What I worry about

by on February 28, 2014 at 6:14 am in Current Affairs, History, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

For Russia, matters in Ukraine are close to an existential crisis, as Ukraine is intimately tied up with Russia’s sense of itself as presiding over a mini-empire of sorts.  Nor could an autocratic Russia tolerate a free and prosperous Ukraine, developing along the lines of Poland.  America cares about Ukraine less, and cares more about Syria and Iran, or at least cares about saving face in those latter venues.  Therefore there is a Coasean deal to be had between America and Russia, where Russia gets to partition part of Ukraine, create a buffer against Europeanization and democratization, keep the larger Ukraine unit weak, and also keep its Black Sea fleet.  In turn Russia would do something less than totally sabotage all American plans for Syria and Iran.  (Of course that is Coasean for the leaders, and not necessarily for the citizenries.)

The thing is…China.  What kind of signal would such a Coasean deal of partition send to China?

That is what I worry about.

1 Kristian February 28, 2014 at 6:47 am

I don’t immediately get what Coasean deal is, and how it relates. Is it to do with the Coase theorem?

2 Ray Lopez February 28, 2014 at 7:35 am

@ Kristian, you need to bone up on theory because in the comments section of Marginal Revolution the big boys play; besides the 1%-er, high IQ guys like me.

A Coasean deal is defined by Wikipedia, and in this case, the partition of Ukraine does not matter to the rest of the world leaders, but it does matter to world GDP, as TC states.

A corollary of what TC talks about was once floated in the 1980s in a military journal I read that later got traction: the deal was the Polish leaders were preventing Solidarity from achieving democracy due to their own vested interests in preserving power, not because of anything else, so it was proposed that if the leaders could be given a whole lot of money (I recall a figure of $100B was mentioned, back when that was real money) in exchange for them to allow Poland to leave the Soviet Union*. So between leaders of countries this is Coasean, and, in the case of Poland, it would be a net win for world GDP if Poland turns away from a command-and-control economy (assuming Russia did not invade, Hungary/Czech style).

*Gorbachev’s ‘bungling’ a few years later made the Polish proposal moot.

3 Chris February 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

I can be whatever I want on the internet too!

4 john personna February 28, 2014 at 10:46 am

I love the transition from 1%-er to “what I read on Wikipedia.” Well played.

5 davidwho February 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

I’m beginning to suspect that “Ray Lopez” is a joke persona, dreamed up by some genius to satirize the self-important commenters on this site.

6 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 11:37 am

Very strong possibility, but the base case is he’s just a douche.

7 Ray Lopez February 28, 2014 at 11:52 am

@msgkings–I own you troll. You are obsessed by me, since you know you will never equal me. A good looking 1%-er who has a high IQ–don’t you wish you were hot like me? Now go eat your overpriced Chinese food at the Staples Center and enjoy the trivial ice hockey game while I solve another hard problem for a client and get paid.

8 john personna February 28, 2014 at 11:54 am

A better choice would be Ord Noodles 2 in Panorama City.

9 john personna February 28, 2014 at 11:55 am
10 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm

Yes, you have vanquished me. You are clearly not a douche.

11 athEIst February 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

david who… Full stop between “joke’ and “persona” delete from “persona” on.

12 CMc February 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The comments section of this blog were was almost equal to the posts themselves but have since, and increasingly, become full of this drivel. It’s a real shame.

If you wanna help someone out, just help them out. If you wanna blow horns, blow them in with a worthwhile original contribution. Don’t bang on about your intellect and then cite Wikipedia as your source of knowledge on that point. I feel terrible that I have to make this kind of comment butI am sure there are others that feel the same (if they’ve not entirely abandoned the comment section yet.

In other words, don’t be a wanker

13 CMc February 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I’ve now realised that this is an obvious troll. Yet it is uncomfortably near many comments I read hear nowadays which are not obviously trolls. Let’s all step back up a notch.

14 stalin February 28, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Marginal Revolution has audio now? I can hear the comments?

15 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Wanker (UK) = douche (US). I couldn’t agree more.

16 Nikki February 28, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Heavens, this comment section has been brimming with bona fida crazies for months, yet it’s Ray who gets all the backlash? How about we all agree that his self-infatuation is hilarious and move on to worthier causes of outrage? Of late, even basic manners have been too much to ask here, and yes, the point about the comments getting abandoned by some of those who made the entire blog worth visiting is perfectly valid. Narcissism should be the least of your headaches in this regard.

17 Anony February 28, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Ray is narcissistic enough (or at least would like to be) that if he realizes how much of an ass he looks like, he might stop. There’s probably no fixing some of the others.

18 Rob February 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

@Kristian, don’t worry. Another worthwhile lesson is that you can always identify blowhards because they need to point out their brilliance rather than letting their ideas for themselves.

19 Z February 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

Just remember that a man only good with a hammer sees all the world as a nail.

20 dearieme February 28, 2014 at 9:29 am

Will someone explain to me why it is natural, right and good that the USA views Cuba as being “in our backyard”, while it is unnatural, pernicious and bad that Russia view Ukraine similarly?

21 Axa February 28, 2014 at 9:44 am

You mean Puerto Rico? For Cuba some words come to my memory: Bay of Pigs & missile crisis. I ignore Ukraine history, I wonder if they’ve had episodes like that.

22 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 9:47 am

It’s not bad for Russia to view the Ukraine as in their back yard. It is wrong for them to invade and partition the country up.

23 Marie February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am

Our Spanish American War – type involvement with Cuba led to wrong, too, but it was during a time when the colonial powers were vying and there really wasn’t going to be self-determination. Post that, the huge commercial interests in Cuba and elsewhere were certainly wrong — not so wrong, probably, as tanks rolling through the streets of Prague but wrong enough.

But in terms of not wanting a hostile, powerful enemy to be able to launch an attach through a neighboring nation, I’d say there are two differences — one, Russia doesn’t really need to worry too much right now about a China or Germany invading through Ukraine (although historically the anxiety could still be there), it would be more like locals or terrorists, not quite the same. While it’s also unlikely Russia would invade through Cuba, at the time we were playing that phrase it was actually credible to fear that the Soviets might launch a real attack using Cuba as a base.

The other difference is that Russia has never had the luxury of being isolated from its enemies by land, while we almost always have had that. It’s something of an unfair advantage the U.S. has had, but unfair or not, I’m certainly not willing to give it up. The history of the U.S. is that any time there’s been anything like an invasion of our soil (9/11, Pearl Harbor — don’t know for something like Pancho Villa, but I’d bet then also), it’s been a shock, because the Western Hemisphere has been our little gated community, while the rest of the world has always had to contend with the possibility of troops walking over borders.

Also, Monroe Doctrine.

One last addition, post Mexican American War and Spanish American War the neighbors of the U.S. have not had to worry about our trying to occupy them. Yes, we have done a ton of manipulation and covert stuff, putting in our favorites, but it’s never amounted to the kind of wholesale takeovers and outright puppetry you see in the Eastern Bloc following WWII (and before, and not just Russia). We haven’t been clean, but we give lip service to the idea of self-determination and we’re generally too self-absorbed as a people to have any interest in swallowing our neighbors into an American empire. I think if “America” were offered a genie in a lamp that would make the hemisphere one empire under its control, it would consider that a burden and throw the lamp away. If “Russia” were offered the same, would it not take the offer? Of course, you can argue that “America” already got what it wanted with Manifest Destiny.

That’s my superficial take on the question, at least.

24 Z February 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

I’m not sure why Tyler deleted my previous response, but here it is again. The Russians have a greater claim to the Ukraine than America has on Cuba. The Russians have good reason to want Ukraine as a barrier to the West. Look at the lovely things that rolled across the Ukraine on their way to Russia starting with Napoleon.

25 Locke February 28, 2014 at 11:05 am

@Z What about what the Ukraine wants?

26 mm February 28, 2014 at 11:16 am

you mean we should, at the present time, get to dictate Cuba’s gov’t? B/c your implication is we should let Putin control the Ukraine just as we get to control Cuba, except we clearly don’t control Cuba, or Venezuela, or Nicaruaga etc. Why would Putin agree to such a deal when he has judged Obama so weak he can have Ukraine & aid Iran & Syria, & veto the missle defense shield in Europe etc.

