Whither Ukraine?

If you believe the news, never a good idea, you’d believe that Russia was acting with unpredictable aggression towards Ukraine. Of course, you’d also be incorrect. Russia is certainly acting with aggression, but it’s entirely predictable and entirely logical. Much has been said about Vladimir Putin’s argument that the collapse of the USSR was a geopolitical catastrophe. Many people in Russia agree with him. Far fewer in countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Ukraine would agree with him. The truth is, of course, that it was for the best for some countries, for the worse for others and, on the global scale, a calamity. The absence of an alternate power centre meant that the US was able to do as it wished on the global scale. Under Clinton, the US had a largely responsible foreign policy. Under Bush Jr. and Obama, the US behaved with reckless disregard. American intervention in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia led to chaos and misery.

I do not wish to defend Russian aggression per se. I also do not wish to be seen as an apologist for socialism or the USSR. If Russia had all that much to offer, then countries that were once part of the Russian Empire and the USSR wouldn’t have been so keen to get out from under Russia’s shadow. Even in Ukraine, one of the more troubled post-Soviet European states, the benefits of independence have far outweighed any negative consequences. Europe is not, however, the entire world.

Russia’s unease is understandable in its proper context. Russia has two main cities: St Petersburg and Moscow. Moscow has no natural defences and has been sacked many times. St Petersburg is very difficult to defend. It is easily accessed from the West. As it stands, St Petersburg is winched between two EU member states: Finland and Estonia. Estonia is a NATO member as well. In practice, there is precious little difference between Finland and Estonia. If Finland is in conflict, the EU is in conflict and that would drag the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Turkey in with it as it would involve conflict with other NATO members.

Because of Russia’s lack of defences, especially in respect to where its population is concentrated, buffer states have long been a priority. Russia has not necessarily expected countries to be Russian allies. Finlandisation was a durable example of that. Finland was left in peace so long as it did not threaten the USSR’s security. Russia was more than happy to let sleeping dogs lie for many years. There was no real effort made to regain control over former Soviet republics after 1992. After all, Belarus and Ukraine were either favourably inclined toward Moscow or, at very least, neutral. Things began to change when NATO and the EU made it very clear that they would not adhere to their commitments. When the USSR gave its consent to German reunification, they did so under the explicit understanding that NATO and the European Community would not expand past Frankfurt-an-der Oder. By 1995, the EU expanded to Finland. Russia said nothing. By 2004, the EU and NATO had expanded to the Russian border with the inclusion of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the expansion of the EU to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, etc.

The Obama-era US and EU were more active in Ukraine than many are led to believe. The Colour Revolutions were not quite so innocent and they definitely had American and European fingerprints all over them. Over the last years, things had gone relatively quiet and people could largely ignore it all. Whatever his personal foibles, Trump was taken seriously and his willingness to abandon diplomatic niceties and cut to the substance. The Americans could claim to be a reliable ally and counterweight.

Since January 2021, it’s all changed. There is a sense in Moscow, Tehran and Beijing that they have a window of opportunity to do their worst. The EU is not a credible force. Moscow knows full well that the EU is utterly reliant on Russian oil and natural gas. The EU can slap all the sanctions it wants on Russia. Russia’s primary exports to the EU are untouched out of necessity. Russia simply invested in its neglected agricultural sector and whatever it lost, it more than compensated for with increased exports of meat and cereals to China, Indonesia, Pakistan and India. Russia sees the Americans as weak and discredited, especially with an escapee from a Wilmington Alzheimer’s home wasting space at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Nor is Russia acting alone. China, which is the real threat, is running circles around the distracted and weakened Americans in East Asia. Russia and China are working together. By 2025, the situation will likely be very different. The mood music (outside the monoparty blue centres) is not friendly to the Democrats and there is a sense that the USA has been humiliated and discredited — not by outsiders, but by itself and people are in the mood for change.

Until then, Russia and China are doing their upmost to weaken, isolate and discredit the US. Even if the US proves to have more formidable leadership after the next general election, the balance of power will have shifted dramatically away from the USA. Ukraine is a distraction. Russia is moving into Cuba and Venezuela. China is cementing is influence over Africa and expanding it in Europe. The worse things are this year for the US, the more likely the Democrats are to lose badly in the midterm elections. With the Republicans likely to net about 40-45 seats in the House and 4 seats in the Senate, the administration will be completely crippled and Republicans are in the mood to drag Dementia 46 through the dirt. He will almost certainly be impeached, though not removed from office. His administration will face investigation after investigation, committee after committee tearing them apart. It will, of course, make for thrilling political entertainment but it will achieve little other than to make political points. The Democrats richly deserve it, but it will not come without cost.

