New Op-ed at War on the Rocks

I have a new op-ed on the Crimean crisis up at the military and national security site, War on the Rocks.

Let’s Slow Roll Any Move Toward Crimean War II:

One of the more curious implicit assumptions about the crisis in Ukraine is that the subsequent occupation of the Crimea by Russia represents some kind of triumph for President Vladimir Putin and a defeat for the United States. It is a weird, strategic myopia that comes from an unrealistic belief that the United States should be expected to have a granular level of political control over and responsibility for events on the entire planet. We don’t and never can but this kind of political megalomania leads first to poor analysis and then worse policies.

Far from being entitled to do a victory lap, Putin’s mishandling of Ukraine has dealt Moscow a strategic defeat. With artful bullying and a $15 billion bribe, Putin had pulled off a diplomatic coup by getting President Victor Yanukovych to reverse Ukraine’s nearly finalized deal with the European Union and align itself vaguely with Russia and Putin’s shabby League of Eurasian Dictators. This would have been a tremendous strategic win for Russia to have Ukraine with its rich resources and key geographic location not only well-disposed to Moscow, but as a compliant satellite. Much like Belarus, Ukraine would have been isolated from the West and dependent upon Russia.

….While Russia’s occupation of Crimea merits condemnation and pressure from the world community, including the EU and the United States, the rush in some quarters to make this crisis into a military standoff between Russia and NATO instead of focusing on measures to quickly stabilize the new pro-Western government in Kiev is ill-advised and strategically unwise….

Read the rest here

38 thoughts on “New Op-ed at War on the Rocks”

  1. The real reason we are at the current impasse is that there is a Ukrainian national identity. That post-Soviet Ukrainian national identity will not tolerate a Russian puppet as a ruler or Ukraine as a Russian vassal and it gets a vote too.

    Meanwhile, Putin has unmasked the internal contradictions of the West’s ruling Leftist elites…their utter opposition to high energy industrial civilization.

    The most effective move Obama can do to destroy Putin is expand Western energy production by doing things like approving the Keystone pipeline and acting to help Israeli energy production at the expense of Putin’s Cypriot energy deals.

    But Obama cannot, and other Western Leftists cannot, because it is against their Human-caused Global Warming religion.

  2. I don’t think that anyone is calling for US or NATO forces to get involved in the Crimea. Or in Ukraine. And I think that if Russian and Ukrainian forces go to war, the Ukrainians are scrod. While Russia has interests in the Crimea [first, the military complexes around Sevastopol, second, the power and water infrastructure for those bases and Sevastopol that come from Eastern Ukraine, and third the ethnic Russian population], the Ukraine has sovereign title.

    And to be honest, there is the living memory of Russian troops and government officials committing literal genocide on the Ukrainian people [the Holodomor], killing millions by deliberate starvation and the Russian equivalent of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. These are not ever going to be good neighbors, friends, drinking buddies.

    Even without US or NATO involvement, this is going to be untidy. Once again, to be honest, I am amazed that hostilities have not broken out already. A large part of that probably involves the Russian unit, which is highly disciplined.

    I also note that the unmarked uniform forces in the Crimea have been identified as the 76th Chernigov Guards Airborne Shock Division. The “Guards” designation is a battle honor, like our Presidential Unit Citation. The “Shock” designation involves elite pathfinder status “somewhat” akin to our Rangers [Russian designations don’t exactly match ours]. The 76th was the first all volunteer unit in the Russian army [no conscripts allowed]. Seeing the weapons carried, they are carrying small arms that are not standard Russian issue, but rather only issued to Shock and “Troops of Special Designation” [Spetsnaz]. The 76th, and especially its 104th Airborne Regiment, were the spearhead unit in the attacks in Chechnya and Ossetia.

    There are implications here. This is not a unit that is thrown in hurriedly. This entire invasion probably was planned over a year ago. At the highest levels. It may have started as a contingency plan, but this means that this was a long planned aggression to restore Ukraine to Russian satrap status.