27 derek February 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

Sure, and the Soviets went about putting missiles there because it was in the US’ back yard.

The question is whether letting Putin take the Ukraine by force will be a repeat of many other expansionary empire builders as the first step, Poland next, or whether he will to home to sort out corruption problems and get his economy working at full capacity.

I know which way I’d bet.

28 alex February 28, 2014 at 6:54 am

Interesting. I hadn’t thought of this bargain. But I think you’re wrong to worry about signals to the Chinese. Surely they already know that international politics often rests on dirty bargains.

29 Z February 28, 2014 at 8:58 am

I think Tyler gives our deep state guys far too much credit. Sending a simpleton like John Kerry around the world is a signal that we are not serious. That’s not the intent, but it is what is received. I think the real broker will be Germany. They know how the great game is played and they are good at it. They don’t want to finance the rebuilding of Ukraine. They do want better gas deals from Russia. It is not hard to see how a bargain can be reached. The question is how much damage US buffoonery will do to their ability to negotiate with Russia.

30 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 9:57 am

IE The Germans might support a heavier Russian influence in the Ukraine, though probably not outright control, in exchange for a guarantee of relatively stable natural gas prices?

Yes, I could see the desire for that on the part of the Germans, but I don’t see that they have the power. Sure they can heavily influence the EU’s political policy, but it’s not like they can bring any direct pressure to bear.

31 Z February 28, 2014 at 10:14 am

But they can finance the guys in the streets and the can supply useful intelligence to the nationalists. Russia cannot roll in the tanks and crush Ukraine. To get what they want they will need to buy off the Germans and maybe others. On another level of the chess table they will roll in the tanks to protect the Crimea. The fear of escalation, possibly bringing a shooting war on Germany’s border is another way to exert pressure on the EU.

I would not wager on who gets paid and how much, but in the end the Ukraine will not be a part of the EU. The Russians will never permit it.

32 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 10:53 am

“I would not wager on who gets paid and how much, but in the end the Ukraine will not be a part of the EU. The Russians will never permit it.”

It looks doubtful at this point that Crimea will be part of the EU, even a satellite area. But I still think it’s possible that the Ukraine minus Crimea might be.

33 Alexei Sadeski February 28, 2014 at 12:44 pm

If it were only Germany/EU bargaining with Putin, and not the US, then the Russian tanks would have rolled into Ukraine long ago.

34 Squarely Rooted February 28, 2014 at 6:55 am

Of course a divide is a more complex cultural and linguistic thing than is often presumed: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-east-west-divide/25279292.html

35 Jan February 28, 2014 at 7:42 am

Yes. Get out of the big cities in the East and you’ve got mostly ethnic Ukrainias who speak Ukrainian. Crimea is going to be the real problem. The industrial East will not soon fall back into Russia’s loving arms, even if the guns on the border are very very big.

36 DJF February 28, 2014 at 7:07 am


Yes the path to democratization is to overthrow a democratic elected government because they did not sign a association agreement with the EU, an organization which avoids democracy whenever it gets in their way.

How about democratization being waiting until the next election and voting them out if they don’t sign agreement you want signed?

37 Curt Doolittle February 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

Because the people suffer terribly from a corrupt and predatory givernment the likes if which is difficult to imagine without living here and seeing it every day.

Beautiful news: they disbanded their equivalent if the I R S today after determining that corruption was so pervasive that they would have to build it over from scratch.

I love these people.

38 Andao March 2, 2014 at 10:34 am

The guy got elected promising to promote the EU agreement. Then he turned around and wanted to sell out to Russia for $15 billion, essentially throwing away the EU deal for who knows how long. So people protested.

Then Yanukovich’s own party in parliament voted him out of office.

Waiting until 2015 might have made the Russia-Ukraine relationship irreversible.

39 P A March 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm


40 John Galt III February 28, 2014 at 7:14 am

“American plans for Syria and Iran…” This is your joke of the day right? Obama has no clue what he is doing in either of these countries. His foreign policy is in a shambles. Try reading foreign newspapers instead of watching MSNBC or perusing Kim Kardashian Twitter feed for news. These papers in Europe and Asia have all given up on the Community Organizer.

41 Marie February 28, 2014 at 8:49 am

Good, but I think the joke of the day might be “America. . . cares about saving face”.

42 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 10:01 am

I wouldn’t describe the Obama Administrations foreign policy as a shambles. I’d call it reactionary or possibly even incoherent.

43 Jay February 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Is there a difference between shambles and incoherent? Both imply a certain (high) level of ineptitude.

44 Rob42 February 28, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Shambles implies there was once a coherent, organized plan that then fell apart. Incoherent is more accurate in that there never was a coherent foreign policy by this adminsitration.

45 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Yes, bring back the glory days of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld ‘coherence’

46 TMC February 28, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Not optimal, but certainly better.

47 Mr. Econotarian February 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Who has a solid plan for Syria? Do we want the totalitarians to win or the jihadists to win? Sounds like a lose-lose to me. It is in both sides self-serving interest to commit genocide. It isn’t like they are going to adopt a libertarian paradise – everyone in Syria wants a strong government to steal from the people for the economic benefit of their own tribe.

48 guest March 1, 2014 at 1:23 am

Whatever stick works best to beat Obama. Obama intervenes “OBAMA MUSLIM JOINS FUNDAMENTALISTS LIKE WE ALWAYS KNEW!” Obama doesnt interfere “SPINELESS OBAMA EMBOLDENS OUR FOES”
keyboard warriors always happy to send the American underclass to die in some desert so their self worth can be pumped up over the internet.

49 msgkings March 1, 2014 at 11:50 am


50 uffs February 28, 2014 at 6:57 pm

“Shambles” compared to what? Another country specifically or America a decade ago or, perhaps, a century ago? Platonic foreign policy maybe?

Put up or shut up.

51 Sergey Kurdakov February 28, 2014 at 7:25 am

what is really amazing for me reading american blogs, that two facts emerge

1) there is tendency to equate Putin clique and Russia/russians – I find it’s somewhat offending, but then who cares?

2) nd while it is difficult to deny that americans understand some facts about russian ukranian relationships, but still they naturally lack an understanding of subtle context ( they never lived for long with either ukranians and russians and on a deviding line between these two populations, nor read much historical books ( even in English ) about what went in Ukranian/Russian history) but never shy to ignore it

in effect that results that all those blogging americans now greatly help to realize Putin ambitions ( which are not dreams of russians in any sense of what russians want) and
I wonder – why do they do that?

52 Non Papa February 28, 2014 at 7:34 am

Re: the subtle context, I’m curious which parts of Ukrainian/Russian shared history you consider especially salient in current crisis.

53 Sergey Kurdakov February 28, 2014 at 7:59 am

>I’m curious which parts of Ukrainian/Russian shared history

ok let’s take Europe’s Steppe Frontier, 1500-1800 by William H. McNeill : much territory of current Ukraine was uninhabited in middle ages ( McNeill explains why ) and after russians closed steppe frontiers, those territories were populated by forceable relocation of russian peasants, which got local lords from cossacks. this process resulted that a lot of current ukranians are genetically russians, but with Ukrainian identity due to elite domination; then Crimea was also populated by russian peasants, just there were no local lords, so those new inhabitants retained russian identities. Is it subtle enough? Quite so, because if Crimea is so sensitive due to ‘russian population’ why not to claim all ukranian steppe zone?

or in 90s most population of Ukraine claimed ‘soviet’ identity. Does that really indicate any real ‘split’ among ukranians and russians that there is need to live in separate countries?

or who are most active ‘nationalists’? they are mostly from small towns and villages. Yes ukraine is quite rural relative to other parts of former USSR, but the vision of rural people which equate their village identity with split between russians/ukranians as a real split between russians and ukrainians – is too much of a stretch.

