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

Russia Seizes Ukrainian Ships and Ukraine Declares Martial Law

Russia fired on and seized two Ukrainian gunboats and a tug, near the Kerch Straight. This strait leads from the Crimean Sea into the Sea of Azov. US and Western reaction has been condemnatory, and in this case, I think correctly. The Sea of Azov abuts a lot of the Ukraine, and the 2003 treaty gives the Ukraine the right of access to it.

Of course, the geography of the strait between Crimea and Russia makes it an easily-sealed strait now that Russia controls Crimea, but on the face of it, it appears to be an act of war to seize ships.

The phrase “on the face,” is important, because it is possible that the ships did move into Russian waters. The Ukrainians say they didn’t, the Russians say they did. But if they stuck to the Strait of Kerch, as I understand it, they do have the right of access.

The declaration of martial law, which affects ten border regions, is more interesting. Mind you, a lot of those regions aren’t really under the Ukrainian government’s control any longer, but it gives the military rights to shut down strikes and protests, and, one assumes, to seize people at will.

The Ukraine is screaming that Russia might invade it, but that seems unlikely. If Russia was going to do that, they should have done it during the initial crisis.

The Ukraine is a bleeding wound for Russia, diplomatically, being used to justify all sorts of sanctions and other harmful actions. It is a situation that Russia can’t seem to resolve; invasion would be crazy, and it would precipitate full economic sanctions and a guerrilla war. But withdrawing entirely would lose Crimea and Sevastopol, and probably lead to the Ukraine joining NATO, a Russian red line.

The obvious “deal” which should probably be made is to allow Crimea to stay in Russia (all evidence is that, in fact, most Crimeans do want to be part of Russia, the Crimean Tatars are a minority, and Crimea was part of Russia for far longer than it was part of the Ukraine), stop supporting rebel movements in the rest of the Ukraine, and restore ordinary relationships.

Neither side appears willing to make this deal, nor trust the other side to keep it. And the sides are Russia and the West (US, EU). What the Ukrainian government thinks is a secondary issue: If both sides agree on a deal, the Ukraine will have little choice but to accept it.

So we continue with a bleeding ulcer for Russia. The negative for the West, and particularly for the US, is that Russia is being de-facto pushed into an alliance with China. Compared to that, in realpolitik terms, what is happening in the Ukraine hardly matters.

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  1. Chipper

    I think you meant the Kerch Strait in the third paragraph, not Strait of Azov? Sorry to nitpik.

  2. Ian Welsh

    No, I appreciate it, thanks Chipper.

  3. zot23

    Playing devil’s advocate, we also just had a US President shrug his shoulders and say “Mehhh” when dealing with a foreign country entrapping a US journalist, executing him, and dismembering the corpse for giggles. If I was Putin and wanted to test my pull over a friendly WH after the recent US election, this would seem to be a perfect way to do so.

  4. here’s an argument that blames ukraine – it begins

    >>>The Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s attempted to shore up his approval rate for the upcoming election by provoking a military incident. It was a gamble and it failed.

    Three Ukrainian boats, a tug and two gun boats, attempted to sail from the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov. The Kerch Strait is territorial Russian water since Crimea voted to join Russia. “Innocent passage” is allowed but necessitates following the laws and regulations of the territorial country.<<<

  5. What would we do if Russian warships, even small ones, attempted to enter Chesapeake Bay, steaming under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without prior notification and permission, and without a US pilot on board?

    The situation is analagous. Ukraine was threatening to destroy the Kertch Straight bridge even before Russia was finished building it. Ukraine signed a treaty with Russia specific to that straight which required warships to have prior notification and permission to enter that straight, and to have Russian pilots on board when they do so. In this instance Ukraine violated the terms of that treaty, and the terms of the Law Of The Sea, to which Ukraine and Russia are both signatories. (The United States is not.)

    Russia’s actions in stopping those ships, including physical contact, was entirely legal and reasonable.

  6. ponderer

    It looks like there may be more to the story.

    The Ukrainian ships were military vessels. Even the tug had a heavy machine gun on board. The MIC is hungry for more money (, while the public thinks military spending should be reduced. That’s why the Altantic Council is pushing these types of actions. They don’t believe there could be blow-back that would effect them personally.

