Boris Nemtsov’s Execution: Real Time Crisis*

Boris Nemtsov’s heart breaking execution provoked more than outrage. Much informed and emotive opinion quickly converged: Putin personally ordered the assassination. The murder’s audacity and brazen proximity to the Kremlin pointed to sanctioned activity. Speculation invoked dark Soviet precedents like Kirov’s 1934 death or (more improbably) 1937’s mass terror.

Boris Nemtsov, Putin, Assassination, Kremlin

Many in the Russian opposition close to Nemtsov (Nemtsov’s own attorney, among others) in grief noted Russian domestic realities frequently are more complex: potential suspects extended beyond one man or the Kremlin. Yet they rightly emphasized even if Putin personally did not order the crime, he is still guilty. He created the domestic propaganda climate targeting opposition leaders.

Here’s our reaction as events unfolded at the time. We called some things decently, could have been more specific on others. We noted Kadyrov’s earlier signs of factional manipulation. We should have underscored Kadyrov’s new national ambitions and tensions with Moscow power ministries. Twitter has limits; the omissions, however, are ours.





Reuters and general media arrive at similar takes now. Russian sites Slon and Novaya Gazeta offered more detailed reporting a little earlier. Pavlosvky offers a general agreement. As of this writing, we believe the above frame is essentially accurate. Much remains unclear.

Rumors Fly

Putin’s public absence since March 5th ignited mass speculation. Rumors range from ill health, arrival of a new child to forcible detention as a result of factional infighting. The Kremlin promises a public appearance within days.

Putin’s initial lying low made sense if voluntary – regardless of speculation. Nemtsov’s assassination exposed the regime’s structural fissures.

One level is bureaucratic. The FSB and its rival the Ministry of Interior (MVD) energetically pursued the murder investigation; the Investigation Committee (a quasi FBI-like entity) less so. The FSB Chairman announced the arrest of Chechens in previously out-of-bounds (for Russian federals) Chechnya under Kadryov, Putin’s regional protege. Moscow federal authorities long chafed at Putin’s protection over Chechnya. Kadyrov flaunted it by conducting criminal activity in Moscow immune from Russian authorities.

Nemtsov’s death and the Chechnyan angle stoked institutional rivalries. Putin since his 2013 return nurtured the MVD, placing loyalists in charge of its 170,000 troops. Some Putin appointees are considered ‘liberal’ in the Russian context. (Putin staunch supporter Yakunin, as head of the railways, also commands a significant armed force). Putin has criticized the FSB (and thus Chairman Bortnikov) in the past. For example, he blamed them the 2011 opposition demonstrations. He then granted MVD more authority. Bortnikov’s personal announcement that the FSB arrested Chechens for Nemtsov’s death is significant in that context. Are we seeing a new version of the ‘Siloviki War’ from the mid 2000s?

Ideological differences on overall direction are another level. We’ve written here before how Putin attempted in 2014 to triangulate among his hardline ideologues and the more pragmatic as he improvised in Ukraine. Each Putin swing ignited protests. Those closest to the Novorossiya ideological project (and regime proxies such as Malofeev, etc.) find Kadyrov and his Chechen troops useful in Ukraine; others in the Ministry of Defense less so. The Novorossiya advocates feel Putin betrayed Russia with moderation. In parallel, economist Guriev and others in the Kremlin have demanded Putin go further towards a command-type economy (so-called mobilization). They, too, signal Putin’s triangulation is too liberal.

Can Putin forge a new consensus if free to do so? Indications are Putin’s first effort to placate after Nemtsov’s murder failed – grant Kadyrov new, long planned (but not first tier) federal honors, allow FSB et al. a substantial roll-up even in Grozny, and assure Kremlin elites and opposition figures no new violence. Recall that after Putin’s 2012/2013 re-election, he required protracted negotiations to build a consensus and form a new government. He worked then during the good times with a stable elite when the pie was still growing. A similar task today is infinitely more difficult.

