48 Comments

Define "win". Define "lose".

Western countries should be striving diplomatically for a peace based on the status quo ante bellum: Ukraine not in NATO, Crimea and Donbass remain with Russia or "independent", sanctions removed.

Ukraine loses nothing; Putin can sell the public on that as a victory, but the inner circle knows it was a fiasco, so his wings are clipped; we do no further damage to our economy.

Expansion of war aims during the conflict, either from success leading to greed or due to sunk cost fallacy, is very dangerous: see WW1.

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Mar 9, 2022Liked by Line Editor

It seems when I'm wondering about something, you write about it. I'm now wondering about all those fibreoptic cables connecting North American with Europe, and all the digital information that flows under our oceans - completely unprotected in international waters. A SWIFT tit for tat?

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He will probably "win" in the end if "win" means flatten cities and kill a lot of people and make many more suffer terribly. Then what ? Lets say he eventually kills Zelensky and many others in the current leadership. Does RU really have the resources for a long occupation to support the new glorious leader Yanukovych ? UA is WAAAAAY WAAAAAY bigger than Grozny. Maybe they could resurrect Ahmed Chalabi. I think he would be more welcome by UA. .... Or even if he pulls out now and declares all the Nazis dead and all the sycophants around Putin say "good job boss, we did it!!", like the rest of the world is really gonna say, "OK, all back to normal... Nordstream 2 lets go!" I dont see that toothpaste going back in the tube. This all seems really really terrible :(

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Is this in fact a 'war of nostalgia' that could never be successful? If the Russian fall-back aim (vs the Plan A of being welcomed as liberators) is to re-organize Europe or some portion thereof through continuous military domination, how is that a sustainable success? How far back must an autocrat dream to find popular enthusiasm sufficient to sustain such a vision once the public has enjoyed the sustained historical realization of a 'peaceful transfer of power' and a future oriented to peace and prosperity for the majority?

Just look at the reaction! The idea that Putin's petro-mafia state could expand its reach to reconstitute the borders to those of former imperial realms would require a fantasy military of Hollywood CGI proportions and not the fallible human sort Matt is describing here. Where are Putin's military allies? Mercenaries to be hired off the open market? At best his global partners hope to benefit from the results of their abstinence not from their active military involvement. They have their own populations to consider.

So I would suggest we need to see winning and losing, not in terms of military objectives regarding soldiers and equipment, but in terms of mentalities. Not to quarrel with Matt's assessment, but simply to address where it leads regarding what counts as winning and losing: a re-orientation of the collective imagination and the institutions that sustain it.

Is the world ready for a global autocratic civilization where force of arms holds all of society's pieces in place through the repressive instruments of war. Talk about a logistical nightmare. Talk about orders of resistance.

Mr. Putin is putting the vision of the repressive mafia state to the test. The kinship with the precedents of 20th century world wars is not inappropriate here. Will the autocratic love affair with nostalgia lead to a suicidal moment of despair? Or will Russian and fellow autocrats realize that they require the safety of their luxurious closets and their endless paper trails. Stepping out into the open is not a safe place to be for a repressive autocrat. And suicidal nuclear threats will not save them.

The world has entered a moment of reckoning: the peaceful transfer of power oriented to future peace and prosperity versus repressive military autocracies oriented to perpetual war. Who are the winners and losers in this contest?

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(Banned)Mar 9, 2022·edited Mar 9, 2022

Is it a guy thing to only talk about the NLAWs and MIGs? If so, can we get Jen in to talk about Chrystia Freeland's War of Money? It's not that the sanctions "can't be ignored" because they take away luxuries; they'll be finding they can't keep the war machine going for lack of parts. You think we have "supply chain problems"? Hah.

The Russian Military-Industrial Complex is the most corrupt sector of the Russian economy. Hard to even imagine how corrupt that would be, no? That's why the equipment is failing; people took money to make it, maintain it - then made it super-cheap and didn't maintain it, and kept the difference.

The public, and their street demonstrations, are irrelevant. The 10 million in the west who demonstrated against Iraq were irrelevant, despite democracy; Bush was re-elected. Russia doesn't have 10 thousand. But Putin's "ruling coalition" - whatever group of autocrats and bureaucrats and military support him - are only in the game for personal profit. Take that away, he'll lose support, like Hitler did.

Dictators do abandon their armies in the field. (Battle of Afabet, 1988 - Ethiopia bombed 18,000 of its own men, to ensure the Eritreans didn't capture working tanks - "leave no working tank behind".) Putin is quite capable of blaming some general, having him shot, starting an internal purge of the "traitors that failed us", and using that as his excuse to pull back.

But he'll be beaten by the War of Money, in which Freeland ranks as a three-star, about one more star than Canada's contribution usually gets. Her decades of preparation, connections to Ukraine, are allowing us to punch above our weight, keeping in mind that we're a lightweight by nature.

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Yes, I agree with your analysis. Also, the longer this drags on, the greater the chance of an 'oops" on either side I'm looking at the U.S. - Poland aircraft dance for instance ... or NATO's search for a way to help Ukraine without tripping over 'the rules'

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Mar 9, 2022·edited Mar 9, 2022

Logistics is why Hitler lost in his insane push east in 1941. It appears history is repeating itself. As soon as Putin invaded, he lost. It's just a question of how much damage is done.

