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Tuesday, February 22, 2022


I have a question for the room. This is a genuine question posed out of ignorance and curiosity, not, as they say, a rhetorical question. It concerns the prospect of a full-scale Russian invasion of all of Ukraine and unfortunately the time I spent in the Massachusetts National Guard 65 years ago does not really prepare me for answering it.


The question is this: if the Russians launch a full-scale invasion with the 190,000 troops that are positioned on the borders of Ukraine, what is the likely course of the war that will ensue? I have listened to a good deal of commentary in the past several days, some of it by people who seem genuinely knowledgeable, and although I have heard a good deal about what is going on in Putin’s head, I have heard virtually nothing about the likely course of the conflict.


Everyone who comments on the situation seems to assume without argument that the Russian troops will roll through Ukraine and very rapidly conquer the entire nation, whereupon they will establish a puppet regime and start hauling off Ukrainians to concentration camps or simply to be killed. I have heard nobody suggest that Putin might find himself mired in an endless struggle in somewhat the fashion that America did in Vietnam, nor have I heard any useful and knowledgeable evaluation of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Russian and Ukrainian armies.


I am aware (or at least I have been told) that some of the Russian troops have been transferred from as far away as Siberia. How many of Russia’s troops have battle experience? What options do the Ukrainians have for an ongoing guerrilla war? Is such a war a probability? And so forth.


Has anybody heard anything useful on these matters? Does anybody have knowledge to share that might illuminate the matter?


LFC said...

The website called War on the Rocks is usually one place for good analysis on these matters. I don't usually read it simply because it hasn't become part of my habit, but I just checked and there is a fairly recent post there called something like "Can Ukrainian Resistance Foil a Russian Victory?" If you go to War on the Rocks and scroll down a bit, you will find the post in question. (I haven't read it yet.)

Raph Shirley said...

John Mearsheimer appears to claim exactly that Russia will become embroiled in an extended and expensive occupation like Afganistan:

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I took a look at both of these. The website called War On The Rocks was especially helpful. Just what I was looking for. The John Mearsheimer video was very long and I only watched a little bit of it. I will try to watch more of it later. It looks to me as though the Russians may have just charged into the briar patch. We shall see

Tom Hickey said...

I follow this pretty closely and the consensus of people that I think know what they are talking about see almost no chance of a Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine. (As Gen. Shinseki told W, it would take 500,000 troops to occupy Iraq successfully. W fired him and the rest is history.)

John Mearsheimer appears to claim exactly that Russia will become embroiled in an extended and expensive occupation like Afganistan: The US plan is to draw Russia into a trap. Russia knows this, of course, and Russia is not taking the bait. Moreover, Russia doesn't want Ukraine. It's a basket case. It just doesn't want the territory of Ukraine being used aggressively by NATO. But there are other NATO countries threatening Russia from close proximity, too. This is part of Russia ultimatum to the US and NATO.

On the other hand, if the Ukrainians, or even NATO for that matter, attack Russia - Ukraine has 120,000 troops at the line of contact in Donbass, Russia will end the situation quickly by destroying not only forward forces with missiles, artillery and air power, but also bases and command centers. If NATO enters and it goes nuclear, of which there is a high probability, the US and Europe are gone along with Russia. This is what Biden is not going to put US troops in the fray over Ukraine. I assume the US military has told him what would happen. (Remember how long the US prepared for Kuwait and then Iraq.) Russia would not permit such preparation, which would be need to undertake a conquest of Russia, and Russian forces would destroy any attempt to do so with hypersonics, which are now in serial production.)

BTW, when Trump wanted to attack Russian troops in Syria, then Gen. Mattis asked him what he would do if the US loses a carrier with 5000 men on board.

There are costs to war. Russia understands the this from experience, China understands this, Europe understands this, the UK should understand this, the US does not.

Forget about reading any of the political commentary or "expert" analysis that is not by people with considerable military or intelligence experience, and who are not part of a propaganda machine. The level of BS and outright nonsense now is high.

Also remember that they people in the know — serving military and intelligence — are not giving any of the game away. For example, we are told that Generals Milley and Gerasimov talked but we are not told anything about what they said to each other, other than that discussed "issues of concern."


Tom Hickey said...


Beware of both the fog of war and thick propaganda. Be particularly aware of cognitive-affective bias, especially confirmation bias.

If you are new to this kind of analysis, be aware that there is a learning curve and you will have to spend several hours a day gather, processing and analyzing information, and if you are not already trained in this, the learning curve is steep.

A good thing about technology is that with machine translation, it possible to gather information widely.

Also, remember that Ukraine is of minor significant in the overall picture. The US and NATO are using it as a diversionary tactic to counter Russia ultimatum about security guarantees.

One also needs to set everything in terms of a world systems view and the big picture geo-politically, geo-strategically and geo-economically. Russia's goal is to end NATO as an aggressive globalist alliance and to create a multipolar world. This is also China's goal. The US goal is to break up Russia and China into smaller nations that can never challenge US global dominance and subordinate them. This began with Halford Mackinder's The Global Pivot of History (1904) and the British Empire. Zbig's The Grand Chessboard spells it out for the present, for example. The blob is still following it as the playbook.