Factions continue to leak on each other in various media outlets. Rumors swirl over possible institutions and figures aligning against or for Putin. Sechin, for example, it’s leaked to the Russian press, will retire – prompting immediate denials. Kadyrov is said to be scrambling as well. Sechin and Kadryov traditionally are seen as actual and symbolic pillars of Putin’s authority yet Putin also has criticized Sechin for poor management lately.

It’s therefore no surprise that Putin skipped the annual FSB Board meeting (after also canceling a summit in Astana days earlier) if healthy. Regardless of rumors. To attend would require first resolving stakeholder questions. Similarly, if Putin could travel it’s unlikely he would leave Moscow for Kazakhstan while authority is perceived to be in flux.

Foreign policy is linked beyond ideological fervor. For example, Patrushev, Secretary to the Security Council and former FSB Chairman, highlights the regime’s worst fears about ‘privatizing’ its Ukraine war from February 2014 are coming true. Patrushev acknowledges fighters from Ukraine are now able to plan and conduct “sophisticated terrorism” inside Russia. Eminently predictable from the start; recall Russian border guards earlier reportedly shot at those seeking exfiltration back into Russia from Donbass.

Patrushev, of course, seeks to frame the official agitprop that Ukrainian terrorists in Moscow shot Nemtsov. He’s also underlined the main driver of Moscow’s war: most of the Donbass effective fighters are Russian mercenaries/”volunteers”. The Kremlin has few appealing options: 1) offer likely unworkable one-way permission; 2) increase formal Russian military ratios; or 3) re-calibrate/possibly scale back goals and methods. Each choice demands interrelated political costs at home linked to the regime’s stakeholder struggles. Boris Nemtsov’s murder is forcing the regime collectively to glance at (even if obliquely) some fundamental questions.

Russia’s deepening domestic crisis will tax our analytical community, too. Throughout history, Russian and Soviet domestic politics are usually the main engine for foreign policy. Some Western analysts/commentators may be experiencing their first real protracted crisis – along with many Russians. One hopes we remember to distinguish between advocacy’s emotional tribalism and analysis for informed policy-making.

Frankly, we’re a bit skeptical about that.


*UPDATED: Thanks to @Lena_Mukhina for noting questions surrounding a news report:

Sechin, Nemtsov, Kadyrov
Sechin calls Kadyrov an ‘ignorant animal’

The news item report apparently was poorly sourced and originates back to an unofficial Twitter account. For completeness, we double checked the Nezavissimaya Gazeta editor’s report on Sechin’s retirement (denied by his representatives) and other items cited above.

Winter Offensive In Ukraine

Russia launches another major offensive in Donbass. Its operational scale and intensity already approaches peak Russian tempo from August/September. We warned official and unofficial Washington variously in November and December 2014 this attack would come – despite the professed optimism of a ‘soft landing’ with Putin based on the so-called Minsk Accords.

A favorite response? “Russians don’t typically like winter operations” – or something like that. What can one say? Ray Garthoff’s generation of Soviet analysts is long gone. It’s a Buzzfeed world now, we just live in it.

Buildup And Prelude

Russia telegraphed her intent in several ways. Throughout the Fall Russia pushed Ukrainians back from agreed upon start lines incrementally. By January Russia captured over 200 square miles. Simultaneously, substantial Russian military and logistical support poured into Donbass. It’s important to note a key Russian military lesson from 2014 – the expenditure of ammunition and other support in Ukraine vastly exceeded their expectations.

Finally, Russian military and a significant number of special forces battered Ukrainian troops defending the Donetsk airport in late January. The so-called Ukrainian “cyborg” heroes repulsed Russians for over 200 days. Russia’s TV Channel One underscored the importance of the January airport assault showing Russian naval infantry fighting there on national TV (see update). The Ukrainians held out until overwhelmed by Russian troops who, according to OCSE reports, also may have used gas.

Ukraine Cyborgs Donetsk Airport Donbass Russia Putin DNR LNR

Germany once again tried to paper over Russian aggression with a new agreement. The next day Russia launched multi-pronged offensives across Donbass, far beyond boundaries of September’s Minsk agreement.

