Vladimir Putin: "We Are Ready to Show What Real Decommunization Would Mean for Ukraine"
Since my article last week predicting the imminent “Regathering of the Russian Lands”, the prospect of a large-scale Russian invasion has gone from ambiguous to extremely likely (90% on Metaculus). Personally, I think it’s a foregone conclusion, with operations beginning either tonight or tomorrow night, with the most interesting and important questions now being the speed of the Ukrainian collapse, the future borders and internal organization of Russian Empire 2.0, and the ramifications of the return of history on the international order.
February 22, 2022 will indeed enter history as the day when Vladimir Putin decided to become a Great Man of history. In an hour long speech, he basically recounted his magisterial July 2021 article on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians, officially endorsing the nationalist position that Russia is the “world’s largest divided big nation”. He stated that the modern Ukrainian state can be rightfully called “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine”, asserted that its statehood was developed by the Bolsheviks, and noted the irony in Ukrainian nationalists toppling statues to their father. “You want decommunization? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunizations would mean for Ukraine.”
Russian nationalists, a skeptical crowd that has long grown used to betrayals and disappointments from Russian politicians, were in shock and disbelief these past few days (Vile Varangian, a repatriate who, like me, was one of the few nationalists to identify Putin’s “nationalist turn” early, described it as suddenly living in a “Slavic Wakanda”). Talking points that, in their more radical and “powerful” forms, were once confined to tomes by nationalist intellectuals such as Igor Shafarevich or Konstantin Krylov, and/or propagated at the late Egor Prosvirnin’s Sputnik & Pogrom (a glossy e-magazine that played a critical but almost entirely unrecognized in the West’s role in establishing White Guardist nationalism as a youth subculture during the early to mid-2010s), was now affirmed as state ideology on TV before tens of millions of Russians. Weather reports now include not just Donetsk, but also Mariupol, which is for now outside the DNR. Maps of Russia’s historical “gifts” of territory to Ukraine that had previously only appeared as low quality jpgs on marginal LiveJournal blogs and in very long and autistic comments threads dominated by warring vatniks and svidomy (khokhlosrach, i.e. our equivalent of Balkansposting), found their way to mainstream TV shows. This was foreshadowed in Putin’s speech, in which he noted that Ukrainian cultural vandalism extended to statues to Imperial-era leaders and generals under the cover of renouncing the “so-called colonial heritage” of the Russian Empire… quite strange behavior considering Ukraine owes most of its territory to them.
The rest of Putin’s speech was the standard litany of complaints: Broken promises on NATO expansion, military installations in Eastern Europe, Ukraine’s disinterest in fulfilling the Minsk Accords. Genocide was also mentioned in the context of the Donbass, as well as a promise to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Odessa Trade Union arson that killed 46 anti-Maidan activists in 2014.
The culmination of trends long in motion.
The speech ended with the “long overdue” decision to recognize the DNR and LNR and sign mutual defense treaties with them. The treaties were officially signed by Putin and the leaders of the separatist republics shortly afterwards. Crucially, it was soon clarified that this recognition extended to their full pre-2014 borders. So far as both the DNR/LNR and the Russian Federation are now concerned, these territories are now occupied by the Ukrainian military. Meanwhile, quite conveniently, crazed and blood-lusted Banderites have taken a very acute interest in shelling Russian tractor roads, sheds, and sending infiltration teams to bomb churches in Crimea just as 75% of Russian military power happens to be concentrated on Ukraine’s borders. Very strange and illogical behavior indeed. Anyhow, the transparency of these stunts is an obvious tell that they are exclusively meant for domestic consumption.
The Russians burned their diplomatic documents a couple of weeks back, and evacuated the Kiev Embassy and consulates today. This is what happens towards the end.
Meanwhile, reaching levels of cringe previously thought impossible, the US Embassy (no longer) in Kiev (or now even Lvov) is now reduced to posting idiotic svidomy memes in support of Ukraine. That it’s doing this from some basement in Kraków tells the story.
This was preceded by an ultimatum to Ukraine that was absurd and unfulfillable, and clearly designed to be so (Recognize Crimea and Sevastopol as Russian territory; renounce plans to join NATO; negotiate with LDNR leaders; demilitarization). Virtually no country would accede to such demands, and most especially by one under the thrall of unrealistic nationalists who have kept Minsk II in deadlock for eight years and whose response to an immediate existential threat in the form of 100,000s of Russian troops on its borders is to announce… intent to develop nuclear weapons.
Yesterday, the Russian Senate ticked the legality checkbox by granting Putin permission to use force outside Russia’s borders.
