Recent comments

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   3 hours 1 min ago

    grozny is an interesting word.  We translate it as Ivan the Terrible, and I suppose enough of his biography supports the accusations of terribleness.  But grozny means "terrible" in its ancient sense, awe-inspiring, fear-inducing, kingly.  Ivan Grozny was the first Emperor of All the Russias, a phrase with meaning in our times as well, for Russia is not one thing, nor was it ever. 


    Ivan Grozny is still viewed with awe in Russia.  He was tremendously popular, an able monarch, given to fits of paranoid rage.  But much of his paranoia was justified.  Ivan had enemies, both within and without.  He demanded, and got, a region of absolute authority for himself, as well as his own praetorian guard, who set about annihilating Ivan's enemies. 


    And it was Ivan who conquered Crimea.  Putin knows the old stories and fancies himself another Ivan, wreaking havoc on his enemies and spreading Moscow's influence far and wide.  Like Ivan Grozny, he is paranoid and as liable to kill his friends and family as his enemies.  Like Ivan, Putin is a master of the deadly insult and is heavily dependent upon a network of spies and enforcers.  Ivan Grozy gives us Russia as we understand it today.  Where it served his purposes, Ivan Grozny made deals with anyone, foreigners, erstwhile enemies, he didn't much care, as long as it served his purposes of uniting what lands he controlled and many he didn't.  Stalin's propaganda engine often compared him to Ivan Grozny.  Putin's  does much the same.  Russia was always craven, licking the boots of this tyrant and that, Ivan Grozny is still a popular figure.  


    And like Ivan Grozny, Putin has no successor, only a cadre of sycophants who fear for their own lives.   Ivan Grozny did not win all his battles and often took out his rage on those who failed him.  Putin has become a despot and if he has Gone Loo-La, well, you're not paranoid if they really are out to get you.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   3 hours 35 min ago

    That's what makes me think perhaps the strategic dimension is what's driving things. Trade flows come and go. Geography is forever.


    Or perhaps Putin has gone loo-la. Maybe all that bare-chested psing isn't just for sale to the rubes or a front to the west to make him look unpredictable. Maybe he really is losing it in Sadam like ways.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   3 hours 50 min ago

    explicitly kept Austria out.  Putin isn't nearly so clever, nor is he willing to be as vicious.  Putin is a contemptible little Gauner where Bismarck was bold and utterly rational, avoiding war where it would not serve his purposes.  Bismarck knew who the real enemies were, the communists:  he undercut them with social welfare programs, creating a prosperous society with the levers provided him, perhaps the most ruthless man of his age.


    Problem with Otto von Bismarck, nobody could replace him and he knew it.  Bismarck was an utterly rational man, ably serving the cause of Wilhelm I.  Wilhelm II was a different man, stupider, more aggressive and badly advised. Kaiser Bill's every action showed him for the contemptible rogue whose ignorance of Germany's limits would bring on World War I.   In his last meeting with Kaiser Bill, Bismarck predicted the Kaiser's abdication, to the year.  Bismarck gave him twenty years and that's exactly how long it took before Wilhelm II was given his abdication papers. 


    Putin does not understand Russia's limits, any more than Kaiser Bill.  I am convinced, for all his talk about Russian Greatness, and I'm sure Putin believes all that - Putin doesn't understand why Russia will always be a great nation and lacks sufficient comprehension of how he might make it greater.   Let's suppose Ukraine did enter into some sort of provisional EU status agreement.  Where's the pain for Russia there?   Ukraine was always the gateway to the West.  It speaks Russian in large measure.  If Ukraine's house were reordered, its finances set to rights, brought into line with modern norms, Ukraine would become a bridge between Moscow and the West.  Nothing of substance would change:  Russia and Ukraine are inextricably linked.  I'm sure they're each other's largest customers.  They have been for centuries.  More than a thousand years of common culture joins them   Russia would get all the benefits of EU membership by proxy, without having to submit to any housecleaning of their own. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   4 hours 18 min ago

    that war erupts when politicians fail. Bismark built a nation on provoking a single well timed war. "War is the continuation..." and so on.  Of course that notion has been out of fashion recently but we musn't fall into the trap of thinking others think like we do. The same is true with valuing trade and general prosperity. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   4 hours 55 min ago

    without so much as a by-your-leave.   Putin has become an autocrat over a longish period of time, longer than six months.  Power gone to his head. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   5 hours 14 min ago

