“What Would Russian Recognition of Separatist Territories in Ukraine Mean?”

Interestingly, a writer at openDemocracy noticed that last week, the Russian parliament gave Putin the green light to recognize Ukraine’s breakaway areas of Donbass and Luhansk. Despite that development, and the West supposedly having clever Russia experts, I don’t see any evidence that our military-intel apparatus or our Russia watchers gamed out this possibility. Mark Ames, who watches this beat much more carefully than I do, confirms this take:

To put it more bluntly, it’s as if the US was trying to goad Russia into a bar fight using typical macho aggression (chest-poking, insults, standing way too close). But instead of delivering the sought-after punch, Russia poured its beer on the West’s crotch.

As best I can tell, here is how the big pieces hang together, at a 50,000 level. The US is very mad at Russia for having turned what supposed to be a big setback in Ukraine into a victory by managing to wrest Crimea from the West.1 Those still suffering from TDS, most of all Hillbots, are even madder at Russia because Trump can’t possibly have won in 2016, those clever dastardly Russians must have poisoned our precious bodily fluids body politic. Oh, and interfered in 2020 too.

Trump made some friendly noises at Russia. But as Brookings pointed out, Trump’s talk didn’t match his actions. He imposed quite a few new sanctions.

In April 2021, Russia increased its troop concentration near the Ukraine border.2 Mind you, it normally had a fair number of military personnel there under ordinary circumstances. Russia made no demands. The West got all wound up about a possible invasion despite the lack of Russian form here and any particular reason to want to own Ukraine. The US imposed a bunch of new sanctions mid-April for alleged sins like 2020 election interference, the Solar Winds cyber hacking, Crimea (still!) and the poisoning of Alexander Navalny. These appear to have been in the works and not related to the martial moves. Russia reduced its troop concentration to its old normal at the start of May.

In November, Russia was widely reported in the West as increasing its troop concentrations again. The better informed commentators pointed out that the definition of “near the border” seemed to include bases 150 miles away, and even if there was an increase from recent levels, it was below the April peak, which got much less media play than this one did.

The Russians offered draft treaties setting forth what they wanted. The big demand was no NATO in Ukraine. That might not seem reasonable until you think through how the US would react if Russia started to arm Mexico and sent in lots of “advisers”.

The US refused to provide a written reply, yet accused Russia of not being willing to negotiate.

The war drumming from the West got louder. Macron tried de-escalating with a speech to the EU Parliament, a meeting with Putin, and a proposal, with Germany’s support, to revive the Minsk Accords, or at least the Minsk process. If you read the outline of Minsk I and Minsk II (2014-2015), it wasn’t even a real deal as much as a de-escalation, presumably to at least put a pause on hostilities and potentially open the door to wider-ranging talks. But the US never supported the deal and so it foundered. And these points, from the summary in Wikipedia, are presumably why:

Decentralisation of power, including through the adoption of the Ukrainian law “On temporary Order of Local Self-Governance in Particular Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts”.
To ensure the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and verification by the OSCE with the creation of security zones in the border regions of Ukraine and the Russian Federation…
To withdraw illegal armed groups and military equipment as well as fighters and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.

What I must confess I had not worked out (and I suspect all but the most interested US readers are in the same boat) is that calling Donbass and Luhansk separatist areas does not quite do the situation justice. “Separatist” evokes a considerable independence movement, like in Quebec, the Basque, or more recently Catalunya.

But Donbass and Luhansk have gone further by setting up, or at least trying to set up, actual republics. Wikipedia calls them “self proclaimed breakaway states.” This occurred in 2014, at the time of the Maidan regime change.

Of course Russia has been meddling, via providing arms, no doubt “advisers” and more recently, letting residents of the wannabe-breakaway regions get Russia passports.

Now let’s look at the recent timeline.

The appeal from the lower house of the Russian Parliament to Putin to recognize the separatist regions came on the 16th. It sounds as if they were reading the intel from the France-Germany-Ukraine discussions more attentively than Western leaders.

Then on the 17th:

I’m not sure this interpretation is correct, but it suggests that at least the separatists saw the Zelensky repudiation of Minsk as an escalation of hostilities:

Weirdly, on the 20th, the Wall Street Journal and others published the story: “Biden Accepts in Principle a Meeting With Putin Proposed by France’s Macron.” Maybe Macron still hoped the Minsk revival was not dead? Or the Putin-Biden meeting was on its own track and not yet registering new events?

Yet the Western press is braying that Russia repudiated the Minsk Protocol when it was simply taking a strategic path opened up by Zelensky trashing it.

In fact, this remark from Lavrov provides further support for the idea that Zelensky rejecting the revival of the Minsk Protocol was the trigger for the Russian recognition of the separatist regions, that they’d be willing to trade that (as in accepting Minsk means accepting Ukraine sovereignty over those regions, although Minsk also called for more regional autonomy and non-retaliation).

Frankly, Lavrov is likely just making deadly clear what the trigger was, since a US reversal is inconceivable at this point.3 If anyone at State were paying attention, he’s trolling them.

Some Twitterati also contend that implementing Minsk would serve to keep Ukraine out of NATO, since it would become a federation and would not be eligible to join (as in Minsk contained a poison pill). This is over my pay grade, so I would welcome informed input:

The Saker argues in a provocative piece that the US has reacted just as Russia expected, to Russia’s advantage. I’m not sure I’d be that triumphalist, but as in the Middle East, Russia again has played what looked to be a weak hand extremely well. Key parts (emphasis original):

Let me make this clear: this recognition should NOT, repeat, NOT, be seen in isolation.  It is just ONE PHASE in a PROCESS which began at least a year ago, or more, and there is much more to come.

Next, that must be repeated again, this is NOT about the LDNR, the Donbass or even the Ukraine, this is about a new security architecture on Europe and, therefore, on our entire planet.

This means that Russia expected exactly the reaction she eventually got (western politicians are fantastically predictable, being both ignorant, stupid and arrogant) and that gave her a legal basis to take the current action(call it R2P, or moral duty, or genocide prevention or whatever else you wish)….

