Monday, April 14, 2014

Ukraine and beyond

The news is dark.  

As Russia's war for territorial expansion continues, economist Anders Åslund explains why Putin must win at all costs, and what can be done about it.  I agree.  Incidentally,  Åslund was on the board of directors of EERC-Kyiv when I taught there and I met with him on occasion.  I think a great deal of him.

Those "green men?"  Economist Paul Gregory provides solid evidence that they are indeed Russian troops who have invaded Ukraine.  

And political scientist Alexander Motyl shows why Russia's actions easily qualify as state-sponsored terrorism under U.S. and E.U. law.

These are dark times.  May Putin's schemes come to ruin, and may Ukraine escape bondage to his criminal regime.  Unfortunately, Putin's targets include more than just Ukraine.

From the Baltic Times,

Estonia's Interior Minister tries to reassure people that "it can't happen here," but...

Some of Putin's shills are already calling for parts of Estonia become Russia.

And Latvia claims Russians are already doing advance work looking for Russia supporters.

Here's a thoughtful piece discussing the implications.  If the West does not treat the Budapest Treaty (under which Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees) as binding, will the NATO agreement be any more solid?  What conclusions will China, Japan, Israel, and others draw if the West allows Putin to invade Ukraine?

Dark times indeed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

More analysis

Alexander Motyl has an interesting analysis of likely troop requirements should Russia try to occupy some or all of Ukraine.  It is not promising for Russia.  If Putin cares about this, maybe I'm wrong in my predictions.  I still don't think so.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO, has a fairly perceptive analysis of Russia's behavior.  It's a pity he has to conclude with a call for the primary culprit to voluntarily de-escalate.  But so far, the West appears to be interested only in marginal responses, so Rasmussen can do little else.  NATO also has a useful fact sheet dispelling the lies Putin and Lavrov tell about NATO and Ukraine.

One of my current students has just sent me this excellent State Department fact sheet that refutes ten Russian myths about the current situation in Ukraine.  Of course, it's worth reiterating that these aren't honest misunderstandings but intentional disinformation concocted in the Kremlin.  (Thanks, Ashley!)

Yuriy Gorodnichenko, economist at UC Berkeley (and one of my former students in Kyiv) compares George Kennan's analysis of the USSR with Russian behavior under Putin.  It's not very reassuring.

Also from VoxUkraine, Kateryna Dronova of UC Berkeley gives an excellent analysis of language in Ukraine and explodes the lie that the Russian language is under any sort of assault (one Putin's most absurd claims).

And a Belarussian opponent of Lukashenka says Putin is contemplating attacking Ukraine from Belarus as well, with Lukashenka's help.  If so, may Putin's forces get stuck -- permanently -- in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

Photo: from Pussy Riot's protest of a couple of years ago.  Incidentally, a number of You Tube videos critical of Russia and Putinism seem to suddenly be unavailable.

Hot War Begins in Ukraine, and My Predictions

Now Russia's war on Ukraine has gone hot.  Russian special forces are attacking government offices in Donetsk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine.  This is not a surprise at all, there has been a growing number of operations using Russian and Ukrainian agents to lay the groundwork.  Now Putin has committed his special forces in numbers, and it's a certainty that this will be followed by a land invasion.  As in Crimea, the spetsnaz are in uniforms without insignia so that Putin and Lavrov can claim they are just local people defending themselves against fascists who are attacking Russian speakers.

Western leaders seem to be in denial.  Here's a Bloomberg piece describing the combat and related matters, note the U.K. Foreign Office statement: 

“Assumptions that Russia is complicit are inevitable as long as Moscow does not publicly distance itself from these latest lawless actions,”

It's an assumption that Russia is complicit?  As if AK-74's, body armor, matching uniforms, communications equipment, grenades, etc. are things one can legally purchase in Ukrainian sporting goods stores, as Putin and Lavrov have claimed.  As if coordinated military attacks are a manifestation of civilian political opposition, just demonstrations that get a bit out of hand.  No, these are the same Russian spetsnaz forces that invaded Crimea. Everyone knows it, or is an idiot.

Meanwhile, pro-Putin demonstrators have attacked pro-Ukraine demonstrators in Kharkiv.  Putin needs violence, now, to "justify" his land invasion.  Some Ukrainian observers argue that Putin is trying to trigger a civil war and chaos.  Perhaps, but I think this is wrong.  The longer his troops sit on the border, the more their readiness degrades and the more time for the West to figure out a response.  And should Kyiv have a successful presidential election, he's really in a mess.