There is little comfort in hoping the Russian military would refuse to turn their keys if so ordered. But everything happening now already defies all logic.

Starting a war without an exit strategy is a terrible idea. Surely, American foreign policy would have taught him that.

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Everyone is talking about nukes which is the ultimate end. But, what will the west do if Putin uses chemical or biological weapons against the Ukraine.

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Outside of the horrible and unnecessary loss of life, the thing that concerns me the most is that some accidental fire will hit one of Ukraine's reactors. There are a lot of very young and not very well trained troops on the ground with significant firepower in their hands.

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Apparently, one of the life lessons Putin learned was, when young, he cornered a rat and the rat, rather than retreating, jumped at his face, so I'm more in the "flinging nukes" camp than an ungraceful backdown. That said, there's another question: how long before the Russian military command just refuses to carry on with the war any longer? Corrupt it may be, but a functional army is the only reason professional commanders exist, and at some point, they may see that their best option is to simply refuse to carry out Putin's orders (and, presumably, some in the command chain might actually have a conscience). If the latter, then the senior officers may decide that the "Beria" option is the best one for them.

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Do I think Putin is desperate enough to use a nuclear weapon? Sure. But, I don't see how that gets him a win, unless something changes where a nuke (or a specific threat of a nuke) gets him something. Right now, using a tactical nuke just destroys stuff faster while making Russia a bigger pariah, which seems like a lose-lose. Nuking a NATO member makes this a world war and given how much Russia has committed to Ukraine, that seems like a dumb move. Oddly, Putin has seemed to have willingly painted himself into quite a corner. I suspect if he can get out of this with Crimea, the disputed regions and greatly reduced (or a path to eliminated) sanctions, that would be a pretty solid victory at this point -- but that looks weaker and weaker the longer he takes to get there.

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If society always submits to evil, to the man most willing to go nuclear, humanity will never make it. We can't fear Putin's nukes. Not even when they're being sent our way.

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If viewed from a perspective of contemporary military doctrine, the Russian invasion does seem to be a bit of a gong show. On would hav expected the Russians to have commenced the incursion with a massive bombardment of Ukrainian defence positions and the destruction of their airforce followed by a rapid armoured advance supported by air attacks designed to push through any surviving defences. Supply logistics would move forward with the attack.

From what we have been told, the initial bombardment seems to have been directed at the cities of the Ukraine and that the Russian armoured units have not been able to penetrate into the rear areas. Russian air support seems to be meagre and the Ukraines Air Force is still functional. The Russian supply train is stalled and in a very vulnerable position. Putin’s military resources are suffering, costing Russia blood and treasure, while economic sanctions are hobbling their economy.

Even if Putin prevails militarily, it will be a Pyrrhic victory - the cities and infrastructure will be a shambles, millions of people will have exited and the West will not purchase what he has stolen.

Time is on the side of the Ukraine as well as the West - Putin may well run out of gas literally and figuratively.

He might choose to go down in Wagnerian nuclear cataclysm but his current close attention to his own survival would indicate that he does not have the mindset or courage for suicide.

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Mr. Gurney says Russia will probably win, but most of the article is what a giant clusterfuck the invasion is turning into for Russia and why it's arguably already losing. This is nearly as bad as Russia's involvement in World War One, with awful logistics, demoralized soldiers, rampant corruption kneecapping the war effort, large public protests, opponents that are much tougher than Russia expected and a Tsar so blinkered he doesn't seem to realize just how bad things are for his armies.

There are already reports of the Russian oligarchs' overseas possessions and fortunes being seized and wrecked as a result of this war. I have to wonder how long they'll be willing to put up with this.

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The level of amateur analysis contained both within the article and the comments is excessive. If you want a much more realpolitik and there for accurate frame on the conflict check out The Duran on Youtube and Rumble. Putin is a very harsh leader, but I am not sure what it would take to rule Russia nor would I posit does the writer of this opinion piece. Zelensky is a puppet who clearly isn't looking out for his people's best interests. He isn't liked by Ukrainians ( check poll numbers in all Ukrainian regions prior to the conflict) but is a Western media star (brings to mind the line "They love me, they really love me")...something is off there but leave it to the Western corporate and independent press to avoid real questions and treat this like a Marvel movie plot (much more engaging for North American audiences). There is a diplomatic solution but neither the West nor Zelensky are interested...why? All the while the people of Ukraine suffer but the op ed writers get to spin bad idea after bad idea for clicks.

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Thank you for this op-ed and analysis, Matt.

I would like to believe that the Russian Army is in serious trouble and is indeed facing logistical challenges of insurmountable proportions.

I would like to believe that the country's strategic reserves are already close to depletion and that Russian soldiers' morale is such that the entire Russian war machine is close to seizing up.

I would like to think that millions of Russians finally come to their senses and rise up to remove Putin and his cronies from power.

Unfortunately, I think the country's strategic capacity is greater than these hopes would suggest. I also think that Russian anger and the desire of the Putin regime to survive will persist (or even grow), despite this catastrophic own goal.

We are just over two weeks into this horrific and murderous war. Two weeks is a heartbeat in most wars, if history is a reliable guide.

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