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11 August 2014


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"The US needs an external 'enemy' to cope with them." Could it be any coincidence that Iran magically ceased to be the "existential threat" to the United States at almost the exact same time as Russia became one? Given the abrupt cessation in propaganda against Iran, it seems that a deal will be done. In any case, Russia fulfills the need for a credible, enduring external 'enemy' much better than Iran ever could. If the foreign policy elites manage it well, Russia could be the external 'enemy' for a long, long time to come. Defense budgets will be safe.


The realist might say that the U.S.'s over-arching concern is to not allow China or "Europe" to become a hegemonic powers. If China were to become a hegemonic power, it would need Russia as a cooperative partner. This would be in the same way the US needs Canada (for its material resources, markets, diplomatic cover, educated population, and, in the future, water). Though China needs Russia to a greater extent compared to U.S./Canada case because China's huge population will more quickly cause critical resource shortages.

The US's aim is to get Russia as destabilized as possible, on as many fronts as possible. And the same thing with China. Expect the US to gin up confrontations in east Asia, and in the places like Mongolia, and the former Soviet republics bordering China and Russia.

The US has done next to nothing to try to sort out the economic and political mess Europe has made for itself. The US seems to not mind Europe being relatively much weaker than it ought to be, even though many of its countries are our "Nato allies". The cynic in me sees the CIA being very pleased that Euroland never implemented a fiscal Union to its currency and political union, and amazingly, dived right off into the neo-liberal deep end after the great recession. The fact that the US is a fiscal union is an important part of the glue holds it together. A lot of free wool must have been used to obscure that fact from the Eurocrats.


Brigadier General Ali,

This is a well put rational argument. I agree the powers to be need an external enemy to blame for the hunger, shorter lives, and debt slavery as the West collapses. Without Russian scapegoats, the people would blame their Elites for the devastation.

The problem is that our Plutocrats are not rational. They can no more stop with Ukraine, than the Germans in 1940 would be satisfied with only France, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands and Norway. Russia beckons.


I tend to disagree that the Donbas militias are yet defeated. What we are seeing now is the inability of those forces to directly confront large scale armored offensives. But they have shown some skill in giving up real estate and counter attacking on the flanks and even isolating groups that have dissipated their offensive capacity. They just successfully did that in the cauldron.


I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the situation in Ukraine and the Russians' calculations. Putin is simply dosing his investment against the expected reward and the probability of success, which is just another name for "rationality".

You seem to suggest that the US behaved irrationally. I am not sure about that. As far as I can tell, the American motivation has been exactly similar to the Russian one: defend your interests, but only inasmuch as the expected benefits surpass the expected costs.

The US has an interest in providing support and assistance (*within limits*) to its would-be allies, just like the Russians do. In this case, the "prize" was lower for America than for Russia; accordingly, while Russia sent men and materiel (without ever crossing the red line of a full-scale invasion), America only provided diplomatic and economic support.

All in all, at the risk of offering an unpopular opinion here, I believe that all leaders involved (Putin, Poroshenko, the Europeans, and yes, the Obama administration) have played their hands roughly as well as possible, given the situation.


Problem is that there is no ideological reason behind it which makes allies untrustworthy. Add the economic importance of Russia and one could expect some countries to jump ship.

A German/Russian alliance makes defense budgets to safe.


I disagree with the proposition that sentiment plays no role in dictating Russian policy. Putin cares a great deal about his image within Russia, and he is sometimes willing to pursue illogical policies purely for domestic political gain. (e.g., the ban on US adoptions) Having built himself up as the protector of the Russian world, it is unclear whether Putin can afford to back down.

Russia's latest moves hardly suggest an interest in deescalating the situation. The movement of Russian forces to the border with "peacekeeping" logos painted on their vehicles at the same time that the Kremlin claims it is about to initiate a "humanitarian" intervention is provocative, to say the least.

Perhaps the Kremlin is bluffing in an attempt to obtain negotiating leverage. Perhaps not.

I believe that Western estimates of the troops necessary for the Russians to invade Donbass (at least, the public ones I have heard from analysis like John Schindler) are excessive. Maybe the Russians will prove me right.

