Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, March 12 through Friday, March 18, 2022 [Vol.3 No.35]
The Putin Ukraine Conundrum
The Week’s Most Notable
In the end, it will all be up to Putin. He is the power in Russia, the dictator. He started the war in Ukraine; at the moment, only he can end it. To not find this more than worrisome, is to not having paid attention. After three weeks of increasingly nasty warfare, more and more people are asking if the Russians are losing. Wrong question. The real question is how far can Putin be pushed?
The military situation: Discounting rampant propaganda, which is difficult, the military situation in Ukraine can usefully be said to have two salient components: The Russians are taking a beating, losing a lot of soldiers and equipment – not only more than they planned, but approaching the limits they can afford. However, the second component is that the Russians by temperament and tradition are prepared to make military sacrifices more than most countries are; they will throw whatever it takes into capturing the key Ukrainian cities, leveling them in the process. Kharkiv and Mariupol appear to be falling in this way. Lviv and Odessa have come under attack. Kyiv might take months, if not a year or more. For the most part Russia will control major cities but not get control of the countryside, which will become the source of constant insurrectionist attacks, funded and supplied by NATO. It’s estimated Russia would need an occupying force of at least a half million soldiers. In short, in most military analyses, Russia cannot truly win and hold Ukraine. This could easily lead to a desperate situation, with NATO an obvious target.
The road to Armageddon: Discussion in the past week turned to what some call the “military escalator,” in short, the path Putin and the Russian military might take if conditions are truly going wrong. They’ve already fully engaged with winning through destruction of civilian people and property. The next thing they have done in the past is turn to chemical warfare or, on the same footing, biological warfare. They tend to do this mostly when they think they have plausible cover, such as blaming both sides in the Syrian civil war. Ukraine does not present the same cover. Then there are attacks across borders, in this case attacking bases inside of neighboring NATO countries. Could they get away with a certain amount of this? Not much, if at all; NATO is most likely to retaliate. That immediately leads to widespread conventional warfare in eastern Europe and that can quickly get to nuclear escalation, starting with tactical nuclear weapons. Russia has a lot of this capability; NATO does not, which brings things to full nuclear – ballistic missiles and strategic bombing. Armageddon. Short of that, devastating conventional warfare.
In the last week discussion has begun about punishing war crimes, forcing reparations, and funding reconstruction. Apparently, some assume the fighting will end and the Russians will lose. It has already been estimated that just the damage so far would require $120 billion to repair and reconstruct. How likely is it that Putin will accept any of this?
Putin removal. Armageddon will not happen if Putin backs down or is removed from office. However, Putin is known for doubling down, not backing down. It’s not impossible something could be negotiated, but it must allow Putin a settlement that looks like he won. And there’s still the problem of the already huge cost of the war, which on the Russian home front is not a good look. It might well lead to a coup, and Putin knows this. There is also the possibility of assassination, but paranoid dictators are known for avoiding this option. Removing Putin is a wildcard; it’s unlikely to show up, but it’s still in the deck.
China as a White Knight? Biden’s two-hour conference call with China’s President Xi might well symbolize a turning point. The question that arose last week was: Would China help the Russians either by providing arms or by providing a workaround for sanctions? It was Biden’s task to remind Xi that the U.S. and the EU are China’s biggest markets, now and in the future. While China might find an ally of sorts in Russia, they are risking being cut off – through sanctions or otherwise – from the world commercial system. None of this is official, and no official response from China was received or expected. However, at the end of last week the signals seem to indicate that China will definitely not answer Russia’s call for military support. Honoring sanctions, however, may be more in the saying than in the doing. In any case, it does not look like China will be pivotal, at least in the public solutions to the war. In the long run, Putin’s Ukraine war has accelerated the process of making Russia a client state of China.
The Russian economy is supposed to crash, soon. Keep in mind that it crashed back in 2014 after the sharp devaluation of the ruble. Still, the Russian economy persisted. The current Russian economy is equally unlikely to fail because of a crashing ruble; it’s more likely to gradually become dysfunctional as it is cut off from investment, commerce, and communications. It’s a slower process, requiring months if not years.
