Previous posts in this discussion:
PostBelarus: Victoria Nuland Promotes Instability (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/24/21 3:17 am)
Victoria Nuland seems to be heading along the old path which destabilized Ukraine with the bloody coup followed by the present deep crisis between NATO and Russia.
She has just received the Belarus opponent in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and has requested the imposition of more US sanctions against Belarus.
A darling of the West, Tikhanovskaya apparently stated that the sanctions will cause some suffering in her nation, but it is not important (especially for her living abroad).
The geopolitics in Europe have been brought to the brink of war in the past thanks to Nuland. Let's hope that this time things will not worsen.
JE comments: I cannot conceive of a way to defend Belarus's eternal strongman Alexander Lukashenko, but at least he has brought "stability" to his nation since establishing Europe's only genuine dictatorship in 1994. The question is, will the well-trod path of sanctions and supporting an opposition candidate (Tikhanovskaya) achieve anything positive? Eugenio Battaglia has often stated that it is up to a nation's own citizens to overthrow a tyrant. Tikhanovskaya's husband Sergei had tried just that by running for president, and he now sits in a Lukashenko prison.
Off in the not-so-distant wings lurks Putin, who would never allow a West-leaning government in his own satellite. All in all, this is a lose-lose scenario. Eugenio, I will agree with you on one point: Nuland is playing with fire.
In Belarus, There is No Political Opposition
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
07/24/21 10:06 AM)
Regarding Eugenio Battaglia's post of 24 July and JE's comments, I have to absolutely agree with both but not what concerns Ms Nuland. She is doing exactly what any official appointed to her present post will and must be doing.
What is the problem? The problem is the situation in Belarus and the West's total lack of understanding of what is really going on in the republic which plays the role of the Russian cordon sanitaire to a hostile Poland and the rest of the Western enemy. And partially to the hostile and very much-hated Ukraine.
Tikhanovskaya is not a leader (or the leader) of the opposition, not a national hero and certainly not a candidate, even theoretical, to be the president of Belarus. Her husband graduated from the philological faculty of the Gomel University but decided not to teach school, according to his diploma, but rather to become an individual entrepreneur. He owned two nightclubs, one in Gomel and one in Mozyr, and when they were closed started to produce commercials. Mr. Tikhanovsky was very happy to make video clips for some Russian celebrities and was especially proud to be photographed with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, a former KGB agent and Putin's man in the Russian Orthodox Church. Tikhanovsky looks very much like a Belarussian peasant and I saw him last time shooting an interview with... a pig. Yes. He traveled to a remote farm to ask a pig--in his view symbolizing a Belarussian official--what he/she thinks about Lukashenko and the political situation in his country:
Tikhanovsky became a popular blogger in Belarus although the quality of his blogs is miserable, and one day decided he should become president. After he was detained by the police, his wife Svetlana, a housewife, decided she must stand as candidate instead of him. She was supported by two other women--Maria Kolesnikova, a musician and feminist from the Babariko team (Victor Barariko is a former chairman of the Belorussian branch of the Russian Gazprom Bank and another former presidential candidate in Belarus), and Veronika Tsepkalo. Veronika is a specialist in international relations with a diploma from the Minsk State University. Her husband, Valery Tsepkalo, also candidated for the presidency. Maria is now in prison and Veronika with her family is living in Latvia and looks pretty happy.
There is actually no opposition in Belarus although a considerable number of people rose to support the trio of Kolesnikova-Tikhanovskaya-Tsepkalo. Now Tikhanovskaya is alone, traveling around the world non-stop and living on the substantial financial support and president-level salary (in euros, of course), in a well-guarded villa near Vilnius, Lithuania. She has no political or economic program for Belarus, absolutely nothing, and her only goal is to dismiss Lukashenko. She and a few of her staff strongly believe that as soon as Lukashenko leaves, Belarus shall be rich, happy, and totally independent, living on the money that Europe and the USA will pour onto it. Why don't they (the West) make us the second Finland, some of them ask. And they truly believe it is possible.
