2014 April 13 Sunday
Ukrainian Security Service Trying To Take Back A Police Station

Vladimir Putin must be pleased. What's your bet: Will Vlad try to take eastern Ukraine?

He said crack units from Ukraine's SBU security service moved first into the city of Slavyansk to regain control of a police station that had been seized by about 20 militants on Saturday.

But Avakov admitted that his troops had to "regroup" after meeting stiff resistance and suffering casualties.

Doesn't Ukraine have some good special forces that could do the job? Or are they deployed elsewhere trying to drive Russian special forces out of eastern Ukraine?

This all brings to mind some books. I just finished reading The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler by John Lukacs. The section about British War Cabinet debates on May 26-28 1940 was by itself sufficient reason to read the book. Lord Halifax had such incredibly bad judgment. I am part way in to Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England by Lynne Olson.

What strikes me while reading about Western fools in the 1930s and also some sharp guys like Churchill: The Ukrainian government needs an exceptionally competent leader, highly trained special forces, really good security forces for investigations, and equipment to run operations in their western territories.

Germany is probably going to be willing to throw Ukraine under the bus for sake of good relations with Russia. I think Putin has an advantage that the Europeans are so fragmented. Meanwhile, Obama is no Dick Nixon when it comes to international chess and John Kerry is way below Henry Kissinger in learning and guile.

Luckily for us the stakes in Ukraine for the United States are pretty low. But the episode is a reminder that the "end of history" hasn't happened yet.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2014 April 13 06:54 PM 

Stephen said at April 13, 2014 8:11 PM:

Starting a non-proxy war on a superpower's border? Not a chance.

Seems to me that if Russia wants Ukraine in its sphere of influence, then that's what'll happen. It'll remain a separate country, but firmly Russian aligned.

Who knows, maybe Russia will stop at the Dnieper? That'll give Russia the warm water ports it wants.

tjhooker said at April 13, 2014 10:34 PM:

The US and Russia should save time and just rochambeau for the Ukraine, I forget the exact rules, but I bet Russian gas beats US paper...

Mike said at April 14, 2014 1:46 AM:

Saved England for what exactly?

Jaakko Raipala said at April 14, 2014 4:17 AM:

"Seems to me that if Russia wants Ukraine in its sphere of influence, then that's what'll happen. It'll remain a separate country, but firmly Russian aligned."

They already had that and the nationalists started an armed rebellion against the government that turned out to be more Russia-aligned than expected. There is no way it can ever be a Russia-aligned country without Russian military occupation and Soviet-level repression and that's rather unlikely. Putin could do that but

a) the Russian population will tolerate a Chechnya in Chechnya but if Putin turns Slavic lands into Chechnyas he will lose his head and Russia itself will fall into chaos

b) his "Eurasian union" would be doomed as everyone else who was supposed to be in it (Belarus, Central Asia etc) would get scared of Russian friendship and make deals with America/China/Iran instead

c) Russia would need to permanently commit forces to suppress potential rebellion in Ukraine and commit resources to placate the locals and this would very likely be a huge net loss for Russia

Overall this looks like a defeat for Putin. He got Crimea but he already had Crimea. The Western media keeps talking about Russia invading Crimea but that didn't actually happen. Those soldiers were already there in Russian military bases and all Russia did was kick out the few Ukrainian troops that were actually in Crimea, yet most of the world got the impression that it was an ominous feat of Blitzkrieg. Russia now looks like an aggressive conqueror when it actually just flipped some already de facto Russian territory to itself on the map. For Ukrainian nationalists the loss of only Crimea would be a victory in disguise even if they don't realize it (and many actually do): they get rid of that Russian piece that was never actually Ukrainian and they get to paint Russia as a thief in the process.

If Russia chooses to grab a few more pieces of Ukraine, it will be a Pyrrhic victory as the rest of Ukraine will be so demographically dominated by an anti-Russian population and bitterness over the treatment by Russia that it will be permanently lost to Russia.

bob sykes said at April 14, 2014 5:07 AM:

This crisis began when the US/EU supported an anti-democratic coup d'etat that overthrew the legitimate, freely elected government of Yanukovych and his party. Both the UN and the EU monitored that election and agreed it was fair. The Junta now sitting in Kiev has no legitimacy and only limited support, and that mostly in the West. The East voted overwhelming for Yanukovych (60 to 90% majorities) so even ethnic Ukrainians, who make up a majority of the East, are probably opposed to the Junta. The upcoming elections will sort this all out, but only if they are fair, which is problematic.

