How Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine becomes World War III

Gratuitous guns


Fig. 1. Gratuitous gun on display adjacent to Arsenal Middle School, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photograph by author, February 23, 2022.

One of my objections to Pittsburgh is the ludicrous number of guns on display, ostensibly to honor veterans, though there are many dignified memorials to be found without guns and, surely, there’s something awfully fucking weird about honoring veterans with the instruments of their death. I found another gun today. It’s next to Arsenal Middle School in Lawrenceville; at least this one is pointed away from the school.

There’s one more gun I know of that I haven’t gotten a picture of, so haven’t recorded. It’s in North Park, which these days, I don’t go through often.


Ukraine

I’ve been somewhat mystified by repeated claims that Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine could lead to World War III.[1] After all, he already occupies Crimea and a piece of eastern Ukraine and this has not expanded into World War III.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner’s answer is cyberattacks. His thinking is that unleashing numerous bots on Ukraine’s systems could spiral out of control into North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries. Putin might also cyberattack the NATO countries directly in retaliation for sanctions.[2]

Another possibility, which I think Julia Ioffe may have been alluding to,[3] is that a firefight too close to the wrong boundaries—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania are all NATO members bordering Ukraine—might spill over those boundaries generating a defensive reaction from that country’s military. Of these, Poland seems the likeliest possibility; it also borders Russia ally Belarus and has, of NATO countries, what appears to be the longest border with Ukraine. These countries all seem a long ways away from Russia’s announced military operation.[4]

Russia has already launched cyberattacks on Ukraine[5] and explosions and missile strikes have been reported outside separatist-controlled areas.[6]

Anne Applebaum, “There Are No Chamberlains in This Story,” Atlantic, February 20, 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/munich-security-conference-chamberlain/622872/

John Hudson and Missy Ryan, “U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation,” Washington Post, February 20, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/02/20/ukraine-russia-human-rights/

David Ignatius, “Surprising cracks, if small ones, appear in Kremlin support for Putin on Ukraine,” Washington Post, February 21, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/02/21/putin-ukraine-invasion-kremlin-support/

Dan Sabbagh and Rowena Mason, “UK says ‘serious doubts’ exist within Russian military about invading Ukraine,” Guardian, February 21, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/21/uk-says-serious-doubts-exist-within-russian-military-about-invading-ukraine

Ann M. Simmons, Yaroslav Trofimov, and Matthew Luxmoore, “Putin Orders Deployment of Troops to Breakaway Regions in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-alleges-ukrainian-incursion-kyiv-says-moscow-makes-up-fake-incidents-11645453512

Jon Allsop, “The weight of words in the Russia-Ukraine story,” Columbia Journalism Review, February 22, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/russia_putin_recognition_ukraine.php

Philip Bump, “‘Genius,’ ‘Savvy’: Trump reacts to Putin’s moves on Ukraine exactly as you’d expect,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/22/trump-reacts-putins-invasion-ukraine-exactly-youd-expect/

Anthony Faiola, “The moment when Putin got real,” Washington Post, February 22, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/02/22/putin-speech-analysis-ukraine-russia/

Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/

Frank Jordans, “Ukraine-Russia: Germany suspends Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline,” Associated Press, February 22, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-germany-europe-berlin-79e3dafb0d231f6a033613b7dab78cdf

Andrew Restuccia and Tarini Parti, “White House Calls Russian Moves an Invasion After Initially Refraining From Using Term,” Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/white-house-calls-russian-moves-an-invasion-after-initially-refraining-from-using-term-11645549648

Eli Stokols and Tracy Wilkinson, “Biden announces sanctions against Russia for invasion of Ukraine,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-02-22/biden-allies-taking-calibrated-approach-in-response-to-putin-as-russian-tanks-invade-ukraine

Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181

Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, “Top senator warns Putin cyberattacks could trigger bigger war,” Axios, February 23, 2022, https://www.axios.com/mark-warner-putin-cyber-attacks-ukraine-40c5e959-5093-4d79-bf24-8d4731edb293.html


Donald Trump

Coup attempt

It’s worth remembering that Donald Trump has abandoned Rudy Giuliani, who is less able to help Trump now that he has lost his law license in the state of New York and the District of Columbia (along with potential income streams from those jurisdictions) and faces severe financial and legal problems. The January 6 committee has had him over a barrel for a while.[7] What’s remarkable, and what I’m reading between the lines in the Guardian article, is the degree of resistance Giuliani continues to show even as that resistance apparently begins to crumble.[8]

My hunch—it’s only a hunch—is that Giuliani is merely stalling for time, gambling first, that with some artful stalling, the committee will be unable to pursue a prosecution before the November elections;[9] second, that the Republicans will win control of the House of Representatives in those elections; and third, that the committee will be promptly disbanded. The third of these is nearly certain from the second, the second is conventional wisdom, and the first would, perhaps more artfully, be like the case of Steve Bannon,[10] which is something I haven’t seen anything on recently.

