I’m not a Russia expert, or a warfare expert, but it seems to me that President for life-ish Putin has gambled everything on his invasion. If it works and Ukraine collapses PDQ then he’ll be in good shape for a while. But if Ukraine fails to collapse and in fact continues to offer resistance for months or years (whether in terms of armies or just Afghanistan-like insurgencies) then he’s got a problem.

There really isn’t a good way for him to de-escalate things now and that’s bad. If he tries to say “oops, my bad” then I suspect some generals will be having words and then he’ll be committing suicide by jumping out of a Kremlin window while stabbing himself in the back multiple times. Now he could perhaps try and get the generals first but that’s not a good thing for stability either because as the IRA liked to point out “you have to be lucky 100% of the time, we just have to be lucky once”

Anyway there is, I think, a good deal of deliberate misinformation on Putin’s motives and how that impacts his strategy, so it is worth pointing out that his end goal is not exactly a secret. Putin is very clear that he wants to recreate a “Greater Russia” that is something like the USSR or the Pre 1919 Russian empire. Precisely what lands are to be included in this is unclear but it certainly includes the land of the 100 year old entity Ukraine. Putin has said, and historically he is correct (see this video by David Starkey), that Ukraine as a separate entity has never existed before the creation of the Ukraine SSR (or some shortlived previous incarnations of it) after the Russian Revolution.

However that’s also generally true of a number of other nations in the same general area (Finland for example, or Slovakia) and others (Serbia or Romania for example) spent several centuries subsumed in the Ottoman empire. In other words the fact that Ukraine has not historically been its own kingdom doesn’t mean that its inhabitants have no identity as a separate group from the empire that ruled over it for the last few centuries. The fact is that, as far as I can tell, Ukraine has developed its own identity in the last century and most Ukrainians have absolutely no desire to become part of a greater Russian empire of some sort again and they super specially don’t want to be ruled by a former KGB agent because their (parent’s and grandparent’s) memories of Ukraine under Soviet rule include the Holodomor and Chernobyl.

But getting back to Putin, he is probably trying to fight a war for regime change rather than national destruction. This youtube video (which has some other bits I disagree with) makes that point very well.

Regime change means that what he wants to do is depose the current Ukrainian government and replace it with one that is under his control. He probably doesn’t particularly want to have Ukraine cease to exist as a separate country – at least not for a while – though he might well want to grab a bit more of the east to add to Russia. He probably would prefer to coopt the Ukrainian military than destroy it. And so on. He certainly does not want to have a large civilian population that rejects his rule but he may well believe that any civilian revolt is just astroturf and/or incitement by the CIA and therefore make additional decisions that strengthen the resistance. This video (h/t Nitay Arbel) has some interesting insights into his state of mind.

All of his preferences and desires relied on one thing, the expected fragility of the Ukrainian government and military. Based on his previous experience 8 years ago, it was not totally unreasonable to expect the military to collapse and the government to run away or be easily captured by Russian special forces. Plus he expected the West to sit this conflict out. He had good reason for thinking so, I mean the Lets’s Go Brandon regime is utterly incompetent and the Europeans seemed to be enamoured with unicorn farts and rainbows and unwilling to have a military or a sane energy policy. He expected that they would pass a few pointless UN resolutions, maybe add a few easily evaded sanctions and flood Social Media with #IstandwithUkraine hashtags without actually doing anything that would cause serious pain.

Well probably due to the unexpected steadfastness of the Ukrainian army and government, he hasn’t got his easy invasion. If he’d pushed harder in 2014 perhaps he could have got more then – the Ukrainian army at that point was reportedly utterly pathetic – but thanks to their defeats then Ukraine spent money getting serious about an army (see this twitter threadthreadreader link) and now it is not quite such a walkover. Plus thanks, in part, to some excellent PR by the Ukrainians, he’s facing a lot more international pushback than he expected. In particular, despite all his plans and preparations, including billions of dollars of reserves, he’s been hit by the same thing that Turdeau used against the Honkening – the weaponization of the financial system. In the case of Russia this means that a significant fraction (north of 40%) of his reserves have been seized, his banks have been cut off from the world and the sanctions against him include ones from countries like Switzerland and Monaco (home to his mistress) where he and his cronies have a lot of their loot stashed.