Meanwhile, Russian media has mounted a full Soviet-style disinformation campaign to convince the citizens of Russia that the West and Ukrainian-speaking fascists have already mounted a genocidal war on ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers.

So here's what will happen: shortly, Putin will announce that Kyiv's "fascists" are slaughtering Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine.  He has no choice but to intervene to stop this horrible violation of "human rights."  The Russian Army will mount a land invasion of Ukraine from the east (in the vicinity of Luhansk and Donetsk), north (to Kharkiv), and south (from Crimea).  I'm 100% sure this will happen.    In addition, I think it very likely that these forces will continue moving south and west, all the way to Moldova, where they'll link with Russian forces in Transdnistria. Its also likely that Russian forces will enter near Chernihiv and drive to Kyiv, where they'll meet forces from the east.  I think the chances of an invasion continuing in this fashion beyond eastern Ukraine are greater than 50%.  Maybe Crimean forces will mount a landing on Ukraine's southern coast as well.  (I'm unsure of their competence at this, but some weeks ago the Ukrainian Navy drove off an incursion into these waters by two Russian troop ships -- a test run?)  After that, all that's left of Ukraine will be west of a line drawn from Kyiv to the northern tip of Transdnistr.  The rest will become "the ukraine," just another bit of the Russian Empire.  This assumes, of course, that he's successful.

I don't think the Ukrainian military can mount a successful defense.  I do think the Russians will be entering a hostile country, were people loathe and fear Moscow and are willing to resist.

That's the analysis of Unforeseen Contingencies, in particular of me, chief blogger Charles N. Steele.  I didn't get this from someone else; I just don't see how other conclusions can be drawn from the evidence.  Perhaps I'm entirely wrong, but I'm sufficiently convinced of all this that I'm willing to state it publicly.  My strongest wish is that I will have to publicly admit how wrong I was.  I'm not alone, though, for example, economist Paul Gregory has a similar analysis.

And my prediction only goes so far.  I have no idea how all this will play out.  I can't guess what the West will do.  I tend to think "nothing serious" but could be wrong.  I can't predict how a Russian invasion will go; invading Crimea was one thing, but invading territory inhabited by a hostile and fearful population is another.  (That's why I don't think Putin will invade places like Lviv.  Any Russian soldier the citizens managed to get hold of would be butchered.)  I hope that this quickly proves a catastrophe for Putin and Russia, that it backfires horribly and brings his regime down...

...because if it doesn't, if it is successful, this is just the start.  Georgia, Armenia, parts of the Baltics... why not?  Anything else on Russia's borders that's undefended and of interest?  And other countries are watching.  Is this perhaps China's answer to the problem of Republic of China on Taiwan?  Or the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands?  And if Western security guarantees are not meaningful, what kind of world are we about to enter?  One of greatly increased incentive for nuclear proliferation and increasing dominance by illiberal regimes, that's what.  And that's the sort of thing that leads to world wars.

The West ought to act now to crush Putin's plans.  I've already said what I think could be done.  But I'm skeptical that any of our political or business leaders care enough to bear the immediate costs involved.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Waking up to War

I'm unsure why so few in the West seem to understand that Putin plans to invade Ukraine.  The capture of the Ukrainian Navy ships Ternopil and Slavutych by the Russian Navy was an act of war.  It had nothing to do with the "referendum," otherwise the ships would have simply been sent away.  Putin plans war, and said so in his Crimea speech.

Now some are starting to sound the alarm:

Recall Unforeseen Contingencies' analysis of three weeks ago?  I hate to say "I told you so."  And I still have slim hope that I won't be able to... but that slim hope is dwindling fast.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Rehabilitating Crimea

Refat Chubarov, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis (parliament) is asked why Tatars in Crimea are unhappy with Putin's promise to respect their rights.

"Imagine that one morning some people unexpectedly enter your flat. You don’t know them, they look scary and they’re armed. They don’t touch you. They talk to you politely. They use your toilet, bathroom, but are extremely courteous. And then they say: "Let’s continue to live this way!"  I’d like to ask you: would it be better that they discussed how you will live together BEFORE they broke into your flat, or AFTERWARDS?  Please excuse me, but that’s an answer to your question."

Chubarov neglected to mention that the last time this was done, Tatars were butchered and deported.  Stalin decided they were suspect.  But relax, relax, this is 2014, not 1944, a kinder and gentler time.  Putin puts it this way:

 "I believe we should make all the necessary political and legislative decisions to finalize the rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars, restore them in their rights and clear their good name."

So don't worry, Refat, everything is OK.  Putin simply wants to rehabilitate you.

