Saturday, December 12, 2015

Overplaying His Hand

"This is not a local issue. This is Russia. [Why else would] pro-Russian rebels [be represented at Minsk by a Russian army general]?"
"He [Vladimir Putin] wanted Ukraine east of the Dnieper [river]. Now, he'll have to settle for a dysfunctional country he can keep in his pocket."
"Ukraine is the front line of freedom and democracy. They are asking for our help as equals, to join the Western world."
"Strengthen Ukraine. Economically. Politically. Arm them so they can defend themselves. Putin has killed any chance of Ukraine willingly aligning with Moscow when he started killing their children on the battlefield."
"Eastern Europeans take their territory very seriously. We don't understand that in North America. We haven't had to fight for it. They have."
"We're a lowest-common denominator alliance. It's hard to get everyone to agree. But NATO takes one thing seriously: NATO. It won't be shown to be weak. Once it grips, it grips with a ratchet."
U.S. Army General Wesley Clark [retired] former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

"In reality, it is a war. The military people know it, even if the politicians won't name it."
Yevhen Marchuk [former] Ukrainian prime minister
  • Men dressed in camouflage military uniforms sit on an armoured vehicle, which drives along a road outside Kamensk-Shakhtinsky near the border with Ukraine on Aug. 17.
  • Men dressed in camouflage military uniforms sit on an armoured vehicle, which drives along a road outside Kamensk-Shakhtinsky near the border with Ukraine on Aug. 17. (Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters)
Well, of course, President Vladimir Putin also takes something seriously; his own ability to wrench toward the Russian Federation some of the geography it lost to history. And when a notion grips this man, it grips with a wrench of massive determination. He mourns the loss of power for his country, its reputation internationally, the respect in which it once was held, even if that respect was more than slightly tinged with apprehension, trepidation, fear. Perhaps because of it, since this is how autocrats gain their strength, through intimidation.

The issue is beginning to look as though it is a wrestling match between one strong-willed man's intransigent endurance and the lowest-common-denominator of an alliance named NATO. This, as an acronym for the North American Treaty Organization has transgressed its original territorial boundaries, stretched its mandate far from its original intent, to encroach, as it were, upon Russia's traditional territorial hunting grounds. Little wonder Moscow is less than indifferent to its presence, challenging Russia's hegemonic power.

When Moscow had a presence in Cuba that presence fixated the attention and determination of the Kennedy administration. Russia's presence in the American sphere of influence, though it had little influence on Communist Cuba, represented a towering threat. And the catastrophe that could have resulted was only just averted. Russia, however, was never a rogue nation as a people, and Nikita Khruschev had no intention of playing hardball with nuclear weapons.

And nor will NATO risk a confrontation with Russia over a country, however deserving of military support, which has such intrinsically, historically, practical industrial and social ties with Russia. It is, in fact, a family affair, where interlopers will not be tolerated. Of course, there are other family members who are alarmed at the turn events have taken, and they just happen to be members of the interloper's circle which has pledged itself to their comfort and support.

Life is never as simple as it seems. The International Council in Support of Ukraine is understandably concerned over the future of a sovereign Ukraine. It is in its interests to maintain the momentum that built in concern over that future while active and very visible contractions were taking place between Ukraine and Russia and the fiction of 'Ukrainian rebels' was being maintained as a shield against the obvious, that Russia was attacking its erstwhile ally, for insubordination.

There was a proxy force, mostly comprised of thugs whom Russia was prepared to beat into shape as working militias under the tutelage of Russian military leadership. The end result was a more disciplined force interwoven with Russian military regulars while claiming that local ethnic minorities were chafing at Ukraine's abandonment of its historical alliance with Russia representing an intolerable deceit and abandonment of eastern Ukraine.

The situation is currently at an impasse, a low-grade war between Russia and Ukraine, with Russia fully capable of applying greater pressure, restrained only by the Western-led punishment of sanctions, doing real harm to its economy, alongside the Saudi-led OPEC depression of oil pricing in response to Iran's own struggles with sanctions soon to be lifted, and the U.S.'s new oil independence due to fracking opening up new oilfields, independent of MidEast oil.

The diversion of Russia's having entered Syria has led to attention turned in that direction, while Ukraine is suddenly abandoned by the international news media as a result, and President Putin hopes that all will be left behind and forgotten when/if a practical alliance between Russia and the U.S.-led coalition will foster a thawing of relations and it becomes more convenient to let the sleeping dogs of Ukraine fester in its disarranged bed.

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