Why The Path Of Least Risk Is To Maximize Arming Of Ukraine.
In the German media there have been many recent attempts to argue that limiting arms to Ukraine, will reduce the risk that the war will escalate, and so ensure that there will not be a Nuclear Third World War. Exemplars are, from the academic left the veteran professor of international relations and philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ essay War and Indignation (28th April), and a snappier Open Letter To Chancellor Olaf Scholtz (3rd May) from a radical left (allegedly) feminist magazine. The dozens of examples I have researched are highly repetitive, and ignore the basic problem of determining the nature of Putin’s regime. Habermas’ essay is a partial exception.
The arguments for restricting arms to Ukraine from the left follow a familiar depressing pattern, that is both reactionary and incoherent. Need to start with a meaningful statement on the nature of the Putin regime, and so to productive statements of what Putin’s war aims are in Ukraine, and how the West should stop them.
- Putin regime is fascist and lacks restraints.
The reality is that Putin has escalated oppression in Russia, so that now he and his security elite (siloviki), run a totalitarian regime. A combination of an advanced media propaganda machine and comprehensive censorship controls public opinion. He has tamed the rampant corruption of the Yeltsin years to the advantage of his regime. Russia has been modernising its military, especially in key areas like nuclear weapons, since 2008. As the Ukraine invasion shows this modernisation has not been comprehensive. Putin has an important ally in China, its economically powerful neighbour. Xi Jinping has been on the same path of escalating oppression, and now runs a totalitarian regime.
The Putin regime has no effective restraints on it. This is the key reality to understanding why Putin’s regime has drifted to fascism. The concept is that an authoritarian regime without restraints decays towards fascism. So unproductive arguments about the definition of fascism give way to where a regime is on the scale towards fascism, which depends on the restraints on the regime.
Restraints on Putin’s regime:
- Public Opinion: The motivation for creating a totalitarian state is to make this unimportant.
- Economics & Technology: Xi Jinping has multiple deniable paths through other autocracies to support Putin’s regime.
- Ideology: The Soviet Union at least had to maintain the pretence of creating a better communist world.
- Military: The ordinary sections of the Russian military using old equipment and inept tactics failed to overrun determined skillful Ukrainian resistance using modern equipment. But the Russian military does have tactical nuclear weapons to extend large scale terror and destruction beyond its borders. It does have more reserves of manpower and weapons (some modernised) to expensively grind down opponents and flatten urban areas. It does also have some effective strategic nuclear weapons, sufficient to deter any direct retaliatory attack on Russia.
- Racism: This played a central part in Nazism, but not in other fascist regimes of the mid twentieth century. Putin has approved Ivan Ilyin’s fascist philosophy where the nation is the core overwhelming entity. This philosophy is obviously more scalable.
- Putin intends to smash Ukraine as a step towards further aggression.
The nature of the Putin regime means statements by the regime about annexing Ukraine and controlling the former Soviet-Warsaw-Pact countries are valid expressions of intent. The nature of the regime means that it values resources and fear over people. Smashing Ukraine will still be seen by the regime as a victory.
The chief architect of the invasion is defence minister Sergei Shoigu. He is Putin’s political heir and depends on winning in Ukraine for his political future, just as Putin did with the Second Chechen War.
Putin has ordered the Russian Military to concentrate on the more accessible East and South of Ukraine after the failure to overrun Kyiv in the North. Russian propaganda still claims Eastern Ukraine is pro Putin’s Russia, and needs liberating from the “fascist” Ukrainian regime.
When this phase has been completed, Putin will attempt to control the rest of Ukraine by escalating the power of the weapons used. This will create destruction that even the Russian media cannot pretend does not exist or was committed by a vengeful “fascist” Ukrainians. Russian media has prepared public opinion for this by a long absurd campaign to smear Ukrainian patriotism as fascist and an existential threat to Russia.
A serious problem for the Russian military has been destroying urban areas and breaking transport links. Mass bombardment of Ukrainian cities and towns has been used because the Russian military lacks the capability to take them. Mass murder and destruction is not a moral problem for them, but the process is slow and expensive. Precision guided missiles have been used to target transport links, but have lacked the necessary explosive power. Russia has thousands of tactical nuclear warheads that can level urban areas and destroy transport infrastructure quickly over large but limited areas. The use of air bursts reduces the amount of fallout to acceptable levels. Drier conditions will also allow the Russian military to avoid dangerous road bottlenecks, where they have been successfully ambushed.
- Reduce the risk of escalation by providing unlimited military support to Ukraine.
The fascist nature of the Putin regime means that it is the possibility of victory in Ukraine that provokes escalation by the regime. The possibility of victory needs to be closed down by the West maximising the supply of conventional weapons (and other logistical support) to Ukraine.
If Putin escalated aggression by using tactical nuclear weapons (or other weapons of mass destruction) in Ukraine this would not necessarily lead to victory, because all these weapons have significant but restricted military utility. A Ukraine being provided with maximal support by the West would still win. Putin would then be faced with the combined problems of defeat in Ukraine, and global revulsion at the use of weapons of mass destruction.
It is not possible to overrun a country that has effective strategic nuclear weapons, but the Cold War showed it was possible to defeat the military of such a country in another country, without escalating to a Third World War. The use of Strategic Nuclear Weapons against another country with the same weapons is suicidal. The only situation in which the order to use them makes any sense, is when those in power believe these weapons have been launched against them by the enemy, thus achieving mutually assured destruction. So a defeat for the Russian military inside Ukraine will not escalate to a Nuclear Third World War.
Victory in Ukraine for Russia would self-evidently encourage subsequent escalation by the regime beyond Ukraine, and discourage resistance by increasing doubt in Western solidarity. Nato’s article 5 means a country can request support if attacked, it does not force other members to provide direct military support. There is a hidden fault line between old and new (post Soviet) Nato members.
Preventing further escalation by the Putin regime will become more risky, because the regime would have a greater belief in the efficacy of these threats, and would therefore risk escalating threats in the belief that the West would eventually respond.
A defeat in Ukraine for Russia would effectively reintroduce restraints on the Putin regime.