The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Samo Burja. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Samo Burja. Samo is the founder of Bismarck Analysis, a consulting firm that investigates the political and institutional landscape of society. He’s also a research fellow at the Long Now Foundation where he studies how institutions can endure for centuries and even millennia. And he’s a research fellow at the Foresight Institute, and he is a member of the team at Daniel Schmachtenberger’s Consilience Project. I personally subscribe to Bismarck’s Briefs Services, which each week provides a really well done analysis of an important institution, industry or player. Welcome back Samo, I think this is the third time of fourth time on the show actually.
Samo: Glad to be here with you again, always have good discussions.
Jim: Always get into such good things. Today we’re going to talk about what else, when I’m talking about the master strategist, but the Russia invasion of the Ukraine and what it may mean going forward.
Samo: I mean, first it is perhaps useful to talk a little bit about what’s happened in the past few days. Russian forces have entered Ukraine seizing several important cities, roads, routes but nothing yet in the major urban centers. So Kiev itself remains in the control of the Ukrainian government. The Ukrainian government has surprised many observers by lasting as long as it has. However, the very fact that it has surprised many observers showed that expectations were unfortunately low for the relative survivability of a clash with the balance of power at least on paper immensely favors the Russian with more equipment and so on, more personnel. What this means for the future I think is significantly up in the air. There are a number of different scenarios that could come to be.
Samo: Let’s for the first one explore a Russian victory. I still think this is the likeliest overall scenario. What does a Russian victory look like in a military and a political sense? In a military sense, a Russian victory amounts to tolerable casualties, which note for the Russians are much higher than for the United States. Russia is, as many observers sometimes remember other times forget, it’s not quite a Western liberal democracy. So it has some capacity to absorb casualties let’s say a Western country like the United States or the United Kingdom do not. Now, fundamentally the demographics of Russia and the demographics also of Ukraine are disfavorable. These are very old country with a significant proportion of the young people having already left for work in more developed economies. Not many of those young people will come back. It’s possible that Ukraine is going to have significant numbers of volunteers in the coming weeks. Regardless of the politics, for the first time in decades we might actually see a real manpower shortage, at least a manpower shortage of trained soldiers that know how to use very expensive equipment.
Samo: These are expensive pieces of hardware, rocket artillery, modern tanks, jet fighters. Of course, fighter pilots are a specialized breed, you don’t need that many of them. But even everyday military technology has become much more advanced than it was 70 years ago or even 30 years ago. There’s still guys with AK-47s standing around, those happen in every war. But really the sophistication of modern modern warfare means that extended training periods are necessary. So militarily, the losses are acceptable. Russia retains enough hardware, it doesn’t lose too many of its highly trained troops. It occupies I think the Eastern half of Ukraine, the Western half of Ukraine either surrenders or it’s kind of a rump state. Everything west of Kiev I think is perhaps much more defensible than anything East of Kiev.
Samo: The East I think Russia sets up a number of puppet states. It may be annexes Luhansk and Donetsk. There are two regions of Ukraine that have been pursuing a secessionist program for, I guess, almost seven years now, maybe eight years, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. They always captured much less territory than they claimed on paper, Russia’s now capturing the remaining territory that they claimed. Both of these states had statelets had applied in the past to join the Russian Federation, the same way Crimea had. Putin had denied that according to the Minsk Accords, which were the last agreement between Western governments, the Ukrainian government, and Russia itself. These regions were supposed to stay part of Ukraine, I think that paper has long been shred. I think these two regions will be integrated into Russia.
Samo: The victorious Russia is significantly financially and otherwise isolated but leaning very strongly on China. Note that as of the recording of this podcast Russian gas continues to flow into Europe. So whenever you hear about all these very intense sanctions like seizing Russian ships, freezing their assets, you have to ask, why is Europe still buying Russia’s gas? And why has Russia not cut off the gas that it sells? If Russia is a financial crisis, the income from that gas is not going to make that big a difference and could send a serious signal to Europe, inflict some political pain. For now, the decision has not been made to do this. In the future, the Russians are banking significantly on Arctic ports cleared by their new fleet of icebreakers that they’ve been building for a while. So in other words, they’re preparing for an era where liquid natural gas can be transported in tankers much as crude oil is transported today.