I see how this is a defeat for the US/EU/NATO, but not for Putin. The US/EU engineered chaos allowed him to achieve an long-standing goal of reuniting Crimea with Russia, as it had been for the 200 years preceding Khruschev's assignment of the Crimea to the Ukraine. Whether anyone, including Putin, wants any part of Ukraine is debatable. Perhaps the best outcome for Russia is that the EU gets the Ukraine with all its debts, disfunction and chaos. The only bottom line for Russia is that Ukraine remain nonaligned, outside of NATO. Russia can live with the EU choking on the Ukraine.

The real threat to peace in Europe is the delusional warmongering of people like Rasmussen, Kerry, Cameron, Hollande, et al. In this case, the innate mercantilism of the German ruling class is supporting peace.

Jaakko Raipala said at April 14, 2014 8:17 AM:

"This crisis began when the US/EU supported an anti-democratic coup d'etat"

Nah, it began when the thoroughly corrupt President with his golden toilet seats surprisingly rejected a pact with the EU in favour of Russian relations and most people figured out that he has been bought. In a proper system dirty politicians can get fired or forced to resign and eg the US has had similar attempts with Nixon (forced to resign after protests) and Clinton (protested massively but survived). These are not "anti-democratic coups".

It is idiotic to analyze a country of this size as if there's only Western agents or Russian agents in it. Most of the Maidan people who West-phobes claim are Western agents are just Ukrainians acting on their own and most of these people who the Americans now claim are Russian special forces brewing trouble in the East are just Ukrainians (or Russians) acting on their own. It is just a very divided nation.

"I see how this is a defeat for the US/EU/NATO, but not for Putin."

If Putin doesn't get Ukraine then it's a defeat for him. The EU would never be able to even agree on what goals it has in Ukraine so nothing can be a win or a defeat for it. The US mainly cares about whether Russia becomes more powerful or less powerful and so far there's no change on military (Crimea was already their base).

"The US/EU engineered chaos allowed him to achieve an long-standing goal of reuniting Crimea"

That's not his goal, though, he wants Ukraine.

"Whether anyone, including Putin, wants any part of Ukraine is debatable."

It's not. Putin just tried to get Ukraine in the Russian sphere, that's how the protests started. You're speaking as if your own beliefs about Western conspiracies are the obvious truth and then you refuse to believe openly stated Russian motives. The Russians are for once pretty honest about their empire-building and they've been talking about restoring Russian power through building a union of their own to rival the West again. Without Ukraine that vision is bust.

Some people in Ukraine agree with the Russian vision of rebuilding the empire, most don't, and some just want to join Russia because they think it will be better for them. But Russia is not secretive about wanting union with Ukraine (and as much of the former Soviet Union as possible).

"Perhaps the best outcome for Russia is that the EU gets the Ukraine with all its debts, disfunction"

It probably is the best outcome for Russians but, again, not getting Ukraine is a total defeat for the eurasianists. Ukraine is the most important piece of the former Soviet Union besides Russia itself.

Thorfinnsson said at April 14, 2014 10:12 AM:

The Ukraine is not the United Kingdom. It is a state with a weak national identity and even lesser history. It is thoroughly corrupt to the core, internally unstable, and ethnically divided. What are the odds of responsible government arising here, let alone the sort of superb government Mr. Parker says is needed?

I especially don't expect this to come from an unelected junta. I remind you that this is the third legitimately elected government in Europe to be overthrown and replaced by an unelected one headed by a...banker. The government has been busily appointing oligarchs as its chief ministers and regional satraps. Frankly it looks like an attempt to further plunder the country while using the conflict with Russia as a sideshow, even if the Russian threat is real.

I don't know if the Russians will seize Eastern Ukraine. I am sure they would like to, but the question is if the juice is worth the squeeze. Eastern Ukraine is not as pro-Russian as the Crimea either, so it wouldn't be a slam dunk the way the bloodless takeover of the Crimea was.

Honestly Ukraine's best bet would be to guarantee Russian as a national language, enter the Ukrainian union, but put the Western Ukrainian nationalists in charge. The main market for the exports of Ukraine is Russia, and Ukraine would benefit from low-cost energy. It's possible a shift West would benefit Ukraine in the long-term, but in the short-term that would mean bankruptcy, default, and sharp impoverishment. And it's not like the EU is going to admit Ukraine anytime soon.

