Escaping Putin's War

I check Triablogue occasionally and saw this piece by Peter Pike. His parents were MTW missionaries to Ukraine.

Some of his accusations against Putin are things I have never heard before, so I can’t confirm if they are true or not. I do not know enough to say. Still, I thought his perspective was helpful.


This was a long read, but quite interesting, combining personal connection with the history of the area and analysis.


Here are my thoughts.

  1. I think the accusations against Putin are credible.

  2. I think it is a mistake for the Western elite to make this into a pure good guys vs. bad guys scenario. Not that I don’t think Putin is evil to invade and Ukraine doesn’t have a right to defend itself, but I’ve lived long enough to see that today’s freedom-fighting mujahideen may turn out to be tomorrow’s terrorist Taliban.

  3. I’m surprised to see the disappearance of peaceniks from the Democrats. There’s a surprising push to escalate that seems to arise from war LARPing rather than Realpolitik.

  4. Ever since the war began, I’ve felt that the information provided by the mainstream media has been heavily curated. What I’m not seeing are any reports of what’s happening from independent eyewitnesses. Obviously, manipulating information is in the interest of Ukraine, but I don’t see why it is in the interest of the American media to uncritically accept Ukrainian propaganda and not get their own journalists on the ground as close to the action as possible.

  5. Although it is entirely proper to arm all able-bodied men in a district and organize them into a militia, I was disturbed to see images of civilians, especially women, being armed as apartment snipers and Molotov cocktail throwers. Perhaps this was merely a show for the Western war LARPers, but if it is an official policy of Ukraine, it is evil.


Joel, I agree with all your points. Especially the third. It’s incredible.

After DECADES being told

  • how bad nuclear war is,
  • how bad the weapons industry is,
  • after blockades of nuclear missile bases in the 80s in my country,
  • how war-mongering the right is,
  • how peaceful the left is,

it took them only a DAY to change to “if he wants to throw a nuclear bomb, let him, it can’t be that bad and we will annihilate him” and “yes we need to intervene anywhere in the world to spread our values” (heard that from a liberal 2 days ago.)

It seems to me that they feel their new sexual “freedoms” are threatened and they will do anything to keep them.

Leftist, feminist “Christian” friends from the US who never wasted a social issue started posting pictures of young Ukrainian women posing with guns! It’s heartbreaking.


I, too, remember the peacenik days of the Left. Not just the dovishness, but the covering up for authoritarian regimes.

Walter Duranty’s coverup of Stalin’s brutality, and the Pulitzer the New York Times was silent about for decades. Liberal politicians visiting the Soviet Union for odd reasons (Bernie and Bill Clinton), puffing Fidel Castro and the Sandinistas. On and on it goes.

It’s one thing to prefer diplomacy or multilateralism or be skeptical of military intervention. It’s quite another to affirmatively associate oneself with brutal regimes, or spread their propaganda.

This has been the Left for my entire life until 2016. I believe the only thing that changed was Donald Trump’s election victory, as well as a vague sense that Putin was against LGBT rights and was therefore our global foe.

Great powers tend to destroy themselves by overconfidence. I sympathize with Ukraine, but I regret that our leaders made all sorts of promises to the Ukrainians without backing them up, resulting in this terrible situation.


Of course, spreading values is also the rationale that Putin uses (denazification of Ukraine). And one would think that 20 years of failed intervention by the U.S. would be a cautionary tale. I don’t see how the Western elite has any more credibility on this issue.

As I said, LARPing. The first time I saw these photos, I thought, “Don’t these people remember Grozny? That’s what will happen if they start sniping”? And in my mind, it undermines the credibility of the Ukrainian government. If civilians and women are encouraged to engage in irregular fighting, against the laws of war, then it’s certainly believable that the Ukrainian military set up shop in a maternity hospital.


That’s an interesting point I hadn’t thought of. The Hunger Games-ish quality of safe Westerners telling Ukraininan civilians, including women and old folks, to fight the Russian armies, has always creeped me out. Grotesque.