    There is more at the Moon of Alabama site, but it seems like a clear provocation. If Ukraine wants to change their agreement with Russia, sending gunboats probably isn’t the way to do it. Remember Ukraine is busy ethnically cleansing Russian supporters on the land at the moment. None of this occurred in a vacuum. If the west really wanted to come to an agreement they would have stuck with their agreements and stopped expanding Nato. The tendency to make every conflict into a “he said, she said”, ignores the reality that you can tell what someone is really about by watching their actions and putting them in perspective. If Trump wanted to instill Martial Law because of a minor NAVAL conflict outside of our territory, how many of you would be suspicious.?

  7. Daniel A Lynch

    I was going to link to Moon of Alabama but other sharp commenters beat me to it. Bernhard is my go-to for foreign policy. He has rarely been wrong, and when he is wrong, he admits it.

  8. bruce wilder

    It makes no sense to militarize the Sea of Azov. It is, practically, a Russian lake. Those in the West who purport to imagine otherwise are raving mad.

  9. realitychecker

    “The negative for the West, and particularly for America, is that Russia is being de-facto pushed into alliance with China. Compared to that, in realpolitik terms, what is happening in the Ukraine hardly matters.”

    Exactly what I’ve been saying during the entire duration of the Trump/Russia madness. If the choice is to ally with Russia against China, or instead have Russia ally with China against us, only idiots and emotional children would ever show preference for the latter.

    But that is where the left has agreed to be, and that is just one more glaring reason why I cannot take my erstwhile comrades on the left seriously anymore.

    Separately, how can anyone be so lacking in perception as to not understand that Trump represents a long-overdue pushback against all aspects of the extreme political correctness that has trivialized all public dialogue for decades. Microaggressions, microinvalidations, trigger warnings for Words, etc., etc. No country can survive such childish madness, and it is good that reality checks are being imposed by someone, even if i took an a-hole like Trump to illustrate how far over the cliff of reason we have fallen.

    I stand proudly for the primacy of reason over emotional hysterics. Will the left ever shape up its own dysfunction? (And fuck anyone who uses the word “whataboutism” in reply to this comment; that is just a blatant plea to be allowed to criticize others while ignoring one’s own faults. Nice work if you can get it, but in the real world, you can’t live like that.

  10. NR

    Of course, the data has consistently shown that racism was the primary motivator for Trump support, but Trumpers are still peddling the same tired old BS like “the libs made us do it.” Anything to avoid acknowledging the truth, I suppose.

  11. Hugh

    Another more generic take from the BBC:

    It would seem that Putin has been moving to restrict and harass all Ukrainian shipping through the Kerch Strait. Until the Russian seizure of Crimea, one side of the Strait was controlled by Ukraine and the other by Russia. The Strait is between 1.9 and 9.3 miles wide. Russian claims to territorial control rest on the illegal and not internationally recognized seizure of Crimea.

  12. S Brennan

    I agree with Bill H when he says;

    “What would we do if Russian warships, even small ones, attempted to enter Chesapeake Bay, steaming under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without prior notification and permission, and without a US pilot on board?” But, I’d add, such thinking, would require empathy, something the Anglo-world is in short supply of.

    So, from a purely self-interested POV, we really ought to consider the implication of a Sino-Russ alignment, an alignment which, the USA has forced upon the Ruskies.

    Since China has modernerized to the point where it has become an industrial “one stop shop” the USA no longer has the ability to use a “containment” strategy upon Russia as a tool. Also, the USA’s financial efforts too undermine the Russ have also failed miserably in recent years, so that tool too, is a dull useless blade. Without these tools the US faces a combined foe of it’s own making with nothing but military force in it’s tool chest…unless perchance, “empathy” can be relearned.

    Unlike Ian, I have seen nothing out of Russia that requires war, much less the loss of one American Soldier or Marine. Yes, yes, we see the bloviating commenters* eager to push poor whites & minorities into war with Russia. And of these brave commenters we note, none have ever served and none ever will. I only wish these neocolonialists, those pampered princes & princesses that spoil for this war would be forced to lead an advance force…to clear a path to Moscow…and only after the task is successfully completed, when the US’s nobility are either bathing in glory, or more likely, bathing in blood, would US Soldiers be called upon to follow.

