The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Paul Goble. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Continuing our recent series of interviews with experts on what’s happening in Ukraine, today’s guest is Paul Goble, longtime specialist on ethnic and religious issues in Eurasia for the US government and US international broadcasting. Prior to retiring from the US government, Paul worked at the intelligence community, the state department and US international broadcasting. Since then, since his retirement, he has taught in Estonia, at the University of Tartu, the Institute of World Politics in Washington and other international universities. He’s been decorated by the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for his work in promoting the restoration of Baltic independence and he has a quite interesting blog at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com. I think we’re going to have to get this guy a domain name. It’s kind of embarrassing to have a URL like that. Welcome Paul.
Paul: Thank you for having me.
Jim: Yeah. This is an interesting time we live in, eh?
Paul: Well, that’s the Chinese curse.
Jim: Exactly. May you live in interesting times. Well, let’s start off with … again, you’re an expert, lots of study on ethnic and religious issues and history in this region, what would you say from Russia’s point of view, what they might say, why, what they’re doing is, let’s say, not insane or a reasonable policy for Putin in Russia?
Paul: I think the first thing one has to say is that there’s not a single Russian position. There’s Vladimir Putin’s position, which he can enforce on the Russian government. As we’ve seen in recent days, there are large numbers of Russians who have a different view. So let me focus on the Putin position, if you will, that defines what the Russian government is saying, which is not quite the same thing as a spectrum of views coming from Russia. I think Vladimir Putin believes several things. First, he really does believe that the West has not shown Russia the respect it was due after 1991. After all, the Soviet Union came apart in a remarkably nonviolent way. There was very much less violence in the former Soviet space, as the place came apart in ’91, than happened, say in Yugoslavia, and that part of that had to do with the Russian behavior.
Paul: There was an expectation among many Russian leaders, including Putin that the West should therefore show respect and understanding for Russian concerns. One of those things was that NATO shouldn’t move close to Russia’s borders. NATO was created of course, to resist Soviet Russian imperialism in Europe and when the Soviet Union disappeared, many people in Moscow, including Mr. Putin believed that NATO should either cease to exist or at the very least, should agree not to move eastward. Well, the countries between where NATO was in 1991 and now, and between NATO and the Russian Federation in many cases want to become part of NATO and some have joined because they feel very threatened by Russian power and they want the protection that Article 5 of NATO can provide. So I think that’s the very first thing. There’s a sense that we have been neglected.
Paul: We have been ignored. We have been put down and we deserve better given how we behaved. I think that underlies everything. The second thing is that many Russians … Putin is an especially notorious example, but many Russians have great difficulty making clear distinctions between Russians on the one hand and ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Belarusians on the other. The reality is that a thousand years ago, there were no Russians, no Ukrainians, and no Belarusians. There were large numbers of East Slovak and Finno-Ugric tribes, which fused together. In the last thousand years, Russia has had a state for most of that time. Ukraine had an effective state until the middle of the 17th century, and then not really again until 1991. Belarus before 1991 did not have an effective state except for 18 days at the end of World War I.
Paul: So we’re talking about from a Russian perspective, these were all one people. That’s what Putin has said. He believes that, that the … and that Russia is paramount because it was able to articulate and support a state, which the other two weren’t. He really doesn’t see Ukrainian statehood or Belarusian statehood as historically justified. Now, obviously that position is not something that Belarusians or Ukrainians accept, but it explains how he sees the world. The third thing is this, Putin recognizes that Russia needs in his mind to have some kind of protection, some kind of penumbra, if you will, of security by ensuring that the countries that are neighboring it are at least not hostile to Russia. He believes that that means having governments that look to Moscow before they look anywhere else.
Paul: That one understands that in any government, they want neighbors who are cooperative. The problems begin of course, is how do you get people to do that? What Vladimir Putin has been doing by his use of military power is producing exactly the reverse of what he wants. Today, the Ukrainian nation is more united, is more strongly felt than at any point in its history. The Ukrainian state, while under attack by a superior Russian military force has demonstrated a vitality that few in Moscow or in the West expected, and that Mr. Putin by his actions has isolated Russia far more thoroughly than the Soviets ever did. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union never suffered the kind of defeat in the UN General Assembly, that Russia did this week. Being able to get only four other countries to vote alongside against a UN resolution condemning its action in Ukraine.
Paul: So the fact is that if you ask why Putin may feel that he needs to do these things, one can understand why. One doesn’t necessarily have to agree, but one can understand why. The problem begins that Mr. Putin has adopted a strategy, which is producing exactly the opposite of what he wants. He’s unifying NATO and he’s driving his neighbors further away from him.
Jim: Yeah. Very good. Very good statement of what Putin’s views might well be. Let’s now go to where Putin probably made a horrendous bad judgment. On your blog, you had five mistakes that you attributed to, an essay by Vladimir Pastukhov, is that how you pronounce that?
