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Post Russia, Ukraine, and European Revanchism
Created by John Eipper on 01/25/22 4:21 AM

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Russia, Ukraine, and European Revanchism (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 01/25/22 4:21 am)

John E's parallels between Russia-Ukraine and pre-WWII Europe were correct, but try to look at the facts of the 1930s according to how the geopolitical situation was at the time.

Austria was a German country.  The Versailles Treaty forbade its union/alliance with Germany, and its government opposed the possible Anschluss.  In this it had the support of fascist Italy (which was the only country that mobilized its army to face any German advance).  However, the Austrian people changed their minds and became strongly favorable towards the Anschluss.  The great majority favored it.

Czechoslovakia was a monstrosity where a minority was oppressing the majority of the people. All these minorities rightly wanted to be reunited to their motherland, so Poland, Hungary, and Germany each would have a piece of territory. Why do we blame only Germany? Furthermore, the Slovaks wanted to be independent, as they presently are.  The rights of the people are more important than the drawing of the borders made at Versailles.

Poland was a country with an authoritarian government that might even be called fascist.  It had no respect for Danzig, a town where the 97% of the population was German with no desire to be a "free city" oppressed by Warsaw.  The citizens of Danzing wanted to be reunited to the motherland.

Now in Ukraine, the will of the people is again stronger than the borders drawn by Lenin or Khrushchev when Ukraine and Russia were the same united country (more or less similar to the states of the US).  If the people of Crimea and Donbas are sick and tired of the oppression from Kyiv and want to be part of Russia, why not? Let them be Russian.

Please do not reply with the silly idea that in Europe borders are drawn for eternity.  The borders of Czechoslovakia have changed, from two Germanys we now have one, and six states emerged from Yugoslavia.

John asked what I would do about the Ukraine crisis: I would suggest to the US President to use his money in improving the civilian structure of his own country and forget the idea of sending troops to counter Russia.  Rather, I would try to have with Russia enter in a real partnership which could be extremely useful for facing China. The people of the US, Europe, Russia, and Ukraine except for a few lackeys of the CIA or imperialists would be very happy.

JE comments:  So...give Putin a free hand?  None of the redrawings of borders since WWII have involved one country annexing territory from another.  Other than Crimea, the only time this was attempted was Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait.  We all know how that ended up.

I love peace as much as the next guy, but Putin seems hell-bent on restoring the old USSR.  What happens when he puts the Baltics in his sights?  The big unknown: do the US and NATO have the stomach to face him down?

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  • What Could a Ukraine Deal Look Like? (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/25/22 7:19 AM)
    JE wrote: "Putin seems hell-bent on restoring the old USSR. What happens when he puts the Baltics in his sights? The big unknown: do the US and NATO have the stomach to face him down?"

    I don't think "restoring the old USSR" is what Putin has in mind. Rather Putin is doing as many countries, including the US, have done from time to time when they though they had the muscle to do it--he is trying to gain some degree of control in Russia's intimate spheres of interest and as a corollary, he is trying to oppose what he considers malicious incursions into those spheres of interest by the US. The principle is not really different from our own Monroe Doctrine, except that Russia's moves are much more modest than that, including only parts of the former Russian Empire and not going nearly so far as to cover countries which are merely objects of trade and investment as Latin America was for the US.

    We have to keep in mind that Russia's view of the Ukraine conflict is that this started with a violent coup in Ukraine financed and engineered by the US, which overthrew a democratically elected government in Ukraine and installed an anti-Russian government in its place. In Russia's view, this is merely the latest in a systematic campaign to subvert former republics of the USSR and turn them against their historic motherland, for the purpose of weakening and encircling Russia. Which itself follows having absorbed nearly the entire Warsaw Pact into NATO, which has been turned into an explicitly anti-Russian organization after a period in the 1990s when NATO was for a time so much not that, that Russian membership was even considered.

    Ukraine was the last straw, what Russia was simply not prepared to countenance. Ukraine contains more vital interests of Russia than any other part of the former Russian Empire, with the critical naval base in Crimea and a very large array of industrial complexes which manufacture different elements of Russian industrial production, including many elements of military significance. And containing tens of millions of ethnic Russians, and which in general, but for a minority of mostly Western Ukrainian nationalists, felt itself not to be a different people from the Russians. What we have been doing in Ukraine made Russia feel like we were tearing them apart.

