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Does it matter what Ukrainian citizens want?

by John Brian Shannon | November 2, 2015

Some people in the West are making erroneous statements like this: “With Russia’s military invasion and annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine…”

What? Russia didn’t militarily invade Crimea, more than 95% of the voters in Crimea voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia at at time when Ukraine’s economy and society was unraveling in even faster-motion-than-usual. All of it has been widely reported by every reputable news source in the world. On those points, there are no gray areas. They are facts.

Ukraine farmer's field

A girl gathers flowers of rapeseed (brassica napus) in a field some 300 km from Kiev prior to heavy rain on May 10, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY Image courtesy of Kyiv Post

Whenever Anything Goes Wrong: Blame Russia!

And it is a complete fairy-tale to portray that all of Ukraine’s historic problems are “subsequent” to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea (at the request of 97% of Crimean voters) or were somehow caused by Russia’s 2014 food aid convoys to the Ukrainian separatists (separatists have been operating there for several decades) in the eastern parts of the country.

Some are trying to make it all Russia’s fault retroactively and are carefully checking their calendars to find the first day of Vlad Putin’s presidency — because they’re sure that’s the day that all of Ukraine’s problems started. (Facepalm!)

Short History of Ukraine

Ukraine was never a self-sufficient country — not even during the time of Peter the Great nor at any time since. Czarist Russia and the USSR poured billions (trillions?) of roubles into Ukraine over a 300-year period in a failed attempt to stabilize that economy. And such stabilization only occurred for exactly as long as the massive subsidies were pouring into Ukraine.

Ukraine: Subsidized to the Hilt for 300-years

During the Cold War, the USSR spent more on subsidies to Ukraine than all of its satellite states combined. That stopped in 1991. Which is why, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been in an economic tailspin. No other outcome was remotely possible.

Ukraine in Economic Free-fall Since the End of the Cold War

The economy, infrastructure and the level of social and other services provided to citizens by the government have since been in free-fall.

(Some) Western Politicians See Opportunity Rising in Allowing Ukraine to Dwindle

Of course, after the Cold War ended, some European politicians were deluded into thinking that Ukraine would eventually fall into their lap and then they could just waltz into the country and pick its bones, leaving the problem regions and problem people to the government of Ukraine to deal with.

Which is a fine idea if the EU had no soul. Let’s hope it does. We’ve already suffered through two world wars, let’s not make it a three-peat.

However, the Mindset of Westerners Have Become More Sophisticated Since the Cold War Ended

The world has become less naive since 1990 and the cherry-picking of Ukraine, and using that country’s economic distress in a way that works to beat up Vlad Putin to score cheap political points, isn’t going to work for long.

In this modern social media world no amount of government censorship of the traditional media can suppress citizen journalists (bloggers) or the thousands of non-journalist citizen tweeters or Facebook posters about the things they witness on the street.

The EU will not be carting away the best of Ukraine and leaving the problems to the Ukrainian government to solve via the World Bank, the IMF, or even the ADB.

Social Media as a ‘Check and Balance’ on Politics

Citizens nowadays are too informed, too activist, and too impatient to create a better world for everyone on the planet, to allow it to happen that way — and social media routinely travels faster than traditional (and sometimes censored) media.

Somebody Please Tell Western Politicians that the Cold War is Over

We need to scrap this Cold War mentality that persists in some capitals. The Cold War is over because the brightest minds in the world declared that it was over and that it wasn’t conducive to the best outcome for humanity.

We Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

Those diplomatic and military giants upon whose shoulders we (should humbly) stand are the ones who brought an end to the Cold War, and less brilliant minds should not now (nor ever) be allowed to overturn their logical and profound vision.

We should be looking at Ukraine in the following way:

