Will Putin Use Nukes?

Published at 07:33 on 28 February 2022

Probably not, but the possibility can’t be simply waved off, either.

A week ago, my answer would have been a solid NO, for the simple reason that to do so would be insane. Even by the warped weltanschauung of a kleptocratic fascist, it just doesn’t make sense. Kleptocrats can amass far more power and luxury in a pre-Armageddon world than they can in a post-Armageddon one. So that means giving up on a vision of a greater Russia that includes Ukraine? So what. You can’t always get what you want.

Now, I’m not so sure. First, there’s been Putin’s recent chilling statement. Perhaps more importantly, however, is the full-scale invasion of Ukraine itself. Remember, I predicted this wouldn’t happen, precisely because it would be likely to go poorly for Russia. That Putin chose to do it proves how detached from reality Putin is.

A Putin that could not see that a full-scale invasion of Ukraine was highly unlikely to be the convenient little war he wanted, just might be a Putin that can no longer see there can be no winners in a nuclear war.

My hope is that if he tries it, the obvious insanity of the idea will prompt disobedience followed by a coup. But frighteningly, he may indeed try it, and if he does, a coup is not a certainty.

Continued Bad News for Russia

Published at 08:00 on 27 February 2022

Reports are starting to emerge that Russian troops have actually been pushed out of the city of Kharkiv. If proven accurate (warning: they might not be), this is truly remarkable and means the Ukrainian strategy is working beyond even the wildest expectations. Now this is a battle, and a battle is not a war, but nobody considered it a realistic goal for Ukraine to use military force to repel the Russians. The goal was to use persistent force to slow down the invaders then to eventually wear them out, as the Vietnamese and Afghans did when their countries were invaded. A significant ability to repel attacks and not merely bog them down would be, to reiterate, remarkable.

Based on my knowledge of the history of war, ever since the bullets started flying, Ukraine has done just about everything right. The rub is, Russia has done just about everything wrong. Therefore, Russia is partially responsible for Ukraine’s success. Such is always the case in warfare; the overall situation is always beyond the control of any one side. Anyone who thinks that war is a means of seizing control over a situation is seriously deluded. War is the ultimate loss of control.

Note I said ever since the bullets started flying above. Before active hostilities broke out, Ukraine’s government was seriously deluded. Up until the day of the invasion, state mouthpieces were insisting that an invasion was not imminent, despite virtually no major intelligence agency agreeing in this assessment. Ukraine only began organizing irregular troops on a significant level in the very final days of the lead-up to the invasion. They should have been doing this months ago (and they should have been loudly trumpeting it, advertising to Russia that any aggression on their part would have a high cost, in the hopes of prompting a recalculation on Putin’s part). This lost opportunity to organize and train the Territorial Defence Forces can only harm Ukraine.

But aside from that, Ukraine has done a great job so far. When all the dust settles, I would not be surprised to learn that there were Western military advisers quietly playing a role in all of this. Right now, there is a significant advantage to keeping any such role secret: it allows the Ukrainian government to put forth to the people the useful, morale-building myth that their successes have been theirs alone. Morale can be a huge force multiplier.

Russia’s choice to take the extremely dangerous measure of putting its nuclear forces on heightened alert is another indicator of how badly this is all going for Russia.

Finally, another warning: the tide can turn. Odds are, in fact, tilted towards things not always coming out as much in Ukraine’s favour as they have been so far. Remember the part above about Russia doing badly? No nation deliberately tries to do badly. The Russian forces are at this moment certainly trying to correct their mistakes. Not all of these measures will fail. Therefore, Russia is all but sure to, at least at times, start faring at least somewhat better than they have so far. Virtually every conflict has its advances and retreats; no side is immune to setbacks or missteps.

That would, of course, mean lost battles for Ukraine. But remember, battles are not wars. As things stand right now, it is increasingly looking like Russia is indeed going to get an Afghanistan 2.0 out of their military misadventure.

