When The Shirt Is Two Sizes Too Small

April 2022

Should Ukraine be its own country? Don’t they have a right to the same freedom, autonomy and independence as every other nation or separatist party striving to make something of itself in this world? Sure, but not because of the reason you’d think.

It’s easy to relax against a warm fireplace with a tobacco pipe in one hand and the inside of a smoking jacket in the other, scrutinizing all the people and events in faraway lands as if our clean and debonair appearance could somehow fortify our deductive and reasoning skills to such a bewitching degree as to draw in our audience like… flies on shit, so to speak. But that seems tacky. To make any attempt to understand a delicate and complicated situation when you are so far away, so far removed from it, whether by space or in time, grasping at the dry air heaving from the orifice of television media will only make a person sound like a blabbering idiot. But it floats our boat. So giddy up, let’s do it.

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine after months of building up military forces along its neighbor’s border. It was to be a swift campaign, a quick excursion to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” the country; two, maybe three, weeks of conflict, ending before anyone could draw a breath, and without too many casualties! At least that’s how Mr. Putin conceived it. But things don’t always go as expected.

In the early days of the war, the Russian military tried to overtake the capital city, Kyiv. Satellite photographs revealed a military convoy extending 64-kilometers in length trying to make its way towards the city. The advance was painfully slow, like molasses in January, and way out in the boonies where petrol stations and convenience store snacks were in short supply. Mechanical breakdowns, vehicles stuck in the mud, congestion, the lack of food, flat tires and fuel miscalculations all restricted speed, creating a rather embarrassing first impression for the Z-team. It was a complete logistical nightmare and, in some ways, a throwback to Napoleon Bonaparte’s negligent planning when he invaded Russia, some 210 years earlier.

To be prepared is half the victory.Miguel de Cervantes, greatest writer in the Spanish language

As Russian ground forces failed to make any significant progress around Kyiv, they began retreating on multiple fronts so missiles could be thrown at the country instead. However, precision-guided missiles are expensive and the semi-conductor components used to make them are hard to source. When supplies of accurate missiles ran out, Russia dipped into stockpiles of “good enough” missiles, which led to air strikes being sprayed all over the country. They just couldn’t shoot straight. Maybe that’s just blabbering. But Putin’s war, or “special military operation”, could more accurately be labeled, Operation Mickey Mouse, and this is perhaps the real tragedy.

Putin fishing shirtless

Look at those nips! Mr. Putin shows off his delicate skin while on vacation in 2009.Southern Siberia

If you are at all familiar with Spanish-style bullfighting, you know it’s advertised as an art form whose roots lie deep in Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultural heritage. The matador, flourishing a brightly-colored cape and a glittering ensemble of thread and beadwork, is classically trained to elicit the spectator’s approval through his graceful and fearless performance. In the final stage of the fight, the matador uses a special sword to impale the bull between the shoulder blades, driving the tempered steel straight through the heart, killing the animal immediately. At least, that’s the idea.

What you don’t see are matadors using a frying pan to bludgeon the animal to death over a prolonged period of time, brutally, and painfully; a loud clang! ringing out from the bullring every so often. And yet, this is how the Russian military appears to be functioning. Had they the dexterity and finesse to strike an opponent swiftly and cleanly, how much suffering could have been prevented, on both sides? But does any of this really matter?

In any given situation, the how is never as important as to the why. Because if we are ever to avoid war in the future we must understand why it happens in the first place. This is important not only because we seek the best possible outcome in difficult times of conflict but because numerous media outlets have reported the invasion of Ukraine as being an “unprovoked” attack. But it’s like, What in the blazes are you talking about? Unprovoked? Every geopolitical action in all of human history has occurred for a very specific reason. Nothing is without pretext. Nothing is without purpose. All events, in their entirety, are determined by previously existing causes.

When There’s An Itch, There’s A Scratch

We could blow a puff from our pipe, adjust our deerstalker, and expound on Russian desire to overturn the end result of the Cold War and re-establish the Kremlin’s power across the 15 breakaway nations that flank its western and southwestern edges, to re-imagine an empire that once spanned 1/6th of the Earth’s total landmass, as the former Soviet Union once did. Such a move would definitely push back on the United States’ and NATO’s influence in Eastern Europe, and, if captured, Ukraine could be used as a human shield if NATO were ever to become a hostile aggressor in the future. This is a conclusion anyone can readily deduce. But Mr. Putin has a jock itch that needs a lot more scratching than that.

Russia is an oil and gas superpower. It’s the #1 largest exporter of natural gas and the #2 largest exporter of oil in the world. The cash generated from the sale of these two commodities forms the basis for Russia’s modern day economy. So much so that John McCain once said Russia, “is just a gas station masquerading as a country.” And as CEO of this company, Mr. Putin has certain business responsibilities to keep everything afloat.

Back during Soviet times when Ukraine was still a part of the country, pipelines were built across it to provide gas to energy-hungry Europe. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine was able to claim independence and demand billions of dollars a year in tariffs to keep the pipelines turned on. A minor nuisance for Russia, because they could just build pipelines around Ukraine, which they did.

However, a much more menacing threat to Russia emerged in 2012 when it was discovered that Ukraine had major gas reserves located near its southern peninsula, Crimea. At the same time, drilling technology had advanced to the point where shale gas deposits in western and eastern Ukraine could now be unlocked. From out of nowhere, Ukraine suddenly had the potential for becoming a major energy provider for Europe. And with an already built pipeline, it was set to remove 100s of billions of dollars from Russia’s biggest market and fast track its way into NATO. A dangerous turn of events, to say the least; because, if you were running Russia, would you be okay with that?