  • Ukraine was a state within Czarist Russia and later the USSR, for more than 300 years.
  • Due to the economic failure of the Soviet Union in 1990, it was forced to stop subsidizing Ukraine and the USSR allowed the country to leave the bloc.
  • Ukraine’s economy has been in various states of free-fall since then.
  • Allowing the West to cherry-pick Ukraine is not going to happen. Even considering it should be ‘far below’ the standards of any country.
  • Ukraine can’t survive without massive subsidies. It’s simply an economic reality.
  • Since 1990, the West has not stepped-up to heavily subsidize Ukraine — why would they now? And the fact is, they won’t, because all of Europe acting together couldn’t afford to pay Ukraine’s bills.
  • Had the West been showing TLC to Ukraine since 1990, and had it taken over the role of multi-billion euro per year benefactor since 1990, a very compelling moral and legal argument could’ve been made that Ukraine, had de facto, become a part of the West. I myself would’ve made the case for Ukraine’s accession to the EU and worked to convince Russia to forego any further claims on Ukraine!
  • But that didn’t happen. Therefore, the West has no moral nor legal right at all in regards to Ukraine. And is in no moral position nor does it have any legal right to lay claim to one square foot of Ukrainian soil — no matter how ‘anti-Putin’ some Western politicians are — as if that’s a qualifier of legitimacy of claim.
  • Crimean’s voted 97.1% to rejoin Russia and we should respect their democratic vote if we’re going to continue to pretend that we care about democratic values in other countries, not just our own.
  • Whichever eastern republics want to hold a referendum to rejoin Russia, they should not be interfered with. Democratic values must be respected. Not just in our own countries, but in all countries. If a majority of citizens there vote to rejoin Russia, so be it. That is well within their rights. No caterwauling allowed.

In summary

The West long ago gave up any moral or legal right to influence, obtain any part of, use, or gain from Ukraine’s present distress — by studiously neglecting to give any meaningful amount of TLC or economic assistance to the country during its time of prolonged economic trauma.

1. It’s clear that the Ukraine economy cannot survive without massive, external subsidies.
2. The West has missed its chance with Ukraine.
3. To Russia, and the voters of Ukraine and the voters of eastern Ukraine: Your move.
4. No sour grapes. We’ve had our chance since the end of the Cold War and we blew it.

Allowing Ukraine to dwindle for 2 1/2 decades and then swooping in at the last moment to cherry-pick the country and concomitantly attempt to embarrass Vlad Putin — is just not up to the world class standards of behavior that we expect from civilized nations.

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Who benefits from a wider Ukrainian conflict?

by John Brian Shannon  | February 18, 2015

During the Cold War it was widely known that the Western forces (except for the Swiss and the Swedes who were politically neutral) could hold the Warsaw Pact countries for only one week before they would need to ‘go nuclear’ against the invading Soviet Army.

Therefore, no matter how bravely the Western European armies, air forces and navies fought and no matter how bravely the U.S. and Canadian forces fought, the numerical superiority of Warsaw Pact (especially in tanks, troops and war matériel) meant that they would completely overwhelm Western Europe in a week.

Which is why the Western powers reserved the right to employ ‘First Strike’ capability (the right to use nuclear weapons as the first option in any conflict against Warsaw Pact nations) in the case that Western Europe was invaded. Logical, but harsh. (It kept the peace for decades, it must be stated)

After the Cold War ended, it was discovered that the Warsaw Pact powers would have won the conventional war even more quickly than we had realized due to other factors that were then-unknown to us.

The West would’ve lost in 3 days and we would’ve been caught ‘flat-footed’ and completely overrun. Yes, a complete rout in the conventional war.

If it really came down to it, that same situation could still play out in Europe in our century, as Russia still enjoys huge numerical superiority in tanks, military personnel, and other war-making capabilities.

In order to not lose all of Europe, we would need to go nuclear on Day 3 of a concerted attack, or we would lose the whole thing.

Which would invite an overwhelming response. Obviously.  Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Map of Europe - early 2014

Europe map courtesy of Cartographic Research Lab, University of Alabama

There is no military solution in Ukraine

Anyone who thinks otherwise, needs to go to War College for 10 years because they are not basing their decisions on the above-noted reality. Which can bite you.

The strongest defence against a Russian takeover of Europe is a strong and united society, one that is impenetrable and indivisible.

Such a society presents a major problem for any invader. With no means to divide and conquer, it means an extended conflict, à la the French Resistance of WWII. No invader wants that, whether political leaders who must deal with the political fallout of rising bodycounts on TV every night for months or years, or military leaders who recognize the devastating effect it has on overall troop morale, affecting their troops based thousands of miles away. See Vietnam War. See also, Soviet/Afghanistan War.

A bickering, splintered European society, and involving ourselves militarily in Ukraine could raise the temptation level of Russian military leaders to a place that we should always avoid.

All that is needed to empower the Russian military to gain undue and increased influence in the Duma and in the office of the Russian president, is a for social disorder to spread in Europe and a few European governments to fall in rapid succession.