How It’s Going in Ukraine

Published at 09:37 on 26 February 2022

Rather worse for Russia than Putin was hoping, it seems.

Now, before I continue, the standard word of caution about news reports from an active war zone applies: trust no source, even what are normally regarded as trustworthy sources. Russia’s invasion is very unpopular in the West, therefore even normally reliable outlets like the BBC are not to be simply taken at face value. The BBC is staffed by people, most of those people are upset by what Russia is doing, and therefore they have a motive to believe any bad news for Russia (and correspondingly any good news for Ukraine). This is the case even though they may be consciously struggling against bias; it can be very difficult to detach ourselves from our emotions.

However, what sticks out this morning is what Russia Today is saying about the conflict, or rather what Russia Today is not saying. There are no boasts of great territorial gains by Russian forces there. Instead, we see a story professing that this was never about territorial gains for Russia. If Russia was doing well on the ground, you had damn well better believe that the Russian state media would be loudly trumpeting as much evidence for this as they could.

Therefore, the stories from Western and Ukranian stories about fierce resistance making this go worse than expected for Putin are totally believable and consistent with the overall emerging picture. Fierce resistance is also totally compatible with the official line coming from top officials in Kyiv.

At this early stage, it is hard to make any speculations about where this ugly thing is going to end up, but the picture so far is compatible with this turning into an Afghanistan 2.0 for Russia. This is crucially important for the rest of Europe, because the worse this goes for Russia, the less likely Putin is to think about encore performances, and the more likely the Putin regime is to fall. (Note that the latter may well take years to transpire.)

In the shorter term, the lack of progress is likely to make Putin press his commanders to be even more thuggish in their orders than they already have been. Expect tales of atrocious war crimes. Some of these will be poorly-documented. Some of them will be false. But some will be both true and well-documented, and serve to motivate the West to impose drastic sanctions like evicting Russia from the SWIFT network and expropriating property and assets within their borders whose ownership has connections to the Putin regime. Such sanctions will cause genuine hardship in the West as well as Russia, but their effects will of course be more severe in Russia.

Now, sanctions are not the tool that many imagine them to be; their track record has not exactly been the best. But the harshest sanctions possible, plus a bloody quagmire in Ukraine, could indeed prompt the end of the Putin regime. The Afghanistan misadventure, plus a declining economy, sank the USSR, after all.

The final bit of good news is the more widespread than expected outbreak of antiwar protests inside Russia itself. Protest in Russia is rare; it is an authoritarian fascist state where protest of any sort is an extremely risky thing to do (as witness to this fact, thousands of protesters have already been arrested). Yet there are well-documented reports of protests in many dozens of Russian cities (not just the few biggest ones). In order for this to happen, the war must be very unpopular amongst the Russian people. This, more than anything else, could cause an unexpectedly sudden end to the conflict (as well as to the Putin regime itself).

Did Putin Make a Big Misstep?

Published at 20:52 on 24 February 2022

It really depends on what the reaction of the West and the Ukrainians is.

First, sanctions are mostly a spent force. The West is about to sanction the Putin regime up the wazoo. It almost certainly won’t work, assuming “work” is defined as “prompt a quick recalculation on Putin’s part.” Putin has no doubt priced such sanctions into the expected cost of invading and occupying Ukraine, and has decided they are worth it.

What he hasn’t necessarily done correctly is price the military cost of an indefinite occupation. In doing so, he might be repeating the error made by Leonid Brezhnev when he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan. When that happened, the West immediately and accurately realized the possibility of giving the USSR its own Vietnam experience.

At that point, it was only a matter of time: how long would it take the USSR to get worn down by an unwinnable situation and slink back across the border in defeat?

Invasions have a fundamental asymmetry. In order for the invader to win, the invaded nation must be thoroughly subdued and subjugated. It is not enough to merely install a puppet regime in the invaded nation’s capital; that puppet regime must be able to stand on its own and control the people subject to it.

