Did it happen yet? Have the Russians invaded Ukraine? Today was the day, maybe. That’s what the experts were saying, and then weren’t, and then were, and then might have not been again. Turns out experts don’t actually agree and reporters don’t know what they’re talking about. Should we trust the political science? Now Russia says it has removed some of its troops from the border after they completed exercises. U.S. officials want proof. Anyway, here is the concrete question: Are Vladimir Putin’s soldiers in East Ukraine on Wednesday, February 16, 2022?
Politico reported last Friday that President Joe Biden had informed U.S. allies that invasion day would be Feb. 16. This came after PBS reported that American intelligence determined Putin had made his decision to invade Ukraine, while National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said no final decision had been identified. Language from U.S. officials has since then shifted to as soon as today. NBC seemed to reaffirm the Wednesday theory when it reported Monday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had also said invasion was due Feb. 16. But Zelensky, who has downplayed the likelihood of war in most of his public statements, quickly clarified that he had been making a sarcastic joke at U.S. media’s expense—if they were saying it, it must be so.
Establishment or “prestige” political reporting is a thing of leaks. You develop your sources and report what they tell you; the utility goes both ways. Leaks are part of the geopolitical game. The question is whether this administration and the U.S. deep state are still any good at playing that. If there are Russian troops in Ukraine today then perhaps the Wednesday story really was just a scoop. But if there aren’t….well then. Was this all a misunderstanding? Biden having a—to put it delicately—senior moment? Raw intelligence being reported as vetted? Or was this an operation, seeding the discourse with Feb. 16, making players have to move as though it might be true or at least, for a weekend, as though we, the United States, thought it was true? I’m not driving at any particular answer; the question is just a curiosity, and might suggest something about our establishment’s competence.
There are more than just media reasons to wonder if someone somewhere in the Beltway is trying to get up to something with rhetoric that makes an invasion sound imminent. This is a standoff with Putin, a caricature of whom has been liberal internationalists’ favorite flavor of Hitler-lite now at least since 2006, when Saddam Hussein was executed. Russiagate, remember, destroyed the legitimacy of American elections—that is, before all American elections were completely legitimate again and questioning them was treasonous. And don’t forget that Putin offered bounties for dead U.S. soldiers in 2020—that is, until the dimtelligence community and its “intersectional” analysts with anxiety “walked back” that war-demanding claim.
Most relevant and most recent was the allegation by State Department Spokesman Ned Price, that Russia would produce a false-flag video purportedly showing atrocities committed along the Ukrainian border that could act as casus belli for invasion. Smelling something reminiscent of Iraq WMD claims, AP reporter Matt Lee pressed Price to provide further evidence than the government’s say so, a request that received sullen insinuations of Russian influence. The well here is poisoned. Should the conflict in Ukraine escalate internally without a Russian invasion (today, maybe, remember?), and real atrocities occur, perpetrated by either separatists or Kyiv’s government, who is going to believe anything? And yesterday, Russia’s State Duma approved a resolution calling for Putin to recognize the Russian-speaking breakaway Donbas People’s Republics in East Ukraine. Should he do that, and Zelensky’s soldiers attack what Russia considers recognized states, won’t he have to respond?
Putin continues to play a bad hand well. He has made his diplomatic objectives clear on multiple occasions, the primary ones being Ukraine’s exclusion from NATO and a guarantee that particular weapons systems not be within certain ranges of Moscow. Massing troops on the border has brought people to the negotiating table. Nuclear NATO member France spent days in Moscow trying to stake out its own relationship with Russia, as Emmanuel Macron sought to be the voice of Europe to its eastern neighbor. Much of the tensions here—particularly in the Biden administration’s unwillingness to speak frankly about the NATO question—seems to be about Germany, under America’s nuclear umbrella, and its economic relationship with Russia. (It is worth noting nuclear NATO member U.K. has said it would “support” whatever decision Ukraine makes about whether it will seek membership in the organization.)
After our debacles in the Middle East, and the shakiness of the Biden White House’s attempts to return to some liberal idea of normal after the Trump presidency, Putin can hardly have a definite idea of what the United States is capable of. Whether because of incompetence or ideological fervor, the greatest nuclear power in the world might do or fail to do almost anything these days; in these circumstances, keeping Ukraine as a buffer between Moscow and American bases and testing for western priorities in the process makes perfect sense. Plus there are all the historical and cultural reasons—civilizational issues decades in the desert have demonstrated the liberal U.S. is distinctly bad at thinking about—Putin surely has for desiring to maintain an independent sphere of influence in Russian-speaking Eastern Europe. But this is largely about NATO, so with that in mind, after the fall of Soviet Communism, the main thing to think about is nuclear powers. And, to U.S. chagrin, nuclear China and nuclear Russia continue to strengthen their relationship. We keep pushing Putin from the West; where else was he going to go?
You know who, like Germany, doesn’t have nuclear weapons? Canada. Canada exists under the American nuclear umbrella. Speaking of invasions, we could end the lunacy up north tomorrow if we wanted to. It’s a protectorate, a near abroad, part of our sphere of influence. It’s a common law country, too, a piece of our civilization, and it is Anglo common law and Anglo liberal norms that are being violated right now with this threat of mass exclusion from the private financial system. Justin Trudeau appears set to back himself into a corner only guns get you out of, a besieged unpopular prime minister declaring a state of emergency as he scrambles to cling to power. If this were Belarus we can guess what the CIA and State Department would be up to. Pick your color, print your signs, the people have spoken and it is time for some regime change. Arm the moderate truckers. The indispensable nation invites you to join the crusade but reserves the right to act unilaterally.
But no, this is the United States of America circa 2022. Our domestic affairs are in shambles. Inflation and crime are on the rise. Drug overdoses are shattering records. Never mind the legitimacy crisis on our northern border, and certainly never mind the sovereignty crisis at our southern border (good for business, that, and for voters). No, we’ve got nuclear wars on two fronts to think about fighting, apparently. China isn’t going to pass up on a distracted U.S. eyeing a winter campaign in Eurasia. So, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022—happy WWIII day?