escalated as they should have.

      2. It’s definitely surprising given that when Russia marched into the Crimea there were mass protests demanding the West do nothing because they needed to ‘fix their own problems first’.

        In fact I’ve heard the reaction from Western ‘rent a crowd’ protest groups has been surprisingly muted to this conflict.

  4. In Canada, we have a few Russian sympathisers amongst the ranks of one of our major parties. Sad state of affairs.

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll find the PC party starts with rhetoric around sympathizing with Russia and the “Freedom Convoy” while the other parties all do the opposite.

        1. I was thinking more that in the future you might hear support in the official party line. There are going to be weird sympathetic responses among individual MPs and MPPs as it never surprises me how kooky some of them can be.

      1. The New Democratic Party still thinks NATO is provocative, as they always have, and wants Canada out of it. (Practically, we pretty much are.) Marxist USSR is still their first love, freedom violations aside. “The kind of love you never recover from”, in Christine Lavin’s wonderful song title.

        1. Maybe the NDP of the 1980s and before felt that way but since the Bob Rae and Jagmeet Singh days those stances have reversed. And they weren’t anti NATO because they loved Russia….they felt they should spend money on Canada’s own defence. They probably have a point when it comes to the north.

          1. Defence of the North was meaningless without NORAD, and the NDP wanted out of that, too. I have never heard an NDP politician voice support for any kind of defence spending except in our glory days of unarmed UN peacekeeping—remember Rwanda? No one wants to build ice-capable warships because they are expensive and we can’t build them anyway, so the NDP is in good company there.

            If Canada won’t spend anything on its defence (except to investigate sexual impropriety among senior commanders) when it is part of an alliance that shames it, why would we spend more on our defence when we are on our own?

            1. I’m not saying I agree with this stance, but there is an argument that says that if either of the two nations (Russia and the USA) that might conceivably attack Canada were to do so, we would have no chance of conducting a successful defense. And there is certainly no political will or public demand to go without our welfare state niceties and build up a military instead. The sad fact is that even if we did, either of our two neighbours would still beat us. Should Canada ever drop the monarch as head of state, a movement for us to become a neutral country as per the Hague Convention will surely follow. That may not be the awful thing I automatically assume it to be, but I mourn the loss of what we once were.

              1. I really doubt that keeping Queen Lizzy or not, versus being neutral or not, have anything whatsoever to do with each other. Do you have any evidence that they do?

                I assume your “neutral” specifically refers to leaving NATO.

                I would not regard the extent of overlap in surveys (which overlap likely does not exist anyway) as being relevant as evidence. But there are perhaps other countries’ experience with shedding the British celebrity monarchy which you might try to find.

                We are not quite as unknowledgeable as USians after all, many of whom wouldn’t even know in which direction to point their cars if they wanted to get to Canada real fast—or, more relevant, wouldn’t, and still probably don’t, know how to find Ukraine on a map.

            2. Well Harper’s government didn’t deliver on all the ice breakers and fighter jets he promised either.

              1. That is “But Harper…” whatabout-ism. As I implied by “in good company”, the uncomfortable fact is that there is no political constituency in Canada for defence, aside from the few thousand people with family in the military and a few dozen more who take an interest in military affairs. This fact elects dove parties and defeats hawk parties — even the hawks don’t have their hearts in it and have no idea how to do procurement. (I mean, if you were a good project planner, would you go to work for the Canadian Dept. of National Defence?) We do diversity and intersectionality, not warships. It’s hard to believe that Canada’s GDP has been bigger than Russia’s ever since the USSR broke up, except for three years when oil prices were really high 2011-2014. (It will be a lot bigger now.).

                We assume that the Americans would be sufficiently furious at anyone who attacked us (because it would be a direct threat to them) that we can rest secure in the knowledge that the Americans will visit violence on whoever threatens us with harm. We, like western Europe, have been playing the Americans since the mid-1960s or so, cynically calculating that the Americans feared our loss to Soviet communism more than we did ourselves. It’s a good deal: we get American military protection for free and can spend the money saved on single-payer free health care for all.

                I suspect that’s why President Biden is asking everyone but us to sell him more oil. Yes, he cancelled Keystone XL to save the planet but he still knows that we can’t build pipelines on our soil to make the supply reliable, no matter how much we are incented to drill at the current price of oil. He also knows our government is publicly committed to strangling the whole industry, not just the tar sands, no matter who might want to buy what it produces. Not a good long-term bet for a strategically vital commodity. Mr. Biden likely figures it’s better to start putting some daylight between him and us.