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Wanted to make another comment. On Ukraine, like many people, I’m of two minds. On the one hand, I don’t want American troops involved, and think a negotiated settlement that ends the war should be pursued, including redrawing Ukraine’s borders if necessary. The cheering on of Ukrainian civilians is gross. Women fighting is gross. American bluster is not helpful.

On the other hand, some of the arguments I’m hearing from paleocons and Buchananites, which are also filtering down into Reformed conservative Christian discourse, seems unduly tilted toward Russia. I’m reminded of the 2 years of Covid madness. A bunch of people without expertise or responsibility are confidently making claims that don’t necessarily hold up. That’s part of why I shared this piece from Peter Pike. Disbelieving the mainstream media is one thing, but we should consider the point of view of fellow believers who have lived in Ukraine and have some knowledge of what’s going on on the ground.

On NATO expansion, Poland, Hungary, the Baltics, Czechoslovakia and the like were not historically part of the Russian Empire, but were under Soviet domination for 50 years, against their will. They just happened to be on the Red Army’s path to Berlin. Think about what those people went through. Think about the witness of Pope John Paul II. If you lived in those countries, wouldn’t you want closer relations with the West? Even if the Soviet Union no longer exists, it’s not crazy to me for people who live in Eastern Europe to be suspicious of Russia. They still have Lenin’s tomb on display.

There was still skittishness about German reunification 40 years after World War II.

It’s not clear to me that denying those Eastern European countries’ membership in NATO or the EU was clearly the right choice. I’m open to counter arguments, but I don’t think either side has a slam dunk. Had any of us been the president, and faced with the same choices, I think we would likely have made the same decisions that were made.

Then there’s the whole legacy of Stalin starving Ukrainians to death.

It’s also reasonable that Russia would want to extend her sphere of influence. But not offending Russia is not the only consideration. Bad things that happen in the world are not always wholly America’s fault. Many times, you’re faced with an array of terrible choices, and you have to pick the least bad one.


I know we’ve been around on this point before, Joel, but I don’t trust America’s propaganda artists any more than Ukraine’s. The same people who told me Russia rigged the 2016 election and that Hunter’s laptop was Russian disinformation now want to escalate with Russia. Well, pull the other one.

Don’t forget the willingness the American Left had to be pro US involvement in WWII before Molotov-Ribbentrop, peaceniks while Molotov-Ribbentrop held, and then pro-war again after Hitler broke Molotov-Ribbentrop.

How many “allies” does America have to leave high and dry before the conclusion becomes, “you [bleep]ed up. You trusted us”?

I appreciate the author’s perspective, but I have to say, I followed the Orange Revolution reasonably closely when it happened, largely with sympathy towards the pro-Western faction. But reading about it after the same parties ran a color revolution on my own country, it hits a little differently.

Russia is the only country in Eastern Europe with any ability to annihilate me and my family. Russians are awful neighbors (and largely have been for centuries), but they aren’t my neighbor. Russia’s status for the last 25 years as a rump state is a historic aberration and wasn’t bound to hold. Russia is basically destined to exist somewhere between a major regional power and a global power. We should probably have expected a resurgent Russia that objected to NATO in its front yard. Western leaders got high on their own farts of the End of History and now the Ukrainians are taking it in the jaw, not to mention no few Russian generals and conscripts.

It’s so easy to hate on Russia as the “obvious” instigator, and it’s so easy to be one-sided, especially here. We don’t really care much about Ukraine, did we ever, except as a pawn against Russia?

Putin, Trump, Orbán of Hungary. The elites, media etc. won’t give them any benefit of doubt.

Nobody cares for Belarus, until Belarus becomes Belarus-anti-Russia.


And don’t forget something called, Talvisota … the Russians have far too much previous for invading their neighbours …

With so much ideology roiling among all sides, it’s difficult to think and talk clearly. But I will try to do so now.

