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Ukraine, Now For The Hard Part: Part One – Russian Reflections

I was in the process of writing an article on EuroMaidan and the challenges facing the new Ukrainian government, when Mr. Putin decided to nip it in the bud by invading Crimea. I’m keeping the title, however, because it is more appropriate than ever. The first part deals with understanding Russia’s motivations and strategic goals behind their pushing of the crisis; the second part looks at Western options and responses.

Panic gripped the West on Friday night when it was first discovered that Russian troops had invaded and occupied key portions of Crimea. “On the brink” seemed to be the favorite headline everywhere; revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of both the Russian and American positions. There is not, and never was, any possibility of American military intervention in Crimea; and the savvy Mr. Putin new that perfectly well before he committed troops. Mr. Obama and the rest of the European leaders reacted precisely as he (and many others) expected: lots of hot air and nothing substantial.

Western media is inevitably full of Western biases: the discussion is all about the democratic resistance of the civilians in Kiev, the corrupt and inept brutality of Viktor Yanukovych, and the crafty warmongering of Vladimir Putin. There is a great deal written about democracy and human rights. If you read the Russian press[1], you get a very different set of biases: here, Mr. Putin is a brave and far-sighted leader who is willing to stand-up to the Americans and their EU lackeys; EuroMaidan was an overt CIA coup utilizing crypto-fascists and malcontents against the legitimate authority of the elected Mr. Yanukovych; and the Russian military intervention was not only legitimated by the agreements with Ukraine over the protection of Russian Black Sea fleet assets in Sevastopol, it was necessary to preserve the lives of ethnic Russians who were threatened by the neo-Nazi groups in Western Ukraine. Additionally, the West is lambasted as a debauched group of amoral hypocrites, in no position to reprimand Russia after their unilateral military interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya, to name just a few instances.

perspectives1 As with any complex narrative, there is a great deal of truth in both perspectives, and the Russian arguments are not to be despised or dismissed out of hand. In order to understand what is going on in Ukraine and Crimea, it is first necessary to understand what is going on in Russia and the evolution of the geopolitical position of that state. Mr. Putin’s actions cannot be understood out of context of Russia’s recent history, and Russian motives are driven certain fundamental forces that we ignore at our peril: geography, historical relations with Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of Russian superpower status.

Temporary Friends, Permanent Interests

There are essentially two types of states in the world: those that support the status quo (with minor reservations) and those that do not. The United States is, of course, the ultimate status quo power: we crafted the international system more or less to suit our interests and we are the primary beneficiaries of it. The European Union, Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Australia, most of Latin America are also in this category. It may chafe to have the Americans as hegemons, but most leaders of these nations would privately admit that there are far worse possibilities. American hegemony has allowed them to skimp on defense spending and to focus on wealth creation, so that these are now among the richest nations on Earth.[2] They are also able to “go about their business” in their regions with little or no interference from the US in anything substantial[3].

The “out” states are those that, for one reason or another, are not satisfied with the current world order and would like to actively change it. It may be for economic reasons, but it is mostly for ideological or geostrategic reasons, or both. This list is headed by Russia, China and Iran, though it includes other states as well: Bolivarian Venezuela was fundamentally opposed to the regional order in South America and North Korea is fundamentally opposed to the existence of South Korea. There are also states that are in the “pro status quo” camp today, but that might move into the “anti-status quo” camp in the future, like India, Brazil, Turkey: regional powers that might become dissatisfied with their regional influence and seek to alter it, or whose ideology might diverge enough from the current “mainstream” to come into conflict with it.

The “anti-status quo” nations, as can be seen, include at least three nations that benefit enormously from the current order. No one can say that China, Russia or Venezuela haven’t grown rich – or at least amassed wealth – by accessing the liberal world trading regime. Their opposition to the system is of a different nature. To the extent that the world order is set-up to reward open economies, liberal democratic political systems, and states that observe certain (Western) norms of human rights, these nations find themselves in opposition to it.

