Epistemic status: trying to summarize the news and predict, post is under revision, too lazy to citation everything

I wanted to collect a few observations I've made, as best I understand them. This PBS article does a good job of explaining much of it.

  1. Vladimir Putin has announced the annexation of four Ukrainian territories.
    1. This makes them Russian territory from Russia's perspective.
    2. “People living in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson are becoming our citizens forever” - Putin
  2. The West does not acknowledge this annexation, describing it as illegal. Ukraine does not acknowledge this annexation and says it plans to take the territories back.
    1. "By attempting to annex Ukraine's Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin tries to grab territories he doesn't even physically control on the ground. Nothing changes for Ukraine: we continue liberating our land and our people, restoring our territorial integrity," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on social media.
  3. Russian military doctrine allows the usage of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory.
  4. Putin has a track record of escalating apparently (this needs more data) and Russia seems to be planning for escalation until the war is won.
    1. https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/09/29/putin-always-chooses-escalation-a78923
      1. "All of our sources in the elite — who all spoke on the condition of anonymity — said the military conflict will only escalate in the coming months."
  5. Putin has clearly stated that they will defend this territory, including with tactical nukes if need be.
    1. He said they would use "any means available" to defend it
    2. He has mentioned usage of nukes some number of times (a nice-to-have: a list of all the times he has said this)
    3. Medyedev has stated the West would not retaliate if nuclear weapons are used.
    4. "Under Russia’s amended constitution, no Kremlin leader can cede territories once they are annexed." - someone on Twitter
  6. Putin has stated he is not bluffing.
    1. The U.S. Secretary of State says it is "loose talk".
  7. Putin has called for a ceasefire.
    1. Ukraine and U.S. does not want to do this.
  8. The U.S. has said there will be "catastrophic consequences" if nuclear weapons are used.
    1. They are keeping the consequences vague for strategic flexibility.
  9. Concerning escalatory developments that aren't directly related to nuclear brinksmanship:
    1. The Nordstream natural gas pipes were blown up. We don't know who did it. (This section needs work)
      1. Russia could have done it
        1. Burning the bridges strategy?
      2. U.S. could have done it
        1. U.S. airships were nearby days before.
      3. Ukraine
      4. Some other country or group, hypothetically
    2. Russia has conscripted 300,000 men.
      1. There is some amount of resistance.
        1. Tens of thousands of people are leaving.
        2. There are some protests.
  10. Ukraine has "accelerated" its application to join NATO. https://archive.ph/Yns59
    1. Consensus from all 30 NATO countries is required, though.
      1. France and Germany have expressed reluctance in the past.
    2. "Experts warned that Ukraine’s NATO membership at the moment seems elusive at best. The process could take at least several months, and even years."
    3. Sweden and Finland have been approved by 28 out of 30 countries. Turkey and Hungary will likely hold out for a while.
  11. Any country in NATO that is attacked by Russia triggers the whole NATO alliance to attack Russia.
    1. Biden has affirmed this, naturally.

Conclusion: Ukraine will keep attacking the annexed territories in order to take them back until Russia uses a tactical nuke out of desperation, and the U.S. will respond with "catastrophic consequences".

This is obviously uncertain! But the chain of logic forms a coherent enough inside view for me to put a lot of probability on that, and I may start taking bets. I would be curious to see different inside views about what will happen or variations on this one that include facts I should update the post with.

If you want to make the case for tactical nuclear deployment not happening (which I hope is the likely outcome), I want to see a model of how you see things developing differently that has some sort of parts list like I have attempted, not just a vague black box-y sense that nuclear war is too horrible to contemplate and people will naturally successfully manage to try to avoid it at the last minute out of goodness or rationality.


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As I understand it, Russia still perceives itself as a superpower in a decades-long cold war against USA. The fall of Soviet Union was a temporary setback, but now they are back in the game.

From Russian perspective, there are currently only two (or maybe three -- I have no idea how Russia perceives China) agents on this planet. Everyone else is an NPC. Some states are "NPCs owned by USA". Some states are "NPCs owned by Russia". Other NPCs are neutral and passive. But there are only two (or three, if also China) player characters who have actual agency, and everything that happens on this planet should be interpreted as a military move made by one of them. Any other interpretation means falling for someone's propaganda, hook, line, and sinker. From Russian perspective, explaining things from any other perspective makes you either a liar (which is a good thing, considering the alternative), or an idiot (if you actually believe what you say).

If you do not grok this perspective, you simply do not understand what Russians actually mean by the things they are saying, e.g. when Putin makes a speech to the Russian public. I am not commenting here on what Putin actually believes -- I have n... (read more)

I would like to comment on Budapest Memorandum technicality. You probably already know this since you conceded Russia has a point, but other readers may not. The following is trying to be a neutral summary.

In 1994, in return for Belarus and Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons and joining NPT, US promised to "refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by the signatory of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind".

In 2013, US sanctioned Belarus. Belarus notified US that US broke Budapest Memorandum. US replied it didn't (what?), because sanctions are for human rights, and not designed to subordinate etc.

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea.

I am not sure what US was thinking in 2013. If US thought Budapest Memorandum was at all valuable, they should have paused and thought twice about it. Given their frankly absurd reply, I think they didn't consider it valuable.

I live in South Korea, so my specialty (I am not at all special in South Korea, but that immediately makes me an expert in the global internet) is North Korea. US and North Korea reached an agreement called Agreed Framework (done in Geneva, so better... (read more)

I agree. I wouldn't trust USA to keep their promises after something disappears from the news headlines.

I have no idea -- is this a specifically American problem, or a problem of democracies in general? Because in democracy, the person expected to fulfill the promise is often not the person who made the promise; often it is actually their opponent. Solving a problem by making a promise gives you political points, keeping a promise made by your opponent does not. Do other democracies have a better track record?

