I wrote this quickly. It may contain errors. Please correct them in the comments after reading this post's special commenting guidelines.
You should ignore the news unless it's of historic import. Russia's invasion of Ukraine constitutes an event of historic import.
Interstate conflicts are inherently political. Politics is a delicate topic on Less Wrong because political topics tend to trigger tribal impulses. Arguments-as-soldiers are symbiotic with soldiers-as-arguments.
I'm writing about this topic because it's at the intersection of two topics dear to my heart: ① responding to rare events ② operating in a hostile informatic environment.
These are our players (in descending order of importance):
- Russia (including its ally Belarus)
- European Union + Britain
- United States
China doesn't care what happens to Ukraine. China primarily cares about preserving its trade relationships with Russia and the West. China would prefer not to impose sanctions on Russia because sanctions are expensive.
The United States
The United States prefers that Ukraine remain out of Russian hands, but the United States cares more about the rise of China than Russia's fading empire. The United States just pulled out of Afghanistan. The United States does not want to get bogged down in another land war in Eurasia.
The United States has provided something around $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014. A couple billion dollars isn't nothing, but it's insignificant compared to Russian might.
The United States is not committed to defending Ukraine the way it is committed to defending Taiwan, Japan and NATO members. The United States does not plan to use its own troops to defend Ukraine.
The European Union + Britain
The European Union and Britain are allied with the United States. They would prefer Ukraine to stay out of Russian control but don't care enough to deploy their own troops in combat roles against Russia.
Thus, the European Union's (and Britain's) primary option is sanctions. But the European Union and its allies have already been imposing sanctions on Russia for its actions in Crimea since 2014. Putin has already demonstrated that this level of sanctions will not stop his actions in Ukraine.
Europe (especially Germany) is dependent on energy imports from Russia. Europe ramping up sanctions against Russia would damage the European economy and industry in the short term.
Too little, too late. The European Union does not have the will to stop Russia. Britain, alone, is too weak to act without the European Union. (Except—possibly—by threatening a nuclear attack on Moscow, which they are not going to do to protect a non-NATO state.)
I am making no claims to whether the European Union and Britain should or should not stop Russia from invading Ukraine. It is none of my business. I'm just saying that if you live in Ukraine then you should not count on much more support from the EU than from the US.
The Ukrainian government will fight a total war to defend its sovereignty. It has issued an emergency order allowing its people to buy firearms (they were not, previously, legal to own) but it has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare.
Putin is committed to invading Ukraine.
There is probably going to be a war. Ukraine is probably going to lose. The question is how much, how quickly and on what terms.
Eastern Ukraine is a flat plain contiguous with Russia. If you just look at troop counts then Ukraine would seem to have a chance against Russia. But Russia has superiority of aircraft and heavy weapons. Russia will conquer Eastern Ukraine. The Russian Armed Forces is among the three most capable militaries in the world. The Ukrainian military isn't.
If you live in Ukraine then you might have faith in your government to defend your borders. Don't. Governments consistently lie about how "we will win the war" until days (or hours) before enemy forces march into your city. It happened in World War I. It happened in Nanking in 1937. It happened in Kabul in 2021. It will happen in Ukraine (if it hasn't already).
This is not a criticism of Ukraine in particular. I know little about Ukraine. This is a statement about governments in general, across history. You should expect your government to lie to you and the news to mislead you.
I responded appropriately to COVID because I took extreme measures when everyone in my neighborhoood was acting as if nothing was amiss. You should do the same. Don't be afraid of looking stupid. Be afraid of you and your family dying for stupid reasons.
If you live in Eastern Ukraine, the best time to flee is weeks ago. The second-best time is now. Romania is willing to accept half a million refugees.
Maybe you'd prefer to live under Russian occupation amidst a Ukrainian insurgency and a Russian counter-insurgency than to flee your home. If so that's your choice. But don't just assume everything's going to continue as normal and be okay.
World War III
Three days ago a friend send me a text "It's likely WWIII Eve". I'm not worried about WWIII because the United States, European Union and Britain are not committed to an escalation of direct conflict with Russia the way they were during the Cold War. If their positions change then I will worry.
In the case of cold strategic analysis, you are actively encouraged to point out anywhere you think I might be wrong. My guidelines about speaking in the positive are temporarily suspended.
But any discussion of justice, morality and which side is "right" will be crushed with an iron fist. Advocating what policies democratic governments (especially Western powers) "should" take is similarly off-limits.
One major point I think is under-discussed is what this means for nuclear proliferation.
Ukraine used to possess nuclear weapons, but agreed to give them up in exchange for promises of protection from the US and Russia.
With this plus the fall of Gaddafi in Libya a while back, it's hard to see a result that isn't 'everyone wants to get nuclear weapons ASAP, and no-one wants to give them up.' If promises of protection in exchange for nonproliferation aren't upheld, there's very little incentive for nonproliferation.
Apparently, in one important sense this isn't true: they physically possessed the weapons, but not the capacity to do anything with them.