                (The fighter jets are a serious conundrum that I don’t think is anyone’s fault. It is understandable that Canada wants to kick that can down the road because there is nothing really suitable made any more for shooting down Russian bombers from the 1960s flying over the Pole without fighter escort.. Everything made today is far too sophisticated, expensive, slow (ironically) and unreliable for what Canada would be using them for. The Americans use their older planes flown by Air National Guard squadrons for continental air defence. No matter what anyone says, we are not going to be helping the Americans knock out anti-aircraft missile sites in Russia or China. I think we are hoping the F-35 program goes bankrupt before we have to buy them. Or maybe we can score some MiG-29s from Poland.)

              2. Wow. A wall of words. My point was this: drop the partisan suggestion that the left is anti NATO and anti NORAD. It isn’t true. It was a conservative that had US missiles removed from Canada’s north. I don’t really understand the relevance or the point of this whole side conversation. If you think the US is the same as Russia really there is no convincing you.

      2. Let us really hope not! At times like this I look to politicians of all flavours for unity and cooperation in the face of a terrible world situation. Any politician who plays this type of card is unfit to serve the public who elected them regardless of their political leanings. Btw, I never vote PC, just for context.
        The “ Freedom Convoy” is a case in point. Unity was required to stop stupidity, not pettifogging politics, IMO.

        1. I have grown cynical with all humans as I see statesmanship reduced (as it has leadership and integrity in other sectors) to “how good does this make me look and will it get me promoted?”

  5. Long ago, there was a cartoon that has stuck in my mind. Two prisoners are chained to the wall in a
    dungeon, and to one side we see a scowling, hooded torturer, bullwhip in hand, walking toward their cell. One prisoner turns to the other and whispers: “Don’t say anything to make him grouchy.”

  6. Appeasement may work in some instances, but it seems that dictators generally view it as a sign of weakness as opposed to a reasonable way to resolve a political dispute. Of course, the Munich example comes to mind. As with Hitler, Putin’s demands and probably military interventions will not end because he believes NATO will not counter with military force. So for now, extreme sanctions must continue even though it won’t prevent the destruction of Ukraine. I think Biden is correct in drawing the line at NATO countries. If Putin attacks any of them, possibly the Baltic states, then NATO must respond with force. Putin threatens nuclear war. This would be a risk NATO has to take because there would be no alternative. So, World War III could mean the apocalypse. I hope that Putin is deposed by a palace coup or a rising of the Russian people. Otherwise, we may not have to worry about climate change.

  7. This view expressed in the NYT has been in the background all along. For example, the widely-cited idea of giving Putin a “off ramp” is a manifestation. The off-ramp is needed to prevent Putin from total humiliation that could trigger him to escalate and make matters worse. So, this balancing act is what we’ll need to live with until there’s a ceasefire or settlement.

    Perhaps in Antarctica, none of this will matter. Keep your travel exports coming!

    1. In terms of the “off ramp”, an expert on BBC Radio 4 quoted Sun Tzu, “Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across” although they were less sure what that face-saving way out could be in Putin’s case.

      1. Isn’t the off-ramp obvious, namely to get rid of the sanctions once Putin has put his dogs back on the leash?
        Actually I suspect a very large proportion, of the supposed sentiment for being less tough with sanctions, is a bunch of sneaky lies from the PR people working for those who are going to lose money which they would otherwise have got from doing business with Russia.

  8. Politico recently featured an excellent interview with Faith Hill. It described her as “one of America’s most clear-eyed Russia experts, someone who has studied Putin for decades, worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations and has a reputation for truth-telling, earned when she testified during impeachment hearings for her former boss, President Donald Trump.” Some excerpts from the interview:

    1. “Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just between democracies and autocracies but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force,” Hill said.

    2. “There’s lots of danger ahead, she warned. Putin is increasingly operating emotionally and likely to use all the weapons at his disposal, including nuclear ones. It’s important not to have any illusions — but equally important not to lose hope.” “Every time you think, ’No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would,” Hill said. “And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared…. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

    What is Putin’s motive?

    3. “It’s reestablishing Russian dominance of what Russia sees as the Russian “Imperium.” I’m saying this very specifically because the lands of the Soviet Union didn’t cover all of the territories that were once part of the Russian Empire. So that should give us pause.

    Putin has articulated an idea of there being a “Russky Mir” or a “Russian World.” The recent essay he published about Ukraine and Russia states the Ukrainian and Russian people are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.” He’s saying Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same. This idea of a Russian World means re-gathering all the Russian-speakers in different places that belonged at some point to the Russian tsardom.