I vaguely remember a BuzzFeed series "inside the secret international court that ..." or something. One of the things I picked up from it is that this is a problem democratic regimes can face when taking over from horrifying dictators. The sequence (according to my memory of what the articles said) is something like: * Horrifying dictator signs agreement with Western company to build him a ridiculous vanity project costing significant amount of country's GDP. * Gets overthrown. * New regime decides that the vanity project won't be needed after all. * Company is like, but you (as a country) made a deal with us. We've committed funds to this vanity project. (I don't remember but wouldn't be surprised at: if you rescind now you'll trigger a bunch of break clauses, that no sane regime would have agreed to in the first place but horrifying dictators maybe don't even bother to read.) * There's a court that gets to enforce things like this, at penalty of exclusion from significant parts of the international monetary system, or something. * Court treats new regime as continuous with old regime, enforces agreements signed by horrifying dictator.
You don't even need a horrifying dictator. Suppose that Trump decides to build a huge wall on the border with Mexico, and signs (in the name of the government) a 20 years project with some construction company to build that wall. Then Biden wins... but he is still required to keep paying the money to the construction company. Hypothetically, imagine that the contract is so expensive that it does not leave Biden enough money to pay for his programs -- the things that people who elected him want. In some sense, a "long-term contract" and "democracy" are in contradiction. Democracy assumes that every 4 years you can change the government. Long-term contracts mean that despite doing that, in certain aspects you remain de facto governed by the old government (or pay the penalties specified in the contract, which may be insanely big). Not sure what this all means... You can't have democracy without breaking promises? Or maybe we need a new mechanism for long-term promises? For example, you can create a fund, as a legal entity separate from the government, put some amount of money there, and provide an algorithm such as "every year, if the condition X is met, send Y of this fund's money to South Korea, otherwise return all the money to US government and disband this fund". But you cannot contractually make the future governments put more money into this fund. So it is clear to everyone that the fund operates with a limited budget. (And maybe, if the future governments decide so, they can put more money into the fund. But they are in no way required to do so.)
The US claim is that it did not sanction Belarus in order to secure its own advantage. At face value that claim looks plausible: it seems like they have a plausible case that Belarus leadership is suppressing dissent and running fraudulent elections, this does seem to be a major motivation for US conduct, and sanctions do look like they were targeted at offending officials. If that claim is true it seems like US behavior is compatible with the text of the memorandum (at least the parts quoted here). I feel like I'd have to dig into this more to have an actual view because it's very easy for people to have a plausible story even if they are behaving quite badly. But this comment didn't help me see why this should be considered an absurd reply. I wasn't able to quickly substantiate this claim; I'd be interested in a link to some kind of discussion of the background. E.g. what was the actual content of the promise and then what happened? Your description of this situation is different from my understanding, but my understanding is super rough and comes from US sources (which focus on late deliveries of oil, e.g. delivering the last of the 2017 oil in December instead of October, though my sense is that the first year was rougher than that) and so I'd be quite interested in checking out a clear and reasonably-substantiated account of the bad behavior.
0M. Y. Zuo4mo
That's astonishing, if the text of the Budapest Memorandum actually reads then the US sanctioning Belarus in 2013 really was violating it first. 'secure advantages of any kind' leaves no wiggle room for even a 'human rights' argument. Especially since it wasn't even cleared through the UN first.
I don't understand why "secure advantages of any kind" leaves no wiggle room for a human rights argument. I think I may just not be understanding what you are saying. I have no idea if the US argument was right, but it seems completely legitimate to argue that sanctions against government officials who are perceived to run fraudulent elections and suppress dissent are intended to protect the people of the country rather than to "secure an advantage" for the US. That feels like it has to come down to actual empirical claims about what happened rather than definitional moves. (For example, I don't know whether sanctions were in fact mostly targeted at officials, though that seems to be the US story, and I don't know how credible the case against Belarus was, but it doesn't seem like anyone in this thread has addressed any of that and at face value the US case is plausible.)
A charitable (for Russia) interpretation is that USA judges human rights abuses unfairly -- looking the other way when the dictator is pro-American, using sanctions when he is not. This provides an incentive for dictators to be pro-American. From that perspective, (selectively) applying sanctions against human rights abuses is just another way to increase American power.
I can totally see an objection along these lines and think that there might very well be something to it. But I don't see why you'd call this response absurd, or think that there is "no wiggle room."
3M. Y. Zuo4mo
A moral victory, or at least one side publicly claiming they have the moral high ground, is still an advantage of some kind. If you think that implies 'advantages of any kind' covers an incredibly broad swath of actions, then yes, that's the point. This is incredibly broad language for a serious document.
https://web.archive.org/web/20180822045920/https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%202866/Part/volume-2866-I-50069.pdf [https://web.archive.org/web/20180822045920/https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%202866/Part/volume-2866-I-50069.pdf] gives you the original text: The CSCE final act [https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/c/39501.pdf]says:

You should think about making this a top-level post. Having talked to a few of my pro-Russian friends/acquaintances (mostly Russians and Serbians), I cannot stress how on point this analysis is. I experienced what you describe here very well, the fact that they "breathe" a different model of the world. 

I also noticed that they all fall prey to the same failure mode (related to the Fallacy of Grey): 

  • Everyone knows that Russian news is bullshit and we don't believe them ourselves
  • But everyone also knows that "All" news is bullshit, including your Western propaganda.
  • Given that all news is bullshit, it is impossible to know what is right or wrong, so I prefer to continue believing whatever is more convenient for me

Thank you for your kind words!

However, I will respect the social norm of not posting political content, because I think that it is a good norm in general. It may be tempting to make an exception for a good cause, but it rarely stops with one exception, and I would rather not contribute to making LW a place where political content is posted regularly. The quality of the political content would inevitably decrease, because at first people would be aware that they are breaking a norm, so they would try hard and be careful, but later they would be not. Also, it would attract new people who only come here for the political debate, and that would be bad.

(I posted this here as a response to an already existing article, and as an answer to tailcalled's question: "does Putin not consider Germany part of 'The West'? If not Germany, then who, beyond the US?")

If anyone wants to have a political debate at some other place, like ACX or DSL or whatever, feel free to copy or reference my comment, I don't mind.

Politics is generally a huge Grey area. No one is flawless. That doesn't make everything the same. But it provides enough arguments for all sides. Also, different people are differently impac... (read more)

Also agree about not promoting political content on LW but would love to read your writings on some other platform if possible.

I do not post on other platforms (besides a very infrequent blog on Java game development). My commenting online is mostly Less Wrong and ACX, occasionally Hacker News.

I actually do not think I have much useful to say on the topic other than what I already wrote here; this was a dump of everything that was on my mind. Could generate some more text about what pro-Russian people in my country actually believe (a mixture of Putin admiration and conspiracy theories about our local politicians), but at the end you would see that this comment was the 20% of the text that provided 80% of the value.

One more thing that comes to my mind is this: Imagine how a paranoid antisemitic person thinks about Jews. Remove the religious things like circumcision or cooking matzos from blood of Christian children, and only keep the non-religious ones like ruling the world from shadows, only caring about profit, manipulating the world's finance, being untrustworthy and generally immoral. Replace the world "Jew" with "American". Add an army, used exclusively to kill innocent people across the world, especially recently in former Yugoslavia; motivated by greed, power, oil. -- The result is a good approximat... (read more)

Ok, nothing else to add. I do agree in fact, let's not make LW about politics

"Objection against "out of desperation". How is it desperation to lose something that you didn't own yesterday, just tried to take from someone and failed. (Yes, I am sure that Russia will spin it as desperation, but it is not.)"

I would make a comment here:

Losing a couple of provinces in Ukraine that just become part of the Russian Federation recently should not make "Russia" desperate. However, I believe we have a principal-agent problem here:
Russia can afford to lose this war, but the current Russian leadership does not. I think they believe there is a good chance that they would be removed by a coup or a revolution if they loose face due to military defeat.

