The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Does Russia invade the Ukraine?

It really comes down to the balance between these two factors:

For every advance that the Ukrainian government made, it seemed to lose ground elsewhere. Angry pro-Russian crowds seized control of more government buildings in Donetsk, and pro-Russian forces in Luhansk, a city just 15 miles from the Russian frontier, vowed war on Kiev, declaring a curfew and seizing weapons inside a military recruitment center.

Which is to say, does Russia need to intervene or can the rebels, its proxies, win without it?  The massacre of pro-Russian protesters in Odessa has likely hardened the lines: I’m betting that more and more of those who wanted to stay in the Ukraine but a federalist Ukraine, will want to just join Russia.

Meanwhile, the US and Germany have promised energy sanctions on Russia if Russia does invade.  If real, those will throw Europe back into a full blown economic crisis, but US commercial interests desperately want those sanctions, even if they don’t have the ability to fill European natural gas demand right now.  Not only is a future market, but the fracking boom requires higher natural gas prices than they have right now to make much of it profitable.

If Putin is to invade, it seems more likely he’ll invade before the election, though, of course, with fighting spreading across Ukraine, he could simply say that no fair, representative election was possible. Still, for him, before seems better.

And as the deaths mount, Putin can simply claim that he is acting on a responsibility-to-protect (R2P) those who are being killed by Ukrainian military and pro-Ukrainian mobs.  R2P is a Western doctrine, used to justify Western invasions; it must amuse Putin to no end to throw it back in the West’s face, not that the West has the grace to blush at its own hypocrisy, or even notice its own hypocrisy.

What’s happening in Ukraine is vastly important.  It will determine the shape of the blocs facing each other down during the end of America hegemony, and as it is playing out now, it ensures that China will have Russia’s support and likely moves up the timeline for creating an alternate, non-dollar payments system.  I expect future historians will scratch their heads in the same we do when looking back at the Kaiser’s mistakes isolating Germany in the run-up to World War I.

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Moving this week, so posting will be light


Comparative Military Dominance and the End of American Hegemony


  1. To pick a nit, R2P is actually “responsibility to protect.” and is a principle of the United Nations. The US uses it because it says, in effect, “we have no choice, we have to invade because we have the responsibility to protect innocent lives.” We are not invoking a right, which would make invasion optional, we are exercising a responsibility, which makes invasion obligatory.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Fair enough and corrected, thanks. Though it has been pushed hard by the West, nonetheless.

  3. Formerly T-Bear

    Last week Seumus Milne wrote:

    which cuts through the war-pushing propaganda about as well as dish detergent cleans dinner plates after a greasy meal. This piece stands, a standard that all other journalism, including the faux journalism of the standard press and the juvenile patriotic yapping of ignorant fools, is to be measured. At this point in time, no face saving exit exists for either the U.S., British or European Union/Nato spokes-folks; the stench of war is strongly in the air for all who would bother to notice.

    A discouraging stain covers all who pretend to govern; there is no record of these worthies ever self-correcting. Such self-correcting only emerges as the product of a viable dichotomy of basic ideas/ideals. Once such condition existed but was overwhelmed by subterfuge, deception and malversation. Great power corrupts all but the great (master of power); no evidence of such master is on the horizon.

    Expect an encore, an echo of 1913’s guns rumbling in August -‘the lads will be home by Christmas, this will be settled in short order’. DoG willing, heavens forbid the gormless worthies lose their public faces over their empty words uttered.


    Should any be thinking of obtaining Philip Mirowski, “Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste, How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown”, ISBN 978-1-78168-079-7 don’t hesitate, it’s a superbly written observation on a complex subject. Cannot commend it highly enough.

  4. oldskeptic

    Ian, I’ll re-post what I said in the Saker site. This a big and complex game and there are multi dimensions. The neo-cons are ruthless and stupid, The Russian Govt ruthless and smart … and they have their back to the wall (never a good thing to do to Russians):

    The first rule of strategy is “never do what the enemy wants you to do”.

