It takes courage to stick your neck out on Russia at a time like this:
This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admin/NATO had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO, which would mean US/NATO forces right on Russia’s border
— Tulsi Gabbard ? (@TulsiGabbard) February 24, 2022
Gabbard is correct: the West did not have to wind up at this juncture with Russia over Ukraine. But surprisingly, some key press outlets are kinda-sorta acknowledging that the quick Russian movement of soldiers and equipment into the Donbass falls into “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” terrain. This is the lead item from the New York Times’ daily e-mail summary:
This is remarkably measured for a house organ of the military-intel state. We’ll turn to Putin’s statements on Russia’s intentions soon, since some of the more, erm, ambitious ones seem to have been overlooked. However, the flip side is that that if you accept the precedent that the US used in Kosovo, it’s hard to depict Russia sending its military into Donbass as an invasion when it was invited in.1
Mind you, additional actions by Russia beyond what are very narrowly necessary to defend and assist the people of Donbass can be depicted as aggression against Ukraine. Here Putin appears to be trying to tread a fine line. As we have said repeatedly, Putin does not have any interest in conquering Ukraine. However, he also wants Ukraine no longer to serve as a staging ground for US/NATO operations against Russia. How to achieve the latter end is not at all obvious.
Those who aspire to global dominance have publicly designated Russia as their enemy. They did so with impunity. Make no mistake, they had no reason to act this way..
Even now, with NATO’s eastward expansion the situation for Russia has been becoming worse and more dangerous by the year. Moreover, these past days NATO leadership has been blunt in its statements that they need to accelerate and step up efforts to bring the alliance’s infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. In other words, they have been toughening their position. We cannot stay idle and passively observe these developments. This would be an absolutely irresponsible thing to do for us….
The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.
It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.
If you read the address, it is far more sharp-edged than Putin’s speech when he recognized the breakaway republics and the press conference shortly afterwards. It also confirmed our reading that the immediate trigger was Ukrainian president Zelensky rejecting the Minsk Protocol. That was the template that Russia had pressured the Donbass to accept and Germany and France had also signed.
Putin was caustic about the US dismissiveness about Russia’s concerns and interests. He also gave a warning:
Putin has warned that if other countries interfere with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, they will be met with “consequences that you have never experienced in your history”. pic.twitter.com/ryXQz20p0U
— Kevork Almassian???? (@KevorkAlmassian) February 24, 2022
However, let’s return to the issue that we’ve flagged repeatedly. Putin made clear that he regards the West hardening its line about arming Ukraine as an existential threat to Russia. Zelensky threatened to develop nuclear weapons:
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“The US gave the orders to Zelensky to threaten the development of nuclear missiles. That is what brought this to a head. The US knew that was going to happen and wanted it to happen. They are leading Putin around as in a dog collar.”
— Pepe Escobar (@RealPepeEscobar) February 22, 2022
And as Putin set forth in some detail, Ukraine already has so many of the necessary nuclear capabilities that the last steps are within reach.2
But how does Putin square the circle? It’s one thing to send men and materiel into Donbass, rout the members of the Ukrainian military that are there, and engage in border operations (sorties, back and forth shelling, and so forth). This could be very nasty but would fall within the confines of being asked to assist Donbass.
But then we have Putin’s intent to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. I presume for the latter he means the removal of the neo-Nazis from the government. This sounds a lot like “regime change” Russia style.
On Tuesday, after recognizing the separatist republics but before moving troops in, Putin in his press conference said he hoped to resolve the conflict via negotiations and presented Minsk again as a solution. But his “demilitarize and denazify” alternative at a very minimum require strikes on Ukraine bases and equipment installations. There’s plenty of precedent for trying to damage a country’s war-making capacity without an occupation. For instance, our napalming of Vietnam and Cambodia was partly as a weapon of terror but also to defoliate, so as to expose movements of North Vietnamese units.
For instance, this is what John Helmer though “denazify” could amount to:
A limited denazification campaign would involve the roundup of everyone who was involved in the burning of the House of Unions in Odessa and several war crimes of the so-called Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) of 2014.Then Russian redeployment to the DPR and LPR, and war crimes trials there. Even guessing about that arouses more questions than it solves.
While this sounds like a bridge way too far, it also appears there isn’t a great deal of European enthusiasm even for the wet-noodle-lashing level sanctions the US proposed as of the day before the um, incursion. From Colonel Smithers via e-mail:
A former colleague now at the European Banking Federation in Brussels advised the following this morning on sanctions:
Banking: Opposed by Austria, France, Germany and Italy. France exposed directly and via Italy.
