Russia has Invaded Ukraine
I wrote this quickly. It may contain errors. Please correct them in the comments after reading this post’s special commenting guidelines.
You should ignore the news unless it’s of historic import. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes an event of historic import.
Interstate conflicts are inherently political. Politics is a delicate topic on Less Wrong because political topics tend to trigger tribal impulses. Arguments-as-soldiers are symbiotic with soldiers-as-arguments.
I’m writing about this topic because it’s at the intersection of two topics dear to my heart: ① responding to rare events ② operating in a hostile informatic environment.
These are our players (in descending order of importance):
Russia (including its ally Belarus)
European Union + Britain
China doesn’t care what happens to Ukraine. China primarily cares about preserving its trade relationships with Russia and the West. China would prefer not to impose sanctions on Russia because sanctions are expensive.
The United States
The United States prefers that Ukraine remain out of Russian hands, but the United States cares more about the rise of China than Russia’s fading empire. The United States just pulled out of Afghanistan. The United States does not want to get bogged down in another land war in Eurasia.
The United States has provided something around $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014. A couple billion dollars isn’t nothing, but it’s insignificant compared to Russian might.
The United States is not committed to defending Ukraine the way it is committed to defending Taiwan, Japan and NATO members. The United States does not plan to use its own troops to defend Ukraine.
The European Union + Britain
The European Union and Britain are allied with the United States. They would prefer Ukraine to stay out of Russian control but don’t care enough to deploy their own troops in combat roles against Russia.
Thus, the European Union’s (and Britain’s) primary option is sanctions. But the European Union and its allies have already been imposing sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea since 2014. Putin has already demonstrated that this level of sanctions will not stop his actions in Ukraine.
Europe (especially Germany) is dependent on energy imports from Russia. Europe ramping up sanctions against Russia would damage the European economy and industry in the short term.
Too little, too late. The European Union does not have the will to stop Russia. Britain, alone, is too weak to act without the European Union. (Except—possibly—by threatening a nuclear attack on Moscow, which they are not going to do to protect a non-NATO state.)
I am making no claims to whether the European Union and Britain should or should not stop Russia from invading Ukraine. It is none of my business. I’m just saying that if you live in Ukraine then you should not count on much more support from the EU than from the US.
The Ukrainian government will fight a total war to defend its sovereignty. It has issued an emergency order allowing its people to buy firearms (they were not, previously, legal to own) but it has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare.
Putin is committed to invading Ukraine.
There is probably going to be a war. Ukraine is probably going to lose. The question is how much, how quickly and on what terms.
Eastern Ukraine is a flat plain contiguous with Russia. If you just look at troop counts then Ukraine would seem to have a chance against Russia. But Russia has superiority of aircraft and heavy weapons. Russia will conquer Eastern Ukraine. The Russian Armed Forces is among the three most capable militaries in the world. The Ukrainian military isn’t.
If you live in Ukraine then you might have faith in your government to defend your borders. Don’t. Governments consistently lie about how “we will win the war” until days (or hours) before enemy forces march into your city. It happened in World War I. It happened in Nanking in 1937. It happened in Kabul in 2021. It will happen in Ukraine (if it hasn’t already).
This is not a criticism of Ukraine in particular. I know little about Ukraine. This is a statement about governments in general, across history. You should expect your government to lie to you and the news to mislead you.
I responded appropriately to COVID because I took extreme measures when everyone in my neighborhoood was acting as if nothing was amiss. You should do the same. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid. Be afraid of you and your family dying for stupid reasons.
If you live in Eastern Ukraine, the best time to flee is weeks ago. The second-best time is now. Romania is willing to accept half a million refugees.
Maybe you’d prefer to live under Russian occupation amidst a Ukrainian insurgency and a Russian counter-insurgency than to flee your home. If so that’s your choice. But don’t just assume everything’s going to continue as normal and be okay.
World War III
Three days ago a friend send me a text “It’s likely WWIII Eve”. I’m not worried about WWIII because the United States, European Union and Britain are not committed to an escalation of direct conflict with Russia the way they were during the Cold War. If their positions change then I will worry.
In the case of cold strategic analysis, you are actively encouraged to point out anywhere you think I might be wrong. My guidelines about speaking in the positive are temporarily suspended.
But any discussion of justice, morality and which side is “right” will be crushed with an iron fist. Advocating what policies democratic governments (especially Western powers) “should” take is similarly off-limits.
- Ukraine Situation Report 2022/03/01 by 2 Mar 2022 5:07 UTC; 121 points) (
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- 25 Mar 2022 23:16 UTC; 19 points)'s comment on My mistake about the war in Ukraine by (
- 4 Mar 2022 15:19 UTC; 2 points)'s comment on Ukraine Situation Report 2022/03/01 by (
One major point I think is under-discussed is what this means for nuclear proliferation.
Ukraine used to possess nuclear weapons, but agreed to give them up in exchange for promises of protection from the US and Russia.
With this plus the fall of Gaddafi in Libya a while back, it’s hard to see a result that isn’t ‘everyone wants to get nuclear weapons ASAP, and no-one wants to give them up.’ If promises of protection in exchange for nonproliferation aren’t upheld, there’s very little incentive for nonproliferation.
Apparently, in one important sense this isn’t true: they physically possessed the weapons, but not the capacity to do anything with them.
[I have no personal knowledge on this—just something I bumped into today, but it seems credible]
[EDIT: the point about non-upholding of protection agreements stands; I just wanted to clarify what “possess nuclear weapons” meant in this context]
That’s an important point.
However, I believe that a highly industrialized nation with modern nuclear weapons (but without the launch codes) would have had the capacity to do something with them. Using the weapons grade material (not only the fissible material, also the electronics etc) and using the weapons as prototypes for designing warheads should have had the potential to greatly accelerate a nuclear weapons program.
So, in a way this case is quite similar to Gaddafi’s—not giving up a functional nuclear arsenal (only South Africa has done that up to now, and I don’t think there will be a second case any time soon) but giving up the potential for a nuclear weapons program.
The most interesting thing out of this is Russia’s threat to pull out of New START in retaliation for US sanctions, as well as Biden’s decision to cut off arms control talks. Pulling out all the stops on the US-Russia nuclear competition is dangerous enough already, but this will most likely kick off a renewed all-out three-way nuclear arms race, which is of course less strategically stable than the bilateral nuclear dynamic during the Cold War. China is already expanding its nuclear arsenal to parity, which if New START were still in effect, would’ve been 1500 deployed warheads (incidentally today the first silo field seems to have finished construction ahead of schedule). The US had hoped to rope China into its bilateral arms control agreements with Russia; well, now there’d be nothing left to rope into.
Interesting analysis from a Twitter thread. You may want to view the original, as I am only quoting the text and many of the Tweets use an external link for more context:
It may not cause too great an impact. Everyone might want to have it. But at what cost? All Big Fives are roughly in the same trench in controlling the spread of nuclear weaponry. There are really very few countries that are in a delicate enough position to be able to develop them without facing dire consequences. Even then, they are only fission weapons. Thermal nuclear weapons are still Big Five exclusive. (I think India claim to have it, but the test yield is not conclusive)
Interestingly, only about a month before the current war, all Big Five made a joint statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races.
North Korea’s test on 3 September 2017 could have been thermonuclear, too (BBC). Of course, even if true, that does not mean that they have successfully weaponized it yet. But North Korea being able to do that would lead me to updating the probability of other countries being able to develop thermonuclear weapons.
Metaculus had only a 8% chance of “Russian Troops in Kyiv in 2022” as late as Feb 11. (It’s now at 97%.) Why did everyone do so badly on this prediction?
Speaking from ignorance: this prediction failure seems (from my ignorant perspective) similar to forecasting failures in Brexit and in the Trump 2016 election, in that it’s a case where some force whose motives are unlike Western academia/elites was surprising to them/us. If so, the moral might be to study the perspectives, motives, and capabilities of forces outside the Western elite on their own terms / by cobbling together an inside view from primary sources, rather than looking via Western experts/media (though this is much harder).
To what extent are there people who visibly made good predictions here beforehand? It seems worth compiling them. I appreciate cmessinger’s comment.
In this vein, here’s someone calling the situation we’re seeing shortly after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Basic premise being that great power competition is alive and well, and the US and European leaders trying to tell themselves it’s dead are consistently confused. Title aside I would not describe his talk as assigning blame—more that the US had a great hand after the collapse of the USSR and has played it poorly. I found a few talks from this guy, and they’ve all aged remarkably well.
A LW post predicted a Feb invasion back in Dec: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/QEsqKFabffwKXAPso/
Years ago, many politicians and professors of international relations predicted a strong Russian response to talk of admitting Ukraine into NATO: https://nitter.net/RnaudBertrand/status/1498491107902062592#m
Even the honest-to-god financial markets did badly on this prediction. The moment Russia started invading, MOEX and oil prices had wild shocks, as if something unexpected had happened, even though we already had abundant ahead-of-time warnings about their attack from U.S. intelligence. My suspicion is that everyone, including market analysts, expected Russia to simply annex the seperatist eastern terrority of Donbas. They expected the war to end quickly and with little bloodshed, and for the Ukrainian government to capitulate. The presumption was that they’d be fighting over a small separatist province, and it would have made sense—Putin gets what he wants, which is to look powerful, and he can come back again in 5-10 years for another piece.
Instead, Putin has chosen to do something insane—he is forcing his armed forces to attack and at least temporarily occupy the entirety of Ukraine, including Kyiv, Lziz, and Odessa. These are centers of the Ukrainian resistance that nobody, not even a brainwashed Russian populace, could possibly believe are secretly interested in unification. Maybe he underestimated the response or maybe he doesn’t care, but now western countries are thinking of kicking Russia out of their banking systems entirely, and the Ukrainian leadership has decided to face death at the hands of their oppressors instead of desert their country. There’s going to be a total war—perhaps a quick one, but many Ukrainians and Russians will die. I wonder if Vladimir Putin actually anticipated this would be the consequences of his actions. It gestures suggestively to a God complex that might be undermining the decision making of Russia’s governor and his coconspirators.
I wonder if in the aftermath we will be able to decipher the scope of the increase in risk, financially, between the separatist-territories and full-invasion scenarios. I imagine this is questions like $ of assets destroyed or put offline, in addition to the question of sanctions.
Or perhaps Putin has a more accurate world-model and correctly predicted that the world will just sit and watch? Could change any moment of course, but at least thus far it seems he’s right about Western threats of severe sanctions being hollow.
I think about several reasons:
1. Mistakes about the magnitude of the power centralization in Russia.
I don’t know how it was perceived in other countries but in Russia there were many debates about how many powers belongs to Putin himself. Real process of decision-making was hidden and people had different hypotheses about it. Many people thought about Putin as an arbiter between oligarchs/other forces or as first among peers.
As far as I understand last week broadcast from Russian Security Council was very surprising for many people. Openly Putin practically humiliated some high officials (especially Chief of Intelligence Service).
2. Mistakes about Putin’s motives.
I think a problem is a changing in Putin. In the beginnings of his rule Putin demonstrated that he is very pragmatic. He said words which sounds very reasonably. He very rare did something non-reversible. I think all missed a moment when this was changed.
3. I suppose people underestimate the magnitude of Russian intelligence service degradation.
I think in Russian defense agencies people were used to say things which their superiors wants to hear. I think Putin understands Ukrainians very inadequately because he read many reports which only confirm his point of view.
My baseline assumption for this is that everyone always does badly on these kinds of predictions. This frequently includes highly trained defense analysts with access to privileged information sources.
I suspect, at a gut level, that this is mostly because markets and crowds work on publicly available information and national security is pretty much the foremost subject for inside-view information being kept from the public.
I saw people discussing forecasting success of this on twitter and people were saying that the intelligence agencies actually called this right. Does anyone know an easy link to what those agencies were saying?
The thing about intelligence agencies is that they are really good at insider trading.
A broken clock is right twice a day. If you always predict war in a crisis, you’ll eventually be right.
They do not often predict war this publicly.
I don’t think this answers the question. 8% is an awfully strong prediction. Your meta-point is public info. People who honor your meta-point could make a killing in markets as badly miscalibrated as this one. That would make it profitable for people to correct the markets.
So the question stands:
How can we expect well-calibrated markets on questions with so few events? It appears to me there is a ceiling on how good we can expect calibration to be here, and it is much lower than the average Metaculus question.
Of course, reflecting on this suggests to me we should be able to take a serious crack at the answer after this one, with more to follow afterward.
Off the top of my head, maybe it’s because Metaculus’ presents medians, and the median user neither investigates the issue much, nor trusts those who do (Matt Y, Scott A) and just roughly follows base rates. I also feel there was some wishful thinking, and that to some extent, the fullness of the invasion was at least somewhat intrinsically surprising.
Another possibility is that most people were reluctant to read, summarise, or internalise Putin’s writing on Ukraine due to finding it repugnant, because they aren’t decouplers.
A second observation:
How is this prediction inconsistent with a combination of these two beliefs:
The Russians are unlikely to invade, and in that case the probability of Russian troops in the capital is ~0
In the counterfactual case where the Russians do invade, the probability of Russian troops in the capital is ~1
For example, Metaculus has a 97% chance of Russians in Kyiv, but a Russian invasion at all before 2023 is at 96%:
Welp, I was wrong: the Feb 11 shows a 45% likely invasion before 2023, which is not consistent with the won’t-invade scenario I proposed.
It is consistent with a moderate expectation of another Crimea level event, but not a full-scale invasion. Do we have a way of determining if the same participants are betting across multiple of these questions, or if the answerers are mostly unique?
Know any good source on why Putin wants to invade Ukraine? I have yet to hear a theory which sounds like how the real world works, and absent that it’s hard to guess how anything will play out past the next month-or-so.
Current thoughts on Russian military objectives, based on comment threads here and my own general models...
Multiple people mentioned that annexation is an unlikely objective for Putin.
Putin could install a puppet government, and then leave. I expect that would be highly unstable; it would only be a matter of time until the Ukrainian populace overthrew a puppet government without a Russian occupation to back it.
