The case for Russia invading Ukraine
I thought Moldbug’s piece on this would be the last word on the subject, but apparently people have continued to make many useless arguments as to why a Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine would somehow be bad, so it falls on me to make a case for the invasion (which, to be clear, I think only has a 35% chance of happening, due to Russia’s historic unwillingness to use its military unprovoked).
In short, I thought I would expand on a tweet A. Karlin recently made:
The current situation for Russia is untenable. It has to support economically useless and depopulating Donbass Republics, has to deal with an economic and travel blockade between Crimea and Ukraine, and, to suffer insult to injury, has to watch the Ukrainian public get closer to the West (including going so far as to reject the Russian language), Ukraine becoming more likely to become a member of NATO (something which has never been taken off the table in the West) and see Ukraine host American troops. Even worse, it has to deal with the lack of international respect and constant demonization resulting from the West not taking it seriously. None of this should be tolerable to Russia. NATO is a purely offensive alliance. It is completely useless for defense (it is unlikely to engage in a costly ground war to retake Poland or the Baltics, or even North Macedonia from Serbia). Its only present-day function is to potentially recreate Operation Barbarrosa at some point in the future (which the average American with discourse power certainly wants), as well as do American bidding on various war efforts in the Middle East and Africa. I do not see why Russia should ever tolerate that from one of the countries most historically and geographically close to it.
In Machiavellian parlance, there are some countries that are easy to take, but impossible to hold (e.g., Afghanistan). There are other countries that are very difficult to take, but very easy to hold (e.g., Japan). Ukraine, for Russia, falls under the category of being very easy to take and very easy to hold. Ukraine, one has to repeatedly stress, is not a foreign country to Russia. Ukraine has for centuries been part of the Great Russian nation, and both the Ukrainian and the Russian people will be all the greater with the Ukrainians as Russians. The present-day Ukrainian identity is artificial (and also homosexual, which is not even something that’s popular in Ukraine), no different from Irish nationalism or South Korean nationalism. Ukrainians, like Japanese, will certainly fight a battle they think they can win, but they will, unlike Japanese, surrender en masse if they think they will lose. Similarly, though Ukraine might be somewhat difficult to hold for a country with completely foreign customs, such as Germany, Congo, or Japan, they will be easily held by a country with identical people and identical customs, which Russia certainly is to the Ukrainians. The correct analogy to a Russian invasion of Ukraine is not the U.S. war against Iraq (much less Vietnam) or the Soviet war against Germany, but a hypothetical American invasion of Great Britain. They might not welcome the invaders with open arms, but they will have the sense to recognize there is a trivial difference between the new rulers and the old.
There is no reason to think that Ukraine has either the will or the ability to resist a Russian attack. The capabilities of the Ukrainian military pale relative to the Russian, and the war will primarily be fought with missiles and artillery, which Russia has more of, and airpower, which, while not particularly useful against an insurgency, is highly useful against a state army. Similarly, Ukraine has neither the will nor the ability for an insurgency following a Russian occupation. Ukrainians are an industrialized and civilized people with low fertility. People who claim otherwise should have the sense to recall how the various anti-Ukrainian nationalist insurgencies went in 2014 -they were all defeated by the pitifuly armed, manned, and trained Ukrainian army until Russia intervened directly to save the one in Donbass. The U.S. will not suffer casualties from directly backing an insurgency in Lviv, and Russia will remain a strong enough state to defeat it within weeks, if not days. Ukraine is a developed country, not Afghanistan, Iraq, or even Colombia.