Paul: Pastukhov in London. Yes.
Jim: Yeah. Five mistakes. I thought were quite interesting, I thought it would be useful to actually run through them, and you started to talk to them a little bit about the fact that Putin seems to had a seriously mistaken notion about the actual situation in Ukraine, who knows how much this is info warfare, but we hear that Putin thought that the Ukrainian army would collapse in four days and at least in the East, the tanks would be met by people with bouquets and all that. As Pastukhov said, the nature of the Ukrainian revolution, its anticolonial national liberation character, was grossly underestimated by Putin.
Paul: That’s absolutely true, but it should be said at least to extenuating circumstance that the fact is a month ago, most commentators in the West didn’t expect Russian troops to be met with salt and bread and flowers, but they did expect much less resistance. The ability of the Ukrainian army to resist and of the Ukrainian people to support their army to resist has proven to be vastly greater, certainly than Putin understood, but it’s also been greater than most people in the West thought. So Putin was not as much an outlier in that mistake, as some people might like to think. The track record of Western analysts on this part of the world has not been very good either.
Jim: Do you have any ideas on what both the analysts and Putin might have gotten wrong about the military balance?
Paul: I think that Putin’s problem is a twofold one. The first is, he listened to his own media and he believed his own propaganda so that he didn’t look very hard at what has been taking place. Ukraine is a very different place now than it was eight years ago, when Vladimir Putin moved into Crimea. In some ways the ease with which Putin was able to take Crimea in 2014, convinced him that Ukrainians would not fight, they would not resist. The fact is, once you move into the core part of the Ukrainian nation, and the core part of the Ukrainian state, resistance has been growing. The army is much better now than it was. It’s better equipped. It’s better trained and it’s fighting for its homeland. Putin didn’t understand that, doesn’t understand that.
Paul: And he expected that the Russian army, which to be sure is larger and has massively more weapons would be in a position to roll over it. He didn’t understand that the kind of fighting that was going to take place in Ukraine was not going to be the kind where Russian advantages were going to be as overwhelming as he expected. There is no more difficult military task than occupying major cities because people can resist block by block and they do. This is not an easy thing to do and it really does … unless you plan to level the city, which of course is what the Russians did in Chechnya, in Grozny. It’s a block by block fight and that’s where the training and views of soldiers and officers are very much more important than the super weapons that Putin has liked to talk about in his press conferences.
Jim: Yeah. It’s kind of funny, you think about Russian history, what about the famous example of Stalingrad, where they turned the city into a fortress and despite the fact that the city was leveled, the Germans were unable to dig the Russians out?
Paul: Well, I think that’s an excellent analogy that if Mr Putin knew a bit more about military activities and it’s worth noting that Putin is not somebody with extensive military experience. One Russian commentator observed the other day that the people who call for war, war are almost in every case, people who’ve never served in uniform, that people who’ve actually had to deal with thinking about how you attack and how you defend are much less, shall we say, sweeping in their predictions about what outcomes will be.
Jim: Yeah, I’ve read a lot of military history and I used to be a serious player of good high quality military simulation games, and what have you. One of the things that comes through in both games and reading is Clausewitz’s friction of war and the unpredictability of what will happen is way greater than the fanboys like to think.
Paul: Well, it’s also true that Mr. Putin really doesn’t focus on what people … how people feel and what they think. He’s much more convinced that if you have superior firepower, that’s enough. Well, what we’ve learned in awful lot of wars and what Russians and Soviets should remember from Afghanistan if nowhere else, is that if you will face a foe that is really committed to fighting you, even if it’s less well-armed, even if it’s got fewer people, it can resist effectively for a very long time, and even if you occupy portions of it, you will discover that your occupation isn’t worth very much and over time, it will be degraded by partisan war.
Jim: Of course, United States has had plenty examples of that on our own side from Vietnam to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and we’ll talk more about resistance later, but let’s move on to the next mistake that Putin seems to have made, and it may come from the same root of sort of lack of actual knowledge about what matters. He seems to have had an unrealistic assessment of the military capability of the Russian army. Its readiness, it’s morale, I’ve read some things that the quality of the non-commissioned officers in particular is surprisingly bad, and the Western armies, those are the core really of what makes armies good. I also wonder about some of their doctrine, for instance, when the US goes to war against the lesser power, the first thing it does is go for air supremacy.
Jim: For whatever reason, Russians haven’t seemed to done that and of course, we hear all these stories about terrible morale people … a whole platoon surrendering to one guy or people shooting holes in the gas tanks or their vehicles, what have you. So maybe talk a little bit about how Putin misread the capabilities of the Russian military.