I can write a long treatise on what is really going on in Belarus, why and how it all started and what is going to happen next, and why the West is terribly mistaken about this former quiet and peaceful Soviet republic, but have no time and desire. There is no way Russia might even for a second think of letting Belarus go because too much is at stake.
JE comments: Boris, I hope I can entreat/cajole you to write a second installment of this fascinating essay. Most of us know too little about Belarus. My opening question: how did Belarus end up more like Turkmenistan in terms of governance and human rights, and nothing like its neighboring ex-Soviet republics?
The pig interviews are pretty cute, though.
Is Biden's Foreign Policy a Continuation of Trump's?
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
07/25/21 4:12 PM)
After Biden had become president, I posted something to the effect that his mission was impossible because our beloved nation needs a total brain transplant to get back on track where the real economy is working for the American people (instead of just financial to keep the elites even wealthier). To their credit, the Biden administration stopped the alarming death rate from Covid, but he seems incapable or unwilling to improve our dismal performance in foreign policy.
My impression today is that Biden is trying to keep much of Trump's foreign policies but get his cake too: he is talking to the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, etc. but going nowhere clearly. Ms. Nuland, famous for the words "f*** the EU" on tape for all the world to see, as Eugenio Battaglia mentioned, is back fueling the fires of neocon ideology.
I guess I should not be surprised, because after the $2 trillion US taxpayers have so far spent fighting the Afghanistan war with nothing but death and destruction to show for, there are many more trillions of dollars that our military-industrial complex interests are hoping for. All they need to do is to escalate the effort to treat China and Russia as the new USSR equivalent for another few decades of Cold War profits. As I stated before, for the foreseeable geopolitical future, keep your eyes on Taiwan/China and Ukraine/Russia. They are the potential sparks for all the fuel being spread, especially in the Far East.
Much to my chagrin, looking at our nation's scary socio political economic situation, unless we have WWIII in which case we are all toast, the Chinese are going to be significantly ahead of our nation within 10 years, or I will stop posting on WAIS, just as I promised if Trump had won the election in 2020.
Increasingly I get the feeling that the US government is suffering from a dangerous level of paranoia or just plain stupidity at the strategic level: they think they can continue business as usual--pushing other nations around, manipulating, invading, destroying weaker nations at will if they don't dance to the right tune. Lately this is getting really bad where even strong allies like Germany are being intimidated.
It boggles my mind that we are verbally and psychologically abusing our most significant trading partner with terribly wasteful military exercises whereby an accident could start WWIII, instead of learning to compete in a constructive way. Ditto for our major nuclear rival which has been trying to continue nuclear weapons systems treaties while we ignore their overtures or play hard to get, and also threatening them by increasing expensive and wasteful military encirclement. What are these neocon people doing? Haven't they created enough destruction, death, and misery throughout the world? Is there no end to this madness?
Regarding the interesting post from Boris Volodarsky about Belarus, I agree that it might be difficult for the West to find a way to create a serious mess like they did in Ukraine. I remember many years ago how excited Boris was with the revolution. Too bad it did not turn out like he expected. Instead the country is in a very bad situation, with Russia biting off big chunks of territory to protect itself from the relentless Western military threats. I respect Boris' opinions about the Ukrainian situation and would love to read his appraisal of its social political economic situation into the foreseeable future.
JE comments: Russia is "biting off chunks of [Ukrainian] territory to protect itself"? I'm not buying, Tor. How much additional buffer do you need if you're Russia?
But let's focus on your main point, that Biden's foreign policy is going down the familiar neocon path. So far, we have seen no efforts at nation-building or new wars. But time certainly will tell, and we'll be watching here at WAIS.
A postscript: I am puzzled that Victoria Nuland got rehired at State. Her "hot mike" moment would end most careers. Certainly this would be the case in academia.