[I have no personal knowledge on this - just something I bumped into today, but it seems credible]
[EDIT: the point about non-upholding of protection agreements stands; I just wanted to clarify what "possess nuclear weapons" meant in this context]
That's an important point.
However, I believe that a highly industrialized nation with modern nuclear weapons (but without the launch codes) would have had the capacity to do something with them. Using the weapons grade material (not only the fissible material, also the electronics etc) and using the weapons as prototypes for designing warheads should have had the potential to greatly accelerate a nuclear weapons program.
So, in a way this case is quite similar to Gaddafi's - not giving up a functional nuclear arsenal (only South Africa has done that up to now, and I don't think there will be a second case any time soon) but giving up the potential for a nuclear weapons program.
The most interesting thing out of this is Russia's threat to pull out of New START in retaliation for US sanctions, as well as Biden's decision to cut off arms control talks. Pulling out all the stops on the US-Russia nuclear competition is dangerous enough already, but this will most likely kick off a renewed all-out three-way nuclear arms race, which is of course less strategically stable than the bilateral nuclear dynamic during the Cold War. China is already expanding its nuclear arsenal to parity, which if New START were still in effect, would've been 1500 deployed warheads (incidentally today the first silo field seems to have finished construction ahead of schedule). The US had hoped to rope China into its bilateral arms control agreements with Russia; well, now there'd be nothing left to rope into.
Metaculus had only a 8% chance of "Russian Troops in Kyiv in 2022" as late as Feb 11. (It's now at 97%.) Why did everyone do so badly on this prediction?
Speaking from ignorance: this prediction failure seems (from my ignorant perspective) similar to forecasting failures in Brexit and in the Trump 2016 election, in that it’s a case where some force whose motives are unlike Western academia/elites was surprising to them/us. If so, the moral might be to study the perspectives, motives, and capabilities of forces outside the Western elite on their own terms / by cobbling together an inside view from primary sources, rather than looking via Western experts/media (though this is much harder).
To what extent are there people who visibly made good predictions here beforehand? It seems worth compiling them. I appreciate cmessinger’s comment.
Even the honest-to-god financial markets did badly on this prediction. The moment Russia started invading, MOEX and oil prices had wild shocks, as if something unexpected had happened, even though we already had abundant ahead-of-time warnings about their attack from U.S. intelligence. My suspicion is that everyone, including market analysts, expected Russia to simply annex the seperatist eastern terrority of Donbas. They expected the war to end quickly and with little bloodshed, and for the Ukrainian government to capitulate. The presumption was that they'd be fighting over a small separatist province, and it would have made sense - Putin gets what he wants, which is to look powerful, and he can come back again in 5-10 years for another piece.
Instead, Putin has chosen to do something insane - he is forcing his armed forces to attack and at least temporarily occupy the entirety of Ukraine, including Kyiv, Lziz, and Odessa. These are centers of the Ukrainian resistance that nobody, not even a brainwashed Russian populace, could possibly believe are secretly interested in unification. Maybe he underestimated the response or maybe he doesn't care, but now western countries are thinkin... (read more)
I saw people discussing forecasting success of this on twitter and people were saying that the intelligence agencies actually called this right. Does anyone know an easy link to what those agencies were saying?
I don't think this answers the question. 8% is an awfully strong prediction. Your meta-point is public info. People who honor your meta-point could make a killing in markets as badly miscalibrated as this one. That would make it profitable for people to correct the markets.
So the question stands:
Know any good source on why Putin wants to invade Ukraine? I have yet to hear a theory which sounds like how the real world works, and absent that it's hard to guess how anything will play out past the next month-or-so.
Current thoughts on Russian military objectives, based on comment threads here and my own general models...
... (read more)
- Multiple people mentioned that annexation is an unlikely objective for Putin.
- Putin could install a puppet government, and then leave. I expect that would be highly unstable; it would only be a matter of time until the Ukrainian populace overthrew a puppet government without a Russian occupation to back it.
- Putin could install a puppet government, and then set up a long-term occupation. This is the "Russia's Iraq/Afghanistan" scenario. Again, I doubt that it would be stable long-term, although with state media trying to make the war look good to the Russian populace it could remain popular for a while.
- Putin could dictate terms with the pre-existing Ukrainian government, then leave once a treaty is signed. At a minimum, that treaty would probably include abandoning claim to the predominantly-Russian territories of Ukraine, promising not to join Nato, and probably various other things, with an emphasis on symbolic victories for Russia. This is the most stable outcome I see at the moment, and is probably what I'd be aiming for if I were Putin right now.
- Putin might not have an exit
My working theory is that Putin could be worried about some kind of internal threat to himself and his power.
He's betting a lot on his image of strong, dangerous leader to keep afloat. However the Russian constant propaganda that keeps up that image was starting to be more and more known and ineffective.
Europe also has been trying to get rid of Russian influence through gas for a while, and would likely have managed in a few more years. Then they'd be free to be less accepting of his anti-human rights antics.
