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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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Syria: The Roots of Civil War

by John Brian Shannon | October 1, 2015

All war is brutal. Whether civil war, insurgency, guerrilla war, conventional or nuclear, all are brutal. And in war, no one weapon is worse than another. If you die or are injured by being blown to fragments by artillery, mines, barrel bombs or conventional bombs dropped by aircraft — you’re just as dead or injured as by machine-gun fire.

Too many commentators are trying to make negative political points about the Assad regime by citing Syria’s use of ‘barrel bombs’ — to convince us that those are the ultimate in inhuman and horrific weapons. As if getting killed by a ‘barrel bomb’ is somehow much worse than getting killed by a mine or by machine-gun fire.

Characterizing some bombs as ‘worse’ than other bombs, etc. takes our focus away from the underlying reasons for the conflict and how we might solve it.

Demonstrators chant slogans to support ISIS. Image by NBC News (AP File photo from June 16, 2014)

In this June 16, 2014 file photo, demonstrators chant slogans to support the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they carry al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq. The al-Qaida breakaway group has seized much of northern Syria and huge tracts of neighboring Iraq formally declaring the creation of an Islamic state on Sunday, June 29, 2014 in the territory under its control. (AP Photo, File)

What we should be concentrating on is how many innocent people are getting killed or maimed, how many refugees are being created, and how many months will it take to solve the Syrian conflict

And as is always the case, military people are well supported by their organizations and get paid to engage in warfighting, while civilians are (obviously) vastly unprepared to deal with war.

Consequently, many of them do the intelligent thing and leave the conflict region when they are able. This puts huge strain on neighbouring nations as they struggle to accept millions of refugees. Turkey is on track to surpass 2 million by January, 2016 and other nations in the region have accepted hundreds of thousands.

Syria: The Path to Civil War

By using deductive reasoning, we can safely assume the civil war now raging inside Syria is due to the many anti-coalition fighters who fled the 2003-2011 Iraq War, once they realized they couldn’t beat the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Such fighters were then able to live and operate virtually ignored in Syria (and Lebanon) as anti-coalition sentiment was running high in the region in the aftermath of the Shock and Awe invasion due to the Syrian people seeing only the results of, and hearing the accounts of, the Iraq War from fleeing Iraqi civilians.

A similar situation on a smaller scale occurred during the Arab Spring months.

Ergo, both the Iraq War and Arab Spring added to anti-Western sentiments in the region

This created a robust ISIS force practically out of thin air — with tacit support from Syrian citizens and the citizens of other nearby nations.

Reality Check:

  • Was there an ISIS before the Iraq War? No.
  • Was there an ISIS during the Iraq War from 2003-2011? No.
  • Was there an ISIS before the Arab Spring of 2010? No.
  • Was there an ISIS during the Arab Spring? No.

Therefore, the ISIS entity was born in ‘the Arab Street’ which is the name for the collage of meeting places where Arab peoples meet, sometime after the Iraq War of 2003-2011 and after the 2010 Arab Spring.

Religion has nothing to do with it

Just as religion had nothing to do with WWI, WWII, or any recent war, this isn’t a religious war although various sides will always try to employ religion (the Crusaders, Osama Bin Laden) or the occult (Hitler) to serve their own interests.

We should ignore the cant and focus on clear examples of criminal and terrorist behavior. Murkiness isn’t our ally in the fight against terrorism

Trying to charge a person in court for being too ‘religious’ is impossible — as there is no such criminal charge.

However, if a person kills 25 people in a criminal act (whatever their political or religious views) we can deal with it in the courts in a very clear manner, and it becomes a clearer ‘sell’ to citizens in the court of public opinion — who after all are the ones footing the bill for our military operations in Syria.

Focusing so much attention on such things as the types of bombs employed by any side and by overly focusing on the religious aspect, we remove our focus from the criminality of what ISIS or other fighters are actually doing in Syria, Iraq, and in the Kurdish territories.

(Although it must be said that the Kurds have their own terrorists and they too must be careful when pointing fingers at ISIS, as some Kurds have been at the terrorism game for decades)

I’ll grant you that the Syrian response to ISIS and other groups has been heavy-handed

But no more than Shock and Awe was to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

We the West, created the conditions necessary for the creation of ISIS and other similar groups that left Iraq and the Arab Spring nations for Syria and Lebanon upon realizing they couldn’t match coalition firepower.

