Russian Fascism – the real threat to global security.

Europe is socialist by policy in managing its public services, but it is fascist? Did the Nazis take over and purged the continent of non-Aryan races since the end of World War II?
Is there extreme xenophobia amongst NATO countries where Turks, Greeks, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, French, German, Poles, Norwegians, Danes, Dutch, Lithuanian, and other nationalities are seen as allies and equals?

There is only one country now exhibiting xenophobia, using propaganda to fan the flames of hatred against Jews, non-Russians, and using military aggression to stake out “breathing room” and “Motherland” for its people and culture. Sound familiar? It is Russia.

Europeans are not burning Russian books or harassing ethnic minorities to dominate or force them to leave. Europeans are not ethnically cleansing non-Slavs or non-Orthodox believers from Bosnia, Georgia, and the Crimea in brutal war. They are not the ones sending covert armies to fuel a separatist war of instigation to justify invasion and conquest of desired lands.

If Ukraine is better off joining Europe, their people will choose to try their system for a few generations. What Russia fears is that they will never look back because it proves the Russian way is a long standing lie to control their own people and living off their hardships.

The Ukrainians know they have to fight this menace off without starting a world war. They know they may lose territory to the Russian aggression. But Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Moldova are all watching. Sweden and Finland are awakening.

An Eastern European bloc is forming within NATO. Their reaction to the next blatant hegemonic acts by the Putin regime will decide the fate of Ukraine for the decades to come.


Russo-Ukraine War – European impotence against Putin’s gold-plated balls

Just as we all knew that Russia would not easily allow a humiliating defeat of their proxy forces inside Ukraine, we now see the machine of a transplanted insurgency take root deeper. Russian volunteers with military training taking leave to go fight across the border. Taking with them often second tier weaponry from arms caches from mothballed stockpiles into another people’s country to help locals break away from the government they no longer consider legitimate. This allows the Russian government the deniability of saying “Hey these guys decided en masse to go help their ethnic brothers and we did not give them permission or weapons.”. But does Ukraine really have hundreds of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, mobile SAM units, ammunition and military supplies to outfit tens of thousands of rebels? Where are the rebels capturing these equipment from, the hundreds of prisoners who surrendered and only a few thousand wounded soldiers they injured? The numbers don’t add up, and the only way to explain the discrepancy is Russian intelligence services are sending across commando forces to aid the rebels, even coordinate their battle strategy.

So Russia is driving this war to wreck Ukraine. What will the West do to counter this and make Russia pay a hard price? Economic levers are pressed and results are not effective. So an Afghanistan strategy needs to be devised. Poland, as Pakistan was in this scenario, needs to be the conduit of fresh arms and expertise in command and control with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. For one thing it is surprising Ukraine did not position veteran reserve troops in blocking positions in case of Russian invasion forces crossing over to flank and encircle their engaged combat troops in the Donbass. This is telling that the most capable forces are already committed and that Ukraine truly has a weak military capability remaining to deal with Russian reinforcements.

You cannot blame the Ukrainians for failing. They are using Russian designed weapons and battle tactics against forces who know exactly those capabilities and weaknesses. The entire country is covered with spies reporting troop movements, and social media and news outlets are not managed to hide activities in the rear echelons. Russia has the initiative for now, and Ukraine needs to take a few hits as it regroups. The West if they do not send covert military help, may see the Russian plan succeed in carving out a loyal feifdom of Novorossiya from Donbass to Crimea, effectively crippling Ukraine as a power in the region.

The clearest effort by Ukraine is to trap and capture whole units of Russian formations on Ukrainian soil intact, so unequivocally that denials by Moscow can no longer hold up by their lies to the world. And although Ukraine cannot withstand provocations turn full open war, they need to approach the strategy of fighting Russian forces on their territory using new tactics and methods. They should consult Finland and Western planning experts on how NATO would fight massed Russian troops and infiltration forces.

At some point soon the gloves need to come off and Donbass need to be reduced to utter ruin. Ukraine may need to recognize that if they fail to quell the rebels they have to make the region impossible for Russia to govern and incredibly costly to annex. Novorossiya will need to cost Russia hundreds of billions to repair and rebuild, bankrupting Moscow and amplifying sanctions and drain on Russian pensions and citizens. Hundreds more Russians must go home dead so hiding their activities killing in a secret war against another country can not be silenced by grieving families.