    The problem is NOT how to respond on a granular level. The problem is that the entire geopolitical world view of the United States and what was the Western alliance has been shown to be wrong. History did not end with the fall of the Soviet Union.

    We, and especially the NATO/EU states, have assumed that the Russian Bear had been converted to a koala. Even predating Communism, Russia has been a self aggrandizing power in Europe.

    And we find that we have given up our design margin to enable us to cope. That coping does not have to be a military reinforcement of Ukraine. And, once again, neither the US nor NATO has the capability right now to do anything along that line. There are no longer any short to medium term responses available in the non-military sphere; economic, diplomatic, political, etc. All the West can do is wait for the other shoe to drop.

    It may be that Russia will stop at the Crimea. But literally, if they decide that they want to take the entire Ukraine, nothing can stop them or make them pay a price. But that is not all. What if they want to go for the Baltic countries [Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia] 6 months from now? Or other former Soviet Republic or satellite. Still NATO and the US cannot respond.

    Our entire world view has to adapt. In Europe, I see them going into appeasement mode, which does not surprise me. In this country, I see the government gibbering, talking nonsense, and not even thinking about developing responses. The most concentrated effort is attempts to make it seem that somehow this is a victory for Obama.

    It is not that Ukraine is in and of itself a vital American interest requiring a military line to be drawn. It is that we have no credible response available at all, nor does our domestic political situation allow even the discussion of how to develop one [or preferably more].

    Subotai Bahadur

  3. “This entire invasion probably was planned over a year ago”

    Every spring for the past several years Russia has had wargames where they practice invading the Baltics or Scandinavia.
    It probably only took a few tweaks to modify the plan for Crimea.

    One immediate problem we have:

    We have astronauts in space and Russian spacecraft are the only way they can get back down.

  4. This is wildly stupid.

    We have the record of Neuland babbling on about F&^% the EU over installing a puppet in the Ukraine. We now have Nazi groups running the western parts of the Ukraine. We have Rabbis telling the Jews to leave and all kinds of very predictable evil in play.

    Now you morons blame the Russians for trying to protect the eastern part of the country, which is largely Russian, and their access to the world through their ports in the Crimea.

    The people running the US government are children, playing with matches.

    I hope some of you have thought through what will happen next. I’ll start with Iran …..

  5. One brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division is on stand by alert to parachute anywhere in the world in 24-hours.

    That the 76th Chernigov Guards Airborne Shock Division, and particularly the 104th Airborne Regiment, plays the same role for Russia is not surprising.

    This is Putin’s “Break glass in case of emergency because something went to hell on short notice” unit.

    That Putin is using this force, rather than something more local to Crimea, _does not_ signify long term planning.

    It signifies Russian and particularly Putin’s strategic surprise at the turn of events in Ukraine.

  6. “The most effective move Obama can do to destroy Putin is expand Western energy production by doing things like approving the Keystone pipeline and acting to help Israeli energy production at the expense of Putin’s Cypriot energy deals. ”

    Yes but he is no smarter than PenGun. He still lives in the fantasy world that is his ideology.

    We should have been doing this four years ago. Israel has its own set of lunatics trying to block their own oil and gas bonanza. It is amusing to see the ultra-Orthodox rioting to avoid military service. They would be right at home in the Democratic Party except for the God thing.

  7. “the rush in some quarters to make this crisis into a military standoff between Russia and NATO”

    I hadn’t heard anyone claim that the US or the EU should use force in this situation. Did I miss something somewhere?

  8. Russia was born in The Ukraine. The Ukraine has always been the heart and soul of Russia. Russia without The Ukraine no longer exists.

    Russia is a country of many different ethnic groups each living in its own territory. Ethnic diversity was a problem in the Soviet Union. The Communists used terror and torture to covert everyone to Socialism. They succeeded in imposing Socialism and, as a result, everyone but the ruling class lost all their freedoms and were condemned to eternal poverty and suffering. They clung to their ethnicity – their guns and holy books – as their only way to escape Socialist tyranny.

