Geopolitician

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

Was Crimea Worth It?

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Was Crimea worth it? [editorial tone – neutral/objective]

Pros
* Secures major Black Sea naval base; Ukraine no longer able to link it to gas discounts.
* Demonstration that Russia still counts to putsch leaders, pro-Russia elements in S/E Ukraine, and the West. From a realist, non-sentimental perspective, it’s better to be feared than laughed at.
* Massive surge in popularity for Putin and national unity.
* Has confirmed a fundamental wedge between the West and the “Rest”/BRICS on global politics. In particular, both China and India have tacitly supported Russia’s position.

Uncertain
* If it succeeds, it will serve as a beocon on the hill for Ukrainians. (In the same way that “free” and “democratic” Ukraine was supposed to serve as a beacon on the hill for Russians tiring of Putin’s authoritarianism, though that didn’t quite work out). If it fails, of course, it will create the opposite effect. But I think the former is likelier than the latter.
* Western sanctions are fairly moderate for now, mostly touching just a part of the elites. Arguably, some of these will actually have positive effects, with Russia forced to accelerate economic ties with East Asia and to lessen its dependence on Western institutions (e.g. a national payments system independent of Visa/Mastercard).

Cons
* Russia loses any talking points it might have had as a strict adherent to international law (but this wasn’t worth much in the first place). Ukrainians have become less positive towards Russia; in particular, support for NATO accession, always low, has recently soared. It’s unclear whether this is temporary or permanent. Considering the economic and political straits Ukraine is in, one strongly suspects that the Crimea/Russia issue will quickly move from the forefront in the next few months.
* Pundits might talk of Russia “winning Crimea, but losing Ukraine.” I disagree. Ukraine, at least as a unitary whole, was lost on February 22.
* Kicked out of G8, freeze on OECD accession, NATO cooperation – negative but of marginal import.
* Deficit territory in fiscal terms (but irrelevant in the big picture).

Overall
I think that this all adds up to a big overall plus. True, assigning different weights to these factors could move it down to a minor plus or a even a neutral position, but I just don’t see how one could possibly pass it off as a strategic error or blunder.

The Lavrov-Kerry Meeting

We do not have anywhere near complete information about what happened at the Lavrov Kerry meeting on Sunday.  That in itself is a good sign.  It almost certainly means that with the Crimean issue out of the way (and with the western powers having tacitly admitted that the Crimea is now part of Russia) real negotiations have begun.  Lavrov described the talks he had with Kerry as “very constructive” and a Russian diplomatic source has said that for the first time since the start of the Ukrainian crisis there was straightforward talking.  That suggests serious negotiations and that we have at last got past the point of grandstanding and positioning.
A few points:
1. We know what the Russian demands are: (1) federalisation (2) official status for the Russian language and (3) a binding treaty securing the Ukraine’s neutrality.
2. It is completely unclear what US demands are.  Obama has spoken about Russia withdrawing its troops from the Ukraine’s eastern borders.  These concentrations of troops do not exist and Obama has anyway admitted that Russia has the right to deploy its own troops on its own territory.  There are also references to the OSCE mission and to Russian troops in the Crimea returning to their bases.  These are holdovers from an earlier stage in the crisis when it was primarily about the Crimea.  The OSCE mission is now in place and does not include the Crimea whilst the demand that Russian troops in the Crimea return to their bases is now redundant.
3. We also know that the Lavrov Kerry talks began following a telephone conversation between Obama and Putin and that Obama in that conversation asked that Russia put its proposals in writing.  That together with the absence of any demands or proposals from the US side suggests that it is the Russian demands/proposals that are the basis of discussion.
Though the US has not made its demands clear there can be no doubt about what is the predominant wish of its European allies: an end to the crisis and the Ukraine’s stabilisation.  It has become utterly clear over the last few weeks that the Europeans have no wish to be drawn into a prolonged confrontation with Russia that would seriously harm their economies.  If only for that reason the pressure will be on to achieve a settlement that will bring this crisis to an end.  Given that the Germans have already made know that they are sympathetic to the Russians’ proposals that means that the pressure is on the US to compromise.

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Five Myths about the Crimean Referendum

As voting gets underway – and by all accounts, it seems to be overwhelmingly heading for the pro-secession choice – it’s worthwhile to dispel four common but erroneous beliefs about it.

(1) The referendum is unconstitutional.

Where political power in Ukraine rests today.

Where political power in Ukraine rests today.