It now looks like that more than 5 million Ukrainian refugees will flood Western Europe. Most of them are children and their mothers, who will draw more from their hosts than they can give back, especially since most of them can’t participate in the European workforce. The political, social, and economic costs are hard to overestimate. [Note: Giving support to humanitarian and religious organizations specifically helping Ukrainian refugees in Europe is likely best.]
Saturday, March 12
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,218,374; Deaths: 992,425
[Coronavirus] Omicron Spike: China Locks down Millions – Thousands of new cases, particularly in northeast China, are putting heavy pressure on the national “zero COVID” policy. The outbreak began in Hong Kong several months ago but appears to be spreading, despite efforts to control it. The Omicron variant is so contagious that it becomes almost impossible to do the usual track and trace control. [Update: China lockdowns spur significant drop in the price of oil.]
Sunday, March 13
[Ukraine] Russian Warplanes Strike Base 25 Miles from Polish Border – The attack was clearly a signal that Russia intends to push its offensive to the boundaries with NATO. Thirty-five people were killed in this attack.
[Ukraine] Confirmation: Russia Requested Military and Economic Aid from China – Although Russia and China recently struck a friendship agreement, the pact was not an alliance, military support was not explicitly included. That makes Russia’s now public requests for assistance all the more significant; the obvious interpretation – the war in Ukraine is not going well.
[Ukraine] Zelensky Outlines Setup for Potential Meeting with Putin – Since this meeting with Putin is not at all likely, Zelensky is carefully setting the PR parameters. Over the past weeks, he has shown a far more savvy and adroit handling of media relations than any of his Russian counterparts.
[Coronavirus] Pfizer CEO Asserts Fourth COVID Booster Will Be Needed for Future Variants – His and similar remarks from Moderna, indicate that industry and scientific opinion is now shifting to some kind of regular boosting or repetition of vaccine against COVID-19. [Update: Obama tests positive for COVID-19.]
Monday, March 14
[Ukraine] Russia and Ukraine Resume Cease-Fire Talks – Currently these talks have no practical outcome, but they are maintained as an outlet for potential discussion, if and when Putin finds negotiations are to his advantage. He apparently feels it necessary to maintain the fiction that negotiations with Ukrainian representatives are ongoing.
Tuesday, March 15
[Ukraine] Prime Ministers of Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovenia Visit Kyiv – Traveling by train (!), the three met with President Zelensky. Diplomatically, and in reality, this was a bold and provocative gesture by representatives of three NATO countries.
[Federal Reserve] Raskin Withdraws from Fed Nomination – Thanks to Joe Manchin and his aversion to anything that sounds like effective climate change considerations, Sarah Bloom Raskin decided (or had decided for her) that she could not pass the Senate blockade on her nomination. GOP opposition was obviously complete, which made Manchin’s vote necessary. Overall Raskin has an extremely strong background, and her pro-green bona fides are completely moderate.
[Daylight Savings Time] Shock and Surprise! Senate Passes Bill to Make Daylight Savings Permanent – It was a unanimous vote. How this got to the floor of the Senate, after literally decades of attempts, will someday make an interesting story. Now, however, the bill must pass the House, and that may not be so easy. Most knowledgeable people in the medical community say that daylight savings has some disadvantages; some in Congress may agree.
Wednesday, March 16
[Ukraine] Zelensky Addresses U.S. Congress – It was at once symbolic and unprecedented: In a large theater-style auditorium beneath the U.S. Capitol building, the president of Ukraine spoke from his office in Kyiv to members of the House and Senate. It was an emotional speech, which Zelensky is very skilled at presenting. The speech also put pressure on Biden to do more for Ukraine, a call which Republican congresspeople were only too happy to amplify. However, Zelensky explicitly meant providing jets (via Poland), which Biden and NATO have already rejected. Biden, as planned immediately after the speech, announced another $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine. Notably, he also called Putin “a war criminal,” which coming from an American president carries some long-term impact, even in the legal sense.
[Ukraine] Russia Bombs Ukrainian Theater – In the hard-hit and suffering city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, Russian warplanes bombed a public theater reportedly housing more than a thousand refugees, including children. This particular war crime is especially offensive and is likely to be remembered. [Update: Even after several days, the dead – and a number of survivors – are still being dug out of the rubble.]
