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

Tag: Ukraine Page 2 of 3

The End of the Rebels in the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s Future

We’re down to street fighting in Donetsk.  The Russian leaders resigned in the last two weeks.  The rebels appear to be done, at least in terms of their conventional military phase (of course, I could be wrong depending on how much stomach Ukrainian troops have for house to house fighting).  It seems like that would only change if Russia decided to actually invade, and that seems unlikely (though predicting Putin’s decisions is always difficult.)

The Eastern Ukraine, bottom line, does not have enough support for joining Russia, nor coherent enough borders to avoid the West and Ukraine running an insurgency in it.  Conquering it would leave Russia controlling territory which could turn into a bleeding ulcer if it didn’t join peacefully (unlike Crimea, where the population overwhelmingly wanted to join, and where the geography is highly defensible.)

I’m not sure this is the “right” decision for Russia, because I can’t see that Ukraine won’t become a NATO member rather soon if Russia’s preferred solution, federalization with anti-NATO guarantees does not happen.

However, Russia does still have leverage: there are enough Eastern Ukrainians who will now hate the central government and want to join Russia, and the border is long enough and porous enough, that Russia can easily support an open ended insurgency within Ukraine.

Likewise, Winter is Coming, and the prospect of turning off the gas to the Ukraine and Europe will become much more effective.  Russia may believe that these two factors will enable it to get its minimal demands.  I doubt it, personally, because NATO expansion to Ukraine is something the US wants desperately, but we’ll see.

We move now to Ukraine’s future.

Dismal. Absolutely dismal.

Ukraine will be the second Greece of Europe, and soon.  Pensions slashed by half, gas prices through the roof, crown jewels sold to Westerners, civil servants slashed to the bone.  Its industry is integrated not with Europe, but with Russia, and Russia will move to get rid of its dependency on Ukrainian factories as fast as it can, especially as some of those factories create key defense equipment, and the Ukraine obviously cannot be counted on to supply them in any time of crisis, going forward.

Those factories are not competitive with Western factories, and when energy prices skyrocket, they won’t even be competitive with Russian factories.

Ukraine has some hydrocarbon reserves (though much will be lost with Crimea); it is an agricultural breadbasket, and that’s about all it has going for it.  Again, the economy will be opened by the IMF to the West, and whatever is worth buying, and throws off actual profits or can be downsized and firesaled, will be sold to Westerners.

Ukrainians, including the Western Ukrainians who think that joining the West will solve their problems, are about to find out that Russia’s deals and treatment were far more kind than anything the IMF will do to them.  Eastern Ukrainians, having lost a war, and being FAR more dependent on Russia, will find their economy devastated within a few years.  (This will make them far more willing to resort to violence again, of course.)

The key thing to watch now will be the negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and Europe to see if there are any NATO guarantees.  If not, well, we’ll see what the Russian response is.  Internally the Russian public does not want to attack Ukraine to take Eastern Ukraine, but that could change if an atrocity occurs or is created.  More likely, support for an insurgency, then the Ukraine building a huge wall across its border, and as noted, economic ruin.

This game isn’t over yet.  In a few years Russia may yet wind up with the East, with its citizens practically begging to join.  Not mostly because of anything Russia does, but because of what the IMF does.

Note also that efforts to de-dollarize the world are ongoing by the BRICS in general, and China in particular, and Russia is moving to decouple as much of its economy as it can from the West. In a few years the West will have far fewer levers to pull to hurt Russia.

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Enough Russian Roulette with Nuclear Fire

As commenter OldSkeptic points out, Russia has now called up reserves:

“Russia’s Defence Ministry plans to call up military reservists across the country for two months of training exercises on new weapons, news agency Interfax reported on Friday.

Moscow has previously used such exercises to boost troop numbers on its border with Ukraine. There are concerns in the West that Russian forces could intervene in the conflict between the Kiev’s government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The exercises were planned last November, the defense ministry said, and will last from August until October.”

I have covered the Ukrainian crisis closely since it began for a reason: the real antagonists: Russia and the US, with NATO as an American proxy, are nuclear armed.  Let us review:

  • The Ukraine was part of Russia for about 200 years.
  • Crimea is Russia’s most important naval port.
  • The Maidan protests overthrew a government which, whatever you think of it, was democratically elected.  The Maidan protests were heavily backed by US money and aid.
  • The Russian deal with the Ukraine was far more generous than the EU/IMF deal, which requires cutting pensions in half and likely doubling gas prices, if the gas supplies continue at all. Russia, on the other hand, offered subsidized gas and a fifteen billion dollar loan at nominal prices.
  • While there are those in Crimea who did not want to join Russia, I am aware of no convincing evidence that a supermajority did not wish to. The referendum was somewhat coercive and produced results in line with the last referendum in the region.
  • The rebellion in the East and the South is in regions where the strongest economic ties are with Russia.  While I have seen no polls indicating majority support for the rebels, I have also seen no polls indicating majority support for the Kiev government.
  • Ukraine is very close to Moscow.  Moscow is not defendable, in war, if enemy forces are in Ukraine.
  • It is American doctrine that Russia without Ukraine is not a European Empire; with it, it is.