First of all, it is certainly in the interest of Ukraine and other eastern European countries for the U.S. to expend blood and treasure defending them from Russia, but it is in the interest of the U.S.? What is gained or lost by the U.S. if Ukraine, or any other eastern European country, stands or falls in the face of Russian aggression? They should indeed be in a mutual defense alliance, but with each other. There is no need for the U.S. to be involved, or for NATO to exist any longer. The Soviet Union was bent on worldwide domination, but Russia is not, or even if it was, it no longer has the capability of the old USSR.

When it comes to Russia’s self-perceived sphere of influence, recognizing that fact does not mean agreement that Russia can rightfully do whatever it wants but rather that Russia views the stakes as higher. Expanding NATO was not a bad idea because it offended Russia but rather because it increased the potential for conflict in an area of the world in which the U.S. had no substantial strategic interest. Nothing to gain with a chance of loss is not a wise principle to live by (Prov. 26:17).

A typical response to the above Realpolitik perspective might be a simple-minded assertion of a moral obligation to militarily intervene to save the innocent from aggression. But is the U.S. obligated to go to war (which is what it really is) every time some people somewhere in the world are attacked by some other people (and this sort of thing is going on all the time)? And if not, why in Ukraine and not all the other places? The real answer seems to be that the very strong reaction against Putin and Russia is motivated largely by U.S. domestic politics.

Moreover, the U.S. has an abysmal track record when it comes to military and political interventions in other nations. Not only have we failed to accomplish our goals, we’ve usually left people worse off. This may arise from approaching conflicts as if one party were totally good and the other party totally bad. That’s not to say Ukraine deserved getting invaded or Russia was justified by doing so, but we men here ought to know that trying to help two people in conflict usually turns out poorly if we treat the situation as if one person is totally good and the other person totally bad.

As @andrm said, what’s fundamentally motivating Western elite attitudes about the war in Ukraine is nor Realpolitik, not saving the innocent, but rather spreading the ideology of the Western elite worldwide. Who is a friend and who is an enemy changes according to whether they are perceived as assisting or thwarting the spread of Western elite ideology. Given what that ideology is, I don’t see any reason to get involved, and that doesn’t mean I am a Putin supporter or a Russophile.


That’s exactly my point! The US (neocons) tried this with Afghanistan and Iraq and it didn’t work - the liberals pointing out all the time how wrong and stupid this war is - until Obama came into power. Then the issue went away, sort of. And now it’s “we need to be everywhere”.

To me that’s belligerence and it makes me afraid. I’ve seen too much the past ten to twenty years. Too many (sudden) changes from “This will never happen” to “Let’s do it.” An example in my country would be the vaccine mandate. They will come for the Christians.


I was sympathetic to this reasoning until Russia invaded Ukraine. Now NATO looks very useful. I’m second guessing my instinctive paleocon dovishness about these things. I’m sure the countries in the region who joined NATO are not regretting their decision.

The security of Europe should be Europe’s concern, but the United States is the world’s global hegemon. We have historic ties to Western Europe. They want us in their alliance for our muscle, and also so they don’t have to spend money on their militaries. The irony is that Europeans are now doing what Donald Trump wanted them to do all along, because they are understandably freaked out by Russia’s actions.

I would have said tear down the NATO fence as soon as the USSR was gone. But our leaders decided not to and part of that must have been that they knew that once you take a fence down, it is very very difficult to rebuild it if you need it again.

The past 30 years of relative peace and plenty are not normal. Global rivalries and wars are normal. The last century of relative health was not normal. The norm has been sickness and plague.

NATO is a military alliance. Strong alliances backed up with resolve promote peace through the implied consequences of attacking the alliance. Disband the alliance and you lose that deterrent. Disband the alliance and the risk of another world war goes up. We can have a dorm bull session on it but the presidents, generals and prime ministers actually have the responsibility to prevent World War III. The opinion among them is unanimous: keep NATO.


