Calibrating your probability estimates of world events: Russia vs Ukraine, 6 months later.

19 28 August 2014 11:37PM

Some of the comments on the link by James_Miller exactly six months ago provided very specific estimates of how the events might turn out:

James_Miller:

• The odds of Russian intervening militarily = 40%.
• The odds of the Russians losing the conventional battle (perhaps because of NATO intervention) conditional on them entering = 30%.
• The odds of the Russians resorting to nuclear weapons conditional on them losing the conventional battle = 20%.

Me:

"Russians intervening militarily" could be anything from posturing to weapon shipments to a surgical strike to a Czechoslovakia-style tank-roll or Afghanistan invasion. My guess that the odds of the latter is below 5%.

A bet between James_Miller and solipsist:

I will bet you \$20 U.S. (mine) vs \$100 (yours) that Russian tanks will be involved in combat in the Ukraine within 60 days. So in 60 days I will pay you \$20 if I lose the bet, but you pay me \$100 if I win.

While it is hard to do any meaningful calibration based on a single event, there must be lessons to learn from it. Given that Russian armored columns are said to capture key Ukrainian towns today, the first part of James_Miller's prediction has come true, even if it took 3 times longer than he estimated.

Note that even the most pessimistic person in that conversation (James) was probably too optimistic. My estimate of 5% appears way too low in retrospect, and I would probably bump it to 50% for a similar event in the future.

Now, given that the first prediction came true, how would one reevaluate the odds of the two further escalations he listed? I still feel that there is no way there will be a "conventional battle" between Russia and NATO, but having just been proven wrong makes me doubt my assumptions. If anything, maybe I should give more weight to what James_Miller (or at least Dan Carlin) has to say on the issue. And if I had any skin in the game, I would probably be even more cautious.

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Comment author: 29 August 2014 06:14:43AM *  10 points [-]

I estimate the chances of NATO getting involved militarily in the Ukraine to be less than 1%. Ukraine is not a NATO member and the US has zero appetite for a war with Russia over some former Soviet territory. Russia has already detached pieces from Georgia and pretty much no one noticed or cared. For grabbing Crimea Russia got a gentle slap on the wrist and that was it.

The situation would be different in the Baltics, but the West will not intervene over Ukraine.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 01:34:02PM 8 points [-]

Why will the Baltics be different? Do you think that the dead hand of the past (in the form of the NATO treaty) will compel Obama to act to protect nations that most Americans have never heard of? If yes keep this in mind

By 1996, Ukraine voluntarily gave up all of its nuclear arms and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In exchange for making the world a safer place, it received security assurances from Britain, the United States and Russia in the form of the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and John Major, with pledges to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and the “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

Do Baltic members spend lots of time and money building their political support among American politicians like Israel and Taiwan do? If not why will these politicians care if Russia retakes the Baltics?

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:40:48PM *  15 points [-]

Why will the Baltics be different?

Because they are members of NATO.

If NATO doesn't react to the Russian invasion, it will be clearly and very publicly dead. And that would radically change the power equation in Europe and may e.g. lead to Western Europe rearming itself.

I am not saying that if Putin, say, starts grabbing chunks of Estonia, NATO will necessarily intervene. It might decide to die instead. But the odds are very different from the Ukraine case.

And, of course, NATO's original purpose and whole reason for existence is precisely to contain the Russian/Soviet expansion to the west.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:50:02PM 5 points [-]

And, of course, NATO's original purpose and whole reason for existence is precisely to contain the Russian/Soviet expansion to the west.

I don't think the reasons for forming NATO in 1949 are, or should be, relevant today. Upholding treaties is a legitimate concern, but what people cared about two generations ago when they formed them isn't.

Comment author: 11 September 2014 10:46:08PM 2 points [-]

East Europeans wanted into NATO for protection both from Communism and from Russian domination simpliciter. The latter consideration has not fundamentally changed.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:35:22PM *  9 points [-]

the United States and Russia in the form of the Budapest Memorandum, signed by Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and John Major, with pledges to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and the “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

Memorandums are non-binding and do not, for example, pass Congress, and certainly are not the 'supreme law of the land' like treaties with mutual self-defense clauses. That memorandum bound the US to nothing and whatever it meant expired with the president who signed it. It is no more surprising that the USA has not invaded Russia over its violation of the memorandum than it is surprising that the USA did not invade Japan in 1905 or 1910 for colonizing Korea despite the letters of assurance to the Korean king and (some interpretations of) the previous treaty. With NATO, everyone understands that an attack on a NATO country will involve American reprisals; in contrast, I've never even heard of this memorandum until the past year where suddenly everyone is invoking it as an example of how hollow American treaties are.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 08:03:30PM 3 points [-]

Memorandums have less prominence than treaties so the public relations cost to ignoring them is indeed smaller.

With NATO, everyone understands that an attack on a NATO country will involve American reprisals

Only if President Obama wanted to initiate reprisals, and does everyone know that he would? Yes, he would certainly do something symbolic, but would he take military action against Russia if Russia, say, decided to take back Estonia? I would give it less than a 50% chance. If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:47:44PM 18 points [-]

Memorandums have less prominence than treaties so the public relations cost to ignoring them is indeed smaller.

When something doesn't oblige one to do something, and everyone understands that well in advance, then yes, the PR hit from not doing that something is indeed small... You gain a reputation as a promise-breaker by breaking promises.

Yes, he would certainly do something symbolic, but would he take military action against Russia if Russia, say, decided to take back Estonia?

He has to, or else the US empire collapses worldwide: the US holds very few territories outright, it depends on host countries like Germany, Japan, and South Korea, who generally have defense clauses just like NATO and allow & subsidize the US bases in part to benefit from mutual defense clauses. If a NATO country is invaded without a real defense, then America's credibility goes up in smoke. The day after the invasion, just in East Asia: SK restarts its nuke program, NK begins extorting more from SK under the threat of invasion, Japan begins a covert nuke program and begins the process of expelling the US from Okinawa (a long-running sore in their domestic politics justifiable only as part of the US nuclear umbrella, and a solution which costs the US much of its capabilities against China), and so on and so forth.

If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

Oh yes. And that's in part why Ukraine was never allowed to join NATO: too close to Russia.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 11:15:08PM 0 points [-]

He has to, or else the US empire collapses worldwide:

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

You are right that Russia taking Estonia would cause lots of countries to acquire nuclear weapons. No doubt high tech countries like Japan, Germany, and South Korea have plans in place to very quickly get them.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 11:29:59AM 5 points [-]

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power

In Eastern Europe, the pro-Russian people would be like: "See? The West is toothless; Russia will regain her former sphere of influence soon (which includes us)." And people have an instinct to side with the winner, so the people who don't have strong political opinions would be likely to join what seems like a winning side.

The map drawn at Yalta Conference was a Schelling point for decades. People still remember it.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 12:22:59AM 7 points [-]

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

We may judge him by his actions: infuriating many left-wing intellectuals by now-6 years of straight-line continuation and expansion of Bush-era policies with regard to national security and empire-building.

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

'But I doubt that letting Russia take the Ukraine would cause any collapse of US credibility abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.'

Comment author: 30 August 2014 01:50:16AM 5 points [-]

I think the last paragraph is true, although I recognize that you probably do not.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 01:15:18AM *  3 points [-]

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse.

I don't think their views on the subject are terribly coherent. The calls to stop being the world's policeman are intertwined with calls to intervene for "appropriate" humanitarian causes. Hard isolationism is a rarity nowadays, I think.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 07:46:51AM 3 points [-]

Lots of leftwing intellectuals would love to see the U.S. empire collapse. We don't know Obama's opinion on the topic because he would be smart enough to hide any such anti-patriotic views.

I like your posts and comments a lot more when you refrain from the unfortunate rhetoric. It also would be nice to step away from the politics proper and get back to the topic of calibrating one's certainties.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 02:55:42PM 4 points [-]

I like your posts and comments a lot more when you refrain from the unfortunate rhetoric.