And whenever you see "Putin" substitute Russia, that is, the Russian senior military (stavka) and intelligence (siloviki). Putin is not the all-powerful dictator that the propaganda makes him out to be, although he makes the final call. Russia's presidency is modeled on the US in this respect.


LFC said...

Tom Hickey

The statement that the U.S. does not understand there are costs to war is something a Martian who hasn't spent time on Earth might say. I doubt that Mackinder (in the Geographical Pivot of History, 1904) would have said that. Brzezinski wouldn't have either.

(Regrettably I have no time today to engage in any back and forth on this.)

Tom Hickey said...

correction. "Halford Mackinder's The Global Pivot of History (1904)" should be "Halford Mackinder's The Geographical Pivot of History (1904)"

LFC said...

P.s. Biden would have to be out of his f****** mind to launch a ground invasion of Russia. Whatever you think of Biden and his advisors, they're not insane.

P.p.s. Of course, since as AA pointed out in a previous thread, I have no "practical experience" in these matters, feel free to discount my views as those of an "armchair" and "smug" (AA's words) commenter.

Tom Hickey said...

LFC, there has never been a war on US soil conducted by foreign troops, let alone on the scale of Europe's wars, nor an occupation. Not even the Revolutionary war, since the US was still a colony. Germany and Japan are still "occupied."

Since the draft, Americans seem to be inured to the real costs of war that the US has been imposing on the world since WWII in the name of "freedom and democracy."

The "cost" of war to Americans is largely financial, but even so, few are clamoring about a military budget that dwarfs the rest of the world combined. Sadly, "strength" is measured by spending, not actual military power.

Ed Barreras said...

I am by no means well versed in geopolitics, but I know enough (I think) to be confident that there is no conceivable scenario in which the U.S. or NATO launches a military attack on Russia, let alone attempts an outright invasion. That simply would not happen — unless there were some massive provocation by the Russians themselves. And yet, one often hears from intelligent people that Putin feels “threatened” by NATO military bases in Eastern Europe, as in physically threatened. But does he? Does Putin actually think it’s conceivable that NATO bombs would ever fall on Russia or that NATO would attempt regime change? Isn’t that the whole point of nuclear deterrence — that someone like Putin need not worry his head about such things?

Isn’t it more likely that Russia is simply trying to extend its sphere of influence (as they call it), and NATO bases in the former Soviet Republics stand in the way of that project? Similarly, one often hears the hypothetical “How would the U.S. react if, in the near future, China were to set up missile launchers in Mexico.” Well, in that case, I would say the same thing applies: I don’t think that Chinese military equipment in Mexico would make an invasion of the U.S. homeland more likely; but it would stand as a humiliating symbol of the waning U.S. hegemony. Which would obviously be bad from the vantage point of the establishment, so bullying Mexico might, in their eyes, be a necessary step toward reasserting dominance.

Fritz Poebel said...

TH: Foreign troops were fighting us on US soil in the War of 1812. We weren't a colony then, no matter what the British thought. Some of the British troops are buried in a Maine cemetery about 7 miles from where I sit typing this.

Another Anonymous said...


But comment that you were being smug and an academic armchair commentator related to a different issue – the comparison of current event with the Munich appeasement. With respect to the possibility that the U.S. or NATO would launch an invasion of Russia, I do agree with you. The prospects are nill. Such an invasion would be doomed to fail, as Napoleon and Hitler learned.

Regarding the claim that U.S. military commanders do not appreciate the devastating effects which even a conventional war with Russia could have on the U.S. and the world generally, let alone a nuclear confrontation. The claim is absolute nonsense. U.S. military commanders, as well as the State Dept., are fully aware of the devastating consequences such a war would inflict, and they are not enthusiastically looking forward to such a prospect.

David Zimmerman said...

To Tom Hickey:

You say "There has never been a war on US soil conducted by foreign troops...."

That is not quite true: During the War of 1812 British troops set fire to buildings in Washington DC and Spanish troops were active in Florida.

Howard said...

There is something I just learned called maskirovska from an Atlantic article named Hall of Mirrors.
There is a tradition in Russian intelligence of paranoia.
Whether Putin is really paranoid or has just internalized this culture of paranoia is open to question.
From the transcripts of his recent statements it is really possible he is psychotic at least inasmuch as paranoia is concerned.
It is dangerous enough for a psychopath to wield such power; he is quite possibly psychotic- that means he is not reality testing effectively and this could affect his political calculations.
He has comorbidities as they say

Barney Wolff said...

I am amused at those commenters who speak with certainty about how this will play out. The only thing I'm pretty sure about is that neither NATO nor Ukraine is likely to actually invade current Russian territory. I also expect, with only somewhat less confidence, that nobody will use nukes. Beyond that much depends on Putin's thinking, which may or may not be rational. And the willingness and ability of the Ukrainian military to make it costly in blood and equipment for Russia to invade. And the willingness of the Ukrainian civilian population to make Russian occupation a nightmare. And the loyalty of the Russian military. And the willingness of Russia's oligarchs to suffer. And so on.

