Ukraine

Ukraine: Scapegoat of NATO expansion

//
281 views
19 mins read

Nearly a year in, the war in Ukraine has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and brought the world to the brink of, in President Joe Biden’s own words, “Armageddon.” Alongside the literal battlefield, there has been a similarly bitter intellectual battle over the war’s causes.

Commentators have rushed to declare the long-criticized policy of NATO expansion as irrelevant to the war’s outbreak, or as a mere fig leaf used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to mask what former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called “his messianic mission” to “reestablish the Russian Empire,” in a Washington Post opinion piece. Fiona Hill, a presidential adviser to two Republican administrations, has deemed these views merely the product of a “Russian information war and psychological operation,” resulting in “masses of the U.S. public… blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome.”

Yet a review of the public record and dozens of diplomatic cables made publicly available via WikiLeaks show that U.S. officials were aware, or were directly told over the span of years that expanding NATO was viewed by Russian officials well beyond Putin as a major threat and provocation; that expanding it to Ukraine was a particularly bright red line for Moscow; that such action would inflame and empower hawkish, nationalist parts of the Russian political spectrum; and that it could ultimately lead to war.

In a particularly prophetic set of warnings, U.S. officials were told that pushing for Ukrainian membership in NATO would not only increase the chance of Russian meddling in the country but also risked destabilizing the divided nation—and that the United States and other NATO officials pressured Ukrainian leaders to reshape this unfriendly public opinion in response. All of this was told to U.S. officials in both public and private by not just senior Russian officials going all the way up to the presidency, but by NATO allies, various analysts and experts, liberal Russian voices critical of Putin, and even, sometimes, U.S. diplomats themselves.

This history is particularly relevant as U.S. officials now test the red line China has drawn around Taiwan’s independence, risking military escalation that will first and foremost be aimed at the island state. The U.S. diplomatic record regarding NATO expansion suggests the perils of ignoring or outright crossing another military power’s red lines and the wisdom of a more restrained foreign policy that treats other powers’ spheres of influence with the same care they extend to the United States.

An Early Exception

NATO expansion had been fraught from the start. The pro-Western, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin had told then-U.S. President Bill Clinton he “[saw] nothing but humiliation for Russia if you proceed” with plans to renege on the verbal promises made years earlier not to extend NATO eastward, and warned that this move would be “sowing the seeds of mistrust” and would “be interpreted, and not only in Russia, as the beginning of a new split in Europe.” Just as containment architect George Kennan had predicted, the decision to go ahead with NATO expansion helped inflame Russian hostility and nationalism: The Duma (the Russian parliament) declared it “the largest military threat to our country over the last 50 years,” while the leader of the opposition Communist Party called it “a Treaty of Versailles for Russia.”

By the time Putin became president the day before the new millennium, “the initial hopes and plans of the early ’90s [were] dead,” a leading liberal Russian politician declared. The first round of NATO enlargement was followed by the organization bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, which was done without the UN Security Council authorization, and triggered Russia to cut off contact with the alliance. By 2000, the revised Russian national security strategy warned that NATO’s use of force beyond its borders would be seen as “a threat of destabilization of the whole strategic situation,” while military officers and politicians started claiming “that if NATO expands further, it would ‘create a base to intervene in Russia itself,’” the Washington Post reported.

Ironically, there would be one exception to the next two decades’ worth of rising tensions over NATO’s eastward expansion that followed: the early years of Putin’s presidency, when the new Russian president defied the Russian establishment to try and make outreach to the United States. Under Putin, Moscow reestablished relations with NATO, finally ratified the START II arms control treaty, and even publicly floated the idea of Russia eventually joining the alliance, inviting attacks from his political rivals for doing so. Even so, Putin continued to raise Moscow’s traditional concerns about the alliance’s expansion, telling NATO’s secretary-general it was “a threat to Russia” in February 2001.

“[I]f a country like Russia feels threatened, this would destabilize the situation in Europe and the entire world,” he said in a speech in Berlin in 2000.

Putin softened his opposition as he sought to make common cause with then-President George W. Bush administration. “If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” he said in October 2001, drawing attacks from political rivals and other Russian elites.

As NATO for the first time granted Russia a consultative role in its decision-making in 2002, Putin sought to assist its expansion. Then-Italian President Silvio Berlusconi made a “personal request” to Bush, according to an April 2002 cable, to “understand Putin’s domestic requirements,” that he “needs to be seen as part of the NATO family,” and to give him “help in building Russian public opinion to support NATO enlargement.” In another cable, a top-ranking U.S. State Department official urged holding a NATO-Russia summit to “help President Putin neutralize opposition to enlargement,” after the Russian leader said allowing NATO expansion without an agreement on a new NATO-Russia partnership would be politically impossible for him.

This would be the last time any Russian openness toward NATO expansion was recorded in the diplomatic record published by WikiLeaks.

Allies Weigh In

By the middle of the 2000s, U.S.-Russian relations had deteriorated, partly owing to Putin’s bristling at U.S. criticism of his growing authoritarianism at home, and to U.S. opposition to his meddling in the 2004 Ukrainian election. But as explained in a September 2007 cable by then-President of New Eurasia Foundation Andrey Kortunov, now director general of the Russian International Affairs Council—who has publicly criticized both Kremlin policy and the current war—United States mistakes were also to blame, including Bush’s invasion of Iraq and a general sense that he had given little in return for Putin’s concessions.

“Putin had clearly embarked on an ‘integrationist’ foreign policy at the beginning of his second presidential term, which was fueled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks and good relations with key leaders like President Bush” and other leading NATO allies, Kortunov said according to the cable. “However,” he said, “a string of perceived anti-Russian initiatives,” which included Bush’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and “further expansion of NATO,” ultimately “dashed Putin’s hopes.”

What followed was a steady drumbeat of warnings about NATO’s expansion, particularly regarding neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, much of it from Washington’s NATO allies.

“[Former French presidential diplomatic adviser Maurice] Gourdault-Montagne warned that the question of Ukrainian accession to NATO remained extremely sensitive for Moscow, and concluded that if there remained one potential cause for war in Europe, it was Ukraine,” reads a September 2005 cable. “He added that some in the Russian administration felt we were doing too much in their core zone of interest, and one could wonder whether the Russians might launch a move similar to Prague in 1968, to see what the West would do.”

This was just one of many similar warnings from French officials that admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO “would cross Russian ‘tripwires’,” for instance. A February 2007 cable records then-French Director General for Political Affairs Gérard Araud’s recounting of “a half-hour anti-U.S. harangue” by Putin in which he “linked all the dots” of Russian unhappiness with U.S. behavior, including “U.S. unilateralism, its denial of the reality of multipolarity, [and] the anti-Russian nature of NATO enlargement.”

Germany likewise raised repeated concerns about a potentially bad Russian reaction to a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia, with then-Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel stressing that Ukraine’s entry was particularly sensitive. “While Georgia was ‘just a bug on the skin of the bear,’ Ukraine was inseparably identified with Russia, going back to Vladimir of [Kyiv] in 988,” Nikel recounted, according to the cable.

Other NATO allies repeated similar concerns. In a January 2008 cable, Italy affirmed it was a “strong advocate” for other states’ entry into the alliance, “but is concerned about provoking Russia through hurried Georgian integration.” Norway’s then-Foreign Minister (who is now the prime minister) Jonas Gahr Støre made a similar point in an April 2008 cable, even as he insisted Russia mustn’t be able to veto NATO’s decisions. “At the same time he says that he understands Russia’s objections to NATO enlargement and that the alliance needs to work to normalize the relationship with Russia,” reads the cable.

Almost Complete Consensus

The thinkers and analysts that U.S. officials conferred with likewise made clear that the anxieties of Russian elites over NATO and its expansion, and the lengths they might go to counteract it. Many were transmitted by then-U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns, who is presently Biden’s CIA director.

Recounting his conversations with various “Russian observers” from both regional and U.S. think tanks, Burns concluded in a March 2007 cable that “NATO enlargement and U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe play to the classic Russian fear of encirclement.” Ukraine and Georgia’s entry “represents an ‘unthinkable’ predicament for Russia,” he reported six months later, warning that Moscow would “cause enough trouble in Georgia” and counted on “continued political disarray in Ukraine” to halt it. In an especially prescient set of cables, he summed up scholars’ views that the emerging Russia-China relationship was largely “the by-product of ‘bad’ U.S. policies,” and was unsustainable—“unless continued NATO enlargement pushed Russia and China even closer together.”

Cables record Russian intellectuals across the political spectrum making such points again and again. One June 2007 cable records the words of a “liberal defense expert Aleksey Arbatov” and the “liberal editor” of a leading Russian foreign policy journal, Fyodor Lukyanov, that after Russia had done “everything to ‘help’ the U.S. post-9/11, including opening up Central Asia for coalition anti-terrorism efforts,” it had expected “respect for Russia’s ‘legitimate interests.’” Instead, Lukyanov said, it had been “confronted with NATO expansion, zero-sum competition in Georgia and Ukraine, and U.S. military installations in Russia’s backyard.”

“Ukraine was, in the long term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership,” stated the counsel of Dmitri Trenin, then-deputy director of the Russian branch of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a Burns-authored February 2008 cable. For Ukraine, he said prophetically, it would mean “that elements within the Russian establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S. overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving the United States and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.”

Indeed, opposing NATO’s enlargement eastward, particularly in Ukraine and Georgia, was “one of the few security areas where there is almost complete consensus among Russian policymakers, experts and the informed population,” stated a cable of March 2008, citing defense and security experts. Ukraine was the “line of last resort” that would complete Russia’s encirclement, said one defense expert, and its entry into NATO was universally viewed by the Russian political elite as an “unfriendly act.” Other experts cautioned “that Putin would be forced to respond to Russian nationalist feelings opposing membership” of Georgia, and that offering MAP to either Ukraine or Georgia would trigger a cut-back in the Russian military’s genuine desire for cooperation with NATO.

