2022 already seemed a grim year. Now we’ve added the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (“The hits keep on coming.”) Here’s my take on the key questions about this invasion.
1.Why did Vladimir Putin order the invasion of Ukraine? We already knew that Vladimir was not a nice guy. The invasion confirmed this and raised the question: Has Vlad gone mad? The answer is “sorta.”
The decision to invade Ukraine was made because (a) domestic conditions have deteriorated in Russia, as they have in Russian provinces such as Uzbekistan, and Vlad wanted a diversion; and (b) Vlad lives in a bubble and believed that no one would care if he obliterated Ukraine.
Throughout the world there’s an increasing gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” We’ve seen this in the US, represented by movements such as the trucker blockade. People are upset because of pandemic restrictions and related economic conditions, such as inflation. This is true in Russia, but more extreme because the “have nots” were already severely hurting, before the pandemic.
Furthermore, Vlad is an autocrat who lives in a bubble where sycophants constantly feed him information that he wants to hear; such as the belief that, if invaded, Ukraine would be a pushover, and the Ukrainian Army would quickly side with the Russian invaders. Putin also heard that the US was weak and Biden would not be able to rally NATO or the will of the American people. Vlad is a malignant narcissist — sound familiar?
2.Are we all going to die? Eventually, but probably not as a direct result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, there’s a reasonable likelihood that the world will become safer because Putin will be weakened, the West will be unified, and Donald Trump will be branded as a traitor.
3.From the perspective of the United States, is the invasion a net positive or negative? Vlad has talked about using nuclear weapons so that’s bad. Russian soldiers are killing and maiming civilians, that is bad. Russians are blowing up gas pipelines, that’s bad. Lots of bad.
On the other hand, Vlad had been using a strategy of sowing division in the West and has now abandoned that. (Putin had been sponsoring folks like Donald Trump (US), Nigel Farage (England), and Marine La Pen (France).) Vlad has (for the moment) abandoned subterfuge; that’s good. The invasion of Ukraine has unified the West; that’s good. The invasion of Ukraine has strengthened Joe Biden; that’s good. Some good.
4.What happens next? Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, next to Russia. (Slightly less land than Texas, with more people than California.) It appears that Vlad intends to occupy the entire country and set up a puppet government. (Possible employment for Donald Trump.) Hmm. The invasion isn’t going like Vlad expected. Perhaps he “bit off more than he can chew.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has solidified NATO and, except for Trumpsters, solidified the US. Russia is now subject to severe economic and social sanctions — sorry Russians but you can no longer travel outside your country.
5.Is Biden doing the right thing? Yes. So far, Joe Biden has played this situation astutely. First, he used US intelligence reports to tell the world that Putin planned a massive invasion of Ukraine and intended to occupy the entire country and set up a puppet government. Next, Biden rallied NATO to enact a set of severe sanctions. (NATO is also sending weapons to Ukraine — which, by the way, is not a member of NATO). Third, Biden has encouraged western government to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs.
Politically, the invasion of Ukraine has given Biden a “get out of jail free” card. Now, he can blame America’s economic woes on Russia; eg. gas prices are up because of the invasion of Ukraine.
6. What will happen next? At this writing, the Russian military offensive appears to have bogged down. On February 28, there were new talks between Russia and Ukraine; I don’t expect much to come from this, right now. Putin’s problem is that he, apparently, expected a quick Ukraine war, resulting in a decisive victory; this seems unlikely to happen. The longer the war drags on, the weaker Vlad’s position will be.
One possible end would see Russia annex two Ukrainian provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk), declare “victory,” and withdraw troops from all but the eastern regions. Another possible end is Russian regime change — angry oligarch get tired of having their yachts seized and turn on Putin. Or this could drag on, like the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but that seems unlikely.
7. What would escalation look like? A lot of observers are worried that the Ukrainian war will escalate; for example, Russia will invade one of Ukraine’s western neighbors: Hungary, Poland, Romania, or Slovakia. If this happened, there would surely be a wider war, as these nations are members of NATO.
But escalation could take other forms: for example, Russia might cut off oil supplies for the West. Or Russia might engage in increased cyber warfare. Or carry the war into space.
8. What will happen to fuel prices? The price of oil has been going up and will continue to go up. Some of this is due to greedy US oil barons but, at the moment, the spike is due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some EU members are extremely dependent upon Russian gas; for example, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, and Poland.
Russia exports fossil fuel, minerals (such as Palladium), fertilizer, and grain to the West. If these exports stop, it will represent a significant escalation. And also a big hit to Russia’s economy,
The surge in oil prices is yet another reminder that we all need to stop using fossil fuels.
9. Will there be a cyberwar? Many observers have predicted that if things go poorly for Russia — as seems to be the case — they will lash out with cyber warfare. So far there’s been less than expected: Russians have launched cyberattacks on Ukrainian web sites and Anonymous has attacked Russian web sites. If the Russian banking system fails, we might expect Vlad’s lads to launch cyberattacks on US financial institutions. (Warning: don’t open emails that begin, “I am a Russian Princess and I need your help with my bank account…”)
When we talk about cyber warfare, we should also include the possibility of nasty business in space (“the final frontier”). The US and Russia and other nations cooperate on the International Space Station. The Russians have threatened to walk away from the ISS and claimed that, if they do, the ISS will plummet to earth and land on Mar-a-Lago. Fortunately for us, Elon Musk has stepped into the breach and promised that, if the Russians abandon ISS, he will protect us. (Is my imagination or does Elon Musk look like Buzz Lightyear?)
Russian space invaders might also attack our communication satellites and interfere with our right to watch TV series like “Bachelorette,” “Naughty Housewives of Fresno,” and “Dancing with the Outliers.” If that happens, we will have no choice but to dispatch Elon Musk to wreak havoc on Russian media.
10. What are the political consequences? The invasion of Ukraine is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans. It’s good for Democrats because it’s an opportunity for Joe Biden to rebuild his reputation. Historically, in times of war, Americans have rallied behind the President; that will boost Biden’s approval numbers and help Democrats, in general.
Biden, and Democrats, have been damaged by US inflation — which is actually no fault of theirs. The Ukraine war presents an opportunity to blame inflation on Vladimir Putin.
The invasion of Ukraine is bad for Republicans. Bad, in general, because Americans will rally around Joe Biden, a Democrat. And super bad for Republicans because the curtain has been lifted and Republicans revealed as two Parties — gasp. There is the Party of Trump; from this point forward to be known as “Republican Traitors.” And, the Party of Republicans who have been deprogrammed; from this point forward to be known as “Recovering Republicans.”
Recovering Republicans believe that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a bad thing and that Vladimir Putin is a thug. They also believe that anyone who describes Vlad as “smart” and who implies that we ought to ignore the invasion, is a traitor. (They also acknowledge that the 2020 election was not “stolen” and Donald Trump was not a first-rate President.)
When the 2022 election season heats up, in many contested districts, we will see three sets of candidates: the Democrats. the Traitor Republicans, and the Recovering Republicans. The Traitor Republicans and the Recovering Republicans will split the conservative vote.
Summary: In the meantime, do what you can to support Ukraine.
Hang in there Україна, we’ve got your back.