This is true enough, as all of Ukraine would have to vote on it. But there is one big catch: The Ukrainian Constitution has been null and void since around February 22, 2014, when the Kiev mob overthrew a democratically elected President and the opposition seized power.  If the new regime absolutely insists on constitutional niceties, then it should dissolve itself and bring back Yanukovych from Rostov. This is hardly going to be happening anytime soon, so the only conclusion to be drawn is that, as in much else, the new regime and its Western backers only discover legality when it suits them. And that’s just fine, it’s “people power” and that’s supposed to be great and all, especially when it’s happening outside the West… but unless one wants to proudly and openly embrace double standards, then the mobs in Crimea have just as much of a right to decide their own destiny as do the mobs in Kiev.

(2) The referendum can’t be fair because of the presence of armed Russian troops.

Of course, nobody is buying the official Kremlin line that there are no Russian troops – or at least mercenaries – operating in Crimea. That said, if we insist on going by this standard, then we’ll have to concede that all Afghan elections since 2001 and all Iraqi elections since 2003 will have to be likewise invalidated. For some reason, I don’t see Washington conceding this anytime soon.

(3) There is no choice – both options are, in effect, a “yes.”

cimeaHere is the form, which is printed in the Russian, Ukrainian, and Tatar languages. The two options are:

  1. Do you support joining Crimea with the Russian Federation as a subject of Russian Federation?
  2. Do you support restoration of 1992 Crimean Constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?

It is also clearly stated that marking both answers will count as a spoiled ballot.

So the option isn’t between joining Russia or joining Russia, but between joining Russia and getting more autonomy. Furthermore, there is a clear and democratic way to vote AGAINST any changes – boycott the referendum (as official Kiev and the Mejlis have been urging Crimeans to do). If turnout is below 50%, the referendum is automatically invalidated.

(4) Most Crimeans do not support independence.

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After The Referendum

If, as seems to be generally expected, tomorrow’s referendum in Crimea produces a substantial majority in favour of union with the Russian Federation, what will Moscow’s reaction be?

I strongly expect that it will be……

Nothing.

There are several reason why I think this. One is that Moscow is reluctant to break up states. I know that that assertion will bring howls of laughter from the Russophobes who imagine that Putin has geography dreams every night but reflect that Russia only recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after Georgia had actually attacked South Ossetia. The reason for recognition was to prevent other Georgian attacks. Behind that was the memory of the chaos caused in the Russian North Caucasus as an aftermath of Tbilisi’s attacks on South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the 1990s. Russia is a profoundly status quo country – largely because it fears change would lead to something worse – and will not move on such matters until it feels it has no other choice. We are not, I believe, quite at that point yet on Crimea let alone eastern Ukraine.

Moscow can afford to do nothing now because time is on its side. The more time passes, the more people in the West will learn who the new rulers of Kiev are (finally, the news has reached the USA: “It’s become popular to dismiss Russian President Vladimir Putin as paranoid and out of touch with reality. But his denunciation of ‘neofascist extremists’ within the movement that toppled the old Ukrainian government, and in the ranks of the new one, is worth heeding.” Sanctions cut both ways. Driving Russia and China (and the rest of the BRICS) together is not a triumph of “smart power”; especially if they decide that US securities are not, in fact, a reliable investment. The cost of supporting even the western rump of Ukraine is one that no one wants to pay. Militarily the mighty West can do little short of starting a nuclear war which would evenly-handedly destroy everyone. Western populations have lost their enthusiasm for glorious little wars for human rights. The propaganda line is not selling as well as it did in 2008 and one can see this reading the disbelieving comments on news items: see here, here, here, here for recent examples. China is clearing its throat. The more time passes, the more Western elder statesmen come out against the rhetoric – the most recent being Gerhard Schroeder and Helmut Kohl. The sniper phonecall intercept has now been bolstered by the testimony of the former chief of the Ukrainian Security Service. Because the story is still mostly on the Russian media, the Western MSM can continue to ignore it; but it may be too big in a week to ignore. For all these reasons, Moscow won’t lose anything by waiting a week or two or three.

 

Then there are the hollow threats. US Secretary of State Kerry is quoted as saying: “There will be a response of some kind to the referendum itself… If there is no sign [from Russia] of any capacity to respond to this issue … there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday.” But, typically, he is already backpeddling: “We hope President Putin will recognize that none of what we’re saying is meant as a threat, it’s not meant in a personal way. It is meant as a matter of respect for the international, multilateral structure that we have lived by since World War II, and for the standards of behavior about annexation, about succession, about independence, and how countries come about it.” Suppose, come Monday, Moscow says nothing at all. Then what? More threats unless Moscow stops doing nothing? The truly powerful never make threats; they make promises. There is simply no comparison between the competence and determination of Putin’s team and those on the American and EU side.