Now we are picking away at them piecemeal from the air, while the Russians have partnered with President Bashar Al-Assad to preserve the Syrian government with both the Russians and Syrians taking the fight to any group threatening the peace inside Syria until a sustainable cease-fire can be agreed.

If we attempt to exterminate all the ISIS fighters in Syria (with the Russians helping in regions of the country that we can’t access) we will simply drive ISIS fighters to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Egypt and into other Arab nations

Which will allow the West to claim that we’ve ‘won’ in Syria — in the same way we claim to have ‘won’ in Iraq.

Does anyone really think, for an instant, that Iraq is better off now than under Saddam Hussein?

It certainly isn’t. If you believe otherwise, I dare you to travel to any Iraqi city and proclaim it loudly in any public square. (And, by the way, it was nice knowing you)

If a massive (Iraq War style invasion) occurred in Syria today, many ISIS fighters would leave Syria, taking their tales to the people of each country in the region thereby gathering evermore pro-ISIS support and congealing centres of power across the MENA region.

Using military power to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria means that we will set up a paradigm of continual ISIS movement and evermore ISIS recruiting in more countries

Therefore, although we can paint an “X” on certain ISIS members or groups, once we begin to ‘win’ against ISIS in Syria, they will just melt away to other nations gathering evermore support in every city they visit. Just as they did during the Iraq War.

That is not the path to victory against ISIS

In the case of highly mobile fighters and an ideology that we ‘enabled’ by attempting to exterminate ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we will simply help to grow the anti-Western sentiment throughout the Middle East.

The only path to solve the ISIS question is to use diplomacy to convince ISIS of the need for an ISIS homeland (a piece of very northwestern Iraq and very northeastern Syria) and that we are willing to help make that happen in exchange for laying down their arms.

ISIS presents a case where the more we fight (an ideology) the more members it will attract. And that is something the world doesn’t need.

Syria: A Meeting of the Minds – or Five More Years of War?

by John Brian Shannon | September 27, 2015

A unique opportunity presents itself tomorrow when President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia addresses the UN General Assembly and later meets with U.S. President Barack Obama.

Syrian Crisis Map 2015. Image courtesy of the UNHCR.

Syrian Crisis Map 2015. Image courtesy of the UNHCR.

The question on everyone’s mind is;
Will that *opportunity* turn into an *action plan* that lowers the death toll, casualties, and displacement of Syrian citizens?

Certainly it would look like a Win-Win for both President Putin and President Obama if they put their political differences aside and announce a plan forward — one that involves working together to ‘beat back’ the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to the point that it no longer threatens the sovereignty of Syria, its long-suffering citizens and neighbouring countries.

Presidents need successful outcomes in order to accrue political capital to boost their political momentum — which they can then use to further their foreign or domestic policy goals.

But for President Putin it is especially important to make the most of this opportunity as the Russian economy is in crisis mode due to the dramatic fall in oil prices over the past months, while President Obama must always work to counter the GOP narrative.

It’s theirs to lose

One way that both leaders could leave the UN in Win-Win fashion is to ink an agreement (a map) showing exactly where in the skies and on the ground that Russia and the U.S./EU nations will and won’t operate in Syria.

Combat Area Operations Agreement

This is a simple way to guarantee that Russian and Western fighter jets don’t accidentally or otherwise, engage each other within Syrian territory. (“You take the North and we’ll take the South. Now, where do we draw the combat operations line?”)

The same applies to ground-based units.

Mutual Agreement to Support Moderate Forces in Syria

One way to drown out the terrorists is to continually work to strengthen moderate forces in the country. Whether combat groups or civilians who want a return to stability and are proactively working toward that end, such people can have a dramatic effect as their numbers are infinitely larger than the ISIS hooligans trying to take control of Syrian towns and cities.

Whether U.S.A.-supported moderates or Russian-sponsored moderates — each of those are enemies to ISIS.

Of course, a constantly updated Who-Is-Who list needs to be kept, so that everyone works off the same page.

Agreement to Prevent Israeli Involvement in the Syrian Conflict

As this would trigger even more trauma for the region resulting in thousands more casualties and millions more refugees, it is important to have a unified policy.