Putin could install a puppet government, and then set up a long-term occupation. This is the “Russia’s Iraq/Afghanistan” scenario. Again, I doubt that it would be stable long-term, although with state media trying to make the war look good to the Russian populace it could remain popular for a while.
Putin could dictate terms with the pre-existing Ukrainian government, then leave once a treaty is signed. At a minimum, that treaty would probably include abandoning claim to the predominantly-Russian territories of Ukraine, promising not to join Nato, and probably various other things, with an emphasis on symbolic victories for Russia. This is the most stable outcome I see at the moment, and is probably what I’d be aiming for if I were Putin right now.
Putin might not have an exit strategy at all. This could be either stupidity or (more likely on my models) making a short-term/long-term tradeoff similar to the puppet government scenarios.
The general question of “is Putin accepting a long-term mess for a short-term win?” still seems very central to understanding and predicting the situation. If he’s not, then treating with the current government is the only plausible exit strategy I currently see. I could certainly imagine the treaty-exit adding up to a very popular war, which I currently think is Putin’s main priority here.
My best guess is very similar to you fourth scenario.
I think, that one of the main Putin’s goal (maybe his very terminal goal, but I’m not sure) is to solve the Ukrainian problem, and then quit the game as a triumphant (after president’s election at 2024; but he has option to continue work on it until 2030, if he choose so and nothing changes significantly). Putin’s time is relatively short—he is 69 years old, and there are some rumors (not very reliable, thought) that he is somehow sick. So achieving his main goal in two years is very preferably to him, but there are still another six president’s years, if he need it and can afford it.
Ukraine is one of few ex-USSR republics that is not loyal to Putin’s government, and he obviously perceive that as a big problem. So the main Putin’s current goal, as far as I can assume, is to create artificial loyal states (on the basis of pretending to independence Donetsk Oblast and Luhansk Oblast of Ukraine) between Russia and NATO. There are already couple of such states with limited recognition around Russia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are commonly recognized as parts of Georgia), so it is appropriate way for Putin to create a buffer zone.
Installing a puppet government at the Ukraine, as far as I can see, is the secondary goal, but also desired.
Speaking of price of the invasion in terms of Russian economics, there is Russian National Wealth Fund, which continuously grew up during almost all COVID pandemic. There were thoughts earlier, that this NWF was intended for possible war (especially considering, that pandemic was not reason to spend it). Today I say news, that government is planning to spend it to support the economics (personally, I consider it as a relatively good sign—if they started to spend the stock for a rainy day then they currently do not plan to escalate current situation even further).
There are a few dimensions in my general models that have a bearing on the short-term v long-term question, though I am deeply uncertain how they actually shake out. The two that are top-of-mind right now are:
Personal incentives. The background for this is the importance of oligarchs to the conduct of Russian affairs, and the significance of members of this group to Putin specifically. Sanctions from the Crimea affair very publicly took aim at (what were believed to be by the sanctioners) the personal fortunes of people judged important to Putin on the theory that they would apply pressure to him so they could recover their wealth.
Several of these oligarchs are involved in things like the natural gas pipeline which goes through Ukraine, and other questions of trade between Russia and Europe. It seems plausible to me that one of the payoffs Putin expects is effectively being able to distribute opportunities here to his key supporters as spoils, and probably also profit from them himself.
To the extent this is personal profit it is short term; to the extent that it is satisfying key political allies it is long term.
Avoid Eurocentrism or: China. The dimension I want to emphasize here is great power competition in Asia, as distinct from trade relations or diplomacy which are the key concerns for the US and Europe. In particular I point to the Belt and Road Initiative as something designed to bring areas which were traditionally under the political/economic influence of Russia under the political/economic influence of China instead. I cannot claim this directly, but it seems deeply plausible to me that Putin or his cohort judge an increasing China as a bigger threat than Europe, and being a junior economic power on all sides is viewed as intolerable.
It is worth pointing out that while I think that Russia is the biggest loser in China’s rise, I don’t see anything about this from the nominal experts. It just appears inevitable to me according to the historical precedents, and supported by geopolitical logic.
My working theory is that Putin could be worried about some kind of internal threat to himself and his power.
He’s betting a lot on his image of strong, dangerous leader to keep afloat. However the Russian constant propaganda that keeps up that image was starting to be more and more known and ineffective.
Europe also has been trying to get rid of Russian influence through gas for a while, and would likely have managed in a few more years. Then they’d be free to be less accepting of his anti-human rights antics.
Ukraine joining Nato would have made him look extremely weak, and it would have made it easier to make him look weak in the future.
Once his strong image faded he might have been worried of reforming forces within Russia to manage oust him out of office with an actual election and mass wide protests if the ball got rolling enough, or he might be worried about someone taking a more direct approach to eliminate him (he killed enough people to be extremely worried about being murdered, I think).
So this is his extreme move to deny weakness. Better to be seen as the tyrant who’s willing to do anything if provoked, than the ex-strong leader who can be taken out of office.
It sounds realistic.
This is more or less what Kasparov believed back in 2015:
You can read Putin’s own words on the topic.
That definitely matches my models of things-Putin-would-say on the topic, independent of his actual motivations.
For what it’s worth, I wrote a Twitter thread which attempted to piece together a partial theory.
“The Russian public really likes this invasion” is definitely one of the higher-prior hypotheses, good to know that it lines up with the data.
Assuming that is the main driver, the obvious next line of thought is that a few years down the line Russia will likely be in the same sort of quagmire occupation that the US was in with Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian public opinion will turn strongly against, and Russia will have to back out and Putin will lose a lot of popularity. Presumably this possibility is obvious to Putin (I have no impression that he’s an idiot), so either he’s making very aggressive short-term-over-long-term political tradeoffs, or for some reason he thinks an occupation of Ukraine won’t be an obvious giant mess. Some possibilities:
State-controlled media changes the problem (compared to the Iraq/Afghanistan versions) - maybe Putin does expect the occupation to be a giant mess, but thinks that won’t be obvious to the Russian public.
Putin expects to be able to leverage the short-term political gains for other long-term political wins which will outweigh the long-term political costs-to-Putin of the war.
Putin is getting old, and has abandoned long-term plans.
Putin expects an occupation of Ukraine to be easy??
I’m from Russia. The issue of war splits our society. Young people and intellectuals are mostly against the war, anti-war rallies were held today in most major cities of Russia. But the older generation (conservatives) mostly support the war, some even speak out for the complete annexation of Ukraine (this is hardly possible in reality).
Written with the help of an online translator, my English is very bad, there may be mistakes.
Thanks, this is very helpful and whatever translator you’re using works great.
Thank you for your input. The readership here skews hard toward Europe/America. I appreciate your addition of a voice from Ukraine/Russia.
By the way, your online translator works great.
The link here was posted in the chat of the translation group of Yudkovsky’s articles about AI. Your post was interesting.
Among those supportive of the war, what do they want from it? Why do they want to invade?
In Russia, extremely many are dissatisfied with the collapse of the USSR and the deprivation of Russia’s superpower status, therefore they support the return of the former territories or at least political influence on them. In 2014, I also fervently supported the return of Crimea, where almost the entire population is Russian, although I hated Putin. But this was followed by a protracted economic crisis, a drop in household incomes, so now support for Putin’s actions is less than at that time.
Opinions of few people from Kyrgyzstan, middle age+
Nobody understands why this invasion started (this seem to be true for Russians too), did not want Russia to invade, scared and disheartened by war. Many have relatives in Ukraine. But! Suspect some unknown reasons for this to happen, probably intel on NATO deployment (Invasion seems rushed, but I’d consider it weak evidence—numbers of alternative explanations.)
Also a bit of clarification on 2014 popularity: it was invasion semantically but casualties extremely low, while right now we are looking at rivers of blood. Wonder how Russian population reacting.
“looking at” as in “anticipate”
In addition to Konstantin words. Many conservators in Russia honestly believe that USA/NATO want to destroy Russia and to seize Russian resources. They don’t think that Ukraine and Ukrainians are the agents. They believe that Ukrainians are the pawns of the West. They think that Russian army are saving Ukrainian people from NATO agents and crazy Ukrainian nationalists.
A decline to accept the agency of opponents is very common for Kremlin propaganda and Kremlin supporters.
Hello there! Will you translate something else?
And yes, even commentators with a different point of view in Runet are called paid.
Honest question: why is annexation judged to be impossible? I know nothing about Russia’s internal politics, and only a little about Ukraine’s but directly annexing conquered Ukrainian territory seems like a completely natural outcome to me.
Maybe not impossible, but very hard:
In Ukraine, the majority will not vote for joining Russia. It is impossible to preserve even the visible legitimacy of such an annexation. When Crimea was annexed, the majority voted for joining Russia. In Luhansk and Donetsk (two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine), the majority voted for independence from Ukraine. These referendums are not recognized by most countries, but there is no doubt about the reality of such sentiments of the local population. It won’t work that way with the rest of Ukraine.
Nothing impossible, just less politically convenient than installing a puppet regime. A mere change of hats.
I think Putin will not overtake Ukraine and just install a new government that guarantees that it won’t join the NATO.
Putin himself? His explicitly stated ambition is to reclaim all of the former USSR. Why should we not believe it? Ukraine is the first step. Why should we not expect more of the same?
Putin has also threatened “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” if the West intervenes. What can this mean but nuclear weapons?
If he goes after the Baltic states next, merely being members of NATO will not protect them. What will protect them is NATO actually going to war with Russia over them, despite Putin’s threats.
Check Dugin’s The Foundations of Geopolitics. I’ve posted some translated excerpts here on fb
Also: when it comes to world-modelling, you may disagree with Dugin on his view of geopolitics, but that’s not really important for the explanation. It’s enough that Putin’s actions make sense in Putin’s models. Given that the book has been highly predictive of Putin’s foreign policy over the past 20 years, it seems that the simplest explanation is that Putin is at least partially thinking in those terms. In Dugin’s model of geopolitics, invasion is necessary and has long-term goals.
You were ahead of the curve here.
This article by Tomas Pueyo looks at Russia from a historical and geographical perspective. It makes the case that much of Russia’s foreign policy is based on the need to protect Moscow, which is in the middle of the vast Eurasian plain with no natural barriers for defense, and so is vulnerable to attack from all directions. So Russia’s strategy has been to expand as much as possible, to either control directly the land where invasions might have otherwise come from (e.g. Siberia), or failing that, to at least create predictably controllable buffer states (the former Soviet republics) between them and their rivals. From that perspective, Ukraine may have been becoming too unpredictable as a buffer state recently, giving Russia an incentive to want to control the land directly.
I like a lot of things about this article—it is a high-effort piece, and the graphics are helpful and relevant. That being said, the author is relying on a bunch of conventional-wisdoms that turn out to be false and as a result, the article essentially raises the defense-in-depth point without having any persuasive power.
A central confusion is rivers, which the article treats as a dealbreaker for commerce to and from Siberia but as not existing for military purposes or commerce with Europe. Rivers are major physical obstacles to cross, and often a major transport advantage to follow, so they are extremely militarily important.
Sidenote: there is a close link between commerce and military activity, on account of both requiring the movement of stuff from A to B. Given no other information, ease-of-invasion should be ranked according to the volume of commerce between two locations.
There are several outright historical errors, such as cavalry being obsolete with the appearance of gunpowder because of guns stopping charges.
The point about different ethnicities is raised without being connected to anything else, and then the claim is made that this requires authoritarian government because...reasons? Why did the United States get to skip out on authoritarian expenditures if domestic diversity is the driver, rather than foreign invasion?
In short, the graphics are good and the defense-in-depth point is probably valid, but not for the reasons explained in the article.
A major caveat: the points raised in the article are bad for thinking about object-level reality, but they are extremely common beliefs. This is not only among the public, but extends to people like Congress and non-combat branches of the military. I therefore expect the same is true of Russian legislators, oligarchs, and military people. Therefore it merits higher consideration as a description of the social reality underlying the reasons for invasion.
I’ve been trying to think of this too. It seemed like Putin already had everything he could have wanted with a frozen conflict in Ukraine, preventing it from joining NATO. This is what I’ve come up with:
Ukraine might have still been able to join the EU, which would mean an attack on Ukraine would activate the EU defensive alliance, which would in turn activate NATO. I’m not sure how realistic this was.
Ukraine might have been admitted to NATO anyway, with the ongoing conflict. This seems unlikely.
Ukraine might have been able to defeat the Russian army in a conventional war over just the DPR/LPR, likely in a blitz that would leave it without the breakaway republics. If Ukraine accepts the loss of Crimea, this would allow it to join NATO. Picture the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, but between Ukraine and Russia, with Ukraine using Western technology and drones. I find this somewhat more plausible, but it’s not clear why Putin couldn’t have simply recognized the DPR and LPR and stationed Russian soldiers there as a “tripwire” similar to NATO in the Baltics.
I think the overarching reason is exactly what Putin says it is: having Ukraine join NATO is unacceptable for both the Russian national image and for Russian national security. Putin’s issue in Ukraine has always been EU/NATO membership and the departure of Ukraine from the Russian sphere.
One aim I could imagine having in Putin’s shoes, that seems better achieved by slow telegraphing of war over Ukraine followed by actual war (vs by a frozen conflict), is gathering information about how the West is likely to respond to any other such wars/similar he might be tempted by.
(I know nothing of geopolitics, so please don’t update from my thinking so. I got this idea from this essay)
I sort of get it and I want to believe it. But it makes no actual sense and that’s terrifying. The west would barely care if Putin was doing this in the *stans or Georgia. The only other target to go to after Ukraine is Moldova and then the Baltics.
If he goes in the Baltics that’s war with NATO. Nothing about the reaction to Ukraine makes a difference there. It’s black and white NATO vs not NATO.
I feel like the most parsimonious explanation is he’s not being very rational, rumors about him having terminal cancer are also pushing me towards that belief. It really doesn’t seem like anyone on the Russian side saw this coming either, which is extra scary.
The Baltic states are part of NATO, but I doubt it really makes a difference for the average American. Putin saying to the US “don’t get involved, or we will send nukes” may be just as effective before invading Estonia than before invading Ukraine.