Sanctions are already being issued at a rapid clip by the West, further evidence that invasion is viewed as a foregone conclusion (most importantly, this involves the withdrawing of license permits for NS2). Granted, many of them are falling rather flat… Russian elites being banned from “shopping in Milano” and "buying “diamonds in Antwerp” is hardly something that concerns normal Russians (much like losing access to French cheese eight years ago). It’s also perfectly fine by Putin himself, as this just helps with existing drives to “nationalize the elites” by banning officials from having offshore bank accounts and the like. If Western policians can help with this project, then that’s all the better.
Facts on the ground: Apart from the ~120 BTGs/200,000 combat troops in the immediate area, you’d need to add some large percentage of Russia’s 60,000 VDV forces, naval units, perhaps a third of the 190,000 Air Force personnel, the 25,000 strong Black Sea Fleet, maybe the ~50,000 Belorussian troops, perhaps 50,000 Rosgvardiya. All told, comparable to the force the US assembled against Iraq in 2003, with two decades’ worth of technological progress on top and multiple times the Americans’ artillery/missile firepower per soldier. The crushing power of artillery was already demonstrated in the World Wars, accounting for most casualties; since rifle power has seen scant technological progress since then, while artillery fire is now much more precise, the mismatch between rifle power and artillery power would have multiplied since. The morale/bravery of individual soldiers makes no significant difference. Even if it was very high (spoiler: it isn’t), any Ukrainian units caught out in the open will be spotted by drones and destroyed within minutes. Between this, and Russia’s total air and EW dominance, we will see a very quick collapse of any Ukrainian fronts, and mass surrender and/or defection to the Russian Army.
There are reports on Telegram groups of these defection dynamics already playing out within silovik organizations in the Eastern cities. Today has seen the open defection of a Rada deputy, Ilya Kyva of the Opposition Bloc, who participated in the “Anti-Terrorist Operaton” in 2014-15 under Interior Minister Arsen Avakov but now faithfully repeats Putin’s bromides about Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians being one people, and calls for Russian military intervention. We can expect to see many more such cases of “rats fleeing sinking ships” over the coming days.
On a more general note, my impression is that the people who claim Ukrainian troops will offer serious resistance otherwise tend to either have a poor grasp on modern warfare, and/or are pro-Ukrainian partisans who have an understandable interest in trying to dissuade a Russian attack by making their capabilities out to be more threatening than they really are (i.e., blowfish strategy). On the topic of the latter, here is a good article at Palladium mag on “Waiting for the Russians in Ukraine”.
It was in the younger places, like Kiev and Lviv, that people were the most hopeful. Often, these were also the same people most intent in their nationalism. Lviv, in many ways the most optimistic place in the country, is also the place where the wartime nationalist Stepan Bandera is most deified. A young, buzzcut ultranationalist I met in Kiev named Gania—originally he was from Donetsk; easterners who became nationalists seemed to go further in order to compensate—was proud of Ukraine, and would stay behind to defend it. “Слава Україні!”: glory to Ukraine. I asked him what he thought of Bandera: a hero, he said. Ukraine was the greatest country. But he liked other places too. Would he move to America if he got the chance? Absolutely, he said: it’s too hard to get a good job here.
This anecdotally backs up what I said back in early December: The main class of people who would fight for Ukraine, even in principle, are highly ideological Far Right types from prole backgrounds, such as members of Azov (who, ironically, happen to be disproportionately ethnic Russian). They are not going to be “liberal civil society” crypto traders, another stock Ukrainian character profiled in that article; nor, needless to say, those Ukrainian who see “independence as a catastrophe”, i.e. who are pro-Russian. The latter are numerically significant, and probably underestimated in official polls.
“The Punisher” FSB armored vehicle, its aesthetics remarkably redolent of the militaristic dictatorship of the “Land of the Unknown Fathers” from the Russian-Ukrainian “The Inhabited Island” (2008) film, is for the rainbow mask people in Kiev. They have been very naughty…
The prominent presence of Rosgvardiya units and vehicles in videos, including avtozaks used for prisoner transport, suggests that the Russian authorities share my view that the military operation will be over quickly, and that much subsequent energy will have to be expended on putting down urban riots by agitated svidomy in shock and disbelief from having their many delusions crash all around them (e.g., their “strongest army in Europe” lasting no more than a few days tops against alcoholic katsap vatniks).
As I finish writing this, there are reports that Russia has closed the airspace over East Ukraine, the Ukrainian electricity grid has been decoupled from Russia and Belarus, and Putin isn’t answering Zelensky’s calls. Looks like Kyiv is soon going to be Kiev again.