Author: Christopher-Dorset

A Bloody Kangaroo

12 thoughts on “Whither Ukraine?”

  1. It is not just China that is behind the woke movement! But I am not allowed to mention that other cabal who I believe to be the prime instigators. The Chinese are simply taking advantage.

    What I would say is that like Boadicea (my goodness Boa, will wonders never cease) I agree with you as I think does Peter Hitchens, of whom many disapprove. If you have not already done so, simply search Peter Hitchens and Russia to locate a number of articles on the subject. Here is one:

    The same nameless cabal is hell bent on promoting Russia as the perpetual enemy. It has been that way since the 19th century, probably earlier. Their influence in Washington, Whitehall and elsewhere is immense and unchallengeable.

    The US and Europe should befriend Russia. China is the common enemy/threat.

  2. Sipu: There is an old adage about Russia. It is neither as strong nor as weak as it looks. Hitchens is somewhat unfair to Russia. It is true that it entered a steep decline in the 1980s. It started to stagnate in the 1970s. It reached its nadir in the late 1990s and has since recovered to an extent. It is nowhere the superpower it was in the 1960s-’80s, but it isn’t the basket case it was in the 1990s, either. Many parts of provincial Russia are in decline, to be fair. The thing is, many parts of provincial Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Poland, Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark and the United States are in decline. I’m in regular contact with Italy. It long held true that southern Italy was affordable, but dysfunctional whereas northern Italy was dear, but (relatively) functional. Now, even northern Italy is (relatively) dysfunctional. Germany is a basket case. There are growing tensions in Sweden about funding for disadvantaged rural areas miraculously flowing back to highly prosperous Stockholm. The provinces keep declining, Stockholm and the cities continue to flourish at their expense. The United States is increasingly turning into a third would country. It would, perhaps, be fair to say that Russia, for all its problems, is not so unlike us. My experience with Russians is that for all their challenges, Russia still has a highly literate population that values its traditions and sees their worth. I talk to young Britons who have barely a notion of the British Classics, who have barely touched on Hellenistic, Germanic or Norse mythologies, who are barely numerate. I see few young Americans who bother to read or understand much of anything. Young Germans resemble walking, talking planks more than they resemble even my grandmother’s generation who only received a basic (but very high quality, I assure you!) education. Then I talk to young Russians who can tell you about Pushkin, about Lermentov, about the great Russian novelists. They know Slavic mythology and have at least a basic understanding of the Hellenistic. So many are bright, intellectually curious and interesting.

    Russia poses its challenges, but it’s easier to accommodate than China. Russia wants its core interests protected. There is no possibility that Russia can return to what it was in the mid-20th century, but Russia has long had its ups and downs and we write them off at our peril. Russia’s relations with western Europe have long had their ups and downs, too. At times, Russia was the frigid, alien frontier. At times, it was a central plank of European stability. At times, it was a threat. Right now, it’s all three at once. What I can’t help but wonder is if, perhaps, the reliance on the United States is the greatest threat. Russia is where it has always been. Many of our interests overlap, sometimes they conflict but we’ve always had to come to terms with each other and it’s never been impossible. A cold peace, however frigid, is preferable to a hot war, no matter how “limited” the incursions or territorial claims. The Americans and Atlanticists have been far too willing to play stupid games. It wasn’t Russia that transformed Syria from a stable, relatively prosperous country into a death zone. It wasn’t Russia that upended North Africa’s fragile order for its own self-defeating purposes. Russia didn’t hand Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood only for it to be saved from that fate by an even more primitive military government than what came before. Russia didn’t take Libya, which served as Europe’s gateway and was also the wealthiest, most prosperous and stable (albeit unpleasant politically) country in Africa and turn it into a war zone. The Russians didn’t nearly turn Tunisia and Morocco, among the most liberal and modern Islamic countries, into new versions of Algeria or Lebanon. If anything, the Russians warned us about what would happen if we followed the course we ultimately took. Absolutely everything that the Atlantic Alliance has done since 2001 has been catastrophic and the Americans, especially, look eager to continue that carnage because they will not have to suffer the consequences of that. The American people have finally started to see through it, but the American political establishment as well as its friends in the media, have not changed at all.