    That's the Russian view, which is no more the whole story than what our view is. But we have to understand their view if we want to have any hope of dealing with this situation somehow and avoiding war, and not only war, but a long-lasting geopolitical conflict which is not in anyone's interest to have.

    The Baltic States are part of the EU and NATO, and experienced actual independence from Russia for some decades of the 20th century, all of this unlike any other part of the former USSR. The Baltic States are gone, and but for some simmering tension over the rights of the large Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, and concern over NATO troop buildups there, I don't think the Russians have any problem with the current situation. I spend a lot of time in Estonia and Latvia and I've never met a single ethnic Russian in either country who desires reunification with Russia. All they want is peace, trade and open borders, and I think that suits Russia fine. In any case, all the Baltic States are part of NATO, and NATO is obligated to defend them in case of attack. Putin has always been cautious about actual military conflict. I don't see a military move on the Baltics in the cards at all.

    Ukraine is a completely different story. Putin knows we won't go to war over Ukraine, and Putin feels that he has to put an end to our incursions and subversions in this vital center of Russian interests. In my opinion invasion and even annexation, but certainly invasion and installation of a puppet government, are realistic prospects. The prospect of harsher sanctions will not stop him. It is in our interests, and I believe in the interests of the Ukrainian people, to prevent this from happening. Sanctions have hurt the Russian people but the government is firmly in control. I believe the Russian government is perfectly willing to suffer more of them if it buys them a hard line against our meddling at the Western and Northern borders of Ukraine.

    If we want to stop this from happening, and we should want this, then we will have to come up with a deal which respects a reasonable sphere of Russian interests, the same as we would expect in the same situation. The Russian proposals are overreaching, and I am afraid to say, appear to have been crafted in a way which they knew we could never expect, designed to be refused by us as a justification for an invasion. But I don't think it is impossible to imagine a reasonable deal which could be acceptable by them.

    I think such a deal could include something like the following points:

    1. Firm and enforceable guarantees of Ukrainian post-deal territorial integrity.

    2. Russian hands off Donbas, massive Russian and Western aid for reconstruction. Deportation (or perhaps actually repatriation) of Donbas rebels to Russia with lifetime bans on return to Ukraine.

    3. But the West recognizes the annexation of Crimea.

    4. Firm and enforceable guarantees that Ukraine will never be invited into NATO or EU.

    5. Ukrainian neutrality, perhaps, with neither Russia nor the West giving any military assistance, placing any troops, or doing anything to militarize Ukraine. Something along the lines of Henry Kissinger's "Finlandization of Ukraine" might work.

    6. Free trade between Ukraine and Russia. Free or favorable trade conditions between Ukraine and the West (EU and US).

    7. Ukraine open to investment from both Russia and US with exception of a list of strategic industries, which are off limits (especially to the Chinese). Both elements of this point are extremely important to any deal working.

    8. Western hands off the former USSR except for the Baltic States. No meddling in politics or internal affairs, no military relationships, especially Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

    9. Russia likewise commits to not meddling in politics or internal affairs of these countries, but enforceability would be tricky (we should try, however).

    10. Last but not least, and failing which no deal will ever work--some kind of institutionalized de-escalation between Russia and the West. This would require some kind of far-ranging agreement on principles of the relationship, respect of each other's interests, maybe inclusion of Russia into some kind of consultative body with NATO.

    Russia, notwithstanding all appearances today, is extremely interested in Point 10. Russia wants to develop and prosper and catch up with the West economically, and has no imperial ambitions. What we see Russia doing in Ukraine now is pure desperation over Russia's own security. If we could (a) pull off Point 10; and (b) agree on some reasonable limits to our incursions into their spheres of interests based on some reasonable respect for those; then we could do it, and the world would be a better place, and our own geopolitical position would gain an enormous boost.

    But can we hope for this tightrope to be successfully walked by those in charge of our foreign policy? The same people who brought us a whole series of insanely self-destructive wars in the Middle East, doing the same idiotic thing over and over and over again despite getting the same disastrous outcome every time? Under the leadership of a president whose qualities make him much better suited to being a used car salesman, than the supposed "leader of the free world," who has surrounded himself by the worst foreign policy hacks from both parties? We should not, alas, hold our breath.

    The US is in geopolitical decline, and have been since at least the 1990s. The end of the Cold War has brought out all of the worst qualities of our institutions. Our inevitable failure to sort out the situation with Russia in a way which actually serves our interests, will be a major milestone in that decline, mark my words, when some future Gibbons writes the history of it. What we do now, just watch, will ensure chaos and misery in Ukraine for a generation to come, and earn us an implacable geopolitical enemy which we never needed to have.