Norbert M Salamon

It would appear to me that If it is the case that this rebellion is over, the next step will be that EU "review" the Russian sanctions as they do not wish to commit economic suicide.
The infusion of swap agreements with China indicates that EU also views that the US is a declining power, and taking steps to protect themselves. This especially salient, for they have noticed that India [with Pakistan, Iran and who knows who else] are taking steps to join the Shanghai group.
It appears that the Malaysian airline issue seems to most to be a false flag and or error [victim was not Mr. Putin] on the part f the Ukraine Junta.
I think most EU members know enough history, that Bear Baiting is a loosing proposition, and that Russia has fought some horrendous wars for Crimea that taking it away from Russia is not a profitable proposition.

The Twisted Genius

Brigadier Ali,

I agree with the majority of your observations, but I disagree with your conclusion that the rebel enclave is about to fall. Militarily, the next few days are critical to both sides. The Kiev government has already implemented its third nationwide mobilization to amass enough forces to begin its imminent push to isolate and reduce the rebels in Donetsk. Resistance to these mobilizations in the western areas of Ukraine are becoming aggressive. They have suffered massive losses in men and equipment in their previous offensives and are rolling the dice on this one. A failure will mean Kiev will have to mobilize and rebuild their forces once again.

But the rebels are in dire straits. There are simply not enough of them. They cannot defend every town with sufficient forces and are, thus, subject to penetrations by the battalion plus sized armored formations used by the Ukrainians. This is what happened a few days ago when Western media reported that Donetsk was surrounded. For a short time, it technically was surrounded, but so were the Ukrainian armored formations. There is no continuous forward line of troops for either side. The rebels are effectively using their mortar, artillery and MLRS fires to rain hell on these Ukrainian forces, but they lack the reserves to finish them off.

Actually, the rebels are very smart in not defending every inch of ground to the last man. That would only guarantee a rebel defeat. One of the rebels most effective tactics have been their use of reconnaissance-saboteur groups ranging behind the Ukrainian front line units striking at logistics, command and control and fire support targets. North of Lugansk, the rebel leader called Motorola is using this tactic to great effect. Another good sign for the rebels is the increase in sabotage throughout the proposed area of Novorossiya. Strikes are being reported even in Kharkov.

Why hasn't Putin openly intervened? For all the reasons that Brigadier Ali has enumerated. He sees Crimea as part of Russia, as it was until only recently. The annexation of Crimea only rights a recent wrong. He does not covet Novorossiya. I'm sure he would like to an independent and solidly pro-Russian Novorossiya, but he does not want to break and buy all of Ukraine. I am convinced that Putin knows that one he intervenes decisively, he is in it all the way and to the end. He will not risk WWIII for the privilege of rebuilding a broken Ukraine.

Covert Russian support must be reaching the rebels. I don't see how they can be maintaining such effective fire support for their limited maneuver units without some kind of continuous logistic support. Beyond logistic and intelligence support, Russia is about to provide overt humanitarian aid to Lugansk and Donetsk, mush to the chagrin of the West. That will help both physically and psychologically. The rebels have finally been able to create a mobile reserve capably of offensive operations. We'll see what difference that makes in the "correlation of forces" this week.


um... there's enough videos of Russian vets and PMC's who are not ashamed to say they came to fight for their Ukranian-Russian brothers, and maybe score a paycheck. Not "pro-Russian", but actual Russian. Somewhat similar to the way elements of Ukraine's government were actual national socialists. (svoboda "freedom" party, but i'm sure y'all know already).

Also the "Strelkov" army that shows up on all the videos is only part of the Novorossiya forces, we don't hear much about the other parts. At the same time Ukraine has PMC's and help from its NATO neighbors too.

The point is, it's a proxy war, it was from the beginning. We can be polite about it, if it helps, I don't think it matters. The US and Russia have been doing this a lot longer than I've been alive.

Going along with the Putin being a realist line of thought. I think the idea from the Russian point if view is denial. Donetsk and Lugansk, besides being the most demographically Russian provinces after Crimea, were also the most economically productive (after Kiev). Take out Crimea, Donestk, and Lugansk, and Ukraine is broke. It was economic punishment even before the sanctions nonsense. Maybe in a similar way as Kissinger's explanation of the Vietnam war -- doesn't matter that the war was lost, everyone in the region got to see "consequences" if they pick the wrong side. (i.e., country gets destroyed).