    *Hugh springs to mind

  13. Jeff Wegerson

    @Hugh It is my understanding that the 2003 treaty (pre-Crimea status change) signed by both Ukraine and Russia stipulated that military ships would only enter the Sea of Azov with agreement of both parties.

    I imagine that Russia now claims all of the territorial management of the Kerch Straight and per its rules as long as those rules are consistent to the Law of the Sea, which both countries are signators.

    In any case they both should work within the 2003 agreement as regards to military ships, one would think.

    What is interesting when one looks at the map provided by Moon of Alabama here -> that it appears that the bulk of the shipping through the straight is actually Russian going to/from Rostov-on-Don.

    If that is the case then Russia has an additional reason beyond the protection of the bridge to manage military ships in the sea.

    So even if as the BBC and others have reported Ukraine did actually notify Russia of its intent to move (additional?) military ships into the sea then Russia is clearly within the agreement’s provision to deny entry.

  14. Order of Nicholas Angles

    But that is where the left has agreed to be, and that is just one more glaring reason why I cannot take my erstwhile comrades on the left seriously anymore.

    We shouldn’t take you seriously as having any comrades, erstwhile or otherwise, on the “left” when you so egregiously misuse the term “left” to so obviously refer to liberals, who are not left in any way, shape or form. You’re quite clearly a disgruntled boomer (at least mentally) who was never “left” to begin with and claims it only for cred.

    Also that’s some serious whataboutism.

  15. Tom W Harris

    Actually not so serious: There’s no content to it.

  16. different clue

    Over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, The Twisted Genius ( TTG ) who is one of Colonel Lang’s guest posters, has posted an article ( with a growing comment thread) about this affair.

  17. Hugh

    Jeff, Putin cannot pick and choose the treaties and international laws he wishes to obey. He cannot ignore Ukrainian territoriality by seizing Crimea and fomenting an insurrection in East Ukraine and then claim he is protecting Russian territoriality against Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.

    If Ukrainian gunboats were not supposed to be in the Strait, what were Russian gunboats doing anywhere near there?

    In law, there is the idea of fruit of the poisoned tree. That is anything that stems from an illegal or illegitimate act is “poisoned,” illegitimate. Pretty much the whole of Russia’s present claims are fruit of their poisoned acts in Crime and East Ukraine.

    This gets back to the fact that Putin is a thug. He is a dictator who kills his enemies and defends a class of kleptocratic oligarchs who rape and loot Russia. He isn’t smart, and he doesn’t give a shit about ordinary Russians. He does have a certain low level of cleverness. And of course, he is a bully. He will blunder into situations where he can bludgeon weaker players, but he has no end game. And the cost on Russia in terms of a steadying lengthening list of sanctions and increased isolation does nothing but grow and harm ordinary Russians.

    The idea that Russia will ally itself with China is ludicrous. China doesn’t need Russia, and Putin is too erratic and the oligarchs too rapacious to be trusted. Then too there is the question of how stable and dependable Russia is likely to be when Putin dies. I can see short term tactical moves between Russia and China, but nothing real, long term or strategic. And given Putin’s imperial aspirations, I don’t see him for his part choosing to play second, or fifth, fiddle to the Chinese.

  18. Tom W Harris


    An awful of of folks who voted for Obama then followed up with a vote for Trump. So racism was not necessarily the main determining factor in their votes.

  19. NR

    Not every single person who voted for Trump is a racist, of course. But look at the studies I linked. Racism was one of the primary motivating factors behind his victory, and the data supports this conclusion.

  20. Hugh

    Many people who voted for Trump aren’t racists. However, Trump has made it plainly clear since his election that he is a racist and stands *wink, wink* with white supremacists. So they can not support him now or in the future without the racist tag attaching justly to them. And I should add this also applies to the Republicans in Congress.

  21. S Brennan

    One of the dumbest comments:

    “Many people who voted for Trump aren’t racists. However, Trump has made it plainly clear since his election that he is a racist and stands *wink, wink* with white supremacists. So they can not support him now or in the future without the racist tag attaching justly to them.”

    W[hy]TF would ANY politician alienate a large group of higher income voters for a smaller group of lower income? Beyond idiotic…not to mention, an argument without a shred of supporting evidence…regurgitated media babble.

  22. Jeff Wegerson

    Hugh, Poisoned fruit trees makes me think of European achievements in the Americas. Realistically either the tree dies or the poison dissipates and dissolves. But metaphorically which Crimean poisonings are still current? That’s a place that has been back and forth for centuries.

