Saturday, July 26, 2014

How to beat Russia

Geostrategic analysis is so easy, anyone can do it. Just make some historical analogies, lean a little too heavily (but subtly!) on national stereotypes, and try to sound smart. Anyone can get into this game! So why not Yours Truly?

OK, so what is Russia up to in Ukraine, and what can we do about it? Let's think about this.

Thought 1: Historically, Russia is a cautions nation. After their initial burst of expansion, they have made relatively few territorial acquisitions, even after their victories in WW2 and the Napoleonic Wars. Caution makes sense for a big country - you already have a lot, so you have more to lose. Smaller countries, like Germany and Japan and France, have been more tempted to throw the dice.

Thought 2: If Russia is going to expand, it's going to expand to the west. To the east, there are A) some sparsely populated Central Asian countries that Russia already dominates, and B) China, which is now Russia's ally. Russia already has so many resources that further resource-grabbing is much more trouble than it's worth - the only kind of expansion that would really change Russia's status is to absorb some of the populated lands of East Europe. (Why Russia would want to take over these places is not clear, but back to that later).

Thought 3: Russia has a pretty simple strategy for dominating places in Eastern Europe. Basically, take advantage of ethnic divisions (if necessary, stirring them up), and just be by far the biggest, most unified, most powerful ethnic bloc in the area. The weaker ethnic group in any local conflict will naturally look to Russia to be their patron. You can see this strategy at work in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transdniestria, and now in Ukraine. It's a slower, more cautious variant of a very old, very effective imperial strategy used by the Mongols and British, among others. It probably explains why Russia is so keen to keep Russian-speakers in the region from abandoning the Russian language.

Thought 4: Russian institutions are just not that effective. Russia's economy has never been that good. They have never had a smooth system for transferring power. Their property rights are weak, their infrastructure is poor, their industries are uncompetitive, they have poor health, etc. Most importantly, Russia suffered massive political collapses twice during the 20th century, and no one really knows if Putin has built anything more durable than the Romanov and Soviet systems.

So what can we do to stymie Russia's expansion into Ukraine and (in the future) elsewhere? First, the current strategy of creating high and uncertain costs for Russian intervention seems to have worked OK - Russia has so far refrained from sending troops into East Ukraine, despite Ukrainian successes against the rebels. Increasing our military forces in Poland and the Baltics may also be necessary.

Second, we should try to boost the economies of countries surrounding Russia, in the hope of encouraging greater popular solidarity with the central governments of those countries. The way for us to boost their economies is to implement free trade agreements between the U.S. and those countries. Ukraine, unfortunately, is already too chaotic to do this, but Romania, Poland, and the Baltic countries are perfect candidates. Also, countries traditionally allied with Russia, like Serbia, Belarus, and Armenia, are good targets for FTAs. (Update: As a commenter pointed out, we're actually not allowed to negotiate bilateral FTAs with EU countries, so we really just have to conclude an FTA with the EU itself as fast as possible.)

But third, and most importantly, what we should do is just wait. Russia's system is not robust to shocks. Putin will grow older and die, leaving no robust, stable system in his wake. Energy prices will fluctuate, wreaking havoc on Russia's economy. Low fertility will put a massive strain on the government's finances. And as Russia absorbs the costs of newly acquired satellite states and territories, without reaping any economic benefit, additional strain will be put on the Russian economy. Even if Russia takes half of Ukraine, reabsorbs Belarus, and slices off a couple pieces of Georgia, it will just collapse again before it ever becomes a real threat to the core of Europe.

And in the meantime, we should of course try to destabilize Russia by creating disruptive cheap energy technologies. Another option is to welcome mass immigration from Russia, thus decreasing the size and power of the Russian ethnic group in the long term.

I think Obama has realized the wisdom of the basic "just wait" approach, and is carrying it out. The key is not to worry - unless you're part of one of the tiny squabbling impoverished ethnic groups on Russia's intentionally chaotic border, you're safe from the bear.


