A Sleepwalker Stumbles on the Right Answer

As I write there are signs that Putin may be prepared to limit his ambitions and settle for some portion of east Ukraine.  President Zelensky may be prepared to accept a compromise of this nature simply in order to ease the suffering of his people.  That will ease the immediate human problem but the issue will not be resolved.  Putin’s long-term ambitions will not be assuaged.  Ukrainian resentment will not abate. 

But, more critically, Putin has undoubtedly committed war crimes.  Arguably he has committed them before, but this time the West in its customary impotence cannot credibly turn a blind eye.  Could it allow a Putin dominated Russia to remain on the UN Security Council or any other UN organisation?  Could it refrain from prosecuting Putin in the International Court of Justice?  Could it allow Russia to compete in sporting events?  Can we continue to indulge Putin continuing to thumb his nose at the world?

Putin cannot be allowed even the semblance of a victory – we cannot think that if we allow him a face-saving compromise that will be an end of the matter.

Of course, yes, we tolerate murderous dictators all the time as long as they confine their atrocities to their own people.  But pragmatic indifference can only be stretched so far.  This time Putin has gone beyond his own borders.  Surely this is a red line we cannot compromise. 

Putin must go, and obviously invading Russia and forcibly removing him is not a viable option. So, we must rely on Russia dispensing itself of the services of this abominable man.  If he prevails at all in Ukraine, if he is allowed to retain even the tiniest morsel of territory, the chances of him being removed are possibly an each-way bet at best.    But if he is massively defeated in Ukraine, the chances of him surviving are that much lower.  This includes recapture of all disputed areas, including Crimea.

This suggests serious boots-on-the-ground intervention on the part of NATO sooner rather than later.  The future of the separatist Donbas region must be decided by negotiation after the hostilities have well and truly ceased.  Ukraine may have to make some compromises there, but not with a Putin-led government. NATO could insist, as part of its intervention, that the status of the Donbas region be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, and that the resolution would be enforced by NATO if necessary.  Crimea should be returned to Ukraine in total.  And there is also the question of reparations for Ukraine.

There is no doubt that militarily NATO could eject Russia from Ukraine pretty swiftly.  But there are two complicating factors.  The first is the potential to draw China into the conflict.  I think that is highly unlikely. Putin will have lost huge face in China.  China might be prepared to withhold condemnation and even to militarily reinforce success on the part of Russia.  But why would it buy into what is now clearly a geopolitical and military disaster?  Beijing certainly won’t be inclined to reinforce failure, as there would be no upside for China other than the remote possibility of turning Russia into its vassal state.  In China’s foreign policy imperative rankings, self-interest takes gold, silver and bronze.  If, as has been suggested, China was using Ukraine as a test case for Taiwan, then surely the West should send them an unequivocal message.  They will not be unduly intimidated by a response based largely on economic sanctions.

And of course, there is the possibility of nuclear war.  Joe Hildebrand recently published a very insightful column (paywalled) explaining why Putin has no fear of the West.  He says, in relation to the Cuban missile crisis:

It was an extraordinary victory for world peace, yet it was only possible because of the threat of world war.

And then:

The problem for the current US president is that he has already taken that threat off the table, publicly declaring that he will not risk any direct confrontation with Russia.

“Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War 3, something we must strive to prevent,” Joe Biden said last week.

Of course that is absolutely true and that is exactly what he should be doing. But just because he is doing that doesn’t mean he should be saying it …

As a friend of mine with close links to foreign affairs types said: “Why the f*ck is Biden saying he’s not prepared to start World War 3? He should be saying he IS prepared to start it!”

If NATO were to intervene and confine itself to Ukraine, what are the odds Russia will initiate a nuclear response?  Putin might possibly use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield but that would be met with an equal response and would be manageable.  The real threat is, if cornered, Russia resorts to a strategic nuclear response targeting, say, Munich or some other significant European target.  If such a course were proposed, that might be the time when Russian pragmatists decide that Putin’s time has come.  They would know that such a course would invite a swift retaliatory response, probably on Moscow. It is likely that the Russian High Command, such as it is, would baulk at this. Still, it’s undoubtedly a risk.