    And yes every national leader needs to pick and choose amongst the many treaties available to them. Usually it boils down to interpretation and then at some point perhaps some adjudication.

    In any case I have no love for billionaire oligarchs anywhere either. The only good billionaire is an impoverished billionaire. Picking sides when it comes to billionaires is essentially an entertainment for people I follow. Since I follow you I assume it is pretty much the same for you as well.

    At the moment the biggest bad actor on the planet is the United States. And there is little out of the US billionaire class that I feel worth cheering. So I’ll take clever when it slows the US attempts at hegemony. Will a multi-polar world be a better or even good? We can only guess which approaches will work. In any case that, for better or worse, is where we are headed.

    As for Ukraine v Russia, well at least Putin is clever and near as I can tell less evil than the Ukrainian ruling class. What I read about Crimeans seems to suggest if they can’t have their own country or be absorbed into the Icelandic city-state (my attempt at humor), then at the moment Russia is to be preferred.

    As for China & Russia, well they each do have mutual reciprocal offerings. Gas, forests and advanced military tech on the one side and a vast consumer industrial sector on the other. As someone above said, containment won’t work this time.

    I agree with those who say sanctions have helped Russia become increasingly self-sufficient. I believe those who are saying that the Russian economy is growing again. The pension debacle is the same neo-liberal austerity driven economics that the US and EU are pushing. And that is very much billionaire driven.

  23. bruce wilder

    The sorting out of long chains of historical tit-for-tat is not likely to be definitive, as an approach to foreign policy, but if you are going to use such a narrative review productively, you have to have some scruples about understanding all the opposing points-of-view involved. Foreign policy, like all politics, implicates values and interests. If you argue only values, while ignoring one’s sides interests, you are just going to wallow in tendentious mud.

    People here commenting have zero influence on the foreign policy of any state. We are the cheering section in the nose-bleed bleachers. But, it still behooves us, even if we are just milking the entertainment value of far-away conflict, to know who and what we are cheering for.

    For people of good will, who do not have a direct and personal stake, it makes sense to cheer for the peaceful resolution of international conflict and for government that holds predatory kleptomania among elites to a dull roar. (For people who are deeply invested in one side, I hope for a sense of enlightened self-interest in general principles of fairness, but I understand falling short.)

  24. different clue

    @S Brennan,

    “W[hy]TF would ANY politician alienate a large group of higher income voters for a smaller group of lower income? Beyond idiotic…not to mention, an argument without a shred of supporting evidence…regurgitated media babble.”

    Actually, well-rehearsed and well-placed Clintonite hasbara.

  25. ponderer

    Let me expound on my earlier comment that there doesn’t need to be any ambiguity here. I’ll assume that everything the Russian says is a lie and that everything Ukraine says is true. Ukraine says that they notified the Russians they would be going through the strait, just as they have done before. They say they have Freedom of Navigation due to this treaty signed in 2003.
    So this shouldn’t be a problem to verify. Accordingly, Ukraine says that everything Russia is doing is legal because military vessels have to be approved by both parties. So now ask yourself.

    1. were the military vessels of the Russian fleet approved by both parties. ukraine never said otherwise..

    2. why did the ukrainian’s not have Russian pilots onboard as part of the standard procedure during transit, this time? (They did in earlier transits). Doesn’t this consitute a violation of the agreements? The depth there is down to 5 meters.

    3. at what point before firing on the ukrainian ships can the russians have been determined to not consent to these ukrainian military vessels. Ramming them… contacting them and telling them they were not permitted? (per the voice recordings released by Ukraine). .

    There has been no mention of Ukraine unilaterally withdrawing from this 2003 agreement. Unless that is the case it’s obvious who is at fault. It doesn’t matter if Putin is a bad guy or not. It doesn’t matter who the Crimean’s like the most either. Between powerful nations there are treaties that are followed (to some degree or other) or there is nothing. The only alternative is war. Economic sanctions, back in the day, such as blockading a port were considered clear acts of war. We have history books filled with the results of not understanding that. The trials only come after millions have died.

