Thursday, February 20, 2014

The geopolitics of the Ukrainian conflict: back to basics

Looking at the amazing footage coming out of not only Kiev, but also from many other cities in the Ukraine, one can get the idea that what is taking place is absolute total chaos and that nobody controls it.  This is a very mistaken impression and I think that this is a good time to look at who the actors of this conflict are and what they really want.  Only then will we be able to make sense of what is going on, who is pulling the strings behind the curtain, and what could happen next.  So let us look at the various actors one by one.

The dissatisfied Ukrainian people

There can be absolutely no doubt that a large segment of the Ukrainian population is deeply unhappy with the regime in power, Yanukovich himself, and what has been going on in the Ukraine for many years.  As I have written many times before, the Ukraine is essentially in the hands of various oligarchs, just like Russia in the 1990s, but only worse.  The vast majority the Ukrainian politicians are for sale to the highest bidder, this is true for the members of Parliament, the Presidential Administration, the regional governors, the government and, of course, of Yanukovich himself.  Collectively, these oligarchs also own the media, the courts, the police, banks and everything else.  As a direct result of that, the Ukrainian economy has been going down the tubes for years and currently is pretty much in ruins.

It should therefore surprise nobody that most Ukrainians are unhappy and what they want is prosperity, safety, the rule of law, business opportunities, the means for personal, social, professional and spiritual development.  Basically, they want what every human being wants: decent living condition.  Some of them see the EU as the best hope of achieving this goal, others see a participation in an economic union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as a much better option.  The exact ratio really does not matter for a simple and mostly overlooked reason: the people of the Ukraine don't matter at all in this conflict, they are just pawns used by all sides.

The main Ukrainian politicians:

Well, in theory, Yanukovich, Timoshenko, Klitchko and Iatseniuk all want different things, but in reality they all have exactly the same agenda: to please their puppet-masters while making a career in politics.  The case of Tiagnibok might be a little different.  He has some very real chances of becoming a really powerful figure in the western Ukraine.  He is smart enough to realize that neither the USA nor the EU really want him around, but that he commands a much more powerful force (both politically and in terms of violent power) than any other Ukrainian politician.  Regardless, the leaders of the opposition or the pro-regime politicians are all puppets in the hands of much more powerful forces and if Tiagnibok is an exception to this rule, then he does not matter much either since his true ambitions are really local, limited to the western Ukraine.

Having rapidly looked at the locals, let us now turn to the folks that do matter:

The Ukrainian oligarchs:

Most of them believe that as long as the Ukraine maintains an anti-Russian stance the EU will let them do whatever the hell they want inside the Ukraine.  They are correct.  For them, signing an otherwise meaningless agreement with the EU is basically accepting the following deal: they become the faithful servants of their EU overlords in exchange for what the EU overlords will let them continue to pillage the Ukraine in pretty much any way they want.

There is a smaller group of oligarchs who still stands to lose more than win if the Russian-Ukrainian relations sour and if Russia introduces barriers to trade with the Ukraine (which Russia would have to do if the Ukraine signs an free trade agreement with the EU).  These oligarchs believe that more money can be made from Russia than form the EU and they are the folks who convinced Yanukovich to make his infamous "zag" from the EU towards Russia.  Thus, there is a split inside the Ukrainian oligarchy whose representatives can be found on both sides of the current struggle.

The EU:

The EU is in a deep, systemic, economic, social and political crisis and it is absolutely desperate for new opportunities to rescue itself from its slow-motion collapse.  For the EU, the Ukraine is first and foremost a market to sells is goods and services.  The Ukraine is also a way to make the EU look bigger, more powerful, more relevant.  Some believe that the Ukraine can also provide cheap labor for the EU, but I don't believe that this is a major consideration for the following reasons: the EU already has way too many immigrants, and the there has already been a steady stream of Ukrainians (and Balts) leaving their country for a better life in the West.  Thus, what the EU really wants is a way to benefit from the Ukraine but without suffering too many negative consequences from any agreement.  Hence the 1500 pages of the proposed agreement with the EU.

The USA:

The goals of the USA in the Ukraine are completely different from the goals of the EU, hence the very real tensions between their diplomats so well expressed by the "fuck the EU!" of Madam Nuland.  Furthermore, and unlike the bankrupt EU, the US has spent over 5'000'000'000 dollars to achieve its goals in the Ukraine.  But so what are these goals really?

This is were it gets *really* interesting.

First, we have to go back to the crucial statement made by Hillary Clinton in early December of 2012:
“There is a move to re-Sovietise the region,” (...) “It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that,”   (...) “But let's make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”
Now, it is absolutely irrelevant to argue about whether Hillary was right or wrong in her interpretation of what the Eurasian Union is supposed to become, what matters is that she, and her political masters, believe, and they really believe is that Putin wants to re-create the Soviet Union.  No matter how stupid this notion is, we have to always keep in mind that this is what the likes of Hillary sincerely believe.

Next, we need to recall another crucial statement, made this time by Zbigniew Brzezinski who wrote:

Without Ukraine Russia ceases to be empire, while with Ukraine - bought off first and subdued afterwards, it automatically turns into empire…According to him, the new world order under the hegemony of the United States is created against Russia and on the fragments of Russia. Ukraine is the Western outpost to prevent the recreation of the Soviet Union. 
Again, it does not matter at all whether evil Zbig is right or wrong.  What matters is that Zbig and Hillary jointly provide us with the key to the current US policy in the Ukraine: to prevent Russia from becoming a superpower.  For them, and unlike the Europeans, its not about "getting the Ukraine", its about "not letting the Russians get the Ukraine".  And this is absolutely crucial: from the US point of view, chaos, mayhem and even a full-scale civil war in the Ukraine is much, much, preferable to any, and I mean any, form of economic or political union between Russia and the Ukraine.  For the Americans, this is a zero-sum game: the bigger the loss for Russia, the bigger the win for the AngloZionist Empire.


