We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

The anti-anti-Putin Left are most usefully described as “campists”, whose geopolitical philosophy is summed up by the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. America is the font of all evil, therefore its opponents must have something going for them.

The British-Syrian writer Leila Al-Shami calls this “the anti-imperialism of idiots”: “This pro-fascist Left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners — only white men have the power to make history.” Russia’s unprovoked war of imperialist aggression is as inconvenient to campists as China’s oppression of the Uyghurs. Either they must find a way to blame America after all or they must downplay the issue. Left-wing support for corrupt authoritarians such as Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega is disappointing enough, but sympathy with Vladimir Putin, Bashir al-Assad and Xi Jinping is symptomatic of a morally broken worldview.

Dorian Lynskey, making observations that also apply to certain libertarians/conservatives in the grip of the Americocentric delusion.

53 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Buzz Lightbeer

    Not just the left, across the board quite a few guys I thought were ok have put themselves beyond the pale on this. I used to think people who were contrarian so they would strike a “free thinker” pose at parties nevertheless served a purpose. Now the RT fans are pretty much in the same box as wife-beaters, and rightly so.

  • Matthew

    It’s apparent y’all don’t know how these things work.

    Putin has been a sleeper double agent for the CIA since before Gorbachev. What’s playing out in the Ukraine is exactly what his lords and masters in Langley want.

    Now excuse me whilst I pop off to make another tin foil beanie. I wouldn’t want the Gnomes of Zurich’s mind control laser to catch me unprotected!

    #itsallconnected #iluminati #weirdalwasright #fnord

  • bobby b

    I’m thinking that the “Americocentric delusion” is a bit oversimplified.

    Certainly many things occur through local desire and effort. But doesn’t the eagerness of one of several of the huge nations of the world for those things to occur make them more probable?

  • At the margin, bobby, sure. But in Ukraine America was a bit-part player (albeit not now that the war has actually kicked off of course). But hell, I have had people try to explain to me why Rwanda’s horror show in the 1990s was all due to the USA, Nigeria’s insurgency problems were down to America, Burmese insurgency… you name it.

  • Fraser Orr

    only white men have the power to make history

    Last I checked Russians are about the whitest of white folks on earth. I don’t think there is a single molecule of melanin in St. Petersburg.

    But I think “white” is more a state of mind than an actual skin color. After all, changing the plain meaning of words is how we make progress. Much as Nelson Mandela was occasionally referred to as an “African American”, out of fear of using the b word.

  • Much as Nelson Mandela was occasionally referred to as an “African American”, out of fear of using the b word.

    Wait… What?

  • bobby b

    The word has an interesting bad/good/maybe-sort-of/good history in American usage. The kind of people that cared about it were not very literate. Think in terms of the people who get faint when Elon Musk is called an African-American.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    But, if the CIA is NOT behind these events, then what is the CIA doing? Please explain in simple African-American and Caucasian-American terms.

  • WindyPants

    I heard that an American sports channel once described Lewis Hamilton as an African-American from England!!!

    The mind boggles.

  • Michael Gillespie

    Perry, Bobby b’s comment is entirely correct. In a frantic attempt to avoid giving offense, many US news organisations have an odd kind of spell-check function that won’t allow you to use the word “black”. It gets replaced with African-American. I suspect it’s an overzealous/inattentive use of Find/Replace in many cases. So you end up with the hilarious spectacle of a power outage being referred to as an “African-Americanout” or indeed Nelson Mandela being called African-American. We live in unparodiable times…

  • The Jannie

    Windypants wrote: “I heard that an American sports channel once described Lewis Hamilton as an African-American from England!!!” That’s much more polite than a lot of the descriptions I’ve heard . . .

  • That’s much more polite than a lot of the descriptions I’ve heard . . .

    thread winner 🤣

  • Chester Draws

    But, if the CIA is NOT behind these events, then what is the CIA doing? Please explain in simple African-American and Caucasian-American terms.

    Perhaps the Central Intelligence Agency mostly is concerned with, … wait for it …, intelligence gathering!

    The US agencies seems to have known in advance quite a lot about the Russian invasion plans. People were scoffing at the time that Russia would never to anything that stupid (I admit, I was one), so one up for them! Of course it is possible it is NSA interceptions, but discussions at that level should be pretty well encrypted, so generally you would assume a person somewhere has been compromised.

