Airport Donetsk: There are no victors in war

A surprisingly even-handed documentary of the battle for Donetsk Airport. The overwhelming hardship and sacrifice endured by both sides merely underlines this stark message:

There are no victors in this conflict. Only victims.

The war should not have happened. It was instigated by a cynical politician 1000 kilometers away (in Moscow) to stoke nationalist fervor and shore up dwindling public support. His callous disregard for the sacrifice of Russian and Ukrainian lives, and the economic hardship endured by his fellow citizens — a price he considers worth paying to extend his presidency — highlights what the world faces.

He considers the West weak and vacillating. The sooner we face down this threat, the safer our world will be. These words from William Shakespeare (King John, Act 5, Scene 1) still apply today:

Be great in act, as you have been in thought;
Let not the world see fear and sad distrust
Govern the motion of a kingly eye:
Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror: so shall inferior eyes,
That borrow their behaviors from the great,
Grow great by your example and put on
The dauntless spirit of resolution.
….What, shall they seek the lion in his den,
And fright him there? and make him tremble there?
O, let it not be said: forage, and run
To meet displeasure farther from the doors,
And grapple with him ere he comes so nigh.

Putin’s Crimean gamble: Russia, Ukraine, and the new Cold War

 

From the Brookings Institute:

Since the time of Catherine the Great, Crimea has been a global tinderbox. Most recently, the world was stunned when the forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded and seized Crimea in March 2014. In the months since, Putin’s actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and, more recently, in Syria have provoked a sharp deterioration in East-West relations. Basic questions have been raised about Putin’s provocative policies, his motivations, and the future of U.S.-Russian relations—and whether the world has now entered a new Cold War.

On October 26, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted Nonresident Senior Fellow Marvin Kalb for the launch of his new book, “Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War” (Brookings Institution Press, 2015). In “Imperial Gamble,” Kalb examines Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the impact on East-West relations, and how the future of the post-Cold War world hangs on the controversial decisions of one reckless autocrat, Vladimir Putin.

Joining the discussion were Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist, and Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international relations at The New School. Brookings President Strobe Talbott provided introductory remarks, and Martin Indyk, Brookings executive vice president, moderated the discussion.

Window on Eurasia: Kyiv Must Work to Isolate Moscow Rather than Negotiate with It

From Paul Goble:

Staunton, August 11 – Up to now, Ukraine has made “a serious error” by trying to negotiate with Russia about the Donbas, Bogdan Yeremenko [former Ukrainian diplomat] says. What it should be doing is devoting all its efforts to isolating Russia internationally. That will have far more impact on Moscow’s behavior than any talks Ukraine might have with it……

Up to now, Russia has acted more effectively than Ukraine by “imposing its will and taking the initiative both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.” Ukraine in contrast “has held fast to a disastrous strategy responding with diplomacy to armed aggression and reducing the opportunities of its own Armed Forces.”

“…..Diplomatic efforts ought to be concentrated not on talks with Russia but on the creation for it of an uncomfortable foreign policy environment and the resolution of practical issues of securing the defense capacity of the country.”

Read more at Window on Eurasia — New Series: Kyiv Must Work to Isolate Moscow Rather than Negotiate with It, Yeremenko Says.

The Long War [podcast]

Excellent insight into the long-term implications of conflict between Russia and the West. Hosted by Brian Whitmore (RFE/Power Vertical) and co-host Mark Galeotti, New York University professor and expert on Russia's security services, with guest James Sherr, an associate fellow with Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program.

Podcast: The Long War

The Long War

It's going to be a protracted conflict and Ukraine is just the first major battle.

It's going to be fought in different ways and on multiple fronts: on NATO's eastern frontier; over the countries of former Soviet Union, in the energy market, over the airwaves, and in cyberspace.

We should have no illusions. The West's conflict with Russia is not going away anytime soon, regardless of how the current standoff in Ukraine is resolved.

And what is at stake is nothing short of the future of the international order.

This ain't no Cold War. Russia isn't strong enough for that.