From Liberals to Hardliners

These analysts were reiterating what cables show U.S. officials heard again and again from Russian officials themselves, whether diplomats, members of parliament, or senior Russian officials all the way up to the presidency, recorded in nearly three-dozen cables at least.

NATO enlargement was “worrisome,” said one Duma member, while Russian generals were “suspicious of NATO and U.S. intentions,” cables record. Just as analysts and NATO officials had said, Kremlin officials characterized NATO’s designs on Georgia and Ukraine as especially objectionable, with the Russian Ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2011, Dmitry Rogozin, stressing in a February 2008 cable that offering MAP to either “would negatively impact NATO’s relations with Russia” and “raise tension along the borders between NATO and Russia.”

Then-Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin “underscored the depth of Russian opposition” to their membership, a different March 2008 cable stated, underlining that the “political elite firmly believes” “that the accession of Ukraine and Georgia represented a direct security threat to Russia.” The future, Karasin said, rested on the “strategic choice” Washington made about “‘what kind of Russia’” it wanted to deal with—‘a Russia that is stable and ready to calmly discuss issues with the U.S., Europe and China, or one that is deeply concerned and filled with nervousness.’”

Indeed, numerous officials—including then-Director for Security and Disarmament Anatoly Antonov, who is currently serving as Russia’s ambassador to the United States—warned pushing ahead would produce a less cooperative Russia. Pushing NATO’s borders to the two former Soviet states “threatened Russian and the entire region’s security, and could also negatively impact Russia’s willingness to cooperate in the [NATO-Russia Council],” one Russian foreign ministry official warned, while others pointed to the policy to explain Putin’s threats to suspend the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. “CFE would not survive NATO enlargement,” went a Russian threat in one March 2008 cable.

Maybe most pertinent were the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at the time a veteran diplomat respected in the West, and who continues to serve in the position today. At least eight cables—many, though not all of them, written by Burns—record Lavrov’s expressions of opposition to expanding NATO to Ukraine and Georgia over the course of 2007-2008, when Bush’s decision, over the objections of allies, to publicly affirm their future accession led to a spike in tensions.

“While Russia might believe statements from the West that NATO was not directed against Russia, when one looked at recent military activities in NATO countries… they had to be evaluated not by stated intentions but by potential,” went Burns’s summary of Lavrov’s annual foreign policy review in January 2008. On the same day, he wrote, a foreign ministry spokesperson warned that Ukraine’s “likely integration into NATO would seriously complicate the many-sided Russian-Ukrainian relations” and lead Moscow to “have to take appropriate measures.”

Besides being an easy way to garner domestic support from nationalists, Burns wrote, “Russia’s opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia is both emotional and based on perceived strategic concerns about the impact on Russia’s interests in the region.”

“While Russian opposition to the first round of NATO enlargement in the mid-1990s was strong, Russia now feels itself able to respond more forcefully to what it perceives as actions contrary to its national interests,” he concluded.

Lavrov’s criticism was shared by a host of other officials, not all of them hardliners. Burns recounted a meeting with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Gorbachev protégé who had negotiated over NATO’s first expansion with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who warmly eulogized him years later as a pragmatist. The U.S. push for MAP for Georgia and Ukraine “‘infuriated’ Russians and threatened other areas of U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation,” Primakov had said, according to Burns, mentioning Primakov was asked later that day on TV about rethinking Crimea’s status as Ukrainian territory. “[T]his is the kind of discussion that MAP produces,” he said—meaning that it inflamed nationalist and hardline sentiment.

“Primakov said that Russia would never return to the era of the early 1990s and it would be a ‘colossal mistake’ to think that Russian reactions today would mirror those during its time of strategic weakness,” Burns’s cable stated.

This went all the way to the top, as U.S. officials noted in cables reacting to a famously strident speech Putin gave at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007, which saw Putin assail NATO expansion and other policies as part of a wider, destabilizing U.S. abuse of its sole-superpower status. Putin’s tone may have been “unusually sharp,” Primakov told Burns, but its substance “reflected well-known Russian complaints predating Putin’s election,” shown by the fact that “talking heads and Duma members were almost unanimous” in supporting the speech. A year later, a March 2008 cable reported then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s farewell, two-hour-long meeting with Putin, in which he “argued strongly” against MAP for Ukraine and Georgia.

Putin’s Exit

Any illusions this stance would evaporate with Putin leaving the presidency were quickly dispelled. Such warnings continued and, if anything, grew more intense after Putin was replaced by his liberal successor, Dmitry Medvedev as president of Russia, whose ascent sparked hopes for a more democratic Russia and an improved U.S.-Russian relationship.

Under Medvedev, officials from the Russian ambassador to NATO and various officials in the foreign ministry to the chairman of the Duma’s international affairs committee made much the same warnings, cables show. In some cases, as with Karasin and Lavrov, it was the same officials making these long-standing complaints.

Medvedev himself “reiterated well known Russian positions on NATO enlargement” to Merkel on his first trip to Europe in June 2008, even as he avoided bringing up MAP for Ukraine and Georgia specifically. “Behind Medvedev’s polite demeanor, Russian opposition to NATO enlargement remained a red-line, according to both conservative and moderate observers,” one June 2008 cable reads, a view shared by a leading liberal analyst. Even critics to his right read Medvedev’s words as “an implicit commitment to use Russian economic, political and social levers to raise the costs for Ukraine and Georgia” if they moved closer to the alliance. The cable’s author, then-Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Daniel Russell, concluded he “agree[d] with the common wisdom.”

By August 2008, following the war with Georgia, Medvedev started to sound a lot more like his predecessor, threatening to cut ties with the alliance and restating grievances about encirclement. A cable from after the end of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia—which an EU-commissioned report would later blame the Georgian government for starting—stated that “even the most pro-Western political experts” were “pointing the finger at the U.S.” for jeopardizing the U.S.-Russian relations, with U.S.’s dismissal of Russia’s concerns over, among other things, NATO expansion being a key part of their analysis. Echoing Burns, one analyst argued that Russia finally felt “strong enough to stand up to the West” when it ignored its concerns.

Those concerns were central at a roundtable of Russian analysts months later— a January 2009 cable showed—who explained to a group of visiting U.S. congresspeople Russians’ “deep displeasure” with the U.S. government, and stressed the “bitter divorce” between Russia and Georgia would be even uglier with Ukraine. Pushing MAP for the country “helped the ‘America haters come to power’ in Russia and gave legitimacy to the hard-liners’ vision of ‘fortress Russia,’” said one Russian analyst.

Increasingly, cables show, such warnings came from liberals, even those who hadn’t previously viewed NATO and the United States as Russia’s chief threats. An August 2008 cable described a meeting with Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Ambassador Vladimir Lukin—described as “a liberal on the Russian political scene, someone disposed toward cooperation with the U.S.”—who explained Medvedev’s post-war recognition of the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions, which he had at first opposed, as a security-driven response to NATO’s drift toward Russia’s borders. Because escalations like the 2008 U.S.-Poland missile defense agreement showed anti-Russia actions “would not stop,” he said, “Moscow had to show that, like the U.S., it can and will take steps it deems necessary to defend its interests.”

The cable concluded that Lukin’s views “reflect the thinking of the majority of Russian foreign policy elite.”

Selling NATO to Ukraine

Other than Burns—whose Bush-era memos warning of the breadth of Russian opposition to NATO expansion and that it would provoke intensified meddling in Ukraine have become famous since the Russian invasion—U.S. officials largely reacted with dismissal.

Russian objections to the policy and other long-simmering issues were described over and over in the cables as “oft-heard,” “old,” “nothing new,” and “largely predictable,” a “familiar litany” and a “rehashing” that “provided little new substance.” Even NATO’s ally Norway’s position that it understood Russian objections even as it refused to let Moscow veto the alliance’s moves was labeled a case of “parroting Russia’s line.”

U.S. officials were similarly dismissive of explicit warnings—from Kremlin officials, NATO allies, experts and analysts, even Ukrainian leadership—that Ukraine was “internally divided over NATO membership” and that public support for the move was “not fully ripe.” The east-west split within Ukraine over the idea of NATO membership made it “risky,” German officials cautioned, and could “break up the country.” Ukraine’s three leading politicians all “took foreign policy positions based on domestic political considerations, with little regard to the long-term effects on the country,” one said.

Those very politicians likewise made clear public opinion wasn’t there, whether anti-Russian former Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ogryzko of Ukraine, or more Russian-friendly former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych—later misleadingly painted as a Kremlin puppet and was ousted as president in the 2014 Maidan protests—who boasted to a U.S. diplomat that support for NATO had jumped under his tenure. In response, the cables show, NATO officials pressed Ukrainian leaders to take a firm public stance in favor of joining, and discussed how to persuade Ukraine’s population “so that they would be more favorable [toward] it.” Ogryzko later disclosed to Merkel “that a public education campaign is already underway,” and that Ukraine “had discussed the issue of public education campaigns with Slovakia and other nations that had joined NATO recently.”

This came in spite of acknowledged risks. Cables record liberal Russian analysts cautioning “that [then-Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko was using NATO membership to shore up a Ukrainian national identity that required casting Russia in the role of enemy,” and that “because membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics, it created an opening for Russian intervention.”

“Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war,” Burns wrote in February 2008. Russia, he further wrote, would then “have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”

Despite the dismissive attitude of many U.S. officials, parts of the U.S. national security establishment clearly understood Russian objections weren’t mere “muscle-flexing.” The Kremlin’s anxieties over a “direct military attack on Russia” were “very real,” and could drive its leaders to make rash, self-defeating decisions, stated a 2019 report from the Pentagon-funded RAND Corporation that explored theoretical strategies for overextending Russia.

