Bob Sheak, April 22 2022
The Putin-ordered invasion of Ukraine is now in its 57th day as of April 21. It has led to horrendous destruction, death and injuries, mostly of civilians, and to the displacement of millions of Ukrainians from their homes, 5 million of whom have already fled the country. Major Ukrainian cities, along with towns of all sizes, have been invaded by Russian troops and/or bombed from the air and by artillery. Mariupol, a city in the southeastern part of the country, has been turned into rubble, and the brave resistance there is within days (April 20) of being defeated.
Laurel Wamsley reports on why Mariupol is important to the Russians (https://npr.org/2022/03/23/1088113318/what-mariupol-means-ukraine-russia-military-campaign). She writes: “If Mariupol does fall, it will be the biggest military win for Russia since it began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.” It is important to the Russians because it “is located between Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and the region of Eastern Ukraine called Donbas, much of which was already controlled by Russian-backed separatists.” It is – or has been – an important industrial port city for exporting Ukrainian steel and grain. It would be a boost to Putin’s prestige in Russia. And, if there were eventual negotiations, Russia could claim that it was already an independent “republic.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces are putting up a brave and tenacious resistance all across the country (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/world/europe/russia-ukraine-invasion-kyiv-kharkiv-kherson.html), and are receiving increasing armaments from the US and allies (https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/biden-announces-800m-military-aid-ukraine/story?id=84062563), which will enable the resistance to continue. But they are facing the world’s second largest military force and do not have the capacity to defend against aerial, artillery, and missile attacks (https://time.com/6156060/ukraine-no-fly-zone-russia).
Given the imbalance in military forces and Putin’s determination to continue the war, it presently seems that a negotiated settlement is not yet in reach. Still, there is a question as to whether Putin will at some point settle for a compromise agreement, allowing Russia to continue its control of Crimea and annexing Luhansk, Donetsk and a large swath of land extending out from the Donbass south along the Black Sea to Crimea. “More than a third of this area [Donbas],” Paul Kirby writes, “was already seized by Russian proxy forces in a war that began in 2014, now Russia wants to conquer all of it” (https://bbc.com/news/world-europe-56720589).
On April 6, 2022, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee “that he expects the conflict in Ukraine to last for years,” as reported by Maureen Breslin (https://thehill.com/news/3260171-top-us-general-says-he-expects-russia-ukraine-conflict-to-be-measured-in-years).
“Milley also called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ‘the greatest threat to peace and security of Europe and perhaps the world’ in the 42 years he has been serving in the military.”
“‘The Russian invasion of Ukraine is threatening to undermine not only European peace and stability but global peace and stability that my parents and a generation of Americans fought so hard to defend,’ Milley said.”
“Milley said that Russia and China are both in positions to challenge the ‘current global order.’”
“We are entering a world that is becoming more unstable and the potential for significant international conflict is increasing, not decreasing.’”
Putin in control in Russia
As noted, there has been no progress in Russian-Ukrainian peace negotiations, and the war, with intensifying global effects, continues and escalates. One thing is clear. Putin makes the major policy decisions in the Russian Federation and he has the support of an inner-circle of Russian elites (https://www.newsweek.com/putin-keeps-loyal-inner-circle-during-ukraine-war-despite-cracks-support-1691161).
The unexpected stiff Ukrainian resistance, along with US and allied military support and sanctions, has apparently done little to weaken his dictatorial power in Russia or his determination to take control of part or all of Ukraine.
Suppression of dissent, control of the media, and the absence of political alternatives.
Brian Bennett reports for Time magazine on briefings to President Biden, where “U.S. intelligence officials have said there are no signs that the fallout from the war has loosened Putin’s grip on Russia, according to two U.S. officials familiar with those assessments. In fact, experts say, there’s evidence that Putin has used the war to further consolidate power, at least in the short term” (https://time.com/6163798/vladimir-putin-russia-power). Bennett adds,
“As the war drags on, Putin has intensified his long-running battle to crack down on opposing voices within Russia. Putin signed into law a measure which effectively criminalizes independent reporting that deviates from the government line, even banning the use of the word ‘war’ in news broadcasts about Ukraine, which led to the closure of independent Russian media outlets. Russian authorities have arrested thousands who spoke out against the invasion. The protests within Russia have been smaller during the war than the ones that broke the emergence of potential successors. The longevity of his reign is partially attributable to the absence of a clear No. 2 waiting in the wings, say experts, who point out there hasn’t been an organic succession of power in Russia since President Boris Yeltsin left office at the end of 1999.”