    The Ukrainian revolt is really an attempt to throw off the shackles of Socialism and to live as free men and women in a free market. Putin has been reintroducing free enterprise and free markets to what is left of the former Soviet Union – but he has not moved fast enough. Obama’s goal is to preserve Socialism and keep the Russian people enslaved.

    Now it is true that the former ruling class of The Ukraine helped organize the Ukrainian revolt. Socialism can only exist via tricks and lies. Putin and The Ukrainian people hope to create a free enterprise zone free of all socialist interference and free of the old ruling class. Obama and the Progressives are determined to not let this happen.

  9. “Putin and The Ukrainian people hope to create a free enterprise zone free of all socialist interference and free of the old ruling class.”

    This would be news to most residents of the Russian near abroad. Putin is running a gangster state by the KGB. He is amassing a huge fortune for himself. “free enterprise” by Putin means what happened to Berezovsky .

    The Ukraine is broke and has been mis-ruled by everybody who has tried since 1989. It wants to ally with the EU because it hopes for a free society like those created in Poland and Czech Republic. They could develop their oil and gas reserves but Putin doesn’t want rivals. The German Greens have just about ruined that economy with fantasy dreams like those of Obama.

    But statistics on Germany’s electricity sector for the whole of 2012 are now in, and when you look beyond the cherry-picked hype, the results are dismal and disquieting. Despite massive construction of new capacity, electricity output from renewables, especially from wind and solar, grew at a sluggish rate. Germany is indeed avoiding blackouts—by opening new coal- and gas-fired plants. Renewable electricity is proving so unreliable and chaotic that it is starting to undermine the stability of the European grid and provoke international incidents.

  10. The claim that Putin — the driving force behind the $51 billion, state-sponsored, pork-barrel project that was the Sochi Olympics — is committed to bringing free enterprise to Ukraine, or anywhere else, boggles my mind.

  11. Putin’s problem is that the ruling class in Russia and every province/client state of Russia are former leaders of the Communist party. Some have died of old age since 1989 but they have family members who expect to replace them.

    The ruling class are Socialists and Socialists are gangsters. After all, they believe that the rulers of a country are supposed to be the richest citizens because they have the power to tax anyone richer than they are – and the power to exempt themselves from taxes. That is what socialism is all about.

    The old members of the ruling class in Russia want people to get rich from free enterprise but they want to take this wealth for themselves using taxes. The problem is how much do the let the peasants keep in order to motivate them to keep working. This is a universal question for Progressive governments.

    Nevertheless, everyone agrees socialism does not work and everyone agrees that free enterprise makes the peasants wealthy. The problem every progressive government wrestles with is how to make the ruling class richer than the worker/peasant class.

    I have several employees who escaped from the Soviet Union when it crumbled in 1989. Several went back to Russia after 2000 and started new businesses and prospered because Russia is better for their small businesses than the U.S. They have customers in the US and EU.

    This is not proof that Putin wants free markets. But it suggests that one should not assume that free enterprise is forbidden. If China can find one route to embrace free enterprise, why not Putin?

  12. At least Russia didn’t stage a debacle a la Bay of Pigs or the helicopter attack on Iran. Debacles are, I suggest, more of a problem than competent, quiet, limited invasions.

  13. The people running the US government are children, playing with matches

    Exactly why we need to abolish Obamacare, Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, and the rest of the matches.

    On the other hand, it’s what the people want and for which they vote consistently.

  14. IMHO, the nuggets in this thread lay in the posts of Subotai and Dr. Mike, as is frequently the case.

    The issue is the long game and we don’t have one. After all this is the 21st Century so we have all these international alternatives for G-8 nations to use to settle such “differences” (John Kerry in La La Land, again). Oh wait, those didn’t work in the 20th Century either.

