Fyodor Lukyanov is Chairman of Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, the oldest Russian NGO providing expertise in the foreign policy field, and editor-in-chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal published in Russian and English with the participation of Foreign Affairs. As head of Russia in Global Affairs since its founding in 2002, he greatly contributed to making this journal Russia’s most authoritative source of expert opinion on global development issues. He is also research director at the International Valdai discussion club, and a member of presidium of Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Fyodor Lukyanov is research professor at Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
Thomas Graham is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a cofounder of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian studies program at Yale University and sits on its faculty steering committee. He is also a research fellow at the MacMillan Center at Yale. He has been a lecturer in global affairs and political science since 2011, teaching courses on U.S.-Russian relations and Russian foreign policy, as well as cybersecurity and counterterrorism. Graham was special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007, during which he managed a White House-Kremlin strategic dialogue. He was director for Russian affairs on the staff from 2002 to 2004.
….The statements come from leaders of an industry that exerts tremendous influence in Washington, employing an average of 700 lobbyists per year over the past five years, or more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project.
Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are also funders of the influential think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has been encouraging the United States to take immediate action, including militarily, in the event of a Russian invasion.
“Everyone in D.C. knows that weapons manufacturers are helping skew U.S. policy towards militarism, but they usually try to be less obvious,” Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, an anti-war organization, told In These Times. “They are cashing in on tensions over Ukraine as the U.S. pours weapons into the region.”
Question: You have received the Americans’ response to Russia’s security guarantee proposals. What does it say? What is their reaction? Antony Blinken has said that they are against releasing the document publicly. What has Russia decided on this score?
Sergey Lavrov: I believe that the general public will know the essence of this document soon. As our American colleagues have said, although they would like to keep this document confidential so as to provide space for confidential talks, they have coordinated it with their allies and with Ukraine. Are they sure that it will not be leaked very soon?
As for the essence of the document, the responses offer grounds for serious talks only on matters of secondary importance. There is no positive response to the main issue, which is our clear stand on the continued NATO enlargement towards the east and the deployment of strike weapons that can pose a threat to the territory of the Russian Federation, which we consider unacceptable. This stand did not appear out of the blue. As you may know, the issue of NATO’s non-enlargement or enlargement, however you put it, has a long history. In the early 1990s, or more precisely in 1990, when Germany was reunified and the issue of European security was raised, they solemnly promised that NATO would not expand even an inch eastward beyond the Oder River. These facts are well known and have been included in many memoirs by British, US and German officials. But now that this issue has become a matter of fierce debates, we have been told that the promises were only verbal. When we mentioned the memoirs, our Western partners responded that they were not serious and that their words were misinterpreted. They chose a rather immature way to explain the reckless expansion of the alliance.
But now that we have cited the promises made not in word but in the form of documents signed by the leaders of all OSCE states, including the US President (the 1999 Istanbul Declaration and the 2010 Astana Declaration), our Western partners have to find a way out of a very serious situation. The point is that both declarations set out the participating states’ commitment to the principle of indivisible security and their pledge to honour it without fail. This principle was formulated very clearly. It includes two interconnected approaches. The first is the freedom of states to choose military alliances. The second is the obligation not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states. In other words, the freedom to choose security arrangements is conditioned by the pledge to respect the security interests of any other OSCE state, including the Russian Federation.
It is indicative that now when we propose coordinating legally binding security guarantees in the Euro-Atlantic region, our Western colleagues respond by urging us to respect the coordinated principles of security guarantees in that region. After saying this, they add that this means that NATO has a right to expand, and nobody can prohibit it from considering any country’s request for joining the alliance. The principle according to which no state may strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states is being deliberately ignored. Our Western partners make no mention of the Istanbul or the Astana declarations during the ongoing discussions on European security. They are keeping away from this matter. We cannot accept this. They explained their failure to honour the non-enlargement promises in the 1990s by the absence of written obligations, but such promises were given in writing later. They have been reaffirmed within the OSCE framework several times, including at the top level. We will now focus on getting clarity regarding this hypocritical position of our Western partners.