In 2008, during the Georgian war, I wrote that the next flashpoint would be Crimea.  The experts sneered at that: it could never happen, Russia and the EU had nothing to gain and everything to lose by allowing it.

The EU is, as Old Skeptic points out, however, not in the driver’s seat.  The US is, and NATO is, and NATO is currently led by a hawk.  What Merkel, or Germany, think is irrelevant  unless they are willing to threaten to leave NATO and follow through if necessary.  While Mark From Ireland has pointed out that there are signs of German and European realignment away from the US, they seem to be signs that will take years to develop to actual estrangement.  The current leaders, like Merkel, are of a generation which grew up under American hegemony. While many balked at Iraq, it will be far harder for them to refuse to act if NATO, including Britain and the US, goes to war.

It would take an incredibly brave leader to say no if NATO mobilizes to help Ukraine in light Russian regular forces.

The question, then, is whether Russian regular forces will be needed, or used.

We have, meanwhile, sanctions. So far they have amounted to not much, though they will increase financing costs.  However threats of greater sanctions continue, and slowly the strength of the sanctions has been increased.

I don’t know if OldSkeptic is right, and the plan is to force Russia into a humiliating retreat in the face of sanctions, with the use of military force ok’d to break Russia.  I actually doubt it, because it would be insane.

You don’t risk a shooting war with a nuclear armed state like Russia, who has enough nuclear weapons not just to destroy the US and Europe, but the world, multiple times over; and which has second strike capability which NATO cannot credibly expect to take out.  If either side starts losing and resorts to nukes, things can get out of hand very, very quickly.

But something being insane, or boneheadedly stupid does not mean it won’t happen: if Iraq or Syria (and the rise of ISIS) has not taught us this, nothing will.  American leaders are ideologues, drunk with power, who believe they rule the world and everyone else must bow.  Putin tweaked them hard over both Snowden and Syria, and they have worked since the fall of the USSR to move NATO right to Russia’s borders, something George Bush Sr. promised they wouldn’t do.

Russia feels itself under threat.  The military believes it cannot defend Russia from NATO if NATO is in the Ukraine, and notes also the constant moving up of anti-missile defense, closer and closer to its border; something it believes is meant to degrade its nuclear deterrent (it is, how well it will work is another question.  My suspicion is “not nearly well enough”.)

There is West’s sanction threats have been all stick: there is no upside to Russia buckling to the sanction threats, all they get back is the status quo.  Going forward, Russia having given in to sanctions once, they would have no independent policy the West could not veto by threatening them again.

So how does this play out?

I don’t know.  I do know that the people in charge in America, Britain and NATO are stupid, mad-drunk with power, and ideologues who believe in American primacy at any cost.  I do know that Russia believes it faces a potentially existential threat, and that Putin personally could not survive a humiliating capitulation.  And by not survive I mean he would probably wind up, personally, dead.  Russian leaders like Putin rarely leave office except in a casket.

This confrontation is over Russia claiming some right to interfere in territory it ruled for about two centuries.  Longer than the US has ruled most of its territory, I might note.  If the West can interfere in practically any country in the world, the Russians see no reason why they don’t have the right to interfere in their sphere of influence.

This is not, necessarily, to say that Russia should have the right to interfere with other countries, but given the West’s record of invasions, occupations and coups, it is simply laughable hypocrisy to make any claims that this is about territorial integrity of Westphalian states.


So if it is happening, it is happening for a reason.  To bring Ukraine into the Western fold, to force Russia to bow, and to show the world that even a power like Russia, with nuclear weapons and a huge arsenal, was forced to bow.

As much as the Gaza assault is an endless series of war crimes, and tragic, the greatest danger in the world today is in the Ukraine.  We are closer to nuclear war than we have been since the early 1980s when the Russian leadership was crazed by fear by US deployment of first strike missiles to Europe.

I will suggest, simply, that NATO needs to be disbanded.  The Europeans should simply step outside of it and put together their own military.  They can defend themselves from Russia if it comes to it (it won’t if they don’t poke Russia repeatedly with sticks).  They have a nuclear deterrent (I’m talking France here, not the UK, who probably can’t even use their nukes without American approval, and whose leadership are complete poodles for DC) and can build more if they so desire.