But it's not like this whole thing is some kind of victory for Russia. Donetsk and Lugansk are, geographically, just small pieces of the buffer which used to be the whole of Ukraine. The whole Eurasia concept is shot (personally I don't think it was realistic to begin with), Russia AND its trading partners get screwed, the US policymakers become more deeply committed to extreme positions, good for nobody, that are going to be hard to back out of.

I guess we'll see where it goes.

ex-PFC Chuck

A commenter on a Vinyard of the Saker post entitled, "" offers this:

"For all the back and forth about Putin, there remains one inescapable fact: Putin cannot afford NATO bases on his borders, regardless of how "effective" they might be in a nuclear war between the US/NATO and Russia. It's simply militarily, politically and geopolitically unacceptable.

And that IS the primary goal of the US/NATO push into Ukraine.

And since the US/NATO will NOT stop at achieving that goal, Putin is going to have to take some DIRECT action at SOME point. Putting out his own sanctions and wrecking the Ukraine economy is NOT going to be sufficient. Those are just counter moves for the economic sanctions placed on Russia.
But Putin WILL move eventually. And he will move effectively. Ukraine is NOT going to be a NATO satrap. That is unacceptable to Russia and Russia will do what is necessary to prevent it.
Seems to me a pretty dangerous goal to pursue against a country with the second largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

Comment Link: http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com/2014/08/neither-worst-nor-best-but-time-is.html?showComment=1407797204635#c4669820140053854600

Post Link: http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.de/2014/08/neither-worst-nor-best-but-time-is.html

At The Virginia Capes

Excellent points, sir.

FB Ali

You may be right that the fall of the separatist enclave is not imminent. However, the main point of my argument is that the separatist enterprise (of separating the Eastern, Russian-speaking part of Ukraine from the rest of the country) has failed. Mainly because not enough people in the region were prepared to take up arms in this endeavour.

It is because of this basic factor that Russian support and involvement has been limited, and is most unlikely to increase. Of course, covert support has been and may still be reaching the separatists. But the Russians are not going to intervene directly; the costs would not be worth the gain.

FB Ali

I don't think it is correct to view the developments in Ukraine in isolation. They are part of the play of international maneouvring going on.

It may not have been "irrational" for the US to seek to bait Russia to invade Ukraine from a certain point of view of US interests and policy (the Nuland/Kagan/neocon school of thought). From another point of view of US interests, it was a stupid move (as many have said on this blog).

My view is that the US (and the American people) have a lot to gain from a policy of working cooperatively with Russia and China (and other powers) to deal with the problems besetting the world, rather than adding to them by setting up a confrontation with these two.


Putin's downside, is to consolidate the Crimea and declare it now and forever Russian to which German industrialists and Merkel will agree. Then he declares a humanitarian disaster in eastern Ukraine, plays the victim, blames Nazis and Americans, bankrupts the Ukraine for the foreseeable future and lets General Winter do its work. Likely a recession is in the offing in Europe now and he will let his surrogates and allies slowly work the EU and Nato apart. Sadly, so many opportunities for cooperative development and overlapping interests - in the middle east for example - are being squandered by world leaders.


What the "Western elites" fear will happen.

"Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World." - Halford MacKinder


FB Ali

It is not "sentiment" that makes a national leader ensure that he has a large base of national support, it is realism.

Since when has "logic" been a necessity in politics (as distinct from "political science" in ivy halls)?

FB Ali

"But it's not like this whole thing is some kind of victory for Russia".

Crimea is victory enough for Russia, considering the weak hand it had in the Ukraine game.


Furrukh, TTG,

A recent overview of the military capacities of the Ukraine and the militias put the numbers of the latter at 7000 (according to the Anti-Terrorist Centre i.e. Ukraine) and 20,000 (according to the militia).


That seems quite substantial in either case although as both of you noted, too small to "win". Do those numbers seem in the right range to both of you?

It's been my impression that most people in the eastern regions (perhaps, at least to begin with, including many fighting in the militias) never wanted to formally leave the Ukraine. They simply wanted substantial autonomy and recognition of their cultural uniqueness within some sort of federal structure. That has also been Russia's public position and as you noted Furrukh, almost certainly also their private one.