During my talks with Antony Blinken in Geneva, I asked him to explain why they regard the obligations made within the OSCE as a menu from which they are free to choose the dishes that taste good to them, and why they are disregarding or talking round their pledge to honour the interests of other countries. Mr Blinken did not reply to my question. He only shrugged his shoulders, and that’s it. I told him, just as I have told our other colleagues, that we would shortly send them an official request for an explanation why they choose only one of their commitments and disregard the other commitments on which its implementation depends. It will be an official request sent to all countries whose leaders signed the Istanbul and Astana declarations. I hope that it will not take them long to explain the Western position.
Other than that, we are analysing the Americans’ response. As Antony Blinken has said, they have coordinated it with Ukraine and with the other Western countries, with US allies. We have also received NATO’s response from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. We are analysing these two documents as a package, because they have been provided in response to the draft treaty and draft agreement we proposed in December 2021. After an inter-agency coordination of our conclusions, we will submit them to President Vladimir Putin, who will make a decision on our further actions.
Western media and Western governments are all telling us one thing. But, suddenly, the actual players are all telling us another. Is it possible that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed an opportune situation too far and is now afraid of what he has unleashed?
On September 1, 2021, Zelensky met with Biden at the White House. In setting the agenda, he said that he “would like to discuss with President Biden here his vision, his government’s vision of Ukraine’s chances to join NATO and the timeframe for this accession.” He also walked away with a pledge for millions more in US money for security assistance.
Zelensky has been demanding, and receiving, money and arms from everyone. Only Germany has not joined the US, Canada, the UK, Europe and even the Baltic States in sending Zelensky the gift of weaponry.
But as the arms pour in, as the US focuses more on long talks than real solutions, and as Ukraine finds itself in the middle of something potentially scary, suddenly Zelensky is calming things down instead of heating things up.
After asking everyone to send money, arms and troops, on January 25, Zelensky suddenly turned down the volume. Everything is “under control,” he calmly reassured. There is “no reason to panic.” In fact, nothing is happening at all. Ukraine’s foreign ministry joined the new Zelensky choir, saying that, “In fact, there have been no radical changes in the security situation recently: the threat of new waves of Russian aggression has remained constant since 2014.” Zelensky actually “does not think there’s any remotely imminent threat to Kyiv.”
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov added the not trivial contribution that the Russian troops near his border have not formed battle groups, “which would have indicated that tomorrow they would launch an offensive.” And just to make sure everyone was singing their part in the new Zelensky choir, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, added that the activity of Russian troops near the Ukraine border “is not news.” Not news? Then why are Biden and Blinken threatening war with Russia?
The US, UK, Germany and Australia have recently recalled their embassy staff from Ukraine because of the imminent danger of Russian invasion and war. On January 25, Canada joined them. But the EU did not. Why? Because, Josep Borrell, the chief EU diplomat said, “we don’t know any specific reasons.” He went so far as to call closing embassies dramatizing the situation. Ukraine agrees. The Ukrainian foreign ministry called it “premature.” Zelensky broke with the US and actually thanked the EU, saying, he was “grateful” to countries “whose diplomats remain in our country and support us in our work.”
Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials now seem to be closer to what Russia has been saying. Putin has consistently denied that Russian troops are near the Ukrainian border for offensive rather than defensive reasons. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, again told a US media audience that Russian troops are positioned as they are in response to NATO threats. He added, in case no one has been listening to Putin, “[W]e’re not speaking about military action. This is – you have to understand, no one is threatening anyone with military action. This will be just a madness to do that.”
And it is not only Russia, Ukraine and the EU who are speaking in a way that is not consistent with the way the situation is being constantly hyped by the US government and media. It is also the US. CIA Director Burns maintains that “We don’t know that Putin has made up his mind to use force.” So, “U.S. intelligence agencies haven’t concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin will invade Ukraine.” And, as the Ukrainian Minister of Defense has said that the Russian groups have, at least not yet, formed into battle groups that would indicate an invasion, so US intelligence says Russian troops have not done what they would expect if they intended an invasion. US intelligence had expected that, if Putin was planning to invade Ukraine, there would be a surge in the number of Russian troops near the Ukraine border, and the hostile presence would swell to 175,000. No such surge has occurred.