There are widespread claims that U.S. sanctions on Russia will be overly costly, but this is silly. Russia within its current borders will experience a recession from an invasion, but the economic gain from annexing Ukraine will more than compensate for any Western sanctions on Russia, and Westerners are unlikely to sanction Russia too severely so long as they rely on Russia for gas. It’s one thing to be sanctioned when one is a country with an average IQ in the 80s and a fairly small economic size such as Syria or Iran; it is quite another thing to be sanctioned when one’s economy is already nearly the size of Germany and has a population with an average IQ higher than Israel, with massive foreign reserves to boot. Russia is already thoroughly integrated into the global economy, but, since 2014, not so integrated as to be unprepared for a fallout from sanctions. There is simply too much of a benefit to trade with Russia for Western countries, in particular Germany, for them to cut themselves off from it and Ukraine will likely export more to and buy more from the West, rather than less, once Russia annexes it. Likewise, even if the West does sanction Russia with any severity, China remains an all-weather friend, and remains the world’s largest economy and reserve of human capital, with many Chinese regions converging on Russia in economic development and being not inferior to South Korea and Japan in their talent quality. What Russia is unable to supply on its own, China will likely be able to supply it. The Chinese market is not limitless, but will soon become larger than that of the E.U. even in nominal terms, and even then will retain greater prospects for growth, particularly if China can solve its demographic problem. Above all, the economic costs to Russia from annexing Ukraine will remain smaller than the numerous costs to Russia of a hostile Ukraine. Indeed, the settlement of the Ukrainian question might result in a skeleton of a sustainable state of normalization with the West -an order in Eastern Europe both Russia and the U.S. can agree on- becoming visible. Indeed, short of a complete Russian surrender, a Russian invasion of Ukraine is the only way to do that.
Similarly, a Russian invasion of all Ukraine will be quite unlike its current support for the Donbass republics. The latter, due to them being shelled constantly and economically blockaded by the Ukrainians, are a money drain and strategically valuable only insofar as they keep Ukraine out of NATO. A fully annexed Ukraine, much unlike U.S.-occupied Iraq, would not be under threat from anyone and the economic growth resulting from superior Russian institutions would be more than enough for the country to pay for for its own reconstruction. Indeed, a full scale Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine, both eastern and western, would make it all the easier for Russia to use Ukraine’s talent and land to develop its own economy and counter foreign threats. Any Ukrainian resistance to Russian rule could simply be averted by population transfer between southern Russia and Ukraine, which, turning potential oppositionists into a minority, would make any regional agitation for independence impossible.
I also dispute the idea an invasion of Western Ukraine would be substantially more costly than an invasion of just Eastern Ukraine. Status quo bias is the most powerful force in modern Eastern Europe. Western and Eastern Ukrainians are certainly different both historically and culturally, but not genetically, which is the primary thing that matters when states attempt to form new nations. A sufficiently long time under Russian rule should result in Western Ukrainians becoming just as supportive of Russian rule as Crimeans today. An independent Western Ukraine would surely aim to become a member of NATO even more than the current regime, and would be tremendously hostile towards Russia and welcome American forces with open arms. Such a state would not be worse to Russia than Ukraine’s current status, but it reaches to being almost as bad. There is less of a case for outright annexing Western Ukraine than Eastern Ukraine, but the benefits for Russia from a full annexation of Western Ukraine would still outweigh the costs. Western Ukraine has an even higher level of human capital than Eastern Ukraine does, and has far more advantageous terrain for averting a potential NATO invasion of Russia.
Another great reason for Russia to invade and annex all of Ukraine is a sort of Russian version of the Ledeen doctrine (first successfully implemented in 2008). The U.S. (and the U.S.S.R.) established their status as superpowers not through soft power (which America already had in spades prior to the war), but due to their hard power victories in Europe and Asia during the second world war. Though hard power is not primarily what currently sustains the U.S.’s power (that’s financial power), and Russia annexing Ukraine would not make it a superpower, hard power seems to be a necessary precondition for being taken seriously as a great power (which, I suppose, is why China is treated as a lesser power these days). Imagine what an embarrassment it would have been had Russia not punished Georgia for its attack on the rebellious provinces, not reunified with Crimea, or not fought ISIS and the rebels in Syria. Of Russia’s recent interventions, only the support for the Donbass rebels has been an embarrassment, and that only due to its incompleteness.
Geopolitical allegiances with a Russian annexation of Ukraine would not change -the West would still be hostile, China, India, and Vietnam still friendly, and Japan, 台湾, and South Korea neutral. What would change is this: Russia will be larger in its economy than Germany by PPP and Canada by nominal exchange rates, and larger in its population than Bangladesh. All of this will serve to greatly enchance Russian power and prepare for eventual unification with Belarus’, which will further contribute to the great rejuvenation of the Russian nation. In short, it would be a Russia much better prepared to stand up to the continuation of Western hostility. The alternative would be a Russia surrounded on its borders by American armies and in which its own language would not even be recognized in Kiev and Har’kov. Only a Russian invasion and annexation of Ukraine could make America understand that NATO is obsolete.