01 March 2022

Frozen borders and keeping the peace (updated)

Part of the reason why the global response to Putin's invasion of Ukraine has been so unified and harsh is that the invasion violated an unwritten but important rule which has helped keep the world stable for almost eighty years.

The year 1945 was a pivotal year for the world, marking the boundary between two very different periods of history and even two different kinds of history.  One example is the freezing of international borders.  If you look at a map of the world immediately after the end of World War II, when the new borders had just been settled, and a map of the world today, it's notable that most of the present borders are still in the same places.  There have been just a few cases of large entities splitting into smaller ones (Yugoslavia, British India, Sudan), and even fewer mergers (East and West Germany into unified Germany), but there have been almost no changes caused by countries biting off chunks of territory from their neighbors, as routinely happened for centuries before 1945.  Even when the USSR broke up, the borders of the new countries stayed the same as those of the former Soviet "republics".  When the countries of black Africa became independent, they kept the borders inherited from the European colonial empires, even though those borders mostly ignored the actual geographical distribution of ethnic groups -- because they realized that trying to adjust the borders to reflect ethnicity would lead to chaos and probably innumerable wars.

The emergence of a global consensus that changing borders by forcible seizure of territory, even if arguably justified on historical or ethnic grounds, is intolerable is one of the things that has kept the post-1945 world more peaceful than almost any previous era.  Especially for Europe, which had suffered almost continuous territorial wars since the fall of the Roman Empire, this period has been a blessing.  No one has worried that (for example) Germany might start a war to take Silesia back from Poland, or that Britain might try to reconquer the Irish republic.

Previous attempts by rogue states to change or erase borders by force, such as Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, also elicited a forceful and unified international response, because the world could not risk the re-normalization of such behavior.  Putin's incursions into Ukraine in 2014, by contrast, did not lead to as strong a response as they should have, perhaps because confronting a country as powerful as Russia was too daunting.  It was easy enough to concoct excuses -- Crimea, annexed by Russia, had been part of the Russian republic of the USSR until 1954, and the Donbas territories were not annexed but declared to be "independent" states, though actually puppets of Russia, thus paying lip service to the rule against forcible annexation (Turkey did the same thing in northern Cyprus in 1974).  But now the world has seen, as it did in the 1930s, that failure to confront an aggressive dictator early on just leads to escalated aggression a few years later.

And this is an especially frightening case.  It's unclear whether Putin aims to annex Ukraine outright (perhaps after a staged referendum as in Crimea) or to install a Vichy regime that would make it a de facto puppet state.  But either way, a large European country, bordering on the edges of the West, would have its sovereignty snuffed out by naked military force.  And given Putin's aspirations to restore the Soviet era, other countries might be at risk if he succeeds.  If he gets away with conquering Ukraine, he might think he could get away with invading the Baltic states -- which would mean a direct war with NATO, a war which would be at serious risk of turning nuclear.

That's why pretty much every democracy and even some less-than-democratic states are willing to go to the mat over this invasion.  A world with hydrogen bombs cannot tolerate any risk of a return to pre-1945 norms.  It's simply too dangerous.

Some current links of interest:

A huge Russian armored column is heading toward Kyiv.

Russia has now been accused of using a thermobaric bomb, a super-powerful explosive capable of inflicting devastating casualties over a wide area, in Kharkiv.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians have signed an online petition and various open letters opposing the invasion.  One has to respect the courage of Russians living under a gangster-regime who nevertheless take a stand.

In a stark departure from its traditional neutrality, Finland joins the countries sending weapons to Ukraine.  Maybe they're thinking back on this.

See video here of a missile attack on an administration building in Kharkiv (this is a conventional missile, not the thermobaric bomb mentioned above, which would be far more powerful).

Lots of observations and links here from a blogger who once spent some time in Ukraine.

Here's how Ukraine could actually win the war.

This Ukrainian gay erotic artist (NSFW images) would have much to fear if his country fell to Putin's fanatically homophobic regime.

Here's a concrete step you can take to oppose Putin's propaganda.

The war is inspiring motivational images.

Disney has imposed sanctions on Russia.  First PornHub, now this.  If the Russian people eventually have no entertainment left but watching Putin's speeches on TV, they're really going to get mad.

Next, an important reminder:
And sorry, but this is kind of silly:
What do they think New York and Washington looked like in those years?

Updates:  An audio message from the home base of one Russian brigade supports Ukrainian claims that the Russian forces are suffering massive casualties.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Russian troops' motivation and morale are at rock bottomMore here.  There are even reports of soldiers punching holes in their own fuel tanks to let the fuel run out and avoid fighting.