Another part of Putin’s power rests on his ability to convince ordinary Russians that he is “popular.” If they believe this, then, researchers find, they respond favorably about him. A group of political scientists from Dublin, Bergen (Germany), Wisconsin, and London conducted polling in Russia and substantiated this concept (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/04/13/putin-public-opinion-propaganda-levada-center). (The researchers: Noah Buckley, Kyle L. Marquardt, Ora John Reuter, and Katerina Tertytchnaya.)
They point out that within days of the February invasion of Ukraine, “Russian authorities began to orchestrate a pro-war campaign at home. To portray a country that is rallying around its president, the regime…staged pro-war rallies and introduced new symbols in support of the war.” State media regularly ran stories that emphasized how Putin’s approval ratings had gone up after the invasion.
Their research found that the “image of Putin’s popularity bolsters his actual popularity. But [they add] staged perceptions of popularity can be fragile.”
The researchers write: “Scholarship generally finds that more popular authoritarian governments tend to last longer. Our results suggest that leaders such as Putin need these public perceptions of support if they want to remain in power.”
“Evidence of popularity itself may make a leader even more popular as people come to believe sincerely that the leader deserves approval.
“Alternatively, citizens may view a dictator’s high approval ratings as a sign that supporting the leader is the ‘correct’ opinion to report. If voters believe expressing opposition to a popular leader might result in social condemnation or political punishment, they may feel compelled to say they support the leader even if they do not. Indeed, research shows that pressure to conform helps account for Putin’s large approval increase after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.” However, the researchers also find, “When unanimity or social consensus breaks down, regime support can dissolve very quickly, as happened when the Soviet Union abruptly crumbled in 1989.”
“To investigate the relationship between perceptions of Putin’s popularity and his actual popularity, we fielded a set of experiments in four public opinion surveys in Russia. Two of these surveys were conducted by the Levada Center, Russia’s most reputable social research firm, face-to-face in respondents’ homes. These surveys, which relied on a probabilistic sample, were representative at the national level.”
The findings suggest that much of Putin’s support is based on perceptions that he is popular. Without that perception, Putin’s popularity fades.
How may all this play out?
“As Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on, signs of public dissatisfaction about the war may increasingly enter the public consciousness. Street protests across the country, scenes of soldiers’ mothers criticizing the authorities and a sharp rise in food prices coupled with shortages could dent Putin’s image of popularity. In turn, that could set off a larger loss of support.
“However, Putin is also increasing repression to make citizens afraid of expressing opposition to the regime. The dueling dynamics between growing dissent and increasingly stifling repression will help shape Putin’s rule in the months and years ahead.”
Why did Putin launch the invasion?
Putin and Russian officials have offered a number of over-lapping justifications having to do with Putin’s concerns about Russian national security, about protecting Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine, and about building a security architecture to compete with NATO and the EU. Consider three.
#1 – To Secure Russian National Security
In this regard, Putin is concerned about the expansion of NATO in eastern Europe and the possible inclusion of Ukraine in that alliance. There is some plausibility in his argument on this issue. The editors of Monthly Review (April 2022)offer this summary.
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, NATO has absorbed fifteen countries, all to the east, which were previously part of the Warsaw Pact or were regions within the Soviet Union. On its east, along the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, NATO has seen a major military buildup. It currently has an air presence in Estonia, Lithuania, and Romania. U.S. troops and NATO multinational troops are massed in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Romania. NATO missile ‘defense’ facilities are located in Poland and Romania. The object of all of these forward military installations (not to mention those in Central and Western Europe) is Russia. In 2008, NATO declared that it intended eventually to incorporate Ukraine as a NATO member.”
Ukraine war follows decades of warnings that NATO expansion into Eastern Europe could provoke Russia
In a February 28, 2022, article, Ronald Suny, Professor of History and Political Science at the University of Michigan, reviews some of the history showing that there have been conflicting views in the US political establishment and among various foreign policy experts on NATO expansion (https://theconversation.com/ukraine-war-follows-decades-of-warnings-that-nato-expansion-into-eastern-europe-could-provoke-russia-177999).
Consider some of what he writes.
“The more widespread and familiar view in the West, particularly in the United States, is that Russia is and has always been an expansionist state, and its current president, Vladimir Putin, is the embodiment of that essential Russian ambition: to build a new Russian empire.
“‘This was … always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary,’ President Joe Biden said on Feb. 24, 2022.
“The opposing view argues that Russia’s security concerns are in fact genuine, and that NATO expansion eastward is seen by Russians as directed against their country. Putin has been clear for many years that if continued, the expansion would likely be met with serious resistance by the Russians, even with military action.
“That perspective isn’t held just by Russians; some influential American foreign policy experts have subscribed to it as well.
Among others, Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, has been warning about the provocative effect of NATO expansion on Russia since 1995. That’s when Burns, then a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, reported to Washington that ‘hostility to early NATO expansion is almost universally felt across the domestic political spectrum here.’”