    It doesn’t mean that he’s going to annex all of them and make them part of the Russian Federation like they’ve done with Crimea. You can establish dominance by marginalizing regional countries, by making sure that their leaders are completely dependent on Moscow, either by Moscow practically appointing them through rigged elections or ensuring they are tethered to Russian economic and political and security networks. You can see this now across the former Soviet space.”

    4. Etc.

    5. Jerry, based on Ms. Hill’s analysis, you were right and I was wrong about Putin’s willingness to use nuclear weapons. 🥴

    1. Politico recently featured an excellent interview with Faith Hill.

      I think you mean Fiona Hill, suzi. (Faith Hill is a country singer.)

      1. Thanks for the correction Ken. You too are absolutely right. I’m batting zero. Oh well, glad I got that out of the way early in 2022. 👍🏼

  9. I thought some psychiatrist did a pretty good job of telling us about Trump and his mental health and did so without physically seeing him. I’m guessing the CIA and others are doing the same as best they can concerning the psychopath Putin. 20. years of watching this guy should tell them something. Trump’s sister did a pretty good job on Trump as well.

    You have to give a wild animal a way to escape unless you want to kill him. With Putin, holding on to power is all there is. I do not think we can give him that and I do not think it will be our choice. Only the people of Russia in the end, will be determining that one. The real worry is – will he blow up the world. Again, his people are the only ones to prevent that. It is not like he pushes the button that causes all the nuclear weapons to fly. He just gives the order. These things were talked about in the white house at the highest levels concerning Trump.

    If Putin decided to go into another non nato country we may not be about to stop it. But I do not think that is going to happen until and unless he establishes control in Ukraine. That is not likely. Putin needs to be squeezed by his people and possibly eliminated by his people. The question is, how much pain can they stand.

    1. I don’t understand why so many people keep saying that Putin will not succeed in Ukraine. He has essentially infinite resources at his disposal and has tremendous ego involvement. His future depends on his winning. Let that sink in…a narcissist with a bigger red button than Uktraine.. The brave Ukranians cannot possibly win or even dent his machine. The videos of stalled convoys or brocke-down trucks are pure PR by Putin’s opponents. Those convoys didn’t stall because of military resistance, and they won’t be stalled for long.

      1. “He has essentially infinite resources at his disposal”

        This isn’t true. His resources are already almost all committed. He has logistical failures piling up. His economic support base has been undermined. He probably has enough to destroy Ukraine but that is a long way from winning. He will not be able to hold against a protracted insurgency.

        1. Exactly. Russia has worked hard to maintain the view of their military being on par with all of NATO. It has become very obvious that this is not remotely true.

          Shouldn’t be all that surprising either. 1) The Soviet Union managed to pull off the same charade and after it fell and Western analysts got a good look it became clear that their military capabilities had been significantly over-estimated. Same thing with Russia today. 2) Russia’s GDP is less than Italy’s, less than the state of New York’s. You can’t build or maintain a military to rival all of NATO with that. Not remotely.

          One of the biggest mistakes, to my mind, that Putin has made with this invasion of Ukraine is revealing for the world to see how shoddy and incompetent the Russian military is. Sure, even so Russia has the capability to wreak havoc on Ukraine. Putin has the ability to kill lots of people, especially if he does try to use nukes, but he doesn’t have the military capability to achieve his goals. Not even close. He’s already lost. And not just this ‘battle,’ he’s very likely lost it all. It’s just a matter of a little more time. Like ‘a dead man walking.’

          1. Yes, the idea that Putin will be able to install a puppet govt. to actually run Ukraine is just a fantasy. Ukrainians will continue to fight and maintain an underground that would make France during WWII look meek. By the time he gets to that his own country will be belly up and maybe even himself.

          2. “Russia has worked hard to maintain the view of their military being on par with all of NATO. It has become very obvious that this is not remotely true.”

            Of course, and that should have been obvious to anyone who had glanced at US military spending versus the next 9 or 10 countries—or looked at the populations of all Nato countries versus Russia being something like 5 to 1, roughly 750,000 to 150,000, off the top of my head. That ratio’s bigger by quite a lot than Russian versus Ukrainian population.

          3. “..ability…..try to use nukes..”

            But his submarines almost certainly do have the ability to drop thermonuclear bombs on London, on New York, likely Chicago etc., I think—and to dwell on the obvious, a matter which needs consideration in addition to battlefield atomic bombs.

            Perhaps a nutcase who does not care for his own people would consider the agonizing deaths from radiation sickness of 44 million Brits and USians would make up for not living to be sure he had achieved the same numbers in the next door country.

            Sorry for not pussy-footing around on this like the diplomats need to do. And apologies again to pussies.