I can see why you say this, but I’m not confident in it. WW1 was caused in part by a web of alliances and Germany feeling threatened by some of them.


That’s a good point. I don’t know enough about the history to respond.

People tend to fight the last war. World War II was the last big catastrophe, and the lack of a strong alliance to counter Hitler combined with American withdrawal after WWI are commonly blamed for making the crisis worse.

I don’t think Putin is Hitler.


I’m with you on not being excessively belligerent, and we should understand Russia’s motivations and try to give them an off ramp so the war can end and Ukrainians can resume their normal lives.

Yet we also should understand the motives of the U.S. and the Eastern European nations we welcomed into NATO who were in the Soviet bloc. Those countries joined NATO for reasons. It wasn’t just to satisfy neocon imperial ambitions. You need to understand the reasons in order to debate it productively.

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From the beginning I’ve said that it is in the interest of eastern European countries to join NATO. What you still haven’t explained yet is why having Eastern European countries join NATO, or having NATO at all, is in the interest of the United States, aside from satisfying neocon imperial ambitions.

I have no desire to give Putin an offramp – he made his bed, now let him lie in it. In fact, failure at war may cause him to fall from power. But it’s not the business of the U.S. to help bring about peace, unless requested by both parties. It’s really for Ukraine to negotiate peace on whatever terms they want and can get, and they can decide whether getting back to their normal lives is worth what Russia is demanding.


The role that the British Empire exercised in the world was handed off to us in 1945. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy and most powerful military. We get to be the “world policeman.” Being more of a dove and a noninterventionist, I am not thrilled for us to have that role, but it just comes with being the world’s most powerful country. With the way the world works, if we did not exercise that role, someone else would. Given the lousy choice of being world policeman vs. the much worse choice of having China fill that role, I will take America as world policeman.

We are the world’s reserve currency. We patrol the major sea routes, which facilitates world trade which we all depend on. The British did this before us. It’s why English is kind of the global language.

If the U.S. were to pull out of NATO and withdraw from the world, someone else would fill the vacuum. Withdrawal from historic European alliances and involvement with European affairs may trigger lots of unintended consequences like great power rivalries. Because the natural state of fallen man is perpetual war and mayhem. Weakness shown in Europe may cause the Chinese to think they can get away with taking Taiwan. If the world becomes a more chaotic place suddenly supply chains are strained and you have waves of refugees crossing borders which causes all kinds of other problems you don’t want.

Whether we like it or not, what goes on in the world affects us, and that’s especially true of Europe.

The whole post World War II order was set up to prevent another World War II from happening. So far, it has worked.

As a dove, it’s better if America acts in the world with the support of European allies. This is a standard left of center Obama/Biden philosophy that makes sense to me. Acting alone in Iraq did not work so well for us.

President Biden is constrained by lots of political realities. He really isn’t free to just tell the Europeans that they are on their own. He has to play the cards he has. If Trump were still president, he would have the same limitations. Aside from the silly energy policies, I think Biden has done about as well as you could expect, and he’s kept a cool head. He hasn’t listened to the No Fly Zone guys.

Pulling out of NATO is not realistic, especially now. The Europeans would flip out and it would really damage our credibility.

Which brings me to Afghanistan. I think pulling out of Afghanistan was still the right thing to do, and Im glad Biden did it. But I can’t honestly say that images of what happened on our way did not tug on my non intervention heart strings and make me second guess myself. Further, I think it did hurt our international image.

I would not want the responsibility of making these kinds of decisions, and so am more willing to defer to experts than I was, say, two years ago about this time.


And are we doing a good job?

No, the natural state of the world is multipolar, not unipolar. The idea of a “world policeman” is a very recent development, historically.

What leads you to believe that China has the capability to do this?

Hopefully that will end soon. It is a major contributor to our deindustrialization and unemployment.

Isn’t this an incoherent set of statements? Would we be better off now if Ukraine were part of NATO?