Lithuania and Poland will need to revisit their larger roles within NATO but partner up as regional friends of Ukraine and act. The worst that can happen is Russia attacks, and invokes Article 5. Russia talks nuclear reprisals but they know they cannot. All Europe is languishing in peacetime recession, which means people are bored and frustrated. Give them a reason to unite, rally against an external threat, and watch the sleeping giants like Germany, Norway, and France step up. Even the Romanians are itching to take back Moldova and push the separatists out of Transnistria. The Americans? We rather blast Russians than fight Islamic terrorists, easier to quantify tanks and cities smashed into smoldering ruin.


Why didn’t Russia invade Eastern Ukraine? (Do they even need to invade to win?)

The obvious reason is cost.  Russia will have to engage the Ukrainian Army and Border Forces with artillery, tanks, and aircraft and bomb bases, infrastructure and major towns and cities that provide transit hubs for Ukrainian reinforcements.  Russia would have to kill and injure many Russian-speaking civilians to occupy the territories, which is far different than having boots on the ground and a major navy and air base in Crimea from the start that could quickly seize control.  Russia’s invasion of East Ukraine would be a bloody, messy process, and thousands would die and billions in damage would occur from harsh economic sanctions and physical damage from fighting the Ukrainians and push them out to the west of the country.

So far most of the misery and disruption to daily life is happening in the East.  Western Ukraine is largely spared any sabotage, armed takeovers, or kidnappings by armed groups.  Roadblocks in Donetsk and Luhansk choke off supplies and trade, affecting incomes of many of the working class folks living in the East.  Government services have been broken by militias, pensions not paid, stores looted and properties seized.  When Utilities such as water and power gets disrupted by fighting, the people will feel like the uprising and insurgency has created conditions that western Ukraine would not have.  Will they support the militants then, knowing that Russia will not re-draw the border and that Ukraine will not allow these regions to become independent states?

The Ukrainian military, backed by its fledgling National Guard forces, are trying carefully to isolate and block the militants from expanding their control of key areas they have not already seized.  They do not want to invade and occupy Donetsk City, but fighting at the main airport suggest they do plan to retain aggressive control of strategic military assets.  The test will be at Sloviansk, where it seems the Russian-led militia there are better equipped and organized to deter the Ukrainians from retaking the town.  As Russian insurgents and trained guerrillas cross the border and reinforce those holdings, they will start to try and push the Ukrainians back and link up their forces.  If the Ukrainians can hold them and besiege them and contain their forces, perhaps the stalemate will force Russia to further negotiate with Kiev for a political settlement.

Open War between Russia and Ukraine in the east will be a public relations and economic nightmare for Putin.  He knows it, which is why he is slowly testing the waters of insurgency to keep the Ukrainians off balanced.  But the Ukrainians have shown some competence and capability to hit back and that is giving him some pause.  Especially since NATO advisers and troops are arriving this summer for exercises, and possibly covertly help coordinate the fight to take back the East.  There are as many ethnic Ukrainians as there are Russian-speakers in the East, and local support for Russian incursions will be limited in success.  The same difficulty the Ukrainian national forces face will be faced by Russian occupiers.  Which is why Russia is positioning better experienced and trained soldiers into the fray than allow the ragtag militants to run the campaign.  They relied on criminals and thugs to foment unrest, but now this is a real fight and they cannot have undisciplined men going up against the military.

What would be the Ukrainian Army’s next move?  First they need reinforcements and position their strike forces (heavy armor and attack helicopters) outside of immediate Russian air base range. This limits their mobility to reinforce the border, which is why the insurgents are attacking the border posts to keep their arms and supplies flowing in.  The Ukrainians need to build lines of supply and reinforcement to these posts, but also start to interdict the groups of insurgent militia roaming around attacking their soldiers.  They need to gather better intelligence on where these insurgents are operating and how they resupply, and conduct raids to destroy those meager supplies.  The insurgents are hijacking, kidnapping, and seizing cars and goods from regular people.  That criminality will not sit well with locals if it keeps happening.  The Ukrainian Interior Ministry and SBU needs to launch their own counter-insurgency operations that target insurgent leadership, using drones to monitor, and human assets to find and arrest rebel leaders.  Without leadership, the DPR will weaken dramatically and be a poor replacement for the government.  Russia will either have to step up or step in to govern or lead, which will play into the narrative of the West and Kiev government about the Kremlin’s direct meddling in their neighbor’s internal affairs.