I am less amused by the claim that the rest of the world knows the cost of war but the US, uniquely, does not. For one thing, it is simple nonsense to speak as though a nation is a single individual with a single mindset. Also nonsense to think that a nation cannot learn from history, and must keep making the same unwise choices repeatedly at short intervals. If any nation "knows" the cost of war it is Russia, but it is acting as though it does not care. We can hope still that it is a bluff. But if not, Russia must be made to regret its mistake.

Ed Barreras said...

I feel I should add to my previous comment by saying that, it seems to me, the mere desire of a nation-state to extend its sphere of influence can never justify military action. As leftists, we do not, for example, think that the U.S. was justified in arming the Contra rebels to overthrow the legitimately elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Similarly, if it turns out that the people of Taiwan or Ukraine would rather model themselves on, and enter into alliances with, the U.S. and Western Europe than on the CCP or Russia, respectively, then they ought to be allowed to do so. And actually, I hope that’s the case, since I believe liberal democratic governments are superior to authoritarian ones.

Eric said...

Tom Hickey,
Do you speak (or read) Russian?

Tom Hickey said...

That is not quite true: During the War of 1812 British troops set fire to buildings in Washington DC and Spanish troops were active in Florida.

Yes, and that proves my point if most Americans thinks of "war" in terms of what were basically incursions. There is no comparison in scope and scale of these "wars" and the wars of Europe that have continued over millennia.

Of course, the US did have the Civil War and it was pretty horrendous, especially for the South, where it is chiefly remembered now. This is a source of divisiveness in the US still, for instance, the issues over removing the Confederate statues and the disgracing of some people's former heroes.

But the US did miss WWI and WWII, memories of which are still lively in Europe. Of course, Americans fought and died in those wars, but Americans did not experience war on their soil.

I am an American and so I am affected by this myopia too. But Europeans are quite aware that Americans don't have the same kind of experience they do. The Brits are yet a different case owing to empire. But that is another story.

Anyway, this gets complicated quickly and while the military/intel aspect is most important regarding assessing Ukraine, history is also important with respect to the temporal aspect of the world system as a dynamic system. Ukraine presents a fairly unique case, so its analysis is complicated by that, as Putin noted in his speech to the nation.

Tom Hickey said...

Do you speak (or read) Russian?

No, I am dependent on machine translations and people that do speak Russian, like Paul Robinson, formerly British intel now Canadian history professor, Andrei Martyanov, former USSR naval officer and expert in military affairs, and Andrei Raevsky (‘The Saker’), military and political analyst.

Tom Hickey said...

@ Ed Barreras

I agree, but we are dealing here with things as they are and are likely to unfold instead of what we would wish for or to see happen.

Opinions can reflect cognitive bias that may get in the way of perception of reality. This is the bane of analysts. Worst is group think among analysts, and the US has a lot of this. So, much of what one sees in the media is either propaganda or else wishful thinking rather than actual analysis.

Michael Llenos said...

What the Ukraine leadership is probably doing right now (if they haven't figured it out by now) is whether to meet the Russian invasion force head on, or to attack them after they invade. The latter strategy the Iraqi insurgents used against allied forces in Iraq. You can't use this strategy in small areas like islands. But you can use such a strategy in bigger places like Vietnam or Iraq or Afghanistan etc. The United States itself has never lost to an enemy just fighting a conventional war, but it has lost at least three wars fighting an organized insurgency.

Howard said...

I think the Klingon social system was based on the Russian social system.
If someone fails to do his job in vigorously fighting the enemy, they are replaced.
It is also like the evil Enterprise in Mirror, Mirror.
My guess is that Russian society is a strongly hierarchical and bellicose society,
if Putin backs off, someone will incapacitate him.
Maybe I exaggerate: they are a warlike people.
Maybe this could have changed after the Cold War.
Maybe that's why chess is so popular with Russians
We'll see how recklessly or how strategically Putin and his cohort behave.
The Russians need an enemy and need conflict.
That is my hypothesis; correct me if I am wrong

Another Anoymous said...

I am sure PUtin is award of what happened to Kruschev after he backed off during the Cuban missile crisis - he was replaced.

Has Gorbachev said anything publicly about this crisis?

Howard said...

I think the late Soviet period, after Stalin, decisions were made by a committee. the Politburo.
Decision making is centered in Putin now, like Stalin.
Russia is more like North Korea than China in this regard.
Professor Collins on the sociological eye wrote about how attuned everyone in North Korea is to every little thing Kim does in North Korea.
I wonder if there's some of that in Russian society

Tom Hickey said...

The US is not Ready for a Peer to Peer Fight in Europe By Keith Nightingale in Small Wars Journal

s. wallerstein said...

LFC and others,

I agree that Joe Biden is not going to invade Russia and that Putin, if he is half as intelligent as I imagine him to be, does not fear that.

However, let's say that Putin looks ahead 20 years. Who will be U.S. president in 20 years? Maybe AOC or someone like that, but let's imagine that Trump is elected in 2024 and is followed by another Republican who is less dovish than Trump. Trump got along well with Putin, to say the least, but we and Putin can imagine a future nationalistic bellicose Republican president, someone who combines the worst traits of Nixon, Bush 2 and Trump, who just might launch a land invasion of Russia if the moment is "right" and Russia looks weak.