Just from personal experience – I had few ukranian programmers in my team who were from ukranian countryside – they readily spoke russian and worked with russians. but then a village custom to blame ‘moscals’ ( as they call russians ) for all bad things – just made them now active nationalists who chant slogans against russians ( even disregarding that those real ‘moscals’ were kind to them and really helped them when Ukraine was at most difficult times in 90s/00s ( still those guys clearly understand that and have no problem with me or other former coworkers – they just enjoy blaming some imagined ‘moscals’ – that is ok, but it is not a real reason to split a country because – there is no real antagonism with real ‘moscals’ there is just a fantasy among some people of who are those ‘moscals’ are )).

54 bmcburney February 28, 2014 at 6:35 pm

Strange, I am suddenly overcome by a desire to invade Canada.

55 guest March 1, 2014 at 1:27 am

Ukraine is more urbanized than Russia. Crimea had a majority Crimean Turks before Soviet era saw their population decline and then the final ethnic cleansing by Stalin.
As for personal experiences: every Russian I met is an incompetent alcoholic, except the ones who escaped to the West. Which one are you?

56 Sergey Kurdakov March 1, 2014 at 6:37 am


>Ukraine is more urbanized than Russia

this is easy to check at wikipedia
Russia 74% urban, 26% rural
Ukraine 67.2% urban, 32.8% rural

this data is in English wikipedia

>Crimea had a majority Crimean Turks before Soviet era

russians were majority in Crimea since end of XiX century, together with ukranians they were majority since approx middle of XiX century ( this data is russian wikipedia )

>As for personal experiences: every Russian I met is an incompetent alcoholic, except the ones who escaped to the West. Which one are you?

it is just that you cannot make any distinctions at all, most probably even not human, but bot

57 Curt Doolittle February 28, 2014 at 9:23 am

How about the fact that Stalin murdered ten million of them via intentional starvation the “holodomor” – the ukrainian holocaust?

Or how about that they prop up the corrupt puppet regime and prevent Ukrainians from joining the EU in the hope that they will, like their neighbors, be able to escape universal corruption, predation, and poverty?

Russia can pivot against corruption and build an empire easily. But they cannot build an empire without first eradicating the slavic preference for corruption.

But its pretty hard to argue that, as much as I live them, russia under putin is good for anyone other than Russians.

58 mishka February 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hate to tell ya, but Stalin and Beriya were no more Russians then Mao Ze Dong ever was. They were Georgians. And Russians (and all other nations) suffered just as badly, ask anyone from Rostov region (Cossack country).

59 Ray Lopez February 28, 2014 at 7:39 am

Privet Sergey! And you my friend are just the right person to educate us ignorant Americans. Please make it short, as our attention spans are limited.

Fun fact: Ukraine GDP = $176B for a population of 45M; compare to Greece, which is considered a basket case of Europe, with a GDP of $249B and a population of 11M.

60 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 7:54 am

Yikes! Remember Spinal Tap?

That puts things in perspective.

Too much f***ing perspective.

61 Thomas February 28, 2014 at 8:20 am

Ah Ray, you are so cute. It is always nice to meet a stereotype for real.
I was reading yesterday on Quora about the most annoying American traits. One of them was that Americans can’t take any criticism from a foreigner. They feel immediately personnaly offended and then usually resort to ad hominem attacks.
It’s so cool to witness a real life example of what I just read yesterday!

62 It's Over February 28, 2014 at 9:09 am

We’re not all Ray Lopez, I promise.

63 mofo. February 28, 2014 at 9:32 am


64 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 9:22 am

I interpreted Ray’s request as basically sincere, if delivered in typical Ray Lopez fashion.

The criticism was that we don’t know what we’re talking about. I’d say Americans will generally cop to this when the subject is what’s going on halfway around the world.

Anyway, Non Papa made a similar request, and Sergey responded, and now we have more data (or at least anecdota.) See how that works.

If Ray’s request was a bit irreverent, it may have had to do with Sergey’s theory that American bloggers are enabling Russia policy here.

65 Urso February 28, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Of course the original original settlers of the Crimea were Greek (Byzantine) traders, so maybe this is all Greece’s fault after all.

66 Michael February 28, 2014 at 7:45 am

Ah yes, Putin could never have got to power if it weren’t for all of those meddling naive American bloggers! Get real.

67 Jan February 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

The dreams of Russians are about increasing standard of living, no? At least that seems to be the most important dream. That increase is slowing in Russia and so now Putin is slightly more pressed, and therefore more authoritarian. That’s what I understand about Russians in Russia. I don’t know much about Russians in Ukraine. If I’m not mistaken, the Russians in the East of Ukraine never starved. Can you fill me in on the rest?

68 Sergey Kurdakov February 28, 2014 at 10:57 am

>Can you fill me in on the rest?

no, that will not help. because the story of holodomor is highly politicized and has not clear neutral interpretation.

Putin will be pressed is americans moves faster with electric cars and new ways to generate energy, rather that discussions how to split Ukraine.

Russians of cause dream to increase standards of living and there are ways to do that: world needs more specialists. Russia is a country, which has excess of specialists relative to income level ( much higher percent of highly educated people than in Mexico, Turkey or any other comparable by PPP/person ratio – and this is given that Russia exports huge amount of hydrocarbons, so talent pool is even more underutilized ) and the way to meet needs – to have open, democratic Russia. But for some – it is better to consider not a ways to make Russia more democratic, but rather how to make nice deals with dictator.

As for pressed Putin – he attained such a degree of autonomy, so he is rather not pressed by population ( if only they would revolt as in Ukraine). People are easily jailed for descent here and police is much more ready to use any force than it was in Ukraine. And the only realistic thing which can rise income – to become more open society is a tabu for Putin, because is just against authoritarianism he created with so much effort for the past 10 years.

69 Alexei Sadeski February 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm

You missed this part of Tyler’s post?

>Of course that is Coasean for the leaders, and not necessarily for the citizenries.

70 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 7:28 am

I imagine China already gets that we’re an indebted, polyglot mess that’s a few decades from its own crack-up.

71 8 February 28, 2014 at 8:28 am

Average Chinese people hold that opinion. The ones who don’t, don’t realize the extent of the non-native population. Once they see the percentages, they say, “America will decline, America will have big problems.” They see U.S. policies as a giant anchor.

72 chuck martel February 28, 2014 at 8:51 am

The opinion of the average Chinese people? There is such a thing on this particular subject? And it’s homogeneous? And even if, in the unlikely event that such a thing could be true, what would it’s significance be? Would knowing this average opinion influence anything an ordinary American would think or do? How much analysis have they done of “U.S. policies”? Most Americans haven’t done much of an analysis of those policies, whatever they are, but the average Chinese is right on top of them? Your comment is beneath the level of BS.

73 8 February 28, 2014 at 10:30 am

Not “the” average Chinese people. Just average (educated) Chinese people. The kind you meet in daily life and chat with, if you live in China. Anti-Gnostic said “I imagine;” I have met Chinese people who have said similar things (those with less hyperbole), so my hunch is the he is not imagining things.

74 Ricardo February 28, 2014 at 11:38 am

Then why are they buying bonds with decades-long maturities?

75 carolopln February 28, 2014 at 2:00 pm

A: To suppress the value of the renmimibi.

76 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 11:47 am

‘I imagine xxx already gets yyy’ = ‘I think that yyy’

And A-G, we know what you think. Believe me, we know.

77 uffs February 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Your statement is a joke.

78 Andao March 2, 2014 at 10:39 am

The line at the US Consulate in Guangzhou is mighty mighty long every day. Judging by immigration trends, it’s safe to assume those who can get out, do get out.

79 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 7:40 am

‘Nor could an autocratic Russia tolerate a free and prosperous Ukraine, developing along the lines of Poland.’

And 25 years ago, that sentence would have read – ‘Nor could a communist Soviet Union tolerate a free and prosperous Poland, developing along the lines of Western Europe.’

Interesting how things change, isn’t it, as certainties are replaced by reality?

‘What kind of signal would such a Coasean deal of partition send to China?’

Does anyone seriously think that the nation that shares essentially the world’s 6th longest land border with Russia since the 17th century cares about such temporary things as how the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, the EU et al deal among themselves?

80 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 7:53 am

“Does anyone seriously think that the nation that shares essentially the world’s 6th longest land border with Russia since the 17th century cares about such temporary things as how the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, the EU et al deal among themselves?”