What to make of it all? Here are five key points with thoughts on arming Ukraine to follow.

5 Take Aways

One: Russia exposes again American illusions that a consensus reality ‘soft landing’ bargain is currently possible.

Two: Putin seeks more than just re-negotiating the Minsk Accords or chastising Merkel. Russia’s long term goal remains Ukraine’s subordination to Moscow in toto. Putin improvises within that framework. Russian security state thinking in Putin’s war cabinet rejects the idea of a neutral Ukraine because it has the *potential* to be pro-Western and lead regime change in Moscow. From 2004-2014 they consistently repeat this point. As long as they and Putin are in power, a ‘frozen conflict’ is acceptable as a strategic pause; the Minsk Accords are a practical nullity.

Three: Russian domestic politics drive most of Russian foreign policy, as with the Soviets, too. Putin’s power is based on personal popularity derived from plebiscitary radicalization. Putin has stated repeatedly his entire 2014-2015 acting out is about escaping from the perceived yoke of the international community and its alleged EU/American values. Those values of process and procedure are antithetical to his mobilization regime: the essence of Russian revanchism. This internal dynamic is separate from Ukraine itself and uses a Ukrainian crisis as a prop.

Four: Putin is indifferent how he accomplishes Ukraine’s subordination or manipulates Russian domestic emotionalism. He will mix and match military, paramilitary, terrorism, bribery and feigned cooperation; all are tactical, improvised guises to use or discard per the exigencies of a moment. His improvisation remains the constant. It is a profound mistake to confuse the guise for the purpose.

Five: There is no example in modern recorded history of a revanchist regime being successfully deterred into reform. (1947’s Soviet Union wasn’t revanchist). This is true from Italy, Germany, Japan if you count the militarists’ 1920s attack on democracy (which we do), various governments in Eastern Europe, and even France’s de Gaulle. History teaches that revanchist regimes stop when their options for improvisation are denied, almost always and unfortunately, kinetically.

Ukraine’s Military: State of Play

The military situation in Ukraine is grave. Evidence to date, however, does not indicate the Russians are conducting large scale operations in strategic depth to threaten Ukraine’s integrity. The main operational purpose so far is as much psychological as to achieve specific local political-military objectives – as with the Russians seizing the Donetsk airport.

The Russian offensive renews American calls to arm Ukraine. The main problem facing Ukraine is more difficult than mere arms – it’s people. First, while Ukraine uses the word “war” often, in truth they’ve wisely refused the bait to actually declare it. IMF assistance and other crucial Ukrainian international relationships can be affected technically by such declarations. Second, there’s more that Ukraine can do. Various mobilizations have come and gone with minimal effectiveness. Poroshenko’s promise to raise the defense budget to 3% GDP is feasible but remains just that.

Execution is the key. Ukrainians themselves acknowledge Kiev’s military culture, training and doctrine are inappropriate for a modern war, declared or not. Specific command level personalities may not be suited for responsibilities. Kiev tolerates too much rivalry and factionalism in military matters. Ukrainian command dysfunction deeply exacerbated the Ilovaisk tragedy. Similarly, Ukraine’s military failed to support the Donetsk ‘cyborgs’ due to poor planning and operations, not lack of weapons.

We support improving Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. After all, the best deterrent to Putin’s improvisation is to send back “Cargo 200” (Russian KIA). American training assistance and advice on military reform is key. In the past, simple items like body armor, fuel or night vision goggles were blocked because they were deemed “force multipliers”, i.e. too aggressive.

Identifying the best arms to fit Ukraine’s current state of doctrine, training, and C3I is not easy. Choices should be carefully considered.