On the one hand, NATO recognizes the sovereignty of all states and their right to ally with whatever they state they wish. Based on this view, “NATO acceded over time to the requests of European democracies to join the alliance. Former members of the Soviet-established Warsaw Pact, which was a Soviet version of NATO, were also brought into NATO in the 1990s, along with three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in 2004.” Given that, Suny writes, the “Western view is that the Kremlin is supposed to understand and accept that the alliance’s activities, among them war games replete with American tanks staged in nearby Baltic states and rockets stationed in Poland and Romania – which the U.S. says are aimed at Iran – in no way [?] present a threat to Russian security.”
On the other hand, “Russian elite and broad public opinion have both long been opposed to such expansion, the placement of American rockets in Poland and Romania and the arming of Ukraine with Western weaponry.
“When President Bill Clinton’s administration moved to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, Burns wrote that the decision was ‘premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.’ There was opposition to such expansion. “In June 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton, saying, ‘We believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.’”
“If you think the war in Ukraine is the work of a determined imperialist, any actions short of defeating the Russians will look like 1938 Munich-style appeasement and Joe Biden becomes the reviled Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who acceded to Hitler’s demands for territory in Czechoslovakia only to find himself deceived as the Nazis steadily marched to war.
“If, however, you believe that Russia has legitimate concerns about NATO expansion, then the door is open [perhaps] to discussion, negotiation, compromise and concessions.”
Suny concludes his analysis on a somber note.
“Leaders like Putin who feel cornered and ignored may strike out. He has already threatened “military and political consequences” if the currently neutral Finland and Sweden attempt to join NATO. Paradoxically, NATO has endangered small countries on the border of Russia, as Georgia learned in 2008, that aspire to join the alliance.
“One wonders – as did the American diplomat George F. Kennan, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine who warned against NATO expansion in 1998 – whether the advancement of NATO eastward has increased the security of European states or made them more vulnerable.”
Suny adds: “Putin’s sense of Russia’s insecurity vis-à-vis a much more powerful NATO is genuine, but during the current impasse over Ukraine, his recent statements have become more fevered and even paranoid. Usually a rationalist, Putin now appears to have lost patience and is driven by his emotions.”
#2 – Protect Russian-speaking people living in Ukraine
Paul Kirby refers to what Putin told the Russian people at the onset of the invasion on February 24, that “his goal was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine”, to protect people subjected to what he called eight years of bullying and genocide by Ukraine’s government” (https://bbc.com/news/world-europe-56720589).
Along the same line, “Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of freeing Ukraine from oppression.” Kirby is quick to point out “[t]he claims of Nazis and genocide in Ukraine are completely unfounded but part of a narrative repeated by Russia for years. Moscow even made wild allegations that Ukraine was building a plutonium-based dirty bomb.”
However, there is one important fact that is difficult for Putin and his advisers to refute, that is the current Ukrainian President won the office in a landslide election in 2019. Andrew Higgins and Julia Mendel covered the story for The New York Times (https://nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/europe/Vo;odymr-Zelensky-ukraine-elections.html). They report:
“…. Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, according to official results with nearly all of the votes counted, making a comic actor with no experience in government or the military the commander in chief of a country that has been at war with Russian proxies for over five years.
“With more than 95 percent of ballots cast on Sunday [in April of 2019] counted, Mr. Zelensky had won 73.17 percent of the vote, compared with just 24.5 percent for Petro O. Poroshenko, Ukraine’s incumbent president. Mr. Zelensky triumphed in every region, except for the area around the city of Lviv, a center of Ukrainian culture and nationalism in the west of the country.”
“Mr. Zelensky’s victory will give Ukraine its first Jewish leader and deliver a stinging rebuke to a political and business establishment represented by Mr. Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon who campaigned on the nationalist slogan ‘Army, language, faith.’
“After five years of grinding war with Russian proxies in the east of Ukraine, voters appeared to send a signal that they were more concerned with the internal menaces of corruption and poverty…”
“Mr. Zelensky’s triumph hits back at years of Russian propaganda presenting Ukraine as a failed state dominated by fascists steeped in anti-Semitism and contempt for Soviet fighters who defeated Hitler’s forces in World War II.”
The upshot, however, is that Putin’s views were never affected by such facts.
Building an alternative to NATO
Putin has said he would like to resurrect the former Warsaw Pact. The invasion of Ukraine is, in this view, a first step in pursuing that vision. It goes like this. Once Ukraine is subjugated, then other former eastern European countries will eventually come to view Russia as an alternative to NATO and the EU.