Samo: So in a way, perhaps they’re actually agreeing with the Western world on two things. These two things they’re agreeing with is global warming and climate change will eventually make the Arctic sea passible for ships. And secondly, eventually the technology is just going to be affordable enough to ship gas in this liquified form and use tankers instead of pipelines to deliver it. But agreeing with the West on these two points, I think the big story is they intend in the future to export to China, and they’ve been laying the ground work for this for years and years. What we’re seeing right now with the sanctions is perhaps the final decoupling economically of Russia from Europe, yet Russia will remain a petro state but will sell to China rather than Europe betting heavily on gas liquefaction at first. But I expect eventually also building more pipelines through Kazakhstan and through other possible routes to Chinese markets.
Jim: Yeah, there was a pipeline announced today actually I think, a major pipeline. But again, it will take several years to build.
Samo: Of course. But China might be willing to welcome the largest beneficiary of the Belt and Road Initiative ever. China does have the financial resources to bail out Russia if it chooses to if push comes to shove.
Jim: Yeah, that’s an important point I’d like to let people know is that economically Russia is pretty small. I looked it up and it’s just slightly bigger in GDP than Spain. Does Spain wag the economic dog of the world? No. So when you hear things like Russia joining potentially in response to being cut off SWIFT, joining China’s new payments infrastructure, at the level of economics, it’s about the same as Spain joining China’s payments infrastructure, which would not have anybody say, “Oh, that’s going to tip the balance to China.” So it’s always worth keeping in mind while Russia is a great military power, it’s really very third tier when it comes to economics.
Samo: This is true. However, two counterpoints, the first one is natural gas has in fact been and in general their energy, the energy they provided Europe. It might not be that valuable economically, but it’s very hard to replace. If Spain were blockaded tomorrow, almost everything Spain makes we can get somewhere else. But if you’re Germany and you’ve cut off Russia, it actually is a pain and it’s much more expensive to get sufficient quantities of natural gas to continue both heating homes but also providing electricity. Something the Germans have been in denial about for a very long time has been the fact that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are not primarily compliments to batteries. No, the first thing people buy is natural gas, and the production of electricity using natural gas. It’s vastly more economical than buying rows and rows of batteries and storing the energy fluctuation and trying to ease it out.
Jim: Yeah. Economically doesn’t work yet. Someday it might but doesn’t. The other thing, of course the German shut out themselves in the foot by closing down their nuclear plants.
Samo: That was very stupid. They’ve announced actually that they’re going to reopen them, but there’s a big problem. All of the experts that used to work at these nuclear power plants, they’ve already found new jobs. These experts are in very high demand. Germany might literally not be able to hire back a team that can run these nuclear power plants that they now say at the very last minute that they want to reopen. So it’s really not going to work out for them energy wise.
Jim: So we have a scenario where the Russians win at a tolerable loss.
Jim: Probably dismember Ukraine, perhaps there’s an independent rump state in the East. What’s another scenario?
Samo: Just to conclude one final thought for the Russian victory scenario, I think it emboldens China. And I think we will in that case see an invasion of Taiwan within the next three years if there is a Russian victory just because it shows that it is possible through a fait accompli shift international borders to resolve long standing issues. Second scenario, stalemate. I think this is in a way the most unhappy scenario. It is the scenario where Ukraine becomes the European Syria constant fighting Russian forces but not just Russian forces, Russian proxy forces. Chechen troops have recently been deployed as part of the Russian Federation but also you could easily see Russia aligned Islamist Chechen groups in Ukraine appearing that are not part of Russia’s military.
Samo: Why would you want to do this? Well, you might want to do this if there are things you want plausible deniability for. We saw a lot of this unfortunately in the Yugoslav war where the technicality of something being, say the forces of the Croatian or the Serbian government versus an independent militia that the Croatian or Serbian government denied any ties to. And those independent militias were often implicated in war crimes, et cetera, et cetera. There is a reason you might expect that. Further, you will see private military corporations at play. Russia’s Wagner Group has been spotted in Ukraine. Wagner is sort of their technically private military corporation that has Russian veterans. They fought in Syria, they’ve been seen in places like Libya, Sudan, all sorts of parts of the world where you would not expect them to be seen.