Russia is neither a particularly open economy, nor a liberal democracy, and it is far from being a paragon of human rights. It would much rather live in a world that benefited authoritarian governments, opacity and the absolute primacy of territorial sovereignty; since authoritarian regimes are given to repressing their citizens, hiding it from public view and rejecting international actions based on “humanitarian concerns”.

Russia is also a revanchist state. Like Germany after the Treaty of Versailles, the Russian Empire – a.k.a. the Soviet Union – was dismembered, though not through war. The work of every Russian leader from the time of Peter the Great in the XVIIth century was undone in months. Mr. Putin has said that the dissolution of the Soviet Union “was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,”[4] – and undoubtedly it was from the point of view of the Great Russians. The other nationalities comprising the former Soviet Union would undoubtedly have a different point of view[5]. And like Weimar, and then Nazi, Germany, Russia is continuously seeking to change the verdict of history in its favor.

There are some very good reasons for this, at least from the Russian point of view. Any understanding of Russian motives and actions requires an understanding of the profound influence played by geography. The historical Russian Heartland, roughly the square area around Novgorod-Vologda-Suzdal-Moscow, has no defensible natural frontiers. It is a flat land, forested in some areas, with streams and marches to be sure, but nothing to stop an invader. Muscovy’s – and later Russia’s – leaders were obsessed with the idea of reaching “natural frontiers”: the White Sea in the north, the Urals in the east, the Caucasus Mountains in the south. To the west, however, the plains extend all the way to the Carpathian Mountains in the southwest and strait across Germany and northern France in the northwest. This was the traditional route of invasions into and from Europe since the dawn of time, and it continues to be a threat to Russia.

 expansion

A second factor of critical importance is the imprint left by the “Great Patriotic War” (a.k.a. World War 2) which is still very much a part of the Russian psyche. That war was the existential crisis for the Russian people in a way that no previous war was[6]: a Nazi victory would have meant not only the destruction of the Motherland, but very possibly the genocidal liquidation of the Slavic people entirely. The Jews talk about the Shoah and say “Never again!”, but the Russians take exactly the same attitude. So the Russians view it as a question of national survival to ensure that there is as much strategic depth between themselves and Germany as possible, and that means owning or controlling as much of the territory between Great Russia and the Oder River as they can.

perspectives2

The loss of the “Western frontier” in the 1990’s was an enormous blow to Russia. The independence of the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine moved the frontier back more than 600 kilometers from where it had been. The only reason Russia let these territories go was because of the assurance by the West that NATO would never expand into them: they could be independent and unaligned. The fact that the Baltic States almost immediately joined the EU[7], and soon thereafter NATO[8], was viewed as a horrendous betrayal by the Russians, but at the time they were utterly prostrate and powerless to do anything.

But the Baltic States barely connect with Central Europe: they are separated by the Russian territory around Kaliningrad and by Belarus, with only a narrow corridor linking them to Poland. It would be impossible for NATO to build up an invasion force in Estonia and Latvia and achieve any sort of strategic surprise. Their front with Russia is also relatively narrow and the terrain difficult: east of Pskov, around Novgorod, you run into a land dotted with lakes, rivers and marshes that are ideal for defense, as the Germans learned to their dismay in the titanic battles around Velikiye Luki and Staraya Russa. With their small populations, small surface areas and proximity to centers of Russian power, the Baltic States do not pose a fatal strategic threat.

Belarus and Ukraine, however, are very different matters. The adhesion of either of these two nations would pose an existential threat to Russia, especially Ukraine. The eastern border of Ukraine is only 500 kilometers from Moscow, as opposed to twice that distance from the Polish border. It is only 400 kilometers from Luhansk in Ukraine to Volgograd in Russia: Volgograd was once known as Stalingrad and I don’t need to remind anyone of what happened there in 1942-43. And with Estonia being only 200 kilometers from St. Petersburg, it should be obvious to anyone why the Russians are sensitive on the subject. It is not comforting to have your capital and major population and industrial centers only an afternoon’s drive from the American-German alliance.

 whyukrainematters

The reader may question my use of the expression “existential threat” since the EU and NATO don’t pose a military threat to anyone and are not interested in conquest. But the Russians have heard that story before and then watched NATO dismember Yugoslavia (a fraternal Slavic state), invade Afghanistan and bomb Libya. They’ve also heard the justification of “interventions to protect human rights” used again and again in widely disparate cases that seem to merely reflect Western interests rather than any consistent principle. Russians arguably have very good reasons for distrusting the platitudes of Western European and American leaders. Who can guarantee that the West will not intervene in Russia one day to “protect human rights”?