If the West came out with a financial and energy package to prevent bankruptcy and keep Ukrainian factories going, it would be a different story. This would require a few billion in grants to roll-over short-term loans, $10-$20bn in loan guarantees, new LNG terminals (which take time to build) and subsidized gas (prob from Qatar), and immediate preferential access to EU and North American markets.

I find that highly unlikely to happen given that Western states are broke and mired in an unresolved banking crisis. And to be honest, how in the hell do we benefit from that? Why should we prop up a bankrupt, kleptocratic regime on Russia's doorstep? It would be a liability to us for at least a decade and would make fears of a new Cold War a reality.

What we need to do is cut a deal with the Russians to partition Ukraine, while at the same time reassuring our NATO allies in the east we aren't going to throw them to the bear. This would require stationing more NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states, restarting REFORGER exercises, and pan-European logistical exercises. The alliance would for instance want to test and develop the capability to move an armored brigade from Spain to Estonia in a week. I even question the value of this to us though. Does NATO really serve American interests anymore? It may be time for America to recognize that the world has changed and retreat to a pre-1940 strategic posture.

Immigrant from former USSR said at April 14, 2014 11:27 AM:

I am upset when people badmouth Secretary of State Kerry.
It was his semi-joke that the only thing,
which could save Syrian government from US military action,
is complete chemical disarmament.
Look how well it went down.

If it was Kerry, who advised our President not to bomb Syria,
kudos to Kerry!

A colleague of mine visited Syria about 5 years ago.
The universities there were of reasonable Middle-Eastern level at least.
He did not observe any atrocities at the time.
What was wrong with that situation?
No starvation, no refugees.

Kent Gatewood said at April 14, 2014 12:17 PM:

Will Turkey deny the Russian navy passage to the Med?

Bismarkian said at April 14, 2014 12:36 PM:

The only countries in which nation-building works are those that have a history of virtue for the last few hundreds of years.

Thus, Germany and Japan recovered from WW2 like it was nothing, where most of the rest of the world is still unable to build functional modern nations... even when the West gives them the cheat-sheet for how to do it.

To escape their long history of corruption and kleptocracy, Ukraine should create a charter city that's ruled by Western administrators whose pay is tied to performance metrics.

Such administrators wouldn't have had to build loyalties with various corrupt factions in order to get into power.

My Ukrainian colleague was once amazed when I showed him pics of Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffet's modest upper-middle class houses. He expected them to act like Russians and Ukrainians and have disgusting ostentatious mansions with a fleet of a fifty $500,000 cars.

Thorfinnsson said at April 14, 2014 1:53 PM:

Does it really count as nation-building when the nation in question already exists? Should we really be patting ourselves on the back for the successful revival of Germany and Japan, which were preexisting nation-states in which most key state and economic institutions survived the war?

At most we can congratulate ourselves for being gracious and not extracting our pound of flesh, though if you've read about Henry Morgenthau you know that was the idea initially before containing Communism became more important than revenge.

We can congratulate ourselves I suppose for preventing a revival of fascist thinking in the two countries, though I'm not too sure about Japan. The head of Unit 731 later became the postwar chief of Japan's medical association, and the wartime Minister of Munitions became Prime Minister. This would be like if the Federal Republic of Germany had Albert Speer as Chancellor and Joseph Mengele as head of the German medical association.

Warren Buffet, in addition to his modest home in Omaha, owns a multimillion dollar beachfront property in Malibu, CA. Suckerberg is a tool who doesn't know how to spend money or enjoy the good life. His private residence is no better than a typical exurban McMansion. Wealth is totally wasted on him, and I suspect he will lose much of his wealth. The problem with oligarchs isn't that they spend money per se, but that they are vulgar nouveaux riche with appalling taste. But then with no nobility or old money in their societies to ape, that's to be expected.

Thorfinnsson said at April 14, 2014 2:59 PM:

RE Kent Gatewood:

The passage of marine traffic through the Bosphorous and Dardanelles is governed by the Montreaux Convention.

Black Sea states are allowed access through the Straits, but the Straits are under Turkish control. The convention gives Turkey the right to close the Straits even in peacetime, though this would be highly irregular.

Non Black Sea powers may only send warships under 15,000 tons, and no more than nine warships total with an aggregate tonnage under 30,000 tons. Non Black Sea warships may only remain in the Black Sea for 21 days. Additionally, no ship with a gun caliber of over 8 inches may transit (irrelevant today as no warship afloat mounts anything larger than 6 inches these days).

