The Current Tension Over Ukraine Is Full of Difficult Miscalculations – Opinion

Cold War tensions were reawakened by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s continued threat to Ukraine. Daily emails are flooding my inbox from US think tanks analysing every facet of the Ukrainian crisis. Things have been evolving since my previous piece, “US and Allies Raise Stakes, Turning Putin’s Ukraine Fantasy into Risky Nightmare.”

Establishment in Action

The so-called “Washington Establishment” of the United States is back in business. This is an artifact of the 2020 election, when Joe Biden’s “work with the establishment” administration displaced Donald Trump’s “outsider” agenda.

On January 28, I sat in on the Pentagon briefing.ThLloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense; General Mark Milley is Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Austin led his opening remarks talking about Ukraine, and ended it with noting that the Administration is actively in the process of continuing to re-shape the culture of the US military, itself putting on display that “establishment D.C.” still needs to deal with the “other outsider” agenda faction, the Progressive Left. My colleague streiff also watched the press conference and reported his take, “Why Today’s Austin-Milley Press Conference Convinces Me That Joe Biden Wants Conflict With Russia in Ukraine.”

General Milley however was very businesslike. He focused on U.S. rhetoric to possibly turn Ukraine into an American do-over at Fulda Gap. These are the areas of Germany in which NATO prepared to repel Soviet tanks during the Cold War.

Media are in a rush to cover Ukraine. They want to know how locals react to being at the centre of the bullseye. Ukraine has been in Russia’s sights since 2014, when Putin’s forces annexed Crimea in violation of the 1994 Budapest Agreement, where Russia pledged to honor the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine. Over the next few days, more information will be available about what ordinary Ukrainians think about being between the two tigers.

Many think-tank experts are speculating about whether the Russian president is displaying seasonal posturing. This winter, he has spent money on deploying one third of his armed force. They focus on time not being on Putin’s side, if he wishes to use his ground forces in an invasion. The Russian tank army is the main concern. Ukraine then becomes an inhospitable bog once the spring thaw arrives. That makes Ukraine a poor operating area for mechanized units. Each U.S. or NATO shipment brings more risk to the invasion scenario. Putin and his generals also know this and realize the limitations of an economy with a GDP of $1.43 trillion to wage such a war.

Fans of the Cold War are nostalgic and speculate about the militarization in Europe. The rumors about the US and NATO’s plans to send forces to eastern Europe in countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary are exaggerated. You can taste the prospect of a new round of contractor opportunity, if Putin’s maneuvers into Crimea, Belarus, and even Moldova become permanent fixtures of Eastern Europe’s new normal. Everyone can live in a new Cold War with Ukraine as a donut hole, waiting for the right flavor to fill it.

Others analyze the economic and diplomatic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This will result in a devastating war for Ukraine that could decimate its already impoverished population and further plunge it into disaster.

While the official line is that these military preparation and sanctions are simply being “threatened” to force the Russians to abandon conquest and return to the bargaining table, the fact of the matter is even in this scenario, the damage will have already been done. However, entropy is only one-way. The price for this new era of global commerce will be the same as it was before.

Many want this, disturbingly. These people see other opportunities. Instead of Russian oil and gas supplying Western Europe’s needs that the EU has been pursuing to reduce dependence on Middle Eastern sources, Europe will pivot and again covet the Islamic world building pipelines running through NATO countries, after going through a newly important Turkey or crossing the Mediterranean through places like Syria and Lebanon. There is all of the national building, colonialism, crusading, and nation building that will come with exchanging complicated economic partnerships for another. China offers an alternative to the U.S.-NATO rivalry, in which it seeks resources and influence all over the globe.

It’s not just oil and gas to the EU that will be affected by the loss of free trade. The loss of free trade will have a profound impact on the lives and well-being of ordinary Americans. The path back to Cold War aggression will lead Americans to lose aspects of their quality of life, which they take as given. It’s estimated that up to 40 percent of ammunition sold in the United States to the recreational shooting market is sourced from Europe and Russia. If tensions persist, this supply chain will end. Instead of being used to fire at Ukraine, the ammunition is stored in preparations. To meet this demand, the only way to do so would be to create new domestic industrial capacity, which, frankly speaking, is a form war mobilization.