    The neo-con playbook (which is the dominant foreign policy elite in the US) goes something like this:

    1. Blow up the Ukraine. Put your own people in.
    2. ‘Associate’ it with the EU (the EU would never allow it to be an actual member).
    3. The Ukrainian Govt then kicks Russia out of the Crimea and brings in NATO.

    Number 3 failed, so plan B then became.

    4. Attack the Russian areas in the Ukraine with the army and the neo-nazi militants.
    5. Force Russia to move into the Ukraine.
    6. Because of this (and in the heat of the moment) force through total sanctions on Russia, cutting off its gas and oil sales. Yes this would economically cripple the EU (even more than they have already crippled themselves).

    But from a neo-con point of view the EU and Russia mutually economically crippling themselves is a good outcome. The EU is a big a target to them as Russia or China are, despite their satraps grovelling.

    {This is where both you and MarkfromIreland are wrong, the political war is just, actually far more, important as the actual physical war. And Putin is ruthless enough to wait for far more atrocities to happen, because he knows that is what the US wants, the US wants him to move in}.

    So the EU (especially Germany) is supposed to fall on its sword’ for the ‘greater good’.

    Sadly Russia has not played this, rather obvious, script. Instead it has let the Ukrainians self destruct. Now this is a cold blooded decision, many, many eastern Ukrainians are going to die.

    But this is a multi dimensional conflict and winning the political/moral war is critical. Even now the European media is starting to waver as the atrocities build up, you can only lie so much about Ukrainian coup Govt and hide the neo-nazis for so long.

    The EU public (and even the US one) has no desire for a major conflict and in the EU are becoming very skeptical of their Govt’s pro US stance.

    Also business pressure will build up, especially in Germany on Merkal to separate their position from the US one. Ditto from the City of London on Cameron. Germany faces an economic collapse if the gas is cut off. But that sort of internal political pressure takes time to work.

    So Putin’s ‘grand strategy’ is to ‘wedge’ Germany and the UK from the US. To win the ‘moral’ war and to set the scene for an intervention (or a ideally a counter coup), only when it becomes politically advantageous.

    Of course, there will be behind the scenes help and back channel conversations to the Ukrainian military.

    Ideally Russia would want a military coup in the Ukraine with the Army turning against the Govt and the neo-nazis. Russia would then step into the scene with huge economic help (conditional on elections happening fairly quickly and federalisation). I’d give that a 25% chance of happening and probably represents Russia’s ‘best case’ scenario.

    This would be the US’s and EU’s worst nightmare. The army being the ‘saviour of the people’, pushing out the US/EU Govt and because of that turning to Russia for desperate economic help.

    But before that (or an intervention, more likely in the end) can happen there has to be more atrocities to create the political climate necessary. The Ukrainian Govt, with US push, is all too happy to do that.

    This is going to be a long game (with a lot of dimensions, like Russia will try to ‘wedge’ the US military against the US Govt as well) and it’s going to get bloody. But Putin will make sure he wins the political/moral game first.

    And my second post there to add to that:

    As for the media changes, have a look at this Independent article (which has been very anti-Russia up to now).

    They are even using terms like “anti-terrorist” (yes with the quotes)to describe the Ukrainian army actions.

  5. markfromireland

    @ Bill H May 4, 2014

    Yes it’s a (new) principle of the UN here’s the official UN position:

    Office of The Special Adviser on The Prevention of Genocide:

    Prevention requires apportioning responsibility to and promoting collaboration between concerned States and the international community. The duty to prevent and halt genocide and mass atrocities lies first and foremost with the State, but the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of the Responsibility to Protect. The three pillars of the responsibility to protect, as stipulated in the Outcome Document of the 2005 United Nations World Summit (A/RES/60/1, para. 138-140) and formulated in the Secretary-General’s 2009 Report (A/63/677) on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect are:
    1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;

    2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;

    3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

    The problem with all of this – and I speak as someone who has served in peacekeeping forces for decades is that it is severely open to abuse. I opposed this when it was first proposed because I said, rightly as it turns out, that it would used by the USA and its allies as an excuse for launching wars of aggression and that the UN would go along with this providing retroactive sanction where needed. Just as they did in Irak.

