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.

Russian Liberals and China

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Russian liberals (Vladimir Milov this time) continue claiming the China gas deal is disastrous for Russia.

His argument this time? That Japan pays $200/mcm more for gas than what China gave Russia.

http://www.echo.msk.ru/blog/milov/1330024-echo/

He is either ignorant of or ignoring the fact that Japan imports gas as LNG, because it’s an island LOL. And the costs of liquefaction are not insubstantial, in fact they are around… well, $200/mcm LOL.

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.

Ukrainians on Federalism

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

Comprehensive, very important PEW poll on attitudes in Ukraine towards federalism, Russia, Crimea (after Crimean referendum, but before the Odessa massacre):

http://www.pewglobal.org/…/despite-concerns-about-governan…/

Two critical points can be made:

(1) There is virtually unanimous support in Crimea for recognizing the results of its own referendum (only 4% are against). This indicates that that referendum was pretty fair and certainly closer to the “real” results than that survey by the President’s Council on Human Rights which does not provide any details of the sample size or methodology.

(2) While easterners are unhappy with the Kiev regime, a solid majority of them are still in favor of keeping Ukraine united (even the Russian speakers in the east) – though this figure will probably be somewhat lower now than before Odessa. THIS IS WHAT MAKES PUTIN SO RIGHTFULLY CAUTIOUS AS REGARDS THE SOUTH-EAST. The reality is that any military intervention there beyond Donbass will be plagued by a fifth column that is simply absent in Crimea. Getting bogged down in a guerilla war is something that Russia simply just doesn’t need.

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.

My Advice to the Maidan

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/14):

I’m not a Euromaidan supporter. But if I was, and was interested in the junta’s success and a smooth transition to an EU-orientated Poroshenko Presidency…

–> First of all, it has to be realized that Ukraine is weakest precisely in the short-term. An election would give Poroshenko a democratic mandate to carry him through the coming years of austerity and economic hardship, after which the situation will inevitably start to look up again (conveniently just in time for the 2018 elections). The pro-Russian electorate is getting older, and is concentrated in the demographically weaker eastern provinces; all else equal, the political power of the European vector is bound to increase over time at the expense of the pro-Russian vector. Meanwhile, passions in Russia over Crimea will die down, and Putin will start becoming preoccupied with the next election cycle.

The primary challenge, then, is just to survive the next few months.

I am assuming that Russia does not want to annex Donetsk – what for? it’s a subsidized rustbelt – but to use it as a lever for federalization, the consequent development of tight links between the SE provinces and Russia, and eventually, possibly, their independence (Novorossiya) or outright annexation. This can be preempted by Kiev offering decentralization itself, but in a manner that minimizes the actual political autonomy offered to the provinces. Incidentally, this is EXACTLY what Yatsenyuk and co. are doing – they are not the naive, limp-wristed fools that many here take them for.

Since the current authorities do not enjoy legitimacy in the east, especially in Donetsk/Lugansk, using force now is a pretty stupid idea. Especially since the local siloviki have either defected, or are apathetic. I suppose Kiev can still use units from the far west or mercenaries, but that would be doubling down on the stupid. Let them occupy administrative buildings for the time being, while painting them as foreign agents who don’t represent the will of the people (which is, again, what is actually being done). Administrative functions can be moved elsewhere for the time being. Absolutely no fire orders to avoid giving Moscow any kind of excuse for more overt intervention. Take solace in the fact that, at least before February, the opinion polls showed that no more than a third of Donetsk residents – the most seccesionist province – actually wanted full independence/merging with Russia. In the meantime, all efforts should be focused on stabilizing the economy. If that doesn’t happen – worse, if Crimea flourishes against this backdrop – then Kiev might have to deal with a Maidan 3.0 before too long, and not in the east but on the streets of the capital itself. How to stabilize the economy? Short of the EU/US putting their money where their mouth is, it will have to open up serious discussions with Russia. And this will require concessions. You might not think that fair, but it’s a fact. At least for the time being, promise to halt EU integration, and pointedly ignore Crimea (don’t accept it as Russian, but also don’t make scenes about it). Yes, this will enrage the Maidan, but unless I seriously underestimate Right Sector’s power, the caretaker government should survive long enough to run the elections and hand the Presidency to Poroshenko.

Once that is done, and full control over the country is regained as the effects of cadre replacements make themselves felt, promises made before can be broken (they can say they were made under duress, and/or that they were made by Turchinov, and Poroshenko is another Preisdent). As Kolomoysky said, “Promise the scum everything, then hang them.”