Our estimate of Putin's estimate of Obama's view on the U.S. empire is critical to calibrating our beliefs. Lots of leftwing intellectuals really, really do think that the U.S. empire is an evil, imperialist force (do you doubt that they believe this?). To calibrate our beliefs we need to figure out with what probability Putin thinks Obama has this view.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 12:21:24AM 3 points [-]

I, and presumably shminux as well, though that you were claiming that there's actually a good chance that Obama actually does want to see the American 'empire' collapse, not that Putin thought that he would.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 01:48:38AM *  1 point [-]

To calibrate our beliefs we need to figure out with what probability Putin thinks Obama has this view.

Yes, assuming it's one of the many issues Putin pays any attention to. What are the odds of Putin even considering the possibility that Obama might be a hidden left-wing anti-patriotic conspirator whose main agenda is to break the evil US empire? This is an easy question to answer. Presumably Putin is to the left of the "left-wing intellectuals" with his views on the evilness of the US empire, right? And actual US "anti-patriotic" left-wingers certainly don't consider Obama one of them, judging by the amount of criticism they fling at him. So Putin almost surely sees Obama as the current symbol of US imperialism trying to prevent Russia from exercising its rights to protect Russian citizens in formerly Russian territories. He may well think that he is weak and try to take advantage of it, but he certainly does not think that Obama is secretly anti-american, no more than he thinks that Obama is secretly Kenyan. My guess is that you think this is an option worth considering because of your own political views, which are obviously anti-Obama. This leads to a selection bias where you exaggerate the likelihood of negligible-probability alternatives related to the views you disagree with.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 02:12:33AM 1 point [-]

Obama clearly wants to pull the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan, which under Bush were big parts of the U.S. empire. Lots of Republicans think that Obama wants to greatly reduce U.S. military power, so why is it silly to think that Putin might think that Obama wants to do so?

but he certainly does not think that Obama is secretly anti-american,

I take it you don't have much experience talking with leftwing college professors. It's far from implausible to think that deep down Obama believes that U.S. military power has, with the exception of WWII, been a force for evil.

Putin is former KGB and the KGB had a long history of getting leftwing intellectuals to spy for them because the intellectuals disliked the West. (I do not believe that Obama is or ever has been a spy.)

Comment author: 01 September 2014 02:44:50AM -1 points [-]

Our estimate of Putin's estimate of Obama's view on the U.S. empire is critical to calibrating our beliefs.

That is true, and how much of Putin's estimate of Obama is due to relentless right-wing propaganda saying he's weak on everything?

I'm not convinced he's failed to do anything useful that say GWB would have done (or any up and coming GOP leader). I think a big problem we have now is we're in umpteen situations in which there's hardly any clear cut winning move.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 09:19:24AM 1 point [-]

But I doubt that letting Russia take a small NATO country would cause the collapse of U.S. power abroad. Paradoxically, it might increase our power as nations put more effort into pleasing us and begging us to station troops on their soil to act as tripwires.

If Russia takes a NATO country and the US doesn't intervene then US troops obviously don't act as tripwires. This implies that the US is an unreliable ally, which would prompt the other NATO members to say a big "fuck you" to the US and take defense on their own hands, which would include turning Europe into the Fourth Reich, rebuilding the Japanese Empire, some countries preemptively siding with Russia, and so on.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 02:15:10PM *  2 points [-]

Consider two reasons the U.S. has for protecting a country from Russia or China. (1) Because of some document signed a long time ago. (2) Because we would lose a lot if that country fell under the control of Russia or China.

(2) has always been a lot more important than (1). The dead hand of the past is a lot weaker than it seems in international relations.

Having the Germans and Japanese spend more money on their military would benefit the United States. If I were Putin I would consider the main downside of taking Estonia being that German would respond by militarizing.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 08:30:17PM 4 points [-]

Part of the EU constitution is about mutual self defense. The EU almost certainly would defend their own territory. Staying out of the conflict wouldn't be only a betrayal of Estonia but a betrayal of every EU country.

If Ukraine were a NATO member and Russia still did what she did, do you think that the U.S. would have taken military action against Russia?

If Ukraine would be in NATO game then attacking the "rebels" in Ukraine would be fair game just as the US attacks ISIS via airstrikes in Iraq.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:46:33PM 5 points [-]

Even without the US the EU has more than double the defense budget of Russia. European willingness to defend one of the countries of the EU is by a magnitude higher than the willingness to defend Ukraine or Georgia.

There are open borders in the EU and that means people from the baltic states are free to travel around. As a result many EU citizens have interacted with people from the baltic states

Latvia has a per capita GDP (PPP) of 20,000 while Ukraine has one of 7,500. Latvia has a functioning democracy and is not ruled by a bunch of oligarchs. It's from an European perspective worth protecting in a way that Ukraine simply isn't. Or Moldova, Georgia, Belarus or Azerbaijan for that matter.

I would also expect that Latvia gives it's minorities certain rights because it's legally obliged to do so under EU law that Ukraine didn't.

The contract that you linked to doesn't specify that the US has a legal duty to protect the Ukraine.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:11:59PM *  11 points [-]

I would also expect that Latvia gives it's minorities certain rights because it's legally obliged to do so under EU law that Ukraine didn't.

This isn't directly relevant to the discussion, but if Russia were ever to attack Latvia, their excuse would probably precisely be the treatment of ethnic Russians. It is, in fact, a recurring theme in Russian media.

The reason for this is that in order to be eligible for a full citizenship one is required to pass Latvian language competency and Latvian history exams. What is more, Latvia allows dual citizenship, but only if the other citizenship is of a country that belongs to the list that is specified by a law. Russia is not on the list.

Citizens of the former USSR who possess neither Latvian nor other citizenship who live in Latvia are eligible for a non-citizen passport. They are allowed to naturalize provided they pass the aforementioned exams. However, for various reasons many are unwilling (few are unable) to do so. For example, traveling to Russia is easier for a non-citizen than a citizen of Latvia. However, it is easier to work and travel in the Schengen Area if one is a non-citizen of Latvia than a citizen of Russia. Thus some people might find it disadvantageous to choose one citizenship (in their day-to-day lives traveling is more important than having the right to vote).

How such an unusual situation came into existence? If I understand correctly, in early 1990s Latvia desperately tried to avoid breakaway regions, because in 1989 only 49% of the non-Latvian population supported the idea of the independence of Latvia (the number of Latvians supporting the idea made up 93%). It should be noted that, according to wikipedia, such situation is not without a precedent:

Peter Van Elsuwege, a scholar in European law at Ghent University, states that the Latvian law is grounded upon the established legal principle that persons who settle under the rule of an occupying power gain no automatic right to nationality. A number of historic precedents support this, according to Van Elsuwege, most notably the case of Alsace-Lorraine when the French on recovering the territory in 1918 did not grant citizenship to German settlers despite Germany having annexed the territory 47 years earlier in 1871.

However, as you can imagine, the fact that these non-citizens (mostly Russians) do not have voting rights is a target of outrage in Russian media. Furthermore, many ethnic Russians in Latvia watch a lot of it and this results in them having different opinions (about e.g. situation in Ukraine) than ethnic Latvians. However, it is not clear whether they would actually support Russia in the case of armed conflict.

Please note that I'm neither Latvian, nor an expert on Latvian law, therefore the story above may contain some inaccuracies. Still, LW readers might find it helpful for their probability estimates of potential wars and/or other events.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 04:15:56PM 3 points [-]

Thank you. I'd wondered about whether ethnic Russians were actually being mistreated, though this doesn't answer the question of whether they were being mistreated in Ukraine.