    The response to my doing what was in fact my duty this was a concerted campaign by the USA, UK, and Canada, to get me fired or failing that to get moved to a post where I would be sidelined. The Canadians were particularly vicious about it perhaps they were trying to soothe their consciences for the craven behaviour of their troops and commanders in UNAMIR or perhaps they were peeved that I had the temerity to criticise the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS),which was set up by the Canadian Government in December 2001 and whose work provided the intellectual foundation for what became the UN doctrine. The usual selection of what that astute observer of humanity Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili called полезные дураки (“useful fools”) joined in.

    I was right and they were wrong as the behaviour of the UN at the behest of the USA and its allies during the disgraceful episodes of resolution 1706 (2006), followed by UN resolutions and behaviour on:

    • Libya (2011),
    • Côte d’Ivoire (2011),
    • South Sudan (2011),
    • Yemen (2011), (2013),
    • Syria (2012) (2013) (2104),
    • CAR (2013) (2014),

    demonstrates. I’ve subsequently had the opportunity to rub some of these willing dupes noses in their own shit by pointing out to them that when they went along with American, British proposals, and Canadian and actions in all of the above cases that they were willingly participating in making the situation in those countries far far worse.

    R2P is now, always was, and always will be, an excuse for interventionists to cynically pursue mandates that further their national agendas at the expense of civilians in the countries affected. R2P is now, always was, and always will be, a cynical ruse whose implementation is restricted exclusively to places and situations in which the intervener states reap political, strategic, or economic rewards.

    As Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine clearly demonstrate R2P is an excuse, a particularly cynical excuse for intervener states to engineer regime change in every single case in which R2P has been used in this way the situation for civilians in the country concerned has been an order of magnitude worse than the status quo ante.

    In the cases listed above and in Irak military interventions have caused more harm and devastation to civilians than the harm and devastation to civilians that they were putatively authorised to prevent. A useful side-effect of all of this to the USA, British, and Canadian, governments is the discrediting of the UN which is increasingly seen as a willing tool of Western neo-imperialism. The prostitution of genuinely useful UN bodies by diplomats from USA allies such as South Korea’s Yukiya Amano who has effectively gutted the IAEA and turned it into an adjunct of American diplomacy and Turkey’s Ahmet Üzümcü who has been very effective at doing the same thing to the OPCW provide further evidence for the belief amongst many of us who have been involved with peacekeeping and civilian rescue/protection operations that R2P is now, always was, and always will be nothing more than a cynical ploy used by western interventionists and their allies to cynically pursue mandates in furtherance of their agendas at the expense of civilians in the countries affected.

    Western neo-imperialists love R2P because as well as the benefits they reap from it at the situational or micro level it has the added benefit at the macro level of serving to discredit further the UN.


  6. Does Russia invade the Ukraine?

    It doesn’t have to. The goal is to get the Ukrainians to do the killing and destabilizing themselves then have them pay for it with the broken backs and souls of the surviving generations after destabilization, destruction and Balkanization via a conjured civil war. I call it

    Burning Down The House

    It worked great in failing Yugoslavia, and it will work great in Ukraine…except this time Putin’s Russia is invited to partake in the carnage, feast and spoils. This will be his Baptism. Hereafter, he will be a full-fledged member if he plays his part to near perfection.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Whether Russia has to remains to be seen.

    Oldskeptic: I actually see little to disagree with, though I wasn’t so cynical as to believe that impoverishing Eurppe was the goal, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was/is. Of course the economic war is more important than the war-war to the US, I’ve that US interests actually do want sanctions.

    Still, I think they’re fools to do so. This strengthens the real threat, China, rather than weakening it. Europe is not a real threat: they could have been but they chose not to be, and instead to accept austerity driven impoverishment and (very likely, in the end) dismemberment. They had their chance during the Bush era to take out the US through economic/monetary policy, and form a genuine alternative pole, they chose not to.