Kurt Volker considers Putin’s expansionist ambitions for Russia in an article for the Center for European Policy (CEPA) analysis (https://cepa.org/putin-is-determined-to-rebuild-the-russian-empire). Volker is a “leading expert in US foreign and national security policy, he served as US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations from 2017-2019, and as US Ambassador to NATO from 2008-2009.”
“Upon becoming President of Russia 21 years ago, Vladimir Putin declared his intention to restore Russian greatness. At the time, coming on the heels of a decade of wild-west capitalism, corruption, and breakdowns in law and order, many Russians and outside observers welcomed his words as a necessary correction that would strengthen democracy.
“Two decades later, however, it is apparent that he was thinking about something else. Having described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century, Putin has embarked on a project to re-establish a Russian empire in Europe and Eurasia.
“Several elements were central to this project and were visible (although often explained away) even during his first decade: rebuilding the Russian military, modernizing and expanding Russia’s nuclear arsenal, reviving and expanding Russian intelligence services and activities, taking control of Russian media outlets, consolidating state industries, and undermining (and now openly crippling) any political opposition to his United Russia party. Russia’s elections are now extensively rigged.
“President Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference took a further next step, announcing to the world Russia’s rejection of the existing European security architecture. By that point, Russia had already announced it would no longer adhere to the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and vehemently opposed NATO plans for theater missile defense, which had previously been developed in partnership with Russia. Russia also refused to respect the principle of host-nation consent for its largely unwanted troop presence in Georgia and Moldova, and began ignoring Vienna Convention limits on troop concentrations, exercises, and transparency. It later violated the Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF) Treaty and began to deny overflights requested under the Open Skies Treaty.”
“Within the past two years, he has overseen a take-over of Belarussian security and media, a stationing of Russian peacekeeping troops in Nagorno-Karabakh, a take-over of Kazakhstan’s security and media, and a massive military build-up that threatens a new invasion of Ukraine. This is on top of Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea and occupation of parts of Donbas; its 2008 occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and its long-standing presence in Transnistria.
“The draft treaty texts Russia presented to the United States and to NATO in December  make it clear that Russia is seeking to overturn the European security architecture in place since the Helsinki Accords of 1975, and return instead to a Yalta-like division of Europe between a Western and a Russian sphere of influence. Several elements of the Helsinki ‘decalogue’ are directly challenged by Russia’s texts: the right of states to choose their own security alliances; the non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states; the commitment to refrain from the threat or use force; and acceptance that international borders cannot be altered by force.
“Clearly, the US and Europe will reject these Russian demands. But that is hardly the point. December 2022 will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union on the territory of the former Russian Empire. Putin seems determined to celebrate that anniversary having [taken steps toward establishing] a new Russian empire, and he is backing that up with military force, regardless of the West’s protests.”
Putin’s fear of the example of a democratic Ukraine
There are those who argue that Ukraine’s movement toward a democratic constitutional order is another of Putin’s concerns. Philip Bobbitt and Viola Glenger advance this argument (https://justsecurity.org/80822/putins-real-fear-ukraine-constitutional-order). Bobbitt is the Herbert Wechsler Professor of Federal Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for National Security at Columbia Law School, and is a Distinguished Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas. Glenger is Washington Senior Editor for Just Security and research scholar at NYU School of Law. Follow her on Twitter (@violagienger).
“It is important for speculation about Putin’s imperial ambitions or his alleged concern about NATO not to deflect from a focus on what is the greatest animating fear for Putin: a liberal democracy on his doorstep in the form of the constitutional order of Ukraine.”
“For Putin, Ukraine has been the outlier. Ukraine has been pursuing freedom and democracy determinedly, though haltingly, on its own, and it has had a good deal of success. The fact that this democratic process has been playing out on Putin’s doorstep, perhaps most notably with the 2014 ‘Revolution of Dignity’ against his stooge, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is terrifying to Putin.
“In the information age, a state of terror such as the one that Putin’s Russia has become, cannot countenance states of consent, especially next door. It is Ukraine’s constitutional order — with its independent (though still troubled) judicial system, freedom of the press, multiparty politics, largely legitimate elections, vibrant civil society, and general respect for human rights — that Putin cannot tolerate, lest it provide too tempting an example for democratic activists in his own country who have vehemently opposed him at great risk to their lives and to the public in general that shares so many ties to the people in Ukraine. The ‘peaceful coexistence’ of the Cold War is, in this respect, not acceptable to Putin.”
Effects #1 of the war: Rising military spending and repercussions
Since Putin launched in February the invasion on Ukraine, 25 countries have joined in delivering weapons and supplies valued in the billions of dollars, according to an investigation by Politico. You can access the list of countries and what they have donated at: (https://politico.com/news/2022/03/22/ukraine-weapons-military-aid-00019104).