In 2008, the US, having been stymied by Germany and France in its attempt to accelerate Ukraine’s ascension into NATO, stated that, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO.” In 2014, the US set up and supported a coup in Ukraine that was intended to pull Ukraine closer into the NATO and European security sphere. Ukraine’s President Zelenski has been pressing the gas pedal on NATO membership, and the US and NATO have intensified the pressure on Russia, pushing NATO and weapons right up to its borders.
Russia finally drew the line. Prior to 2014, Russia had accepted its subordinate role to the West and compromised on all disagreements with the US. At Ukraine, Putin drew the line. He refused to accept the US’s hegemonic rules and stood up to the unipolar world. He defended Russia’s interests and asserted itself as a balancing pole in a multipolar world. That is why the US is so threatened by Russia’s demands for security assurances. It is not about Ukraine: it is about the line over which the battle to maintain the US led unipolar world will be fought.
Zelenski may have exploited this situation to advance his NATO ambitions. But having called for weapons and troops, he now finds his nation in the middle of a potential war in which his country will become the battle ground. Perhaps that is why he is may now be attempting to disarm the situation.
In early November 2021, several media outlets and the U.S. government began to warn of an imminent full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia on a scale not seen since the Iraq War of 2003. The attack was predicted to come around Christmas or in mid-January. Both dates have come and gone, and no invasion has materialized, yet some policymakers and most pundits continue to warn that it will happen, and soon. Moscow announced a series of demands on European security—unrealistic ones, but ones that seem set as a starting point for a dialogue among peers. This is a shift in the dynamic that Russia has been pushing for years: increasing its indirect confrontations with the United States to get America to treat it as a peer, not a spent force that can be ignored or dictated to.
The evidence so far points to Russia looking toward talks, not invasion. The initial reaction was set off by Russia’s movement of military assets within the Southern and Western military districts. The movements did not even represent a serious addition of forces to these command areas but a repositioning of different assets.
But there is a plausible argument that these are not a serious threat to Ukraine. In an article published in the Dutch-language magazine Knack and also on social media, Sim Tack, an independent military analyst (and previous co-author of mine) has noted that there has been more of a concentration of equipment than of personnel. He suggested last month that “Russia appears to experiment with forward positioning of equipment over longer durations of time than we usually see. They have done this first at Opuk between April and October, and now at Yelnya, Novoozerne, and Bakhchysarai. An emulation of NATO procedures in Eastern Europe.”
As Tack notes, the Russian air force has been largely absent from these movements. Air superiority would be a critical component of any ground offensive, so the lack of movement other than some helicopter formations is a major point against an imminent offensive.
Though on maps like the one published by the New York Times earlier this month Russian formations seem to be almost inside Ukraine, some are hundreds of miles away, lined up in depots at long-standing bases. There has been no effort to conceal the troops in forward positions or prepare them for an imminent offensive. Exercises in the Southern and then Western military districts have been interpreted as directed at Ukraine, yet these exercises were well within the scale of what is typical for Russia’s training schedule—and if units were being relocated to new areas as part of a reconfiguration, training and logistical exercises make perfect sense.
The Russian military is in many ways still reforming and evolving into a post-Soviet formation. Massed combined arms formations manned by conscripts are being replaced by contract professional formations. A major part of this involves a tempo of regular training and exercises.
There has also been an over-concentration on the motives of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Understanding Putin has its place in legitimate scholarship, but it is made more useful if scholars look at Putin within the context of the Russian political system. Putin is the president of Russia and the main arbiter of its various elite circles. He governs through the Russian political consensus that emerged after the disastrous 1990s. He is not a supreme master of strategy or a maniacal Bond villain set on revenge for the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather than attempting to read Putin’s mind, observers should ask not just what he wants, but how he could achieve it and what the cost-benefit is for the regime and for Russia.
This is one of many different views and analyses available at different sources that I’m providing or linking to on this blog so that readers can get a broad range of views and make up their own minds. – Natylie
The US-Russia talks in Geneva in the last two successive weeks could not produce a breakthrough. Fundamentally, there is a contradiction that cannot be resolved easily. Russia sees in existential terms the NATO’s advance into its immediate western neighbourhood. But for Washington, it’s geopolitics, stupid!