    For the Hawks here to stir the pot. No-one actually died during this episode. Provocation or no, is it worth thousands of lives for this brinkmanship? It would be far cheaper to close the Ukrainian ports and send them 1/2 the money we would spend fighting Russia on their own territory. Everyone would be richer for it. Anyone who wants to fight Russians can go to the Ukraine and volunteer. If you really believed that fighting “Fascists” is worth spending lives on, why not spend your own? Or you could read some Orwell..

  26. Tom W Harris

    Between Russia, Ukraine, America, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other horribles, it’s fascist turtles all the way down. That’s what happens when genuinely noble efforts like the UN and the EU undergo institutional rot due to widespread self-dealing: Nationalism becomes inevitable.

    Here’s hoping we’ll do a better job at the inevitable nationalist fallout. Just don’t hold your breath.

  27. Hugh

    So what is the standard to be? Or is it to be naked out in the open dog eat dog? If self-determination is good enough for the Crimeans in Ukraine, then why isn’t it good enough for Chechens and many other national groups in Russia? Or Uighurs in Xinjiang or Tibetans in Tibet? Why is it OK for Russia to detach part of the Donbass region in East Ukraine or South Ossetia in Georgia? Why does the Russian version of Anschluss get a pass?

    History is complicated. Politics is complicated. Get over it. It is a complicated world. I love how Putin can invade his neighbors but then we get all this nitpicking about whether the Ukrainians dotted every i in the Kerch Strait. This isn’t just deeply hypocritical. It bespeaks a world view that simply doesn’t work, that as no explanatory value. If hyper-nationalist Ukrainians are all Nazis, what is Putin and his brand of Russian hyper-nationalism? And what Putin is doing today in Ukraine is being watched by all his Western neighbors from Finland to Azerbaijan. It confirms the worst fears of countries like the Baltics and Poland. They are going to want a greater US presence and more US troops in them, the very thing that Putin doesn’t want. Putin is a thug and a bully. He could have stabilized and pacified his whole western border. Instead he has destabilized and antagonized it. Would the Baltics have still joined NATO? Yes, but it would have meant anything? No. He could have bought the Ukrainians off, gotten a special status for Crimea, but this kind of policymaking is outside Putin’s wheelhouse. So he has got sanctions and a hostile western periphery.

    As I said above, Putin’s Russia is a one-man show. He is 66 and a dictator. Dictators don’t age well. They start making more mistakes. They lose their edge and increasingly their control. For survival reasons, they don’t plan a succession. On top of this, he could have an accident, get cancer, or one of his enemies could get lucky and off him. Where will Russia be then? It will be weaker, less stable, surrounded by enemies Putin created, and with lots of nukes and warring oligarchs.

  28. rkka

    “He is 66 and a dictator. ”

    His predecessor turned tanks on a legislature that was performing the legal, constitutional process of impeaching him. His predecessor had a 5% approval rating in the January before his 1996 reelection. Though Russian state media & the oligarch-owned media were singing his praises in unison & painting his opponent as the 2nd coming of Stalin, the campaign was going so badly he contemplated cancelling the election & ruling by decree, as the constitution he wrote after he turned tanks on the legislative branch allowed the Russian president to do (and Russia still has the same constitution, Dick Cheney’s wet dream of unchecked executive power). Instead he decided to steal it. Boris Yeltsin ruled by force & fraud, because his catastrophic policies were profoundly unpopular with Russians. But he’s held up as a Great democrat by Western gvts & their tame media. The same sources proclaim Putin a dictator, even though he is genuinely popular because Russians really do appreciate no longer dying off by a million a year, like Yeltsin’s oligarch-friendly policies had them doing.

  29. rkka

    ” If self-determination is good enough for the Crimeans in Ukraine, then why isn’t it good enough for Chechens and many other national groups in Russia?”

    From 31 December 1996 until September 1999, there were no Russian forces in Chechnya. Hostage-taking raids into Russia were a significant industry, with markets for their sale in Grozny. Then a force of a couple thousand under Shamil Basayev attacked Dagestan, still a part of the Russian Federation.

    “Over the next two years, despite all his efforts, many of Maskhadov’s former comrades-in-arms set out to undermine his authority and transform Chechnya into a state based on Islamic law. After those radicals, led by field commander Shamil Basayev, launched their ill-fated incursion into Daghestan in the summer of 1999, the beginning of a new war, and with it the irrevocable eclipse of the hopes engendered by the Khasavyurt accords three years earlier, were only a matter of time.