“Providing more U.S. military equipment and advice” to Ukraine, it stated, could lead Moscow to “respond by mounting a new offensive and seizing more Ukrainian territory”—something not necessarily good for U.S. interests, let alone Ukraine’s, it noted.

Warnings Ignored

Nevertheless, in the years, months, and weeks that led up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, successive U.S. administrations continued on the same course.

Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO has “deepened over time,” the alliance itself says today. By the war’s outbreak, the country frequently hosted Western troops at a military base, Ukrainian soldiers received NATO training, it planned two new NATO-linked naval bases, and has received unprecedented sums of U.S. military aid, including offensive arms—a former President Donald Trump policy his liberal predecessor had explicitly rejected, out of concern for provoking a disastrous response from Moscow. Three months before the invasion, Ukraine and the United States signed an updated Charter on Strategic Partnership “guided” by Bush’s controversial Bucharest declaration, which both deepened security cooperation between the two countries and supported Ukraine’s membership aspirations, viewed as an escalation in Moscow.

As U.S. military activity has increased in the region since 2016, sometimes involving Ukraine and Georgia, NATO-Russian tensions have ratcheted up too. While Moscow publicly objected to U.S. missions in Europe that experts feared were too provocative, NATO and Russian forces have experienced thousands of dangerous military encounters in the region and elsewhere. By December 2022, with fears of invasion ramping up, Putin told Biden personally that “the eastward expansion of the Western alliance was a major factor in his decision to send troops to Ukraine’s border,” the Washington Post reported.

None of this means other factors played no role in the war’s outbreak, from Russian domestic pressures and Putin’s own dim view of Ukrainian independence to the copious other well-known Russian grievances toward U.S. policy that frequently appear in the diplomatic record, too. Nor does it mean, as hawks argue, that this somehow “justifies” Putin’s war, any more than understanding how U.S. foreign policy has fueled anti-American terrorism that “justifies” those crimes.

What it does mean is that claims that Russian unhappiness over NATO expansion is irrelevant, a mere “fig leaf” for pure expansionism, or simply Kremlin propaganda are belied by this lengthy historical record. Rather, successive U.S. administrations pushed ahead with the policy despite being warned copiously for years—including by the analysts who advised them, by allies, even by their own officials—that it would feed Russian nationalism, create a more hostile Moscow, foster instability and even civil war in Ukraine, and could eventually lead to Russian military intervention, all of which ended up happening.

“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said in the lead-up to the invasion, as his administration rejected negotiations with Moscow over Ukraine’s NATO status. We can only imagine the world in which he and his predecessors had.

This article is distributed by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord.

Why a Small City in Ukraine Is a Focal Point in the War

/
340 views
5 mins read

Since the Ukrainian army’s counteroffensive started gaining momentum in September 2022, the Russian army has largely been on the defensive. Russian drone and missile strikes continue to target Ukraine’s major cities, but its military forces have retreated from attempts to take KhersonKharkiv, or any other major Ukrainian settlement. Strong defensive fortifications built by Russian and Ukrainian armed forces across the frontline have stalled major advances as troops from both sides have mostly opted to dig in.

But the Kremlin has directed thousands of its forces since August 2022 to attack the small Donetsk city of Bakhmut. The war has in several ways been an “old-fashioned conflict, based on attrition, on devastating artillery strikes, and on dug-in positions reminiscent of the trenches of World War I,” as opposed to some of the quick offensives and counteroffensives that were seen during the first part of the current conflict.

According to a January 10, 2023, article in PBS NewsHour, the Ukrainian-backed governor of the Donetsk region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, “estimated more than two months ago that 90 percent of Bakhmut’s prewar population of over 70,000 had fled since Moscow focused on seizing the entire Donbas.” The fighting and destruction have only intensified since Kyrylenko made this statement, but the Kremlin appears intent on capturing Bakhmut for propaganda purposes and to tout a tactical victory after months of retreats. According to a Ukrainian analyst, “Bakhmut is mostly a political goal for Russia—it’s being done mostly for the sake of propaganda reasons to show everybody that after so many months and utter failures in Kherson and Kharkiv, it still can capture a more or less significant city,” stated a TRT World article.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has sought to prove that Ukrainian forces still have the capability to hold back the Russian advance, and made a surprise visit to Bakhmut on December 20. On January 9, 2023, Zelenskyy declared that the defense of the nearby city of Soledar had led to the gain of “additional time and power for Ukraine.” But the Ukrainian armed forces have had to divert “significant reinforcements” to the battle from other parts of the country since January, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense. And despite heavy Russian casualties, high Ukrainian casualties have also become a concern for Kyiv.

Western and Ukrainian officials have often downplayed the strategic importance of Bakhmut, depicting it as a sinkhole for Russian forces that may result in a “Pyrrhic victory.” Nonetheless, the phrase “hold Bakhmut” has become a Ukrainian rallying cry, and Zelenskyy’s visit demonstrated the growing symbolic importance of controlling the city.

Bakhmut, however, does possess some strategic value. Few major settlements exist to its west until the Dnieper River, and the flatter and open terrain would make Ukrainian attempts to reinforce from this direction vulnerable to Russian surveillance and firepower. Ukraine also has relatively poor road infrastructure, and Bakhmut serves as a critical juncture of transport and communication lines for Ukrainian forces in the region, including strategic supply lines to the Ukrainian-controlled settlements of Siversk, Lyman, Slovyansk, and Kramatorsk.

For Russia, seizing Bakhmut would allow it to disrupt these supply lines, as well as take pressure off the battle over Russia-controlled Kremmina, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting to recover. Bakhmut is therefore key to Russian attempts to consolidate and stabilize the Donbas, where Russia has fought since 2014 and initially made gains in 2022, before the Ukrainian counteroffensive in September.

Taking or destroying key industrial centers in the Donbas region will also reduce Ukraine’s industrial output, leading to its economy suffering further.

Bakhmut stands out as the only major area where Russian forces are on the offensive, but the frontline has been relatively stable up until recently. Yet throughout January 2023, Russian forces have moved to the city’s flank and made increasing gains in the nearby town of Soledar. After weeks of fighting, the Kremlin stated that Soledar had been captured on January 13, this was later confirmed by the Institute for the Study of War and Ukrainian armed forces.

Russian forces have enjoyed an advantage over Ukrainian forces in artillery numbers, and an early transition to a wartime economy by the Kremlin has further helped sustain months of relentless artillery strikes by it. Nonetheless, Russia has turned to countries like North Korea in recent months to obtain more artillery, and its artillery fire has decreased in recent days, according to U.S. and Ukrainian officials.

But Ukraine’s more limited artillery capabilities have also recently been threatened. Despite pleas for more 155-millimeter artillery rounds, Western manufacturers have struggled to supply an adequate quantity and ramp up production. This has forced the U.S. to ask South Korea for artillery and Washington also secured hundreds of thousands of 155mm artillery shells for Ukraine from its stockpiles in Israel. Meanwhile, according to U.S. defense officials, “A third of the roughly 350 Western-made howitzers donated to Kyiv are out of action at any given time.”

Western countries have now been focusing on delivering more advanced weapons to Ukraine, such as missile defense systems, tanks, and armored vehicles. Recent pledges by the UK and Canada to supply Ukraine with heavy vehicles (as well as pressure on Germany and the U.S. to do so as well) will no doubt help Ukrainian forces on the frontline. But with Russia currently dictating where the fiercest fighting will take place, Bakhmut’s vulnerability to artillery has made holding it a significant challenge.

Local militia groups and the Russian military have naturally played essential roles in the ongoing battle for Bakhmut and its surrounding regions. But perhaps most notable is that much of Russia’s recent progress has been made by the Russian private military company, Wagner.

Wagner has operated in Ukraine since 2014 and has expanded its reach to countries across Africa and the Middle East, while the company’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been keen to demonstrate his private army can accomplish major military objectives. Additionally, the deaths of Wagner mercenaries are not counted as official Russian casualties, making the costly effort to take Bakhmut easier for the Russian public to stomach. In early January 2023, the first Wagner fighters, who were “secretly pardoned convicts” recruited by the company returned home after completing their contracts, causing controversy in Russia and highlighting the role of the non-state actor in the conflict.

Western and Ukrainian observers believe that Wagner troops have suffered casualties in the thousands. Prigozhin, meanwhile, stated on a telegram channel in November 2022 that “Our goal is not Bakhmut… [itself] but the destruction of the Ukrainian army and the reduction of its combat potential, which has an extremely positive effect on other areas, which is why this operation was dubbed the ‘Bakhmut meat grinder.’”

It is also suspected that Prigozhin aims to seize the salt and gypsum mines in the region, similar to other Wagner efforts to gain access to resources across conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.

The outsized role of Wagner in the battle, as well as Prigozhin’s growing profile in Russia, has led to significant tension between the oligarch and the Russian military. After the capture of Soledar, Prigozhin claimed this was solely due to Wagner, while the Russian Defense Ministry claimed a few days later that victory was thanks to the Russian armed forces without mentioning the Wagner mercenaries.

The dispute between the Russian military and Wagner has come amid a leadership shakeup among the top brass of the Russian military. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, replaced Sergei Surovikin as the Ukraine campaign’s overall commander on January 11. The change indicates the Kremlin’s frustration with the fledgling promises of the Russian armed forces. Nonetheless, the slow success of Russian artillery strikes in Soledar combined with Wagner troops shows that the two can work together.