In order for the invaded to win, all that must be done is to deny the former to the invader. The invader can still invade. The invader can still install and recognize a puppet regime. But that regime won’t be able to defend itself against a hostile population. Such a population will resist conscription; if conscripted, they will fight poorly and divert materiel to the resistance. That resistance will keep popping up, destabilizing the regime. The population will be sympathetic to the resistance, which will further frustrate efforts to stamp it out. So the puppet regime will require a continual military presence of the invader’s forces to prop it up. Eventually, the invader gives up. Victory for the resistance.

It all makes occupying and subjugating a nation a tall order, one that has often seen powerful armies bested by ragtag groups of resistance fighters.

So it ultimately comes down to the West and the Ukranians. How much are the latter willing to fight, and how much are the former willing and able to furnish military aid to them? It may take years, and it will take a terrible price, but it is possible to drive Russia out of Ukraine.

And no, I don’t mean direct military assistance. That’s off the table, anyhow. Nobody wants to instigate a direct conflict between two nuclear-armed powers. I’m talking about providing weapons, intelligence, training, and diplomatic support to the resistance within Ukraine, post-invasion.

Putin will of course label this as “supporting terrorism,” and in a way he will be correct. Terrorism is merely a pejorative label for set of tactics; one man’s terrorist is quite often another man’s freedom fighter. Such it has always been. If Putin didn’t want to have so much trouble with so-called “terrorism,” he shouldn’t have picked the fight he just did. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

But, to reiterate, there is a way to punish Putin for what he has done. It won’t be quick, it won’t be pretty, but there is a way. The question is: is there the will?

Putin Whittles off More Chunks

Published at 21:19 on 22 February 2022

That is what happened today, and that is basically what I predicted would happen a month ago. The bit about it being peacekeeping to stabilize some new republics is merely the propaganda messaging for selling the whole exercise, nothing more. Those “new republics” are part of Ukraine, and their separatist movements have been bankrolled by Russia.

The question now is, will Russia try to do more? The prediction above says: probably not. The fact that the US has completely moved its embassy out of Ukraine says: probably so (the embassy is nowhere near the whittled-off chunks).

Time will tell. One big determiner will be how strongly NATO is willing to sanction the Putin regime. As I also wrote earlier, it won’t be more than sanctions; no NATO country considers this worth the lives of their soldiers, plus a direct conflict between NATO and Russia would invite nuclear war.

So Far, So Good

Published at 11:30 on 18 February 2022

The crackdown is in process, and perhaps “crackdown” is something of an exaggeration, since so far I haven’t heard any stories of heads being cracked. Arrests, yes, but they were only to be expected.

It was, after all, a protest that chose to use illegal tactics. Camping on a public street is not allowed in most all cities. And pretty much every place has parking regulations that do not let you store a vehicle on a downtown street indefinitely. Not to mention that parking your vehicle in the middle of a traffic lane and blocking traffic is unlawful even on the most minor of side streets.

Now, protesters commonly choose to use illegal tactics. The reason is rather simple: such tactics are an effective way of attracting attention, and attracting attention is the chief motive for any protest. I have myself been part of such protests, and helped in the planning of them, including the choice of illegal tactics.

The rub is that illegal tactics are still illegal and as such those who choose to use such tactics should expect legal repercussions. It is up to you as a protest participant, and particularly as an organizer, to decide whether or not the likely consequences of the repercussions are a price worth paying for the increased attention. Perhaps more importantly, it is also your responsibility to reflect on how your chosen tactics adversely impact others, and whether it is reasonable for you to exact such an impact on others. And, guess what, the protest planning I have participated in did quite openly ponder all these issues.

When the crackdown comes, it makes for good propaganda as an organizer to then adopt a “those jack-booted thugs are oppressing us” line when the inevitable repercussions materialize, but that’s just propaganda. It is not actual fascism if a deliberately illegal protest gets dismantled by the authorities. As much as you might passionately agree with the cause of the protesters, it is important to keep this in mind.