  1. "The way for us to boost their economies is to implement free trade agreements between the U.S. and those countries.. but Romania, Poland, and the Baltic countries are perfect candidates."

    Those countries are all EU countries and cannot enter into bilateral free trade agreements. But your broad point is another reason to speed up US/EU negotiations.

  2. Free trade agreements are not Free. They are simply trade agreements. Part of the issue with Ukraine is their industrial zone is in the east and their main trading partner is Russia. If Ukraine were to join EU, I would expect Russia to put up import tariffs at the Ukraine border to keep from being flooded with cheap western goods. This could cause severe economic hardship for the eastern area because they would have difficulty exporting goods to Europe and Russian trade barriers would make their goods more expensive and exports less competitive. The EU deal might be marginally good for western Ukraine but do massive damage to the eastern areas.

    Russia is a multiethnic country and for years has tried to promote "secular" unity among its citizens. The Russians have actively promoted ('Godless" according the West) secularism and tried to eliminate the worst excesses of religions and ethnic customs that lead to civil strife. It is the US and the West that have used these ethnic tensions to promote revolution and capture sphere of influence. When the West and the western Ukrainians lost the political battle over joining the EU, they resorted to violent overthrow of the elected leader and abandoned politics. They needed foot soldiers for their protests so they used the intolerant and hateful Nationalist Svoboda Party because they were the radicals willing to take to the streets. Once the government was overthrown they invited Svoboda into the government. In the US, this would be the equivalent of engaging the Klan in an overthrow of Obama and then inviting the Klan to be part of the government. We can understand how this would cause friction in the US, but the US and the NeoCons backing the Ukrainian Nationalists can't understand why it is causing problems there. Why are they so dense? We blame it all on Russia and fail to understand that ethnic Russians are every bit as afraid of Svoboda as the ethnic Ukrainians are of Russia. The only solution is for the west and Neocons to back down, ban the Svoboda and other hate groups from the government and try to form a coalition committed to multiethnic tolerance. They would need to marginalize the separatists in the East which they might be able to do by negotiating with ethnic Russians in positions of power in the east such as mayors. The policy of dominance of the East by Ukrainian Nationalists (which the US supports) leads to Yugoslavia style violence.

    Ukraine is not the only place the US has used this strategy. In 1980s Afghanistan, the US and the west supported and funded the overthrow of a liberal secular government that was promoting, education and modernization in women's rights. The US supported religious fundamentalists against the (Godless) secularists and left Afghanistan awash with violent ethnic strife. The US policy of supporting fundamentalist religious groups for short term political gains is a long run loser and causes a lot of harm to the residents who want a peaceful life and wonder why we can't all just get along.
    jonny bakho

    1. I don't want to argue about the ethnic policy of (Post) Soviet States, but I don't agree one bit with you. It is commonly understood that Russia let the other republics go, because it believed that they were a burden on ethnic Russians (Russia has most of the resources and it doesn't want to share them for free).

      About trade though:

      Once again I have to link to the excellent Gorodnichenko blog post:

      And please look at the table of top 20 trading partners for Ukraine (change 2013 to 2014):

      You can see that in a year, a lot of trade reorientation can happen.

      Especially considering the new agreements that have already in force, Ukraine has access to a huge market in Europe, from which the whole country can benefit. Many of the companies that deal exclusively with Russia are uncompetitive and manage to exist only with huge state support.

      The alternative - getting the Russian package that includes a lot of political strings means dealing with a really unreliable partner. Russia routinely wages trade wars even against its so-called allies including Belarus, Kazakhstan and the previous regime in Ukraine. They usually ban a particular type of product citing low quality or contamination, even though the same product is sold quite a few other jurisdictions like the EU. This usually happens right before negotiations or when other interests are involved. They had for example closed Poroshenko's plant in Russia and banned the import of his confectionery during the Maidan protests, more than half a year before he became president.

    2. Anonymous3:55 PM

      Way to earn your 10 rubles comrade.