The U.S. leads donors by having sent to Ukraine $3 billion in military weapons and supplies by April 13. Britain has donated $551 million. The list of donors does not include China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, or low-income countries from the Middle East, Africa, or South America. But Finland and Germany, have re-written long-standing policies that barred exporting weapons into war zones.” In addition, “there are tens of thousands of troops being activated and deployed by NATO countries in Eastern Europe.”
Despite such increasing aid, it must be recognized that Ukraine has an active military force of only 200,000. Even with international military support, it must stand in battle against “a behemoth Russian army with far more sophisticated weaponry.”
Julian E. Barnes and Michael D. Shear report for The New York Times on the most recent US military and other security aid of $800 million to Ukraine (bringing the total up to $3 billion, with more likely to come), while also stepping up “intelligence sharing” (https://nytimes.com/2022/04/13/us/politics/biden-weapons-ukraine.html). Here’s some of what they report.
“The Biden administration has responded with antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, and other weapons that Ukrainian soldiers have used to repel Russian forces, especially in the north of the country. The United States has so far resisted helping Ukraine acquire fighter jets and other weaponry that could be used against targets inside Russia.
“Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that the additional aid for Ukraine would include more sophisticated weaponry, such as artillery systems and armored personnel carriers.”
“Mr. Biden said the United States would transfer additional helicopters as well, though he did not indicate whether they would come directly from the United States or from another country.
“The United States is also providing 18 155-millimeter howitzers, the first time it has sent that weapon to Ukraine, and 40,000 artillery rounds.”
Does Putin have a red line?
The effects of the increased in military spending in regards to the war in Ukraine are profound. They give Ukrainian forces a fighting chance to contest the Russians and perhaps improve the opportunity for negotiations. However, as Putin appears unready to participate in such negotiations, he increases his military forces in Ukraine and continues the destructive warfare, while also reminding the world that Russia has nuclear weapons (https://theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/26/russia-reasserts-right-to-use-nuclear-weapons-in-ukraine-putin), and warning the US and allies against giving Ukraine advanced weaponry that could be used to hit targets in Russia
Increasing national debt – The increased US military spending for Ukraine will add to the US national debt and give the Republicans another justification for cutting or not increasing funds for social and environmental programs. Michael T. Klare considers these effects in an article published in the Nation magazine on March 31, 2022, titled “Russia’s War in Ukraine Has Shattered the Old-World Order (https://thenation.com/article/world/ukraine-russia-war-impact).
He writes: “Military spending will rise while other priorities—education, health care, climate action—are accorded secondary status.”
More partisan politics from the right – At the same time, Trump and some Republicans are taking a position that the Biden administration is not doing enough in supporting Ukraine militarily. Indeed, Trump, the party’s leader, has said that he would send nuclear subs to Russia’s coast to pressure Putin, according to an article by Katherine Fung for Newsweek magazine on March 21 (https://newsweek.com/donald-trump-would-send-nuclear-subs-russia-coast-pressure-putin-1690108). She quotes Trump:
“‘You should say, If you mention that word [nuclear] one more time, we’re gonna send [nuclear submarines and planes] over and we’ll be coasting back and forth, up and down your coast,’ Trump told Fox Business on Monday.” Trump continued: “You can’t let this tragedy continue. You can’t let these, these thousands of people die.”
Trump is contradicting what he earlier said about Putin’s policy toward Ukraine.
Fung writes: “A day before Russia launched a full-scale invasion, Trump called Putin a ‘genius’ for recognizing two separatists’ regions in Ukraine as independent. “I said, ‘How smart is that?’ “And, Fung noted Trump says he would go in and be a peacemaker. In an interview on The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show on February 23, Trump said:
“While he hasn’t backed down from calling Putin a ‘genius,’ Trump said: ‘The problem is that our leaders are dumb…and so far, allowed [Putin] to get away with this travesty and assault on humanity.’”
The upshot of Trump’s position is that he is looking for a partisan advantage against the Democrats, while generating confusion and disunity in the American public. But he seems unable to understand the dangers of military escalation.
Would he, as president, deliver Poland’s MiG fighters over the border? Would he transfer planes to the Ukrainian air force and impose a “no-fly zone” over the country? Given the opportunity, and taking into account his former weak presidential record and scatterbrain foreign policy, Trump will avoid expert advice, surround himself with sycophants, and make decisions on what his “gut” tells him. And, as president, he would have his finger on the nuclear button. Meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess what will come out of Trump’s mouth next, though whatever he says large segments of the Republican Party remain under his thumb and he has a following of tens of millions of Americans who uncritically follow his lead.