    I hope so. But we might have said the same of Russia 6 months ago.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   5 hours 16 min ago

    From the beginning, especially at the beginning, and I have some insight into that process, everyone and I mean EVERYONE, including the USSR's military commanders, were desperately trying to keep things on the straight and level.  Mistakes would have been intolerable.  The Soviet military was in terrible shape.  Soldiers needed to be paid - do your realise NATO was involved in making sure the Soviet military was peaceably disbanded?   The USA wanted out of Europe so badly, it was almost pathetic.  Everyone was coming out of their bunkers, informing everyone else, large numbers of officers were assigned as liaisons to the other side.  Military people hate wars but they hate stupid mistakes even more.  The NATO-Russia committee was formed immediately.   The Soviet commanders were amazed by the decent treatment shown to them.   Heady times, believe you me.  After the shootdown of KAL007, the Soviets were scared to death we'd exact revenge for that bit of paranoid madness.


    The real troublemakers were the erstwhile satellite states.  They feared the rise of a New Stalin.   At a practical level, NATO couldn't absorb the USSR's military, it's having enough trouble integrating the militaries it does have on board.   Russia was seen, then and now, as its own sphere of influence.   The USA and NATO have both worked hard to maintain good relationships with the Russian military, they're okay soldiers and both sides have behaved quite professionarly over the years.   It's been Putin, and Putin alone, who's screwed this up.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   5 hours 27 min ago

    When I was a little boy, I once had a toy.  It was a little box with a crank on the side.  Turn the crank and it would play a little tune.  At the appropriate time, the box would spring open and a clown would pop out.  The tune was Pop Goes the Weasel.   That's China.  Only the incompetence and idiocy of the absolutist Maoists kept China in that box.  Since Deng Xiaoping, China has popped out and everyone's So Surprised.   


    China's no more a threat to world peace than the USA itself.  And like the USA, China's government grows ever more corrupt and self-satisfied, isolating itself from the will of the people.  The USA's Congress is a dysfunctional wreck, the Executive grown imperious, following BlaiseP's Rule of Good Intentions:  "The worst evils are done with the best of intentions."  Our Supreme Court seems intent upon pulling away even the fig leaves from our inchoate oligarchy.  China doesn't care, it has no fig leaves, its oligarchy grows ever more powerful, in broad daylight.


    War is always unforeseeable.  War erupts when the politicians stop doing their jobs.  War stops when politicians start doing their jobs again.   I can predict trends, I predicted the fall of the USSR and was laughed at while I was still in the military.  I said at the time, they're more afraid of us than we are of them. And they were.  China's going through a phase at this point, much like the Americans and British did, the French to a lesser extent:  trying to exert influence in the world to the betterment and enlargement of their own economic and political system.  And like the Empires of old, the flowers of success have set the seeds of their own destruction:  China has never really come to terms with its continuing allegiance to the Communist system.  Still no system of land deeds worth a damn.   Still a two-tier stock market - and a badly regulated system of banks and bourses throughout - that's what will bring China down, sooner rather than later.  I can't predict wars.  Wars require madness to erupt somewhere.


    Wealth Inequality - ecch, I can't be bothered to take sides with the Levellers any more.  I care about the fate of the poor, the refugees, children, the lot of women, economic problems all of them.  The growth of slums, like vast ulcers around cities, that's where revolutions begin.  While the USA and China are so inextricably linked in trade relationships, they'll find ways to get along.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   5 hours 35 min ago

    The alternative is to hve a viable alternative to themselves.


    If NATO is stronger with more members why was Russia not drawn in?


