20 April 2022

Russia -- the sanctions

It has taken some time for the sanctions on Russia to do real damage, but that stage is being reached now, both in the civilian economy and in military manufacturing (both of those links have worthwhile details).  It shouldn't be surprising that there was delay in the sanctions' true bite being felt.  For example, much of Russian industry depends on parts imported from the West; for some weeks they were able to make do with parts in stock, but as those are used up, no replacements are coming in.  (Perhaps they can get substitute parts from China, made in accordance with China's normal industrial standards.)  With tanks and missiles being destroyed or used up at a startling rate in Ukraine, the crippling or shutdown of the capacity to produce replacements will place the regime under added pressure.

The question arises -- under what circumstances could sanctions be lifted?  The obvious answer is when the invasion ends, meaning that Russian forces have completely withdrawn from Ukrainian territory and the regime has made a clear declaration that it will not attack again.  The question of whether this would include withdrawal from Crimea and eastern Donbas, which were seized by force in 2014 but which Russia now does not recognize as part of Ukraine, would have to be decided at the time.  There is also the issue that Russia has been forcibly deporting Ukrainian citizens from occupied areas to Russia, for reasons which are not yet clear.  It's estimated that at least forty-five thousand Ukrainians have been abducted; here is the story of one, who eventually escaped.  Conditions for lifting the sanctions will surely need to include the return of all these kidnapped people.

Unfortunately it's not realistic to expect that Putin and other leaders would be handed over to be tried for war crimes, even if by then the regime has been overthrown and replaced.  Historically, war criminals have only been tried when their countries are occupied by the victors after being conquered, which is not going to happen to Russia.

A few more relevant items:

The most effective weapon of all against Russia would be a complete boycott of its fossil-fuel exports, which so far Europe (the main market for those exports) has been unwilling to implement because the impact on its energy production would be too damaging.

However, Putin can't be happy with how things are going in Europe.

The bullying and thuggery of the Russian (and Chinese) regimes are waking up the democracies to reality.

The Russian army isn't professional; it's not even amateur.

Russia is moving troops to the Finnish border, but Finland doesn't seem too scared.

In France, new polling shows Macron solidly ahead of Le Pen for the final presidential election this Sunday -- in part due to increased scrutiny of her stance on the Ukraine war.

Nationalistic Russians are touting native substitutes for Western social media which are now banned there.  This popular Russian YouTuber is unimpressed:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assuming Putin is rational, and concerned with his legacy (the real reason he wanted Ukraine IMHO), I think that nuclear is off the table.

I works like this:
Planning to invade Ukraine the RF air claimed it would get and maintain air superiority. They failed and continue to fail. Cost of being wrong is the invasion of Ukraine more difficult if not in doubt.

Planning to invade Ukraine the RF navy claimed it was safe to operate close to Ukraine. Fail. Flagship sunk, a hole opens up in air defense fire support asset lost. Cost of being wrong is the invasion of Ukraine more difficult if not in doubt.

Planning the invasion of Ukraine the army assumed it was strong, capable and would easily overwhelm Ukrainian defenders. A three day planned invasion is pushing two months and, by some estimates better than 50% of the land combat power available to RF is gone. The cost of being wrong is the invasion of Ukraine is in doubt.

So far three branches of RF and Russian military power have been shown to be effective only on paper. God news for Russia is that none of these setbacks is an existential threat. The Ukraine seems to have no desire to invade Russia.

If the RF withdrew all the troops from Ukrainian territory Russia, more specifically Putin, would be embarrassed but Russia as a nation and the Russian people would face, even given sanctions and possible reparations, no existential threat.

Which brings us to the last remaining branch of the Russian military, the strategic nuclear forces. So far three branches have shown they lacked power they claimed to have. what are the chances that the forth branch is also hollowed out?

Are they willing to find out? Particularly when there is no winning to be had. If the forth branch is robust and well maintained use means a global nuclear war that everyone loses.

And if those missiles and silos have not been maintained? All the western powers are going to assume that have been and go all out. Russia, as a nation and people, will cease to be. But the other nuclear powers, and indeed the rest of mankind, take significantly less damage from failed Russian weapons and, just perhaps, we pull through. Bloodied and devastated in spots (one assumes some Russian nukes work), and suffering thorough nuclear winter which kills a couple of billion people indirectly we, sort of, make it.

But what if Putin uses a few small nukes in Ukraine? Would we still go all-out? I don't know? I do note that if you look at maps of the prevailing winds, pretty much for the entirety of Ukraine, the winds either blow directly at Moscow, or, south for a bit, and then to Moscow. Nothing like a bit of fallout to ruin your day.

Humans are the most dangerous and unpredictable animals on the planet. But I'm guessing Russia is not suicidal.


