Putin’s Ukraine Salami Tactics

Another day, another bullshit cease-fire agreement. UnknownA pattern emerges: Russia, while lying about it, uses military force (with “separatists” as a front) to grab a piece of Ukrainian territory. A cease-fire freezes their gains in place . . . until they break it and grab more, followed by another cease-fire to solidify those further gains.

It’s what used to be called, at the Cold War’s onset, “salami tactics” – taking what you want one small slice at a time, without provoking a big response. But the slices add up.

images-2When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bush 41 had Margaret Thatcher to stiffen his spine. Obama’s got Angela Merkel, who’s been wrong about every significant issue she’s ever confronted. She scotches any strong unified Western response to Putin over Ukraine.

When this started, I likened it to 1938, when Hitler was pulling the same stuff with Czechoslovakia, he was allowed to get away with it, and that turned out badly. Unknown-2Hillary Clinton said likewise. Her comparing Putin to Hitler was widely pooh-poohed. Thomas Friedman called her comments overblown; but recently he’s recanted about that.

We’re constantly told “there’s no military solution.” I was glad to finally hear a high NATO official say we’ve got to stop that nonsense – because we’re in fact getting a military solution – Vladimir Putin’s. (Even Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov cynically spouts “no military solution.”) Thus the West so far won’t even help Ukraine defend itself against a despicable invasion that everyone fecklessly decries.

“No military solution” – actually, “Never a military solution” — seems to be Obama’s overall foreign policy. He’s applied it to at least four problems. imagesIndeed, even where he ostensibly does aim at a military solution – with ISIS – he’s unwilling to really commit military means. The legislation he proposes would actually limit his own power to deploy military assets — more than existing law already does.

It’s true that a problem like Ukraine’s will ultimately require a political/diplomatic solution. But what’s misguided about the “no military solution” mantra is that political and military initiatives are not mutually exclusive – to the contrary, they are often mutually reinforcing. Military means, or at least their serious threat, can help in getting a good political solution; renouncing military options can only make that harder. Putin might well be persuaded into an acceptable and lasting political deal if he were facing serious military pushback. He laughs off economic sanctions; that’s simply not a concern to him. Absent military consequences, he has no reason to be reasonable.

Just like Hitler in 1938. I had thought the scourge of changing borders by armed force was something relegated to civilization’s past. images-1Just like we’d thought diseases like measles were consigned to the past — until fools started to refuse vaccination. Obama and Merkel are refusing to vaccinate against military aggression.


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10 Responses to “Putin’s Ukraine Salami Tactics”

  1. didiusjulianus Says:

    Have you read Paul Craig Robert’s views which look quite the opposite of yours. He is a conservative from the Reagan administration. Check them out at
    Fair warning: Since what he says is opposite of what you hear reported in the U.S. MSM, is can be quite jarring to consider (especially if you start with his more recent stuff as he has built his “case” over a long time. On the other hand, when stepping back and looking at the broader patterns at play, there is more going on than what the U.S. MSM reports.

  2. didiusjulianus Says:

    Regarding the vaccination comment. I have had the full range (and them some due to my Masters in Public Health degree requirements) of vaccinations over the years. A point to consider though: If vaccinations are so effective, and you receive yours, then you have little to fear from those (foolish?) souls who do not get vaccinated as your vaccination should immunize you, hmmm? (And yes I am aware that vaccines are not 100% but the vaccinated population should be highly resistant to the diseases while the unvaccinated would not be.

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    I read the Roberts thing & don’t see how it’s “quite the opposite” of mine. We both think the cease-fire deal is garbage. While he mentions some U.S. military help to Ukraine, as seemingly at odds with the deal, in fact that assistance is so limited as to be meaningless. Meantime, Roberts loses all credibility with me when he talks of Ukrainian President Poroshenko being “controlled” by the U.S., and of “Nazis” running rampant in Ukraine — these are exactly the propaganda points Putin has been flogging — complete nonsense.
    As for vaccination, the problem is that there are actually quite a few people for whom vaccination is not do-able for medical reasons. That doesn’t matter when a high enough percentage of the general population is vaccinated, creating what’s termed “herd immunity.” But when that percentage falls below a certain level, the disease has viability, and everybody unvaccinated is at risk, regardless of whether they had valid reasons for not being vaccinated.

