The first thing I want to emphasize here is that there is a lot of information pouring in, and we should not trust everything we see and hear on social media.
This is a war, and there are competing narratives. Both sides are trying to project strength and boost morale, and there is an entire information/PR aspect to war that we must bear in mind is very much in progress.
For example, we are hearing lots of reports from Western/Ukrainian sources that the invasion has been repelled, Ukrainian forces are outperforming expectations significantly, Russia was not expecting to encounter such fierce resistance, etc.
But a lot of these reports turn out to be false.
For example, last night a video circulated on social media of an airborne explosion over Kiev, and it was widely reported that Ukrainian forces had shot down a Russian fighter jet. But it turned out that the opposite was true: Russian forces shot down a Ukrainian warplane:
This is why it’s important to take every initial report with a grain of salt.
Both sides have strong incentive to lie and misrepresent right now.
Example 2: the “Ghost of Kiev.” Yesterday, there were stories flying on social media that an ace fighter pilot in the Ukrainian Air Force was laying waste to Russian fighter jets and helicopters, scoring 5 confirmed kills and dominating the skies, striking terror into the hearts of the Russian army–a modern-day Red Baron.
It seemed highly dubious right off the bat, but it spread like wildfire mainly because so many people wanted to believe it was true. Now it turns out there story was a myth:
It turned out to be footage from a video game.
We don’t even know if 5 Russian fighter jets and a helicopter have been shot down, honestly.
Here’s another illustration of this dynamic of competing narratives:
The gif shows the difference between what the Ukrainian military is reporting and what the Russian military is reporting regarding the situation around Kiev. The Russian side shows that Kiev, as of about 4 hours ago, is in the process of being surrounded.
So what we do know right now is that Russian forces are closing in on Kiev, and it appears they have already entered the capital. This is a map from a few hours ago showing the progress Russian forces have made over the first 36 hours or so of the war:
You can tell what Russian’s strategy is here: launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine from multiple angles, all pointing at Kiev (the red dot). The goal is to encircle Kiev from all sides and force the Ukrainian government to surrender.
And I think Karlin makes an important point: Putin does not want a bloody and brutal war. If you’ve been reading this site the past few weeks, you would know that Putin views Ukraine as a part of Russia, and Ukrainians as essentially Russians. He does not want to slaughter them in mass numbers–only what is necessary.
In essence, Russia is fighting with one arm tied behind its back. Russia does not want to inflict heavy casualties and destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure. Putin intends, I believe, to absorb Ukraine into Russia when this is all over, and he does not want to rule over ashes or a population that largely hates him due to Russian-inflicted atrocities.
Putin views this as a liberation of Ukraine, and that’s how this war must be understood. Otherwise nothing here will make sense.
The reality is, these supposedly encouraging reports coming from the pro-Ukraine side are more likely than not to be false. According to Global Firepower’s world military rankings, Russia is the #2 ranked military in the world and Ukraine’s is #22. Although Ukraine has a surprisingly strong military (I would have expected it to be far lower than 22) Russia is at a significant advantage.
It’s also worth noting that Ukraine has been supplied with billions of dollars of weaponry and military technology from Western powers–which I guess would be why Ukraine’s military is ranked surprisingly high.
Look, I am not saying the Ukrainians aren’t fighting valiantly, but when we hear reports that the Ukrainian government is handing out 20,000 Kalashnikovs to civilians to help defend the capital, you have to assume things are pretty dire. This is a tweet from a Ukrainian politician:
While obviously honorable, you cannot square this with the idea that Ukraine is beating back the invasion.
We’re also hearing that the Ukrainian government has barred all men between the ages of 18-60 from leaving the country, as it wants all hands on deck. Does this sound like something the winning side would do?
About an hour ago, Ukrainian President Zelenskiy posted a video to social media to prove he is still in Kiev and has not fled:
I don’t know why his voice sounds so deep and weird, perhaps Bloomberg altered it to make him sound more manly and tough. But he does not normally sound like that. This is what he sounds like:
Now we are hearing that artillery rounds are being heard in Kiev, as well as gunfire from ground troops:
I doubt Kiev stands longer than a day or so.
Now I want to move to this: the New York Times reported this morning that American officials tried to get the Chinese to convince Putin to abandon his plans for invading Ukraine, but were “repeatedly rebuffed.” And not only that, the Chinese turned around and told the Russians.
This is an incredibly embarrassing story for the US government, and it emphasizes both how far the US has fallen in terms of power and influence, but also the degree to which China and Russia are aligned against the US:
Over three months, senior Biden administration officials held half a dozen urgent meetings with top Chinese officials in which the Americans presented intelligence showing Russia’s troop buildup around Ukraine and beseeched the Chinese to tell Russia not to invade, according to U.S. officials.
Each time, the Chinese officials, including the foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States, rebuffed the Americans, saying they did not think an invasion was in the works. After one diplomatic exchange in December, U.S. officials got intelligence showing Beijing had shared the information with Moscow, telling the Russians that the United States was trying to sow discord — and that China would not try to impede Russian plans and actions, the officials said.