War is Inevitable

So says one of Alexander Motyl's friends in Lviv.

And when it comes, Russian forces will use Ukrainian women and children as shields. So says Vladimir Putin.  Motyl's analysis of Putin's recent press conference makes this seem very probable.

Here's an excerpt, from the official Kremlin translation:

QUESTION: But there are Ukrainian troops, there is the Ukrainian army.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Listen carefully. I want you to understand me clearly: if we make that decision, it will only be to protect Ukrainian citizens. And let’s see those troops try to shoot their own people, with us behind them—not in the front, but behind. Let them just try to shoot at women and children! I would like to see those who would give that order in Ukraine.
Little surprise, then, that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have all asked for a meeting under Article 4 of the NATO Charter.  I wonder how close we are to the invoking of Article 5?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Putin's Speech on Crimea and other "reassuring" notes

Here's the full text in English, courtesy of Prague Post.  The speaker of Lithuania's parliament, Loreta Grauziniene, responds "Putin aims at reestablishing the borders of the former Soviet Union."

Other bits:

Russia has now captured three Ukrainian ships (wow, does the "referendum" also give Russia Ukraine's navy?), Russia is massing troops in Crimea and on Ukraine's northern and eastern borders, and has been conducting military "exercises" near the Estonian border.  The Russian government is now expressing concern over the rights of Russian speakers in Estonia as well.

Belarus' Charter 97 site (run by Lukashenka's opposition) has some interesting items.    Petro Symonenko, head of the Ukrainian Communist Party, has fled to Minsk.  The Belarusian military appears to be mobilizing and Russia has deployed combat aircraft to Belarus.  They  also report that Putin and Lukashenka were regular guests of Yanukovych at Mezhyhirya.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians seem to increasingly expect a Russian invasion.  Also interesting -- a "leaked" document that describes a Russian plan to subvert and take Ukraine.

It's hard to know what to make of some of the reports, such as this last one, which appears to be a faked document.  But here's one I can comment on.  Chuck Hagel has received "assurances" from Russia's Defense Minister that Russian troops on the eastern and northern borders will not invade Ukraine.  My comment: if Russians do intend to invade, what answer will they give to that question, Chuck?

Rhetorical question, of course (and hence a comment).  I don't think Chuck Hagel reads Unforeseen Contingencies

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Russians attack Ukraine, Lew Rockwell blames America for war

The Russian attack was just announced 11:00 minutes ago by NYT, a little less than 2 hours ago by Kyiv Post.

I've documented that the Euromaidan movement is a pro-freedom movement, that Yanukovych was extremely corrupt and oppressive, that Russia invaded Crimea without provocation and set up a puppet regime and plans for a Soviet-style referendum.  Now Russia has invaded Ukraine outside Crimea.

According to Lew Rockwell and company, this is just a reasonable Russian response to a neocon coup in "Kiev" (sic, it's actually Kyiv). Obama is about to seize the assets of anyone who disagrees with his "placing us on a war footing" with Russia over Ukraine, and this is all about trying to stop American world domination.  (This bit, from Russian official state television, is hilarious.  It turns out American diplomats --Assistant Sec'y of State Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt -- were concerned with Yanukovych's dictatorship, Russian attempts to dominate surrounding Ukraine, they met with members of the opposition to discuss how Ukraine might have a better government, they had opinions on the opposition leaders, and they lamented the indifference and incompetence of the E.U.  That's evidence of a coup?  You're kidding.)  But a "coup" isn't enough, the U.S. government wants war with Russia.  Need proof?  Why here's photographic evidence of Nuland and Pyatt conducting a coup and preparing for war.  Umm, OK, actually they are handing out bags of cookies, and the post mocks them, not unreasonably, for such a pathetic action.

Obama sends diplomats to hand out cookies, Putin invades Crimea with 20,000 troops and asserts a right to invade all of Ukraine.  Rockwellians scream "America is starting another war!"

Of special note, Pat Buchanan argues that whether people in the former USSR live under freedom or dictatorship is irrelevant; their populations are shrinking, after all.  The thing we should be worried about is that "European Man" is an endangered species, while those darned Africans, Asians, and Latins just keep breeding without limit.  Buchanan's piece is so crazy it has to be read to be believed.

And Ron Paul is convinced that Viktor Yanukovych is the legitimate ruler of Ukraine and was deposed by an American plot, that we should increase trade with Russia in response, that the real dispute is just eastern Ukrainians vs. western Ukrainians, and that the referendum in Crimea is "certainly moral."  All this to Russian state radio VR (Voice of Russia) which notes that he needs little introduction.  Of course he doesn't, he's a regular on Russian state TV and radio, where he regularly denounces America.