As we saw in Russia, circa 1991, kinetic energy can quickly become a dynamic force

We know that Russia’s strong suit is the ability to wage conventional war in Europe.

We know that the Ukrainian separatists/pro-autonomy forces strength lies in their ability to hold their present ground — and at the very worst retreat into Russian territory for days, weeks, or months, to re-enter Ukraine elsewhere and fight from that location. It’s a huge border. There is no way to police it.

We know that Europe’s strong suit is Soft Power. 

Why would we ‘fight’ Ukrainian separatists/pro-autonomy forces (who apparently, receive military and intelligence assistance from Russia) with our weakest hand (our conventional military forces) which happens to be Russia’s strongest hand?

Why not ‘fight’ Ukrainian separatists/pro-autonomy forces/Russian assistance with Soft Power — our strongest hand?

For one example of sending Russia a ‘Soft Power message’ — understand what lower oil prices have done to the Russian economy

That use of Soft Power happened (over the space of a decade) because both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama decided to ramp-up North American oil production to record levels, resulting in a massive glut of oil which has worked to dramatically lower global oil prices.

Which policy netted a number of results. Gasoline prices for Americans dropped considerably and are still dropping, which boosted the U.S. economy. Due to the huge increase in American petroleum production affecting the global oil supply, global oil prices are still falling. America’s foreign oil imports dropped significantly. By 2017 at the latest, the U.S. will be a net petroleum exporter. Europe’s moribund economy began to improve almost instantly as the oil price fell. Russia’s huge oil exports suddenly became a huge liability for them and growth in the Russian economy has ground to a halt. All of that has happened via the use of Soft Power. Impressive.

Russia needs their oil to sell above $110. per barrel in order for it to be profitable

Unlike Canada where the tar sands oil (classed as #4 sour crude) needs to be priced at over $56./bbl to be profitable, and Saudi crude oil needs to be priced over $7./bbl (classed as #1 sweet crude, if there’s any of that ‘easy to extract and easy to refine’ oil left) and $22./bbl (classed as #2 or #3 medium crude) to be sold at a profit.

It’s the oil speculators (who live mostly in America and Russia, collectively known as the 1%) who profit on anything over and above production costs — whether we are talking oil or any other commodity. But you knew that.

There was no real 1% prior to high oil prices, nor was there a huge, profitable, and growing export market for Russian oil.

Ergo, the high oil prices of recent years are largely responsible for the creation of the 1% in both America and Russia, and the creation of the huge Russian oil export market.

In any potential war, or in cases of serious sabre-rattling, we need to look at who benefits — and ‘work it back’ from there

Oil prices always rise in during periods of convincing sabre-rattling or outright war, and both the oil price rise and any war that might result could ultimately impact many people.

In the case of Ukraine, the people who will benefit from any determined sabre-rattling or outright conflict there, will be relatively small numbers of people (the 1%) most of whom live in America and Russia.

I guess it’s up to citizen oversight to ensure that this situation doesn’t get out of hand.

Related Article:

Russia, America, and EU testing new boundaries over Ukraine

by John Brian Shannon | September 2, 2014

During the Cold War the situation that prevailed for 40 years was one where the Europeans and the Americans knew that if the USSR ever determinedly decided to invade Europe, they could hold the Soviets for about a week before having to resort to nuclear weapons in order to stop any further advances by the USSR.

As horrific as it sounds it is true, and it also worked just fine over 40 years.

Since the end of the Cold War we’ve all been coasting along, both sides busy with their own interests, and we continued to play along with the former rule-set because we all had better things to do. Granted that tensions between the blocs has decreased markedly since the fall of communism and the generally stellar growth would have been impeded by any kind of war, particularly one that would go nuclear after one week of fighting.

Map of Europe - early 2014

Europe map courtesy of Cartographic Research Lab, University of Alabama

Ukrainian disintegration and Russian assistance

Comfortable in their post-Cold War role, both sides are now beginning to cautiously explore alterations to that paradigm. Russia was first to test the waters by aiding the failed provinces of eastern Ukraine. And they are failed provinces, there can be no doubt about that. They are lawless parts of Ukraine that have managed to repel the Ukrainian Army since 1990 and have recently begun to shooting down Ukrainian Air Force military fighter jets and shot down one Malaysian Air civilian flight, MH17. They even have their own taxation system at unannounced military-style checkpoints all throughout the Donbass region.

