Here Come the Russians

Apparently the Russians have sent 2,000 extra troops to one of their bases in the Crimea.

Let me spell a few things out for you.

The United States, the EU and NATO will not lift a finger for the Ukraine.

The United States, the EU and NATO will, if push comes to shove, acquiesce in the partitioning of the Ukraine.

The United States, the EU and NATO will not offer the Ukraine any serious amounts of cash. They have not done so up to this point. They offered the Ukraine $700 million. In contrast the Russians offered $15 billion.

That being said, I’m pretty sure the US/EU/NATO would offer the Ukraine loans at usurious rates backed by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank

The media is now calling Russia a bully.

Yeah, and the United States just waged aggressive war against Iraq because we’re nice people, right?

The rhetoric will only get more infantilizing. Why? Because Russia doesn’t need the West and this absolutely infuriates DC policy elites. They cannot handle the fact that the US cannot push everyone around. They cannot stomach the fact that someone is pushing back.

And they are going to scream, and cry, and piss and moan and meanwhile, the people of the Ukraine will suffer. The good news is this: they’ll suffer less than if the US got involved. If we got involved, the suffering and death and chaos would be much greater.

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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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  • The United States, the EU and NATO will not offer the Ukraine any serious amounts of cash. They have not done so up to this point. They offered the Ukraine $700 million.

    Plus Austerity, and Neo Liberalism. Ukrainians would be well advised to study Iceland and Ireland.

    • Actually, the Ukraine, after studying Iceland and Ireland, should study Finland during the Cold War. I’ve always held that a buffer state that neither the West/EU/NATO controlled or Russia controlled was the best possible solution for all. That way the Russians get strategic depth and the EU gets, well, an unimpeded stream of natural gas.

      • Will Russia and the US want that outcome? Will the disparate people of Ukraine agree, Finland had a more homogenous population than Ukraine, and a much smaller population.

        Russia wants its warm water port, as it has historically.

        The US? Not so clear to me.

      • Finnish intelligence co-operation with the West was a lot closer than is generally known. A buffer state configuration would be ideal, but very few of these things are 50/50 splits – I could see it being a locus of significant ongoing tension. Given how the trajectory of this specific one has gone, I’m not sure how easy it would be to work out a set of rules of the road that doesn’t entail significant risk (initial crises play a large role in establishing “rules” that bound subsequent friction).

        • The key missing element here – probably the most important one – is someone to play the part of the Finns. They played a delicate game well over an extended period. That takes skill, vision, etc. I don’t see the requisite capability in any of the Ukrainian players.

  • Even as Obama is warning Russia not to engage in military intervention, Russia is inserting troops into Ukraine. Obama warns that there will be costs for military intervention, but doesn’t specify what those costs will be, probably because he can’t think of any costs which we can possibly impose. Pundits say we can cancel our attendance at the G-8 Summit. Wow, I’ll bet Russia is really sweating that one out.

    Chuck Hagel is asked what we can do if Russia “moves troops into other parts of Ukraine,” and replies, “Well, I don’t want to get into options.” Indeed he doesn’t, since we don’t have any options.

    American foreign policy pronouncements are becoming increasingly vapid and embarrasing.

  • Yes, it’s laughable. Empty rhetoric.
    It’s also interesting how much Putin has assisted the U.S (saved Obama’s ass) in Syria and to facilitate moving fuel and supplies to Afghanistan when Pakistan closed the main hiway through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.
    The U.S. needs Russia/Putin far more than Putin needs us.
    The hyperbole would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetically infantile.

    • When I say the Internet is a children’s playground, I’m thinking in part of rhetoric like this. I know you didn’t originate it, but we don’t have to propagate it uncritically.

      Yes, Putin’s actions were useful to the United States, but their primary reason wasn’t to “save Obama’s ass”. The Russians took those actions because they were in their interest. When a competitor obligingly hops itself up onto the meathook that is Afghanistan, you don’t help them off. Particularly if it returns the historical favour, discourages long-term playing in one’s back yard, keeps the west focused on the wrong things, helps push off the period of destabilization on one’s frontiers a little longer, and hands one leverage and the ability to turn it off at will. Similarly, the deal in Syria was one of the only ways they get to keep their guy without having their status absolutely dragged through the mud.