Ukraine joining Nato would have made him look extremely weak, and it would have made it easier to make him look weak in the future.
Once his strong image faded he might have been worried of reforming forces within Russia to manage oust him out of office with an actual election and mass wide protests if the ball got rolling enough, or he might be worried about someone taking a more direct approach to eliminate him (he killed enough people to be extremely worried about being murdered, I think).
So this is his extreme move to deny weakness. Better to be seen as the tyrant who's willing to do anything if provoked, than the ex-strong leader who can be taken out of office.
You can read Putin's own words on the topic.
That definitely matches my models of things-Putin-would-say on the topic, independent of his actual motivations.
For what it's worth, I wrote a Twitter thread which attempted to piece together a partial theory.
"The Russian public really likes this invasion" is definitely one of the higher-prior hypotheses, good to know that it lines up with the data.
Assuming that is the main driver, the obvious next line of thought is that a few years down the line Russia will likely be in the same sort of quagmire occupation that the US was in with Iraq and Afghanistan, Russian public opinion will turn strongly against, and Russia will have to back out and Putin will lose a lot of popularity. Presumably this possibility is obvious to Putin (I have no impression that he's an idiot), so either he's making very aggressive short-term-over-long-term political tradeoffs, or for some reason he thinks an occupation of Ukraine won't be an obvious giant mess. Some possibilities:
I'm from Russia. The issue of war splits our society. Young people and intellectuals are mostly against the war, anti-war rallies were held today in most major cities of Russia. But the older generation (conservatives) mostly support the war, some even speak out for the complete annexation of Ukraine (this is hardly possible in reality).
Written with the help of an online translator, my English is very bad, there may be mistakes.
Thanks, this is very helpful and whatever translator you're using works great.
Thank you for your input. The readership here skews hard toward Europe/America. I appreciate your addition of a voice from Ukraine/Russia.
By the way, your online translator works great.
The link here was posted in the chat of the translation group of Yudkovsky's articles about AI. Your post was interesting.
Among those supportive of the war, what do they want from it? Why do they want to invade?
In Russia, extremely many are dissatisfied with the collapse of the USSR and the deprivation of Russia's superpower status, therefore they support the return of the former territories or at least political influence on them. In 2014, I also fervently supported the return of Crimea, where almost the entire population is Russian, although I hated Putin. But this was followed by a protracted economic crisis, a drop in household incomes, so now support for Putin's actions is less than at that time.
Opinions of few people from Kyrgyzstan, middle age+
Nobody understands why this invasion started (this seem to be true for Russians too), did not want Russia to invade, scared and disheartened by war. Many have relatives in Ukraine. But! Suspect some unknown reasons for this to happen, probably intel on NATO deployment (Invasion seems rushed, but I'd consider it weak evidence - numbers of alternative explanations.)
Also a bit of clarification on 2014 popularity: it was invasion semantically but casualties extremely low, while right now we are looking at rivers of blood. Wonder how Russian population reacting.
In addition to Konstantin words. Many conservators in Russia honestly believe that USA/NATO want to destroy Russia and to seize Russian resources. They don't think that Ukraine and Ukrainians are the agents. They believe that Ukrainians are the pawns of the West. They think that Russian army are saving Ukrainian people from NATO agents and crazy Ukrainian nationalists.
A decline to accept the agency of opponents is very common for Kremlin propaganda and Kremlin supporters.
Putin himself? His explicitly stated ambition is to reclaim all of the former USSR. Why should we not believe it? Ukraine is the first step. Why should we not expect more of the same?
Putin has also threatened "consequences greater than any you have faced in history" if the West intervenes. What can this mean but nuclear weapons?
If he goes after the Baltic states next, merely being members of NATO will not protect them. What will protect them is NATO actually going to war with Russia over them, despite Putin's threats.
Check Dugin's The Foundations of Geopolitics. I've posted some translated excerpts here on fb
Also: when it comes to world-modelling, you may disagree with Dugin on his view of geopolitics, but that's not really important for the explanation. It's enough that Putin's actions make sense in Putin's models. Given that the book has been highly predictive of Putin's foreign policy over the past 20 years, it seems that the simplest explanation is that Putin is at least partially thinking in those terms. In Dugin's model of geopolitics, invasion is necessary and has long-term goals.
I like a lot of things about this article - it is a high-effort piece, and the graphics are helpful and relevant. That being said, the author is relying on a bunch of conventional-wisdoms that turn out to be false and as a result, the article essentially raises the defense-in-depth point without having any persuasive power.
A central confusion is rivers, which the article treats as a dealbreaker for commerce to and from Siberia but as not existing for military purposes or commerce with Europe. Rivers are major physical obstacles to cross, and often a major transport advantage to follow, so they are extremely militarily important.
Sidenote: there is a close link between commerce and military activity, on account of both requiring the movement of stuff from A to B. Given no other information, ease-of-invasion should be ranked according to the volume of commerce between two locations.