Next, I want to mention four specific threats made by Putin today (note, since the PR folks at the Kremlin are still working at their usual snail’s pace, I will have to make them by memory, please keep that in mind):

  • Those responsible for the massacre in Odessa will be punished by Russia.
  • Putin is demanding an immediate cessation of the shelling and shooting along the LOC.
  • Russia will physically prevent the Ukraine from US/NATO deploying offensive weapons to threaten Russia.
  • Russia will show Banderastan how to organize a *real* “decommunization” (after indicating that the Ukraine was created by the CPSU)….

Unless the Ukies get it – and they probably won’t – I fully expect Russia to openly extend here “military umbrella” over the LDNR.  That does not mean that she will have to move troops in, though that now is also a possibility, but that any future Ukie ground operation will be countered by the full might of the Russian military.  Officially this time.  The Ukros along the LOC have heard it from Putin’s own mouth: we got a crosshairs on each one of you.  While I wouldn’t put *anything* beyond the Ukros, I believe that today’s clear threat will have a strong deterrent effect, whether the Ukies admit it (not gonna happen) or not.

Finally, to the issue of sanctions, which the Saker discusses and our Nick Corbishley is posting on in more detail.

First, the West made clear they were going to impose them no matter what, so any deterrent value was nil.

Second, the US has shot its sanctions wad. Russia has become more of an autarky despite or more accurately because the West has kept pounding it. All the US has left is Nord Stream 2. Russia can sell any surplus gas to China initially and diversify a bit more if it wants to later. In the meantime, sanctions would amount to the US cutting off Europe’s nose to try to spite Russia’s face.

Mark Ames’ comment on a long speech Putin gave after the Donbass/Luhansk recognition (I tried listening but the simultaneous translation was painful):

Now with that long-winded intro, to the alert openDemocracy piece that recognized that the Russian parliamentary vote was significant, even though it went of the rails on some key points, like assuming there would be no follow through. However, it argues that Russia has created facts on the ground that make the breakaway regions de facto parts of Russia.

By Dmitry Sidorov, who works for “Takie dela” and has also published with “Russkaya Planeta”, “Colta”, “Kommersant” and other independent Russian media outlets. Originally published at openDemocracy

“This is a Kremlin propaganda stunt against the backdrop of the crisis in Donbas,” Ukrainian political commentator Vitaly Portnikov said, when I asked why there are moves in Russia to potentially recognise the separatist territories in eastern Ukraine this week.

“If the Kremlin really wanted to recognise the independence of the territories, it would have been done completely differently. Putin would have suggested this, or at least Dmitry Medvedev” he added.

As an apparent invasion deadline came and went on Wednesday, the lower house of Russian parliament voted on Tuesday to send president Vladimir Putin an appeal to recognise the independence of the ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ and ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ – the pro-Russian separatist entities set up in eastern Ukraine after the country’s Euromaidan revolution in 2014. The push for recognition came from the Russian Communist Party. It was supported by 351 out of 450 parliamentary deputies.

Shortly after, firing resumed in the Donbas region, with a school in Ukrainian-controlled territory hit by shelling. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the “situation near the border of Russia can ignite at any moment”, referring to “provocative actions” by the Ukrainian military. On Tuesday, Putin referred to the situation in Donbas as “genocide”, provoking fears of further Russian military action.

To understand what Russia’s recognition of the so-called ‘People’s Republics’ could turn into, openDemocracy spoke to the Communist Party officials behind the initiative, as well as Ukrainian and Russian political commentators.

The Communists’ Proposal

“I find it funny when our political opponents and certain media say that the Communist Party is opportunist,” said Dmitry Novikov, first deputy chairman of the Russian parliamentary committee on international affairs. “The issue [of Donbas’ status] remains unresolved, and we have always proposed this kind of solution.”

As fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov called on the Russian authorities to recognise the independence of the ‘People’s Republics’ to “protect” them from the central Ukrainian authorities. The Russian authorities, another Communist parliamentarian, Nikolay Osadchii, told me, “were about to recognise [the separatist territories] – but at the last moment everything changed”.

Numerous reports have tied Russia to military intervention in eastern Ukraine, but it does not consider itself a party to the conflict. Ukraine, the US and the EU, meanwhile, regarded the independence referendums held in eastern Ukraine in 2014 as illegitimate. Russia “treated the results with respect”, but did not recognise them, though later recognised parliamentary elections held in the ‘People’s Republics’. At the time, separatist leaders asked directly to become part of the Russian Federation.

Yuri Afonov, another Communist Party MP, told openDemocracy he believed that recognition could prevent a “military adventure” by Ukrainian armed forces, citing the fact that more than 700,000 people living in the ‘People’s Republics’ now hold Russian passports.

Indeed, the Communist Party has lobbied to reduce the cost of applying for Russian citizenship for residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as a simplified application process. Afonov further remarked that the Communists have been “building integration ties with the [separatist territories] for several years”. According to official statements, the party has sent 93 humanitarian convoys to the Donbas since 2014.

On Tuesday, parliamentary deputies from the Communists, the ruling United Russia party, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia voted for the petition to recognise the two ‘People’s Republics’, which was drawn up by the Communists. Sixteen deputies from a new centre-Right party, New People, voted against.

The Communist Party’s initiative to recognise the territories does not say anything about the further integration of these entities into the Russian Federation, but economic, political and military ties are already in place. The Russian rouble is the official currency in the ‘republics’, residents with Russian passports voted in last year’s parliamentary elections in Russia, and a Russian presidential decree in November 2021 significantly simplified trade between Russia and the ‘republics’

“It was quite obvious: without recognising the republics according to the models of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it would be impossible to stop this conflict,” says Yuri Afonin, Communist Party MP. Novikov adds that the two breakaway territories in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, were recognised by Russia according to the same scheme as the Communist Party has proposed over Donbas: the process began, in part, via Russian parliamentary initiatives.

