Geopolitician

Non-moralistic BS analysis of world power trends and strategic balances.

Ukraine Predictions

Reprinted from Facebook (2017/12/31):

Geopolitically, 2015 will be crunch time for the Poroshenko regime. Short of massive Western support, a fiscal crisis is virtually certain.

How will Poroshenko deal with it? A new assault against Novorossiya can’t be excluded; military spending is rising to 5% of GDP. That’s higher than any industrialized nation bar Israel. Totally mad for semi-bankrupt country like Ukraine, unless it’s done for a specific, concrete purpose in mind. (The argument that it’sjust for defense against Russia is bogus. The DNR/LNR have no real offensive capability. The decision against invading Ukraine by Russia proper was taken back in April 2014 and since then the conditions for it have vastly deteriorated).

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On the Crimean Sanctions

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

There can only be two “justifications” for it:

(1) If the Crimean referendum was rigged and illegitimate, as Kiev and the West have repeatedly argued, on what grounds are ordinary Crimeans getting punished for what is in fact Russian aggression? Sounds rather whimsical and arbitrary, if that is so.

(2) The Crimean referendum accurately reflected the will of the Crimean people. In that case, the US and EU sanctions on Crimea – already getting expressed in the forms of Crimean residents losing access to the services of Western companies and even getting their money confiscated (https://twitter.com/idaltae/status/547637872233578496) – are, in effect, to punish them for voting the wrong way. In other words, it is economic blackmail by any other name.

So which is it going to be? They are mutually exclusive; you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

Why Asia Won’t Sanction Russia for MH17

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

This map is instructive:

Relations with China and India are excellent. China is fast becoming a semi-ally. Korea relations are fine. Relations with Japan are frosty, but even they are less enthusiastic about serious sanctions than the West. The main reason for this is Japan’s not unfounded fear that Russia will get too close to China – a fear that the US, half a world away, isn’t obligated to share.

Singapore couldn’t care less for democratist claptrap and will be quite happy to steal London’s custom.

If the ban on duel-use technology exports is to be rigorously enforced, the main sources of advanced tech transfer (needed for modernization) will become China, possibly Korea, and various entrepots like Singapore and Hong Kong via front companies.

http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/why-asia-wont-sanction-russia-for-mh17/

Was MH17 Terrorism?

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Let’s say that the SBU recordings are genuine and the NAF was directly responsible for shooting down MH77 on the mistaken impression that it was a (valid) military target. Should this then be classed as terrorism? Would it invoke NATO’s Article 5, as some of the most heated rhetoric is suggesting?

(See http://www.spitsnieuws.nl/…/nederland-en-vs-bereiden-invasi…)

Well, I suppose you *can*. But then for consistency’s sake you would also have to label the US and Ukraine (ironically enough) as terrorist states themselves.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655 – US tried to avoid responsibility, never apologized to Iran. Eventually paid up some blood money.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberia_Airlines_Flight_1812 – Ukraine tried to avoid responsibility, until the Russian investigative team came up with definitive proof that they did it. Never apologized, though did eventually pony up blood money.

If you do not support declaring the US and Ukraine to be terrorist states on this basis, with all the consequences thereof – massive sanctions, pariah status, etc. – then you have no ground to do so either for the DNR or Russia. However, if it is found that they were responsible – either the DNR directly, or Russia for supplying the Buk in question – then it would be appropriate to expect them to pay off the relatives. If that is the official finding, then I would strongly support it myself.

Of course, this would not apply if the DNR shot down MH77 on purpose. However, that possibility is disproved by the junta’s purported evidence itself.

The Fall of Slavyansk

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

1) The fall of Slavyansk is mainly a political problem, not a military one. In military terms, it is, if anything, a success, with Strelkov managing to successfully exfiltrate the great bulk of his forces from encirclement.

2) Donetsk has almost ten times the population of (pre-war) Slavyansk. Having aquired the great bulk of its population during the 1930-1990 period, it is like most Soviet cities of this profile a veritable warren of massive concrete blocks. A further defensive “bonus” is that its population has dropped by almost 20% from its 1992 peak, so I assume this means it will be relatively easy to locate abandoned apartments to serve as bases, lookout stations, etc. The experience of Grozny shows the damage that even a pretty small band of motivated fighters with Kalashnikovs and RPGs can inflict on a poorly trained conscript force wading into a concrete metropolis, even if they have plentiful access to artillery and heavy armor. Look at the problems even the world’s most advanced COIN force, the US Army, had in Baghdad and Fallujah. Donetsk will not be an easy nut to crack; any attempt to do so will produce more casualties amongst the Ukrainian Army than the NAF (whereas the current ratio is about 2:3), and massive casualties amongst Donetsk civilians caught in the bombardments.