Other than fret, all the Ukrainian military can do about it is shell (from a safe distance 80 miles away) likely targets and civilian roadways between 2:00pm and 4:00pm every weekday. Civilians know not to be on the roads during that time, and civilians there also hope that separatist fighters haven’t been roaming around their neighbourhoods during the night — as that seems to invite the Ukrainian Army to fire artillery shells at them the next day.

You haven’t lived until you feel the ground shake from a heavy artillery strike. On windless days, the shells are accurate to within three feet and carry a half a ton of high explosive. Cars instantly become thousands of red-hot metal shrapnel flying outward at 600 miles per hour from the impact zone. Houses become splinters of wood and concrete apartment blocks become rubble that falls randomly over a half-mile radius. Chunks of reinforced concrete the size of car motors fly through houses at 400 miles per hour and out the other side (and through a few neighbours homes too) before tumbling to a stop quite a few blocks away.

Expect one shell every few seconds for two hours if you’ve made them mad. And, it’s all automated. The artillerymen just program the fire-control unit with all of the coordinates and press Fire. As the guns are firing, the ground is shaking at their end too and it’s so loud they simply don their hearing protection and attempt to read the newspaper until it’s all over.

It’s no way for civilians to live, although soldiers revel in this environment. If you’re an artilleryman, you just know that you’re pounding the daylights out of the enemy and that their roads will be unusable for at least a week. You know that you have hit your targets to within three feet of accuracy if there are no strong winds that day, and you know that your enemies nerves are completely wrecked. On the receiving end, the soldiers that haven’t been killed simply wait for it to be over so they can get to the ‘good part’ which is the revenge part. So, they don hearing protection and plot even more revenge against the Ukrainian Army.

Ukraine lost control of the eastern parts of their country long ago (in 1990) after the fall of communism. Since then, the local people formed militias of varying quality, but they have been successful in routing the Ukrainian Army and over-running the local military bases and capturing all of the weapons systems and ammunition stored there.

The ethnic Russians who live in this region (called the Donbass region) were once citizens of Russia until 1954 when the Soviet leaders gave the region to Ukraine to administer. All of southern and eastern Ukraine was once a part of Imperial Russia during the time of Catherine the Great and the vast majority of people in the Donbass have much more in common with and are in contact with Russian family in Moscow and other Russian cities, than with Ukraine.

During the Cold War, they all got along fine as they were ‘comrades in arms’ against the machinations of the decadent and bourgeoisie West. Now, having nothing in common with their Ukrainian counterparts (except artillery shells) they wish to rejoin Russia. Who wouldn’t?

The fact that the Ukrainian Army has been fighting them since 1990 has only intensified their desire to rejoin Russia. Although they would much rather do so on “their” terms — which is why they fight for the right, instead of asking Russia to come in and do it for them. (“We are independent! Only now, do we wish to join with you, Father Russia.”)

The Western response

The West was wrong to make it an issue. Under scrutiny, it’s a completely non-defensible position if you are considering the concerns of civilian families. There’s no doubt at all that ethnic Russian families will fare better under Russian administration — than under Ukrainian administration. And that is before factoring-in the ‘bad blood’ that exists between the people of the Donbass and the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, were the disputed regions to ever return to Ukrainian administration.

But the Western response showed the Russians how fearfully they regarded any threat of Russian expansion into Europe.

Not that Ukraine is a part of Europe, it’s also not part of the EU, or the EC, nor of NATO. Ukraine is a former Soviet Union satellite state, located in what was once called “Novorossiya” — the czarist-era name for Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

The term Novorossiya dates to the late 18th century, when Catherine the Great won lands near the Black Sea after a series of wars with the Ottomans and created a governate known as “New Russia” to rule much of the newly conquered region.

Today, pro-Russian rebels have adopted the name for their movement and revived the czarist governorate flag as one of their emblems. The symbolic choice highlights the historical and cultural links of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to neighboring Russia, implicitly calling into question their place in an independent Ukraine.

“The region that we’re talking about was once called Novorossiya,” Mr. Putin said when he first mentioned the term in April. “Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Odessa weren’t included as part of Ukraine. They were given to it by the Soviet government.” — The Wall Street Journal

Other than aid as requested by Kiev and a hawk-like watch on civil rights, the West should stay out of the Donbass region. It is a fight between former Soviets, Ukrainian nationalists, present-day Russians and former Russians — many of whom want to become full Russian citizens again.