Here we have to completely switch our point of view and realize the following, no matter how counter-intuitive this might seem to be, regardless of the extreme closeness between Russian and Ukrainian languages and cultures, regardless of a long common history, regardless of the fact that both Russians and Ukrainians jointly defeated Nazi Germany, regardless of the fact that the Ukraine is a big neighbor of Russia and regardless of the fact that the two countries have close economic ties, Russia does not need the Ukraine.  Hillary and Zbig are simply plain wrong.  Furthermore, Russia has absolutely no intention of re-creating the Soviet Union or, even less so, becoming an Empire.  This is all absolute nonsense, stupid propaganda to feed to the western masses, Cold War cliches which are absolutely inapplicable to the current realities.  Furthermore, Russia is already a superpower, quite capable of challenging the EU and the USA together (as the example of the war in Syria has so dramatically illustrated).  In fact, Russia has had its most spectacular growth precisely at a time when the Ukraine was occupied by Poland (14th-17th century):

Growth of Russia by years
Why would modern Russia need the Ukraine?  The Ukrainian economy is in ruins, the country is plagued by immense social and political tensions, and there are no natural resources in the Ukraine which Russia would want.  As for the "being a superpower", the Ukraine's military is a farce, and the Russian military would have little need to the so-called "strategic depth" offered by the Ukraine: this is 19-20th century military logic, modern wars are though throughout the depth of the enemy's territory, with long-range strike weapons and Russia is quite capable of closing the Ukrainian airspace without any form of economic or political union with it.

No, what Russia needs first and foremost has stability and prosperity in the Ukraine.  Not only does a non trivial-part of the Russian economy have ties with the Ukraine, but a total collapse of such a big neighbor is bound to affect the Russian economy too (which, by the way, is pretty close to getting into a recession for the first time in a long while).  Furthermore, millions of Russians live in the Ukraine and millions of Ukrainians live in Russia.  Most Russian families have ties with the Ukraine.  So the last thing Russia wants is a civil war in which it would almost inevitably be drawn in.

Even in Crimea all Russia really needs is a status quo: peace, prosperity, a good tourism infrastructure to host Russian tourists, and stable basing right for the Black Sea Fleet.  For that Russia does not need to occupy or annex Crimea.  However, should the Crimean Peninsula be attacked by the Ukrainian neo-Nazis there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the Black Sea Fleet will intervene to protect the local population with which it has many family ties.   It is important to remember that the Black Sea Fleet is infinitely better trained and equipped that the Ukrainian military and that it includes a very powerful Naval Infantry force (one Brigade and one Battalion, the latter specialized in counter-terrorism operations).  It is one thing to beat up and burn riot cops and quite another to deal with battle hardened (Chechnia, Georgia) and highly trained elite forces armed to the teeth with the latest and best military equipment.

As for the big scheme of things, Russia sees its future in the North and the East, not at all in its southwest.  The Arctic, Siberia, the Far East, China and the Pacific, these are the direction towards which Russian strategists are looking for the future of Russia, not the dying and decaying EU or the ruined and unstable lands of the Ukraine!

So what is likely to happen next?

I think that the EU is most unlikely to achieve its objectives in the Ukraine for a very simple reason: the Ukrainian nationalists and the so-called "opposition" (i.e. the armed insurgency) are all bought and paid for by the US.  The EU bureaucrats can continue visiting the Ukraine and make loud statements, they really don't matter.  So its really the US vs Russia and here I have to say that the US goals is far easier to achieve that the Russian one: all the USA needs chaos, something easy to achieve and relatively cheap to finance, while Russia needs stability and prosperity and that, at the very least, means to provide is cardiac resuscitation to the basically ruined Ukrainian economy and to jump-start some kind of much needed reforms.  The latter probably cannot be done without breaking the backs of the Ukrainian oligarchs.  Does Russia have the means to achieve this?  I very much doubt it.  Not with its current signs of upcoming economic problems and not with a spineless and corrupt clown like Yanukovich in power.  So then what?

Well, if rescuing the Ukraine is not an option, then protecting Russia from the inevitable chaos and mayhem is the only option left.  That, and making darn sure that Crimea is safe.  Russia could, for instance, provide direct assistance to the eastern Ukraine, especially to region like Kharkov which are governed by competent and determined people.  Beyond that, the only option left for Russia is to hunker down and wait for either a viable force to take power in Kiev or for the Ukraine to break-up in pieces.

So what about the Ukrainian people?

I think that where I stand on this issue is clear from the above.  The EU needs them as slaves, the US needs them as pawns, and the only party which needs them prosperous is Russia.  That is simply a fact of geo-strategy.  If the Ukrainians are too stupid and too blinded by their rabid nationalism to understand that, then let them pay the price for their folly.  If they are smart enough to realize it, then let them find the courage to act on it and make it possible for Russia to help them.  If not, then at the very least I would advise them to stop hallucinating about some kind of invasion of "Moskal Spetsnaz forces" to invade and occupy the "independent Ukraine".  Moscow has better things to do and is already busy elsewhere.

The Saker