But according to The Russia Challenge, a widely read and highly influential report issued by Chatham House last week, it is shaping up to be a Long War. A protracted looking-glass conflict with a weakening, but still very dangerous, Russia.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the new Chatham House report and its recommendations.

Enjoy…

The panel make some important points:

  • The post-Soviet transition to a modern democracy was poorly handled by the West and left Russians with a deep distrust of their motives.
  • The most important response to asymmetric warfare is good governance. The last 15 years shows a series of unmitigated blunders that would leave an independent observer with serious questions as to the competence of Western democracies. The West, Ukraine and Baltic States all need to get their house in order.
  • Conventional weapons are important, but the primary response should focus on improved intelligence and policing.

Russia terror alert | Kyiv Post

Kyiv Post quotes Markian Lubkivskyi, an adviser to SBU head Valentyn Nailyvaichenko on the rise of terrorism outside of Eastern Ukraine:

“(Terrorists) are aiming to undermine Ukraine from within,” Lubkivskyi told the Kyiv Post, adding that terrorism is one of Russia’s tools in the war against Ukraine. “This is definitely a planned set of linked actions carried out to demoralize people, scare them, spread chaos and create protest moods.”

One of the latest incidents occurred on Jan. 20, when a bridge near the village of Kuznetsivka in Zaporizhzhia Oblast collapsed under a cargo train that was carrying iron ore to Volnovakha in Donetsk Oblast. As a result, 10 cars derailed.

This was the fourth railway explosion over the last two months.

In January, three fuel tanks on a freight train were set on fire at the Shebelynka station in Kharkiv Oblast, and a bomb blew up a freight tank with petrochemicals at the Odesa-Peresyp railway station. On Dec. 24, explosives hidden under the railways hit a train at the Zastava 1 railway station, also based in Odesa.

Odesa has become the main target of attacks in the last two months.

The word terrorism is widely misused. What we are dealing with is state-sponsored terrorism or war by proxy. Without state sponsorship — in the form of training, weapons, logistics and financial support — most terrorist organizations would shrivel up and die. The level of proxy warfare increased hugely since World War II, when direct confrontation between major powers became dangerous because of the advent of nuclear weapons. Instead of direct confrontation these powers resorted to deniable aggression, by proxy, in order to weaken their enemies. The former Soviet Union was a major sponsor of proxy wars, from Korea and Vietnam to support for guerrilla wars elsewhere in Asia, Africa and South America. It appears that Vladimir Putin has adopted a similar strategy and is expanding its use into Eastern Europe.

It is difficult to win a guerrilla war where there are few conventional battles. The lesson from Vietnam is that you can win every battle, but still lose the war. Far better to identify and attack the sponsor through unconventional (asymmetric) means such as sanctions. Make sure that the cost outweighs the benefits of proxy warfare.

When we read the word “terrorism” in popular media, our first question should be: who is the sponsor and how can we make them desist?

Read more at Russia terror alert.

Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine by Timothy Snyder | The New York Review of Books

Yale University’s Timothy Snyder, a leading historian on Eastern Europe, discusses the Russian media claim that the Ukrainian government are fascist:

The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

Read more at Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine by Timothy Snyder | The New York Review of Books.

Russia: EU is the real enemy | Tim Snyder

Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University says that, despite the spin, the European Union is Russia’s real enemy — not America — and a Western-leaning Ukraine is part of the problem.

Chaos in Eastern Ukraine rebel government

From Christian Neef at Der Spiegel:

….the disputes between leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk are growing — a development Moscow views with dismay. Their citizen militias are disintegrating into different groups that are each pursuing different agendas. Some are refusing to recognize the leaders of the People’s Republics and others don’t want to accept the terms of the Minsk Protocol. One of the biggest problems is the Cossacks, who control 80 percent of the Lugansk region and have now proclaimed their own state, the Lugansk Democratic Republic. The situation in Lugansk itself is especially complicated given that the city is partly under the control of criminal gangs.