I think the past 6 months of the conflict supports this view:
The Russian Armed Forces have been inefficiently throwing hard-to replace weaponry and manpower trying to conquer the rest of Donbass, while pretending this was the plan all along. It is a relatively worthless region(large portion of the population having fled, majority of industrial infrastructure having been/would be destroyed), and replacing lost equipment and professional personnel (especially officers and special operation units) will take many years, making Rus... (read more)

What do Russians think it takes to be a superpower?! Their economy is below South Korea and Italy and is not even in the world top 10. https://www.worlddata.info/largest-economies.php [https://www.worlddata.info/largest-economies.php] Their best university is number 78 on a world ranking. Their second best is 242. In comparison, the US have 5 universities on top 10. https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022 [https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2022] Is it about having enough nukes to ruin the world? Or taking up a lot of territory? Or do they just never question the assumption that they are a superpower? Edit: Added later: Their population size is only the 9th largest, below e.g. Bangladesh and Nigeria. https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries [https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries]
I suppose the Russian answer would be something like: we had the first man in space (and the first woman in space), we have nukes, look at these beautiful photos of Moscow, have you ever heard about Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Mendeleev, Kolmogorov... (continues for 10 minutes)
Sure, Russia used to be technological and cultural superpower. I just can’t think of any similar examples from Putin’s time.
Neither can I, but it is hard to distinguish whether this is a fact about Russia or about my knowledge. I mostly know the famous people from textbooks, and it takes some time to get into a textbook, and I am no longer a student so I probably wouldn't know anyway. If "Putin's time" means "after 2000", according to Wikipedia this gives us: superconducting nanowire single-photon detector [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconducting_nanowire_single-photon_detector], moscovium [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscovium], Nginx [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nginx] web server, graphene [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphene], orbitrap [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbitrap], oganesson [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oganesson], discovery of Denisovans [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denisovan], Chatroulette [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatroulette], tennessine [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessine] -- for science. (Evaluating culture would be more subjective.) Trying to guess what will feel important a few decades later, probably the graphene and Denisovans.
4Richard Horvath4mo
Russian military might. They have been hearing it all their lives: learning about historical victories, watching movies about it on the TV, seeing the victory parade every 8th of May... And they can point to the map, and show that Russia being the largest country by territory is proof enough. Hell, even most of the world believed it until March.
Oh, I just realized I was answering a different question: why might someone with my knowledge consider Russia a superpower. But the question was about why Russians would... That makes it much easier. I assume that an average Russian does not know many things. Such as, what is it like to live in EU or USA. Or the fact that Soviet Union defeated Nazi Germany in WW2 only because it received a lot of help from the West. (Quite likely, they never heard about Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact].) I tried to find information how many Russians speak English (as a proxy for "can talk to foreigners online") but everyone gives a different number. I assume that most of them get some introductory lesson at school, but only a few achieve fluency. Notice how Russia has their own search engine (Yandex), and social network (VKontakte). I suspect that communication with foreigners is probably quite rare for most Russians. So, I guess, if you spend all your life in Russia, and if your information about Russia and its relative position in the world mostly comes from government-approved TV channels and news... then it is quite easy to assume that Russia is a superpower in all possible dimensions! Only its military is merely the second strongest in the world, otherwise you couldn't explain why you still haven't defeated USA.
(I'm Russian) I think this is false. It's more likely that average arguing-in-Internet Russian tells you that Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was lesser evil after Munich Agreement [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munich_Agreement]. English is a mandatory subject for all 11 years in all schools, but yes, fluency is uncommon. True. Mostly true, I think.
Does the version taught at schools say that Soviet Union came to help Poland after it was attacked by the Nazis? If I remember correctly, that used to be the official version during communism. (Like "yes, we had the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but it doesn't mean what you think it means; we never intended to attack anyone together, we just tried to dissuade Hitler from attacking us".)
(Just checked) No. Sort of? It's like "Stalin knew that there will be war against Germany, so he had to choose either an earlier war with an initial front further east or a later war with an initial front further west".
3mako yass4mo
Is it some mix of the size of the economy and the population size? Is that a good proxy for military strength? It's not quite solely about economy yet.
I just realized that I have never taken the expression “superpower” literally, to only be about military strength. I have always just assumed the it also involve cultural and technological influence, and in general “how much do you contribute to the world”. This is probably because I started from the assumption that the US was the only superpower, and then I extrapolated from that. If you take superpower to just mean the amount of military pressure you can put on other countries, it does make a bit more sense.
The fact that the USA and Europe broke the Budapest memorandum before Russia broke it with Belarus, seems to me a bit more like a technicality. People in Russia don't believe it's a sham referendum but that the population in Donetsk and Luhansk actually wants to be part of Russia. The absence of any reporting of opinion polls about what the real election results would be in Western media suggests that Western media outlets also believe that the referendum would come out as being pro-Russian if done fair and square. I did talk with one Russian friend who lives in Berlin for five years and have an idea of the Russian perspective from that. She isn't pro-war and did volunteer to help Ukrainian refugees. Still she believes, that Ukraine killed Russian-speaking inhabitants within Donetsk and Luhansk during the civil war in an amount that required Russian intervention. She believes that Ukraine destroyed houses without military necessity because a relative of a good friend reported observing that on the ground. I think you are wrong if you model Russian opinion as being mainly derived from what their media says. You likely have a lot of "friend of a friend" who lives in Donetsk and Luhansk and wants it to be part of Russia. Of course, that filters for the opinion of Russian-speaking Ukrainians with ties to Russia and not the average Ukrainian but it's still part of what drives the support for the war among the Russian population.
What I don't get is how can Russians still see it as a civil war? The truth came out by now: Strelkov, Motorola were Russians. The separatists were led and supplied by Russia. It was a war between Russia and Ukraine from the start. I once argued with a Russian man about it, I told him about fresh graves of Russian soldiers that Lev Schlosberg found in Pskov in 2014. He asked me: "If there are Russian troops in Ukraine, why didn't BBC write about it?". I didn't know, so I checked as soon as I had internet access, and BBC did write about it... So I don't see how can anyone sincerely believe that this was ever a Ukrainian internal conflict. Egor Holmogorov said: "For our sacred mission, the whole country should lie [about our soldiers fighting in Donbas] [https://holmogor.livejournal.com/6599575.html?thread=68028823#t68028823]". And I get the feeling that's what exactly what people do.
According to Wikipedia, Russia had (unmarked [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_green_men_(Russo-Ukrainian_War)]) soldiers in Ukraine since February 27th 2014. Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence in April 2014. (The "crucified boy" hoax was published in July 2014. The pro-Russian people in my bubble first denied the presence of Russian soldiers, and later used this as a justification for their presence.) EDIT: What people want may change over years and decades, but in the 1991 referendum [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Ukrainian_independence_referendum] most people votes Yes for independent Ukraine. I assume that if you want your region to remain in Russia, you would not vote for independence of a piece of land that includes your region.
Perhaps I am reading more into your post than merited but I would think that should be stated "...any event contrary to Russia's perceived relative power..."? To which one might think the only possible response to Putin's war might be an overwhelming military response supporting the Ukrainian government on Russian forces in the internationally recognized boarders of Ukraine. Then stopping and not putting NATO troops anywhere in Ukraine. (Though I would hope, and like to think, we have some better alternatives.)