It’s time for Europe to grow back up, take responsibility for their own defense and future, and stop allowing America to drive the world to war, the brink of war, and possibly nuclear armaggedon.  As for the Ukraine, the Russian proposal of keeping it together, minus Crimea, but with a decentralized structure, and out of any Western alliance is entirely reasonable.

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Some actual serious sanctions proposed against Russia by the EU

Not shabby:

EU diplomats will weigh sweeping Russian sanctions on Thursday that include a proposal to ban all Europeans from purchasing any new debt or stock issued by Russia’s largest banks, according to a proposal seen by the Financial Times.

The sanctions measure, contained in a 10-page options memo prepared by the European Commission and distributed to national capitals, also proposes barring the Russian banks from listing new issues on European exchanges, preventing them from using London or other EU stock markets to raise funds from non-Europeans.

The proposal would not initially include a similar prohibition for Russian sovereign bond auctions out of fear the Kremlin could retaliate by ordering an end to Russian purchases of EU government debt, the document states.

Now these aren’t nearly as sweeping as they could be, but they aren’t a joke.  The practical effect would be to force Russian banks to raise money from China and the Muslim world.  The cost would be somewhat higher.

I do wonder if the Europeans have thought through Putin’s response, however.  What would be the next level of sanctions if these pass and Putin doesn’t do what they want?  What if, instead of de-escalating support for Ukrainian rebels, he increases support?  The Ukrainian rebels may have shot down an airliner, they have also shot down multiple military aircraft, and just shot down two jets.  What do you think they could do with more equipment and more men?

I’ve  never really understood why the West has gone all stick and no carrot with the Russia in relation to the Ukraine.  Putin’s approval ratings, thanks to the Ukrainian crisis, are sky high in Russia. If he invaded tomorrow, they’d be higher

What does he get if he does what Europe wants?  So far it’s all been downside.

I see this repeatedly in Western negotiations: Iran gets nothing for playing, except that it doesn’t get to have all its rights under the non-proliferation act and some sanctions (punishments) are eased.  The only carrot is “we’ll stop hitting you.”

I don’t think Putin’s the type of man, nor the Russians the sort of people, who respond well to those sort of threats.  They don’t see themselves as the “bad guys” (an infantilization in any case) in Ukraine.  From their POV a democratic government was overthrown, and they’re supporting ethnic Russians in the face of a government which wants to impoverish them through unnecessary IMF reforms.

They don’t see themselves as in the wrong in Ukraine.  They don’t see themselves as weak.  They don’t like being threatened.  They don’t like Europe and the US acting as if they have the “right” to punish them for looking after their own interests in ways the West rarely hesitates to

The Ukrainian mess is one of those situations where I can’t see the stakes for the West being worth the game.  What is West getting from this?  For Russia, on the other hand, the Ukraine in the West’s pocket is a spear ready to be thrust home at Moscow. It destroys strategic depth.  And Ukraine was ruled by Russia for centuries, this is their sphere of influence.  This is important to them, the stakes are high.

Why does the West keep acti9ng as if the stakes are high for it?  Is destroying Russia’s ability to defend itself from NATO that important?  Is keeping Russia from having strategic depth that important?

If it is, and it’s hard to see anything else in Ukraine worth fighting over (any natural resources would be sold to the West if they wanted them); then it’s hard not to conclude that Russians should be alarmed, because all the West gets out of this confrontation which is important, is Russian weakness.

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If China is with you, you are not isolated in the world

The shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 has led to a vituperative barrage in the Western media (and social media), blaming Russia.  This barrage has been fomented, in large part, by the White House, which has been relentless.

Many act as if Russia is horribly in the wrong, isolated, and alone.

China’s Xinhua wrote this:

The one-sided accusation is not surprising in light of their long-time stance on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, and their attitude towards Russia’s absorption of Crimea in March. But without convincing evidence, jumping to a conclusion will only heighten regional tension and is not conducive to finding out the truth.

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said it is Ukraine that bears the responsibility as the tragedy occurred over its territory. The tragedy, Putin said, could have been avoided should Ukraine’s eastern regions be in peace.

If China is with you, you are not alone.  The shooting down of MH17 is a tragedy, as when the US shot down an Iranian jetliner, and it may well have been done by Ukrainian rebels.  But it doesn’t mean Russia is isolated.

And perhaps, when the rebels were known to have SAMs with the distance to shoot down airliners, airliners should not still have been allowed to travel over the conflict region?  That decision is Ukraine’s, by the way.

There can be no defending the targeting of civilians and if this is not a false flag operation, it will turn out to have been a mistake, it is in no one’s interest to be blamed for such an attack.