The next question is whether they've being treated differently now that Russia is doing some invading.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 08:06:08PM *  9 points [-]

In the 2001 Ukrainian census 17.3% of the population of Ukraine identied as ethnic Russians (58.3% in Crimea) while 77.8% as Ukrainians. However, in 2012, only 50% of respondents consider Ukrainian their native language, 29% - Russian. Moreover, 20% consider both Ukrainian and Russian their mother tongue and 45% usually speak Ukrainian at home, 39% - Russian and 15% - both Ukrainian and Russian (equally).

Russian language seems to have high informal status, since, according to wikipedia

A 2012 study showed that: on the radio, 3.4% of songs are in Ukrainian while 60% are in Russian over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books are in Russian 28% of TV programs are in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels.

and business affairs are still mainly dealt with in Russian. Some people even claim that

“There is an established Russian-speaking environment in big cities and it exerts pressure on people,” she claims. “They think that they will not belong to it if they speak Ukrainian.”

and, according to the same article

Sociological surveys show a huge gap between the number of those who speak Ukrainian at home and those who also use it at work and in public. For Kyiv, this is about 50% and 20% accordingly.

At the same time, according to the Constitution, the state language of Ukraine is the Ukrainian language. However, in 2012 the new law gave Russian status of regional language and approved its use in courts and other government institutions in areas where the percentage of Russians exceeds 10%.

As you can see, we can observe the gap between formal status and informal status of Russian in Ukraine. Thus for any language related event there are at least two different interpretations. For example, on February 2014, the new Ukrainian government tried to repeal 2012 language law. While many Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians saw it as an attempt to finally curtail Russification (in the informal sphere), many Russian speakers "saw the move as more evidence that the antigovernment protests in Kiev that toppled Yanukovich's government were intent on pressing for a nationalistic agenda." Obviously, back in 2012 it was Ukrainian speakers who saw the new law as unfairly "narrowing the sphere of use of Ukrainian language" and on February 2014 they thought that it was their chance to reverse it. However, they were far too much in haste, and, even though the acting president vetoed the bill, a backlash among Russian speakers probably made Russia's military takeover of Crimea much easier.

Although the language isn't everything, but, according to an opinion poll

among respondents who support Ukraine's entry into the Customs Union, the vast majority (72%) speak in favor of granting Russian the status of the state language. However, among respondents who support the signing of the free trade zone agreement with the EU, the vast majority (72%) are against bilingualism

Another point made by the same poll shows that it is, at least partially, a matter of personal identity beyond language:

Despite the fact that Ukrainian is mostly spoken by elderly people, young people oppose bilingualism more.

(indeed, it seems that for many Ukrainians this whole EU vs.Customs Union dilemma is more about identity than economics).

But I digress. In short, it seems to me that if Russians were actually being mistreated, their language would not have such a high informal status in Ukraine, which is disproportionate to the share of actual ethnic Russians in Ukrainian population. However, due to the differences between formal, informal public and informal private spheres certain actions (e.g. by the government) can be perceived as unfair by a certain segment of population.

(Disclaimer: I am not a Ukrainian; the story above may contain some inaccuracies. In addition, an actual Ukrainian would be able to tell what exactly are prevailing sentiments now)

Comment author: 30 August 2014 12:42:58AM 2 points [-]

That's interesting. I would have estimated more pressure from the EU on that issue. From a quick googling it seemed that nobody sued in the European Court of Human Rights about the issue.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 10:37:57AM 2 points [-]

I understand it's something the EU does criticise them for. I suspect we don't see that kind of lawsuit because the people who care most about the issue also don't want to legitimise EU power in Latvia.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:09:36PM 2 points [-]

The Baltics would also be different because of their access to Northern Europe and the strategic value militarily. These countries are also democratic and EU/Nato members which also factor in of course.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:12:45AM 1 point [-]

6 months ago, I would have agreed with you.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:31:11PM 6 points [-]

I interpret the last six months as more evidence that the West will do nothing.

I also see large, um, practical problems with the idea. Who will be intervening? You can't think it would be a good idea to send German soldiers into Ukraine to fight Russians. And will the US execute airstrikes against Russia given that Russia is likely to retaliate with airstrikes against, say, Alaska?

In any case anything resembling an intervention will be a colossal political gift for Putin.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 04:49:43AM *  8 points [-]

My guesses for the next 6 months:

The odds of Ukraine reclaiming complete political control over ALL areas of the country: 10%

The odds of Ukraine reclaiming complete political control over ALL areas of the country EXCEPT Crimea: 30%

The odds of Russia de facto annexing some chunk of Eastern Ukraine then setting up a new border: 20%

The odds of invasion of the rest of Ukraine by Russia: 5%

Other situations, especially one where Russia retains Crimea and some parts of Eastern Ukraine but the situation is still in flux: 35%

Why? I think that the situation will escalate further, but not THAT much further. Diplomacy and a firmer NATO attitude will stop Russia from committing to full-scale invasion, but won't prompt it to give any land back.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:27:26AM *  6 points [-]

#1415: Will there be a **lethal confrontation involving Russian **national military forces in Ukraine **before 1 October 2014?

Note the "*" refer to very precisely defined terms.

I will update my prediction based on this LW info.

Are there any comparable bets related to the South Chinese Sea dispute?

Comment author: [deleted] 01 September 2014 06:01:35AM 3 points [-]

I feel like there is a lot of noise in this thread. We'd do well to avoid any further mention of Hitler. But the first exchange with Lumifer was good.

What is Good Judgment Project saying? Maybe I should get around to actually participating...

One place to start might be looking at freedom indices and yes, you can see that Russia is basically a dictatorship now.

An analogy that comes into my head is Brezhnev and the Czechoslovakia invasion.

Comment author: 01 September 2014 07:15:26AM 5 points [-]

I feel like there is a lot of noise in this thread.

Indeed. But it is still way better than what a similar topic would have generated on reddit or elsewhere.

An analogy that comes into my head is Brezhnev and the Czechoslovakia invasion.

Right, it used to happen every 12 years like a clockwork after the Soviets "liberated" Eastern Europe in 1944: 1956 Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia, 1980 Poland and Afghanistan. And by 1992 there was no more Soviet Union. In retrospect, I should have expected that another invasion is not out of the question.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 01:28:53PM 3 points [-]

And if I had any skin in the game, I would probably be even more cautious.

I endorse putting skin in the game. I was surprised by how much more educational a skin-in-the-game prediction feels than a passive one.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 12:38:13AM *  4 points [-]

Garry Kasparov has made the following Tweets:

The reason to take difficult & dangerous steps to stop Putin today is simple. It will get more difficult and more dangerous tomorrow

The Russian commanders think Putin is crazy but he keeps being right, keeps winning without resistance. So they follow. It's 1938-39 again.

The most dangerous element is Putin & his followers' sense of invincibility. The longer they go unopposed the harder will be to stop them.

Obama & EU kept looking for easy & safe ways to fight Putin. They refused to make tough decisions and the price always keeps going up.

Putin is probably trying to calculate what's the most he can take consistent with keeping the probability of a major war with the United States below some level. If the U.S. is unwilling to fight, Putin will take all of the territory of the Soviet Empire + perhaps Finland, a country that used to belong to Russia.

Putin probably knows he might have a limited time to act because the U.S. might get a hawkish President (Hillary Clinton, any Republican but Rand Paul) or Germany might re-militarize.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 02:07:09PM 3 points [-]

I find the opposing interpretation to be more credible, good write-up of it here.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 09:57:53AM 3 points [-]

Putin probably knows he might have a limited time to act because the U.S. might get a hawkish President (Hillary Clinton, any Republican but Rand Paul) or Germany might re-militarize.

In this conflict Germany wants negotiate a deal that accepts a Russian Crimea in exchange for Ukrainian control of the rest of Russia and the US oppose such a deal. Germany has a stronger interest in keeping the Russian gas pipelines active than it has in whether or not Russia controls Crimea.