Interesting summary and interpretation of a speech outlining Putin's intentions, "The End of Western Hegemony is INEVITABLE":

This is a reproduction of my live Twitter summary/translation of Vladimir Putin's speech:

I wish every single person in the West would listen to Putin's speech. Obviously, that won't happen so let me summarise as a professional translator for 10+ years. He states, as he has done from the outset, what his intentions and complaints are in the plainest terms possible.

Setting aside his brief comments on the recent "referendums", he spends most of his speech discussing the West. His primary complaint isn't NATO expansion, which gets only a cursory mention. The West is greedy and seeks to enslave and colonise other nations, like Russia.

The West uses the power of finance and technology to enforce its will on other nations. To collect what he calls the "hegemon's tax". To this end the West destabilises countries, creates terrorist enclaves and most of all seeks to deprive other countries of sovereignty.

It is this "avarice" and desire to preserve its power that is the reason for the "hybrid war" the collective West is "waging on Russia". They want us to be a "colony".

... (read more)
What I think is striking about this speech, is the comprehensiveness with which it portrays the western civilization as different, evil, and intolerable. The West is a power-hungry, post-human Moloch that seeks to subvert and devour anything different. Ranged against it are all the traditional civilizations of the world, characterized by religion, sovereignty, and family values, and Russia volunteers to be the armory of the resistance.
3David Johnston4mo
What do you see as the significance of this? I think I would have been surprised if Putin talked mostly about Ukraine - it’s more respectable to be struggling vs the west than vs a smaller, poorer neighbour. Compare to “war on terror” vs “war on Afghanistan”. Given the above, it doesn’t seem particularly notable that he insults the west. I also don’t see escalation as more likely if he declares “the west” to be the prime enemy vs “NATO”; perhaps less, actually, because “the west” seems more of a rhetorical opponent while you could actually fight against NATO with bombs if you really wanted to.
Wait, does Putin not consider Germany part of "The West"? If not Germany, then who, beyond the US?

He's not saying things to express some coherent worldview. Germany could be an enemy on May 9th or a victim of US colonialism another day. People's right to self-determination is important when we want to occupy Crimea, but inside Russia separatism is a crime. Whichever argument best proves that Russia's good and West is bad.

I wonder what he thinks an (ideologically) unoccupied Germany would be like? Surely he can’t be thinking of the Statsi DDR he was part of when he was working in Dresden?! Maybe he thinks that Germany is naturally nazistic, and he just forgot to pretend to be against nazism? Or maybe he is just saying words that are good at getting people angry at the west, but don’t make much sense when you think more about them?
"don’t make much sense when you think more about them" seems like the only answer. Japan and Germany haven't been occupied puppet states for a long time now. Most likely he is trying to reach out to left-wingers in Germany/other European countries (who tend to be vaguely anti-USA) and try and persuade them that they are somehow being muggs/US-puppets. What is weird is I think Putin lost several family members in the European theatre of WW2 and is often said to have a strong anti-German feeling.
I came across a bit more information [https://praxistipps.focus.de/putins-tochter-was-ueber-katerina-wladimirowna-tichonowa-bekannt-ist_127200] about Putin's relationship with Germany. In an interview with German media in 2001, Putin said that the first words of his daughter were in German (which is plausible given that Putin's wife was a German teacher). According to another article [https://www.morgenpost.de/politik/article236253513/putin-praesident-tochter-katerina-tichonowa-reisen-deutschland.html] , the daughter frequently traveled to Germany because she has a German boyfriend. That information came out in August of this year and it's quite interesting that it exists in it's current form. iStories had the scoop. It's interesting that someone decided to leak it. It's someone saying to Putin "look your op-sec for your daughter isn't as good as you thought".
Do you have a source for why we should believe that Putin has anti-German feelings?
I was told it by someone who was halfway through reading a Putin biography (I believe the Philip Short one) - they presented it as a well known ("often said") thing which I took it as. Looking now this seems to not be google-supported, although I have not read the book.
I think there is a discussion to be had about if a country that has countless military bases of another country in their land is occupied of just an "ally" It's not clear to me there is a big difference in practical terms.
I don't think US is occupying Japan, because US bases in Japan are there by mutual consent. Similarly for South Korea and Germany. But yes, US is occupying Okinawa. US bases in Okinawa are not there by mutual consent. Japan consents, Okinawa doesn't. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_Corps_Air_Station_Futenma] is, like, the single biggest political issue in Okinawa. Just look at the aerial picture. It is absurd. Similarly, US was occupying Seoul, Yongsan Garrison [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yongsan_Garrison] in particular. After a long negotiation, US bases relocated to Pyeongtaek, where they are welcome. Putin does have a point here. US should do more of Pyeongtaek.
Not every occupation is the same, but nations occupied by military force are often denied the ability to run their own affairs with regard to legal proceedings, defence, etc. In particular not being allowed to have final authority over legal matters on their own soil seems to historically be a great sticking point: see the Austro-Hungarian demands of Serbia leading to WW1. This is one of the key domains which defines the authority of a sovereign nation, whereas it doesn't seem that uncommon in history for there to be foreign military assets in a nation as a non-occupying force that does not damage the sovereignty of that nation. Auxiliary troops, mercenaries, allied soldiers. From this perspective, U.S. bases look like occupation insofar as they damage the sovereignty of the occupied nation, and look like anything but occupation to the degree that they protect or abide by that sovereignty. Russian propaganda would of course claim, that the former dramatically outweighs the latter.

ISW has an extensive analysis https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/special-report-assessing-putin%E2%80%99s-implicit-nuclear-threats-after-annexation Here is the last paragraph:

Russian nuclear use would therefore be a massive gamble for limited gains that would not achieve Putin’s stated war aims. At best, Russian nuclear use would freeze the front lines in their current positions and enable the Kremlin to preserve its currently occupied territory in Ukraine. Russian nuclear use would not enable Russian offensives to capture the entirety of Ukraine (the Kremlin’s original objective for their February 2022 invasion). Russian military doctrine calls for the Russian Armed Forces to be able to effectively fight on a nuclear battlefield, and the “correct” doctrinal use of tactical nuclear weapons would involve tactical nuclear strikes to punch holes in Ukrainian lines, enabling Russian mechanized units to conduct an immediate attack through the targeted area and drive deep into Ukrainian rear areas.[9] The degraded, hodgepodge Russian forces currently operating in Ukraine cannot currently conduct effective offensive operations even in a non-nuclear environment. They w

... (read more)

Russia gets nothing from burning bridges. They profit from selling their oil and there are a lot of plausible scenarios where it allows them leverage to negotiate the lifting of sanctions in the winter if the gas runs out in Germany. The only thing Russia could benefit from is if it weakens cooperation between the US and Germany and the rest of the EU.