The previously unreported talks between American and Chinese officials show how the Biden administration tried to use intelligence findings and diplomacy to persuade a superpower it views as a growing adversary to stop the invasion of Ukraine, and how [China], led by President Xi Jinping, persistently sided with Russia even as the evidence of Moscow’s plans for a military offensive grew over the winter.
Look at what China just tweeted out today:
China is now openly mocking the US. And referring to the US government as a “gang leader” is not just a random choice of wording. The US media often refers to Putin as a “gangster.”
As I keep saying: the post-Cold War world order is finished. Done. It’s over. We are living in a completely different world now.
Peter Hitchens, British journalist and brother of the late great Christopher Hitchens, wrote a great article in the Daily Mail about how the West’s mistreatment of Russia over the past 30 years is to blame for what’s happening right now:
We have been utter fools.
We have treated Russia with amazing stupidity. Now we pay the price for that. We had the chance to make her an ally, friend and partner.
Instead we turned her into an enemy by insulting a great and proud country with greed, unearned superiority, cynicism, contempt and mistrust.
I have to endure, often several times a day, listening to people who are normally perfectly sensible and reasonable, raging wildly against Russia and Russians.
Once, I was just like them. I had the normal anti-Russian prejudice of so many Western people.
But, by great fortune, I am not like them now. I lived in Russia, I knew Russians as friends. I learned to distinguish between what was Russian and what was Communist.
And I saw something most people will never see – a pivotal event in history, when we could have changed the world for the better.
He describes living in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union, and then goes on:
The black beating heart of an evil empire had stopped. A black sun had been removed from the sky.
All the filthy lies and repressions which I had witnessed in the vast zone of tyranny that stretched from the heart of Germany to the heart of Korea had lost their life force.
I do not think the world has had such an opportunity since 1945. In fact, it was better, for in 1991 there was no Stalin, no Soviet Communist Party.
Like a knight dead inside its armour, the once-mighty Soviet armed forces might look from a distance like a menace, but they were rotten and done for, and in a matter of months would keel over and fall to the ground.
In fact the problem quickly be-came trying to find any way to govern that vast country at all, as the spells and incantations which had kept it together no longer worked.
What an opportunity this was for the rich, stable, well-governed West to come to the rescue.
Had not Marshall Plan aid revived and rebuilt a ruined Western Europe after World War Two?
Had Britain and the other occupying powers not vowed to bring democracy, freedom and the rule of law to a prostrate Germany?
Was this not a moment for an equally unique act of generosity and far sight?
No it wasn’t. What was unleashed instead was an army of carpetbaggers from the West, shouting about the free market, who quickly found their match in the crooks and corruption experts, many of them high Communist officials, who rushed to exploit and fool them.
At the same time formal ‘democracy’ was introduced – that is to say, there were some elections, which were of course rigged by big money.
And in the minds of Russians whose savings were vaporised, who were turned out of their homes by thugs, who lost their jobs and pensions, democracy became a swear word.
People and governments who now claim to despise Vladimir Putin for his aggression, for his suppression of freedom and for his corruption did not seem to be bothered by these things when his forerunner, Boris Yeltsin, did them.
It is a fascinating contrast.
Yeltsin, a former Communist machine politician with a far from perfect past, ordered tanks to shell his own parliament, while his police shot down demonstrators.
He savaged Chechnya. His own re-election to the presidency stank of money.
Corruption under his rule was so flagrant and grotesque that, when he quit, many Russians welcomed with relief the return of what the film-maker Stanislav Govoryukin called ‘normal corruption’.
Yeltsin, often paralysed with drink, was a welcome guest in the West, even the White House, despite his embarrassing and crude behaviour.
But Yeltsin, unlike Putin, did nothing to control the oligarchs, allowed the West to continue its rape of Russia’s economy, and – above all – made no protest against the humiliation of his country by the continued expansion of Nato eastwards across Europe.
This was by then a more or less openly anti-Russian alliance (who else is it directed against?).
It wasn’t just that the West had promised not to do this, as numerous documents now show beyond doubt.
It was that it was stupid, and created the very crisis it claimed to be protecting us against.
Interestingly the leading protesters against this Nato expansion were not Russian nationalists but highly intelligent and experienced independent figures.
One was the Russian liberal politician Yegor Gaidar, a man Western leaders claim to have admired.
He prophesied with total accuracy that the policy would strengthen hardliners and nationalists in the Kremlin.
Then came the brilliant American diplomat George F. Kennan, a man nobody could accuse of being soft on Communism.
But, unlike so many others, he could tell the new transformed Russia apart from the old USSR.
Kennan had been architect of the USA’s policy of containment of the USSR. He came out of retirement to deplore Bill Clinton’s support for pushing Nato east. I quote his prediction at length because he was so right.
‘I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War,’ said Mr Kennan. ‘I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.
‘I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.
‘This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves.
‘We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.
‘[Nato expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.
‘What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was.’
He added: ‘I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe.
‘Don’t people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime.’ Exactly.
After 1991 Russia had, for the first time since the Bolshevik putsch of 1917, got the chance to build a new and free society.