Against the backdrop of an unprecedented Russian military build-up, and measures to prepare for a military escalation inside Ukraine, this week Putin himself commented on the initiative to recognise the separatist territories.

“We must do everything to solve the problems of Donbas, but we should do this… first of all, based on the as yet unrealised opportunities for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements,” he said, referring to the deadlocked ceasefire and reintegration process.

While the Russian government’s reaction to the Communists’ proposal has been “extremely diplomatic”, said Communist MP Nikolay Osadchy, he believes it could still happen.

“We understand that these kind of matters are often decided overnight,” he said.

Abandoning the Minsk Agreements

“The Communists’ initiative is probably a PR move,” said Alexey Tokarev, a senior researcher at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

“It’s meant to say: we are here, we do not quarrel with the [Kremlin], we did not listen to you on domestic policy issues, but we can offer a loyal initiative on foreign policy issues,” Tokarev explained, referring to the Communist Party’s relative success at September’s parliamentary elections. The only possible scenario for Russian recognition would emerge, he believes, if there was a large-scale offensive by the Ukrainian armed forces.

Vitaly Portnikov, speaking to openDemocracy, agreed with Tokarev, calling the Communist Party “ordinary stupid puppets”. If the Russian authorities did go ahead with recognition, Portnikov believes, “the issue would be closed. Russia would have abandoned the Minsk Agreements. It would no longer be able to reproach Ukraine for violating them.”

He called the possible recognition a “gift for Ukraine” in the sense that it would lead to a deterioration in Russia’s position in the international arena, following the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the annexation of Crimea.

Likewise, Portnikov believes that the Kremlin will not agree to the recognition of the separarist territories: following a ceasefire, the Minsk Agreements foresee the reintegration of these territories back into Ukraine via a special autonomous status in the country’s constitution. Recognition of their independence, therefore, would remove the Kremlin’s most important lever for putting pressure on Kyiv.

“With the help of constant shelling of Ukrainian territory from the Donbas, Russia maintains political instability in Ukraine, maintains a feeling of constant war inside Ukraine,” he said.

Roman Tsymbalyuk, a former Moscow correspondent for news agency Ukrainian Independent Information Agency, agrees that Russia’s recognition of territories in eastern Ukraine will not lead to automatic peace, but suggests the overall situation could improve, as it could mean that Russia officially moves its military into the territories.

“The Kremlin will no longer be able to sing the song ‘We’re not there’, ‘They don’t listen to us’ [regarding the Minsk agreements], ‘We don’t know where they got their weapons from,’” Tsymbalyuk says. This could mean a ‘freezing’ of the Donbas conflict, he says, as in the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In general, “the residents of free Ukraine will be neither cold nor hot from the decision,” Tsymbalyuk said, since Russia already actually controls the territories in Donbas – in terms of media, military and finances, and now demographically, via mass passportisation.

Tsymbalyuk said it was important to understand the “two parallel processes” happening in Russia over eastern Ukraine.

“On the one hand, you have the public statements of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Putin, and on the other, there’s Russia’s actions on the ground: the maximum strangulation, killing, plundering of the [Donbas] region, turning it into an instrument of geopolitical bargaining.”


1 I don’t buy the annexation meme because the Russians already had a big base there, as in they were an accepted part of the landscape. And like it or not, the US legitimated “referendum as determination” in Kosovo, so we can hardly claim it’s not on in other contexts.

2 This was all within Russian territory. The US does provocative things outside the US, like war games near China, but we like to howl when the shoe might be on the other foot.

3 Mind you, I take Lavrov at his word: Russia would trade Minsk for having the “separatist” regions be part of Ukraine given adequate security and “devolved powers” type guarantees. But Russia would probably insist on more, um, clarity on those issues than before, and that would likely produce a breakdown in talks, even assuming the very unlikely scenario that they got started.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. The Rev Kev

    I’ll just offer up this initial comment and would suggest that this will have severe political repercussion for Biden/Democrats in the coming midterm elections. After the fiasco in Afghanistan, team Biden needed a win and so they went for a big one. They shouted that there was an imminent Russian invasion of the Ukraine each and every day for months. While doing this, they forced their ‘allies’ to adopt the same rhetoric no matter what their military people tried to tell them (one tried in Germany and lost his job as a consequence). At the same time they had NATO pump the Ukraine full of weapons and ammunition in an expected Ukrainian invasion of the Donbass. With Russia boxed in and the coming sanctions, the game plan was to make Russia accept whatever would be offered which would be very little. Well that game plan is toast now and Team Biden has been completely outmaneuvered. So the American political effects that I was talking about? Before, Republicans will go into the midterms bellowing that Team Biden lost Afghanistan. And now? Republicans will now go out and say that Team Biden lost Afghanistan AND the Donbass – and all in six months. If Team Biden was smart, they should sign that Iranian deal to get some sort of win on the boards and have American companies go into Iran to create jawbs at home. But I won’t hold my breath.

    1. US Jackpot

      “team Biden needed a win”

      Get away from your idea of what a win is. Remember that US politicians are paid to represent corporate interests, not national interests.

      They have gotten a big win: NS2 will not be operating for a looong time = gutting German and European competitiveness. The US economy has long stopped producing and inventing anything except for legal arbitrage (think Teslas burning on the street, Uber screwing drivers, Escooters polluting cities etc.etcetc). Its economic elite is a perverted predatory class that wouldnt be able to invent a door to get out of a room. They cannot compete unless others are cut down.

      Here we are: war in Europe, far away from US, EU cut off from gas through local traitors running the errands of foreign states through NATO and EU-bodies, killing our economy. We people losing our jobs whereas Baerbocks of EU are “ready to pay any price” as long as they are guaranteed to get extremely high government salaries and kickbacks from US-financed organisations as well as the opportunity to fail upwards and upwards killing the next institution (Wave goodby to the Norwegian Sovereign Fund with Stoltenberg as Chairman. His purpose will be to make it a US property).

