Flashpoint Ukraine: Don’t Poke the Bear

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by Philip Giraldi, The Unz Review:

Question 1— For the last 4 years, Democrat leaders have blamed Russia for allegedly meddling in the 2016 elections. Now the Democrats– who control all three branches of government — have the power to reset US foreign policy and take a more hostile approach to Moscow. But will they?

At present, there are roughly 40,000 US-NATO troops massed along the Russian border conducting military exercises while scores of Russian tanks, artillery and an estimated 85,000 Russian troops are now located about 25 miles from Ukraine’s eastern border. Both armies are on hair-trigger alert and prepared for any sudden provocation. If the Ukrainian Army invades the Russian-speaking region of Ukraine (Donbas), Moscow will likely respond.

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So, will there be a conflagration in the Ukraine this spring and, if so, how will Putin respond? Will he limit the scope of his campaign to the Donbas or push onward to Kiev?

Israel Shamir– If the Russian army crosses the Ukrainian border, it won’t stop in the Donbas. The war will be brief and the Ukraine will be split into pieces. But will it happen?

Russia’s totem animal, the Bear, is a strong and peaceful animal that is not easily aroused, but once provoked, it is unstoppable. Russian rulers have typically fit this image. They weren’t adventurous, but level-headed and prudent. Putin, who is the quintessential Russian ruler, is risk-averse. He won’t start a war he never wanted to begin with, but he will act decisively if he needs to do so. Consider 2014, after the Ukrainian coup: the lawful Ukrainian president Mr Yanukovich ran to Russia and asked Putin to help him regain power. At that time, the Ukrainian army was weak and Russia could have easily retaken the country without facing any significant resistance. But, surprisingly, Putin did not give the order to take Kiev.

Putin is unpredictable. He ordered the seizure of Crimea despite the counsel of his advisors. It was an unexpected move, and it worked like a charm. He also pummeled Georgia in 2008 after Saakashvili invaded South Ossetia. This was another surprise move that succeeded better than anyone could have imagined. If the Ukrainians try to retake Donbas, the Russian army will beat them badly and continue on to Kiev. The presence of NATO’s troops will not deter Putin.

As for the Democrats, they can push Kiev to attack, but they will end up losing the Ukraine in the process. If the point is to poison relations between Russia and Europe, they can try to do so, but if they think the Russo-Ukrainian war is going to drag on, they’re mistaken. And if they think Putin won’t defend the Donbas, they’ve made a serious miscalculation.

Biden’s recent phone call to Putin suggests that the administration has decided not to launch a war after all. The unconfirmed report of two US ships turning away from the Black Sea fits this assessment. However, we cannot be sure about this since the Kremlin refused to agree to Biden’s offer for a meeting. The Kremlin’s response was a frosty “We shall study the proposal”. Russians feel that the summit proposal might be a trick aimed at buying time to strengthen their position. Bottom line: We cannot know certain how things will play out in the future.

 

Question 2— I have a hard time understanding what the Biden administration hopes to gain by provoking a war in the Ukraine. Seizing the Donbas will force the government to impose a costly, long-term military occupation that will be ferociously resisted by Russian-speaking people who live in the area. How does that benefit Washington?

I don’t think it does. I think the real objective is to provoke Putin into overreacting, thus, proving that Russia poses a threat to all of Europe. The only way Washington can persuade its EU allies that they should not engage in critical business transactions (like Nordstream) with Moscow, is if they can prove that Russia is an “external threat” to their collective security.

Do you agree with this or do you think Washington has something to gain by launching a war in the Ukraine?

Israel Shamir– What do you mean by ‘overreacting’? Putin is not threatening to nuke Washington or take over Brussels or storm Warsaw? But to solve the problem of Ukraine on such occasion would be entirely reasonable.

When the regime in Kiev began to prepare for war a few months ago, they thought it would be a repeat of 2015, where they attack Donbas, the Donbas suffers losses, and then the Russian army steps in to prevent their defeat. They saw it as a limited war with a good chance of regaining Donbas. But Moscow has indicated that they will respond to any unprovoked aggression using their full strength, thereby crushing the Ukrainian state. In other words, the Russian army won’t stop at the Donbas but will proceed to the western borders of the Ukraine until the entire country is liberated.

Is that ‘overreacting’?

Definitely not. The people of Ukraine would be saved from the nationalist, anti-Russian regime, and the people of Russia would be saved from a NATO base on their western flank. Hopefully the EU will understand this. As for the US, the Russians have already made up their minds; the United States is an enemy. There has been a tectonic shift in Russia, and that shift is the result of Russia’s weariness with the United States’ proxy assaults.

The US would like to see the Donbas reintegrated into the Ukrainian state because then they’d be praised as a ‘mighty defender of an East European country against Russia’. But then Russia would have permanent low-level war on its border. Either way, Russia’s relations with Europe would be poisoned and the EU would probably end up buying expensive liquefied gas from the US rather than instead the much cheaper Russian gas.

Russia’s decision to launch a full-blown attack on the Ukraine has made the whole plan irrelevant. Putin will not allow it to happen.

The Ukrainians are flexible folks. At present, they submit to anti-Russian nationalist narrative, but if the Russian army were to come, the Ukrainians would quickly remember that they were co-founders of the USSR, brothers to Russians, and they would shake off the nightmarish nationalist rule. The Ukrainians are wonderful people, but they easily adapt to new rulers, be they the German Wehrmacht, the Polish landlords, the Petlyura Nationalists, or the Communists. They would adapt to a partnership with Russia, too. Similarly, the Russians would embrace the Ukrainians as they did in 1920 and in 1945.

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