The tonnage limits of non Black Sea states apply to Black Sea states as well, with the exception that capital ships of any tonnage may pass. Aircraft carriers are specifically excluded from the definition of capital ships, which is why the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier is officially designated a heavy aircraft carrying cruiser.h The ship has a heavy offensive missile armament, so it's not just window dressing.

The Straits are open to all civilian vessels.

Randall Parker said at April 14, 2014 7:30 PM:


If Putin grabbed the Russian part of Ukraine would the Russians in that part complain? Or would they celebrate Anschluss?

I am struck by the fact that most of the big Ukrainian companies are in the western (i.e. Russian) part of Ukraine.


You think LNG would be cheaper than Russian natural gas? I would not expect that. If the LNG would be cheaper then the Europeans would build LNG terminals and make natural gas flow in the opposite direction. Spain or Greece or Poland could unload LNG ships and ship the natural gas into Eastern Europe.

Immigrant from former USSR,

Russia bet big on Assad and looks like Assad is going to win.

Thorfinnsson said at April 14, 2014 7:42 PM:

Mr. Parker,

I don't at all think LNG would be cheaper, which is why I suggested a possible subsidy from Qatar. Some pipelines in Europe have been configured to be able to reverse their flows, but most have not. They're set up to receive gas from the FSU, not send it. It's therefore preferable for the LNG terminal to be as close to or in Ukraine as possible (as I understand the Yanukovych government was undertaking the construction of a terminal). Another possibility is expanding the Nabucco Pipeline to buy gas from Azerbaijan. A subterranean link across the Caspian Sea to tap Central Asian gas is a further possibility, though Moscow has much more influence in that region.

Ukraine also has ample coal reserves. Many industrial processes in Ukraine now running on natural gas could be shifted to coal. Arcelor Mittal already shifted their blast furnaces in Ukraine from natural gas injection to pulverized coal. Unfortunately for Ukraine, this coal is nearly all located in the Donets Basin (ie Eastern Ukraine).

As you can see none of these are very good options so it would be better if Kiev figured out a way to live with Moscow.

Stephen said at April 14, 2014 10:56 PM:

Randall asked: If Putin grabbed the Russian part of Ukraine would the Russians in that part complain? Or would they celebrate Anschluss?

Better to be brutalised by your own tribe than brutalised by another tribe.

Stephen said at April 14, 2014 10:59 PM:

Plus Russia has a good chance of not being raped and robbed by the oligarchs that are currently having a feeding frenzy devouring the satellite economies.

Wolf-Dog said at April 15, 2014 1:49 PM:

Jaakko Raipala: " The Russians are for once pretty honest about their empire-building and they've been talking about restoring Russian power through building a union of their own to rival the West again. Without Ukraine that vision is bust."

But separately, many Russians also fear that if Ukraine gravitates towards EU, other factions in Russia will be out of control and Russia might disintegrate. A recent Stratfor article confirmed that Germany initially encouraged the chaos in the Western part of Ukraine. Russians primarily want to create a reliable buffer in the western border, rebuilding an empire is only their secondary goal, as 10 % of Russian citizens are already Muslims and demographics are challenging for Russia. In addition to the dim view that Russia has about the German intentions to weaken it, Russia also worries about Japan and China because of the valuable Siberian natural resources. Thus, now that the Baltic NATO member countries are only 200 miles away from Saint Petersburg, Russia wants some measure of security in the Western front by establishing a minimal buffer region in the form of a sphere of influence, before real tension starts in its Eastern front.

bbartlog said at April 17, 2014 8:27 PM:

You have funny ideas about the competency of some of these figures. Kissinger advocated the idea of partial war or gradual escalation (at variance with all received wisdom) that resulted in Vietnam. When that wasn't turning out so well he decided that carpet bombing was an excellent idea. Being able to see the facts clearly somehow didn't result him making great plans as a result.
Churchill was an inspirational leader and a great writer who had no special talent for military strategy (see also: Gallipoli). That he won the 80-day duel with Hitler was partly an accident of history, or perhaps a result of a blind spot on the part of the German strategists, who couldn't conceive of an operation like Dunkirk.

And no I don't think Ukraine has any highly trained special forces to do the job. If there's going to be elite forces involved they will be outsiders.

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