That has been a key problem of NATO’s defense posture for many decades: How believable is it that the US will risk complete self destruction to protect the freedom of European countries? And iirc that was one reason during the cold war to switch from “massive retaliation” to “flexible response” as a deterrence doctrine.
As it was then, even now, I think, it is not about assuring the adversary that the US will be involved—there can’t be certainty about that. It is more about changing the probabilities for a US involvement. That is the main reason behind the troop movements to NATO’s eastern border, e.g. US F-35 fighter jets and an infantry batallion. An operation killing American soldiers in combat is massively more risky (and therefore, hopefully, much less likely) than an operation without this risk.
Telling the US “Get out of the Baltic states (even though you have guaranteed their safety), or else” is quite different from “Don’t get into Ukraine, or else”. Furthermore, there are troops in the Baltic states of other NATO countries with nuclear weapons, France and the UK.
THIS. Putin is saying the same thing for 20 years. He doesn’t want to have border countries to be NATO members which he sees an extended arm for the United States (which military is probably true). Putin wanted to join the NATO, NATO wants Russia to be more western. Putin feels bullied. NATO keeps going extending EAST and broke the promise that was given after fall of the Berlin Wall. NATO argues that every country is free to join if they want to. That’s the conflict. Even on the 15th February Putin said he doesn’t want war he just wants assurance that Ukraine isn’t joining NATO.
To put it easy to understand: Putin feels bullied by NATO.
A lot of people keep saying that Putin feels afraid of NATO. I really dislike this meme. Russia has been an imperial aggressor in Eastern Europe(and beyond) for centuries. The belt of countries from the Baltic to the black sea have been the Russian Empire’s victims again and again since the 1700s through to the fall of the USSR.
Now that Eastern European countries are joining a defensive alliance suddenly Putin feels threatened?
Why? He has nukes. The end. No one is ever invading Russia. It is just impossible. NATO is not going to invade Russia.
All NATO membership does is make Eastern European countries expensive or impossible to bully. This is what really bothers Putin.
There is nothing an abuser hates more than when their victims can protect themselves. He is not afraid of NATO invading Russia, an absurd idea that again would NEVER happen, because it takes more than the whims of one crazy dictator to trigger a NATO attack.
Putin is afraid that the people he views as his rightful prey and subjects are now able to defend themselves. That’s it. He’s a predator and he wants his subjects vulnerable.
Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt by taking the BS rhetoric about NATO encroachment seriously. As if NATO was bribing and invading countries one by one to get them to join the way he does geopolitics. Pure projection by a psychopath.
Russia has nukes with aging delivery mechanisms that are outpaced more and more each year. If NATO missile defense can change the calculus such that retaliation from a first strike seems survivable, MAD is gone and Russia is vulnerable. If NATO cyber capabilities could Stuxnet the Russian arsenal, MAD is gone and Russia is vulnerable.
It isn’t as simple as “He has nukes, the end.”
″ If NATO missile defense can change the calculus such that retaliation from a first strike seems survivable”
Lol. Survive retaliation? Depends on what you mean by surviving. Maybe only get 70% of your country destroyed instead of 100%, maybe only get 70% of the population subsequently die from nuclear winter? Not much of a survival.
Stuxnet the Russian arsenal? Are you serious? That barely worked in a baby nuclear arsenal, do you think it would work in the nation with the greatest nuclear arsenal, and with some of the most capable communities of cyber warfare?
Why would NATO want to pretty much “just almost” destroy the world just to invade Russia?
There are depressingly many Washington think tanks who produce whitepapers on “winnable” nuclear exchanges with Russia and China. It does indeed depend on what you mean by surviving. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
The problem is not what the enemy will do, it’s what the enemy can do.
Maybe no need to attribute any qualities to those papers. If, for instance, the situation was such that such war was inevitable, then yes, it makes sense to know if we could “survive” someway.
My claim was simply that NATO would never invade Russia knowing that it would take at least civilization collapsed. It’s completely self-defeating. The person to which I responded said “it’s not as simple as”Russia has nukes, the end”, in the context of a possible NATO invasion of Russia. All I meant to say was it effectively is.
I looked up the source of Putin’s claims that NATO promised not to expand, and it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Putin cites the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990, during negotations about NATO deployment in Germany. Here is the quote in context:
It is clear that he is speaking about not deploying NATO troops on the territory of former GDR, not about a broader commitment to not enlarge NATO. Gorbachev himself confirms that “the topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all”. So this is just another lie of Putin.
There are NATO troops in every NATO country, though.
So what’s the end state Putin wants to achieve through invading Ukraine? If Ukraine becomes part of Russia, then Russia will be bordering with NATO states.
Well, then it’s reasonable to assume that Putin’s desired end state is not complete annexation of Ukraine. However, even if Ukraine is an Austria/Finland-type neutral party, outside the Russian bloc but also outside of the American bloc, Putin’s security goals are achieved. The minimum criteria for Putin’s ideological goals being achieved seems like internal autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk, the maximum would be the annexation of those areas to Russia in the style of Crimea. So annexation is unnecessary ideologically and strategically, and seems unlikely as a goal.
Counterprediction: The Ukrainian government will fold without a (significant) fight.
I appreciate you registering your counterprediction on a public forum.
For what it’s worth, I think this counter-prediction already seems almost certainly wrong.
Care to specify over what time horizon you expect(ed) it to fold?
No. I’m going to judge my prediction by the number of deaths, not days (or weeks, or months. Years would really mess with my idea of what’s going on.)
Insignificant: Less than 20,000. If single battles in the American Civil War are larger than this entire conflict, then the sides must not have been fighting very hard.
Total War: I would normally say millions. I expect that the original prediction did not actually mean that? So, I’ll say the other side was right if it’s over a hundred thousand. More right than me at above 50,000. Of course, I’m also wrong if Russia surrenders.
There’s a lot of fog of war right now. I think anyone who’s changed their mind about the events in Ukraine based on new data is being silly. Hopefully we’ll have real data, and not just war propaganda in the not too distant future.
Russia says it’s winning easily, but is taking its time to avoid civilian casualties. Ukraine has a paradoxical stance where it’s winning easily, but if Germany (or X) doesn’t give it (Something) (Right Now) it’ll cave instantly. There’s pretty much no neutral observers.
I sort of expected more and clearer information. I think that was a mistake on my part. Ukraine and Russia are both incredibly untrustworthy, so I shouldn’t have based that part of my expectations on typical wars.
In general I’d like for the facts to speak for themselves, and would like to avoid debating definitions too heavily? I’m displeased that I’m turning a simple and symmetric single sentence statement into several paragraphs of text, but think people are updating way too strongly on either the wrong evidence or on unreliable evidence that should be ignored.
These numbers are absurd, in my opinion. 10s of thousands of military dead is massive numbers in a modern context. You cannot compare 1800s warfare to modern war, people literally lined up in a square and shot at each other until half of them were dead/injured back then. And due to crap med tech tons of injured didn’t survive. Modern conflicts have MUCH MUCH lower death ratios.
America finished the conquest of Iraq with like 150 dead(granted Iraqi army folded). Over the course of the whole occupation(2003-2011) America lost around 4500 soldiers. If Russia loses like 1000 soldiers before taking over Ukraine that’s absolutely brutal resistance.
Iraqi force’s losses were much higher, but still not over 20k during the invasion. Keep in mind there WAS a lot of resistance. The invasion took like a month or something, so wasn’t just a trivial walk through the country. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_War
Yemeni civil war isn’t even at 20k yet after 8 years, as far as I can tell
I think 20k combined military civilian deaths in the next 2 weeks would be absolutely massive resistance and probably the bloodiest war in decades.
The real question to me is if the Ukrainians are holding all major cities by the end of this week. At that point substantial military aid from the EU will be steadily flowing in through the west and it becomes a lot less clear how Russia makes progress. Mass bombardment of cities… doesn’t do anything if people are angry and stubborn enough to keep fighting.
I can see arguments as to why some people would feel cheated at 20 thousand. I wouldn’t agree. People have gotten too used to fake wars, and are too willing to call just about anything total warfare.
I don’t think the modern warfare thing is enough to change anything. World War two was pretty deadly. Vietnam had millions of deaths.
I should be clear I was thinking all deaths caused by the war, on both sides, civilian and military. The question is how hard the Ukrainians will fight, not how effectively. My general perception is that Iraq is not generally considered to have fought hard for Saddam? I even based my 20,000 figure partially on Saddam.
In any case, the specific definition isn’t that important. I propose that the casualties will be lower than the other side thinks, for reasons of their model being wrong in a way that becomes obvious when looking back on data that does not yet exist.
One point of data re the expected impact of sanctions: the Moscow stock exchange is down 50% (!), which presumably means investors expect very serious consequences for the Russian economy, likely due to sanctions.
Yeah, that data point was extremely surprising to me. On the surface, it seems to imply at least one of three things:
Putin severely mispredicted the short-to-medium-term economic impact of the invasion
Investors are severely mispredicting the short-to-medium-term economic impact of the invasion
Putin thinks the invasion is worthwhile (at least for himself) even if it results in the sort of short-to-medium-term economic trainwreck which knocks stocks down by 50%.
I’d have considered all three of these quite improbable beforehand.
On the other hand, it could just be a short-term liquidity phenomenon, e.g. there was a bunch of foreign money invested in Moscow’s markets which had to exit due to Western sanctions (or expected to need to exit due to Western sanctions). If that’s the main driver, then now’s a good time to buy for anybody who has access to Moscow’s financial markets.
MOEX appears to now be down only 20% from pre-invasion price level. Still significant, though much less so than 50%. This follows a common pattern that I’ve seen anecdotally about stock prices following bad news: that the price drops precipitously immediately following the news, and then mostly recovers shortly thereafter. I remember seeing this pattern in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, soon after it became mainstream to be concerned about the Coronavirus pandemic, and I think when Trump got elected. Not sure if this is somehow a real counterexample to the efficient market hypothesis, or if I’m overfitting or selectively remembering cases where the pattern holds.
The EMH requires 0 cost of trading and 0 cost of information, and only requires that markets converge, not that they converge instantaneously.
Third option: this isn’t a counterexample to the efficient market hypothesis. EMH + counterexamples to overstated news taking slightly longer to disseminate than the original news nicely explains the effect.
Forth option: 
read: information becoming public
This is a joke, to be clear.
Think it misses the point a bit to say that the EU and UK don’t care enough to deploy their own troops in combat roles against Russia. Whether they care enough to do so isn’t relevant; Ukraine isn’t part of NATO, and Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons if NATO troops support the Ukrainian army. So deployment of NATO troops was never on the cards. General assumption seems to be that Ukraine will lose the war relatively quickly.
Sanctions will only make a difference if they are significant enough to harm EU/UK/US as well as Russia. Not sure anyone knows how extensive they will be. A lot depends on German public opinion, I think, given that Germany’s close economic links with Russia would mean that Germany would bear a lot of the pain, and that it has previously been more pro-Russian than any other large country. I know nothing about German public opinion, though the website of Bild, Europe’s highest circulation newspaper, is interesting this morning.
If sanctions are too weak to make a difference, Putin will have won. He has said that he will keep on trying to recreate the Russian empire, which now includes several NATO states. Listening to what he has said he will do has been a pretty good guide to his actions in the past, so the assumption should be that he will continue to try to do what he has said he will try to do. Clear risk of nuclear war if Putin invades a NATO state.
If sanctions are meaningful, they’ll tank the Russian economy, but difficult to see how Putin can back down, or be removed from power. And he has control of a lot of nukes.
Either way, we are significantly (weasel word) closer to nuclear war than we were yesterday. As you say, this is the sort of news that matters.
How should threats like that be evaluated, given that, (I’m guessing that nuking NATO troops would result in nuclear retaliation?) it would be… hard for Russia to benefit, causally, from initiating an exchange, and given that Putin lies quite frequently, and given that there aren’t really any limits to what a nuclear state can get you to go along with if you just take them at their word whenever they threaten this sort of suicidal act; you have to draw a line somewhere, there has to be a limit, where you’re willing to disbelieve. What’s the limit?
I’m having a lot of difficulty seeing nukes as being are applicable or relevant to war, at least in wars between nuclear states, probably even in a war limited to Russia and Ukraine. What would Russia gain from nuking Ukraine? They damage their prize beyond any plausible savings this would impute for their infantry. So, how can this claim that they’d do it be substantiated?
Last I heard (the information could be outdated), the US has fewer nukes than Russia. This was a choice: There was no military advantage to having more. There is a sense in which the credible signalling of will and strength, could no further be waged, that frontier was saturated, the game of war had to leave it.
He did not threaten to nuke Ukraine. He threated to use nukes against NATO countries if they get directly involved in that conflict. Not a direct quote, but a summary would be “We know we can’t win war against NATO, but we still have nuclear weapons—there will be no winners”.
Responding to say that as of now, public opinion in Germany seems pretty certain that Russia is in the wrong.
The reliable news stations mostly agree that Putin’s official reasons for invading are weak at best, but also that this is—as harsh as it sounds—not a pressing enough issue to seriously consider going to war over. Still, I note several things:
Gas is barely talked about at all on the news. I presume that this is because the government is trying to divert attention from the fact that if Russia restricts it, that’d be a catastrophe.
Some of the less trustworthy media (including the BILD, which is quite infamous for being loud, emotional, and anti-everything-the-government-does) have been virtue-signaling about how Germany needs to “take action” against Russia, ideally via the (actually in-very-poor-condition) military, and how that would be worth any economical consequences. Those people don’t know a lot about economics or politics or wars, but they’re loud and it’s worrying.
Public opinion has been moderately anti-russian for some years. Favorable enough to keep doing business with Russia, but bad enough to be disgruntled about it.
Most people are apparently not (yet) aware how big of a deal this is, and much less of the consequences this war will (or might) have on Germany. This worries me a lot.
It might be relevant though that my social bubble involves mostly young, educated middle-class people, and also that I live in the northwest. I have no idea how things are in less privileged groups, or other regions.
Generally, I believe that the biggest parts of the public are still in shock.