Defending an EU country like Finland would have a completely different priority. I doubt that Germany would have a huge problem with Russia taking over Belarus either. Minsk is anyway badly governed.

Bismark might be a better comparison then 1938-39.

I don't think the key problem is US unwillingness to fight but the unwillingness to engage in diplomacy make a deal that gives Russia officially Crimea in exchange for keeping the rest of Ukraine under the control of Kiev.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:49:58AM *  4 points [-]

Putin is probably trying to calculate what's the most he can take consistent with keeping the probability of a major war with the United States below some level. If the U.S. is unwilling to fight, Putin will take all of the territory of the Soviet Empire + perhaps Finland, a country that used to belong to Russia.

Currently, he only seems interested in territories inhabited by ethnic Russians, who are happy to be (re-)annexed to the country they consider they homeland.
I doubt he is much interested in taking, say, the Baltic republics or cis-Dniestr Moldova, as he would have to rule there with an iron fist on an uncooperative population.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 12:30:20PM 6 points [-]

ethnic Russians, who are happy to be (re-)annexed to the country they consider they homeland.

Are they, or is this a part of military propaganda? (I ask seriously, I don't know.)

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:06:34PM 6 points [-]

Well, they are certainly Russophone. Whether they do indeed have a preference for being annexed to Russia, I can't say for sure, but it seems plausible, at least given the evidence available on Western media:

The Crimean status referendum showed overwhelming support for joining Russia, but this referendum occurred under military occupation and there are credible allegations of fraud, thus it is not very strong evidence.
Less controversially, the former president Viktor Yanukovych, who had a pro-Russian platform and whose removal sparked Russian intervention, had his electoral base in the Donetsk oblast, where he previously served as governor.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 03:02:10PM 5 points [-]

Whether they do indeed have a preference for being annexed to Russia

The population in question is not homogenous. Some would like to be annexed, some would not, some care much, some little.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 August 2014 09:01:16AM 3 points [-]

Seems like a correct, though absolutely useless remark.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:41:10PM *  1 point [-]

<p>

Love that broad brush you have.

But whether the locals do or do not prefer to be annexed is besides the point, isn't it. Unless you think it should be a new standard in international relations that 50%+1 preference for annexation is a valid casus belli. What a beautiful world that would be to live in.

</p>

Comment author: 30 August 2014 12:24:31AM 4 points [-]

Unless you think it should be a new standard in international relations that 50%+1 preference for annexation is a valid casus belli.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination

Comment author: 30 August 2014 12:31:05AM *  4 points [-]

<p>

However, there are far more self-identified nations than there are existing states and there is no legal process to redraw state boundaries according to the will of these peoples.[43] According to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the UN, ICJ and international law experts, there is no contradiction between the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity, with the latter taking precedence.

But again, that's not even my point. My point is a Kantian point: do you want to live in a world where self-determination of [group] in [country] is sufficient grounds for boots on the ground? This is not even a question about what the US or Russia had been or is doing, but about our preferences.

</p>

Comment author: 30 August 2014 03:14:58AM 2 points [-]

I'm saying we live in a world where a right to self-determination has been recognized for something like a century now, even if it does not come with an automatic invasion authorization from the UN Security Council. So far, I'm not sure if it's been all that bad although as an American, I cannot sympathize with those who might want to exercise said right inasmuch as there is no other country to which people like me might want to form.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 09:51:57AM *  7 points [-]

The right to self-determination seems to me to have been "recognized" as propaganda, but practically never practiced.

It was used post WW1, but only because there were two big multi-ethnic empires to be broken up. No-one proposed treating the victors similarly; their constituent nations which wanted independence had to fight for it, like Ireland did in 1920-1922.

Very few significant new nations have claimed statehood in the century since then on the basis of this principle without armed struggle. And when there's a civil war or rebellion and one side wins independence by military and political means, I don't give much credence to abstract principles.

Using Wikipedia's list of sovereign states by date of independence for the last century, the only states in the first half of the list (from 1973 to the present) that were established peacefully along ethnic lines are Czech and Slovak republics in the post-USSR breakup of Czechoslovakia. Most other Soviet states became nations despite being multi-ethnic, or fought bloody civil wars as in Yugoslavia. So did almost all African and Asian colonies post decolonization.

I admit I didn't have the patience to read all the linked articles on that list, and its older half (1914-1972), but at least its first half doesn't contain a single example of a part of sovereign nation breaking away on the basis of self determination without a major war. The older half probably might have some examples, but I expect them to be very few.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 02:58:53PM *  3 points [-]

significant group of states peacefully established along ethnic lines [...] in the post-USSR breakup of [...] Yugoslavia

?!

Comment author: 30 August 2014 10:37:22AM 3 points [-]

Very few significant new nations have claimed statehood in the century since then on the basis of this principle without armed struggle.

A lot of former colonies are now self-governed and a lot of them became independent without armed struggle. That was what the principle of self-determination was about. The British lost their empire over the principle.

It wasn't really about giving the Scottish or the Basques a right to hold a referendum to get independence.

On the other hand the principle of immutability of borders as written down in the Hague Conventions isn't that well respect either. The borders of Ukraine changed frequently since the Hague Conventions was made and I don't see a real reason why they should now be immutable when a majority of Crimeans doesn't want to belong to Ukraine.

The Soviet states also did became nations in a way that did violate the territorial integrity of the Soviet Union without a war.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 07:30:55PM 2 points [-]

The right to self-determination seems to me to have been "recognized" as propaganda, but practically never practiced.

If it has not been practiced, then it cannot be harmful as Ilya claims. So which is it: do international abstractions have no force and no consequences, in which case it doesn't matter at all, Kantian or otherwise, which abstractions are mouthed? Or do they matter at least a little bit? In which case you don't seem to have demonstrated any harm from the abstraction - fighting bloody civil wars is not a new phenomenon.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 02:08:51PM 1 point [-]

One also hears the claim that Ukraine has the right to determine whom it wants to ally with and the Russians have no right to prevent Kiev from joining the West. This is a dangerous way for Ukraine to think about its foreign policy choices. The sad truth is that might often makes right when great-power politics are at play. Abstract rights such as self-determination are largely meaningless when powerful states get into brawls with weaker states. Did Cuba have the right to form a military alliance with the Soviet Union during the Cold War? The United States certainly did not think so, and the Russians think the same way about Ukraine joining the West.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 11:34:50AM *  2 points [-]

Currently, he only seems interested in territories inhabited by ethnic Russians

Currently that is all he is openly or semi-openly taking action on. As for what he is interested in, he is on record as calling the collapse of the Soviet Union "a major geopolitical disaster of the century". It seems clear that he wants to restore all of that territory. All else is tactics.

I doubt he is much interested in taking, say, the Baltic republics or cis-Dniestr Moldova, as he would have to rule there with an iron fist on an uncooperative population.

Ruling with an iron fist on an "uncooperative" population (if they don't actively fight, what will their "uncooperation" get them?) is what Russia does. It did that through the years of the Soviet Union, and before that under the Tsars, when it was described (by the Soviets, no less) as "the prison of nations". Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.

Prediction: within five years, there will be separatist unrest in all of the places you mentioned, fanned (but not openly) by Putin.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:39:37AM 3 points [-]

<politics, usual mindkill caveats apply>

Yup, should have erected a fence vs misbehavior early. The West did not because the West cannot coordinate. Oh and Obama is sadly an empty suit, and didn't lead at all. I don't have a particular axe to grind vs Obama, I really wish he wasn't what he turned out to be.

</politics>

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:08:43AM 5 points [-]

Yup, should have erected a fence vs misbehavior early. The West did not because the West cannot coordinate.

No. Bluffing is a key part of US foreign policy. If you frequently bluff than you don't have fences.

Obama also gets something from the conflict. EU nations who are angry at the US for NSA spying don't act on that anger because the have to show strength in the conflict with Russia and an EU US conflict would produce weakness. It increases the chances of getting an EU-US free trade agreement.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:52:28AM 2 points [-]

The West did not because the West cannot coordinate.