How could this intervention legally be achieved?  Zelensky could make an application for immediate entry to NATO.  Assuming the normal bureaucratic obstacles could be overcome – the primary of which is that hitherto Ukraine has not been judged squeaky clean enough – on the basis of the exceptional circumstances applying, membership could be granted in a matter of days.  Yes, I am oversimplifying this.  Whether all NATO members, particularly Turkey, could be induced to sign up for this adventure is problematic and no doubt there are other obstacles.  And, while Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, it is an independent nation and a member of the United Nations.  Surely that counts for something?

Having said that, the following extract from Breitbart is telling:

The White House on Saturday moved quickly to clarify President Joe Biden’s comment about removing Russian President Vladimir Putin from power in a dramatic speech in Warsaw, Poland.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden cried out as he finished his speech. “God bless you all and may God defend our freedom.”

It was unclear whether or not Biden’s comment was part of his prepared text.

But the White House soon released a statement to reporters questioning Biden’s apparent call for regime change.

“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a statement attributed to a senior White House official read. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

For once, Sleepy Joe is ahead of his minders. 

I am just an armchair strategist and I recognize I have presented a simplistic argument.  I imagine there will be considerable legal and political impediments that would need to be overcome.  But, in principle, I think this is our Munich moment.  Whether the powers that be have the courage and foresight to seize it, remains to be seen.

22 thoughts on “A Sleepwalker Stumbles on the Right Answer

  • Brian Boru says:

    “And, while Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, it is an independent nation and a member of the United Nations. Surely that counts for something?”
    After Srebrenica and Rwanda I would not rely on the UN for even a split second in any conflict.

  • DougD says:

    “Surely this is a red line we cannot compromise. ” Better get the advice of Barak Obama on uncrossable red lines.

  • Sindri says:

    This hysteria among diplomatic and media types about Biden’s remark is a beatup. He was only saying what 99.99% of us think. When Ronald Reagan said in Berlin “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, the foreign affairs flunkies had a fit of the vapours, but it clearly stung Gorbachev, and the rest is history.

  • Occidental says:

    Peter while I agree with your sentiments, and believe this should be the time that western democracies become galvanised in opposition to authoritarian regimes, all indications are to the opposite. There is probably no better demonstration of where the Europeans stand than their continued trade with Russia through Belarus. The baltic states and Poland want it closed off but western Europe is happy to keep sending thousand of trucks to Russia selling anything the ruskies want. Europe is having none of your Munich moment, and the US reluctance to enable the transfer of soviet era jets to Ukraine shows how serious it is. The whole SWIFT saga was just a beat up to try and convince the ingenuous western voter that our governments are tough when of course they are nothing of the sort. Quite sad really.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Occidental, yes I have no real hope that my scenario will materialize. I notice that everyone is pushing back against Sleepy Joe – such an anathema, apparently, to talk about ‘regime change’. Certainly it would be better not to push that line explicitly but just get on with the job, ostensibly to preserve Ukraine – a worthy aim in itself – but I’m convinced would likely result in the overthrow of Putin, something no-one could deplore. Cancelling Putin is a big job but a damn sight easier than cancelling Russia, and this is the best opportunity the West will have to do that. Particularly considering the Ukrainians have done all the hard yards