3) Cynical as it is, I strongly suspect that this is precisely the plan: To see thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of civilians die, before mounting a humanitarian intervention that a) the West will find much more difficult to credibly condemn than would be the case if it were to be carried out now; b) will estrange even more future Novorossiyans from Kiev; and c) eat up a large chunk of Ukrainian armor and whatever still remains of its air force in the interim.

Alternatively, Poroshenko might realize this is a losing proposition, and return to the negotiating table… If the Maidan lets him (which it probably won’t).

4) Unlike certain more hot-blooded pro-Russian analysts, and Maidanists who are rushing to celebrate way too soon, I still see no credible argument that Putin has ditched the Donbass resistance. To the contrary, the lack of *direct* intervention is more likely just the product of a series of cold calculations that show it more likely to be effective in a few months than today, when: a) The Ukrainian Army has become weaker and more demoralized; b) Photos of bisected, bloodied, and burnt corpses have been filling the Russian and international airwaves for a few months; c) The resolve of the West and its unity are weaker; d) The Russian economy is more prepared for any sanctions that are forthcoming; and e) Austerity is biting Ukraine hard, and (gas-less) winter is coming. Too bad that it is the residents of Donetsk who will be playing the blood price for this.

Islamic State Rises

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Admit I was surprised to see ISIS take over a major Iraqi city as the Iraqi Army fled.

I realize the corruption there is gargantuan, but surely at least some of the $18 billion that it spends yearly on its military must have gone somewhere useful?

Anyhow, while Mosul and Tikrit might have fallen, and Samarra and Fallujah may well soon follow, Baghdad and the south should be safe. Not only is Baghdad a lot more Shi’ite than it was before Saddam, but a large bulk of the regime’s military assets are going to be concentrated there.

As usual in these types of conflicts, the frontlines should quickly align with ethnic/religious borders:

PS. I wonder how much of ISIS (Iraq) money and arms come from Saudi/Turkish/American shipments meant for their “good” counterparts in Syria?

PPS. Iraqi Army: $18bn budget, trained and equipped by Americans. Ukrainian Army: $2bn budget, trained and equipped by Soviets ages ago. Ukrainian Army still less ineffective.

On Ukraine/Syria

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

It struck me a while ago that what Russia is doing so far as the Ukrainian borders in the east are concerned is essentially the same as what Turkey and Jordan are doing in relation to Syria’s borders.

Both Turkey and Jordan keep the borders open, allowing jihadists from across the world and arms (which in today’s globalized world must at some level have the blessing of the US) to keep flowing into Syria to maintain the insurgency against Assad.

Russia likewise allows imports of arms as well as pro-Russian volunteers across the ex-USSR into Eastern Ukraine.

Yet the US and indeed the entire West turns a blind eye to (and indeed quietly supports) the former, while lambasting Russia for the latter, threatening it with sanctions, and some even going so far as to support labeling it as a state sponsor of terrorism. No matter that the Donbass resistance has not – unlike the West’s/Saudi’s pet Islamists, which have wiped several Alawite and Christian villages off the map – committed any widescale atrocities against the civilian populations.

The Donbass Referendum

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Preliminary reports turnout is going to be high in Donetsk and Lugansk, with most people voting Yes to independence (though I’ve seen photos with a few No’s). I expected this (https://twitter.com/akarlin88/status/465366857189310465) and it seems to have turned out correctly.

Independence enjoyed 33% support in Donetsk and 25% support in Lugansk in opinion polls taken before the putsch. After the Odessa massacre, and the punitive expedition to Mariupol, Kiev has only itself to blame for losing the Donbass.

The question now is whether it will pause, think, and reconsider – or try to make Kharkov, Odessa, and even Dnepropetrovsk defect too.

Deconstructing the Result of the Four Party Talks

The media refers to the document that emerged out of today’s four party talks as an “agreement”. This is not strictly correct. The text of the document is here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/17/ukraine-diplomats-meet-in-geneva-in-bid-to-ease-crisis-live-coverage?view=desktop#block-5350089ce4b056a9012cda6f

As its text makes clear what this document is in reality is not an an agreement to settle the Ukrainian crisis or even an outline of such an agreement but rather a statement of basic principles around which an agreement should be negotiated. The real agreement (if it comes about) will emerge from negotiations based on the principles set out in this document.