Paul: Well, part of the problem is that Vladimir Putin thought the Russian military was Russian. Half of the officer corps of the Russian army is ethnically non-Russian. In fact, it is ethnically Ukrainian. There are more ethnic Ukrainian officers in the Russian army than there are Russian officers in the Russian army, in ethnic terms. At The non-commissioned officer, the sergeant level, and so you’re absolutely right, the key link in all this, two thirds of the men serving as sergeants in the Russian army are from the North Caucasus, not ethnic Russians but from the North Caucasus. Chechens, Ingush, Dagestanis. So the first thing is he doesn’t understand that the army of the Russian Federation is a multinational army, not unified ethnic Russian. Second he doesn’t understand that just because you have the best weapons in the world, doesn’t mean that those are what you need to fight a foe that is prepared to contest every single block.
Paul: Having some of these super bombs is great. It makes wonderful television, but it doesn’t allow you to take territory, if you’re facing people who are prepared to fight and die, and we have seen Ukrainians display real heroism in resisting Russian advances, and we’ve seen the Russian soldiery, the people at the very bottom, demonstrating again and again, that they like to be almost anywhere else but in Ukraine. In recent days, people have speculated as to why is this 40 mile long column of Russian troops not making its way toward Kiev, because everyone thought that would come, Kiev would be surrounded and would be the end of things. Well, probably the largest reason that column has not moved is sabotaged by Russian troops, which have been found to be shooting out the gas tanks, draining the gasoline so that the tanks can’t … the APCs and tanks can’t move forward.
Paul: The consequence of that or what that tells you about your own military is that these are non-enthusiasts. They’re not going into war with the same degree of commitment that the Ukrainians soldiers and officers are showing on the other side. If you don’t understand that, and I don’t think Putin does, you will make mistake, after mistake, after mistake.
Jim: Right, and then the fourth one, and from this essay that you quote … I think, I got to say, I’ve been surprised too and I think most of the analysts got this wrong too, is how amazingly unified, at least major powers of the West have been. I mean, Sweden sending 5,000 anti tank weapons to Ukraine, who would’ve bet on that. The Germans stepping up, even hungry, agreeing to the swift lockout. So the international reaction, I think is … your guy Pastukhov suggested that this backlash from the West has been way stronger than Putin was expecting.
Paul: He did not understand that the West was willing to come together in the face of a threat this severe. Had Putin done something, which is what, to be blunt, I expected to be honest, is what I expected, which was to try to seize Southeastern Ukraine, giving him the land bridge to Crimea and total control of the Sea of Azov, I don’t think you would’ve had the kind of Western unity you did, people … there would’ve been people, especially in Europe who would’ve argued, “Well, we have to understand what he’s doing.” When you go for the capital city of a foreign country, when you bomb large civilian sectors, when you bomb atomic power plants, you raise questions in people’s mind, and I think we have to give a lot of credit to the current generation of Western leaders who have been talking to each other on a daily basis and who are vastly more United.
Paul: If there’s a statue to be put up in Kiev and in Brussels at the same time, it should be probably a statue of Vladimir Putin who first united Ukraine and then you reunited NATO. That’s not what he intended, but that’s certainly what he’s achieved. I think it will be harder for him to chip off parts of NATO in the near future anyway, than it had been earlier. There is just too much bad blood and there’s … what Russia has done has offended too many people.
Jim: Yeah. This was a major breach of the post World War II taboo against all out cross-border attacks on a foreign country. I mean, the only other one I can think of was Iraq grabbing Kuwait and the world wouldn’t tolerate that either. Now, obviously lots of countries have been meddling in civil wars and all that, but in terms of the post World War II taboo, this was just a blatant violation of that.
Paul: Well, he thought because the West didn’t go, didn’t get United over Crimea, that it wouldn’t get United over taking Kiev, but it’s very different to take a province that’s complicated, and to go after the capital city of an independent country and I think Mr. Putin has shot himself in the foot, and I think he’s created problems for his country in the future that are vastly larger than any benefits he could possibly have achieved by what he has done.
Jim: Yeah. I was going to talk about this later, but this is probably a good time to talk about this, which is, this is an unprecedented non-kinetic response to war. This is severing a network war, essentially, where we’re cutting Russia, close the airspace, kick them out of SWIFT, seize the Western assets, at least to the central bank or froze them, I guess, we hadn’t seized them yet. We’ve frozen them, many, many, many other snippings of the networks, and here in this highly interconnected world, and Russia was part of that interconnected world. Russia was not a hermit kingdom, this is an unprecedented action, at least as I see. What do you think about the severity of this action and kind of historical context?
Paul: Well, you’re absolutely right that this is unprecedented in its severity against a superpower, a major power with nuclear weapons. It is something like what was visited on Iran. It’s something like what has been visited on North Korea, but those are two very different countries in terms of relative power in the world. Russia had been involved in integrating in the West. In fact, Putin’s success has been his ability to let the West pay for the development of Russia by the sale of Russian raw materials, and also by opening Russia to outside investment. Both the sale of raw materials and the ability of Russia to attract Western investment have now been called into question. They’re more and more unwillingness to purchase oil and gas from the Russian Federation.