Huh? China doesn’t care about major geopolitical events because they have a really long border? That doesn’t make the least bit of sense. All of the evidence suggests that China is working to develop its status as a world superpower and cares greatly about what rivals such as the U.S. and E.U. are up to. The West’s willingness to strike a bargain with an autocratic bully would certainly be of interest to them.

81 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 8:02 am

How much did the Chinese care about the EU being formed and expanded?

Obviously, the Chinese care a lot about how the Russians act – but whether those Russians were czarist, communist, or whatever it is that Putin’s Russia is today is not all that more relevant whether the Chinese are imperial, republican, communist, or whatever it is the Chinese are today.

There is a point to be made about how the U.S. reacts in terms of Chinese interests – in which case, the Sudan and how America deals with that oil exporting nation is a lot more relevant to the Chinese than whatever is going on in a part of the world that doesn’t exactly interest the Chinese. Well, apart from wanting to buy some of the natural gas that Russia has been so liberally providing Ukraine, of course.

‘The West’s willingness to strike a bargain with an autocratic bully would certainly be of interest to them.’

Why? – it isn’t as if the ‘West’ doesn’t have a long tradition of dealing with autocratic bullies, including the Chinese.

82 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 8:17 am

It has been quite awhile since the West has allowed an autocratic bully to unilaterally take over some territory. If they did so, it would interest the Chinese quite a bit, I think.

83 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

Americans don’t defend their own cultural and territorial integrity. Why should they care about somebody else’s?

84 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 10:01 am

Interesting point about stable borders – the last 30 years has been pretty much about autocratic bullies losing territory to generally less autocratic successors. The Soviet Union being a case in point, Yugoslavia, or Qaddafi’s Libya in another sense (odds of Libya remaining a single country for another decade? – open to reasonable discussion, particularly as long as the oil producing regions remain committed suppliers to the West).

Which possibility do you think the Chinese leadership worry more about, especially in light of both their recent (last 2 centuries) and older history (last 25 centuries)?

85 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 10:17 am

@prior_approval, China’s leaders are working hard to make sure they don’t lose control of Tibet. And they would like to rule Taiwan. It is not at all clear what they are really thinking, though. Would they invade Taiwan if not for the vast superiority of the U.S. navy? Or are they just making noise? Are they really worried about Tibet?

A weak response to Russia may embolden them in either situation.

86 tt February 28, 2014 at 11:50 am

“It has been quite awhile since the West has allowed an autocratic bully to unilaterally take over some territory.”

Tibet ?

87 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 12:15 pm

@tt–1950 is quite awhile ago. Also, this happened while we were fighting a major war.

88 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

+1 great comment.

89 Plamus February 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

One word: Taiwan.

90 Finch February 28, 2014 at 10:03 am

Plamus, this is the most important comment on here.

Though militarily it would be much easier to oppose a Chinese attack on Taiwan than a Russian attack on the Ukraine. The Chinese Navy would last a couple of hours against the US Seventh Fleet.

It would be pretty funny, in a sad kind of way, if Obama managed to get us into a shooting war with Russia.

91 Ray Lopez February 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm

@Finch – if the US goes to war against the Russians now it will be the third time, if you count the first time as just after WWI (RU civil war), and the second time as the ‘secret’ Korean war where Russians manned North Korean jets and dueled with US pilots.

92 Marie February 28, 2014 at 2:38 pm


93 Mr. Econotarian February 28, 2014 at 4:00 pm

One nuclear weapon takes out the 7th fleet…

94 Finch February 28, 2014 at 4:30 pm

First of all, no it wouldn’t. I don’t think you’ve got a clear idea of the relative scales involved.

Second of all, how is it supposed to be delivered?

Third of all, do you not think they might be a bit reluctant to take that step?

Realistically, while using nuclear weapons is about the only way China could stand up to the Seventh Fleet, it would take a lot of nuclear weapons to put a significant dent in such a large, dispersed, difficult to find, and well defended target, even assuming there is no counter-offensive.

95 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 10:10 am

Exactly this. And also the ramifications it has in other areas, such as the Spratley islands. I imagine the Chinese leadership is carefully watching and analyzing the events in the Ukraine.

How far can the West be pushed? Will the West push back or allow Putin’s Russia to dominate the outcome of events? Is the US’s foreign policy still dominant or is it reactionary to world events? Will the EU and the US policies align or will a split emerge?

96 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 10:52 am

I dunno, this sounds expensive.

I don’t see Taiwan as an issue.

As long as we’re analogizing, Northren Ireland used to be like: we don’t want to be ruled by no poor, backward theocracy.

Nowadays, the Republic of Ireland is richer and a helluva lot more secular. You would think this would undercut the arguments of Ulstermen, but, in reality, the convergence of conditions seems to have made the unification issue less pressing.

Why wouldn’t China/Taiwan play out similarly? And look at how China has handled Hong Kong anyway.

97 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

“I dunno, this sounds expensive.”

Ummm, for Taiwan? I don’t think so. And it’s not an analogy. China is watching to see what the West does in cases like this. It will apply what it learns to future actions. I’m not sure how you could think otherwise.

98 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 11:03 am

OK, so we make a stand against Russia in the majority-Russian Crimea in order to send a message to China.

Expensive in every way imaginable.

This unipolar world thing is temporary.

99 Marie February 28, 2014 at 8:07 pm

That’s an interesting comparison.

100 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 11:53 am

I thought we learned our lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan that ‘pushing back’ and ‘dominant foreign policy’ isn’t maybe the best way to go.

Finch says it’d be funny if ‘Obama’ got us into a war with Russia. Isn’t staying out of the Ukraine mess kind of our way of avoiding that very thing?

101 Finch February 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm

How much of Putin’s action in Ukraine will be guided by our recent sad showing in Iran and Syria? I don’t think we should try and fight Russia on the Ukrainian border or anything like that (*), but I do think our recent incoherence, submissiveness at the negotiating table, and generally pro-bad-guy policies have emboldened Putin. And a Russian invasion of the Ukraine that has no meaty US response will embolden China with respect to Taiwan. The recent collapse of our Middle East policy is having repercussions – that’s not exactly surprising.

Brian is right, this uni-polar world thing is temporary. But it looks like we’re in panicked retreat and not a managed draw-down. We did pretty well for more than a century in a multi-polar world by opposing the emergence of hegemony in other parts of the world – now we seem to be encouraging it.

(*) The fact that this is even up for discussion is a sign of how far we’ve fallen.

102 Alexei Sadeski February 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

The US has had a pretty effective anti-bad-guy policy in Syria.

Since both sides in that war are bad guys, the US lets them fight it out for as long as possible.

It’s one of the few lukewarm foreign policy successes of the Obama administration. He still managed to bungle the appearance of it, and almost backed himself into destroying this brilliant policy, but Putin bailed him out.

103 Finch February 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Alexei makes a fair point about Syria. But it’s pretty clear that we accidentally stumbled into the “let the body count add up” strategy, and that it wasn’t some brilliant strategic move.

104 Andao March 2, 2014 at 10:51 am

It would be pretty foolish for China to take a big lesson out of this vis a vis Taiwan. Taiwan is a solid democracy, Ukraine less so. Taiwan is much wealthier and important to the US (and world) economy than Ukraine. While an occupying Russian army might be welcomed in some parts of Ukraine, it’s extremely unlikely that the PLA would be loved by anyone in Taiwan.

At least Russia can offer gas and oil to Ukraine. What can China offer Taiwan? Tourists? Hong Kong is loving that right now.

105 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 7:51 am

OK, the Crimea is majority Russian, it was part of Russia until 1954 when “the wrong side of history” meant something else and Khrushchev handed it to Ukraine, presumably as part of the strategy of Russifying Ukraine.

Well, if Ukraine is gonna go its own way now, Russia wants to undo that. Isn’t this the equilibrium?

The question is: what, if anything, can we extract from Russia in the process?

I don’t see how China enters in to this.

106 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 8:05 am

At the point of the Russian revolution, Russians were only a third of the population, outnumbered by Crimean Tatars. However, in the USSR the Tatars were persecuted, slaughtered, faced starvation, and eventually all remaining were forcibly removed. This is the reason Crimea is majority Russian today, so it is not like Russia has a great moral claim on the region.