  3. Anonymous10:22 AM

    One quibble: putting troops in Poland or the Baltics causes their foreign policies to become more reckless. I'm on my phone but there are some good poly sci case studies on this.

  4. Why "beat Russia?" I was taught that economic developement is not a zero-sum game. A look at the greatest scientists, mathematicians, musicians, and writers that humanity has produced will find lots of Russians. The ordinary Russian is resourceful and patriotic; it is hard to imagine the citizens of another nation conducting the defense of Leningrad or Stalingrad with the tenacity and valor as the Russians. We should look for ways to ally ourselves in mutually beneficial ways. The ISS is a good example.
    We must recognize that the boundaries of eastern Europe have been fluid in the last 250 years. A hundred years ago there were Poles and Ukrainians, but there were no nation-states of Poland or Ukraine. We need to encourage peaceful ways for these nations to settle their borders. I am pretty sure that Germans have given up on the drang nach Osten, and they are bettter off as a result. An atmosphere of calmness will encourage Russians to be comfortable with their western border.

  5. It's a slower, more cautious variant of a very old, very effective imperial strategy used by the Mongols and British, among others.

    British, yes. But Mongols? I can't think of any place where they used divide and conquer. References would be appretiated.

    1. Correct. Mongols use unite and conquer, not divide and conquer. The Mongols made money by trade. The basic pitch was, "Join us in trade and share the benefits or we will unite and annihilate your leaders and appoint new ones who will." The Mongols united the vast resources of their empire to knock off one recalcitrant at a time. The Mongols demanded ethnic and religious tolerance. Russia followed that line and tried to curb ethnic tensions, sometimes by deportations if necessary.

      The places Noah mentioned are all places where divisions occurred due to the rise of ethnic nationalism. The Georgian dominated government made Georgian the "official language", tried to ban regional parties and treated minorities as second class. The conflict in Ossetia started after the Georgians revoked what little autonomy the Ossetians had and otherwise treated the Ossetians not as partners, but second class citizens. After the conflict created a massive refugee crisis, Russia brokered a peace. That was disrupted again in 2004 when Georgian ethnic nationalists tried to reassert ethnic dominance over Ossetia.

      The Georgians also stirred up tensions with their Nationalistic threats in Abkhazia which escalated into particularly brutal ethnic cleansing of Georgians. This tension was created by Ethnic Nationalists, not Russia. Under the FSU the ethinic nationalists would have been squashed, perhaps brutally.

      Transdniestria is the same deal. Ethnic Romanians declared Moldovan the official language and relegate other ethnic groups to second class status.

      While the US celebrated the breakup of the FSU, we overlook the fact that the FSU suppressed Nationalist groups that would enact ethnic dominance policies in favor of policies that protected the rights of minorities. The US mistakenly elevates "elections" above all else. Elections alone do not make the US great. The US is great because we have institutional checks and balances that protects the rights of minorities against the tyranny of the majority. In other people's countries, the US think that ethnic dominance and discrimination against minority rights is OK if the government can win an election (except when our side loses the election). Jimmy Carter was correct to make human rights the focus of US foreign policy. The Reagan revolution and the NeoCon foreign policy that has dominated since has caused nothing but trouble. The problems in Eastern Europe are largely to do with intolerance and the rise of ethnic nationalists. Russia does not encourage them because Russia does not want tensions inside its own borders.
      -jonny bakho

  6. The stalling of Russian expansion wasn't exactly for lack of trying. Starting with the Russo-Persion wars to Crimea, Afghanistan, Nepal, and even arming Japan each attempted expansion was thwarted by the British. Russia made nominal gains but always failed to achieve their nominal goal. The Western intervention in China and fall of the Quing dynasty was partly in response to fears of Russian influence.

    Go back to the late 1600s and Russian expansion was always primarily focused towards the Ottomans and Central Asia. The overriding goal was always a warm water port with free access to the sea. The crown jewel was always Istanbul. Napoleans prime antagonism with Russia was his worry that they would seize Bosporus/Dardanelles and fostered a mistrust and strong arming of Russia which demanded invasion eventually destroying Napoleon.