      2. Those trucks and armoured vehicles stuck in mud up to their axles with the tires falling off the rims aren’t moving anywhere until some guy with a ginormous tow truck comes along. I’m betting most of the soldiers have already deserted the convoy. The last place you want to be in a war is stuck in an immobilized vehicle with drones and partisans in the neighbourhood…and no food and no place to take a crap. I’d put on some overalls and offer to help a local farmer with spring planting, after apologizing for wrecking his wheat field.

        The locals even have a name for that kind of spring mud, sounds like Rasputin.

      3. You have to define what “success” means for him.
        Obviously, he has the power to destroy Ukraine, and kill most of the people living there. If that is his goal, then it is certainly achievable.
        But he could do that without sending in all the tanks and troops.

        I don’t know how many ground wars you have been in, but when there are hundreds of expensive military vehicles abandoned loaded and intact after running out of fuel, that is a symptom of serious problems. Knowing that one of their major weaknesses is logistics, the defenders don’t even need to engage the tanks and armored vehicles. They just need to hit the tankers.
        Morale is also important. The intercepted communications and prisoner interviews indicate that the Russian troops are singularly unmotivated to destroy Ukraine. When the USSR sent wave after wave of conscripts against the Finns and Germans, they were motivated by Zampolit, political officers who the conscripts feared more than the enemy ahead of them.
        As of 2019, the Zampolit are back, but this is not 1943.

      4. Yes, success for Putin is either (1) setting up a puppet government, or maybe (2) showing the Ukranians that NATO doesn’t have the backbone to defend them.I would love to be proven wrong, but I think he will succeed in setting up a puppet government. He does have far more military resources than Ukraine, I think you all would agree with that. He is not fighting NATO, he is fighting Ukraine.

  10. I always keep in mind that it is in the interest of the news media to stoke anxiety — if successful, they’ll keep the readers they have and get even more tomorrow. Thus this attention-getting headline. Also, in this case, surely even Putin realizes that if he escalates this into a regional or even global conflict, it can only go worse for him personally and politically, not to mention the impact on the Russian people for years to come. Not that it can’t happen of course.

  11. Will the U.S. be willing to start WW III if Putin decides to take over the Baltic countries, which are NATO members? I doubt it.

    If Uncle Sam is going to be good to its word, it must defend the Baltic states if Putin invades. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty requires it. Putin wouldn’t dare start a nuclear war in retaliation for our defense of the Baltics.

    We’ll get nowhere coddling a vicious, duplicitous autocrat like Putin. I say squeeze him until he bleeds green from every pore.

  12. Actually, this article reminds me a lot of some of the breathless coverage of new COVID findings, especially early in the pandemic, in which every new report, peer reviewed or otherwise, was treated as earth shattering. In fact, I would be concerned if national security experts were not thinking about the dangers of a cornered Putin and planning accordingly. More and more evidence is suggesting that he’s not a rational actor, so it makes sense to model all possible contingencies. In short, I think there is less here than meets the eye.

    1. IIRC the early coverage of Covid in the present source, NYTimes, was quite careful about the science having serious caveats till more numbers were obtained and analyzed.

      So I assume you had shifted to refer to something like local TV news, maybe MSNBC etc. as well.

      And what would the experts’ “planning accordingly” consist of, once Putin had pushed his worldwide thermonuclear button? I’ve never read much about that, in my last 75 years since literacy.

      Many people here seem to be living a bit in cloud-cuckoo land it seems, where actually suggesting a rational response, not just analyses of Putin’s mind, is ignored. I am ignoring too, because it seems there isn’t one and there never has been. We are not living in the same world which our species has lived in for the previous 300,000 years, despite a couple of population pinches a very long time ago.

  13. Lindsay German, Jeremy Corbyn, and like notables of the STWC are holding both physical and on-line rallies to protest British militarism, with stirring calls such as the following:



    Perhaps readers in Britain could keep us informed on the progress of this campaign. Its public will no
    doubt thrill to jeremiads on the way USA and NATO created the crisis. Perhaps a trope from 2014 will
    be revived: dark hints of NATO’s nefarious plot to dismember Russia into a flock of weak statelets. Unfortunate that this program is imaginary, inasmuch as Russia’s actions keep making the idea more and more attractive every day.

    1. Progress? Zero. Corbyn is now almost totally discredited even among many of his former colleagues. STWC has always been marginal, and is now widely regarded and treated with contempt.

      But of course we will allow them to speak, organise and rally, and report what they say accurately and honestly. Compare and contrast the Kingdom of the Poison Dwarf of the Kremlin.

