The next week is shaping up to be a very interesting one for Ukraine. Under President Joseph R. Biden, the United States has escalated tensions by insisting Russia is planning to invade Ukraine and that terrible sanctions will be imposed, threatening the stability of the global economic system. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin also decided to raise the stakes in the poker game by extending military exercises of his troops beyond this weekend’s planned nuclear war readiness finale.
Why? The two leaders are playing tit for tat in their positional bargaining — with neither one wanting to lose face. Both sides claim they do not want to take any overt action.
Although the U.S. isn’t ready to protect Ukraine against an invasion, it continues to insist that sanctions are a hypothetical threat and should only be used if diplomacy fails.
The Kremlin similarly continues to insist that it has no actual plans to invade Ukraine and that its diplomatic goals are primarily about ensuring that NATO’s influence ceases to move eastward with their chosen “line in the sand” at the western border of Ukraine.
Because Ukraine tried to reconcile allegiances with both east and west after the Soviet Union collapsed, this is why there’s currently a diplomatic impasse.
Ukraine was once a USSR core republic. It was the now long-gone superpower’s western frontier. In my younger days as a military analyst, I remember the Ukraine frontier most as that place where the railroad gauges changed from standard gauge of Western Europe’s rail lines to the 5-foot gauge of the Soviet Union.
It was the land of marshalling yards, where Eastern district military units of the USSR would have to change trains to reinforce the tank armies stationed in the Warsaw Pact, if war were to break out on the plains of the Germany’s Fulda Gap. It was a place to play offbeat versions of “War Games” and learn how wars can be won or lost by starving the front lines of resources being ground into junk by the intensity of mechanized front warfare.
It was kind of a fun part of the game because there weren’t too many force structure assets working that far back from the FLOT. I remember running into another one milling around back there that, at the time, went by the codename “Have Blue,” later known as the F-117A Stealth Fighter. For those of you that are into Cold War history, the crossover point was my attraction to making use of the then-new I-2000 bomb warhead that fit neatly into the angular jet’s weapons bay.
Let’s just say that this means that I now know more about how vital Ukraine is for the military power balance East-West. Ukraine is strategically important. The General Staff of Russian Federation wants to put a stop to this. NATO’s presence in Ukraine has meant that all five feet of the rail gauge from Russia to China can be used to transport invader armies deep inside Eurasia. This is from the same marshaling yards where it was my duty to find a way to stop the Soviets reaching the White Cliffs at Dover.
I don’t know whether Joe Biden or the Washington, D.C., Establishment pundits fully realize the significance of this, and how it affects the current political impasse. I’m not sure anyone in the West still remembers how to calculate existential risk assessments from both the Western and Russian perspectives in parallel, to see how the net assessment identifies better ways to preserve global stability. From all the punditry I’ve been soaking in in the past weeks, watching endless amounts of raw material in countless Zooms and YouTubes, I’m thinking not.
I’m seeing way too much of the self-soothing analyses that got nowhere in the Cold War, and too little of the breaths of fresh air that led to constructive agreements and peace dividends. But the Unites States should take such things into account, I think, as we push Putin’s buttons and put Russia into a corner from which the bear must, at some point, lash back.
The consequences of future invading-sanctions state are not yet contained.
At the moment, I only hear about how great it would be for me to go back to the Cold War days. This is rubbish! I haven’t heard one tiny bit of how we intend to manage stability over a protracted period of economic and kinetic tension from the U.S. policy in the community. This lack of thought is scary.
The future will see the US Navy being challenged by hypersonic weaponry from China and Russia on high seas. There’s a target in the shape of a U.S. aircraft carrier and an Aegis missile cruiser scratched into a metered test range in the middle of the Chinese desert.
Our nuclear force posture is stuck in Cold War configuration, with an antiquated strategy using oversize yield warheads that can’t be used without triggering an immediate escalation to general nuclear war. We have missed out on the opportunity to modernize and make lower yield, flexible inventory investments. This was possible with tighter precision technology. We’ve let our nuclear weapons development infrastructure degrade to the point that it’s a maintenance facility instead of a continuous improvement capability to meet new missions and threat pivots.
The Russians didn’t miss that boat. That is why this weekend’s pre-planned nuclear war scenario exercises in Ukraine and Belarus by the military forces of the Russian Federation are an actual capabilities assessment drill. I’m pretty sure the mythical computer “Joshua” from that old ’80s movie would have some scenarios now where the ability of the U.S. to ensure credible deterrence by preventing the opponent from any path to checkmate us is no longer clear. I do hear lament from the community that this is so, but I don’t really see much new in U.S. doctrine for isolated, limited, theater, general, or protracted nuclear conflicts.
The Department of Defense’s senior leadership is spending more time talking about diversity programs than lobbying Congress for funds to rebuild the US force structure in response to evolving threats.
Let’s face it. It is time to demobilize the U.S. force projection capabilities; our enemies can clearly see it.
Zelensky & Putin
Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is the man I believe will be watching this week. He’s the man holding the key to diffusing the tension.
Zelensky has begun to show some impatience with the West’s claims that invasion was imminent. Zelensky expressed frustration with West’s claims of imminent invasion.
It’s a legitimate question.If invasion is inevitable, why shouldn’t the U.S. and its allies begin to economically block Russia’s access to the global trade and financial system, and use that leverage to force diplomatic concessions about honoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and right to determine if it wants to join NATO? Why shouldn’t the United States release strategic reserves of oil to drive the spot market price down and begin to limit the ability of Russia to use the high price of oil to pay for a permanent state of military exercises for its troops in Russia and Belarus? Why won’t the U.S. put its money where its mouth is?
This question may be answered by the U.S. being wrong. Perhaps the Kremlin lies to you and says they don’t intend on invading Ukraine. Perhaps Putin’s real goal right now is for Ukraine not to become NATO.
This week it comes down to Zelensky’s making the call. He is in a position to use his country’s right of self-determination to declare that the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine wishes to continue to pursue a middle ground between East and West for the foreseeable future. Zelensky could cut a deal with Putin that, in exchange for respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty, the Ukrainians will defer consideration of applying for NATO membership until such time that the economic and political relations of the spheres of influence between East and West are more stable and cordial. Technically, there’s no need to run into NATO’s arms to protect Ukraine from Russian invasion — if Russian isn’t invading.
Ukraine wants to maintain good relationships with its neighbours and to be an example for East and West. So, the only ask Zelensky should make of Putin in his phone call is that, as part of Russia’s agreement to peace, it will not interfere with Ukraine establishing better economic relations with the European Union.
That’s kind of where this journey began for Ukraine when the walls fell. I’ll be curious to see if Zelensky asks for it or if Putin offers it. This gambit is open to either chess player.