But Bakhmut, so far, remains elusive for the Kremlin. Whichever side controls the city will have an advantage over any potential offensives later in 2023 and will have more say over where the next major battles take place. While Ukraine’s armed forces remain united under a more centralized command, the Kremlin will have to be careful of the growing tension between its armed forces, local militia groups, and private military companies.

Halt This Crazy Rush to All-Out War

/
408 views
2 mins read

The finest modern military thinker, Maj. Gen J.F.C. Fuller, wrote “the true objective of war is not military victory but the peace that follows it.’

Amen. Besotted by tribalism and propaganda, we often forget why we are fighting and what changes the current war will bring. We think killing fellow humans is a noble quest rather than the basest Stone Age behavior.

Case in point, the current war in Ukraine. There, ex-Russians now rebranded “Ukrainians” are battling Russia’s not so competent armies.

The United States and its vassals are pouring arms and money galore into the rebellious Ukraine – over $100 billion to date. This is an amazing amount of money considering hardly anyone in the US had ever heard of Ukraine and certainly couldn’t find it on a map, and that this flood of money comes from the US which is itself on the financial ropes and operating on borrowed money.

Getting America so deeply involved in the obscure Ukraine War was thanks to truly monumental propaganda produced by the six US government-controlled TV channels and court newspapers. Its 24-7 happy news about Ukraine and constant vilification of re-demonized Russia.

We are in fact involved in a war that dares not speak its name. Russia denies it’s a war at all and claims to be fighting a recrudescence of Euro fascism. The US and its subservient allies also deny a war is going on, while pouring arms and munition on an almost WWII scale into Ukraine – whose government the US spent $5 billion overthrowing.

Russia won’t call this war a war, still pretending it’s a `police action’ – rather like the past US invasions of Panama, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. But, as western arms and covert troops pour into Ukraine and Russia can’t manage to field adequate troops or weapons, holding on to the ‘police action’ fiction is preposterous.

What’s happening in Washington is that the Democrat neo-liberals smell Russian blood and are intoxicated by the prospect of first Russian defeat in Ukraine, then the collapse of the current Russian federation made up of 83 supposedly sovereign units. Russia is very fragile and vulnerable to foreign-engineered unrest. Russia’s Far East is dangerously exposed between US and Chinese ambitions.

The dramatic transformation of most of the formerly staunch communist republic of Ukraine into an arch-anti-communist Kyiv republic is a dire warning signal for Moscow. Russian leader Dimitry Medvedev just warned that Russia’s defeat in Ukraine would trigger a nuclear war. He could be right.

The leading American neocon, Victoria Nuland, boasted that it cost only $5 billion to overthrow Ukraine’s former inept communist regime and replace it by a TV actor, Volodymyr Zelensky. The Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine don’t even have a capable spokesman.

It’s by now clear that the so-called non-war in Ukraine is dangerously escalating towards a full-scale US-NATO-Russia war that might turn into World War III. The duty of great powers is to keep world affairs calm.

Instead, the US and its European satraps keep pouring fuel on the fire. Ukraine, once infamous as Europe’s most corrupt nation, is happily gulping down the billions from the US and Europe. Swiss banks are making a killing. So too arms manufacturers who had been facing flat or declining sales before this jolly little war.

Germany, the keystone of NATO power, is caught between its sensible goal of keeping good relations with Moscow and its subservience to Washington. If the Ukraine war intensifies, Germany will be caught in the middle – an obvious target for Russian tactical nuclear strikes.

Who in Washington has begun to add up the costs of keeping post-war Ukraine going. Without a steady inflow of billions from the US and its rich allies, Ukraine will likely collapse into warring fiefs. Worse, if Russia is somehow defeated, who will assume its financial upkeep and prevent this nuclear superpower from running amok? Will China sit back and allow its only major ally to be splintered? Would militants in China’s leadership not beat the war drums to re-occupy border regions lost in the 19th century to Imperial Russia?

Time for the Great American power to act to bring peace and stability, not more war.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis

Moscow’s Leverage in the Balkans

/
629 views
7 mins read

Since September, Kosovo’s fragile stability that has endured since 1999, following intervention by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has grown progressively precarious. Clashes between ethnic Serbians and Kosovo security forces saw Serbia’s military placed on high alert in November. Several high-profile Serbian officials, including President Aleksandar Vučić, announced that the Serbian military could be deployed to northern Kosovo to protect the ethnic Serbs, who make up the majority of the population in the region.

Moscow has natural incentives to provoke the crisis. An unraveling of regional security would create more obstacles for Serbia’s EU aspirations, optimistically slated for 2025. The West’s support for Kosovo has historically undermined Serbia’s European integration effort, and 51 percent of Serbs polled by Belgrade-based pollster Demostat in June 2022 said they would vote against EU membership in a national referendum.

But by escalating tensions, Russia can also prevent further EU and NATO expansion in the region, and potentially reduce Western pressure on Russian forces in Ukraine by diverging resources from Kyiv to the Balkans.

Throughout the 1990s, NATO took a leading role in the breakup of Yugoslavia, perceived to be dominated by Serbia. While the West supported Bosnian and Croatian independence initiatives and Kosovan autonomy, Serbia was supported by Russia. These policies led to considerable tension between NATO and Russia, with the Kremlin’s occupation of Kosovo’s Slatina airport in 1999 leading to “one of the most tense standoffs between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.”

However, Russia was too weak to adequately support Serbia in the 1990s. And after then-Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević was overthrown in 2000 and Russian forces withdrew from Kosovo in 2003, Serbian political elites instead pursued cautious integration with Europe while keeping the U.S. at arm’s length. At the same time, Serbia and Russia forged closer relations through growing economic ties, embracing their common Slavic Orthodox heritage, and sharing resentment toward NATO’s role in their affairs.

Territories under Serbian control continued to secede in the 2000s, with Montenegro peacefully voting for independence in 2006 and Kosovo in 2008. Yet unlike other secession initiatives in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo’s failed to gain universal recognition. Almost half of the UN General Assembly refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, with NATO/EU members Spain, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania among them.

Moscow was firmly against Kosovo’s independence, and prior to the February 2008 declaration of independence, the Kremlin warned of geopolitical consequences if it were to move forward. Six months later, Russia invoked the “Kosovo Precedent” to invade Georgia and recognized the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent. The Kremlin is now using the same paradigm to justify its support for Russian-backed separatist territories in Ukraine.

Currently bogged down in Ukraine, the Kremlin is exploring fomenting additional unrest in the Balkans by exploiting Serbian nationalist sentiment. Doing so will undoubtedly redirect some Western political, economic, and military efforts away from Ukraine.

Russia’s influence over Serbia has grown in recent years, and Serbian politicians have become more assertive regarding northern Kosovo. Though overall trade between Russia and Serbia is negligible in comparison to the EU, Russia provides one-quarter of the oil imported to Serbia, while Gazprom finalized 51 percent share in Serbia’s major oil and gas company, Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), in 2009.

Russia’s veto power at the UN Security Council has prevented greater international recognition of Kosovo, demonstrating Moscow’s usefulness as a diplomatic ally. Putin has, meanwhile, become Serbians’ most admired international leader, with pro-Putin and pro-Russia rallies having been held in Serbia since the invasion of Ukraine. According to recent polling, almost 70 percent of Serbians hold NATO responsible for the conflict.

Balancing Putin’s popularity and Serbia’s relations with Europe has been a delicate task for Serbian President Vučić. Though he condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he refused to implement sanctions against the Kremlin, prompting German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to signal that Vučić had to make a choice between Europe and Russia in June.

But the Serbian leader had already signed a three-year gas deal with Russia in May, and in September agreed to “consult” with Moscow on foreign policy issues. Other ventures, such as doubling flights from Moscow to Belgrade, have demonstrated Serbia’s willingness to assist Russia in undermining Western sanctions.

More concerning to Western officials is Russia’s attempts over the last decade to alter the military balance between Serbia and Kosovo. A Russian humanitarian center located in the Serbian city of Niš, which is close to the Kosovo border and opened in 2012, is suspected of being a secret Russian military base “set up by the Kremlin to spy on U.S. interests in the Balkans.” Additionally, Serbia has increased imports of Russian weaponry, while joint military exercises between Russia, Belarus, and Serbia (labeled “Slavic Brotherhood”) have been held annually since 2015.

Russian-backed non-state actors have in turn become increasingly present in Serbia. In 2009, Russian private military and security companies, as well as organizations composed of Russian military veterans, began conducting, in coordination with Serbian counterparts, military youth camps in Zlatibor, Serbia. These were seen as attempts to develop the next generation of fighters and were eventually shut down by the local police in 2018.

Russia’s Night Wolves biker gang, which has played a pivotal role in the 2014 seizure of Crimea and the unrest that has followed in Ukraine since, also opened a Serbian chapter and conducted road trips in the region for years. And in December, a cultural center was opened by the Russian private military company Wagner—which is similarly fighting in Ukraine—in Serbia, “to strengthen and develop friendly relations between Russia and Serbia with the help of ‘soft power.’”

Using these forces to threaten a low-level insurgency in Kosovo would cause enormous alarm in NATO and the EU. But Russia’s efforts to fan the flames of Serbian nationalism will also be directed toward Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country’s Serb-dominated territory, Republika Srpska, accepted power-sharing stipulations as part of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, and Russian forces similarly withdrew from the country in 2003.

Nonetheless, Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska (who was also the president from 2010-2018), has increasingly allied himself with the Kremlin and has taken greater steps toward declaring his region’s independence from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last decade. Republika Srpska security forces are now well-equipped with Russian weaponry, while Moscow has given subtle approval to supporting and developing Republika Srpska paramilitary groups. A Bosnian-Serb militia group called Serbian Honor is believed to have received training at the humanitarian center in Niš and the Night Wolves have also repeatedly held rallies in the territory.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Dodik has expressed his support for Russia, raising alarm over his ability to instigate unrest in Bosnia and Herzegovina with limited Russian state and non-state support. In response, the EU’s peacekeeping mission in the country, EUFOR or Operation Althea, almost doubled its presence from 600 to 1,100 since the invasion in February.