I myself am getting increasingly worried about the NATO deciding to directly involve itself in the conflict, both because I feel Germany would be hit HARD economically and on daily-life-basis (especially regarding energy supply and russian products) and well, because of the nuke threat.
Where has he said this? How directly?
To share a datapoint, I looked at the news, felt a bunch of grim emotions that I won’t go into, but still couldn’t think of a reason not to read about this in like 1-2 years.
I don’t think it will directly effect me or anyone I know personally, and the basic argument that “information at-the-time will be subject to extreme pressures of narrative-control” still stands.
(I will check into any hints that this will grow into a war with US or UK involved.)
I think it’s extremely useful practice to follow momentous live events, try to figure out what’s happening, and make live bets (which you can do for example by trading Russian/European stock indices and commodities). When the event of historic importance happens at your doorstep there will be even more FUD to deal with as you’re looking for critical information to make decisions, and even more emotions to control.
I know this sounds kinda morbid, but I often ask myself the following question: what would I have done if I was a rich Jew in Vienna in 1936? This is my personal bar for my own rationality. I think it is quite likely that I will face at least one decision of this magnitude in my life, and my ability to be rational then will outweigh almost everything else I do. I know that life will only give me a few practice sessions for this event, like November 2016 and February 2020. I think it’s quite worth taking a couple of days to immerse yourself in the news because it’s hard to do right now.
George Mikes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Mikes) told the story of a friend of his in Hungary who was convinced that war was imminent in 1939. Someone had told his friend that some substance, I think it was red lead, was essential to fighting wars, so even though he had no idea what red lead was he borrowed as much as he could, bought red lead, and became enormously wealthy in a very short space of time. Not sure if there’s an equivalent substance for modern armies.
What happened in November 2016? Election of Donald Trump?
Yes. I think it ultimately wasn’t a momentous historical event, especially in the short-term, but it was hard to know at the time and that’s good practice for staying rational as history is happening (or not) as well.
If you live outside of Europe and Russia and you aren’t otherwise involved with Ukraine then I think you can safely ignore the situation (unless it escalates into a WWIII-precursor, which is unlikely). If you live in Ukraine then you absolutely must pay attention to the situation.
(Example of a thing that meets my bar for thinking about: https://mobile.twitter.com/SamoBurja/status/1497277746862444545 )
are there parallels that a US citizen could be more directly affected by, and which could be informed by these current events in Russia/Ukraine? for example, i’m seeing people draw the link that how this Russia/Ukraine conflict proceeds will have implications for the future of China/Taiwan, which will be more directly relevant to the US. it seems to me that China has exerted far more soft power and less military power in this context so far, so my initial reaction is to think that the situations are distinct enough that one won’t substantially inform the other.
Me too. I don’t think the Russia/Ukraine conflict will have implications for the future of China/Taiwan (except insofar as all of geopolitics is interconnected).
This seems to be the prevailing opinion in the comment section here. And people seem pretty confident in it. It’s not clear to me why this confidence is justified though. I’d love to hear more about why people feel confident.
(I’m not trying to imply that people shouldn’t be confident. I suspect that people are perhaps moderately overconfident, but that is a relatively weak suspicion. I don’t really know much about this stuff.)
I mean, I hope Mary is ok.
I’m ok right now, and thank you a lot for your concern.
I thought about writing something, but I’m thinking much more short-term & not unbiasedly. We’re ~ 15km outside Kyiv, which has been striked, and ~ 10km outside Brovary (also), so we have heard explosions but not seen any yet. Going down to the cellar occasionally (it gets furnished ever cosier), not thinking about work (Because Nerves), checking up with relatives. There’s nothing much to do. Can’t run—the roads are congested & trains are being cancelled, and I don’t feel like I can join a guerilla team because of my family. I know some LW-reading people in Kharkiv who are sure to have it worse.
People are reacting in wildly different ways, of course. We check the news often. In my bubble there is also talk about how this is going to affect sending the next Antarctic research team to the station (to relieve the guys there); street warfare; the situation at the Chernobyl atomic station now that it is taken by the Russians; donations for the Army (blood, money, transport etc.); the position of Nature’s editorial team re:situation in Ukraine (oddly pro-Russian); house pets (many bomb shelters will let you in with one); prayers; mail delivery delays; children’s emotions after watching the news; (often suspended) education; and soon, I expect (edit after autocorrection to “except” :) ), gardening.
The rumor has it this night will be hard, but then again, it’s a rumor.
Stay safe, and good luck.
If anyone here happens to end up in Sweden due to the current conflict, and needs a place to stay, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you very much for your generosity. I passed it on to others in our local chat.
I am not sure whether this algorithm was wrong, but it does sure seem like given the increased risk of nuclear war, this did relatively quickly develop into something that was worth paying attention to.
I don’t think agree with ‘relatively’ quickly, it took about 7 months. Then, when I tried to learn about the nuclear risk I was facing, almost all info about the war was not relevant, essentially it was just the fact that the Russian leader of the government had explicitly and extremely visibly threatened to use nukes.
The rest of the info I needed was not to do with the ongoing war, it was:
A little historical info about how MAD-escalation can happen with US/Russia
Finding out that where I am based (Bay Area) has historically been considered in the top 5-10 targets in the US
Checking what size nuke would be headed here and what places I can go to fall outside the blast radius (I now have a place prepped and set up)
A little fermi about the micromorts per hour if a tactical nuke was used to inform how quickly I should respond
I still know essentially nothing about the war or how it’s playing out in those countries and in broad international politics, and don’t think this has been a mistake. I am currently standing by my algorithm.
A lot of people brought up sanctions, and they could indeed influence European economy/politics.
I would be curious about what sanctions in particular are likely to be implemented, and what are their implications—a major economic setback/energy prices soaring could radicalize European politics perhaps?
My guess would be that overall the whole event increases support for conservative/nationalist/populist parties—for example, even though Hungary’s populist government was trying to appear to be balancing “between the West and Russia” (thus now being in an uncomfortable situation), I think they can probably actually spin it around to their advantage. (Perhaps even more so, if they can fearmonger about refugees.)
The current Polish government is very much conservative, right-wing, and populist but they clearly voice support for Ukraine and criticize Putin’s actions (which does not necessarily mean they’re going to do anything substantial about it).
I think the point was less about a problem with refugees (which should be solved in time with European coordination), maybe more that the whole invasion is “good news” for conservative parties, as most crises are.
I think the EU will have to impose heavy sanctions and deal with a refugee crisis. Given German dependence on Russian gas this could lead to a local/global recession. Hopefully, that’s the extent of it.
I think it could have indirect effects on you and people you know personally because of sanctions against Russia and Russia’s countermoves against those sanctions. That are the key informations to watch the next days and weeks.
Almost 2 years to the day since we had an effective test run for X risks, we encounter a fairly significant global X risk factor.
As Harari said, it’s time to revise upward your estimates of the likelihood of every X risk scenario (that could take place over the next 30 years or so) if you assumed a ‘normal’ level of international tension between major powers, rather than a level more like the cold war. Especially for Nuclear and Bio, but also for AI if you assume slow takeoff, this is significant.
As it relates to China, I think they care very much...but China cares because it wants to see the world’s reaction to help gauge their own plans for Taiwan. I think Russia’s feelings toward Ukraine very much mirror China’s feelings towards Taiwan. China would very much like to take over Taiwan, and if Russia “gets away” with taking over Ukraine, it’s a good bet that China v Taiwan will be next.
But otherwise, yes, I agree that “China primarily cares about preserving its trade relationships with Russia and the West.”
The Taiwan point is very interesting, but I think China has a powerful strategic interest even if we ignore it.
Specifically it looks to me like the sanctions will drive Russia entirely into the Chinese financial sphere, and radically increase their dependency on commerce with China. If Russia’s relationships with other countries are also subordinated to Chinese interests, and I strongly expect that they will be, it looks like China will rapidly dominate all of Asia in a way similar to how the US dominates North America.
There are also several specific things which will impact the China v. US balance of power. As an example, Russia already bought 70% of its semiconductors from China, but now with the sanctions this will have to be ~100% with much weaker bargaining power so China’s growing semiconductor industry gains a captive market to sustain it. In tandem with China’s virtual monopoly on rare earth mineral refinement, this likely means a net advantage in computation.
This is probably the first time that a major war has been fought between two countries that are both well below replacement birth rate, which seems totally bonkers. What does it imply about human values?
What are the implications for international cooperation on AI risk and other x-risks? Bad news, presumably, but how bad?
Kind of a dark thought, but: there’s always a baby boom after a war, fertility shoots way up. Putin has tried to prop up the Russian birth rate for many years to no avail...
What does the birth rate have to do with war?
A shot in the dark, but the Malthusian theory of population suggests war is beneficial to local officials and leaders when they think the younger generation is growing at a sufficiently rapid pace that they are about to be replaced (‘vent the testosterone’, so to speak). The absence of such a growth spike is a mark against this explanation.
More generously: if the birth rate is below replacement, losing young people in a war has drastic consequences for the population ~20 years from now, since it will at least for a while drop far below replacement. If the birth rate is higher the consequences of losing a fraction of your youngest people are, in the long run, less severe.
At this moment in time >99% of humans are not at Malthusian limits and majority of wars of the past 100-200 years have been fought between societies not at Malthusian limits.
The simple story that wars are started by a small group of elite insiders driven by ideological commitments, perhaps fanned by larger nationalistic/jingoistic/militaristic/etc sentiments in the larger populace seems far more plausible.
I still don’t get the logic here. It’s not like modern wars cost millions of lives (unless it goes nuclear, in which case nothing matters); how can birth rates ever be a factor.
From what I’ve read, Russia’s stockpile of precision guided munitions is low, so this war may not look very “modern” past the initial stages. If Russia ends up adopting the same tactics it used in the Second Chechen War and causes the same amount of casualties on a per capita basis, Ukraine would end up suffering 2.5 million deaths.
This war will be done fast and comparatively take a lot less casualties than any other war of countries that size.
Armies today are mechanized and professionalized. Individual soldiers are more expensive and more capable. Per capita conventional battlefield combat deaths should be relatively small (as a fraction of total population) compared to historical values because of smaller per capita army sizes. If I lived in Eastern Ukraine I would be more afraid of an insurgency and counter-insurgency than Russia’s initial blitz.
After Ukraine is conquered, what next?
I’m most interested in the question of NATO membership of Finland (GDP $270B vs. Ukraine’s $150B, population 5M to Ukraine’s 44M). The Finnish government has been neutral for a long time, while maintaining the option of NATO membership (brought up by the PM in January and discussed again today); the Russian government has at various points threatened that they would start WWIII over Finland joining NATO.
There already exist security guarantees, and Finland has a capable military, such that I don’t think a Russian invasion of Finland is advisable, and I don’t think it’s part of Russian revanchism, such that it seems unlikely that there would be an invasion even after invasions of Ukraine, Georgia, and so on. But the potential for escalation here seems pretty worrying to me (especially given the way that it might be in no one’s interest).
A poll just conducted by Finland’s public broadcasting company shows the majority of public opinion in favor of NATO membership for the first time in history, with 53% in favor, 28% against and 19% uncertain. (Only 30% were in favor back in January.)
A citizen’s initiative asking for a national referendum on NATO membership has also gotten 69K signatures in seven days, with 50K signatures being the threshold required for Parliament to consider it.
I assume this will be a largely symbolic move as Finland already has close ties with NATO, right?
“Has close ties with NATO” is quite different from actually being a member of NATO and protected by its safety guarantees. It wouldn’t e.g. prevent Russia from pulling the same move as in Ukraine, first invading and then threatening nuclear retaliation if NATO interferes. Whereas if Finland was a member, then NATO’s commitment to retaliate would be in force before any invasion, so Russia couldn’t play that card.
I don’t expect another military attack against a neigbouring country of Russia soon—it takes some time to consolidate power after an invasion (if that really is Russia’s objective).
What I do think likely is international treaties between Russia and some non-NATO former Sowjet republics giving Russia additional rights, maybe military bases, etc. Because Russia’s “bargaining position” towards its neigbours should have increased considerably.
I think there’s a case to be made for adding Turkey to the list of players. Turkey has:
A decent-sized military, population, and economy
A drone program that’s been pretty successful, including against Russian equipment
Control over Russia’s route between the Black Sea and the ocean
A foreign policy that’s very independent and interventionist for the country’s size, with a willingness to stand up to both Russia and the West
A very supportive attitude towards Ukraine
Turkey abstained from voting on the suspension of Russia’s rights in the Council of Europe.
Although the point about Turkish drones being effective against Russian equipment I find misleading; drones are just effective against ground targets in general, doesn’t matter if it’s Russian or American made.
Also I wouldn’t call the Mediterranean ‘ocean’; to get to the Atlantic Russian ships still have to pass through the strait of Gibraltar, also controlled by NATO countries.
Different air defense systems are designed differently, and may not be equally effective at combating a given threat, so the performance of Turkish drones in the presence of Russian-produced air defense in particular is relevant.
I was going to object that the Southern coast of the strait of Gibraltar is controlled by Morocco, which is not in NATO, but I just checked, and one of Spain’s African territories is next to the strait, and I found a claim that this makes it impossible to cross the strait without entering Spanish territorial waters. Reasons that the Turkish straits could potentially be relevant anyway are that decisions by Turkey or by Spain to create an international incident with Russia over transit rights through their territorial waters may be made independently of each other, and the Suez canal also exists (though admittedly that’s an obnoxiously long route to the Atlantic). In any case, I saw somewhat that Turkey says they can’t close the straits to Russia, so this all may be moot.
They have apparently reversed themselves on this.
Also, it occurred to me that the reason for more attention been focused on the possibility of Turkey closing the Turkish straits to Russian warships than to Spain closing the strait of Gibraltar to Russian warships probably has to do with the different legal status that the two straits have (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_passage)
Prediction: No substantial sanctions will be imposed on Russia by Western countries (no exclusion from SWIFT, no gas export blockade).
Well that didn’t age well.
I’m inclined to agree on this.
The official news here in Germany keep reporting that the government has announced/will announced ‘substantial sanctions’, but as of now, the proposed SWIFT-exclusion is met with resistance.