There are several outright historical errors, such as cavalry being obsolete with the appearance of gunpowder because of guns stopping charges.
The point about different ethnicities is raised without being connected to anything else, and then the claim is made that this requires authoritarian government beca... (read more)
One aim I could imagine having in Putin's shoes, that seems better achieved by slow telegraphing of war over Ukraine followed by actual war (vs by a frozen conflict), is gathering information about how the West is likely to respond to any other such wars/similar he might be tempted by.
(I know nothing of geopolitics, so please don't update from my thinking so. I got this idea from this essay)
A lot of people keep saying that Putin feels afraid of NATO. I really dislike this meme. Russia has been an imperial aggressor in Eastern Europe(and beyond) for centuries. The belt of countries from the Baltic to the black sea have been the Russian Empire's victims again and again since the 1700s through to the fall of the USSR.
Now that Eastern European countries are joining a defensive alliance suddenly Putin feels threatened?
Why? He has nukes. The end. No one is ever invading Russia. It is just impossible. NATO is not going to invade Russia.
All NATO membership does is make Eastern European countries expensive or impossible to bully. This is what really bothers Putin.
There is nothing an abuser hates more than when their victims can protect themselves. He is not afraid of NATO invading Russia, an absurd idea that again would NEVER happen, because it takes more than the whims of one crazy dictator to trigger a NATO attack.
Putin is afraid that the people he views as his rightful prey and subjects are now able to defend themselves. That's it. He's a predator and he wants his subjects vulnerable.
Don't give him the benefit of the doubt by taking the BS rhetoric about NATO encroachment seriously. As if NATO was bribing and invading countries one by one to get them to join the way he does geopolitics. Pure projection by a psychopath.
I looked up the source of Putin's claims that NATO promised not to expand, and it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Putin cites the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990, during negotations about NATO deployment in Germany. Here is the quote in context:
It is clear that he is speaking about not deploying NATO troops on the territory of former GDR, not about a broader commitment to not enlarge NATO. Gorbachev himself confirms that "the topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all". So this is just another lie of Putin.
So what's the end state Putin wants to achieve through invading Ukraine? If Ukraine becomes part of Russia, then Russia will be bordering with NATO states.
Counterprediction: The Ukrainian government will fold without a (significant) fight.
I appreciate you registering your counterprediction on a public forum.
For what it's worth, I think this counter-prediction already seems almost certainly wrong.
One point of data re the expected impact of sanctions: the Moscow stock exchange is down 50% (!), which presumably means investors expect very serious consequences for the Russian economy, likely due to sanctions.
Yeah, that data point was extremely surprising to me. On the surface, it seems to imply at least one of three things:
I'd have considered all three of these quite improbable beforehand.
On the other hand, it could just be a short-term liquidity phenomenon, e.g. there was a bunch of foreign money invested in Moscow's markets which had to exit due to Western sanctions (or expected to need to exit due to Western sanctions). If that's the main driver, then now's a good time to buy for anybody who has access to Moscow's financial markets.
MOEX appears to now be down only 20% from pre-invasion price level. Still significant, though much less so than 50%. This follows a common pattern that I've seen anecdotally about stock prices following bad news: that the price drops precipitously immediately following the news, and then mostly recovers shortly thereafter. I remember seeing this pattern in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, soon after it became mainstream to be concerned about the Coronavirus pandemic, and I think when Trump got elected. Not sure if this is somehow a real counterexample to the efficient market hypothesis, or if I'm overfitting or selectively remembering cases where the pattern holds.
Think it misses the point a bit to say that the EU and UK don't care enough to deploy their own troops in combat roles against Russia. Whether they care enough to do so isn't relevant; Ukraine isn't part of NATO, and Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons if NATO troops support the Ukrainian army. So deployment of NATO troops was never on the cards. General assumption seems to be that Ukraine will lose the war relatively quickly.
Sanctions will only make a difference if they are significant enough to harm EU/UK/US as well as Russia. Not sure anyone knows how extensive they will be. A lot depends on German public opinion, I think, given that Germany's close economic links with Russia would mean that Germany would bear a lot of the pain, and that it has previously been more pro-Russian than any other large country. I know nothing about German public opinion, though the website of Bild, Europe's highest circulation newspaper, is interesting this morning.
If sanctions are too weak to make a difference, Putin will have won. He has said that he will keep on trying to recreate the Russian empire, which now includes several NATO states. Listening to what he has said he will do has... (read more)
How should threats like that be evaluated, given that, (I'm guessing that nuking NATO troops would result in nuclear retaliation?) it would be... hard for Russia to benefit, causally, from initiating an exchange, and given that Putin lies quite frequently, and given that there aren't really any limits to what a nuclear state can get you to go along with if you just take them at their word whenever they threaten this sort of suicidal act; you have to draw a line somewhere, there has to be a limit, where you're willing to disbelieve. What's the limit?