The Ukrainian government needs to also start calling the DPR leadership and its militias “Traitors”.  They need to publicize the criminal backgrounds of these so-called leaders, and begin to counter the Kremlin’s narratives in the East by broadcasting information about the misinformation being fed to them by their pro-Russian leaders.  The Ukrainian government needs to also reach out to the industrial workers in the East, and negotiate pacts that secure their livelihoods while considering the needs of the economy.  Kiev must show it is going to fairly govern and protect the rights of its citizens in the rebel regions.

If Kiev cannot win the East over to its vision of the better future being a closer partner with the West, it will lose them to Russia’s vision of a divided world.  Ukraine’ friendship with the rest of Europe should not be feared, but Ukrainian sovereignty and neutrality between NATO and Russia must be clearly defined to assuage fears by the Russian-speaking population that their culture will not be forcibly erased by European values and greed.  Ukraine must take a position of strength by declaring itself a neutrally aligned nation, like Finland and Sweden, that would not seek to join NATO but serve as a center of trade between the EU and Eurasian Economic Union.  This declaration will ease tensions, but also give Russia little justification to invade.  Ukraine wants to go its own way but not be forced into marriage to anyone.  Ukraine will then be free to reassert its control east with less resistance from Moscow.  

It would probably then be about 10 years before Ukraine can improve the economic health of its country, but the east of the country can benefit if the threat of armed invasion and war is quickly replaced by a political settlement and reintegration of civilian life.  Ukraine can only prove the Russian world view is completely false by improving the lives of its people.  If it has to do it with without its industrial East, it should.  But it is in Ukraine’s national interest and ambitions to also improve those lives of Ukrainians in the east.  If Kiev gives up in the east, it also has given up its right to legitimately represent and rule the Ukrainian people, opening up the opportunity for Russia to be seen as the only viable ruler.  Ukraine has to provide strong leadership and determination to invade the East with jobs, prosperity, and services that improve the lives of regular people, for guns and tanks improve nothing.       


Russia’s Ukraine Endgame – Climate Change Factors

Russia’s Interference in Ukraine is happening for real reasons: 1) Treaties are easily broken and don’t mean its weight in paper i.e. Budapest Memorandum, Nazi-Soviet detente. 2) NATO, the military glue of the EU, expands too far eastwards, breaking promises post-Cold War not to absorb former Warsaw Pact nations – see reason 1.

Russia fears NATO’s well trained but heterogeneously organized small armies that cannot truly fight together in any major war. Too many roosters in the henhouse i.e. British vs American generals in WWII, where NATO would be US/British/French/German/Polish against Russia. But an economically powerful Ukraine could have a standing army of 200,000 men on Russia’s border in a week, with a single command structure and, if provided with modern weaponry and NATO level elite war fighting abilities, can march on Moscow faster than Hitler’s blitzkrieg. The only Russian strategy available to Putin: A) Cripple Ukraine strategically by taking Crimea. B) Cripple Ukraine economically by forcing Eastern Ukraine to break away and create a new buffer/client state.

A farther reason is due to Climate Change. The Arctic Ocean is melting, and new sea lanes and potential offshore gas development is exposing Russia’s northern coastal border to American/Canadian claims, a possible new conflict zone requiring a significant naval and air force commitment. Climate Change also possibly mean milder winters in East Siberia, making future colonization by the energy hungry Chinese a possibility that requires also a significant air and ground force buildup and development of civilian infrastructure east to deter.

Both new threats to Russia’s north and east can only be dealt with by having a secure western and southern border. The Eurasian Economic Union as it stands today creates a buffer zone to Russia’s central Asian and Baltic borders, but the loss of Ukraine exposes the Russian heartland and majority of its population industrial centers to invasion. It also deprives Russia of 40 million consumers to its markets, as Ukraine leans West it would prefer European goods and services over Russian ones. This is a major blow to Russian prosperity that impacts its strategy to economically power the shift north and east.

