Ukraine fallout: Russia turns tables on West’s Balkanization plans

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Editor’s Note…

The ongoing western plots to foment instability in the Russian sphere of influence seem to have backfired so disastrously that the entire international order is currently at risk of falling prey to the domino effect of Russia and China engaging in soft annexation of their former territories, from the Baltic states to Taiwan. By provoking the Russian bear in Eastern Europe, with no western military power currently capable of containing it, the fatal weakness of NATO is exposed for all to see. All that John Kerry (the most incompetent Skull & Bones henchman ever) can do now is to threaten Russia with economic warfare, even though most of the G-8 states depend on Russian gas…

If Russia and China decide to play ball right now, before Obama is impeached and replaced by some other, serious leadership , they can potentially kick NATO out of its entire proxy “arc of crisis” across the South Eurasian landmass. The original Anglo-American Balkanization plan called for encouraging secessionist movements in the Russian periphery, but Putin has turned the table on this plan by successfully fomenting pro-Russian secessionist movements in former Soviet vassal states. Ukraine could be just the first example.

Below are some key excerpts on the ramifications:

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From  Debka File

Putin spurns Obama’s call to de-escalate with fallout on Mid East

It took US President Barack Obama 90 minutes of intense dialogue with the Russian president to grasp that Vladimir Putin is unshakably fixed on the course he has set for Ukraine and has no intention of withdrawing the Russian troops he has positioned in the Crimean peninsula. In fact, behind the diplomatic verbiage, Putin was clearly on the offensive. He let it be understood that unless the US and Europe rid Kiev of the “fascist gangs,” which had taken over, Moscow would move forces into additional parts of Ukraine to uphold its interests and “protect the Russian citizens and compatriots living there” for as long as the interim regime remained in Kiev.

Not a shot has so far been fired in the Russian military takeover of Crimea. This could change very rapidly and deteriorate into a head-on clash between Russian and anti-Russian elements on Ukraine soil.

Putin was not impressed by Obama’s accusation of being in ”clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Neither was he deterred by the US president’s threat of “international political and diplomatic isolation” – or even a Western boycott of the G8 summer summit in Sochi.

After all, he stood alone at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games – unattended by a single Western leader. After that experience, he is not afraid to stand alone on Ukraine as well, regardless of US and EU efforts to force him to abandon what he views as an imminent strategic threat on Russia’s doorstep.

So the West would be more productively served by leaning hard on the group of assorted protesters who seized power in Kiev and get them to step aside, or else seek an understanding with Moscow. Military brinkmanship will get them nowhere.

The basis of an understanding already exists. It was signed and sealed on Feb. 21, the day before the pro-Western coup in Kiev, in a deal with Viktor Yanukovich, brokered by the German, French and Polish foreign ministers, for a unity government, an early election and a new constitution curbing the president’s authority.

That deal was endorsed by Moscow as well as Washington. However, as time goes and the escalation continues, that deal will fade, along with the chances of a non-violent resolution of the Ukraine conflict.

Therefore, the US-EU tactic of turning the heat on Moscow is not just an exercise in futility; it is proving to be a major strategic blunder stemming from weakness, which now threatens to promote real violence and bloodshed.

The Interim government’s security council chief Sunday, March 2 announced a general mobilization of Ukraine’s 1 million reservists after placing the army on a combat footing. This step was virtually useless in practical terms while providing Putin with further impetus to continue his military expansion. He knows that the Kiev administration is broke, so how can it feed, equip, arm and provide transport for hundreds of thousands of troops? And does anyone know how many are loyal to the new regime?

Belatedly, the interim government appealed to the West for help. This grossly uneven confrontation takes place under the critical gaze 2,000 km away in the eastern Mediterranean and 3,500 km away in the Persian Gulf of the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Hizballah in Lebanon.

They may be said to share four significant conclusions:

1. President Obama was seen backing off a commitment to US allies for the second time in eight months. They remember his U-turn last August on US military intervention for the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons. They also see Washington shying off from Russia’s use of military force and therefore not a reliable partner for safeguarding their national security.
2.  The Middle East governments which opted to range with Vladimir Putin – Damascus, Tehran, Hizballah and, up to an initial point, Egypt, are ending up on the strong side of the regional equation.
The pro-American camp keeps falling back.
3.  American weakness on the global front has strengthened the Iranian-Syrian bloc and its ties with Hizballah.
4.  Putin standing foursquare behind Iran is an insurmountable obstacle to a negotiated and acceptable comprehensive agreement with Iran – just as the international bid for a political resolution of the Syrian conflict foundered last month.
With the Ukraine crisis looming ever larger, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting Monday with President Obama at the White House is unlikely to be more than an exchange of polite platitudes.