Samo: One of the things people should keep in mind is Russia has been fighting wars for the last 10 years. They have a small but very competent, very highly trained force. They open the invasion with their lower quality troops. So this is a world where the sanctions persist, they cause a lot of damage to Russia economically but not enough for Russia to pull out. In fact, politically it cannot pull out. And when it comes to domestic politics, I think people are engaging in wishful thinking when they feel Putin might be toppled by financial oligarchs. Look, the financial oligarchs have been feeling financial pain for the last years. There have been many rounds of purchase. I think Putin loses power if he’s perceived to have lost the war. So if Putin is in a situation where he’s basically losing the war, this might drag on for years. He might stay there because to retreat would mean that his position would be much weakened.
Samo: So this is a bogged down situation, there’s no clear winner. And on the Ukrainian side, I hate to say this, I think the government has, many members of the Ukrainian government have shown courage and patriotism and so on. But the Ukrainian state is a fundamentally weak state, I think their forces would start to fragment. Russian propaganda makes much of the so-called Azov brigades, these neo-Nazi thugs that because they’re Ukrainian nationalists in 2014 and earlier were fighting on the pro Ukrainian side. This sort of nationalist extremism would prop up not just from the Russian side with possibly militias tied to Donetsk and so on, it would also prop up on the Ukrainian side. I think massive amounts of weapons would continue to flow into the country year after year mostly from Western countries. Turkey might end up being involved in various indirect ways.
Samo: Already Turkish drones are in fact being used by Ukrainian forces, but could we imagine Turkish forces in Ukraine fighting on the Ukrainian side or fighting with their own agenda nominally tolerated by the Ukrainian side? The answer is yes. Turkey had already entered Iraq without permission of the United States years ago to conduct their own independent operations in Kurdistan. They also have been involved in Syria in ways that were sometimes helpful to Western interests and sometimes very detrimental to Western interests. While a NATO member, Turkey really is a wild card in this stalemate scenario. The cities of Ukraine would be bombed out, there would be millions of refugees going in all directions honestly. It would escalate to ethnic cleansing. It would in other words be another Yugoslavia but with a much larger population and with much more destructive weaponry. So that’s the stalemate scenario.
Jim: Does that include the scenario where the Russians nominally win, they decapitate Zelenskyy, occupy half the country but there’s a very high intensity insurgency still going on?
Samo: I would say that, yes, these two scenarios are at a continuum but the difference will be very obvious between the two. I do think foreign fighters, by the way, will make a massive difference for both sides in such a scenario. The reason foreign fighters make a difference is people talk about insurgencies, the patriotism of people really matters. But at the end of the day, dying in war has historically throughout human civilization, that’s been the job of young men. Ukraine does not have many young men. This is not Iraq, this is not Vietnam, this is not Afghanistan. Those are very young societies where the average age sometimes was 24, 25. I’m referring of course to the Vietnam of 50 years ago not the Vietnam of today. These are countries that can absorb many, many people, losses of many, many people.
Samo: Half of Ukraine’s labor force is already outside the country. About two million or so according to some estimates are working in Moscow, about four million are working in Poland, Germany, France, and other EU countries. So even if all of those people come back and fight, this is not a society that would pursue such activities in a grassroots manner. My argument, my contrarian argument for why Northern Ireland is much more peaceful than it was 40 years ago is because Northern Ireland is much older than it was 40 years ago.
Jim: Interesting, that’s interesting. The other contrarian argument I’ve heard about an insurgency is if we look at the record, there are very few examples of fully modern countries engaging in mass insurgencies. You think about Vietnam, it was just recently out of feudalism and colonialism, Afghanistan never been modern. Iraq, economically modern, but still tribal in many, many deep ways. Syria, the same. Ukraine, not really rich, actually poorer than Mexico by a fair bit, but it’s got skyscrapers and cars and internet and fancy restaurants. It’s a modern country, just a not very wealthy one. And so if we take the hypothesis that modern people are frankly too soft to engage in the real ugliness that a hot insurgency results in, that might be another argument against a hot uncertainty. Though, I got to say, I’m impressed so far by the Ukrainians. They’re putting up a good fight, better than a lot of people thought they would.
Samo: No, I think that’s certainly true. And I have to also praise that in terms of public relations and keeping up morale, the Ukrainian government has done a remarkable job. I just believe that whenever you have this type of war, it’s not just the memetic layer that matters but the kinetic layer. And for now despite what both sides are claiming, I actually think casualties have been rather modest, both Russian casualties and Ukrainian casualties. In the coming days, I worry the gloves are going to come off, artillery will start to be used because Russian doctrine for how do you deal with a city that’s resisting. Well, we need to look at the Chechen War for that. The capital city of Grozny looked like a moonscape, like a uninhabited wreckage after a world war.