The oil and gas prices already skyrocketed over the past months, and the newly finished Nord Stream 2 (under the north sea, was planned to transport gas from Russia to Germany), was announced to be… delayed for “an unforeseeable amount of time”. If gas supply over here is restricted any more, it will be an economical disaster, as a lot of the imported gas is used for industry and to generate power.
As of now, I’m quite convinced that the EU—but Germany especially—literally can’t afford any more severe actions against Russia as of now.
Well, what one can “afford” is really a matter of circumstances and will as I’m sure Chamberlain would have argued that Britain couldn’t “afford” to offend Hitler by offering help to Czechoslovakia at the time, either. And yet just a couple years later Britain was suddenly able to “afford” to wage an all-out war against Germany while London was still burning.
The point here isn’t moral grandstanding. The point is there’s a need to re-evaluate assumptions about the invincibility of Germany’s security status as a NATO member. Nobody expected NATO troops on Ukrainian soil, but if Germans aren’t willing to risk as much as higher gas prices and a few pipelines here and there when tanks are literally rolling down the streets of Kiev, what exactly makes them think the US and UK would risk a nuclear war with Russia when tanks are rolling down the streets of Berlin? And it’s not like they’re willing to increase their own military spending either. The way I see it, right now Germany is mostly defended by thoughts and prayers and a whole lot of “they would never do that”. Not a predicament I’d want to be in considering “they would never do that” seems to fail awfully often nowadays.
I don’t blame Scholz for the stance he’s taking though, if anything it’s a reflection of German public opinion: too preoccupied with bickering about Covid restrictions and shutting down coal mines. These days it seems like Germans would rather start speaking Russian than turn their nuclear power plants back on.
I wonder if we’re living through a weird kind of secular cycle. One not defined by Malthusian scarcity, but by an overabundance of safety and luxury. One where people of rich countries become so feeble that not only are they unwilling to fight for freedom, they won’t even accept a temporary decline in living standards for it. Until civilization collapses, at which point it makes sense to pick up arms again because their lives and livelihoods by then will be in danger regardless of whether they resist or not.
I think one has to look at what one can “afford” on different time scales. The answer can be quite different in the short run than with more time.
Of course, technically you are right. Germany could afford harsh sanctions against Russia even in the short term, in the sense that it will not be the end of Germany. However, living in Germany, I like to have electricity. And in winter I do like to have heating, too (the building I am living in is heated with natural gas—gas has a market share for heating of 48% in Germany, and district heating 14%, from which 42% are produced by gas, too). It is not only about “higher gas prices”—without Russian gas (and Russian coal) it is questionable if there will be enough energy available for electricity production and heating.
So, the main problem from my perspective isn’t the short term reluctance to risk Germany’s energy supply. The problem is that Germany has allowed itself to be dependent on such a highly unreliable energy source as Russia. And that one hasn’t invested in at least the option to use alternative sources, e.g., building a LNG terminal to be able to import gas from other sources (US, Qatar) - I believe mostly due to ideological reasons (gas is “bad” because it is a fossile fuel). And less than two months ago three additional nuclear power plants were shut down on schedule while the conflict between Russia and Ukraine was heating up.
When it comes to defense spending I believe there are different reasons for Germany’s unwillingness to do more: One factor is a highly naive reliance on an idealistic theory of foreign relations (that morality and international law trump national interests). Another factor is that it has worked in the past—during the cold war there was constant complaining by the US that the European countries should do more to defend themselves. Then there is the feeling that the threat to Germany is much less than during the cold war, Putin’s Russia is not seen as having aspirations to conquer Germany or all of Europe—quite different from the universalistic ideology of communism or from Hitler’s territorial aims (and I believe that assessment is actually somewhat correct—for Russia a neutral Germany would be more beneficial than a Germany under Russian rule—as with Sweden’s neutrality for Germany during WWII ). And, as a result of two lost world wars, Germany has become deeply pacifistic. All those reasons have led to a motivated blindness towards Putin’s aims and actions. I am quite curious whether this will change now (but I somehow doubt it).
That’s an excellent point, and I have to admit that I’m also a victim to the Germany-is-safe-the-West-will-defend-us-Putin-can’t-be-that-insane mindset. It’s kind of horrifying that you’re right about the defensive state… the more I think about it, the more it becomes obvious how much the public, including me, is still in denial about how important this war is and how dependant Germany would be on the NATO for any defenses at all.
I genuinely don’t understand why the government hasn’t already done pretty much everything they can to erase the dependance on Russian energy like, two days ago.
This oh-they-won’t-hurt-us mindset might really be a result of being used to wealth and safety over here. Incredibly few people seem to actually believe that Germany could be in direct danger. At this point, i’ve definitely had the tought of packing my bags and convincing my family to leave the country as soon asthere are any signs that it doesn’t stop with the Ukraine, but it’s still an ugh-thought that seems so far away.
Well, technically speaking, Germany is safe, at the moment. There are still a few countries between Germany and the Russia-owned places. If Germany keeps its cavalier attitude, USA is still happy to help them (for now; another president may change the policy). Or maybe those countries will succeed to defend themselves; if Finland resisted the Soviet Union successfully in 1940, maybe Poland will do the same in 2030… assuming that Russia will not use the nukes. Even if they fall, they can still buy Germany a few decades; and who knows, maybe a few decades latter Russia will have a different problem, perhaps a war with China, or a revolution, or maybe the artificial intelligence will kill us all.
However, Germany seems to change its mind, and will provide some actual help (source).
A lot of people (not in this thread) have been generalizing from America’s difficulties with the Taliban to what Russia might expect, should they conquer the Ukraine. I do not think that the experiences will resemble one another as much as might be expected, because I think insurgencies require cooperative civilian populaces in which to conceal themselves, and I expect Russia’s rules of engagement will discourage most civilians from supporting the Ukrainian partisans.
Agreed. Afghanistan was an asymmetric war, which is to say asymmetrically in favor of the Taliban. If Afghan civilians refuse to cooperate with the Americans, not much happens. If they refuse to cooperate with the Taliban, they and their families may get tortured/killed.
You talking about their war in Afghanistan or our war in Afghanistan? ;)
I saw in a documentary where Afghans didn’t realize they were being invaded by a different world power than in the 80s.
Nevertheless, the taliban didn’t exactly exist while the Russians were there, and the Mujahideen pushed them back all the same.
Does anyone here have good predictions, or better-operationalized questions, as to the extent to which Russia will/won’t find occupying Ukraine to be a huge headache in the way that the US found occupying Afghanistan to be a huge headache?
Here, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution shares his thoughts about possible parallels with Afghanistan, but more with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan: Could Ukraine be Putin’s Afghanistan?
He doen’t really answer this, but gives a couple of questions on which an answer could hinge:
Which state or states will be the frontline sponsor? [Pakistan in the case of Afghanistan]
Are they ready to take the heat from Russia?
How much support will the United States and NATO provide?
Will the insurgency spark a broader conflict, and can it be contained?
Are Ukrainians prepared to pay the price?
Say more? What can we say about the goals of Russia / Putin? It would be WWIII-ish if those goals involved something as ambitious as Hitler’s, regardless of EU/Anglophone plans. (I buy that WWI-ishness seems less likely, just on the basis of people seeming to like business more than war.)
Is there any particular reason to think that Putin is likely to try invading the Baltics? Let alone attempting to forcefully recreate the Warsaw pact with invading Poland/Czechia/Hungary?
I mean certainly, if Putin decides that WW3 is worth grabbing EU members back, it could happen. And there is always a tiny chance that he will think the West won’t fight over the Baltics, while the West actually will—but this seems to me to be a really low probability thing, and more importantly, what is happening in Ukraine tells us very little about whether that will happen.
To be clear: The Western governments told Putin, in every possible non-explicit and explicit way, that they would do nothing to physically try to stop him from taking Ukraine, but that they would attempt to harm his country through economic mechanisms. Putin did not do a Hitler like gamble of risking a world war, Putin knew with certainty that the only military force he would be fighting was Ukranian.
This is not evidence that he is willing to risk nuclear war, or actually try invading NATO members in hopes that NATO doesn’t defend them. He might be—but your estimate on that should be roughly the same today as it was yesterday.
I just don’t know about any of this stuff, so the update was “Oh Putin has boots on the ground to take territory, maybe he has ambitious goals”. The loose analogy would be to the Anschluss of Austria (forbidden by Versailles, but IIUC Austria wasn’t allied with Britain or France), with the Baltic states being analogous to Czechoslovakia (which was allies with France, but which was more or less abandoned to Hitler). (This is maybe/probably a terrible analogy, e.g. because NATO will be more solid, but I’m just ignorant.) Do you think Putin has very ambitious goals?
I think a key difference is the presence of NATO troops in the Baltic states (NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, Baltic Air Policing). Militarily, those are only a tripwire, but killing US pilots in an attack on the Baltic states seems to me a very dangerous move.
If France and England had had garrisons in Czechoslovakia, then 1938 could have played out quite differently.
On Monday (21st) Putin stated, in the translation on the Kremlin website, that the setting up of the Union Republics of the USSR in 1922 (which included the three Baltic states) involved transferring the territory and “the population of what was historically Russia” to the new states. He described the principles used as “not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake”, and as “odious and utopian fantasies”. He lamented “the collapse of the historical Russia known as the USSR”. He does go onto discussing Ukraine specifically, but on the basis of that speech he thinks that the Baltic states should still be part of Russia. I understand he has said similar things previously, though I haven’t read them myself. Still some way off stating that he will invade a NATO country, but not exactly ideal, particularly given what’s happened to other countries that Putin thinks should still be part of Russia.
Interesting reading Monday’s speech how much detail he goes into about how badly Ukraine is doing economically—feels a lot like projection, with the ghosts of Russia’s own poor economic performance and the significantly better relative performance of the Eastern European EU states hovering in the background. Easy to imagine him obsessing about the Polish growth miracle as compared to his failure to create a Russian economy that isn’t dependent on exporting natural resources.
The setting up of the SU in 1922 did not include the Baltic states—these were independent states from 1918 until 1940 (and I don’t think that in Monday’s speech Putin contradicted that).
Parties to the Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 were only:
- Russian SFSR
- Ukrainian SSR
- Byelorussian SSR
- Transcaucasian SFSR
Ah, thank you! I was completely wrong, ignore me
Nevertheless, I am quite confident that Putin could come up with historical arguments for invading the Baltic states, too. E.g., that the Baltic states were part of Russia for more than a century and had gotten their independence primarily from the German occupation forces at the end of WW I.
“but it has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare.”
I’m not sure this is quite right. Nordic and Portuguese language news sources have described civilians being trained for guerrilla or guerrilla-like activity for the last couple of weeks. A Danish newspaper had a picture of (older) children practicing throwing grenades this weekend. I have little idea about the extent of this training and it may very well be limited, but it is not completely absent.
However the military academics I have talked to today seem to think that guerrilla activity will be central to the defense of Ukraine, either after the military is defeated or after it folds deliberately to allow for a more organized insurgency.
Dominic Cummings’s Twitter seems fairly high-information/low-noise re: Ukraine, to me. (ETA: at least for beginners like me who like to see background facts made explicit / sourced.)
Particularly interesting: he retweets someone saying that this morning: “Hard to tell with certainty, but most likely it means that [Russia’s] nuclear command and control system received what is known as a preliminary command.” (Link)
I’m not overly concerned with the news from this morning. In fact I expected them to raise the nuclear force readiness prior to or simultaneously to commencing the invasion, not now, which is expected going into a time of conflict/high tension from normal peacetime readiness. I had about a 5% chance this will escalate to a nuclear war going into it, and it’s not much different now, certainly not above 10% (For context, my odds of escalation to full countervalue exchange in a US intervention in a Taiwan reunification campaign would be about 75%). Virtually all that probability is split between unfavorable developments dragging in NATO and accidents/miscalculation risk, which is elevated during tense times like this (something like, if the Russians had misinterpreted the attack submarine which entered their territorial waters last week as being a ballistic missile submarine sneaking up close to launch a first strike, or an early warning radar fluke/misidentification being taken seriously when it would’ve been dismissed during peacetime, either of which could’ve caused them to launch on warning).
Unintentional nuclear exchange will have no preceding signs, but unfavorable developments will, for example a NATO shootdown of a Russian plane or Russian fire straying over the border killing NATO troops which begins an escalation spiral. If we start seeing such incidents being reported, I would tell all my LW friends to get the fuck out of NATO cities they’re living in immediately.
Um, well, gosh. I have been estimating the odds of nuclear exchange as quite a lot below 5%. Why is your estimate so high?
Oh and also, there’s potential for this to lead to a coup/domestic upheaval/regime change in Russia which would be an exceptionally volatile situation, kind of like having 6000 loose nukes until whoever takes power consolidates control including over the strategic forces again. So factoring that in, it should perhaps be over 5%. But again there should be advance warning for those developments inside Russia.
I don’t know much about coups, but if there was any advance warnings for everyone to see, then the regime would know what’s coming too and would presumably prevent it?
5% would be by the end of all this. Most of that probability comes from things developing in an unfortunate direction as I said, which would mean it goes against the current indications we have of neither the US nor NATO intervening militarily. This could be either them changing their minds, perhaps due to unexpectedly brutal Russian conduct during the war leading to a decision to impose a no-fly zone or something like that, or a cycle of retaliatory escalation due to unintended spillover of the war like I illustrated. Neither is too likely imo, and both will have advance warning if you’re paying any attention luckily. The risk of a sudden nuclear exchange which doesn’t even give enough warning for Americans to leave their cities is definitely lower, maybe 2% at most. But it’s definitely present as well, due to the misjudgment risks etc. as I mentioned.
Also, see the comments I just wrote on EA Forum.
I will add that we do not know what the probability of nuclear escalation was during the Cold War. Perhaps there was a 50 or 90 percent risk of war. Survivorship bias.
That doesn’t sound right. A nuclear war would not have ended humanity. The fact that we’re looking back upon a history where no nuclear war has occurred is evidence against a high risk of war being present during the Cold War. The fact that we’re looking back upon multiple “close calls” in the past is an indication that those calls weren’t that close after all.