    Pan-Slavism was as much of an excuse as anything with Russia being the prime instigator of Balkanization. Austria-Hungary seized Serbia largely to prevent further Russian influence and that rivalry precipitated the beginning of WWI.

    Russia wasn't as much cautious as much as wary of the historical precedent that had seen Britain and France amongst other nations repeatedly thwart expansionist efforts.

    There was a great account of America written in the 1830s by a French noblema. He was sent to examine the US politically much like an update of Tocqueville. Even in 1830 he boldly states that he believes that in 100 years the world will have two great powers in the US and Russia that will dominate world affairs. He was less than 20 years off but even then the shape of the world was obvious to him and Russia was the great boogie man of European foreign policy that could unify the western world to prevent its voracious growth.

    I would say that Russian caution was about seeing how far they could take things without provoking an outright response from the west. In some ways Ukraine is a historical analogue to Russian strategy that had lasted since 1600 let alone Napolean.

    I'm not sure how much any of that matters to the current world but it certainly is interesting as a parallel.

  7. You like blogs? I cannot recommend enough this one on the topic: , especially posts by Yuriy Gorodnichenko, a UC Berkeley macroeconomist.

    Some thoughts (I'll link the blog, if they have written already about the same thing)"

    1. One Russian institution that is extremely effective is Russian media. Putin controls Russia because he controls the TV. This is an area where policy can be very effective if funding is increased to efforts like the BBC or Voice of America or something else.

    2. The USA can do more to encourage Ukraine to pursue expansionary policy; self-imposed austerity will probably wreak its economy:

    3. Eastern Ukraine is very misunderstood, its not nearly as pro-Russian as commonly believed in the West (or Russia):

    4. Sanctions can bite:


  8. Something I was thinking about recently - if EU countries decided to stop importing Russian fuel, the shocks to the respective economies will be very unsymmetrical - the EU is too well equipped to handle big supply shocks and if you believe Krugman and Eggertson it will be actually beneficial (especially the Western part which survived a much worse OPEC addiction). On the other hand Russia will face a challenge no country ever has in a huge demand shock; the regime will most probably crumble.

  9. Ukraine is crippled by corruption. Ukraine needs to address that corruption or it will be partitioned.

    1. This guarantees that part of it will fall into the hands of the remarkably well-governed and transparent hands of Russia.

  10. "And in the meantime, we should of course try to destabilize Russia by creating disruptive cheap energy technologies."

    Yeah, a huge thing. We could do so much for positive change of terrible petro regimes by big increases in conservation, like greatly raising mileage standards, and energy efficiency standards across the board. And we could negotiate treaties, or agreements, to do this simultaneously with major advanced countries around the globe.

    Of course, there's also carbon taxes. But it's not just the political difficulties there. I had what I think is a very good post showing that a big thing the standard model misses in comparing regulations to pigovian taxes is the often powerful positional externalities and effects on culture, which can give big advantages to regulation. See:

    Great picture of Karpov. Are you a chess player? I really enjoy the game when I can find the time. Karpov is one of my favorites.

  11. Alright, Noah, I'm calling bullshit on your qualifications for geopolitical analysis. How many Paradox Interactive games have you even played? Maybe just CK2? Leave this to the experts.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. What wrong with this analysis? Confirmation bias. It presumes the US position that it is isn the long run interests of the US to make Russia a vassal state and thereby secure the Eurasian land mass and Mackinder's heartland theory and geographical pivot of history. See Zbig Brzezinski on this. And he is probably less hawkish on this then the neocons. Much of US geopolicy and geostrategy can be tied together in terms of controlling the pivot of history, or at least ensuring that no one else controls it.

    Where is the weakness in this analysis? Failure to consider alternate scenarios, tradeoffs and unintended consequences.