Samo: I don’t want you Ukrainian cities to look like that. I hope some solution is found that doesn’t result in this escalation of the intensity of the conflict where the heavy ordinance gets used on urban centers. But to say something more about your point, you actually made an extremely good point, which is the difference between clannish and tribal society and non-tribal societies. The reason the Chechen War was such a mess where Chechnya would be breakaway Republic in the 1990s within Russia of a Muslim ethnic minority was that Chechen society was still clannish, tribal. You always knew 12 guys that would fight or die for you for just everyday reasons, like maybe there’s a blood feud or something and you need those 12 guys.
Samo: And then Russians come in, you’re the official government and you don’t like that very much, so you call your 12 guys and you go fight with them. I don’t know if anyone in New York, Paris or Ukraine knows 12, or in Kiev, Ukraine knows 12 guys who are willing to die for you. I guarantee every Chechen or Afghan does know 12 guys who would be willing to risk their life for you.
Jim: Yeah, it’s a different level of social coherence and cohesion that modern life just does not engender. Like any big city, I’m sure lots of people live in Kiev who came from elsewhere for the opportunities. And so they’re kind of atomized individuals, which don’t have that same ability to pull together like a tribal or more generally a traditional pre-modern people do. So I wanted to follow up a little bit on this restraint so far, I’ve noticed the same thing that the casualties seem to be in the hundreds so far not in the thousands. Some very interesting things as you point out, no mass artillery at all. A fair number of missiles let fly but compared to the metal that can be thrown by Russian mass artillery, it’s almost nothing. They’re essentially precision ones. There’s been very little air power so far very surprisingly by the Russians.
Samo: The hospitals and power plants were not taken out. Note that the hospitals and power plants were taken out when say the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. So that’s what one would expect with the deployment of air power. So that has also not happened.
Jim: And we even took out the electrical generating capacity in Belgrade during the Kosovo thing. And we did it in a very clever way, which I’m not going to tell people because that’s a really good trick, it can be used by terrorists. But the other thing I noticed, I logged onto Google maps, went to Kiev, searched for restaurants. And then I went to the websites for the restaurants, five out of six were still up an hour ago.
Samo: An important thing to know is that cities under siege during war time, people still live there-
Jim: The internet was still up. Again, if I were Putin, I would take the internet down. I would’ve had saboteurs in there because it’s just not that hard to figure out where the key crossing points are and take them out.
Samo: I think this is evidence that Russia just is here to grab territory in an exit. I think there are two reasons here, one is rational. And when I say rational, I want to emphasize I’m not talking about the morality of the situation just what’s a rational political objective. And that one is you don’t want to wreck a country, you don’t want to wreck infrastructure in cities that you’ll just want to use two or three weeks from now. The less rational reason is I think a significant chunk of Russia just believes their version of the story. In their version of the story, they’re liberators, they’re reunifying lost Russian lands. They’re saving the Ukrainian people from an awful corrupt Western compromised government, et cetera, et cetera.
Samo: And if you believe these things, it’s weird and hard to plan on taking out hospitals and power lines and shutting down media and the internet and all of this stuff. And while it might seem implausible, the Russians are making a mistake on the basis of this misperception. Let’s remember the many, many mistakes the United States made during the occupation of Iraq on similarly delusional notions about building democracy in Iraq.
Jim: Absolutely true. On the flip side at least with Western media that you always got to wonder what you’re seeing, there’s been no signs of the Russians being greeted as liberators anywhere even in the East.
Samo: If I’m realistic here, I believe you know the bulk of the Ukrainians do not approve of the Russians. However, I would be absolutely … I believe we’re not getting the full picture, I think there are clearly regions in the East that honestly seceded a few years ago, seceded. Note that Russia has had, in Crimea at least, no insurgency. Everyone critiqued the referendum run in Crimea as fake. And sure, maybe it was a fake referendum. But you know what, if it was a fake referendum and most Crimeans really wanted to just go back to being part of Ukraine, there would’ve been an insurgency, there would’ve been trouble. But we’ve heard nothing of it for seven, for eight years now. So I really think the reality of the situation was that in 2014 at least Crimea, probably the majority of the people wanted to be part of Russia. And I bet this is true of some small parts of Eastern Ukraine as well.