Russia cannot tolerate any longer such NATO presence on its western border. Ukraine’s induction into the Western alliance system would mean that the US missiles could hit Moscow in 5 minutes, rendering Russian air defence systems ineffectual and obsolete.
The NATO deployments in the Baltic and the Black regions further deprive Russia of buffer in the west. Considering that all major decisions and most minor decisions in the NATO are taken in Washington, Moscow perceives all this as an American strategy to encircle it, erode its strategic autonomy and independent foreign policies.
The US, on the contrary, refuses to countenance any NATO rollback. It insists that Russia has no say in the alliance’s decisions. At best, Washington would discuss certain confidence-building measures, while NATO enlargement since 1997 — contrary to assurances given to Mikhail Gorbachev by western leaders in 1990 during the reunification of Germany — is a fait accompli that Russia should live with.
Basically, the US has gained the high ground through sustained efforts through the past three decades since the Bill Clinton administration put into effect a concerted strategy in anticipation of a resurgent Russia in a matter of time. Now that the US has gained the upper hand, it is loathe to give it up.
From Washington’s viewpoint, this is a key template of the geopolitical struggle unfolding over the new world order after China’s rise and the shift in power dynamic from the West to the East. Cutting down Russia to size and to be able to intimidate it is a pre-requisite of the situation before the US tackles China comprehensively. Suffice to say, Ukraine has become a battleground where a titanic test of will is playing out.
Ukraine is in all practical sense a US surrogate and its transformation as an anti-Russian state that began following the regime change in Kiev in 2014 is already at an advanced stage. Although Ukraine is not yet a NATO member, the alliance has established a significant presence in the country militarily and politically.
In the information war, the US portrays Russia as aggressor against a weak neighbour. In reality, though, it is a situation of ‘Heads I win tails you lose’. If Russia doesn’t do anything, it might as well resign to the inevitability of Ukraine being inducted into NATO and Russia having to live with the enemy at the gates. Of course, that would shift the global strategic balance for the first time in history in favour of the US.
On the other hand, if Russia acts militarily to prevent the NATO’s march in Ukraine, Washington will play rough. Washington is all set to pillory President Vladimir Putin personally and to impose “sanctions from hell” on Russia, with a vicious game plan to wound that country’s economy lethally and stifle its capacity to be a global player.
In the US estimation, Putin personally will have to bear a heavy political cost if living conditions deteriorate within Russia between now and 2024 when the next Russian presidential election is due, and he may be compelled to relinquish power. From the American perspective, there’s nothing like it if a Boris Yeltsin II were to succeed Putin.
Make no mistake, part of what is going on today is a demonisation Putin’s political personality to erode his towering popularity (65%), which forecloses the rise of a pro-western politician in Russia for a foreseeable future. All attempts by the US intelligence to create a “liberal” platform in Russian politics have failed so far. The fact of the mater is that the majority of Russian people dread the return of the “liberal” order of the 1990s.
The Washington Post, which is linked to the US security establishment, featured a scurrilous report last Wednesday under the byline of a noted knave titled House Republicans aim sanctions at Putin, his family and his mistress. It says, “The Biden administration’s carefully crafted mix of diplomacy and threats of additional sanctions doesn’t seem to be deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and starting a war. Now, a large group of House Republicans is pushing President Biden to ramp up the pressure on Putin directly by going after him and his entourage for their long and well-established corruption.” Evidently, Washington will go to any extent to create dissensions among Russia’s elite and undermine the country’s political stability.
What lies ahead?
Without doubt, Russia is acutely conscious of its limitations. Moscow too made some serious miscalculations. It was betting that Ukraine was not going to join the Nato and in due course, better sense would prevail in Kiev under a realistic and pragmatic leader who would give up on the “Ukrainisation” agenda, repair ties with Russia (especially in the economic field) and importantly, accommodate the aspirations of the ethnic Russian eastern regions. But as it turned out,“Ukrainisation” is only being galvanised with tacit American support. Moscow has sensed that time is no longer on its side.
Moscow expects something concrete from the American side, as its vital security interests are in jeopardy. The Kremlin leadership, including Putin, has starkly outlined Russia’s “red lines.” Washington, on the other hand, is simply kicking the can down the road. It estimates that time is on its side anyway. From the Russian viewpoint, this is not acceptable, since a point of no return is reaching as regards Ukraine’s Nato membership.