    JE comments:  Reasonable points all.  All it takes is political will.  Each side will find something not to like in those ten points--but can they accept them?  For starters, how could Biden "sell" what his critics will describe as the abandonment of Ukraine (following the debacle in Afghanistan), not to mention the full recognition of the Crimea conquest?

    But here's some wisdom proven by centuries of history:  avoid war with Russia, avoid war with Russia.  It's worth saying twice.

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    • A Deal to Avert War Would NOT be "Abandoning" Ukraine (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/26/22 3:19 AM)
      John E asked, regarding my proposal for a resolution of the Ukraine crisis, "How could Biden 'sell' what his critics will describe as the abandonment of Ukraine (following the debacle in Afghanistan), not to mention the full recognition of the Crimea conquest?"

      How would:

      1. Preventing an invasion and subsequent foreign domination of Ukraine;

      2. Securing Ukraine's territorial integrity and stopping Russian destabilisation;

      3. Securing Russian withdrawal from Donbas;

      4. Securing foreign aid and open markets from both West and East...

      ...constitute "abandoning" Ukraine? The Crimea, which anyway has nothing to do with Ukraine other than a random stroke of a Soviet administrative pen in the 1950s, would be a very very small price to pay, and unwillingness to pay this small price would certainly be a deal-breaker for the Russians.

      Alas, no such deal will be made or even floated--we in the West are not nearly smart enough for that. What will happen (just watch) is that by this time next year, Ukraine will have effectively ceased to exist as an independent country and we will have a full-blown Cold War with Russia. That result is not "abandoning" Ukraine? Oh, no! We will have emitted climate-changing volumes of hot air and imposed another round of sanctions--now that's real action for you! We are with you, Ukrainians! That is just fine for our politicians and even better for Victoria Nuland and her ilk, generating plenty of politically marketable chest-thumping and consulting contracts. That this result is a sheer disaster for us and even worse for Ukraine, is of no matter.

      Since when did we actually care about the people on the other end of our geopolitical moves? Ask the Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, or Libyans, if you don't know already.

      JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer has a scathing appraisal of US foreign policy of the last generation.  But it's hard to disagree.  When was our last successful "nation-building" effort?  Grenada 1983?  Japan and Germany after WWII?

      Our decision makers must choose between defusing the crisis or humbling Putin.  I'm relieved I don't have to decide.  I hope we'll hear from WAISer Boris Volodarsky on this crucial matter.

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      • Two "Impossibilities" to Resolve Ukraine Crisis (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/27/22 3:44 AM)
        By God I finally can say I agree 100 percent with someone: Cameron Sawyer's latest post on the Ukraine crisis.

        I blame the whole conflict on a clash of social political "cultures" which can be easily resolved by one of two impossibilities:

        1. Putin will stop defending the interests of Russia, its security requirements, and keeping the US military industrial complex (represented by neocons like Nuland and her husband) from further provocations by NATO/US installing "defensive" missiles and other military power closer and closer to Russia's throat, after promising not to do that when Gorbachev dismantled the USSR.

        What I don't like about Putin is that he is too knowledgeable, smart, and sneaky for our corrupted political system to handle. In the immediate past we used Georgia as a toothpick up the bear's nose, and they lost some valuable territory. Ukraine seems to be the next loser, since short of WWIII, Putin will never give up Crimea now full of Russian citizens with passports to prove their choice. When Trump was President, the Democrats accused him of being too friendly with Putin. Now the Republicans accuse Biden of not being aggressive enough. Our stupid foreign policy people guided by our well-known private interests need conflict with Russia to justify our massive military budget competing with funding for infrastructure and programs for our increasingly needy population.

        2. The US government comes together and stops following this potentially world-killing confrontation with China and Russia (by the way, what is happening in the many other political/military hot spots in the world?) and does something decent for the increasingly desperate American people.

        Needless to say, unless alien spaceships attack both the US and Russia, neither can possibly happen. Mankind's widespread famine, poverty, lack of education, global warming, present and future pandemics, a strong potential for nuclear world destruction, etc. clearly are not threatening enough.

        When I was eight years old I first noticed humans seem to have a natural tendency for confrontation and killing each other, I never understood why. And I still don't. Please help, anyone.

        JE comments:   The rub lies in these impossibilities.  No matter what the West does to defuse the crisis, there will be accusations of appeasement.  And to be fair, what has Putin ever done to earn our trust?