    But, hey, you are new at this. Glad to see an economist paying attention to what's happening outside the academy.

    1. BTW, GWH Bush promised Gorby that the NATO would not take the opportunity to advance,but the advance came as early as the Clinton Administration. Now it has become patently obvious is that the US and allies (vassals) are surrounding Russia and China militarily. Does anyone think that the Russian and Chinese militaries haven't noticed this and aren't aware of the explicit US doctrine of preemptive first strike?

    2. Branko Milanovic has a pertinent post up today.

      The origins of the Second Cold War: an essay in interpretation

      He outlines two narratives about what happened post Cold War. It seems pretty clear that you are presuming one of them.

    3. Oh, and you might also profit from reading Pepe Escobar's A chessboard drenched in blood, July 23, Asia Times Online.

    4. Anonymous3:59 PM

      Mocks Noah for being an academic, quotes even more obscure and irrelevant academic drible interlaced with anti-American writings of an obscure -- but popular with the RT crowd for his anti-Americanism -- journalist. Classic

    5. Anonymous, if you read only one side of many facets story you come away ignorant and influenced by confirmation bias. I did not assert that anyone is "right," just that geopolicy is many faceted. Each of the facets reflects its own interests and spin (propaganda). The challenge is to read between the lines.

      Same in economics. There are different schools of thought with different approaches. Claiming that one is "orthodox" and the others are "heterodox"is another instance of confirmation bias.

      In intelligence, analysts sift through mountains of data to try to penetrate the fog of bias.

    6. Bush did not promise Gorbachov that NATO wouldn't advance east. After Baker made some statements to that effect, Bush directly and unequivocally rejected them.

      Either way, it's not up to Russia to decide what alliances independent countries like Poland or the Baltics would be allowed to join.

  13. Anonymous4:30 PM

    As someone coming from a third world country, I find this analysis and some of the comments quite strange. It appears to me that the Western world is trying hard to hit Russia below the belt. The Ukrainian problem was created by the Western world's expansionist approaches. And now we are trying to point fingers at Russia for everything. Russia is now a capitalist country. Are there any means by which the Western world can peacefully co-exist with the new capitalist Russia?
    Also, a distinction needs to be made between the Russian people and the State. These are 2 different things.
    It would have been nice for Noah to keep out of things that he knows nothing about. The encouraging thing, however, is that many commenters seem to be very sensible.

  14. Brian5:24 PM

    I agree there's not a whole lot other than "just waiting" that we can really do at this point. Maybe install those missile defense shields we had promised to install in Eastern Europe only to have Obama decide not to.

    But didn't we "just wait" before WWI and "just wait" through the rise of Nazi Germany?

  15. Of course the "just waiting" strategy will probably work out over 20 years or so ... giving Republicans 7305 opportunities to lambast Obama and his successors for inactivity. Looks like a win-win situation for everyone!

  16. when can we get a post analyzing the success of Abenomics.

  17. Gross over-simplification of the existing problems with Russia and uh... bad conclusion.

    So you assume Putin doesn't have a system in place i.e. someone to take over when he passes. You assume a series of events will take place on a linear scale fail to take into account any of the economic advantages Russia has.

    Let's consider Russia's oil and gas industry for instance, one dominated by his henchman. If they obtain nearby satellite countries for instance, they will also have control of the significant amount of gas and oil flowing through that countries' pipelines and infrastructure. They wield a greater hammer then you're suggesting.

  18. I'm glad to see more people starting to think seriously about the Russia crisis. But you're pretty obviously a newbie to that part of the world, and I've got to correct you on several points.

    1) Russia is an incredibly volatile nation, alternating between periods of caution and wild risk-taking. Their last big territorial grab was in 1939-1946, when they grabbed half of Europe, and were poised to take the whole of continental Europe had the United States not intervened.

    2) Russia isn't mainly interested in formally annexing territory, it's mainly interested in having satellite states. It doesn't need more resources but would love to deprive others of them especially the United States.