One interesting aspect of Russia's response is that they are saying:

"The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage," Putin said. "It is hard to believe but it is a fact that they organised the blasts on the Nord Stream international gas pipelines."

If it would be a propaganda move, I would have expected them to have a story about how the US did it prepared and not be as vague about who did it. 

When I look at the situation, I find Poland a plausible actor as well. It's interesting that Radoslaw Sikorski who's a Polish MEP thanked the US for it. The timing of Poland opening its pipeline with Norway and them imposing more sanctions on Gasprom makes them seem like a plausible actor to me. 

The United States profits from the attack as long as it doesn't damage its relationship with Germany and other EU countries. 

Russia gains nothing by burning bridges if you model Russia as a single actor, which can just choose not to turn the oil back on. Putin, however, has a strong motivation to burn bridges: it sets his preferred policy in stone, and removes a possible incentive to coup him. With the pipeline functional, there's always the chance that a faction of the Russian government tries to remove him from office with the goal of picking up the money he's leaving in the ground and spreading it among Team Defectors. Now that the pipeline is disabled, even if Putin were out of office, there'd probably no good way forward for his replacement but to continue the war, which means less motivation for disgruntled insiders to move against him.

He need not think a coup is likely, of course. He just needs to think that, as the war drags on, the pipeline's existence will hurt him more than it helps him, which seems quite sensible.

I give 60% odds it was them. I am mostly impressed/surprised that a state actor (if it was a state actor) managed to do this without being publicly fingered by another intelligence agency. An insistence that this operation to be kept mostly secret even internally, among his own higher ups, could explain a lack of CIA/MI6/etc. informants or an unwillingness by western nations to give clues to those high level informants' existence.

I'm pretty far in the other direction. I would give 90% odds it was done by the US or with our approval. These are the points that convinced me: * The prior on someone destroying their own infrastructure is pretty low * The US has a clear incentive to weaken Russia's leverage over our European allies * There are old videos of Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland apparently threatening Nord Stream 2 in the event that Russia invades Ukraine Also, a counterpoint to your coup-prevention theory. Let's suppose Putin is worried about defectors in his ranks who may be incentivized to take over in order to turn on the pipeline. In that case, couldn't Putin remove the incentive by turning it on himself? And wouldn't that be a strictly better option for him than destroying it?
No? At least, not anymore. Not only do I think he doesn't want to do so for ideological reasons, it would make him look weak to change his mind about this in the absence of any policy concessions from the west, and having the pipeline off is probably domestically popular among regular citizens. His replacement two years from now can say, "this whole war was disastrous; Putin has put ideals ahead of national interest", because he's not putin and didn't start the war. But for Putin, any outcome of the conflict that isn't winning or turning Russia into ashes trying to do so is going to be read as an ideological concession to insiders that he cannot afford to be seen making. (I'm willing to bet at 50:50 odds that America didn't do it, up to 1k, btw)
On the other hand, and for the same reasons, independent actors in the US or Poland may want to make sure that Germany has burned it's bridge with Russia too.
This is a good time to revisit "The Dictator's Handbook"
Any faction that manages to pull off a regime change will profit if it can install itself as the new rules of Russia with or without the pipeline. Blowing up Russian infrastructure is likely unpopular with a good portion of the Russian elite and it can be easily argued that it's treason by Putin to do so. If powerful people in the Russian elite think that Putin felt the need to blow up Russian infrastructure to reduce the chances of a coup, that's a signal of weakness. It's unclear to me what you expect Putin's preferred policy outcome to be. I would expect him to want a ceasefire with Russia keeping the territory it currently holds. Having the pipeline means that there's more room for negotiation especially if gas shortage really hurts in winter.
The point is that the faction can credibly promise everyone more resources/etc. than Putin can, rather than just a different distribution of resources ("don't worry, you'll be one of the monkeys on the winning team, I promise"), because Putin insists on burning state capacity and money, which could be spent on banditry, on failed attempts at rebuilding the Soviet Union. It's always good to be on the inside of a coup, yes, but why give potential enemies a natural incentive to dispose of you, if you're not going to turn back on the oil any time soon? Putin is a dictator; he has a direct line to the special branch of his intelligence services that handles secret operations. He would of course have kept this operation a secret from his direct inferiors, and as I said, the fact that it's been so long without any nation state being definitively accused raises my suspicion that it was done with a remarkable lack of insider knowledge for a government. Otherwise why hasn't a spy given the game up yet? I will admit that the fact that he has to blow up his own infrastructure without the knowledge of the rest of his government makes this considerably more risky, but it's not obviously a stupid play, and it seems to have worked if that's the case.
Even if other people within the Russian elite don't have direct knowledge, they have a much better model of Putin than we do. Imagine the conversation between two people in the Russian elite: Alice: What do you think, did Putin blow up the pipeline? Bob: I don't know for certain, but with him, you never know... Alice: Yes, the other day he did XYZ which was really crazy... Bob: What motivation do you think he could have? Alice: I think he's afraid of a coup because of YZX. Bob: It's right for him to fear that because of ZYX. Neither Alice nor Bob committed treason by saying anything they said but they managed to build shared knowledge that makes it easier to agree to do a coup together. Getting rid of Putin likely involves more than just getting rid of Putin, a lot of other people that are currently in power will lose their power as well. People who currently have power by virtue of having shown loyalty to Putin over decades have a good chance to lose that power even if more resources are available. Making a deal to get rid of the Western sanctions and stop the costly war already allows credibly promising that there are more resources to be distributed. The pipeline provides leverage for negotiations with Germany. It also allows for more room to navigate in case, Russia needs the money to buy the loyalty of whoever is hurt by the war. With money, it's easy to pay unemployed workers at car factories their salaries. Having that option available is useful for scenarios where he actually needs the money. Intelligence agencies generally are not in the habit of wanting to give information to the public. I don't think you can deduce much from secret services not sharing information with the public.

(Meta: writing this in separate comment to enable voting / agreement / discussion separately)

If you want to make the case for tactical nuclear deployment not happening (which I hope is the likely outcome), I want to see a model of how you see things developing differently

I'll list a few possible timelines. I don't think any of these is particularly likely, but they are plausible, and together with many other similar courses of events they account for significant chunks of probability mass.