    The West is internally focused at the expense of credible, appropriate international means to prevent the rise/consolidation of despotic threats and support liberty. It is not simply military projection, it is also, even primarily, the entire range of political, financial, economic and lastly diplomatic capabilities being focused on the long term objectives. Without unity of purpose and strong leadership, that is impossible.

    If the Ukraine is the heart of Russia, why did Catherine the Great have to take it by force in the 1800’s? The Crimea area is even less ethnically and historically “Russian”, especially before the genocide of the 1900’s. I don’t see why Russia wanting them makes it OK for them to take them. Many of the Russians in both the Ukraine and Crimea are expatriates by choice and show no support for incorporation into Russia.

    Russia wanted Eastern and Western Europe, took one and lost it and were only held off from taking the other at the cost of massive deterrence and economic pressure (energy prices). Putin and much of the current ruling class in Russia were integral part of that mindset and show little change of heart, only a change of resource constraints. As was well stated in earlier posts, European and the US self imposed energy dependence has funded Putin’s adventurism and the lack of leadership and focus has provided ample opportunities for him to make such moves.

    If Europe would cooperate, it would be possible in five years to significantly increase energy production and severely cut Russia’s energy cash income. They are a high cost producer that live at oil being above $90 a barrel. Similarly there are cheaper options to their natural gas supplies if we get past the political restrictions of liquification and export.

    While Putin is no more a supporter of free enterprise and liberty than his predecessors, he definitely understands how to play “democratic socialism” (a la National Socialism of the 1930’s) to build his empire. And we appear to be no more savvy than we were in the 1930’s either. As the op-ed piece on Fox News noted, we need to find our inner Reagan. To which I would add, our inner Thatcher, if we have them.


  15. “This is not proof that Putin wants free markets. But it suggests that one should not assume that free enterprise is forbidden. If China can find one route to embrace free enterprise, why not Putin?”

    I didn’t say that he, or China, want to forbid free enterprise. They are more tolerant of it as long as they get their piece of the action, such as the “10,000 princelings” in China who are buying property in Canada and the US. Putin just wants his share, which is a lot. He has been tempted by Obama and European weakness and fecklessness. Firmness would probably push him back into getting rich. Weakness is tempting. Sort of like leaving your door unlocked in a bad neighborhood.

    The alternative may be as simple as: The pipeline used plans for a sophisticated control system and its software that had been stolen from a Canadian firm by the KGB. The CIA allegedly had the company insert a logic bomb in the program for sabotage purposes, eventually resulting in an explosion with the power of three kilotons of TNT.

  16. Holman Jenkins agrees with some of us about Putin. I don’t know if the article is behind the paywall. Too bad if it is.

    The West looked the other way when Mr. Putin seized the Yukos oil giant on trumped-up tax charges, though Western minority shareholders were among the victims. It looked the other way when he double-crossed Western oil companies on a serial basis. It looked the other way from murders of journalists and Russian legislators and other inconvenient persons (possibly even Mr. Putin’s own mentor, a late mayor of St. Petersburg).

    And this as to his motivation: The visions that propel Mr. Putin are of himself hanging by his heels from a lamppost or spending the next 20 years in a dock answering for everything from the disappearance of $90 million in food money in St. Petersburg when he was deputy mayor to the 2006 murder of critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.

    His campaign of intimidation aimed at Ukraine is about protecting his position at the head of the Russian klepto-banquet. Popular overthrow of a crony oligarchy so close to home, his corrupt ally Viktor Yanukovych, was not acceptable. Ukraine, with its control of strategic pipelines, moving toward energy independence and even energy competition with Russia (it recently signed shale deals with Shell and Chevron ) was not acceptable.

  17. Hi Gents,

    Jonathan, much thanks.

    Trent is right about the character of the units used in Crimea. There are not a lot of these but they are the spetsnaz of spetsnaz and are quality equivalent to the old KGB Vympel and Alfa units, whther they are technically Russian Army spetsnaz or assigned to the SVR, FSB or interior ministry. They are crack professional troops.