Yet this still pales compared to the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR), which has roughly 3,700 troops in a country with a smaller population and less territory than Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is further aided by the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). Pushing Republika Srpska’s independence initiative to a point where Russia can officially recognize and support it may in turn rapidly overwhelm the smaller international force there. It would also provoke calls for independence among Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethnic Croatian minority, whose leaders have close relations with Moscow.

Disagreements in the Western alliance over the collective approach to the Balkans have been revealed in recent months. While the UK and the U.S. placed sanctions on “various Bosnian politicians who are threatening the country’s territorial integrity,” the EU chose not to, notably due to opposition by Slovenia, Croatia, and Hungary. And while Croatia was accepted into the Schengen area in December, Romania, and Bulgaria, already EU members since 2007, were denied entry by Austria, while the Netherlands similarly opposed Bulgaria being part of the Schengen area.

Effectively managing potential violence in the former Yugoslavia while continuing the integration efforts of other Balkan EU/NATO members would prove to be a difficult procedure for the Western alliance. Billions of dollars in aid and assistance have already been provided to Ukraine in 2022. Confronting additional instability in the Balkans would also highlight the flaws of NATO policy in the region since the 1990s and the lack of a viable, long-term solution to confront the issues plaguing the Balkans.

Yet regional integration efforts have picked up in recent months. In July, the EU restarted membership talks of bringing Albania and North Macedonia into the organization, Bosnia and Herzegovina was officially accepted as a candidate on December 15, and Kosovo applied for EU membership on December 14. NATO membership for both Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina remains largely on hold, however, and is currently out of the question for Serbia, which considers NATO its “enemy.”

Considerable work will be required to integrate these divided states into the Western alliance, and recent attempts to speed up this process have been largely unsuccessful. The scheme by former President Donald Trump’s administration to change the Serbia-Kosovo border amounted to little, while the proposed Association of Serb Municipalities in Kosovo has been criticized for outlining the creation of another Republika Srpska.

The role of Russian intelligence and Serbian nationalists in the attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016, which sought to derail the country’s NATO accession, reveals the lengths to which Moscow will go to achieve its aims. Western officials must, therefore, remain wary of Russia’s potential in the region. Escalating unresolved Balkan conflicts is now a major part of the Kremlin’s attempts to stall Western integration in Europe and take pressure off its war with Ukraine.

This article was produced by Globetrotter

How Organized Crime Plays a Key Role in the Ukrainian Conflict

/
513 views
6 mins read

On November 1, the deputy director of Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation downplayed remarks made on October 30 by an agency official, who warned of Western weapons bound for Ukraine being smuggled into Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Nonetheless, the affair generated significant attention and reflected previous concerns expressed by European authorities over Ukraine’s vulnerability to organized crime and the repercussions for the continent.

Organized crime emerged as a potent force in Ukraine after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Criminal groups exploited flawed economic privatization measures to amass significant economic power, while the collapse of the Soviet security state allowed armed criminal factions to replace government authority and entrench themselves permanently.

These developments were mirrored in many former Soviet states in the 1990s, including Russia. But after Vladimir Putin assumed the Russian presidency in 2000, he and his allies in Russia’s intelligence community reestablished a strong security apparatus and clamped down on many domestic organized crime syndicates.

However, the Kremlin chose not to eradicate them completely. Wary of further violence, Putin sought to consolidate power rather than risk a return to the instability that characterized Russia in the 1990s.

And perhaps more importantly, criminal groups could provide Moscow with unique opportunities. By turning a blind eye to much of their activities and legitimizing their wealth and businesses, the Kremlin gained access to illegal profit-making schemes, extensive smuggling networks, manpower, and other illicit services.

The Kremlin also expanded cooperation with criminal groups across the former Soviet Union. In Ukraine’s southeast, where criminal activity has been most concentrated, Russian intelligence figures have cultivated relationships for decades, with most of Crimea’s high-end criminal businesses dependent on relations with Russian criminal networks to survive.

Organized crime in Ukraine had also evolved significantly by the time Putin entered office. In 2006, a U.S. Embassy cable stated that Crimean criminals were “fundamentally different than in the 1990s: then, they were tracksuit-wearing, pistol-wielding ‘bandits’ who gave Crimea a reputation as the ‘Ukrainian Sicily’ and ended up in jail, shot, or going to ground; now they had moved into mainly above-board businesses, as well as local government.”

These developments allowed Russia to quickly assume political control over Crimea when Russian forces seized it in 2014. Dozens of pro-Russian politicians elected to Crimean political offices, including the Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov and speaker of the Crimean Parliament Vladimir Konstantinov shared suspected ties to organized crime.

In Ukraine’s Donbas region, the “density of criminality, combined with the weakness of local institutions” similarly allowed criminal groups to amass significant economic and political power after the Soviet collapse. But following the launch of Russia’s proxy war in the region alongside the seizure of Crimea in 2014, Donbas criminal groups also provided much of the manpower for newly-created militant groups and attempted to recruit others in neighboring Ukrainian regions to take up arms against government forces.

Despite their higher density in Crimea and the Donbas, Russian-supported criminal groups operate across Ukraine and the Black Sea region. Speaking with Mark Galeotti, an expert on modern Russia, in 2019, a Bulgarian security officer detailed a smuggling operation through Bulgaria’s port of Varna, bringing in drugs and counterfeit goods from Ukraine’s port of Odessa.

Operated by “Ukrainians working for a Russian-based gang,” the Bulgarian officer believed the criminal group was being taxed by Russian authorities and was “feeding information on Odessa” back to the Kremlin.

The threat of Russian-backed organized crime has only grown since Russia’s invasion in February. Conflicts generally tend to weaken state capacity, or the ability of governments to function properly, allowing organized crime groups to increase their power and influence. The Kremlin has expanded its use of criminality to both weaken Ukraine and complement its own war effort.

While reports of Ukrainian criminal groups smuggling Western weapons out of Ukraine have been consistently downplayed, it would be in the Russian government’s interest to dilute the effectiveness of Western military aid. Additionally, many weapons successfully smuggled out of Ukraine will likely end up in Europe, with weapons from Eastern Europe having been used in several terrorist attacks over the last decade. “Just beyond the countries of Western Europe, with their restrictive gun laws, lie the Balkan states, awash with illegal weapons left over from the conflicts that raged there in the 1990s,” stated Time magazine.

In April, Ukrainian officials also accused Russia of smuggling weapons into Ukraine from the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria in an effort to arm local allies, as well as using smugglers to bring in sanctioned weapons and military technology for the Russian military via Georgia.

Economic sanctions have in turn forced the Kremlin to expand its criminal profiteering activities, according to Western intelligence and law enforcement officials who spoke with VICE World News. A report by the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute mentioned an incident from April 2022 where the “Ukrainian Ministry of Justice officials charged a Ukrainian individual with helping a Russian business to launder money using a Cypriot company, registering their accounts into a private bank in Ukraine.” Meanwhile, a metal shipment worth more than $3 million was intercepted before it could leave a port in Ukraine’s Odessa region.

On top of existing, lucrative tobacco-smuggling networks, NATO and EU officials believe that a large tobacco smuggling ring in Belgium exposed in September was sponsored by both Belarusian and Russian intelligence to raise funds for their operations in the face of sanctions. Russian and Belarusian state-controlled industries have similarly increased cooperation with criminal groups to export oil, gas, and counterfeit goods to bypass sanctions.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, European security officials have also noted a rise in drug smuggling to Europe through the northern route from Afghanistan through Central Asia and Russia—likely due to Moscow easing restraints on these activities. Central Asian political and security circles have historically had direct involvement in the drug smuggling networks and often work closely with Russian criminal groups aligned with the Kremlin.

Taxing the drug trade allows Russian government entities to raise cash. But as with guns, flooding Europe with drugs creates its own problems. Court systems, prisons, hospitals, and other state and social institutions can be overwhelmed by increased drug flows, while distribution fuels local criminal activity—similar to Washington’s concern over Chinese drug trafficking to the U.S.

Additionally, Russia has turned to Central Asian smugglers to gain access to essential sanctioned products from abroad, while the Kremlin may explore selling Russia’s vast gold reserves on the international black markets depending on the compounding effects of sanctions.

And following the West’s decision to freeze much of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves and other financial assets, Russian criminals, in coordination with the Kremlin, have turned to cryptocurrencies to help raise funds and evade sanctions. Criminal hacking groups have also been used by Moscow to help launch cyberattacks on Ukraine and Western targets.

Notably, the Russian government has taken steps in recent months to further institutionalize illegal activity among Russian companies. In March, the Kremlin legalized “parallel imports,” allowing Russian companies to import commodities into the country without the consent of the overseas producer.

Though often innovative, the Kremlin’s embrace of organized crime underlines Russia’s sense of desperation as the most sanctioned country in the world. Yet Russia poses a greater challenge than other sanctioned rogue states like Venezuela, Iran, or North Korea. Its relatively large, industrialized economy, natural resources, extensive borders, and economic integration with Eurasia make isolating it far more difficult.

Continued collaboration with organized crime will be essential for Russia to safeguard its economy and prolong its war effort. Despite the risks of greater integration with the underworld and a growing dependency on their illicit networks, the Kremlin will continue these policies so long as sanctions remain in place.

