See update below
1) Michael Schwirtz, “Russian Troops in Final Stages of Readiness Add to Worries for Ukraine; Though the Kremlin’s intentions are unclear, Ukrainian officials are newly worried about the Crimean Peninsula, where Russia has deployed 10,000 additional troops, they said,” New York Times, February. 4, 2022 (updated Feb. 5, 2022, 7:49 a.m. ET);
2) Karen DeYoung, Dan Lamothe, John Hudson and Shane Harris, “Russia could seize Kyiv in days and cause 50,000 civilian deaths in Ukraine, U.S. assessments find; Up to 5 million people likely to flee if Russia invades,” Washington Posr February 4, 2022 (12:56 a.m. EST, updated February 5 at 7:35 p.m. EST).
Although this story is stated to have been published on February 4, 2022 at 12:56 a.m., and updated 7:35 p.m.February 5, it was not prominently displayed in the digital edition until it was updated at 7:35 p.m. EST. The Observer did not see it until now, after the following article was written.
This appears to be the handiwork of the Children Editors. See, “Update (January 30, 2022): The “Children Editors” at the Washington Post and the New York Times,” The Trenchant Observer, January 30, 2022.
While the White House gets cute with words, few news reports (as of 3:00 p.m. EST on February 5) are describing in detail developments on the ground in and around Ukraine. A notable exception to this limited news reporting is provided by Michael Schwirtz in his dispatch of February 4, 2022, updated on Saturday morning, February 5, in the New York Times (see above), and the article in the Washington Post cited above, which has only recently been prominently dispayed in the online edition.
The Wall Street Journal has not seen fit, in the last few days. to publish current articles by their outstanding military correspondent, Michael R. Gordon. The fact that they haven’t raises questions about the experience and expertise of their editors, and the extent to which newspapers feel any obligation to inform decision makers, as opposed to simply publishing whatever they think their readers want to read.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was hiding out of sight last week, dodging questions about his stand vis-à-vis Russia. He hid to such an extent that German newspapers began comparing him to the “Where is Waldo?” game. “Wo ist Scholz?”, the chorus rang out. With Russia threatening by its troop deployments to invade Ukraine, we might similarly ask of the Wall Street Journal’s editors, “Where is Michael R. Gordon?” Indeed, “Wo ist Michael?”
Update The Wall Street Journal has just published an article by Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon, after this aricle was originally published.
Nancy A. Youssef and Michael R. Gordon”Russia Military Buildup Near Ukraine Grows, Heightening U.S. Concern; Thousands of civilians would be killed or wounded if Russia continues adding to forces and mounts all-out attack, U.S. assessments show,” Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2022 (9:20 p.m. EST).
In the meantime, the White House, after Biden’s repeated statements that he believed a Russian invasion of Ukraine was likely, on Friday decided to eschew the use of the word “imminent”, after being criticized by Russia for using that word at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, January 31. Having gotten the U.S. Ambassador to walk back her Monday statement (undoubtedly cleared by the White House in advance) that an invasion was “imminent”, U.S. officials repeated their frequent–almost rote–statement that Putin had not yet decided whether to invade or not.
All of these nuances suggest the White Hause has fallen under the sway of wordsmiths who think these fine nuances in wording, and responding to Russian criticisms, will somehow affect Putin’s decisions.
In any event, why are U.S. officials making such assertions when they have absolutely no way of knowing what Putin, who is a skilled practitioner of strategic deceit, is actually thinking or may have decided?
Indeed, repeating this assertion, whatever misguided illusions they may have of affecting Putin’s decisions, may have the nefarious effect of causing people to let down their guard, precisely at a moment when it should be raised on high alert.
When the history of the present Ukraine crisis is written, it is highly unlikely that historians will find that the U.S. decision not to use the word “imminent” had any positive effect.
The actual U.S. position remained, after all the semantics, that while the Russian invasion was not “imminent”, it could take place at any time.
Historians may recall how Leonid Brezhnev and the Soviet Union allowed false hopes of de-escalation to flourish, just before they sent Russian and Warsaw Pact tanks and troops across the border into Czechoslovakia to overthrow the autonomous Communist government of Alexander Dubček, on August 20, 1968.
The bottom line
While a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be “imminent”, and while Putin according to U.S. sources may not have made a decision to invade, Russian military forces are continuing their build-up along the Russian and Belarusian borders with Ukraine, in apparent preparation for an invasion which U.S. officials warn “could take place at any moment”.
February 5, 2022
9:34 p.m. EST
The information in the latest dispatch from the Washington Post is truly alarming.
The problem with a deterrence strategy that does not work is that it fails to deter the catastrophe it was designed to prevent. This is axiomatic. But we need to think about it, deeply, and imagine what might happen after Russia launches a major ground war in Europe. How will the war end?
We need a deterrence strategy commensurate with the threatened harm. We need to think much more deeply about that threatened harm, and the possible courses events could take.
The current deterrence strategy of the U.S. and NATO is a weak strategy, a “maybe it will work” strategy.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to work.
There are no precedents that come to mind where the use of force was deterred in the face of such a massive military build-up by the threat of economic sanctions.
What can be done?
The answer is far from clear, particularly when the wheels of war have been engaged to such an extent on the Russian side, and the machinery of decision-making among the coalition that opposes Putin is so cumbersome.
It is now evident that the U.S. and NATO countries made a grave error when they announced that the use of force to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine was “off the table”. This was an error which has made Putin’s calculations simple compared to what they would have been had there been uncertainty about the potential response by NATO and other countries to a Russian invasion.
Putin is a megalomaniac, who wants to remake the world through the threat and use of military power.
He is probably convinced that he can beat Biden in a nuclear showdown. That, indeed, may be the source of his supreme boldness and self-confidence.
We may be in the gravest military crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, or even when the allies faced Adolf Hitler’s armies during World War II.
How will it all end? It could all end in a flash, and if it does it will be the last flash you will ever see.
The U.S., NATO, and the rest of the world need to pull out all the stops to ensure that we never see that flash.
The Trenchant Observer