    The EU is not a trade agreement. That is how it started but it's declared goal has always been "ever closer union".  It explicitly aims to be a state. And it is this grand ambition that puts people off. That and of-course the lack of any sign of competence on a world stage in anything other than trade. Listen to Ashdown prattle on. Issuing edicts and threats without a single soldier to call her own. Big talk like that can walk you into a lot of trouble and then what - as you correctly note the disparate nations of the EU will all scramble in different directions, running for cover and screwing each other over as fast as they  can.


    Action to stabilise the balkans was good. But it was taken a step too far in Kosovo - bombing Serbia in the way they did, white-washing the Albanians and writing Kosovo into an independant state was hubris. I think the Russians saw how the lay of the new land was and acted accordingly.


    Excellent point on the Tsars by the way. This is the way of the world it would seem. The slow march back to feudalism through globalism.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   5 hours 49 min ago

    The USSR simply ran out of raison d'être.  It's not a win when one side simply disappears.  Immediately, upon the disintegration of the USSR, Germany and the USA started pumping money into the equation.  Some peace of the victors:  the Russians took that money, privatised their industries, issued stock and the New Boyars proceeded to make vast fortunes.  If anything, the fall of the USSR was a return to the Age of the Tsars, autocratic buffoons who governed through a landed aristocracy.  Well, now it's mining tycoons and lumber barons, no different than the boyars of old.


    The erstwhile USSR did not disarm.  Their military industrial complex did very well indeed, see above paragraph.   The Russians proceeded to meddle in other places, especially in the Middle East, selling weapons to all and sundry.  If they were a bit chastened by their adventures in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia and suchlike showed them incapable of winning through Soft Power.  


    What is it about European thinking these days?  It's just so abidingly ignorant of history and the realities of statecraft.  The EU is little more than a set of economic constructs, an acknowledgement of certain practical economic realities.  NATO has a mission, military integration across national borders, the more the merrier and the more powerful.  NATO waded into the Balkans and did what no one European nation could do.  The shameful abandonment of the Balkans, sitting there with one thumb in their mouths and the other up their asses, making whimpering noises as the Balkans flared up into ethnic cleansing and a return to the Stone Age.  Europe proved its fecklessness in the 90s and has not improved in the interval.  What a collection of spineless cowards they have all become.  I partially blame the American role in NATO, propping up these straw-stuffed scarecrows in Savile Row suits so these Euro-weenies don't have to put any of their own money on the line for peacekeeping efforts.  The USA has enabled a generation of skim-milk cowards and amoral quislings to grow up in its shadow. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   6 hours 1 min ago

    it seems that these will be the decades of relearning old lessons.


    Trade imbalance with Chinese, deregulation of banking (and many other things), invading Afghanistan, letting wealth distribution run to the richest, workers failing to organise. What's next? Land war in Asia?

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   6 hours 11 min ago

    CTR especially - ridding states like Ukraine of nuclear weapons. But it all somehow seems like the peace of the victors. Only the ex 
    Soviets disarmed. NATO, whos existance was to oppose Russia did not disband, Russia did not join it


    The EU faces rather the same question as NATO - what is it for? Though now, after casting about for a couple of decades, NATO has a purpose, the EU is sent looking for it's meaning. There is great discomfort amongst many Europeans about further errosion of their democracy to an EU beaurocracy and further expansion into the poorer more corrupt east. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   6 hours 25 min ago

    than Putin can hand out from his current supplies.  Ukraine can get pretty much anything it wants on the open arms market.  They don't need missile systems so much as they need a defense in depth.


    Everyone's learned from the Taliban in Afghanistan and they learned from the Iraqi insurgents, who learned from the Chechens, who learnt from the Vietnamese partisans.  If Ukraine can control the roads at night, keep the Russians on the qui vive, deny them the safety beyond the wire, they win.  The Taliban never needed shoulder fired weapons.  They just kept the Americans shooting at ghosts, forever doubting if the guy in the Afghan police uniform was really one of the good guys. 