Only the Strategic Rocket Forces.

perspectives3

So it is a strategic imperative for Russia to prevent any foreign power or alliance from absorbing Ukraine and Belarus. These two states in particular are considered by Moscow to be “Russia’s Backyard” and no one is going to be allowed inside to play. The Russians aren’t going to pay the least attention to any Western complaints about “letting the people of Ukraine decide”; that will only be a consideration if what they decide to do is aligned with Russian interests. The Russians might counter that they are not meddling with internal EU matters like Scotland, Catalonia or Flanders, so why should the EU meddle in the Russian sphere of influence? Or they might say: “how would Americans react if the FSB organized a coup in Mexico and pushed the new government to request an economic and military alliance with Russia?”

This, at least, is the Russian perspective, whether you buy into it or not.

perspectives4

Europe and the United States share an interest in keeping Russia weak, confined and off-balance. Just as Germany represents the ultimate bogeyman for the Russians, the Russians have been the European nightmare for centuries. Even before the “red menace” of the Bolsheviks, the Russians were feared as the “yellow peril from the East” to those who lived to the west of them. The Roman Catholic Poles looked across at the peasant hordes of Orthodox Russians and considered themselves to be the frontier of European civilization; and many Europeans agreed with them. In the prelude to the Second World War, Winston Churchill delayed signing an alliance with the Soviets in the hope that Hitler would invade Russia and leave the West alone[9]; then the two totalitarian states could butcher each other without involving the United Kingdom and France.

The United States also viewed the Soviet Union, or Russian Empire if you will, as the supreme menace. It was the only state capable of challenging the United States globally, and the only state that has ever posed an existential threat to the Republic (barring internal menaces). Although Russia retains sufficient nuclear forces to destroy America many times over, it is no longer a geopolitical rival. Russia might be a regional power to be respected, but they are not THE alternative to the American world order. And Washington intends to keep it that way.

Preventing the recreation of a Russian Empire is thus the priority of both Europe and the United States. As long as Russia is confined to its current borders, the US need not worry about a global superpower rival[10] and the Europeans can continue to choose butter over guns. How European social democracy would respond to an urgent need for re-armament to Cold War levels is uncertain, but it would surely prove a serious political and economic strain on even the largest of the EU nations.

The Return of Russia

Vladimir Putin is a Russian nationalist. He ran for President after the “humiliation years” of Boris Yeltsin on an unabashedly Great Russian ticket that promised a return to order, stability and respect for Russia. At no point did he promise democracy, meritocracy or a nice observation of human rights; and for the most part, Russians haven’t asked for those things. The 2011-2012 “For Fair Elections” marches, starting in Moscow and spreading to other major cities, were sincere enough, but represented the expression of a minority fringe of middle class intellectuals and progressives who are not in the least representative of the vast majority of Russians[11]. It’s as if a protest march by Ivy League academics were portrayed as representative of the American Heartland by foreign media. By any objective measure, Mr. Putin is still perceived as a successful and respected leader in Russia, not a despotic autocrat.

 approval

Mr. Putin has largely achieved his goals. The Russian economy can be derided as an Orthodox Saudi Arabia with some justice, but economic diversification is not Mr. Putin’s primary concern. He is perfectly satisfied to be a petrostate, so long as the price of oil and gas remain high enough to fund the state’s budget. Economic efficiency and equity are considerations for the distant future, if at all. He is also perfectly satisfied to have the Russian economy run by a clique of oligarchs: so long as those oligarchs understand that they are to confine themselves to making money and leave politics to him alone. Any oligarch who forgets himself so far as to meddle or to disobey political orders finds himself in jail. This arrangement has worked out satisfactorily; nominally private companies like Rosneft and Gazprom are in fact instruments of Russian foreign policy.

