Monday, March 03, 2014

The Fundamental Value of the Ukraine Crisis

I hope the events over the weekend in and around the Crimea gave everyone an opportunity to review the basics, and hopefully reacquaint themselves with some hard truths about how the world was, is, and will be - especially when you are referring to Russia. So it has been true for hundreds of years, so it is now.

While there are quite a few more cards that need to come out of the deck, here are a just a few things to ponder from the grass-is-green/water-is-wet file:

The essence of Russia is that she produces more history than can be consumed locally: this has been true since Catherine the Great, and especially true for the last century. Part of it is geography, part cultural. She straddles Europe to the West, and Asia to the East. She holds the Northeast front of Christendom. She is not Catholic, not Protestant - but Orthodox. Her people do not understand, nor are they comfortable with, the fruits of the enlightenment - but in arts, sciences, and music fewer people are as skilled. She is a very big country in both population and geographic size. Insecure, yet strong. Sickly, but powerful. She will not be ignored.

No one should be shocked this is going on. What we have seen over the last week is easily somewhere between the Red Most Likely and Red Most Dangerous COA.

Should be an interesting week as more cards are revealed.

Russia is not a nice neighbor: For reasons that started with to Golden Horde through Swedes, Germans, Poles, and others, Russia looks at her borders with the eye of the very insecure. Her neighbors soon find that they have to decide if they are going to be a vassal of Russia, or an perceived enemy.

The West's anti-war Left are a fraud: I cracked that code in the mid-80s, but sadly many still don't understand these patchouli oil soaked bed-wetters with their extra large puppets are either mindless useful idiots, or more likely morally hollow hypocrites who don't really hate war - they are only projecting their own self-hate on to the host-culture that enables their narcissistic acting out. It is amazing all the trouble we have to go through simply because someones daddy didn't love them enough. So, did you see all the video from the anti-war demonstrations this weekend? Of course you did. I hold those people in the highest contempt. From Code Pink to ANSWER - yea, I talking to you and your fellow travelers.

If you demand perfection from "your" side and the other side doesn't from theirs - you lose: One of the most depressing things to me at through the weekend, concerned some who still cannot get over the fact that there were a few unsavory far-right actors involved in the Ukrainian revolution. Here is a simple fact; when you are at the barricade fighting from your freedom, you take the friends you have. You can clean things up later. If the USA and GBR could team up with the USSR in WWII - then we should cut the Ukrainians some slack if they have a few guys running around with black shirts on fighting beside pro-democracy forces at the barricade. What smart people do is not spend their time reporting and giving attention to the black-shirts, but starve the far-right of the attention they want. Put your time and money towards the pro-EU part of the Popular Frontesque new leadership, and they will rise to control the movement. The unsavory parts will fade in time to the standard-issue 10-20% of the electorate - just like in the rest of Europe. I was very disappointed in some people who were spending so much time on a few black-shirts in Kiev, while thousands of Russian forces clogged the roads to the Crimea. Priorities people ... priorities.

You don't know the future: Do not think that just because you want history to leave you alone, that it will. Just because you want to be most concerned about the Pacific and Indian Ocean AOR - that doesn't mean history will let you. We need to be very careful following people who are so convinced about their ability to see the future. They can't. I can't. You can't. All you can do is maintain intellectual and operational flexibility against other nations' abilities, not their intention. Hedge, hedge, hedge.

Weakness invites aggression: Russia saw an opening to take what they have wanted since the fall of the Soviet Union; the Crimea. Ethnically and from a historical perspective, they have a leg to stand on. All they needed was for the time to be ripe. Kiev in chaos, NATO weak and thin, and the USA led by the C-team. Thinking like a Russian, I can't say I blame them. There were a few territorial loose ends from the breakup of the Soviet Union that they want to clean up. That leads to the next point ....

Hard power always wins: Don't delude yourself. When the decision is made to use it, hard power will always trump soft power. Soft power is the tool of the weak. The strong can use soft power only if hard power can be seen in the background to be used if needed. The Russians know that NATO won't do anything, and even if they did, is a Dutch armored brigade going to forward deploy to the Ukrainian-Polish border? Of course not, the Dutch got rid of all their tanks. The Germans? Please. Who is going to do what with whose army? Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU. This is an issue between the Ukrainians and the Russians. The international community can make a ruckus, but that is about it.

Ethnicity matters: One of the best moves after WWII was the wholesale ethnic cleansing that took place throughout Central Europe. That is why Germans are not rioting in Poland or the Czech Republic, etc.  For nations who base politics on ethnicity, conflict soon follows if assimilation does not take place. That is something that we should keep in mind. When ethnicity is combined with geographic concentration - it is only a matter of time and ripeness. Ethnicity is at its core, the germ of conflict in the absence of overriding religious or pseudo-religious movements.

Russia will continue to push the angle that they are only protecting the ethnic Russians from anarchy. They will stick with that until the facts on the ground make a change of borders inevitable, or things somehow change the calculus and they go home. I don't think they are going to go home, but they need to be careful what precedents they are making. As the Russian Far East becomes more and more Chinese, and China actually has a historical claim to that area more than Russia has to Crimea - when that becomes ripe - what if China moves to protect their kin from anarchy? What of the ethnic and religious minorities in Russia proper?

Funny. All those underemployed Russian experts have been warning everyone that Russia will not slip quietly in to the night. This should also make everyone pause and ponder about the assumptions they have been running with the last two decades.

Here is the Salamander play: smart odds are that we will have an interim agreement where Russian forces stay, and then there will be a vote. The vote will go in Russia's favor and Russia will get larger. The Ukrainians should prepare to lose not just Crimea, but Karkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, and Dnepropetrovsk. They should count themselves lucky if they keep Mykolaiv and Odessa. That is worse case. Most likely for the Ukrainians would be the loss of only Crimea and those parts east of the Dnieper up to the city of Dnepropetrovsk and east of the E105 to Karkiv. Best case is just the loss of Crimea, or some kind of agreement with Russia for expanded Russian bases and influence.

They don't have much to argue with. The facts on the ground are getting tougher by the day.

The best thing the West can do now is to support the Baltic nation's to build multiple LNG terminals. Get frack'n in Poland and western Europe. Break the hold that Russia has on European gas supplies. Support Ukraine and get GDP spending above 2% for all NATO nations. Support Georgia and the other former Soviet Republics that want to lean West.

Do that, and then see what desired 2nd order effects we get.

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