Energy: Opposed by most member states.
Luxury goods: Opposed by France and Italy. France exposed directly and via Italy.
Diamonds: Opposed by Belgium and the Netherlands.
Railway infrastructure: Opposed by France and Italy.
And this is simply remarkable:
Zelensky called HIM?! ? so…
Biden didn’t have the DECENCY to pick up the phone to call the President of a country NATO convinced to give up its Nuclear Arsenal promising it would be “protected” by Europe and US. ?
Wow. What a leader. What an ally. What a guy. https://t.co/vPSa1QaztT
— Trish Regan (@trish_regan) February 24, 2022
Having said that, the US is really really really unhappy about Crimea now being part of Russia. The US might attempt to Do Something about that. Ukraine has already asked Turkey to close the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus straits to Russian warships. It’s not clear if Turkey will comply.
The Saker continues to be too triumphal in his tone, but he did make the correct call in predicting hostilities would escalate quickly. His observations about Western options:
I have been saying it for a long while already: there is no “US policy” left, all that’s left is chaos, corruption, gross incompetence, maniacal delusion of still being the planet’s Sheriff combined with a rather comical belief that the US can scare Russia into submission…
In fact, the US has announced that there will be no Putin Biden meeting and no Lavrov Blinken meeting either. I am sure that both Putin and Lavrov are sobbing in abject fear and total despair…
There is a good chance that all this will end up with a full severance of diplomatic relations between Russia and the USA (along with a few EU Tabakis à la UK).
Furthermore, to show the “determination of the US led free West” the US is sending a few hundred extra troops to the Latvia. And some helicopters from Italy to Poland. And if that was not terrifying enough, Canada’s Trudeau is also sending a few hundred extra Canadian troops to the Baltics.
At this pace, in a few weeks NATO might have a “combined regiment” safely tucked away somewhere in Poland or the Baltics, while knowing full well that Russia will never use any force against the 3B simply because Russia has exactly zero interest in, or desire for, them or their lands.
In fact, these statlets are as much in freefall as Banderastan, why should Russia want them? As for Poland, the more neutral ground between them and Russia, the better for Russia. In history both Russia and Germany have tried to manage Poland, now it is the time for the USA to give it a shot. I wish both the Poles and the US Americans a lot of fun – amusez-vous bien! (though it is still better to have to administer the Polish colony than the Ukie one.
The truth is that even if all the Ukraine’s neighbors simply and magically were allowed to take all the Ukrainian territory they want, a lot would be left unclaimed (most of the central and northern part).
That how bad a shithole country 404 has become… Maybe somebody will just fence them in and feed them like in a zoo?…
Again, Putin said that he fully intends to disarm the Ukraine, at least from all her heavy weapons. Since the Ukies won’t give them up, I see only one way to achieve this: disarm them by force.
As former British civil servant David wrote:
I really think it’s NATO that’s going to suffer the most: indeed, I think that is probably the wider strategic objective. Who, after all, wants to be a member of a military alliance that is reduced to hand-waving and threatening economic sanctions? What’s it even for?
The CEE nations never, I think, realistically, expected NATO partners to commit suicide for them, but they must have hoped that some actual reaction to Russian threats in the future was possible, beyond banning the export of Louis Vuitton handbags, or whatever is finally decided.
Some of us have been talking about the military decline of NATO for years, but most people were stuck in the Cold War mindset, and didn’t listen. if you think about it, this might be Bin Laden’s final revenge.
So here are the Russians, who have a serious conventional land-based military capability, saying, OK, that’s our backyard, and if you don’t like it, eff off. I rather think we’ll have little choice but to eff off. What this is going to do to the Policy Blob in Washington I can’t even begin to imagine. Heads must be exploding.
I wonder if what I just said about NATO doesn’t equally apply to the EU.
I can imagine a common political position of horrified hand-waving in the short term. But what comes afterwards? Time passes quickly for some of us, and I just realised it’s more than thirty years now since the Common Foreign and Security Policy was established, as well as some kind of a common security policy and the distant perspective of common defence. So little has actually happened that it’s hardly worth mentioning, and the problem remains what it always was: the lack of a common strategic understanding and strategic priorities.
So what have the last thirty years actually accomplished? What have small states in eastern Europe actually gained? Might they not have been better advised to join the Russian sphere of influence? At least the Russians have a serious military capability.
I rather think this is the first day of the Post-Post-Cold War era.