If the Ukrainian military were able to crush the militias, is there any reason to think they would be "merciful" (and sane) and grant these desires? If not, isn't the incentive to struggle on quite high, not only for the militias and Russia but also for much of the population at large?

Do either of you have a sense of "civilian" attitudes in these regions? Even though they're not joining the militias, is it possible their support for a continuation of the struggle is still quite high?

As Furrukh says, Putin would probably be quite happy to put this matter behind him. Still, with much of the damage internationally already done, and given the emotional intensity surrounding this issue in Russia, mightn't he conclude that keeping the rebels going in the hope of exhausting the Ukrainian offensive is the best bet? That would leave the prize of Ukrainian neutrality still open without (perhaps) imposing intolerable costs or risks.

Judging by both of your comments, these questions may be answered relatively soon.


I have to agree with your analysis to a certain extent. The US is not expending resources right now while they can watch Russia squirm. The question becomes: what does the US have to gain in provoking this conflict? My guess is that it will provide an excuse to continue the NATO alliance. After 1991 it appeared totally obsolete. The wars against Afghanistan and Libya were a total joke: what does a North Atlantic alliance have to do with fighting wars in the ME?

However, with Ukraine, NATO has finally after 25 years found a cause that might justify there continued existence.


Toto: It is not adult or even sane (as noted at SST numerous times) to push for a situation of hair-trigger nuclear war. We came too darn close during the Cuban missile crisis with the missiles far from DC and Moscow. Apparently, Nuland and company cannot differentiate between the terrorist threat to the US (minimal, less than Hurricane Sandy) and accidental escalation to nuclear war (RIP humanity - except we wouldn't deserve it).

Brigadier Ali,

I do agree that Putin and Russians are realists in a manner that seems so refreshing where much of the US politburo is operating in Koolaid space, and that Putin would like to bring the Ukraine chapter to a close, but only if it avoids crossing a number of red lines.

I also agree with TTG that it is unclear whether the rebels are finished. The eastern war has gone on much longer than planned, and winter is coming (soon with no gas), Ukraine is nearly bankrupt, and as TTG noted, on its third mobilization. From the separatist point of view they have everything to gain by not surrendering now, particularly as the original agreement for EU and IMF funds assumed no war, and costs have skyrocketed thanks to it.

On the Kiev side, if Ukraine accepts federalism, stops massacring civvies, gives up its claim on Crimea, refuses to enter NATO, stop using unbelievable vitriol to describe Ukrainian citizens as vermin, and controls the neo-Nazi's running the defense agencies, then perhaps the chapter can close.

But where does peace place Kiev when they hit winter bankrupt, stop gas transit-ing to Germany, and whatever happened to MH17 leaks out. .

Meanwhile, will the EU throw a much bigger package at Ukraine, and then tell S. Europe they need more austerity when bailing Ukraine out means violates numerous EU rules? IMO, continuing the eastern war likely appears politically safer to Kiev - often populations turn on their war leaders (even in democratic states) once hostilities ends and the people assess the costs. And note their area protests in Maidan Square already.

Finally, I learned as a kid not to trust Nazis and neo-Nazis - and they can easily throw monkey wrenches in a realist plutocrat peace drink mixer.


I agree with your assessment. There is a major battle going on around Donetsk and the links to the east. The militias may be defeated and routed but it remains unclear how much offensive power the UA has to complete that job.

There is no doubt that the militias have the fire-power to destroy any units that become isolated.

William R. Cumming

With the US fsll 2014 elections under 90 days off Putin can afford to be patient!


You make an interesting point. The Strelkov "army" is one of maybe five battalion strength fighting groups that make up the Donbas militias. The different groups have made some significant accomplishments. But it does not look like they are fighting under a unified command. On the other hand, the UA is under a unified command (not entirely, but for the most part, it looks like some of their fighters are directed by one oligarch or another outside central military command).

In any case, if the militias were to succeed they should all agree on a central command. That would allow them to release troops from one region to fight in another. That seems to be what is limiting their ability to translate their successful tactics in one area to contribute to the bigger strategic picture.

The situation remains very confused and it hard to see who has won what.

Ursa Maior

Excellent analysis, sir.

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