  8. Gee

    I dont see how any impoverishing of Europe can be done without a major rekindling of the sovereign debt crisis – and that, plus the risk aversion unleashed from this crisis already means asset deflation, coming to a theater near you here in the US. That in turn completely sinks the US recovery, since asset inflation is about all its got going for it. Home prices fall again, banks implode, we’re back in 2008 in no time. So, my feeling is that nothing is going to happen with respect to sanctions. They will talk it up, but Germany and London will balk and the US isnt going to move unilaterally. Russia wont need to invade, the process is going quite fine for them as is. The threat of invasion is plenty to keep that process in motion, and they’ll look like fine upright citizens for NOT invading, when really, they were almost obliged to do so.

  9. Asymmetric risk profile

    Putin has undertaken asymmetrical risk at this point. The reward to risk profile is heavily skewed in the region of undertaking too much risk for very little benefits.

    The risks:
    1) He faces more damaging economic sanctions on already continued ones
    2) A pariah amongst world leaders
    3) Virtual explusion from G7
    4) Reputational damages going forward

    The rewards:
    1) the annexation of 10,000 sq miles (the size of New Jersey) of economically worthless land
    2) A militarily strategic outpost which can be used for future staging into other areas if needed (of some value)
    3) historical and cultural significance of a once russian outpost (basically worthless in my mind)

    I personally think he will invade the rest of ukraine to balance out the asymmetrical risk he faces. It’s a poker game and putin has already ‘paid to play’ and ‘paid’ yet again. At this point he probably thinks the West has a pair of 2’s and would rather bet the farm and lose it all rather than fold with ______(what do you think he has?).

  10. laughhardy

    @ ARP Your “analysis” is laughable. Putin has nothing to gain from invading the whole of Ukraine, other than give the west legitimacy in all of this. The west is probably not going to pass any meaningful sanctions, and the current ones are not crippling Russia. G7 doesn’t matter, G20 does, and they will never be expelled from that. The only reputational damages are going to come from western leaders. The vast majority of human beings on the planet either don’t give a shit, or are suspicious of both sides. The ones who villainize Putin (like he’s any worse than any western leader) are absolutely delusional. You have no popular support to physically confront Russia (17% last poll), and you don’t have the wealth to economically confront Russia.

  11. Red

    With the upcoming economic war between USA and China, battle for the dollar, USA could not risk EU acting on its own. With the support of Russia, the elite in EU would be strong enough to push the Euro as an atlternative. A united Europe is 700 million people, a wide range of natural and human resources, everything it takes to make a third super-power in an economic war.

    Loosing Russia to the Chinese side is worth it to keep EU on the US side. Ukraine itself doesn’t matter as long as it drives Russia and EU apart.

    For the people of Europe it would have been better to work closer with Russia, a first step could have been taken in Ukraine last year/early this year. Now it is too late for that. The conflict in Ukraine has no matter what Putin does next, killed any chance of moving Russia closer to EU for years.

  12. oldskeptic

    Very good article on the US worldwide ‘approval rating’, but the 2nd half is an excellent overview of the neo-cons ‘strategy’, where they came from, who they are and their influence.

    This is now the dominant ‘grand strategy’ of the US political, economic (think TAP and TPP as parts of this strategy), national security and military elites and has been for some time and started pre Bush.

    Header: 93 countries that have flip-flopped on Obama
    A new report reveals an erosion of approval for U.S. leadership in countries all over the world — including Kenya

    Snippets (but please read the whole article it is really excellent):

    “The parameters of post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy were first defined in 1992, to provide a stable and predictable framework for “public- and private-sector leaders” to exploit the power dividend gained by the collapse of the Soviet Union. They were spelled out in a “Defense Planning Guidance” document drafted by Under-Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz and his assistant Scooter Libby, which was leaked to the New York Times in March 1992. ”

    “The policy Wolfowitz outlined in 1992 was to establish a world order in which the U.S. military would be so dominant and so ready to use overwhelming force that “potential competitors” would be discouraged “from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” Even NATO allies would be discouraged from acting independently of the U.S. or forming European security arrangements outside NATO. Once this policy was established, the U.S. would “sufficiently account for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.””