    Putin is not a free marketeer. The Ukrainian opposition are not Nazis.

    Robert – in addition to the piece in FP by Admiral Stavridis calling for NATO to begin leading on this crisis, including military preparations. There is a HUGE amount of backchannel discussion by the chattering classes on getting NATO – read the US – involved in some way because the Euros don’t want to do sanctions, it will cost them billions, they want to cajole America into shouldering this burden alone under a NATO fig leaf. So there’s a move by beltway insider types to “get NATO active” in some way – here is another example:

  18. Subotai Bahadur
    And to be honest, there is the living memory of Russian troops and government officials committing literal genocide on the Ukrainian people [the Holodomor], killing millions by deliberate starvation and the Russian equivalent of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. These are not ever going to be good neighbors, friends, drinking buddies.

    For a memoir about the Holodomor, consider readingSliding On The Snow Stone.

    I knew some Ukrainian immigrants from my hometown. They were children during the Holodomor, and courtesy of being sent as “guest workers” to Germany during WW2, were able to come to the US. They did not want to talk about their times back in their homeland, which I have found out is not uncommon for Iron Curtain refugees with unpleasant memories from back home.

  19. Zenpundit,

    Putin is putting in all of his best and most trusted regime security door kickers in Crimea.

    He has quite literally stripped his best and most trustworthy regime security troops from everywhere in Russia and sent them to Ukraine.

    How the Defense Intelligence Agency blew the implications of _those units_ being moved shows some combination of incompetent analysis, poor intelligence gathering or good Russian maskirovka.

    The irony here is that Pres. Obama was exactly right about Crimea being a sign of weakness for Putin…

    …and nobody will believe him.

    When “O” proposed huge cuts to the American Army and put a huge slice of what remained in DoD into “Climate change” — which he said on the floor of the UN was the primary security threat facing the world — he blew any national security credibility he had for the remainder of his Presidency.

  20. Another sign of Putin weakness:

    I saw Ukrainian poll yesterday stating that only 33% of the people in Ukraine supported the Russian move there.

    As 1/8th of the Crimean populations is Tartar (500,000) and 1/4 is (1 million) is ethnic Ukrainian, I had discounted it.

    I changed my mind today, as reports on Natational Public Radio this morning indicated that a lot of the “Ukrainian-Russian demonstrators” on television were in fact Russian citizen _bussed from Moscow_.

  21. If The Ukraine is split into a completely independent nation, The Russian empire will crumble. The remaining 20 regions of the former Soviet Union may decide – one by one – that the time has arrived to become fully independent. China will obviously support ‘supervised independence’ for Russian regions bordering China; regions with large moslem populations will seek nationhood. All the new countries will want to control the nuclear ICBMs and other nuclear weapons Russia has stationed within their borders.

    If we decide to disarm these states, who will get the weapons? If Germany gets them, France will object. If France, Great Britaib objects. If Italy or if Cuba or Columbia or Mexico or Brazil or Venezuela or the Cayman Islands – someone will object.

    We live in interesting times.

  22. The long game, as I wrote in American Thinker a few years ago, is to reduce European dependence on Gazprom’s gas. (“Sticking it to Gazprom.”)

    You can do that two ways – build new nuclear reactors and by opening up exports of US LNG. The reactors can’t be from Rosatom.

    Of course, the new senator from MA, Markey has been quite vocal about blocking LNG exports, as have other Democrats.

  23. “All the new countries will want to control the nuclear ICBMs and other nuclear weapons Russia has stationed within their borders.”

    They now see what happened when Ukraine gave them up so they will probably hold onto what they have. Kazakhstan, I’m looking at you.

  24. Fox News is reporting, with video back up, that none of the Russian units identified by their fire arms thus far have shown any national or unit identification.