        This showdown would certainly have different "optics" if Chamberlain had stayed home in 1938.

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      • Ukraine in NATO Would Not be a Threat to Russia (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/28/22 3:30 AM)

        I have read with great interest Cameron Sawyer's posts on the conflict in Ukraine and agree with most of his arguments. Especially the fact that it is absolutely necessary to reach a diplomatic agreement to avoid armed confrontation, which moreover, can only favor Putin's hegemonic interests. However, although I admit that Cameron has more authority to express opinions on Russia than I do, it seems to me that there is some evidence that weakens his arguments.

        In the first place, I perceive from his comments that Cameron is very critical of the West, especially the US and its foreign policy, accusing them of being fully responsible for the conflict by its interventionism and subversion. He portrays Russia as a victim of the process and legitimizes their aspirations and interests in the region. It is possible that he is right, at least partially, but I do not see Putin's hegemonic ambitions being questioned and considered as part of the geopolitical formula. It is troubling to attribute to this autocratic character, a quasi-dictator, modest aspirations and little interest in becoming the "caudillo" of the great world power.

        Now, the argument that Putin could really see his country's security threatened because Ukraine belongs to NATO is rather doubtful. Such a weakened alliance and a small country, militarily compared to Russia, can hardly become a real threat to Russian interests. Nor am I convinced by the argument that his actions are necessary to protect Russia's industrial and economic interests, or the Russian-speaking minorities that live in Ukraine, or in other places such as the Baltics. This justification reminds me of Hitler's speech when he decided to invade the former Czechoslovakia over the matter of reclaiming the ethnic German population in the Sudetenland. Of course, these arguments can be excellent excuses to justify military interventions and further their interests and ambitions in the region.

        Cameron wrote, "Putin knows we won't go to war over Ukraine, and Putin feels that he has to put an end to our incursions and subversions in this vital center of Russian interests. In my opinion invasion and even annexation, but certainly invasion and installation of a puppet government, are realistic prospects."

        This coincides with my opinion, but it is doubtful that the West, and especially Europe, had any intention of raiding and subverting Ukraine against Russia. It would seem to me more than enough that, in general, the Ukrainians feel great resentment for the crimes committed by the former USSR in their country, to justify their resistance to once again becoming a subjugated region to Putin's autocracy.

        As I expressed in an earlier post on this subject, I also agree that the prospect of harsher sanctions will not stop Putin. Nothing will stop him despite the potential suffering of Ukrainians and his own people. For that same reason, it would be very difficult to reach a diplomatic agreement to avoid this conflict. I still think that there is more likelihood of an armed conflict than for a diplomatic agreement. However, this will come after Russia has partially invaded Ukraine and defeated the Ukrainian military, securing vast territories from an advantageous position of military force. Hopefully we are all wrong about this possibility.

        Finally, the points that Cameron lists as possible concessions to achieve a diplomatic agreement, although very reasonable, seem to me very difficult for the parties in conflict. I fear that, furthermore, from the position of military strength, Putin ends up achieving all his demands and the West making all the concessions.

        JE comments:  We in the "West" prefer to believe that NATO is no threat to anyone; rather it is a defensive organization.  But do not say this, say, to the Serbians.  We can attempt to understand Putin's position without taking his side.  Consider the analogy of Mexico and Canada entering into a hypothetical alliance with China or Russia.

        A military question:  in an age of cyberwarfare and hypersonic missiles, is "encirclement" (Einkreisung) a genuine strategic liability, or primarily a psychological one?  This is not 1914, and when your nation spans the better part of two continents, the fear of encirclement is rather silly.

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        • The USSR Was Naive to Trust the Americans, NATO (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/30/22 4:17 AM)
          José Ignacio Soler is generally a wise observer but in his latest post, 28 January, he sides uncritically with the Empire, without giving much importance to the reasons of the other side with all the geopolitical and historical factors.

          We can all agree that the leadership of the former USSR was absolutely naive to trust the word of the American Presidents and their governments when they promised not to move "one inch Eastward." But what can you expect from a guy who after being the ruler of the Soviet Empire reduced himself to making commercials for Pizza Hut or from the vodka lover Boris Yeltsin, who allowed a great empire to split into many fragments, transforming the country into a beggar state with its people going around Europe openly selling shoddy military goods (arms probably sold in secret) such as insignias, uniforms, binoculars, etc. while nice girls even holding university degrees were standing on the European roads selling themselves?