  • Already read that article, utterly monstrous drivel. What he suggests is akin to reaching some accommodation with Hitler in 1940 after the Fall of France, as a lot of ‘sensible opinion’ in Britain was urging.

    Fortunately a critical mass of Ukrainians are made of sterner stuff than you, Jacob. They know what will happen to their kinsmen on the wrong side of the line after any settlement that does not drive Russia back to its 2013 borders with the flower of its manhood rotting on the Ukrainian steppes.

    Angus Roxburgh is beneath contempt.

  • Chester Draws

    That Guardian article is correct in one thing. Putin will never accept defeat. He will need it rammed down his throat.

    Signing a peace treaty now which left Russia with gains would be merely a ceasefire till the Russians tried again.

    Fighting on is terrible for the Ukrainians, but not worse than the alternative of surrendering.

  • Fighting on is terrible for the Ukrainians, but not worse than the alternative of surrendering.

    Exactly so.

  • Mark

    I thought brexit was going to start WW3?

    I hope the EUs war on Russia is a tad more successful than the most recent one they fought – against a vaccine as I recall.

  • bobby b

    “Fighting on is terrible for the Ukrainians, but not worse than the alternative of surrendering.”

    “The” alternative? That’s the only one? Either Russia inexorably grinds up all Ukrainians in the fight, or it slaughters them all in the pillage? Nothing else could be negotiated?

    I’ll accept that some Ukrainians are fierce enough to hold to “live free or die”, but there may be a few who might settle for some middle ground.

    Sure, we can send weapons for as long as Ukrainians are alive to fire them, and then claim some cheap moral victory. “They died bravely!” always sounds good when “they” is someone else.

    I see two alternatives in addition to your two. One, NATO goes in. I don’t think they will, though.

    That leaves something negotiated short of slaughter. That may be an entirely unsatisfactory resolution for the fight or die folk, but maybe acceptable to many many others who just want to live. Something that does not leave the entirety of the Ukraine under Putin’s direct daily control.

    “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day” wasn’t just an amusing line in a song. The dead are done.

  • I’ll accept that some Ukrainians are fierce enough to hold to “live free or die”, but there may be a few who might settle for some middle ground.

    So, after the massacre of civilians north of Kyiv (now up to about 1,200 bodies last time I looked), you think allowing a meaningful chunk of Ukraine’s population to remain under Russian rule is a viable option?

    I see two alternatives in addition to your two. One, NATO goes in. I don’t think they will, though. That leaves something negotiated short of slaughter.

    Nah. There are far more than two options. If the Russian army is attrited down to the point it simply isn’t capable of offensive operations, Ukraine progressively moves onto the offensive and pushes Russia back to its pre-war start lines. Optimally, back to the 2013 border, but failing that, once the borders of the two phoney separatists states and Crimea are reached, that is when negotiations would actually make sense. From a position of strength. Anything else is not the end of the war, it is a temporary ceasefire.

  • bobby b

    “If the Russian army is attrited down to the point it simply isn’t capable of offensive operations, Ukraine progressively moves onto the offensive and pushes Russia back to its pre-war start lines.”

    This would be a good outcome, but I think you’re being incredibly optimistic to predict it, or even hope for it (unless someone does manage to kill Putin soon.) Ukraine has done far better than I had ever thought they would, but I’d credit this to Putin’s poor planning and execution – his assumptions of complete superiority – as much (or more) than to the effectiveness of Ukraine’s military capabilities. At some point soon, he’s going to dump pride and simply roll everything in.

    “So, after the massacre of civilians north of Kyiv (now up to about 1,200 bodies last time I looked), you think allowing a meaningful chunk of Ukraine’s population to remain under Russian rule is a viable option?”

    What does viable mean? In this context, I’m saying that such a situation is better than no civilian population remaining at all, which is where I see this heading. I’d choose a negotiation that establishes new borders, and maybe allows people to cross those borders for a short time to pick a side. Not a simple surrender – a negotiated ceasefire, which needs to be accomplished soon, while Putin still sees some uncertainty in his future.