I'm having a lot of difficulty seeing nukes as being are applicable or relevant to war, at least in wars between nuclear states, probably even in a war limited to Russia and Ukraine. What would Russia gain from nuking Ukraine? They damage their prize beyond any plausible savings this would impute for their infantry. So, how can this claim that they'd do it be substantiated?
Last I heard (the information could be outdated), the US has fewer nukes than Russia. This was a choice: There was no military advantage to having more. There is a sense in which the credible signalling of will and strength, could no further be waged, that frontier was saturated, the game of war had to leave it.
He did not threaten to nuke Ukraine. He threated to use nukes against NATO countries if they get directly involved in that conflict. Not a direct quote, but a summary would be "We know we can't win war against NATO, but we still have nuclear weapons - there will be no winners".
To share a datapoint, I looked at the news, felt a bunch of grim emotions that I won't go into, but still couldn't think of a reason not to read about this in like 1-2 years.
I don't think it will directly effect me or anyone I know personally, and the basic argument that "information at-the-time will be subject to extreme pressures of narrative-control" still stands.
(I will check into any hints that this will grow into a war with US or UK involved.)
I think it's extremely useful practice to follow momentous live events, try to figure out what's happening, and make live bets (which you can do for example by trading Russian/European stock indices and commodities). When the event of historic importance happens at your doorstep there will be even more FUD to deal with as you're looking for critical information to make decisions, and even more emotions to control.
I know this sounds kinda morbid, but I often ask myself the following question: what would I have done if I was a rich Jew in Vienna in 1936? This is my personal bar for my own rationality. I think it is quite likely that I will face at least one decision of this magnitude in my life, and my ability to be rational then will outweigh almost everything else I do. I know that life will only give me a few practice sessions for this event, like November 2016 and February 2020. I think it's quite worth taking a couple of days to immerse yourself in the news because it's hard to do right now.
If you live outside of Europe and Russia and you aren't otherwise involved with Ukraine then I think you can safely ignore the situation (unless it escalates into a WWIII-precursor, which is unlikely). If you live in Ukraine then you absolutely must pay attention to the situation.
I mean, I hope Mary is ok.
I'm ok right now, and thank you a lot for your concern.
I thought about writing something, but I'm thinking much more short-term & not unbiasedly. We're ~ 15km outside Kyiv, which has been striked, and ~ 10km outside Brovary (also), so we have heard explosions but not seen any yet. Going down to the cellar occasionally (it gets furnished ever cosier), not thinking about work (Because Nerves), checking up with relatives. There's nothing much to do. Can't run - the roads are congested & trains are being cancelled, and I don't feel like I can join a guerilla team because of my family. I know some LW-reading people in Kharkiv who are sure to have it worse.
People are reacting in wildly different ways, of course. We check the news often. In my bubble there is also talk about how this is going to affect sending the next Antarctic research team to the station (to relieve the guys there); street warfare; the situation at the Chernobyl atomic station now that it is taken by the Russians; donations for the Army (blood, money, transport etc.); the position of Nature's editorial team re:situation in Ukraine (oddly pro-Russian); house pets (many bomb shelters will let you in with one); prayers; mail delivery delays; children's emotions after watching the news; (often suspended) education; and soon, I expect (edit after autocorrection to "except" :) ), gardening.
The rumor has it this night will be hard, but then again, it's a rumor.
I don't think agree with 'relatively' quickly, it took about 7 months. Then, when I tried to learn about the nuclear risk I was facing, almost all info about the war was not relevant, essentially it was just the fact that the Russian leader of the government had explicitly and extremely visibly threatened to use nukes.
The rest of the info I needed was not to do with the ongoing war, it was:
I still know essentially nothing about the war or how it's playing out in those countries and in broad international politics, and don't think this has been a mistake. I am currently standing by my algorithm.
Almost 2 years to the day since we had an effective test run for X risks, we encounter a fairly significant global X risk factor.
As Harari said, it's time to revise upward your estimates of the likelihood of every X risk scenario (that could take place over the next 30 years or so) if you assumed a 'normal' level of international tension between major powers, rather than a level more like the cold war. Especially for Nuclear and Bio, but also for AI if you assume slow takeoff, this is significant.
As it relates to China, I think they care very much...but China cares because it wants to see the world's reaction to help gauge their own plans for Taiwan. I think Russia's feelings toward Ukraine very much mirror China's feelings towards Taiwan. China would very much like to take over Taiwan, and if Russia "gets away" with taking over Ukraine, it's a good bet that China v Taiwan will be next.
But otherwise, yes, I agree that "China primarily cares about preserving its trade relationships with Russia and the West."
This is probably the first time that a major war has been fought between two countries that are both well below replacement birth rate, which seems totally bonkers. What does it imply about human values?
What are the implications for international cooperation on AI risk and other x-risks? Bad news, presumably, but how bad?
Kind of a dark thought, but: there's always a baby boom after a war, fertility shoots way up. Putin has tried to prop up the Russian birth rate for many years to no avail...
What does the birth rate have to do with war?