Would Russia collapse or break up under such pressures? That is Putin’s fear. The Russian east may very easily side with their Asian cousins and seek autonomy to reap advantages of closer Chinese goods and markets. The Mongols may once again sweep west towards Moscow. The Caucasus may break away once again depriving Russia of access to warm water ports and markets in the Middle East for its energy resources when the Saudis finally run dry.

These are all existential threats to Russian national integrity. So it is not so illogical that Russia is fighting very hard covertly to maintain control of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. They went to their Third Quarter playbook and the playbook told them to take what they needed without triggering a full scale war with the West.

So what can the West do to preserve Ukraine? Joining the EU does not require it to be a NATO member. But the Swiss neutrality example may be the only viable play for European states. If the EU and Russia both agree with Ukraine that strategic neutrality is the only option, then Russia may be appeased for awhile. Ukraine’s claims to Crimea may have to be sacrificed in exchange for Russia backing off on The Donbas. Then Kiev must reform to win the population in the east.

Economic growth for Ukraine can only happen if Russia gas debts are deferred and Ukrainian trade with the rest of Eastern Europe rapidly rises. Ukraine can operate like Switzerland and be a financial clearing house for investment near but not held inside corrupt Russian banking system.

To end the fighting in the Donbas, Ukraine and its allies need to convince Russia that to save everyone face, a ceasefire and disarmament talks between new government and separatist forces be held, with EU, American, and Russian mediation. NATO membership will never be on the table for at least 25 years.

Only such a guarantee will entice Moscow to take its finger off its triggers.


Invasion Ukraine? How likely would Russia really invade?

While Russia in the news is touted as one tough military flush with oil money to modernize and equip for battle, much of their crack troops fought in Chechnya in 2000 and has been more a counterinsurgency since.  Their 5 day action against Georgia in 2008 couldn’t really count as being useful for giving their fighting men combat experience against a determined large armed force.  While Russia has a standing army of about 850,000 men, a large portion serve in the large Russian air and naval forces, and a good chunk are deployed across the massive frontier in the east.  Given those defensive obligations and operations in the Caucasus that could tie up probably 200,000-250,000 ground troops, Russia can possibly invade nations to its west with about 200,000 men. 

Most of those men have not themselves seen actual combat.  So while they are better trained than its immediate neighbors, fighting against their former Soviet or ethnic Slavic cousins in the Ukraine may prove to be more demoralizing for these conscripts than quelling a rebellious region within Russia’s borders, or against an invader of Russian soil.  The Ukrainians, within the next few months of preparation, can field about 30,000-40,000 combat ready troops, which is far more than the Chechens and Georgians can throw at the Russians.  The Ukrainians also have hundreds of fairly modern tanks, fighter planes, ground attack aircraft, and artillery units.  It would not be an easy campaign for Russia to engage in a non-traditional role as a regional aggressor.  And Russian allies in Kazakhstan and Belarus, whom entered into their partnerships with Russia as a protective measure against European encroachment, also may have reservations about joining in an invasion against a neighboring nation that is being conquered rather than joining in mutual defense.  They would act against a NATO invasion, but to kill ethnic kin and seize lands for Russia’s ultimate gain would not play well even in their own repressive regimes.

It may be inevitable that a full Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine would succeed, the act would cost thousands of Russian and Ukrainian lives, cost Russia billions in both property devastation and rebuilding of the conquered regions.  Not to mention fomenting an instant insurgency amongst the Ukrainians living in Russia and the eastern regions of Ukraine.  And since the losses will already be great, an invasion will only yield profit if all of Ukraine is taken.  Putin will have to take Kiev and all if not most of Western Ukraine.  Failure to defeat the western regions of Ukraine will fuel years of war, as it is unlikely the Ukrainians will yield their occupied eastern holdings to Russia and concede its loss as a historical fact.  The Europeans, especially the Eastern states of Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, will not sit idly by while their new west-leaning neighbor is besieged by an aggressive Russian invasion.  What would happen if Russia is allowed to conquer Ukraine and bring their armies right up to NATO’s border?  Would Russia also not eventually punish the former Warsaw Pact nations and force them to cow to Russian military threat in the next 10-20 years, eroding their participation in NATO?