As Mr Kennan put it, Nato expansion was an insult to Russian democrats.
‘We are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.’
He asked why East-West relations should ‘become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom – and by implication against whom – in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict’.
These questions demanded an answer, and never got one.
It is my unflinching view, amid all the current anti-Putin hysteria, that the leaders of the West have made the crisis we now face today out of thin air.
I also happen to think that many of them, for varying reasons, are such lightweights that they enjoy the chance to posture and threaten – and do not realize this is deadly serious.
In hints, in pleas, in public speeches and private approaches, Russia has begged us for years to show it the most basic respect.
Our response has been to react with mistrust and abuse, and with blatant attempts to worsen the situation in Ukraine and Georgia, two incredibly dangerous flashpoints where real war might all too easily begin.
Having been there when everything was possible, on that Moscow summer’s day in 1991, I cannot forgive or forget this great missed opportunity to bring Russia into the free and lawful world.
And I think the peoples of the West should think very carefully before they follow the path to a new and bitter division of Europe.
It is wholly avoidable. It gains us nothing. And it might lose us everything.
Ultimately, we are to blame here.
And it goes beyond just Joe Biden being a weak and decrepit old husk.
The roots of the present conflict in Ukraine go back to the Clinton administration. The US decided to push NATO eastward toward Russia, and that has been the official policy of Washington ever since.
Once the Soviet Union fell, NATO should have been disbanded. After all, the whole point of NATO was to serve as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Instead, NATO exploited the fall of the Soviet Union and became the expansionist aggressor.
For the past 8 years, the US has been trying to bring Ukraine into the Western/NATO sphere of influence, and even remake Ukraine from the ground up–culturally, linguistically–in order to completely sever its Russian roots.
And that was what pushed Putin over the edge. That was his red line.
You can clearly see from this gif how NATO has expanded and pushed eastward over the years, and especially since the the 1990s:
Every expansion of NATO toward Russia was an act of aggression.
And so Putin has finally decided to put his foot down: no more.
The Cold War supposedly ended in 1991, but nobody told NATO. Even though the menace of Soviet Communism was gone, NATO was still pursuing an aggressive and anti-Russian policy.
I keep saying it: we’re the bad guys here.
The US government is the bad guy.
I’m not saying Putin is the good guy. Really, there are no “good guys” when it comes to governments.
But he is certainly not as bad as the US government.
This is a difficult concept for Americans to understand, because all our lives we have believed we’re the good guys who stand for freedom and democracy and human rights, and against communism.
Probably during the Cold War, the USSR could have been characterized as the “bad guys” and we were closer to being the “good guys.” Certainly the USSR was way more repressive, violent, murderous and brutal than the US government.
But once the people of the USSR rose up and overthrew it, America ceased to have the inherent moral high ground.
Isn’t it interesting how the Fall of the Soviet Union is always described as simply something that happened, not something that was caused?
The view from America is basically that the Soviet Union imploded, it collapsed–it simply ceased to exist one day. We hardly ever acknowledge that the Soviet Union was in fact overthrown from within.
To the extent that Americans acknowledge that the Fall of the USSR was caused, as opposed to a spontaneous combustion, they might tell you that Reagan caused the USSR to collapse with his policies and rhetoric.
Certainly Reagan’s policies had something to do with it, but without the people of the USSR rising up in mass numbers, it never would’ve “collapsed.”
The USSR did not “collapse,” or “dissolve,” or “implode,” like a rickety barn after years of neglect. It was brought down from within.
Even I am guilty of using the term “collapse” to describe the end of the USSR. But I am going to stop, because that’s not accurate.
I think there is a very good reason that in the West, we use terms like “collapse” and “implode” to describe the end of the USSR: because we do not want to credit the people of the Soviet Bloc for overthrowing the USSR. If we acknowledged their heroics and anti-communist credentials, then we would have to also acknowledge that they are at least our moral equals, if not our moral superiors.
And this can never be permitted in an American empire that bases its entire legitimacy on its moral superiority.
America’s government must maintain the myth that it, not the people of the USSR, brought down Soviet communism.
Otherwise, its decades of Russophobia are essentially invalidated.
Wait, if the people of the Soviet Union were the ones who brought its government down, then that must mean they’re actually not all Filthy Commie Bastards after all…
The point of all this is to say that we should have been grateful and ecstatic that the people of the Soviet Union rose up and brought down the communist regime.
As Hitchens says, they had carried out “the greatest bloodless revolution in history.”
Instead of being grateful and extending them the hand of friendship, we decided to make them our enemies.
That’s what I think Peter Hitchens is getting at here. We had the choice in the early 1990s to welcome the former Soviet Bloc into the “free world,” or to shun them and make enemies out of them.
Many former Soviet countries were welcomed into the world of western liberal democracy. But the biggest and most powerful of the Soviet states, Russia, was alienated and ostracized by American and Western leadership over the past 30 years.
The world we live in today–the world of an antagonistic and expansionist Russia, aligned with an increasingly antagonistic China–is a world our leaders created.