The most realistic review of the war in Ukraine

art of the possible

The idea probably dates back to ancient times. However, it’s most closely associated with the 19th century German statesman Otto von Bismarck, who was behind the reunification of Germany. Bismarck famously said that “politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”

A Historian of the Future: Five More Questions for Stephen Kotkin

Historian Stephen Kotkin became the Kleinheinz Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in 2022. He taught at Princeton for more than 30 years, and is the author of nine works of history, including the first two volumes of his biography of Joseph Stalin, Paradoxes of Power, 1878 to 1928 and Waiting for Hitler, 1929 to 1941. He is now completing the third and final volume. Since the war in Ukraine broke out a year ago, Kotkin has appeared regularly on Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson to offer his unique perspective on the Russian aggression and answer five questions for us. This is the third installment.

The Captain


Mr Kotkin criticizes US strategy in the Ukraine war of attrition. 1] The West is running out of munitions. 2]The West is not building new munition production facilities. Though I suspect the current facilities are running 24/7. Apparently that extra still is not enough. 3]The West sanctions have not had the intended affect of crippling the Russian economy and ability to produce munitions. “So how do you win a war of attrition where you are not attriting?” So the chance of victory is diminished.
His definition of success is Ukraine acceptance into the EU rather than specific territorial gain.

He is worried about the US willingness/ability to provide munitions. We are 4 years late in supplying Taiwan with promised weapons.

He hypothesizes that the US anticipated a Russian victory with a Ukrainian guerrilla insurgency. The weakness of the Russian military & the will of the Ukrainians surprised us.

He seems to think that the likely result of this war will end as did the Korean War.
Above is certainly not what Zelensky wants. He wants the return of Crimea in addition to the 2 eastern provinces PLUS reparations from Russia.


[I have not watched it, so this may be errant, but…] Anybody who thinks the US can’t produces enough munitions but Russia can is smoking some seriously powerful weed. Whether we will have the fortitude to continue is a different issue, given the proclivities of the Surrender Caucus.

It’s not surprising that the sanctions have not produced the desired results; they often don’t. FDR stopped the oil flowing to Japan to protest the invasion of China, and that didn’t work out particularly well, for instance. But we had to do something, and it seemed the least bad choice.

I”m not sure the Russian populace figures into the Kremlin’s calculations, but it’s hard to imagine that the happy predictions of victory haven’t taken some toll on those in high places (aka: Putin supporters), much as the “cakewalk” talk started to drag down the US President after the cheery propaganda of our invasion of Iraq did 20 years ago.

And what Zelensky wants and what will finally be done are two different things. He can hardly stake out a more defeatist position now and hope to get more later; he has to maintain a strong bargaining position for a later negotiation.


Same folks who criticized leaving Afghanistan

Not stable adults


Mr Kotkin is not smoking that weed.

The Captain

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So he’s deliberately trying to deceive people?


I heard him on NPR this morning. He is talking the Russian economy is good. Okay. Good as it ever was with workarounds.

He is saying Ukraine will need to compromise. I think he has no clue. He thinks Putin will allow the remainder of Ukraine into the EU with a compromise. I think he is totally out to lunch.

It is amazing how people can put all the pieces together and then forget the entire puzzle. Putin only has one intention. There is no compromise. Putin is purging Ukraine.

Putin will continue on to purge other countries in Europe. He will rollover NATO at some point. If only because he is an older man with nothing left of any decency. You can easily say an ejit with weapons. Ejit though does not describe how evil he is.


At this point, Putin is pretty much destroying the Russian army. With any luck, they (the army) will kill him to defend themselves. Hopefully sooner rather than later.


If you´re right, The Captain might have to leave Portugal.

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And that is unexpectedly true under the circumstances. Under the sever sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union the Russian GDP only declined by 1.5% in 2022. Compared to the rest of the world they are on par. For Example China GDP -2%, UK GDP +2% after increasing 7% post pandemic in 2021, Germany GDP +1%, and Russia’s GDP is expected to grow 2% in 2023. Stephen Kotkin’s is clear, sanctions have not had the intended effect

I’m sure that the a man as humble as Prof. Kotkin would be willing to listen to your ideas regarding the outcome in Ukraine without calling you stupid. OTOH He’s a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, and a Guggenheim Fellow. He taught at Princeton for decades and more importantly has written extensively on the Soviet Union, Stalin, and the post Soviet Union Russia. He’s spent years of sabbaticals studying in Moscow, and has a very good knowledge of the Russian people. I find him a very thoughtful man.
Prof. Kotkin isn’t looking or venturing the talk of war strategy, rather he’s asking the question, “what is the long term outcome, and what are we (or Ukrainians) thinking regarding Ukraine years and years forward?”
Currently, as things stand, Zelensky is calling for regaining every inch of territory, reparations, & war-crimes tribunals — Putin’s strategy could be defined as 'I can’t have it—nobody can have it’. Kotkin’s opinion is that Zelinsky’s truce would require “taking Moscow,” which Ukraine simply cannot do. And Putin’s strategy is tragic.
Now, in terms of outcome, if the war was to end today, it would cost 2xs to 3xs Ukraine’s annual GDP to rebuild what today has been destroyed. Hundreds of Billions of Dollars twice or even three times Ukraine’s annual GDP going into Ukraine, and how much of that money can sustain to complete the rebuilding and how much will simply disappear? Even in the United States where we have institutions, rule of law, independent judiciary (things not yet available in Ukraine) billions and billions of pandemic aid money simply disappeared. Ukraine can only hope to achieve this massive rebuilding outcome if they are able to conform to the standards of EU membership. Putin’s strategy is a pyrrhic victory, Zelensky’s goal is an unattainable victory. The attainable victory is arming Ukraine to achieve a significant battlefield position to bring Putin to the negotiation table, because as Churchill said, “you can’t negotiate with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”
Even Gen. Milley said back in December, “We’ve seen the Ukrainian military fight the Russian military to a standstill. Now, what the future holds is not known with any degree of certainty, but we think there are some possibilities here for some diplomatic solutions.” Keypoint: the future is not known with any degree of certainty. This war will be ended with negotiations, almost everyone agrees, the question is what is the outcome. A stalemate is not or should not be the ultimate goal.