How Much Buffer Does Russia Need for Its Security? What About the US?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
07/26/21 10:05 AM)
When commenting on the excellent post of Tor Guimaraes (July 25th), our esteemed moderator made a very good comment: "How much additional buffer do you need if you're Russia?"
However, we can make the same comment for the US Empire. How much additional buffer do you need if you're the Empire?"
In the last 30 years, the Empire has moved its buffer zone from Berlin up to Donetsk, and now it also wants Belarus and Georgia.
Have you ever realized that the Empire dominates, one way or another, from outside Donetsk longitude 37° East going Westward to Amoy Island 118° East, equivalent to 279 degrees of longitude, while mainland US from Maine 67° West to Alaska 168° West is 101 degrees. Therefore the US has a buffer zone of 74° Westward and 104° Eastward (74° +104° + 101° = 279°). Quite a difference from the few square kilometers of the Donetsk- Luhansk area.
Of course inside the Empire's buffer zone there are some small independent or enemy areas such as Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., but also in the "evil" area there are countries that even if not really democratic (such as the racist Hindu India and Communist Vietnam) are still friends of the Empire.
But the real problem of the Donetsk-Luhansk area is the local population. Being ethnic Russians, the people do do not want to remain under the yoke of Ukraine and are asking for Russian nationality. In the last few years, 400,000 Ukrainians, from all over the country, have asked for and obtained Russian nationality. Ukraine has at least 17% of ethnic Russians plus minority Rumanians, Ruthenians, Hungarians, and Poles. How many are in reality true Ukrainians? A national Ukrainian state would be considerably reduced in size.
If it was correct to dissolve Yugoslavia with the NATO bombs, why instead it is imperative to respect the old borders of Ukraine drawn by Stalin and Gorbachev?
Perhaps the biggest problem, in reality, is that whoever will get the Eastern Ukrainian region will get a very poor economic deal, as in the past the highly developed industrial area is now obsolete and needs a complete modernization and renewal of infrastructure. At least 17 billion dollars would be required.
JE comments: I was waiting for this reply from you, Eugenio! But let's use your post as an opportunity for geopolitical thinking: When warfare is conducted via drones and (presently) the Internet, is the "buffer zone" concept still relevant? I would say not. Yet if anyone is still clinging to this notion, it would probably be Russia, which has learned that yielding a thousand or so miles of territory, and then letting your enemies freeze and outrun their supply lines, is the way to win wars.
In Ukraine, It's Time for a Grand Bargain
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
07/27/21 4:09 AM)
Eugenio Battaglia wrote, "The real problem of the Donetsk-Luhansk area is the local population. Being ethnic Russians, the people do do not want to remain under the yoke of Ukraine and are asking for Russian nationality."
This is not supported by opinion research. Polls consistently show that the residents of the occupied parts of Donbas prefer to stay with Ukraine. See:
Interestingly, contrary to what Eugenio claims, rather few residents of Donbas consider themselves to be "ethnically Russian," although that must be objectively true of a majority of people there--only 12.2% in the rebel-controlled areas and 7% in the rest of Donbas.
We like to see the world in terms of starkly defined ethnic groups, all with clear identity and often hating other starkly defined ethnic groups, but this does not describe Eastern Ukraine at all, where the ethnic identities as to between Russians and Ukrainians are somewhere between fuzzy and non-existent, and where there isn't really any hatred of anyone towards either Ukrainians as a people or Russians as a people. Very few people in the Donbas speak Ukrainian, and language does not separate ethnic groups, and even a Russian-sounding or Ukrainian-sounding surname doesn't tell you much because most families are mixed. This is not the Middle East here.