As a fundamental plank of restoring Russian strength, Mr. Putin has had to completely reform the Russian military. Observing the ease with which the United States dispatched the large, but obsolete forces of Saddam Hussein – twice – Mr. Putin undertook a long-term restructuring that completely replaced the old, Soviet-style mass conscript armies and endless quantities of inferior equipment[12]. Mr. Putin has created a professional, volunteer army[13] and invested heavily in technological modernization. The petro-dollars that Russia earned allowed the new army to acquire cutting edge equipment, and Russia is by no means behind the United States in radar, missile, aircraft or armored vehicle technologies.

Organization and equipment are important, but the test of an army is in battle. Whereas the Yeltsin-era Russian army, a Soviet holdover, was humiliated in the First Chechen War, Mr. Putin’s new army performed well in the Second Chechen War; and they performed even better in the war against Georgia in 2008. The Russian army thus has been able to acquire enough combat experience to test equipment and doctrine, as well as to gain a core of veteran soldiers that are critical to stiffening up any combat unit. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Crimean operation was carried out flawlessly.

Mr. Putin Plays Poker

I would venture to guess that Mr. Putin is also an impressive poker player. The game in Ukraine has been going on for over a decade, ever since the Orange Revolution of 2004 shook the unofficial “hands off” understanding between Russia and the West over Ukrainian internal affairs. It was at this time that Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the overt corruption in the Presidential elections that pitted Viktor Yushchenko against Viktor Yanukovych, the serving Prime Minister.  In the rough and tumble of Ukrainian politics, a little voter fraud was small potatoes: Mr. Yushchenko had actually suffered from dioxin poisoning – very possibly by his rivals. So it was somewhat shocking to see Ukrainians react in outrage over the blatant election rigging.

Whereas Europeans saw a spontaneous popular movement, inspired by the ideals of the European Union and dreams of a new social democracy in Kiev, the Russians saw a US- and EU-backed effort to destabilize a strategically vital neighbor, with the ultimate goal of bringing it into the EU and NATO…exactly what had happened a decade earlier in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. There is truth on both sides. The Russians were very heavy-handed in their support for Mr. Yanukovych, while “pro-democracy” activists were trained and funded by a variety of Western political consultancies and organizations, including USAID, the US State Department, Freedom House, and others, though the CIA was probably not present. Eventually, the Ukrainian Supreme Court annulled the contested election and in a second run-off vote, the pro-Western Yushchenko was elected.

This was a bitter pill for Mr. Putin, who was unused to being publicly thwarted, and least of all in his “backyard”. The Russians bided their time and made no immediate overt moves, however. Mr. Yushchenko’s administration was not noted for its efficiency: he instigated several purges of his government and twice dissolved Parliament. He openly called for integration with the EU and NATO, discouraged the use of Russian and its status as a co-official language, and bickered with Russia over the status of forces agreement for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In 2008, Ukraine backed Georgia during the short war against Russia. Relations between the two countries continued to deteriorate.

Throughout 2008, there had also been a series of failed negotiations and escalating accusations of bad faith between the Russian natural gas company, Gazprom, and the Ukrainian gas company, Naftogaz. The latter had a debt with the former of over US$1 billion, and Gazprom refused to discuss new terms for a renewal of the gas contracts in 2009 unless the debt was paid. Naftogaz refused, so Gazprom cut off their supply. Ukraine imports 100% of its natural gas consumption from Russia. Not only that, the Ukrainians had benefitted from a very favorable pricing, a holdover of Soviet socialist fraternity. Not anymore; socialist fraternity went out the window and Mr. Putin began to squeeze the Ukrainians until the pips squeaked. Since 70% of Russia’s gas exports to Europe transit through Ukraine, European economies were also left out in the cold. Gazprom incurred a substantial cost from the lost sales during the 2-week standoff, but the Ukrainian economy was nearly ruined. Both the Ukrainians and the Europeans got the message.