So it’s time for plan B

Except there don’t seem to be that many viable options. Yes he can rain bombardment down on Ukraine and destroy its cities. At this point however that seems more likely to harden opposition to his invasion than help it. And unlike, say, S Ossetia or Chechnya, Ukraine is a very large country (larger than France) so an actual military occupation would need millions of troops and the logistics to keep those millions in fuel, food and bullets. As the truckers in Canada showed, blocking roads with large trucks is quite feasible and hard to fix quickly. Other sabotage, from caltrops to adulterated fuel to poisoning food bought/seized locally would also be easy to carry out and hard to counter short of some kind of mass slaughter. And mass slaughter in the age of twitter and tiktok is unlikely to just scare the relatives of the victims, it is going to enrage others – probably even Russians who will protest his regime at home and then destabilize it.

Plus whether or not he rains terror down on Ukraine he has to deal with the outside world. He personally may be OK with remaining in Russia, but one suspects the billionaires and generals that support him like their getaway villas on the Riviera, their yachts, their townhouses in London and so on. The way things are going his supporters are going to find those assets seized and their ability to travel outside Russia highly limited. Unless of course they find a way to stop the Ukraine invasion. And given Putin’s recent behavior that probably means a coup. Which will be messy and almost certainly fatal for Putin (and probably for a few of the plotters).

On the other hand, as noted above, it’s a bit late to try the “Oops, my bad” thing and withdraw. If he tries that will undoubtedly lead to blamestorming and a military purge (or an attempt at one) and since his generals know that as well as he does they’ll be highly incentivized to go for the coup option. And even if he wins against the plotters the first time, he’s going to face the fact that he needs competent generals to maintain his current control. Those competent generals aren’t going to sit quietly and let themselves be executed for his strategic mistakes so when then next wave of internal protest or Ukrainian revolt comes and gives his military/police a blood nose his competent generals are going to do the coup thing. And this time they will have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors so the coup will work. Or if not the second time, then the third etc. It’s the classic problem of attack vs defense as I mentioned earlier. The attackers just have to be lucky once, the defenders have to be lucky every time.

Furthermore, and underlining his miscalculations, Ukraine has done an amazing propaganda job on the rest of the world, including within Russia. This is somewhat surprising since Russia usually manages to be pretty good at the propaganda thing, but not this time. The Ukraine government has weaponized social media to get its message(s) out and to gain support for their cause. By contrast Russia has barely managed to move the needle with the various stooges and bots claiming that the invasion is to rescue Ukraine from the Joos/Global Elites/Soros and/or to expose secret biolabs, payments to Biden, Clinton etc.

Bluntly Putin seems to have bet on a “short victorious war” and failed. He can now at best get either a short war or a victorious war but not both. And quite possibly neither.

Now it is fair to point out that we’re less than one week in. Wars usually take months or years so he hasn’t lost yet. Maybe he and his generals have a cunning plan for week 2 that causes the Ukrainian government/army to collapse in a heap but I can’t see it, even if the reported huge convoy to Kiev takes the city.  Including if the Russians then grab President Zelensky and martyr him. Fundamentally, even if the army and government collapses, he needs to have a significant number of Ukrainians on the side of Russians and most of the rest at least neutral. If Ukraine were (say) 20% pro-Russia, 20% pro-independence and 60% “meh” he’d probably be fine. Unfortunately for him, my reading of events in cities like Kharkiv is that, even in the Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, a majority (possibly an overwhelming majority) actively don’t want to be part of Russia. Moreover that number is going up not down. Reports suggest that Zelensky is viewed favorably by something like 90% of the Ukrainian population up from somewhere down in the 20%-30% area in October last year. This was quite literally an unprovoked assault and Ukrainians are unifying against the aggressor in a way that undoubtedly was not predicted by Putin (whether a Russian intelligence agency predicted it we can never know, but if they did then that bad news got squashed on the way up the chain to Putin).

Indeed, this unprovoked assault is unifying in a non-squishy manner all sorts of countries and organizations that Putin must have assumed were not capable of such. Germany has performed a screeching U-turn on key policies of the last decade or two such as nuclear power, LNG and its military. So has the EU in general. All the things that President Trump tole the Europeans to do but they rejected (because Trump) are now being done in haste. Moreover the Europeans all seem to understand the Franklin quote about hanging together lest you hang separately. Countries like Hungary, that had longstanding grievances with Ukraine, have come out in favor of Ukraine and against Russia. When you think about the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia this probably shouldn’t be too surprising, but it seems to have surprised Russia/Putin. In fact I think we’re seeing more reaction to Russian aggression than anyone expected and the reason is that this invasion has brought home just how vulnerable much of Europe is. That has scared the Euopean political class. Scared people will often band together and lash out at their attackers from a group.