Paul: China may do some, but only at prices it sets, not at prices Moscow wants. So Russia, isn’t going to get money from the West, the way it had been doing, which is a country that doesn’t produce anything doesn’t manufacture, anything that people want to buy, puts a big crimp on the ability of that government to advance economically. The sanctions with respect to banking and trade … The banking sanctions, I think will have to be toughened if we really want to do it because we’re already seeing evidence that the five major Russian banks that have been sanctioned or taken off SWIFT are simply moving funds into those banks, Russian banks that have not been sanctioned sort of end running if you will.
Paul: My guess is that as that becomes more obvious, there will be calls in the west for extending the ban on SWIFT to the entire Russian banking system, and there’s going to be certainly more freezing of Russian assets abroad. Russia currently has on the order of 1.5 trillion with a T, US dollars of money abroad. No country afford to lose that access to that kind of money and if Russia does, it will mean that it will be reduced to … it will be unable to increase its GDP and may suffer serious GDP losses for a decade or more.
Jim: Yeah. Interesting. When I’ve seen this, it peaked some thoughts. The west or the world in general, particularly the west has struggled to figure out how to do collective deterrents to aggression since World War I, right. The league of nations. Well, it turned out that actually doing anything about Italy invading Ethiopia, or Hitler taking back the Rhineland, then Austria and then the Sudetenland, and then all the Czechoslovakia, just was too expensive to actually stop these folks. The nations is going to do the same. United Nations is going to do the same. Truthfully that never got tested because mutual assured destruction came along instead, which managed at great risk to humanity nonetheless, to avoid general war in the post World War II epoch.
Jim: Now, maybe something new has come on the scene, that if this network war really turns out to be as effective as it could be, and as you point out, it still needs to be tightened. I saw a very, very, very good proposal floating around someplace yesterday, which was the West should put a 90% tax on Russian oil. The interesting thing about that is since oil is a fungible good, Russia will only be able to get about 10 cents on the dollar for its oil that it sells. It may push the oil price up a little bit, but mostly, it’s going to be us taking 90% of the proceeds from the exports of Russian oil. So, let’s say we tighten the economic network war even more, is this finally a means for collective defense against aggression?
Paul: Well, I think we have to distinguish two different things. If you are dealing with a government that cares about the future of itself other than its physical survival and the progress of its own country, those kind of … the kind of pain we’re talking about inflicting should have an effect. If you believe however, that you don’t really care what happens to your own population. I mean, the Russian government of Vladimir Putin has not been all that solicitous of its own population. It’s underfunded medicine. It’s not built highways, we’re talking about a country, largest country in the world that has fewer miles of paved road than my state of Virginia. I mean, this is not a country that is, where the government is trying to develop the country.
Paul: The Putin government is trying to enrich the elite through the sale of raw materials abroad. That’s a different goal, I think in the short term, the Western sanctions regime is not going to affect Putin’s decision making. It’s hopefully going to affect what others around him think, and they may bring pressure of various kinds on him, but I don’t think anything we’ve done so far or even that I’ve seen talked about, or even a 90% tax on oil that you just mentioned, I don’t think that changes Vladimir Putin’s calculus on what he’s going to do. If you think longer term and Vladimir Putin like all of us is not eternal. There will be a time when Vladimir Putin will not be in the Kremlin. Russia will still be around, and what we’re talking about is a country that’s now being put on a downward course for a very long time.
Paul: There are many, many people in Russia and not just people who are going into the streets and protesting this war, who don’t want to see their country recede even further. I mean, it’s a country which is headed toward third world status in lots of ways. Upper Volta with missiles as it was once described. Well, there are a lot of people who don’t want that for their country. So I believe the sanctions are affecting their judgment about what’s going on, but I am not confident that anything we’ve done so far will keep Vladimir Putin from continuing to try from engaging in the kind of actions he has. I think if you expect that going to be disappointed, if you look at other Russians and the Russian political system is bigger than Vladimir Putin.
Paul: Those people are beginning to peel off. My own view is that the most important development in Russia in the last five days is that the wives and children of members of the elite are now taking to the internet to denounce the war.
Jim: That is very, very interesting.
Paul: Their fathers and husbands are not doing it because if they did, they might be thrown out of the elite pretty quickly and shall we say very definite ways. The fact that the wives and children are doing this, tells me what the calculus is in those families. As more and more people choose to do that, the people who are not speaking now may decide they have no choice, but to present an increasingly United front against Putin, and that could bring about change, not necessarily but could be.
Jim: Yup. By the way, I agree with you that nothing is going to stop Putin from his current course in the short term. It does not appear, other than losing, which could … and we’ll talk about that later, but with respect this idea of collective deterrence, if it ends up damaging Russia sufficiently in the longer term, that is an example that the next aggressor has to take into consideration.