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From  The Atlantic 

Putin’s Playbook: The Strategy Behind Russia’s Takeover of Crimea

Moscow has supported secessionist movements in ex-Soviet states to expand its influence in the region. Is the Crimean crisis just the latest example?

It seemed like a classic example of euphemistic bureaucrat-speak when, on Friday, U.S. officials referred to the deployment of Russian troops in Crimea as an “uncontested arrival” rather than an invasion.

But terminology matters here. Take the word “uncontested”: The southern peninsula of Crimea, which the Soviet Union transferred to Ukraine in 1954 and which now hosts the Russian military’s Black Sea Fleet, is the only region in the country where ethnic Russians are a majority (60 percent of a population of 2 million). And a good number of them favor closer relations with, if not outright annexation by, Moscow; according to one recent poll, 42 percent of Crimean residents want Ukraine to unite with Russia. That doesn’t mean there aren’t Ukrainian nationalists or Kremlin opponents in Crimea—there certainly are—but it does mean many people in the autonomous republic, spooked by the ouster last week of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, welcome Russian military intervention.

Or take the word “arrival”: If this is an invasion, it’s a disorienting and not yet fully formed one. There were the shadowy, Russian-speaking gunmen who fanned out across Crimea on Friday, seizing government buildings and airports. And then there was the series of seemingly orchestrated events on Saturday: Crimea’s freshly minted prime minister pleading for Russian help; Russia’s lower house of parliament urging Vladimir Putin to “stabilize” Crimea, the Russian president obliging; the upper house swiftly granting him the authority to use force in Ukraine. Putin is pledging to make his next move soon, as his military masses and the White House fumes. All told, we’re now witnessing what Reuters is calling the “biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.”

So what should we call the worrying developments in Ukraine? And what is Putin thinking? Back in 2008, Thomas de Waal, an expert on the South Caucasus, argued that Putin’s greatest legacy is something de Waal called “soft annexation,” which, at the time, was underway in Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The idea, expressed in various forms over the years, is that Russia is pulling political, economic, and military levers—all of which fall short of traditional invasion—to exploit ethnic conflicts in countries that used to be in its orbit. And the goal is to leverage these tensions, which are often relics of the Soviet Union’s messy consolidation and collapse, to gain influence in former Soviet states, while preventing these countries from moving closer to the West.

When, for instance, Ukraine was considering a treaty with the European Union earlier this year, Fiona Hill and Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution penned a prescient memo warning of ways Russia could retaliate politically and economically against Kiev:

Putin perceives the European Union as a genuine strategic threat. The threat comes from the EU’s potential to reform associated countries in ways that pull them away from Russia. The EU’s Association Agreements and DCFTAs are incompatible with Putin’s plan to expand Russia’s Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan and create a “Eurasian Union.” Putin’s goal is to secure markets for Russian products and guarantee Russian jobs. He also sees the Eurasian Union as a buffer against alien “civilizational” ideas and values from Europe and the West….

Moscow could take actions that weaken the coherence of the Ukrainian state, e.g., by appealing to ethnic Russians in Crimea, or even by provoking a violent clash in Sevastopol, leading to the deployment of Russian naval infantry troops from the Black Sea Fleet to “protect” ethnic Russians.

One of the most consequential questions now is whether Putin’s gambit in Ukraine will follow the model of Russia’s previous support for secessionist movements in former Soviet states (and particularly in the Black Sea region), or whether it represents a break with that approach.

The Moldovan prime minister, for his part, sees in Ukraine’s crisis echoes of Moscow’s backing of the breakaway province of Transnistria, another pro-Kremlin territory with a large ethnic Russian population. In the early 1990s, Transnistria declared independence from Moldova, sparking a brief war between a complex constellation of regional forces that included a Russian military unit known as the 14th Army. Russia now stations troops on the wisp of land along the Ukrainian border, and provides Transnistria with financial assistance. Negotiations to resolve its status are frozen.

Many others are comparing the current situation to Russia’s intervention in Georgia in 2008 over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which also have large ethnic Russian populations. Russia sent peacekeepers to the territories in the spring of that year, and dispatched its military to ostensibly protect those troops when Georgia tried to reclaim South Ossetia by force in the summer. That war lasted five days and left Russia in control of the provinces, both of which are now home to Russian military bases.

