Podcast: Ukraine World

If you are at all interested in the build up of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, you should listen to the podcast “Ukraine World.”  It is by far the most intelligent discussion of the situation.

The following are notes from several of the Ukraine World podcasts.

  • Ukrainian president Zelensky came to office arguing that more negotiation was needed with Russia and that the previous administration in Ukraine had done a bad job of negotiating.  Two years later, halfway through Zelensky’s term, he has come to the conclusion that Putin cannot be negotiated with and does not want peace. 
  • Even though the situation on the border is extremely serious, Zelensky seems to be also fighting major battles domestically.  As one commentator phrased it, Zelensky seems to be “waging a war against everybody else in Ukrainian politics.”  These “internal turbulences” are creating an unstable situation inside Ukraine.
  • It is unclear whether Zelensky is battling against powerful domestic players and interests for reasons of his own, or is being manipulated by others.  Who these others might be was not explained.
  • The rhetoric coming out of Russia seems to be intended to prepare the Russian population for war.  As one commentator said, Putin is almost promising that Russia will invade Ukraine.  Another commentator stated: Putin is “preparing the Russian public to the fact that the war is inevitable.”
  • It also seems clear that the West is unwilling to engage in a full-fledged war with Russia over Ukraine.  Russia perceives the West as withdrawing.
  • After the feckless and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden administration is almost certain not to involve itself in another war.
  • Even though the Biden administration has made clear that there will be sanctions if Russia invades, many point out that Russia has already invaded Ukraine.  Sanctions have already been applied to Russia and the Russians have not withdrawn.
  • The Russian government has been taking steps to make the economy sanction proof, or at least more sanction proof so that sanctions are unlikely to have a significant impact.
  • In addition, meaningful sanctions would affect powerful economic interests and are unlikely to be implemented no matter how much they are touted by the Biden administration. 
  • There is extensive ideological work going on in Russia preparing the population for war.  Even on popular talk shows on television, there is discussion about Ukraine having plans to militarily take back the territories.  Russia is distributing Russian passports to Russian-speakers in occupied territories.
  • There is a distinct advantage in exporting chaos.  Conflicts rouse nationalistic fervor in Russia and help distract people from their stalled economy and decreased standard of living.
  • The underlying narrative is that there are serious external threats but also victories against those threats (such as in Crimea).  The taking of territory is a success, so don’t complain about how you are living.
  • The west was reluctant to encourage Ukraine to become a separate country after the fall of the Soviet Union.  George Bush, Sr. went to Kiev in 1991 in an attempt to calm down the Ukrainians and persuade them not to leave the Soviet Union.  The west is afraid of a breakup of the Soviet Union.  The narrative inside Russia, however, is completely different.
  • There, the Zelensky administration is portrayed as being a puppet of the West.   And, there are dire warnings that just as the U.S. left Afghanistan, it will leave Ukraine.
  • The Ukrainians in fact helped support U.S. troops in the withdrawal from Afghanistan.  At a time when it was too dangerous politically to risk U.S. soldiers leaving the airport in Kabul, Ukrainian troops went into Kabul and helped people get to safety at the airport.  Ukraine was anxious to demonstrate that it could be a helpful ally, a country that could help as well as ask for assistance.
  • Internal polling inside Ukraine indicates that if a presidential election were held today, Zelensky would get approximately 24% of the vote, but there are three parties opposing him.  Two of them are pro-Russian. 
  • The Zelensky administration is being drained by the conflict on the border.  And Zelensky’s own conflicts domestically are fracturing the country.
  • Ukrainians are understandably distrustful of their politicians.  Hopes for Zelensky when he was elected were extremely high.  Calmer souls warned that Zelensky could not possibly deliver on the promises he was making.  Now, disenchantment has set in. 
  • Corruption remains a serious problem and hopes that Zelensky could do anything about this ingrained corruption were probably misplaced.

Russia Has Already Invaded Ukraine

There has been a great deal of discussion in the media lately about what the West will do if Russia launches an invasion of Ukraine.  But, as has been pointed out on the podcast, Ukraine Without Hype (12/10/21), Russia has already invaded Ukraine.

The United States and the members of the G7 have threatened “massive consequences” if this current military and support structure build-up on the border with Ukraine turns into yet another full scale invasion by Russia, but what those consequences might be, has not been specified. 

It is difficult to imagine Biden approving a military defense of Ukraine just after he orchestrated a disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Putin is well aware of this.

And, a number of commentators are arguing that invading Ukraine now would be much less costly and risky than waiting until some future date.  Putin has made it crystal clear in an article published last summer that the Russian government considers Ukraine part of Russia, not an independent country.

The Russian kleptocratic autocracy is working overtime to ideologically legitimate an invasion of Ukraine.  In Putin’s article (described on MSNBC as a “letter from an abusive spouse”) he clearly appeals to Russian nationalism, arguing that Ukraine as a separate entity is a fiction imposed on people who did not see themselves as Ukrainian.  This “Ukrainization” by the leaders of modern Ukraine and their “external patrons,” is a “tragedy” and “forced assimilation” and is “comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against” Russia.  

In an article published by the Atlantic Council, it is argued that in order to maintain the loyalty of elites and the population Putin has found it effective to engage in “small victorious wars.”  These distract from the fact that the Russian economy has barely grown since 2014.  Small wars are profitable and also whip up the nationalism of Russians.

The five-day war in Georgia in August of 2008, was a great popular success in Russia.  For the first time ever Putin’s popularity figures reached 88%.  Also popular was Putin’s seizure and annexation of Crimea.  Once again Putin’s popularity rose. 

Whatever the goal, actual invasion or mere threat, Putin already has some of what he wants, the West negotiating over the status of Ukraine in a way that would have been unthinkable in the past.