Thoughts on Ukraine, Part 6: Mutual Destruction?

Figure King Cobra and Python fight to both of their deaths. Source: screen shot from

War is pretty stupid when you think about it. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, showed how nations could trade to their mutual benefit. Yet nations just seem to go on warring, sometimes to their mutual destruction, like the python and the king cobra above. I thought about this as I read the news stories about the Russian strike on the largest nuclear plant in Europe. What were they thinking? They saw Chernobyl and understand the consequences of a damaged plant leaking radiation. Broadly speaking, this could be:

  • An accident. Russia did not mean to strike the plant. Orders got confused, or they had poor targeting.
  • A calculated risk. The Russians decided they understood the plant’s structure and could take it and cripple Ukraine badly without significant damage to the plant and nuclear leakage.
  • Blind rage lashing out in a desperate move to salvage an increasingly critical situation.

I suspect we can rule out the first bullet. I suspect the Russians understand the concept of Restricted Fire Areas and have a modicum of fire control systems. An accident is possible, but highly unlikely. So it potentially depends on who and what you read to decide between options 2 and 3. Russian objectives and capabilities drive the choice between 2 and 3.

Most analysts in the west seem to think Russia is struggling and their inability to capture key cities and long convoys of stacked vehicles shows their logistical problems; little airpower shows their inability to synchronize operations; and their overall performance shows a lack of training and leadership. A few naysayers, however, think Russia has the situation quite under control and events are unfolding as they planned.

Prudent military planning principles tell us we should look at the most likely and the most dangerous courses of action, or perhaps in this case scenarios.

The most dangerous scenario is Russia’s intent is to take over Ukraine, or at least the most valuable resource areas as discussed in Part 2. Now I understand there are some analysts that think Putin has some mental stability problems, but I will assume for this scenario that he is rational and acts more or less by the tenets of the Rational Actor Theory/Model. Russia can do this in one of three ways.

  • They can install a puppet regime that operates according to Russian mandates. In this sub-scenario, Russian companies buy the Ukrainian assets and the puppet regime facilitates their purchase. Nominally and to most appearances, Ukraine is an independent state, which could lower the possibility of an insurgency. Life would go on as usual for average Ukrainians.
  • They can annex the resource rich portions of Ukraine and leave a rump Ukrainian state along the lines of Vichy France.
  • They can annex all of Ukraine and absorb it into Russia.

Options 2 and 3 risk an insurgency that Russia may not contain. The insurgency could cost Russia far more than they could gain.

I am going to walk on the wild side a moment on the most dangerous course of action. Remember, it may not be likely, but it is dangerous. I have a series on Corporatism that looks at a potential Corporatism model and future for the US. What if what see in Ukraine is a step in a global rollout of a corporatist structure that interlocks corporatist governments in at least the developed world?

Traders and multinational corporations (MNC) pulling out of Russia or at least suspending operations argue against it. However, both Russia and China are corporatist states already. Russia is a kleptocratic flavor and China is a fascist flavor, but they are both corporatist and use state-owned corporations to further their objectives. Ukraine could be the first step in a more complex campaign plan coordinated by the two corporatist states.

Follow-on parts will look at these two scenarios and sub-scenarios.

For the moment, let us return to our king cobra and python. How could they kill each other? Perhaps:

  • Russian destroys Ukrainian cities and infrastructure trying to take it. More adventures like the nuclear plant could do it.
  • Oligarchs in Russia see both a crisis and an opportunity and arrest/kill Putin and take control and force a “favorable” settlement with Ukraine that lets the oligarchs buy Ukrainian assets and resources.
  • The west’s sanctions cripple the west and the Russians, leaving an opportunity for the Chinese to go after both. Perhaps they are crocodile watching the two snakes fight it out to take them both.

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