Jim: And of course, that’s another scenario is if the going gets tough, it’d be interesting question, I’d love to hear what your thoughts, could Putin say, “Oh, we’re just going to fall back and grab the two provinces in the West, this just turned out to be too hard of a nut to crack”? Can he get away with that without falling from power?
Samo: I think the key way he could make this work would be through really amping up media control domestically. So move more towards the Chinese system, just permanently disconnect Russia from the Western internet, which mind you they’ve practiced doing in recent years. They’ve had technical exercises or at least block all social media that’s not Russia based social media. Again, much easier to do. Here I have to say something, unlike Germany, Russia has its own social media giants. These have always been of course a little bit sponsored by the state, but it really does have them. So for a typical smartphone user, it might just be as simple as you delete Twitter and you install the Russian equivalent and that’s all that really changed in your life because you’re mostly talking to people in the Russian language. So with sufficient media control, yes, Luhansk and Donetsk are next to Russia itself would be enough for Putin to claim the figs leaf of victory domestically to stay in power. I think that’s sufficient.
Samo: It would be a strategic defeat for Russia, so Putin would stay. They would acquire more territory, but it would be a massive defeat for Russia. I think there’s no question that the remaining Ukraine would join NATO. And if it would not join NATO, it would invite American troops there and Turkish troops if need be. So strategically in absolute defeat for Russia, Russia would be a weaker power. I don’t think it would collapse. Again, I think the Chinese offer too much of a economic alternative. Putin I think we don’t see much from him after that because I think he will have gambled too much and lost too much. He might manage to stay in power, but that’s about it. We could talk about what a true Russian defeat would look like as well as the last scenario we’ve not discussed.
Jim: Yeah, it’s possible I suppose. Though as a guy who’s studied military history and has been looking at the maps carefully, if the Russians don’t somehow have an internal collapse at will, it’s hard to see how they don’t win within a couple of weeks. But let’s go down that scenario anyway.
Samo: Well, let’s say that Western analysts and Western economists, I basically think they’re not right, but I think there’s a small possibility they are right. They will say these are absolutely crippling sanctions the Russian economy will be in free fall. There will be demand for new leadership and Putin’s government falls. If Putin’s government falls because of either economic pressure or some sort of special operation, I think the first effect is all the generals scramble back and retreat into Russia itself and a nasty struggle for power comes to be. If it’s a short struggle for power, I think there’s an interim government, probably some sort of military council.
Samo: If there is not, we might see the terrible scenario of a civil war in a nuclear armed country. If that were to happen, that problem would for the world be as great if not greater than a Russian victory. It might however see the return of Crimea to Ukraine and Ukraine resuming its pre 2014 borders though at the cost of being next to the most unstable region on the planet.
Jim: Interesting. I put a poll up on Twitter about noon time asking what’s the probability of Putin being deposed in the next 46 days? And I picked 46 days because the 46th day happens to be the Ides of March when Caesar went down. Basically 40% said 2% or less chance, 30% said 2 to 10% chance, 17% said 11 to 35% chance, and 12% said more than 35%. I guess you’d say the rut followership on Twitter thinks there’s something about like a 20% chance that Putin will be deposed in the next 46 days, which seems reasonable.
Samo: Well, if it’s 46 days, I’ll say my expectation currently, my expectation unless we start seeing Western forces that are disguised as volunteers, which honestly might happen, it wouldn’t be the first time Western countries have done this. I don’t think Ukraine can militarily stand for three weeks, and I don’t see Putin falling out of power in the next three weeks at all. However, a month from now, the situation could change and that could very easily happen. But by that point, I think a significant chunk of Ukraine will be militarily occupied. I think Kiev itself will, if it still has street fighting, it’ll be pretty much demolished. And if not, it’ll be fully occupied.
Jim: Yeah, that’s my own sense is that’s the most likely scenario that in about two weeks because the Russians are coming up from the Crimea, people haven’t noticed that. And if-
Samo: They’re advancing rapidly from Crimea, by the way, and bulking the bulk of Russian forces in the East.