    That's Putin's big problem, actually a continuation of his old problem, Yanukovich.  Yanukovich was pro-Russian, greedy and incompetent, surrounding himself with like-minded thieves, a petty kleptocracy.  Let's suppose for a moment Putin achieves his goal, nibblling out a land corridor to his new oblast in Crimea.  Who will run the show there?  Another Yanukovich?  Or perhaps Yanukovich himself?  A military procurator?  Ukrainian Russians might be loyal to the idea of Russia but they weren't so fond of the reality of Yanukovich.  That's the problem with wishes, you might just get them.  Older Ukrainians remember the last time the Russians came calling, well, they're mostly dead now or in their dotage.  The lesson must be re-learned, it seems.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   6 hours 48 min ago

    by his subordinate commanders.  That's the problem with dictators.  Hobbes understood the frightening efficiency of absolute monarchy:  dictators don't surround themselves with dissenting opinions.  Every dictator gone to war has fallen prey to his own grandiose visions.  They don't always start out that way:  Napoleon and Hitler were both reasonably well advised at the outset of their campaigns.   But given enough time and enough success, they begin to attribute their wins to their own judgment.  That's when they start to fail.


    Borges once said democracy was an abuse of statistics.  Interesting you should cite Kim Il-Sung's mishandling of the Korean War.  Saddam Hussein's greatest complaint, whilst he still held power, was that everyone lied to him.  War is mostly about logistics and statistics, you don't have to be a Patton to win wars.  You need George Marshalls, the logistics and statistics guys.  Not many people realise how much WW2 depended on controlling already-conquered areas, feeding the civilians, tending to the massive numbers of refugees and prisoners.  The objective of land warfare is land, which, once taken, must be maintained. 


    As I read the maps and what little information appears in the news, I am put in mind of the Wars of the Peninsula.  Napoleon, for all his genius in combat, the great master of manoeuvre, could not control Spain.  He simply did not have enough troops, nor did he have the good sense to enlist the Spanish to his side.  Napoleon installed his idiot brother Joseph as king of Spain, further angering the Spaniards.  The Wars of the Peninsula were a disaster for France.  If Putin thinks it can control Ukraine by occupation, he has fallen prey to the same delusion which overtook Napoleon.


    Putin may think himself a Martial Artist and a master of intelligence but he is an untutored rube in the arts of war.  He has thrust his military into action without unit insignia, the surest sign of cowardice in the face of the enemy.  But his military, curiously, does not seem especially thrilled by the prospect of a campaign in Ukraine.  Their officers know how the last war against Ukrainian partisans went down.   Stalin was obliged to continue starving and beating the hell out of Ukraine for a decade thereafter:  Stalin knew the score if Putin does not.  Putin is an arsonist.  The fire he has just lit is now beyond his control.  Instead of a a new era of Russian greatness, he has once again filled the hearts of Europe with hatred and fear. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   7 hours 28 min ago

    is the smart choice for smaller or worse equipped side with no air-power. Just as opposition research is a wise Mao-like choice.  But what would Kim Il-sung do?



  • Reply to: Open Thread!   7 hours 35 min ago

    We had plenty of enemies in common and still do, especially Islamic terrorists. NATO reached out to Russia in 1991 and immediately set up the NATO-Russia council.  The USA had joint exercises with the Russians since the 80s and still would, if it wasn't for Putin's crassness.  For crissakes, all through the 90s, we were buying Russian plutonium and helping them disassemble their vast nuclear stockpiles, including the Ukrainian nukes.  Informed regret is one thing, maundering on pitifully and un-historically about olive branches and missed opportunities another.  Obama tried to let bygones be bygones, the famous reset of relations, the sort of thing every civilised person must do with disagreeable people from time to time.  That wouldn't do for Mr. Putin, oh no.  Putin, not the USA, put an end to Nunn-Lugar, the single greatest treaty of peace in human history, the one which did more to make the world safer from the threat of nuclear war. 