    “But the influence of neoconservatism extends well beyond the cabal of neocons who rode in with the Bush administration. Despite failing every test in their application to the real world for 22 years, the policy framework and goals developed by Paul Wolfowitz in 1992 have become set in stone throughout Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The goal of U.S. military supremacy has become such an article of faith that rational alternatives are viewed as sacrilege or treason.

    As Gabriel Kolko noted in “Century of War” in 1994, “options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not only plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles.” There are no limits to the crimes that American exceptionalism can justify, and genuine compliance with the rule of law is viewed as an unthinkable existential threat to the new premises of American power.”

    “But this regime of secrecy, deception and propaganda is an essential feature of the neoconservative political philosophy that now drives the leadership of both major political parties. Leo Strauss, the intellectual godfather of the neocons, was a refugee from 1930s Germany who believed that any genuine effort to achieve “government of the people, by the people, for the people” was doomed to end as the Weimar Republic did in Germany with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Strauss had a very dark Hobbesian view of human nature, which he justified with “secret” meanings he claimed were hidden in the works of Plato, Nietzsche and all philosophers. Strauss did not believe that the general public could handle the truth as he saw it, so that any system in which the public held real power would surely end in barbarism.

    The Straussian solution to this imaginary problem is a system of “managed democracy,” in which a privileged high priesthood or oligarchy monopolizes real power as it oversees a superficial structure of democracy and promotes patriotic and religious myths to ensure the loyalty of the public and the cohesion of society. Political scientist Sheldon Wolin has dubbed this “inverted totalitarianism.” Because it is less openly offensive than “classical totalitarianism,” the inverted form may be more sustainable and therefore more successful in achieving a total concentration of wealth and power, paradoxically making it more insidious and dangerous than the classical totalitarianism the Straussians claim to be saving us from.”

    “If this sounds uncannily like the cynical attitude of the people who run America today, it is because we are now living under a neoconservative, Straussian political system, and President Obama, far from representing some sort of alternative, is a neoconservative, Straussian president.”

  13. oldskeptic

    And here is a brilliant (and hysterically funny) Dmitry Orlov blog post:

  14. Asymmetric risk profile

    LaughHardy said: “Putin has NOTHING to gain from invading the whole of Ukraine, other than give the west legitimacy in all of this. ”

    Like the 42 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas reserves in the ukraine are ‘nothing.’ Nor are the agricultural riches of the ‘bread basket of China,’ merely worth 0 dollars. Nor is the symbolic gesture to the world that oldskeptic outlined in the neocon fears of global power perceptions worth 0 dollars.

    laughhardy said: “Your “analysis” is laughable”

    you haven’t been reading this blog very much if you think that this is a freebie for Putin or for the USA. Consequences for the ukraine run deep on both sides. You might be correct that the West might be impotent in confronting putin about moving in, but that doesn’t mean he will not nor does that mean that the world as we knew it will be forever different thereafter.

    @oldskeptic Great read on the historical and current ideology of the NeoConservative movement. American hegemony will be challenged at some point, we just hope it will not be militarily but economically.

  15. Jessica

    Trivial proof-reading point
    “USA allies such as South Korea’s Yukiya Amano”
    Yukiya Amano is Japanese. The sentence is still just as true substituting Japan for South Korea.

  16. oldskeptic

    Now that things are ‘settling down’ to a, modified (since their first hope collapsed) , US playbook we are seeing how things are starting to work out:

    (1) The US (we can ignore the satraps in NATO and the EU) is going for:
    (a) Using the Ukrainian military to surround eastern rebel cities.
    (b) Using ‘militias’, Right Sector and all that, to do the ‘dirty work’ killing and terror,

    Let us call that the ‘Brennan doctrine’ (as was reported he pushed when he was in the Ukraine), boosted by Biden. This is a standard US playbook done in many, many places.

