Putin Has Biden’s Attention, Now What?
Russia can crush Ukraine. How do you leverage that into security guarantees by NATO?
With the US raising alarm about a supposed Russian military buildup opposite of Ukraine, and the Russians denying anything out of the ordinary is taking place it is tempting to conclude that this is just more of the typical NATO scaremongering about Russia. Trouble is that I don’t believe that. On the contrary, I believe that something very serious is afoot.
The reason I think so isn’t that I have been listening to the Americans, but that I have been listening to the Russians. For years and years, the Russians have been complaining about the march of American & vassal missiles, training programs, weapon stockpiles, and units eastward. They have been complaining for so long that the picture of Russia as being all talk and never following up with real-world measures has become a meme among the more cynical Russia watchers.
Then, all of a sudden two things happened:
A.) Any and all talk of taking Donbass by force suddenly stopped in Ukraine. Instead, Kiev seems genuinely terrified it will be routed by the Russian military and is promising numerous Russian casualties (but tellingly not defeat) in a high-stakes attempt to deter the Russians.
B.) Biden initiated security talks with Vladimir Putin days after regime press revealed that something about the Russian military posture sent Washington into panic mode.
That tells me that the Russians finally did something that got Washington’s full attention. I don’t know what they did. Maybe it was the buildup opposite of Ukraine, maybe it was something else that we’re not being told about. Maybe it doesn’t even matter that much.
What does matter is that the Russian expectations of anything coming out of the initial Biden-Putin talk are nil. That means the Russian pressure — whatever it is — will continue.
The Russians aren’t going to be bought out by talks. They held talks with Biden in the Spring, and these were followed up by more provocations in the Summer. Now they want real, tangible appeasement. They have spelled out as much.
Trouble is, between the characteristic fecklessness and cowardice of the White House (whoever it is occupied by), and the vested Cold War interests I have no idea how they get that.
Any American president who works out a deal with the Russians and removes a missile or two will be denounced as “weak” by all the other institutions of the American Empire which stand to lose from peace, and which together are more powerful than a weak-willed presidency.
In reality, it is just the opposite, it is precisely the weakness of American presidents which makes a good deal with Russia impossible. What is better for the American and, say, the Romanian people, having some US missiles in the land of Dracula, or peace in Europe? Obviously the latter. But any president who concedes as much will face resistance and sabotage by the Pentagon, the CIA, NATO, the posturing Congress, the liberal-interventionist State Department, the think tanks, and the media.
Honestly, I have no idea how Putin, Shoigu, and Lavrov get the security guarantees that they want out of this one. If they succeed they are infinitely better strategists than I.
Let’s say it has indeed been a buildup opposite of Ukraine that forced the Americans to the table, now what?
There is no doubt that if Moscow is willing to sustain the cost in lives and in sanctions (and in Ukrainian bitterness and enmity) that the Russian military can take most of Ukraine.
The Russian military is larger than the Ukrainian one and has more firepower per pound, The two also share a long flat border — there are no convenient bottlenecks. The Russians can force the Ukrainian military to stretch out over a long frontline, pin it down in place, then apply defeat in detail to sectors with maneuver and firepower one by one.
Kiev is just 400 kilometers from the Russian border, and the Americans have already said — in so many words — that direct US military intervention almost certainly isn’t on the cards.
Trouble is this. If the DC Empire and the Ukraine were one organic being then guaranteeing the Russians a missile status quo in return for the Russians not overruning Kiev would be an absolute bargain. Problem is that, not only are the Empire and the Ukraine not a single entity, but the American Empire itself is a hydra with many heads, most of which stand only to gain from a Russian war in the Ukraine.
The White House is the only imperial institution that stands something to lose, namely prestige for having failed to deter the Russians. However, it also stands to lose by being painted as appeasing Moscow so it’s something of a moot point.
In all other respects, the Empire and its institutions stand only to gain. NATO can get a huge lease on life, Pentagon could be looking at the return of full US divisions to Europe, and the European vassals would be more regimented behind the US than ever before. As the cherry on top Russia would be left with the odd problem of policing and rebuilding Ukraine — while under a total Western economic embargo. Perhaps the biggest “win” of all would be the endless opportunity for moral condemnation of Russia over its treatment of “subjugated” Malaya Rus’.
So again, I think Russia can relatively easily occupy land in Ukraine, I just don’t know how it can trade pieces of that land in return for NATO guarantees to stop carrying out provocations that are in its self-interest.
The problem is that Russia enjoying peace and stability on its borders is in Russia’s interest but it is not in NATO’s interest. Why do you think that Russia was willing to strong-arm Donbass into abiding by the Minsk Agreement but the West never applied pressure on Kiev to do the same? Because ultimately fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian and seeing the Russian-Ukrainian enmity deepen is the stuff of dreams for NATO.