Jim: It seems like there’s no resistance there, and there’s another big thrust coming down from the Northeast. And those two meet up, you basically cut the whole Eastern part off. And then as far as I can tell, the Ukrainians have not done any pre preparation for a fallback to the West.
Samo: My main critique of the Ukrainian government, if they are planning to win, they should not just have an impeccable campaign, they should have moved their forces, which prior to the war were positioned next to Luhansk and Donetsk. They should have moved those forces East of Kiev and prepared for regroup and attack back East when Western supplies, Western armaments arrive. Western governments are already flying in fighter jets landing them in Ukraine. If their plan is to survive long enough to make use of Western weapons, they really should have retreated by now from their entrenched positions in the East. I think in a way Ukraine perhaps made a similar mistake to what the Russians made. They thought that the war would be much more symbolic and much less kinetic than it turned out to be. The Russians expected to be greeted as liberators, the Ukrainians thought that all we have to do is endure the first few days. So they realized we’re not Afghanistan and then the Russians are going to give up. And I think both of these governments have miscalculated profoundly.
Jim: Yeah. Because if they had pulled back to the Dnieper say or right in front of the Dnieper and basically waited to see what the Russians would do, they’d be in a position to do counter attacks.
Samo: Which might induce crushing losses on the Russians even if they ultimately exhaust Ukraine forces.
Jim: Like for instance, wouldn’t it be good if they could have snuck tank forces around North of Kiev and then hit the salient coming down from Belarus and cut the supply lines because probably not heavily defended. And the Russians could turn around and go back up after them but they would be in a world of hurt if the Ukrainian had enough of a mobile reserve to do so. If you look at, say the Eastern front of World War II, both sides, the Germans and the Russians were very careful to keep mobile reserves for just that kind of situation. They did not go all in and putting all their forces on the lines.
Samo: And I have to note at this point that a third of the Russian forces, arguably their best trained units and best equipment has not yet been used in this conflict. I suspect that today’s negotiations, I believe today the Ukrainian president is meeting Russian representatives or maybe there’s a delegation being sent, there was some discussion of negotiations happening.
Jim: Yeah, I think it happened up in Belarus.
Samo: In Belarus, yeah. Nothing came of it.
Jim: Nothing came of it because certainly the Ukrainians are not going to believe Putin, so they’re not going to slow down their fighting, and Putin’s not going to fall back while he still has an improving position even if it’s slower than he would like. Hard to see how negotiations work at this point.
Samo: I think if one is a Ukrainian nationalist, I think at this point your best hope is entangled the Polish or some other Eastern European country to on their own enter Western Ukraine. Because then the situation of course in the perspective of the world, it’s probably not a good idea to have NATO troops shooting at Russian troops and vice versa. The nuclear escalation we should remember is always there looming in the background. We’re talking about possibly the risk of hundreds of millions of people dying. I know it’s in no one’s interest to bring this up, I know our sense of justice demands evil doers be punished and so on. But what exactly does honor and justice, what do these words mean when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of people dying?
Jim: Yeah. That is of course one of the boundary decisions of the strategy space here.
Samo: Does the nuclear taboo hold? I really hope it does.
Jim: Fortunately, there’s no obvious ladder in this particular situation. It’s hard to imagine Putin using tactical nukes against the Ukrainians, he has no need to. I mean, he can flatten Kiev in a week if he wanted to just with artillery. He has no-
Samo: There’s fortunately no need for them.
Jim: There’s no obvious ladder that it get to nukes. Though if you point out if the Pole intervene for instance, maybe.
Samo: Well, let me put this way, there were two military exercises held that are relevant. I think it was a Zapad, it might have been a 2008 exercise held by the Russians. The outcome of the exercise was that a tactical nuclear warhead will be used near Warsaw and they would overrun Poland in a matter of weeks. And the Polish exercise that was run I think in 2018 agreed with the Russians except concluded that Poland would be overrun in six days and they would have to regroup within Germany. That’s my escalation path. I don’t think it’s very likely, but if the Poles are involved and they’re fighting in Ukraine, I would not be shocked if the Russians are just like, “You know what, we’re going into Poland.”