  4. Lee Says:

    Maybe the American Revolutionary War soldiers used “salami tactics” against the British. To figure out whether such an approach is reasonable, one has to figure out who is in the right; in this case the tactic itself isn’t so much the crux of the argument. Unfortunately determining who is right is not covered so much in the press that I read — mostly I hear about is the tactics that the enemy is using.

    While philosophers do debate how to evaluate what is right from first principles, we can be more practical. We can use our own closely held beliefs to evaluate things. One of my closely held beliefs is that democracy should be respected. Not that it is perfect — it is far short — but as in Churchill’s summary, it is the worst way to govern, excepting all the other approaches that have been tried.

    My understanding is that a free and fair election of the “rebel regions” of the Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for Russia’s position. If these elections were a sham, I need to know that. If we think the people were short-sighted, we need to urge a re-vote. Regardless, our apparent total disregard for the democratic process makes me wonder whether the Russians are invaders … or liberators.

    Because I am replying to your arguments, I have emphasized an argument supporting Russia as liberator. In actuality my stance is more, well, ignorance. If it is not the case that the Russians are liberators, perhaps you could write about that: what is it that the people there want? (If you have in the past, but I missed it having only read this recent column, I apologize. I’ll find it eventually, or you can respond and point me towards that.)

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    Sometimes in a situation there is true moral ambiguity. And sometimes seeing moral ambiguity actually reflects moral confusion. Sorry to say, Lee, this is the latter. Russians as liberators? Absolute bullshit. Yes, I have spoken to this, quite clearly, in the past:

    And also: https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/the-presidents-ukraine-speech/

  6. Lee Says:

    It is not moral confusion, I think, just plain ordinary confusion. I am ignorant about some of the crucial details. Even in your well written articles, much of the criticism of the Russians and rebels is of their tactics, but that does little to help me in figuring out the extent to which each side’s goals are in the right. You state the elections were a sham. That’s where I need to find out more; I’ll have to do some research. To me it is the will of the people that makes the most difference.

    That intelligent writers such as yourself write “Russia’s true aim here is actually obscure” makes me worry. If we can’t understand the motives of our enemy, it makes me wonder whether we are really trying to.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    My “obscure” comment referred to Putin probably not having some astutely thought-out grand strategy, but rather just messing nihilistically with Ukraine. But if there is a true aim, I think it is mainly to make Ukraine’s revolution fail so it could be no model for Russia itself. (See forthcoming next blog post.)
    Lee, you are an intelligent person, but sometimes people can be too smart for their own good. If you cannot see what is so obviously vicious Russian criminality here, then that unfortunately would apply to you. Some situations are not nuanced. This is one.

  8. Lee Says:

    Thank you for clearing up my confusion about your “obscure” comment.

    I do worry when a smart person (such as you) tells me that I am missing something that is “obviously vicious” — wow, am I being really dense? I do now see that in 2014 there were “elections” on at least three dates, but none of them were considered legitimate by both sides, for reasons that the objecting side was (mostly) excluded from running and/or voting either de facto or de jure. That does make it rather difficult to judge the will of the people via this time-tested approach. Is there no third-party that could set up an election that both sides would consider legitimate? If Putin wouldn’t accept such a possibility, that would put him squarely in the anti-democracy camp, acknowledged even by a thick-headed soul such as myself.

    Maybe I am completely missing the boat by focusing on democracy. Is this all about fossil fuels? Are the US and Russia also on opposite sides of some gas issue having to do with Ukraine?

  9. rationaloptimist Says:

    People of Russian ethnicity, while concentrated in the regions in question, are not in the majority anywhere in Ukraine. Not even in Crimea. And previous to all this ruckus, not even a majority of the ethnic Russians in these regions wanted an anschluss with Russia. The whole “separatist” thing was manufactured by Russia with the help of local gangsters. The “elections” were total bullshit; even if you imagine the votes were accurately counted (ha), people who’d have voted “no” were intimidated from voting.
    And, no, there is no disinterested third party the Russians would accept to monitor a genuine plebiscite.
    Wake up and smell the coffee. If you care about democracy, back the Ukrainians.

  10. Lee Says:

    “there is no disinterested third party the Russians would accept to monitor a genuine plebiscite” works for me. Thank you for connecting me with reality.

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