How Far Is Too Far?

The most hardcore supporters of Ukraine in the West are too gung-ho about war aims, to the point of being entirely counterproductive. In geopolitics, prudence is often a virtue.

As you may have heard, the war in Ukraine that has been raging since the Russian invasion last February is reaching a new phase: a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. This push by Kyiv to retake its lost territory will fundamentally alter the entire picture and tenor of the war going forward. Lines of contact will shift, breakthroughs will occur, and new lines of contact and defense will be settled for the fall and winter campaigning seasons. Many of the NATO weapons systems transferred to Ukraine will get their first real chance to make a difference on the battlefield. Moves are likely to be made in several theaters, including partisan actions within Russia itself – something we have already seen in Belgorod and elsewhere. The war will likely continue for several years, but this Ukrainian counteroffensive can set the terms for what happens going forward.

Now that this new phase of the war has begun – one with Ukraine decidedly, albeit temporarily, on the front foot – commentators and politicians in the West have started to debate, discuss, and reassess war aims. This is always a crucial topic of conversation when a nation in involved in a war, whether directly as Ukraine and Russia are, or indirectly as the United States and NATO are. These discussions usually involve questions like “What do we seek to gain through this conflict?”, “What is a positive endgame for us in this war?”, and “What is an acceptable solution for our national interests?” These are very important questions, but the answers from those on the fringes of the discourse – especially those who are the most outwardly supportive of Ukraine – have been seriously lacking.

I have written many times before about the useful idiots for Russia who want nothing more than an end to the war in Ukraine; of course, they want that end to be entirely on Moscow’s terms and would gleefully sacrifice the sovereignty and nationhood of Ukraine to achieve that aim. Now, however, that absurd, destructive wishcasting has been thoroughly embraced by the exact opposite people: the most hardcore of the pro-Ukraine partisans. I am not someone who is pro-Russia or anti-Ukraine – hell, I think the Biden administration and the West more generally have been too slow and cautious in their support for Kyiv’s righteous cause – but these folks are far too extreme, even for me. And that’s not an easy task, as I’m someone who will happily self-identify as a hawk or even <gasp!> a neoconservative when it comes to foreign policy.

Soccer Ultras in Serbia.

This hyperaggressive pro-Ukraine contingent – similarly to its pro-Russian counterpart – is mostly a factor on social media. They’ve made their living posting about the war, gaining notoriety, tens of thousands of followers, and paid subscriptions to their personal publications. Some of those who have earned their bread on the Ukraine war are serious journalists, especially folks like Oz Katerji and Tim Mak, both of whom have reported consistently from the front lines of the conflict. But others are mere hangers-on who are far more active online in social media than they are doing the hard work of war reportage. People like Paul Massaro, Gunther Fehlinger, and Sergej Sumlenny, as well as the more caustically trollish NAFO[1] accounts, fall into this category. Some of their posts are informative or interesting, but many more treat the most serious geopolitical conflict in half a century as something of a spectator sport.

In this geopolitical soccer match, these folks would be the Ukrainian ‘Ultras’ – fans who are literally militant in their support of their squad. And they sure act the part. Some of these accounts celebrate Russian troop deaths, especially when captured on video. Despite the evil of Putin’s war, regular soldiers dying is not something to be cheered; apparently, some of us are still stuck in the days of the Colosseum. They push for arming Ukraine through the inane strategy of “give them everything,” including tactical nuclear weapons (yes, really). I have argued forcefully for greater arms supply to Ukraine, but denuding one’s own arsenal to bare-minimum levels and sending nuclear weapons into a battlespace you don’t control are terrible ideas. These absurd, impractical, and downright awful designs are par for the course in this influential corner of the internet and, as such, they draw the consistent attention and ire of their useful idiot counterparts.

The populist isolationists, perhaps best represented by the former Fox host/conspiracy wacko Tucker Carlson, claim that the extreme views of these pro-Ukraine internet Ultras represent all pro-Ukrainian sentiment. This could not be further from the truth, and it’s why such noxious ideas need to be called out. Which brings us back to the issue of war aims in the context of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The Ultra position on this conflict’s eventual endgame is unrealistic beyond belief: they seek nothing less than the total destruction of the Russian Federation as a territorial and political entity. This goes beyond the idea of regime change – ousting Putin and his closest cronies from power and replacing them with some more acceptable alternative – to a future in which Russia does not exist. That supposed utopia would include either the transformation of the Russian Federation into smaller nation-states based on region and ethnicity or the total diminution of Russia as a political power through full demilitarization and other means. Not only are these ideas completely radical, they are impossible to carry out in reality.

Even the least controversial portions of this ambitious program are highly contentious. Take the idea of regime change, for instance. This term got a bad rap after its use in the Iraq War given the subsequent alienation many Americans felt from that conflict as it dragged on, but sometimes regime change is indeed a good policy. It is in American interests for new regimes to control places like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, but it matters how that change happens and what is needed to make the change stick. In the case of Russia, this would be a very chancy thing indeed. There are significant internal power struggles and competing bases of strength in various regions and institutions in the country, which may make regime change easier, but also riskier. Any sort of regime change in Russia would open the door to serious internal conflict – up to and including a catastrophic civil war – and could end up with a more belligerent leader than Vladimir Putin in charge. That may seem crazy given Putin’s aggression, but it is not out of the question, as he has strong critics from the ultranationalist right.