Paul: Well, the problem is that if you have nuclear weapons, you don’t need to deliver them to destroy the world. You just set them off. Russia has a lot of them. Does it have, sufficient to take out this or that enemy NATO or the United States? Probably not nearly to the degree that Vladimir Putin thinks having said that, the destruction it would rob is enormous. This is a … we’re dealing with a world that is increasingly short term in its thinking. Adopting a strategy, which is increasingly long term in its consequences. That creates political problems in democratic countries of enormous proportions, because people want a solution yesterday. What we’re able to do in a world where someone has nuclear weapons, isn’t going to get you that quickly.
Paul: I agree with you that a future aggressor, and maybe even Vladimir Putin in another round against country will take this into consideration. There’s another possibility, and that is that if you think you’re going to lose big, you may be tempted to do even more radical and violent things against more targets, in the short run, suffer the pain now but put yourself in a better position at least, as you imagine it in the future,
Jim: That’s a rather dire thought. We’ll come back to that later, about what happens next. Before we do that though, let’s switch the topic that you brought up, which is the media and the info sphere in Russia. I don’t know that much about it, but as I understand it, while things like broadcast media are like … they closed down the last, was it Rain TV or something, the last independent TV station?
Paul: Dozhd, yes.
Jim: The internet is actually relatively open in Russia.
Paul: The internet is less open today than it was five years ago. It’s being cleansed, quote, unquote, as Putin would put it. There are more and more restrictions being placed on what anyone can produce. There are new laws that inflict serious jail terms for people who report on the Russian army in ways that Kremlin doesn’t like. That’s led in the last couple of days to several of the biggest internet portals in Russia, [foreign language 00:34:04], which we’ve been living with for 30 years and sort of the flagship of public thinking in Russia has just announced its closing down because it doesn’t see how it can navigate in a world where almost any reporting could lead to massive fines and jail terms for its managers.
Paul: That’s happening again and again. So it was true as recently as three or four years ago that the internet was quite free or remarkably free, certainly compared to state television in the state owned newspapers. It’s less true today, and there is an emergence of a kind of great wall … China style great wall internet blockage to the West. I will tell you that my own experience today in going and looking at Russian websites, never before have I seen as many that weren’t accessible as I did today. That’s not a good sign. So it’s not that there’s total control. People still have workarounds. People still can use VPNs. Although VPNs are being countered in interesting ways in Russia, dangerous ways, but it is no longer true that there are these two universes.
Paul: It’s fairly easy if you can go online to find out the facts as opposed to what you won’t learn, if you only listen to state television. It’s still true you can do some, but it’s no longer as possible as it was only two or three years ago.
Jim: Yeah, though, I do believe Twitter is still on in Russia and there’s a fair bit of news going on in Russia on Twitter.
Paul: It’s still available in much of Russia, not all.
Paul: One of the things … I mean, Russia’s a very large country and things that are happening in 10 time zones that it spans are very different. Again in Moscow, Twitter is still available. It’s not available in a number of places outside the capital. One sees a gradual squeezing of that and one sees, and I think this is the really chilling factor is that people are now being hauled in and sentenced to real jail terms for what they may have put on, on Twitter. So, even if Twitter remains accessible, what people are willing and able to say on it will be very different if every time you type something in, you have to worry that it might take you away from your family for 15 years.
Jim: Yup, well at least people can read and get a different version of the news. This of course, gets you back to a fair part of your career, where you were working with Voice of America and The America broadcast arm of our propaganda essentially.
Paul: Well, that was mostly by short wave. It was at a time when there was no internet, the communication world has changed. The problem is that people no longer use internet as much as they did, and the other problem is that the internet is something which promised a completely free environment, but we’ve now seen that there are ways that those who don’t want freedom of information can work against it. We have to be very sensitive to that. We tend to proclaim victory and then look away a little bit too often in this country anyway.
Jim: Interesting. So with all that said, what do you think the prospects are for a real anti-war movement to spin up in Russia?
Paul: I think that the longer Ukrainians resist and that resistance will extend even if their capital city and other major cities are occupied, even if Vladimir Putin proclaimed that he now has a government in Ukraine that is pro Moscow, that the number of Russians who will oppose … the number of Russian citizens who will oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine is going to grow. It is already in my mind, staggering. I mentioned a few minutes ago, the fact that family members of elite groups, elite officials are now taking to the internet to express their opposition to the war, because it probably means they can’t live or study abroad or get access to Western goods, but they’re doing it. I expect to see more of that.
Paul: One of the things that’s going to hit Russia, especially hard is medicines. If the Russian government can import medicines, there are going to be people who are going to be increasingly angry. One of the reasons that Russians have died at far greater levels or numbers in percentage terms from COVID is that they don’t have access … they haven’t had access to the medicines that are, are available in American or West European hospitals. That situation is now going to get worse and one can’t expect the Russian people to be happy about it, and the ability of a Russian government to change that is very limited because the expense of building a pharmaceutical industry, which you have mostly destroyed over the last eight years through what Putin calls his healthcare optimization program, which simply means cutting everything that you can cut has left that country in a precarious situation.