    China is the biggest threat. We cannot accommodate China. China wants to be the centre of the world and they want to set the tone. Sadly, so many people have fallen for that and seem eager to copy China. I hope that we can eventually recover from that stupor. Even if we do, we will have to come to terms with the fact that our establishment is utterly corrupt and corrupted and that extends to (mis)education, “medicine”, “science” , “culture” and “law”.

  3. Christopher:

    I have been watching events in the Ukraine, as portrayed by our media, with some trepidation.

    As I said here, I watched Biden’s inauguration speech with something approaching horror. His proud announcement that ‘America was Back’ and his quiet assumption that he was ‘The Leader of the Free World’ disturbed me.

    I might not be so concerned had I not watched the debacle of the withdrawal from Afghanistan – yet another war (like those you mention, that America inveigled its allies to join – and from which nothing positive emerged – only more chaos in those countries than was there previously.

    In my worst nightmare, it seems that Biden (and his cronies) are determined to drag us all into a war in the Ukraine which can only overspill into the whole of Europe. But the players in Europe are not bit-players like the Taliban, Syrians, Libyans, et al. They have real and utterly devastating weaponry.

    I also talked to many Russians, in Russia, people I met in shops, etc – they could have been my next-door-neighbour. Some said they didn’t like Putin, one said it was better under Communism – but they all said that they had no appetite for any more wars – they had paid far too high a price for WW2.

    I spent a lot of time over five days talking with a Russian economist who told me that Russia was finally beginning to recover from the devastating loss of men in WW2 and Stalin’s regime thereafter.

    I could waffle on about the guy I spent a day with who, at the height of the Cold War, thought his country was ‘just bluffing it!’, etc, etc. But my experience led me to think that the Russian-person-in-the street wants war anymore than you are I do.

    Biden is 79 years old and, seems to me, is still fighting the ‘old enemy’: Russia. But that’s a long time ago and Russia has moved on – it has never and still doesn’t want what it perceives as its enemies on its doorstep. We wouldn’t either – so why do we blame her?

    I hope that the American public remembers the Twin-Towers and understands what devastation on one’s homeland is like. I’m not that hopeful – since the ‘Make the U.S. Great Again’ slogan would seem to be a call for America to interfere in conflicts that will not cause any damage to them.

    As you rightly say, Christopher, China is the world’s biggest threat. In the interests of business we stuffed our ‘ethics’ under a cushion and taught all our diplomats, etc to kowtow to China’s way of thinking – and now we now are complaining that they don’t play by our rules! Surprise! Surprise1

    Nostra Culpa! Bit we need to do some pretty rapid changes into how we deal with our own mistakes – and make sure that China knows that we won’t take any more rubbish!

  4. Boadicea: The situation in the United States is terrifying. The government is reckless, out of touch and out of control. Very few people are actually happy about the direction the United States is going in. Being in the United States, I talk to Americans of all stripes and backgrounds daily. They’re fed up with the wars. Few believe what they hear on television. Most have friends, family and/or co-workers who were sent to Vietnam, who were sent to Central America, who were sent to the Persian Gulf, to Afghanistan. They see the consequences of that. Then they wonder “why”? and “for what”?

    I concluded long ago that if you want to understand the mood of a country and how it ticks, switch off the television. There are a few places that are ideal for talking to people or, better yet, just listening. One is a barber shop. Another is a bar/pub. The third is public transport. Last week, I went to the first. The barber told me that he’s voted in every election since Kennedy won in 1960. He’s voted for presidents from both parties. He’s won some, he’s lost some. Whatever the outcome, he respected it and he respected the institution of the president enough to pay proper respect. He used Obama as an example. He voted for McCain and Romney, but respected Obama as his president. He said that if Obama would be standing at the door today, he’d invite him in, shake his hand and call him “Mr President”. The same applies to Trump, Bush, Clinton and Carter. If Biden showed up at his door, however, he said that he’s not sure what he’d say, but he would not be inviting him in and he’d not be shaking his hand. He simply cannot respect Biden or take him seriously. Even many people who voted for Biden regret it. By and large, people who voted for Trump had specific reasons for voting for Trump. Many, if not most, people who voted for Biden didn’t have specific reasons other than that he was not Trump. People were sick of the never-ending Trump show that was the previous four years. They hoped that Biden would be a caretaker president who wouldn’t do very much, that it would be a quiet four years and that the temperature would be turned down. Within a year, the US economy is a wasteland, inflation is absolutely out of control, US foreign policy is a shambles and the US government spends more time and effort trying to crush domestic dissent than keeping the ship of state sailing. The border issue is a complete disaster.