    Anger for those who are already victims shouldn’t trump realism in service to those who are still alive. We ought to be preserving Ukrainian lives right now, and working for Putin’s lingering and painful death after. If “honor” takes a hit from doing this, so be it. I’ve cleaned up dead kids. There’s nothing worse.

  • TomJ

    . At some point soon, he’s going to dump pride and simply roll everything in.

    What makes you think he’s able to do that. The story of this war is, as much as the valour and preparedness of the Ukranians, one of the shockingly hollow nature of Russian capability. They can’t do complex air ops, can’t do air land integration. While they can notionally operate away from roads and railheads, their logs capability or lack thereof effectively prevents that. And while he notionally has thousands of tanks in storage, the “everything” he could roll in, the state of the kit actually deployed on the op makes one doubt many of them will actually be operational…

  • TomJ

    Further to my last, this thread looks at more of the problems Russia would face if the want to “simply roll everything in”. TL;DR: it wouldn’t be simple.

  • bobby b

    “What makes you think he’s able to do that.”

    I think that he has tried a lean, smart surgical invasion that would have been very impressive and massively boosted his military cred had it worked. He tried the old American Vietnam method of “exactly the resources needed to win and no more”, which we couldn’t make work but he thought he could.

    Plus, he chose one certain way of invasion – one that was to have minimized pure slaughter and wiped out the U military power efficiently and completely. For Putin, he surprised me in how much he limited population center fights early on and hit actual legit targets. He apparently saw that this would eventually work out to his benefit.

    But he blew the numbers and didn’t send enough power, and so he has to give up his hope of impressing the world as the lean-fighting baddass. He now has to either whimper and go home – how we in the US handled Vietnam in the end because the politics had changed – or bulk up and drop humane concern and start pure smashing with non-proportional power.

    This would involve, in my mind, resources that he has not really expended in part one. So, he’s not stuck in his same limited-war, low-on-parts model anymore. He can still easily level the Ukraine society with the tools he has. It won’t be battalions and tanks. He won’t look to move in and dominate – he’ll look to destroy.

    I think it’s a mistake to assume that, if he can’t win the war THIS way, he’s done. There are more, worse, ways at his disposal. If I had to pick a world leader most likely to do this, I’d pick him.

  • TomJ

    I disagree that that was his model; he thought (as did a lot of Western analysts, accepting Russian assessment of their own capability) he was going in with overwhelming force,the full Monty. And perhaps he would have been right without the Ukranians resolve being stiffened by advanced ATGWs.

    Ukraine will have the artillery range and accuracy advantage with the new kit being supplied to them, and increasing control of the air with parts supplied allowing them to bring hangar queens back into operation and with surface based anti-air increasingly coming into range; the loss of the Moskva has already put a hole in Russian SAM coverage. The only worse way at his disposal are WMDs, a line I suspect the attempt to cross would topple him.

  • Jacob

    “We ought to be preserving Ukrainian lives right now”
    Now Ukraine is half destroyed, dozens of thousands of lives lost, many millions homeless refugees. Ukraine is being wrecked and depopulated. They should have negotiated the borders before the war started. Nevertheless, negotiating now is better than negotiating after another couple of months of systematic destruction.
    Even if Ukraine “wins” – i.e. gets back the Donbas and even Crimea (fat chance) – even then – I don’t think this bloody territories were worth such a loss.
    But of course, Ukrainians seem to think otherwise. It’s their call. If they wish to fight and die for the Donbas – it’s their business. I’m not sure how much this die-wish is universal. Probably many Ukrainians are not very enthusiastic about dying but in the war-frenzi no one asks them and no one hears them.
    The condemnable part in this war (beside Putin) is the West (that is the US) pushing on the Ukrainian hotheads toward their destruction.

  • The past does not predict the future. However it can represent a possible future, and the argument is then over likelihood.

    After their early victories in the winter war, the Finns did not go back to the negotiating table begging Stalin to return to it. They waited till Stalin dumped his puppet communist ‘Finnish government’ and offered to negotiate with what, to his great surprise, had turned out to be the real government of Finland.

    The lesson is that the Ukraine’s best course for being offered terms within hailing distance of being even loathsomely acceptable is to make clear their readiness to fight on.