There are several similarities between these cases and that of Crimea: the separatist rumblings in an ex-Soviet state turning away from Russia, the appeals of ethnic Russians in the territories for the Kremlin’s help, the forward deployment of Russian troops. In the lead-up to the latest standoff, for instance, the Russian consulate in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, had stoked controversy by issuing Russian passports to ethnic Russian Crimeans—a practice Moscow also employed in South Ossetia in the lead-up to the conflict there.

“The Russians raised the stakes and baited [former Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili …. by effecting a ‘soft annexation’ of South Ossetia,” de Waal wrote as war between Georgia and Russia broke out in 2008. “Moscow handed out Russian passports to the South Ossetians and installed its officials in government posts there. Russian soldiers, although notionally peacekeepers, have acted as an informal occupying army.”

Putin himself, however, has dismissed these comparisons. When asked by a reporter in December whether Russia would deploy troops to Crimea in a Georgia-like scenario, he dismissed the analogy as “invalid”:

[I]n order to stop the bloodshed, as you know, there were peacekeeping forces in [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] that had international status, consisting mainly of Russian troops, although there were also Georgian troops and representatives from these then-unrecognised republics. In part, our reaction was not about defending Russian citizens, although this was also important, but followed the attack on our peacekeeping forces and the killing of our troops. That was the essence of these events.

Thankfully, nothing similar is happening in Crimea, and I hope never will. We have an agreement on the presence of Russia’s fleet there. As you know, it has been extended–I think, in the interest of both states, both nations. And the presence of the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, in Crimea, is in my view a serious stabilising factor in both international and regional policy—international in a broad sense, in the Black Sea region, and in regional policy.

Fast-forward two months, though, and the situation has changed dramatically. Putin’s ally in Kiev has been removed from power. A new, pro-Europe Ukrainian government has taken shape. The future of the Crimean base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is crumbling but still important for Russia’s naval power in the Black Sea and Mediterranean, is in jeopardy. And, just like Russia did in Georgia, Putin is now justifying the use of force in Ukraine as a means of protecting “the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory,” including Russian troops.

Still, Russia’s recent moves don’t necessarily mean that it will go as far as a Georgia-style “soft annexation.” De Waal himself pointed out on Friday that Crimea (population: 2 million) is far bigger than Abkhazia (population: 240,000), South Ossetia (population: 70,000), and Transnistria (530,000), and that secessionist sentiment is less widespread in Crimea than in these other provinces. In threatening force in Ukraine, he wrote, Russia may primarily be trying to secure its naval base and destabilize the Ukrainian government, not set the stage for annexation or invasion:

Any Russian escalation deserves a strong response from the West. But if you read what Putin is actually saying he is being more equivocal. He is ruthless, but he is not Sauron in Lord of the Rings. He almost certainly wants the government in Kiev to fail, but he is also hosting the G8 summit in Sochi in June….

Russia has one overwhelming strategic asset in Crimea: the Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol. My guess is that Putin’s main goal in Crimea is to maintain that base at all costs.

If the Crimean crisis is fundamentally a show of strength by Putin to preserve his naval base in Crimea, and remind Ukraine’s government that Moscow can still knock it off balance, what explains Putin’s willingness to make such a bold move in the first place—one that could still potentially mushroom into a larger conflict?

In 2006, Nicu Popescu, an expert on EU-Russian relations, offered one of the best analyses I’ve seen of Russia’s new assertiveness in world affairs under Putin. Moscow’s support for secessionist movements in Georgia and Moldova, he argued, was part of Russia’s larger decision over the past decade to make expanding its influence in Eurasia, not creating favorable conditions for domestic economic growth, the top priority of its foreign policy. There are four reasons for this shift, Popescu argued:

  1. The growth of Russia’s economy due to oil and gas exports, which helps bankroll a more aggressive foreign policy
  2. The Kremlin’s centralization of power, which neutralizes the challenges posed by political opponents at home
  3. The retreat of the West from the world stage after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which creates an opening for Russia
  4. The success Russia has had in suppressing its own secessionist movement in Chechnya, which makes it easier for the Kremlin to support secessionist groups abroad

“These have all led to a feeling in Moscow that Russia has the resources and the proper international conditions to reassert its dominance in the former Soviet Union,” Popescu wrote. “Stepping up support for the secessionist entities is seen as a way to achieve that.”

And if Russian leaders believe they can do so, in Crimea and elsewhere, without provoking a major response from the West, they seem willing to assume the risk that comes with it.