          NATO says that it is a defensive pact (true until 1991), but it bombed the hell out of Serbia, as our esteemed moderator pointed out, and in one way or another it directly or indirectly destroyed Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, etc. If at least NATO could have had a victory followed by a lasting peace.  Instead we had a disaster, including the loose cannon of Kosovo, where peace is maintained only as long as the occupation troops remain.

          Now Putin has restored the disaster created by Yeltsin, but he too was naive when at the beginning he gave airport access to the US troops moving into Afghanistan. The first six men of the CIA arrived in the Valley of the Panjshir to prepare the attack on Afghanistan on 26 September 2001 in a Russian helicopter.

          After all, the world public opinion should support Putin as he is a guarantee for the fight against extremist Islamic terrorists while the same cannot be said about the other side since 1979.  See Afghanistan, Caucasus, Syria, Libya, and why not Xinjiang--but sorry, these should be called "freedom fighters," especially in Syria.

          As so well remembered by the excellent post of Consoly León Arias, 28 January, the present situation is similar to the Cuban Crisis of 1962. If President Kennedy was right to risk war with the USSR to remove the Soviet missiles from Cuba, Putin is right to want to remove American missiles with nukes and troops from Eastern Europe.  I hope this will somehow result in the removal of American troops and nukes from Italy too.

          Some years ago I reported my personal memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I may add that sailing close to Cuban shores I was always looking for the possible explosions on the horizon but thanks to the wise leaders of the time, it did not happen.

          JE comments:  The year 2001 was probably the high point of Russia-Western collaboration, and it inspires many "might have beens."  Several times WAIS has discussed the blown opportunities.  But are they all the West's fault?  We'll never know, but would Putin play nice at present if NATO had stopped expanding after Germany's reunification?  The only thing we know is that we'll never know.

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          • Could NATO Ever (Seriously) Be a Threat to Russia? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 02/02/22 7:38 AM)
            This is in response to Eugenio Battaglia's accusation that I am uncritical of the so-called US "empire" and do not give importance to the Russian position on Ukraine. 

            Eugenio might be right. Perhaps I cannot be very objective when dealing with characters like Putin, or any other autocrat, who by using nationalistic doctrines is trying to impose on other nations his despotic will. 

            Being strictly rational and objective, does anyone really believe that Ukraine, or a weakened NATO, could be any military threat to Russia? It seems to me very unlikely that Western democratic countries would find any advantage in provoking such a military and geopolitical giant. That might have been the case during the Cold War, but not presently. The expansionist and nationalistic aspirations of Russia since the Tsarist and Soviet times has not changed under Putin.  On the contrary, those aspirations have grown in recent years as the weakening and division of NATO and the "imperial" US is evident. 

            By the way, I have always been very critical of the misguided US foreign policy, particularly with regards to Latin America, but there are other facts that are not properly considered in the current discussion. 

            First, the addition of a new member (Ukraine) in NATO has not been imposed or even requested by the Alliance; it is a sovereign decision of each nation to apply for membership. The West could therefore not guarantee to Putin that such a request will not made by an independent nation, or that it will not be accepted merely because Putin does not want it. 

            Second, to my knowledge there has never been any formal or informal agreement, commitment or promise by the West or the US not to expand the alliance at the end of the Cold War, as Russia argues to justify its present demands. 

            Finally, there is no comparison between the Cuban missile crisis and the current crisis. That situation was a nuclear threat at a critical moment, a dispute for world hegemony between two empires. The current crisis comes from Putin's nostalgic and disastrous aspiration to recover a lost imperial world hegemony, and not because of an alleged threat to his country, which is very unlikely to turn into a nuclear confrontation. 

            Having said all this, I offer Eugenio apologies for not having any sympathy or supposed "objectivity" for the Russian position in this crisis. 

            JE comments:  What can we say about the supposed 1990 commitment not to expand NATO beyond East Germany?  As this recent overview reminds us, it's complicated:

            Did The West Promise Moscow That NATO Would Not Expand? Well, It's Complicated. (rferl.org)

            Gorbachev himself acknowledged years later that no such promise was made, yet it has become the central justification for Russia's adventurism.  Each side seems to have heard what it wanted to.

            Nacho Soler raises a more important issue:  is NATO a threat to Russia?  I would say categorically not, but I also believe that Russia legitimately believes it is.  Even the largest nation on earth can feel encircled, and possibly worse:  humiliated.

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