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Ten Questions about Ukraine

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2022 already seemed a grim year. Now we've added the Russian invasion of Ukraine. ("The hits keep on coming.") Here's my take on the key questions about this invasion.

1.Why did Vladimir Putin order the invasion of Ukraine? We already knew that Vladimir was not a nice guy. The invasion confirmed this and raised the question: Has Vlad gone mad? The answer is "sorta."

The decision to invade Ukraine was made because (a) domestic conditions have deteriorated in Russia, as they have in Russian provinces such as Uzbekistan, and Vlad wanted a diversion; and (b) Vlad lives in a bubble and believed that no one would care if he obliterated Ukraine.

Throughout the world there's an increasing gap between the "haves" and the "have nots." We've seen this in the US, represented by movements such as the trucker blockade. People are upset because of pandemic restrictions and related economic conditions, such as inflation. This is true in Russia, but more extreme because the "have nots" were already severely hurting, before the pandemic.

Furthermore, Vlad is an autocrat who lives in a bubble where sycophants constantly feed him information that he wants to hear; such as the belief that, if invaded, Ukraine would be a pushover, and the Ukrainian Army would quickly side with the Russian invaders. Putin also heard that the US was weak and Biden would not be able to rally NATO or the will of the American people. Vlad is a malignant narcissist -- sound familiar?

2.Are we all going to die? Eventually, but probably not as a direct result of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. In fact, there's a reasonable likelihood that the world will become safer because Putin will be weakened, the West will be unified, and Donald Trump will be branded as a traitor.

3.From the perspective of the United States, is the invasion a net positive or negative? Vlad has talked about using nuclear weapons so that's bad. Russian soldiers are killing and maiming civilians, that is bad. Russians are blowing up gas pipelines, that's bad. Lots of bad.

On the other hand, Vlad had been using a strategy of sowing division in the West and has now abandoned that. (Putin had been sponsoring folks like Donald Trump (US), Nigel Farage (England), and Marine La Pen (France).) Vlad has (for the moment) abandoned subterfuge; that's good. The invasion of Ukraine has unified the West; that's good. The invasion of Ukraine has strengthened Joe Biden; that's good. Some good.

4.What happens next? Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, next to Russia. (Slightly less land than Texas, with more people than California.) It appears that Vlad intends to occupy the entire country and set up a puppet government. (Possible employment for Donald Trump.) Hmm. The invasion isn't going like Vlad expected. Perhaps he "bit off more than he can chew."

Somewhat surprisingly, the invasion of Ukraine has solidified NATO and, except for Trumpsters, solidified the US. Russia is now subject to severe economic and social sanctions -- sorry Russians but you can no longer travel outside your country.

5.Is Biden doing the right thing? Yes. So far, Joe Biden has played this situation astutely. First, he used US intelligence reports to tell the world that Putin planned a massive invasion of Ukraine and intended to occupy the entire country and set up a puppet government. Next, Biden rallied NATO to enact a set of severe sanctions. (NATO is also sending weapons to Ukraine -- which, by the way, is not a member of NATO). Third, Biden has encouraged western government to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs.

Politically, the invasion of Ukraine has given Biden a "get out of jail free" card. Now, he can blame America's economic woes on Russia; eg. gas prices are up because of the invasion of Ukraine.

6. What will happen next? At this writing, the Russian military offensive appears to have bogged down. On February 28, there were new talks between Russia and Ukraine; I don't expect much to come from this, right now. Putin's problem is that he, apparently, expected a quick Ukraine war, resulting in a decisive victory; this seems unlikely to happen. The longer the war drags on, the weaker Vlad's position will be.

One possible end would see Russia annex two Ukrainian provinces (Donetsk and Luhansk), declare "victory," and withdraw troops from all but the eastern regions. Another possible end is Russian regime change -- angry oligarch get tired of having their yachts seized and turn on Putin. Or this could drag on, like the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but that seems unlikely.

7. What would escalation look like? A lot of observers are worried that the Ukrainian war will escalate; for example, Russia will invade one of Ukraine's western neighbors: Hungary, Poland, Romania, or Slovakia. If this happened, there would surely be a wider war, as these nations are members of NATO.

But escalation could take other forms: for example, Russia might cut off oil supplies for the West. Or Russia might engage in increased cyber warfare. Or carry the war into space.

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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