These factors would result in these Eastern bloc nations lending at least covert military support to the Ukrainians, in hopes to weaken or reverse Russian gains.  A Russian military defeat in Ukraine, would cause an overthrow of the Putin political establishment.  So if Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine, Putin and his allies must be ready to risk the loss of their power that they have spent these past 20 years to build.  Even if the war ends in a stalemate, or Russian victory, NATO and Europe will forever change their relationship with Russia and return to an adversarial footing.  Economic relationships would end, political ties would be broken, and the EU would be more unified and militarized in the East to deter any further Russian moves against NATO allies.  If Ukraine falls, there would be no other non-aligned nations except NATO allies to fight.  Would Europe stand idly by while a conquered Ukraine faces oppression, ethnic cleansing, and economic blackmail?  The answer would be no.

And if by chance NATO and the United States decide to intervene for the Ukrainians, then an invasion of Ukraine will only be the first war of World War III.  Russia may have enough economic wealth for a short conflict, but a prolonged war with nations that provide the trade for that wealth, with Western armies that combined are equal or superior in combat power, that have strategic nuclear weapons that can devastate the Russian heartland, is an inconceivable idea to the traditional rational Russian leader.  If Putin and his inner military circle are rational, and know such risks are unacceptable and damaging to their nation, would not invade Ukraine without cause.

While Putin works to “engineer” cause, creating the appearance of Ukrainian “fascism” that threatens ethnic Russian in Ukraine, that premise would not stand up to the test of world public opinion.  The international community would grudgingly understand that a strongly Russian majority region such as Crimea may be justified to break away and join Russia, and of Russia’s strategic interests in taking over Crimea and seizing major Ukrainian military assets to weaken their defection.  But for Russia to invade and grab vast parts of another country over unsubstantiated threats to Russians in eastern Ukraine would find little legal support in the U.N.  The world watched as bloody sectarian war waged on within Syria as an “internal matter” and Russia denied the Security Council the ability to act against a Russian ally.  Russia denied the UN action when Serbian atrocities killed thousands in Bosnia, until NATO acted unilaterally to halt the fighting.  Russia would also find itself denied in the world body if it invades (and occupies) another member nation.  The United States and its allies would move to actively erode Russian interests on a global scale. 

And while Russia is engaged with most of its military in the Ukraine, other areas become more vulnerable.  Georgia may be encouraged to take back their lost regions.  Chechen rebels may re-emerge to depose the Russian backed strongmen and pull Dagestan along with Ingushetia into open war.  The Chinese may even move to seize lands in the Far East to gain access to strategic oil fields and minerals.  Russia would lack the manpower to resist all these other threats at once, except to use tactical nuclear weapons.  If that happens, the Ukraine war will end in nuclear exchanges that would forever change human history.

Putin was smart to take what he could during the chaos and now only wielding the threat of more force.  But he knows going further would be folly and the risks much higher than just taking the Crimean peninsula.  Russia is a traditionally defensive country, even its role in World War III was defensive in smashing the threat from Nazi Germany for good.  The setting up of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact was defensive against a unified and powerful NATO and Western alliance.  Taking Crimea was a defensive move to secure Russian strategic capabilities.  But invading Ukraine on a trumped up pretext would be stepping out of the Russian comfort zone, against the Russian psyche and long espoused ideals of sovereignty and non-interference. 

So Russia would invade Ukraine if its leadership has finally lost its mind.  The world would tolerate much, but not that.  So far the Bear was able to reach into the Beehive and tasted sweetness.  But if the Bear reaches too far, it will stir up the nest and invite swarms from near and far to attack in common anger.  No single blow can harm Russia, but it can still die by thousands of stings.  Right now it can deal with one perceived/imagined/fabricated enemy, but if invasion creates multiple more real enemies, Russia knows it can go from a sure win to a no-win situation very quickly.  Let’s bet that Putin too clever to put himself and Russia in a position that jeopardizes all these gains. 


Ukraine Tipping Point 2: What the West can do after the Crimean land grab

So now that the ridiculously one-sided vote in Crimea is done and secession fervor is ignited elsewhere in Ukraine’s eastern regions, the new government in Kiev is scrambling to restore order and governance over these restive provinces.