For example, tactical kinetics are more problematic than some realize. The rate of ammunition expenditure in Donbass and engagement intensity with regular Russian forces (65% of Ukrainian armor was lost in August/Sept.) are extraordinary. Kinetics are useful only with substantial logistical flows not only *to* Ukraine but *within* Ukraine to the front. Ukraine already struggles to supply troops with arms made in Ukraine by Ukrainians. Adding new foreign systems (and spares) to that sagging logistical/depot system without crucial familiarity and training is a recipe for – at best – disappointment. Finding and supplying (improved) Russian-made weapons familiar to Ukrainian logistics and fighters is a more effective answer.

Helping Kiev with comms/C4ISR is more straightforward. Some is being done now. C4ISR cooperation must be careful; Russian penetration of Kiev’s military and security services remains a problem. COTS should not be dismissed, either.

An uparmed Ukraine without corresponding changes in doctrine, training and personnel still would be overmatched by Russian professionals. The resulting Russian propaganda victory would be immense. Changes require time. As the improved training, C3 and doctrinal reform take place, Ukraine’s military efficiency will increase, as well as her capacity to absorb different classes of weapons. Assisting Ukraine the smart way will help Kiev deter Russian proxies in the near term and ultimately make Russia pay a full price for further adventurism.


UPDATE: The Russian soldier shown on Russia Channel One television wearing naval marine insignia now claims he was a volunteer. Details of his story are here.

Je Suis Charlie

The assassination of French satirists and police at Charlie Hebdo resonates particularly strongly. Americans take for granted political satire’s great purpose: to unveil communal recognition of a moment’s unspoken truths. Contemporary American political satire is safely and universally anodyne. It’s not post modern, just another dreary SEO empowered brand.

Elsewhere, shared laughter can be a more purposeful political and social act. With real repercussions. Political satire at its best gives immense power and voice to the seemingly powerless. And helps societies see dangers they might otherwise willfully ignore.

Je Suis Charlie

The re-emergence of Europe’s old “New Right” (ENR) from its birth in 1968 through the 1980s to its new, more viral guise underscores political satire’s importance. Satire is a crucial part of a healthy secular society. ENR long understood extremist Het Vlaams Blok leader, Filip Dewinter when he declared “the ideological majority is more important than the parliamentary majority.”

A new novel imagining France governed by Muslims summons a firestorm. This book and other best sellers about Islam in France and the French identity create a mood that ‘the center is giving way to extremes’. Here, in the realm of fascist and racial culture fears and sub rosa warfare, satire is especially valuable. Calls for a deceptive peace through satire’s self censorship in the name of ‘responsibility’ are a chimera.

Fascism in France is a complex, evolving and active political phenomenon. It deserves more attention here soon. For today, it’s worth noting that both Le Pens built the Front National into the third largest political party in France only partly upon French fascist Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite from 1968 et les autres. Along the way they rejected many of de Benoist’s core beliefs, including his stance against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia (de Benoist consistently has been anti-clerical). Marine Le Pen, even more than her father, combines the most antidemocratic aspects of the ENR with the virulent racialist existentialism of a ersatz Duginism. In a recent mock poll, she beat Hollande for the presidency with 54% of the vote.

It would be a compound tragedy if Le Pen manages to hijack the Charlie Hebdo heartbreak to further the FN’s racist, violent intolerance and gain additional traction. Merkel recently spoke out against German ultra Rightists groups. Europe needs more active affirmation of liberal democratic values. The French political establishment waivers how to deal with the FN in the assassinations’ aftermath. The lights truly go out in Europe if the intolerance of 3 extremists with guns empower the brown barrack intolerance of the crowd.

[Read more…]

Year In Review 2014: And The Winner Is?

More than most years, 2014 will be retrospectively consequential. The US post-1945 order finally enters its transition era. Most obviously, Putin launched an ill-conceived war to challenge its foundations. Other developments promise significant portent. Modi’s rise in India is but one example. Domestically, Americans’ facade of a post-racial society collapsed. And Neocons re-emerged.

American Luck Holds

Americans remain lucky internationally for now. Russia’s war began with clumsy improvisation and lurched to a strategic dead end. Ukrainian grit surprised Moscow – just one of many Russian strategic intelligence failures. China, India and others support Moscow symbolically in part yet preserve their own options and interests in the present order. They follow their own timetable for systemic change, not Putin’s.