      Looking at international events through the lens of not particularly well informed or sophisticated morality play (i.e., Obama dumb, Putin smart) is not useful. Law and Order: Striped Pants Edition plays well with the audience, but frankly analysts who really care for that audience as people, rather than as their audience, should be trying for more.

      • You make a valid point Dave, and a significant one, but the fact remains that regardless of his reasons for doing so Putin did “save Obama’s ass” in Syria. Obama was on the verge of either committing a monumental blunder or facing a humiliating political defeat with no way out, and Putin gave him a way out. If you save my ass I should not care why you did it, I should still thank you for saving my ass.

        Even now the access for supplies to Afghanistan depend on Russia because Pakistan can cut us off at any time and periodically does. Without that overland route the logistics in Afghanistan become not only more expensive, but infinitely more dangerous. You say that “[w]hen a competitor obligingly hops itself up onto the meathook that is Afghanistan, you don’t help them off,” and yet Russia is doing precisely that, so when someone says that “we need Russia more than they need us” they are being precisely accurate.

        The point Celsius makes is not that “Russia loves us so we should love them,” but rather that for the most part our interests coincide and that when they do not and where we have no interest we should not fuck over Russia just to prove that we’re bigger than they are.

        • Sorry, but I don’t buy the story that’s been built up around Syria at all. Presidents who are bound and determined to use force in situations like that don’t decide to ask for Congressional authorization. Presidents who are concerned that the whole thing is going to turn into a pointless shit storm that’s going end up being used as a political weapon by the same free-riders in Congress who were agitating for the use of force, do. This guy is willing to bounce the rubble in Pakistan when it serves him, but he’s suddenly reluctant to do the same in Syria because of public opinion? Not buying it. It’s a lovely piece of self-aggrandizing rhetoric and it fits in nicely to the bullshit narrative that had the White House champing at the bit to use force all along, but it’s a fairy story.

          As to Afghanistan, what would have happened if Russia hadn’t opened the northern transport route? The US and NATO would have pulled out, which means we all wouldn’t have been bleeding blood and treasure for all this time and Afghan forces would end up being even less capable than they’re going to when we all leave at the end of this year. Neither of those things (and that’s not all of the elements in play) are in Russia’s interest – and even then they were still in the catbird’s seat because they could deny access at any time. It was a wonderful lever they were handed and rhetoric that doesn’t recognize that is so blind that any thinking person should be wondering what else it’s blind to.

          • No, Obama wasn’t willing to use force, and that was his whole problem. He has made a silly statement about a “red line” and then backed himself into a corner once evidence was presented that chemical weapons had been used. He was between a rock and a hard place, a position in which he had placed himself with his statement about chemical weapons being a “red line.” Twice there had been evidence of some use and he had put off any strikes, saying the the proof was insufficient and/or that the usage was too minor to count, and so the evidence (valid or not) excalated to the point that he had to respoind to his “corssing the red line” nonsensical statement.

            He was, in fact, sufficiently reluctant to use force to be willing to suffer the humiliation of being rebuffed by Congress, which is why he took the path that he did.

            Putin did not save him from using force in Syria, which he would not have done in any case, he saved him from being humiliated by Congress.

            As to pulling out of Afhganistan if Russia had not opened the land route, how precisely would we have done that? Exited through Iran perhaps?

            The idea that the United States is self sufficient and doesn’t need help from anyone is a pretty one and feels lovely, but it is utterly unmoored from reality.

          • Well, more to the point he saved Obama from demonstrating just how hollow his threats were. After months of bluster about how we would not tolerate Syria “crossing the line” he was about to be in a position of doing essentially nothing about Syria corssing that line, blaming it on Congress. He is now threatening Russia with “costs” for intervening in Ukraine, despite there being no costs that he can impose.

