Regrettably, I am very close to issuing an official Alert over the situation in Ukraine as it has continued to both escalate and deteriorate.
More than 50 people died in violence on Friday, May 2, in Odessa and other eastern cities in Ukraine. Relations between Russia and the US are finding new lows while China and Russia grow closer.
For those living in Europe who are exposed to the possible fallout that would result from the loss of supplies of Russian energy, the time to begin preparing is right now. As we say often on this site, you’d much rather be a year early than a day late in your preparations.
The situation involving the tug of war between the West and Russia regarding Ukraine has steadily worsened over time and now involves outright economic warfare. Certainly, if Russia had levied sanctions on American and European individuals and companies similar to those levied by the West on Russian targets, we can only imagine the howls of protest the West would make over such obvious 'provocations' and 'acts of war'.
For an already weakened western and Japanese financial system that is still heavily leveraged, the risks are very high for financial blowback by Russian - and possibly Chinese - agencies. Imagine a possible energy war, where Russia basically cuts off gas for Europe (that could spill over more broadly if things go badly). Or even more worrisome, a shooting war between the East and the West.
One significant risk in this story is that the die-hard 'military first' neocons who control US foreign policy have not encountered a real foe in a very long time. They appear to be under-appreciating what a real adversary like Russia could do if (when) push comes to shove.
Further, the US has been deeply involved in supporting the insurgents in Syria (and certainly many other places) and has recently provided those Jihadists with sophisticated and potable anti-aircraft missiles and TOW anti-tank rockets.
Warfare is now conducted on multiple fronts; one being via the usual information and propaganda channels, another being in the electronic space, a third being economic, and the final one being military. Each of them are effective and damaging in their own ways.
Warfare is what you resort to when diplomacy fails, or at least that used to be the saying. Now it seems that warfare is the preferred means of 'diplomacy' for the US and I suppose there's a certain rationale for that when your potential adversaries are small and easily over-powered.
The basic outline of the Ukrainian situation is not all that hard to follow: the US and Europe have been working hard for years to convince Ukraine to join the EU both economically and militarily via inclusion in the NATO structure.
Since the dissolution of the former USSR, the US has funneled some $5 billion into Ukraine to assure that it favors the West with these goals in mind.
After 15 years of wooing, the US thought it had things pretty well locked up and everything appeared to be going according to plan as recently as early November 2013. Our man in charge over there was Victor Yanukovych and he seemed to be playing ball with the West.
But everything fell apart for (the now deposed) Yanukovych -- and Ukraine at large -- in early November 2013 when he balked at what everyone thought was going to be a signing ceremony, although very few in the public knew it at the time. This editorial is from November 2013:
In a controversial move, Ukrainian PresidentViktor Yanukovych decided not to sign the country’s anticipated Association Agreement with the European Union at a summit this week in Vilnius, Lithuania. This pact would have advanced a comprehensive framework for relations between the former Soviet republic and Western Europe. In the aftermath of Yanukovych’s regrettable decision, the United States and the European Union must reaffirm efforts to help Ukraine improve its governance, strengthen its economy and deepen ties with the West.
Russia, however, has successfully used political and economic leverage to dissuade Ukraine from signing the E.U. deal. In the months prior to the Vilnius summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in a trade war with Kiev, blocking nearly all imports from Ukraine and cutting energy supplies to the country. In turn, this reduced Ukrainian exports by 25 percent and shrank the economy by 1.5 percent. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Ukrainian officials say the Russian sanctions cost them $15 billion in lost trade and could run up to half a trillion by signing the E.U. deal.”
What's more, Åslund recently warned, “The Kremlin has publicly threatened to drive Ukraine into default,” adding: “Once again, as in January 2006 and January 2009, the notoriously unreliable Russian state-dominated gas company Gazprom may cut its supplies to Ukraine.”
The basic theme here is that Ukraine was caught in a tug of war. On the one side you had the EU offering plenty of economic carrots, but virtually no tangible assistance besides"Hey, we'll buy a lot of stuff from you…we promise!" while Russia was supplying Ukraine with lots of tangible assistance in the form of heavily-subsidized natural gas. Moreover, Russia was owed a huge amount of money in back payment for natural gas already shipped to and used by Ukraine.
The spurned West was outraged by that last minute scuttling of the Association Agreement by Yanukovych. Almost immediately, it began working on supporting his opposition and eventual replacement. By failing to sign that agreement, Yanukoyvych had sealed his eventual ouster and indeed he was gone within months.
There’s a lot of missing context in that article, as there seems to be in nearly every article I’ve read from western sources. So, we must dig a bit deeper.
NATO – The Missing Context
The essential and missing context concerns the fact that, back in the early 1990's when Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of Germany, he got an explicit agreement from then US Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would "not move one inch to the East".
Without ever renegotiating that agreement, NATO (quelle surprise!) proceeded to move into a dozen countries to the East over the following years. When it started making the move on the final piece of the chessboard -- the Ukraine -- Russia, understandably and for a number of reasons, was not too keen on that.
We might consider Ukraine the final straw for a very patient Russia that did not resist as NATO steadily advanced East many millions of inches. Here's a recent map of NATO membership:
On March 12 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO.
Then, on March 20 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all joined.
And finally on April 1 2009 Albania and Croatia joined.
Now the really interesting part of this story is that the original reason NATO was founded for was to counteract the combined strength of the former Soviet Union. Note that several of the recent NATO members are former members of the Warsaw Pact, which was the USSR's equivalent of NATO.