Encouraging the growth of organized crime in Ukraine also has its own benefits for Moscow. Domestic criminal groups have helped Ukrainian men seeking to avoid conscription to leave the country, reducing the manpower available to Kyiv. In addition, sustaining Ukraine’s entrenched criminal culture and corruption prevents its further Westernization through economic and political reform.

Western law enforcement agencies have attempted to increase cross-country coordination with Ukraine to stem Russian-backed organized crime since the outbreak of the war. The European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT) gathered in April to discuss the situation, while entities such as Interpol, Europol, Frontex, and others have increased cooperation with both Ukraine and Moldova in recent months in “fighting serious and organized crime.”

The fight against Russian-backed organized crime clearly remains essential to Ukraine’s war effort. But as Kyiv has observed since the 1990s, just as much attention should be paid to how organized crime in the country will continue to evolve once large-scale fighting subsides.

What are some of the new technology applications in the Ukrainian war?

820 views
3 mins read

Every war in history has spun new weaponry. The Ukrainian war is also a test ground for new applications, new weapons, According to The Economist, a live tracker at HALO Trust in Scotland, is able to chart Russian bombings, the kind of weapons used, within hours of each incident. This has given Ukraine access to a range of innovations.

Russia too has been prompted to boost its arsenal. This war according to President Putin is not going to end soon. This war has taken things from “abstract to reality”. Who would have contemplated the vision that North Korea will at some time in the near future assist Russia? Who would have contemplated that Ukraine would someday invade its border with the might of Russia?

What is the nature of any war?

To laymen, the nature of war has not fundamentally changed? But, numerous predictions have been made recently how new technologies would function and fare on a battlefield of the future?

We gather emerging technologies like, “hypersonics, drones, electronic warfare, jamming cyber weapons and particularly disinformation” have been emerging and evolving military technologies in the Ukraine battlefield, according to Brookings Institute.

Ukraine was able to get from the United States and its NATO allies, hundreds of armoured vehicles, 155mm Howitzers, HIMARS rockets, 1000’s of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft weapons.

But, there are more high profile, advanced weapons that US will not provide Ukraine due to political sensitivities. Will US which has now developed a new version of the Stealth Bomber, think of its delivery to Ukraine? All these new technologies developed by US are “classified tech”. But, US has got its NATO ally, Germany, to deliver its first IRIS-T surface to air missile system, to Ukraine?  

The war in Ukraine is seen as a test case?

The war in Ukraine is seen as a test case for “wars of the future”? Although flashy technological transformations are being contemplated, the change to new warfare technology is not on offer.

Sensor based technologies are being seen in a variety of likely settings. We see operational data being collected for Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, there is the training of “online volunteers” who are able to intercept communication among the Russian military units on the warfront in Ukraine.

One of the most innovative war format is skilled military and non-military online volunteers from all locations in the world joining the battlefront “virtually supporting” Ukrainian ground forces. Small “Special Operation” teams are making it difficult to avoid detection of incoming drone warfare.

Not to mention, “social media” too is playing “SMART warfare” to counter disinformation.

What we are witnessing is technology used for civilian use is being used for warfare?

Could you believe, “Crowd Funding” is also being used for military purchases?

How we see Russia counteracting?

Russia too is not inactive. It is using military AI to further use in defence applications. We see “Cyber warfare” is on, in a big way. For its part Russian Oligarchs around the world are not sitting on their laurels. They are pumping in for the war effort. Russia has been able to deploy numerous Iranian produced “Shahed 136 Kamikazi” drones against critical energy infrastructure, such as Ukrainian energy grid for blackouts, blowing up gas pipeline, among others, for maximum impact damage to civilian infrastructure, especially in the bleak Ukrainian winter.

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

ISR is coordinating Russian troop movements and directing civilian strikes in Ukraine. But. is finding it at a disadvantage to combat Ukrainian ingenuity. The culture of innovation is ingrained in the psyche of Ukraine. It has proven very effective and decisive on the battlefield, so essential for long term Ukrainian security. Ukrainians are by nature very creative, with much ingenuity for precision strikes. Robotic and autonomous systems has enabled the flow of information for improvising improvements how “modern tech” is designed and used.

Although Russia’s war has been the driving force all along since February 2022, Ukrainian morale and ingenuity is enabling it to be more agile, faster, with the improbable possibility of sometime in the not too distant future, of even invading its border with Western Russia, which Russia has already contemplated.

For its part Russian experience is relying on its superiority in manpower and of its allies, including North Korea, Syria and Iran for its lifeline needs.

Defence spending in the West

The Ukrainian war has not only impacted technological innovation but has boosted defence spending in US and the West. “Defence is no longer an abstract, but a reality.”

The impact of sanctions, the US$60 ceiling on Russian oil, is ratcheting, it is not all that is contemplated by the US and its NATO allies. At some stage the West may even contemplate removal of Russia as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council.

President Putin has said that the war in Ukraine is a long drawn out war and Russia is not “sitting and waiting” for things to happen. What next in Russian arsenal, is on the minds of all nations?

Biden nods to compromise in Ukraine

577 views
5 mins read

The midterm elections in the US witnessed razor-thin races as Senate and House control hangs in the balance. But that didn’t discourage President Biden from holding a press conference on Wednesday to stake claim that the “giant red wave” didn’t happen. 

Biden said: “Democrats had a strong night.  And we lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than any Democratic President’s first midterm election in the last 40 years.  And we had the best midterms for governors since 1986.” 

Biden, however, eschewed triumphalist rhetoric and committed “to continue to work across the aisle… (although) it’s not always easy.” 

For the world capitals, Biden’s remarks relating to Ukraine were the most keenly awaited segment. Succinctly put, Biden was far from emphatic that Republicans in control of the House now would be cooperative. 

He said: “I’m prepared to work with my Republican colleagues.  The American people have made clear, I think, that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well. In the area of foreign policy, I hope we’ll continue this bipartisan approach of confronting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.” 

When asked whether US military aid to Ukraine will continue uninterrupted, Biden merely replied, “That is my expectation.” He contended that the US hasn’t given Ukraine “a black check” and only equipped Kiev to have “the rational ability to defend themselves.”

Biden had an impressive record as senator in coalition building in the Congress. But today, his bid for a second term as president comes in the way.  If he chooses to be a candidate in 2024, that would leave Republicans with no choice but oppose him viscerally — personally and politically.

Biden had some interesting comments on the announcement in Moscow earlier on Wednesday regarding Russian troop withdrawal in Kherson city. Biden said the Russian move was on expected lines and the interesting part is that Moscow waited till the midterms got over.

Biden avoided giving a direct answer when asked whether the Russian evacuation would give Kiev the leverage to begin peace negotiations with Moscow. But he didn’t refute such a line of thinking, either. Instead, Biden added that “at a minimum, it (evacuation) will lead to time for everyone to recalibrate their positions over the winter period. And it remainsto be seen whether or not there’ll be a judgment made as to whether or not Ukraine is prepared to compromise with Russia.” (Emphasis added.) 

Biden said that on the sidelines of the G20 summit at Bali (November 15-16), there there might be consultations with world leaders, although Putin himself was not going to be there. Indeed, some sort of diplomatic messaging is going on. In fact, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Tass on Thursday that “It was decided that Russia will be represented by (foreign minister) Sergey Lavrov at the G20 summit.” 

Biden took a second question on Kherson developments to say furthermore that the Russian evacuation will not only help the sides to “lick their wounds” but “decide whether — what they’re going to do over the winter, and decide whether or not they’re going to compromise.” (Emphasis added.) 

Notably, Biden has spoken twice about “compromise” (read territorial concessions) by Kiev, which is a major shift from the US stance that the Russian forces should get out of Ukraine. Biden concluded: “That’s — that’s what’s going to happen, whether or not. I don’t know what they’re going to do.  And — but I do know one thing: We’re not going to tell them what they have to do.” 

Taken together, Biden’s remarks are consistent with the “scoop” by NBC News on Wednesday, citing informed sources, that during the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s unannounced visit to Kiev last week, he studied Ukraine’s readiness for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. 

The NBC channel reported that Sullivan was exploring options for ending the conflict and the chance of starting negotiations and raised the need for a diplomatic settlement during meetings with Ukrainian authorities. It said some US and Western officials increasingly believe that neither Kiev nor Moscow can achieve all of their goals, and the winter slowdown in hostilities could provide a window of opportunity to start negotiations.

Interestingly, Kremlin-funded RT promptly picked up the NBC report and highlighted it. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also chipped in commenting, “We are still open to negotiations, we have never refused them, we are ready to conduct them – taking, of course, into account the realities being established at the moment.”

The Russian authorities continue to maintain that the evacuation of their forces in Kherson stems purely out of security considerations. The onus has been put on the recommendation by Army General Sergey Surovikin, the commander of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. The general claimed in a televised speech that the evacuation from Kherson  creates stronger defensive lines for the troops and will save the lives of soldiers and civilians. 

Suffice to say, Lavrov’s presence in Bali will be of pivotal importance. Presumably, he will have contacts with western counterparts. Indeed, Biden’s remarks about territorial compromise signal a sea change in the calculus. 

Also, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, while opening a discussion with the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday about the possibility of peace between Ukraine and Russia, confirmed that there is indeed “a window of opportunity for negotiation” moving forward. 

The general urged, “When there’s an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, seize it. Seize the moment.” To be sure, he spoke with an eye on the Russian military command. 

The backdrop is that the Democrats’ loss of control of the House of Representatives makes it difficult for them to freely promote the foreign policy line of the Biden administration, including assistance to Ukraine. Henceforth, Biden will have to negotiate decisions on Ukraine with the Republicans. This is one thing. 

Second, the cascading economic crisis in Europe holds explosive potential for political turmoil, especially if there is another refugee flow from Ukraine in the harsh winter conditions, which is a real possibility.