107 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 8:11 am

But Ukraine does? This isn’t about morality.

108 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 8:49 am

“But Ukraine does?”

Crimea did voluntarily join with a free Poland after the USSR collapsed, which counts for something. It is not a perfectly clear situation, though.

“This isn’t about morality”

Our response should be based on moral principle–ultimately, people’s right to self-determination. Of course, it isn’t always the case.

109 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 10:55 am

The problem with these universalist moral principles is that there is logically no outer bound. So we end up absurdly fighting and dying for Ukraine’s borders while at the same time lecturing our citizens that American borders merit no such consideration.

110 DJF February 28, 2014 at 8:36 am

And the reason why the Crimea Tartars were there was because they conquered the region as part of the Golden Horde

And a big reason why the Russians conquered the Crimea Tartars was because of the Tartars slave raids into Russia//Ukraine/Poland, etc.

So everyone has a history.

111 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 8:43 am

Agreed. My point wasn’t that Tatars are the rightful owners of the peninsula. My point was that we shouldn’t be resigned to Russia taking over because of a supposed historic claim.

112 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 8:55 am

But my original comment was based on a readily observed reality today. Any ‘supposed historic (sic) claim’ is window dressing.

You’re insinuating that maybe the Tatars are the rightful owners or something (not sure). Now that’s a ‘supposed historical claim.’

As far as I can tell, options for the Crimea include (1) Ukraine, (2) Russia, (3) Tatar Free State.

Put your chips down.

113 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 8:58 am

And frankly, what the West may get out of this in Realpolitick terms, is an agreement from Russia to leave the rest of SE Ukraine alone.

114 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 9:11 am

Brian, I took your original comment as “Crimea is historically Russian; therefore we should be resigned to Russia retaking the territory”, which to me implies that Russia has some sort of legitimate claim. Sorry if that was a misinterpretation.

115 Adrian Ratnapala February 28, 2014 at 9:21 am

Brian, You say you claim is based on “…readily observed reality today…” but your paragraph mentions the reality in the 1950s, and then quotes some dead dictator. Your then state “Isn’t this the equilibrium?”

Now your overall view (whatever it is) might be correct. And there might be facts observable in this millenium which support it. But you haven’t actually pointed any of facts out yet.

116 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 9:27 am


Fact 1: ” the Crimea is majority Russian”

Fact 2: “Ukraine’s claim on the Crimea is far from airtight.”

Fact 3: “Ukraine’s original title to the Crimea was predicated on a tight relationship between Russia and Ukraine.”

117 dearieme February 28, 2014 at 9:34 am

The Tatars are the Injuns in this imbroglio – is that right?

118 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 10:20 am

Crimean demographics:

Population: 1.97 million and shrinking

Russian: 58%; Ukranian 24%; Tartar: 12%

Language: technically Ukrainian, but in reality Russian (with Russian being the language of government for the province)

And as of early this morning Russian troops occupied the Crimean airports.

I think there is little chance of Crimea breaking away from Russia.

119 Chip February 28, 2014 at 8:06 am

Didn’t Russia – and by extension Iran and Syria – already get what they want in the deal with Washington?

120 andrew' February 28, 2014 at 8:26 am

China isn’t bored yet.

121 8 February 28, 2014 at 8:32 am

In turn, Russia will do nothing. America is weak and weakening. The Europeans are even working on a new Internet, as are the BRICs. Next is a new banking system to get around SWIFT.

For China, the issue is whether they are able to sit quietly or if their nationalist education started in the 1990s bites them in the ass. China is quite decentralized in many ways and their maritime departments are pushing hard into the South China Sea, while the young officers are itching to fight (Japan being the favored choice). A misstep by China would be a gift to the United States because if there’s one thing the Anglo-Saxon nations are good at and enjoy doing, it is war.

122 Curt Doolittle February 28, 2014 at 9:27 am

We are hella good at killing. Thats for sure. (VDHanson)

123 Alex' February 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

And the Chinese aren’t. For all the increases in military budget, I see a Chinese fight with Japan going the way of the First Sino Japanese War.

124 Dan Weber February 28, 2014 at 8:37 am

If Putin holds the Ukraine it stops anyone else from holding all of Europe, and it provides a buffer against invasions into the Middle East, Afghanistan (both where an opponent has already projected force), as well as Ural. It also gives you a way to reach into Scandinavia, Northern Europe, and Southern Europe. And with Palin no longer a threat, Putin doesn’t need to defend Kamchatka as much.

125 Finch February 28, 2014 at 10:14 am

Thinking long term, Russia, and everybody else, needs to be nervous about Germany.

126 8 February 28, 2014 at 10:31 am

What about the Spanish Inquisition? Nobody’s looking out for that.

127 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 11:58 am

LOL. Thread winner.

Don’t forget the wily North Vietnamese.

128 Marie February 28, 2014 at 2:39 pm


129 Marie February 28, 2014 at 2:40 pm

I’ve wondered about that lately. But sometimes I wonder about silly things. It seems nuts if you take the short view, but inevitable if you take the long one.

130 Finch February 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm

It’s obviously at least a generation away. But Russia needs to worry about China, India, and Europe. And worrying about Europe really means worrying about Germany.

131 uffs February 28, 2014 at 7:14 pm

So many jokes in the comments section today.

132 anonymous February 28, 2014 at 8:37 am

With Ukraine in Russian orbit, the Black Sea is relatively balanced: Turkey on the south and Bulgaria on the west — Ukraine in the north and with Russia on the east, along with Georgia. With Ukraine in Western orbit, the Black Sea is potentially a NATO lake.

So I think it’s as much a strategic crisis for Russia as an existential one. Any response has to take into account that Russia is (in part) responding to a real strategic threat, not just a “democracy vs autocracy” issue. That’s dangerous: Economic and commercial issues can be negotiated or financed; prestige can be soothed, moral outrage can be assuaged.

It may be that a deal such as Cowen describes is the best option. Neither the US nor NATO will intervene, the EU can not. If Russia believes that it needs to hold Crimea by any means necessary, the West is probably better off to negotiate it away for the best deal it can get, rather than to lose it to military force.

Ukraine in sort-of, kind-of, eventually talks with the EU about maybe, possible accession in a very long time was one equilibrium, especially since it is far from clear that the EU is willing or able to make further moves. Partition maybe another one.

133 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 9:51 am

‘the Black Sea is potentially a NATO lake.’

The Bosphorus, and NATO’s control of it, pretty much ensures that the Black Sea is already a lake. One the Russians are more or less welcome to putt around in to their heart’s content.

134 JWatts February 28, 2014 at 11:00 am

I agree. With the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol it remains a Russian body of water. With NATO control of the Bosphorus, it remains an isolated body of water. Geopolitically no one really cares, because it has no real effect.

135 Urso February 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm

According to wiki, the deepwater capability of the Black Sea fleet consists of one cruiser, four destroyer/frigate type ships, and a single diesel-electric submarine. Most were built in the 70s. (Of course there are also various coastal patrol ships, missile boats, minesweepers, and landing craft).

I have no doubt they outclass the Bulgarian Navy, but as a serious geopolitical force, capable of projecting power?

136 chuck martel February 28, 2014 at 1:16 pm

No doubt if Admiral Nelson or perhaps Chester Nimitz were alive today and the objective was to subjugate the Russians they’d steam the Sixth Fleet past Topkapi Palace and into the Black Sea. Seems like a pretty practical move.

137 Bill February 28, 2014 at 8:39 am

Things will evolve independently as they would have anyway, but there will be conspiracy theorists who will say that whatever happens was because of something else that was tied to it.

How can you disprove fiction?

138 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 9:22 am

There is always something else tied to everything. Conspiracy theories are just implausible claims about what is tied together.

If you think there is a conspiracy theory here, what is it?

139 Bill February 28, 2014 at 10:37 am

Read the post.

140 charlie February 28, 2014 at 8:57 am

My theory is Ukraine exists to make Poland look good.

141 B.B. February 28, 2014 at 9:00 am

Coasian deal? Or Hobbesian deal?

Let’s look at the track record of partitioning countries or regions to resolve ethnic divisions. How often is partition a win/win situation?

