Putin is invading Ukraine, and he is winning

posted at 12:01 pm on August 27, 2014 by Noah Rothman

The greatest trick Vladimir Putin ever played was to prosecute the first cross-border ground war in Europe in generations in a way which bored the West into losing interest in it.

Since February, Russia and Ukraine have been at war. The most overt campaign in this conflict was Russia’s brazen invasion and annexation of the Crimean peninsula, but Moscow has been waging a covert operation to destabilize eastern Ukraine since March. The frontlines have shifted, Kiev’s forces have enjoyed victories and setbacks, and Russia’s level of direct involvement in the conflict has varied in the intervening months, but the conflict itself remains a constant.

The slow boil that is Russia’s intervention in east Ukraine has thoroughly cooked the Western frog. Save for the unmitigated horror that was the downing of a passenger airliner over Ukraine on July 17, the West has largely tuned out of developments in Eastern Europe.

The administration has played a part in the decision to take the pressure off of Putin. On August 8, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power warned Russia that, if it’s unsanctioned “humanitarian aid” convoy entered Ukraine without Kiev’s approval, the United States would consider this an unconcealed act of war.

“Any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory – including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid – would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming,” she said. “And it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.”

After days of delay, the convoy penetrated Ukraine’s borders on August 22. Officials in Kiev described the move as a “direct invasion,” and the incursion was accompanied by a military assault. “Russian artillery support — both cross-border and from within Ukraine — is being employed against the Ukrainian armed forces,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that same day.

But the United States did nothing. It was just another red line which President Barack Obama’s administration set and pretended never existed when it was violated.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights office in Geneva implicated the pro-Russian separatists in repugnant crimes of war:

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a “steady supply” of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.

“Armed groups continue to commit killings, abductions, physical and psychological torture, ill treatment, executions, murder and other serious human rights abuses,” the report said, adding that violations were “disproportionately targeting civilians.”

Today, Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine is more overt than it had been in past months. On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk sounded the alarm about Russian army units operating in the open in east Ukraine.

This is the scene in the war zone that is eastern Ukraine today:

The West is weighing a response, but it is one that will ultimately come too late:

On Wednesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk warned that Russia plans to cut off the gas flow to Europe in the middle of the coming winter as the head of NATO said that soldiers would be deployed for the first time at new bases in Eastern Europe to counter Russia movements.

“Tellingly, throughout this crisis, no prominent Western leader has seen it fit to make a major address to explain what is at stake in Ukraine and to request significant sacrifices to advance Western goals,” Kissinger Associates Managing Director Thomas Graham wrote in Politico Magazine. “Indeed, it was the upsurge of public outrage over the downing of Flight MH17 and the desecration of the crash site that compelled reluctant European governments to accede to the more stringent sectoral sanctions against Russia. But with that outrage subsiding, the preference remains to focus on what both governments and publics see as their more salient domestic political and economic challenges rather than divert resources to either punish Russia or help Ukraine.”

And where is the mass media in the United States? Are there simply too many crises for producers and editors to handle at once? Do they believe that American news consumers cannot compartmentalize crises boiling in places like Libya, Iraq, Syria, Missouri, the South China Sea, and Ukraine simultaneously?

For better or worse, this administration is led by the nose to addressing crises overseas by the media. The tenor and intensity of the press’s coverage of threats to the geopolitical order abroad dictate the level of White House concern and, eventually, involvement in trying to resolve those crises. Today, the press has lost interest in Russia’s slow but steady invasion of Ukraine, and so has the administration.

As autumn approaches, Putin enjoys a freer hand than ever to act with impunity inside the former Soviet Republic. War has returned to Europe, the 23-year-old post-Cold War order has crumbled, and too few seem to care.


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“Does” we care? ??? Oh, and Bishop!

HomeoftheBrave on August 27, 2014 at 12:03 PM

#smartpower

Midas on August 27, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Um, Obama RAN on “stepping back” from foreign intervention. And was elected twice.

everdiso/lester on August 27, 2014 at 11:55 AM

#smartpower

everdiso/lester on August 21, 2014 at 3:13 PM

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2014 at 12:04 PM

It’s hard to LOSE a war when the United States refuses to do ANYTHING AT ALL after committing itself to defending a nation in exchange for giving up nukes.

ConstantineXI on August 27, 2014 at 12:04 PM

No recent news on Malaysian Airlines MH17. I’ll bet that dead bodies are still out there, and that the wreckage goes unexamined for years. No justice for the victims’ families.

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Thank you, President Obama!

Ned Pepper on August 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Actually Obama’s azz is a pretty safe place to be.

Ned Pepper on August 11, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2014 at 12:05 PM

Imagine, Mittens lost to this ignorant dilettante, who’s eternally proud of his stupidity.