      As Dmitry Orlov asked us: what are we going to do about our elites?

      1. c_heale

        I would like to make an assumption. NS2 means nothing to the man on the street. Losing a war in the Ukraine – because this looks like the most likely outcome – will. And going into an economic depression will destroy the democrats at the next election.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Russia just increased Iran’s leverage, and given everything especially the US response and now Biden response to Iran, yeah, I don’t see a deal being so simple. The next president of Brazil wants to mirror the Russian relationship with China. Then the Euros went along with Trump.

      If they were smart, they would have treated Trump like the aberration they claimed and undone his policies swiftly like his treatment of Cuba and Iran. It would send a message or release the Covid vaccines. They aren’t smart.

    3. Dave in Austin

      I’ve got to disagree with the Rev Kev’s position that the crisis is a response to the US failure in Afghanistan.

      From close to day one of the Biden administration there has been an effort to not only provide arms (which are both offensive and defensive) to the Ukraine and heat-up the frozen conflict but also to do absolutely anything to stop the completed (and paid for) NordStream II pipeline from opening.

      All the later (post Afgan-debarcle) parts of the crisis flow as inevitable consequences from the arms/NordStream actions during the first months of the Biden administration. But I grant that the recent Biden “put more chips in the pot” may stem from an urge to look strong after the Afghan evacuation.

    4. T_Reg

      It’s really pathetic that endng a forever war, and NOT starting a war that could go nuclear, are seen as liabilities.

  2. Tor User

    For what is it worth, the Biden administration claimed they did consider this possibility.

    However it may not matter as the word from the breakaway republics is that Ukraine must withdrawal from the remainder of the two ‘oblasts’ as the Kyiv controls more than half of them by physical size.

    “vice speaker of Luhansk has asked Ukraine to voluntarily withdraw from Luhansk Oblast or face the consequences.”

    And in the perhaps prerecorded (a few frames from the video showed the time on the Russian Defense Minister wrist watch that didn’t match the time in Moscow) the Defense Minster said something along the lines of we should just recognize the entirety of eastern Ukraine and Putin told him to stick to the matter at hand.

    Then this:

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Ukraine does not have a right to sovereignty


    Later Putin said that Ukraine was an exception after people pointed out that would include a lot of places like the Baltic’s.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Regarding your opening statement, they’d say that regardless. And actually must have, at a minimum someone must have noticed the Russian parliament move as this author did and dismissed it for the same reason he did. Put it another way, the deflated reaction that Ames highlighted says any “considered” does not = “took seriously”.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Having it written in that the Donbass Republics want control back of all the territory in their Oblasts may be a poison pill designed for NATO. To join NATO, you cannot be at war with another country nor can you have any major territorial disputes with another country as well. So by having this gray area of territories, if NATO countries want to vote the Ukraine into NATO, that would almost be a direct declaration of war against the Donbass Republics by NATO which, due to the treaty that they have just signed with Russia, means also a war with the Russian Federation. I cannot see NATO countries going along with that and already a few rebelled about this self-created war against the Donbass Republics by the US and some NATO countries.

      1. RabidGandhi

        I’m not sure how much that’s worth. Back in the 90s, Cypriots were sold entry into the EU on the grounds that the Mighty European Union could never legally stand to have part of its territory, recognised as such under international law and multiple UN resolutions, occupied by a foreign power. Fast forward a few decades, and that foreign power still occupies a third of the country illegally.

        I expect Nato, whose relationship with rules is even more polyamourous than the EU’s, would readily adapt to whatever Washington the situation dictates.

        1. aleric

          And another EU power occupies an additional third, which they share generously with their major non-EU ally.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          I was in Greece in the early 90s when Poppy Bush came for a visit, and the locals wanted to know what he was going to do about Cyprus. Clearing the answer was nothing. That some Greeks already knew that might explain the bomb threat at the Thessalonike airport during the visit, one which I didn’t much appreciate traveling through said airport at the time.

          NATO’s charter isn’t worth the paper it was printed on. NATO was supposed to be a defensive organization but they’ve ignored that a few times in recent decades in order to bomb those who wouldn’t do what the US wanted. Seems pretty clear the US will do with NATO what it wants, when it wants, or at least that’s what the US would like to think. Time for someone to call their bluff.

    3. Dave in Austin

      Reading the Larvov statement I don’t see him saying that the Ukraine does not have a right to sovereinty. According to RT:


      “Russia will acknowledge the borders of the two breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in line with where local leaders exercise authority and jurisdiction, the Kremlin has announced, after Moscow formally recognized the two regions as independent states. At present, Ukrainian forces control large swaths of the territory to which the separatist leaders lay claim.

      Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, explained that Moscow would support the Donbass republics in their territorial dispute. That meant acknowledging them “within the parameters they declared themselves,” he said. He added that this would be dependent on “when the two republics were proclaimed,” but declined to provide further information.
      Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko later added that Moscow will respect the borders as local leaders exercise authority and jurisdiction.”

      I take this to mean for now, Russia is going in as far as the OSCE-monitored cease-fire line in order to stop the shelling. However if the Ukrainians keep it up we will change our position and support the maximalist demands of the breakaway regions.

      As in Quebec, Catalonia and the Aaland Islands, the recognition of language rights is critical. The 2014 Ukrainian government decree that all schools must teach in Ukrainian (at a time when not one school in Donesk did so because everyone spoke Russian) was what triggered the revolt in the first place. So if the Ukraine- which has apparently not enforced the decree- decides to make the rest of the eastern Ukraine teach in Ukrainian, the Russians will probably go in and, as was the case of the Sudetenland in 1938, the invaders will be greated as liberators.

  3. Louis Fyne

    —I don’t see any evidence that our military-intel apparatus or our Russia watchers gamed out this possibility. —

    If one wants to be cynical—remember Biden flubbed his admission that a “minor incursion” would be tolerated by the US during his Jan 19 press conference. Then that line was walked back frantically the next day.