A shot in the dark, but the Malthusian theory of population suggests war is beneficial to local officials and leaders when they think the younger generation is growing at a sufficiently rapid pace that they are about to be replaced ('vent the testosterone', so to speak). The absence of such a growth spike is a mark against this explanation.
More generously: if the birth rate is below replacement, losing young people in a war has drastic consequences for the population ~20 years from now, since it will at least for a while drop far below replacement. If the birth rate is higher the consequences of losing a fraction of your youngest people are, in the long run, less severe.
At this moment in time >99% of humans are not at Malthusian limits and majority of wars of the past 100-200 years have been fought between societies not at Malthusian limits.
The simple story that wars are started by a small group of elite insiders driven by ideological commitments, perhaps fanned by larger nationalistic/jingoistic/militaristic/etc sentiments in the larger populace seems far more plausible.
After Ukraine is conquered, what next?
I'm most interested in the question of NATO membership of Finland (GDP $270B vs. Ukraine's $150B, population 5M to Ukraine's 44M). The Finnish government has been neutral for a long time, while maintaining the option of NATO membership (brought up by the PM in January and discussed again today); the Russian government has at various points threatened that they would start WWIII over Finland joining NATO.
There already exist security guarantees, and Finland has a capable military, such that I don't think a Russian invasion of Finland is advisable, and I don't think it's part of Russian revanchism, such that it seems unlikely that there would be an invasion even after invasions of Ukraine, Georgia, and so on. But the potential for escalation here seems pretty worrying to me (especially given the way that it might be in no one's interest).
A poll just conducted by Finland's public broadcasting company shows the majority of public opinion in favor of NATO membership for the first time in history, with 53% in favor, 28% against and 19% uncertain. (Only 30% were in favor back in January.)
A citizen's initiative asking for a national referendum on NATO membership has also gotten 69K signatures in seven days, with 50K signatures being the threshold required for Parliament to consider it.
"Has close ties with NATO" is quite different from actually being a member of NATO and protected by its safety guarantees. It wouldn't e.g. prevent Russia from pulling the same move as in Ukraine, first invading and then threatening nuclear retaliation if NATO interferes. Whereas if Finland was a member, then NATO's commitment to retaliate would be in force before any invasion, so Russia couldn't play that card.
I think there's a case to be made for adding Turkey to the list of players. Turkey has:
A decent-sized military, population, and economy
A drone program that's been pretty successful, including against Russian equipment
Control over Russia's route between the Black Sea and the ocean
A foreign policy that's very independent and interventionist for the country's size, with a willingness to stand up to both Russia and the West
A very supportive attitude towards Ukraine
Prediction: No substantial sanctions will be imposed on Russia by Western countries (no exclusion from SWIFT, no gas export blockade).
Well that didn't age well.
A lot of people (not in this thread) have been generalizing from America's difficulties with the Taliban to what Russia might expect, should they conquer the Ukraine. I do not think that the experiences will resemble one another as much as might be expected, because I think insurgencies require cooperative civilian populaces in which to conceal themselves, and I expect Russia's rules of engagement will discourage most civilians from supporting the Ukrainian partisans.
Does anyone here have good predictions, or better-operationalized questions, as to the extent to which Russia will/won't find occupying Ukraine to be a huge headache in the way that the US found occupying Afghanistan to be a huge headache?
Say more? What can we say about the goals of Russia / Putin? It would be WWIII-ish if those goals involved something as ambitious as Hitler's, regardless of EU/Anglophone plans. (I buy that WWI-ishness seems less likely, just on the basis of people seeming to like business more than war.)
Is there any particular reason to think that Putin is likely to try invading the Baltics? Let alone attempting to forcefully recreate the Warsaw pact with invading Poland/Czechia/Hungary?
I mean certainly, if Putin decides that WW3 is worth grabbing EU members back, it could happen. And there is always a tiny chance that he will think the West won't fight over the Baltics, while the West actually will -- but this seems to me to be a really low probability thing, and more importantly, what is happening in Ukraine tells us very little about whether that will happen.
To be clear: The Western governments told Putin, in every possible non-explicit and explicit way, that they would do nothing to physically try to stop him from taking Ukraine, but that they would attempt to harm his country through economic mechanisms. Putin did not do a Hitler like gamble of risking a world war, Putin knew with certainty that the only military force he would be fighting was Ukranian.
This is not evidence that he is willing to risk nuclear war, or actually try invading NATO members in hopes that NATO doesn't defend them. He might be -- but your estimate on that should be roughly the same today as it was yesterday.
I think a key difference is the presence of NATO troops in the Baltic states (NATO Enhanced Forward Presence, Baltic Air Policing). Militarily, those are only a tripwire, but killing US pilots in an attack on the Baltic states seems to me a very dangerous move.
If France and England had had garrisons in Czechoslovakia, then 1938 could have played out quite differently.
The setting up of the SU in 1922 did not include the Baltic states - these were independent states from 1918 until 1940 (and I don't think that in Monday's speech Putin contradicted that).
