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Putin’s warnings, A Prelude to War?

How the West cultural miscalculation of Moscow leads Europe, NATO and the United States to the edge of war.

Brussels (33.33-25/12). The rhetoric of the European, the United States and NATO and the Russian response by the administration of President Vladimir Putin is stressed. Distrust by Moscow is reciprocated by the West. Blame on who does what against who is ample. Western and Russian media is full of the blame game.

However the crisis is not new. Since 2008 the Russian government has warned the west of the consequence of its actions. A former foreign service officer serving during the years of the collapse in the Soviet Union warned: “Vladimir Putin is a 19th century citizen. His world view is linear. The woke crowd in Washington is like day and night for the generation of Putin.”

He added, “in his speech he made it clear a men is a men, a woman is a woman. So is the world of state order. In the eyes of Putin the West has broken its promises and can not be trusted. The interview with NBC was the first hint of the strategic patience with the EU, NATO and the United States has run out. Period.”

“If a Russian would threaten me, I would take the threat very serious as it is a matter of national pride which many in Washington, Brussels and Berlin just not getting.”, he concluded.

A French blogger below tracking the troop movements provides a compelling picture of what has amassed on the border of the Ukraine. The United States has beaten the alarm bells for some time, the Europeans are laid back and do what the EU does somewhat best, to jaw-jaw better than war-war.

But the Russian are ready to bounce the Ukrainians into returning to the status quo.

Source: https://twitter.com/COUPSURE/status/1474486488800890888

Diplomats at the European Council weekly meeting of ambassadors referred in EU lingo as the COREPER II (core representatives), of all EU member states ambassadors covered the situation in the Ukraine, among the more mundane discussions such as the websites of the Slovak president (!). If Europe is in crisis, it does not show in the notes of the European Council.

But what shows up instead? The secretariat went on holiday until 2 January next year which is important since the overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels need a break from the paper shuffling and coffee breaks. A policy debate on the EU’s Green law to pass into law was held and batteries and other green agenda driven items seemingly are more important for the bureaucrats in Brussels than taking Moscow’s warning seriously.

The argument could be made Moscow swings into action while everyone in Brussels is on holiday. It would not be the first time Brussel and Washington miss the faint signals.

Enter the Contrarians

John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science in 2015 highlighted the intention of the west to move the Ukraine to be a bulwark against Russia.

Mearsheimer pointed out that the three step U.S. policy since the Clinton administration moved NATO eastwards. He argues that Russia has warned against the move since the mid-1990s.

The economic expansion of the European Union integrating the Ukraine into the west. The economic integration is somewhat natural with the Russian Federation and Europe are economically linked through the resource market such as gas and oil.

The third element of the Clintonian strategy is fostering an orange revolution. Exporting democracy according to Prof. Mearsheimer is replacing governments with a democratically elected regime. Both, to no one surprise, Beijing and Moscow reject the U.S. interventionist policies.

Mearsheimer articulates astutely the U.S. regime change strategy of the west by toppling the regime to replace it with a democratic elected government, not because the U.S. likes particularly democracy but because whoever is elected following the regime eventually will be pro-western. A view not necessary well liked by the majority of the political science academics and policy officials on both sides of the Atlantic.

What triggered the Crisis?

The now famous April 2008 Bucharest NATO summit triggered the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. The final declaration of the NATO summit stated,

“NATO wecomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”

NATO final declaration Bucharest Summit, 3 April 2008

The Russian Deputy foreign minister at the time response was swift. “Georgia’s and Ukaine’s membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which will have most serious consequences for pan-European security.”

Vladimir Putin made it clear at the time that this is a direct threat to the Russian Federation. What followed was the war in Georgia. Today’s crisis is a direct result of the 2008 aspiration by the EU and NATO.

Whereas views in Europe and the United States see Russia as a smaller actor. Not so, says Mearsheimer.

The surprise of the Obama and the European elites is based on the disconnect of what are the 21st-century policies facing off with a 19th-century Moscow, Beijing, Turkey or Iran.

The 22 February 2014 coup in Ukraine started in 2013 after former president Yanukovych said no to the EU integration. The outcome is now history.

Yanukovych fleed to Russia, new elections were called and integration into the EU commenced. A year later, on 27 February 2014 Russia secures the Crimea.

This explains the reactions by President Putin. On 24 December president Vladimir Putin held his annual TV conference. The usual conference went longer than other years since the Ukraine was on the agenda.