I really don't think it's a coordination problem. I think it's a will problem.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 08:48:28AM *  2 points [-]

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets. The economical defeat led to collapse of the Soviet empire. The memetic defeat results in the lack of will we see today.

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power, just like it was done with Nazis. For example in Slovakia, the communists still have the power; they have to compete for it in democratic election and sometimes they lose, but they still have the advantage of decades of unopposed brainwashing on their side, and the skills and contacts of the former secret service. These days, Slovakia is technically a member of EU, but our government is communist, the prime minister is openly pro-Russian, the majority catholic church focuses on fighting homosexuality and liberalism, and some of my "friends" on facebook still insist that Ukrainians are attacking themselves, Russians are only trying to protect the innocent victims, and the evil Americans are spreading propaganda to start the war because that's all those evil mercenaries ever do, unlike us, peaceful Slavic brothers. So... this is one EU country, which happens to share a border with Ukraine. We will not be helpful, because we are already conquered memetically.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:31:20AM *  9 points [-]

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power, just like it was done with Nazis.

You can't just go in an remove important people from power. That would have needed a military invasion at a time where it wasn't clear who controls which nuclear weapons.

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets.

I think you overstate that case. A lot of former Soviet countries like Poland aren't pro-Russian. Poland has 38 million citizens while Slovakia has 5.5.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:02:58PM 7 points [-]

Given Russian/Polish history, if communist propaganda were strong enough to make Poland pro-Russia, the communists would have taken over the world.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:16:08PM 2 points [-]

Poland was Eastern-bloc, yes. It was not a part of the Soviet Union since WW2 wound down.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:51:31PM 2 points [-]

The same is true of Slovakia. It was part of Czechoslovakia.

I use Soviet country to mean, a country which political structure is build on Soviets as opposed to a representative democracy.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 02:16:59AM *  3 points [-]

I'm aware of Slovakia's origin, having visited Czechoslovakia. I'm not sure where I implied anything different.

Sorry for being pedantic.

(why the downvote, whoever? Was it belief I was lying about visiting Czechoslovakia? Believe it or not, the country did exist under that name during my lifetime. Was it suspicion of my being sarcastic in my apology? I was not.)

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:36:33PM 5 points [-]

The Cold War ended with economical victory of the West, and memetic victory of the Soviets

Which memetic victory? Marxism/communism/Soviet ideology pretty much imploded after the fall of the USSR. Look at what China did. I think it was a total memetic loss for the Soviets.

It was a huge strategic mistake after the fall of communism not to use the opportunity to expose the crimes of the regime, and to remove the important people from power

First, whose mistake and who would have been doing the removing?

Second, it depends on the country. I think that in Russia the old Soviet "important people" were effectively removed. The new political elite is not the old political elite.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 03:42:47PM *  7 points [-]

First, whose mistake and who would have been doing the removing?

In my country, our mistake, of course. People were too idealistic during the "Velvet Revolution". We thought that just publicly ending the evil regime is enough, that we can just forgive everyone and have a fresh start. And that the bad guys will be happy for being forgiven (instead of e.g. executed for their crimes) and they will live peacefully.

Yeah... they just waited for a year or two to make sure there is no will to punish them... and then they returned to the power. Since most of the judges or policemen or people in any position of influence except for parliament (because all our attention was focused there) were former communists, it wasn't even difficult. They just had to wait for hedonic adaptation, and blame all the problems on lack of socialism, and then win one election. Then they removed all their opponents from the public media and used the media for propaganda. And used the loyal secret service against political opponents.

I think that in Russia the old Soviet "important people" were effectively removed. The new political elite is not the old political elite.

I don't know about situation in Russia. Just saying that it's not enough to remove the visible people in parliament. It is also important to remove communists from the justice and secret service. Otherwise, you get new faces, connected to the old less visible people.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 05:21:34PM 4 points [-]

Which memetic victory? Marxism/communism/Soviet ideology pretty much imploded after the fall of the USSR. Look at what China did. I think it was a total memetic loss for the Soviets.

And yet the current head of the EU is a not-quite-repentant former Soviet apologist.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:27:59PM 2 points [-]

I would disagree, many of the former soviet republics are full of old communists or those who were ascending the party ranks right at the end.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 08:01:28PM 2 points [-]

many of the former soviet republics are full of old communists

First, I explicitly said "Russia", not USSR.

Second, of course there are a lot of old communists. In the Soviet era if you wanted to make any kind of a career you had to be one. LOTS of people were communists. What do you think happened to the rank and file of the CPSU? Answer: nothing, they're still around and still ambitious.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 02:26:53AM 5 points [-]

Second, of course there are a lot of old communists. In the Soviet era if you wanted to make any kind of a career you had to be one. LOTS of people were communists. What do you think happened to the rank and file of the CPSU?

What happened to the rank and file members of the Nazi party after WWII?

Comment author: 30 August 2014 03:12:17AM 2 points [-]

What happened to the rank and file members of the Nazi party after WWII?

Nothing much, I think. Of course, a lot were killed during the war, but those who survived went through denazificaton and remained normal members of the German society.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 07:15:39PM 0 points [-]

Thank you for proving my point.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:26:09PM 2 points [-]

Samuel Huntington would be cheering if he were alive because he predicted that this is what would happen. We would have a multi-polar world and that a great deal of that polarity would be based on ethnicity and he used the Slavic countries as a prime example. The downside is he predicted a lot of small scale conflict under this system which we are seeing.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:24:07PM 0 points [-]

Absolutely, not only is there a Will problem you have a classic war weariness quotient in the US and UK and the EU to be perfectly blunt as we showed in Libya no longer has the resources to meaningfully put up a fight in a large scale and meaningful way. How the EU continues to actually make its NATO commitments is interesting because all in all Europe needs to re-arm itself to a certain degree and I think that program needs to happen right away. Not only is Austerity a terrible disaster but so is the EU military situation. One might also notice the silence from Ban-Ki Moon on this.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:08:50AM *  3 points [-]

Yeah, yeah. It's always 1939, the bad guy du jour is always Hitler. Assad is Hitler, Putin is Hitler, Saddam was Hitler, Qaddafi was Hitler.

The warmongers really need to get a new routine, people aren't falling for it anymore.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:19:58PM 14 points [-]

But perhaps it really is always 1939. Or, to be even more glib, what you are saying sounds to me much like:

Every time we see icebergs on the horizon, you steer around them, but the ship never actually sinks. And every time I say we should forget about icebergs, you bring up the Titanic. You paranoiacs really need to get a new routine, people aren't falling for it anymore.

OK, let's be serious. Let's say that "being Hitler" means going on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in a very damaging war. We could note that this kind of behaviour was very common prior to the Napoleonic Wars (Napoleon, Frederick the Great, Charles XII, Louis XIV, Wallenstein, Philip II, Suleiman I, etc etc). Since the Napoleonic Wars, there have been a number of international frameworks more-or-less explicitly devoted to prevent "Hitlers," and which have had some success. However, IR is basically anarchy, which means that when actors fail to abide by the rules of those international framework, forcing them in line means war.

There haven't been a lot of "Hitlers" in recent years. But at least part of the reason that the people you call "warmongers" nipped the likes of Saddam, Milosevic, Galtieri, etc in the bud. For example, Saddam was definitely on the Hitler path in 1991, and what stopped him was western military intervention. And not only did this intervention stop him, but it acted as a warning to other leaders who might be considering more bellicose action, and helped reinforce the rules and norms of our peaceful international framework.

But this commitment is forever being tested, because leaders get glory through war. Consider that the fame and popularity of American Presidents has been shown to be higher the more Americans who die in military combat in their term in office (!) and then multiply that for more bellicose societies such as Russia. A peaceful world requires constant vigilance.

