2014 March 25 Tuesday
6 Things Vladimir Putin Has Going For Him

Theodore Dalrymple says Putin has nothing to worry about from Europe for 4 reasons:

Putin has four things on his side, at least in the short-term. The first, of course, is military power. The second is his increasing control of the media and over public opinion in Russia. The third is that his policy appeals to nationalist passion which, apart from ethnic hatred, is probably the strongest political passion of all. The fourth is the weakness of his European opponents.

He left out a fifth Putin advantage: The Europeans want the oil and natural gas that Russia is selling.

But wait, there's more: Dalrymple tries to evoke fear of 1938 with democracy complacent. But complacent democracy in 2014 makes sense. Vlad isn't going to send tank armies into Europe. He can't. The only thing he'd accomplish by trying to do so is give the US Air Force pilots opportunity for lots of realistic target practice. Oh, and the US DOD a much bigger budget. Plus, a really big revitalization of the Atlantic Alliance. He might even pull Europe out of its economic depression. For Russian? Not so much.

So what does Vlad have going against him? Internal stuff: Putin's problems include poor economic growth caused by his own corrupt government, a coming peak in Russian oil production, a shrinking population, and a hostile growing Muslim minority. He doesn't the skills or inclination to turn his nation around.

Anyone want to make a compelling case for why fate of the West rests on the fate of Ukraine?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 March 25 08:55 PM 

Idoru said at March 26, 2014 12:42 AM:

"the fate of the West rests on the fate of Ukraine"

Is anyone actually claiming this? No offense to the Ukrainians, but I care about them as much as I do the Georgians.

bob sykes said at March 26, 2014 5:25 AM:

What happens in the Ukraine is irrelevant to the West unless, of course, our delusional and sanctimonious leaders manage to incite a European war.

There are, however, real problems affecting the future of the West, and many of them are the same as those affecting Russia. First is depopulation: the native European population is actually in decline, and many rural areas are significantly depopulated. Europe's ruling class is attempting to offset the decline in numbers by immigration. But the immigrants are by large low IQ, uneducated (and uneducable), unskilled Muslims who are virulently hostile to European culture, law and people. Much of Europe's economy is in recession, and along the Mediterranean it is in outright 1930's style depression. Europe's military is very weak and is incapable of power projection, although it could fight defensively on its on territory. Fortunately, the Russians can't get there.

Russian and Europe are experiencing the same process of native decline and hostile colonization from abroad. Another European war would finish European civilization forever.

The Dude said at March 26, 2014 5:24 PM:

"Anyone want to make a compelling case for why fate of the West rests on the fate of Ukraine?"

Because ... because ... because we are Americans! We have to Fight for the Downtrodden of the World and Save the Planet for Democracy!


Enough with the goyischekopf nonsense.

WJ said at March 26, 2014 9:54 PM:

Ukraine doesn't matter. It's every bit as corrupt as Russia. Vlad may actually have done them a favor by reducing the number of Russian speakers in Ukraine and relieving them of a drain on the budget. He has done *us* a favor by reminding us of the dangers of ethnic and linguistic Balkanization. Anything that Western politicians do next will be an effort to distract us from that fact, in the same way that W used Iraq post 9/11 to distract us from the need to secure our borders.

Toddy Cat said at March 27, 2014 10:40 AM:

Putin won't get anywhere until he drops his project of trying to rebuild the Russian Empire/USSR, and starts trying to rebuild the Russian ethno-state. Cut the damned Muslims, etc loose and focus on the Russian Core. He may eventually try to do this, but he's not there yet. The only thing that Putin has in his favor is that he might eventually realize this. Almost all American politicians have consumed the multi-culti koolaide and are hopeless.

As for Ukraine, I can certainly understand why the West Ukrainians don't want to be under Russian domination, what with the terror-famine in the 1930's and all, but what happens in Ukraine is none of our damned business, and all that our attempted interventions have done is make things worse. Wish everyone well and butt out.

Trey said at March 27, 2014 8:09 PM:

I thought the Russian birth rate had begun to turn around. As for peak oil, I've heard about that imminent crisis for 35 years. Never happens.

Engineer-Poet said at March 29, 2014 4:10 PM:

Peak oil is happening now.  We are on the bumpy plateau, where high prices and improving technology are in a race against demand destruction to see which side can push harder.  US production in the lower 48 peaked in 1970, exactly as Hubbert predicted.  We'll never see 9.2 million bbl/d again; not even the Alaska pipeline got the US back up to that.  The Dakotas will soon peak at a bit over 1 mmbbl/d, because the Bakken wells have short lifetimes and the entire resource is being drilled out at rate that cannot be sustained much longer.  Meanwhile, the production of all existing fields slides slowly to oblivion.

