On Ukraine, Revisited
The clock is ticking for Ukraine
A couple months into the Ukraine War, I offered some observations in my post, On Ukraine.
I’ve said very little about the Ukraine conflict because I do not have strong opinions about it and do not feel it’s wise to entangle our identitarian messaging with the complex, generational challenge that’s ultimately a lingering artifact of the poorly dissolved Soviet Union. The more I speak on the matter, the fewer friends I’ll have, but I feel a short post is obligatory to preclude what people will presume I’m thinking on the matter.
At the risk of ending up with even fewer friends, the war has dragged on few a couple years now and I have some more opinions on the conflict.
I predicted how the war would go, and I was correct.
Both superpowers are being frustrated in their attempts to override the will of the people in the individual communities drawn into the conflict, as part of a broader devolutionary trend where both NATO and the Kremlin find that their 20th century arsenals and assumptions aren’t working. It is a good thing for Russia that they retreated from Kyiv, as any victories over regions that aren’t credibly Russian will prove disastrously expensive to maintain control over.
The Ukraine Conflict has become interminably frozen, at approximately the point at which the villages become more Ukrainian than Russian. This reality both speaks to the legitimacy of the conflict and the rather limited scope of that legitimacy. There’s a crescent of land that was claimed by Ukraine which belonged to Russia. It is now in Russian hands, and there’s not much more for Russia to gain that will be worth it.
Even if a Ukrainian political coup or logistical crisis enables Russia to decisively break through the deeply reinforced lines, Russia would need to entirely depopulate and repopulate the regions to actually hope to hold them for the long term, a very expensive proposition that Russia’s anemic demographic circumstances don’t really favor.
Early on in the conflict, many of the russophiles and even official Russian outlets framed things in the worst possible way, describing the Ukrainian identity as broadly illegitimate and hinting at the wholesale termination of the Ukrainian state.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Putin maintained this original framing in his recent interview with Tucker Carlson. The whole interview was less an interview than an internal argument between the Russia we wish were pursuing the campaign (led by Tucker) and the Russia actually pursuing the campaign (led by Putin).
The interview effectively disassembled the pro-Russian talking points of paleocon and America First opponents of supporting Ukraine. Point by point, Putin explained that he does not regard any of Ukraine or its independence as legitimate, does not consider “ukrainian” a valid identity, does not have defined limits on his revanchist ambitions, and does not feel that he needs or wants Western support.
While Tucker and I can make and have this argument that seizing the eastern provinces is defensible within a Western and nationalist rubric, Putin’s operating on a Eurasian and imperial rubric. Contrary to what MSNBC would have you believe, Tucker and the rest of America’s nationalist right aren’t being fed pro-Russian talking points by the Kremlin. If anything, the Kremlin is in general agreement with MSNBC that it’s a despotic imperial project intent on menacing its neighbors.
Dugin is aware of the distinction, describing it in detail in a recent post:
This scenario represents a dual challenge to the globalist liberal establishment in the United States: an external challenge from Putin and an internal one from Tucker Carlson (effectively from Trump).
Predictably, Dugin is more interested in the “MAGA Communism” clique than in anything actually happening in American politics. Russians are at least as delusional about American domestic interests as we are about theirs.
Intriguingly, the US also sees the emergence of MAGA Communism, as represented by figures like Jackson Hinkle and Infrared. These individuals are allies of conservative Tucker Carlson but are also Marxists who support Trump and advocate the ‘Make America Great Again’ (MAGA) slogan.
Hinkle and Haz are only insightful and popular to the extent that they’re anti-imperial. A survey of how Hinkle’s anti-Zionist posts compare in popularity to his pro-Marxist posts puts to bed any notion that there’s a credible revival of Soviet ideology afoot. For MAGA Communism, the 20th Century Soviet Union merely represents a mythical Prester John figure in opposition to American and Zionist imperialism.
Hinkle and Haz are not opposed to Soviet or Russian imperialism, of course. All of Russia’s actions are necessarily and obviously defensive moves against the American and Zionist villains. The Soviet Union’s imperialism being arguably worse than America’s was what drove China into America’s corner, ending the Cold War. And if you have any question about the deep relationship between the Soviet Union and Global Jewry, you’re encouraged to check out the recent film, Oppenheimer.
But I don’t want to pull a Putin here and bore you with ancient history.
The “facts on the ground” here are that Russia is currently winning, to the extent that you can call frozen conflicts where the victories are measured in feet and meters “winning.” Russia has ultimately been vindicated in predicting that Western support would waver. Polish farmers are dumping Ukrainian grain on the street as we speak. The entire American populist right has turned on ongoing funding for Ukraine. Zelensky received no invitation to give a speech at the Super Bowl today.
The only question now is whether Ukraine achieves a diplomatic or absolute defeat. Everything else is background noise, wishful thinking, or fantasy. Therein lies the wisdom of Putin’s seemingly tone deaf speech. The audience was not me or Tucker or you, but Ukrainians. By reiterating that he absolutely does have ambitions beyond the current conflict zones, he’s encouraging the Ukrainians to shift their goal posts to diplomacy or risk a much greater defeat than merely losing their disputed Eastern provinces.
While any speech by Putin would have been digested by the American news cycle and forgotten within a few days, the Ukrainian leadership and public hung on every word in that interview, and received a very clear message: Putin cares far more about the fate of Ukraine than the West does. There’s really no disputing that. Whether or not Ukraine will leverage what Western support remains to assemble a treaty Putin would find acceptable is an open question.
Personally, I hope they do. I have nothing against Ukraine or the Ukrainian people, and I disagree with Putin’s historiography. I would like to see a safe and prosperous Ukraine emerge from this conflict with strong guarantees from both superpowers ensuring that it can survive and thrive as a buffer state (neither a NATO outpost nor a neo-soviet puppet state), perhaps with China stepping in to notarize the deal. Time will tell, but the clock is ticking for Ukraine.