Yes, a nuclear war would not destroy humanity completely. This is not relevant to this issue. From the fact that there was no nuclear war, we cannot deduce in any way what its probability was. The probability can be deduced only from a thorough assessment of the incidents themselves (the Caribbean crisis and 1983 and other examples) and the possibilities of other incidents.
I hope the translator translated it correctly...
Good point. Unless of course one is more likely to be born into universes with high human populations than universes with low human populations, because there are more ‘brains available to be born into’. Hard to say.
I don’t think an all-out nuclear war would even substantially (i.e. by orders of magnitude) reduce world population, though this claim is a bit more controversial. That may sound morbid but it’s what is relevant for anthropics.
Good point. In my understanding it could go either way, but I’m open to the idea that the worst disasters are less than 50% likely, given a nuclear war.
For epistemic rigor, a twitter thread shaming those who ridiculed the possibility of invasion: https://twitter.com/TheWastingTimes/status/1496833812621557761
My first thought was: “All predictions are probabilistic, ridiculing people who guessed wrong is only going to discourage making clear predictions.”
But then I looked at those predictions, and many of them were expressing high confidence and ridiculing those who disagreed, so I guess this is deserved. Otherwise we will have asymmetric incentives where making certain type of predictions will be socially punished, but making predictions in the opposite directions will be safe. (It also reminds me of some of my contacts on facebook, who are often very confident about the predictions, and when they turn out to be wrong, they just stop commenting on that topic for a while, and then continue predicting something else with the same confidence.)
Yeah I saw a few in there that were just like, “I can’t see an argument for invading. It just doesn’t make sense to me”, and I have a lot of sympathy for them, but the people who mocked the idea?
There are a lot of journalists who… maybe shouldn’t get to work again?
I must say that I am very surprised. I was completely not worried about Russia supporting the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia supporting Russian-speaking regions full of Russians who seem to not want to be a part of Ukraine—that makes a lot of sense in my head.
I hadn’t expected Russia to attack the rest of Ukraine. I don’t see what there is to gain for them there?
I’m watching the official Dutch news (NOS) and they claim Russian tanks and troops are rolling into Ukraine from all sides, from the east, from Belarussia and from Crimae. There is some evidence for Russian tanks and troops indeed crossing some borders, but I’ve not seen evidence of land units deeper into Ukraine, beyond the easternmost regions where conflict has been raging for years?
I can imagine things being better than expected if reports of Russian land units in western Ukrain are exaggerated. But if Russia is truly waging war against the entire Ukrainian state, I expect things to turn out quite badly. This will create massive tensions in Europe. Russia might be completely cut off from the West, which also means ‘we’ Europeans can’t rely on Russian gas anymore. Energy prices are already very high.
This could cause all kinds of unforeseen consequences, like how COVID went from a pandemic to BLM riots in a couple of months.
Update, 5 hours later: more pieces of evidence have emerged, indicating that land units are actually advancing deeper into Ukraine. This is bad.
This could plausibly be because the war is already priced in. A lot of money is at stake, and I guess many players had good estimates about it.
Good Judgement has been predicting a military conflict with more than 50% for some months now:
Russia attacking the rest of Ukraine may be a tactic to keep Ukraine from concentrating it’s forces in the east, rather than an attempt to take significant territory. It’s still possible Russia will stop and consolidate gains after taking a chunk of the east (like in Georgia and Crimea).
Occupying Kiev is the kind of thing where cheap weapons (missiles) can destroy expensive weapons (tanks), and is probably very undesirable, depending on how many of those cheap weapons have gotten and will get to Ukrainians. It might be possible to install a puppet government with minimal losses, though.
Russian troops on CNN 15 miles outside of Kyiv.
I agree, since the start of the rumblings, I had updated from (significant territorial gains to Dnieper and maybe Odessa region) to (integrating Luhansk and Donetsk with fighting in other parts of Eastern Ukraine). Putin got me there.
However, the initial reporting making it sound like an all-out invasion is happening is based largely on missile attacks, so it’s possible that we’re just seeing forward strikes and fighting could remain in the East (including Northern East). Kyiv is of course eventually on the radar in any situation. But “invading from Belarus” would be very different if it were into Volyn and Rivne vs. Chernihiv (BBC says Chernihiv).
In my opinion, the US should be ranked above Britain and the EU. American meddling in Ukraine is the entire reason this war is happening. The whole point of the Russian attack is to keep Ukraine out of the American bloc. The United States is a world empire with a promethean ambition to reshape every society on earth in its own political and cultural image. Its military combatant commands claim the entire world as their theater of operations. This empire may be in decay, but for now, its ruling class still think the world is theirs.
I think this comment should be debated rather than downvoted.
I agree that the object-level claims should be debated. The tone renders me pretty pessimistic about anything useful coming out of responding to this comment in particular.
The tone in the first comment seems fine to me. (Not commenting on subsequent discussion.)
If I were nitpicking, I might suggest a phrasing that sounds less hyperbolic and charged, like:
… but I do consider this a little nitpicky.
‘X is the entire reason for Y’ is obvious hyperbole, but I could believe that Mitchell genuinely thinks it’s, say, 95% of the reason? If Mitchell’s actual models are extreme, then there’s value in him phrasing stuff in extreme-sounding ways in order to accurately communicate what a huge gulf there is between his models and other commenters’ models here.
Maybe a disclaimer ‘epistemic status: phrasing things a bit too strongly so I can concisely get my gist across’ or ‘cw: colloquial / imprecise language’ would help here?
Possibly this is just the wrong comments section for this sort of discussion. The two main things I want to be cautious of are (1) using downvotes here to express disagreement with a prima-facie ‘OK’ view of the world that hasn’t yet been discussed, and (2) using tone norms to make it hard to express certain world-models at all. Some world-models are inherently contentious-sounding, but might still be true.
(None of this, obviously, is me weighing in on whether Mitchell is in fact correct. It just seemed to me on a quick skim like a comment that should be at 0-12 karma, rather than at −21.)
To clarify: I think it’s OK to some degree to downvote stuff for being false—we do want to incentivize accuracy, after all. But I don’t think otherwise-OK comments should be downvoted for the −20 level merely for being mistaken. (Especially when they’re expressing a novel/interesting view that’s false for subtle reasons.)
I’m confused because the comment is at −12, and was around there when I left my first comment as well. Possibly you strong upvoted it, which doesn’t seem unreasonable to me because I agree −12 and −21 are pretty different, but it would mean we’re responding to moderately different context.
I’ve also seen lots of people describe reasons Russia/Putin might have felt that this was a defensive war, ways the US uses Russel conjugates to absolve itself while condemning the same behavior in other countries, etc. This is happening mostly on twitter, where I’ve done my best with my bubble but is not a medium known for facilitating nuance or a gentle tone. What those tweets did have was specific data for why they believe certain things (e.g. “here’s specific things the US did that are equivalent to Russia’s recent actions”, “here are NATO’s actions over the last 5 years and why Putin would reasonably find them threatening”). Those are specific epistemically legible claims that can be debated.
The original comment here doesn’t have any of that. If I were badly misinformed and wanted to learn, this doesn’t give me any hooks to investigate on my own, and it signals that asking questions of the author will be taken poorly. I would vastly prefer the comment be rewritten with more vitriol and more specific claims than that it get your more hedged version.
My “tone” comment could have been a lot more precise. I didn’t mean the overconfidence (which I agree is pretty easy to translate, although I hate that still leaves ambiguity about exactly how strongly they mean the claim), but the “this is so obviously true I can be mean to you for not understanding it” tone, which I think is basically poison even when someone is 100% correct.
Yep, I strong-upvoted the comment (to move it closer to +5, which is around what I think it deserves). It was at around −20 karma when I did so, and would still be at around −20 karma if I withdrew my vote.
I guess it’s less useful to have a discussion on LW if it’s already happening on Twitter. (If that’s your point.)
At the same time, the claim that the US and NATO have a lot of responsibility seems plausible on its face, and ‘What would the norms ideally be around Russia’s behavior?’ is an interesting question.
I certainly don’t like the idea of LW being even worse than Twitter at good discussion and inquiry. The main message I inferred from the −20 downvotes was ‘any endorsement of this point of view will be downvoted to oblivion so that others can’t readily see or discuss it; but the reverse point of view is fine to take for granted here’. Twitter without any legibility or source-citing is already way better than that.
If the reason for the downvotes is to try to protect LW’s epistemic purity… well, take into account that others might read the −20 the same way I did, and for the sake of LW’s epistemic purity, be unusually clear and explicit about why you’re opting to hide the comment.
How many of the comments on this page meet that standard of rigor? I think if we were applying normal LW standards to the comment in question, then someone would step in to challenge the comment (ask for arguments/evidence), but we wouldn’t instantly downvote it to hell without any conversation.
Some reasons for the ‘you can say weird stuff and not be insta-downvoted’ norm:
It would just inhibit ordinary conversation too much to require everyone to cite all their possibly-disputable comments to that degree. It often makes more sense to wait for someone to request sources/arguments, rather than spending an hour doing a lit review only to find out no one cares.
Merely knowing that there’s disagreement about an important topic can be valuable, even if you don’t know why the disagreement exists. (Assuming it’s informed disagreement between LWers in good standing.) There are many, many cases where I’d rather someone post a contentious view to LW (without defending it) than that they stay silent (because they don’t want to write the comment if it’s that much of a time investment).
I’m still not seeing it. The comment seemed critical of the US government, but my mental model would have expected someone who wrote that comment to respond to pushback in a friendly and cordial manner.
I think there are a bunch of subtle things that make the tone feel very mild to me: the “In my opinion”, the moderately-short evenly spaced sentences ending in periods, the fancy aristocratic language (“promethean ambition”), etc. Even the shortness of the comment maybe makes it feel more relaxed to me; someone whose comment is that pithy is less likely to be having Angry Rant feelings.
I just read Mitchell’s second comment in the thread, which seems perfectly cordial and clear, and matches what I’d have predicted from the initial comment. (The second comment also stands at −4 karma, bizarrely.)
I feel much more confident now that the votes are just straightforwardly bad and partisan, and a poor reflection of LW’s core values.
Mitchell’s original comment now stands at 0, which is quite strong evidence to me that the existence of this discussion has itself led people to upvote it; which in turn further indicts the original downvotes, since a robust, defensible voting pattern should not be so easily overturned by a meta-discussion like this one.
For what it’s worth, when I first encountered Mitchell’s comment three days ago, it was at −4, and I strong-upvoted it only for it to then receive multiple strong-downvotes, further sinking its karma score; there was also a now-deleted response from user “lc” consisting of a single sentence to the effect of “I believe the invaders should die”, which, if memory serves correctly, had been upvoted to +7 at one point before deletion.
I think this is pretty obviously terrible, and find myself rather disappointed by the performance of the LW userbase in this case. Politics is the mind-killer, but it seems there are people here who are no less susceptible to mind-killing than the general population, which is frankly embarrassing.
In fairness, it only takes a few passionate downvoters to downvote something a lot, and a few passionate upvoters to cancel them out; it could be that I convinced a couple people but that the equilibrium will still be elsewhere.
Now who could’ve seen that coming.
Politics is the mind-killer, period. No ‘if’s and ’but’s
This is an analogy from HPMOR that I think should explain why I responded in the way I did. Frankly, I don’t know if I even disagree with the above poster. But my suspicion is that people like Mitchell feel obligated to blame the actions of Putin on the U.S., fundamentally, because they view the U.S. as their “slave nation”. There is an isolated demand for both competence and selflessness when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. In practice, Americans and their government are talked about like heroes in a Marvel movie, whom are simply expected to act optimally and then get criticized by their partners when they don’t. Authoritarian cabals like Putin’s are, at best, treated like a force of nature, and, at worst, instinctually respected for having the “courage” to just remove any external or internal dissent by force.
I try to bring up the invaders because the tendency is to treat the people who actually chose to invade Ukraine like they aren’t old enough to make their own decisions. Putin is not a CIA agent. He decided to invade Ukraine for very specific, political, reasons; reasons that I do not think have any serious underlying motivation in national security for Russia, and instead were almost entirely attributable to the success and popularity of his previous annexation of Crimea. I’d like to keep this comment up @lsusr, so tell me if it’s too political for the thread.
Lord Voldemort is the villain of HPMOR, not the hero. His words are those of a snake.
My priorities in moderating this comment thread are to ① maintain a welcoming environment to people living in countries on all sides of this conflict and ②to cultivate productive discourse. My commenting guidelines are instrumental toward achieving the aforestated objectives.
Discussing what the US and Putin should or shouldn’t do (from a geopolitical perspective) is allowed. Discussing what the US and Putin do or don’t get criticized for is off-topic because every famous person and institution gets lots of unjustified criticism. It happens when you’re a saint. It happens when you’re a supervillain.
The way to keep criticism from poisoning your mind and turning you into Lord Voldemort is to speak in the positive. Criticizing others’ criticism is unproductive.
Mitchell has not used the phrase “slave nation”.
I have already deleted one of your comments, not because it was political but because it was hateful.
I am hesitant to ban you from commenting on my posts because some of your comments have been very high quality. Alas, moderating your comments takes 100× the effort of moderating the average comment (which takes approximately zero effort). I am not a moderator and I do not want to become one. I will hold you to a higher bar than other commenters. If you write another comment that breaks the rules or which I feel is likely to lead to unproductive territory, I will ban you from commenting on my posts. This is your second warning. You will not get a third warning.
I will allow your comment to stay up. This conversation thread is now over.
(speaking as a LW mod, I super appreciate lsuser putting the time into moderating their posts on a tricky topic)
To be clear: I’m not advocating for debating Mitchell in this comment section. I don’t know what folks’ opportunity costs are; there may be more useful conversations for you to have, here or elsewhere. I’d be fine with a comment like this getting ignored-but-not-downvoted.
This may be a part of the reason, but far from “the entire reason”.
For example, you ignored all the bad experience Ukraine already had with Russia, which might have contributed to their desire to try something else for a change.