That's what Putin is up against.  If he can wait, he's got India and China as huge markets without even having to load a tanker.

Thorfinnsson said at March 30, 2014 5:28 AM:

NATO would enjoy air superiority in a conflict with Russia, but to dismiss the notion as "realistic target practice" is complacent and irresponsible. Recent US wars have been against incompetent Third World opponents. There was a partial exception in the air war against Serbia. In that conflict, the competent but outgunned Serbs managed to avoid nearly any destruction of their army by NATO airpower simply by camouflaging their forces--which is why the air war transformed into a strategic bombing campaign against Serbia's civilian industry and infrastructure. The Serbian Army marched out of Kosovo in tact. Serbian radar and SAM operators avoided destruction by NATO SEAD assets by simply moving and only emitting signals periodically. The Serbs also managed to shoot down a stealth aircraft by using an old long wavelength radar. Since that time, NATO air forces have shrunk, airframes have gotten older, and flying hours for pilots have been cut. The last time the USA fought a somewhat competent opponent with decent equipment was North Vietnam. Casualties were heavy and the bombing campaign was ineffective.

The Russian Air Force has somewhat modern aircraft and decent pilot training. They would be outnumbered by NATO fighters, but they'd compensate by engaging selectively and using dispersed basing (Russian aircraft can use rough fields, unlike NATO aircraft). We could also expect ballistic missile (e.g. Iskander) and Spetsnaz attacks on NATO airfields and command and control installations. Long-range surface to air missile systems like the S-300 would deny airspace to tankers, airborne radar aircraft, and most electronic warfare aircraft.

"Stealth" aircraft would also not be a magic bullet for the US Air Force. Stealth aircraft can be detected by long-wave radars, which can then guide interceptor aircraft to visual range. Stealth aircraft also can't maintain a high sortie rate as they require a lot of maintenance.

A shooting war with Russia would rapidly diminish precision guided munition stocks in NATO. The Royal Air Force, for instance, nearly expended its entire stock of Brimstone missiles in operations in Afghanistan and Libya in 2013--fighting untrained, unarmored, Third World opponents in an environment of total air supremacy. NATO countries currently do not have production lines configured for mass production of PGMs, so after a few weeks of combat (perhaps a few days even) effective air support of ground units would require aircraft to go below 10,000 feet and attack with guns and unguided bombs. This would put aircraft in range of very nasty short-range air defense systems that proliferate in the Russian armed forces, like the notorious Shilka.

Stephen said at March 30, 2014 3:13 PM:

There's not even the remotest chance of a shooting war directly between NATO and Russia - no nation in its right mind would directly go to war with a super power.
Proxy wars are one thing, direct engagement is something else entirely.

Randall Parker said at March 30, 2014 8:54 PM:


Spetsnaz attacks on air bases in Germany, Holland, and Belgium? Italy? I'm not seeing it. They'd get cut down before accomplishing much. Missile attacks: The missiles will go in both directions then.

How can the Russians hold hostile territory without supply columns and tanks? They can hide from air power in cities. But NATO soldiers find find them in NATO cities.

SAMs and tankers: The tankers do not need to get close to Russian air space.

The Russians would go up against countries with about 16 times Russian GDP. $2 trillion for Russian versus $15.7 trillion for USA and even more for the EU. As long as the conflict didn't go nuclear the outcome be a decisive defeat of Russia. The nuclear angle is the problem.


I happen to be reading Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. No nation in its right mind: the major European powers in 1914.

Excellent book so far. The Serbs were massively deeply deluded. I did not appreciate just how messed up their society was at that point.

Thorfinnsson said at March 31, 2014 7:41 AM:

Mr. Parker,

Standard Soviet doctrine in the Cold War was to infiltrate spetsnaz forces to attack critical NATO infrastructure and personnel. A great deal of intelligence was invested in tracking the movements of key ryofficers and ministers with the hope of inflicting a coup de main in the opening stages of the conflict. Infiltration can be accomplished using Schengen passports. NATO personnel were trained to anticipate spetsnaz attacks during the Cold War, but not anymore as the alliance's purpose has shifted from collective defense to expeditionary warfare. Like other Russian military capabilities, these forces and the intelligence networks which supported them have deteriorated. However, they have deteriorated relatively less due to their utility in Russia's internal security (North Caucasus insurgency).

The missile attack is an asymmetric threat. If I recall correctly, the USA is the only NATO state with tactical ballistic missiles in inventory, the TACMS which has a range about about 180 miles. Russia maintains large numbers of tactical ballistic missiles as part of its doctrine. The most advanced of these, the Iskander, has a range of 250 miles and a non-ballistic trajectory making interception more challenging. These are currently deployed in Kaliningrad and would be effective at targets in Poland.