So prudence and concern for the future might indicate to Putin that it's good idea not to have more U.S. bases on his borders, that is, in Ukraine. What's more, not to have missile launching sites on his borders too.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

I can't imagine any president stupid enough to launch a land invasion of Russia. It's been tried, and as Napoleon and Hitler could tell us were they here, it doesn't turn out too well. If the Russian troops don't beat you, the Russian winter will. A war between Russia and the United States would be a nuclear war. It might not start out that way, but once it began neither side would accept defeat, and it would become nuclear.

aaall said...

Unless we get some LeMay - like president, we can assume that it will be lessons learned from the experiences of Napoleon and Hitler. If Putin actually believes that there are threats to Russia from NATO, he is as deranged as he sounded in his recent address.

Nixon, for all his faults, was a foreign policy realist who had no problem killing brown folks who posed no actual threat but wasn't about to do war with the USSR or the PRC. Ditto Bush II. Trump was a compromised stooge as well as a dummy.

Since a full scale annexation of Ukraine will likely drive Finland and Sweden into NATO give Poland and Hungary a reality check, it would seem that Putin is actualizing his arguably paranoid current assertions. His Czar of all the Russias rantings do appeal (and were likely so designed) to the blood and soil conservatism ascendant in the US and Europe.

While we should use this as a good reason to financially crush Russia and the oligarchs as much as is possible, an insurgency in Ukraine is the business of the Ukrainians (of course, there are ways to keep the means flowing).

(BTW, Putin's deranged rant sort of rhymed with Munich. At least this affair has made clear our own fifth column.)

aaall said...

s.w., in twenty years most of us (moi and Putin included) will be dead, sea level will be a foot or so higher and, assuming we continue as we have been, there will have been a nuclear exchange or so because Global Warming.

s. wallerstein said...

By the way, NATO in Ukraine means U.S. bombers and missiles in Ukraine, they are probably already in the Baltic States, but obviously, to attack from several points has more possiblities of getting through an anti-aircraft and/or anti-missile defense than to attack from one single point.

I don't see Putin as so crazy and he's 69 and may well be alive in 20 more years, but I just used the figure "20 years" at random: we could be talking about 10 more years.

By the way, the idea that Putin is somehow deranged seems a feature of U.S and British media.
Chilean media generally sees him as an astute and crafty politician.

Another Anonymous said...

Breaking news!

Putin has just announced that Alaska is an independent country and since Seward cheated Russia, it belongs to Russia. Sarah Palin is arming her family.

marcel proust said...

RE: aaall's remark that Putin's deranged rant sort of rhymed with Munich...

This song from 30 years ago needs a rewrite for the present moment.

Eric said...

I really don't find the characterization of foreign leaders who are political adversaries as "paranoid," "psychotic," "irrational," "deranged," and the like at all helpful.

Just because the actions they are taking might not comport with how you feel they ought to be acting does not make them psychotic. Certainly no more so than the leaders of countries who are allies of the US.

As Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, and others have frequently noted, it takes a lot to get the people to accept the idea of supporting a war. Painting the people of the enemy nation as savages and their leader as psychotic is part of the propaganda playbook used by politicians with weak arguments to support their calls for potential military action rather than peaceful alternatives. Surely we can do better than that.

Eric said...

Are any of the commentators you all have been reading and listening to focusing on the energy aspects of the conflict, including Europe's energy needs and the cost of gasoline in the US (Biden mentioned the latter in his address the other day)?

US & Allies don't want an actual kinetic war (although US truly love the threat of a war because it justifies feeding more & more to the insatiable defense contractors machine). So they impose sanctions. Again. One of those sanctions is blocking Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which was supposed to be one way for Russian gas to get to Europe without having to transit Ukraine.

Eric said...

Let's go to the Time Machine:

The Guardian, 2 Jan 2006:
"Russia followed through on its threat to stop natural gas supplies to Ukraine yesterday, in a fierce political standoff that is threatening to affect domestic fuel bills across Europe. Delivery from Siberian gas fields to Ukraine was cut off by reducing pressure in the pipeline network that also carries billions of cubic metres of gas chiefly to Germany, Italy and France.

The fallout was immediately felt in Germany and Hungary last night as gas suppliers warned of possible cutbacks." ...

Gazprom [Russian state-owned oil & gas producer] said the volume of gas being sent to western Europe was unaffected, but accused Ukraine of siphoning off transit supplies for its consumption. Ukraine denied the charge, saying the energy giant had cut the volume flowing across its territory to European importers....

Gazprom provides about half the gas consumed in the EU and some 80% of that passes through pipelines that cross Ukraine."

3 years later ...

NYTimes, 4 Jan 2009:

"The leaders of gas-starved European nations traveled to Ukraine and Russia on Wednesday, pressing them to restore supplies as the EU threatened both nations with legal action for halting energy deliveries in the middle of a bitter winter. But the Ukrainian natural gas company, Naftogaz, said for a second day that it would not send Russian gas along to Europe, citing what it claimed were onerous conditions set by the Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom....