We should also bear in mind, that Trump has benefited financially from his long-term relations with Russian oligarchs and Putin (see Craig Unger’s best-selling book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Explosive Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia), and boasted about his relationship with Putin, as reported by Josephine Harvey for Huffpost (https://huffpost.com/entry/trump-putin-relationship-fox-news_n_6257a00e4b052d2bd5e2172). Harvey writes:
“Former President Donald Trump skipped another opportunity to call Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions evil on Wednesday [April 14], then boasted about how well he knew the dictator.
“‘I knew Putin very well. Almost as well as I know you, Sean,’ Trump told his close confidante, Fox News host Sean Hannity, as the network aired graphic images of dead bodies and the damage left by Russian troops in Ukraine.
“‘I will tell you, we talked about it, we talked about it a lot, he did want Ukraine, but I said, ‘You’re not going into Ukraine,’ Trump continued. “He would never, ever have gone into Ukraine.”
“Minutes earlier, Hannity had prompted Trump to denounce Putin.
“‘I asked you the last time you were on, whether you think that this is evil in our time,’ Hannity said. ‘Do you believe this is evil in our time?’
“Trump did not answer the question….”
(Also see Craig Unger’s article, “How republicans spend decades cozying up to Putin’s Kremlin” at https://newrepublic.com/article/165782/republicans-putin-history-relationship-manafort.)
Eliminate Pentagon bloat and inefficiency – another way to pay for military support to Ukraine –
William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, argues that military aid to Ukraine, while necessary, is unnecessarily adding to an already bloated Pentagon budget, but there is another way. The US could avoid adding to the national debt through more effective budgeting and cutting spending on some major weapons’s systems (https://commondreams.org/views/2022/03/29/ukraine-war-cannot-justify-bidens-too-damn-high-pentagon-budget). He writes: “The U.S. military budget is replete with examples of waste and dysfunction that must be addressed before going on a new spending spree.” Here are highlights from the article.
“The Biden administration’s FY 2023 proposal for national defense, released on Monday, far exceeds what is needed to provide a robust defense of the United States and its allies. At $813 billion, it is substantially more — adjusted for inflation — than spending at the height of the Korean or Vietnam wars, and over $100 billion more than peak spending during the Cold War. The $800 billion-plus figure for national defense includes the Pentagon budget, work on nuclear warheads at the Department of Energy, and smaller defense-related outlays at a number of other federal agencies.” (Hartung’s references leave out the defense-related interest on military spending which adds significantly to the national debt.)
With an already large budget, Hartung argues, the Pentagon should be able to pay for Ukrainian support by eliminating cost over runs on weapons contracts. On this point, Hartung writes that the Pentagon budget is…padded as a result of the routine contractor practice of grossly overcharging the Pentagon for spare parts and the steep cost overruns on major systems, and there is room [here] to cut tens of billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget without diminishing our security.” Money could be made available to pay for military support of the Ukrainians by “eliminating unnecessary or dysfunctional weapons dangerous or unworkable systems like the F-35 combat aircraft and the new intercontinental ballistic missile, and by reducing 750 foreign military bases in 85 countries.
Effects #2 – An immigration crisis and right-wing politics
Putin’s war on the Ukraine has already caused 5 million people to emigrate from the country (https://data2.nhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine), 6.5 to 7.1 million to be internally displaced (https: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-605554720),
and additional untold millions stranded and vulnerable in war zones. It is the largest such crisis in Europe since WWII. As of April 19, 2.8 million have fled to Poland, 757 thousand to Romania, 549,805 to the Russian Federation, Hungary 471,080, Moldavia 426,964, Slovakia 342,813, and Belarus 23, 759. There are no overall data on how they are being accommodated, how long they will have to remain, whether they are becoming an undue burden to the recipient countries, and how many emigrants will be granted asylum in other European countries and the US.
Jan Lopatka and Alicja Ptak report for Rueters that. within a month of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the vast emigration it caused, the flow of Ukrainian refugees was already in March testing the limits of Central Europe’s capacity “to comfortably house some of the nearly 3.5 million millions Ukrainian refugees” [it has doubled] (https://usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-20/flow-of-ukrainian-refugees-testing-limits-of-central-europe-capacity ….) Their report is based on interviews with officials in Poland and the Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan.
Putin appears to believe that NATO countries will be politically destabilized as the emigration crisis grows, strengthening the position of far-right, pro-Putin political parties who will blame immigration for any shortage of jobs, rise in cost of living, or any other economic and social problems. There are ideological affinities including not only opposition to immigration but also to multiculturalism, to LBGTQ rights, the denigration of experts, attacks on media, and admiration for strong leaders. Moises Naim considers such how “populous” politics benefit autocratic leaders in his book, The Revenge of Power: How Autocrats are Reinventing Politics for the 21st Century). Also check out Ruth Beth-Chiat’s book titled Strongmen.