The fact is that Russia hasn’t actually done anything. It hasn’t “invaded” Crimea; why even the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t have evidence they are Russian troops. It certainly hasn’t “annexed” Crimea. It hasn’t invaded eastern Ukraine or even threatened it. It has held some “long-scheduled” military exercises (one of which will probably come to a “long-scheduled” ending on Monday). It has issued statements (which are “promises” not “threats”) and refused to recognise the new regime in Kiev. It knows that the US/EU case is crumbling and losing support; it knows that to win, it need only do nothing and do it calmly and determinedly – a sort of zen judo.

If, on the other hand, tomorrow’s referendum produces a majority for staying in Ukraine, what will Moscow’s reaction be?

I strongly expect that it will be……

Nothing.

And the same for any other result.

Let the West fume and issue cheap threats, Moscow is in the stronger position.

The chickens light-heartedly thrown aloft by Washington and Brussels are coming home and no one can stop them from roosting.

In other words, if the Obama administration now finds itself in an awkward situation, having encouraged an anti-Russian revolution on Russia’s doorstep and now finding itself unable or unwilling, thankfully, to follow through, it is a problem entirely of its own making.

He [Schroeder] also claimed that the European Union appeared not to have ‘the remotest idea’ that the Ukraine was ‘culturally divided’ and had made mistakes from the outset in its attempts to reach an association agreement with the country.

 

What If?: Ukraine vs. Russia

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

I’m almost certain it won’t happen, but it’s always fun to consider these what-if military scenarios.

Namely, Ukraine vs. Russia.

In terms of numbers, it will be about 100K vs 150K – Russia has more, of course – 300K in the ground forces – but can only devote a certain percentage of its forces to one theater (so divide by two for air and armor too). Ukraine will of course try to call up reservists, but their military worth is negligible and in any case the reported response rate (1.5% from the Orange provinces) is minimal anyway. Most of Russia’s soldiers here will be kontraktniki; most of Ukraine’s soldiers are its last crop of conscripts, halfway through their one year draft, and a sprinkling of professionals.

As many people have pointed out, the loyalties of these troops – especially in the east – are questionable. Even a few cases of desertion can wreck morale across the board.

For all intents and purposes Ukraine now has no navy.

It has 120 modern fighters, but of these, only 40 can be classed as active. Russia has 500, of which almost all are active. Due to budget problems, Ukrainian pilots have enjoyed fewer flight hours than Russian ones, and as such will also be less experienced. Russia will have total air superiority after the first few days.

Tanks are the one area in which Ukraine isn’t totally outmatched. Ukraine has around 350 of what can be considered active, modern MBT’s. Russia has 1,300, plus a further 1,500 upgraded T-72’s. Ukraine also has many T-72’s, but they are all rusting away in storage and will be unusuable. It does have 700 active upgraded T-64’s, yet even upgraded, they are still rather obsolete.

The critical big unknown is Ukraine’s air defense. If it holds its own, then Ukrainian and Russian armor can clash on equal ground, at least for some time. Georgia’s air defense, likewise Soviet legacy, wracked up an impressive (for their small scope) set of kills in 2008. A lot will depend on whether the Russians have managed to draw lessons from that episode. If however it turns out to be ineffective, then Ukraine’s armor will consist of smoking hulks of metal within two weeks, and Russia’s entrance into Kiev within the month.

I am assuming no NATO intervention, which is politically very unlikely even in this extreme case. In any case, it will take months to effect the necessary buildup, by which time – even in the best case scenario for Ukraine – the campaign will have been long over.

#warnerd #armchairgeneral

Crimea Info

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

It’s very uncharacteristic of the Kremlin to blatantly violate international law (they typically make sure to follow its letter). So what explains the increasingly unequivocal signs of Russian military involvement in Crimea?

The fact of the matter is that Russia has a legal right to military transit across Crimea SO LONG AS it informs the Ukrainian authorities. THE CATCH – whom does it consider to be such? Yanukovych, not the putschists in Kiev.

Ukraine, the Nuland Leak, and the Amnesty Law

A discussion on Crosstalk with Peter Lavelle in which I appeared discussing the Nuland leak.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLHXpCRPo-k

I found some of the comments made by Taras Kuzio frankly surreal but judging from what I read on Kyiv Post he is pretty mainstream in Ukrainian opposition terms.