There is Ireland of the 1920s. Cyprus of the 1970s. Yugoslavia of the 1990s. Turkey and Armenia of the 1920s. The division of Korea in the 1940s, and the division of Vietnam also. The separation of Taiwan from China when the Nationalists evacuated mainland China in 1949, a separation that remains. The division of Palestine in 1947 remains a headache. The division of British India that created a separate India and Pakistan in the 1940s.

For that matter, the US North and South didn’t have much luck with Coasian bargains in the 1860s, nor did the American colonies and Britian do much Coasian bargaining in the 1770s.

There may be times when partition, perhaps accompanied by population exchange, is the least bad solution. But history tells me that there is nothing good or Coasian about it. Coase might say that transactions costs are infinite.

The story in Ukraine won’t end well. Partition is likely to involve both international war and civil war, and long and festering political tensions. A division like we saw in Czechoslavakia in the 1990s was a rare exception and I wouldn’t expect it to be repeated.

142 GigaNigga February 28, 2014 at 10:26 am

I don’t think this is really a fair point due to selection effects. It’s like asking what the track record of some incredibly invasive surgical procedure is. It may be true that patients have problems compared to the rest of the population, but the fact that they underwent surgery (partition) shows that they already had problems. The reference class should be countries with continued ethnic divisions that have remained whole.

143 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

Belgium? The current UK, with its Scottish independence movement (though without the Irish Republic)? Spain, with its Catalonian independence movement?

144 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:01 pm

The US, with its white people independence movement?

145 rayward February 28, 2014 at 9:06 am

Crimea is an autonomous republic, within Ukraine, and has its own constitution. Almost 60% of the population is ethnic Russian not ethnic Ukrainian. I can understand why the Crimeans would wish to break from Ukraine, or be annexed to Russia, if the Crimeans believed Crimea were about to lose its autonomy. Why doesn’t the new government in Kiev state that Crimea will remain autonomous? Silence just arouses fear among the Crimeans. The question is whether Russia wants to undo what Khruschev did in 1954 and make the Crimea part of Russia? Or make all of the Ukraine part of Russia? Ukraine has a total population of about 45 million but almost 78% are ethnic Ukrainians.

146 AIG February 28, 2014 at 4:22 pm

Ukraine has not threatened to take away Crimea’s autonomy. This is just Russia unilaterally taking an aggressive action at partitioning the country. No big surprise there.

147 Andao March 2, 2014 at 10:54 am

If they wanted so badly to be annexed by Russia, you’d think they would have held a referrendum on independence some time over the past 15 years. But thanks to the Russian invasion, there’s now no chance of a fair referendum on the issue.

148 Marcos P February 28, 2014 at 9:12 am

If Russia is able to make some sort of deal with the U.S. in regards to Ukraine/Crimea and Syria/Iran, perhaps China will try to place themselves in a similar situation in regards to Taiwan.

149 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 10:01 am

If this is what Tyler is getting at with respect to China, he should relax- the analogy is weak.

150 Curt Doolittle February 28, 2014 at 9:28 am

Great comment thread. :)

151 Marie February 28, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I kind of feel like I need to read it with a notebook and pen.
Tons here.

152 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

In the meantime, it looks like Russia is already staging its forces in Crimea, getting ready to lock down the airports. I imagine they’re busy spreading some rubles around the Crimean parliament as well.

Geographically, the country is neatly split by the Dnipro. Sovereigns tend to like their territory extended to natural boundaries.

153 Thomas DeMeo February 28, 2014 at 9:59 am

Doesn’t anyone else find the idea of making a deal with Russia like this to be morally reprehensible? Do we really want to intentionally position a country to be weak and subservient?

And yes, I know we do it all the time. But does it ever really work in the long run?

154 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 10:08 am

I find a US government that bothers itself with the cultural and territorial integrity of Ukraine while telling its own taxpayers that they need to abandon any notion of American cultural and territorial integrity to be morally reprehensible.

I could care less which gang of thugs rules that corrupt pit. They can sort out their own issues like we did.

155 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 10:18 am

Who is this “we” you speak of? Did you fight for American independence?

156 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

As I’ve pointed out to people like you before, the concept you’re eluding is “posterity.” And even if I had no hereditary connection to the folks who came over with John Wesley, then it can start with me just as well.

Most of the planet does not share your atomized, citizen-of-the-world outlook. The Ukrainians, for example, are acutely aware that if they don’t defend their unique Ukrainian space, then it will be occupied by people who will gladly make it uniquely Russian.

Americans are gnostics who think it’s all about these ethereal principles when the fight’s actually about old-fashioned blood and soil. The Tibetans realize it. Even Spike Lee complaining about hipsters in Brooklyn realizes it.

157 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 10:59 am

I am a regular reader of your blog, and I read it very carefully. Your criticisms of my worldview would make more sense if you did the same. It’s clear from your comment that you’re not talking to me. You’re talking to an idea that you describe as “people like me.” I don’t speak for the box to whom you’ve directed your comments, so I’m at a loss as to help you move this dialogue forward.

158 The Anti-Gnostic February 28, 2014 at 11:07 am

I apologize for being rude and presumptuous. I am angered though by people saying on the one hand that I am not supposed to care who crosses the borders of the US but I should be prepared to spend blood and/or treasure over who crosses the borders of Ukraine.

159 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 11:33 am

I agree that getting the US government involved in any more of these conflicts is a very bad idea. I see that as being a separate issue from immigration, but I think you make a good point that people who believe in both open borders and nation-building seemingly contradict themselves.

160 Ricardo February 28, 2014 at 11:42 am

“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

161 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Yes, A-G, because Russian troops crossing the borders of Ukraine to take the place over by force and annex it to Russia is the equivalent of poor folks of a color you don’t like crossing the borders of the US to work willingly and hard for US-based employers/citizens.

Just because you opine about what ‘the fight’s actually about’ doesn’t make it so.

162 J February 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm


Democracy and human rights and all that may be the rhetoric, but I don’t think that’s why the West is interested in Ukraine. The top brass are aware that this is about pulling Ukraine into the Western sphere and away from the Russian sphere. Generally you want your sphere to be big and everyone else’s sphere to be small because it makes you safer.

The last two centuries have been all about forming coalitions to contain France, then Germany, then Germany again along with Japan, and then the Soviet Union. We got involved to prevent the rise of regional hegemons.

If you haven’t read John Mearsheimer’s “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,” I really can’t recommend it enough. Reading that book makes me feel like I really “get” international relations, like how learning supply and demand theory makes you feel like you “get” economics.

163 Mr. Econotarian February 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Great idea, any Ukrainians who want to leave to avoid the Russian annexation should be allowed to immigrate to the US. Now that’s a bargain!

164 Thomas DeMeo February 28, 2014 at 10:43 am

RPLong – OK, read “the U.S.” instead of “we”. What’s your point?

165 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

@ Thomas – My point is that it’s easy to say “we” when talking about sacrifices that one doesn’t have to make oneself. “We” fought the British tyrants and “we” won. No, we didn’t. It’s important to remember this when looking at someone else’s political violence from afar. They’re engaged in a physical conflict that Americans have little right to sneer at if we’re sneering because we hold the notion that “we” somehow already conquered those demons and now it’s “their” turn.

166 Thomas DeMeo February 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

RPLong – Could you do me a favor? Please re-read my original post. Then re-read your response to The Anti-Agnostic – only pretend that I wrote it to you.

167 RPLong February 28, 2014 at 11:30 am

Thomas – I liked your original comment, even if I’m not totally sure what policy action you favor (which I may or may not agree with). But my comment was a response to A-G. It was not a comment directed at you. I’m sorry for the confusion.

168 ladderff February 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

or could an autocratic Russia tolerate a free and prosperous Ukraine, developing along the lines of Poland.

Scorecard: “autocratic” : “mean”, “free” : “has close elections”, “prosperous” : “see ‘free'”.

That all of this is taken for granted discredits whatever else was said.

169 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 10:35 am

The evidence that people are more prosperous and enjoy more freedoms under representative government is overwhelming. Never mind that self-determination is widely believed to be a right of all people, making autocratic government bad by definition.