    The American people are fully aware of what war with Russia would involve. They don’t want it. In Asia and Europe, traditional American allies are going about diplomacy without American involvement. They cannot trust Biden. Not after Afghanistan. India, for example, can’t stand the man. Biden cost India at least 15 years in terms of developing its space programme because he favoured Pakistan’s position. Biden was also one of the worst in terms of humiliating Russia after the collapse of the USSR. New Delhi and Moscow haven’t forgotten. The UK, Australia, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, etc. all sacrificed in Afghanistan. Biden didn’t even give them the courtesy of informing them of his intentions until it was too late to change anything. He did not consult anyone and he did not consider anyone’s position. As a result, if the election were held today, Trump would win the popular vote comfortably and would win the electoral college in a landslide. Americans are also well aware that their position in the world is deteriorating rapidly. They don’t even take the US government seriously, why would anyone else?

    Part of the “Make America Great Again” platform was that the United States needs to stop these endless wars. Trump was accused of being a racist warmonger. He was the first president since Carter to not start or seriously escalate an existing conflict. Biden, within days, escalated conflicts. At the same time that he utterly discredited the USA in Afghanistan, he began ratcheting up tensions with Russia and China. The bad USA of the Bush-Obama years is back and few want it, not in the USA, not elsewhere.

  5. Terrorism. That’s what it is, pure and simple. Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine is one of the greatest acts of terrorism of our time, far outstripping the worst efforts of the Muslim lot (even including 9/11). They’ve had only one problem with that: the Ukrainians aren’t that easily terrorized.

    When the Russian leader, one V. V. Putin, discovered that the Ukrainian military were tougher than he’d expected, he thought he might get the whole country to collapse by deliberately attacking civilian targets such as housing, schools and hospitals.

    How do we know that the attacks have been deliberate? For one thing, Russia claim of “precision guided” missiles says clearly that the intended targets have been civilian rather than military. Nor even poorly trained military types are that bad at their assigned jobs. For another, Russia has admitted to using hyperbaric (thermobaric) bombs, which are more effective against an indoor target than against one outdoors. Where are military personnel usually found? Outdoors. Who’s indoors? Mostly civilians, I fear.

    Why? A good question. After reading a lot of theories, my own conclusion is that Putin wants to take Russia back to the way things used to be. I don’t think he’s “lost the plot” altogether, as some might claim, but more that he’s working from a different book. Why and why now? Who knows. The greatest danger is that, he being the kind of person he is and Russia being as well stocked with nuclear weapons as it is, the world could be in great trouble if he finds himself well and truly thwarted, as he might if NATO became an adversary in war. I think that we (NATO, specifically including the USA) have done well in avoiding such a situation. A columnist in one of the Canadian newspapers closed his piece by saying that the one thing we should at all costs avoid is making Putin feel backed into a corner. I cannot but agree. Come to that, I also agree with Christopher.

    It’s too late now but it might have helped if, in the early stages, the Ukraine had volunteered to cede the separatist, Russia-favoring Donbas region to Russia, letting the residents thereof freely choose on which side of the border they wanted to live.. That would have left them with a smaller country, it is true, but it would also have left them without much internal strife. I suspect those separatist types weren’t paying a whole lot of tax either.

  6. Cog:
    I’m pretty inclined to agree with you.
    I don’t think that anyone really believed that Putin would invade and that declaring he is ‘losing his marbles’ is a far too simplistic answer to what he has has and is now doing. Were that the case, I think that those in Russia who have allowed him to do this would have removed him PDQ.
    I have some sympathy with a 20th C minded Russian ruler not wanting to see Western -style countries on its borders. The U.S. (rightly) stopped Russian deployment of weapons in Cuba. But, I have no sympathy with Putin’s way of dealing with what he sees as a similar problem. The world has changed since the 1960s… it would seem that Putin has not.
    Unfortunately, I do think that Biden’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan and his exceedingly poor image of being utterly incompetent led Putin to think he could walk into Ukraine – as he did in the Crimea.
    Putin has clearly misunderstood the level of resistance he would receive in the Ukraine. And even more he has underestimated the level of opposition he would get from European countries who are not prepared to allow Russia to re-establish its influence over its former territories.
    As you, rightly say, we should not back Russia into a corner… the problem is that Russia knows that and has no intention of backing down.