But can they? Russian agents in the hundreds have crossed over to organize protests and infiltrate government to disrupt and discredit the revolution and paint them as anti-Russian fascists. Yet the greatest violence has been against pro-unity Ukrainians, journalists, and anyone who question the separatist agenda.

You can tell who is spewing the propaganda and rhetoric simply by watching RT (Russia Today) and ITAR-Tass to see what the government is blinding their citizens with. But that is what the Kremlin sees, how Putin sees the world, and therefore how they act and respond is directly based on those paranoid, fearful and aggressive tendencies. It is very Russian, so what did you expect to happen? Tanks roll, people get beaten up and disappear, and lies are told to cover up crimes. Stalinism lives.

So with Europe, Turkey, and Ukraine heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas, what can they do about Russia basically deciding to partition an independent country and integrate pro-Russian populations into Greater Russia? Will Europe allow other NATO allies with large Russian populations to be undermined by revolts and their borders redrawn by Russian and be crippled by inaction and paralysis?

Ukraine is both Europe’s and Russia’s line in the sand. Both sides have much to gain from Ukraine going to their side. But if Ukraine is broken up as a result, like India was partitioned when muslim Pakistan was formed, where millions of hindus and muslims were driven from their homes and murdered for being on the wrong side of the new border, will Ukraine meet the same fate? If Russia had its way, what is left of the Ukraine to go to Europe’s side will be so weakened and resources so gutted and impoverished that it would take decades for NATO to rebuild.

The problem with Russia is it thinks it can afford to annex these regions without consequence. It thinks the United States, Europe, and Turkey cannot afford to lose Russia as a trading partner and resource supplier anymore while their economies are weakened and disruptions are undesirable.

But during the Cold War, Europe did not trade with Russia, gas pipelines were not supplying Europe and everyone in the West did fine. The EU is debating whether it is now better to be independent of Russia, when Russia has shown it will only play by its own rules. The levers the EU can push is to start weening itself off Russian energy. It can also command its business communities to stop the flow of luxury goods, and create shortages of things Russian middle class and elites both have gotten used to. Instead create a consumer market in Ukraine by favorable trade status, and building industries in West Ukraine by developing green energy to provide alternative power to replace Russian fossil fuels.

Russia just spent tens of billions of euros wasted at the Olympics and Paralympics. Russia will spend billions to govern and build infrastructure to access and serve Crimea. They will lose billions more when trade slows to a trickle and foreign investment dries up. When buyers of gas also drop, the Kremlin suddenly will find themselves unable to finance their military modernization and pay off their corrupt oligarchs.

The American strategy is simple: back the Europeans up and give them a spine to deal with Russia. America must quickly move to fill the gap of gas supplies to allow the Europeans to hit Russia hard in its pocketbook. The gas delivery initiative also has to apply to Turkey who has now become dependent on Russian gas as well. Remove Russia’s energy leverage over the Europeans, freeze or confiscate the money Russian oligarchs have stolen from Ukraine and its own citizens, and starve the Russians of their power. The Russians think they are strong because they have a large military and no one can stop them without nuclear war.

But what adventures in Afghanistan has taught us is: the Americans also have nukes, the French and British also have them, and even the Ukrainians will end up with some in a few years. Perhaps after Russia’s land grab is done and the Bear is satisfied it may ease its insecurities and calm down. Will Ukrainians give up their ancestral lands and connection with their eastern regions just because Russians dominate those lands?

In my last post, Europe can help arm the Ukrainians if it comes to a fight. But the best weapons the West can give to Ukraine is economic. Bolster the economic growth of Western Ukraine and create good jobs there. Rebalance the investment strategy and energy policy of Europe and bet against Russia until Putin and his bully friends are out of power and the rule of law returns unimpeded.

If Russia makes money selling its gas to China instead of Europe, at least it won’t be so bothered by European encroachment if it can protect its borders. Europe can get its energy from friends it can count on, like the USA instead of a moody and unreliable partner like Russia. Ukraine can find reconciliation eventually, but division is something Russia wants and will get unless a real war erupts and then all bets are off.

So let’s see how tough Europe will react Monday. If not, then it is up to Ukraine to find friends with its neighbors and see where they can stop the hungry bear with either honey or a big stick. Right now though, Ukraine has barely a twig to swing with, and Europe’s stick is buried and they can’t remember where.