Gazprom stopped sending gas into the Ukrainian pipeline system on Jan. 7, alleging that Ukraine was siphoning off supplies destined for Europe. Ukraine has denied the charges, claiming that Russia has not sent enough so-called "technical gas" to pump the rest of the gas west to Europe.

Gazprom cut off all gas supplies to Ukraine itself on Jan. 1, amid a dispute over what price Ukraine should pay for gas in 2009. The dispute has affected millions of people, mostly in Eastern Europe, and sent at least 15 European nations scrambling for heat. Thousands of businesses have had to shut down or cut production, forcing workers into involuntary layoffs....

Russia agreed to resume shipments to Europe. But rather than repressuring the Ukrainian pipeline system for exports, Gazprom ordered a single test shipment to see if it would pass through Ukraine to Europe, through a pipeline that was being used to supply Odessa. The Ukrainian authorities refused, saying they did not want to cut supplies to their own people, and Russia again halted shipments - not, some specialists believed, reluctantly."

The Guardian, 7 Jan 2009:

"The complete shutdown comes ahead of top-level talks in Moscow tomorrow between Gazprom and Naftogaz executives to resolve a pricing dispute that has arisen in each of the last four years. Ukraine, semi-bankrupt and being bailed out by the IMF and EU, is being offered natural gas at higher prices, but substantially below those charged on European markets.

The dispute, viewed by the EU as a purely commercial one until recently, threatens a fresh breakdown in relations between Brussels and Moscow....

But analysts point out that, since the last serious crisis broke out in 2006, Europe has done very little to avert shortages. Instead of creating an integrated market, drawing on alternative energy supplies, countries have simply drawn up individual contracts with Gazprom, increasing dependence on Russia."

Another Anonymous said...


I have not heard any U.S. or European leader refer to Putin as psychotic or mentally deranged. Such comments on this thread should not be attributed to Western leaders.

I do not believe Putin is psychotic. He is power hungry, very clever and calculating, but not psychotic. Which makes him all the more dangerous.

Eric said...

Vice President Biden address in Kiev, 22 Jul 2009
(my emphasis):

blah blah blah

"We reject the notion of spheres of influence as 19th century ideas that have no place in the 21st century. And we stand by the principle that sovereign states have a right to make their own decisions ... to choose their own alliances. President Obama, in his speech in Moscow two weeks ago, strongly affirmed this principle....

We also re-affirmed the security assurances that the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom provided Ukraine in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

Our commitment to Ukraine is evidenced through our aid program -- $120 million this year.... We also strongly supported, and continue to support, the IMF’s decision to provide $16 billion to help Ukraine make it through what is an incredibly difficult time as a consequence of a worldwide recession.

We have worked with Ukraine to transform your military, so that you can protect your homeland and contribute to global security....

The United States also supports Ukraine’s deepening ties to NATO and to the European Union. But again, we recognize they are your decisions, your choices, not ours whether you choose the EU or seek to, or NATO....

In my meetings yesterday, there was a clear recognition that much work remains to be done to make Ukraine more competitive and attractive to investors, from reforming your tax code to acting against corruption.

The path to renewed prosperity runs through the International Monetary Fund, which is offering now a way out of the current crisis. But as you might guess, there are strings attached....
The Fund requires ... and your government agreed to critical reforms to cut the budget deficit, revive a striving [sic*] banking system, and phase out energy subsidies....

Your economic freedom depends more, I suspect, in this country on your energy freedom than on any other single factor. Ukraine has abundant reserves of energy, and reform of your energy sector should reduce your dependence on foreign suppliers. Moving toward market pricing for energy is brave, but also absolutely necessary pre-condition...."

Eric said...

"LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin might not be thinking logically so the threat of sanctions may not be enough to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions 'may not be enough to deter an irrational actor and we have to accept at the moment that Vladimir Putin is possibly thinking illogically about this and doesn't see the disaster ahead,' Johnson told the BBC."

Eric said...

One of the points of contention between the US and Russia that there has been a dispute about in commentaries I have been reading is whether Russia is justified in its aggrievement over NATO's expansion into former Soviet countries, which Putin, insisting that the West has lied to the Russians again and again, says violated verbal agreements that were made when the reunification of Germany was being negotiated in 1990. The list of demands he made several weeks ago was based in large part on this interpretation of recent history.

A number of declassified documents from the National Security Archives indicate that Putin has a point, even if several of the American participants in the negotiations (and even Gorbachev) later denied that there had been any agreement to limit further NATO expansion.

NATO Expansion: What Gorbachev heard

NATO Expansion: What Yeltsin Heard

Howie said...

It is helpful Eric, even leaders are people and some people are paranoid and psychopathic and psychotic
It is rare- I wouldn't have labelled George Bush or Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher as psychotic
In an autocratic state the leader's personality is paramount
In the days of Kingdoms and Empire if the King was psychotic it made a real difference- remember the bad emperors?
I think the big pimping Putin and autocrats engage in it actually is helpful and effective.
You wanna know who and what you'e dealing with
The burden is on you
If someone is going to kill thousands of people for an ego trip on fabricated charges, I think I can call him a psychotic psychopath
Unless you'd prefer stroking his ego

Eric said...