Jim: And at that point, anything could happen. That scenario we hope does not happen but could. When this thing first happened, I did post on Twitter. I said, we’ve let loose the dogs of war, and often what happens isn’t what people think is going to happen. The trajectories that are available for the world to traverse now are still very, very open. And if anything, this stronger resistance from Ukraine than some thought adds more contingencies to the world lines that could unfold. Quite interesting. So let’s now though pick one trajectory. We’ve been thinking about strategy, yes, it’s good to know about the bundle of trajectories. We’ve talked about numerous. Let’s take the assumption that Russia wins, which I still think is the way to bet. Someone came down and was selling bet cards on what’s the world look like in three weeks, I say probably Kiev falls, there’s a puppet regime in Kiev. Probably still resistance in the West, probably some resistant here and there. What happens next with a Russian fairly solid victory in terms of NATO and the rest of the world?
Samo: I think in terms of a very solid Russian victory the Chinese do help out the Russians. The Russian economy struggles, there’s high inflation, there are all sorts of problems. But really I think Putin’s popularity, it’s sourced within Russia. You might even see something unusual being attempted. For example, if there’s a puppet government in Kiev, this puppet government might declare that it’s joining the union state and then Putin and domestic speech can just say that he’s undone the great geopolitical injustice of the 1990s, restored the Soviet Union light, except without any of that nasty communism. One of the things people should remember is that Putin now regularly denounces communism and blames the Bolsheviks for wasting and destroying the Russian empire, how Russia could have been were it not for the Bolsheviks the world’s premier power, which by the way is an interesting argument and maybe has some truth to it.
Samo: Russia was already growing rapidly economically before the Bolshevik Revolution. The last 10 years of the Russian empire were seeing an economic boom. Anyway, such historic arguments aside from the perspective of a committed Russian nationalist, Vladimir Putin is sent from God, he’s a hero.
Jim: Vladimir the great.
Samo: Vladimir the great, they might literally call him that. So they might literally call him that and Ukraine, the rump Ukraine and the Bella Russian government are ever more subordinated to Russia. Depending on whether the government in Kazakhstan try something funny, where note the Kazakhstan government was stabilized just a few weeks back by Russian intervention yet has declined to send its troops into Ukraine. Kazakhstan might find itself invaded as well and replaced with a more client government. Note that in the case of a Kazakhstan invasion after a Ukrainian invasion, this would happen over the next five or six years. In that scenario, the West has even fewer options. This is a country that’s completely land locked bordering China and Russia. There’s just nothing really one can do except maybe strike up a deal with, I don’t know, the literal Taliban and ask them to go into Kazakhstan. Though. I doubt that would work quite so well.
Samo: I think it’s a world where Germany sluggishly starts re-arming. However, Germany re-arming is not the prelude to European unity but results in a nasty struggle. Political of course, not military, but political struggle for supremacy between France and Germany with France mostly using the Eastern European states worried about Russia as a base of allies to get votes for things that are desirable. We even saw this before the recent crisis, mind you. There was a vote in the European Union as to whether to classify nuclear power as green energy. On the pro-nuclear side were France and all of the Eastern European former communist states. On the other side, Germany. Germany got its way through economic weight. If Germany has not just economic but military weight, this is bad for Russia. But I would actually argue a strong German military is bad for the EU as well. There will be several countries that will start to wonder whether they should not rely only on NATO rather than the European Union for security.
Jim: Yeah, that would be my guess is that a strong Russian victory dominance of Ukraine and the puppet states like nothing else will reverse the Trumpian debacle around NATO at least for a while.
Samo: NATO will be revived except with the possible exception of Turkey. I think Turkey will eventually reopen trade with Russia and so on because Turkey likes playing both sides as they have for the last 20 years, it works really well for them.
Jim: Another scenario I’ve heard is that Finland might consider joining NATOs. Finland and Sweden both one could imagine joining NATO in this circumstance where it looks like we’re setting up for another cold war or something like it.
Samo: Yeah. And the balance of power is now vastly more in Finland’s favor than it was in 1946 or in 1990.
Jim: So it could probably get away with it. And then the next thing is does this Russian hegemony break down into a significant resistance insurgency? So we talked about earlier there’s some reason to believe the answer might be no, but the answer might be yes as well.
Samo: I think you see significant resistance if they remain unoccupied territories. If the whole of Ukraine is occupied, I think they will be able to secure the border, stop the flow of weapons. And in the absence of a very young population, I don’t think actually there’ll be significant resistance from the Ukrainians over the period of let’s say 5 or 10 years.