    When Stalin offered terms that took territory but let a Finnish state survive, the Finns hated the injustice but nevertheless accepted. All Finns living in the ceded territories were allowed to evacuate and almost all did so (many stayed away even when Finland reoccupied during the continuation war; they were never sure they could keep it; those who returned evacuated again in 1944).

    Putin is in a much weaker position than Stalin. The Ukraine is not at all condemned to repeat this history. It is one possible outcome.

    Unlike the English-speaking peoples, the Ukraine has both a long history of and recent in-memory experiences of being invaded and crushed through lacking the strength to defeat very powerful and ruthless enemies. This motivates them to fight: they know how much they have to lose, and that historical chances to exist come seldom. This teaches them to ignore any Guardianista false friends like Angus Roxburgh (and advise their true western friends to ignore such people too). This might cause them to accept an eventual offer of negotiations from Putin, as it will motivate them not to offer negotiations.

    As today’s world is not as grim as the world of 1940, I hope for a better outcome than Finland’s. However today’s world is always capable of becoming that bad, and more likely to at some times than at others, since what once was can always be again, and

    “The only thing necessary for the victory of evil men is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

    Nothing is so routinely unrealistic as ‘realism’. History teaches that honour is more realistic than realism, albeit I would also paraphrase de Toqueville to say that whoever desires honour for anything other than itself was born to be a victim, or (paraphrasing Nietzsche, someone I do not usually have much time for 🙂 ) whoever needs reasons to be honourable isn’t.

  • At some point soon, he’s going to dump pride and simply roll everything in.

    What is it you think Putin has got left to roll in with? Ok, so say they mobilise another 300,000 troops… who will lead them? What vehicles will they travel in? They have proven inept at supplying the forces already on the ground. The cream of Putin’s army died north of Kyiv & if signal intercepts of Russian comms over the last couple days are to be believed, far from the official Ukrainian estimates of Russian casualties being overblown, they may have underestimated them by almost 15%.

    Want to see how Russian military people daring to allude to the eyewatering casualties are treated in public?

    At this point Ukraine has more anti-tank guided missiles than Russia has armoured vehicles, and that includes the thousands in storage of very questionable serviceability. Ukraine has more surface to air missiles than Russia has combat aircraft. Russia has not even managed to achieve air superiority let alone air supremacy, and therefore is reliant upon only cruise and ballistic missiles for deep strikes.

    Ukraine is rapidly training on NATO standard 155mm artillery.

    Scholz: Western technology is too difficult for Ukrainians

    MoD of Ukraine, Reznikov: “Our artillerymen, who were training on a 155-mm ACS in one of the countries, hit the target with the first shot. And then helped foreign colleagues to improve the program that manages this ACS.”

    It is not unrealistic to foresee scenarios that if continuous western logistic support is sustained, Russia’s army is going to end up like the Russian army in 1917: a broken spent force. THAT will be the time to start negotiations.

  • Jacob

    Don’t you all see the a-symmetric nature of this war? It’s the Ukraine that gets wrecked and homeless and killed.
    Russia is not suffering. It’s cities are not destroyed.
    And there is also the nuclear menace. It’s Russia who has nuclear weapons, not Ukraine. Asymmetry. Danger.

  • Jacob

    “When Stalin offered terms that took territory but let a Finnish state survive, the Finns hated the injustice but nevertheless accepted.”
    Very wise those Finns. Got their wisdom after paying a stiff price.

  • Don’t you all see the a-symmetric nature of this war? It’s the Ukraine that gets wrecked and homeless and killed.

    Don’t you see what happens to Ukraine and its population if Russia wins is even worse? Did you miss the article in official mouthpiece RIA Novosti about quite literally exterminating Ukraine’s intelligentsia? The people running the Russian state are not figurative imaginary ‘Nazis’ representing 2% of the vote (i.e. Ukraine’s “far-right”), they are the real deal and they run the country. THAT is who you are saying Ukraine must make a deal with.

    Shameful. If the logistics keep flowing, Russia will not be any position to ‘generously allow’ a rump Ukrainian state to survive (which was never his intention anyway), because unlike Finland, Ukraine can actually win.

  • Jacob

    To Perry:
    “Russia’s army a broken spent force”
    Or Ukraine becomes a totally wrecked, depopulated country.
    It remains to be seen *which happens first*. So far the Ukraine is well on it’s way toward destruction.
    It is true that negotiations start when one or both sides are near exhaustion.
    It would have been wise for negotiations to be started before the war began. And the end result will probably not be very different.