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From CSMonitor

Crisis in Ukraine: As Russia surges, is US still a ‘superpower’?

The US and its European allies are threatening economic sanctions against Russia over its military incursion into Ukraine. But the crisis raises questions about a new cold war and the US as the lone superpower.

As the fast-moving crisis in Ukraine shows no sign of winding down, the United States – frequently dubbed the lone remaining “superpower” since the Soviet Union fragmented and fell – finds its place in the world questioned and perhaps tenuous.

Put another way, is the two-power cold war heating up again?

More immediately, does the Obama administration have any effective options to influence behavior in Ukraine as Russian military forces surge there, taking over its Crimea region, and amounting to what interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk calls “a declaration of war”?

As hundreds of armed men in trucks and armored vehicles surrounded a Ukrainian military base in Crimea Sunday, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said, “We are on the brink of disaster.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry was the point man for the Obama administration as he made the rounds of the Sunday morning television news programs.

“It’s an incredible act of aggression. It is really a stunning willful choice by [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to invade another country,” Secretary Kerry said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Kerry said. “Russia is in violation of its international obligations. Russia is in violation of its obligations under the UN charter, under the Helsinki Final Act. It’s in violation of its obligations under the 1994 Budapest agreement. You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

(From Mr. Putin’s point of view, that “pretext” is protecting the majority Russian-speakers in Crimea.)

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Kerry said Russia “is inviting opprobrium on the international stage,” and he laid out steps the US and other countries are considering. Based on his discussions with other foreign ministers since the Russian military incursion into Ukraine, Kerry said, “They’re simply going to isolate Russia.”

“They’re not going to engage with Russia in a normal, business-as-usual manner,” he said. “There could even be ultimately asset freezes, visa bans. There could be certainly a disruption of any of the normal trade routine, and there could be business drawback on investment in the country. The ruble is already going down and feeling the impact of this.”

The US, France, and Britain already have pulled out of preparatory talks for the G-8 trade and finance summit scheduled to be held in Sochi, Russia, in June.

Still, Kerry said, “We’re not trying to make this a battle between East and West, we’re not trying to make this a cold war.”

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, which means that the US and its NATO allies are not obliged to intervene militarily. That seems impossible to contemplate anyway given US and European public – and therefore political – attitudes toward engaging in armed conflict in the region.

President Obama – sometimes chided for “leading from behind” – is more inclined to try every diplomatic option. His two top Cabinet officials here – Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – are Vietnam combat veterans who know first-hand the cost of war. And the American public, after witnessing more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, has little desire to send more US troops abroad.

Mr. Obama’s Republican critics have been quick to weigh in on what they see as the administration’s failure to read Russian intentions and capabilities. (They forget, perhaps, that it was former President George W. Bush who said of Putin, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy…. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”)

“Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“They’ve been running circles around us,” Representative Rogers said. “And I believe it’s the naïve position on the National Security Council and the president’s advisers that, if we just keep giving things to Russia, they’ll wake up and say, ‘the United States is not that bad.’ That is completely missing the motivations of why Russia does what Russia does.”

Still, Rogers concedes, “There are not a lot of options on the table.”

“Candidly, I’m a fairly hawkish guy, [but] sending more naval forces to operate in the Black Sea is really not a very good idea, given that we know that that day has long passed, and unless you’re intending to use them, I wouldn’t send them,” he said. “Now you’ve got only economic options through the EU.”

Some question whether even that will work.

In a Politico magazine piece headlined “Why Russia No Longer Fears the West,” Ben Judah, author of “Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin,” writes:

“Once upon a time the Kremlin feared a foreign adventure might trigger Cold War economic sanctions where it hurts: export bans on key parts for its oil industry, even being cut out of its access to the Western banking sector. No more…. Russia is confident there will be no Western economic counterattack. They believe the Europeans will not sanction the Russian oligarch money. They believe Americans will not punish the Russian oligarchs by blocking their access to banks. Russia is certain a military counterattack is out of the question. They expect America to only posture. Cancel the G-8? Who cares?”

In a New York Times op-ed column Jan. 28, written as the violence in Kiev and other cities began to escalate, four former US ambassadors to Ukraine (John E. Herbst, William Green Miller, Steven K. Pifer, and William B. Taylor Jr.) warned that “Western influence in Ukraine is real but limited and could fade.”

“The United States and European Union should apply it now,” the ambassadors urged, “lest the West find itself watching Ukraine succumb to widespread violence that it cannot stop.”

The question now is, has that influence faded altogether?