    In so many words, these troops don’t have Geneva Convention protections in the event of fighting breaking out in Crimea.

  25. There was a report on the radio that said the Russian foreign minister announced that the troops involved in Crimea were “not under Russian control” but were local “volunteers.”

    The Chinese People’s Liberation Army used the same dodge in Korea.

  26. Crimea is less important than the eastern area of Ukraine since Khuschchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine in 1954,

    On 19 February 1954, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a decree transferring the Crimean Oblast from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR.[27] The transfer of the Crimean Oblast to Ukraine has been described as a “symbolic gesture,” marking the 300th anniversary of Ukraine becoming a part of the Russian Empire.[28][29] The General Secretary of the Communist Party in Soviet Union was at the time the Ukranian Nikita Khrushchev.

    Khrushchev was , of course, the Ukranian commissar during the famine and attacks on the Kulaks. Ukraine, itself, has an interesting history and was not part of Russia, contrary to Putin’s claims. For centuries, the Poles and Lithuanians ruled the territory.

  27. There is a war going on in wikipedia over the history of the Ukraine. The written history of the USSR has has been rewritten continuously in the last 80 years for politic

  28. Oh, I don’t care about Wiki’s left wing bias on recent history. The 1240 Mongol invasion and the origin of the name “Crimea” are interesting enough. The Ukraine was ancient Scythia where the horse was domesticated. Imagine if the American Indians were clever enough to do the same instead of exterminating them, and the camels. Columbus might have met a modern society.

    There was no written language before Sequoyah . The Iroquois used glazed windows in their houses and adopted European culture including grist mills but they chose the wrong side in the Seven Years War in 1754.

    Well, at least the modern ones have the casinos. If Obamacare isn’t repealed, they may have the private medical clinics, too.

  29. Muscovy survived its first 600 years without the Ukraine. Muscovy somehow managed to survive 200 years without its capital in Moscow. Russia will endure irrespective of the fate of the Ukraine.

  30. PenGun

    Re: “Nazis”

    There are some far right or reactionary-nationalist groups on the political fringe in Ukraine, notably Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor. They are not nice people, but by and large but the same could be said for many countries, including the United States, France and Russia. In the latter case it would extend to some of the siloviki thugs and think tankers advisers to Putin, especially the mystical crackpot and “Eurasian” theorist Aleksandr Dugin. He’s a fascistic loon if there ever was one.

    Smearing all the Ukrainian protesters or Western Ukrainians as “nazis” or “fascists” is wildly untruthful and a very, very old Leftist canard going back to collectivization, Stalin’s artificial famine genocide in Ukraine and the great terror when *all* enemies (i.e. victims) of the Soviet regime were called “fascists” from the far left (Trotskyites, S.R.’s and Mensheviks) to apolitical peasants to former whites, monarchists or ethnic nationalists on the far right. The term was revived by Soviet propagandists after WWII to label the Ukrainian partisans of Stepan Bandera who had the temerity to be ungrateful and rebel against the kind ministrations of Yagoda, Yezhov, Khrushchev, Kaganovich, Beria and Abakumov who had helped so many Ukrainians experience the joy of forced labor in Siberia or 9 grams of lead in an NKVD cellar or slow death by starvation.

    It was a useful lie to Soviet authorities and it remains so today for Putin’s regime

  31. “The US is behind this, we have the intercept with Nuland, and what is going on is not at all pretty.”

    For far too long, since before 1930s, Progressives have been in charge in America. They need to be forbidden from ruling ever again. No more internationalism, no more responsibility to protect, no more tribute to the UN, no more subsidies to foreign governments, no more entangling alliances.

  32. Isn’t this conflict “Russian History 101” — same as it ever was — since Peter the Great: Russia’s quest for a warm water port, and the policy that led to the Russo-Turk War, guardianship of Serbia, under the guise of Orthodox Christian brotherhood?

    Today, the Russians maneuver about their naval facility in Syria, and look toward the Baltic.

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