America avoided directly engaging Russia, denying Moscow the co-equal status it craves. That US stance encouraged Merkel and the EU to confront Russian aggression themselves. Russian hawks in power (and outside, like Sergei Markov) concede their hopes to split the alliance (to date) are unrealistic. One would like to think a coherent US strategy helped shape these events. Equally plausible is American tactical improvisation simply was more fortunate.

Putin? We’d rate him 2014’s net loser. Had he stopped at Crimea, he faced no sanctions and enjoyed stratospheric domestic approval. Russia is far weaker, more isolated, and domestically more fragile than during the Sochi boondoggle. From canceling Russia’s pet Southstream pipeline into Europe, ruble woes – Russian Central Bank Chief Elvira Nabuillina may have the toughest job in Russia today – to a bad gas deal with China and Putin’s isolation at the G20, Russian horizons shrunk a great deal.

Ukraine, conversely, is far more unified and committed to a European liberal path than ever. Two successful elections and a newly vibrant society show potential. Russia’s war in the Donbass forged a new nationalism and but sidelined a region (along with Crimea) that would’ve sent significant votes for Communists and pro-Moscow parties in Kiev.

[Read more…]

All You Need Is Putin, Nukes And A Sharpie

Putin, NATO, Ukraine, War, Rita, Iron Man



SOUND: Theme music, PERKY GUITAR as we see –

RADIO HOST is maybe 45. Slightly pale. Looks BUSINESS LIKE in shirt and tie. Sits at TABLE across from ASHBURY. Both wear HEADPHONES.

Welcome to CNMBS’ FRESH AIR.
ZYX Resident Scholar Ambrose Marius Ashbury the First is here.
Deerfield grad, Williams then an Athenian poetry PhD from Yale.

Doctor, good morning.

ASHBURY, in dark suit, black glasses. A green room WARRIOR of plastic age, demeanor is one who just UPGRADED TO FIOS.

Call me Ash. All my interns do.

Sooo. Your NRO review on Christopher Nolan’s
new movie Interstellaris burning up Buzzfeed.
But first, in the Washington Post you call for general European war


We’re already at war. I’m just saying it out loud.

Radio host reaches for a DUNKIN DONUTS coffee but pauses, picks up handwritten question LIST.

[Read more…]

Why Putin Knows Europe Loves It Rough

Timothy Snyder’s recent Kiev presentation on the contending civilizational processes clashing in Ukraine is terrific. He notes today is in many ways a re-litigation of World War I and the contending integrationist agendas in the East. Snyder is concise and lucid.

Snyder is mistaken, however, asserting that EU integration is attributable to military defeats in 1945. European fears about American influence before WW I are the real precursor. European dread then of looming American power before 1914 lead many to ask how Europe could contend with such continental scale market and civilization. They mirrored today’s Russian nationalist and fascist anti-American obsession. To misunderstand this genesis is to miss why Putin’s anti-American assault gains traction so widely in Europe beyond just Moscow funded neo-fascists.

Before WW I European business and governments alike felt compelled to ponder countering American affluence, economies of scale and corrosive ‘leveling’ though mass consumption. American intervention in 1917 confirmed its actual power, underscored by American wealth subsidizing both Weimar and Allied war debt from 1923’s Dawes Paris Conference on. Only England, relying on India, could reasonably think of future, potential near-peer scenarios. Continental European pre-war national rivalries continued to prevent post-war active collaboration.

The Corporal’s continental empire was one answer. Speer and his Ministry of Armaments initiated actual industrial integration only after 1942. Speer found willing partners in France, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Speer enrolled French partners in an effort to scale Luftwaffe production using French components. Baby steps, to be sure. Yet possible because Europe by the 1940s had spent almost half a century looking for an answer to “the American power of scale” and popular culture penetration.

The Soviets had their own answers. The first Five Year Plan began in 1929 (originally proposed in less colossal grandiosity by Trotsky in 1923).

