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

Some Perspective on Russian Intervention in the Ukraine

1) The journalists talking about anschluss are morons.  This is not Germany in the 30s, Russia is not going to try and conquer Europe.

2) The Ukraine was part of Russia for centuries, and has been independent for about 20 years.

3) The Russian Army is not the Red Army: it is not capable of conquering Europe.

4) The Crimea is majority Russian already and had been part of Russia, yes, for centuries.

5) Russia was NEVER going to allow Ukraine to kick them out of Sevastopol and the Crimea.

6) Americans spent 5 billion dollars promoting the Ukrainian revolution.  That’s a lot of money.  Granted that the Ukrainian government was a corrupt bunch of thugs, Putin is not crazy to think the West fomented the revolution.  The West DID foment revolution.  There was fertile ground, but 5 billion dollars is not chicken feed.

7) The West is not going to fight a war for the Ukraine.  Russia is.

8) The East of Ukraine is still pro-Russia.

9) What the Ukrainian parliament did with armed protesters standing over them is not, ummm, necessarily what they would have done without guns being waved in their general direction.

Analysis: it is highly unlikely that Putin will go for Kiev, though I won’t categorically rule it out.  Crimea will be part of Russia, whether de-facto or de-jure.  The eastern parts (which is where all the industry is, by the way), may be partitioned off as a rump state, or brought into Russia.  In both cases, if it happens, referendums will be held.  They will not need to cheat on them, as long as they don’t go too far West, they’ll win them fairly.

I will be frank: the West needs to stop fomenting these revolutions.  Russia is not going to allow NATO to creep up to their border without taking action.  You’d have to be crazy to think that Russia was going to allow the Ukraine, including Crimea, to become part of NATO, and yes, that was the West’s (or rather, America’s) endgame.  (The Europeans think the Americans are crazy to be baiting the bear like this.  But the Europeans need Russian natural gas.)

Russia is no longer the USSR.  It is not an existential threat to the West, or even to Europe.  It is a corrupt resource state with a big army and nukes which controls a lot of territory, but the idea that it would win a full-on conventional war with America is deranged.

All the US is accomplishing here is driving Russia into the country which is actually a danger to American dominance: China.  This was totally unnecessary, but the entire thrust of US policy since the USSR has been to try and cripple Russia, starting with the completely deranged “shock doctrine”  economic policies foisted on Russia right after the USSR’s collapse: doctrines which lead to an actual collapse in Russian population.

Putin thinks the US and the West are Russia’s enemies. He is not wrong.

Can you imagine if Russia spent 5 billion dollars fomenting a pro-Russian revolution in Mexico?  How would the US react? (And let us not forget the US invasions of Grenada and Panama).  If the US had broken up and California was its own state, would the rump US state feel they had a right to intervene in it?

Also, once more, the IMF will give Ukraine money in exchange for “reforms”. If you think those reforms will be good for the Ukraine, you are not just sadly mistaken, you are an idiot, or I hope you’re well paid to have such opinions.  IMF reforms do not help ordinary people.

Finally, if I were a Western Ukrainian, I probably would have supported the revolution: Yanukovych was just too corrupt and too brutal. This isn’t about choosing sides, this is about understanding them.

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  1. ks

    Agreed and the current actions by Putin shows that the Russians are not playing. Interesting that the “official” Russian response came right after Obama’s speech, huh?

  2. EGrise

    From the NYT:

    Though he threatened an unspecified cost to Russia, Mr. Obama has limited options to respond to an intervention. Officials said he could cancel his participation in a Group of 8 meeting in Sochi, Russia, in June. The administration could also break off talks on a potential trade agreement. Russia sent a delegation to Washington this week to explore closer trade and commercial ties.

    So the US effectively has no options, but we “warn” Russia anyway (isn’t there an old saying about how one should never make a threat one can’t carry out?). And if Putin doesn’t get his trade deal, I have to imagine the result is to push Russia further into the arms of China.

    Best $5 billion we ever spent, no doubt. Coincidentally, didn’t we just cut food aid by $5 billion?

  3. LorenzoStDuBois

    Obama’s lifelong dream of going to Sochi keeps being thwarted at every turn! Can’t a guy who wants to enjoy some authentic Khachapuri before he dies ever catch a break?

  4. Z

    It was a dangerous and foolhardy geopolitical situation for the U.S. Fascist state to foment. Revolutions tend to spread like wildfire and there is plenty of kindling … unemployed youth … in western Europe. Also, expect the BRICS countries, led by Russia and China, to ramp up their efforts to attack the pivot point of U.S. power – the U.S. dollar’s status as the king currency – by creating a currency that is actually backed by something such as a basket of commodities. It shouldn’t be too hard to find other countries … Venezuela anyone? … that are willing to join in.

    Fucking with Russia and Putin is a bad, bad geopolitical move and one that I think our rulers are going to regret. But they are so arrogant that it is inevitable that they will overstep their bounds. Hopefully, positive revolutionary change will come about as a consequence.