In 2013, Putin tried to cut a deal with the Ukrainian president at the time to keep the country within the sphere of Russian influence. This caused a pro-Western and pro-EU revolution within the country that overthrew the Ukrainian government, which then led to Russian soldiers invading and annexing Crimea in 2014, taking a large portion of Ukraine’s offshore gas potential with it. Since then, Russia has been poking and funding pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in an on-again, off-again conflict, effectively disabling the country’s ability to extract shale gas in that region.

Putin shirtless on horse

Pump the brakes! Mr. Putin wears driving sunglasses while steering his horse.Southern Siberia

It has to be said that Ukrainian gas poses the single greatest threat to Russia in its history, for without a gas station selling gas, what does it become? A Shell of its former self? 😐 How would Russia preserve its people’s identity, culture, and heritage without hydrocarbons? Europe would not buy gas from Russia if it could do so from Ukraine. Ukrainian potential is what provoked Russia, and no political leader or regime in the world would have made a different decision about invading its neighbor. Mr. Putin is fighting a war for the very same reason Ukraine is; to exist.

But now the greater moral question still hangs in the air. Shouldn’t Ukraine be its own country? Don’t they have the same right to freedom, autonomy and independence as every other nation striving to make something of itself in this world? Sure, why not? Ukraine should be independent from Russia, for the same reasons why many other geographic regions should be independent from their parent states, including some areas within the United States and Canada.

A Tailored Fit

In 1995, the Canadian province of Quebec voted on a referendum to proclaim sovereignty and become an independent nation. The overall goals were to protect their cultural and linguistic differences from being diluted by Canadian ideals and to resolve economic difficulties in Quebec that were caused, they said, by the English Canadian domination of the confederation. It would be the largest voter turnout ever in Quebec’s history, a whopping 93.52% of voters visiting the polls that day. In the end, 49.4% voted Yes, and 50.6% voting No to separate. Canada survived by a thread. But what of the other instigators and secession movements simmering in the shadows?

Probably the strongest candidest for separation is California. Secession campaigns like California Freedom Coalition and Yes California have tried to rally the troops, raising points on population and economic power. California is also home to a different breed of people from what you encounter in states like Texas and Florida. California governor Gavin Newsom tried to instigate Floridians to migrate their wagons west when he aired television advertisements in Florida criticizing its leaders for negatively targeting the LGBTQ community, voting legislation, and abortion rights. Could a Calexit be on the horizon?

Join us in California where we still believe in freedom.Gavin Newsom, California Governor

And what of the Pacific Northwest? An independence movement seeking to form their own country, Cascadia, aims to break from free both the United States and Canada. They even have their own flag! The movement seeks to further their unique regional identity by increasing local autonomy, empowering individuals and communities to better represent their own needs, while creating sustainable local economies through bioregional planning, environmental protection, energy independence, and food sovereignty.

Putin shirtless

Look at those nips! Mr. Putin pretends to sunbathe during a staged photo shoot.Southern Siberia

In all these cases, secession seems farfetched as none of the justifications mentioned here form a very strong argument, even when summed together. In any given nation, there will always be differences among people and their views on freedom that will never be fully resolved. That is expected. However, the much more serious basis for independence is actually pretty straight forward. Nations get too big.

Big nations are too powerful. They rationalize nationalistic exceptionalism and exercise their influence abroad. They nurture weapons manufacturing with the ideology that we can only secure peace by preparing for war. Big nations then develop a sweet tooth for intervening, globally, which comes at a high cost; hundreds of thousands dead, more hundreds of thousands wounded, millions displaced, entire societies ravaged. And still, political and military culprits promote living large, unconstrained growth, and the insatiable desire for material gain—all being the measuring stick for its country’s success.

Big nations are too wealthy. With great wealth, they’re able to squander it on botched military campaigns. Restraint is hard when you can play with other people’s money and your overwhelming sense of moral superiority beckons you to remake the world through armed invasion. The financial cost of war is insane. Trillions of dollars must be spent. Wealthy nations can eat those costs and can still live a relatively prosperous life whereas smaller, more modest societies cannot.

Nations have the wrong granularity. They are too small to be global and too big to be local, and all they can think about is competing.Nicholas Negroponte, Greek American architect

In recent years, a few big corporations have made the decision to split up into smaller companies in order to become more flexible, responsive, and targeted. In 2021, for example, General Electric, announced it would break into three separate, publicly traded companies; one focused on aviation, another on health care, and the third on energy. The same could, and probably should, be done with nations that have grown too big for their shirts. Break them into smaller states that can be governed more efficiently, more responsibly, and with a greater focus on people’s actual needs. Maybe this all says something about the limits of governance and the consequence of growth.

Remember the Galactic Empire in Star Wars? The Empire had grown so large, sequestering such enormous amounts of wealth and power, that they had assembled the resources to build a moon-size space station equipped with a particle beam-cannon capable of destroying an entire planet at the push of a button. Maybe this our destiny, to be victims of ordinary political folly, thrust into the arms of an incomprehensible and malicious fate, and left wondering if nations and governments could ever be tailored to better fit the people they serve.