All that said, never was I part of a protest where the plans were to occupy a downtown core and to expect to be allowed to do so for weeks on end. All of the illegal protests I helped plan got broken up within six hours of their onset. There has definitely been a different standard applied for these protests.

What sticks out, therefore, is not the use of force on the part of the authorities to end the protest, but how reluctant the authorities were to use such force in the first place.

This is, in fact, part of the reason behind the national state of emergency. It would not have been necessary if action had been taken earlier, before the occupations had gotten so large and so entrenched. (None of the protests I helped organize resulted in even a local emergency declaration.) This, and not the mere use of the police to disband an unlawful protest, is the real scandal behind the invocation of the Emergencies Act.

But I have digressed from my original point. So far, so good. I have heard no reports of violence. I hope it stays that way as the rest of the protest is ended. Whether or not it will is an open question, as so far the police have merely nibbled at the edges of the occupation. Things may well change if they encounter a core of more passionate and committed occupiers.

This Seems Odd

Published at 22:00 on 17 February 2022

All the warnings, that is. Not to mention the open announcement to the media that an operation is “imminent” and that things will be different by this weekend. The authorities don’t seem too keen on creating and exploiting the advantage of surprise. Maybe that will work, but I fear it will just cause more digging in and resistance, which will just make violence more likely.

Two Questions about the State of Emergency

Published at 08:56 on 14 February 2022

Is This Just for Show?

If so, if the state of emergency is just more “go away or else, I really, really mean it this time,” is is but a prelude to tragedy, because it just digs an already deep hole deeper, further constraining the immediate future to capitulation to the occupation or using violence to end it.

Will Trudeau Abuse His Powers?

If so, the result will be a tragedy for the principles of an open and democratic society, and not just in the immediate term, for it will create a source of lasting division by giving the political right a legitimate narrative of having been oppressed.

Why Truckers?

Published at 20:25 on 12 February 2022

Before I continue, a word of explanation is in order. I almost did not choose this title, because: a) 90% of Canadian truckers are fully vaccinated, and only a tiny fraction of them are illegally occupying downtowns and border crossings, and b) most currently participating in the occupations do not appear to be truckers.

Yet the protests did start as a truckers’ convoy, before they morphed into something else. That begs the question asked by the title above.

You see, if I were to pick a group of working class people adversely affected by the pandemic, it would have to be workers employed in the hospitality, travel, and live entertainment industries. Those industries suffered almost total shutdowns.

One working class group that it would definitely not be would be truckers. Trucking is a vital service; as truckers are fond of pointing out, whatever you buy in a store, at some point it travelled by truck. While restaurants, hotels, airlines, and live music venues were shut down, the trucks kept rolling.

In fact, if you type the phrase “shortage of truck drivers” into your favourite search engine, you will quickly discover any number of articles in reputable sources reporting just that. Basically, if you want to drive a truck, and you have the necessary training, and you are not banned for some reason related to safety, you have work. And your wages are going up, because that is how the law of supply and demand plays out during a labour shortage.

Truck drivers are, in short, about the last people one would rationally expect to be upset about hardship-inducing pandemic restrictions. Yet it was a truckers’ convoy, and not protests of upset restaurant, hotel, or airline workers, that inspired the occupations.

And, of course, the vaccinated and responsible majority of truck drivers are having no problem finding work and earning a living. It is the small and vocal minority, insisting (paraphrasing Isaac Asimov) that their ignorance be regarded as good as others’ knowledge, who are making all the noise.

But, again, why?

I have a theory and it relates to loners. Driving a truck is a great job for a loner because you will be alone behind the wheel most of the time. Now, not all loners are antisocial, but the vast majority of antisocial people are loners (they basically have to be, it gets them away from those other people they have such a disregard for).