    On a related note, one of the most important and underrated qualities of good leaders is humility. Humility opens one up to the possibility that their original decision was wrong and that it’s time to change course rather than burrowing down the same ego-fueled path because you CAN’T be wrong. Humility gives one perspective that the whole enterprise that you are leading is not just about YOU, that there are responsibilities that you should be beholden to besides your own self-interests. And humility is unfortunately a quality that our American Idol leaders know absolutely nothing of.


  5. Z

    From the often deplorable nytimes:

    They slide in this unproven vignette as fact:

    “Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war.”

    It’s like Judy Miller never left …


  6. Circle, circle, circle…

    What Russia does to Ukraine is going to be ugly. I am astonished to see you, of all people, defending it.

    Circle, circle, circle…

    Oh, yes. They blame Obama.

  7. cripes

    I don’t think i read Ian as “defending” Putin. He does point out long historical ties between Russia and Ukraine. He points out half the country is either ethnically russian, russian speaking or supports alliance with russia. He points out the US has pumped 5 billion dollars into a project to destabalize Ukraine, as it had done with countless other democratically elected governments–need i list them here?
    And Ian points out this destabilizing pattern around the world is dangerous, destructive and foolish in this case.
    And do you support openly neo-nazi thugs funded by your government burning and looting and holding parliamentary votes at gunpoint? That’s as logical a question for you as your question to Ian.

  8. While we’re at it, do you support IMF and World Bank austerity pogroms and asset-stripping like the 1990’s in Russia? Cause that’s what’s up.
    It doesn’t take much moral courage to point fingers at far away bad actors than to point at your own society. There’s costs when you do that. BTW, it was Putin that pulled Obama back from the brink in Syria, another case of US funding fundamentalist al queda insurrection. Side by side comparison Obama wins foreign intervention derby hands down. I don’t need to “defend” Putin to know that.

  9. bob mcmanus

    BTW, it was Putin that pulled Obama back from the brink in Syria

    Commenter at Pat Lang’s speculated that the original plan, which still might be operational, was to neutralize Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in order to attack Syria.

    I don’t think Putin “pulled Obama back from the brink in Syria.” I think Putin got in the way.

    Syria and Iran are still on.

  10. Sam Adams

    Always watch the other hand.
    The natural European alliance is Germany-France-Russia. Now it seems Crimea may throttle that merger. Maybe not so smart on Putin’s side. Its always the Great Game that is being played. Has been the same game on the same sea since Byzantium.

  11. The Raven:
    Do you know anything about the Svoboda party in Ukraine? One of their man men is now the equivalent to Eric Holder(aka top law enforcement official) right now. Think about that for a second.

  12. I am simply finding it very difficult to believe that American policymakers failed to account for the fact that Russia would never just inattentively yield up Sevastopol. There must be another shoe here waiting to drop.

    Finally, I strongly agree with your last paragraph in particular: Western Ukrainians really do want out from under Russia’s shadow. A lot of Eastern Europeans are actually *willing* to take a certain amount of punishment to join the EU, the Eurozone, etc, if it means one more connection to the West and one step away from Russia. Rightly or wrongly.

  13. Jerome Armstrong

    I don’t have a problem choosing sides on this one. If the choice is between the IMF/World Bank or Putin’s USSR for Ukraine, the former. They can always default and tell the banks to shove it. They can’t even walk together in the streets under Putin.

  14. bob mcmanus

    Having just finished the Last Psychiatrist’s latest and greatest, I am inspired to ask:

    “And what do you think choosing that side in the Ukraine says about you? To who?”

    I hate them all, Putin and the vampires. Most days I hate everybody.

    However, hating the vampires and vultures might do a little good in my own political economy, while hating on Putin won’t save the Ukraine and will only make me look nice to all my Facebook friends. Go go Pussy Riot.

    Wait I don’t have any Facebook friends.

  15. bob mcmanus

    But wait a minute

    The EU/IMF is demanding the usual austerity package, which includes an end to below market pricing for home heating gas

    Putin is offering 15 billion and continued subsidized natural gas

    So Armstrong is choosing the right of a minority to hold hands over the freezing and dying of thousands of poor people.

    Typical contemporary Democrat, huh.

  16. Jeff Martin

    Antagonizing Russia, thus stoking further nationalist sentiment in that country, is rather unlikely to improve the circumstances of the LGBT community there. Just saying…. the two issues are not related in the manner presupposed by liberal interventionists/defenders of the EU/NATO. They just aren’t.

  17. Ignim Brites

    Pretty solid although the $5 billion figure is misleading and only serves to buttress the theme that the US is a major player in these events. It is not and will not be regardless of the dreams of Anglo intellectuals that they are world historical figures.

  18. faz

    Some cogent and valid points in here, but I have to disagree on others. This is, indeed, a deja vu of 1938 again. Hitler wants the “Germanized” areas of Czechoslovakia to come home to the Reich. Putin wants the same for the Russianized areas of Ukraine. It’s irrelevant to state that the Russians won’t try for all of Ukraine; of course they won’t. But to truncate Ukraine and make it even more dependent on Russia is a real goal, an doable if we do nothing. Russia killed 5-7M Ukrainians in the Great Famine of the early 30s, and everywhere you have a Russian minority — the Baltic States is another example — you see this reunification nostalgia and agitation. How about Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 and their recognition of the make-believe “state” of Abkhazia, ripped from Georgia after independence?