But the finest (i.e. most horrible) bit comes from "Anti-War" (hah!) Justin Raimondo, who argues that "every nation has a right to set its own course, so "Let Crimea Go!"  It's only "Washington’s limitless supply of arrogance" that could find anything wrong with "self-determination."  The referendum is being conducted at gunpoint, there is no way to vote to not break away from Ukraine, and the everyone knows already what the results will be -- even Raimondo!  It's a forgone conclusion how the Soviet-style vote will go.  His account of Ukrainian events is entirely the Kremlin's account.

Lew Rockwell's stuff is so crazy and propagandistic you might almost think it comes from Pravda.  Well, in fact,  it does!  Are the Rockwellians Soviets after all?  They behave towards Putin the way the CPUSA behaved towards Stalin -- faithful mouthpieces.  This isn't anti-war libertarianism.  They keep harping on Yanukovych as being the "legitimate" ruler of Ukraine, forced out by a vicious mob.  (Wait a minute -- aren't they supposedly anarchists who deny the legitimacy of any government?!)  They seem utterly incapable of noting Yanukovych's unbelievable corruption, his oppressive police state and violence, and the clear danger that he was about to sell out Ukraine to the dictator in Moscow.  That Putin is a dictator who crushes his opposition and censors the media is never mentioned.  That he invaded Crimea, well, so what, "Russia has always had an interest there."  They regularly use Russian spellings for Ukrainian city names.  Rockwell even included a bizarre pro-Russian rant in which the author gloats over Russians giving us arrogant Americans our comeuppance at Sochi.  It's not just the federal government they hate -- it's America.

Ever since Murray Rothbard repeatedly defended Joseph Stalin his more rabid devotees have been profoundly anti-American.  Lew Rockwell and co. have now made it perfectly clear that they are not just anti-American but pro-Putin, and they welcome Russian dominance at his hands.  They work for it with their regular propaganda, which is directed, often as not, against Ukrainian citizens who don't want to be dominated by thugs like Yanukovych and Putin.  They take their leads from Kremlin propaganda. They are genuinely evil.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Putin's Trap

What is Putin up to?  Here is the most cogent analysis I've seen.  From Lilia Shevtsova in The American Interest.  A crucial bit:

"The Kremlin’s intervention in Crimea and involvement in the destabilization of southeastern Ukraine exemplifies the Putin Doctrineformulated by the Kremlin in 2012­–­13. One of the goals of this doctrine is to find ways to reproduce the traditional Russian state and Putin’s regime, and to respond to new domestic and international challenges. This doctrine is based on three premises: Russia is a “unique” civilization and must contain the demoralized West; Russia can only exist as a galactic center, around which orbit satellite-statelets; Russia is the civilizational pillar whose mission is to defend “traditional values” globally.
"Many have viewed the Putin Doctrine as an exercise in empty rhetoric, but Putin has proved that it is the real thing. He has also proved that foreign policy is now the key instrument serving his domestic agenda. What a lesson this has been for those Western politicians who believed they could rest their Russia policy on the basis of “de-linking” domestic and foreign affairs!"
And ...

"The government will use both psychological and physical terror tactics to ensure dominance and guarantee obedience—both here and over there. This is an up-to-date version of the Brezhnev Doctrine used in 1968 against Czechoslovakia, an aggression which was also meant as a warning to Soviet society."

Shevtsova tries to come up with something positive at the end, but that's just window dressing.  The West is impotent, not because it has no power, but because it has abandoned principle.

I Predict War

Rather than a lengthy post, I'm going to outline some salient points regarding Ukraine and the Russian invasion.  I'm astounded by the stupidity of much of the commentary in the America media and by American and Western politicians and diplomats.  The commentary is so far off that I suspect that many commenters don't believe their own words -- it's hard for me to think anyone in government really believes Putin is an honest player who is interested in "resolving the issues" with a "political solution" rather than conquest.  I think he fully intends to invade Ukraine well beyond Crimea.

1. Euromaidan was about liberalizing and better trade relations with the E.U.

2. Yanukovych was not just a criminal, but a kleptomaniac beyond belief; in his term in office he stole at least $12 billion, and probably  a great deal more.  He also began setting up an oppressive dictatorship and had demonstrators attacked and killed.

3. Yanukovych was not deposed.  He voluntarily abandoned office and fled, to Russia.  His flight had been organized well in advance.  There was no coup.