    2. Yup, and the Stop the War Coalition’s map of Ukraine in the publicity material showed Crimea as part of Russia, just in case we were in an doubt about where they’re coming from…!

  14. Further on the Doors theme, this one from “The Roadblock” by Stan Ridgeway.

    “Three miles down the highway in a Chevy ’69
    Were a pair of crazy eyeballs jumpin’ left and right in time
    To an eight-track tape playin’ Foghat and Jethro Tull
    And a gasoline-soaked hand shiftin’ a little plastic skull

    And on the arm, a blue tattoo that read “I’m a son of a bitch!”
    A map open on the front seat––leather, black as pitch
    One foot slammed on the gas––no shoe, just an argyle sock
    And that car was screamin’ wild down the highway, like lightning
    Toward the roadblock
    Right towards the roadblock…”

    The whole song is an excellent metaphor for any number of things political.

  15. Make no mistake, Tactical nuclear weapons are not smaller or less destructive than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The minimum yield for a plutonium fission weapon — no fusion secondary stage —is down about the range of the Nagasaki bomb. If you use less plutonium than that, you won’t assemble (through implosion in the case of all bombs today) enough critical mass to start a chain reaction. With careful design, you can do 10 kilotons TNT equivalent, about half the yield of Fat Man, although none such have been tested. For comparison, a B-52 bomber carries 30 tons of bombs but only a fraction of the weight of a conventional bomb is high explosive—the rest is the heavy steel casing needed to contain the blast to make a big boom. For further comparison, the yield of a three-stage fusion (“hydrogen”) weapon ranges from 100 kT in a highly accurate ICBM package of 3-5 MIRVs or a cruise missile to upwards of a megaton. Big clumsy Soviet-era ICBMs threw much bigger warheads but most would miss. You can make a three-stage weapon as big as you want, as long as you can lift it and throw it.

    Resort to battlefield nukes would cause large loss of life anywhere except at sea and would be a major escalation. It’s hard to see what military targets in Ukraine would be suitable for a nuke, other than air bases, and so it seems likely the civilians in the cities would be the targets, to spare the infantry and tanks from Molotov cocktails raining down on them from the balconies. (The Russians will say they were justified doing this because the civilians and their children militarized themselves by filling bottles with gasoline and shredded styrofoam.). If the civilians intend to resist, Putin intends to kill them. Radioactive fallout (worst from ground bursts against buried command posts) would follow the same winds that distributed Chernobyl’s radiation over Europe.

    Practically, what distinguishes a tactical weapon from a strategic weapon nowadays is the range and accuracy of the delivery vehicle, not the yield of the weapon. Any existing or theoretically possible nuclear warhead, even an artillery shell, will devastate large tracts of any city that it hits.

    1. I really can’t see how even Putin could decide to nuke Ukraine. That would be utterly counter to his “we’re saving the Ukrainian people from the illegitimate neo-Nazi regime” excuse.

      1. It should be clear by now that Putin is not particularly concerned about the consistency or logic of excuses for his actions.

        1. The prize he wants is to destroy NATO. If a nuclear desert accomplishes that, he’ll make a nuclear desert. (It wouldn’t accomplish it in the actual world but in his head such things may exist.)

  16. We may be at a point of no return regarding Putin’s reactions. The West will have to keep turning up the screws until his own country has had enough and throws him out. If he invades Georgia, then find ways to add more pressure. It is possible to stop buying oil and gas from Putin. There are probably other contingency measures (secret) that can be employed. But, letting up pressure to see if that appeases the madman seems foolish.

    1. I don’t think Putin will invade Georgia or Moldova. When he conquers Ukraine — if he conquers Ukraine — Putin will be like the dog that finally catches the car. What’s he gonna do with it then?

      I don’t think Russia will be able to pacify the Ukraine countryside (given that Ukrainian patriots will likely turn to guerilla warfare) such that Putin will be able to spare a sufficient number of his low-morale troops to invade another country.

      Somebody ought to send that prick Putin a print of The Battle of Algiers.

      1. Many accounts agree that Putin does not command enough troops, and they do not have the force structure, to manage a successful occupation of Ukraine, let alone another country as well. So, it would be illogical for him now to invade Georgia, Moldova, Lithuania, or the moon. Unfortunately, the extent to which Putin follows logic can be gauged from his public statements.