Arguably, President Biden doesn’t want to move in the direction of accommodating Russia’s legitimate interests, given the pulls and pushes from the domestic scene in America and the divergent opinions among European allies, but primarily because the encirclement of Russia with pro-Western states has been a strategic objective of Washington’s policies toward Russia under successive administrations since Bill Clinton, and today it happens be expedient too , being a “cause” that enjoys rare bipartisan support in the Beltway at a juncture when American opinion is deeply divided.
In the present situation, wittingly or unwittingly, Washington has also tied its hands by committing that it won’t negotiate over Ukraine’s head. All factors taken into consideration, therefore, the probability is very high that Russia will intervene in eastern Ukraine with a view to create new facts on the ground to secure its national security interests while aiming at a political settlement for the medium and long term.
What does it entail?
Clearly, Russia is not seeking annexation of Ukrainian territory. Its preference will be to restrict its intervention in eastern Ukraine largely to the Russian populated regions and to create a buffer zone. Some American analysts have estimated that, broadly, any Russian intervention will be restricted to the territory upto the Dnepr river flowing through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea. This seems plausible.
Of course, there are variables in any emergent military situation. Russia will firmly react to any form of Western intervention in Ukraine — although Washington has ruled it out. (In any case, the US’ capability to fight a massive continental war at such short notice is questionable.) The Russian military operations will be decisive with huge firepower and advanced weaponry on multiple fronts, with the intention to realise the political objective in the shortest time possible.
The US journalists have written about “resistance” but that is a load of rubbish. The Russian operation will be short and decisive. The Ukrainian moral fibre today is such that the demoralised forces and the disillusioned people will simply cave in. In all this, what needs to be remembered is that despite the heavy dollops of US indoctrination, Ukrainian people have profound civilisational affinities with Russians that lie submerged just below the surface.
Most important, the pervasive corruption in that country gives ample scope to buy off loyalties — in fact, there may not be much actual fighting at all in many sectors. It also needs to be factored in that the political situation in Kiev is highly unstable, as the latest sedition charges against former president Petro Poroshenko testify.
Zelensky won his mandate as president in 2019 on the basis of his promise to work for rapprochement with Russia. Today, he is a thoroughly discredited figure. People feel betrayed. A crushing military defeat will mean the end of the road for Zelensky.
The ensuing political turmoil within Ukraine is the “X” factor in the Russian intervention. American analysts deliberately sidestep this. Simply put, Russians have a deep understanding of the eddies of Ukrainian politics and the country’s power brokers due to the shared history, culture, politics and societal links.
The ultimate Russian objective will be a federated Ukraine through constitutional reform with the country’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity intact while the regions enjoy autonomy. Europe may welcome this as the best way to stabilise the situation and remove the potential for future conflict.
Indeed, Russia’s expectation will be that such a Ukraine can never become a part of Nato once constitutional underpinnings are put in place to ensure that all major policies pursued in Kiev would be based on national consensus.
The bottom line is that as Russia sees it, the only way out of this crisis is that Ukraine regains its national sovereignty and stops looking at Washington for navigating its destiny. That requires that the American operatives in Kiev who take the decisions for Ukraine go home and Ukrainians are once again the masters of their house, which ceased to be the case once the US intelligence usurped power in February 2014 disregarding the pledge given by then (elected) president Viktor Yanukovich to hold fresh elections before deciding on Ukraine’s EU membership.
Clearly, all this is not going to be as easy as it sounds and the outcome may turn out to be no better than an attempt to unscramble the omelette. But the good part is that there are signs already that Europe is sceptical about blindly tagging along with the US any further on Ukraine.
The probability of discord in the transatlantic relationship is rising. The NATO itself has never really been the robust united alliance that was made out to be. The Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing is a harbinger of things to come. (Incidentally, Putin will also be in Beijing at that time.) Germany opposes not only the removal of Russia from Swift but also the supply of weapons by NATO countries to Ukraine as well as Lithuania’s move (under US advice) to switch ties to Taiwan!
US made a strategic blunder to have encouraged a deeper NATO imprint in Ukraine. Making half-promises thereby to a non-NATO country is going to damage the US’ credibility in the downstream of a Russian intervention. But it is impossible for Washington to backtrack now, as the loss of credibility will be even more.