4. Putin had planned for some time to invade Ukraine should it be necessary to enforce Kremlin control.

5. His invasion of Crimea and Kherson Oblasts were entirely unprovoked.  There have been no threats against "Russians," however defined.  The Euromaidan movement was not in any way fascist.  Here is a letter to Putin from a number of Ukrainian Jewish dignitaries and a statement from the chief rabbi of Ukraine denying Putin's "antisemitism" charge. Note that "fascist" was Soviet language for anyone who opposed the USSR.  Putin still uses this terminology.  On the other hand, Pavel Gubarev, Putin's man in Donetsk who declared himself governor, proposed a referendum to join Russia, and suggested Russia should invade, actually is a neo-nazi.

6. After invading, Putin installed a puppet government run by pro-Putin mafia men.

7. The "referendum" in Crimea is a hoax.  There are two options on the ballot -- join Russia or become independent of Ukraine.  The Ukrainian press was shut down and replaced by pro-Kremlin media. Ukrainians who prefer the status quo are threatened and attacked when they try to rally.  There's substantial evidence that non-Ukrainians (Russian citizens) will be voting instead of Ukrainians.  The outcome is already known.

8. Russia is massing forces in Crimea and on Ukraine's eastern and northern borders.  Here are photos and video taken in Russia by Russians of military equipment going to the border near Kharkiv.

9. Yesterday (13 March) Putin stated that the separation of Ukraine from the USSR was not legal.  Today he stated that he has the right to invade eastern Ukraine to protect "Russian citizens."  Russian citizens have indeed invaded Ukraine, trying trigger provocations that can be used as a pretext for Putin.

It's very easy to document all this, from multiple independent sources.  There's no sensible way western leaders can believe this is something other than naked and coldly-planned aggression by Putin, that there could be a "political solution" that doesn't include Ukraine's surrender.  As I've said elsewhere, I think Putin has two options. Either he can occupy Crimea and sabotage and subvert Ukraine until he brings it to its knees, or he can just get it over with "quickly" and invade..

As I've said elsewhere, I think Putin has two options. Either he can occupy Crimea and sabotage and subvert Ukraine until he brings it to its knees, or he can just get it over with "quickly" and invade.  I think he'll do the latter.  Otherwise why fool around with all the troop movements?  He's not a wimpy post-modern progressive, trying to "send a message."  He's a tough and nasty KGB officer.  

Unfortunately, in either event, Ukraine is incapable of resisting the Putin.  I think Putin has no plans of stopping with Crimea, it's just a matter of his time frame and methods.  He might take his time and sabotage and subvert the rest of Ukraine, but then he might just roll in.  The Ukrainians say they can't stop him militarily and I am sure that's right.  The west is impotent.  Obama is a weak man and pissed off the Brits a long time ago.  The Germans are half subverted themselves.  Putin thinks everyone would rather sell stuff to corrupt Russian oligarchs and buy cheap Russian gas than stand up to him, and he's right.  This will be very bad, and it won't stop with Ukraine.  So which do I think Putin will do: occupy Crimea and sabotage and subvert Ukraine until he brings it to its knees, or just get it over with "quickly" and invade? 

I think he'll do the latter.  Otherwise why fool around with all the troop movements?  He's not a wimpy post-modern progressive, trying to "send a message."  He's a tough and nasty KGB officer.  Killing a lot of Ukrainians won't bother him at all (heck it's a Soviet tradition.)

Of course, there are things the West could do.

1. Freeze Russian bank and financial accounts in the west.  Instead of "targeted" ones proposed, do it in general with "targeted" exceptions for dissidents, etc.​  But U.K. has already said they won't do anything to restrict Russian finance.

2. No more visas for Russians, again, with targeted exceptions.  Gary Kasparov is keynote speaker for this year's Milton Friedman Awards Banquet.  Let him come.

Those two things alone could lead to Putin's downfall.  But there's more...

Deny all western ports to Russian ships.  End the ban on exporting U.S. natural gas.  Reverse Germany's ban on nuclear power. Kill Assad.  (I don't have any particular preference for this opposition nor a desire to get involved in Syria, but if the U.S. simply killed Assad and then privately said to Putin "how's your boy Assad doing these days, Vlad?" Putin would respect that a lot more than Hillary's fricking "reset" button.)  

I think none of these will happen.  Remember when Obama told Medvedev to tell Putin that after the election he could be "flexible" with Russia on defense and foreign policy?  Putin correctly understood.  No one has the balls to stand up to him.

Various people have warned what a post-American world would look like.  Now we're about to see it.


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