If you lived on the border between Ukraine and Russia and got to choose which country to belong to, there would be a lot of reasons to choose Russia, which is much wealthier on a per capita basis ($28,000 per capita vs $13,000, more than double, and about the same difference proportionately as between the US and Russia), and has much better level of law and order, and which is in general more developed. But nevertheless the residents of Donbas mostly prefer to stay in Ukraine, with or without a special status--my guess is that this is simply because no one wants this stupid war and all this chaos and conflict; no one is willing to fight a war to get rid of some "Ukrainian yoke," even if they get to be a citizen of a much wealthier country afterwards. People just want peace and order and a chance to work and feed their families.
This tragic conflict needs to be ended. When are we going to sit down at the bargaining table? One thing Eugenio is right about--the root cause of this whole situation is the "Empire's" insatiable appetite for moving its "buffer" right up to the Russian border. I've written about how the partially American-funded coup in Ukraine was perceived in Russia and how profoundly we misunderstand the situation.
It's time for us to agree that we will stop meddling in Ukraine if Russia will agree to completely withdraw from Donbas and respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. I suppose the Russians would agree to a neutral Ukraine with no foreign military alliances or foreign military bases, neither Russian nor Western. Why wouldn't they? Ukraine was actually never in a military alliance with Russia since independence; even Yanukovich declared the country neutral. Why wouldn't such a status suit everyone? You can call it Finlandization, if you like. Neutrality worked out really well for Finland, and I guess it could work well for Ukraine as well.
We will have to recognize Crimea, which Russia will never give back (and it's not inherently unjust that Crimea is part of Russia, however deplorable were Russia's methods of taking the territory), but I'm sure as part of some grand bargain we can figure out some acceptable way to do that. A deal like this is so much in everyone's interests, especially that of the Ukrainians, who have born the brunt of all this trouble, that it will be worth plenty of compromise on all sides.
Of course, whoever cared about the Ukrainians? Not the US, who were quite happy to sell the Ukrainians out to years of chaos and bloodshed and economic turmoil, just for a chance to tweak Russia's nose. Why aren't Ukrainians more offended by this? But in the end, this is not in our interest, either, actually. It's time to wake up, and find a basis for peace.
JE comments: Some weeks ago Aldona and I met a young cashier at the Adrian Lowe's. She didn't look or talk like a local, so we asked: she is from Donetsk. She is a staunch defender of Ukraine--although she also acknowledged (to my surprise) that her brother is fighting in the pro-Russia militia. Talk about complex identities and divided families.
Crimea's annexation by Russia is a fait accompli, but is there any way the West can accept this without losing face? How would any US politician justify "surrendering" Crimea in exchange for...what? Who wants to be labeled a Chamberlain? Not to mention the precedent this sets for revanchist adventures everywhere.
Crimea: Complex Identities
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
07/28/21 3:25 AM)
I highly appreciate the post of Cameron Sawyer, 27 July.
I have also read the attached survey from "Most People in Separatist-held Areas of Donbas Prefer Reintegration with Ukraine." Frankly, the surveys by the British Gwendolyn Sasse in this area leave me doubtful, as they contrast with other surveys (apparently less biased towards Ukraine?).
Cameron is, however, absolutely correct when he wrote: "People just want peace and order and a chance to work and feed their families." Under bombardment many people may, even if temporarily, forget their ethnicity. I was witness to exactly this; of course, I was always a Bastian Contrario.
Cameron's position on Crimea was unexpected but realistic, instructive, and wise.
However, with reference to Crimea, it is also important to remember the the "loose cannon" Erdogan. The Turkish leader is walking a tightrope not to antagonize Putin, but his dream of a new Ottoman Empire includes Novorossjia (Southern Ukraine and Crimea).
At present Erdogan is showing a great friendship with Ukraine but at the same time, he is stirring up the old Tatar problem. According to a census of 2001, a Tatar minority of 17.2% lives in Crimea, most of them returned to the peninsula in the years following the death of Stalin.