  • Jacob

    “Don’t you see what happens to Ukraine and its population if Russia wins is even worse?”
    That is a threat. Maybe an imagined threat. You have no way of knowing.
    The wreckage of Ukraine is very real.

  • Jacob

    I believe that if Ukraine had ceded the Donbas and Crimea to Russia (or accepted an autonomous Donbas ) and had accepted neutrality (like Finland, no US bases in Ukraine) it could have continued it’s independent development.
    Since this is a prediction or hypothetical statement I can’t prove it any more than you can prove your denial of it.

  • Jacob

    Yes, Russia’s army turned out to be much less capable and prepared than was expected. But they have all the time in the world to learn and improve. Their cities are not being wrecked meanwhile.

  • I believe that if Ukraine had ceded the Donbas and Crimea to Russia (or accepted an autonomous Donbas ) and had accepted neutrality (like Finland, no US bases in Ukraine) it could have continued it’s independent development.

    Then you are delusional. Don’t take my word for what Putin’s strategic objective were regarding Ukraine, take his word. Take the word of all the talking heads on state owned Russian TV.

    But they have all the time in the world to learn and improve.

    LOL. They are losing people and equipment faster than they can possibly replace them. Until the last few days (when USA took over quite dramatically), the primary supplier of Ukrainian heavy weapons has been (drum roll) Russia. Ukraine is now operating about the same number of tanks they started the war with, except many are now more updated Russian versions, with abundant spare parts from less intact advanced vehicles. Incredibly, Russia is losing a war of attrition.

    Their cities are not being wrecked meanwhile.

    Once you get away from St. Petersburg & Moscow, Russian cities are already wrecked, the term often used to describe them is разруха. But you seem to believe in some version of ‘Bomber’ Harris and Douhet’s theories that if you blow up enough cities, people just lose the will to fight. Entirely untrue. Cities get rebuild and the only thing that will actually ‘depopulate’ Ukraine would be actual Russian occupation.

  • Don’t you all see the a-symmetric nature of this war? (Jacob, April 28, 2022 at 11:09 am

    Of course we all see it. In conventional warfare, if one side invades and the other is invaded, it is basic military theory that the invadee must be significantly militarily weaker than the invader for the attack to make sense, and also that the invadee can be significantly militarily weaker than the invader and yet win if their war aim is status quo ante, and even weaker and yet win if mere survival is their goal. Everyone saw in February that the two sides were unevenly matched. Everyone sees today that the two sides are less unevenly matched than Putin and the western smart set thought (and, it may well be, than some Ukrainians and some of their friends here thought 🙂 ).

    Stalin reversed the course of the winter war by abandoning the attempt to invade Finland all along its frontier, concentrating huge forces (especially artillery) in Karelia, and slowly blasting his way forward in a way that still cost the Russians many casualties but required minimal military skill (which compensated directly for the post-purge Russian army’s marked lack of military skill, and also reduced somewhat the Finns’ ability to exploit their superior military skill).

    Putin is not in Stalin’s position. For reasons Perry has indicated and others, it is not clear he can do something similar. It would be absurd for the Ukrainians to assume that he can and adopt some negotiating posture based on that. Like the Finns, their right course is to make Putin show what else he has. One of Napoleon’s subordinates once complained he did not know the strength and location of the enemy. “Attack him and you will find out”, replied the emperor. Similarly, (actively) defending against him has already told the Ukraine and the world something about Putin’s military machine that we did not know two months ago. They will (and should) go on doing so.

  • Jacob

    “their right course is to make Putin show what else he has”… getting Ukraine totally wrecked in the process…
    Perry, since when have you become such a great believer in what talking heads say on Russian Gov. TV ?

  • Jacob

    “Attack him and you will find out”
    Napoleon was an audacious and lucky gambler, who, like all gamblers, didn’t quit in time.
    The prudent procedure (in the above case) would have been to send out patrols to find out before risking an all out attack against an unknown enemy.

  • They do what they say, and have been saying they would do this (and why, and what their strategic objectives are) for a long time now.