    3) Putin's vision is to make western Europe a reluctant ally through a combination of coercion and corruption, and to dominate the Middle East by arming and financing militias and regimes and where necessary intervening militarily. The most likely direction for a major Russian military expedition would be neither east nor west but south, into the Caucasus and up to or into Iran or Iraq. But for the foreseeable future Russia will be bogged down in Ukraine.

    4) The policy of threatening serious sanctions over Ukraine has not "worked OK". Russia has annexed Crimea, flouted the post-WWII order of no new border revisions, and paid zero for it. Not only Russia but other regional powers will be encouraged to flout further. Russia has escalated its intervention steadily, and paid practically nothing for it. The downing of MH17 is a direct result of Western inaction. The threat of serious sanctions has been a small help in discouraging Russia from a full-scale invasion, but that was never Russia’s strategy. Putin wants to pressure Ukraine into accepting an internationally brokered peace agreement, that Russia could interpret as allowing it to retain de facto control, along the lines of Transdnistria or pre-2008 Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Then sometime later, as in 2008 in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia could find an excuse to break the agreements and grab total control. Russia also wants to pressure central and western Ukraine into electing a pro-Russian president and parliament, as he successfully did in Georgia.

    5) Ukraine is not "already too chaotic" to be helped. Ukraine is doing surprisingly well but needs military and financial aid to sustain its fight. What has gone wrong for Putin is the new unity that Ukraine has forged in opposing him. He expected to be supported in almost half of Ukraine, not just in the Donbass but also in Kharkiv, Zaporizhya, Nikolayev, Odessa and maybe even Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson. His militias managed to grab not even half of the Donbass. Lately the Ukrainian national guard (not army, as they haven't formally declared war) has been winning back one city after another. As we speak they are driving between the two largest rebel-held cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, apparently to cut off Donetsk from resupplies. Putin is faced with the awful for him choice of having to invade or letting the whole project fail. Putin does not want to have to fight a full-scale war, that was never part of the plan.

    6) The “just wait” approach is not wisdom. It’s ignorance and cowardice. I understand that young left-liberals are suspicious of any US international involvement after the neocon failure, and I understand that young left-liberals badly want to support their leader and find some way to explain what he’s doing as wise and good. But that’s a load of crap. Obama doesn’t have a clue about Russia and Ukraine. His Nato generals are frustrated as hell working for such a do-nothing who refuses to shoulder the responsibility he took on to lead the free world.

    Evil prevails when good men do nothing.

    1. This is a very good and informed take on the situation.

      The imperial ambition of Russia are plain to see. We don't need any stupid adventures a'la Iraq, but we do need resolve when our principles are clearly threatened. Putin represents a big challenge to the order we established in Europe and which brought peace, stability, freedom and wealth.

      The behavior of Obama and especially of the European leaders is just disgraceful.

    2. Anonymous4:43 PM

      If Russia wants to waste its resources dominating the politics of its neighbors, how does that damage US interests? This isn't the cold war, when one could argue with a straight face about dominoes falling and the threat of global communism. The costs of making damn sure we stop Russia (i.e. going beyond sanctions to arm pro-western groups or even engage our military) are pretty high (potentially catastrophic if they spark a nuclear exchange) and the benefits are hard to see.

  19. A few comments on this, several of these directed at remarks made by bakho, but not all.

    1) Bakho is right that eastern Ukraine is economically dependent on Russia and will not gain from any trade deal with EU. That said, Putin is not the progressive secular leader Bakho claims he is, or that the Ukrainians are as intolerant as he claimes

    2) This includes the fact that the insane theory of Strelkov that MH17 was full of already dead bodies was actually seriously presented on Russian media. Strelkov had bragged about the downing of MH17 right after it happened, although removed this after it came out it was a commercial plane, only to switch to this wacko theory of it being a zombie plane. As it is, Strelkov/Girkin, the self-appointed Minister of Defense of the separatist regime, is not only a Russian citizen from Moscow, but an advocate of restoring the Russian Empire, headed by a tsar with dominance by the Russian Orthodox Church. He, as well as the official, if also self-appointed, leader of the Donetsk Republic, Alexander Borodai, are both former employees of Konstaintin Malofeev, a Russian billionaire who is closely linked to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church as well as to close advisors of Putin. Malofeevm has also met with people like Martine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front. Anybody who thinks this separatist movement are living in fantasyland.