In the current case, it's clear that Putin is engaged in an aggressive campaign of conquest against his neighbours (not merely in Ukraine). It's not clear where this will stop. It's clear that every victory strengthens Putin's domestic position and emboldens him for the next step. This is the classic "Hitlerian" path, and everyone from Hillary Clinton to Prince Charles has noted it. That doesn't mean the West should necessarily intervene (maybe the costs are greater than the benefits) but it's pretty obvious why the comparison is so widely made. I'd say the 'routine' that no-one is falling for is the Panglossian one that Putin isn't a predator - with each new Russian outrage, it becomes harder and harder to sustain.

I haven't heard the (potential) interventions against Qaddafi and Assad justified on the same grounds. There, the justification is usually a combination of (1) humanitarian and (2) preventing failed states, which is rather different.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 03:53:16PM 5 points [-]

Let's say that "being Hitler" means going on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in a very damaging war.

...AND end up on the losing side of history.

That's an important addendum because sometimes you go on an ever-increasing campaign of conquest against neighbouring countries that results in many damaging wars, establish a successful empire, impose a Pax Romana, and, basically live happily ever after. People who succeed at this aren't usually called Hitlers.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:52:55PM 2 points [-]

Okay... that has also declined a lot recently. I don't see the result being any different.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:13:50PM 1 point [-]

But you also have to remember that there is not the history between the US and these other regimes the way it is between the US and Russia. Putin is an old communist and he remembers the old days, he remembers them very well and he wants them back. Putin and his cronies chafed in the 90's under Pax Americana and now they have their chance to shake up the international order rather than conform to the American lead way of doing things and I think he is of the opinion that if it doesn't happen now there won't be another chance for a generation.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 01:41:16PM *  3 points [-]

Genghis Khan was Hitler, Julius Caesar was Hitler, Hernán Cortés was Hitler. Adverse selection in the political process often favors leaders who really enjoy taking other peoples' stuff. Also, comparing some aspects of Putin to Hitler (as Kasparov did) doesn't mean you think Putin=Hitler. Putin, thankfully, doesn't seem to enjoy killing for its own sake.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 02:35:55PM *  3 points [-]

Putin, thankfully, doesn't seem to enjoy killing for its own sake.

Neither did Hitler. He always had extrinsic goals to be achieved by killing. Often those were quite admirable goals if you accepted extreme partisanship for the German people at the expense of everyone else. (Not always; he suppressed domestic opposition ruthlessly, but it was nothing in comparison to his treatment of non-Germans and no different from most other states at the time.)

Comment author: 29 August 2014 08:20:28AM *  4 points [-]

1938: "Just give him the parts of Czechoslovakia he wants. Yeah, annexing a part of other country is wrong, but a minority speaking his language lives there, so, uhm, he kinda has a good reason. More importantly, we have a good reason to believe he will stop there. Just let's not be the bad guys who fight over nothing. Everything will be fine when he gets what he wants, he is a reasonable guy."

2014: "Just give him the parts of Ukraine he wants. Yeah, annexing a part of other country is wrong, but a minority speaking his language lives there, so, uhm, he kinda has a good reason. More importantly, we have a good reason to believe he will stop there. Just let's not be the bad guys who fight over nothing. Everything will be fine when he gets what he wants, he is a reasonable guy."

The analogies are much deeper here than merely "he is a guy we don't like, therefore Hitler". Things that happen inside Russia are also very disturbing -- I am trying to ignore politics, and I usually don't care about what happens in Russia, but some news still get to me -- Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic, pretty much everything you associate with fascism, he has a strong support of the Orthodox Church, journalists who criticize him are assassinated. (Someone living in Russia would be more qualified to write about this.) The only way he could lose an election would be against someone who is even more like this. Winning a symbolic war against the West will only make him more popular.

To test how strong is this analogy, we should make bets like: Conditional on Putin successfully annexing a part of territory of Ukraine, what is the probability of Russia attacking another country within 1, 3, 5, 10 years? Which country will it be?

Comment author: 29 August 2014 09:19:41AM *  5 points [-]

But Russia still has a "democratic" political structure, everyone off course knows that it's not like this in reality and only one party exists. But soon in 2018 there'll be new president elections and that's last term for Putin. Uncertainty that's what we will get for sure

I'm living in Russia however I don't watch TV and read newspapers, but I can say for sure, that Russian Invaders are proclaimed heroes, and NATO guys as Evil. And It's not a surprise for me that on the other side of the Globe opinion is exactly the contrary. My personal view of the problem is that Putin and Obama are both worth each other, they are strong leaders and will they never stop if there is a chance to gain more power. Situation in Ukraine is imho this - Ukranian side completely entangled in their own problems, and they thought that it was Russia who they must blame and gone comletely nuts, then West gave them weapons and so on

To test how strong is this analogy, we should make bets like: Conditional on Putin successfully annexing a part of territory of Ukraine, what is the probability of Russia attacking another country within 1, 3, 5, 10 years? Which country will it be?

Too much globalization (russialization in this case) is hard to contol, Russia has enormous territory, we already got Crimea which is a port, and got unfriendly response from the world. I expect things to calm down for next 4 years I assume probability of 5% of the invasion to any other country

Comment author: 30 August 2014 05:51:44AM 6 points [-]

My personal view of the problem is that Putin and Obama are both worth each other, they are strong leaders and will they never stop if there is a chance to gain more power.

As someone in America, I can tell you the idea of calling Obama a "strong leader" sounds hilarious.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:06:46AM *  11 points [-]

The analogies are much deeper here than merely "he is a guy we don't like, therefore Hitler". Things that happen inside Russia are also very disturbing -- I am trying to ignore politics, and I usually don't care about what happens in Russia, but some news still get to me -- Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic, pretty much everything you associate with fascism, he has a strong support of the Orthodox Church, journalists who criticize him are assassinated.

All of these things also apply to the other examples I mentioned, and many other countries besides. People said the same things about Saddam, Qaddafi, Assad, etc. Putin is of course saying similar things about his Ukrainian enemies to what you are saying about him. (Admittedly, they make it easy for him.)

There is no shortage of historical examples of historical revanchism, yet the "Hitler in 1939" analogy utterly dominates. So why rely 100% on one analogy. Why insist on using the example that is the closest stand-in for "evil psychopath who cannot be reasoned with, but must be destroyed utterly?"

Probably because you're in the midst of a media driven two-minutes hate. History begins and ends with Hitler, 1939!

(Seriously, your standard for being Hitleresque is being racist, homophobic, and nationalistic? It might be a fun exercise for you to write down a list of 100 historical leaders, determine how many were/were not racist, homophobic, or nationalistic. This will give you your Hitler/non-Hitler ratio. Do you think the ratios of Hitlers : non-Hitlers is greater or less than 1?)

Comment author: 29 August 2014 12:48:15PM *  15 points [-]

Probably because you're in the midst of a media driven two-minutes hate.

This situation is optimized for media, but exactly in the opposite way. The whole attack is divided into many incremental steps. Each small step is not enough to evoke a military response from the West. Then there is a pause, until media stop paying attention and find something else to care about. Then another small step.

(Remember the first step? Russian soldiers without uniforms in Ukraine territory, not yet openly fighting anyone, just carrying weapons and looking intimidating. So, what are you going to do about it? First, there is no war yet, and second, they even deny being Russian. Calm down, everyone, calm down, nothing to see here. -- A few steps later it's obvious there are Russian troops there, but we already kinda knew it for months, so why the sudden overreaction today? Calm down, everyone, calm down, nothing new is happening here.)

This is how you overcome the Schelling point -- by doing a calculated very small step, and then calling your opponent irrational if he wants to react.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 01:46:05PM 4 points [-]

This is how you overcome the Schelling point -- by doing a calculated very small step, and then calling your opponent irrational if he wants to react.