Formal European integration restarted in 1950 building on a Speer-based concept – the European Coal & Steel Community. And so on to Maastricht in 1992, creating today’s EU. The newly born EU represented many new political strands and goals, naturally. One, however, remained. Behind the European ritual of equality and endless meetings and receptions, the EU also finally enabled more than a passively anti-American critique.

In policy terms, the most obvious manifestations immediately began with trade and regulation. The Euro was intended to supplant the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The French quite openly called for the EU (as led by France) to stand up to the “US hyperpower” and so on. The EU’s feeble response to genocide in the Balkans dialed back some hubris. Libya was even worse. EU weakness over Ukraine revealed a unique moral betrayal.

The benefits of Atlantic integration and common cultural ties seemingly transcend these geo-strategic impulses. Most assume “the West” is and always has been “the Allies” (post 1945). Few Americans could explain the differences among the EU, “the Allies”, NATO or a Eurasian Customs Union. Yet still today, the EU regularly and eagerly seeks to curb or cripple American technology companies and promote and subsidize competitors. Co-dependent competition as rational policy choices does not explain the pervasive low-level anti-Americanism in Europe today. That political/psycho-emotional reality taps into something deeper than Iraq/Bush, the crushing aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis or the environment. European fixation on alleged NSA/intelligence community abuses (ignoring European practices) ostentatiously turns a blind eye to Russian penetration of their governments, parties and industry leadership for a reason.

Snyder’s excellent analysis of the European-Russian crisis is actually too constrained. Civilizational questions invoke far more than just 1914. Putin’s anti-Americanism is not just a potent Russian gambit. The ploy ignites a century of European resentments and fears, even if submerged by Cold War expediency until 1991.

Putin would be delighted if observers mistook his anti-American offensive as fuel for the ghetto of Kremlin supported anti-democratic figures such as France’s Le Pen and now Hungary’s Orban. Or for separatist groups such as UKIP in Great Britain. “Russia Today” recently began broadcasting in Germany. It blasts anti-Americanism using both the Left and Right. Political consistency is irrelevant. The goal is de-legitimation and fostering pervasive cynicism. Yes, as Snyder notes, to pull the EU down and apart. But that’s just a step to the ultimate prize.

When Putin speaks of a “united Europe whole and free from Lisbon to Vladivostok” it’s code for Russian revanchist, imperial terms: a continental answer to American (and now Chinese) scale dominated by Moscow. Few in Europe understand this or are motivated to see the difference. The game – and stakes – are much bigger than just the EU and its petty wrangling.

Russia, Ukraine, Europe, France, Germany, Mistral

Putin’s Shambolic Improvisation In Ukraine

Preparing Is Hard Work

Great artists know a truth about the road. Doing a one-off show is often harder than preparing a lengthy tour. True whether musically, theatrically or politically.

One date demands as much rehearsal time and clarity as a tour. Far easier to wing things, hoping charisma’s momentum and spontaneity will carry the day. History’s landscape is littered with tattered reputations – from humbled musical legends to political candidates.

War isn’t much different. Consider Tommy Franks’ war plan (albeit with OSD and OVP intrusions) 2002-2003. He cast aside pre-existing plans and comparatively winged it. He also abruptly retired in 2003 before mistakes became obvious. Wolfowitz’s last minute failure with Turkey to create a northern front makes the point. Conversely, American Pacific success 1942-45 famously built on significant amphibious warfare planning from the 1920s.

Germany 1935-45 is the poster child. Germany lost the improvised war by starting it on September 1, 1939. Yet German conceptual and economic preparations for an eventual intercontinental war with the US were substantial. In the European context, Germany’s 1936-37 economic crisis spurred radicalization and thinking about a general war by 1943-45. Still, the Four Year Plan and industrial base began alignment in 1938 for the later ‘inevitable’ world war with the US. The Corporal’s improvisations within this vague overall strategic concept jump started events and doomed both.

