Deterrence works. Russia's nukes are the only thing keeping the US from full-out war in Ukraine just six months after retreating from Afghanistan. The unprecedented propaganda effort by Ukraine and its helpers in the American mass media to drag the US and NATO directly into the fight has failed — so far. But the struggle — the one for your mind space — is not over.
To understand what follows, you have to wipe away a lot of bull being slung your way. Insanity is not the only explanation for Putin’s actions of the past few...
Deterrence works. Russia’s nukes are the only thing keeping the US from full-out war in Ukraine just six months after retreating from Afghanistan. The unprecedented propaganda effort by Ukraine and its helpers in the American mass media to drag the US and NATO directly into the fight has failed — so far. But the struggle — the one for your mind space — is not over.
To understand what follows, you have to wipe away a lot of bull being slung your way. Insanity is not the only explanation for Putin’s actions of the past few weeks. From a Russian standpoint, he is carrying out a rational political-military strategy in Ukraine, seizing Russian-speaking territory such as Donbas, demilitarizing eastern Ukraine by force, and most of all creating a physical buffer zone between his country’s southern border and NATO. That zone may end at the Dnieper River with a loop around Odessa, or it may end at the Polish border, depending on how smoothly things go on the ground and on what level of “back away” message Putin wishes to send NATO.
It’s unlikely that Putin is making the first moves toward some greater conquest. All the bad takes saying “if we don’t stop Putin now, he’ll invade Moldova/Estonia/Poland/all Europe just like Hitler” ignores that the German military in World War Two had some 18 million men under arms. The Russian army today has 1.3 million, the best of which are going to be in Ukraine for a while.
Every war has its “is the juice worth the squeeze” question. Is what you can realistically hope to achieve worth the cost of getting it? For Putin, that means solving his border problem at the cost of maybe a few thousand men and another dollop of weak sanctions. He understood the needs of Europe meant sanctions would never harm sales of the fossil fuels which make up most Russian exports. But nyet to Paypal for you tovarishch! Putin could also look to history and see how decades of sanctions have not changed much in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
Putin most importantly also knew NATO would not fight him on the ground for fear of starting a nuclear war. That is exactly what nukes are for — and is the history of the Cold War in a sentence. Having nukes allows a country to do certain things any way it wants because its actions stay below the threshold of risking atomic war. This is why the US could destroy Gaddafi and Saddam (no nukes) and why the US will never attack North Korea (nukes). Under US pressure, Ukraine in 1994 relinquished the nukes it inherited from the former Soviet Union, enabling the invasion here in 2022.
Being a nuclear superpower makes things easier; the US can fight all over Central America and the Middle East, and Russia in the ’Stans, Crimea and now Ukraine, and none of that is important enough for the other side to consider using nukes to stop it. It is not like America does not know how to step away from a fight which isn’t ours: Crimea, Chechnya, Rwanda, Hungary ’56, Czechoslovakia ’68, initially Afghanistan ’79, even to a certain extent in Syria 2016. Putin knows that. Biden knows that. NATO knows that. Ukraine, however, still thinks it can change the game.
Ukraine knew on Day One it didn’t have enough men or weapons to defeat the Russians. Its only hope to remain a unified nation (it is easy to imagine a divided Ukraine, Western Zone and Russian Eastern Zone) is outside help. A no-fly zone, some airstrikes to blunt Russian advances. Maybe some of those Polish/NATO pilots planning to ferry F-16s to Ukraine stay to fly them in combat? Something, anything.
That’s why America is being blitzed with Ukrainian propaganda, and your brother-in-law is ready to head to Europe with his never-cleaned hunting rifle. The goal is to change public opinion such that a weak guy like Joe Biden starts to doubt himself. The goal is get Biden to take that Pentagon meeting laying out options for some limited bombing, or to listen to those analysts saying the US could set up a small no-fly zone on Ukraine’s western edge to facilitate humanitarian aid. Drop in some Special Forces. Something, anything.
The purpose of the propaganda is to get Biden to sign off on something hopefully small enough that it falls below the threshold of provoking a nuclear response. A risky and delicate tasking. The bad news is Ukrainian propaganda is working. A non-partisan 74 percent of Americans say NATO should impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine. And that’s even as we are just getting started.
A quick propaganda recap. We’ve had the hero phase with the non-existent Ghost of Kyiv and the supermodels with guns. We’ve had the Russians-are-going-to-kill-us-all phase, with the faux threat of invasion to the West and the faux scare the Russians were going to create a Chernobyl-like nuclear accident by shelling a power plant. We are currently moving through the “not verifiable atrocities” phase. Alongside this is beefcake talk about Zelensky, the likes of which we haven’t seen since before the cancellations of Andrew Cuomo and Michael Avenatti. The fact-checking mania of the Covid era is in the dustbin of history as American media removes all the filters on pro-Ukrainian content.
The quality of the propaganda is not important (any scrap metal on snowy ground is breaking news of another Russian helo down, even if the metal has “Acme Junk Pile” written on it). The quantity is important, the attempt to overwhelm American mind space to the point where logic is shoved into the back corner. There is a growing cottage industry of “experts” explaining how to can go to war without going to THAT kind of war. Dissenting voices are few, and are often labeled as “Putin lovers,” with late night hosts hurling homophobic slurs at them like high school kids.
It all sounds silly when the effect of propaganda is to convince Americans higher gas prices are the cost of freedom, or booking an Airbnb they’ll never stay at will save Ukraine, or refusing Russian dressing on a salad. But it is deadly serious. There are two battles now playing out over Ukraine. The one on the ground — and the one on your social media seeking to drag America into the mud.
Only half a year after the sad ending in Afghanistan, it is stunning to watch America again contemplate going to war for some abstract purpose far removed from our own core interests. And this time it is the risk of a nuclear exchange to remind us of our mistake, not just an inglorious departure from Kabul.