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2014 at 12:06 PM

It’s hard to LOSE a war when the United States refuses to do ANYTHING AT ALL after committing itself to defending a nation in exchange for giving up nukes.

ConstantineXI on August 27, 2014 at 12:04 PM

That was like, years ago, dude. You don’t expect Obama to keep commitments made by his predecessors, do you?

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM

This is just Dear Liar showing his “flexibility,” besides, a white cop shot a black thug.

You do not promise to fundamentally transform something you like.

rbj on August 27, 2014 at 12:11 PM

That was like, years ago, dude. You don’t expect Obama to keep commitments made by his predecessors, do you?

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Obama is going to be driven Louis Farrakhan insane when his successors pay no respect to his Imperial Decrees…

And watching that unhinging will be fun.

ConstantineXI on August 27, 2014 at 12:12 PM

My San Francisco friends call it “leading softly from behind”

Boxtnt on August 27, 2014 at 12:13 PM

BS…we need to concentrate on climate change…

PatriotRider on August 27, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Obama: “Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL hash tag!”

PackerBronco on August 27, 2014 at 12:17 PM

#BlameRedDawn

faraway on August 27, 2014 at 12:18 PM

So is this Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, or Norway?

formwiz on August 27, 2014 at 12:20 PM

“If I had a mentor, he would look like PootyPoot”

faraway on August 27, 2014 at 12:25 PM

While Putin has acted, we are distracted.

Under the Nixon doctrine the US would support those willing to die for their freedom with military, economic and intelligence support. The Ukrainians are willing to die for their freedom as are the FSA in Syria but the West no longer supports the Nixon Doctrine.

KW64 on August 27, 2014 at 12:27 PM

And where is the mass media in the United States?

Clutching their pearls over Vergara’s turn at the Emmy’s?

Looking at pictures of online cats at Buzzfeed?

Self=cloistering in fenced off from the public “safe-areas” in Ferguson?

aquaviva on August 27, 2014 at 12:31 PM

“Tell Vladimir that I can be more ‘flexible’ after my re-election”

– BHO

Deafdog on August 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM

We’ve all seen this movie before. Another major war is coming to the European Continent. And the Western powers will dither until the last moment. Millions of civilians and service members will die. And this time it will go nuclear. Guess nobody has bothered to crack open a history book.

DStreete on August 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Obama is too busy trying to bring down the USA…why would he be interested in bolstering the US power and influence in the rest of the world?

albill on August 27, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Um, Obama RAN on “stepping back” from foreign intervention. And was elected twice.

everdiso/lester on August 27, 2014 at 11:55 AM

American hegemony isn’t going to come back. Ever. That level of power and influence is done with. And so, every now and then someone’s going to try and show us that. And just in the way you ignore most murders and other deaths, you’ll just have to learn to ignore those. A life is a life either way, and most of you spend most of your days with little regard for the people dying around you all the time.
libfreeordie on August 22, 2014 at 1:10 PM

#smartpower

everdiso/lester on August 21, 2014 at 3:13 PM

The obama “smartpower” is now replaced by IS (Islamic State), a global concatenation of terrorists, united.

First they’ll chop off the heads of everpisso/lester and the HA slave.

The world who cheered for obama, deserves him in full. Too bad the rest got him too.

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2014 at 12:38 PM

obama, the traitor of the land, told IS that the drones are gon’ be overhead, so they could hide their equipment and themselves.

The oaf told them that the US doesn’t have enough drones “because some are tracking the bad ones in Nigeria, stolen girls…”.

The oaf stopped droning the Taliban at the border of Afcrapistan/Pokistan.

He is the opposite of Genghis Khan.

There s/b no doubt who’s side he’s on.

Golfing, sulking and “climate change” are just squirrels.

Schadenfreude on August 27, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Obama would do nothing even if Putin invaded and took Alaska. The only thing Obama has guts for is his political enemies here.

garydt on August 27, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Power never said we’d do anything. That wasn’t a “red line.” The closest thing we had to a red line with Ukraine was the Crimea invasion, and there we truly did nothing. So complaining now seems like a bit of a delayed reaction.

As for “winning,” if keeping the West out is “winning,” then, yes, they are. If the West wasn’t going to confront Russia on Crimean, it wasn’t going to do so for a few pockets in the east. However, if “winning” means increasing influence or territory, then they really aren’t. Earlier this year, they had a vassal state in Ukraine. Now they have Crimea, but have lost control almost everywhere else, and continue to lose territorial control. Maybe the latest invasion will be the one that turns the tide, but I wouldn’t count on it. And the Russian economy isn’t exactly doing great, either. Sure, they’re making sure others share the misery, but, as a victory, that’s about as close to pyrrhic as you can get and still come out alive.

calbear on August 27, 2014 at 12:42 PM

You could tell Obama to take a lesson from Chamberlain, but he would probably think you’re talking about Wilt…

Kraken on August 27, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Does we care?

