The endgame

I generally try to steer clear of politics on this blog, other than to criticize those who deserve it.  I am not associated with either major US party, I've voted for, and given money to, candidates from both parties.  I am an independent.

That's the background.


What's playing out in the world today is, in short, Russia has invaded Ukraine.  Simple statement of fact, this did happen, and is happening now.

Russian leader Putin gave his "rationale" for this, indicating that he basically feared NATO, and didn't want it on his doorstep.  He argued that this was an existential threat to him and Russia.

The Ukraine president Zelenskyy seems to have (very publicly) tried to calm him down, say "lets talk", and work to defuse this situation without (more) violence.

It's also important to note that Russia has previously invaded and subsumed Crimea into it, while also supporting Communist rebels in two Ukraine provinces.

I won't make arguments for/against any of these points, other than to say that the pretext was transparent, the level of threat to Russia (Ukraine, NATO) was non-existent.  That's pretty much obvious to most non-partisans.

I want to talk about the endgame and the staging around it.  

Ukraine has been asking for help with this.  Lethal aid.  Weapons, logistical support, etc.  I think they'd want boots on the ground, but recognize that this may not be politically possible in the near term.  So, as Zelenskyy said last week, he doesn't want a ride, he wants ammo.  And support.  Maximize the leverage against Russia and Putin so they feel pain because of their actions.


Its worth also noting that Putin would not have likely taken this action if he didn't think he could get away with it.  China appears to have supported Putin up to a point, they wanted to see how this would pan out before doing a similar thing with Taiwan.  That is, they were happy Putin was going to be a stalking horse for them and their plans with Taiwan.

The reason Putin undertook this action was the perception on the part of most world leaders, that the US had, at best, a weak and confused leader, more invested in identarianism, than projecting power, will, strength.  Sadly they are correct.  The last guy was a schmuck, but his policies were generally correct and unambiguous.  The current POTUS ... not so much.  He may be a nice guy, but his policies have been disastrous.

Putin made another critical error.  And compounded it today.  The first additional error is that he made threats that could only be interpreted as use of nuclear weaponry against anyone taking kinetic action against his plans.  The second additional error is that he placed his nuclear forces on high alert. Today.  27-Feb-2022.  Of course the primary error he made, which both of these are additive of ... was invading in the first place.

This is setting the stage for the end game.  Its background for it.

As is this.

Economic sanctions, which are not fast moving in general, have been levied against him personally, and much of the government of Russia.  There has been some resistance from various countries in Europe.  That part is shocking to some degree, but predictable given how other policies intertwined.  Germany in particular is almost completely dependent upon Russia for gas.  And, to compound this strategic policy error, they've turned off their nuclear reactors.  

I pointed this out in 2020, and again later that year, that effectively extended supply chains (such as for gas) are points of leverage.  And geopolitical conflicts are not great places to run (physical) supply chains through.  They provide people, Putin in this case, significant leverage to get your country to actually act against your national interests.

Germany resisted when Ukraine asked for Russia to be removed from SWIFT.  In a startling follow-the-money trail, we discover that a former German Chancellor has been named a director of Gazprom.

Schroeder’s involvement with the gas pipeline and stalwart defense of Russia have long drawn mixed reviews in Germany, even in his own center-left Social Democratic Party, which heads Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ new governing coalition.

There is likely more than this under the surface and out of view, in terms of business activity and relationships.  This factors into the endgame as well.

Finally, Germany acquiesced to cutting Russia out of SWIFT.

Another element of this are the protests going on in Russia against this war.  This is despite the fact that the Russian people do not enjoy the same protections of free speech and peaceable assembly that we have here in the US.  These protests can be, and are being, arrested.  

Globally, support for Ukraine and its struggle to defend itself against aggression is overwhelming.  Russia as a whole is being kicked out of many groups.  

Within Ukraine, there are reports of thermobaric MLRS systems in transit.  Caution though, as this is from CNN, who are notorious for non-factual reporting.  I've heard that the new CNN president will fix this, and help return the network to something one can call a credible news source.  That is in the future though.  Regardless of that lack of credibility issue, others are reporting similar things, albeit with little actual evidence.

Also within the country, it appears that the Ukraine armed forces are thwarting Russian military objectives.  The population is arming, some willingly, some not.  Nobody wants a fight if they can avoid it.  Especially a lethal one.

President Zelenskyy is winning the media war.  And the public sympathy war.  Simply by surviving.  And going to the front.  And not scurrying away like some would like.  Putin claims to wish to "de-Nazi-fy" Ukraine and "restore  democracy".  By overthrowing a jewish president, and a democratically elected government.

Here in the US ... well ... its a shitshow.  

We have some people actively praising Putin.  We have some people sympathizing with Russia.  Never mind how insane praising this aggression is, some are doing it, mostly to rub in the face of their political opponents[1].

Again, all of this is fodder for the end game.

Without predicting the outcome of this conflict, I think we can see contours of the endgame, regardless of the outcome.

Contours of the endgame

First off, upon completion of hostilities, it is quite unlikely, regardless of the outcome, that Russia will emerge back into any semblance of its former world presence,  with Russia's current leadership intact.

Secondly, I'd suspect that other countries will be forced to come to terms with risks inherent in critical dependencies upon other, potentially unreliable or unstable countries.  

Third, I'd expect Europe to have a difficult conversation within itself, about what it is, and isn't.  What its expectations are, and should be, for its collective and individual security.  What does it mean to be "a part of Europe", from an economic and self defense view?  One cannot isolate the economic from the defense aspect.