        Given the intensity of world reaction against the so-far unsuccessful attack on Ukraine, it would belogical for the gang around the top of the Russian state to arrange for Vladimir Vladimirovich to suffer a little fatal accident. Unfortunately, that degree of logic also cannot be relied upon. After the world reacted as it did to Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait, I expected him to experience a little accident at the hands of his own army—but it didn’t happen

        1. Yeah, it might be time for the folks in the Kremlin to go full Act III, Scene 1 Julius Caesar.

          (Though it’s probably a bad idea for a US senator to say so publicly.)

          1. Yes, Considering the senator you are speaking of, he has said many very stupid things in the past. What else could South Carolina provide.

            If people would like to hear from someone who knows the subject we are attempting to talk about here try Lt. Col. Vindman. He knows more about this and what is going on than just about anyone. He said that the Trump bunch and all the things that took place during his time pretending to be president has a lot to do with why Putin did what he is doing. The connections to Putin, all the stuff about Ukraine that took place in those 4 years are very much connected to why we are where we are today. When Trump left the building, Putin began getting ready to move on Ukraine. Trump was going to destroy NATO for his buddy Putin. We already know the involvement from Manifort. Ukraine has been on Putin’s mind non-stop since 2014 and before.

          2. I guess that is one reason why Putin always sits at those ludicrous tables with his interlocutors many metres away from him.

  17. Am just an average, under-educated USian, but I know poking a bear is dangerous. But poking a wounded bear can be catastrophic.. I have no choice but to hope the actions of my country are for the best (in this best of all possible worlds)..

  18. Somewhere there is a video clip of a Ukrainian grandmother who gives sunflower seeds to an invading Russian soldier, inviting him to put them in his pocket “so that flowers will grow where you die”.

    Other informative commentary on how badly the Russian invasion of Ukraine is going is at:

  19. I happen to believe that the expansion of NATO at the invitation of various US leaders was a factor in all this.
    I don’t agree with this invasion at all, but do think it would not have happened if not for the NATO thing.
    Commentors above have used Canada as an example of what the US doesn’t do.
    Try Cuba, where the US was willing to start a nuclear war to keep its borders clear even though they started it by putting missiles on Russia’s border in Turkey and in Italy.

    1. How about if the US invades Cuba now after dropping cluster bombs on Havana, Michael. You down with that?

  20. An audio clip of Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg trials (he will be 102 next Friday), was played during the emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly this week. He was just interviewed on this evening’s The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4 talking about potential legal cases resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (You should be able to hear it here at about 37:38 minutes in: )

    An academic I occasionally proofread for interviewed him last year for a book she’s currently working on. Given his age, she was a little worried about how much detail he would be able to recall, but she needn’t have – he’s still as sharp as a tack!

  21. It‘s heartbreaking to see what happens in Ukraine. I recognise Ukrainians as fellow Europeans, and admit that I can empathise with them more than with victims of invasions in Iraq, say. I suspect I‘m affected by a general spirit that also writes narratives which make Ukrainians more like us, but I‘d like to think that also because Ukraine is close.

    Vietnamese, Mujheedin or Iraqis are never depicted as brave and hardened warriors who defended their home against a faceless empire bombing them from the sky (or sprayed them with cancer-causing chemicals, or burning goo). Here the enemy’s worst elements are emphasised, like fundamentalist Islam, while the worst elements of the pale friends are downplayed (tribalism makes some to deny the Nazi elements in Ukraine, like the Azov Brigade, even though the Hill reported march 2018 that “Congress bans arms to Ukraine militia linked to neo-Nazis”). I view the fate of Russian soldiers as a tragedy, too. They are largely draftees thrown at the front, misled by Russian state propaganda.

    Some liberal friends have cheered the ban on RT, citing their disinformation and propaganda. I have not heard back whether the WMD fakery should have led to bans, too, or if Hollywood deserve canceling for their blatant military (approved and funded) propaganda. A lot of people are angry when a mirror is held up to them. They like to think of themselves as morally superior, and in favour of western values like freedom of speech, just as they fund wars, and endorse a ban of opposite media.

    Objectively, I see little difference between Putin and any of the recent US Presidents who invaded and bombed countries and their civilians to rubble and pulp. The death count for Iraq is in the neighbourhood of about half a million, and America used extensive torture and lawless imprisonment without trial. Everyone who reads here knows that no other country would get away with it. We have to acknowledge the operational assumptions that undergird these discussions. Putin is not strong enough to be allowed to invade, bomb, much less torture anyone.

    I find the moralising misplaced for two reasons, even though Putin is a repugnant autocrat. First, the West is not opposed to repugnant autocrats, see Saudi Arabia. Second, game theory is a better framework for foreign politics than the folk psychology of irreducible traits like being evil or insane. Putin did not invade on a whim. Read older news and see how both Russia and the West pumped resources into an Ukrainian proxy war for a while.