Turkey is stopping Russian warships from passing through the Bosporus.

Observations here (not verifiable) by a blogger on the startling incompetence of the invasion.

Fund-raiser here for members of the Roma minority trying to escape Ukraine.

Here's a subtle act of protest in Moscow.

An American of Ukrainian descent discusses the powerful pull of the ancestral culture.

68% of Russians support the war, probably due to Putin's total control of the Russian media.  Support seems likely to erode as more accurate information filters into the country.

Ukrainian authorities now say that about two thousand Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

A common feature of news reports about the war has been the heavy Russian missile bombardments of Ukrainian cities.  It's not clear what military purpose this serves; few targets of military significance are hit by such barrages, and historically, indiscriminate killing of civilians has angered them and strengthened their determination to fight rather than demoralized them.  More to the point, missiles are not cheap, and Russia's supply of them is not unlimited.  I've seen reports that Russia's supplies of missiles and other weapons will become seriously depleted in just a few more days, at the rate they are being used up.  Ukraine will start running out of things too, of course -- but Ukraine, unlike Russia, is being re-supplied by the West.

[Image at top:  anti-invasion protest in St Petersburg, Russia]


Blogger SickoRicko said...

Thanks again for providing this update and very good links.

01 March, 2022 10:27  
Blogger Mike said...

Russia's thermobaric bomb (FOAB, father of all bombs) is supposedly 4 times more powerful than the US MOAB (mother of all bombs). It has the destructive force of a tactical nuclear weapon.

01 March, 2022 11:41  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ricko: Thanks! I've been following this story closely, and I'm passing on what I see on various sites.

Mike: If that's the case, it will be very easy to verify whether or not Russia actually used one. Such a detonation would show up clearly on satellite imagery.

01 March, 2022 12:27  
Blogger NickM said...

It is an interesting idea. My sister-in-law is married to a Pole and lives in Polish Silesia. Utterly stable. I've been over the border - almost walking distance - into Czechia because her husband reckons Czech beer is better. I guess it is but it's not worth a war - not when you can drive to a beer shop over a non-existant border (the old Sov era border house still exists and is now a residential property in two countries). Things like the EU (or just reasonable borders) mean none of this really matters. Back in Racibórz my SiL's husband showed me, in the museum there, a video of the changing borders of Poland over the centuries. It ranged from being the size of North Yorkshire to being (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) gigantic. Of course this meant wars, lots of wars. He's a proud Pole but is happy that Poland is settled as it is. In much the same way I don't give a toss about not owning India anymore.

There is something else... Russia signed the Minsk Accords in '94 (I think it was then) which fixed the borders of former Soviet states. They have violated a piece of international law to which they are signatories. That is utterly despicable.

We need stable borders (and I speak from the position of being British where the borders of these islands are fairly obvious) because, yes, it does avoid wars because essentially land borders are in a sense always going to be arbitary. I mean so this area (define it) is 60% x and 30% y and 10% various then where do you draw the lines?

I am currently wearing a Ukraine trident T-shirt. I just thought, "fuck it!" and bought it on Amazon. I bought it because (some of the cash went to refugee charities - I would have preferred it going to guns but c'est la vie) I don't like (to put it very mildly) the likes of Putin fucking with my continent. The Europe I know and love was bought with too much blood and treasure for Dobby the House Elf to fuck it over.

And, yes, that means stable borders. Stable borders that allow tourists, trucks and trade but not tanks.

01 March, 2022 17:03  
Blogger jenny_o said...

Thanks for this, Infidel. Very well written and easy to follow. Also, I found the Daily Kos link especially encouraging.

And yes, for Pete's sake, let's not take anything out on Russians here. Even in Russia itself, so many people don't agree with Putin and his circle. Even his own circle doesn't fully agree with Putin.

01 March, 2022 22:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: Poland has been one of the countries that suffered the most in the old days, being between Germany and Russia and with no natural defenses to the west or east. So it's not surprising that the invasion has especially alarmed them.

The Minsk accords illustrate the difficulty of negotiating an end to this mess. Even if Russia agreed to something, how could they be trusted to stick to it, having violated their earlier commitments? I doubt Putin would agree to having NATO peacekeepers stationed along the Russia-Ukraine border, nor that Americans would want to keep troops there for decades.

He does look like Dobby, doesn't he?

Jenny_o: Thanks! I hope I'm contributing to readers' understanding.

I hate the thought of people lashing out at ordinary Russians or Russian-Americans, the way they did at ordinary Muslims after September 11. A megalomaniac leader and his henchmen are not an entire culture.