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    Thank you Mr. O’Brien, your take on the conflict is living proof that we Westerners are the end result of some excellent brainwashing over the years. White hats and Black hats as it were where the USA can do whatever it likes with impunity and Russia is always wrong, and they are lots of times, but not always. May one ask where you get your knowledge, have you lived in either country, have you worked in either country, are you married to, or in a relationship with someone from either country, are you forebears from either country, have you read your history? Have you studied up on past presidents of Ukraine, do you know that a few have been charged with treason because they were/are corrupt, do you know that they are as bad or even worse than President Putin. And the bio weapons labs, the Biden Junior involvement the theft of Russian gas from the original pipeline crossing Ukraine, the poor Mr. Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy the supposed Jewish fellow who isn’t a Jew but a Christian playing the part he is well equipped to play since his daily crust was earned as a comedian, the bloke who shuts down TV stations who air stuff he doesn’t like. Putin does that too, but he has his reasons and basically they are reasons because of troubles stirred up or fuelled by the USA, you know that proud nation who used the Gulf of Tonkin incident that wasn’t, to go full bore into Vietnam, the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that didn’t exist, the fiasco in Afghanistan, and are now for all intents and purposes using Ukraine as a de facto stalking horse to have a shot at Russia. My Russian born wife would agree with you, I don’t sir, and you know what I think the root cause is, it was Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev giving the Crimea to the Ukraine when to put it politely he was as nissed as a pewt. That people suffer and die is of no consequence to Putin, Zeelensyy, and Biden for they are not cannon fodder. That ironically we Westerners accuse President Putin of all sorts of draconian measures and suggest that people should smite him down when we have accepted these past two years absolute tyranny from our very own Governments here and to your credit Sir, you have spoken against them.

  • Michael says:

    If you declare you’re never going to use nuclear weapons, there is no point having them. The deterrent value of nukes comes down to a credible technical capability (they work and can be effectively delivered) and a credible willingness to use them when required.

  • Occidental says:

    Hey Botswana, and the relevance of your comments to the above article?

  • 27hugo27 says:

    Ah , now we have a villain to distract us from the real problems facing the west . Cannot believe the global chorus of media and Govts condemning Putin for being what he is . The scorpion and the frog , anyone? This should be Germany’s and Europe’s mess to clean up and pay their Nato way , not give Biden and co a chance to act the good guys and talk tough . Personally I’m more outraged by Trudope’s behaviour and Biden’s ascent to power , despite hoaxes, laptops, fondling and hair sniffing than Putin acting accordingly . The west is at war with itself , China ready to pounce on our self-destuction , and Identity politics bringing all public debates into high farce , with the white conservative community losing ground every day . Smollett, Smith , Sykes etc are glaring examples of our upside down world where every word is twisted to mean the opposite of reality and we are supposed to ignore the Emperor -has- no -clothes evil they are foisting on us . Masks , Vaccine passports , big tech malfeasance , political cowardice or outright arrogance in every western country – these are more worrying to me than Putin’s predictable shenanigans . Twice yearly jabs will be upon us , or punishment ensues , and apparently with consent of the masses . I dont recognise this modern world.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    Well Occidental, my point is that we should look at both sides of the coin for people like Mr. O’Brien really don’t for he hasn’t lived and worked there or has family there, I did, and have mate, so whilst not liking President Putin, I can see his point of view when others of we Westerners cannot simply because of the black hat/white hat outlook drummed into us from childhood.

  • Diane Burge says:

    Thank you 27hugo27 that is the article that should have been written. As I heard someone say “it’s all a puppet show” (except ordinary innocent people die.

  • Occidental says:

    Diane Burge, 27Hugo27, and Botswana, the issue in Ukraine is the same as you observing a 6foot4 bikie bashing an old lady in the street. I use that analogy merely because no one, even a chance observer, would countenance the possibility that the old lady instigated the assault. The question which each of us must answer is what would we do, would we, out of fear keep walking and try to forget we saw it, or would we attempt to protect the old lady. No one is seriously contending that Ukraine started attacking Russia, or was an immediate threat to Russia. Russia has launched an invasion of the country and Ukraines population are quite obviously resisting the invasion. The question is what do we as fellow travelers on the street do. Do we get involved in some way or do we walk on by. Putin is irrelevant, he is the product of his country’s political process. This is Russia’s invasion, and the question is what price if any should it and its population pay. I believe it should pay a hefty price so as to dissuade it and others from these activities in the future. The trouble is most countries governments and most people are like you, you don’t want to get involved, even if it only means paying more for fuel. Whether we or the US have done something similar in the past is a red herring. We are talking about the future, and the rules which should determine the conduct of countries.

