Yesterday I asked someone on leave from active military service whether the terms of his mobilization have anything to do with government plans to change forced conscription and military service based on a service-length contracts.
He looked at me as if I was nuts.
“Until the end.” He’s 49, with three kids, all boys: 18, 16 and 14, all perfectly normal weirdo teenagers I’ve bumped into since they were toddlers. The youngest today is about a foot taller than me. The birthday boy studies astronomy and astro-physics at the university. Their uncle is a 30-year old anesthesiologist who pulls 3-month long tours at stabilization points in eastern Ukraine. Grandfather, 80 something, was there with grandmother. He’s a career submarine officer in the Soviet navy, retired.
No one talked about Z or the war.
On the drive back to Kyiv, air pressure in one of the car’s tires dropped. A cousin from Odesa called from a border crossing between Ukraine and Hungary to ask about the problem. He was driving back to Kyiv from Slovenia with his 17-year old son who attends a naval academy near Ljubljana. Some remote monitoring app alerted him to our pressure problem via Iphone.
On the running jacket, I’ve started stiching up the Hoka’s.
Next year we will have to struggle not so much with so much that is relevant, but with what is inevitable, which is rarely appropriate. That includes the unreal political reality of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. The New York Times, of course, wants us to wallow in truce fetishism, and has once again invented signals illustrating Russia’s readiness to end the war1.
Actually, no. There will be peace only after the western leaders capitulate to Putin and agrees to discussions. If they give up, the opinions of Ukraine’s political establishment will be irrelevent, because they will have zero agency. Indeed, Ukraine will have probably ceased to exist. We’ll all be evading capture in our expensive invisibility cloaks, digging an elaborate labyrinth of root cellars somewhere in the countryside.
Z or Kvartal 95 or the half dozen irreplaceable managers of the President’s Office, who six months ago inflated expectations and egg prices only to later blame others, will become increasingly irrelevant, hopefully more helpful and less annoying.
Natasha at ISW writes a zillion-word preview of the disaster, titled The High Price of Losing Ukraine: The military threat and beyond, doubling down on the assertion that Putin is rational and risk-aware2.
Putin remains a rational actor and often a risk-averse one. He invaded Ukraine at a moment when he expected minimal resistance from Ukraine and the West as evidenced by his assessment that Russia could conquer Ukraine in a matter of days. He also invaded only after he had ensured that his domestic grip on power was solid. Both facts are indicative of a risk-aware actor. Putin also has been cautious about testing the limits of the Kremlin’s information control — as the stability of his regime in part depends on it. Putin still refuses to call Russia’s war a war and is not precisely defining his vision for the end of the war. The “special military operation” framing likely reaches the limit of what Putin assesses he can demand of the Russian people, as he tries to conceal the sacrifices that Russian people will need to make to support this war — i.e., mobilization. His assessment of his regime’s stability has self-confined him to suboptimal ways of fighting.
We recall that Natasha was among the ISW whiz kids who told us the same thing in December 31, 20213. The moral of the story is that we should not take Natasha too seriously.
Putin Quietly Signals He Is Open to a Cease-Fire in Ukraine (The New York Times, December 22, 2023)
THE HIGH PRICE OF LOSING UKRAINE: THE MILITARY THREAT AND BEYOND (December 22, 2023, ISW Press)