    This Administration relied on the Russians to get the Syrians to turn in chemical weapons, and now we see this. Talk about being duped and being ineffective. And sanctions? Ask Mussolini — if he were living — how economic sanctions worked to “prevent” his Ethiopian invasion and conquest.

    How about we take the extra billions we pump into corrupt African regimes and Third World cesspools and give it to people interested in democracy and free from centuries of an overarching shadow. Are we really willing to let an oligarchic, ex-KGB thug have his way and thumb his nose at international law and common outrage?

  19. Mik Y

    However, Russian intervention seems to be stirring up panic response. Could be used to stampede Europe toward finding its own ‘strongman’ and united military. Almost surely led by Germany.

  20. Tina

    it’s not facts, just thoughts, very subjective opinion! The Crimea had been part of Turkey, yes, for centuries, even more then part of Russia. Should Turkey send their army to protect tatar people too? The Russian Army is not the Red Army, and Russia is not Germany 30’s – YES, it’s totally worst!!!

  21. Jerome Armstrong

    @bob mcmanus, I await your political bloggings from Russia. I don’t think the prisons are heated.

  22. Hey

    It is NOT called “The Ukraine”. It is just “Ukraine”!!!

    Please fix that right away!

  23. cripes

    By all means, let’s have more humanitarian interventions from the USA, the IMF and their willing coalitions. It’s worked so well every time in the past. Just ask Iran, Iraq, Chile, Venezuela, Indonesia, Guatemala, Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Haiti, Vietnam, Laos… But, but, this time will be different!

  24. Angry Panda

    Two additional angles.

    First, continuity. Nearly everyone who has now come into government in Kiev on the back of the Maidan has been around Ukrainian politics since the beginning of the “aughts” if not the nineties. What we have is a dedicated “class” of politicians who are all equally corrupt and are using popular discontent (and western money) to ride into power as “reformers” every few years. Once in power, however, their only goal has been the status quo – that is, protecting the rights and independence of the oligarchs and, of course, stealing a little for themselves.

    So in that context, Russia – which, by the way, does not need an extra 20-25 million people (in the eastern provinces) in dire need of economic and social aid – is basically using Crimea as a sort of a bargaining chip. To wit, the Crimean referendum question is phrased as “independence within the Ukrainian state” (as silly as that might sound). This is a business negotiation, in other words, more than anything else.

    Secondly, what is different this time around is the power of the nationalists – again not without the help of western money. In the past changeovers the nationalists existed, but were not one of the principal movers. After each “revolution” (e.g. 2004) they were basically told to go home in exchange for limited autonomy for the western provinces. This time around, however, they were actually on the barricades, fighting, and, by implication, have the manpower and resources to have done so. Absent a negotiated deal (a “night of the Long Knives” is inconceivable in current conditions), these people might destabilize the situation much further than anyone had wanted.

    On the whole, the west is making its classical error of wading into a complex situation and just backing “a guy” blindly. Even the payoff is uncertain – breaking a small country like Latvia with IMF and Euro-zone loans is one thing, but breaking a 45-million country with a heavily divided populace is quite another…

  25. markfromireland

    Mark, Putin did not have to throw the whole power of the Russian state behind homophobia. In so doing, he is leading Russia headlong into fascism. It will not stop with gays, you may be sure and indeed it is already being expanded.

    Got hyperbole much? If Putin threw “the whole power of the Russian state behind homophobia” as you put it Russia’s gays would be living through Hell on earth, in prison camps.

    I’m sure Putin has reasons. Reasons, there are always reasons. But behind all the reasons there is hatred.

    See Afinogenov’s “Russia Under Putin.”

    Seen it – not even remotely impressed.

    When you talk about “coldly calculating men” you are describing sociopaths.

    It is your propensity for writing that sort of ludicrous shite that ensures you’ll never gain political influence. Really, don’t you think it’s time you tried adult behaviour instead of teenage tantrums when discussing important topics such as human rights and trying to prevent wars.

    When people say Putin saved Russia, there is always the claim that were there no other possible leaders, no other possible ways, and this is ridiculous.

    I have made no such claim, nor would I. There are always alternatives. I do however note that those alternatives failed to save Russia – it was Putin who did that to the horror and disgust of Americans like you.

    It may be that a third Ukrainian genocide is in the offing. I’ll not put myself on record defending of the people who made it.

    The sentence is speculative hyperbolic bullshit – seems to be a specialty of yours. As to you’re second point I’d point out that nobody nobody here is defending homophobia, war, genocide … except that to do so would be a waste of my time because to do so would be to point out something that is blindingly obvious to everybody except you. Let us know when you’ve finished masturbating your self-righteousness and your wholly unearned belief that you’re morally superior to the rest of humanity.


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