Differing Projections on Ukraine

by Walter Derzko


As G7 heads meet for the Nuclear Security Summit, March 24-25, Ukraine will be on the top of the agenda. Over the past week, we have seen a plethora of commentary on Ukraine and Crimea, from the most dark and dire to the more optimistic ones. It’s worth summarizing the key points.

The Pessimistic Point of View

Michael Trotten in World Affairs Journal says: “Putin has a strategy. And it’s working. U.S. Ambassador George F. Kennan described Russia’s mid-century foreign policy this way: “The jealous and intolerant eye of the Kremlin can distinguish, in the end, only vassals and enemies, and the neighbours of Russia, if they do not wish to be one, must reconcile themselves to being the other.”

Russia had been behaving that way long before Kennan figured it out, and it’s still behaving that way today.

What Putin fears most is that Ukraine might join NATO, removing yet another buffer state between himself and the West and kiboshing his plans for the Eurasian Union, a euphemism for a 21st century Russian empire.

Keeping his former Ukrainian vassal out of NATO will be easy now even if a militant anti-Russian firebrand comes to power in Kyiv. The Crimean referendum—whether it was free and fair or rigged is no matter—creates a disputed territory conflict that will never be resolved in Ukraine’s favour. It will freeze and fester indefinitely. There isn’t a chance that NATO would accept a member that has a disputed territory conflict with Russia. No chance at all. Ukraine is as isolated as it could possibly be from the West without getting re-absorbed into Russia entirely.”

Forbes magazine last week stated that “Putin has already declared war on Kyiv.”

Andrei Illarionov, formerly Vladimir Putin’s top economic advisor (and personal envoy to the G8), has warned in an interview on Ukrainian television that Putin has already declared war on Kyiv. Putin’s war is being conducted by Russian Spetsnaz (special operations) forces and KGB (now FSB) agents and is aimed at toppling the pro-Western government in Kyiv. The Spetsnaz forces’ orders include the sowing of civil unrest throughout Ukraine via strikes, demonstrations, staged incidents, and street battles. Putin’s subversive forces will also gin up neo-Nazi incidents with Nazi regalia and Swastikas on full display. Their orders include as well the deliberate killing of Russian soldiers and of ethnic Russian civilians to prove the hatred and extremism of radical Ukrainian nationalists. These orders come from Putin himself. Their goal is to create an image of intolerable chaos and loss of civil authority to justify a Russian takeover of all Ukraine. Putin’s goal is the destruction of pro-Western authority in Ukraine, the total humiliation of the West, and a makeover of the geopolitical balance.

Illiaronov’s urgent advice to Ukraine: Place all your effort into preserving civil order and avoid falling for the Spetsnaz provocations. (This will be difficult as Spetsnaz-organized gangs are already storming public buildings in East Ukraine). Ukrainian authorities must immediately close all borders with Russia to slow the infiltration of Spetsnaz and FSB destabilization units.

The Optimistic Point of View

Jane’s Intelligence Weekly 6.14 (Mar 19, 2014) states that “heading further west not only brings Russian forces closer to NATO and EU member states, it would also extend supply lines, and through more hostile areas where it could face attacks from Ukrainian self-defence militias, primarily in the form of the newly created 60,000 strong National Guard (which was formed mainly from the nationalist groups which unseated Yanukovych), which would be likely to seek to conduct guerrilla warfare against the invading Russian forces.”

But the West still holds the main trump card if and when it decides to play it. It can still play the geopolitical card, like it did in the 1980’s, a card which Putin never had.

Time for the USA to drop the Iranian oil and gas embargo and flood the spot energy market with cheap oil and gas and bankrupt the Russian Federation the way Reagan did the USSR in 1989.

This is where Turkey –a NATO member since 1952, can also step in and block Russian naval access through the Bosphorus into the Mediterranean. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and cargo fleet which, among other supplies, carries arms to Syria and to other Russian ally nations. This weapons supply line would get locked in the Black Sea.

We will see what further economic, financial, banking, energy, political and military sanctions the West plans to impose on Putin and his inner circle and how they react.