This Yes, Prime Minster video is relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX_d_vMKswE

Comment author: 29 August 2014 06:01:16PM 3 points [-]

This situation is optimized for media, but exactly in the opposite way. The whole attack is divided into many incremental steps.

Dividing something in many incremental steps that each are newsworthy generally means that the whole things gets more media attention than if you do everything at once.

Wikileaks for example didn't release all the cables at once but purposefully spread them out over a time to give them more media attention.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 03:29:50PM 3 points [-]

Seriously, your standard for being Hitleresque is being racist, homophobic, and nationalistic?

Not just being nationalistic, not just being expansionist, but actually taking territory.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:04:39PM 3 points [-]

I would guess that more than half of all rulers in history took others' territory, or tried to and failed. And being nationalistic goes without saying ever since the invention of nationalism.

The specific tactic of nibbling on your neighbors one bit at a time, varying your speed depending on international reactions, was used by Hitler but also by many others. Calling a common behavior Hitleresque isn't useful.

There are good reasons for comparing Germany in 1938 with Russia in 2014, but I don't think these are among them.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:14:09PM 2 points [-]

I would guess that more than half of all rulers in history took others' territory, or tried to and failed. And being nationalistic goes without saying ever since the invention of nationalism.

And more than half of all the rulers in history would find themselves really really out of place in the modern world if they tried to do the same things they did in their historical contexts, and we would rather not have to deal with them.

A rather low bar to get over, there.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 10:47:36PM 3 points [-]

I don't think Hitler was very unusual among rulers of, say, the post-Napoleonic epoch of 1814-1945. He was just first unusually successful (making many enemies) and then unusually thoroughly defeated and occupied (allowing those enemies to make his name particularly infamous).

Comment author: 30 August 2014 03:05:15AM 4 points [-]

Putin's supporters are openly nationalist, racist, homophobic,

Would you mind tabooing what you mean by "racist" (and possibly also "nationalist" and "homophobic") and why your definition is bad, there is currently a long debate in another thread on this very subject.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 12:02:07PM *  5 points [-]

Things like the Nashi movement, and laws against LGBT people.

Yes, there is the irony that Nashi is officially an "anti-fascist" movement. To understand this, it is necessary to know the connotations these words have in the former communist countries, as propaganda shaped them for decades. Shortly: anything associated with former Soviet Union and her satellites is "socialist", and anything associated with West is "fascist". It's like yin and yang for everything; e.g. collectivism is "socialist" and entrepreneurship is "fascist", but also being ethinically Russian or at least Slavic is more central to the concept of "socialist", and the idea of human rights (other than the right to live happily and obediently under a socialist government) is kinda "fascist", because it goes against the power of the collective.

So a person who doesn't think about this too deeply (you know, most of the population) can identify themselves as "anti-fascist" and mean: "I hate entrepreneurs, homosexuals; and everyone who is not ethnically Russian/Slav should go away from this country". Having read a few articles about the Nashi, this is more or less the meaning they use.

(This is a point I would like to emphasise as often as possible -- though usually I don't, respecting the LW's attitude to politics -- that the ideas of "left" or "socialism" in former Soviet countries are so completely unlike their versions in the West. It is just a result of successful propaganda and suppressing the flow of information that makes most leftists in the West believe otherwise. If you take a typical Nazi, reduce his hate of Jews by 80%, and convert him using the chronophone to a post-Soviet culture, this is what passes as "left" here.)

Comment author: 30 August 2014 05:06:52PM 3 points [-]

Things like the Nashi movement,

Looking at the article, I don't see what specifically you're considering "racist". It would help if you stated your definition. Ok, it would help even more if you didn't through around words commonly used by SJW's to mean "anyone I disagree with".

and laws against LGBT people.

You mean like the laws every country had until maybe a couple decades ago?

If you take a typical Nazi, reduce his hate of Jews by 80%, and convert him using the chronophone to a post-Soviet culture, this is what passes as "left" here.

So are the Russian creating an overarching recreational organization and bringing all private clubs under its control?

Comment author: 30 August 2014 08:33:34PM *  7 points [-]

To taboo the SJW-like words, here is what I mean: worship of physical power, enthusiasm about war, emphasis on reproduction of purebloods, agression against people different from the norm.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 09:14:29PM 0 points [-]

Britain tried embracing foreigners even ones who had no interest in assimilating. This was the result.

Comment author: 06 September 2014 01:12:58PM *  4 points [-]

Those are just two different ways of judging people by their ethnicity instead of by their individual actions.

My idea would be something like: Do whatever you want as long as you follow the law. When you break the law, go to jail.

Comment author: 06 September 2014 05:32:08PM 3 points [-]

Except that in this case the police and social workers weren't willing to enforce the law for fear of being called "racist". More generally, the law is only as strong as the will and ability of people to enforce it.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 03:47:05AM *  1 point [-]

<p>

Yes, Nashi is impressively scary. Kudos for reading up on them.

</p>

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:07:54PM 0 points [-]

I hesitate to make 1938-1939 comparisons because the world situation is far different now than then especially because of globalization. I do however agree with Kasparov the longer Putin gets away with this the more emboldened both the Kremlin and his troops will be. The problem here is two fold: The US is war weary after 10 years of doing Iraq and Afghanistan and Obama going to the country to put boots on the ground is a dicey decision and economically now isn't a great time to do that.

However, I think there are some deterrents you could do:

If I were President Cowan I would have already moved 30K troops into German for a little german vacation. I would also move some assets into place in the Gulf of Alaska. You know just routine troop movements and it would look very threatening and it might make Putin start thinking twice. The best way to get an enemy to stop doing something is to get them worried because then their own fear will either make them do something stupid that you can exploit or they will cease and desist. I might also start an economic war by asking the FED to dump a few billion Rubles into the world economy just to see what happens. Frankly, its time to get Machiavellian.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:58:17PM 3 points [-]

The problem here is two fold

Do you really think that if your two problems were absent -- if the US were not war-weary and if the economy were doing great -- then the US would be ready to put boots on the ground in Russia?

To quote a fellow named Vizzini, You fell victim to one of the classic blunders - The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia" X-D

and it would look very threatening

I think it would look pretty silly and would give Putin a mighty political gift. He'd point a finger at your troops and yell that the American warmongers are preparing to invade Mother Russia -- and that's all he would need to really unite all the population behind him.

by asking the FED to dump a few billion Rubles into the world economy just to see what happens

I don't think the Fed has a few billion Rubles. And my guess as to what would happen is that Putin will close the taps on the oil and gas flowing into Europe, Germany in particular. Frau Merkel would be most displeased, I would think.

Comment author: 30 August 2014 07:20:01PM 1 point [-]

Yes I think in a different scenario the US would be more hawkish on Russia without War weariness and better economic conditions. This is basic war theory.

You are right, Putin could certain point at increased troops in Germany as the West getting ready for war and it might lead to mobilization, however, as Putin is in no mood and Russia is in no economic condition for a protracted war with the West I think it would have the correct provocative effect. I don't think Putin would slow down but it would make everyone at the Kremlin think twice. I would keep them there for about 3 months and then send them home.

The Fed has a few billion rubles because all global trade accounts must balance and the Federal Reserves keeps vast quantities of every trading partners currency so that trade accounts will balance, they can re-buy American debt in local currency, and for stability of global markets. So yes, you could dump a few billion rubles by re-buying certain amounts of American debt from China and paying for it in Rubles.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 05:32:08AM 0 points [-]

The Fed has a few billion rubles because all global trade accounts must balance and the Federal Reserves keeps vast quantities of every trading partners currency so that trade accounts will balance, they can re-buy American debt in local currency, and for stability of global markets.

What is this I don't even

Comment author: 01 September 2014 06:35:30AM 0 points [-]

Basically, the Fed as apart of the global central banking system keeps various currencies on hand for global trade purposes. Ergo you could dump those back in the market.