Out: Jeantelian

In: Noahian

Resist We Much on August 27, 2014 at 12:45 PM

The inconvenient fact here is that Russia has Europe over a barrel. They get a ton of energy from them. Too much at risk for them to act. It’s why we need to more than ever. But… we have who we have in the white house.

The only question now is how much of Ukraine will Russia take. They’re going to get away with it.

dforston on August 27, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Why did it take so long for the world’s despots to come out to play?

Doesn’t matter, I guess, they are out now and the hall monitor is off banning global warming.

Tard on August 27, 2014 at 12:52 PM

Imagine if we had our fiscal house in order, it would be easy to supply the Ukranians with all sorts of arms to secure their own freedom.

Imrahil on August 27, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Putin know Obama would be more “flexible” once he got a second term.

Vlad is just bending Barack like the silly putty president he is.

Time for another round of golf!

profitsbeard on August 27, 2014 at 1:06 PM

It’s hard to LOSE a war when the United States refuses to do ANYTHING AT ALL after committing itself to defending a nation in exchange for giving up nukes.

ConstantineXI on August 27, 2014 at 12:04 PM

That was like, years ago, dude. You don’t expect Obama to keep commitments made by his predecessors, do you?

Ward Cleaver on August 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM

Not just their nuclear weapons. Interesting picture here:

Who Destroyed Thousands Of Weapons, Leaving Ukraine Defenseless?

slickwillie2001 on August 27, 2014 at 1:07 PM

Do we care?

We shouldn’t care enough to interfere, because there is no threat to our vital interests.

Nomennovum on August 27, 2014 at 1:09 PM

Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania: all of these states have a clear head. They have to be furiously training their militaries, because they know they are next. Ukraine will try, but I doubt they will be able to stop the bear.

The right thing to do would be for Poland and the rest to open up a new front and fight their war in Russian territory. Maybe they can convince the Finn’s to join? Finland was the last minor power to successfully hold off Russia, maybe they can do it again?

Vanceone on August 27, 2014 at 1:13 PM

Does we care?

LOL – okay Noah, now you’re just trollin’ us.

abobo on August 27, 2014 at 1:22 PM

nothing we can do. its far too late now.

if ukraine wanted nato protection they should have joined nato.
the budapest memorandum (not a treaty, never ratified) also NEVER stated how we would protect them in exchange for them relinquishing the weapons.
it was a useless piece of paper meant to make people feel good.

dmacleo on August 27, 2014 at 1:26 PM

Putin is winning what, exactly?

His economy is in freefall, his dreams of a eurasian economic union are in tatters (with even the only countries who decided to join it openly defying putin’s attempts at sanctions against europe, and of course ukraine the lynchpin of the union now forever out of reach)…and at this cost he’s gained….what?

everdiso on August 27, 2014 at 1:34 PM

Don’t worry. Putin will stop once he’s taken Omaha.

vnvet on August 27, 2014 at 1:40 PM

Look Noah, President Obama assured us that Putin will fail because he’s taking a 19th century mindset into the 21st century.

Putin stands no chance against our greatest weapon: The empty platitude.

That is also why ISIS will fail, because in the long arc of history eventually good will prevail over evil.

Obama said so. It must be true.

BKennedy on August 27, 2014 at 1:46 PM

The West is weighing a response

Yeah. “Shall we merely wet our pants, or shit in them?”

GarandFan on August 27, 2014 at 2:18 PM

What kind of ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ is this when Gazprom still pumps gas through infrastructure stretched all across Ukraine on its way to Europe, and the 2 countries still enjoy a largely open border despite new visa restrictions?

The act-of-war aid convoy that Noah hyperventilates about delivered its aid after passing through numerous Ukrainian military and police checkpoints and inspections, and returned. It carried only aid. Act of war? Hardly. The U.S. was right to shut up about the aid convoys. They couldn’t even stir public opinion toward war when it was an alleged that a Russian BUK downed precisely the same model aircraft from precisely the same Malaysian air carrier as the aircraft that got lost in the Pacific. Odd how the U.S. State Department never even brings up the shot down civilian aircraft issue, wouldn’t you say?

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 2:20 PM


Imagine if we had our fiscal house in order, it would be easy to supply the Ukranians with all sorts of arms to secure their own freedom.

Yeah, because nothing goes wrong when we flood the world with U.S. arms, like in Northern Iraq right now where super-expensive direct strike munitions released from U.S. fighters now destroy U.S. manufactured humvees, tanks and other armoured vehicles, and light artillery either gifted by the U.S. to Syrian insurgents or liberated from Iraqi police and military formations also supplied by the U.S. No wonder we’re bankrupt.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 2:24 PM

if ukraine wanted nato protection they should have joined nato.