Not only that, but a significant military force must be dedicated to preventing terrorists from crossing into Israel from Syria.

No good will come of trouble along Israel’s northern border and either Russia, the U.S., or a major (and majorly funded) UN peacekeeping/active patrol force must control a 20-mile wide strip of land across the southern Syrian frontier.

It is unthinkable to not do this, as the consequences of multiple attacks across the border would surely complicate and enlarge the war. (What happens if Israeli fighter jets cross into Syrian airspace in full rage mode to hit back at a terrorist Katushya rocket base, and suddenly encounter Russian Air Force or Syrian Air Force fighter jets?)

Internally Displaced and Refugee persons Handling Agreement

A unified approach to handling internally displaced persons in Syria and how to handle those persons wanting to leave the country to become refugees in neighbouring nations, is of paramount importance.

It’s one thing for thousands of people to leave a country by road, it’s quite another when military units are emplaced there expecting a major tank or infantry battle to break out at any minute, along the very path that Syrian citizens are fleeing!

And in the case of large swathes of land full of unmarked landmines left over from previous decades (millions of mines) it is important to prevent civilians from crossing those sections of land.

Both Russia and the Western powers must notify each other of mined areas in well in advance of approaching civilian convoys (whether they are travelling on foot or by vehicle) and obviously, that information must be kept secure from ISIS.

Mutual Support along Common Corridors or near Demarcation Lines

If U.S. forces (for example) get the best of ISIS and they retreat, the very obvious place for them to run is across the line of control into the Russian or Syrian controlled zone. And the reverse is true for ISIS fighters are fleeing Russian or Syrian military units/combat aircraft.

But when preexisting agreements are set up, ISIS fighters will (quite unknowingly) run into a trap — just when they think they’ve escaped their pursuers.

Agreement to Support the Democratically Elected Leader of Syria

Whether some in the West like it or not, Bashir Al-Assad is the democratically elected leader of Syria and significantly, he is the only game in town. There isn’t anyone remotely qualified nor imbued with a power base sufficient to replace him. Like it or not, Assad is going to be the President of Syria for many years to come.

Even ISIS, as successful as it has been on the field of battle couldn’t pull off running a government. Winning a series of paramilitary battles is one thing — governing a country is a different thing altogether.

Regime change isn’t an option in Syria’s case regardless of how appealing that may sound to those in GroupThink office cubicles around the world. What looks good on paper from 5000 miles away can seem truly hallucinogenic to those on the ground in Syria and to those with any experience in the region.

We are stuck with Assad for some time. There is no other option unless the EU agrees to accept 10 million Syrian refugees. Therefore, we better learn how to work with him.

President Obama should be encouraged to instantly fire any federal government employee (including military members) who indulge in the utter fantasy of regime change in Syria. It is so unrealistic a goal, that to waste any time speculating on it should immediately brand the person making the suggestion as sophomoric and functionally illiterate on the topic of Syria.

Where do we want Syria to be in Five Years?

We’ve seen what the past five years have brought.

“If we keep on doing what we have been doing, we’re going to keep on getting what we’ve been getting.” — Jackie B. Cooper

No sane person, no culture, no nation, wants to see another five years of murder, rape, mayhem and destruction for the people of Syria.

Practically any other option is better than that, and we must all reconcile ourselves to the fact that change must come to the Syrian situation. No amount of wishing away the past is going to make the presently-failing plan suddenly begin to work and achieve our goals.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” — Albert Einstein

Therefore, it is time to take-Russia-on as a full and valued partner to a sustainable solution in Syria, knowing that we will be dealing with Bashar Al-Assad for the next decade, and with a view to lowering the total amount of trauma, death, and destruction in that country every day.

If we can’t work together, ISIS wins

If the U.S.A., Russia, and some of Europe’s leading nations can’t agree on mutually-agreed solutions to solve the Syrian crisis, then I respectfully suggest that the present world order has far bigger problems than ISIS.

If the ISIS leadership is allowed to infer that they can defeat great powers by playing them off one-against-the-other it will embolden ISIS far beyond the limited goals they’ve set for themselves in Iraq and Syria.

Differences in approach must be set aside to allow the U.S.A., Russia, the EU, and Syria to work together to marginalize the deviant ISIS group, or we and future generations may experience a never-ending stream of such conflicts.

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