Comment author: 02 September 2014 06:41:47PM 0 points [-]

Basically, the Fed as apart of the global central banking system keeps various currencies on hand for global trade purposes.

Does it, now? Actually keeps "currencies on hand"? Or maybe we're talking about FX swap lines?

Can you provide a like to e.g. a Fed balance sheet that shows "a few billion rubles"?

Comment author: 02 September 2014 08:53:54PM *  0 points [-]

I cannot say/find information on what exactly they keep on hand these days. However, the currency swap lines can be created literally at will which they did during the 2008 crisis. Also, if you look at the case of Leo Wanta, who armed with 2.7 Trillion dollars destabilized the Soviet economy with FX swaps in Brussels between 1989 and 1991.

Comment author: 02 September 2014 09:28:30PM *  0 points [-]

the currency swap lines can be created literally at will

Yes, but when you have an FX swap line, you don't own the foreign currency, you only have a facility to get some in exchange for yours. In your example, for the Fed to attempt to devalue the ruble it would have to get it first from someone (likely, the Central Bank of Russia), effectively buying it for dollars -- thus defeating the entire point of the exercise.

if you look at the case of Leo Wanta

The case of Leo Wanta doesn't seem to support your claims.

Comment author: 03 September 2014 12:38:12PM -1 points [-]

You can trade American debt for Rubles from a Russian trading partner like the EU. Also, I would google more general information about Leo Wanta. Your reference doesn't actually talk about what he did.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2014 04:02:51AM 3 points [-]

How certain were you that you had sufficient information to make a meaningful prediction?

Comment author: 29 August 2014 06:02:27AM 7 points [-]

I clearly don't. The calibration is about accurately estimating the lack of information and translating it into probabilities.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2014 04:52:59PM 2 points [-]

I think that's not getting the point. You thought the odds of a Russian intervention were less than 5%. Even at the time and with the information available that was probably too low. At the same time I would have rated James' predicitons as too high.

However how certain should you have been of your prediction? No the answer here is not likely to be 5%. It's at a meta level: your estimate was 5%, but with what error bars? How certain were you that you had processed and updated on all the information necessary to make such a call?

If the error bars were too big, you shouldn't have been making bets.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:02:19PM 3 points [-]

That was indeed my reasoning, but apparently it's not properly Bayesian :) Real Bayesians don't use error bars! (They use credible intervals.)

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2014 05:52:40PM -2 points [-]

Different word for the same thing.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 06:40:20PM 3 points [-]

Sigh.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 August 2014 08:19:28PM *  3 points [-]

An interval defines a range, with the endpoints of that range being represented often as error bars when presented graphically. When I said "error bars" I was informally referring shminux's measurement of his uncertainty in his prediction, regardless of whether he is using credible intervals, confidence intervals, or some other framework.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 07:01:25PM 2 points [-]

Actually, I tried a few times to make sense out of it and failed. Feel free to ELI5.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 11:49:52PM 5 points [-]

Maybe a simple example will help. Suppose I have an urn with 100 balls in it. Each ball is either red, yellow or blue. There are, let's say, five different hypotheses about the distribution of colors in the urn - H1, H2, H3, H4 and H5 -- and we're interested in figuring out which hypothesis is correct. The experiment we're conducting is drawing a single ball from the urn and noting its color. I get a new urn after each individual experiment.

There are obviously three possible outcomes for this experiment, and the frequentist will associate a confidence interval with each outcome. The confidence interval for each outcome will be some set of hypotheses (so, for instance, the confidence interval for "yellow" might be {H2, H4}). These intervals are constructed so that, as the experiment is repeated, in the long run the obtained confidence interval will contain the correct hypothesis at least X% of the time (where X is decided by the experimenter). So, for instance, if I use 95% confidence intervals, then in 95% of the experiments I conduct the correct hypothesis will be included in the confidence interval associated with the outcome I obtain.

In other words, if I say, after each experiment, "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and point at the confidence interval I obtained in that experiment, then I will be right 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time I may be wrong, perhaps even obviously wrong.

As a contrived example, suppose each urn I am given contains only 5 red balls. Also suppose the confidence interval I associate with "red" is the empty set, and the confidence interval I associate with both "yellow" and "blue" is the set containing all five hypotheses (H1 through H5). Now as I repeat the experiment over and over again, 95% of the time I will get either yellow or blue balls, and I will point at the set containing all hypotheses and say "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and I will be trivially, obviously right. On the other hand, 5% of the time I will get a red ball, and I will point at the empty set and say "The correct hypothesis is one of these", and I will be trivially, obviously wrong. But since the red ball only shows up 5% of the time, I will still end up being right 95% of the time. This means that the empty set is actually a kosher 95% confidence interval for the outcome "red", even though I know the empty set cannot possibly include the correct hypothesis.

The Bayesian doesn't like this. She wants intervals that make sense in every particular case. She wants to be able to look at the list of hypotheses in a 95% interval and say "There's a 95% chance that the correct hypothesis is one of these". Confidence intervals cannot guarantee this. As we have seen, the empty set can be a legitimate 95% confidence interval, and it's obvious that the chance of the correct hypothesis being part of the empty set is not 95%. This is why the Bayesian uses credible intervals.

Unlike confidence intervals, with a 95% credible interval you get a list at which you can point and say "There's a 95% chance that one of these is the correct hypothesis". And this claim will make sense in every particular instance. Moreover, if your priors are correct (whatever that means), then it is guaranteed that there is a 95% chance that the correct hypothesis is in your 95% credible interval.

Comment author: 04 September 2014 09:20:17PM *  4 points [-]

Upvoted -- thanks for a long, even if not fully even handed, reply (also it is perhaps not most transparent to explain CIs using a discrete set of hypotheses). I will try to give an example with a continuous valued parameter.

Say we want to estimate the mean height of LW posters. Ignoring the issue of sock puppets for the moment, we could pick LW usernames out of a hat, show up at the person with that username's house, and measure their height. Say we do that for 100 LW users we picked randomly, and take an average, call it X1. The 100 users are a "sample" and X1 is a "sample mean." If we randomly picked a different set of 100, we would get a different average, call it X2. If again a different set of 100, we would get yet a different average, call it X3, etc.

These X1, X2, X3 are realizations of something called the "sampling distribution," call it Ps. This distribution is a different thing than the distribution that governs height among all LW users, call it Ph. Ph could be anything in general, maybe Gaussian, maybe bimodal, maybe something weird. But if we can figure out what the distribution Ps is, we could make statements of the form

"most of the times where I pick a sample Xi from Ps, e.g. most of the time I pick 100 LW users at random and get their average heights, this average will be pretty close to the real average height of all LW users, under a very small set of assumptions on Ph."

This is what confidence intervals are about. In fact, if the number of LW users we pick for our sample is large enough, we can well-approximate Ps by a Gaussian distribution because of a neat result called the Central Limit Theorem, (again regardless of what Ph is, or more precisely under very mild assumptions on Ph).

What makes these kinds of statements powerful is that we can sometimes make them without needing to know much at all about Ph. Sometimes it is useful to be able to say something like that -- maybe we are very uncertain about Ph, or we suspect shenanigans with how Ph is defined.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:10:07PM 1 point [-]

You thought the odds of a Russian intervention were less than 5%

No, he didn't. He thought the odds of Russia invading Ukraine in the same fashion as the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan were 5%. This is a rather different thing.

Comment author: 29 August 2014 05:37:38PM 2 points [-]

Something like that, yes. I was talking about Russian tanks openly rolling across the border. But Putin found a way to do effectively the same without being so brazen. Which was one of the factors I missed.

Comment author: 31 August 2014 04:11:33PM 1 point [-]

I'll going to look at the rationality skill of being able to tell whether you've anchored on a prototype. Has this already been explored?

Comment author: 31 August 2014 06:04:39PM 1 point [-]

I am not sure what you mean, maybe worth asking in the open thread.