Paul: So I think that there will be ever more people in Russia opposed to the war, and I also believe that even if Russia does occupy all of Ukraine, it will face a partisan war against it that will last a very long time and will mean that there will be Russians coming back in body bags because of Vladimir Putin’s policies.
Jim: Let’s talk … I’m going to jump ahead here on my topic list and talk a little bit about the prospects and let’s assume Russia wins maybe ugly, but they keep leaning in … we’ll come back again to the scenarios, win, lose or bogged down. Let’s assume they win. You. Let’s talk a little bit about this idea of a hot resistance, which continues to send body bags back. I’ve had two other experts on in the last week, and both of them argued against a heavy, hot resistance in Ukraine for two different reasons. The first one argued that there’s really not much history of modern people being willing to pay those costs. If we look at the places where hot resistance has occurred, it’s been pre-modern tribalist people in the main.
Jim: Then, the second argument, which was a most recent episode, the expert said Ukraine is too old. Hot resistance is a young person’s activity. Look at Vietnam. Look at Afghanistan. Look at Iraq. The average age in Ukraine is surprisingly old. They’re not going … The old Duffs aren’t going to get off the couch. What’s your thought on that?
Paul: With, I would challenge both of those contentions.
Jim: Let’s hear what the expert says.
Paul: The first reality is this. It took the Soviet red army 10 years after 1945 to pacify the 10% of Ukraine, the so called Western Ukraine that Stalin took in during that war, 10 years, there was resistance on the ground and it was serious resistance. It required large numbers of Soviet troops. There were large losses, and course at that time, the Soviet government controlled the information about this, but we now know something about out just how effective it was. There is even a kind of cult in Ukraine about these people as a role model of how you resist an Imperial power. The second is this, it is true. It is true that the Ukrainian population today is older than it has ever been. It is also true that it is not quite as old as the population of the Russian Federation on average, because Ukraine has … it’s hard to say in the last year or two, but it has had somewhat higher birth rates, even though it is … life expectancy has increased.
Paul: The pandemic years, make very difficult to say that, but it’s certainly true that within Ukraine itself, you don’t need to look to Afghanistan or somewhere else, Ukrainians have resisted and they resisted remarkably effectively against a superior force for a decade, for a decade. That’s not something that should be ignored because Ukrainians haven’t ignored it. There is another factor at work, which I think neither of those objections focus on. Let’s say that Vladimir Putin, occupies Ukraine, and opens the border between the Russian Federation and Ukraine or even a nexus Ukraine, which he’s talked about, okay, you do that. You do two things, which are not in Moscow’s interest. The first is adding 40 million Ukrainians to the mix of the population of the Federation will mean the population of the Russian Federation will go from roughly 75% of the total being ethnic Russian to about 50%.
Paul: Everything we know about countries tells us that a 50% level is sort of the tipping point. It was when the population of the Soviet union declined to only 50% ethnic Russian and 50% others, that it came apart. That was vastly more important than anything Lenin did or Gorbachev did. The second thing is this, you are going to have 40 million people who are going to remember on their own skin, what the Russian army is doing right now, block to block killing of people in cities, attacking nuclear power, plants, poisoning all kinds of the environment. Those people are not going to roll over and be cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin. There are a lot of things you can do to resist an occupying power without going into the streets and engaging in hot action.
Paul: It creates problems for the occupying power, even if no one shoots at them, but I believe in the case of Ukraine, you will see both sabotage by unwillingness to obey an active underground movements against. So do I expect the Ukrainian resistance to look like the mujahideen in Afghanistan? No. Do I think it may be as effective over the next decade? Quite possibly. So, I think people should … people know most Western experts couldn’t have told you where Ukraine was five years ago. I’m old enough to remember when the big fight about talking about Ukraine at Slovak association meetings of this country was whether you said The Ukraine or just Ukraine. I remember that was the kind of fight people had 30 years ago.
Paul: Tragically very, very few people in the West know very, very much about the resistance that the Soviets encountered between 1945 and 1955, it was strong. It was powerful and it required an enormous expenditure of Soviet military muscle to suppress it.
Jim: Actually the other one, from a historical perspective that shows the Ukrainians are willing to fight is the Ukrainian partisans fought both the Nazis and the Russians during the middle of World War II, and it took like 20 divisions of the Nazis, which are not known for their gentleness, as we know, to keep that sort of semi under control.
Paul: Well, the fact that they did that, I know many Ukrainians who remember that their parents and grandparents were part of that struggle. This is personal and Vladimir Putin has made it more so, for people to suggest that these people are going to roll over and be loyal pro Putin Ukrainians or even worse, pro Putin citizens of the Russian Federation. Strikes me as a historical at a minimum and self deceiving, and in some ways, contemptuous of a people that has demonstrated its willingness once again, to resist invaders of its territory.