So by simple virtue of the profession being a magnet for loners, being a truck driver is also a magnet for the antisocial, and the proportion of antisocial people amongst truck drivers can reasonably be expected to be higher than in society as a whole. This being the case, it is not a big surprise that within this industry a critical mass of selfish people formed. And they had tools at their disposal (their trucks) with which to use to express their contempt for the concept of being asked to consider the well-being of others.

Now we get into the mythology of the Trumpist right. (Despite being Canadians, it is completely fair to call them Trumpists. There has been no shortage of MAGA hats and Trump campaign flags at the occupations. But I digress.) They vocally proclaim themselves to be the majority, to be “true” Americans (or, in this case, Canadians), as if those with values different from theirs do not even deserve to be considered full citizens in their own country. No amount of data to the contrary will shake them of this belief.

Related to this, they believe themselves to be salt-of-the-earth, humble, regular, working-class type people, or at least that their movement is comprised of mainly such people. (This is also incorrect. The much-reported factoid of Trump voters tending to be less affluent is mostly an artifact of Trump voters being more rural, and rural incomes and property values trailing urban ones. Within rural communities, the affluent support Trump at higher rates than the non-affluent. Again I digress.)

But if facts were relevant to the beliefs of Trumpers, they wouldn’t believe most of what they do. Their myth requires them to be humble, genuine, “real” types, so that is what they are to themselves. A movement that got its start from a subset of truckers is therefore proclaimed to be a truckers’ movement, because believing it to be so is politically convenient.

It’s not because those poor truckers are having their livelihoods ruined by all those uncaring elites and city-dwellers. That is a right-wing myth, nothing more.

But What Would YOU Do?

Published at 23:28 on 11 February 2022

If I were Trudeau, I would right now probably not be doing all that much differently, when it comes to publicly visible actions: simply making increasingly stern warnings that the occupations must end ASAP. Given that the worst occupations are in Ontario, I would probably try to get Doug Ford to issue a similar message. (Interestingly, Ford did exactly that today. I would not be surprised to later learn there was coordination behind the scenes.)

The one thing different I would do is I would not openly rule out the use of military force. Mind you, I would still try very hard to avoid it, but publicly I would be much more in “all options are open” mode. Something like “We would like very much to avoid using the military to end the occupations, but the occupations must end and we are willing to use whatever means are necessary to this end.”

The goal here is to instill a sense of uncertainty and fear amongst the occupiers, in order to encourage them to disperse. And definitely let them disperse, don’t make arrests as they walk away. Punishing people for doing what you want is not the way to get more of them to do it. Arrests can always be made and charges pressed later, after the occupation has dispersed.

Aside from that, though, openly I wouldn’t be doing much. Behind the scenes it would be a different story entirely. Plans would be being made and put into place to break the occupations up. The planning would be kept secret, with as little signs as possible of how concrete plans actually were, or what the time frame was. It is key to have the element of surprise.

So far as the time of day, sometime between midnight and dawn would be ideal. That is when most participants would be asleep and thus at their most vulnerable. Then come in aggressively but at the same time using non-lethal means only.

So far as the trucks go, they are not so easy to remove as those who drove them, but once the latter individuals have been removed, the trucks can be dealt with. Any motor vehicle can be hotwired, particularly if those doing the hotwiring are themselves the authorities and therefore do not have any reason to fear getting apprehended while doing so. Hotwiring is in fact not even necessary; give a manufacturer a VIN and you can often get a set of keys made. At that point, there are plenty of trucks in the military, and therefore plenty of military members trained in driving trucks. Drive them away.

So far as the time of week, early Monday morning would seem ideal. It would keep the story out of the weekend news for the longest. And I mean this Monday: the occupations have already gone on unacceptably long, and the occupiers are getting both physically and psychologically more entrenched with every passing day. Waiting another week would invite tragedy.

This would have to be a coordinated effort. Both the Ottawa and the Ambassador Bridge occupations would have to be broken up simultaneously. If they are not, the one not broken up first will have to be broken up later without so much benefit of surprise.

In other words, don’t be surprised if Monday morning dawns a big news day.