Update 9:00 AM EST: Russia is taking the aggressive version of its promise to demilitarize Ukraine, and quickly too. It has moved men and troops in on three fronts. I have to admit I thought Russia be more surgical and rely more on an air war, but Putin did make a warning in his speech yesterday that Lambert picked up on and I should have too:
Of course, this situation begs a question: what next, what are we to expect? If history is any guide, we know that in 1940 and early 1941 the Soviet Union went to great lengths to prevent war or at least delay its outbreak. To this end, the USSR sought not to provoke the potential aggressor until the very end by refraining or postponing the most urgent and obvious preparations it had to make to defend itself from an imminent attack. When it finally acted, it was too late.
As a result, the country was not prepared to counter the invasion by Nazi Germany, which attacked our Motherland on June 22, 1941, without declaring war. The country stopped the enemy and went on to defeat it, but this came at a tremendous cost. The attempt to appease the aggressor ahead of the Great Patriotic War proved to be a mistake which came at a high cost for our people. In the first months after the hostilities broke out, we lost vast territories of strategic importance, as well as millions of lives. We will not make this mistake the second time. We have no right to do so.
Now the question is what will Russia do? I still don’t think Russia intends to occupy Ukraine. Being an occupier is costly and earns you the hatred of the subject population, which also creates risks back at home. And Ukraine is a mess, poor governance structures, tons of corruption. Nation building isn’t a great project either in general and in particular in countries that were pre-existing basket cases.
The least bad outcome would be to get Ukraine to sue for peace. Another option might be for referenda (some territories in the east would probably follow Donbass and want to be independent). But what becomes of the more European West? Putin wants a denazified government, which I believe would require the exodus of 10-15% of current officials.
Best take so far, hoisted from comments below:
February 24, 2022 at 8:41 am
The Telegram channel of “colonelcassad” is in Russian and is comprised of real time updates.
Google Translate does a good job.
It looks to me the intent is to seize most of Ukraine, disarm it, throw the luckier members of the Azov battalion in a gulag, and then carve the territory up on a regional basis via referenda leaving a rump Galician state centered on Lviv for the EU to handle.
Size of army notwithstanding the Ukrainian armed forces are disintegrating and especially Eastern and Southern Regions see the 2014 Kyiv regime as illegitimate.
In fact I highly doubt most Ukrainians want to fight for a puppet state run by and for oligarchs.
It appears that the credible threat by Zelensky to develop nuclear weapons was the deciding factor; hope all the back slaps from Munich were worth such tough talk.
A German chancellor making light of genocide claims in the Donbas was also clarifying for any waverers in the Russian leadership.
The major risk now is one of the mentally deficient NATO leaders deciding to activate some real military support.
Praying this does not happen but especially the British establishment seems deranged. Special forces are no doubt on the move and aim to interfere and sow chaos in some manner.
The Western public opinion seems to be either “not our fight” – if blue collar – or “exterminate the Russian untermenschen” – if PMC.
Domino theory is the spectre animating concern in elite circles.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin have a lot to answer for.
Remember the citizens of the USSR were not in favour of its dissolution- by a supermajority in nearly all Republics.
The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help.
In this context, in accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.
Alexander Yunashev: Alexander Yunashev, Life.
Mr President, yesterday, in your address to the Russian people you cited Zelensky, and it seems to be not for the first time, as saying that Ukraine might get nuclear weapons again and Ukraine might join the nuclear club.
Vladimir Putin: I have just mentioned it. We take it that these words were primarily addressed to us. I want to say that we have heard them. Ever since Soviet times, Ukraine has had fairly broad nuclear competencies, they have several nuclear power units and the nuclear industry is fairly well developed, they have dedicated schools, there is everything there to solve this issue much faster than in those countries which are solving matters from scratch. I will not enumerate them, you know all about it anyway. This is number one.
They only lack one thing – uranium enrichment systems. But this is a matter of technology, it is not unsolvable for Ukraine, it can be remedied quite easily. As to delivery vehicles, I think I already said in yesterday’s address that they have old Soviet-made Tochka-U missiles with a range of 100 plus kilometres, 110 kilometres. This is also not a problem in view of the competencies, say, at Yuzhmash, which used to manufacture intercontinental ballistic missiles for the Soviet Union.
What is the threat to us? The appearance of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is a strategic threat to us. Because the range can be extended from 110 kilometres to 300, to 500 – and that is it, Moscow will be in the strike zone. This is a strategic threat to us. And that is how we took it. We definitely must and will take it very seriously.