Resistance is even stirring in Donetsk. Three weeks ago, a party calling itself “New Russia” held a protest in the city center and pilloried leaders of the separatist republic for agreements they had made with Kiev. Speakers at the demonstration said the cease-fire must be ended immediately and that attacks against Ukrainian positions should resume. A short time later, assailants perpetrated an assassination attempt against New Russia’s leader, who as recently as this spring had been the “people’s governor” of Donetsk….

Read more at The Chaos Republics: The Real Test for Rebels Will Come in Winter – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Russia’s Ruble in a world of pain

Russia’s ruble is in a world of pain, having lost one-third of its value against the Dollar over the last 40 months. The down-trend is accelerating, emphasized by two large 13-week Twiggs Momentum peaks below the zero line.

RUBUSD

Vladimir Putin has backed himself into a corner and has no way out but to escalate. His current strategy in Eastern Europe of one-step-back-two-steps-forward is becoming predictable and the European Union is likely to run out of patience, responding with further sanctions. Increasingly threatening behavior in the Baltic is also unlikely to intimidate, merely strengthening alliances and resolve.

George Soros on the Ukraine crisis:

Former Swedish PM Carl Bildt seems to agree:

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard weighs in on Russia’s economic woes:

In Milan, Germany’s leader strikes the right note on Russian sanctions | Washington Post

Opinion from the Washington Post:

To her credit, Ms. Merkel is staking out a firm position, perhaps because she has spent more time than any other Western leader talking to Mr. Putin about Ukraine. On Monday she said, “There’s a long way to a cease-fire, unfortunately,” and added that Russia would have to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity “not just on paper” before sanctions could be lifted. That added weight to comments last week by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who — even as he tried to promote U.S.-Russian cooperation on other issues — said Russia would have to withdraw “heavy equipment” and allow its border with Ukraine “to be properly monitored and secured” to win sanctions relief.

Mr. Putin is unlikely ever to meet those terms. To do so would doom Novorossiya, which can’t survive without military and material support from Russia. As the sanctions bite, he is as liable to escalate his aggression as to offer concessions….

Further escalation is not likely — it’s inevitable. Decisive action now will save much pain later. Read Putin’s Coup, Ben Judah’s piece on how Vladimir Putin has consolidated his hold on power. The parallels with Germany’s NSDAP in the 1930s are chilling — using fear to quell dissent.

Read more at In Milan, Germany’s leader strikes the right note on Russian sanctions | The Washington Post.

Ukrainian Soldiers Provide More Evidence of Russian Military Participation in Eastern Ukraine

Matthew Aid reports that captured Ukrainian soldiers offer new evidence of direct Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine:

Stepping out of a bus on at dusk on Sunday during a prisoner exchange, Alexei Koshelenko said he was captured during heavy fighting on Aug. 24-25 near the town of Ilovaysk, east of the separatist stronghold of Donetsk…..

“We were hit by multiple rocket launcher Grads and after that the troops just swept us away. We were completed defeated within 20 minutes. Many of us were killed, others are missing,” Koshelenko told reporters.”They were Russians,” he said, standing among unshaven and exhausted-looking soldiers being counted before the swap was completed. Referring to a city 300 km 200 miles northeast of Moscow, he said: “They said they were an airborne assault battalion from Kostroma.”

Read more at 2 Ukrainian Soldiers Provide More Evidence of Russian Military Participation in Fighting in the Eastern Ukraine – Matthew Aid.

Putin: If you love someone set them free…

“The Russians fear us far more than we fear them” | Nigel Farage

Not often I agree with Nigel Farage, but his prescient 2008 warning about Russia and the Ukraine makes you wonder about EU foreign policy:

Must-watch interview with Edward Lucas on Latvian TV

What Ukraine needs most now – Evidence from Slovakia Reforms | VoxUkraine

From Ivan Mikloš (former Minister of Finance and deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic):

…Twenty-five years ago Slovakia produced antiquated Soviet tanks and another heavy military equipment but not one car. Today we are the number one producer of cars in the whole world, per capita. The most important reason for that success is reforms. Let me illustrate this by comparing convergence success of the Visegrad countries from 2004 until 2008. Over those four years, GDP per capita in PPP in comparison with the EU average improved in Hungary by 1%, Czech Republic by 3%, Poland by 5% and Slovakia by 16%. These were the first four years of EU membership for all of these countries, therefore the big difference among their convergence progress has to have had different reasons. This reason is reforms.