    Maybe the Pentagon gamed out yesterday’s events and bluntly told Biden that starting Cold War 2 over two breakaway republics about the size of New Jersey was stupid.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I took “minor incursion” to be a limited move. Definition of incursion:

      an invasion or attack, especially a sudden or brief one.

      For instance, the Golan Heights gets shelled all the time and shells back. I took it to be that level of dustup, except with troops actually crossing the border. And recall that one of those regular tit for tats nevertheless served as the pretext for Israel’s war on Lebanon.

      And at the time it came off as Biden saying the US would make proportional response to Russian aggression, as opposed to laying out a particular scenario

    2. OnceWereVirologist

      I don’t see any evidence that our military-intel apparatus or our Russia watchers gamed out this possibility.

      I agree and it seems truly bizarre as this always seemed the obvious sidestep for Russia to take. If NATO refuses to pressure Ukraine to implement Minsk, and refuses to offer any assurances on NATO membership and is going to sanction Russia anyway, then why not just recognize the breakways independence and have them invite in Russian “peacekeepers” on the model of South Ossetia. Sure it’s the most obvious propaganda ploy imaginable but the optics of Russian tanks crossing the border without a shot fired aren’t too bad at all. Better optics at least than slaughtering thousands of Ukrainian soldiers in a counterattack if they wait for the Ukrainians to try and forcibly reintegrate the rebel territories. Also hard to gin up the long-term popular outrage they would need to raise a new and permanent Iron Curtain across Europe if there aren’t piles of dead bodies.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        The US fp establishment is a decrepit orientalist facade. Treaties aren’t functionally respected. Miley has publicly stated he’s surprised at China’s position. Really. When Putin says Minsk, the US ambassador says I know it’s a city.

        The Pentagon does know retaliation is possible and that the 750 billion doesn’t all go to actual defense. We have enough to throw a small country against the wall, but we can’t do much else. Aircraft carriers are junk these days which means all our ships are junk from a force projection standpoint. They can likely protect trade and respond to those disruptions.

        I presume the Pentagon assured Biden nothing can be done. We don’t have the men or material to fight the Russians on their border. It’s the same with the Chinese. Iran too. Dempsey is reported to have had to explain to Kerry that Syria could hit our ships and bases with their missiles. Biden and Democrats are only prepared for Democratic SMRT wars. For the most part they pretend Libya never existed.

        Then the combat readiness is in question too. Despite the pivot to Asia, the 7th fleet is a mostly floating joke.

  4. Sardonia

    As Putin and Biden take their seats, preparing for their Ukrainian chess match, I can envision their thought bubbles:

    Putin – “Let’s see, what’s my best strategy for this… A Queen’s Gambit? The Sicilian? Ruy Lopez? Or the Nimzo-Indian?”

    Biden – “Huh, I forget – how do the little horsies move again??”

    1. Donald

      That was funny.

      The first half of last year I thought maybe I had been wrong about Biden. Really wanted to believe the stuff about a new FDR. He was going to end the war in Yemen, restart the Iran deal, create something like a New Deal.

      Boy, was I ever an idiot.

      1. ian

        I’ve lived long enough to have followed him throughout his career.
        Sadly, he hasn’t surprised me at all.

  5. LawnDart

    I believe that the LOC (Line of Contact) roughly bisects Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Western borders of each republic are for the most part not clearly delineated by geographical features (use Google maps satellite view to check this out) such as a river or what-have-you.

    How much time will Russia give Ukraine to withdraw its troops from the LOC and out of the republics proper before penality of obliteration?

    I cannot find the link right now, but during my restless wanderings of insomnia I came across a report stating that the shelling has mostly stopped– don’t know if there’s any truth to this, but, yeah, Russian “peacekeepers” are not like NATO or UN peacekeepers– if you mess with Russian peacekeepers you are almost certain to quickly find the peace that only finality can bring.

    It seems that the USA machinations that accelerated with Ukrainian coup of 2014 have only served to accelerate the empire’s decline into irrelevance– we’ve shot our feet with so many holes that it’s almost amazing that we can still stumble around the world causing trouble. It’s like that old drunk at the bar who thinks he’s still a tough-guy– until you see him one morning hunched over, black eye, sucking a beer through busted lips, quiet and keeping to himself for a change.

    I have an ex who was/is a splitter, liked to shit-talk about my friends and family, and tried to keep attention focused on her. Hurting people amused her, and gave her a sense of control. The USA very much reminds me of this ex, and why she’s an ex. I had to file for an Order of Protection from her, from her craziness and aggression. I would suggest that Europe/Germany do the same: the USA really doesn’t give a shit about Ukraine– this is all about keeping Europe under our thumb and out of any sort of relationship with the other guy.

    1. Louis Fyne

      The Russian government’s decree is that the current “line of current” will make the border between independent LPR-DPR and Kiev-controlled Ukraine.

      That fact hasn’t been made clear by Western news outlets.

    2. Carolinian

      Thanks and thanks for the above discussion. There is the possibility that Putin has in one stroke put an end to the crisis and any notion of negotiations as well. If Ukraine wants to make war over it they’ll reap the whirlwind. Biden will have to go back to campaigning on the economy which he just made worse.

      Check and mate.

    3. Cesar Jeopardy

      When you spend $700+ billion on military, as the U.S. does, there is almost endless chaos that can be created and continued around the world. I see no end to this. More likely it will continue at a higher level now that the U.S. has decided that it must lead the world again.

  6. Samuel Conner

    The analogy to “Ukraine accession to NATO” that occurred to me was “Texas seceding from US and entering into a military alliance with China.” I would imagine that this would alarm the national leaders of the residual US.

    That our leaders appear to be unable to perceive the world from other people’s points of view suggests to me that they have significant cognitive abnormalities or impairments.

    The thought occurs that as Russia becomes more and more an autarky and consequently can decouple fiscal and monetary policy from the pressures of foreign exchange rates, it could take advantage of that ‘fiscal policy space freedom’ even more fully than the standard ‘for instance’ MMT test case of US.

