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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.

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Is Diplomacy dead?

by John Brian Shannon | December 1, 2014

Ban-Ki-moon-65th-United-Nations-General-Assembly

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the 65th United Nations General Assembly

Whether Iran has, or doesn’t have, the capability to build a nuclear bomb is almost irrelevant to our world. No country in it’s right mind is ever going to use ‘the bomb’ unless it is first attacked with WMD weapons.

By making such a big deal about it, the West (with significant cheerleading by Israel) implies that Iran’s leaders are not in their right mind. Or that future Iranian leaders won’t be in their right mind.

Which neatly puts Iran, and by extension that region of the world and the entire religion of Islam, on the defensive

Maybe that’s the whole goal, right there.

Putting Iran on the defensive and by ramping-up the pressure (almost always leads even the best political leaders to some sort of gaffe or misstep) which can then, retroactively, be used to justify whatever we later do to Iran and/or the region.

Which could entail the West becoming involved in a risky regime change, stealing their oil, and changing their culture to a adopt a more Western outlook — all of which could conceivably occur — but at great military and security cost to the West. We have the power to make it happen. The question is, should we? The payoff for the West would represent $20 trillion dollars of increased economic activity over the next 50 years, but only if we survive it. A risky bit of business, to say the least.

Maybe all of that and more is on the books for that region of the world

If so, it is thinly-disguised racism which reads like this: “Let’s prevent the Muslims from getting too advanced, there’s already 1.5 billion of them, let’s keep them in the iron age.” (My employing the term “iron age” in this context, means working to keep the Muslim nations in a permanent state of non-value-added resource extraction, and never letting them advance past that stage. By force, if necessary)

I doubt that I’m blowing any secret agenda

It’s pretty obvious to anyone with an interest in geopolitics that someone, somewhere, is driving this agenda and is pushing the West towards this potentially catastrophic and apocalyptic conclusion.

Unless it’s about regime change and stealing the oil/gas. Then it’s no longer primarily about racism, it’s about interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and theft of resources.

Either of which read like a B-movie script from the 1960’s.

Good international relations (which are everything, as we only have one planet to live on) are of prime importance. Racism, or regime change/resource theft, must rank much further down the scale. Our survival depends on good international relations, it does not and cannot depend on racism or theft. Nor even regime change.

If we are the diplomats we think we are, then let’s prove it!

(No problem is too big for us to handle, because eventually and profoundly, it can’t be. Otherwise we cease to exist)

Surely we must delegate racism and theft to the bottom of the priority scale, to continue our civilization on this planet.

I thought all of this was agreed to at the end of WWII and again at the end of the Cold War

Why are some people now ‘cheap-shotting’ Iran and trying to unlearn what we have learned in past decades?

Rather than allow the ‘tail to wag the dog’ by defaulting to some 1960’s B-move script, diplomats must work with Iran (and the other nations of Islam) to build a paradigm of win-win success and move forward, past the present potentially apocalyptic temptation.

We are either the diplomats that we think we are — or we are racist, regime-changing, resource-pirates

By definition, we can’t be both at once.

Who are we?

As I have faith in human nature (ultimately, but with an asterisk) I hope that by empowering our diplomats towards sustainable outcomes, we will become the people that we should become — and not be a people who revert to the thinking of a bygone century. Feudalism brought us two World Wars and the Cold War we can now admit.

Why play for marbles in Iran (and Ukraine, for that matter) when we could be playing for gold bars in the Pacific Rim nations? Why spend America’s prestige and effort on mere marbles? Especially when there are boatloads of gold bars to be had with less effort and far less risk.

Part of our maturing as a civilization can be seen in the forward-thinking APEC, TPP and FTAAP, which I hope is a foreshadowing of things to come for the nations of the Pacific rim. If we allow that to become all that it can and should be, all of us will be the richer for it.

In addition to the existing economic engines of the U.S.A., EU, and BRICS, we could add depth and strength to our global economy by creating a new, interdependent economic engine, the Pacific Rim bloc, which could represent $111 trillion dollars of increased trade activity over the next 50 years. Each nation of the bloc would make its own valid contribution to a greater whole, instead of continuing with the until recently, largely unguided economics of the present pan-Pacific totality.

The pivot to Asia combined with a wealth-generating Pan Pacific multi-layered partnership could and should result in changing the entire geopolitical conversation to a grand and positive one — instead of one where everything is about sniping at Iran (the bomb) and Russia (eastern Ukraine).

It’s all how you look at things

Two men look out through the same bars
One sees mud. The other, stars!
Frederick Langbridge

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