The other countries in the region decided to join NATO on their own (they were not invaded by USA, at least not literally). Any guess why? Looking at other nearby countries which are neither in NATO nor in EU, does it seem like their territories are getting somewhat smaller during the recent decades?
I am also curious, do you consider Western Europe to be “reshaped in American political and cultural image”? Like, sure they watch lots of Hollywood movies, but other than that, what specifically do you imagine would be different if USA isolated itself from the rest of the world? Because from my perspective, Western Europe seems to have enough independence and high quality of life (considering things like healthcare, perhaps even better quality of life than USA); and the people in Eastern Europe… well, dream about having the same.
The way the “realist” political scientist Mearsheimer puts it, is that small countries between large ones, need to be very careful about crossing the red lines of their powerful neighbors; and that the US has encouraged Ukraine to do just that, where Russia is concerned. He speaks as if it is due to shortsighted righteousness on the part of today’s American politicians and strategists; but enough of them also say that American policy opposes any single power achieving Eurasian hegemony, and hate Russia specifically, that one can reasonably view the policy of bringing Ukraine into western institutions, and arming it, as an anti-Russian policy; and whether Russia goes along with this, and is weakened, or resists it and gets tied down, will be viewed as a success. Creating problems next door to great-power rivals is a basic geopolitical gambit, e.g. Chinese support for Pakistan against India or for North Korea against Japan can probably be viewed this way, and I am sure history contains dozens of other examples.
One may ask, if some American Bismarck had explicitly said, after the cold war, we have enough NATO, and it shall not expand beyond Germany, or Poland, or wherever, would Ukraine still have ended up in a shooting war with Russia. I suppose it has some degree of possibility; but in this world, the US was always heavily involved,
As for American universalism, I don’t know if I am capable of listing all the ways in which American elites, especially liberals and progressives, think that American values and practices are for everyone. Political and economic systems, attitudes towards religion and race… From Woodrow Wilson in 1918, to the transformation of occupied Germany, Japan, and (much more recently) Iraq and Afghanistan, even through to European concerns today about missionary “wokeism”… To some extent the world was Europeanized after the industrial revolution, and one could argue that the world has been Americanized during the information revolution. One may again argue about cause and effect—was it sheer historical fortune (a fresh continent, a can-do culture) that gave America the potency to become what it is, or did specific cultural factors (religious and ideological universalism, intense commercialism) also presuppose it towards becoming this kind of power—but I don’t see how you can deny the universalism in American thinking.
On the other hand, Abkhazia, Alania, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan did not apply for NATO membership, and yet Russian Federation had armed conflicts with them. So, whatever would happen in a parallel universe is difficult to predict, but I would say that being a former Soviet republic gives you a significant chance of Russia wanting some piece back, sooner or later.
Speaking for myself, I was born and still live in Eastern Europe, grew up during socialism, both my parents were communists… and yet I strongly prefer the “American values”. Perhaps people in other parts of the world are also psychologically capable of enjoying freedom, or whatever specifically you consider to be exclusively “American”. Just like they can enjoy pizza despite not being Italians.
Do you believe that e.g. black Americans are genetically incompatible with “American values”? Because, you know, Eastern Europeans (such as Ukrainians) are genetically closer to white Americans than the black Americans are. Heck, even the Russians are closer.
Or do you assume it is all cultural? Well, sometimes cultures change. For example, Czechoslovakia wasn’t in the Russian sphere of influence before WW2; then it was; and then it wasn’t again. Is it wrong if Czechoslovakia after 1989 reverted to the values it had before WW2, just because by historical coincidence they happen to be similar to the American values? (Is there some rule like “once you were touched by Russia, you must remain culturally Russian forever”?)
The question is whether the “American values” are completely arbitrary, as you seem to assume. Like, some people prefer freedom, other people prefer slavery, neither is inherently more enjoyable, it’s all just a question of cultural brainwashing—if you believe that freedom is somehow preferable to slavery, apparently you were watching too many American movies.
Or maybe some of those values are just things that resonate with human nature, maybe with some hunter-gatherer egalitarian insticts that were for millenia suppressed but not completely eliminated by the forces of agrarian society, and now in the industrial society we can pay more attention to them again. Maybe no one ever really enjoyed being a serf, but for millenia people didn’t have much of a choice, and now they kinda do. And Americans were just the first who made this officially their national applause light; maybe because they founded their country at the right time, historically. (Actually, “liberty” was also an applause light of the French Revolution. So, maybe such ideas just happen naturally when you establish a country without a king, or an official equivalent of a king.)
Consider the fact that even in Russia today, thousands of people are in the streets, despite the fact that it will cost them a lot. So it makes sense to extrapolate that maybe hundreds of thousands also do not like the system, but are afraid to oppose it openly. In other words, you wish to protect people from something they want. You want them to stay in a system they hate. (Of course, not all of them. People are different. Just like in USA.) They should not be allowed to taste freedom, because Americans already have it copyrighted; and they should not be allowed to taste pizza, because Italians already have it copyrighted; no cultural appropriation!
Perhaps the Germans should revert to Nazism, because that is natural for them; that is what they would do in a parallel universe where Americans did not intervene, I guess. The Japanese should return to feudalism, the Indians should start burning widows again (okay, that was a British intervention, not American; but colonialism is bad either way, right?), and everyone outside of USA should disconnect from internet. That would make the world a much nicer place. /s
tl;dr—yes, Americans assume that the preference for “life, liberty, and pursuit for happiness” is a human universal, and although I am not an American, I personally happen to agree with them. I am not saying that all people are like that, but rather that in many cultures many people are naturally like that, and cultures typicallly have mechanisms to suppress this preference by force… which kinda proves that the preference has always existed, i.e. the Americans have natural cultural allies everywhere
I appreciate the concrete examples. Quickly having a look at them, it seems like the most recent conflict (involving Abkhazia and Georgia, starting 2008) was, in fact, immediately preceded by Georgia applying for NATO-membership, and NATO creating a plan for how they would become members, according to wikipedia.
It looks like the Chhechnyan, Dagestan, Moldovan, and Tajikistan conflicts all happened 1990-2000, which makes them slightly less relevant for predicting what might’ve happened today. (Though I could have missed some more recent events.) I couldn’t find info on Alania.
There are a lot of human values. It would be a profound and worthy achievement to understand the many civilizations of world history, in terms of which kind of values were foremost in their various sensibilities, successes and failures. Figuring out the ideal mix is even relevant to Less Wrong’s big picture—isn’t that what AGI alignment is about?
I don’t think anything I said is in contradiction with your assertion that the American civilization elevates certain values that have widespread appeal. My main point is that it is a missionary civilization which believes in actively spreading its favored values and social institutions, to all humanity if possible, and which uses all the Machiavellian tools of statecraft to do so.
If we compare America with China, then yes there is a huge difference, China seems to be happy enforcing its values within its historical territory, without much desire to expand. (I think so; maybe I missed something.)
If we compare America with Russia (and former Soviet Union), in my opinion Soviet Union / Russia is even more missionary… only less successful at doing so, but certainly not because of lack of trying.
Just look at the cold war in Europe. How often did Soviet Union intervene militarily in its vasal countries, just because they tried some outrageous idea such as “socialism with human face”? (Ironically, if you were a member of Warsaw Pact, you were more likely to be invaded by the Warsaw Pact than by NATO.) On the other hand, if a country in Western Europe tried something like “capitalism with universal health insurance”, America was cool about it.
So seems to me that although both countries are quite missionary, Russia is much more of a micromanager, and probably that is why it gets more resistance. If you are generally allied with America, then America is usually happy about it. If you are allied with Russia, once in a while you will still have Russian tanks rolling on your streets to remind you that you got some detail wrong. So it is quite difficult to be friends with Russia, even if you try.
In a different context, sure, let’s talk about how USA sucks. But in a context of Russia, such comparisons are absurd, because whatever bad thing USA has, Russia has as least twice as much of it. (Even the slavery? Ha! There were ethnic groups in Soviet Union who would have loved to get an opportunity to be merely enslaved.)
I am not so sure whether it makes sense to put Russia and the SU in the same category when it comes to being missionary. The ideology of the SU was basically universal—an ideal end state would have been the conversion of every country in the world to communism. For Russia I don’t see that. Getting the former parts of the Russian empire back, yes, maybe being the leading slavonic country (especially an important motivation until 1917). But would Russia care how, e.g., Spain was governed? I don’t think so (SU or USA would care).
Ok, this makes sense. After the fall of Soviet Union, Russia got defensive rather than missionary. Still “the best defense is a good offense”, but the ambitions to conquer other countries are now proportional to their geographical distance.
I think that is an important distinction you are making. Russia’s (and Putin’s) motivations for aggression seem to be primarily defensive, made from a position of weakness, of vulnerability (which can make them extremely dangerous). That wasn’t the case with the SU.
I can’t see how this is argument in good faith. Your choice of using Russia instead of USSR feels intentionally misleading.
Was Russia not the dominant force within USSR, the “unbreakable union of free republics, forever united by Great Russia”?
(Yes, I know that Stalin was not ethnicaly Russian. Anything else?)
Russia was the dominant force in the USSR. It is perfectly reasonable to treat the USSR as red paint over a Russian Empire, especially considering the geopolitical framework from which I wrote the original post.
Have you heard about Communist Party?
“but I don’t see how you can deny the universalism in American thinking. ”
I don’t think you can deny the universalism in any other big power’s thinking either. I mean, in a time where you have an autocrat risking nuclear war for an sheer power grab (no, I don’t think Russia has anything to fear from NATO with a 7000 nuke arsenal, that’s 19th century talk, no one buys that excuse), your timing couldn’t be more ironic blaming it all on the US.
I’m glad for the Europeanization of the world. It wasn’t done properly in the first centuries, but if it wasn’t for it the millions of people living in the rest of the world wouldn’t have a tenth of the quality of life that they have today. I’m glad that Europe has conquered the world culture, because not only it drastically improves the average person’s life, it also prevents other less desirable cultures from doing it. Try to put any other big power in the place of it… We’d be living horrible lives today. (And I can assure you they’d have done it, and in a way less desirable way in many aspects).
In 2000, Putin considered joining NATO. According to some sources, we weren’t to keen on it. Massive mistake. Today we wouldn’t be on the brink of a large war, and China wouldn’t be half the threat.
I am curious, how would the “Putin in NATO situation” actually work?
Imagine that Putin invades Moldova, Moldova fights back… are now all NATO members obligated to attack Moldova? Or do you assume that in the parallel universe, Putin would not invade Moldova?
In other words, could Putin simply leverage his NATO membership into conquering the former territories of Soviet Union? What exactly would have prevented him from doing so?
NATO is a defensive organization. Article 5 says “an attack on a member is an attack on all members”. So far is was only activated once, due to the 9/11 attacks. Yet the US has been in many wars since it joined NATO.
I expect there are rules in NATO’s treaties for this kind of problems. And NATO membership, just like EU membership, comes with strings attached.
Yes, according to the NATO treaty there is only support for a victim of an attack. Here is the relevant Article 5 of the NATO treaty:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.” (NATO)
[emphasis by me]
As far as I remember, Turkey and Greece, NATO members, were at war with each other.
My understanding is that if Greece and Turkey decide to go to war over Cyprus NATO would not be compelled to intervene one way or the other. Presumably neither country would be silly enough to try invoking article 5 in the first place and the rest of the block would be heavily pushing the peace process.
I believe their last war ended 1922. But there were times when a next war between them seemed quiet likely and NATO spend a lot of energy discouraging both sides from open hostilities, if I remember correctly.
I was talking about the war in Cyprus.
Yes, two NATO members were involved on different sides in a civil war in a third (independent & non-NATO) country. I think that lies outside the scope of NATO’s Article 5.
If Russia were part of NATO, then something like that could have happened, too, e.g.:
Romanian and Russian troops fighting each other in a civil war in the Republic of Moldova.
I don’t think it was a massive mistake. Putin would still be the autocrat he is, his countrymen would still be supporting him on his military adventures. If anything Russia would be emboldened by their NATO membership status.
Look at how much headache Turkey has already caused. NATO would most likely have de facto fallen apart with a trojan horse as big as Russia, with the US falling back on bilateral defense treaties. Which I think was Putin’s true motivation anyway.
The US has had plenty of military ventures too, and not once was NATO called in, except for 9/11. NATO is only called in when you’re attacked first.
On one hand it’s not cool to have dictators on the board (still they are in the UN). But what we would gain: no current war on Ukraine (tragedy for Ukrainians and massive danger for the world), no China being half as much a threat (also a danger to the world). What we would lose: nothing, the downsides would be the same as they are today more or less.
Also, I don’t think NATO means “you can do what you want, we forgive you” either.
After all most of his bad deeds are from fear of losing ground to the West.
I am registering my prediction here that the Russian invasion will be astoundingly ineffective to most analysts. I have two reasons for this, and they’re both heuristics. First:
In adversarial games, I refuse to attribute to chance that which can be attributed to malice. I feel “foreign policy experts” are now making the same mistake that quant traders make when they build HFT algorithms. The U.S. government is giving Ukraine every bit of intelligence and weaponry they have, and one should not underestimate the amount of luck the military industrial complex can give a country. The strange and unexplained Russian logistical failures will continue because they are not spontaneous accidents.
Russia’s government is one of the largest moral mazes in the history of moral mazes. People have a bias toward thinking evil, authoritarian regimes are ipso facto competent. Whatever your impressions of the DMV, it is a hundred times more efficient and well organized than the Russian military bureaucracy. Recent reports I’ve read in the media (and I know lots of it is propaganda) hint more and more at this fact.
To make it concrete, even though there is a 40km long convoy headed towards Kiev right now, I think in five years there is a 60% chance Ukrainians will largely control Ukraine, and there’s a 40% chance that Ukraine will straightforwardly repel the invasion.
Update, 03/26: I was wrong in being so pessimistic. 90% chance Ukrainians will largely control ukraine & straightforwardly repel the invasion, with the exception of Donbas which I think will be a coin flip.