A number of points:

1. Kiev’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding, the statement that “all sides must refrain from all violence, intimidation and provocative actions” clearly rules out the “anti terrorist operation” in the eastern Ukraine that Kiev launched on Sunday;

2. As Lavrov has correctly pointed out the provisions in the third paragraph that require the disarmament and dissolution of armed groups is clearly intended to refer as much to Right Sector and the Maidan Self Defence Force as it does to the protesters in the east. Note specifically that the statement calls for a general amnesty except for those who have committed capital crimes (ie. murder). So far no protesters in the east have murdered anyone. Even Kiev admits that none of its soldiers have so far been killed. The same obviously cannot be said of Right Sector and of the Maidan Self Defence Force even if one disregards their likely responsibility for the sniper killings in Kiev on 20th February 2014;

3. The document clearly refers to Maidan itself, which it says must be cleared. Specifically alongside illegally occupied buildings the document refers to “all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities”. The reference to “squares” clearly is intended to refer to Maidan, which the militants in Kiev have said they will continue to occupy at least until the elections on 25th May 2014 and even beyond;

4. Importantly there is NO time line in the document.  There is no demand therefore that buildings be evacuated by any particular date or time.  That has to be agreed and coordinated with the OSCE monitors on the ground.  The people in the eastern Ukraine are therefore entirely within their rights to stay in the buildings at the moment until a timeline is agreed with the OSCE monitors, one requirement of which will surely be parallel evacuations of occupied squares and buildings in Kiev and the west including Maidan.

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Russia’s Game Plan in Donbass

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Quick piece I scribbled off for RIA:

First off, an elementary observation: Donbass is not Crimea.

Crimea features prominently in Russia’s historical memory, having undergone two epic sieges over two centuries. It was only given over to Ukraine as a pure formality, to mark 300 years since the Treaty of Pereyaslav that was to usher in Russo-Ukrainian unity, and the overwhelming majority of Crimeans have wanted back ever since Ukraine became an independent state. It hosted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and Ukraine hadn’t shied from using it as a lever to extract more favorable gas terms from Russia. Finally, though it needs major investments to lift it up to the level of neighboring Krasnodar, once that happens it can be reasonably expected that it will stop being a net drain on the budget and will become the major tourism center for all Russia that it was during the Soviet era.

Donbass has no such significance in the Russian cultural imagination – one doubts that a majority of Russians can find Lugansk, let alone Sloviansk, on a map. It was always part of Ukraine, or to be more precise, Novorossiya – though separatism is not entirely foreign to it (recall the short-lived Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic). Though it is nominally rich, the coal mines – the mainstay of Donetsk’s economy – are antiquated, and unlikely to survive far into the future; and in any case, they are not much use shorn from the neighboring industrial powerhouses of Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, and Poltava, where separatist sentiment is much more subdued relative to the Donbass. Though the latter provinces might support a federal Ukraine, they will almost certainly be very much against joining Russia outright. And Russia itself doesn’t need the Donbass, especially by itself.

Now, bearing this in mind, I will draw two conclusions:

1) Any help or coordination that Russia provides to the separatist militias in Donbass and other cities in the east isn’t a prelude any unification, as in Crimea, but is meant to exert pressure on Kiev to agree to wide-ranging federalization. Ukraine was “lost” to the Eurasian Union when the Maidan overthrew Yanukovych in their coup. The plan now is to win at least half of it back.

2) Short of truly massive bloodletting on the part of the Kiev regime – and I do not think it will come to that, though I have learned not to be surprised to the downside by those folks – the Russian Army will NOT intervene. The ball will be in Kiev’s court. It can either leave the separatists in control, and they will proceed to carry out referendums that Russia could then exploit to cajole Kiev into federalization. Or it will – inevitably, violently – try to wipe out the “terrorists,” which will totally alienate eastern populations that are already very much unhappy with it. Given the mass defections to the separatist cause amongst the eastern siloviki, and the fact that Kiev can only truly rely upon Western Ukrainian units, the chances of success are low. If it were to pursue this route, it may well truly get a civil war on its hands, as historical Novorossiya rises up against the regime.