September 22, 2022


President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's first mobilisation since World War Two and backed a plan to annex swathes of Ukraine, warning the West he was not bluffing when he said he'd be ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia…

“Putin gave his explicit support to referendums that will be held in coming days in swathes of Ukraine controlled by Russian troops -- the first step to formal annexation of a chunk of Ukraine the size of Hungary.” Reuters

All sides argue that Putin’s move is an act of desperation, and caution against yielding to his nuclear blackmail:

“Even in Russia, the idea of organizing anything resembling a referendum in a war zone does not pass the laugh test. The fact that the plebiscites — which will [include] voting ‘online’ — are being organized in a rush on territories that Russia happens to be currently occupying signifies only one thing: the regime has no expectation of being able to expand further into Ukraine and is instead seeking to consolidate its gains before they dissipate…

“The risk of a nuclear strike on Ukraine must be taken seriously of course. But it would be a mistake for Ukrainians or the West to let ourselves be deterred by the latest round of Putin’s unhinged rhetoric. Russia had nuclear weapons all through this conflict. Putin’s past allusions to Russia’s nuclear arsenal — when faced with the prospect of Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO accession, for example — proved hollow…

“Putin might have embarked on an ill-planned war of genocide, unsuccessfully seeking to erase Ukraine from the map, but he is not suicidal. A nuclear attack on Ukraine would bring in the West into the war in a decisive way. It would be guaranteed to alienate all fence-sitters, most prominently China — and arguably would be a bridge too much for Russia’s elites themselves.”
Dalibor Rohac, New York Post

"President Biden and the leaders of other nations supporting Ukraine must take all of this seriously even as they take none of it at face value. Yes, Mr. Putin appears to be raising the stakes; but at the same time, he implied that Russia was scaling back its war aims — from the erstwhile (and absurd) ‘denazification’ of all Ukraine to the mere protection of purportedly traditional Russian lands in the southeastern Donbas region…

“The serious part is indeed the call for military reinforcements and the nuclear saber-rattling. It would be negligent to assume that Mr. Putin will not use the former to perpetuate combat as long as he can — or the latter to compensate for the ineptitude of his conventional forces if it comes to that. Cornered, he might be more dangerous. Yet, in practical terms, neither more troops nor nuclear weapons can be brought to bear effectively immediately. The only thing worse than failing to prepare for Mr. Putin to carry out his threats would be to be cowed by them.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“The State Department deserves much of the credit for achieving NATO unity. Nevertheless, stressing that this is a ‘battle between democracy and autocracy’ (Biden’s phrase), rather than framing it as a rules-based international order versus the law of the jungle, is an error. For one thing, that approach has robbed the US of allies in the developing world that are not democracies, but might still oppose Russian aggression if the Biden administration had approached them properly since taking office…

“Putting an emphasis on a rules-based order wouldn’t mean that the US doesn’t support democracy, only that Russia’s violation of international norms has been so vast and flagrant that the world beyond the community of democracies can unite against it. The elder Bush’s secretary of state, James Baker III, forged a coalition of 35 nations, democracies and autocracies both, to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991. The Biden State Department has not been as successful thus far.”
Robert D. Kaplan, Bloomberg

“No ideology holds together the global autocrats’ club, and no sentiment does either. As long as they believed Russia really had the second largest army in the world, as long as Putin seemed destined to stay in power indefinitely, then the leaders of China, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, along with the strongmen running India and Turkey, were happy to tolerate his company. But Putin’s supposedly inevitable military victory is in jeopardy…

“Western sanctions make problems not just for him but his trading partners, and their tolerance is receding. At a summit in Uzbekistan last week, he was snubbed by a series of Central Asian leaders. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told him that ‘today’s era is not an era of war,’ and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his ‘concerns’ as well. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told PBS that he had urged Putin to end the war… Support for Putin is eroding—abroad, at home, and in the army. Everything else he says and does right now is nothing more than an attempt to halt that decline.”
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

“As Mr. Putin’s announcement shows, the war isn’t over. The Russian’s best option at this point would be to seek a negotiated settlement with Ukraine, but Kyiv understands that now is its best chance to drive Russia from its territory… A truce is possible if Russia abandons its invasion and cedes the territory it has taken. Short of that, this is a moment to accelerate arms deliveries to Ukraine, including tanks, fighter jets, and the longer-range ATACMS missiles. This is the fastest route to persuading Mr. Putin that his invasion has failed and he needs to cut his losses.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Putin’s best bet is to negotiate—for starters, to get a cease-fire and then let the talks toward a final settlement drag on… [he] knows nothing now would finish him off quicker than if domestic allies saw him reaching for a dangerous escalation of a botched war that no longer offers any upside for Russia, that is pursued only to save Mr. Putin’s face. He’s already tossed away 50 years of Soviet and Russian effort to build up a European gas business. This is enough damage for one episode…

Mr. Putin can survive a failed war. The Russian dead mostly belong to his disposable classes and minorities from the provinces. We can assume he knows something about his situation. His conspicuous policy, to which everything else has been subordinated since the war went wrong, has been to anesthetize vital sectors of the population to the fact that a war is going on at all. Moscow and St. Petersburg’s privileged 17 million aren’t going to protest in the streets if he doesn’t conquer Ukraine. They might if he tries to drag their families into his deluded project.”
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Wall Street Journal

“There's been an ongoing exodus of people from Russia since the war in Ukraine began, but the sudden rush for the border highlights one of the flaws in how western governments have responded to Putin's war. By making it harder, rather than easier, for Russians to emigrate, the European Union and others are only helping Putin trap Russian citizens in the country. It would be better to let them freely leave on European and American planes than lock them inside the country and leave them vulnerable to conscription… Let Russians vote with their feet, and the West can peacefully rob Putin of an army for his illegal war.”
Eric Boehm, Reason

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