Am I excessively pessimistic? Remember that it’s the Democrats who are running this committee and if there is a more worthless lot of politicians in the history of the U.S., I might never have heard of it. That said, there is a slender ray of hope in that that while Trump demands absolute fealty, it is one way, and he is disloyal to his subjects, even when that disloyalty could well burn him. One of those subjects might get mad enough to do something.

Hugo Lowell, “Rudy Giuliani poised to cooperate with January 6 committee,” Guardian, February 23, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/22/giuliani-cooperate-january-6-committee

Finances

Two prosecutors, who led the Manhattan investigation into Donald Trump’s finances, have resigned. This investigation, a criminal investigation, parallels[11] a separate civil investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James.[12]

Corinne Ramey and Deanna Paul, “Two Prosecutors in New York Investigation of Donald Trump Resign,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-prosecutors-in-new-york-investigation-of-donald-trump-resign-11645650257


Right-wing dictatorship

Jonathan Lai, “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has picked a new congressional map,” Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23, 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/politics/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-redistricting-new-congressional-map-supreme-court-20220223.html

Marc Levy, Mark Scolforo, and Lauren Rude, “Pennsylvania high court picks new map of US House districts; lawmakers react,” YourErie.com, February 23, 2022, https://www.yourerie.com/news/local-news/your-local-election-hq/pennsylvania-high-court-picks-new-map-of-us-house-districts/


  1. [1]Jake Epstein and John Haltiwanger, “Ukraine’s president warns a Russian invasion would spark a ‘fully-fledged’ European war,” Business Insider, February 1, 2022, https://www.businessinsider.com/ukraine-president-warns-russia-invasion-could-spark-european-war-2022-2; Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  2. [2]Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, “Top senator warns Putin cyberattacks could trigger bigger war,” Axios, February 23, 2022, https://www.axios.com/mark-warner-putin-cyber-attacks-ukraine-40c5e959-5093-4d79-bf24-8d4731edb293.html
  3. [3]Julia Ioffe, “Will Putin Get His World War III?” Puck News, February 22, 2022, https://puck.news/will-putin-get-his-world-war-iii/
  4. [4]Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181
  5. [5]Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu, “Top senator warns Putin cyberattacks could trigger bigger war,” Axios, February 23, 2022, https://www.axios.com/mark-warner-putin-cyber-attacks-ukraine-40c5e959-5093-4d79-bf24-8d4731edb293.html
  6. [6]Ann M. Simmons, Alan Cullison, and Yaroslav Trofimov, “Russia Begins Military Operation in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-shifts-to-war-footing-tells-citizens-to-leave-russia-11645616181
  7. [7]Jaclyn Diaz, “An Appeals Court Has Suspended Rudy Giuliani’s Ability To Practice Law In D.C.,” National Public Radio, July 8, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/07/08/1014047881/an-appeals-court-has-suspended-rudy-giulianis-ability-to-practice-law-in-d-c; Erica Orden, Veronica Stracqualursi, and Katelyn Polantz, “Rudy Giuliani suspended from practicing law in New York state,” Cable News Network, June 24, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/24/politics/rudy-giuliani-suspended-law/index.html; Peter Stone, “Rudy Giuliani Is (Probably) Screwed,” New York, October 1, 2021, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/rudy-giuliani-is-probably-screwed.html
  8. [8]Hugo Lowell, “Rudy Giuliani poised to cooperate with January 6 committee,” Guardian, February 23, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/22/giuliani-cooperate-january-6-committee
  9. [9]Daniel Strauss, “It’s Officially Time to Start Worrying About the January 6 Committee,” New Republic, December 9, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/164672/january-6-committee-meadows-pence
  10. [10]Kyle Cheney et al., “Steve Bannon indicted for defying Jan. 6 committee investigation,” Politico, November 12, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/12/steve-bannon-indicted-for-defying-jan-6-committee-investigation-521177; Matt Ford, “The Dark Side of Steve Bannon’s Contempt Case,” New Republic, November 17, 2021, https://newrepublic.com/article/164444/steve-bannon-contempt-january-6; Hugo Lowell, “Rudy Giuliani poised to cooperate with January 6 committee,” Guardian, February 23, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/feb/22/giuliani-cooperate-january-6-committee
  11. [11]Corinne Ramey and Deanna Paul, “Two Prosecutors in New York Investigation of Donald Trump Resign,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-prosecutors-in-new-york-investigation-of-donald-trump-resign-11645650257
  12. [12]Corinne Ramey, “New York Attorney General Says Evidence Suggests Trump, Company Falsely Valued Assets,” Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-attorney-general-evidence-suggests-trump-and-company-falsely-valued-assets-11642573790; Tierney Sneed and Kara Scannell, “Trump and his children may be deposed by New York attorney general, judge rules,” Cable News Network, February 17, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/17/politics/trump-subpoena-james-new-york-lawsuit/index.html; Heather Vogell, “New Legal Filing Reveals Startling Details of Possible Fraud by Trump Organization,” ProPublica, January 21, 2022, https://www.propublica.org/article/new-legal-filing-reveals-startling-details-of-possible-fraud-by-trump-organization

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