The blowback from sanctions against Russia has lethally wounded Europe, and bluster aside, there is really no replacement for the inexpensive, reliable, abundant Russian energy supplies via pipelines.

All this is becoming hugely consequential for western unity. The recent visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China shows that dissent is brewing.

Above all, the massive Russian mobilisation threatens to give a knockout blow to the Ukrainian military, but there is no appetite among Europeans for a confrontation with Russia.

The UK, Washington’s steadfast ally in Ukraine, also is under immense pressure to disengage and concentrate on the domestic crisis as the new government tackles a funding hole of the order of £50bn in the budget.

Going ahead, the notions of regime change in Moscow that Biden had once espoused publicly and the neocon project to “cancel” Russia has hit the wall and crumpled. That said, the US can draw comfort that the Russian pullout from the west of Dnieper implies that Moscow is not intending to make any move on Nikolaev, leave alone Odessa — at least, in the near term.

On the other hand, if the Ukrainian forces surge and occupy Kherson and threaten Crimea, it will pose a big challenge for the Biden Administration. From Biden’s remarks, the is confident that it has enough leverage in Kiev to ensure that there is no escalation.

For the present, it is premature to estimate that Moscow only took the bitter decision to abandon Kherson city, which was founded by a decree of Catherine the Great and is etched deeply in the Russian collective consciousness, with a reasonable certainty that Washington will restrain Kiev from “hot pursuit” of the retreating Russian army to the eastern banks of the Dnieper river.

Why Support for Ukraine Could Dwindle in the Final Months of 2022

481 views
5 mins read

Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces have successfully defended much of their country. But without American assistance, the Ukrainian military campaign would have likely floundered months ago. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has provided the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, alongside enormous financial and humanitarian assistance. With the U.S. midterm elections to be held on November 8, 2022, both President Joe Biden’s administration and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.

The economic effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, such as higher energy prices, have taken their toll on American voters, and recent polling shows that U.S. support for the war is waning, especially among Republicans. According to Pew Research Center, the belief that the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine surged among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from 9 percent in March to 32 percent in September.

While the U.S. economy is in a relatively good state compared to much of the rest of the world, Republicans have exploited domestic economic concerns to undermine Biden and the Democrats for months. And though many influential Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, continue to voice strong support for Ukraine, others aligned with the Tea Party and former U.S. President Donald Trump form the GOP’s increasingly vocal “isolationist wing.”

The influence of this populist group has been reflected in the growing split between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with both of them recently sparring over the issue of Ukraine aid. In May, 57 House Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, and during the middle of October, McCarthy warned that the U.S. is “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” With elections polls predicting a Republican House majority, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face greater GOP resistance.

Support for NATO and Ukraine among Trump-leaning Republicans has traditionally been low. Trump derided NATO throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and presidency, and his July 2019 phone call with Zelenskyy led to the first official efforts to impeach him. Florida Republican Governor and Trump ally Ron DeSantis was also comfortable enough to ignore calls to pull his state’s $300 million investments from Russia shortly after the war began.

Unfortunately for Kyiv, Democratic support for Ukraine has also fallen, according to the September Pew Research Center poll, as anxiety over the economy, access to abortion, and other issues have mounted. Another Pew Research Center poll from October found that the economy is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections. Biden’s explanation of rising inflation as “Putin’s price hike in gasoline” has only reinforced the notion in some voters’ minds that U.S.-led sanctions targeting Moscow and support for Ukraine have been partly responsible for their economic pain.

And on October 24, 30 members of the progressive caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to hold direct talks with Russia and end the war. While the letter was retracted the next day, it further demonstrated Ukraine’s falling support with the left in the U.S.

Any significant drop in American assistance to Ukraine—the U.S. has provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine from January 24 to October 3, 2022—will severely impact the latter’s ability to defend itself. According to Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, “The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.”

The UK has led major European efforts to defend Ukraine and is on track to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own soil this year. But the UK is experiencing political destabilization following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and the resignation of two prime ministers in under two months. These events have inhibited the British government’s ability to form a coherent foreign policy and expand its support for Ukraine.

Furthermore, the UK has its own disputes with the EU regarding Brexit and is unlikely to rally many of the EU states to join its efforts to support Ukraine without strong U.S. coordination.

The EU has sent billions of euros of financial aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, but far less humanitarian and military aid. Bilateral military aid from Ukraine’s most important EU suppliers—France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland—fell significantly since the end of April 2022, with no new military pledges being made in July. Large-scale European military assistance only resumed following the launch of the successful Ukrainian offensive that has reclaimed a large part of the territory since early September.

Yet around the same time (on September 5), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that member states’ weapons stocks were “severely ‘depleted’” after months of providing Ukraine with arms, reinforcing perceptions of the EU’s inability to provide long-term military support to Kyiv.

On October 17, the EU formed its own military training program for Ukrainian soldiers. France declared it would train 2,000 on its soil, while other EU members will train another 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Though they are unlikely to match NATO-led initiatives, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which were approved on October 5, demonstrate Europe’s commitment to keeping pressure on Russia.

A drastic increase in EU assistance to Ukraine and confrontation with Russia, however, remains unlikely. Poland, the leading member state advocating for these policies, was the largest recipient of EU funds between 2007 and 2020, and will not be able to coalesce the bloc for these purposes on its own. And with Europe’s energy costs mounting, the ability of the EU countries to maintain, let alone increase, their support for Ukraine may also soon come under much further strain.

As in the U.S., much of Europe’s political right wing (as well as left-wing political elements) is already far less enthusiastic about maintaining support for Ukraine than the political mainstream. Citing economic pain at home, fueled in part by rising energy costs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has led the continental criticism against Russian sanctions since the Ukrainian invasion. His enthusiastic reception at the August 4 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, proves that these policies have not caused much concern in the GOP.

With the threat of reduced support from the U.S. and Europe, Ukraine’s ability to hold off Russia will weaken significantly in 2023. While most UN members voted to condemn Russia for its invasion, only Western allies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have chosen to sanction Russia and aid Ukraine. This is unlikely to change, particularly if pressure from Washington and Brussels subsides.

Because the newly elected and reelected representatives in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections will not take office until January 2023, the Biden administration appears intent on using this window to build up its support for Kyiv. Lawmakers have begun discussing a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that is expected to be finalized by January.

One problem with this strategy is that winter weather risks grinding Ukraine’s autumn offensive to a halt. Any potential Russian counteroffensive may wait until next spring, and Ukraine’s needs may have changed by then. Russia has shifted strategies throughout the war, including bolstering the use of artillery, Iranian drones, and other weapons. The first of the roughly 300,000 Russian reservists and volunteers are expected to arrive soon in Ukraine, allowing Russia to change strategies once more.

By then the war would be more than a year old, and U.S. public and political support would likely have fallen further. Having already provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine since January 24, 2022, Washington is unlikely to provide Ukraine with more large aid packages until the U.S. domestic economic situation improves.

It remains to be seen if Republicans win the House or the Senate. And if Ukrainian forces manage to regain a significant amount of territory from Russia over the next few months, then current levels of U.S. support could be mostly maintained even if Republicans gain control over either chamber of Congress. Nonetheless, Kyiv may be wise to prepare for one more extensive U.S. aid package and focus on maintaining support for current sanctions while appealing for greater help from Europe. While the Ukrainian armed forces may not mount any new major offensives for the foreseeable future, they may be able to prevent the Russian military from doing so.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

US gets a nasty surprise in Ukraine

/
612 views
4 mins read

Something has got to change in Ukraine, for sure. The plea by 30 left-wing US lawmakers from President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party on Monday seeking a negotiated settlement with Russia to end the Ukraine war is an extraordinary event. 

In the US Congress, they form part of a nearly 100-member block called the Congressional Progressive Caucus – chaired by Pramila Jayapal, a representative from Washington state. They are a motley crowd of democratic socialists and self-styled “progressive capitalists,” but what the party bosses cannot ignore is that they stand in the way of the Trumpist juggernaut and their potential to defeat Trumpism can be crucial in 2024. 

Therefore, the Biden administration’s low-key initial response to their plea on Ukraine cannot be taken as the last word. In the past 48 hours at least, there has been no tirade against them in the US commentariat. 

They made four key elements in their letter addressed to President Biden

  • Washington should explore “vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire” in the war in which the US has spent tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars in military assistance. 
  • Such efforts should be front-loaded with “direct talks with Russia.” 
  • A framework for peace should include “incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians.” [Emphasis added.]
  • The war is wide open, the western narrative notwithstanding. “The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.”

The signatories would have been aware that although the Biden Administration is pursuing a hardline policy, things can change if the midterms hand down a crushing defeat to the Democrats. 

Several extraneous factors are also at work. For a start, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s planned visit to China comes so soon after the unveiling of the US National Security Strategy in Washington which visualised China as the enemy. Europeans are dissenting.

The French President Emmanuel Macron called on the US to take the lead to engage with the Kremlin, echoing what Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has been demanding. There is discontent in Europe, hit hard by the economic crisis, that the American oil companies are “war profiteering.”

Lurking below the radar is the hidden truth that Ukraine is a basket case with a non-functioning economy. The US cannot expect the European allies to keep that economy afloat. 

Meanwhile, a massive military Russian build-up signals plans to launch a major offensive in a few weeks from now aiming to end the war on Moscow’s terms.

However, dovetailing with all this is an unthinkable development casting shadows on the US-UK tandem navigating the Ukraine war, which may turn out to be the ultimate clincher. 

What emerges is that the UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace’s secretive visit last week to Washington was more in response to a summons from the White House than a British initiative. Wallace said in a dark tone as he was leaving that there were things to be discussed that were far too sensitive.  

