Blunder or Blunderbuss or Both?

Adomanis is a smart, shrewd analyst. His opinion is worth reading and considering. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, but as Numerian noted in the comment section of one of our multiple Ukrainian threads, there are untold consequences for Russia’s actions. And in any war-like situation the enemy (meaning the Ukraine in this case) holds cards of its own. How it plays them? We shall see. But the point is, the Ukraine has options too.

That conclusion is and was never in doubt by me. Should Russia have done what it did? Hell if I know. I’m not sitting in Pootie-poot’s command center. All I know is how I might react given what I do know of Russian history and how I might react were I put in a situation where I was the leader of a nation that was slowly being encircled by what I perceived as a hostile military alliance that had broken promise after promise.

Sometimes in life and in geopolitics there are no good choices, only lots of bad choices. The duty of a statesman is to make the best bad choice. You deal with the world you have, not the world you want.

So, Adomanis makes a lot of sense. That being said and risks notwithstanding, I can still put myself in Putin’s shoes and see why he had to make the move he did.

And that has been my fundamental gripe throughout the entire crisis: no one in the West was doing that. No one was acting upon Sun Tzu’s dictum: know thy enemy, know thyself.

The ultimate failure here is one of imagination. The US policy elite simply cannot move past this paralyzing virtual reality of foreign policy orthodoxy in which they inhabit: an incestuous feedback loop of think tankers and pundits, each one of whom is vying for a position on the NSC or has had one at State and no one suffers any consequences for being wrong. Ever.

Moreover, no one offers to try and find a solution because the only solution is one based on American preferences.

That’s not diplomacy, it’s tautology.

That tautology has led us to a very dangerous point.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • Adomanis is a smart, shrewd analyst.

    I read that twice just to make sure I had his take on the problem and all I was able get from it was Russia bad and Amerika good. I find it to be another neo-conn talking points of state department. Russia has only invade the part they rent and nothing else and as the Ukraine Navy and Army move over to the Russian side of the fence there not going to be a lot any one can do. Kerry, McCain, & chuckles whine all they want.

    I agree with what you have to say about no one in Amerika govt. or vendors eve pay the price.

    There is another 15,000 man Ukraine army base making the biggest decision of their lives, do they join the Russian Army that have it surrounded or do the ask if they can go home.

    • jo6pac: I’m talking about the totality of Adomanis’ work. Not the one pieceI linked to. But, what I did link to is important. As I have said ad naseum since I returned: it’s critical to see the world from other’s shoes. And Adomanis does that. He’s indicating what the real world risks are to Putin and Russia. He’s pointing out things that are going to happen or are likely to happen as a result of the choices Putin made. He’s not imputing value judgments. He’s simply saying that he believes Putin’s taken an outsized risk and that it will prove a disaster.

      It very well might.

      It might not.

      How in the world is pointing that out “American good, Russia bad”?

      As I said, we have to make decisions about the world we live in, not the one we want to live in. And in this world, the US will use pressure to persuade Russia to back off. And the US has a lot of tools to use. This is not a moral judgment. In fact, it is completely a-moral. There are lots of interested parties here, the US, Russia, the Ukraine, Germany, Turkey. All will use the tools at their disposal to get a piece of the action.

  • If I had been advising the new government of the Ukraine, I would have told them that their best chance of peaceful relations with their eastern neighbor, after having taken control in defiance of an agreement co-sponsored by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and Russia, would have been an offer to the Russians to concede a measure of sovereignty over Crimea in exchange for recognition from Russia.

    Were the US use of the Panama Canal to be threatened by an anti-US regime newly installed in that country, there would be virtually no objection within the US to armed intervention, and little reaction by the rest of the world. The Black Sea fleet and its base are vital national interests of Russia, and it has little choice, no matter who’s in charge in the Kremlin, to protect them.

    With Putin taking Obama’s phone call, and agreeing to a suggestion from Merkel that an international forum be convened to address the interests of all parties, there is significant reason to hope for a peaceful resolution.

    I would still recommend to the Kiev government to figure a means of guaranteeing Russian access to its Black Sea fleet and base.

    • Good point about the Panama Canal. I hadn’t thought of that analogy. As for the rest of your comment: well said. Wish you were in Congress. It needs some thoughtful intelligence.

  • The Russian intervention in Crimea is a naked attempt to use military force to influence the politics of another country, and it will be seen as such by everyone in Europe and the United States.