America? Time to build some gas pipelines to Europe. Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, England, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine. If these countries can form a consortium for North Atlantic Energy, Russia will have to reconsider pissing off countries who want to be friends but are tired of bullies. America is done bullying, too expensive, Russia must also learn the cost.

Strategy, War

Ukraine Tipping Point – strategy to counter Russian expansionism

The events of early 2014 moved quickly.  The pro-Russian Ukrainian president was deposed by the pro-West protestors in Kiev over swings in economic alignment, and his supporters fled to their strongholds in the East and Crimea.  Fearing retribution, and sensing the shift in political dominance away from Russia, Putin answered his opponents with simple and decisive action: secure complete Russian military control of Crimea, forment pro-Russian sentiment in regions where large Russian-speaking populations and cultural identities are strong and claim to protect Russian interests by weakening the pro-West government now threatening to revoke access to the Black Sea, threaten gas supplies to Europe that provide economic prosperity to Russia, and showcase resurgent Russian military might in the region.

So Ukraine’s nationalists made some blunders by attempting to alienate their Russian-speakers by trying to pass a law declaring Ukrainian as the only official national language.  What they should have done is enshrine a law that recognizes the rights of Ukrainian citizens to choose languages they wish to learn and use in everyday life, including Russian.  Culturally diverse nations provide multi-lingual educations, have multi-language books, signage, and media to serve the domestic populations of many origins, Ukraine should have made overtures and guarantees to the East early on to offer equal rights.  This atmosphere created resentment in the East, and made the prospect of future policies benefitting the Russian identity based Ukrainians suspect.

So what now, that Russian troops exceeded their treaty mandate by hiding their elite unit markings and charging out of Sevastopol and taking autonomous Crimea, by law a sovereign Ukrainian territory recognized by the world community?  By what right do they have to seize another country’s ground, blockade that country’s military units and confine them to base until they either switch allegiance to a favorable puppet government, or confiscate another nation’s state assets (military hardware)?  From the Russian perspective, the Berkut riot police, smeared of their reputation and mostly from Crimea, now fear their families and livelihoods will be threatened by the new folks in power in Kiev.  Protecting their allies became a higher priority to fulfilling treaty obligations to Ukraine, and abiding by the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 which Ukraine has no hope of enforcing with NATO.

Even though legally, Ukraine has a case.  Russia does not recognize the legitimacy of the Kiev government as constitutional, and therefore all treaties and agreements are suspended until they consider the Ukrainian leaders “non-hostile” to Russia.  But that is not possible because it means Russia would only honor agreements when it favors them, and can suspend them as Putin sees fit.  That is not how international relations work, but it is how regional bullies work.

NATO and the United States face war fatigue, a weak global economy, high unemployment and a precarious situation where Ukraine is not an ally, but a struggle to roll back Russian logic against military action to redraw borders (which Russia sees the Kiev revolution as an armed coup of equal measure conspired by the West).  The West do not want a shooting war to break out, because it will mean they will be responsible for defending Ukrainian friends against Ukrainian allies of Russia in a messy civil war.  It won’t be like Syria, but much worse if Russia loses on the battlefield and resorts to drastic measures.

So what would a real war between Russia and Ukraine be like?  Well for one thing, Russia would like nothing better than to start one right away while the Ukrainian government is disorganized, have no track record of good governance nor competence in leadership.  It would be easy for Russia to take Crimea, so it did.  Eastern Ukraine is another matter, as more Ukrainians will resist Russian invasion, and can bog his most elite forces down not immediately, but within months.  Russian generals and soldiers alike do not want to fight fellow Slavs with millions having relatives on both sides of the border, nor repeat an expensive military occupation such as Afghanistan.  And if Ukrainian allies emerge, such as arms supplies from NATO countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Romania cannot be stopped by force unless a wider war erupts, what then?

Russia cannot hope to conquer, occupy, nor destroy West Ukraine without causing a massive humanitarian and political backlash at the U.N.  In fact, engaging in a full-scale war with Ukraine will be the end of Russia as a permanent member of the United Nations.  So Russia will stop at Crimea, will create Crimea as an independent republic like South Ossetia and Abkazia, and hope to retain a favorable agreement with its puppet regime to keep their Black Sea base.  The propaganda war and unrest that Russia stirs up in East Ukraine is meant to destabilize, unbalance the Ukrainians so they cannot hope to challenge the breakaway of Crimea.