The Wrong Headed Thinking

This is why I think the U.S., NATO and Russia’s present posture is an ineffective solution. It’s a loser to go down this path of armed camps, and begets deterrence and global stability version of the world. Although we might avoid war, prosperity will come at a high price.

I find this a misguided way to tackle the problem. The problem is being solved by producing a sub-optimal solution. The result will be disappointing for all the parties.

Vladimir Putin is to blame for everything.  More precisely, the Russian leader’s miscalculations about the United States and the infeasibility of his demands.

Putin badly misjudged the events of the U.S.’s 2020 Presidential election, mistaking America’s penchant to argue like a dysfunctional family as a breakdown in the country’s capacity to rally. Correctly, he noted that D.C.’s establishment was the true winner. He thought that this was due to chaotic changes in Congress and federal apparatus. The debacle at Afghanistan was seen by him as an indication of ineptness of the Biden administration in managing foreign affairs. This assessment, in August 2021, is arguably correct. He believed that our international prestige was so damaged, he could profit from the vacuum.

Putin made a huge mistake. Let’s be clear here, the United States is exceptionally good at making the same foreign policy mistakes over and over. It is an endless web of disillusioned agendas, all looking to make a comeback. America runs on an autopilot from Washington Beltway. Putin also made the error of creating the ideal petri dish to instruct the US President to plant Stinger surface to-to-air missiles and Javelin anti tank missiles in Ukraine.

But for what purpose?  This alpha military posture was all about trying to win the long-standing but unattainable Russian demands for membership in the Western Alliance. They’ve been repeated. The West has repeatedly denied them. Specifically, Putin’s demands are:

  • To stop further NATO expansion
  • not deploying offensive weapons near Russia’s borders,
  • returning NATO “military capabilities and infrastructure” to how they were before former Warsaw Pact states in Eastern Europe joined the alliance,
  • This is a guarantee that Ukraine won’t be able to join NATO indefinitely.

For starters, the former Warsaw Pact nations and Soviet republics joined NATO, and are now part of the European Union. In 1999, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia joined. Bulgaria, Romania (Slovenia, Slovenia), Slovakia, Lithuania and Latvia joined NATO in 2004. Five hundred miles away from the end of Western Europe, they moved it to the east creating an international land bridge that links early NATO member countries Greece and Turkey.

The influx of the poorer nations into the west has caused havoc. It is now a test of how far the wealthier countries of the European Union can absorb the reconstruction costs of those countries which have not fully recovered since World War II and joined NATO. It’s been a difficult,18 years of integration that has exposed rifts among members, most notably in the decision by the U.K. to exit the European Union portion of the alliance.

With its 44 million people and $155.6B in GDP, Ukraine is a concern for Russia and the West. Germany was not an original NATO member when the organization was created. However, it rebounded from World War II and became the largest GDP country in the alliance with $3.8 Trillion USD.  The implied subsidies cost meant that the Germans were reluctant to admit Ukraine into NATO in 2021.

Putin needs to ask the same questions regarding adding another economic link to an already weak hand in his country’s economy.

I have always thought that Putin’s demand to stop Russia from deploying offensive weapons near Russia is a projection of himself to his enemies. Putin is able to see the West as plotting to invade him, and he can also see Putin himself. However, there’s no Western tank arm. There is no NATO general staff that plans a robotic, air-land campaign for executing a 21StOperation Barbarossa was launched in the century to overthrow the Tsarist Empire.

The real “offensive” weapon of the WeStern Alliance slowly encroaching towards the Russian heartland is economic opportunity, that disparity of wealth between the 1stWorld economy and poorer warrens. This is the asymmetric offensive threat to the crumbling Tzarist Empire of Mr. Putin’s dreams for his country. The fact is, Russia cannot stop the encroaching power. This was the first to fall when the Berlin Wall fell; it is now gone more than 2022.