02 March, 2022 06:12  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Thank you for the update.
I see no reason to treat the Russians here in the US badly.

02 March, 2022 11:54  
Blogger NickM said...

I have a good friend here in England. He's Russian. He's here because he was very significanr in human rights in Russia. You can imagine he made enemies because of that - and that is under Putin. He collects British Royal Family plates and stuff. Well, I guess we all have our quirks! It drives his (English) wife up the wall - sometimes literally. Most ex-pat Russians are utterly against the current government of the country of their birth.

It doesn't need to be just Americans manning the barricades. A German SDP/Green government has just approved massive increases in defence spending. Wowsers!!! This has been a wake-up call for Europe. No, it doesn't mean the end of NATO or anything like that but just Europe is stepping up to the plate. Sweden and Finland are likely to join NATO. I wish we didn't need to live in such times but we do and on this side of the Atlantic we are learning this. Better late than never. Anyway, it is possible (yeah, I know...) that if Putin falls due to this utter fiasco (I think it's now over 7,000 Russian soldiers dead) we might get a reasonable Russian Prez and then, well, it's not an issue anymore. As long as the basic political system there is also reasonable. Big "ifs" but I'm an optimist.

02 March, 2022 14:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: So far, at least, I haven't heard of any cases of Russians in the US being mistreated. Some of the exclusions of Russian athletes and performers from various events are getting a little over-the-top, though.

NickM: That guy seems to be settling in well. Some Russians in the UK may not want to go back even when Putin is gone.

A re-militarized Germany, and NATO including Sweden and Finland, are among the many things Putin doesn't want that he is now going to get because of his own stupid decisions. It's rare that a leader manages to so perfectly achieve the exact opposite of his goals.

03 March, 2022 00:57  
Blogger NickM said...

Well, he's married to an English woman and they have a school=age kid and a mortgage so I think he's here for the duration. Yes, amongst the most likely outcomes is Putin getting the exact opposite of what is expending enormous blood and treasure on. It is truly a tragedy in the Classical sense. I suspect the outcome of this will be positive though I deplore that it has come to this with the enormous numbers of dead Ukrainians and Russians (most of the latter being conscripts). Have you seen the video of one of those conscripts after being captured? He was in a terrible emotional state so the Ukranians gave him some tea and called his Mum to say he was OK. Apparently he hadn't been told he was being deployed to war.

04 March, 2022 03:41  
Blogger NickM said...

I mentioned my comment here to my wife. She is a graduate in Russian and translates Russian and other languages for a living. Apparently under Russian law conscripts aren't meant to fight in wars except in utter extremis. Putin has not just violated international law here but domestic law. I suspect there is a reckoning coming to him and it won't be pretty. The conscripts aren't even really paid - hence the pillaging.

‘A war hasn’t been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, High Chief of all the Vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside.’ - Captain Blackadder.

This turning into a complete spherical omnifuck for Putin. And the timing! We have the thaw coming and Ukraine will turn into a mud-wrestle. He thought he could do this in a couple of days didn't he? Well that turned out well. Do you hear that noise? That is Sun-Tzu achieving high angular velocity in his grave.

04 March, 2022 05:28  
Blogger John Benson said...

I know the picture from the American Embassy is silly, but in fairness it is a response to silly comments from Putin and folks like Tucker Carlson. It does however illustrate your point, that the stable boundaries have protected world peace particularly in Europe. Extended to other parts of the world it does get pretty ridiculous.

Sadly I think it's possibly too subtle for Putin, and frankly makes me hope that he's never read A Modest Proposal.

04 March, 2022 06:38  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

NickM: The more we learn about this, the more of a fiasco it seems to be. This is one of the biggest dangers of dictatorial rule. When you have a guy ruling with zero accountability, surrounded by yes-men, with everyone afraid to tell him anything he doesn't want to hear -- well, after years of that, he's going to be badly detached from reality, and make decisions accordingly.

John: That may well be. I don't pay any attention to Carlson. One has to draw the line somewhere.

05 March, 2022 03:20  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I just want to curl up in a ball and cry.

05 March, 2022 09:38  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Granny: Understandable, but I've rarely found that to be helpful in the long run.

05 March, 2022 22:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One could say "What was Washington like?" is the point: A bit claim or Russian propaganda is that Ukrainians are just Russians and that therefore this unification is how it always should have been. Similar to how Turkey refers to Kurds as "mountain Turks" or China insists Tibet has been part of China since the Yuan dynasty.

07 May, 2022 05:27  

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