(correction: that should have been just "declassified documents." The website is the national security archive at GWU; the documents are not from some "National Security Archives.")

LFC said...

A couple of brief comments. (I haven't read all of Eric's posts, but some of them.)

(1) The stuff about the IMF in the Biden speech of July 2009 in Kiev is fairly unsurprising. I'm sure you don't like the IMF, and I'm usu not much of a fan of the IMF myself. But that Biden wd deliver the standard "you've agreed to get rid of subsidies, go to market pricing, reform tax code, blah blah blah and get IMF loans in return" is not surprising. Though it is interesting that the Obama admin was so completely on board w this message, I suppose.

(2) Here's the official transcript of Putin's speech yesterday. It's long and I haven't read all of it, just looked at parts. That it's slanted and in some cases hypocritical (criticizing Ukrainian "aggressive nationalists" etc. and saying the Ukrainian pol system is just a sham for oligarchs to amass fortunes, e.g.) is not much of a surprise. But it's not incoherent, and someone who is "psychotic" wd not have been capable of delivering it.

LFC said...

From a standard desk dictionary (Webster's New World College Dictionary, 3rd edition):

psychosis: a major mental disorder in which the personality is very seriously disorganized and contact with reality is usually impaired [etc.]

Contact with reality being impaired does not mean "gets the history of Russia and Ukraine wrong, or incomplete, or slanted" or "kills his political opponents" or even "thinks a lot of people are out to get him" or "is planning to do something bad or monstrous" etc. Contact with reality being impaired means something more clinical and drastic. It's not the kind of charge that it's helpful to make without some clinical evidence to support it.

Howie said...

Psychosis has different degrees- some are disorganized and some are paranoid.
Putin's speech the other day was rambling and delusional
A protege of Beck's who was an FBI profiler told me he regarded Putin as psychopathic (no surprise there) and psychotic.
Paranoid and delusional are part of the diagnosis of psychotic
I stand by my clinical assessment,
He is psychotic in that he is delusional, and not dealing with reality.
You are wrong LFC about contact with reality.
Stalin was psychotic yet he was quite organized in carrying out his delusions.
You are treating something very subtle cavalierly
Webster's just gives common usage it is not DSM and I would suggest admitting Putin to a mental hospital to get a diagnosis.
He belongs in a prison or a mental hospital- there is nothing wrong with either place if that is where someone belongs

s. wallerstein said...

It's very strange that the idea that Putin is psychotic is only clear in the U.S. and British media and to FBI profilers.

I listen to the international news commentary every night in CNN-Chile which has been exclusively about the Ukraine crisis for a few weeks now. Their regular commentator, Raul Sohr (who does not consider Putin to be psychotic), is on summer vacation and so every night they interview a different Chilean academic specialist on international affairs and all of them consider Putin to be extremely crafty and highly intelligent.

Putin worked his way up through the ranks of the KGB and has been in power for almost 23 years which seem to indicate that he has a sharp grasp of reality. Hitler went crazy or was crazy, blew it when he invaded the Soviet Union and ended up defeated. So far Putin has managed to come out ahead in all political situations. Of course he may be suffering the onset of senile dementia, but otherwise there is no reason to doubt his sanity.

That his speech rambled probably indicates that he speaks ab lib and if he seems delusional to you, it may well be that what Biden says would seem delusional to a pro-Putin Russian.

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

I will repeat what I wrote to Eric. I have not seen or heard any American or European political leader or journalist refer to Putin as psychotic. I believe you ae misattributing what you think members of the American public think to their political leaders and the media. It is not accurate, and would be highly irresponsible for a person in a position of leadership or journalism to make such a claim. And jokes by, perhaps, late night talk show hosts do not represent American leaders or journalists.

aaall said...

Eric, it's useful for us regular folks to not to pretend. Andrew Jackson clearly had problems. Andrew Johnson was a drunk. Wilson was out of it after his stroke, fortunately FDR kept his mental faculties but was otherwise barely functioning towards the end, Nixon - enough said, Reagan - anyone who has dealt with dementia understands that compensation can carry one a long ways before it becomes obvious to outsiders, Trump - enough said. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were obviously not right. Putin clearly has a paranoid world view and his recent performance speaks for itself.

LFC, it seems to break down like this: High functioning folks get wealthy and powerful while low functioning folks go to prison. Sanity and success are unrelated. Had Trump not been born wealthy, he likely would have wound up selling used cars or wearing cement shoes.

Back in the day I had a client who was a clinical psychologist He had a number of high profile clients in entertainment, business, and politics. While he never mentioned names, he often related that if it was generally known what went on in those folks minds...

This is interesting:

Eric said...

Here's some actually intelligent discussion about psychology and international relations theory regarding the disputes with Russia.