gasdepedency

In 2010, Mr. Yushschenko again faced his old opponent, Mr. Yanukovych, as well as his former Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko. Mr. Yushchenko was trounced in the first round of the elections due to the political gaffes, poor economic performance and heightened tensions with Russia that had characterized his administration. Mr. Yanukovych then went on to defeat Ms. Timoshenko in what even the international election observers called a “pretty fair election.” Mr. Putin had his victory and his vindication: now, the “right man” was in power in Kiev. Mr. Yanukovych immediately proved that he was the “right man” for Russia by extending the lease of Sevastopol to the Black Sea Fleet for an additional 25 years, agreed to the partial merger of Gazprom and Naftogaz, and joined the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as an observer. Not coincidentally, the rental agreement of the naval port of Sevastopol included significant discounts in the price of gas.

Mr. Yanukovych may be a Russian stoolie and deep in Moscow’s pockets, but he is still a Ukrainian and did maintain some degree of independence. A short leash perhaps, but long enough from him to enter into discussions with the European Union for an Association and Free Trade Agreement. The Europeans offered Mr. Yanukovych the treaties plus €1 billion in loans, but conditioned on significant political reforms as well as improvements in human rights. Mr. Putin offered $15 billion in loans, a 33% discount in gas prices, and no conditionality on reforms or human rights. Mr. Yanukovych, who is not a stupid man whatever his opponents might say, took the Russian offer. It is significant to note that the Russians did have to bargain with Mr. Yanukovych – they couldn’t simply order him to cease negotiations.

That is of course what sparked the famous, or infamous, EuroMaidan demonstrations. The events are well enough known by now that I will not go into any detail. Suffice it to say that the Russian accusations of outside interference have a legitimate basis. The demonstrates were a heterogeneous mixture of true democrats and EU supporters, oligarchic anti-Yanukovych groups that wanted to return to power by getting rid of the President and saw the protests as as good a means of achieving it as any, and radical right-wing neo Nazi groups who also despised the President for his pro-Russian stance. It should be noted that the neo-Nazis are all from the western part of the country and all ultra-nationalist Ukrainians.

The Western media overlooked the presence of these “undesirable elements” for the most part, but the Russians were all too aware of them and the steps they might take if given power, such as banning the Russian language from official use and discriminating against and repressing the ethnic Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The Russians found the entire Western attitude to be infuriating:  the very active support played by “pro-democracy groups” from the US and EU, the blatant meddling of the US State Department[14] and other EU Foreign Ministries, and the immediate reneging on the “deal” for early elections that was eventually brokered between the Ukrainian opposition and Mr. Yanukovych, with the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Poland as counter signatories.

This deal[15] was supposed to have Yanukovych form a national unity government and revert to the 2004 constitution, which provided for more limited presidential powers, and to call early elections for the end of the year. Mr. Putin was apoplectic for any number of reasons:

  1. Why wasn’t a Russian representative involved in the discussions, given the paramount interests of his nation in the situation?
  2. What business did Germany and Poland have counter signing anything to do with Ukraine?
  3. Why should the legitimately elected President, who also happens to be the most pro-Russian Ukrainians since Nikita Khrushchev, be forced to call early elections by a gang of easily manipulated dreamers and reactionary fascist thugs?

Mr. Putin might have swallowed all of this if the deal had actually been observed. But it lasted barely as long as it took the ink to dry. The very next day, Mr. Yanukovych fled[16] to the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, declaring that a fascist coup was underway against him and that he had been shot at as he left Kiev. The Ukrainian Parliament, in the hands of the opposition, declared Mr. Yanukovych in dereliction of duty and essentially deposed him by a straight up vote, something Parliament cannot do. They then voted to move elections ahead to May 25th.

At this point, Mr. Putin had had enough. The meddlesome Americans and Europeans would be reminded why there is an old adage that goes “Don’t poke the bear, especially in his den.”

The Balance of Power                                                                                                     

What options does Mr. Putin’s military intervention leave Kiev?