You’re forgetting that the situation might be mirrored on the other side. Sure the Ukrainian army is fighting bravely and patriotically now, but that doesn’t negate years of corruption and dysfunction beforehand if that is the case.
The difference is that the Ukrainian government is very properly motivated in a way to repel the invasion that is not at all mirrored by maze-killing motivation on the other side.
This comment is for soliciting good sources. In general, if you feel like something is a good source I want it, but concrete examples of the kind of things I mean:
Informed diplomatic commentary from the point of view of any of the important players: US, EU, Russia, Ukraine, China
Defense commentary from the same suite
Economic/market commentary (I am a little baffled about how a market is supposed to successfully predict a war, since a war is always strongly net-negative; intuitively the only option is moving money out or strong hedging activity).
This is the analysis I like the best so far.
Published 29th of January, 3 weeks before the invasion:
And followup, published 5th of March:
I don’t have any great recommendations, and I don’t have any primary sources. But a few of the sources I have found myself coming back to are:
SpeakTheTruth—Two US vets with a youtube channel. The are not trying to be neutral in the conflict, but I’ve found their commentary on the strategic and tactical situation more informed and in-depth than most other sources. One of them speaks some Russian, and have previously visited Ukraine. I don’t know or care about any of their other content or opinions.
James Acton—Has seemed like a generally sane commentator to me, but I don’t know of him from before this conflict.
RT—Russia Today—Russian state sponsored news agency. Terrible as anyone’s only source of news, but very interesting point of comparison. Some articles are clearly much more heavily biased than others. Overall the level of censorship is lower than I was expecting. Sputnik is another example.
I appreciate the inclusion of information Russian people are seeing. I haven’t encountered anything reasonable about how the Russian public feels about the invasion, other than selected highlights of protests or captured soldiers being confused, which clearly cannot be relied on to paint the full picture.
Quick note on “Ukraine…has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare.” I am sure that Ukraine has not engaged in public programs to turn a significant percentage of its population into capable guerrilla fighters.
However, from my sources in the NATO deployments, the Ukrainian irregulars and volunteers have been rigorously trained in “…irregular warfare” in significant numbers—to quote my sources. Will provide more rigorous and structure info shortly.
The Pentagon Press secretary John Kirby tweeted today “Russian claims that the United States was involved in any way with Ukrainian naval operations near the Zmiiny Island are false. We did not provide ISR or any other support. Chalk this up to just one more lie by the Russian Ministry of Defense.”
This seems to me a very worrying development—whether the US are really involved directly with Ukraine’s operations or not, if Russia thinks they are, this is bound to cause an escalation of the conflict. Especially with NATO moving troops toward it’s Eastern members—i.e. closer to Russia.
“The Russian government is spreading misinformation about US / NATO involvement” is a very different hypothesis from “The Russian government is mistaken about US / NATO involvement.”
Not unexpectedly, Europe is divided on the sanctions against Russia. Germany, Italy, Cyprus, and maybe the Netherlands seem to have blocked Russia’s exclusion from the international finance system SWIFT (Guardian).
One reason behind Germany’s position is the fear that without SWIFT it can’t pay for the Russian gas it depends on (FAZ—in German) for heating and for electricity.
Germany has updated its position and a SWIFT ban is now in the works: https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/26/politics/biden-ukraine-russia-swift/index.html
I really can’t understand Putin’s action here. The sanctions will actually cause of a lot of pain to the oligarchs, and so to Putin’s patronage networks, the cash control systems. These could have targetted by sanctions before but Putin always stayed just under the line.
But now, isn’t Putin trading away all of it? Or at least gambling everything? I actually feel like this invasino puts a timer on Putin’s Russia. It doesn’t make any sense.
The only expalanation I can come up with a terminal cancer diagnosis or something, so Putin just doesn’t care about Russia more than a few years in the future.
Just wildly speculating, but how about this:
First Putin conquers the whole Ukraine, or most of it. Then he agrees to leave most of it, (and only keep Crimea, Doneck, and some extra territory as a bonus) in return for having all sanctions lifted, plus a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO or EU, plus maybe some donation to Russian economy.
EDIT: Also, before Putin leaves Ukraine, all local people inconvenient for Russia will “accidentally” die.
I think that’s very close. It could also be up to discuss getting Baltic States out of NATO (Estland and Lettland), which border Russia. I think a security belt between NATO and Russia would be great for world peace.
I agree, perhaps St. Petersburg should secede from Russia and become a neutral buffer zone. For the sake of world peace.
It’s a funny joke.
You might want to edit this for clarity: in English Estland is Estonia and Letland is Latva. This was not immediately obvious to me on first glance.
I don’t see avenue for negotiations. Any attempts before was answered with “How dare you?!” and “This cannot stand!”. How do you think it was going to be now, after invasion? One reason I was thinking invasion is not possible was that. Complete break up of any cooperative relationship. But maybe Russia looks at it a bit differently: it is already pretty much completely broken, so what’s the point? (No excuse for shooting war though—I have no idea why that needed to happen)
Disclaimer, am Romanian so biased against Russia’s geopolitical agenda(which possibly runs through my country in the long run).
I think short term Ukrainian army folds(how much of it is russophile former soviet officers anyway? arguably same as in a lot of former Eastern bloc countries).
Short term questions
How big and serious will the insurgency be? I assume civilians are not heavily armed. I assume some organised groups will get some military gear. I assume some western weapons will get smuggled in.
Who will actually fight it? My very limited knowledge of Ukrainian irregular groups is that they’re all neo-nazis(this is partly Russian propaganda, but I don’t think it’s far off the mark). Presumably some grass-roots upheaval will happen as well, but will all the organizations be run by ultra-nationalists?
Will the EU bite the bullet and really embargo Russia? Probably not, but also maybe? 10% odds?
Can Russia actually pacify the huge mountainous region in Western Ukraine, that borders Poland and Romania?
Long term musing
I don’t see this stopping with Ukraine. There’s a Russian army in Moldova’s breakaway, Transnistria. Putin has basically annexed Belarus. It seems like the time for creating enclaves is over and the time for re-consolidating the Russian empire has begun. If Ukraine gets eaten up with little fuss, I have no doubt Georgia is next. After all, why stop?
This can plausibly escalate into annexing Moldova as well. The Baltic states are the first obvious NATO member target.
I don’t understand Putin’s goal here. He can’t absorb Ukraine. A puppet regime installed there would be facing civil war for years. Maybe he just wants a really serious distraction for local purposes? I just can’t accept that he has a genuine pseudo-religious belief in shit like http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181 or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundations_of_Geopolitics because if he does, we’re all in for it.
I think there’s a potential plan here of ‘establish Galicia-Volhynia* as a puppet’ and ‘incorporate eastern Ukraine’, possibly including a Partition-esque movement of people in both directions. But this makes more sense if the Ukrainian population is 20-50% in favor of being Russian, and it looks like the number is actually closer to 10%? Besides Crimea and the breakaway regions Russia has recognized, it’s not clear there’s all that much that will be worth the trouble to govern under protest.
*IMO superior to calling it something like “Lvivian Ukraine” in the style of Vichy France.
I found this analysis helpful.
Thanks for the link. I found it well thought out and plausible, but it seems strongly based on the assumption that Russia will remain isolated from the global financial system for the next 5-20 year timeframe discussed in the article. Is that a reasonable assumption? Although Russia is a pariah now, once the hostilities have ended I would guess the sanctions will be lifted over time, since they are also expensive for the West to maintain.
I think his point is that Europe will wean themselves off of Russian energy ASAP, and that energy is Russia’s main export. Removing sanctions won’t matter if no one is buying what Russia is selling.
Hence his prediction of radical dependence on China. He’s suggesting China will become Russia’s only relevant customer.
Yeah, I like his prediction that if Europe stops buying Russian energy it could force Russia into greater economic dependence on China. I’m wondering how likely Europe is to actually move away from Russian energy though. It sounds like the obvious thing to do, but I don’t know from a practical standpoint how easy it would be without causing a lot of disruption in the short to medium term. I doubt they can just flip a switch and convert to new energy sources overnight, especially in Eastern Europe which is heavily reliant on Russian supply.
I think the longer the war lasts, the more likely it is for Europe to move away from Russian energy. But if the war ends relatively quickly, the motivation to do so might fade away due to economic considerations as well as general inertia/political difficulty when trying to make substantial changes.
Prediction: Ukraine is going to win the war. (60%).
Seems like this could use operationalization.
Ukraine recovers its territory including Crimea.
Came here to post something along these lines. One very extensive commentary with reasons for this is in https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1497993363076915204 (warning: long thread). Will summarize when I can get to laptop later tonight, or other people are welcome to do it.
What are the causes of your prediction?
(Funnily enough, it seems that in Ukraine, most news is now narrowly focused on some very particular issue/geographical object/… and so things don’t appear “more” or “less” historical. I wonder what ends up actually important, and what is simply important-but-unreported, but right now I can’t sort it out. At least celebrity gossip is down.)
That is not obvious at all to me. There is no formal defense treaty between the US and Taiwan either. In fact I’m seeing a lot of parallels here with Ukraine.
The US is critically dependent on the production of microchips in Taiwan, there are only economic reasons. The United States has no economic interests in Ukraine.
I’m not very well-versed in history so I would appreciate some thoughts from people here who may know more than I. Two questions:
While it seems to be the general consensus that Putin’s invasion is largely founded on his ‘unfair’ desire to reestablish the glory of the Soviet Union, a few people I know argue that much of this invasion is more the consequence of other nations’ failures. Primarily, they focus on Ukraine’s failure to respect the Minsk agreements, and NATO’s expansion eastwards despite their implications/direct statements (not sure which one, I’m hearing different things) that they wouldn’t. Any thoughts on the likelihood of Putin still invading Ukraine had those not happened?
Is the United State’s condemnation of this invasion hypocritical to many of their actions? I’ve heard the United States actions in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia brought up as points to support this.
My understanding is that many of these talking points are unfairly slanted in Russia’s favor, and that the situation seems manufactured by the Russian government in order to justify an invasion. [For example, the breakaway republics to the east are in regions where opinion polls are not in favor of secession from the Ukraine, but fighting has been ongoing for years in part because of Russian support of the separatist groups.]
My sense of the situation is that, given Russia thinks it could win a war, what treaty could have been offered that would seem superior to them? [Especially given that part of the benefit of fighting the war is the practice for future wars.]
The American Government says lots of hypocritical things about regime change and interfering with elections and so on; I think this is bad and wish they wouldn’t do it.
Imagine if reaction to this war was like reaction to Iraq. That is scary even for me—as ethnically Russian I feel measure of personal responsibility for this. I did not want Russia to become the second US. But at the same time the difference is striking.
UPD: I am talking about reaction in West, here in Kyrgyzstan reactions are about the same—yeah,”wish they wouldn’t do it” (careful, low confidence, it is hard to judge general public opinion by few datapoints)
Failure? Putin can’t win hearts and minds, so NATO is to blame for not delivering those things to him on a silver platter?
Damn straight the US is being hypocritical. No one cares any more, years of Russian whataboutism-propaganda has seen to that.
Although I agree with you, other perspectives are also possible, where this expectation seems less absurd. For example, Stalin got delivered a lot on silver platter in Yalta 1945; and Ukraine was just a small part of it. Why does the West suddenly have a problem with that?
I can imagine that from Putin’s perspective it may seem like: “why the fuck does NATO intervene in internal affairs of the former Soviet Union?”
Not sure if this would be a good analogy, but imagine USA during the Civil War. If another country started providing military support to Confederacy, I suppose the leaders of the Union would perceive it as interfering in American internal affairs, regardless of the fact that technically at that moment the Confederacy was a separate country. -- Try to imagine Putin as a “Lincoln of Soviet Union”, kind of, liberating Ukraine against its will from the “slavery” of the decadent Western civilization.
We didn’t deliver any of it to Stalin, the red army took Eastern Europe by force.
Sure, Putin may think that. In other news, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi thought that half the world rightfully belonged to his Islamic Caliphate.
In my (arguably naive, but who knows) view, the West’s policy with regard to Russia over the last 20 years has been based on the fallacy of “we shouldn’t do X because X might offend Russia”. As if international politics was like a family gathering at the dinner table, arguing but ultimately not wanting to hurt each other’s feelings too much. This analogy may work to an extent within a community of democratic countries where public dissent has an influence on policymakers at every moment.
But with autocratic countries, past favors, principles, values and public opinion don’t matter as long as it doesn’t boil over to the point of overthrowing the government outright. There are people in western governments who believe we must maintain good relations with Russia to counterbalance China. That is just absolutely bonkers to me.
“Good relations” is not a thing with dictatorships. It can do a 180°-turn at the whim of the supreme leader. Today’s brother-in-arms are tomorrow’s mortal enemies. There are rumors that Belarus might join the invasion of Ukraine. Is anyone even asking the question of “Do Belarusians support a war with their neighbor”, or “What do Belarusians think of Ukrainians”, or “Do these countries have common cultural heritage”? We all know it doesn’t matter.
This is not the beginning of a new Cold War. The Cold War was never over in the first place.
I think Putin could also take Ukraine by force if all the big players agreed to stay away and let him do it (just like they let Stalin take Eastern Europe).
Otherwise, I agree with what you wrote.
Yeah, I am not saying that we should take their side. But it may be instrumentally useful to understand the mental model of your opponent.
The Soviet Union collapsed, but Cheka/GPU/OGPU/NKGB/NKVD/MGB/KGB/FSB merely rebranded.
After studying the situation of Ukraine’s economy after 1991 in recent days, I am not surprised by those who think so.
I add that the precedent for Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea was called the independence and international recognition of Kosovo.
Kind of. “Why can they, but we can’t?”
The autonomy of Kosovo was approved by the UN Security Council, including Russia.
The mentioned resolution didn’t say anything about Kosovo independence.
Crimea was also an autonomy, but its independence and the referendum on joining the Russian Federation was not recognized in the world.
The Russian army is now about 15 kilometers from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. At least, it doesn’t look like the war can last long.
Will Russia invade only eastern Ukraine or the rest of Ukraine as well?
Military installations and airports thruout Ukraine have been attacked.