    3) People who whine about NATO expanding eastward should note that it was the nations themselves who asked to join, most notably Poland the Baltic states, all of whom have unhappy experiences of being invaded and annexed by Russia. That Putin is now invading non-NATO states (and, yes, what is happening in eastern Ukrain is an invasion) shows that these nations had completely legitimate grounds for wanting to be in NATO.

    4) Finally we come to the matter of Crimea. Now from a larger historical perspective, there is a strong argument for Crimea to be a part of Russia. Its shift from Russia to Ukraine under Khrushchev was a historically bizarre event. Certainly ethnic Russians dominate there, far more so than any other part of Ukraine. However, there are some problems here, starting with the 54% vote in 1991 Crimea made to stay with Ukraine (it was not yet obvious how badly Ukraine would be governed, the only former Soviet republic to now have a lower real per capita GDP than in 1991). The biggest one is that in 1993, Russia signed a treaty with Ukraine, US, and UK that it would respect the "territorial integrity" of Ukraine if the latter turned over its nuclear weapons to Russia, which it did. This is a profound violation of a nuclear weapons treaty that has been pretty much ignored by everybody as we all know there is no way in fact to overturn the Russian annexation of Crimea. But it shows how utterly worthless Putin is an international leader whose word is garbage and who should be treated with nothing but contempt and distrust. This matter is far more serious than supporting people who claim that airplanes shot out of the air by his flunkies were full of already dead bodies.

    Barkley Rosser

    1. I did not claim that Putin or the Russian Mafia are progressive. They can be brutal and repressive.

      I do object to viewing right wing Nationalist hate groups as legitimate. They need to be marginalized and their view made unwelcome much as it is in the US. Svoboda is not nice, threaten other ethnic groups and while they may have toned down the rhetoric recently, they get their support from the promotion of ethnic dominance (Official language, lack of local autonomy, against compromise with other ethnic groups.) Svoboda is a minor party, and not all Ukrainians are as intolerant, but the Ukrainian elite are willing to tolerate their hate, their divisive language and invite them into government.

      The Republicans in Mississippi don't promote violence against blacks but they tolerate NeoConfederate and racists groups that do and work very hard to keep blacks from voting and participating in government.

      The Ukraine government elite are willing to bomb their own citizens to force their political will rather than seek compromise. This is not the way to establish a healthy multicultural multi-ethnic state. The US and the NeoCons have a terrible record of supporting right wing and religious fundamentalist and ethnic dominance groups that have terrible human rights records and cause civil strife. The US wants to blame the whole FAIL on Putin and Russia but the NeoCons and ill considered policy share the majority of the blame and they are being given a free pass. I support a peaceful settlement through compromise. Cheerleading for a Nationalistic government will not produce that result. No matter how much good an EU deal might do the western Ukraine, if it promotes violence, the small amount of good will be overwhelmed.

    2. bakho you're spreading lies. The Ukrainian government is not bombing its own citizens.

    3. You seen to have set up a straw Ukraine to object to. The current interim government is full of ethnic minorities, Arsen Avakov (interiour) is Armenian, Pavel Klimkin (foreign affairs) is Russian, the guy who probably will become interim PM Groysman is Jewish (already appointed, not yet approved), the chairwoman of the Central Bank is Russian.

      And Svoboda is a low-performing party election-wise - its biggest success was 10% at the polls and a few mayors.

      I don't why I even bother to reply about this, the part of "bomb their own citizens" shows how strong the derp is.

    4. Ukraine: Unguided Rockets Killing Civilians

      I just know what Human Rights Watch is Reporting.

