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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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EPISODE # 252

John Mueller on Putin’s War: Russia, Ukraine, and NATO

ABOVE: Cropped photo of Volodymyr Zelenskyy (center) by Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shared by manhhai under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

In this conversation with the renowned Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller, we discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and what we might expect from Putin’s Russia in the coming weeks, months, and years, along with Dr. Mueller’s outline for how to end the current conflict and compromise with Putin. That seems unlikely at this point, but the prospects of the tragedy of millions of war refugees pouring out of Ukraine into neighboring nations, along with the number killed already and likely to be killed as the fighting escalates, why not give negotiation and compromise a chance?

Read John Mueller’s op-ed that accompanies this episode.

Dr. John Mueller is a political scientist at Ohio State University, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of The Stupidity of War, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War, Policy and Opinion in the Gulf War, The Remnants of War, and Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.

Shermer and Mueller also discuss:

  • As “No Hitler, No Holocaust” and “No Hitler, no World War II,” we now have “No Putin, No Ukraine invasion, no escalation of armed conflict”
  • Who is Putin? Who is Zelenskyy?
  • From Soviet USSR to post-1990 Russia to Putin-Russia
  • Putin war crimes?
  • Russian invasion of Ukraine moral equivalent to U.S. invasion of Iraq?
  • NATO and what it takes to join
  • why NATO would not accept Ukraine for at least a couple of decades, so why not concede that point to Putin and end the armed conflict?
  • corruption in Ukraine and why it’s oligarchs are as rich and corrupt as Russian’s (except for Zelenskyy, who appears to be honest)
  • The Baltic States and NATO
  • why the “No Fly Zone” enforced by NATO and the West could escalate to full-scale war between Russia and NATO/the West
  • independent Ukraine groups and what they mean for the future of Ukraine
  • Crimea, our failed policy to prevent its annexation, and why that leads to the United States’s unwillingness to compromise with Putin now
  • oil and natural gas as a factor
  • economics as a factor in this war and armed conflict in general
  • how appeasement got a bad name and why we should resurrect it.

During the show Dr. Shermer read aloud a letter from a colleague named Bill Lauritzen, who responded to Dr. Shermer’s Substack Skeptic column on the possible threat of nuclear war after Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert. This, says Lauritzen, was a mistranslation of a Putin statement:

As a former Air Force officer and graduate of the Air Force Academy (class of 1973), as someone who studied the Russian language for four years in high school, and as someone who has listened to Putin for many hours, I was curious about his reported statement that he was putting his “nuclear” forces on “high alert.”

Putin seems like a long-term strategic thinker and it didn’t seem in character for him to be making such a rash statement. So I watched a YouTube video of him making this alleged statement. Nowhere in the statement does he mention the word “nuclear.” None of the simultaneous translators mentioned the word “nuclear.” Here is what he says in Russian:

Поэтому приказы Министра обороны и начальника генерального штаба перевести сила сдерживания российской армии в режим в особый режим несения боевого дежурства.

This can be translated to:

Therefore, the orders of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff to transfer the deterrence force of the Russian army into a special mode of combat duty…

Russian nuclear forces are not part of the army, navy, or Air Force of Russia. They are a separate branch which is called the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation (Ракетные войска стратегического назначения Российской Федерации).

If he had wanted to put his “nuclear forces” on high alert, as has been stated or implied in almost all Western media, he probably would’ve referred to this particular branch.

The only partially correct headline that I saw, out of hundreds, was one small news article from CNN: “Putin orders deterrence forces — which includes nuclear arms — to be put on high alert.” However, CNN also had this video headline: “Putin orders nuclear forces on high alert.”

I suggest you watch this YouTube video by Professor John Mershheimer at the University of Chicago and also take a look at his other videos and books if you have time. I recommend him as a guest for your show if you want to get a realistic perspective on international politics and Ukraine.

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium and The Lost Debate:

Wondrium (sponsor)
The Lost Debate (sponsor)

This episode was released on March 8, 2022.

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