    Plus just look at the course of the war so far FFS! If they were just interested in Donbas etc, why did they try to take Kyiv with their best units (and get them cut to pieces in the process)?

    My views are based on what they say and what they actually do. Can you say the same? No, you can’t. You want Ukraine to negotiate with people who have not just said they wish to destroy Ukraine politically & culturally, but also acted on all aspects of what they said they wanted to do. What the fuck is there to negotiate???

  • Jacob

    People say many things, expressing their inner wishes. Putin sure wishes Ukraine remained part of Russia. Usually you settle for less than the complete wish. Same with Ukraine wishing for the Donbas and Crimea, and complete disconnect from Russia.

  • Chester Draws

    After the disaster of the WWI “peace”, the Allies in WWII made it clear that unconditional surrender was the only option. And they meant unconditional. Negotiated surrender just meant a ceasefire until it started again.

    Ukraine is in the same position. For this war not to continue, it has to be utterly clear that Russia has lost. Anything else and it will start up again.

    It’s a horrible situation, but sometimes there is only one option.

    But [Russia] have all the time in the world to learn and improve

    That’s a real LOL!

    They didn’t learn from Afghanistan or Georgia or Chechnia. But in two months they’ll sort their shit out!

    Meanwhile the Ukrainians are so sure of winning that they are sending their best troops out of the country for training. No-one does that if they are desperate. It’s a sure sign that they are playing the long game, knowing they can hold in the short term.

    It’s the Russians who are signing foreign mercenaries. Who would even think of employing Syrians, unless they were really, really desperate?

  • Fraser Orr

    @Perry de Havilland (London)
    Incredibly, Russia is losing a war of attrition.

    I don’t think that is incredible at all. They are not losing a war of attrition against Ukraine — which has effectively no industry right now, they are losing a war of attrition against the whole of the Western states. Moreover, one of the key targets in any war is to attack the materiel production facilities and supply lines of your enemies. Because of the strange nature of this war Russia cannot do that. In fact it is why I think it is an extremely dangerous mistake for Ukraine to attack into Russia, since that effectively opens up the justification for Russia to attack into Poland or Roumania.

    The results of this war make no sense if you think it is Ukraine fighting Russia. It is not. It is Ukraine backed by the Western industrial complex fighting Russia. Wars are won on logistics.

    Sounds like I am supporting Russia. I’m not, at all. It is an outrage what they are doing. And the Russian military performance (if one believes what one sees in the news) has been surprisingly disgraceful. But concerning logistics, I’m just stating the facts.

    It is also worth pointing out the strange pros and cons of the nuclear deterrent. Were it not for “mutually assured destruction” the British and American and probably Polish military would currently be on the field in Ukraine, but because of nukes, they are staying home. Whether you think this outcome is good or bad depends on your perspective, but it is caused by the existence of nuclear weapons.

  • bobby b

    We in the U.S. are now legally at war with Russia due to our provision of arms to the Ukraine.

    I hope we’re ready for that. I doubt we are.

  • Fraser Orr

    bobby b
    We in the U.S. are now legally at war with Russia

    Since you are a lawyer, I presume you don’t use these words carelessly. In what sense is that true? What law makes it such that we are at war? Surely we are at war when congress declares war.

  • bobby b

    S. 3522 – AN ACT: To provide enhanced authority for the President to enter into agreements with the Government of Ukraine to lend or lease defense articles to that Government to protect civilian populations in Ukraine from Russian military invasion, and for other purposes.

    I’m delving into a chimera – “international law” – when I say that we’re now legally at war with Russia.

    Once Biden signs S3522, we’re directly providing military equipment to a combatant state. We become, according to that body of international law, another combatant. We become fair game for the other side to attack.

    Remember the Lusitania? It was full of American Lend-Lease military equipment and supplies, and so when Germany attacked it, it was within its rights (according to that international law.) America had no legal claim against Germany because of our combatant status.

    My Inner Cynic wonders if this new bill isn’t mostly designed to create an incident wherein Putin sinks something of ours – again, according to international law, legally – allowing Biden, politically, to bring us directly in to the fight.

    Either way, we now have a bill, passed in Congress and about to be signed by the President*, that announces that we’ve taken sides in the conflict. Russia would be well within historical norms to react.

    (*Maybe already signed? I haven’t checked.)