For instance, see the various works of professor Sazi Ozcelik and other Turkish scholars and politicians. These studies try to minimize the previous ethnic groups influencing Crimea, such as the Greeks, Romans, Genoese, and Venetians. Instead great importance is given to the Muslim Turkish/Tatar immigration (was it not a military invasion?). The world pandemic of the 1300s, a present of the Gani Beck siege of Genoese Feodosia (Caffa), seems forgotten.
It is stressed that the Russification of the area began only after 1783, with the alleged expulsion of 1,800,000 Tatars to Anatolia. Of these there are now 4,000,000 descendants. An international Tatar conferences was held On 4-5 April 2015 in Ankara. Great publicity is given to Stalin's deportation of the Tatars (also Italians, but that is another story) from Crimea on 18 May 1944, while the strong Nazi divisions as Wolgatatarische Legion, Turkistanische Legion, and Kaukasich-Mohammedan Legion have also been forgotten. By the way, such legions were rather ferocious.
JE comments: Bastian, I invite your thoughts on this question: why in your view is Erdogan a loose cannon, but not Putin? I see them as birds of a very same feather--cannons rolling around on deck? I predict historians one day will talk about Erdo-Putinism (even catchier: Puto-Erdoganism) as a catch-all for the pseudo-democratic strongman of the early 21st century.
- On Russia's Buffer Zones...the SATO Thought Exercise (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/27/21 9:53 AM)
I did not want to address some of our fearless editor's comments on my last post, hoping that someone would do the job for me. And my friend and excellent olive oil provider, Eugenio Battaglia, did a much better job than I ever could.
Nevertheless, John Eipper commented on his post: "When warfare is conducted via drones and (presently) the Internet, is the 'buffer zone' concept still relevant? I would say not. Yet if anyone is still clinging to this notion, it would probably be Russia, which has learned that yielding a thousand or so miles of territory, and then letting your enemies freeze and outrun their supply lines, is the way to win wars."
I am no military expert, but this comment makes no sense to me. Drone warfare capability does not supersede geographic buffer zones. Just to illustrate my disagreement I offer an imaginary situation:
The nasty Russian government has used its financial, political, military power to establish a South American Treaty Organization (SATO, very similar in purpose to NATO). SATO has become a fait accompli and my beloved US government and people have learned to accept this reality for several decades because the USA has established a North American Treaty Organization (NATO2) to counterbalance SATO.
In an effort to reduce the stupid investment in products for this appalling destructive human game called wars where millions get killed besides reducing the opportunity for investment in more productive things like education, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, etc., the NATO2 nations decided to disband in a gentleman's agreement that the SATO would nor recruit further members toward the USA.
Somehow, over a few years SATO has been expanded to include most the Central American nations and the Russian Bear is flirting with Mexico which wants to join SATO very much. Imagining that Northern Mexico has a few areas where the population are mostly comprised of Americans. In desperation the USA could incite some independence movements in such areas. In one of these areas, the large American population just voted to be annexed by the USA, so we did it.
Obviously, Mexico is very upset by this American land grab and expects SATO to do something about it. What should they do? What should we do? Just further develop drone capability which can be done on both sides?
JE comments: SATO has existed in a way for 60 years--it's called Cuba. Much hullabaloo, but no danger to the ol' US. And remember when Reagan sowed fear with the claim than the Nicaraguan Sandinistas are just two days' drive from Harlingen, Texas?
But you have a point, Tor. Encirclement (what the Germans called Einkreisung) is the age-old fear of every nation-state. What I hope to explore is whether the fear has any merit in modern warfare, in which Barbarossa-style invasions are obsolete...aren't they?
- On Russia's Buffer Zones...the SATO Thought Exercise (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/27/21 9:53 AM)
- Crimea: Complex Identities (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/28/21 3:25 AM)
- In Ukraine, It's Time for a Grand Bargain (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 07/27/21 4:09 AM)
- How Much Buffer Does Russia Need for Its Security? What About the US? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 07/26/21 10:05 AM)
- Is Biden's Foreign Policy a Continuation of Trump's? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 07/25/21 4:12 PM)