    Perhaps Russia will be the country that shows the world what a monetary sovereign can actually do (within the constraints of its real resources).

    1. James

      It’s a good observation to make that the Western leaders seem incapable to consider political situations from others’ point of view. However I don’t think it stems from our leaders having ‘cognitive abnormalities and impairments’

      I think the reality is that our whole global capitalist system is currently setup and maintained by the United States for the benefit of the United States ruling class. It is all backed up by the threat of implicit violence for straying too far out of the Washington Consensus, with the hundreds of military bases all around the world and titanic military spending

      The leaders can’t ever deviate from holding the supremacy of the empire as sacrosanct. For to act with, as most everyone would regard as sober rationality, they think would be interpreted as weakness and would show chinks in the armour of the empire. That cannot be tolerated. Any unraveling of any threads of the tapestry of empire has to be prevented at all costs. So the end result is the leaders will never back down and will always seek to dominate every political antagonism

    2. Louis Fyne

      IMO, more like…. Imagine a Trump II USA in Jan 2024. Then Vermont breaks away and declares independence. Then Canada moves in its troops to Montpelier and Burlington to help the Vermonters.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        More like a successful 1/6 followed by a Sheldon Anderson accession, then a New England”breakway” occurred after Republicans supported by China declared victory. The constitutional norms weren’t respected with a looming election in 2014 too.

        “Light and transient” is my standard..

  7. David

    I don’t think anyone who’s been paying attention to NC over the last few weeks can have been surprised by this. I rather suspect the professional analysts weren’t either, but these days the politicisation of intelligence is such that they probably weren’t listened to. As several of us have noted, what the Russians want is a cordon sanitaire such that NATO troops and nuclear weapons are kept as far away from its borders as possible, and to destabilise Ukraine and prevent it being used as a base for operations. They are on the way to getting that now, and there’s not a lot the West can do about it. The most likely scenario is not massive troop movements into the “republics”, but just a tripwire presence of enough Russian forces to make the Ukrainians think twice about coming in.

    Two other points. There are precedents for this kind of creation of min-states in periods of crisis and conflicts. The obvious example was Bosnia, where there were two allegedly independent states, Herceg-Bosna set up by the Bosnia Croats and administered in detail from Zagreb, and the Republic Srpska, organised by the Bosnian Serbs, which a looser and somewhat conflictual relationship with Belgrade. In the first case, Croatian soldiers were actually deployed into Bosnia. So there are precedents.

    I don’t understand the federal argument at all. There are plenty of federal states in the world (Belgium, for example, or even Switzerland), but the state still has an identity for diplomatic purposes. By the same token Ukraine would have to leave the UN, and would have no diplomatic relations with anyone.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the last comment. I can’t imagine France and Germany supporting Minsk if it clearly equalled “no NATO”. But I wondered if there might be an implementation of it that could get to that end. Seems not. And in any event the US is not big on respecting treaties, so we’d interpret it as not regardless.

      1. Skip Intro

        I tend to feel the NATO membership rules are more like guidelines. The US never lets rules get in the way. I assume the various US poodles in EU capitols understand that as well.

        1. David

          Not in my experience. The rule about disputed borders has always been key for the US, because Congress (the swivel-eyed lunatics aside) has always hated the idea of being dragged into a war far away that they cannot control. This was the origin of the second alinea of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

      2. Polar Socialist

        I don’t think either France or Germany want Ukraine in the NATO, to be honest. To my understanding the main issue in integrating the anti-Maidan regions in some semi-autonomous federated way to Ukraine was that the regions would never agree to NATO membership in any way or form, and would have sufficient power to prevent that.

        USA, Canada and Germany are all members and federal states while Bosnia and Herzegovina is a federal state with a NATO Membership Action Plan.

        I bears repeating that a big part of this hoopla was and is about a possible future NATO membership of a country whose population is not actually that keen on the membership and which most NATO countries don’t really want as a member. So, like a bunch of sensible adults, here we are…

    2. Keith Newman

      @David re federation

      I live in the province of Quebec which is a member of the Canadian federation. Quebec controls education, language, health care delivery, immigration (negotiated with the federal gov’t), provincial environment, and some others I can’t think of now.
      The rebellion in Ukraine began after the national government banned the use of Russian in a variety of areas. Not surprisingly the majority Russian regions were unhappy. I have thought that the demand for a federation under Minsk was quite reasonable and indeed clever.

    3. Raymond Sim

      I don’t think anyone who’s been paying attention to NC over the last few weeks can have been surprised by this.

      Indeed, it’s pretty much exactly what paying attention to NC had led me to expect. I can (slowly, painfully, with a dictionary) read Russian, and am a bit of a Slavophile, but nonetheless, what I’ve found myself saying over and over regarding Covid applies here as well – that I could seem so prescient compared to those supposed experts who wield power and influence in our country is truly appalling.

      Contemplating my grandchildren’s future, I’m aghast.

  8. Karol

    re footnote 2: In March 2021, Zelensky released a presidential order to ‘bring back’ the separatist regions under his authority (together with explicit instructions to his armed forces). This would explain the military biuldup of the Russians in April 2021..

      1. Dave in Austin

        I knew the March Zelanski statement, but I’m still being surprised by some of the very early moves after Biden took office. It is not clear if Biden, his staff or the Ukrainians are pushing these desasterous pawns forward. A good chronology of the $600 million in arms to the Ukraine via Congress and the White House might tell us when this play was written and by who.

        As for me, I’ve gotten pretty good at seeing history coming down the tracks toward me and stepping aside. I sold all my stocks except Southwest Air (Americans will always go on vacation) in December. So I stand to make a fair amount of money from this trainwreck but I’m still pretty depressed

  9. Radhika Desai

    Yves, you said: ‘Some Twitterati also contend that implementing Minsk would serve to keep Ukraine out of NATO, since it would become a federation and would not be eligible to join (as in Minsk contained a poison pill). This is over my pay grade, so I would welcome informed input’.
    Well, if it became a federation, the federated units woudl have to agree to joining NATO and the Donetsk and Lughansk would not.
    As it stands, at this point, also Ukraine cannot join NATO as it has disputed borders.