With respect to regime change – again, the least contentious of the options pushed by ultra-hawkish Ukraine supporters – the question of trade-offs is key. Would I prefer a Russia without Putin? Absolutely. But how this happens matters a great deal: I would rather have a cowed, weakened Putin in charge of Russia after a defeat in Ukraine than I would have him replaced by a more vigorous, less rational ultranationalist. And I certainly do not think deposing Putin is worth a NATO invasion and occupation of Russia, which it would very likely require.

And that takes us to the next, even more audacious (and ridiculous) suggestion made by the pro-Ukraine hyperpartisans: the so-called “Plan 7D” for Russia. The seven “Ds” in question are demilitarization, denuclearization, decentralization, democratization, decommunization, de-Stalinization, and de-Putinization. These ideas may sound good on paper, but they are both unattainable and deeply misguided. For instance, how would NATO enforce demilitarization or denuclearization on Russia without first utterly destroying it in an existential conflict? Who would enforce these measures and how? How can one eliminate “the cult of military power and expansion,” or change the minds and culture of an entire nation?

Reviewing this ‘plan’, one sees eerie similarities to the war aims of Russia itself. As I’ve written in the past, Putin’s invasion seeks to completely annihilate the sovereignty of Ukraine as a nation and its unique status as a separate culture. Moscow detailed its plans to ‘de-Nazify’ and demilitarize Ukraine and purge it of corruption, both social and political. How is this any different from Plan 7D? That pro-Ukraine strategy seeks to destroy the culture, heritage, society, and politics of the Russian Federation, a nation with hundreds of years of historical existence.[2] It seeks to end Russia as any sort of independent geopolitical entity by controlling its borders, running its internal affairs, and implementing a new national consciousness from without. This is a mirror image of the Russian strategy these pro-Ukraine partisans rightly decry as morally despicable and legally abhorrent. One would think that someone who righteously hates the Russian plan would avoid embracing that same strategy in reverse; unfortunately, when war is turned into sport, these important moral distinctions fade in the face of the baying crowd.

The last – and most ludicrous – of these pro-Ukraine Ultra ideas is one put forth by the aforementioned Gunther Fehlinger, who proposes the total deconstruction of the Russian Federation and its replacement with 41 regional/ethnic statelets. In his “Northern Eurasia 2023” plan (see image at top), Russia itself would cease to exist, yet somehow its constituent parts would be immune to the security problems Russia currently presents. Fehlinger claims this will improve global security, but that is a sentiment entirely out of touch with reality. Still, it has received positive attention, including in major publications. Besides including all of the problems with the ideas discussed above – this plan essentially goes beyond the others, while retaining their myriad issues – one can ask a few pointed questions that explore why this de-nationalization of Russia would be a terrible idea.

What if the people of Russia decide that they don’t want to live in small ethnic/regional republics? Would this ‘solution’ be forced upon them? How, and by whom? Who draws the borders of these 41 new states? Would it be Gunther Fehlinger and his cadre of pro-Ukrainian Ultras? Russia has been situated within very similar borders for centuries, with population migration and ethnic mixing a commonplace occurrence; would these new borders represent the status quo before Muscovite expansion in the 1600s? Before the Sovietization of the Tsarist Empire? How long would these miniature statelets remain independent? If they sought confederation, would that be allowed? What if one statelet conquered another? What about a larger foreign neighbor, like China, invading and annexing one of these weak republics? Would these statelets receive security guarantees from NATO powers, or would they be left to fend for themselves? And, most importantly, who gets the nukes? Russia’s nuclear stockpile is the largest on the planet, and is spread across the country; many of these new nation-states would immediately become nuclear powers. How would that complication be handled?

As you can see, none of these ideas are reasonable, intelligent, thought-through, or even possible. People who style themselves as pro-Ukraine should drop them immediately. War aims are an important discussion, one too critical to be led astray by insane ideas like those described above. These extreme positions – like their counterparts on the pro-Russian side who would sell Kyiv down the river in a heartbeat – have no place in any rational deliberation on this issue. Our aims in this war should be grounded in American national interests, cognizant of the need to deal with other geopolitical worries, and in line with the world of the possible, not the ideal.

The hyper-aggressive ideas promoted by the pro-Ukraine online Ultras are not going to end this war sooner; in fact, they are likely only going to harden Russian resolve if they are picked up more widely. These fantasies of dismembering Russia or denuding it entirely of its geopolitical status play right into the hands of Vladimir Putin, echoing his propaganda about this being a war against the West for Russia’s very existence instead of a bullying invasion of a smaller independent neighbor. The pundits who play into this nonsense and promote it should be marginalized, post-haste. Those of us who want Ukraine to win this war and push the Russian invaders out must focus on reality and dismiss those who choose to deny it in favor of fantasy. The Ultras should let the adults do the talking and keep their tabletop strategy dreams on the RISK board. If not, they risk endangering the pro-Ukraine outcomes they claim to so desire.

[1] NAFO, short for the North Atlantic Fellas Organization, is an online group of pro-Ukraine accounts who consistently promote the Ukrainian message and attack pro-Russian accounts. Much of this is good, but some of it devolves into meaningless trolling.

[2] Yes, the Tsarist Empire, Soviet Union, and modern Russian Federation are all essentially the same nation-state, despite the radical differences between them.

One thought on “How Far Is Too Far?

Leave a Reply