2016 audio interview on the Council of Foreign Relations website with Joshua Shifrinson (then at Texas A&M, now at BU), discussing Shifrinson's article "Deal or No Deal: The End of the Cold War and the US Offer to Limit NATO Expansion," International Security 40(4): 7 (2016)

Additionally relevant now because Der Spiegel recently cited Shifrinson's work that indicates that UK archival documents also confirm the West did promise the Soviets in 1990 that NATO would not expand.
Shifrinson's tweet:

(Nina Kruscheva, who was an assistant to George Kennan at Princeton, mentioned the Spiegel article in a Democracy Now interview that aired today.)

(Sorry for no active links, but each time I submit this post with links, it gets blocked, for some reason)

Eric said...

Ralph Shirley,

Here is Mearsheimer laying the blame for the current crisis squarely at the feet of the US & allies.
interview with King's College, Cambridge 21 Feb 2022

LFC said...

I have mentioned Shifrinson on this blog previously.

The informal promise is relevant, but so too, probably, is the Budapest Memorandum that a commenter in another thread mentioned, re Ukraine's giving up its nuclear weapons in early 90s in exchange for guarantees.

However, Eric, if you're interested in IR theory and scholarship in relation to current situations, you might find sites like Duck of Minerva (which I haven't read in a long time) more congenial, though I'm not sure it has much of a comment section. This is not an IR blog of course and most people here are not IR types. (James Wilson is, but I'm not sure he'll be back).

I would be interested in what Mearsheimer thinks the U.S. and allies shd be doing rt now. (It's too late in the evening to listen to the interview.) It's
one thing to lay historical blame, another to deal with the immediate situation. I'm not sure there are any good alternatives rt now to the course that U.S. and NATO are taking.

I think this stuff about Putin's mental state, i.e. his alleged psychosis, is mostly a waste of time. I have not seen him called psychotic anywhere except here,i.e. in the comment threads of this blog.

Tony Couture said...

In doing research on current propaganda, I have "discovered" a very interesting source for information on Ukraine conflict, an American mercenary and "contractor" called Lee Wheelbarger who has worked for US military as an inventor and technical consultant. He runs a private network which appears on YouTube under 2 main channels (KLW World News; Inventor Lee Wheelbarger) and he also works on twitter. He does audio podcasts and shows real life web cams in Ukraine and is trying to recruit YouTube viewers to subscribe to his private network which costs $50 to $100 per month to join and receive private networking advice.

His history according to his podcast and a video clip biography explaining his 30 year career as a military contractor, including such work in Ukraine where he experienced a stroke and had to retire to being a podcaster and networker (after learning to speak again, and much rehab). He knows many other American mercenaries who have gone to Ukraine to train and fight with the Ukrainians and who live to kill "roaches," "Ruskies," and any communist within range. He has contacts within Ukraine still and explained that they are sending him graphic footage of exploded bodies already from Eastern Ukraine fighting in last 2 days.

Lee (as his fans refer to him on YouTube) thinks that the Ukrainians will be able to kill thousands of Russians in a war lasting about 72 hours he said in one monologue/interpretation yesterday while I was monitoring some of his podcast. Lee speaks a military jargon (salty, no bullshit allowed) and hates Putin so much that it is hard to trust his interpretation that Russians will get slaughtered in the thousands. Lee claims to have trained many Ukrainians in how to kill more Russians personally. He ran some military contractor called Advanced tactical gear and has many patents, also training enough to interpret videos and connected to many other mercenaries. Lee also claims that the Russian mercenaries have been used in Donbass (Wagner Group I think they are called).

I have finished Media Unlimited by Todd Gitlin and now I am working on The Whole World is Watching, his re-written dissertation project about ideology in mass media focussed on the New Left. The Columbia Journalism School has an online open source journal and may be they will be doing some projects on war situation, or get students to scout out some of this propaganda. Lee Wheelbarger and his network of American mercenaries may cause more trouble than the world expects in shocking Russian troops with better equipment. Lee claims that the Ukrainians have the latest nightvision fighting gear and other new ways to kill many more Russians. The "business of war" is visible in this network, and Lee Wheelbarger is a source of true horror concerning what is going to happen "live on camera" in Ukraine in next few days. I believe Lee lives in Alabama now, and is a retired contractor (highly respected by military insiders, legend in weapon development) with a streak of Dr. Strangelove madness. He is a much better expert source than Steve Lookner (Agenda Free News podcaster on YouTube, real amateur by contrast to Lee).

aaall said...

"I have not seen him called psychotic anywhere except here,i.e. in the comment threads of this blog."

While "psychotic" is clearly a bridge too far, it's obvious to those who have known and dealt with high achievers that many have "issues." I neglected to mention in my short survey that TR was likely bipolar and Lincoln as well as Churchill had to deal with serious depression. This may be of interest:

Anyway, beyond this blog's comment section many folks, including those who do IR, journalism and foreign policy have commented on Putin's performance and found it disturbing. His historical overview of Russia and Ukraine was a fantasy. His account of NATO and the collapse of the Soviet Union seems a tad paranoid. For we laymen perhaps it's enough to note that some folks just want to see the world burn.

Re: The dreaded Munich rhyme: I also seem to see a dash of the good old "Stab in the Back."