  7. Boadicea: I don’t think Putin has entirely lost his marbles. I do, however, think that he misread the situation badly and that he’s a bit out of his depth. Over the past two years, he’s been semi-isolated and has avoided most in-person summits and gatherings. However dreary and full these affairs tend to be, they’re vital for keeping a close eye on shifting political sands and reading the mood music. Biden is an incredibly weak, feeble man with a long history of ineptitude and the possession of an inferior intellect. It’s often underappreciated that Putin has been in power since 1999. He saw Blair, Brown, Cameron and May come and go. He has seen Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama and Trump come and go. He has known Biden since the 1990s when then-Senator Biden was alternatingly ranking (senior opposition) member and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prior to becoming Vice President and now President. Few leaders who have had to work with Biden have had much respect for him, even Obama said “Never underestimate Joe’s ability to f**k things up”.

    There is, however, one thing that Putin really did not understand. The United States, like most advanced countries, has a civil service that acts as a keel to keep the ship of state centred. Presidents learn to respect the civil service and work with it at their peril. A great president makes good appointments and encourages the civil service to see things his (one day, her) way but the civil service ensures that there is a degree of continuity and that the United States doesn’t lurch too far to either side as administrations come and go. In most cases, presidents have the upper hand although they learn at their own peril that they cannot act entirely independently of the civil service. That was one of Trump’s greatest failures. With Biden being as weak as he is, the civil service is far more active and has taken the dominant position — especially after the Afghan calamity. It’s no substitute for a capable president, but it ensures that the US isn’t entirely discredited.

    Putin is in a delicate position. He’s screwed the pooch and if he can’t get himself out of this situation with something that can be spun to resemble a victory of sorts, he will face a horrible fate. Russia is not kind to weak leaders, Russia is not kind to leaders who lead the country to defeat. His use of brutality in Ukraine is a sign of his weakness. He needs toe war to end as quickly as possible and he needs to be able to extract as many concessions from Ukraine as he possibly can in order to try to save what’s left of his premiership. The clock was already ticking on that. He’s 70 years old. He’s been in power for going on 23 years. That’s longer than any Russian/Soviet leader since Stalin and Putin, although certainly not a nice or good man, is nowhere near as powerful as Stalin. There are people capable, very capable, of credibly taking power in 2024 should Russia come out of this in too horrible a shape. Sergei Shoigu, the Russian foreign minister, has the loyalty of Russia’s armed forces. Sergey Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, has a credible track record and as mayor of Moscow has a strong base of support in the capital. Russia has been much diminished by this misadventure. It’s even more reliant on China than before and the Chinese always extract their pound of flesh. He might just survive, but he’ll be a shadow of the man he used to be and those looking to succeed him have a wounded opponent.

  8. Christopher: as I said, I think that declaring that Putin has lost his marbles is far too simplistic – but, as you say, he does seem to have lost the plot.
    It seems to be the old, old story of those in power refusing to listen to or learn from those who have a far better knowledge of reality. And, quite clearly it seems to me, that Putin seriously misjudged the ‘Rest of the World’s’ reaction to his invasion of the Ukraine.
    It’s a very common phenomenon amongst those who exercise power – known as ‘drinking one’s own bathwater’ here in Oz – and is not limited to semi-dictators in authoritarian countries. Maggie Thatcher and John Howard are two such ‘leaders’ who come to my mind.
    But, as you rightly point out – there are institutions in democratic countries that have the ability to pull or push over-weening pollies into line…

  9. Boadicea: I remember Howard at the end of his time as PM. He seemed to believe that his position was his by right and that elections were mere formalities. Losing Bennelong to Labour, along with the rest of the election, was proof to the contrary. Of course, when K.Rudd proved to be useless and the Juliar no better they both faced squalid ends.
    Something similar happened in Germany. Kohl had been in power for so long that he began to believe that he was Kaiser rather than Kanzler. Some of his poor decisions later came to haunt Germany and Europe as a whole. For example, he was so obsessed with “unity” that he pushed ahead with both German unification even though many in the East perceived it as an annexation and of European currencies even though, as cooler heads which did not prevail, had warned countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal were nowhere near ready. When anyone questioned or challenged him on that, he dismissed them.

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