UKRAINE: WHAT WE SHOULD KNOW

Russian House of Soviets, Lenin on Moscow Square. St. Petersburg.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

  • The 2014 uprising in Ukraine, the ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and the overthrow of the Ukrainian government were severe blows to the pride of Vladamir Putin and the Russian establishment/oligarchy.
  • Added to the economic importance of Ukraine is the profound cultural centrality of Ukrainian history as part of the Soviet Union, and the political significance of the independence gained by the Ukrainian people.
  • Putin has reportedly never gotten over the breakup of the Soviet Union, the independence of Ukraine or the movement of the Ukrainian people towards the West.
  • As was pointed out in the Ukraine World Podcast, Putin and the Russian oligarchy have never conceived of Ukraine as an independent state.  They have never considered Ukraine as independent and cannot now accept the status quo.
  • As Timothy Snyder pointed out, Putin and Russia have never considered Ukrainians as anything but vassals.  They do not even negotiate with Ukrainians, but with the West over Ukraine.
  • And, the status quo, as unpalatable as it may seem, may not remain the status quo much longer.
  • Putin may feel that the window of time for pressuring Ukraine back into the Russian sphere is rapidly closing.
  • Not long after Biden took office, Russia announced itself fed up with the status quo relating to Ukraine and NATO expansion.
  • Also, around the first of the year, Zelensky expressed more publicly than he had in the past, an interest in Ukraine joining NATO.
  • Since Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, there is no automatic responsibility of the West to react if Ukraine is invaded.  If Ukraine joins NATO, however, this changes completely.
  • Note: I cannot see after withdrawing from Afghanistan, Biden involving military troops in any conflict in Ukraine.  Putin, of course, knows this and it adds to the likelihood of intervention.
  • There is, of course, a great deal of debate about whether Putin intends to invade or just threaten.  But, as has been pointed out, not only is there an unprecedented movement of troops, but also a structuring of support for an invasion, like locating medical supplies near the border. 
  • It would probably be an error to suppose that Putin’s choice is binary.  Even though U.S. officials persist in talking about the choice as either an invasion with a full scale military operation and seizure of territory, or backing down and not invading.  But, as others point out, Putin has stated that he would never invade any territory unless he were certain of victory.
  • So, a number of regional experts foresee an operation that includes pinpoint strikes and then strategic withdrawals.  The object, according to these commentators, is to destroy Ukrainian military capability.  Occupation is not the goal.
  • Putin, so the theory goes, wants to demonstrate to Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet Block that all their efforts towards independence can be negated easily and quickly, leaving them vulnerable and back inside the Russian sphere.
  • While there have been strides in the development of Ukrainian military capability, it cannot even compete with the highly technological, mobile Russian military expertise.
  • Putin pursued economic strategies to block Ukraine from moving out of the Russian sphere of influence and toward the west.   
  • In 2014, it became evident that that strategy had failed.  Ordinary people rose and drove out the pro-Russia president who had to flee to Moscow to keep from being imprisoned.  The Ukrainians made their choice clear when they drove out a Russia friendly president and ushered in the pro-western government.
  • Putin saw this as a coup engineered by the West and the CIA to divide the Russian sphere of influence.  So, Putin seized Crimea. 
  • Putin intended to demonstrate that he cares more about the fate of Ukraine than the west.
  • Putin also sees the writing on the wall in the policies and actions of Zelensky.  In early 2021, Zelensky’s government began cracking down on Russian controlled media inside Ukraine and a Russian connected oligarch.  The government also participated in military exercises with Western forces.
  • Putin’s actions have actually alienated people in Ukraine.  Polls indicate that more people than when Zelensky first took office support joining NATO and a move toward the West.
  • Putin, evidently, does not believe this.  He has indicated that a move toward Russia is the will of the people and that Russian forces would be welcomed, regarded as liberators. 
  • And, Putin may estimate that a war now could be less costly than later.
  • While U.S. officials bandy around the threats of “sanctions” according to specialists, Putin has been sanction proofing the Russian economy since 2014. 
  • And, sanctions on Russia will affect powerful interests around the world.  In order to enact meaningful sanctions, Biden would not only have to take on the Russians, but banking and other interests internationally.  There is little indication that he is prepared to do this.
  • What Putin wants is not to annex Ukraine, but to influence it.  He wants to alter and control the structure of security in Eastern Europe.
  • While this mobilization near the border of Ukraine may be only an example of “coercive diplomacy,” the intent is to keep Ukraine out of NATO and get an agreement to limit NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
  • If Biden agrees to this in order to avoid a war, he will violate the concept of self determination that has influenced policy in the post-war era. 

Sources:

Podcasts:

The Daily, NYT (12/8/21) Interview with Moscow Bureau Chief, NYT, Anton Troianovski

Ukraine World Ep. 58: The New Russian Attack on Ukraine.

Ukraine World Ep. 57: Ukraine in November 2021.

Author: cjjohns08

Criminologist, writer, actor, storyteller, painter and a lover of all things feline.

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