So if NATO represents no threat to the East, as the feckless western press regularly implies, then why all the military advancement towards the East? Why have NATO at all in these post-Soviet days?
An easy answer that makes sense here is that the West, indeed, still considers the East a threat and is doing what it can to assert its dominance to prevent that threat from materializing. It’s just a big power game. The unfolding events have about as much to do with advancing democracy as Donald Trump’s hairpiece has to do with advancing good taste.
After so much prior success in steadily advancing NATO eastwards, the EU and the US thought they could just roll up Ukraine, too. But their efforts were stymied by Putin and the West has not responded to that 'provocation' very well. Which brings us to the present.
Before we move on, do you not find it at all strange that the US media, usually extremely sensitive to anti-semitism, has given the McCain and Nuland support of the Svoboda party a complete pass? I find it to be like the case of "the dog that did not bark", meaning the silence reveals a very fickle moral compass at the heart of the western press.
The demonization of Putin as the bad guy here is near complete in western media. But there’s plenty of mischief all around and, as usual, the US finds itself with some pretty strange bedfellows as it seeks an outcome it likes
In Part 2: How This Situation Can Quickly Get Much Worse, we look at the severe retaliatory damage an angry Russia can inflict on Western interests and lives -- and that's before considering the military angle. The West has already initiated economic sanctions with Russia; and so Russia is eyeing using its vast energy resources -- which Europe is very dependent on -- as a club to swing back in return. Both of these are forms of warfare, which increasingly risk pushing us over the slippery -- and terrifying -- slope towards outright military conflict.
- Why the US' antagonistic approach towards Russia is likely to backfire big time, in both the near and long term
- How, by definition, the West has already initiated economic warfare against Russia
- Why things will get very bad in a hurry for the West if Russia reacts by re-directing its energy exports
- And how things could get much worse indeed, for everyone, if this conflict erupts into a military confrontation
Poking The Bear
And that finally brings us to Russia, which has a long and complicated history with Ukraine. There are many Russian speaking people in the Ukraine, for whom Russia feels somewhat protective, as perhaps US citizens in Canada or Mexico might expect from the US.
Further, Russia quite rightfully feels that it is being systematically surrounded and cornered by the NATO military structure and they might reasonably ask themselves why and for what purpose(s)? There are probably other ways to look at this, but it's certainly reasonable to think that Russia might feel just the tiniest bit provoked, if not threatened, at the West's obvious efforts to get Ukraine to join up with NATO.
Instead of sitting down with Russia to try and hammer things out, the US resorted almost immediately to a series of sanctions targeted at Russian individuals and companies, as well as the Russian stock and bond markets, with the intention of creating economic and financial hardship that would get Russia to leave Ukraine to the west.
Several dozen Russian planes including what appeared to be strategic bombers and fighter jets have been spotted in the sky above the Moscow-controlled peninsula of Crimea, witnesses and experts said.
According to Russian media, President Vladimir Putin is poised to visit Crimea on Friday after overseeing the main military parade on Red Square when Russia celebrates its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
A local aviation expert told AFP on Sunday that he had sighted a number of planes over the peninsula's main city of Simferopol on Saturday, including supersonic heavy strategic bombers and heavy military transport aircraft.
The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had also seen refuelling tankers and MiG-29 jets.
Another expert, Alexei Savich, who was shown footage of the aircraft, said a Sukhoi Su-34 fighter jet could be seen among the planes.
He also identified the tankers and military transport planes.
The Russian defence ministry declined to comment on Sunday.
Savich suggested that Moscow might be moving "some serious military aircraft" to the peninsula.
"Russia is most likely ramping up its military presence on the peninsula," he told AFP.
In March, Putin sent troops to Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula claiming he had to protect the local population after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine's Moscow-backed president.
Now that the situation in Ukraine has officially been upgraded to "war", what really happens on the ground will remain largely wrapped by the fog of war on either side, with just one thing assured: a war it may be but more than anything it is a proxy war - one in which both western and Russian interests are manifest in the fighting, and killing, of mostly innocent civilians in Ukraine - a carbon copy replica of what happened last year in Syria.
The latest reminder of just this comes from AFP which reports, citing Germany's Bild, that "dozens of specialists from the US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation are advising the Ukrainian government."
Citing unnamed German security sources, Bild am Sonntag said the CIA and FBI agents were helping Kiev end the rebellion in the east of Ukraine and set up a functioning security structure.
It said the agents were not directly involved in fighting with pro-Russian militants. "Their activity is limited to the capital Kiev," the paper said.
The FBI agents are also helping the Kiev government fight organised crime, it added.
A group specialised in financial matters is to help trace the wealth of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, according to the report.
On the surface, this report is hardly surprising: we reported a month ago, subsequently confirmed by the White House, that CIA director Brennan had "secretly" visited Kiev in early April. It stands to logic that he was hardly alone and continuing the proud tradition of Libya, Egypt and Syria, the CIA was merely getting started unfolding the agency's core competency: regional destabilization.
What is very surprising is that Germany's press is finally stepping away from the western media propaganda umbrella and starting to report the side of the narrative that is in direct opposition to US interests in either Ukraine, or Germany.
And how soon before Germany's position, one clearly against the imposition of further sanctions on Russia and the additional alienation of the Kremlin, puts Germany on direct collision course with Obama and the US state department? And what then: will Germany, shunned by the US, have no choice but to reallign with the ascendent Eurasian axis of China and Russia. Stay tuned.