Ukraine: What do I Know?

My brother-in-law long hosted a radio show called “Whad’ya know?” The answer to which was always, “Not much.” I feel that way about the Russian attacks on Ukraine. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve read everything I consider reliable on the subject and can’t begin to answer if the Russians are bogged down or simply regrouping. If they or the Ukrainians will win this fight.

Oh, there are some things I do know. I know that we've been bombarded by propaganda on both sides, and the Ukrainians have been particularly effective in making Putin the world’s pariah and his country along with him, despite the fact that thousands of Russians taking great risks are openly protesting this war. I know that civilians on both sides of the border are suffering great losses. I know that Ukrainian President Zelensky has charmed much of the world with his bravery and resistance calls. I know that the German government has taken an about-face and is upping its contributions to NATO, looking at strengthening its own conventional energy sources and, finally, regarding Russia as a more significant threat than Germany has for decades.

What I particularly don’t know is the effectiveness of the sanctions and what we and those who oppose Russian intervention in Ukraine should do. (Yes, I’ve read a lot of compelling articles about how prior U.S. administrations -- with the exception of Trump’s -- set the stage for this by, among other things, pushing NATO to Russia’s borders and interfering outrageously in Ukraine and withdrawing anti-missile support from eastern Europe and then stationing NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic States.) Worse yet, they provocatively and falsely accused Russia of interfering with the 2016 election. As the late Angelo Codevilla wrote:

All this produced a mess of appeasement, provocation, insult, and enmity without much of an international point on either side -- another lesson in the consequences of incompetence mixed with self-indulgence at the highest level. 

What I am unclear about is what should we do now. Surveys I’ve seen indicate many -- maybe a majority of those polled -- want us to create and enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. What are they thinking? Do they realize this would mean shooting down Russian planes and expanding this war even further? Others talk about offering Ukraine NATO membership -- again, what are they thinking? Do they really wish to commit to stationing our troops against Russia? Whatever you think of the effectiveness of the Russian troops, and whether their slow advance this week has weakened your fear of them, it still would likely greatly escalate this war into something broader and worse. If you don’t like supply shortages, even higher taxes, and the high-handed government tyranny which marked the response to COVID (a disease which, like Dr. Fauci, seems mysteriously to have sunk from view), I guarantee you you’ll get it good and hard if we rush to defend Ukraine militarily.

To better understand Russia’s present situation and interests (and ours) I urge you to read in its entirely the Codevilla article. You will see why he said, “Ukraine is the greatest practical limitation on Russia’s ambitions. Its independence is very much a U.S. interest, but it is beyond our capacity to secure.” He contended that the only part of Ukraine that Russia can control is the Russian part. "...while we can foster Ukrainian independence, that independence depends on the Ukrainians themselves, and we should foreswear turning them into our pawns or even giving the impression 'that they may be.'" I suppose in practical terms that means we should supply needed weapons and humanitarian aid, but no troops nor any promises of military defense by us.

I realize that there is a great deal of emotion-driven support for our doing more. Heck, even the ridiculous Style Section of the Washington Post was full of articles this week supporting Ukraine. (Of course, past experience shows that while the left is often gung-ho on getting us embroiled in overseas military adventures, once these are underway they run from responsibility for them and demand immediate withdrawal at great cost to nationals in those countries who worked with us.)  If all this sounds too depressing, Lord Conrad Black has a different view, that the end result of all this will be a negotiated deal and a strengthened West. I’m inclined to agree with him. He’s quite right when he argues that Russia’s move into Ukraine is not the same as the Soviet repression of Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The USSR under which that took place had twice the population of present-day Russia, an immense army, and “almost complete control of the borders of the countries over which it was reasserting control.” On the other hand, as he observes:

The Ukrainian army today consists of over 200,000 highly trained and well-equipped soldiers, who know every square inch of their own country, are fanatically determined to defend it, and have been armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weaponry, along with a reserve force of 900,000.”

He notes in addition “Ukraine is being supplied with virtually inexhaustible stores of mobile and sophisticated ground-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles and received constant, exhaustive intelligence from NATO satellite and aerial reconnaissance and other sources that detail all Russian movements in Ukraine.” Russia, as he also noted, has so primitive an economy that is has a GDP smaller than Canada’s. Sanctions will make that worse. As for China, it is being inconvenienced by the sanctions against Russia and wants a negotiated end to this.

Russia could not physically maintain the subjugation of all Ukraine. It probably would accept a compromise settlement allowing Ukraine’s eastern provinces to be declared autonomous and Ukraine promising not to join NATO, and this compromise, Black argues, will allow the West to emerge stronger from this ordeal. NATO is already starting to shape up and Germany “has announced its return to its rightful role as Europe’s leading partner but in a positive and collegial context, and the long-festering issue of what would happen to the former republics of the U.S.S.R. will be substantially answered satisfactorily.”

This scenario makes sense. I can only summarize it here and urge you to read it all. 

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