    1. Samuel Conner

      > As it stands, at this point, also Ukraine cannot join NATO as it has disputed borders.

      This would appear to have been the point of Russian recognition of the LNDR.

      If NATO won’t trustworthily promise to not admit Ukraine to the alliance, there are ways to use the NATO treaty to prevent that admission.

      It would seem that sometimes a ‘rules-based’ order works against the desires of the rule-makers.


      Am I alone in thinking that this has a bit of the ‘feel’ of Obama vs Clinton in 2008? One side read the fine print; the other assumed it knew what it was doing.

        1. Pat

          Unfortunately so is the incompetence and total disregard of possibly devastating consequences. Removing an annoyance and getting a political win with vast waves of possible problems also reminds one of invading Libya.

  10. Carolinian

    From Alastair Crooke

    “The recent conflict in the South Caucasus was a clash between Azerbaijan’s twenty-first century tactics and Armenia’s twentieth century military. The result was a rout. NATO member Turkey’s superior military training and equipment gave Azerbaijan a decisive edge and completely overwhelmed Armenian forces with their Russian training and supplies”, the Atlantic piece argued.

    “The new team at the White House, closely following a script announced by the Atlantic Council, declared that Crimea and the Donbas must be put back on the table. That meant, as explained by a Biden official, a “very extensive and almost constant focus on Ukraine – from day one.”

    Is this Atlantic Council notion – that the Azeri-Armenian conflict provides a blueprint for Ukraine to use Turkish drones to defeat the Donbas forces – at the root of today’s invasion fantasy? Notably, on 3 April 2021, Ukraine’s military announced on Facebook that military exercises would be conducted with five NATO powers in Ukraine’s eastern regions later in the year: “In particular,” it said, “defensive actions will be worked out, in order to restore the state border …”.

    Putin in his speech talked about new weapons pouring into Ukraine. Could it be that the Bidenistas planned to take back Donbas and even Crimea with Turkish drones and this new move is big brother Russia stepping in to save their Donbas comrades (as they always said they would)? In short another huge miscalculation by the Atlantic Council and neocon wackos.


    1. V V Gerasimov

      The Russians weren’t worried a bit over the Turkish drones. Just like the entirely overrated US military, the drones may be effective against overmatched 3rd World armed forces, but they are entirely worthless against modern peer militaries (Russia and China). For Russian AA and EW defenses, working from their own territory, it would be like swatting flies.


      1. Carolinian

        “against Russian defences”

        But that’s the point. If Putin didn’t intervene there would be no Russian defenses. Now there are.

        Putin said he did what he did yesterday to stop another bloodbath. I believe him

    1. Pate

      Immediately after President Biden’s sanctions announcement this afternoon – including that Germany has bowed to the demise of Nord Stream 2 – guess who appears on CNBC to tout the urgent need for “infrastructure buildout” (gas pipeline) to … ready? … “the coast”. At segment end Williams Company CEO Alan Armstrong finally admits that the needed infrastructure is for the export of LNG to Europe. This the essence of US foreign policy the last half century including Russia/Ukraine: control the world energy market. I’m long the Williams Company.


  11. nippersdad

    That is my understanding as well. Ukraine could not join now because of the civil wars they are presently having, and thus they do not actually have the “sovereignty” they would need to join NATO. Agreement to the Minsk II protocol would have enshrined the right of the Donetsk and Luhansk as semi-autonomous states to veto Ukraine’s accession to NATO and was, therefore, seen as a poison pill.

  12. Pookah Harvey

    Vladimir Pozen did a good job in describing the Putin/Russian mindset that led up to the current crisis in a Yale lecture back in 2018. He covers the actions of the West which led to Putin’s Russia that now says “enough is enough”. Putin had set up red lines that the West has ignored. The whole lecture is interesting but the most pertinent part lasts about 15 min beginning around 13:00.
    Pozen has previously pointed out that Russia sees itself as playing the same games that NATO used in the Serbia Kosovo conflict. Russia decried that NATO action against a Russian ally and was ignored. So I guess they figure what was good for the goose is good for the gander.

  13. Soredemos

    “I don’t buy the annexation meme because the Russians already had a big base there, as in they were an accepted part of the landscape.”

    By this logic the US can claim Rhineland-Palatinate because Spangdahlem Air Base exists.

    “Mind you, I take Lavrov at his word”

    Why at this stage would you trust the word of any Russian government official about anything?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Huh? Lavrov has been consistent.

      Regarding Crimea, they had a referendum about joining Russia. That was the process we used in Kosovo. I did not unpack my remark: Some have tried to spin the Russian troops being in Crimea as occupation when the troops had already been there.

      1. faktograf

        AFAIK there was no referendum in Kosovo. The proclamation of independece was voted on in parliament only.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I did not suggest that but that may explain why Russia acted in 2014 on Crimea and not then on the rebel regions. Of course, the real estate was better too.

        2. The Rev Kev

          Russia did say at the time that making up a brand new country without holding a plebiscite of the people as required by the UN laws of self-determination would be a terrible precedent that would come back to bite them. They called Kosovo a NATO creation and that the people were just along for the ride – under the leadership of crims that were guilty of organ-trafficking.

      2. Soredemos

        And it was nonsense in Kosovo when we did it. And that it was nonsense was the Russian stance for decades, until they themselves found it convenient to do it as well.

  14. philnc

    “What would Russian recognition of separatist territories in Ukraine mean?” Didn’t concentrate in US history, but I can recall the names of two “breakaway republics” in 19th century North America: the Republic of Texas (1836) and Californian Republic (1846). In both cases immigrants from the United States rebelled against Mexican rule and declared their independence before inviting their country of birth to annex them.