    1. True.
    2. So what?
    3. Not done by anyone else is it, ever?

  • The issue w/ Adomanis in this ONE piece is that jo6pac is correct about the Forbes ‘merika right, Russia wrong angle. Sean-Paul’s point about seeing another’s perspective from standing (or slouching) in the other’s shoes is valid, but the shoes belong to a doctrinaire observer who gives Russia no real latitude. What is the practical difference between a U.N. “Peacekeeping” force that incidentally, would take weeks if not longer to get through that body, and the camouflage, insignia-less show of force just in time to cool off various otherwise hostile aligned groups? Indeed, looking at the scene from a non-dogmatic stance as Sean-Paul argues for, despite all the Western rhetoric, if violence going forward is contained, isn’t that what in pragmatic terms is the highest possible outcome as contrasted w/ the bloodshed and death in Kiev? This scene needs to first be calmed-down before lives are lost and details emerge and can be worked-out. The Forbes/Adomanis essay is cast narrowly into too-tight & narrow shoes to be of diplomatic value.

    • The practical difference between these forces and UN peacekeeping forces is that at the end of the day, UN forces don’t end up owning the terrain (though by Dog it can feel that way *cough* *Cyprus* *cough* *Roto 9 million* *cough*).

      What we’re looking at is an intelligently conducted operation that seeks to avoid conflict and deny hotheads easy opportunities for battle. That doesn’t make it less of an occupation, particularly in the absence of Russian statements as to long-term intentions.

  • Sorry, but the piece you linked is an alarmist morass of hyperbole and is nonsensical from start to finish. It begins with speculating if “Russia simply intends to break off Crimea as a punishment for the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych,” which is mind boggling in its stupidity, and goes downhill from there to claiming that “momentum for additional sanctions and penalties will grow, and no one in the US or Europe will dare to oppose them.” Where would the “demand for sanctions and penalties” be originating if not with the US and Europe, so how is it in any way reasonable, or even sane, to say that the US and Europe “would not dare to oppose them”?

  • The unpredictable element of Putin’s invasion is the reaction of ordinary Ukrainians and Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. We saw in Lebanon, and then the Balkans, and later in Iraq (and let’s not forget numerous examples in Africa), that neighbors with no overt hostility can be pushed into taking sides in ethnic or sectarian conflicts. Suddenly everyone discovers their lives depend on whether they are Serbs who practice Orthodox Christianity, or Albanians who are Muslim. Iraq shows that with Islam, Shi’ites and Sunnis can tear each other apart (not unlike Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland).

    The peculiarity of the conflict in Ukraine, leaving aside the Muslim Tatars in Crimea, is that there is no significant ethnic or religious difference between a Russian or a Ukrainian. The different seems on the surface to be linguistic. Western Ukrainians speak a language very similar to Russian, and understood by Russians the way an Italian would understand Spanish, but also close to Polish. Eastern Ukrainians speak a language that is close to Russian but still filled with Ukrainian idioms and not always understood by Russians.

    But there is a lot of history here that sharpens the differences, going back to tsarist pogroms against Ukrainians, then the Red-White civil war that pitted Red Russian forces under Lenin fighting White, monarchist forces in Ukraine. Stalin followed this with a pogrom that killed millions of kulaks, or farmers who owned a plot of land, and most of these farmers were in the Ukraine. People have long memories of such events, and western Ukrainians in particular have no desire to live again under domination from Moscow. Since Ukrainian independence, eastern Russian-speaking communities (which are still a minority in much of the east, except for Crimea), have chafed under what appears to them to be a Kiev government interested only in reminding Russian speakers of their lesser status in the new Ukraine.

    It has not helped that Moscow for the past few years has directed anti-Ukrainian agitprop into the eastern provinces, stoking a sense of outrage among Russians in the east, and a desire to be reunited with the rest of Russia. With his invasion, Putin has now piled up kindling all over Ukraine, east and west, waiting to be ignited by one disaffected person from either side deciding to harm or kill the new “enemy”. From that point, Ukraine can divide into two camps, with neighbor pitted against neighbor just because of the way they speak.

    It sounds absurd, but if Ukrainians are already in at least two camps, judging by the huge demonstrations that suggest there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who think of themselves as a distinct linguistic and cultural community, then a civil war only requires a match be set to the kindling.

    How does Putin control this situation? He does not, even with a hundred thousands more troops sent to the country. The government in Kiev is too new, unknown, and weak to prevent things from spiraling out of control. Perhaps the best thing Ukraine has going for it is that east and west have a least heard about civil war in Iraq, the Balkans and elsewhere, and may be sensible enough to control their passions. But this is only a hope, and a poor one at that, if Russian speaking Ukrainians are already demanding that Putin formally annex their part of the country to greater Russia. It only takes one publicized atrocity to stir these passions into hatreds, and this risk is something that no government seems capable of controlling – not Ukraine, not Russia, and not even NATO members.

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