Slovakia during 2003 prepared, and from the beginning of 2004 implemented, a very bold and complex package of deep structural reforms. In 2004 Slovakia was named the most reformist country globally by the World Bank. I am not writing this in order to praise my country or myself. I am writing this because of two main reasons. Firstly, it shows that reforms work. It shows that if country is able to implement a deep and comprehensive package of reforms it will bring relatively quick results. Secondly, I think that our experience shows Ukraine now has a real chance to achieve similar success and progress if necessary reforms are implemented.

Read more at VoxUkraine.

Trouble in the East

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania plan to form a common brigade:

Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin observes:

“This emerging military alliance between Ukraine and Poland/Lithuania is a sign that the US/EU ability to control it allies decreasing fast.”

Lack of leadership from their Western allies is forcing Eastern NATO states to form their own alliances, which could drag NATO into a conflict with Russia. Garry Kasparov in an interview with Maria Bartiromo sums up the situation:

“If you try to lead from behind no one will follow you….Obama shows unwillingness to engage the challenges that are there.”

Garry Kasparov on Putin

Click on image to play video

Obama is no Ronald Reagan and his reluctance to confront Putin is encouraging further risk-taking. As Petro Poroshenko told the House:

We appreciate the blankets and night-vision goggles that you sent us….but we cannot fight a war with blankets.”

The ceasefire in the East is tenuous and likely to collapse at any time.

If the ceasefire does collapse, Putin will continue to escalate, destroying Obama’s and NATO credibility with their allies in the East. Sanctions have not worked as a deterrent. Brent crude is falling

Nymex and Brent Crude

But the impact on Russia is cushioned by the falling Rouble.

RUBUSD

In the long-term this will cause inflation. But the immediate deterrent effect is negligible.

Trouble in the East

Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania plan to form a common brigade:

Ben Judah, author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In And Out Of Love With Vladimir Putin observes:

“This emerging military alliance between Ukraine and Poland/Lithuania is a sign that the US/EU ability to control it allies decreasing fast.”

Lack of leadership from their Western allies is forcing Eastern NATO states to form their own alliances, which could drag NATO into a conflict with Russia. Garry Kasparov in an interview with Maria Bartiromo sums up the situation:

“If you try to lead from behind no one will follow you….Obama shows unwillingness to engage the challenges that are there.”

Garry Kasparov on Putin

Click on image to play video

Obama is no Ronald Reagan and his reluctance to confront Putin is encouraging further risk-taking. As Petro Poroshenko told the House:

We appreciate the blankets and night-vision goggles that you sent us….but we cannot fight a war with blankets.”

The ceasefire in the East is tenuous and likely to collapse at any time.

If the ceasefire does collapse, Putin will continue to escalate, destroying Obama’s and NATO credibility with their allies in the East. Sanctions have not worked as a deterrent. Brent crude is falling

Nymex and Brent Crude

But the impact on Russia is cushioned by the falling Rouble.

RUBUSD

In the long-term this will cause inflation. But the immediate deterrent effect is negligible.

A Premature Party for Poroshenko

From Leon Aron, Director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

…By withholding military assistance to Ukraine — the only thing that could have changed Putin’s mind by giving Kiev a chance to turn the tide on the battlefield — the West has greatly contributed to [Ukrainian President] Poroshenko’s decision to accept a very bad deal. No amount of ovation, not even a standing one, during Poroshenko’s address to the joint session of Congress today can obscure this grim reality.

Read more at A Premature Party for Poroshenko.