  1. Discontinuity in power in Russia.
  2. Internal turmoil or collapse in Russia (e.g. regions start declaring independence). It becomes clear that nuclear weapons won't save Russia.
  3. Abrupt cut in western support to Ukraine, including ammunition (e.g. due to another big war). Putin thinks he can win without nuclear weapons.
  4. Russian army starts being competent. Putin thinks he can win without nuclear weapons.
  5. Conflict freezes over winter, then turns into boiling-the-frog: events happening too slowly to trigger nuclear response. Over the years defeat slowly becomes an accepted fact in Russia.
I admit I am biased since I am a Korean, but I see Korean War as an obvious model of War in Ukraine. From June 1950 to June 1951, situation developed rapidly, with wildly moving front. I think War in Ukraine is now in this phase. From July 1951 to July 1953, ceasefire negotiation was ongoing while war was ongoing, while front barely moved, while lots and lots of soldiers were dying. For two years. With declassified Soviet papers, we now know why it took two years, and that even two years was a luck. Korean War was a proxy war. It was a war between US and USSR, but North Korea, South Korea, US, China were fighting, and USSR was not! Stalin was in favor of a war where others were fighting and USSR was not. Ceasefire was achieved in 1953, after Stalin was dead. Similarly, War in Ukraine is a proxy war between US and Russia, but Russia and Ukraine are fighting, and US is not! I think US is in favor of a war where others are fighting and US is not. With absence of Stalin to be dead, I fear the war will continue indefinitely.
I know almost nothing about Korean history, just wondering... ...wouldn't this make it a proxy war between US and China? Just asking, no strong opinion here. Anyway, back to Ukraine. I think the years 2014-2021 may have matched your analogy better, if we frame the conflict as a war between Ukraine on one side, and the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics on the other side, with USA providing material assistance [https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF12040] to one side, and Russia providing material assistance and soldiers [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_green_men_(Russo-Ukrainian_War)] (denying that, not very plausibly) to the other side. But this situation changed in February 2022 when Russia threw the full force (without the nukes) of its regular army against Ukraine in a blitzkrieg attack on Kiyv. I am not sure about the proper use of military terminology, but in my opinion this makes it no longer a "proxy war", but a regular war instead. (Although for political reasons, Russia prefers to call it "special military operation". Tomato, томато.) For USA, it remains a proxy war. By the way, not just for USA. Ukraine is also getting a lot of support from Germany, Poland, and many others [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_foreign_aid_to_Ukraine_during_the_Russo-Ukrainian_War] . Actually, I sent them some of my pocket money, too. You see, Russia made a lot of enemies in Europe. Countries in Eastern Europe (except for Hungary) understand that in a parallel timeline, it could have been them instead. If you think that Americans are belligerent, you should listen to the Polish. While in USA you have Putin apologists like Noam "I see no genocide" Chomsky, in Poland the desire to take revenge [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland] on [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre] Russia unites [https://newrepublic.com/article/165603/carlson-russia-ukraine-imperialism-nato] people across the political spectrum. Slovakia, where I
North Korea and China sought approval and followed orders from USSR. It was assumed so at the time as a common sense, and now we have mountains of incontrovertible evidences from declassified papers. 2014-2021 matches 1948-1950 better. Yeosun rebellion by South Korean Workers' Party had 3000 dead, with similar size of territory affected and with similar intensity. UN intervened in Korean War. 16 countries sent troops to Korean War under UN forces. That doesn't change the fact that most troops and material support was from US. You seem to have mistaken ideas about WW2 and Korean War. WW2 too was a war of artillery and air raid, Korean War even more so. Still, numbers are important, and even with complete air superiority US couldn't repel China's numbers. China is the wild card. I agree Russia can't build much, but China can build pretty much anything. US lost >30,000 in Korean War. China lost >180,000. Losses in War in Ukraine, both Russia side and Ukraine side, are not uniquely high compared to Korean War. In other words, Vietnam War was a low intensity war, and is not suitable for comparison. Yes, 60,000/yr should be unsustainable, it's a terrible loss for humanity, but sadly it's not. As you admitted, I see you are not familiar with Korean War. With amphibious landing at Incheon, UN forces conquered back 100% of lost territory in two weeks between 15 September 1950 and 1 October 1950. Within a month (26 October 1950) UN forces reached China-North Korea border.
I agree that if China does something unexpected, it could change the situation dramatically. As far as I know, that didn't happen yet. Maybe China is okay with Russia becoming weaker? No idea. Thank you for the interesting information! I am completely out of my depth here, so no specific reply.

I'm less concerned. Russian nuclear doctrine lists the circumstances under which Russia would launch its nukes.

a) ICBMS are launched against Russia.

b) WMDs are deployed against Russia or its allies.

c) Russia's ability to retaliate with nukes is threatened.

d) Russia's state faces an existential threat.

Nothing about the Ukraine war meets any of the above criteria.

I don't expect Putin to use your interpretation of "d" instead of his own interpretation of it which he is publicly advertising whenever he has a big public speech on the topic.

From the latest speech:

> In the 80s they had another crisis they solved by "plundering our country". Now they want to solve their problems by "breaking Russia".

This directly references an existential threat.

From the speech a week ago:

> The goal of that part of the West is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country. They are saying openly now that in 1991 they managed to split up the Soviet Union and now is the time to do the same to Russia, which must be divided into numerous regions that would be at deadly feud with each other.


Also, consider nuclear false flags—the frame for them, including in these same speeches, was created and maintained throughout the entire year.

I know almost nothing about military, so please someone explain to me: what exactly does it mean for something to "be a doctrine"?

Does it mean "this is what the future military leaders are taught at a university"? Or is it rather some kind of precommitment? (Made by whom? To whom? What are the consequences if it is not followed?) Or is it like generating common knowledge for all military leaders: "these are the rules you have to follow, and you have to punish anyone who breaks these rules or tries to encourage breaking these rules"?

Usually doctrine means what people have been trained to do. In the case of nuclear doctrine, it's a widely-publicized (to its allies and rivals) statement of intent.

Russia's state faces an existential threat.

The implication is that attacks on the territories it is annexing are interpretable as an existential threat.

I do think the odds are (at this time still) pretty low so like you less concerned. That said, d) is clearly a flexible aspect as Putin has been pushing the line that the entire "special operation" has been forced on Russia and due to potential existential risks. I'm also wondering just how well that doctrine applies, and just how effective the controls enforcing them are, with regard to tactical nuclear weapons (e.g., artillery).
For any reasonable interpretation of d (Russia faces existential thread), anything that falls under this category would already be covered by c (Russia’s ability the retaliated with nukes is threatened). This tells you that the point of d is to use an unreasonable interpretation, and use it in situations where even Putin cannot twist the truth enough to argue for c.

Metacomment on speculations on who might have sabotaged NordStream.