Not many. The Ukrainian military is hopeless outmatched in every dimension that matters by its potential Russian adversary: in numbers, in quality of equipment, in combat experience and, most importantly, in unit morale. Unlike the Russians, the Ukrainians have been the past twenty years since independence in robbing the state blind, with no interest of leaving anything leftover for military modernization. As a consequence, the Ukrainians Armed Forces are undermanned, underequipped, under provisioned and undertrained. While there is no questioning the bravery of the individual Ukrainian soldier, the fact remains that you can’t turn an out-of-shape civilian or reservist into a competent professional overnight. While a volunteer may stop a bullet as well as his professional counterpart, that’s about all that they can do as well.

The main problem is that the Ukrainian military has been underfunded since the country became independent. To take 2010 as a by no means unusual case in point, the Ministry of Defense was not only given a budget far inferior to what was considered the minimal required to avoid deterioration of the Armed Forces, the budgeted allocation was not even met, leaving a shortfall of almost half the minimum required funds.

 ukrainebudget

An actual investment in the military of less than 1% of GDP is low even by Europe’s pitiful standards, and Western Europe doesn’t border Russia. The results are clear: Ukraine has no money for new and modern equipment and no money for training. This can be seen from the atrocious rates of operability across the Ukrainian services: 24% for the Air Force, 36% for Army Aviation, and 7% for ships and support vessels of the Navy[17].

ukraine allocations

Russia therefore has a qualitative and quantitative superiority over Ukraine in any potential fight. Russian units of the Western and Central Military Districts have just conducted a large unit exercise, which means that their level of combat readiness is at a peak, though some equipment might require additional maintenance. Russia’s mechanized formations could quickly advance to the Dnieper River that divides Ukraine in two Russia’s against limited opposition, as the bulk of Ukraine’s forces are on the western side. Meanwhile, Russia’s heavy advantage in fixed wing aircraft would give the Russian Air Force air superiority in short order, not only speeding the advance of the ground forces, but making Ukrainian movements to the forward edge of battle and extremely dicey proposition. Unlike the Second World War (and later conflicts too) night is no longer much protection from spying eyes: Ukrainian reinforcements would be subject to round-the-clock harassment. The Ukrainian Air Force suffered a blow at the very start of the crisis: perhaps 45 of the advanced MiG-29 fighters were captured by the Russians when they occupied Belbek Air Base in Crimea. That represents about half of the Air Force’s frontline strength.

The Ukrainian military is unlikely to put up much of a fight, if it came to that. Operability levels should have improved significantly since the crisis began, but there is only so much that can be done if an aircraft is grounded due to lack of parts. The inclusion of reservists will actually reduce the level of efficiency for a time in the ground forces, as unit cohesion suffers due to all the new faces and the need to teach the erstwhile soldiers enough to be more dangerous to the enemies than to their friends. Morale must be low – no one wants to be led to a slaughter, no matter how brave – and the loyalty of some officers and enlisted men from Eastern and Southern Ukraine might be questionable.

Orbat

TO and Elandforcesairforces

Note: This is by no means a complete order of battle or table of organization and equipment for either military
Sources: Ukraine Ministry of Defense, GlobalSecurity .org, Swedish Defense Research Agency, International Institute of Strategic Studies