AA, your Alaska comment is too conservative. The Czar of all Russias won't be content until he has Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

... Of course, I don't have a crystal ball any more than anyone else. But, if you are already in the "mists of war", then you should keep your own imagination under control.

That is why it is completely pointless to subject Putin to a psychiatric evaluation. He has interests, that's what counts.

What interests are those and how can or must he act so that his interests are balanced?

Just a few facts:
Russia's economic output is about the same as Spain's.

Russia's population is about 145 million.

GDP per capita is about 11,500 US/dollars/year, which is 10% lower than the GDP of Romania, the poorest country in the EU.

The GDP of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 2020 is twice the GDP of Russia.

Every country of the former Warsaw Pact today has a higher GDP than Russia and according to the Gini coefficient the distribution of income is 38, which means that the inequality of income distribution is extremely high.

Russia's state coffers are well filled, which is mainly due to raw material exports. That is why it can afford a modern army. But the population has absolutely nothing from it.

This is Putin's problem! What will he do if the Russians eventually realize that, unlike all the other countries of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, they are the ones who have been cheated? What would happen if Ukraine or Belarus, because of their relations with the EU and the USA, would take a more positive development.

He also cannot solve this problem without endangering the whole network of corruption on which his power is based. The only thing that distinguishes Putin's very poor Russia from other poor countries are the 6255 nuclear warheads in the hands of his modern army. He is now playing this card to signal internally to the people of Russia that the country is strong and that he is fighting its enemies.

Another Anonymous said...

A senior intelligence officer was interviewed on PBS last night. He indicated that Putin has several billion dollars of assets stashed away, which he will use to keep his military officers and personnel content, while the Russian people suffer. Is it possible that the people of Russia can launch a revolution as they did in 1917 to overthrow the Romanovs? I would think it unlikely, given the advances in military equipment. Without the military joining them, a 1917 style revolution would be futile.

I had a friend, now deceased, who was Romanian and had lived under Communist rule. He and his family escaped from Romania in the 1980s. He often spoke of how he despised the Russians and hated Communism. He asserted that the Russians were lazy, exploited the Romanian population and stole their mineral resources. He came to the United States penniless, performed manual labor for several years, enrolled in a community college and obtained an associate’s degree as a respiratory therapist. He thereafter worked for 30 years at a hospital and retired. He put two daughters through college, one of whom obtained a Ph.D. in radiological biochemistry; the other daughter obtained a degree as a computer analyst. He brewed his own wine and raised racing pigeons in his back yard. He was a joy to be with, but he never tired of disparaging the Russian government.

s. wallerstein said...

Guys, the good old USA has a worse GINI coefficient than Russia, being .484.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

@ Wallenstein,

otherwise it wouldn't be called the land of unlimited possibilities.

But, who distributes the little badly, has even less.

Eric said...

Another Anonymous: "A senior intelligence officer was interviewed on PBS last night. He indicated that Putin has several billion dollars of assets stashed away, which he will use to keep his military officers and personnel content, while the Russian people suffer. Is it possible that the people of Russia can launch a revolution as they did in 1917 to overthrow the Romanovs? I would think it unlikely, given the advances in military equipment."

Self-awareness is not our strongest suit.

(Not sure what to do with that anecdote in the second paragraph.
Maybe you're just making conversation and we should leave it at that?)

Another Anonymous said...


I wonder how many people who comment about Russia and communism on this blog actually know someone who actually lived under Communist rule. The friend I referred to did, and his anecdotes about his life in Romania under Communist rule and his disgust with Russia gave me first-hand information about what it is like to live under Russian domination, information about first-hand experience that I suspect most of the people who have commented on this blog do not have. Hence, the reason for my including it.

s. wallerstein said...

I'd say that anyone who lives or has lived in the New York metropolitan area knows several Russian immigrants. When I visit the U.S., I always stay with my sister and among her good friends is a couple, the guy is Russian and the woman is Polish, and we've often talked about what it was like in a Communist country. Of course like everywhere, it depends on who you are: if you're a member of the Communist Party, of the elite, life is great.

I also know various Chileans who, exiled by the Pinochet dictatorship, lived in Cuba and generally have a very favorite narrative about that experience. I've also talked to two Cuban immigrants who worked in my building, one very anti-communist and the other who sees some positive things in Cuba and some negative features.

John Rapko said...

The comedian of genius Tracey Ullman did one of her greatest bits of writing and acting for a sketch that stages Western fantasies and prejudices about the differences between life in the Soviet Union and life in post-Soviet Russia:

Anonymous said...

To see American commenters' trust on NATO and US's peaceful disposition towards Russia is not just reassuring, but heartwarming.

Regrettably, the Russian Government, not us, is the relevant decision-maker, and they don't seem so easily reassured.

Of course, part of that Russian negative attitude towards American so evident good will and peaceful intentions may be simply madness or paranoia, which - I suppose - commenters could argue is integral to Russian psyche.

Their case, however, would be strenghtened if headlines like these were not so abundant:

Biden Continues Trump Nuclear Funding

Near a Polish forest, a U.S. base has both neighbors and Putin on edge

- The AnonyMouse