            Not to mention that pulling out of Afghanistan because Pakistan closed our access would really have opened Obama to charges from both political parties of “running with his tail between his legs” from a war he could not win, so by your analysis Russia saved his ass in an even more major manner there.

        • The point Celsius makes is not that “Russia loves us so we should love them,” but rather that for the most part our interests coincide and that when they do not and where we have no interest we should not fuck over Russia just to prove that we’re bigger than they are. Jayhawk

          Yep, pretty much my point.
          JPD and I have a small communication problem; he doesn’t enjoy my style of posting; the way I make my points and my occasional hyperbole. My essential POV, so be it.
          He’s one who (apparently) is able to rationally asses all of the nuances of governance and accepts the reality of today’s international relations; including the violence and mass murder in the name of statesmanship or whatever the term is for violating the constitution, extrajudicial killing of American citizens including a child.
          If I’m wrong then my apology in advance to JPD. I’m just a wee bit emotional about what the U.S. has been doing for more than a decade, both in and out of it’s borders. I was raised to think that’s it’s morally wrong and if morality has changed that much then fuck it; I do not and will never agree with that. Bad behavior can and usually is justified; generally by sophist logic or just raw force.

          • Addendum; I would like to add that JPD’s posts are always thought provoking and generally, I agree, more often than not. Some times a dispassionate POV is just what the doctor ordered.

          • I guess my point would be that death is governance’s stock in trade. If the analyses that I do as part of my day job result in government misallocating resources, that results in death just as surely as I had personally shot the victims in the head one by one.

            It would be nice if only things that are particularly ugly and politically objectionable to us like drone warfare had death as a byproduct, but it’s not true. That’s why I don’t get particularly torqued about the popular issues of the day. I also tend to take a fairly long term view of things.

            Me, I think people desperately want to find things that they can be pissed about so they can gracefully elide over their actions – which are the real drivers (e.g., protesting a pipeline rather than taking action to seriously curtail their use of fossil fuel for dumb reasons). I don’t think we should help them – narratives that play up good guys vs bad guys can be really useful to them. The world isn’t good guys and bad guys – it’s bad guys and maybe worse guys, and if you’re entirely sure which category you’re in, you’re not looking hard enough.

  • @Jayhawk – Wow, just wow. The intricacy of the logic so that as much as possible can be hung on Obama is truly impressive to behold. Would that as much effort were placed on understanding the agendas and interests of the other players who shuffle through this American-centric little narrative obligingly taking the roles they are handed in service of the larger narrative.

    With regards to withdrawal from Afghanistan, do you honestly think that Pakistan would not have re-opened the route provided that it was going to be going to be used for a pullout and provided the price they were able to exact was sufficiently high? That’s the end game they’ve been aiming for for some years now. They’d view it as a wonderful bonus to be able to move the date forward.

    As to the notion that America needs others, I’m in total agreement. Unfortunately, this does not apparently extend to needing others in American political rhetoric. Ideological consistency is apparently much more valued than any other coin.

  • The logic of what seems to have turned into an arguement escapes me.

    Celsius said that Putin had done some things that had been beneficial to Obama and you rejoined that he had not done them for the purpose of benefitting Obama but merely in his own self interest.

    I agreed with you, and pointed out that nonetheless that they still had benefitted Obama and then you claimed that for soem reason they had not because Obama was not going to do what no one in the discussion had claimed he was going to do, which was bomb Syria.

    I again agreed with you that he was not planning to do what you said that he was not planning to do and pointed out why Putin’s actions were beneficial in the face of that point, and you now accuse me of blaming Obama for being at fault for something. What is it that I am accusing Obama for being at fault for?

    As to Pakistan reopening the overland route, that was not your point. Your point was that we would have withdrawn if they did not reopen it. And you do not describe how Obama would be a winner for an early and involunbtary withdrawal from Afghanistan, one imposed by Russia and Pakistan. The military and citizenry of the US certainly might be, but how would Obama be a political winner?

    • Apologies, didn’t mean to turn it into an argument. Didn’t choose my words wisely enough to avoid one. My bad.