They were headed precisely in that direction. Hence Putin’s intervention. Had post-coup Ukraine agreed up front to -not- join NATO or the EU Putin would have had no reason to intervene to secure interests in Crimea or East Ukraine, or so goes one version of the story.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 2:27 PM

I wonder if Putin has other markets where he can sell his gas if he cuts off Europe?

If not, it’s doubtful he will do anything meaningful to disturb his income.

Meremortal on August 27, 2014 at 2:35 PM


If not, it’s doubtful he will do anything meaningful to disturb his income.

Precisely. The gas is still flowing, yo.

In other news, 400 wayward and befuddled Ukrainian soldiers crossed into Russia, Noah. Is this an invasion? An act of war? What overwrought description would you like to use to tag this non-event?

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 2:37 PM

At the root of this, Putin has taken obama’s measure and found him extremely wanting. Unlike the American voter, Putin looked at obama’s actual record, and was not fooled by Biden’s “spine of steel” rhetoric.

paul1149 on August 27, 2014 at 2:38 PM


At the root of this, Putin has taken obama’s measure and found him extremely wanting. Unlike the American voter, Putin looked at obama’s actual record, and was not fooled by Biden’s “spine of steel” rhetoric.

I hear you. And I agree to a point. But when Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 the then Bush administration did effectively nothing but complain a lot. In time the Russians withdrew their columns and an independent Georgia still resists Russian policy and rejects Russian claims. Bush was not simply bolder than Obama. He was smarter.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 2:43 PM

..and the President is going to chair a UN committee on ..what? Glogal warming?

Joseph OHenry on August 27, 2014 at 2:48 PM

We had as much business plopping NATO on Russia’s doorstep as the USSR did aiming missiles at us from Cuba. We also have as much business toppling the Ukrainian president as the USSR (or the mob, depending on who you believe) did when they assassinated Kennedy. Putin is correct this time.

EnzyteBob on August 27, 2014 at 3:00 PM

If the West wasn’t going to confront Russia on Crimean, it wasn’t going to do so for a few pockets in the east.
casuist

Putin wants to restore as much of the old Soviet empire as he can get away with. He got part of Georgia, he got part of Moldova, he got Crimea and if he gets Eastern Ukraine he will keep seeking more until he can’t get more. Where are you willing to stop him? If the Ukrainians are willing to die for their freedom, why not arm them rather than wait until we have to die to save the Baltics or Central Europe?

KW64 on August 27, 2014 at 3:30 PM

What is it about Russia threads that bring out the tinfoil hat crowd?

TarasBulbous on August 27, 2014 at 3:36 PM

Putin is invading Ukraine, and he is winning

Slava!

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 27, 2014 at 3:45 PM


If the Ukrainians are willing to die for their freedom, why not arm them rather than wait until we have to die to save the Baltics or Central Europe?

This isn’t the 1930s or the Great Powers Era when the average number of children was around five, yo. Russia has demographic issues in excess of our own. Their population is aged, old, gray, and they are not reproducing themselves. They have neither the numbers, nor do they any longer have the wealth to develop the military infrastructure necessary to hold these regions. What they seek is a regional, Eurasion hegemony to secure their economic interests.

There is a reason the Soviet Union collapsed and Russian formations withdrew from Eastern Europe.

Wake up, please.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 4:17 PM

There is a reason the Soviet Union collapsed and Russian formations withdrew from Eastern Europe.

Wake up, please.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 4:17 PM

I forgot that the USSR fell because it’s entire population turned old and decrepit overnight sometime in 1989, not because it’s entirely untenable and wholly irrational command economy collapsed. Easy mistake to make.

TarasBulbous on August 27, 2014 at 5:18 PM

If you thought the cold war was over anytime in the last 23 years, you have been smoking too much pot.

burt on August 27, 2014 at 5:33 PM


I forgot that the USSR fell because it’s entire population turned old and decrepit overnight

Not overnight. Long term trends. Luttwak in his Logic of Strategy argues that this is why popular support for operations in Afghanistan collapsed in the Soviet Union. If you only have one child it means a lots to lose that child. Same trend line apparent in U.S. Vietnam experience when suddenly casualties became an issue when they never were before. In Korea, WII warring nations could lose thousands of conscripts in a day in single theatre. In our era approx. 3000 casualties in Iraq over the course of 4 years became a defining issue. Van Creveld argues similarly in his history of warfare the title of which escapes me at the moment.

Low birthrate countries don’t fight like high-birth rate countries, yo. This is a truth I urge you to ponder thoroughly.

casuist on August 27, 2014 at 5:37 PM

When Barry said to the Russians that he would be more flexible after the election he meant that they would then be able to bend him over and really do the job to him.

rmkdbq on August 27, 2014 at 8:44 PM