Sources and Notes

[1] I tend to read the English-language version of Pravda and Interfax.
[2] They are perhaps not as wealthy, in the case of Europe, as during the heyday of European Imperialism, but certainly far more so than might have been expected after the devastation of the Second World War. Wealth distribution is a totally separate matter, of course.
[3] I am excluding, of course, some fundamental aspects of the world system that are critical and are out of their control, such as the impacts of the dollar as a reserve currency and the impact of the Federal Reserve on global markets. They are not subject to American pro-consuls and are free to vilify the US at will, a liberty they exercise frequently and thoroughly.
[4]“Putin: Soviet collapse a ‘genuine tragedy,’” NBC News, 25 April 2005
[5] Though not all of them would disagree with Mr. Putin. There are former Soviet Republics that were actually better off in the Soviet Union than after 20 years of independence; and there are ethnic groups that are more discriminated against now in the new nation-states than they were in the multi-national and multi-ethnic empire.
[6] Russians and Germans have cordially detested each other for centuries. The Russian national mythos is built upon the dual menace of the “yellow Tartar horde” from the East and the savage Teutonic Knights of the West, imagery which was repeated evoked during the First and Second World Wars, most famously by Sergei Eisenstein in his “Alexander Nevsky”.
[7] Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania applied for EU membership in 1994, but only became full members on 01 May 2004; of course, by that time, it was far too late for Russia to do anything about it.
[8]“Thanks to Poland, NATO will defend the Baltic states,” European Voice, 21 January 2010
[9] Stalin was eager enough to make an alliance with the decadent bourgeois powers because he rightly feared Nazi Germany more. During the Sudetenland crisis, the Soviets offered an alliance and guarantee of Czechoslovakian territorial integrity; they were brusquely told that it was none of their business by not only Britain and France, but by the Czechs themselves, who feared the Soviets more than they did the Germans. President Benes famously said, “With the Germans we might lose our country, but with the Russians we will lose our souls.” This happened again in the run up to the Danzig crisis, this time with the Poles; until, of course, Hitler pulled of his master stroke with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But this was only the Soviets making the best of a bad situation, not their first preference. It is one of history’s great “what ifs” to speculate the course of events had the UK, France and the Soviet Union had guaranteed Czechoslovakian territorial integrity in 1938. The Second World War might never have happened, or it could have resulted in an early German defeat.
[10] What about China? It remains an open question whether the Chinese will ever present the same threat that the Soviet Union did. The Chinese are confined to Asia, and hemmed in by Russia and India to the north and south respectively. So while the Chinese might be a Pacific menace, the Russians at their height threatened Europe, the Middle East and Asia simultaneously, while being able to act in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific.
[11] Estimates of “For Fair Election” protesters run the gamut from 25,000 to 36,000 according to official police sources, to between 120,000 and 160,000 according to organizers. The “official” count of the pro-Putin counter rallies puts the numbers at between 110,000 and 130,000 demonstrators. In a nation of 128 million, these are still not big numbers and the demographic of the protesters is not yet that of mainstream Russians.
[12] I should point out that Soviet-era equipment was by no means universally “inferior” to Western equipment, at least not until the digital revolution of the 1980’s allowed the United States to gain a temporary, though decisive, technological advantage. That said, the Soviets did prefer lots of slight worse gear to smaller quantities of slightly better gear.
[13] The replacement of conscription with an all-volunteer force commenced in 2011 and is scheduled to be completed by 2017.
[14] Christopher J. Miller, “‘Fuck the EU,’ frustrated Nuland says to Pyatt, in alleged leaked phone call,” Kyiv Post, 6 February 2014.
[15] Ian Traynor, “Ukraine opposition leaders sign deal with government,” The Guardian, 21 February 2014.
[16] Hannah Strange, “Ukraine crisis: Viktor Yanukovych denounces ‘coup’ as he leaves Kiev,” The Guardian, 22 February 2014.
[17] Ukraine Ministry of Defense, 2010 White Paper

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Discussion

2 Responses to “Ukraine, Now For The Hard Part: Part One – Russian Reflections”

  1. Hey! This is my first comment here so I just wanted
    to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your
    articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums
    that deal with the same subjects? Thanks for your time!

    Posted by 反服貿 | May 1, 2014, 21:22
    • Sorry for not replying sooner: it’s been a terribly busy week at work.
      The blogs or sites I typically will review on a daily or almost daily basis are:
      * Economonitor
      * Bloomberg/Marketwatch
      * The National Interest
      * Open Democracy
      * Stratfor
      * ZeroHedge
      * The Economists View
      * And I’ll scan headlines of world dailies like: New York Times, Washington Post, Times of India, Der Spiegel (english), Global Times, Reuters
      * Twitter links from the people I follow as well…

      Sites that are good, but for weekly or even monthly viewing include:
      * Brookings
      * Pew
      * Project Syndicate
      * The Economist
      * Peterson Institute
      * 538, Gallup, Politico

      Hope this list helps! If you know of any similar blogs or quality sites, please let me know; I’m always on the look-out!

      Posted by fdbetancor | May 8, 2014, 12:05

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