Jim: Yeah. I also always look at the balance of technology, when you think about combat in general, for instance, the Americans civil war was such a shit show in some ways, because none of the generals except maybe long street realized that the innovation of the mini ball of all obscure things had changed the relative power of the offense and defense at the Napoleonic strategy of attack, which they were taught at West Point from Yemeni, Clausewitz had yet been translated into English, turned out to be a prescription for slaughter in the civil war where the mini ball had three times the effective range of the old smoothbore muskets from the Napoleonic ear, only long streets seemed to have figured that out. He always said, let them attack me first and then, I’ll counterattack.
Jim: In this case, the pervasiveness and effectiveness and inexpensiveness of man portable anti tank and anti-aircraft weaponry could really make life difficult for an occupying army and notice they are flooding this stuff in, perhaps at a rate way beyond what the Ukrainians can actually use today. So there could well be tens of thousands of very effective anti tank and anti-aircraft missiles floating around Ukraine, should Putin end up prevailing and I think that could make life very difficult. You trade $100,000 missile for a three million tank or for a $30 million airplane, that’s a pretty good trade.
Paul: Well, and I think the fact is that there … for me, the symbol of what Ukraine is about and what’s coming. The largest beer bottler in Lviv, in Western Ukraine last week announced that it was no longer going to be bottling beer. Instead, it was going to be producing more bottles that people could make into Molotov cocktails, low tech resistance often works remarkably well against occupiers, and it’s not simply having anti-tank or anti-aircraft equipment, but if you have … if you are an occupying force and you have to worry about the fact that any house you pass by any apartment building, you go around, may have someone at a window who’s ready to throw a Molotov cocktail at you. That becomes, that becomes very, very difficult to sell at home and it’s going to be very, very hard for Putin to sell it if that’s the direction things go.
Paul: So if we talk about a Russian victory, which no doubt someone will do, if they take Kiev, we’re talking at best pyrrhic victory and at worse, something that could lead to the unraveling of the Russian Federation as a whole
Jim: Interesting, and that goes to my next question. The one that I ask every expert on this topic go down that road. What do you think the chances are somebody overthrows or assassinates Putin in the relatively short term?
Paul: Well, I think that there are more and more people in the inner circle or the outer edges of the inner circle who are horrified by what’s going on, whether they will take the next step and take the risk that would be involved of going after the president of the Russian Federation is in some ways impossible to say. This is the action of an individual or a very small group of people. Putin has been acting in recent months as a president in a bunker he’s clearly interested in defending himself, not only against COVID infection, but against any kind of attack like that. So is it possible? Of course it’s possible. Is it more likely now than it was a month ago? I think so, because I think there’s vastly more anger. If you can’t put your kids in British public schools, you can’t send your children to Harvard Business School.
Paul: If you can’t go and use the apartments you’ve bought in Monaco or London, I think you’re going to be increasingly angry at the person who did this because you can’t really see what benefits you’ve gotten from it. At some point, there are people who are going to raise the question of how much longer can we afford to have this go? How those people will act is a matter of individual human psychology. I don’t think anyone from the outside could have predicted a [foreign language 00:53:04]. On the other hand, it was clearly the case that when Germany began to lose the war, the pressure to do something, to stop this rose and the number of people who are willing to consider it increased as well.
Jim: Of course, it isn’t necessarily just a physical plot. Khrushchev was thrown out by the other powers. To your knowledge, what’s the situation in Russia with respect to other countervailing powers in Russian and politics?
Paul: The, the first thing to remember is that the Soviet Union has dictatorial … remained even after the death of Stalin, still had a kind of collected leadership. There were people on the Politburo, the central policy making body who had independent base … somewhat independent basis of power, be it the military, the police heavy industry and so on. There is no Politburo as such in the Putin administration. This is a personalist dictatorship, that is maintained largely by the use of force, and by making enough people rich, mostly by allowing them to invest their money in foreign countries, that they won’t challenge him. That’s a different situation, so I don’t see a Khrushchevy, a 1964 Khrushchevian solution, if you will.
Paul: I think there are people who would like to see Putin go, I think one of the questions they have is how could that be done? How could you … where would he go, what would he do? I don’t think anyone expects that a man like Vladimir Putin is going to go quietly. So, if that’s the case that raises the stakes for anybody thinking about taking action still higher, because there’s no question in my mind that what Hitler did after the July 44 plot is nothing in comparison to what Vladimir Putin would do, if anybody tried anything of violence against it.
Jim: That’s a pretty scary scenario, because the aftermath of July 20th, 1944 was truly horrifying.
Paul: It was horrifying. I’m telling you Vladimir Putin is prepared to be much, much worse. A dear friend of mine, the former president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves once remarked the that if the Russians ever came back to Estonia, they wouldn’t be constrained by communism. I think it’s fair comment that Vladimir Putin is not constrained by communism. There is very little he would not consider doing, and that’s what makes him so dangerous, but ultimately I think means that it lead his policies are going to fail, although whether they fail quickly in his lifetime or thereafter is still a very open question, and think it depends on a lot of individual calculuses that are very difficult to sum up.