But if Russia miscalculates and Putin’s generals order their troops into Ukraine in an invasion, they can smash the inexperienced and undermanned Ukrainians quickly at first and push them out of East Ukraine, but Turkey may unilaterally strike to protect the minority Tartars in Crimea (since attacking an independent republic does not actually mean attacking Russia), the Moldovans may move against Russian “peacekeepers” in their disputed territory, and Georgia may move against South Ossetia again.  Can Russia suddenly fight multiple small conflicts and devastate those countries, cause thousands of deaths, and damage their prestige?  What of their support of their ally Syrian Bashar al-Assad?  Can they continue to provide arms and money to his regime when Europe re-militarizes, embargos Russian gas and oil, blockade the Dardanelles, and even allow the Turks to bomb Latakia as reprisal for harm to Crimean Tartars?  If Russia suddenly finds itself with its army engaged all over the Black Sea region and Caucasus, would not the breakaway regions of Chechnya and Ingushetia flare up as rebels opportunistically take advantage of Russia distracted in open conflicts elsewhere?

Let’s not forget the Ukrainians are not a bunch of boy scouts either.  The patriotic ones, the ones with combat experience against insurgents in Afghanistan and other peacekeeping operations, and the youth who desire better lives than what Russia can offer will fight hard for their own country because they have nothing left to lose but their lives.  In time, from months to years, with logistical support, experience, and training from abroad, Ukraine can submerge Russian troops in a bloody contest for every mile of ground across the vast country.  Ukrainians themselves can radicalize and become insurgents, relying on assymetrical warfare to punish Russian troops in the rear echelons and supposedly pacified zones.  The ethnic and cultural lines have been blurred so long that infiltration and subterfuge will cause significant damage to Russia at home and in the multiple theaters of war.

Russia, in the long view, have much more to lose than it has calculated.  The short term gain of Crimea and even several regions in the East of Ukraine can backfire in just a few short years.  Ukraine will lean much further West as a result, and militarize quickly as its economic fortunes improve over the years.  The eventual prosperity of an anti-Russian Ukraine will result in weakening of Russia’s other alliances as Belarus and Kazakhstan can finally see their fortunes wane when denied access to Western markets.  Russia may rot from the inside out as Europe reduces their dependency and isolates Russia from their trade flows and instead pours resources into Ukraine.  Ukraine will be wise to seek to form a non-NATO “Central European Defense Confederation”, drawing Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Baltic States, Georgia, even Finland into a pact that Russia will find itself in real trouble with defensively.

Putin, if he survives this event, may win Crimea, but he would forever damage Russo-European relations and cause more harm to his people than he can ever gain.  He can destroy Ukraine out of spite rather that let it slip out of its sphere of influence, he can forcefully grab a chunk of it to leave less for Europe to gain.  But in the end, Russia will itself become a basket case and repeat the collapse of the Soviet era, and give up all the gains reaped in the past 20 years.  Would they then wage nuclear war to spite the world?  Not if China steps up and takes advantage of Russian decline.  China will win the most from this conflict, and that is precisely why they are letting Russia go on this adventure of self-destruction.

Questions remain:

Does Crimea have a right to seek independence?  Yes, but its legitimacy is jeopardized by Russian forces blockading Ukrainians and preventing a fair vote by denying the referendum a voice to count those who wish to stay part of the mainland.

If the Ukrainian revolt in Kiev nationalistic or fascist?  Russia is employing propaganda, disinformation, suppressing dissent, and attacking opponents far more violently than the folks who forced Yanukovych to flee.  Hard to say if right-wing forces dominate power in the western parts of the country, but it is not like dozens or hundreds of Russians in Ukraine are being murdered or disappeared everyday under the new government.

Is the Ukrainian government legitimate?  Even though the new president and prime minister are appointed, the Parliament and Judiciary still functions and institutions remain in place.  The state is still functioning, and if Russia can deal with life long dictators like Assad, it can negotiate with other governments created under less-than democratic circumstances.