[Federal Reserve] Opening Anti-Inflation Move: Fed Raises Interest Rates – The quarter-point raise is said to be the first of at least six this year, as the Fed is looking for ways to counteract inflation. Meanwhile, the Ukraine war and its associated disruption of the world economy will have a significant deflationary effect on the U.S.
[Parkland Shooting] DOJ Announces $127.5 Million Settlement – It was based on the negligence of the FBI tip line, which did not report a warning about a 19-year-old shooter, who in February 2018 killed 17 students and staff at Parkland High School in Florida., the worst such school incident in U.S. history.
[Ukraine] International Court of Justice Orders Halt to Russian Invasion of Ukraine – This action by the UN high court has no teeth of course, but it does set legal precedent – especially if eventually there are war crime proceedings.
Thursday, March 17
[Ukraine] Putin Attacks “Traitors,” Even Oligarchs – It looks and sounds like a coming purge, as Putin lashed out at people “spreading false information” about the special operations in Ukraine, e.g., the war. He said it was time for “self-purification” that would strengthen Russia. These days, such Stalinesque rhetoric has to be taken seriously.
[Economy] Excellent Unemployment Statistics – The unemployment rate dropped from 4% to 3.8% and just 10,419,000 Americans received unemployment aid, the lowest number in 50 years. U.S. employers added 678,000 jobs in February, the most since July. In short, in terms of employment the economy is going gangbusters. Thanks to inflation, most Americans still think the economy sucks, and Biden don’t get no respect.
Friday, March 18
[Ukraine – China] Biden and Xi Jinping Confer for Two Hours on Phone – The upshot was that China reiterated the necessity for the U.S. and China to call for peace, but did not criticize Putin. The stock reporting for this call doesn’t even hint at the immense underlying issues and importance – China will not militarily support Russia.
[Ukraine] Poland Proposes Formal Peacekeeping Mission to Ukraine – Several moves are afoot to involve the U.N. in the Ukraine war. This one grew out of the visit to Kyiv by the three Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. Representatives are also attempting to change the dates for applications for the Nobel Peace Prize, so that Ukrainian President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people can be included in the nominations.
[Coronavirus] Large Ivermectin Trial Shows No Indication of Clinical Usefulness – The trial involved 1,400 COVID-19 patients, and failed to reduce hospital admissions. Almost as much as hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin – a drug generally used for treating horses – has been the darling of the right-wing and alternative medicine advocates for almost two years.
[Ukraine] Russia Admits Using Hypersonic Missiles in Ukraine – These missiles reportedly travel at 10 times the speed of sound. They were developed and premiered in 2018, but this is the first publicly acknowledged operational use – against an underground facility in western Ukraine. The significance is that the Russian arsenal in heavy weapons far outstrips anything available to the Ukrainians.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Totals: Cases: 81,391,773; Deaths: 997,518
How big the next wave? – U.S. health agencies, especially the CDC, working in conjunction with reports from European counterparts, formally issued warnings that the Omicron BA.2 variant has reached United States and will create another wave of COVID-19 infections within the next 4 to 6 weeks. There is no longer a question of whether this subvariant will become the predominant virus, only that how many will be infected, and how seriously the impact will be are not known. Since most of the country has, against recommendations, abandoned most forms of mitigation and a large proportion of elderly and immunologically compromised people who have been vaccinated are nearing the end of the term of effectiveness, it’s possible this wave could see a large number of casualties. By the end of the month the U.S. will have passed 1 million deaths from COVID. Congress in its abridged wisdom recently failed to pass a $22 billion extension to COVID-19 funding.
Politics, Legislation, Election Notes
The House pro-Putin chorus: Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Dan Bishop (R-NC), Glenn Grothman (R-WS), Chip Roy (R-TX) all voted against a bill curtailing trade with Russia by revoking its “most-favored-nation” trading status.
Pinned Point: Until the filibuster rules are modified, most of the Biden agenda will not pass the Senate.
Quote of the Week
[A]n app designed to help Russians register protest votes against Putin could no longer be downloaded from Google or Apple. . .. Titans of American technology had been brought to their knees by some of the most primitive intimidation tactics in the Kremlin playbook.
Greg Miller, “Putin’s Pre-Invasion Moves Against U.S. Tech Giants Laid the Groundwork for Crackdown on Free Expression,” The Washington Post, 3/12/2022.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are at least casually familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search.]