    Putin has pissed in the stewpot.  The EU had every good reason to keep expanding.  NATO wasn't a threat to Russia, under any sane view of the maps.  What on earth would NATO want in Russia?  What threat did Russia pose to the West which statecraft could not address?   The one threat was Putin himself, seizing power and becoming yet another Tsar. 

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   7 hours 38 min ago

    shoulder fired rockets that are fired by troops in helicopters.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   8 hours 28 min ago

    If it was ever a real prospect it died of hubris. The EU is over-expanding and over-reaching internally.  NATO failed to offer any sort of olive branch to Moscow in the 90s. That was the moment to integrate them into the circle. Instead we got NATO expansion, Kosovo, Georgia, Syria. These are direct assaults on Russian security. We acted like we had won but retained Moscow as the enemy.


    Anyway, interesting times. Is Russia just looking for a buffer or do they have their eyes on Latvia and Estonia and their Russian populations too.

  • Reply to: Open Thread!   9 hours 28 min ago

    ...however there is a dying of the European Dream where such considerations are just archaic...there is no encirclement when you are in the circle and fully integrated, from the Ural's to the North Sea, from the Caspian Sea to the Cliffs of Moher, one area with the same values, the same economic goals...not antagonistic competitors but partners. 


    That is dead now.


    Germans may be quavering, but an aggressive and hostile, xenophobic and nationalistic Moscow, is a real and present danger to everyone.


    Germans may be...buying time for some real energy independence to come to the fore...


    But...for all of this stuff I hear about Germany being, not hesitant, but actually pro-Russian, it is still actions that count most:


    BERLIN (AP) — German utility company RWE said Tuesday it has started sending natural gas to Ukraine, a move that could support the country if Russia acts on its threat to cut off supplies because of a massive debt for past deliveries.
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    The reverse-flow deliveries from Germany via Poland are largely symbolic for the moment, but could be ramped up to provide about a fifth of the country's gas needs


    And I must give Germans some props for this.


    Best Wishes, Traveller


  • Reply to: Open Thread!   9 hours 54 min ago

    but maybe actually there is an important truth hidden in all of this.


    It's 800km from Kiev to Moscow but from the borders of Ukraine to Moscow it's only 400km.


    If Ukraine, as it is now on our maps, went over to NATO that brings the alliance 200km closer to Moscow (previously, Latvia was closest at about 600km).


    Looking at the overall strategic picture (and I have absolutely no qualifications to do this, but bear with my armchair generalisms for a moment). With Ukraine in NATO large Russian cities are under 500km from the alliance and open on numerous fronts. From Estonia all the way down to the black sea. Turkey and Georgia in the south. Finland an unreliable buffer.


    From Ukraine it's 300km to Stalingrad. From Latvia it's 580km to Moscow and from Estonia 150km to St Petersberg


    Imagine you are a Russian field marshal, raised on stories of the Great Patriotic War and the defensive reatreat against Germany.  Imagine you are in charge of the contingency plan for the conventional defense of Moscow from a NATO assault. Look at a map and imagine your job with and without NATO in Ukraine. Imagine a counter-assault with and without Ukraine as a Russian military base.


    There's another interesting aspect to this, and it's the rebirth of soft power. I think everyone is looking at it as the rebirth of hard power since Moscow is doing as she pleases because she has troops on the ground. But she is acting through the lens of soft power. It's a propaganda war. There is support in the East. 


    Cheney and Rumsfeldt were contemptuous of soft power. i think this is coming back to bite the US. Look at how action against Putin is polling in Germany. Most Germans are against EU membership for Ukraine. Most are against further action against Putin. This is strongest in the East where people would have the most to fear from a ressurgent Russia and the least to loose from sanctions. Now I don't claim to have any special finger on the pulse of the German Mind, but I do have quite a few German friends, mostly Easteners. For years they have been lectured about the horrors of the Stasi - torturing people, opening everyone's mail to read it, listening in to every call. Can you imagine how they have taken recent developments in their greatest strategic ally? 


    And as public support for action in Europe dwindles the only real prospect of nipping this in the bud withers on the vine (to murder 2 metaphores with 1 stone).