Things that are believed by nearly everyone are generally taken for granted, not for sinister reasons but because it is a waste of time to discuss things that are already agreed. If you disagree, it is not sufficient to simply point this out; you actually have to make an argument about why widespread assumptions are wrong.

170 ladderff February 28, 2014 at 11:32 am

Oh, I agree that it’s a waste of time, or else it’s entertainment. Good to be able to tell the difference.

Here’s an argument: a process (counting millions of votes) in which participation is itself irrational is not terribly likely to produce a rational result. This is not a deductive proof of course: consultation with oracle bones may produce effective government, but there’s no reason up front to assume as much. So, your treasured widespread assumptions are wrong, and a great deal of suffering has resulted from them. Cf. India, a vast human tragedy and a thoroughly democratic one. How’s Egypt doing these days?

Your self-determination is a joke. You do what the government you happen to live under tells you to do, same as me and same as everyone else everywhere. We should get on our knees and beg Vladimir Putin, or the Queen, or Chuck Norris to rule us sensibly. You’d rather play on a slot machine that never pays off every November 2nd.

That all of this is taken for granted discredits whatever else was said.

171 dan1111 February 28, 2014 at 11:56 am

Chuck Norris? If only…

172 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:16 pm

The ultimate philosopher-king

173 ladderff February 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Colonel Sanders beats what we’ve got.

174 Prior Probability February 28, 2014 at 10:34 am

Question for Tyler Cowen: Was the Munich Agreement of 1938 also a Coasean deal?

If so, we have just falsified the Coase Theorem, for the partition of Czeckoslovakia (annexation of the Sudetenland) not only failed to avert war, it may have led to it by fueling Germany’s territorial ambitions

175 Ray Lopez February 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

@ Prior Probability – “may” is the operative word. There’s at least one UK historian–and I tend to agree with him–that has said the appeasement of Hitler by Chamberlain was reasonable under the circumstances, given the assumption was that Hitler was rational (he was not, as evidenced by his insane invasion of Russia, after he had signed them up as an ally, not to mention his antisemitism).

176 dearieme February 28, 2014 at 3:06 pm

Yes; only hindsight makes appeasement look mad. If Hitler had just been a rational nationalist (like Bismarck, say) the policy was not unreasonable, especially given how the electorate in the UK has espoused disarmament for years.

177 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I don’t buy it- naivete about Hitler in 1933 was, maybe excusable. No way by 1938. By then, it wasn’t just the crazy rantings of a lunatic, but a five-year track record in power.

178 Brian Donohue February 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Interesting question. I would say no, due to the perfidy of Hitler.

Depending on what’s going on in Putin’s head, there may or may not be scope for a Coasean deal here.

179 Roy February 28, 2014 at 10:37 am

So we sell out Ukraine in exchange for a Jihadi state in Syria and a new civil war in Lebanon. Such a bargain.

Luckily I think that even if we sold Ukraine down the river, something I suspect the current US political establishment lacks the spine to actually accomplish, Putin will just keep supplying the Syrian regime, which three years into this thing is in a lot stronger position than anyone is willing to admit. As to Iran, even if Putin gave the greenlight this administration won’t do anything meaningful until it is both too late and whatever action we take will make everything even worse.

180 msgkings February 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Yes, all is lost.

181 Roy March 1, 2014 at 2:23 am

Actually, I feel pretty optimistic.

182 Richard Besserer February 28, 2014 at 11:02 am

I’m sure it worries policymakers too, which is one reason why they’re backing Ukraine as forcefully as they can (in public, anyway). Give an inch and all that. Heaven knows Munich is cited over far smaller questions than this.

Another—much as I hate to admit it—is Ukraine’s shale oil potential. The EU, understandably, want to maximize their sources of fossil fuels that do not come from unfriendly nations.

183 Sam Gardner February 28, 2014 at 11:38 am

And what if in Ukraine, the US is not relevant, compared to the EU, something Anglo-Saxon economists cannot understand, but apparently a lot of Ukrainians do.

184 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 11:55 am

This web site is still poised for eurogeddon – without apparently even remarking on the fact that Latvia joined the eurozone January 1, 2014.

But it will be a long time – maybe even more than two decades, as in Latvia’s case – before a former soviet socialist republic like Ukraine joins the eurozone.

185 Edward Burke February 28, 2014 at 12:24 pm

For anyone interested in how life in Kyiv played out in a three-party contest almost a century ago: Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The White Guard and his subsequent play (of the same title or sometimes given the title The Days of the Turbins).

186 ladderff February 28, 2014 at 1:31 pm

coincidence: I’m about half way through that novel now. Second the recommendation.

187 bmcburney February 28, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Agree. But “The Master and Margarita” is even better.

188 Edward Burke February 28, 2014 at 5:36 pm

I have to hope Behemoth would only agree (and will not come after me if he doesn’t, with or without Koroviev in tow): “Bulgakov is immortal!”

189 Willitts February 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm

How is an existential crisis differentiated from a crisis?

190 dearieme February 28, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Four syllables.

191 Willitts February 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

And an ‘n’.

192 CMc February 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

The US should be very very careful about provoking Russia and much much more careful about potentially strengthening any strategic alliance between Russia and China and has gone too far already. Would this policy be best for Ukrainians in the short term? Perhaps not. Would it be best for the world population in the longer run? Absolutely!

This is not a joke. Remember the cold war? Well, those nukes are still there. Russia, politically, is more like the Soviet days now than it has been since. The US is almost inviting a re-balancing of power via these (taken as a whole in the pacific, middle east, eastern europe) interventions (whatever you may think of them from a short term moral standpoint). It is coming regardless (next 100 years reasonable enough?) so why hasten it and increase the damage globally? For those who see this as unlikely, revise the history of the last 3000 years of power struggles.

193 dearieme February 28, 2014 at 3:10 pm

“Would it be best for the world population in the longer run? Absolutely!” You’re surely not suggesting that that consideration will dominate US policy, are you?

194 Andao March 2, 2014 at 11:00 am

If anything, Russian action in Ukraine hurts the Chinese-Russian alliance. The Chinese won’t shut up about “non-interference in the affairs of other countries.” If China goes along with Putin’s adventurism, who’s to stop Mongolians from trying to break off a piece of Inner Mongolia, or Turkic peoples on the ‘stans from trying to gain influence in Xinjiang? Maybe India says “you know, our language and religion is similar to TIbet’s, so we have the right to invade and protect our homies”.

Veeery slippery slope, that one.

195 jdm February 28, 2014 at 1:03 pm

In what specific non-trivial sense is this hypothetical deal “Coasean”?

Why isn’t it just a (mutually beneficial) “deal”?

196 CMc February 28, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Reading more in full many of the comment threads above, it seems history is not really an important consideration. All you need is a few politics/public choice/economics courses and or textbooks and you’re all set for global solutions. Yay!

To those types – ya know how long theses regions have been intrinsically linked? Longer than the US has existed is the answer. If China or the Russian put dibs on Canada, or maybe Alaska again, would it go down well?

There will be no deal to split the Ukraine made by Russia either behind closed doors or in front of them. It is laughable to even contemplate it.

197 Ed February 28, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Why do we care more about Syria & Iran more than the Ukraine? Would we have cared about Syria & Iran more than the Ukraine before 1948?

It would seem to me on a historical basis the Ukraine should receive more consideration. It was the collectivization of the Ukraine that helped thrust Hitler into power. The ethnic struggles in Central Europe have influenced world events for centuries.

198 mishka February 28, 2014 at 4:50 pm

> It was the collectivization of the Ukraine that helped thrust Hitler into power.

Huh? Sure it wasn’t the Hoover Dam?

199 CMc February 28, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Right on Ed! All the more reason to sit back ( for the US and the West in general) and consider things more carefully. Power struggles in Central Europe have always (known history) tended to unforseen consequences of large proportions, from Rome to WW1. It is geographically even moreso sandwiched between great powers.