The Kremlin made its strategic objectives clear to the west. Stop expanding NATO and commit to security guarantees to Moscow. Now!

Western media, political pundits and policy officials warn, threaten and counter threaten each other. Moscow’s message is unambiguous.

NATO and the west too. Go to war and face the economic wrath of the west. Moscow responded: Bring it on!

We seem to be set on war, or are we not?

Many in the political field forgot is the cultural differences often ignored by the west. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia argued the Ukraine is a buffer state. Trade is fine, NATO is not.

Alternatively the Putin administration creates the strategic space to wreck the Ukraine and destabilize the country permanently making the costs to the EU too high to bear.

Contrary to public belief, the Ukraine has no strategic value for the United States. But it has for Russia and the Europeans. Mearsheimer in fact argues that the west is baiting Putin to invade which damage Russia.

But the Russian president is too clever for a full blown occupation of the Ukraine.

Hence a partial territorial occupation of the North-South language delineation is more likely if diplomacy fails.

Returning the Crimea to the Ukraine is unlikely, hence Putin’s claims of a pending attack on the occupied eastern part of the Ukraine is not ruled out.

Pushing Putins 19th century Button?

In the annual press conference held by the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin pointed out the fallacy of security guarantees by the West since 1990 were ignored.

The president usually calm and composed insisted actions and guarantees by the United States, NATO primarily to settle. But the urgency is evident.

His point of empty promises can be found in another interview with the Russian president. Keir Simmons with NBC interview of President Putin provided an insight in the strategic thinking of Russian strategic goals.

“……Some— some defense. Some defense. During the USSR era, Gorbachev, who is still— thank God, with us— got a promise— a verbal promise— that— there would be no NATO expansion to the east.

[KEIR SIMMONS:] Where is that written down? Where is that promise written down?

[VLADIMIR PUTIN:] Right, right, right. Right, right. Well done. Well done. Correct. You’ve got a point. Nyah nyah nyah, got you good. Well, congratulations. Of course, everything should be sealed and written on paper.

Vladimir Putin interviewed by Keir Simmons (NBC)

The strategic shift of Russians concessions may lie in the Russian president’s agreement. Russians “verbal promise” is now a concrete policy demand.

Where are We going from here?

A few scenarios are circulated. First, a partial occupation of the Russian speaking eastern Ukraine to create a strategic room for the separatist east and expand control over the Ukrainian territory.

A few scenarios are circulated. First, a partial occupation of the Russian speaking eastern Ukraine to create a strategic room for the separatist east and expand the beachhead formed around the Crimea to bolster its defense.

Russia will never allow the Crimea becoming a NATO naval base. This is too close to comfort for the Russian security posture. A return of the territory will only be achieved by mutual agreement which includes the Russian Federation or the use of military force.

However Russian troops along the southern areas bordering the Crimea is designed to deter any Ukrainian adventures. The United States has already signalled that no combat troops will be committed to the Ukraine. It is unlikely the country will become a NATO member unless the Ukraine is invaded.

Thirdly, the United States and Russia enter in protracted negotiations. Including security guarantees and even membership with the EU and NATO in resuming less antagonist relationships. Russia is expected to continue to act as a spoiler negotiator to increase its influence in the Balkans and Turkey and elsewhere.

For the Ukraine watchers. The diplomatic language will be telling but so will be the reactions by the Ukraine such as evacuation orders for the civilian populations in Eastern Ukraine. Depature of non-essential staff from the EU or US missions, mobilization of troops and an increase of hybrid attacks.

A few outcome can be predicted, if anything.

If war is breaking out, the knock on effect on European security will be instant. Whereas the Europeans work on a diplomatic solution the United States are the core partners of the United States. War in the Ukraine even as it is ongoing at this time will destabilize Europe.

The Russians do not want war. However if the western powers think sanctions will change Moscows position think again. The resilience of Russians to hardship is legendary. Further sanctions will only drive Moscow into the arms towards Chinese.

Observers note the Russian-Chinese collaboration has increased in the past years with Russia declaring a pivoting towards Asia long before the US and European announced their shift in strategy.

The OSCE managed to get both, the Ukrainian and Russians to agree to honor the ceasefire. This does not include the separatists. It is a first step to de-escalation but resumption of violence can assume anytime.

The talks between Russia and the United States will determine the path forward. The U.S. objective should be to neutralize the Ukraine by supporting economic stability. Economics will win the day.

And finally, China is closely watching. Hence the strategic outlook is for China to measure the resolve.