I have a severe auditory problem that holds me back greatly in my language skills.

For that long list of credentials his language skills are pedestrian. Honestly. He is no Henry Kissinger who was far better even using English as a second or third language.

Sorry my BIL is a Ph.D and MD in a prestigious hospital in Boston. He is head of his department. Three notes ago I ended up getting an “it seems iny”.

It has nothing to do with the credentials. It has to do with sizing things up. It is out and out stupid to think Putin will ever compromise. And it is even stupider if Putin does compromise to take that as lasting longer than a few days.

As of this hour the leaked news on Putin is his planning to invade Belarus. This was totally predictable even if you went to Princeton.

You can have all the paperwork you want and be an ejit. Passing tests is the ticket not the truth.

As an aside, Kissinger has put forward a peace plan that is completely ludicrous. He is suggesting that Russia withdraw all its troops from the areas of Ukraine that it has conquered this year—but not from Crimea or the thin slice of eastern Ukraine that it annexed or occupied back in 2014. The disposition of those territories, he argues, should be negotiated or settled through an internationally supervised referendum. He’s living back in the age of 1972. As far as oratory, Trump is a great speaker, and Biden is not. Hitler was an even greater spokesman, public speaker, and was able to take command of the radio in such a way that millions and millions thought his ideas were the answer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not such a great speaker, but his writings and work was the message Germany should have heeded.
Being a great speaker does not mean you have great ideas, and vice versa. So the only rebuttal to the ideas for a victory in Ukranie to the ones put forward by Stephen Kotkin is that you know the future and you know Putin so well.
Stephen Kotkin’s point is that no one knows the mind of Putin, not even his close advisers, and I would suggest he knows a lot more about Russia than you do.


I totally agree with that TB

Kissinger is way out to lunch as well.

But as a younger man into his 80s far more intelligent.

The summation is knowing the truth is far more powerful.

We know what is not the truth. China is forcing those who want a deal in the west out of power.

Actully, Stephen Kotkin speaks to this as well. Kotkin points out that the war with Ukraine and China’s position with Putin has caused an unexpected realignment in the EU. The EU and especially France and Germany (who were more favorable to China before the invasion despite US concerns) are now less willing to believe that China is not a threat to their security and that the United States is a better security alliance. The EU working in better economic synergy with the United States is a global powerhouse that China can not ignore. This was not in the cards before the Ukraine invasion, and Putin is well aware of his short-sightedness in retrospect.
Do you really think that Germans believe Wang Yi when he says, “They [The United States] don’t care about the life and death of Ukrainians, [nor] the harms on Europe. They might have strategic goals larger than Ukraine itself. This warfare must not continue.” ??
China is scared silly and the United States only has to not answer, not engage the conversation of a crying child.

[quote=“Leap1, post:14, topic:88639”]

[/quote] “Beijing will pitch its own peace plan.”
And Europeans are going to believe the country that has been supporting Putin’s economy to conduct war?

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You have to be kidding! Did I miss the ‘sarcasm’ font?


:+1:t4: :+1:t4: :+1:t4: :+1:t4: :+1:t4: :+1:t4: :+1:t4:

The Captain

Was the Marshall Plan any better or did a lot of that money disappear as well? Is it just the cost of doing business? Does the money truly disappear, siphoned off into Swiss bank accounts and yachts, or is rebuilding a war-torn country one of the scenarios where trickle-down actually works and the stolen money does good in the end?


Nope. Trickle-down has been tried since at least the mid-1890s. It has never worked.


Good point. Let’s compare what happened. The Marshall Plan was implemented when the West occupied West Germany. Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands had begun rebuilding before the Marshall Plan was put into place. Early in 1947, the economic strain on capital, and the restoration of sound currencies and sufficient capital to continue industrialization in Western Germany in particular was a reality and the Marshall Plan was build around that. Don’t forget, Germany was already the World’s leading industrial base. The infrastructure was already there.
So, by the end of 1969, compare the results in West Germany to East Germany and Poland.
Ukraine is not an occupied country, at least yet. If Ukraine should end the war today, the question is, what institutional structure is in place that could be compared to occupied West Germany in 1948? Nothing close.
By the way, an important part of the Marshall Plan was the expansion and conservation of European (especially West Germany, France and Belgium) agricultural production, of course the industrial production too, but most people don’t realize the frozen state of capital investment in Agriculture before 1949 when the United States stimulated investment.
In West Germany, unlike Ukraine (or many places in the world were the U.S. has invested aid) already the rule of law had a long history, and the customs of a commercial society were readily recoverable, as well human capital was largely intact to continue an already First World industrial economy.