Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Ukraine: belling the cat

In situations of conflict there is an acknowledged advantage given to those with their back to the wall. With survival at stake the ones with nothing to lose by fighting are at an advantage. In previous posts I've suggested that Americans could better understand the Russian position if they imagined the US reaction if America's access to the Panama Canal was threatened. The United States once invaded Panama for that very reason:
The United States Invasion of Panama, code-named Operation Just Cause, was the invasion of Panama by the United States in December 1989. It occurred during the administration of U.S. President George H. W. Bush, and ten years after the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were ratified to transfer control of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama by 1 January 2000. During the invasion, de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega was deposed, president-elect Guillermo Endara sworn into office, and the Panamanian Defense Force dissolved. Wikipedia
It could be argued that Russia's interests are under much more threat today in the Ukraine than America's were in Panama in 1989. Are Russians being unjustifiably paranoid here? Here is how a notable neoconservative commentator urges a "full-throated American support for Ukraine’s revolution".
"Without Ukraine, there’s no Russian empire."
Obviously the Russians would be fools if they took US human rights rhetoric all that seriously, as anything but a smokescreen for America's own "imperialist" goals, which are to isolate Russia in a corner of Asia.

So, it seems clear to me that the Russians are the ones in the "to be or not to be" position.

Are the Europeans going to significantly sanction Russia? Doubtful. It is easy to criticize the EU in Washington, but Europeans have a lot more skin in the game than Americans do.
Given that Europe’s economic relationship with Russia is multiple times that of the United States, securing the region’s cooperation will be paramount to any effort by Washington to secure significant sanctions. Yet such ties will not be lightly jeopardized, observers say, even in the defense of a fellow European nation under threat. (...) On Tuesday, the Estonian newspaper Ohtuleht ran an editorial worrying about the economic links between Russia and Western European economies dependent on its gas supplies. “What government would dare to suggest to its voters to spend the next winter in a cold apartment just because of a peninsula nobody can point out on the map?” Washington Post
And if Europe actually decided to go to the mat with Russia, would it work?
Unlike Europe, however, Russia’s capacity for economic hardship is almost limitless, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout history. In any contest over pain thresholds, Russia would win hands down. Jeremy Warner - The Telegraph 
Would the USA lose anything significant by taking the moral high ground and reducing relations between the two countries? Yes, it would and in a very important way. Here is an angle which strangely nobody seems to have mentioned: one of the major objectives of the Obama administration is withdraw all but a token force from Afghanistan. I understand that getting the masses of American equipment out of Afghanistan would be nearly impossible without Russia's logistical cooperation. Here is what the US State Department has to say about Russo-American cooperation there:
The United States recognizes Russia’s contribution to building a better future for the Afghan people.(...) We take note of the significant contribution to international security that has resulted from the arrangements between the United States and Russia – bilaterally and through NATO – to support ground and air transit into and out of Afghanistan. In accordance with these arrangements, over 2,200 flights, over 379,000 military personnel, and over 45,000 containers of cargo have been transported through Russia in support of operations in Afghanistan.(...) The United States and Russia continue to face a common threat from terrorism, including from al-Qa’ida and other groups operating in and around Afghanistan. We are working together to disrupt terrorists’ operational networks and undermine their access to financial resources.  U.S. State Department
If I had to bet, I would analyze it like this. The Russian position is simple, easy for the Russian people to understand. The American position to a great extent is shallow posturing, with very little at stake. The European position is complicated: sending money to Ukraine is like poring sand down a rat hole as the people who have replaced Viktor Yanukovych are said to be every bit as dishonest as he is and any meaningful, economic sanctions on Russia would bring much pain on EU citizens at a time when the entire European project is being questioned by a wave of populists. This brings us to Ukraine. Ukraine's position is purely chaotic, totally fluid and flat broke. There is where I think the denouement will come from... the political/economic implosion of the Ukraine, with Russia shoring up the Russian speaking part. DS 


Vil Mahoubey said...

Hey David,
Keep up the thinking!
I posted the following on my FB (where nobody will read it, as most of them -- excepting Frank - are more interested in cute pictures of dogs, cats and babies).
Quote from this article:"In a Western media culture that largely disdains context or history, Putin has been made the villain in the piece. But Russia has legitimate security concerns in its near-neighbor."
Also, see what my friend, David Seaton , has to say about the situation. http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.ca/ - For example, from "Ukraine: Belling the Cat ": "Americans could better understand the Russian position if they imagined the US reaction if America's access to the Panama Canal was threatened. The United States once invaded Panama for that very reason".
Those that urge a big stick approach are , well to be blunt, neo-con idiots. On the other hand, absolute worst case scenario, it might be a way to decrease the earth's overpopulation by a few billion once the intercontinental ballistic missiles start flying, and the resultant nuclear winter would slow down global warming.
I also recommend listening to Dan Carlin's podcast "Poking the Bear":http://www.dancarlin.com//disp.php/csarchive/Show-270---Poking-the-Bear/Ukraine-Russia-Putin.
Also, y'all might want to read "The War that Ended Peace-The Road to 1914" - a quote from the book's introduction: "It is easy to throw up one's hands and say the Great War was inevitable but that is dangerous thinking, especially in a time like our own which in some ways, not all, resembles that vanished world of the years before 1914. Our world is facing similar challenges, some revolutionary and ideological such as the rise of militant religions or social protest movements, others coming from the stress between rising and declining nations such as China and the United States. We need to think carefully about how wars happen and how we can maintain the peace. Nations confront each other, as they did before 1914, in what their leaders imagined was a controlled game of bluff and counterbluff. Yet how easily and suddenly Europe went from peace to war in those five weeks after the assassination of the archduke."

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thanks Bill!