How can Russians hold hostile territory without supply columns and tanks? Partly by feeding off the occupied territories, partly by dispersing their supply efforts and armor movements, partly by using the night and effective camouflage (including infrared camo). The German Army was able to resupply their forces in the West in 1944-1945 in the face of Allied airpower that was far more overwhelming than anything today (over 11,000 fighter aircraft!). If Russia only seized Eastern Ukraine, airpower would not be able to defeat the Russians (an incursion into Poland is a different story). Destroying tanks with airpower is also not as easy as the Gulf War lead us to believe. Modern Russian tanks have layered composite armor, explosive reactive armor, and increasingly "hard-kill" active defense systems. Russians are also traditionally experts in camouflage.

It's true tankers don't need to get close to Russian airspace, but getting closer to airspace gives a big airpower advantage. It increases both sortie rates and on-station time for all aircraft. It's not just tanker. AEWR aircraft allow NATO forces to see aircraft takeoffs, cruise missiles, and low-flying aircraft attempting to evade radar detection. Airborne ground surveillance radar aircraft (e.g. JSTARS) give a synthetic picture of enemy movement to ground commanders. All of these great assets are integral to the American way of war and would be forced off stand-off distance. Even then they wouldn't be safe, as Russian doctrine uses interceptors to target these aircraft with long-range (over 200 miles) radar-homing air-to-air missiles. All of this means less effective NATO airpower than we are used to and worse intelligence than we are used to.

I don't disagree that a conflict between NATO and Russia would end in victory for the alliance. Even the European NATO states alone have more armored forces and modern strike aircraft than the Russians alone (though I question their ammunition stockpiles). My only point is that we shouldn't promote complacency by extrapolating from past conflicts with incompetent Third World opponents. A war against Russia would result in a lot of nasty surprises and ultimately leave both sides worse off. The real winner of any fight (including economic and diplomatic conflict) between Russia and the West is China.

Stephen said at April 1, 2014 3:14 AM:

Thorfinnsson said: "The real winner of any fight (including economic and diplomatic conflict) between Russia and the West is China."

This feels about right to me in terms of geopolitics.

As for the other points, I don't see any war happening - the tone of the propaganda from all three groups - US, Russia and Europe - is entirely wrong.

My thinking is what really happened is that the EU had negotiated a political transition to get rid of the local kleptocrat. The US intervened and acted a bit too obviously in replacing said kleptocrat with its own anointed kleptocrat before the EU political transition could happen. Russia call shenanigans and immediately the thinking in the Kremlin turns paranoid (quite rightly in this case) and they dig out contingency plan X - local revolution - for keeping a strategic piece of territory within its sphere of control.

Stephen said at April 1, 2014 4:16 AM:

Randall said: "The Russians would go up against countries with about 16 times Russian GDP. $2 trillion for Russian versus $15.7 trillion for USA and even more for the EU. As long as the conflict didn't go nuclear the outcome be a decisive defeat of Russia. The nuclear angle is the problem."

With all due respect Randall, I think a GDP analysis is based on an entirely wrong premise. In fact, European GDP would collapse:

  • On day 1 Russia will torch the north sea oil rigs. Soon after they'll move a few anti-shipping missiles into Iran, thereby stopping a single tanker entering the gulf. Oil prices skyrocket and all over the world oil is restricted to essential use only.
  • Rotterdam port mysteriously explodes. But that doesn't really matter because...
  • After the first couple of assassinations of shipping magnets, there's not a ship owner in the world who will dare send a ship to Europe.
  • Europe starts to freeze and starve.
  • Euro and pound collapse as the international money markets desperately look for anywhere but Europe to park their trillions.
  • Europe starts selling foreign reserves - China and the US are the only significant State buyers.
  • Money markets start buying gold - who the hell would be crazy enough to invest in paper T-Bills.
  • The US offers to sell tanks to Europe - further draining Europe's foreign reserves.
  • Russia negotiates with neutral China allowing overland oil shipments.
  • The US lets it happen - it can't afford to turn China into a Russian ally.
  • China offers to sell armaments to both sides - they alone have the necessary heavy manufacturing capacity.
  • There's a rapid sell-off of gold and T-bills (all bought by China) as capital rushes to China to build heavy equipment factories.
  • Europe needs three years to shutdown their existing highly specialised advanced manufacturing plants and retool for a heavy manufacturing war economy - GDP collapses even lower.
  • But even if they have the factories, where are they going to get the steel for the tanks? The sea lanes are empty.
  • Inflation spikes - there's full employment but nothing to buy in the shops.
  • China walks into Taiwan - the US turns a blind eye because it must keep China neutral.

Then things start to get interesting...

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