    Officials like Guldimann who were involved in the negotiations say the accords, despite their unavoidable limitations, achieved what they set out to do. The Khasavyurt agreement, he conceded “led to a politically unstable situation in Chechnya after the total withdrawal of Russian military forces, which then led to a confrontation later on in 1999.” But the agreement itself, he added, “made the maximum of what was realistically possible. It left open certain questions, but it would be wrong to say that the agreement would have lasted if it had been better drafted.”

    Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

    So at least in Chechnya’s case, Chechen ‘self-determination’ led to terrorism & armed attacks on Russia.

    ” He could have bought the Ukrainians off, gotten a special status for Crimea, but this kind of policymaking is outside Putin’s wheelhouse.”

    One of the biggest foreign aid programs in the world of the 1990s was Russia’s supply of subsidized oil & natural gas to Ukraine. On independence, Ukrainian President Kravchuk proclaimed ending dependence from Russia as a national objective & reorienting Ukraine’s trade away from Russia. But a profound economic crisis showed that the Ukrainian reality was that Ukraine was dependent on subsidized energy & other raw materials supplied by Russia. “World prices for oil is death for us” is the way Ukraine’s Deputy PM for CIS Affairs Valentin Landuk put it. So the Russian government tried hard to buy off Ukraine, and got two ‘Maidans’ in return.

  30. bruce wilder

    Hugh: “Putin is a thug. He is a dictator who kills his enemies and defends a class of kleptocratic oligarchs who rape and loot Russia. He isn’t smart, and he doesn’t give a shit about ordinary Russians.”

    If Putin is not smart, I don’t know what the word means.

  31. NR

    Apparently the Putin fanboys around here need a reminder that he’s a murderous thug who rose to power by killing thousands of his own citizens.

  32. NR

    Whoops, it was hundreds, not thousands (at least from that one incident). Point still stands.

  33. bruce wilder

    There are among the leaders of the world a lot of murderous thugs, NR. Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam War on the strength of the fake Gulf of Tonkin incident. George W. Bush invaded Iraq on a series of false pretexts.

    The Senate of the United States is exercised over a brutal murder ordered by the Crown Prince of Saudia Arabia, an apparent psychopath. One murder while many thousands die in Yemen.

    NR, you say you have a point. Why don’t you tell us what it is?

  34. rkka


    The 2nd Chechen war was sparked by Basayev’s invasion of Dagestan in August 1999, not the apt bombings in September. Both Basayev & his Arab associate Khattab claimed that a Dagestan Islamist group carried out the apt bombings, in retaliation for the Russian Army defeating Basayev’s incursion.

  35. Hugh

    rkka, what wonderful hasbara. Do they pay you by the post or by the word? You remind me of the Trump supporters I talk to. I will debunk their assertions and dismantle their arguments. And when they have nothing left, they will go, But, but Obama or Bill Clinton. Thing is neither is in charge now and are irrelevant to the discussion. You do much the same thing. I’m talking about the current dictator of Russia, and you bring up Yeltsin who has been dead and gone for eleven years, and was out of power for 8 years before that.

    But if you want to go there. Yeltsin was a drunk, corrupt, incompetent. He was also a Russian nationalist. He broke up the Soviet Union because the Great Russians were about to lose their majority status, even if this meant stranding some Russian pockets in the SSRs. There were two attempts to impeach Yeltsin, one in 1993 and the other in 1999. Neither met the two-thirds requirement for action. Yeltsin invaded Chechnya in December 1994. He succeeded in destroying much of the country and radicalizing it. He was not able to subdue it. So he left it in 1996 a festering sore, granting it autonomy, but not independence. Self-determination does not really fit into any of this history.

    While Yeltsin backed candidates lost big time in the 1993 elections, Yeltsin’s constitution rewrite won approval in a national referendum held at that time. Yeltsin was not up for re-election until 1996. It looked like he was going to lose the election, but he was able to pull it out with the aid of the oligarchs, the IMF, scare tactics and wheeling and dealing.

    I suppose if we are to condemn all things Yeltsin, we should include this one. On his way out in 1999, he elevated and selected as his his successor some obscure ex-KGB officer named Putin and selecting him as his successor.