      Maybe Foreign Policy Magazine is spreading lies about the role of Svoboda in the government?

      The US is getting the same one-sided story we got in 2002 about Iraq.

    5. For the record, bakho, I would like to see Svoboda out of the Ukrainian government. But this is a foreign invasion in the eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, defeating a heavily armed foreign invasion generally ends up with collateral damage.

  20. Noah,

    There is an another option and dearly needed. We have to move away from this "beating a country, dictator, etc" or war mentality of our foreign policy. The real issue is that EU wants to expand but has no guts, loyalty among themselves, or means to execute any economic policy that would induce such a change.

    Further, we should seriously consider that EU interest and our interest do not always align. Much of Iraq war was to stop Saddam and any other future tyrant from pricing the oil in anything but dollar. Oil is the gold.

    Why don't we focus ourselves on us as Americans (and not on Jewish American, Arab American, etc) and rebuild our country using the reprieve of near fossil energy independence and let the crazies kill each other.

  21. Anonymous10:51 AM

    "And in the meantime, we should of course try to destabilize Russia by creating disruptive cheap energy technologies."

    Trying to destabilize a nuclear power does not sound like a good idea.

    "Another option is to welcome mass immigration from Russia, thus decreasing the size and power of the Russian ethnic group in the long term."

    You can take people away but the land will stay there. In case there are problems with China in the future, are you going to suggest destabilizing it and mass immigration to the US to solve the problem?

    The whole anbalysis rests on the unfounded assumption that if Putin is forced to leave power, Russia will become more democratic? But what about if hardliners win and start threatening everyone with a war? Have you thought of this scenario?

    Finally, is this analysis the result of Bayesian inference from limited samples and use only of confirmative bias?

  22. Anonymous1:25 PM

    I find it interesting that Noah Smith and Paul Krugman seem to think you need optimization models to understand economics. But when it comes to international relations they pontificate without any model at all.

    1. Anonymous5:25 PM

      Why not model Putin and Saddam Hussein as "representative agents" in your optimization model? Rational or near rational behavior?

  23. Anonymous1:26 PM

    Could someone please next time Paul Krugman lectures about the Iraq War say "where is your model".

  24. Ultimately this comes down to a question of character. If you're a Kennedy Democrat, a person of character who believes that America has a moral duty to lead the free world, you'll be pushing to do more to help Ukraine.

    If you're a devoted Obama Democrat, with no clear idea of America's role in the world but a lot of the sort of loyalty to your leader that a junior chimp feels for his favored Alpha, then you'll be engaged in stretched and convoluted reasoning that attempts to dress up inaction as wisdom.

  25. Anonymous2:36 PM

    Putin is simply a NIMBI («not in my back yard, americans»). And someone with an idea of what to do with his country - and hence to protect it from foreign interference -, unlike Obama and the majority of European leaders.

    The US has touched with bone in the East.

    This crisis has been sparked by the fascist Ukrainian militia helped cheerfully by American leaders and its puppet, the EU, especially through the neo-expansionist German foreign policy in Europe, its back yard. Not only they ousted the democratically elected president of Ukraine (not a single word of this fact in the happy-flowers pro-American-rhetoric article), but they also put in front of the Ukrainian government a group of fascists whose aim was, in their own words, «to exterminate the Russian minority».

    But in Europe (yes, in Western Europe, too, in the «developed Europe»), there are still many people who is not silly enough to believe in everything what Uncle Sam says.

    Go home America, go home.

  26. Multiheaded3:45 PM

    "Another option is to welcome mass immigration from Russia, thus decreasing the size and power of the Russian ethnic group in the long term."

    This is like a stereotypical evil Jewish plot that the far-right everywhere likes to shout about, you know. At the very least, don't give them ammunition.

    Overall: that's some shitty analysis!

  27. Anonymous1:04 PM

    U are k now ingly naughty Noah, and u know it. acronym N.N.N.and u No