Jim: The young population, something I hadn’t thought of before, that’s actually a good point because as we know all the fun crimes like murder, robbery, things like that, things young men do. And insurgencies kind of fall into a near neighborhood of that kind of behavior unfortunately.
Samo: Yes. And note that the fact that there is an economic opportunity in leaving for Europe and that almost certainly the refugees would be welcome, which is of course a notable contrast to Arab refugees from the Middle East means that the manpower reserves will be even further drained. So people will go towards safety, towards economic opportunity. So the insurgency will actually be bleeding the Ukrainians over time just as the Russians might be bleeding troops willing to fight.
Jim: Okay. Last topic before we move on, you mentioned in passing China that you think that a Russian relatively decisive win will embolden China to go after Taiwan in the next three years.
Samo: I think by the way China invading Taiwan in the next three years would be a mistake, I think it’s technically extremely difficult. However, I think the Chinese government has been reforming the People’s Liberation Army towards being something that is capable of invading Taiwan for the last 25 years. And currently, all political incentives within China especially if global economic growth is sluggish, especially if Chinese economic growth is underperforming the insane benchmarks they’ve set up over the last 20 years, all the political incentives point out to excessive nationalism, excessive desire to prove the greatness of China. Let’s remember for a second Putin politely waited for the end of the Chinese games recently, did you notice that?
Jim: I did notice that. Put himself at risk of the spring thaw. The other thing that could save Ukraine is early spring thaw.
Samo: Exactly. And you know, I bet he got Chinese assurances that, okay, if you wait and you play nice with us, we’ll back you up at least financially and politically. And I think we’re seeing that so far. China is not ceasing trade with Russia.
Jim: While they have not actually endorsed the Russians, they haven’t criticized, they abstained at the security council, which was kind of interesting. Very Chinese actually of course. Now, I’m going to take the counter side on invading Taiwan, and here’s why. Unlike Russia, which was probably at its peak relative strength to Ukraine this year because Russia is aging even faster than Ukraine, Ukraine was building up its military with these influx of new offensive weapons, smart weapons, et cetera. A year from now, Ukraine would’ve been in a much better position. China continues to get stronger rapidly.
Jim: Time is in China’s phase while time was not in Putin’s favor. I would also say that the Chinese deep culture gives the greatest status to the general who doesn’t have to fight a battle, who waits for the fruits to fall into his hands. I believe that’s an actual saying in one of the Chinese traditions. To have to rush it would not be considered elegant in Chinese culture nor is it necessary. Because the correlation of forces will be working in China’s favor for at least the next 15 or 20 years. So I’m going to bet against a near term invasion of Taiwan even if the Russians win a decisive victory in Ukraine.
Samo: I would agree with you on the rationality of China waiting because Russia, it’s now or never. If they try this invasion 10 years from now or 5 years from now, it would only be harder. The best-
Jim: Even one year from now it would be considerably harder with all these manned portable air and anti tank weapons. Get a lot more of those in there, it gets a lot harder.
Samo: Every decade that passes the invasion of Taiwan is both easier and less necessary. I think eventually the Taiwanese government will just find itself excessively demoralized over time and might not even put up any resistance first in economic and then political and social integration. I will say though the disagreement that I have with you is probably around the rationality of the Chinese Communist Party and the people who are currently rising in that party. I think right now you never get in trouble for being jingoistic and you sometimes get in trouble for being too measured or humble or saying we should keep on waiting rather than show our strength.
Jim: Yep, the old macho man problem. I’ll tell you what, what’s the best Slovenian liquor?
Samo: Oh, slivovitza.
Jim: That’s the plum brandy?
Samo: Yeah, yeah. How do you know about that?
Jim: Oh, I have some Croatian friends who love that stuff. I’ll tell you what, I’ll bet you a bottle of your Slovenian plum brandy against a bottle of single barrel high quality bourbon that China doesn’t go after Taiwan within three years.
Samo: Okay. Conditional on a decisive Russian victory, I accept
Jim: It’s no bet if it’s not a decisive Russian victory. You heard it here on The Jim Rutt Show, but we’ll get together and do the drinking anyway, and that’ll be a good thing in and of itself.
Samo: Thank you for having me on the show Jim.
Jim: Thank you Samo for yet another wonderful conversation, they got deep into what’s happening now.