    Re natural gas, Russia sold natural gas to Ukraine which it knew Ukraine could not pay for even with a subsidy. Russia turned a blind eye to this until the debt had grown large and then used the debt to pressure the government in Kiev. It is important to note at the time Russia was dependent on pipelines transiting Ukraine to its primary markets in Western Europe so a subsidized price to Ukraine was not a gift but a payment.

    Finally, yes, bruce wilder, you don’t. You have my condolences on your profound linguistic difficulties.

  36. ponderer

    So let me get this straight… Putin is a deranged psycho path with a god complex who likes killing his neighbors. Ok, so what? Does that mean you win the Internet because you are morally superior? What do you propose we do now, send the navy in? Oh, get the Ukraine into NATO. That will show the overcompensating mass murderer with Nuclear missiles that his time is up?

    I just don’t understand how people can treat International politics like American Idol. It doesn’t matter who you like, or how well you think you understand their motivations. It’s not a popularity contest, morals however you define them don’t even begin to enter into it. At best morals are a hindrance. If you are going to oppose someone, at least be cold and calculating about it. Throw out those petty emotions and strive for some semblance of reason. The statement that Head of State X is a bad, horrible person is not insightful nor helpful no matter who X is or what the discussion is about. The only time it is relevant to you personally is when that is your head of state.

  37. NR

    The point is, as I clearly stated, that Putin is a murderous thug who rose to power by killing hundreds of his own citizens.

    ” Both Basayev & his Arab associate Khattab claimed that a Dagestan Islamist group carried out the apt bombings”

    Are you really trying to sell this line of BS? Really? Bombs go off all over Russia, killing hundreds, and Putin blames the Chechnyans. The Chechnyans deny responsibility. One of Putin’s allies denounces one of the bombings three days BEFORE it happens. Another device was intercepted and three FSB agents were arrested for planting the bomb; they claimed it was an exercise.

    The facts of the events speak for themselves.

  38. rkka

    Chechens who had attacked Russia deny responsibility, and attribute it to a terrorist group in Dagestan, a territory of Russia they had attacked the previous month. and you claim its me selling something? And there’s lots of facts out there, saying lots of things, but what is clear is that the 2nd Chechen War was started by Basayev’s attacks in August, so why would Eeevul Putin need apt bombings in September to spark a war?

  39. NR

    The FSB was caught planting one of the bombs. And Putin was trying to win an election.

    “and you claim its me selling something?”

    It’s clear you’re a Russian shill, the only question is whether you’re one of the paid ones or if you’re carrying Putin’s water for free.

  40. Hugh

    It is important to understand the history, the culture, the players, and the strategic considerations. People like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith thought you didn’t need to do these things, and the result was the twin disasters of the Iraq War and the Occupation.

    I think it is intellectually dishonest to assert that anyone is suggesting going to war over this latest incident. I have said in the past that Bush I and the entire US foreign policy establishment badly mishandled its response to the end of the USSR. They basically wanted Russia so weakened as to never be a threat to anyone again. To quote Talleyrand, this was worse than a crime, it was mistake. The result was Putin and the oligarchs. That said, Ukraine is a mess almost entirely of Putin’s making. As long as Putin is on the scene, he will push his neo-imperial ambitions. The appropriate response to this is containment of Russia until he is gone. This does not mean war. Russia has lots of nukes, –as do we. What it does mean is extracting a significant cost whenever Putin is disruptive or pushes those ambitions.

    Re the Second Chechen War, the Russians were considering an invasion of Chechnya in March 1999, five months before the Dagestan attacks. These plans were put on the shelf until the attacks. As I said above, the First Chechen War pretty much destroyed Chechnya and left it in chaos. The current head of Chechnya is a brutal corrupt nutcase warlord Ramzan Kadyrov backed, of course, by Putin. He is not to be confused with his dad Akhmad whom Putin originally chose to run the place until his assassination in 2004. BTW Putin’s support of the Second Chechen War, as well as Yeltsin’s backing, are what brought Putin to prominence. And when Yeltsin resigned in December 1999, Putin was named acting President, again with Yeltsin’s backing.

  41. Jeff Wegerson

    The handling of the Iraq aftermath was foreshadowed by the handling of the denouement of the Soviet Union. As some have suggested it probably wasn’t simply a clash between capitalism and communism but rather was likely also driven by a strong European dislike of Russia and Russians. When old-rich European billionaires needed to welcome into the fold the new-rich Russian billionaires they balked. That in itself is a pretty common reaction amongst billionaires the world over, but inject some quasi-racism into the mix and we have what exists now between them.