What remains to be seen, equally, is how the European Union survives this moment. The ardent Atlanticists in the European Commission in Brussels led by Ursula von der Leyen and the Russia-hater Josep Borrell are unilaterally setting the EU agenda currently, ignoring the glaring divergences of opinion among the member states. With Angela Merkel’s departure, a vacuum has appeared which these Eurocrats hope to fill in.
But this is clearly unsustainable. Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Europe to invest in its own collective security framework and called for a “frank” EU dialogue with Russia. By the way, neither the EU nor France was involved in the direct talks between the US and Russia in Geneva.
Much is being made out of the threat of sanctions against Russia. But such threats won’t deter Moscow. For a start, even draconian sanctions have proved to be a weak coercive tool. Indeed, US sanctions had a poor coercive track record in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, Vietnam, etc.
Russia is a big power. It has huge reserves, which currently stands at a record $638.2 billion — the fourth largest in the world. Russia’s credit position is good and it owns much of its debts. It has no critical need of US investors. Russia is in no desperate need to sell its currency.
Having gone through four traumatic shocks previously in its 30-year post-cold war history, Russia knows how to absorb shocks. Therefore, while Russia may take a big hit and there could be currency volatility causing outflow of capital initially following the sanctions, its reserves give big cushion.
At any rate, how far the Europeans will want to go on the sanctions path remains to be seen. Germany has voiced reservations about Washington’s famous “nuclear option”, namely, the expulsion of Russia from the Swift payment system. To be sure, any disruption in Russian energy supplies will hurt the European economies.
A little known fact is, Russia sells gas at very low prices to Europe, whereas, any LNG supplies from the US to make up for Russian supplies will mean exorbitant prices jacking up the cost of industrial production. Central European countries depend on Russia for 100 percent of their energy needs. Germany has a 40% dependency.
According to reports, a highlight of Putin’s forthcoming visit to Beijing will be the signing of the agreement of the mammoth Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline project to construct an additional route to send gas to China gas from Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, where Russia’s biggest gas reserves are, via Mongolia. The capacity of the pipeline is expected to be 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually (which exceeds the capacity of Nord Stream 2.)
Significantly, trade turnover between China and Russia has reached a record $146.88 billion in 2021, up 35.8% from the previous year. Most certainly, the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine, which could bring new sanctions against Moscow, is likely to tighten the Kremlin’s bond with Beijing even more. The two countries have vowed to raise their trade turnover to $200 billion by 2024. Recent economic trends alone suggest the countries are likely to reach that goal.
The rising geopolitical tensions would add momentum to this effort by making stronger trade ties with China a necessity for the Kremlin. Moscow will need to increase sourcing capabilities elsewhere because of US sanctions, and China will be one major avenue. The big picture is that on its part, China too cannot afford to see Russia going down under US pressure.
Evidently, the US hasn’t thought through the escalatory ladder. The Kremlin has threatened Washington with a complete break in relations if push comes to shove. Trust Moscow to hit back. Russia conducted an anti-satellite test in May by taking out a satellite. Possibly, it was a signal that Russia has the capability to interfere with the GSP constellation in non-military fields, which can affect key sectors of the US economy.
Above all, any “sanctions from hell” will inevitably turn into a morality play on the world stage. There’ll be increasing blowback in the world economy as countries get concerned about Washington’s weaponisation of the dollar. Some may even feel prompted to harden their economy. This can impact the international financial market. Washington backtracked previously when such situations arose. (Washington chose not to impose sanctions against India under CAATSA for its purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia.)
Paradoxically, thanks to wave after wave of Western sanctions since 2014, Russia has become much more autarchic. Today, it needs no inputs from the West for its defence industry to develop new weapon systems. Pentagon officials have admitted that Russia has taken the lead in cutting edge technology such as hypersonic missiles, and catching up may take three to five years — that is, assuming that the Russian defence industry is resting its oars.