Led Zeppelin notoriously devoted an entire month in 2007 to rehearse one 2 hour London show. Decades of calamitously unrehearsed ‘re-unions’ demanded it.

Putin’s war on Ukraine is an improvised gig. And Vladimir Putin is no Led Zeppelin.

Putin, Russia, Rock, Empty Cabs, Russian Rock

Putin launched his attack on or about the night of February 22nd relying only on his closest advisors, meaning almost no one. Assurances from MFA/MID and other senior government officials at the time otherwise meant nothing. He invaded Crimea based on a war plan dating back to the late 1990s to secure the Black Seas Fleet. We disagree with the suggestion that a 2013 speech on the characteristics of emerging war by the General Staff is a modern “Hossbach Memorandum”, proving Putin long planned a carefully considered war of aggression on Ukraine. Such observations ignore the culture, nature and purpose of General Staff discussions.

[Read more…]

Play Russian Apologist Bingo!

We present to you “Russian Apologist Bingo!” Do you feel that apologists for Russian aggression, falsehoods and even lunatic screeds seemingly are everywhere these days? They argue just about anything to defend the Kremlin line. Tactics range from the infamous “Whataboutism” to “change the subject” or purely speculative – such as claims Ukraine tried to shoot down Putin’s plane and hit MH 17 by mistake (never mind Putin was in South America).

All the greatest hits are here. Play, won’t you?

Russia, Bingo, Propaganda

Can you spot all the tricks?

Nixon And The Dog Days Of August

Nixon is back, haunting every August as usual. This year he fights the centennial of the Great War for media mindshare. It’s an uneven match. Americans emerged almost unscathed from the first European civil war.

Relentless Pat Buchanan cuts and pastes his annual apologia. He reminds us:

Then he [Nixon] succeeded where liberalism’s best and brightest had failed. He ended the Vietnam War with honor, brought all our troops and POWs home, opened up China, negotiated historic arms agreements with Moscow, ended the draft, desegregated southern schools, enacted the 18-year-old vote, created the EPA, OSHA and National Cancer Institute.

Another reminder of how far we’ve come. The Nixon Center/National Interest can’t resist agreeing, too. Just attempting any of Nixon’s acts would galvanize the Movement to start impeachment calls. John McCain today would be against freeing John McCain.

[Read more…]

Putin’s New Style Of War Careens Off Course In Ukraine

Ukraine is dealing a strong setback to Putin’s allegedly novel model and doctrine of 21st century irregular war. Ukrainian forces drive back Russians and their allies across 2/3 of the Donbass.

Putin, Ukraine, ATO, Donetsk, Luhansk, MH17, War

Russia’s ‘new’ model of war escaped Moscow’s control. Putin seemingly understands the forces he unleashed could evolve into a political threat inside Russia. Even now one can hear the faintest whispers of revolution.

We finally see the limits of Putin’s Ukraine escalation. He will not risk challenge to his authority at home. Of course, he still plays to win in Ukraine. Ukraine will bear his brunt for years. And his dream of a global revanche is unchanged.

Putin faces a dilemma. He refuses frantic demands in Moscow and from Russians fighting in Ukraine to commit formal Russian troops. Polling reveals no popular support for overt war. Lavrov calls for “a quick resolution” of the crisis. Russian state controlled media banishes Ukraine from the front pages of Komsomolskaya Pravda and elsewhere. The tone change is striking. Putin now seeks to be a face-saving “humanitarian” rather than war lord.

Yet Putin’s emotional foundation that launched this war remains. We agree he still yearns to up end the international order and gain psychological revenge on Americans for the Soviet Union’s demise.

Putin walks away from full war for several reasons. First, the Russian military is still in a re-armament cycle. A protracted campaign in Ukraine would require all available operational forces. Given current Russian tooth to tail ratios of 6-1, even all operational units committed would lack the force density required for a contested occupation. Second, as noted, formal war is unpopular with Russians who prefer TV war without cost. Finally, formal war necessarily would radicalize Russia further. Putin’s ability to control that environment would be in question.

[Read more…]