It seems like people here mostly implicitly treat possible state actors as coherent, unified agents. But maybe it wasn't any particular state acting as a whole but rather some small group within that state that decided to do it on their own. Even if they considered it likely to be identified after the fact, the subgroup may have judged the sabotage to be in the interest of the whole nation or maybe that particular subgroup.

(I don't know how much fragmentation of that sort there is in any given country but I think it's at least plausible)

There are intelligence services of countries that sometimes operate without the mandate of the government. The whistleblower Annie Machon for example suggests that MI6 was funding an assassination attempt on Gaddafi without asking or informing the rest of the government.

I’d be willing to take a bet that the U.S. will not respond with nuclear retaliation against Russia, regardless of what Russia or any of its governmental actors do, for a 1 year period. If you believe there’s any chance.

OK, why is this downvoted? In general, a bet is either a reasonable statement, or an offer of free money.

If your problem with this bet is that it would be impossible to successfully collect the money in the case you win, this is a known problem with a known solution. The player who bets on "not the end of the world" sends some money to the player who bets on "the end of the world", and later [conditional on this not being the end of the world, implicitly] the second player sends more money back to the first player.

I also don't understand. I would have understood it if we didn't have disagreement voting, but if you just disagree with something (but don't think the author should be disincentivized from saying it), use disagreement votes, not the approval votes.

One motive I have heard various media give for Russian sabotaging Nord Stream, is that it would be a way out of their gas-delivery contract. If they simply stopped sending gas for no reason, they would have to pay a fine. This is also why they previous claimed that Nord Stream I was broken.

In order to determine if this is a credible motive, I would need to know:

  1. How big would this fine be?
  2. How likely would it be they ended up paying if they had simply stopped the gas for no good reason.

I haven’t seen any media give even an order of magnitude for question 1. Does anyone know that? At the very least, I would think the fine should be bigger than the value of the released gas for this to be a realistic motive.

On Nord Stream sabotage: 

  1. Looks like sabotage. Accidents very rarely look like this. (Very high confidence.)
  2. Probably by state actors. It seems like a task that requires significant resources and planning. Also there was plenty of military presence in the area, it's just hard to believe that non-state actors could perform something like this unnoticed. (Medium confidence.)
  3. It wasn't an ally of Germany. There is always a chance that you get caught / leave evidence, and after attacking the critical infrastructure of an ally no one will have a reason to trust you. None of the allies of Germany stand to gain anything that is anywhere near comparable to that risk (that I can think of). (High confidence.)
  4. Given geographic reach, the countries that could perform something like this are probably those around the Baltic sea, plus USA, UK, France. (Medium confidence.)

That leaves us with Russia and Germany. I don't see what Germany could gain from this. I don't see what Russia could gain from this either, but then Russia has developed a habit of doing things despite having nothing to gain from them. Also, I see some reasons why Russia could think this is a good idea (implicitly threatening the West by demonstrating willingness to use grey-zone warfare against their critical infrastructure, to try to get them to back down).

So possibly Russia. (Low confidence.)

Epistemic status: proof by lack of imagination.

The US has a habit of attacking critical German infrastructure. Until Snowden, nobody in the German government believed but afterward, we had to accept it. In this case, the information could be restricted to fewer people knowing that the US attacked the infrastructure so it's less likely that anybody finds out. Biden was also willing to publically threaten to prevent North Stream 2 from being created. When it comes to taking actions to keep trust, threatening to do something against North Stream 2 destroys trust.

Computer hacking has always been in a separate category from "exploding things", geopolitically. You may disagree with that distinction, but it's relevant in the calculus.

I will have to steal the term "proof by lack of imagination"! I have a slightly lower confidence in "no ally of Germany". Lets, hypothetically, say it was Poland. The Polish government opposed (very publicly) the making of Nord steam in the first place. They have (very publicly) continued to criticize it and use language of the sort that Germany is doing something immoral by buying the gas. So, if they hypothetically had done it, and were caught they could simply say "Yes. We have been telling you to do this publicly for a decade. We grew tired of waiting." (Then lean hard into a hopefully muted enough reaction from USA/UK to move on - plus, its not like it would get them kicked out of the EU, I think that requires a unanimous vote, and remaining in the EU I am not sure what Germany could really do to punish them.) Obviously sabotage and diplomatic pressure are different, but I think most people put them closer than you might expect. (Legitimate diplomatic pressure could, for example, involve withdrawing money that was of greater value than the damage of the sabotage).
Given Poland's populist politics I expect that there's also a good chance that the Polish population would applaud their government for asserting itself as a player.


"U.S. airships were nearby days before."
Airships? Do you mean warships?

"Russia has conscripted 300,000 men."
Source? I've heard that they publicly said they'd do 300,000 but actually gave themselves authority to do 1.2M. Also, neither of those tells us how many they've actually got so far.


Yes, in updating my family on today's news I told them that P(WW3) increased in non-trivial ways today - based on mostly similar observations.

There is also a bit more to your point #2 - not only the West does not consider this annexation legitimate, but it also makes any scenario where the fighting stops with Russia maintaining control over these territories less acceptable to the West (and Ukraine), so the path to any pieceful resolution of the conflict just became that much narrower. And that in turn leaves more avenues open for things to escalate.

5b - yes, 2020 amendments to the constitution of Russian Federation included adding the following paragraph to article 67:

2.1. Российская Федерация обеспечивает защиту своего суверенитета и территориальной целостности. Действия (за исключением делимитации, демаркации, редемаркации государственной границы Российской Федерации с сопредельными государствами), направленные на отчуждение части территории Российской Федерации, а также призывы к таким действиям не допускаются.

Rough translation (I am a native Russian speaker born in Moscow leaving in US): 2.1. Russian Federation unsures the protection of its sovereignty and territorial integri... (read more)

Kamil Kazani proposed that Putin may be planning to use nukes as a face-saving gesture (in the eyes of Russian public opinion, not yours, you don't matter to him no matter how absurd you think he's being), since it's not humiliating to lose to a retaliatory strike from powerful America, but losing to "inferior" Ukraine certainly is.

Thoughts on this?