Fourth, I can't imagine the leadership of Russia, Putin and his inner circle, are ever accepted back into the community of nations.  That is, the sanctions that have been put in place, will not likely be lifted upon completion of hostilities, no matter how they turn out.   This is leverage that the world will retain over Russia and Putin.  

This leverage would not have existed had Putin not acted.  He could have blustered all he wanted.  The moment he took action, that was an irreversible process.  He can't put this genie back into that bottle.  

Put another way, he has been the architect of his own downfall.  It may not be immediate, but all of Russia will be isolated until he and his cronies are gone.  The people of Russia will likely have a thing or two to say about that.

Fifth, I think people are going to think about electing a different class of politician going forward.  They see Zelenskyy, and wonder why they can't have that ... why they are stuck with the grifting class, the nest-feathering class, those who wish power for the sake of power, and not those who actually wish to serve.  

This will take a much longer period of time to manifest.  But manifest it will.  

This is not to say Ukraine is perfect.  It isn't.  It's rife with corruption, and heck, its fairly probable that some in Ukraine have a kompromat on the current US president and his son.  But the leader of the country is a leader.  And corruption can be challenged and reduced.  As long as the corrupt are not in control of the government.  

Sixth, other autocrats and dictators have been watching this carefully.  They see a very weak US president.  They see a world that realized this, and is starting to step up to the challenge.  The fact that the US president is so weak means that world power is somewhat imbalanced.  Some are looking to fill the void that we have left. Of those looking to do so, almost all are autocratic dictatorships.  Our world would be worse off if they gained the upper hand.  The oligarchies and kleptocracies of the world are going to be a problem for a long time.

Sadly, we in the US cannot fix our weak presidency for another 2+ years.  

Seventh, and this is the scary one, once Putin and his yes men realize there is no going back to the way it was before, without all of them gone, this may reduce his internal reluctance to going nuclear.  That is, if the game is really over, as, it really is, will he accept defeat and step aside so the world can heal from his actions, or will he try to create a legacy of "I tried everything, really, everything." ?

I suspect the latter.  

He's cornered, and it is just getting worse for him, by the day.

He tried to suppress NATO.  It is going to expand.

He tried to suppress Europe.  It is going to expand.

Without waiting on the end game, he has already failed, in every possible metric that matters.  There are useful idiots here in the US and across the world who parrot his "but we provoked them" rhetoric.  You can safely ignore those idiots from here on out, if you weren't already.

Eighth, China will try to maximize its utility of this conflict to press ahead with its interests.  And yes, this likely means invading Taiwan in short order.  They are learning from the current event, and making risk/reward calculations.  Fundamentally, given all that has transpired in the last 30-ish years, turning China into the worlds manufacturer, I'm thinking they are of the opinion that, unlike Russia, it would be far ... far harder to disconnect China from the world.

And they are right about the disconnection.  Remember the two systems one country for Hong Kong?  Yeah, that didn't last that long.  Less than 25 years.  No reason to think this would work in Taiwan.  So they are probably just going to skip that part.

Longer term effects, well past the endgame.

Sovereign risk reduction, that is, lessening dependencies upon major economic features not under your countries control.  SWIFT disconnection is bad for everyone.  Yet it was done.

Bitcoin and other crypto could "help" here (for those under sanction), though pressure can still be placed against markets which exchange crypto.

Energy independence everywhere.  Its amazing how, in the space of less than 13 months, one of the core policy pillars of the new US president has turned into a weapon against the US people.  This is what we call a massive own-goal.  A policy failure so stark, it simply cannot be swept under the rug.  We went into 2021 energy independent.  We came out dependent upon the folks we are sanctioning.

This means, for one, that we need more nuclear power.  That is the only green source of energy which we can deploy at scale for the next several decades.  This becomes even more important as you consider EVs, and all that would be required to keep them charged.

This also means lessening the restrictions on natural resource exploitation.  You can't build batteries without specific elements.  If your policies prevent you from obtaining them locally, and force you to buy what you need from potential and real geopolitical threat actors, you have increased your risk.  Significantly.  

Tying these efforts up in court for years/decades serves the interests of those geopolitical threat actors.  Like it or not, you have choices to make, and none of them are particularly pleasant.  You have to have the long view, which sometimes means taking shorter term (multi-decade) steps to achieve what you want, by accepting things you don't like now.  Understanding that it is indeed temporary.

If that is simply beyond your capability, if its your way or the highway ... then ... bye, and enjoy your journey alone.  Does this mean you are serving the geopolitical threat actor?  Indirectly, yes.  You are.

World order changes.  The great powers game is afoot.  And there will be quite a bit of collateral damage.  This isn't good at all.   There are minor powers attempting to be major ones.  There are declining powers, and ascending powers.  The world would not be a better place if we had authoritarian dictatorships and kleptocracies as our ascending powers.  If you care about the rights of people to live in peace and freedom, you need to think long and hard about how you may be enabling these various authoritarians and kleptocracies with your decisions.

A simple example of this.  Building / manufacturing non-locally.  Extending your supply chain across geopolitical threat actors regions of control and influence.  If you have such folks in your organizations that make decisions like this, you need to make sure that the risk inherent in such decisions is front and center to the decision.

There are others as well, but I think I've written enough for now.

[1] This is why I am politically independent, as I find both major US parties are often more interested in beating up on each other, than finding common ground and working for the common good.  Just because our current president is weak and foolish, while the preceding one wasn't weak (but was an asshole)  doesn't mean you should praise Putin if you like the preceding president.

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