200 prior_approval February 28, 2014 at 1:34 pm

The West’s interest in Iran is more than a century old, and based firmly on this –

‘The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was an English company founded in 1908 following the discovery of a large oil field in Masjed Soleiman, Iran. It was the first company to extract petroleum from Iran. In 1935 APOC was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and in 1954 it became the British Petroleum Company (BP), one of the antecedents of the modern BP plc.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Persian_Oil_Company

And that interest in turn, was also based on this decision by First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill, before the first world war (and before the use of aircraft in warfare, it should be pointed out – though heChirchill was also very interested in naval aviation) – ‘As Churchill noted, “the advantages conferred by liquid fuel were inestimable.” But he also recognized that a switch would be difficult to implement: “To change the foundation of the navy from British coal to foreign oil was a formidable decision in itself.” Finding and securing sources of oil threatened to be the most difficult part of the venture: The oil supplies of the world were in the hands of vast oil trusts under foreign control. To commit the navy irrevocably to oil was indeed to take arms against a sea of troubles …. If we overcame the difficulties and surmounted the risks, we should be able to raise the whole power and efficiency of the navy to a definitely higher level; better ships, better crews, higher economies, more intense forms of war power—in a word, mastery itself was the prize of the venture.’ http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA524799 (PDF link)

The ‘mastery itself was the prize of the venture’ is as true in 2014 as it was more than a century ago.

201 Edward Burke February 28, 2014 at 2:06 pm

–and for dramatic exposition, consult the Thames television series “Reilly: Ace of Spies” (or Robin Lockhart’s book).

202 Chip February 28, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Just imagine how much worse this would have been without the Reset with Russia (or was that the Overcharge).

Putin would already be across the Dnieper if Kerry hadn’t warned him tank emissions would accelerate our climate Armageddon.

203 Paul February 28, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Sergey Kurdakov:

Sergey, I have to confess that on the topic of Russia 99% of Americans are Ultracrepidarians. When it comes to people in Washington you can make that 99.99%.

204 AIG February 28, 2014 at 4:31 pm

One doesn’t need to know a whole lot about a particular region to know that unprovoked aggression and invasion are “wrong”.

In fact, the more one knows about the region and it’s history, and the characteristics of the people running Russia today, the more one becomes convinced of the sheer aggressive nature of these actions.

People who use the excuse of “you don’t know anything about our history/culture/country!” are always too cute by half. They never explain what specific knowledge of the history of this part of the world would turn a blatant unprovoked invasion into something “acceptable”.

Ok, we’re waiting. Enlighten us: why is invading part of a country without provocation, all of a sudden, praise-worthy?

205 Sergey Kurdakov March 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

>why is invading part of a country without provocation, all of a sudden, praise-worthy? –

it is how Putin plays – and he really likes it ( by himself he is arrogant and not very educated man ( who can report to parliament of usefulness of genetic mutants for benefit of country ), but he considers westerners to be idiots with whom he can easily play )

he did not invade. He just has a paper which allows russian forces to move across Crimea any time he wants, just making announcement of them. He sent a paper and started to move forces exactly at a time of crisis.

what he intends – provoke situation, but still he managed to make all things according to law.

so – knowing what exactly Putin did – is useful. because in the end – he is himself an idiot, whom it is easy to outplay if ones understand what are his real thoughts.

but naturally – all subtle things should and could not be discussed in comments. rather should lead to understanding – to win ( one can cleanly win on a side of law and justice ) one needs more sophistication. Just somehow amercians, being a leaders of the world – are not bothered to be sharp enough to retain this title for some more time.

206 AIG March 1, 2014 at 3:13 pm

You didn’t answer the question Sergey. You came here telling us ignorant Americas how little we understand of the history of the region. Well, assuming this is true (which I assure you is not in my case), please tell us which parts of Ukrainian-Russian history are relevant for us to know, that would turn our perspectives of the event from condemnation of an aggressive invasion, into a praise-worthy action. Still waiting.

And yeah, he did invade, de-facto.

207 bmcburney February 28, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Worry no longer. There will be no deal because Putin will do whatever he wants to do against the Ukraine, with Syria and with Iran.

Do be motivated to do a deal, Putin would have to believe that Obama (or Europe as to the Ukraine) is capable of providing resistance to whatever it is he decides to do. Although the United States itself obviously has the resources to impose a deal along the lines you propose, and under a different President might well have provided effective opposition to Putin’s plans, Obama is incapable of the sustained thought which would be necessary to formulate a geopolitical strategy to achieve the type of outcome you foresee. Moreover, even if such a strategy were formulated by somebody in the Administration, Biden or Kerry would make some off the cuff remark which would blow up the whole strategy and/or any resulting deal.

Haven’t you been paying any attention at all?

208 Barkley Rosser February 28, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Regarding the curious business of how ethnic-majority Russian Crimea got given to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 from the Russian SSR at a time when such a transfer occurred within the nation of the USSR and thus was not such a big deal, my inside unpublished source says that Khrushchev did it to please a Ukrainian mistress that he had at the time.

BTW, I think the EU is a bigger player in any deal over all this than the US, although obviously Obama and the US are players. And as for the comparison with Taiwan, a much higher proportion of the population of Crimea would like to return to Russian rule than the proportion of population of Taiwan who want to return to mainland Chinese rule, who, after all have ruled Taiwan for only 4 out of the last 119 years.

209 AIG February 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

What we’re forgetting here is that:

1) Russian ultra-nationalists have been dreaming of this day for over 20 years now. A chance to “take-back” Crimea and to punish the Ukrainians for daring to split their former Empire. You can go back to the early 90s and find the exact same sort of rhetoric coming from Russian nationalist circles (including the usual Ukrainians=Nazis sort of rhetoric. Kuchma was the devil incarnate back then)

2) The US has no ability to bargain with what it doesn’t have. Nor is anyone in the US interested or capable of bargaining. Obama, Kerry? They already have demonstrated multiple times that they are wiling to appease Putin’s aggressive intentions, which is why Putin keeps expanding his sphere of influence and keeps supporting dictators around the world.

3) Putin is desperately trying to provoke a war here, which is why he is sending troops around the Crimea. He wants a reaction from Ukraine, which he can then use to justify open aggression. Even he realizes that invading part of another country will have some serious consequences internationally for Russia. So the best way to avoid this, is for the US (and Europe) to stand firm (which is obviously not going to happen).

210 Alex February 28, 2014 at 10:01 pm

In complete absence of knowledge about the deeper interminglings of ukranian society I’d envision the following:

Putin wants to play it very simulary to what happened in Georgia. Keeping the status-quo of a subdued country by setting foot in parts of that country that deem themselves in need of protection.

Since the ukraninan society’s struggle seems sincere, and not going to be relieved by russian tanks, what are the revolutionists options? As with Georgia there will be no US/EU help. So, all sides avoiding larger conflicts, it is likely that Ukraine will de-jure not decompose while de-facto parts of it will be protected by russian military.

Again, my pseudo-ukrainian-history knowledge asking: Is there any chance for a lithuanian-polish(-ukranian) commonwealth comeback?

211 jorod March 1, 2014 at 12:38 am

We need an EETO..Eastern European Treaty Organization. This could form an alliance against Russian adventurism and a buffer for central Europe.

212 jorod March 1, 2014 at 12:39 am

Mr. President, how is that partnership working out for you?

213 Tarrou March 1, 2014 at 1:11 am

Or, the non-Coasean option, which I guarantee you is first plan in Putin’s mind: Do what you want in the Ukraine and tell the whinging git in the White House to make your day. He won’t. Why even offer the weakest of inducements when they are unnecessary. Barry couldn’t invade Syria when he wanted to. How the hell is he going to get support to do anything at all to Russia?

214 Andao March 2, 2014 at 11:07 am

The biggest loser here is, once again, the EU.

If I were an EU aspirant country like Turkey, or one of the loathed countries like Greece, I would be doing this sort of evaluation:

1) The EU (re: Germany) wants to tailor economic policy to benefit a tiny percentage of the whole (re: Germans).

2) When I get into economic trouble due to said economic policy that’s not suitable for my own country’s economic situation, I get no help.

3) I get a couple of representatives to Brussels, but again, any initiative I want to put forward can be vetoed (or at least not funded) if Germany doesn’t like it.

4) The EU might protect its own (a big maybe), but it certainly won’t protect any friends outside the Union.

Sure makes the EU awfully unattractive.

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