Right-wing support of Putin in Europe
The current election in France is an example of which Putin hopes to benefit. On Sunday, May 1, President Emmanuel Macron will face Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, in the runoff on Sunday. For background on the election, check this source: https://nytimes.com/article/france-presidential-election-2022.html. The relevance here is that Le Pen has been supportive of Putin prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but, despite the invasion, has continued to resist rejecting him as a Russian leader.
In an article published by Newsweek on April 19, 2022, Khaleda Rahman delves into “what Marine Le Pen has said about Vladimir Putin” and her links to him (https://newsweek.com/what-marine-le-pen-said-about-vladimir-putin-friend-admirer-1698984). Here are main points.
“Le Pen traveled to Moscow to meet Putin when she was running for the presidency in 2017, received loans from a Russian bank to fund her party and supported Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea.” Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “she has sought to distance herself from Russia in recent months and has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” But the facts indicate she has been and remains an admirer of Putin.
“In a March 2017 interview with CBS News, Le Pen called concerns that Putin posed a threat to Europe ‘a big scam.’” Then, asked if she felt Putin threatened France and other countries, she said: “No, I don’t believe it is so. Nothing Vladimir Putin has done would make me reach that conclusion.” “… she defended Russia’s foreign policy and blamed tensions on the U.S. and NATO, accusing them of arming countries along Russia’s border. “Ukraine is part of Russia’s sphere of influence, it’s a fact,” she said.”
“In early February, Le Pen said she didn’t believe that Russia would invade Ukraine. That prediction proved wrong when Putin ordered Russian forces into its neighboring country on February 24.” She then condemned the invasion as
“a clear violation of international law and absolutely indefensible.” “At a press conference last week [second week in April], she said allegations that she is close to Putin and Russia were “unfair.” However, “in a sign that she would seek to revive a friendship with Putin, she has called for a ‘strategic rapprochement’ with Russia once the war is over.”
It is doubtless that Putin is grateful for the support of Le Pen and any prominent political leader and parties in other European countries who have supported Putin. They include, for example, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Serbian President Alekander Vucic
(https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/04/04/pro-putin-european-leaders-reassert-their-power). Italian and Austrian business leaders from the energy, finance, and agriculture sectors are reliable advocates for Russian ties and are critical of sanctions (https://carnegieendowment.org/2020/02/27/with-friends-like-these-kremlin-s-far-right-and-populist-connections-in-italy-and-austria-pub-81100). And there are 17 minor “insurgent parties” on the right that are “favorably inclined toward Russia”
Not to lose the point, the massive emigration from Ukraine driven by Russia’s invasion may well, sadly, redound to Putin’s political benefit if the war continues for months or years.
Effects #3 – Sanctions and the ramifications
There are other important issues stemming from Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine. For example, the US and allied imposition of sanctions is a significant issue. The sanctions – and they are being increased over time – are designed to reduce the foreign wealth assets of Putin and Russian oligarchs, to persuade American and Western companies to leave Russia, to drive down the availability of products available to Russian consumers and undermine the Russian economy, to have Russia default on his foreign loan obligations, to reduce access to dollar-based currency, to induce Germany and other countries to make plans to reduce their purchase of Russian natural gas and oil, and to curtail agricultural and other export products. The New York Times provides an extensive list of the sanctions imposed by the US (https://nytimes.com/article/russia-us-ukraine-sanctions.html).
It is too early to ascertain whether the sanctions will have the desired effects. In the meantime, Lawrence H. Tribe and Jeremy Lewin argue that, though sanctions should continue, there is a immediate way to support Ukrainian forces (https://nytimes.com/2022/04/15/opinion/russia-war-currency-reserves.html).
Mr. Tribe taught constitutional law at Harvard for 50 years. Mr. Lewin is in his third year at Harvard Law School. They propose the following.
“President Biden could liquidate the tens of billions of dollars the Russian central bank has parked in the United States as part of its foreign exchange reserves; by some estimates, those funds may total as much as $100 billion. These assets are already frozen at the Federal Reserve and other banks thanks to Treasury sanctions banning transactions with the Russian central bank. With new details of Russian atrocities making the prospect of lifting those sanctions increasingly untenable, those funds have, in effect, been seized indefinitely. Liquidating them now would not only be likely the fastest way to increase American aid to Ukraine without further burdening and fatiguing American taxpayers. It would also send a potent signal that the United States is committed to making even the world’s most powerful states pay for their war crimes.”