    (2) The IMF has made it clear that their ‘help’ (and IMF help is like having amenia and being forced to cuddle up to a vampire) is conditional on the Ukrainian Junta getting control of the eastern areas.

    (3) After the Russians didn’t invade the eastern areas of the Ukraine the US has decided that (in their usual confused way they hold contradictory positions at the same time):

    (a) Russia is showing weakness and that more ‘push’ both with sanctions and a ‘bold’ getting control of the eastern areas will win. Ok, for the moment they will live with the loss of the Crimea, but getting NATO forces in (overt and covert) will be a good prize.

    (b) Russia just needs some more atrocities in the east then they will move in, when that happens the US will sanction all their banks, oil, gas, which will kill the EU, Germany especially, but they will have to ‘suck that up’ for ‘freedom and democracy’.
    In that they are right and if (b) happens , the German Govt WILL ‘fall on its sword’ in such a circumstance.

    Then NATO forces will move into, at the ‘invitation’ of the Junta, western Ukraine, again for ‘freedom and democracy’ (the Guardian will cheer).

    Therefore the current US calculations (if you can call them that) are that, whatever happens, they will win. And that, even with the lowest ‘win’, it sets them up to later do a bigger ‘win’, ie invade, sorry ‘free’ (mostly from life), the Crimea.

    Plus they think time is on their side. As they (standard playbook) move more of their ‘special forces’ (SAS, etc) into the Ukraine bolstering, training and working closely with the Right Sector based or affiliated ‘Militias’ to be able to pick off (and terrorise) the eastern Ukrainians.

    So they think they are now getting in control of the situation.

    Miscalculation, but miscalculations all around. I think, right now the Russian Govt doesn’t really understand that ‘this is it’. That the US is going all the way on this and any setbacks are merely tactical. There is no going back now. They are at war with an implacable enemy that is determined to destroy them.

    Russia has:
    (a) Built contingency planes and capabilities to invade eastern Ukraine, or really harm forces there that are attacking (and will attack) the Russian ethnic cities.
    (b) Russia is working on, rather obviously, ‘wedging’ Germany and the US. Banking on that the US will escalate (which it will) and the economic damage to Germany will be so great that Merkal (or her forced successor) will split form the US.
    (c) It has contingency plans to really hurt the US in other areas such as Afghanistan.

    In the long run, that is a good strategy and would probably work, but it will take months and possibly years…. The US hold on EU (and a lot of other) Govts is so strong that those in charge will sacrifice their people and economies quite happily all while preaching ‘freedom and democracy’.

    And the US has other cards to play in making lots of money available to the German oligarchs to ‘compensate’ them personally if they stay ‘on the script’ (and kicks if they don’t), yes German unemployment might skyrocket, much of the EU might freeze in the winter, but who cares about that?

    Give you an example of why ‘this is it’, even the mighty US military is having to ‘suck it up’ in not being able to launch into space, yep no new GPS, spy satellites, etc because ‘ it has been sanctioned against using Russian engines (which it hasn’t actually legally).

    Like all Empires there are many factions in the US amongst the policy elite, but in the US the ‘this is it’ faction is now dominant and as time goes on (such as a Clinton Govt) it will go further and further.

    And Russia has to understand that the only thing that will stop this is really hard hitting (and politically clever) actions, ones that cause real painful harm to various factions within the Empire, to cause them to tactically withdraw to buy time enough to .

    Time is on their side for about 2-3 months at most, then after that it starts go against them. So the optimum actions in (say) July are the ones to go for and they will have to be hard and ruthless.

    Because if not they will be taken out (though the World will be a cinder as well), there is no going back from this and, only defeat and fear or economic collapse will cause the US to back off now.

    Hopefully Russia wont repeat the mistakes of WW1 (went too soon) & WW2 (went too late) …..that is, wait to be hammered or hammer first, but at just the right time…but we will see.

    I’d say time to book your tickets to Australia in June, July at a pinch, August might be too late…..

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