Jim: Okay, well, let’s go on to the next topic, which is again, what I have to ask every expert, even though we all know that our information isn’t great and the uncertainties of war are large, but what’s your prognosis on the kinetic hot war between Ukraine and Russia? How’s that going to unfold over the coming days and weeks?
Paul: I expect Russian army in a matter of weeks, if not days to take most of the major cities and most of the key transport nodes, where railroad intersect in particular, I think that will be sufficient for Vladimir Putin to proclaim victory. I think it will lead many people to accept that characterization as angry as they may be, that it has happened. I think Putin’s claim like most of the things Vladimir Putin says and Western acceptance of it are wrong. That’s not a victory. We’re not talking about a population that will be pacified. We’re talking about a population that will be occupied and an occupied population, unless it’s been so destroyed in the field, which I don’t expect to happen. I think there will still be sizable Ukrainian military formations, operating outside of this cities, outside of the major rail nodes.
Paul: I expect resistance to continue for a long period of time. I expect the Russian forces to continue to take losses for a very long time. That being so I would avoid accepting Putin’s claim of victory anytime soon. Although I fully expect him to make it sometime and have enough facts on the ground, if you will, to convince people in the West that this is somehow over, at least no longer in the headlines and on page one of the newspapers.
Jim: Yeah, it seems like a reasonable central scenario because they do have such overwhelming force that if they’re willing to trade men for territory, they probably can take the cities and cut the Eastern half off, with the nipper, they can cut the country in half and at that point declare victory, even if it’s not true. So let’s take that scenario as what happens. What does that mean with respect to NATO and the West? Do we see Finland and Sweden join NATO? Do we see Germany go through with its rearmaments that it just announced? Does the solidarity that was in the instant happened? Does that hang together in the face of this sort of ugly, not quite complete victory by Putin?
Paul: Well, I think what happens to NATO depends on what Putin does next. Putin has never made any secret that what he wants to do is not limited to Ukraine. He wants to take Belarus. He’s talked about taking Northern Kazakhstan. He’s talked about moving into the Baltic states, to the extent that he appears preparing to threaten those or even does threaten them or even moves in those directions, then I think it’s very, very likely that Finland and Sweden will both become part of the Western Alliance. I think it’s very, very likely that NATO’s coherence will be greater than it was six months ago. Perhaps not as great as it is right now. I think there’s going to be an acceptance of German rearmament, which is not something that everybody will be thrilled about, but I think it will be viewed that Germany as a counterweight to Russian aggressiveness toward Poland eventually.
Paul: So, I think that it may be said 25 years from now that no one did so much to unite Europe and unite NATO as Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
Jim: That wouldn’t that be a great irony, but it certainly seems to be true so far. So last question, one of the other big geopolitical questions that just seems to be just off stage of this tragedy in the Ukraine is China and Taiwan. What do you think the leadership in China is making of what’s happened so far in your view of what may happen here in the future?
Paul: Well, I think that the first thing to say is that China doesn’t think in short terms, the way we do. It assumes it’s going to have a lot of things fall on its lap, if it waits and that provoking things is not a good idea from its point of view. I think it expects to pick up a lot of pieces in a kind of neo-colonial a sense to its north. I think it recognizes that a major military thrust against Taiwan would have to go over American ships. That’s probably not something you want to do, if your goal is to present your … as a rising power. Provoking the United States is probably not something you want to do. I personally think the Chinese will continue to put pressure on Taiwan. They expect to have Taiwan reintegrated fully into their country eventually.
Paul: I personally don’t see them moving in that direction, in the next six months or year. The Chinese are looking out and they’re paying attention. They’re seeing what Vladimir Putin’s move in Ukraine did for the United States and the Western Alliance. They’ve got to know that if they move into Taiwan, they can forget warmer relations with Japan. Indeed, they can face the likelihood that the west will tolerate the idea that Japan could go nuclear. It’s a near nuclear state now and the idea that Japan would go nuclear is probably a bigger minus in Beijing’s thinking than retaking Taiwan is a plus. So my sense is the Chinese who tend to think strategically rather than short term, tactically are probably not going to move in the near term.
Paul: That doesn’t mean they never will, but it does mean in my thinking that we’re talking about a long term strategy. I often say that the Russians played chess while the Americans played checkers. I think that if the Russian are to say that about China and Russia, the Chinese are playing chess and the Russians are playing checkers under Putin and the people who play checkers don’t do as well against the people who play chess as they always imagine they will.
Jim: Indeed. Well, Paul, let’s wrap it there. This has been a really interesting conversation. You’ve thrown a lot of very useful light onto this situation. Thanks for being a guest on the Jim Rutt Show.
Paul: Thank you.