Parties to the Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 were only:
- Russian SFSR
- Ukrainian SSR
- Byelorussian SSR
- Transcaucasian SFSR
"but it has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare."
I'm not sure this is quite right. Nordic and Portuguese language news sources have described civilians being trained for guerrilla or guerrilla-like activity for the last couple of weeks. A Danish newspaper had a picture of (older) children practicing throwing grenades this weekend. I have little idea about the extent of this training and it may very well be limited, but it is not completely absent.
However the military academics I have talked to today seem to think that guerrilla activity will be central to the defense of Ukraine, either after the military is defeated or after it folds deliberately to allow for a more organized insurgency.
Dominic Cummings's Twitter seems fairly high-information/low-noise re: Ukraine, to me. (ETA: at least for beginners like me who like to see background facts made explicit / sourced.)
Particularly interesting: he retweets someone saying that this morning: "Hard to tell with certainty, but most likely it means that [Russia's] nuclear command and control system received what is known as a preliminary command." (Link)
Oh and also, there's potential for this to lead to a coup/domestic upheaval/regime change in Russia which would be an exceptionally volatile situation, kind of like having 6000 loose nukes until whoever takes power consolidates control including over the strategic forces again. So factoring that in, it should perhaps be over 5%. But again there should be advance warning for those developments inside Russia.
5% would be by the end of all this. Most of that probability comes from things developing in an unfortunate direction as I said, which would mean it goes against the current indications we have of neither the US nor NATO intervening militarily. This could be either them changing their minds, perhaps due to unexpectedly brutal Russian conduct during the war leading to a decision to impose a no-fly zone or something like that, or a cycle of retaliatory escalation due to unintended spillover of the war like I illustrated. Neither is too likely imo, and both will have advance warning if you're paying any attention luckily. The risk of a sudden nuclear exchange which doesn't even give enough warning for Americans to leave their cities is definitely lower, maybe 2% at most. But it's definitely present as well, due to the misjudgment risks etc. as I mentioned.
Also, see the comments I just wrote on EA Forum.
Yes, a nuclear war would not destroy humanity completely. This is not relevant to this issue. From the fact that there was no nuclear war, we cannot deduce in any way what its probability was. The probability can be deduced only from a thorough assessment of the incidents themselves (the Caribbean crisis and 1983 and other examples) and the possibilities of other incidents.
I hope the translator translated it correctly...
For epistemic rigor, a twitter thread shaming those who ridiculed the possibility of invasion: https://twitter.com/TheWastingTimes/status/1496833812621557761
I must say that I am very surprised. I was completely not worried about Russia supporting the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia supporting Russian-speaking regions full of Russians who seem to not want to be a part of Ukraine - that makes a lot of sense in my head.
I hadn't expected Russia to attack the rest of Ukraine. I don't see what there is to gain for them there?
I'm watching the official Dutch news (NOS) and they claim Russian tanks and troops are rolling into Ukraine from all sides, from the east, from Belarussia and from Crimae... (read more)
This could plausibly be because the war is already priced in. A lot of money is at stake, and I guess many players had good estimates about it.
Good Judgement has been predicting a military conflict with more than 50% for some months now:
In my opinion, the US should be ranked above Britain and the EU. American meddling in Ukraine is the entire reason this war is happening. The whole point of the Russian attack is to keep Ukraine out of the American bloc. The United States is a world empire with a promethean ambition to reshape every society on earth in its own political and cultural image. Its military combatant commands claim the entire world as their theater of operations. This empire may be in decay, but for now, its ruling class still think the world is theirs.
I think this comment should be debated rather than downvoted.
The tone in the first comment seems fine to me. (Not commenting on subsequent discussion.)
If I were nitpicking, I might suggest a phrasing that sounds less hyperbolic and charged, like:
... but I do consider this a little nitpicky.
'X is the entire reason for Y' is obvious hyperbole, but I could believe that Mitchell genuinely thinks it's, say, 95% of the reason? If Mitchell's actual models are extreme, then there's value in him phrasing stuff in extreme-sounding ways in order to accurately communicate what a huge gulf there is between his models ... (read more)
I just read Mitchell's second comment in the thread, which seems perfectly cordial and clear, and matches what I'd have predicted from the initial comment. (The second comment also stands at -4 karma, bizarrely.)
I feel much more confident now that the votes are just straightforwardly bad and partisan, and a poor reflection of LW's core values.
Mitchell's original comment now stands at 0, which is quite strong evidence to me that the existence of this discussion has itself led people to upvote it; which in turn further indicts the original downvotes, since a robust, defensible voting pattern should not be so easily overturned by a meta-discussion like this one.
For what it's worth, when I first encountered Mitchell's comment three days ago, it was at -4, and I strong-upvoted it only for it to then receive multiple strong-downvotes, further sinking its karma score; there was also a now-deleted response from user "lc" consisting of a single sentence to the effect of "I believe the invaders should die", which, if memory serves correctly, had been upvoted to +7 at one point before deletion.
