Another seance with the ghost of Cardinal Richelieu explains Putin’s objectives in Ukraine: Russia will ruin and depopulate Ukraine, the way Richelieu reduced large parts of Germany to cannibalism during the Thirty Years War. Shortly after I conjured the spirit of Europe’s greatest (and nastiest) strategist, the Telegram channel of Russia’s most fanatic nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin, featured the item below:

NATO says the military phase of the conflict in Ukraine is far from over. Of course, no one will let Zelensky make peace.

Ukraine is not a subject, but an object, where the Zelensky regime is not an actor, but a tool.

“Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the intentions of the enemy and use the period of the military phase of the operation to continue the methodical destruction of the military infrastructure of Ukraine, and taking into account NATO’s course of prolonging the conflict, it is advisable to consider moving on to the destruction of industrial facilities in the territories of Ukraine that lie outside our interests, especially paying attention to those objects that Ukraine, for obvious reasons, will not be able to restore. Later, such a convenient opportunity to complete the deindustrialization of Ukraine may not present itself.

“An opportunity to complete the deindustrialization of the Ukraine.” Putin isn’t defeated, or baffled, or confused. He’s turning the crank on the meatgrinder. One doesn’t have to read too far into these lines to conclude that Putin hoped that Zelensky would cut a deal on his terms once Russia invaded, but when Zelensky refused to cut a deal, Putin moved to Option B, which is to erase most of Ukraine from the face of the earth. That’s not as difficult as it sounds. Putin will keep the bits he wants in the Southeast (Donetsk and Luhansk), leave the West to factory farming, and pound the rest to rubble with artillery and air power.

Ukraine’s notional population of 45 million had fallen to just 33 million by 2020, because half the working-age population left. Another 5 million refugees have fled, and millions more will leave before Russian cannon fall silent. There won’t be enough working-age Ukrainians left to begin reconstruction. Putin claimed Feb 23 that the West intended to turn Ukraine into a NATO missile platform with a 300-mile distance to Moscow. If he can’t get Ukraine to accept neutrality with Russian control over its southeast provinces, he’ll eliminate the threat Richelieu-style.

It’s horrible. But what’s going to stop Putin? To flatten Ukrainian cities, all the Russians need is artillery. All the Javelin anti-tank missiles in the world won’t do any good.

Meanwhile, Putin’s popularity is at 78% according to independent polls that Western analysts think are accurate, the ruble has climbed back to just about where it traded before the invasion, and the Russian economy is doing “better than you think,” according to the London Economist. Biden bragged that the US had reduced “the ruble to rubble.” He spoke too soon. He declared that Putin “can’t stay in power.” Looks like he can and he will. China’s sitting on the sidelines enjoying the show, and India, which refused to support sanctions against its longstanding ally Russia, will sell the Russians consumer goods.

US officials can scream all they want about Russian “war crimes” (I don’t know the facts and take no position on whether war crimes were committed or not). I think that Putin is a bad guy and that the Russian invasion was a wicked enterprise. But but Putin isn’t going anywhere, Russia isn’t collapsing, and the Russian Army is demolishing Ukraine.

What, then, does the Biden Administration do next? Russia outguns us in nuclear weapons (and can deliver them from submarines firing hypersonic cruise missiles underwater). We don’t want a nuclear confrontation with Russia.

That’s why I signed this statement calling for de-escalation of the conflict sponsored by Compact Magazine, founded by my friends Sohrab Ahmari and Matthew Schmidtz. Biden, Blinken, Nuland et. al. have led us into a dead-end crisis that threatens to have a horrifying outcome–and maybe even a nuclear fireball. If you think I’m exaggerating, read this Asia Times analysis by editor-in-chief Uwe Parpart and myself. There’s still time to back out of the cul-de-sac. But not a lot.
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