Last night’s TNB was awesome. Just two buddies, hanging out, talking about the end of democracy and playing AMA.
You can watch the replay here or listen to the podcast version here.
1. Cold War 2
This morning, Vladimir Putin more or less declared war on the West. Probably a second Cold War, and not a hot war. But honestly, who can say.
Here’s the deal:
A week ago, Putin staged “referendums” in four of the occupied regions of Ukraine. I say staged because the results were straight out of the bad old days of Soviet “elections”:
Results reported Tuesday by Russian state media allegedly showed over 98% voting in favor of the measure in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics; while 93% voted for it in the Zaporizhzhia region and 87% in the Kherson region.
Over 98 percent of a voting public agreeing on something. Sure. Sounds legit.1
The voting ended on September 27 and three days later Putin gathered a bunch of commissars at the Great Kremlin Palace in Moscow to sign treaties formally incorporating these four regions into the sovereign state of Russia.
As a matter of statecraft, this act pushes Russia’s confrontation with the West into a place from which there is no climbdown.
When these regions were only occupied, then you could have had a resolution to the war that left their status somewhat ambiguous, or kicked the can down the road for a few years. The West could have normalized relations with Russia and Russia could have left open the possibility that, at some indefinite point in the future, perhaps these regions would decide to become part of their territory.
Putting the annexation in writing and declaring that these regions are now part of the Motherland leaves no room for ambiguity. Either the West will accept Russia’s right to annex its neighbors, or not.
And if not, then conflict.
Putin underscored the nature of this escalation in a speech he gave before signing the treaties. In it, he spent much of his time explicitly stating that his Russia is now in an existential conflict with the West.
There was a lot of culture war baked into his talk—complaints about same-sex marriage and religious freedom and trans stuff. I imagine that a certain kind of TradCon will read this speech and start vibrating in ecstasy: ZOMG BASED PUTIN IS SPEAKING FOR US!
Putin also had some red meat (yswidt?) for the Tankies: denouncing Western colonialism and the opium wars and America’s use of nukes. So Glenn Greenwald will feel serviced, too.
But in terms of actual geopolitical importance, these are the important excerpts:
I want the Kyiv authorities and their real masters in the West to hear me, so that they remember this. People living in Luhansk and Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are becoming our citizens. Forever.
We call on the Kyiv regime to immediately end hostilities, end the war that they unleashed back in 2014 and return to the negotiating table.
We are ready for this . . . But we will not discuss the choice of the people in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. That has been made. Russia will not betray them." . . .
We will defend our land with all the powers and means at our disposal.
Translation: Putin wants a ceasefire, the only condition of which is that the formal annexation of territories is recognized.
Maybe he thinks this is achievable. Maybe he thinks that his own grip on power in Russia can outlast Western and Ukrainian resolve to impose pain on Russia.
But that seems like a miscalculation. Two reasons.
(1) Europe has seen this movie before. They did not like the world in which Russian annexation was a thing.
(2) Here is the news from the battlefield yesterday:
The town in question is Lyman and this is what the encirclement looks like, courtesy of the ISW:
In other words, Putin has wagered that the pain Russia incurs in trying to hold its territory will not be sufficient to topple him before the pain he imposes on the West convinces the democracies to give up on these four regions.
This equation is now the only way in which the conflict will be settled.
For those of you looking for a deeper dive I’d suggest following our podcast, Shield of the Republic, with Eric Edelman and Eliot Cohen. Eric was my guest a few weeks back on TNB. Eliot couldn’t make the show because he was in Ukraine visiting with President Zelensky that night. In their latest installment, Eliot gives his impressions of Ukraine.
Don’t miss it. It’ll make you smarter.
2. Only the Best People
Republicans are the only thing standing between Real American Patriots and the lawless antifa BLM radicals who want to defund the police. Republicans are the rule of law party. The party that backs the blue.
Also: The party that employees people who are into murder-for-hire.