Presumably that would depend a lot on whether Putin expected American retaliation to be large enough to let him claim "we were pushed back by the Americans' power, but we still stand, so we win", and small enough to still make that claim (the destruction of the Black Sea Fleet, already threatened by the US, might be an example of this scale of response, though if it's literally only the fleet destroyed that would still raise the question of why the Russian Army can't handle Ukraine). A retaliation on that scale could conceivably save face, though everyone would still remember how poorly the Russians fared beforehand. A larger retaliation, though, one that threatened Putin's image or even his life, would be something he'd presumably like to avoid (unless the rumors of him having a terminal illness and seeking to go out with a bang are actually true). A serious wildcard here is that the West does not seem willing to risk nuclear war. During the Cold War, NATO projected the image of being absolutely willing to go to war if need be, even if that destroyed the world. Indeed, given some of the incidents that occurred (there was at least one instance of planes actually lining up for what they believed to be a nuclear strike; the aircrews were preparing to fight, rather than mutinying over the likely end of the world), that wasn't a bluff: NATO was willing to fight, and the Soviets knew it. Now, though, that isn't the image the West projects. It's possible that Biden would order nuclear retaliation, but it doesn't seem like the certainty that it was in the Cold War. And that may increase the risk. A West that predictably retaliates at full force is one Putin won't be willing to antagonize (barring the dying Putin scenario), while one that unpredictably retaliates is one that might end up actually doing so.
Was cold war NATO willing to retaliate "in full force" against an attack on a non-member? If Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons in a limited theater, It seems to me that, given the West's reticence, it may seem reasonable to expect from it a similarly limited, local retaliation. Even if it's not a certainty, Putin may be weighing such risks against the risk of what will happen to him if he is ousted from power (this idea speaks to me because it's simple, mundane fear, it does not require Putin being about to keel over and looking for a dramatic end). Die the death of a deposed tsar = die in nuclear war, you're dead either way. Maybe the latter is even better, as it'll be more impersonal. As long as you're selfish and amoral (which Putin obviously is), the fact that this is "bad for Russia" (let alone the world) won't stop him.
  1. Russian military doctrine allows the usage of nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory.


This is ~false. See: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/TkLk2xoeE9Hrx5Ziw/nuclear-attack-risk-implications-for-personal-decision?commentId=ukEznwTnD78wFdZip#ukEznwTnD78wFdZip

Putin could interpret an attack on its newly annexed territories as "greatly endangering Russia's existence". He seems to be generating rhetoric in that direction.

"Putin has stated he is not bluffing"
I think this is very weak evidence of anything. Would you expect him to instead say that he was bluffing?

FYI I've personally updated that I should at least be on standby for leaving the Bay Area. I've got a few days of supplies packed and and thinking through my trigger-action plans for leaving in a hurry if things seem to be escalating. It's plausible I should leave before things escalate further, but leaving is pretty expensive and I'm not sure what to do.

Thanks Dony for writing this up.

The scenarios I think are most likely (my guess of order of likelihood):

1 - Russia / Ukraine peace deal, involving Ukraine officially ceding Crimea and maybe some/all of these other annexations to Russia in exchange for an end to hostilities/maybe something else. (Russia would say no, but it would be hilarious for Ukraine to ask for the gift of an independent, Russian-made, nuclear deterrent in exchange for the territory. "In 1990's we gave up our nukes for a piece of paper you gave us guaranteeing our territory. the paper did not work, so this time you wi... (read more)

I have the same order, with this option above 1. 0 - Korean War style ceasefire without peace deal.
1Jeff Rose4mo
I don't have the same order, but tend to agree that option 0 is the most likely one.
Perhaps leaving out a Ukraine largely winning but not quite, Russia increasingly seems ready to use nukes but the UN (perhaps with China, India, Turkiye (sp?) and NATO working together) steps in under some agreed armistice that resulted in withdrawal of soldiers & weapons from all parties involve. That and perhaps even that in conjunction with an acceptable UN independent, objectively managed referendum on status of disputed areas. Not sure if that would belong under 1 or after 6.

How much difference would using tactical nuclear weapons actually make?

The mobilisation in Russia is seemingly an expensive bet. In the short term, he annoys draftees/prospective draftees, deprives the Russian economy of their labour and loses a bunch of working age men from the country. In the medium run, I think having relatives involved is more likely to push ambivalent families to an anti war position than the reverse.

So if it’s a costly bet, then what is it a costly bet on? Seemingly, it is not a bet on the prospect of using nuclear weapons to force Ukraine to negotiate on favourable terms with shock and awe - it’s possi... (read more)

I'm not sure about this but have seen a few reports that most of the conscripts are coming from minority groups within the Russian Federation so this might be as much about mitigating internal dissent as it is about actually fighting/winning in Ukraine.

Biden threatened earlier in 2022 to block Nord Stream 2:



See some (very opinionated) discussion and a bit more info here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NwHH1RJxx1g

Your model assumes Russia cannot sustain a conventional war, and will have to escalate. Assume that Russia and the BRICS+ can sustain and certainly outspend the EU, if not the paper dollar just yet. As the world moves to a commodities-basket based currency, it is the US petrodollar that is in much greater danger, and historically a much greater cause for concern regarding escalation.

What's extra weird about Nordstream situation is that apparently one of the two NS-2 pipelines survived and can still be put into operation after inspection while a few months earlier (May 2022?) Gazprom announced that half of the natural gas supply earmarked for NS-2 will be redirected to domestic uses.

If Russia were to nuke Ukraine with a tactical nuke, they will put the US into a position of being forced to respond.

If we go all the way up the escalation ladder to a full nuclear exchange, it's essentially impossible for Russia to win.

So they probably will need to either not escalate, or plan to deescalate at an intermediate point, e.g. if there's an exchange of tac nukes or a tac nuke is exchanged for a nasty conventional strike, Russia may intend to stop the escalation at that point.

Russia has much more reason to bark about nukes than to bite. The bite might happen but I don't see a strong reason for it.

If it reaches that point, the goal for Russia would not be to win but to ensure another side loses too, and this outcome might be preferable (to them) to a humiliating conventional defeat that might permanently end Russian sovereignty. In the end, the West has far more to lose than Russia and the stakes aren't that high for us and they know it.
At this stage, Putin must be wondering if his nuclear arsenal is in the same crappy shape as everything else.
No. I think everything else is in crappy shape cause the Nuclear arsenal was always a priority for the Russian defense industry and most of the money and resources went there. I've noticed that the meme "perhaps Russian nukes don't work" is getting increasingly popular which can have pretty bad consequences if the meme spreads and emboldens escalation. It is like being incentivized to play Russian roulette because you hear bullets were made in a country that produced some other crappy products.
The main reason for everything being in a crappy state is almost certainly (>90%) widespread corruption. Everyone who can is creaming off a little bit, leaving very little for the actual materiél and training. So shoddy materials, poor to no training, missing equipment, components and spares. That said, while it is very likely that the Russian nuclear arsenal is in extremely poor state, and I'd possibly go as high as 50/50 that their ICBMs could launch but cannot be aimed (as that takes expensive components that are easy to steal/not deliver and hide that fact), missing the target by a hundred miles or more is basically irrelevant in the "ending the world" stakes. A 'tactical' device doesn't need much in the way of aiming, and on the assumption that it does in fact contain nuclear material there's not a huge civilian difference between it exploding 'as designed' or "just" fizzling. If only the initiator went off, the weapon disintegrated during launch/firing, or the weapon/aircraft was shot down, it would still spread radioactive material over a wide area. While that wouldn't be the "shock and awe" of a mushroom cloud, it's still pretty devastating to normal life.

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