Entropy is a one-way process, as I have already stated. There is no such thing as “returning the military capabilities and infrastructure” of the former Warsaw Pact back to the way it was. By moving one-third his army into Crimea, Belarus and Hungary, Putin has made countries such as Poland, Hungary and Romania more militarized. His actions undermine the things he really wants.

No one can guarantee Ukraine’s exclusion from NATO membership forever. It’s not Russia or America.

Strategically for his country’s interests, Putin doesn’t want Ukraine in NATO because that will keep them weak and vulnerable with respect to Russia. But that’s not a legitimate ask by him, for forty-four million people to remain impoverished, if the opportunity to improve their lot by joining the West presents itself.

But bear in mind that Putin isn’t the only one hesitant about Ukraine joining NATO. For most of 2021, the Germans weren’t so sure it was a promising idea to pick up another economic assistance case.

The problem for both the Germans and the Russians is that Ukraine is now becoming America’s war.  Establishment America is now a chew toy in Ukraine, after having failed a twenty-year attempt at nation building in Afghanistan. DC is an institution that feeds off its own routines. Evidently, the Beltway has fallen in love with a cause that lets everyone know what A.D.H.D. is. Hyper-concentrate on the latest, 20-year old debacle.

It doesn’t seem like the Biden Administration has informed Americans in full that we will be taking over the leadership of the battle to bring Ukraine into the 2nd World.StThe world community is making the same type of commitment George Bush made when he went into Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s not part of the narrative to question what our motives are, other than to prove that Vladimir Putin was right that someone is planning to take down his motherland.

Would ordinary Americans agree to take over Ukraine’s protection if this question was asked?  Is it possible to start a 21st Century?StCentury Marshall Plan: To improve the economic situation of fourty-four million people at the other end of the globe?  This plan has significant mission creep problems. Ukraine is not alone in the need for economic development.

Then there’s the equally important question of: would the countries of NATO and the European Union say yes to making Ukraine the next steppingstone in an asymmetric strategy to expand western influence deeper into the Caucuses? Particularly so, knowing that is the deep fear the Vladimir Putin’s Russia wishes to prevent.

Our record of accomplishment for this type of Roman Empire meddling hasn’t been good. You can ask the Taliban to confirm.

Is there anything that could be done?

Back in the 80’s, when I was steeped in the world of arms control looking for a way to end the Cold War before we accidentally blew up the planet, I learned that set-piece conflict deterrence had limitations.  A line from the movie “War Games” said it all, “Strange Game. The only winning move is not to play.” Finding that magic path to get all parties to say “yes” to a negotiated solution was a hallmark of a remarkable process.

There are some very honest things we need to share about Ukraine.

The Russians must first recognize the fact that their sovereignty is not under military threat. It’s a myth. Recognizing this fact is the first step towards the next wave demobilization following World War II. That one-third of Russia’s expensive military machine is about as useful for the future as the Soviet military that hung on well after the Great Patriotic War was done. The bottom line remains that, “Analysis: Putin’s Dangerous Ukraine Brinksmanship Fantasy Needs to Stop”.

The second is that Russia and Europe must recognize the economic potential of Ukraine as an asymmetric force that can be dealt with. It is stronger than any army. It is important for Russia and the EU that Ukraine be seen not only as a battlefield of willful wills but also as an opportunity to experiment with the integration long-standing interests into something which will work across Eurasia.

There is an argument to be made that both sides should discuss the possibility of a temporary period of tension relief experimentation, with Ukraine as a potential beneficiary. It is important to replace bitterness with sweetness and avoid using anti-tank rockets. When spring comes, the land turns to wet bog, the troops on exercise return to their bases, and calmer heads have had time to assess what comes next, that’s when something productive can happen.

In the meantime, it’s okay to let the reflexive actions of the set-piece battles generals and politicians work themselves into a frenzy that ends with creating an outcome of “all quiet on the front.”

Third, Americans, not just government but ordinary people too, need to search our souls and ask: do we really want to be the ones that get blamed for turning Europe into a Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) that will have to give way to something where we are not needed, or wanted … again?

Americans like the thrill of the moment, as do our bureaucrats. This may be detrimental to the long term.

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