Iversen actually gets a couple of details wrong here. For example, the Donbas rebels actually wanted autonomy rather than to be absorbed by Russia. But it’s interesting to see a reasonably sane take about this on a corporate media outlet. – Natylie
….The obvious political options are breaking off all relations with Ukraine, Washington, NATO, particularly anti-Russian NATO member-states such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. In addition, Putin might follow his course in South Ossetiya and Abkhazia and recognize the Donetsk Peoples Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) as independent states, something Moscow refused to do in 2014 at the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis. On the other hand, he might be better off merely threatening such a step, as he should have done with regard to Crimea after the Western-backed insurrection in Kiev. Some of Putin’s military-technical responses would follow from this.
One military-technical option would be to establish a large permanent Western Military District base close to Ukraine’s border with or inside the DNR/LNR or place the base near but only some contingent of troops inside the the Donbass state(s). In conjunction with this, Moscow would likely increase significantly the size of its Black Sea Fleet. One retired Russian officer has recommended doubling the size of the fleet givien rising tensions in the region and the fleet’s responsibilities covering not just the Black and Azov Seas but parts of the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and parts of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans as well. This would also be a response to increased U.S. and NATO naval activity in the Black Sea and to Turkey, which has stepped up military assistance to Kiev, and has a naval fleet much larger than Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Another military-technical measure would be to send a large military contingent (10-30,000 troops) and drastically increase military assistance to Belarus north of Ukrane and perhaps even increase the forces of the 14th army in Transdnietr, southwest of Ukraine. Moscow might even deploy short- to intermediate range nuclear missiles under Russian army control. Announcement that some target Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, in particular Lvov and western Ukraine. Similar measures to any or all of those above could be taken with regard to Russia’s some 12,000 forces in its Kalaningrad Oblast’ exclave, between Germany and the Baltic states and strengthen the Baltic Sea Fleet. This would have three logical purposes: demonstrate strength and inflict a price in the face of Western intransigence, reinforce the exposed exclave, and buttress the defense of Belarus.
On Monday January 17, the Quincy Institute convened a small closed door working group of former American and British ambassadors and experts on Russia and Ukraine to discuss possible scenarios in the context of the present crisis between Russia and the West. Senior fellow Anatol Lieven chaired the meeting and summarizes its conclusions here.
Is a Russian invasion of Ukraine now certain? This was the belief of one participant in the discussion, on the basis of the fact that Russia enjoys overwhelming military superiority and that the United States and NATO have simultaneously made clear that they will not fight Russia and that they will not accede to Russia’s key demands.
The rest of the participants were not so pessimistic. All agreed though both on the extreme seriousness of the present crisis, and that we only have a matter of a few weeks at most to prevent a drastic escalation by Russia.
The consensus among participants was that the Russian government has not yet decided on war, and that Russian demands (including most notably a permanent bar on further expansion of NATO) are not final and non-negotiable, but are initial bargaining positions. However, there was general agreement that to have a chance of reaching a compromise with Russia to avert a new war, the United States will have to go much further than its own initial statements.
Participants agreed that for reasons of domestic and international prestige, President Putin simply cannot emerge from this crisis empty-handed, and that his rhetoric and that of other Russian officials, together with Western intransigence, have placed Russia in a position where its only choice may be between humiliation and war. So although Putin and the Russian establishment are fully aware of the economic and political damage that Russia could suffer from a war, as well as the immense political difficulties it would face in occupied areas of Ukraine, the Russian government is indeed seriously considering war.
It was pointed out that inside Russia, (quite contrary to most perceptions in the West), “Putin faces no real threats from the Left, only from the Right”. Hardliners in the Russian establishment were bitterly disappointed with Putin’s refusal to occupy much larger areas of Ukraine in 2014, when Ukrainian military resistance would have been minimal and incidents like the killing of Russian demonstrators in Odessa would have given Russia a perfect excuse. There is a general feeling among the Russian elites that Putin’s strategy of trying to seek compromise through Germany and France has utterly failed. Indeed, Putin himself now seems to share this view.
All participants were of the view that agreement can only be reached by the United States and Russia, ideally negotiating in secret. Involving European members of NATO can only complicate the process to the point where no coherent negotiating strategy will be possible. In addition, Moscow no longer takes the Europeans seriously. As to the Ukrainian government, fear of its own hardliners makes it incapable of compromise. It will therefore have to be faced with a fait accompli.