The effects of sanctions outside of Russia have been rising prices for natural gas and oil and for food. They, in turn, are a factor in the rising inflation in the US and around the world, where, especially in low-income countries, the effects are particularly severe (https://weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/ukraine-energy-and-food-radio-davos).
There is also concern that the politics of rising fuel prices may distract from efforts to deal with the climate crisis (https://nytimes.com/2022/03/10/climate/climate-oil-crisis-global.html).
The end of the war must rest on a negotiated settlement. Ukraine has implored Putin to negotiate meaningfully. The US and allied sanctions and increasing military support for Ukraine are designed to enable Ukraine to continue their resistance to the Russian invasion and pressure Putin to come to the table. But, instead, the Putin sends more troops to fight in their war, and the onslaught, destruction and death continue, while random bombing everywhere In Ukraaine terrorizes the population. Putin and his generals are clearly guilty of war crimes.
Underlying the escalating war, especially if the Ukrainians are able to continue their resistance and the sanctions have a great impact on Russia, Putin’s ace in the hole is his threat to use nuclear weapons. Both Russia and the US are responsible for the fact that each country has so many nuclear weapons and have failed themselves to negotiate an effective nuclear arms agreement.
Presently, the best that can be hoped for is that, with foreign assistance, Ukrainian forces will be able to keep the most of the country free of Russian control and that sooner than later there will be meaningful negotiations. That said – and repeated by so many – a negotiated settlement is likely to leave Ukraine partitioned, with the Donbas and southeastern part of the country turned into independent statelets.
What are the possible scenarios for ending the war? Tony Wood, previously cited, identifies five (https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii133/articles/tony-wood-matris-of-war).
“Five weeks in [now over 8 weeks in], it remains to be seen what the future course of the war will be. The worst possible scenario, involving full-scale war between the nato powers and Russia, has not yet materialized. But the longer the war continues, the higher the possibility of an escalation with potentially catastrophic consequences. Biden’s belligerent assertion on a visit to Poland in late March that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ increased the prospects of such an outcome. Already plainly implied by the West’s coordinated economic warfare, unprecedented in its scale, regime change has now been explicitly, if unofficially, posited as the goal of us policy.
“A second scenario would be a military defeat for Russia, with a combination of sanctions and us and European weapons shipments helping not just to stem the Russian advance but to force a retreat without any peace agreement. This seems unlikely in itself—the sheer size of the Russian military means they can continue to fight for some time given the political will—and in the absence of a peace settlement would amount to no more than a temporary respite for Ukraine.
“A third possibility, and the most disastrous for Ukraine, is the indefinite prolongation of the conflict, with the vastly larger Russian army facing off against Ukrainian forces being constantly rearmed by the us and European powers. The result would be to make Ukraine the site of a relentless proxy war, aid from the us and its allies helping to obstruct without neutralizing the destructive power of Russian arms. This is where the concerted policy of Western governments currently points, and the implications make a mockery of their apparent concerns for Ukrainians’ welfare….
“A fourth, less pessimistic scenario involves the swift agreement of a peace. By mid-March a new set of Russian demands had surfaced in talks between Ukrainian and Russian envoys: Ukrainian neutrality, recognition of Russian sovereignty in Crimea and of the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. In late March Ukrainian negotiators put forward a ten-point plan proposing the country adopt non-aligned and non-nuclear status, subject to a referendum, and that its security be guaranteed by a consortium of other states. Discussion of Crimea would be hived off into a separate bilateral process, and the Donbas was not mentioned. Whatever the contours of an eventual peace settlement, and for all the posturing by Washington and its allies, there seems to be broad agreement that nato membership for Ukraine should be foreclosed. Given how little protection the possibility of nato membership has given Ukraine, and how much nato itself did to make the conflict more likely in the first place, the Ukrainian populace may find that an acceptable condition for peace. But with Russian forces seemingly stalled in their advance, and us and European weapons continuing to flood in, the Ukrainian government may have diminishing incentives to accept a settlement at gunpoint, especially if they are being encouraged by their allies to believe those guns will eventually be forced to retreat. If further atrocities after those uncovered at Bucha in early April come to light, the moral case for negotiating a peace with Russia will also become even harder to make.
“A fifth possibility, somewhere between the two preceding scenarios, is that a military stalemate leads not to a peace settlement but to an armed truce. On one side, Russian occupying troops may end up in control of enough territory to enforce a de facto partition, while on the other Ukrainian forces, with nato backing, would stand emplaced behind front lines stretching over hundreds of miles. Russian moves, as of late March, to refocus military efforts on the Donbas distinctly signalled such a possibility. This would be a much larger-scale version of the fortified armistice line between North and South Korea, and would involve a permanent militarization not just of the polities on either side, but across much of Europe.”