20 April, 2022 06:01  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I don't see this Russia/Ukraine thing ending well or anytime soon. Which is really sad.

20 April, 2022 09:30  
Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Vlad is all in and I hope Art is right and he acts in a slightly rational way. I hope the sanctions do not go away and the oligarchs have Vlad killed in the next months. The idea is to totally cut buying oil from him. And of course, that leaves the world in the hands of the Saudis, so...
In any case, Vlad lost this war. His standing in the world is laughable. Hope he's forever a pariah.


20 April, 2022 14:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Art: The best evidence we have is that Putin is indeed rational, but badly misinformed.

I don't think anyone is worried that Putin would escalate to all-out nuclear war out of the blue as a cold, conscious decision. But it is possible (though both sides seem to be working hard to avoid it) that an error or a decision in the heat of emotion could lead to direct NATO-Russia combat. This could happen, for example, via NATO imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, or via Putin deciding to attack (with conventional weapons) locations on the Polish side of the border where shipments of weapons are about to be sent into Ukraine. Once we have NATO and Russian forces in direct combat, the risk of a mistake or misinterpretation leading one side or the other to escalate to nuclear weapons is extremely high. Also, it's now clear that Russia's military would be no match at all for the armies of the West. In such a conflict, Russia would start losing badly right away -- and imminent defeat in a conventional war is the kind of situation where Putin might decide to use nuclear weapons to avoid that defeat.

It has occurred to me that Russia's nuclear weapons might be in just as bad condition as its conventional military. But Russia has about 6,000 nuclear bombs, including about 1,500 in immediate readiness for launch. Even if, say, only a quarter of those 1,500 actually worked, that's enough to subject Europe and the US to the worst devastation any country has seen since the days of the Mongols. If half our population dies but 95% of Russia's population dies, that's not a win in any meaningful sense. I suppose worries about the condition of his nuclear forces might deter Putin from trying to use them, but I'd hate to gamble hundreds of millions of lives on that. The only way to be sure is to adhere strictly to the principle that NATO and Russian forces must never get into direct combat with each other.

But I'm guessing Russia is not suicidal

Most Russians aren't. I hope that if Putin went berserk and ordered a nuclear strike, his saner subordinates would prevent the order from being carried out. But again, I wouldn't want to gamble so much on that.

20 April, 2022 22:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: Some are saying the war could drag on for months, even years. That's part of the purpose of the sanctions. The sooner Russia starts running out of critical military supplies, the sooner the war can be over.

Sixpence: Unfortunately a complete boycott of Russian fossil fuels would create too much of a shortage for Europe. They understand now that they need alternate energy sources, but that will take time -- new nuclear plants have been approved, for example, but it will take years to build them.

No matter what Putin does now, he's exposed the Russian military as dismally weak and ineffective -- the opposite of what he wanted. He can never undo that.

20 April, 2022 22:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Infidel753: Thanks for moving my post. You're right, it works better on this thread. And thank-you for the opportunity to comment. Art.

"The only way to be sure is to adhere strictly to the principle that NATO and Russian forces must never get into direct combat with each other."

[Keeping it categorized as Ukraine v RF seems well worth the effort. That and I think Ukraine has every right to determine its own path, independent of all outside powers.]

"I hope that if Putin went berserk and ordered a nuclear strike, his saner subordinates would prevent the order from being carried out. But again, I wouldn't want to gamble so much on that."

I most wholeheartedly agree on both points.

Even the idea that we are discussing global nuclear annihilation outside of some fantasy or science fiction plot line is alarming and quite troubling.

People used to contemplate dying, or the village burning down, or what if there isn't 'always going to be an England'. I don't think we are ready to face our own extinction. Particularly when it might happen because some small number of people are having a really bad day.

21 April, 2022 02:04  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

I hope sane heads prevail in this mess. (The YouTuber is cute and funny and intelligent. There, I said it.)

21 April, 2022 11:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Art: The situation is very disturbing. Nuclear weapons have prevented a third world war (or superpower conflicts in general) since 1945, probably saving tens of millions of lives -- because the consequences of using them are too terrible to risk. Now Putin has created a situation with a real danger of escalating to direct superpower conflict and bringing those consequences into reality. He didn't expect it to work out that way because he thought he could conquer Ukraine in a few days, before the West had time to react. But now that that hasn't worked out, he's doubling down instead of trying to disengage.

He's also violated the principle that changing borders by force is no longer tolerable. I think that's the real reason the world has come together so strongly on this, with the only exception being China, which aspires to do the same thing to Taiwan.

I think the odds are against this escalating to a full-on nuclear war, because Biden and Putin both seem to be taking care to avoid direct combat so far. But it's probably the highest level of danger in my lifetime.

Ricko: There's another of his videos in the coming Sunday's link round-up :-)

23 April, 2022 00:49  

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