As to the formulation of U.S. proposals that could be accepted by Russia as the basis for a possible solution, or at least an end to the immediate threat of war and an agreement to go on negotiating, thinking among the participants was primarily along the following lines:
1.) If for domestic political reasons the Biden administration cannot offer a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality or a permanent ban on NATO membership, then it should offer a moratorium on further NATO expansion for a period sufficiently long (10-20 years) to reassure Russia and give Putin the appearance of success. The West would sacrifice nothing by this, since even the most ardent proponents of NATO membership for Ukraine acknowledge that this cannot possibly happen in the near future.
2.) A pledge by NATO to return to the full terms of the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (ACFE) agreement of 1999, allowing for the continued deployment of Russian troops in the Abkhaz and Southern Ossete (internationally unrecognized) republics formerly part of Georgia, and the Transdniestria region of Moldova. Russian troops are never going to leave these areas, so Western pressure is pointless. The ACFE however would form a solid basis for mutual restraint on military deployments elsewhere, including new NATO deployments in eastern Europe.
3.) Such an agreement should include proposals for a new European security framework involving Russia, aimed at the solution of the various disputes and frozen conflicts in Europe, including Crimea and Kosovo, and at the avoidance of future conflict. This would also encourage co-operation on areas of joint concern like international terrorism, illegal migration and the trade in drugs.
4.) There was disagreement on whether a pledge to relaunch the Minsk II agreement on autonomy for the Donbas should be part of a U.S. offer. Some participants argued that Minsk II is effectively dead. Others pointed out that even if a new name is given to the process, in the end guaranteed autonomy for the Donbas within Ukraine is the only possible way of resolving that dispute peacefully and without its eventual incorporation into Russia. It was also argued that more broadly, the Biden administration and NATO should commit themselves to the principle of a multi-ethnic Ukrainian identity with a recognized and guaranteed place for the Russian minority and Russian language.
If the United States refuses to move significantly from its existing positions, then the general sense of the meetingas that war is very likely, preceded by an escalating series of moves like the cyber-attack on Ukraine intended to signal Russian will to fight and capacity to win.
In the event of war, some participants suggested that Russia would only occupy the rest of the Donbas, and inflict a stinging local defeat on Ukraine that would underline NATO’s inability to help. By limiting military action in this way, Moscow would hope to avoid really severe Western sanctions —while threatening that if sanctions were imposed and the West armed Ukraine, Russia would go much further.
If it does go much further, one participant believed that this could even involve Russian strikes on the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania, intended to pre-empt the movement of U.S. forces into these countries and to emphasize the complete impotence of NATO. Most however felt that Moscow would do everything possible to avoid a direct clash with NATO forces, and would not try to occupy Kiev or the ethnic Ukrainian heartlands, but would stick to the Russian-speaking areas of the east and south of the country that were (at least till 2014) traditionally pro-Russian and where Russia could attract a measure of local support.
At the very least, Russia might aim to occupy the Black Sea coast of Ukraine as far as Crimea, so as to end Ukraine’s blockade of water supplies that has done considerable damage to Crimea. It is also possible that Russia would seek to take Odessa and the entire Black Sea coast so as to establish a land link to the Russian-protected territory of Transnistria (a separatist part of Moldova), fearing that otherwise Ukraine could blockade Transnistria and starve the Russian force there into surrender.
However far Russia marched, the consensus of the meeting was that Moscow would not subsequently annex more Ukrainian territory. Rather, having made its point about Russian determination and U.S. and NATO impotence, the Russian government would offer to withdraw its forces in return for Western and Ukrainian agreement to an expanded version of Russia’s existing demands. This would include: a bar on NATO membership for Ukraine (or possibly a treaty of neutrality), a mutual withdrawal of NATO forces from Russia’s borders, and a federal system for Ukraine involving autonomous status for all the main Russian-speaking regions. Moscow would hope that the West would then accept the re-establishment of Ukrainian unity and territorial integrity on this basis, that would also guarantee Russian vital interests in Ukraine.
While members of this group differed about the extent of the damage and losses Russia would suffer in the event of war, none of them put forward any scenario involving Western or Ukrainian success.
QI research analyst Artin Dersimonian contributed to this report.