  • Diane Burge says:

    Ukraine is not an old lady. It is a client state of the US which Russia did not want on its border. If you are so concerned about authoritarian governments, perhaps you should start closer to home.
    1. Banning early treatment drugs for Covid (efficacy of HCQ and IVM was known by mid 2020 before the “vaccines” were released). Our health experts would not even advise taking Vits A and C and Zinc.
    2. Prohibiting medical practitioners from giving any contrary advice on the vaccines on threat of deregistration.
    3. Ensuring the MSM followed the government “narrative”.
    4. Engendering fear and division in the community to ensure compliance.
    5. Pressuring people to be vaccinated on pain of losing their livelihoods.
    6. Continuing the mandates in the face of the evident failure of the “vaccines” and the deaths and injuries they have caused.
    This is not a government that has acted in the best interests of it’s people. The same can be said for your other “Western democracies”. Their “narrative” is now falling apart. Ukraine is a great distraction.

  • 27hugo27 says:

    Thank you, Diane, it appears we are on the same page. While agree with most of occidental’s thoughts, the Ukraine is not a little old lady on my street, but a geographical and political world away, with little relevance to us. Europe and the USA have scuttled their own energy industries before Putin, resulting in sky high fuel prices, courtesy of the green madness, yet are happy to pay Russia and the Middle East for oil and gas, while pretending to be tough on Putin. Its their mess, yet we are suffering huge inflation, travel restrictions now for fuel, hot on the heels of plandemic measures – honestly, the greens /dems/labor should be ecstatic but we know they never will. Power and control being the end game, and none of this is on Putin.

  • Peter Smith says:

    “Putin cannot be allowed even the semblance of a victory”
    Peter this is crazy stuff. One hundred and forty-six million people, vast area, vast resources. No guarantee at all that Putin’s ambitions aren’t shared by whoever would take over from him, if he were somehow deposed. Retake Crimea. That is surely a joke. No Russian leader is going to see that happen. Take into account national pride.
    “…serious boots-on-the-ground intervention on the part of NATO sooner rather than later.” Warmongering from an armchair. Give us all a break. Risking nuclear war is simply not on for the gain of not giving Putin anything.
    We allowed part of Cyprus to be taken and all of Tibet. The Donbas region and Crimea, and Ukraine neutrality, might be enough to give us peace and save many Ukrainian and Russian lives. Thereafter perhaps more attention can be given to ensuring the independence and territorial integrity of the most of Ukraine which remains.
    As for war crimes, the fact is that any war anywhere brings with it war crimes. The blitz was a war crime. Hiroshima was a war crime. Saturation bombing of German cities was a war crime. And don’t tell me that the Korean and Vietnam and Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts were not replete with war crimes. The trick is to avoid war. Bring them to an end as quickly as possible. Don’t get tied up in not rewarding aggression. How much reward is a legitimate consideration? But no reward at all? What, until the last man and woman are standing?

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter Smith,
    we either believe in a global order underpinned by Western values or we don’t. It would be unacceptable for Russia to attack Estonia or Lithuania because they belong to NATO but it’s OK for them to obliterate Ukraine? The only downside to what I have postulated is the risk of nuclear war. I think that is small. I doubt most of Russia’s high command share Putin’s grand vision to the extent they’d be prepared to risk their own comfortable existence. Most commentators opine that Putin is not mad, just bad. His henchmen are probably the same.
    We have just allowed China to unleash (unwittingly I concede) a virus that purportedly caused 6,000,000 deaths (probably exaggerated but a lot anyway) and untold economic damage, and we are letting them get away with it scot free.
    How long are we going to make concessions to these dictatorships on the basis that we dare not risk nuclear war? It seems we are prepared to accept 600,000 deaths from Covid without a peep.
    Yes, I accept that is easy for me to say from my armchair.
    “The Donbas region and Crimea, and Ukraine neutrality, might be enough to give us peace and save many Ukrainian and Russian lives.” Just like the Sudetenland.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    I have always been of the view that the Ukrainian President should have shown much better diplomacy over the last 8 years or so in his dealings with Russia. Ukraine seems to have adopted the position of continuing to prod the Russian bear albeit egged on, apparently by sections in the EU, in particular. Diplomacy is difficult with a much more powerful neighbour, but surely that’s what makes it diplomacy. The old saying “Never stir the fire with a sword” surely must have applied here and the Ukrainian President surely had a duty to protect the lives of his own citizens, which in my view should have meant some agreement to be neutral and avoid war, and not to keep on about joining Nato. The Crimea has always spoken Russian and is the home port of the Russian Black Sea fleet and the Donbas region is disputed territory and is mostly Russian speaking I believe and wants separation. My view is that his duty to his own citizens to avoid war and the diplomatic way out seemed clear, i.e. i agree with Peter Smith.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter Smith,
    I meant to add that the risk of nuclear war could be mitigated by back door channels which one hopes US intelligence has, via third parties, within the Kremlin. Surely all these oligarchs have contacts.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Peter Smith,
    further to my last, let me concede that you make valid points and that my hypothetical intervention should only proceed on the basis that NATO could satisfy itself that the risk of nuclear escalation was manageable through some sort backdoor arrangement. I don’t think this is beyond the bounds of possibility.
    The bottom line is that neither China nor Russia is under any threat of attack from any other country.