The Baltic Countries

On the other hand, the former Soviet Union ceded all of the eastern European republics to the West at the end of the Cold War. There is no doubt at all that the people in those countries are faring much better now, than during Soviet times. Which gives the West huge credibility in any contest with the Russians over the Baltics.

And for as long as that continues, the West has the right and yes, the duty, to defend those former Soviet states with all means at their disposal. The USSR ceded those nations to Europe, and since then the Russian Federation has not contested it, making it a precedent observed by both the USSR and later Russia, that the eastern European nations belong in the Western sphere of influence.

If the vast majority of citizens living in eastern Europe would fare better under Russian rule, the case could be argued. But nobody is going to argue that point.

The Europeans and the Americans undertook a solemn duty to take eastern Europe under its wing and treat them as well as any European nation-state. Granted, it’s a work in progress and there have even been occasional setbacks, but eastern Europeans are faring better than at any time in their history.

Is there any threat to Europe or individual eastern European nations from Russia?

There simply wasn’t any threat, at least, until some Europeans began panicking and remonstrating in public about Russia’s actions in Ukraine and about how vulnerable they felt in the presence of a reinvigorated Russia, a Russia flush with boatloads of cash, and well on its way to claiming the position of the 5th most powerful economic unit on the planet.

By 2020, Russia will have moved from 10th place to 5th place in the world economic order and will be tied with Japan. Depending on oil prices, Russia may rise to 4th place behind China, the U.S., the EU, and ahead of Japan, India and Brazil. That’s wholesale change by any standard — and in so little time. And Russia with all of their military might and close relationships with China and India. No wonder the Europeans are nervous.

The hysterical reaction of some Europeans has startled the Russians — who didn’t see it coming — nor did they have any designs on Europe. But now, having seen the lack of composure and the fear emanating from Europe, they are likely to be doing a rethink. Unwittingly, some star performers in the Western bloc have handed Russia a higher placement on the geopolitical scene.

Other leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, saw the Ukrainian situation for what it was and didn’t over-react. The German stance was one of; “The eastern provinces of Ukraine essentially left the country years ago anyway. As long as Russia doesn’t take Kiev or the western part of Ukraine, we’re fine.” Such pragmatism! Russia would have never known how fearful some European’s are of the rising Russia had everyone followed Germany’s lead.

The proposed NATO 4000-strong rapid reaction force

To “protect” the militarily vulnerable Baltic republics, NATO has now decided to create a 4000-person-strong rapid reaction force, just in case Russia decides to attack and reclaim those former Soviet states. Militarily speaking, it would be a cake-walk for Russia to take them back. The Baltic’s are indefensible as their topography and proximity to Russia with its overwhelming superiority in tanks and troops, does not allow for any serious non-nuclear defense.

Military success aside, Russia would pay a heavy and ongoing price politically. It might even be the end of all cooperation with the West for 25 years and the creation of another ‘Iron Curtain’ and possibly another Cold War. And the implied threat of nuclear war.

But it’s unthinkable that Russia would risk its reputation and possibly derail its race to 4th or 5th place in the world economic rankings to take Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from Europe.

Let’s drop the drama, and just fix our mistake

Yet now that the Europeans have shown some weakness to Russia, they feel they must counter that perceived weakness with a proposed 4000-strong rapid reaction force. Which must have them rolling in the aisles in the Kremlin.

A 4000-strong rapid reaction force would only hold the Russians for an extra day should they ever decide to attack the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Which was never on their list of things to do.

But having stumbled this badly, the only way for the Europeans to recover is to show the Russians some determination and grit. And no, that doesn’t mean invading an oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom to show the Russians how strong they are.

It means that Europe should pull itself up to its full height and dismiss any of their people who’ve made them look impotent and afraid of Russia — and get to work creating a minimum 25,000-strong rapid reaction force well within 6 months — even if that means staffing it 100% with American soldiers and airmen, until Europe can replace them 1000-at-a-time.

At this point, that’s what it will take to restore respect for Europe and its institutions over on the Russian side. Anything less than that will definitely not make the Russians sit up and take notice of Europe, but will remain a constant source of hilarity for the Russian military and in a more subdued way, in Russian political circles — particularly where former Soviets may hold influence or present-day (political or military) positions.

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