    Even though autocracies allow the individual psychology and pathology of their leader to impose themselves on world history more than democracies, it‘s not the best or even most plausible explanation. That‘s why I reject the “animal in a corner” talking points as propaganda. The West should keep up hardest sanctions on Russia’s elites, but also offer a way out, like the Minsk II agreement, or that sanctions be dropped if Russia leaves Ukraine, and other sovereign nations, alone.

    Alas, recent decades saw an erosion of treaties and cooperation which had cooled the conflict somewhat. Ukraine is only 320 miles away from Moscow. That’s about Chicago — Cleveland, or New York City — Montreal. Putin, much like any US President won‘t tolerate missles in short distance to his residence, in particular when e.g. the INF-Treaty was cancelled only two years ago, which limited the use of shorter range missles. That could be part of a deal that NATO refrains from arming countries with such missles. I don’t think it would put a dent on the functioning of NATO.

    1. War crimes (IMO) by GW Bush and company are simply no excuse for what we’re seeing from Putin. You’re engaged in leftist whataboutery. (I consider myself a person of the left so this profoundly annoys me.)

      1. It seems to me it involves the notion of applying to oneself the standards one requires of others. If the invasion of Ukraine is inexcusable, then surely so was the invasion of Grenada.

        1. You’re the one making excuses for Putin’s invasion. And comparing Ukraine to Granada is silly in any case.

      2. Whataboutism comes from the Northern Ireland conflict, and was minted for a type of excuse in the form of “you approved of X when your side was doing it, so you should approve of Y, too”. It’s generally a variant of the tu quoque fallacy. I’m not excusing anything, but actually wrote plainly that the hardest sanctions should remain on Russian’s oligarchs (contra the thesis above), until Putin leaves Ukraine alone. I’m not excusing anything. My only concern are ordinary Russians, who aren’t to blame.

        I called into questions how people judge that situation, and the framing. I think foreign policy is better understood with game theory, rather than folk psychology. I was dubious about the narrtives of an evil, or insane Putin, where comparisons to other invasions are useful, because they allow to test moral intuitions. If someone has hatred for Putin now given the purported moral framework why is his invasion beyond the pale, but not the others? That’s for everyone to investigate themselves. You see below some even pretend not know anything about Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Lybia (just the recent ones).

        My take is transatlantic, but defensive and based on robust diplomacy, not moralising. One big lesson is that erosion of treaties and agreements are very bad. This lesson is pushed to the wayside as it is presented as if this situation arose out of a sudden because Putin went mad.

        1. I, too, am concerned about ordinary Russians. But they aren’t entirely blameless. To the extent that they, as a society, allow people like Putin to run their country they, too, are responsible. This is their opportunity to change their government to one that doesn’t invade neighbors.

    2. “Vietnamese, Mujheedin or Iraqis are never depicted as brave and hardened warriors. . .” We must be living on different planets. The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese were invariably acknowledged to be brave and hardened, invariably compared favorably to the ARVN and very often to American GIs. Ditto with the Mujiheedin, although their bravery was sometimes qualified as “fanatic”. That said, I agree with your conclusions — that “sanctions [should] be dropped if Russia leaves Ukraine” – but has anyone ever suggested otherwise?

    3. The United States is closer to me than Ukraine is to you unless you live in Poland, east of Lublin. Up close, I don’t see the United States the way you do. I don’t believe that any U.S. President since Franklin Roosevelt has invaded and bombed countries and their civilians to pulp — by the way, the correct order is bomb first, then invade — and none ever have used widespread torture and lawless imprisonment without trial. I don’t think what you say is “whataboutery”. I think it’s just wrong. Being a great power is not pretty and when folly occurs it occurs on a grand scale. But as Winston Churchill said, “The Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing….once they have exhausted all the alternatives.” He meant that as a warm endorsement.

    1. I’m seeing that John Mearsheimer video circulating EVERYWHERE. I’ve even been sent links by several people I know.

      1. Yeah, that one keeps showing up in the RH sidebar of YouTube. I was avoiding it, until I saw that it was from 2016, so now I’m ignoring it.

        1. Why ignore it? Mearsheimer lays out in detail events/causes leading up to (and predictiing) the current catastrophe. But if you need something 2022, it’s easy to access Andrew Sullivan’s podcast, “The Dishcast,” to hear his interview with Mearsheimer. Also, Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source” podcast interview with Andrew Bacevich.