The conflict in the Ukraine is a conflict of choice: the West’s choice in helping overthrow a democratically elected government, Russia’s choice in at least tolerating and most likely encouraging the separatists (and possibly giving them the BUK, though they also captured at least one system from the Ukrainian army), and Ukraine’s choice, for refusing any negotiations with those of its citizens who want federalization, a not unreasonable requrest when Ukraine has signed up for IMF austerity.

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And the Ukraine Sanctions heat up

Russia supplies the engines used to boost to the International Space Station: and will now stop doing so unless the US agrees to not use them on military rockets.  NASA hopes to restore service to the ISS by 2017.  The Russians note, sardonically, that they will still be able to use the ISS, but the US won’t.

Russia wants GPS sites in the US, and if the US doesn’t agree, they will shut down GPS sites in Russia.

And, most interestingly, the Russians are moving ahead on replacements to Visa and Mastercard, whom they do not trust not to cut them off at DCs behest (I think the Wikileaks cut-off was the warning that the credit card companies were instruments of US policy.)  This is the first step to creating their own domestic payments system.  China has a national payments system, and were they to link up with the Russian one and export that to other countries, there could finally be a real alternative to the SWIFT system controlled by the West.

Russia will be hurt worst in any sanctions tiff, of course, but this isn’t cost free for the US and West, even in the short term, and in the long term it teaches the rest of the world that they can’t use Western systems and must have their own alternatives.  That reduces Western profits and power faster than it would have been reduced otherwise.

And, over the Ukraine?  This is worth it?

That said, every since Visa, Mastercard and Paypal misused their power in the Wikileaks case, I have been itching to see them taken down, so I consider this a good thing.  The US and the West have terribly abused their power over the payments system (ask the Iranians about that) and it’s time for that power to be taken away.

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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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Clown College as the Ukrainian military effort “sputters”

The Ukrainian military clearly doesn’t care enough to actually fight:

The day began inauspiciously for Ukrainian forces as they sought to establish an operating base in the city of Kramatorsk, moving in units from a nearby military air base. According to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and a witness who spoke by phone, a column of six armored vehicles was stopped by a mob of civilians and then commandeered by heavily armed men wearing military-style uniforms.

Not willing to kill civilians: that actually speaks well of the Ukrainian military.

The East is Putin’s if he wants it.  Also, take note of the sheer competence of Russian actions, both direct and through proxy forces, in both Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.  The Russians have a plan, and are executing it more than competently right down the line.  I would say that NATO and everyone else should take note.

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“Pro-Russian Militias” Seize Police Stations and a City

I guess Vladimir Putin really objects to the current Ukrainian regime:

Pro-Russian activists carrying automatic weapons seized government buildings in Slaviansk and set up barricades on the outskirts of the city. Official buildings in several neighboring towns were also attacked.

Imagine that.  I’m sure that some of them are activists.  The rest are very likely “activists”.

Ukraine is blustering about using armed force to kick them out, but if they do, they’ll kill some, and that will give the large army on their border a pretext to march in to “protect” Russians in the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine refuses to pay higher prices for natural gas, is 2 billion in arrears anyway, and the Russians are saying “well, the contact says that if you don’t make payments in time, we can raise the price.”

Sub voce, of course, the message is “we offered you subsidized gas, and you decided to make nice with the IMF, Europe and America.  Get them to pay for your gas, we don’t subsidize countries hostile to us.”

Now all this could be prelude to invasion, but it could also be prelude to negotiations.  Russia wants a Federal Ukraine with regions having great autonomy.  Going to the table with the message “we already OWN the Eastern Ukraine, it’s federalization or we officially annex it” is a strong bargaining position.

Possession is, as they say, 90% of the “law”.

The West can either accept what Russia is offering, or it can ramp up sanctions.  Be clear, sanctions could really hurt Russia, but they will hurt the EU as well, both those countries that rely on Russia for natural gas, and those who launder Russian money (London, in particular.)

Of course, the US probably doesn’t mind if Europe gets hurt, and American commercial interests are pushing to be allowed to sell natural gas to Europe.  The fracking boom isn’t going as well as its propaganda, and a bigger market would be nice.

Hard sanctions, though, will push Russia hard into China’s orbit, ensuring that when the real confrontation between the West and China occurse, that Russia, which is still a powerful nation, rich with natural resources China needs, back China, not the West.

In geopolitical terms, the West has acted like idiots.  The status quo of a Ukraine which was somewhat more in Moscow’s pocket than Brussels or DC was not harmful to the West, they will lose much to gain part of the Ukraine than it is worth.

Again, the real threat to American hegemony is no longer Russia, it is China.  American foreign policy which does not orient around this fact is jejeune and idiotic.

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