    The problem for the west is that the Russians lucked out with Putin who has been able to pretty capably run things. By rights their life expectancy should still be falling as it was in the 90s.

    The Chechen thing was ugly. But now in hind-sight it seems a precursor to Syria: urban warfare against Salafist ideologues. The urban warfare part was something very historically Russian, see Stalingrad and Leningrad. We of Hiroshima and Dresden can’t afford to be too smug though.

    Did Putin really screw up in the Ukraine? Maybe. But I think the Ukrainian reality is strongly colored by the left over real existing Ukrainian fascism from WWII. Embers foolishly fanned by our CIA and Neo-conservatives as a continuation of the cold war or for the creation of a new cold war. I think Putin and the Russians actually tried playing by the rules in the Ukraine. But they were caught flat-footed and then set back on their heels by the over-throw of the (their?) elected government. Remember they had lost the previous election for Ukrainian president but they respected it (I suppose. It appears that way from the news. But what do I know?)

    Now Putin is stuck muddling through as best he can (imho). Remember also the biggest NATO exercises ever came right up to the Russian border practically to the gates of St. Petersburg and happened just a month or so ago. I’d be nervous too if I were him.

  42. different clue


    If the DemParty nominates Hillary Clinton for Prez Candidate in 2020, would a vote for Trump be a vote for racism? Or a vote against Clinton? Or equal parts both?

  43. Hugh

    The Russians were in Syria to protect their naval base in Tartus. They didn’t give a shit about Salafists except in so far as these posed a threat to this base and secondarily to their client Assad. Most of the heavy lifting against ISIS was done by the Iraqis, the Kurds, the Iranians, and the US.

    Putin runs a dictatorship presiding over a class of oligarchs who rape and loot the country. Capable does not enter into it. And his actions need to be seen through the lens of his imperial ambitions. As I pointed out above, there are plenty of fascists in Russia as well.

    Re WWII, Stalin killed millions of kulaks in the Ukraine in the 1920s in an artificial famine. As a result, about 250,000 Ukrainians fought on the Nazi sside. 4.5 million fought in the Red Army.

    different clue, I have not voted for a Democrat or a Republican for President in years. Politicians do not own our votes, and lesser evilism only encourages the parties to run the worse candidates possible. So yes, a vote for Trump would be a vote for racism.

  44. rkka

    “That said, Ukraine is a mess almost entirely of Putin’s making. ”

    Since then, Ukrainianpolicy towards RUkraine is a mess because Ukraine’s Soviet Elite did their math wrong. They looked at the Soviet price system, observed that Ukraine was subsidizing the rest of the USSR, and concluded that an independent Ukraine would do very well indeed.

    Then they discovered global market prices for energy & raw materials, and by that price system, Russia had been heavily subsidizing Ukraine. In the words of one Ukrainian
    Government minister “The world price of oil is death for us!”

    Since then Ukraine’s policies towards Russia have revolved sround the question “How do we get subsidies from Russia while denying Russia influence?”

    And now they’re upset that they’ve decisively lost that game, and the new Sugar Daddy does not pay like the old one did.

  45. Hugh

    rkka, that’s always been the problem with those Russkies throughout history. They have always been Big Softies.

  46. Jeff Wegerson

    Hugh. Until the big bully learns some manners I’m still rooting for the little bully. No I’m not holding my breath. And yes they are both bullies. I get your point of view. I just wish it weren’t so conventional. Perhaps there is some emotional history in your past that colors your responses. In the meantime I will just adjust my reading of your comments in the area of Putin, Russia and the Soviet Union. You seem to have a pretty good grasp of the facts, though.

  47. Mallam

    Hugh’s opinions are the opposite of “conventional”. Hugh is consistent, it’s why I respect him even if I disagree with him on certain aspects. You won’t see “conventional” people be consistent like he is. You just don’t like that the facts aren’t in your favor. Rooting “for the little bully” when the little bully is a fascist dictator still means “rooting for fascist dictator”. If everything is a zero sum game, which it’s not yet you insist that it is, I’ll side with “liberal order with contradictions” than “fascist dictators who murder dissidents” every time.

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