  • bobby b (April 29, 2022 at 7:06 pm), I question your phrasing. The US was obviously not legally ‘at war’ with Germany after the latter sank the Lusitania, or before, when the (UK-registered) Lusitania carried military cargo as well as civilians. There were and are a variety of international law states that are not perfect peace but are short of war.

    At the start of the American Civil War, Lincoln (whose legal experience did not then include international law) made the faux pas of declaring a ‘blockade’ of the Confederacy (he should instead have announced that the US government was ‘closing its ports’ in Virginia and southwards). Queen Victoria (who knew rather more international law) responded by giving the Confederacy ‘the rights of a belligerent’, which meant her subjects could legally sell arms to it – and the US blockading fleet could (and did) legally attack those it caught in the act of trying to enter (or leave) said ports. Neither of these facts created a state of war between Britain and the United States. (The largely British-crewed ‘Alabama’ Confederate-flagged privateer, by contrast, was something that British ministers sotto-voce admitted to each other at the time was very dodgy and in the end the UK paid damages to the US in “the Alabama claims” case.)

    Late in 1861, the Trent affair (where the US Navy boarded a UK passenger ship travelling from neutral territory to the UK and removed two Confederate passengers) saw each side take the opposite interpretation of international law to what each had done during the Napoleonic wars. The prior “status quo ante” settlement of the war of 1812 had left the point moot. After some loud assertions that their (180-degree changed) interpretation of the point was valid international law, the Lincoln government handed the captured Confederates back rather than risk war with the British Empire who were also insistent on the indisputable legality of their (180-degree changed) interpretation of the point.

    You are correct that Russia would be within some historical norms to attack western arms shipments to Ukraine across the Black Sea. They would be outside others – for example some official behaviour of Germany and Japan in WWII. In practice, it was not so much respect for international law as a desire to do for the US what the cyclops promised to do for Ulysses – “to eat him last of all his fellows” – that made Hitler repeatedly order his submarines to be cautious about attacking US ships before December 1941. Similarly, fear that Russia, in retaliation, would let the US build airbases on their far eastern territory (i.e. within bombing range of Japan) had more to do with it than respect for international law when the Japanese allowed huge numbers of Russian-flagged US-built ships to carry arms across waters they controlled to Vladivostok despite the furious complaints of their German ally. But those acts of treating neutrally-flagged ships as exempt are also history FWIW.

    As military aid to the Ukraine is being sent across its western borders, not across the Black Sea, there is also the international law issue of attacking it when it is on the sovereign territory of another nation – and the practical treaty issue of that other nation being in NATO. (After all, Biden is late to this party; at first, when the western smart set thought Ukraine would be overrun in a week, my impression is that prompt arms came from Poland, Britain and Sweden – that last, a pleasant surprise to me.)

    I am not an international lawyer (and even less am I an up-to-date one, my limited research being usually for historical purposes). But it is certainly well-historically-precedented that countries can go far beyond supplying arms to third parties – can supply expeditionary forces to help the fighting, or can even directly fight each other in border areas – without breaking diplomatic relations or being legally at war. So while I agree that sending weapons gives Putin precedents for violent action against those in transport from my country and more recently also from yours, I do not think that alone means we are at war with Russia in the sense of international law.

    As you say, international law is a bit of a chimera. And when Biden is in the White House, so, to a degree, are US treaty obligations. Practically, I notice Putin has struck rail junctions in western Ukraine but not yet in Poland over the border. And practically, of course, it was no accident that, early on, Poland wanted some warplanes it was keen to give the Ukraine to fly there via a US-controlled airbase. (Very recently, IIRC, the UK government have stated their eagerness that fighter jets be given to the Ukraine, but I’ve not heard of their being dispatched yet.)

  • I don’t think that is incredible at all. They are not losing a war of attrition against Ukraine — which has effectively no industry right now, they are losing a war of attrition against the whole of the Western states.

    Agreed, indeed self-evidently true. But what makes it incredible, to me at least, is the ‘west’ did not all emulate Germany by responding with official grimaces and a shipment to Ukraine of 5,000 helmets.