  22. We can now expect Corbynian trumpeting of the equivalence of Russian imperialism in Ukraine and USian imperialism in Iraq. There was, it seems, a small difference in duration. The US was in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, whereas Russian domination of Ukraine, at least east of the Dnieper River, lasted from 1686 until 1991. The 8-year US domination of Iraq was worse than Russia’s 305 year domination of Ukraine because, well, because Iraq has oil (that “war for oil” Jill Stein never failed to mention) whereas Ukraine has only chicken á la Kiev and some people who wish to join NATO.

  23. I think Putin is a war criminal just like George W. Bush who ordered the invasion of Iraq on fake intel on WMD’s. The prison of Scheveningen is my preferred venue for both.

  24. The sanctions aren’t going to bother Russia one little bit. Russians are used to going without. They aren’t like spoiled Americans who have to have the newest whatever-it-is at the lowest price imaginable (unless it’s on the black market) … they don’t mind standing in line & they don’t complain about it … unless it’s some kind of black joke & then they just laugh about the situation.

    A very good & cherished friend of mine who died in June 2020 (god I miss him) was a diplomat in Russia for many years & he loved it there. He told me many stories of Russia & the Russians. He was teaching me Russian before his last illness. They are a very different people than the Americans. Sanctions aren’t going to bother them. They’ll revel in this. They’ll take our bet & raise the ante.

    As much as I hate war, as much as I will protest any war, & as the mother of a son in the 101st Airborne (so of course I don’t want war), I have to say that if Russia’s military aggression isn’t met with similar military strength from NATO nations, including the US, Ukraine will be no more within ten to fourteen days. & Putin is not going to stop there.

    1. Do you think the invasion of Ukraine would have been significantly less likely had NATO not expanded eastward?

  25. “Senior White House officials designing the strategy to confront Russia have begun quietly debating a new concern: that the avalanche of sanctions directed at Moscow, which have gained speed faster than they imagined, is cornering President Vladimir V. Putin and may prompt him to lash out, perhaps expanding the conflict beyond Ukraine.”

    Was there a similar concern when NATO began expanding eastward in the late ’90’s?

    1. This “NATO expanded” framing is misleading. NATO grew. No country was forcibly added to the alliance. All new countries joined voluntarily because they had forty years’ experience of life under Russian rule. They joined because they feared the kind of invasions we’re seeing right now. The idea that Russia had to attack Ukraine because of NATO is nonsense. The responsible party is obvious.

  26. And added to that, NATO is a basically defensive organisation. AFAIK it has never attacked or invaded any country.

  27. Putin just said that the sanctions against Russia are akin to a declaration of war.

    It makes me physically ill to see the behemoth stomping the life blood out of a smaller opponent. I get that everyone is afraid of things going nuclear (is this a trolley car dilemma?), but how can the EU, the UN and NATO applaud but still stand by and watch while Zelensky repeatedly pleads for help? I hang my head in shame. I’m not sure that sending stuff alone is the answer. Fighter jets and ABMs and whatever are needed ,as well as the people already trained to operate them. The supposedly bogged down convoy should be taken out while there’s still ever-dwindling time. Meanwhile Russian troops are advancing on the third nuclear plant. Could there be some kind of special “Special OPS” or Legion to help save this democratic nation from becoming a country of primarily widows and orphans? Zelensky said they’d never forget or forgive Russia. I think he and his countrymen may never forget or forgive the West.

    1. Something is either a declaration of war or it’s not. There is no such thing as “akin to”, as Putin’s remarks were translated from the Russian. So it’s just rhetorical hyperbole. Sanctions are clearly established in international law as neither a declaration of war nor an act of war. We are not at war with Russia, any more than we were with South Africa.

      The West has never deliberately entered a direct shooting war against USSR/Russia or any nuclear-armed state. (Some Soviet pilots got involved in the Korean War through accident—both sides agreed to pretend it never happened.). We simply cannot risk this now. NATO warplanes would have to attack numerous radar sites and SAM batteries in Russian sovereign territory and engage in air combat with the Russian Army and Air Force. That would be an act of war. The stakes are too high if, say, Putin tosses a tactical nuke at the air base or aircraft carrier from which the planes flew.

      International diplomacy has nothing to do with what foreign counties will or will not forgive you for. Rather, it is what approach to foreign countries is likely to bring the greatest benefit to your own citizens over the long run. That requires a clear-eyed analysis of what your own interests are. Avoiding Armageddon is always one of them….especially when China is waiting in the wings.

      Surely you have lived long enough or read enough history to know that small countries who don’t matter always get thrown under the bus if they are not existentially useful to the great powers. That’s what small countries who live next to big ugly Philistines have resigned themselves to for centuries.

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