  15. Susan the other

    I’m an old cynic but even I am surprised by how stupid we have been. Outmaneuvered at every turn by Russia. I’m left wondering what the next brilliant plan is for Germany. They can either say oh, never mind, we really do want to do the NS2 deal, or they can commit industrial suicide. I hope they left themselves a way to reinstate NS2 without too much fanfare. Which makes me think that the West/NATO has known all along that this was a lost cause – attempting to have a slow motion pogrom on Russians in the Donbass in order to strong-arm Russia to give “Ukraine” more oil/gas. That doesn’t make any more sense than the rest of it. It looks more like we are in full blown desperation; like war looking for a cause. With professional agitators like Blackwater and the Banderistas. And as we kick up the dust, the Russians simply mop the floor. The Russians are patient; they are playing expert defense. Their patience is another weapon because time is not on our side. They are forcing us to drop the first bomb. If Biden is not in fact senile, then he will see this clearly. I’m left hoping that is the case and he will have the courage, once again, to end our prolonged failure. Just get us out.

  16. VietnamVet

    Joe Biden is in a very hard place and too old. The tragedy is that he does not perceive this and he truly believes last century’s “light on the shining hill” propaganda despite his family’s grifting and his hair sniffing. Much higher energy prices like in 2008 or even higher adjusted for inflation are now a given. His Administration is betting that the coronavirus behaves identical to the flu virus and fades away in the third year unlike the 1889 Russian flu that persisted to 1895. Worker shortages and unrest are ignored. Good governance is gone.

    If severe sanctions are imposed that prevent the importation of oil from Russia, America’s second largest source, and Nord Stream 2 to Germany stays closed; multi-nationals (donor oligarchs) with high energy costs and shortages will not be happy, drivers in US gasoline lines pissed, and Germans freezing. There is no face saving way to deal with Ukraine now. NATO may try to keep the low grade trench warfare going but Russia at some point will tire of this and will take Odessa to get revenge for the neo-Nazis 2014 massacre of ethnic Russians and then on to Kiev. Ukraine proxy forces will retreat to Lviv. Ukraine could be partitioned and the fighting stopped. But Joe Biden will be tagged as the Loser of Afghanistan and Ukraine.

    The one sure thing is that the Ukrainian war with Russia will be horrific and will not go as planned. But every wargame run on a shooting war between Russia and the USA (NATO) ends in a nuclear exchange. Russia and the U.S. each have 1,600 active deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Their use will kill western civilization.

  17. Daniil Adamov

    “I don’t buy the annexation meme”

    I have to wonder, what do you think is meant by “annexation”? Yes, we already had a base there. Yes, the majority of the population was in favour of this (and for many good reasons). Nonetheless, what was a Ukrainian region was appropriated into Russia. What do you call that if not an annexation?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not just in favored, had a referendum. And as readers corrected me above, this was a way more democratically robust process than NATO deemed legit for Kosovo.

      1. Daniil Adamov

        A low bar to clear, as I understand… I said favoured because the referendum was nevertheless obviously rushed. Even if it is dismissed for those reasons, as I think is reasonable, no one in their right mind doubts that the majority supported it at the time. (Since then, this majority became even bigger due to the brilliant Ukrainian response of waging economic warfare on Crimea’s population and screwing over the loyal part of its citizenry.)

        My point stands, though, this is an annexation. A very clean and easily justified one, true.

  18. Daniil Adamov

    “A PR move that will probably just mean freezing the conflict” is by far the sanest take on this. I do not understand the noise that either the pro-Western alarmists or the pro-Russian triumphalists are making over this. It is really not a big deal, unlike some of the related developments. If anything, it just means that we have found a good way to climb down without seeming to climb down.

    (Of course, we could still invade the rest of Ukraine, but that was always the case. There is no material change here, except for some troops being moved officially into the region, which, if anything, is also a sign of deescalation, as it would be strategically awkward to attack from the one area the Ukrainians have well-covered.)

    1. Raymond Sim

      Would the counterpart to Kremlinology be “Blobology”? I’m sure it’s an unwholesome pursuit, but I’ve been unable to resist indulging in it these past few days.

      I suspect our leadership really, truly expected significant Ukrainian offensive operations in Donbas, not allowing for the possibility that the troops on the ground might not actually be very inclined to do such things. The events I saw reported looked quite consistent with a wet firecracker offensive.

      I half-remember a пословица that involved the phrase “как горке на горе”. In Ukraine I think that, even for Azov troops, U.S. influence only looms large in a small way. It sure can take a lot to get everybody to notice that sort of thing though.

      1. Daniil Adamov

        It is difficult to resist trying to read into the actions of world leaders. I suppose it is not necessarily wrong (we have to try and understand them somehow, if only so we would know when to take cover), but one must be careful with that sort of thing, bearing in mind the thick fog of war.

        With that in mind, I do think that so far everyone is posturing to achieve their own ends, while allowing for the small possibility that a local conflict will erupt anyway (after all, they, too, are dealing with a fog of war – they don’t really know each others’ minds). Then the posturing will seem prescient.

  19. Johnny Rube

    We’ve been here before with Crimea. Taken by Russia without hardly a shot being fired, because it was majority Russian. It appears more firepower is being used in eastern Ukraine, but so far … the violence is not ratcheting up. Let’s hope so for the people living there. And let’s hope the Biden administration, beset by yet another foreign policy loss, doesn’t lose its cool. Nord Stream 2 is completed, therefore it will be used. It never did make sense for Germany to buy US LNG at three times the price.

    1. Susan the other

      There was an interesting item linked by RT today about Olaf Scholz. Apparently he’s a closet Green. And believes that NS2 is not a good choice for the environment. I wonder if he prefers coal? What his green talk sounds like is good old-fashioned hedging. Well, we can always do NS2 but we need to maintain our green mandate, etc. Face saving.

      1. Synoia

        The best solution for NS2 is to replace it with 300,000 peasants, pedaling 7×24 on indoor generating bicycles.

        100,000 peasants = approx 1 Megawatt. (10 watts per hour per peasant)

Comments are closed.