    I can at least take comfort than my drastic underestimation of the effectiveness of (much of) the west’s response was without a doubt shared by Vlad Putin 😀

    Of course, all the arms shipments in the world would count for little if the Ukrainians were unwilling to stand and fight with such ferocity. But the converse is also true… without the astonishing flow of high quality weapons, Ukraine’s collective valour would have been heroic but ultimately futile.

    Now, when I look at the magnitude of munitions the USA is starting to ship over, it is clear unless Russia manages to force a strategic breakthrough in the next three or four weeks, one that causes a catastrophic displacement of the less mobile Ukrainian army’s dispositions, it is hard to see how even mass mobilisation of Russian manpower is going to change how this war ends.

    After all, people keep forgetting that Russia’s economy is about the same size at Italy, but with a whole lot less depth to it, given they pump most of it out of the ground.

  • Once Biden signs S3522, we’re directly providing military equipment to a combatant state. We become, according to that body of international law, another combatant. We become fair game for the other side to attack.

    During Vietnam War, both Soviet Union and China supplied weapons (and even technicians and a few pilots) to North Vietnam. USA did not strike at supply lines in Russia or China.

  • Fraser Orr

    Perry de Havilland (London)
    it is hard to see how even mass mobilisation of Russian manpower is going to change how this war ends.

    Which is what? If I remember your contention it is that Russia will lose in spectacular fashion. But I don’t think so. Since the west controls the logistics it effectively controls the war, and what does the west want? For sure what the United States wants is a slow perpetual grind. A distraction from the news, a thing to blame everything for, and the wonderful thing about war is that it destroys things that need to be replaced by corporations that give money to politicians. It is not a coincidence that American wars last for vastly longer than the last one they fought to win (the second world war).

    It is a great strategy. With Russia having some level of air cover, and Ukraine having lots of ground weapons a stalemate is almost inevitable. With an endless supply of Russian cannon fodder to throw in the meat grinder and a never ending supply of shocking news produced by the “Japan in Manchuria” attitude of too many Russian troops, I’d be surprised if we weren’t exactly where we are five years from now, except that we will all be a lot poorer and there will be a lot less people with Slavic genes still breathing.

    But maybe I am wrong. Explain to me why the west would want this war to end. I don’t see any way it is in their interest to do so. And, notwithstanding the bravery of the Ukrainian troops, logistics controlled by NATO, is the controlling factor here. Of course one thing that could cause it to end is an escalation to nuclear either from a mistake or out of growing frustration from Putin. That would bring it to a swift end indeed, with a lot less people of any type of gene still breathing.

    Not to worry though, now that we have the “adults in charge” in Washington again. And I do share John Kerry’s worry about the impact this whole thing will have on climate change. Perhaps we can convince the Russians to use electric tanks instead?

    Oh, and one other thing — you mention that Russia has an economy the size of Italy: which may be true or have been true, however, because of some of the stupid things Biden has done (including destroying the domestic production system, pissing off the middle east, and perhaps most dramatically banning imports of Russian oil — bans that are easily circumvented in a fungible market) he has driven the price of oil sky high, massively increasing the amount of cash available to Russia. IT is hard to imagine anyone dealing with this war less effectively than Biden.

  • Which is what? If I remember your contention it is that Russia will lose in spectacular fashion. But I don’t think so.

    You seem confused about what a war of attrition does. We know where Ukraine’s supplies will come from, but where will Russia get the replacement vehicles, aircraft & munitions? China? I have my doubts as I suspect China sees massive long-term upside to Russia getting serious stomped.

    This war is not going to go on forever.

  • Poniatowski

    If they’ve got a shit ton of WD40, Russia can get those rusty vehicles they have stored back on the road. Or not 😀 Guess I’m only guy here *not* surprised how bad Russians are at logistics and basic maintenance, cos I’ve done business in Russia for years.

  • Snorri Godhi

    But maybe I am wrong. Explain to me why the west would want this war to end. I don’t see any way it is in their interest to do so.

    But obviously by “the West” you mean the Biden Administration.

    It is in the interest of everybody in Europe for this war to end the way the Afghanistan war ended for the US, only a lot sooner. The sooner the better.

    As to why you think that a long war in Ukraine is in “Biden”‘s interest, you tried to explain it, unconvincingly.
    But even if it were in their interest, they would be unlikely to realize it: there are a lot of things that they do not realize are in their interest.

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