Which leads me back to last month’s invasion of Ottawa and the parallels with Ukraine

Castreau has probably defeated (for now) the Honkening, and he did so by invoking his emergencies act which included telling banks to freeze the accounts of anyone suspected of being sympathetic to the Truckers. In the short term this was successful even if he had to undo most of the act a week later but he’s done long term damage to Canada as a result. There are persistent rumors that Canadians of all stripes are withdrawing money from all Canadian banks. In a few weeks we’ll probably see how much because the banks will need to publish their deposits but at the moment it is just guess work. My guess is that by about April 2022 we’ll see something like $10 Billion CAD removed from Canadian banks. And quite possibly more when we include brokerage accounts and the like.

Moreover my guess is that the move to a cashless society with everything paid for by card/smartphone has just reversed hard in Canada. This is actually going to have a significant impact on Canadian bank revenues in a number of ways. First there’s the loss of deposits and the ability to use them as collateral for loans. Fewer deposits means less ability to loan money out. Second there’s the cost of maintaining the accounts. Assuming Canadians don’t actually close their accounts but leave them with relatively small balances then the banks have costs that are not repaid by the interest they get on the money in the accounts. Then there’s the transaction charge for each cashless transaction. Sure it’s small – typically 1-3c/$ – but will millions of transactions it adds up. If millions of transactions now go back to being done by cash they don’t generate that income. People may even start writing checks which the banks really hate compared to electronic payments because checks really are expensive to process. All in all the Canadian financial system has probably taken a significant hit and that in turn is likely to hit the rest of the economy, which thanks to the Wuflu, is not as healthy as it might be anyway. When this comes out – and it will – the victory over the Honkening will likely lead to negative consequences for Castreau and his liberals. We can add that the intransigence regarding vaccination etc. is likely to also impact the ability of Canadian trucking firms to recruit new drivers and that is going to hurt the economy even more. Plus there has I think, been a general loss of trust in the police, and that’s never a good thing. Its hard to see exactly how this plays out but I don’t think it will benefit the Turdeau.

In similar fashion the weaponizing of the financial system against Russia is going to cause some second and third order consequences that people haven’t thought about. It’s going to screw up trust in the global financial system as a whole. Stopping Russia from accessing its reserves or the SWIFT network means that people in other countries that may also be disliked by the western power will look for alternatives. The PRC, for example, may want to put in place a competitor of SWIFT and countries with corrupt governments and the like may decide to prefer to do business via this new competitor. Countries like Switzerland may end up losing deposits from the shady billionaire/tyrant part of the world, although there is a question about where this money would go. But it seems quite likely that the PRC will get a chunk of it. PRC banks and payment processing systems may well get a huge boost in the developing world at the expene of Visa and Mastercard (and paypal etc.) because they won’t (yet) have been used to seize money from foreigners. It isn’t clear to me that this will last. but in the medium term this may be the PRC’s chance to expand its financial system and act as a credible alternative to the traditional NY?London/Tokyo axis.

Likewise the deplatforming of RT and other Russian outlets on the Internet and TV is probably a bad second order effect that will allow the globalist elite to get more power over alternative media sources of all flavors. In the near term perhaps it helps, in the longer term it will definitely be bad. Glenn Greenwald has plenty to say on this subject and the fact that I’m recommending reading him is one of the many weirdnesses of the 2020s. You don’t have to be a Putin fanboy (in case it isn’t obvious I’m not, I hope he gets a Romanian Christmas present for Easter) to see that western governments are taking advantage of this crisis as they did of the Wuflu to gather more power to themselves and provide less opportunity to the lower classes. Just as with the Canadian financial mess, none of this is going to be easily put back in the bottle. The global powers have seen (just as they did with 9/11 for that matter) that under the right circumstances they can ignore the rule of law and custom and just take things/impose regulations if there’s an emergency. Whether or not Putin wins in Ukraine, fighting him is going to do severe harm to international institutions and norms and that’s just as bad when it’s in a good cause (stopping Putin) as when it isn’t (stopping Truckers)