At any rate, following the flurry of phone calls on Saturday by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu with his French, British and US counterparts regarding the possibility of Ukraine using a “dirty bomb” in the war, the foreign ministers of France, the US and the UK promptly issued a joint statement rejecting “Russia’s transparently false allegations” and called it “a pretext for escalation.” 

Nonetheless, acting on the Russian allegation, the IAEA has been told to undertake an investigation. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Rafael Grossi, the agency’s Director-General on Monday and “welcomed the IAEA’s readiness to visit Ukraine.” 

Blinken also spoke with Stoltenberg on Monday and, strangely enough, “called for continued Western unity and support for Ukraine.” But, interestingly, the State Department quietly removed from its website the US-UK-France joint statement.

This was when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed on Monday that “Detailed information indicating the institutions that may be commissioned for this purpose was conveyed through the defence minister [Sergey Shoigu] during his contacts with his counterparts in the United States, Britain, France and Turkey. More contacts are planned between our defence ministries.” 

Lavrov added: “Some of our partners have really suggested a discussion of the information we have at a professional military level. This is a kind of approach that we supported.” 

Could elements in Kiev be having their own Plan B to escalate the war and drag the US and NATO into it? There are no easy answers. 

The bottomline is that “constructive engagement” has begun between Moscow on one side and Washington, London and Paris on the other. But it’s really touch-and-go. The Moscow daily Izvestia quoted the noted Russian military expert Vladislav Shurygin on Monday: “What is a dirty bomb? To create it, all that is necessary is to dig up a barrel with nuclear waste from some power plant, put them in a capsule and then jerk 100 kg of TNT.” 

Shurygin explained: “Even in this case, the infection will be in a radius of maybe 500 metres, maybe a kilometre. And then it all starts to sink into the soil… If it is torn in the water or infect the water, then it will all sweep downstream, lie on the bottom and gradually go away. To make the waters of the Dnieper radioactive, I do not even know how much [water] would need to be drained out. Remember, Fukushima poisoned the sea for six months and no one even noticed it. The intention of the Ukrainian authorities is not very clear. If they want to blame it on us, it won’t be easy; when we have “clean” bombs, why we would need “dirty” ones is completely unclear.” 

It is no secret that MI6 and SAS are in the driving seat in the Ukrainian military command in Kiev and in the front lines. The paradigm is something like the tail wagging the dog. MI6 calibrates the dynamics of the war while the CIA and Pentagon claim success for Biden’s Russia strategy. MI6 has a whole history of that sort — be it in Iran or the Suez crisis — even in Hong Kong.

The current regime change in Westminster absolves the MI6 of accountability. Of course, Boris Johnson — Zelensky’s best friend, guru and guardian — becomes a burnt-out case. He has discreetly withdrawn his hat from the ring and slunk away.

Kiev has been deprived of its last hurrah, as Russia nips the “dirty bomb” in its buds, clearing the pathway for its grand offensive to end the war. Whether the planned Russian offensive will go ahead would depend on any meeting between Biden and President Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali on Nov, 15-16.  

The big question is whether this is a wake-up call for the one-dimensional men in the Biden Team. Perhaps, that is too much to expect. But there is no question that the 30 lawmakers stand vindicated. 

Click here to read the writer’s personal blog

West: Enemy of Peace between Ukraine and Russia

1005 views
5 mins read

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This war has been horrendous, though it does not compare with the terrible destruction wrought by the U.S. bombardment of Iraq (“shock and awe”) in 2003. In the Gomel region of Belarus that borders Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian diplomats met on February 28 to begin negotiations toward a ceasefire. These talks fell apart. Then, in early March, the two sides met again in Belarus to hold a second and third round of talks. On March 10, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Russia met in Antalya, Türkiye, and finally, at the end of March, senior officials from Ukraine and Russia met in Istanbul, Türkiye, thanks to the initiative of Türkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On March 29, Türkiye’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said, “We are pleased to see that the rapprochement between the parties has increased at every stage. Consensus and common understanding were reached on some issues.” By April, an agreement regarding a tentative interim deal was reached between Russia and Ukraine, according to an article in Foreign Affairs.

In early April, Russian forces began to withdraw from Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv Oblast, which meant that Russia halted military operations around Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. The United States and the United Kingdom claimed that this withdrawal was a consequence of military failure, while the Russians said it was due to the interim deal. It is impossible to ascertain, with the available facts, which of these two views was correct.

Before the deal could go forward, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv on April 9. A Ukrainian media outlet—Ukrainska Pravda—reported that Johnson carried two messages to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: first, that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should be pressured, not negotiated with,” and second, that even if Ukraine signed agreements with the Kremlin, the West was not ready to do so. According to Ukrainska Pravda, soon after Johnson’s visit, “the bilateral negotiation process was paused.” A few weeks later, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv, and following the trip, Austin spoke at a news conference at an undisclosed location in Poland and said, “We want to see Russia weakened.” There is no direct evidence that Johnson, Blinken, and Austin directly pressured Zelenskyy to withdraw from the interim negotiations, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest that this was the case.

The lack of willingness to allow Ukraine to negotiate with Russia predates these visits and was summarized in a March 10, 2022, article in the Washington Post where senior officials in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration stated that the current U.S. strategy “is to ensure that the economic costs for Russia are severe and sustainable, as well as to continue supporting Ukraine militarily in its effort to inflict as many defeats on Russia as possible.”

Long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since 2014, the United States has—through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense—spent more than $19 billion in providing training and equipment to the Ukrainian military ($17.6 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022). The total annual budget of the United Nations for 2022 is $3.12 billion, far less than the amount spent by the U.S. on Ukraine today. The arming of Ukraine, the statements about weakening Russia by senior officials of the U.S. government, and the refusal to initiate any kind of arms control negotiations prolong a war that is ugly and unnecessary.

Ukraine Is Not in Iowa

Ukraine and Russia are neighbors. You cannot change the geographical location of Ukraine and move it to Iowa in the United States. This means that Ukraine and Russia have to come to an agreement and find a solution to end the conflict between them. In 2019, Volodymyr Zelenskyy won by a landslide (73 percent) in the Ukrainian presidential election against Petro Poroshenko, the preferred candidate of the West. “We will not be able to avoid negotiations between Russia and Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said on a TV panel, “Pravo Na Vladu,” TSN news service reported, before he became president. In December 2019, Zelenskyy and Putin met in Paris, alongside then-Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron (known as the “Normandy Four”). This initiative was driven by Macron and Merkel. As early as 2019, France’s President Emmanuel Macron argued that it was time for Europe to “rethink… our relationship with Russia” because “pushing Russia away from Europe is a profound strategic error.”

In March 2020, Zelenskyy said that he and Putin could work out an agreement within a year based on the Minsk II agreements of February 2015. “There are points in Minsk. If we move them around a bit, then what bad can that lead to? As soon as there are no people with weapons, the shooting will stop. That’s important,” Zelenskyy told the Guardian. In a December 2019 press conference, Putin said, “there is nothing more important than the Minsk Agreements.” At this point, Putin said that all he expected was that the Donbas region would be given special status in the Ukrainian Constitution, and during the time of the expected Ukraine-Russia April 2020 meeting, the troops on both sides would have pulled back and agreed to “disengagement along the entire contact line.”

Role of Macron

It was clear to Macron by 2020 that the point of the negotiations was about more than just Minsk and Ukraine; it was about the creation of a “new security architecture” that did not isolate Russia—and was also not subservient to Washington. Macron developed these points in February 2021 in two directions and spoke about them during his interview with the Atlantic Council (a U.S. think tank). First, he said that NATO has “pushed our borders as far as possible to the eastern side,” but NATO’s expansion has “not succeeded in reducing the conflicts and threats there.” NATO’s eastward expansion, he made clear, was not going to increase Europe’s security. Second, Macron said that the U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019—and Russia’s mirroring that—leaves Europe unprotected “against these Russian missiles.” He further said, “As a European, I want to open a discussion between the European Union and Russia.” Such a discussion would pioneer a post-Cold War understanding of security, which would leave the United States out of the conversation with Russia. None of these proposals from Macron could advance, not only because of hesitancy in Russia but also principally because they were not seen favorably by Washington.

Confusion existed about whether U.S. President Joe Biden would be welcomed into the Normandy Four. In late 2020, Zelenskyy said he wanted Biden at the table, but a year later it became clear that Russia was not interested in having the United States be part of the Normandy Four. Putin said that the Normandy Four was “self-sufficient.” Biden, meanwhile, chose to intensify threats and sanctions against Russia based on the claims of Kremlin interference in the United States 2016 and 2018 elections. By December 2021, there was no proper reciprocal dialogue between Biden and Putin. Putin told Finnish President Sauli Niinistö that there was a “need to immediately launch negotiations with the United States and NATO” on security guarantees. In a video call between Biden and Putin on December 7, 2021, the Kremlin told the U.S. president that “Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia.” No such guarantee was forthcoming from Washington. The talks fizzled out.

The record shows that Washington rejected Macron’s initiatives as well as entreaties from Putin and Zelenskyy to resolve issues through diplomatic dialogue. Up to four days before the Russian invasion, Macron continued his efforts to prevent an escalation of the conflict. By then, the appetite in Moscow for negotiations had dwindled, and Putin rejected Macron’s efforts.

An independent European foreign policy was simply not possible (as Macron had suggested and as the former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev had proposed in 1989 while talking about his vision for a “common European home” that would stretch from northern Asia to Europe). Nor was an agreement with Russia feasible if it meant that Russian concerns were to be taken seriously by the West.

Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations from 2014 to February 2022—which could have prevented the invasion by Russia in the first place, and once the war started, could have led to the end of this war. All wars end in negotiations, but these negotiations to end wars should be permitted to restart.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.