Two weeks earlier in an interview on RT I said that though the Ukrainian opposition had appeared to reject the terms of the offered amnesty law and were demanding the unconditional release of arrested protesters their anxiety to get their people released meant that if the government stuck to its position the opposition might modify theirs. See my first reply to the interview below

The news today is that the administrative buildings including the Kiev city administration centre and most if not all of the administrative buildings in the provinces have now been freed in accordance with the provisions of the amnesty law. I believe that as required by that law there has also been or will be a withdrawal from Hrushchevsky Street.

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What is Ukraine’s Game Plan?

Even a few months ago, it looked as if Ukraine had taken a significant step towards Eurasian integration by signing up as an observer to the Customs Union between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. However, in the past month, evidence is emerging that it was but a temporary ploy to appease Russia while in reality speeding up the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the European Union. This is scheduled to be signed in Vilnius late this November.

The Ukrainians say that that does not preclude further integration within the framework of the Customs Union. However, it is difficult to see how it could simultaneously have free trade with Europe while simultaneously being a part of strategic protectionist bloc. Although it is entirely possible that in the Customs Union will eventually be gradually merged with and into the European economic area – Putin himself has hinted as much – any such scenario will likely be decades in the making.

Putting aside for the moment geopolitical (Atlanticism vs. Eurasianism) and cultural (European civilization vs. Orthodox-Slavic brotherhood) considerations for the moment – which have been overdiscussed anyway both on this blog and Leos Tomicek’s and many others, with the result that there is now little left to add – I would like to frame the debate in economic terms.

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Translation: Ukraine and Its Monsters

Regnum reports on statements made by Ukraine’s President, Victor Yanukovych, in which he visualizes Ukraine becoming a link between the East and the West as a result of an impending trade deal with the European Union.

Yanukovych: Russia and the EU are giant monsters “and we feel it every day”

Victor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine, calls the European Union and Russia “monsters”, stating that Kiev will never compare the processes of integration in these areas.  The head of the government stated this during the tenth Yalta Annual Meeting today, September 20th, reports Regnum IA.

“I would say that Ukraine is located between two big monsters, the European Union and Russia. And we feel it every day.  We cannot ignore or take this situation lightly, therefore, I am very thankful to our partners from the EU and Russia for their understanding of this issue.  That is why we did not want, do not want, and never will compare processes of integration of the West to the East.  We want to unify them…and Ukraine is confidently going on this path through modernization, through the creation of conditions for the administration of business and the removal of those barriers that are present in questions of trade. So that this process more closely unites us all and so that we would actually create a common economic space from Vancouver to Vladivostok” said the head of government.

At the same time, in Yanukovych’s words, the effectiveness of Ukraine’s cooperation with the European Union depends on how much success there is in building filial relations.  “I would like to wish all of us together the assured construction of a Big Europe.  Ukraine will play its part.  However, a lot will depend on how well these filial relations will work.  We expect that they will be effective”, he said.

Translation: Putin Victorious

Expert explains how the recent developments regarding Russia’s proposed resolution to the Syrian Civil War represent major victories for Vladimir Putin and his nation.

Putin’s Five Victories

The plan for the resolution of the Syrian crisis, proposed by Russia, is swiftly becoming more concrete. Already this past Friday, when Russian-American consultations in Geneva were still ongoing, Syria began a full participant of the Convention on the Ban of Chemical Weapons, having signed the corresponding document. A government letter addressed to the General Secretary of the UN Ban Ki Moon states: “The Syrian Arabian Republic confirms that it pledges to follow the regulations of the Convention until they officially come into force on its territory.”

Russia’s transition from a defensive position to a diplomatic offensive turned out to be unexpected and very effective. Arriving at the limits of its tactic of blockage of possible Western aggressive activities against Syria, and understanding that Barack Obama, contrary to his unwillingness, was deciding on a military operation, Moscow suggested a satisfying way-out for everyone (perhaps, except militants and their sponsors). During the course of a week a diplomatic victory was accomplished, which has no analogues in post-Soviet history.

In the first place, Russia conclusively demonstrated that its position regarding international questions is constructive. It also demonstrated that its traditional noncompliance in matters of the use of force in international affairs is not a desire to put a spoke in the wheel of the USA and its allies at any cost, but a fundamental desire to search for political solutions. The symbol of this constructiveness of Russian politics was an unprecedented letter from Pope Francis to President Vladimir Putin, written even before the initiative of Syrian renunciation of chemical weapons, in which the pontiff urged to focus on the search for a peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict.

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