I think this is pretty obviously terrible, and find myself rather disappointed by the performance of the LW userbase in this case. Politics is the mind-killer, but it seems there are people here who are no less susceptible to mind-killing than the general population, which is frankly embarrassing.
On the other hand, Abkhazia, Alania, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Moldova, and Tajikistan did not apply for NATO membership, and yet Russian Federation had armed conflicts with them. So, whatever would happen in a parallel universe is difficult to predict, but I would say that being a former Soviet republic gives you a significant chance of Russia wanting some piece back, sooner or later.
Speaking for myself, I was born and still live in Eastern Europe, grew up during socialism, both my parents were communists... and yet I strongly prefer the "American values". Perhaps people in other parts of the world are also psychologically capable of enjoying freedom, or whatever specifically you consider to be exclusively "American". Just like they can enjoy pizza des... (read more)
I am registering my prediction here that the Russian invasion will be astoundingly ineffective to most analysts. I have two reasons for this, and they're both heuristics. First:
... (read more)
- In adversarial games, I refuse to attribute to chance that which can be attributed to malice. I feel "foreign policy experts" are now making the same mistake that quant traders make when they build HFT algorithms. The U.S. government is giving Ukraine every bit of intelligence and weaponry they have, and one should not underestimate the amount of luck the military industrial complex
This comment is for soliciting good sources. In general, if you feel like something is a good source I want it, but concrete examples of the kind of things I mean:
Quick note on “Ukraine…has not trained its people in guerrilla warfare.” I am sure that Ukraine has not engaged in public programs to turn a significant percentage of its population into capable guerrilla fighters.
However, from my sources in the NATO deployments, the Ukrainian irregulars and volunteers have been rigorously trained in “…irregular warfare” in significant numbers - to quote my sources. Will provide more rigorous and structure info shortly.
The Pentagon Press secretary John Kirby tweeted today "Russian claims that the United States was involved in any way with Ukrainian naval operations near the Zmiiny Island are false. We did not provide ISR or any other support. Chalk this up to just one more lie by the Russian Ministry of Defense."
This seems to me a very worrying development - whether the US are really involved directly with Ukraine's operations or not, if Russia thinks they are, this is bound to cause an escalation of the conflict. Especially with NATO moving troops toward it's Eastern members - i.e. closer to Russia.
Not unexpectedly, Europe is divided on the sanctions against Russia. Germany, Italy, Cyprus, and maybe the Netherlands seem to have blocked Russia's exclusion from the international finance system SWIFT (Guardian).
One reason behind Germany's position is the fear that without SWIFT it can't pay for the Russian gas it depends on (FAZ - in German) for heating and for electricity.
I really can't understand Putin's action here. The sanctions will actually cause of a lot of pain to the oligarchs, and so to Putin's patronage networks, the cash control systems. These could have targetted by sanctions before but Putin always stayed just under the line.
But now, isn't Putin trading away all of it? Or at least gambling everything? I actually feel like this invasino puts a timer on Putin's Russia. It doesn't make any sense.
The only expalanation I can come up with a terminal cancer diagnosis or something, so Putin just doesn't care about Russia more than a few years in the future.
I agree, perhaps St. Petersburg should secede from Russia and become a neutral buffer zone. For the sake of world peace.
Disclaimer, am Romanian so biased against Russia's geopolitical agenda(which possibly runs through my country in the long run).
I think short term Ukrainian army folds(how much of it is russophile former soviet officers anyway? arguably same as in a lot of former Eastern bloc countries).
Short term questions
... (read more)
- How big and serious will the insurgency be? I assume civilians are not heavily armed. I assume some organised groups will get some military gear. I assume some western weapons will get smuggled in.
- Who will actually fight it? My very limited kn
I found this analysis helpful.
Prediction: Ukraine is going to win the war. (60%).
(Funnily enough, it seems that in Ukraine, most news is now narrowly focused on some very particular issue/geographical object/... and so things don't appear "more" or "less" historical. I wonder what ends up actually important, and what is simply important-but-unreported, but right now I can't sort it out. At least celebrity gossip is down.)
That is not obvious at all to me. There is no formal defense treaty between the US and Taiwan either. In fact I'm seeing a lot of parallels here with Ukraine.
The US is critically dependent on the production of microchips in Taiwan, there are only economic reasons. The United States has no economic interests in Ukraine.
I'm not very well-versed in history so I would appreciate some thoughts from people here who may know more than I. Two questions:
... (read more)
- While it seems to be the general consensus that Putin's invasion is largely founded on his 'unfair' desire to reestablish the glory of the Soviet Union, a few people I know argue that much of this invasion is more the consequence of other nations' failures. Primarily, they focus on Ukraine's failure to respect the Minsk agreements, and NATO's expansion eastwards despite their implications/direct statements (not sure which one, I'
The Russian army is now about 15 kilometers from Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. At least, it doesn't look like the war can last long.
Will Russia invade only eastern Ukraine or the rest of Ukraine as well?