  • Occidental says:

    “Putin can not be allowed a semblance of Victory”
    I understood that line to mean that Putins invasion of Ukraine should not meet with any success. From the perspective of any other country that must be the desired outcome. For instance Belarus which presently bears all the resemblance of a client state of Russia surely gains nothing from Russian success other than a weakening of its position. Poland, the Baltic states, Afghanistan even, what benefits do they gain from an emboldened Russia on their doorstep. Russia is small fry in the overall scheme of things. China is infinitely stronger than Russia on every metric save for nuclear arsenal (which it could correct in a couple of years). If the West can not prevent the successful annexation of the Ukraine then what chance the West preventing the expansion of Chinese hegemony over the Pacific and Australasia. The proper response to defeating Russian aggression is doing what the Baltic states have been asking for, the cutting off of all trade with Russia. It will push up prices here but so what, that is much easier than fighting a war. Furthermore if the Russian economy was truly hit hard, and if Putin was booted from power either in the upcoming election or internally the benefits to Australia would be immense. The Chinese leadership is far more vulnerable to economic slow down (according to the experts) than Russia. The invasion of Ukraine could have been turned into a godsend for Australia, if the west can show its economic power.
    Finally what is the basis for this continued attack on Ukraine as a “ client state” of the US. It is nothing of the sort. Or this rot about President of Ukraine showing more diplomacy over the last 8 years. He has only been in the job for 2 and half years. People should read a little more about Ukraine and its history particularly during the Soviet years, before identifying it as anything other than a vulnerable state nestled up against a larger hegemon. Seriously Russia should not be indulged in this situation. It has largely been dysfunctional for the last two hundred years, it has produced very little of benefit for the world save for fighting the Germans, and its continued actions from poisoning and assassinating individuals to recklessly shooting down civilian airliners demonstrate its malignancy on the world stage. Granted no one can go to war with a nuclear armed state, but there are other ways of teaching people to behave properly. The west must try, or sooner or later Putin, his successor, or his admirers in the Orient will do something far worse.

  • talldad says:

    As a friend of mine with close links to foreign affairs types said: “Why the f*ck is Biden saying he’s not prepared to start World War 3? He should be saying he IS prepared to start it!”

    What he needed to add (but lacked the wit or the will) was “…but if it comes, we are ready for it!”

  • Watchman Williams says:

    Apparently Peter O’Brien is still sleepwalking; swallowing the Kool Aid can do that to you and it is evident that he has indulged.
    The CIA narrative is that poor little UIkraine is being bullied and picked on by big bad Russia, whereas the shoe is on the other foot. Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war, but in the US truth and politics cannot co-exist.
    Putin is a gangster of sorts, but he doesn’t have the territorial conquests of Hitler as his ambition. He seeks to restore some security to his western border and keep the location of offensive weapons directed at Russia as far away as possible. Not unlike the US Monroe Doctrine.
    The faux outrage of the US and its satellites derives from their concern at the potential exposure of the institutionalised corruption for which the Ukraine is the conduit.
    It’s the poor Ukrainians I feel sorry for.

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