      My overarching point is that there’s a significant narrative thread that tries a little too hard to make Obama villain of every piece. There’s lots of stuff that can legitimately be hung on the man – not thinking before drawing a redline around chem usage would be the big one here (the narrative record is quite clear that this basically came out off the cuff, which is not how these sorts of things should be done).

      However, when we start talking about being saved from being “humiliated” by Congress, frankly I think we’re trying way too hard to force things into a predetermined mould. The entire post-Reagan story around Presidential use of force goes pretty much entirely in the other direction. If they really want to use force, Presidents really don’t much care what Congress thinks, at least in the early days. If they’re consulting Congress in a situation where support looks at all soft, it’s because they’re ambivalent about using it.

      Similarly, the notion that American forces were somehow trapped in Afghanistan if Russia didn’t pull their chestnuts out of the fire is not a terribly accurate version of events. Russia’s actions gave them more flexibility – and allowed them to play a lot harder ball with Pakistan than they would have been able to otherwise, but it really isn’t as “OMG, but for the Russians we’d be screwed” as this narrative would have one believe. It paints with much too broad a brush for rhetorical, domestic political effect and it obscures international reality. Westerners spend too much time not trying to understand non-Westerners as it is without this sort of stuff.

  • Obama would not have been “humiliated by Congress,” my wording was a bit imprecise, so much as he would have been forced into the humiliating position of using Congressional rejection as an excuse for backing down from threats which were being exposed as empty. His bluff had been called, and Putin’s move provided a face-saving escape. Yes, presidents don’t much care about Congress when deciding to use force, and Obama is no different. If you recall, when he announced his decision to refer to Congress he said “Doing this is within my authority, but…”

    And he doesn’t seem to have learned much, since he is still making empty threats; this time about “costs” to Russia for military intervention when there are really no possible costs that we can impose.

  • Just Plain Dave and Jayhawk seem to have skeedaddled in a direction of refining fine points. Useful to be certain folks are on the same page, but too bad for trying to figure out all the various dynamics of E.U./Russian/Ukrainian/U.S. play and counter-play. I left out the so-called “rebels” that would appear to want to leave Ukraine and take a number of provinces with them and become enfolded within Russia in some form. It would be good to remember what transpired last winter: here:
    and here:

    Like all good citizens, I read in as much depth as I can ferret-out and have time and curiosity for. It was clear that Putin was boosting Russian nationalistic feeling, bolstering his standing among Russian patriots, and looking to make a mark on Russian history–no fly-by-nighter, he wants people to read about him in 100 years. There must be a dozen other factors including not wanting to be hemmed-in by NATO/EU. I’d really appreciate some listing of ALL the elements at play. One wonders, for example, as in the past 4-6 weeks as the Ukrainian forces began pushing back the rebels, was there any person in the U.S. State Dept. that thought that after setting them in motion, Putin’s Russia was going to permit their extinction? Was there an agreement, tacit or otherwise that Poroshenko, reneged on to not obliterate the rebels?

    Sean-Paul titled this piece “Here Come The Russians”; can we assemble all the pieces on the chessboard, please, as this aside from the death and destruction, is a very interesting and potentially History-making big deal. I need help getting a handle on ALL the players, the themes, the acts, the options, and some measures of the degree to which this might just be moving pieces on the board versus something that could also be spinning into big trouble. If I were an imaginary mediator, I’d offer Russia the southeastern-most cities and provinces where Russian is spoken by 70% of the population and tell Putin that unlike the “dirty” annexation of Crimea earlier this spring, he can have the damned property but do it with a vote, a plebiscite, and let’s wrap up this shit. Then invite Russia back into the G-8, de-escalate the sanctions (which are costing Germany and other E.U. states trade dollars), and tell Putin we understand his and the right-wing countrymen’s concerns about encirclement as the U.S. once had something called the ‘Cuban Missile Crisis’. Get your best vodka, pull up an easy chair and get a good night’s sleep; that’s enough, but that’s me; I’m not nationalistic.

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