Thursday, December 29, 2016

Russia Works the Problems

Russia has seized Crimea and portions of the Donbas from Ukraine. The Russian subliminal war continues to rage, turned up and down in intensity at the discretion of Moscow. How long will Ukraine lean toward the West if the West is content to let this war drag on with Ukraine always on the defensive?

How is it possible that Ukraine under attack by Russia could lose faith in joining the West?

Two years ago, many had hopes for a closer association with Europe, seen then as a beacon of rule of law and better prospects, in contrast to the corruption and proizvol (arbitrariness) of Putin’s Russia. Yet there is now a post-Maidan disenchantment with Europe. Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that key member states have dragged their feet and failed to honour their promises to Ukraine. There is also a logical concern about the rise of anti-migration and Putin-friendly forces on both sides of the Atlantic, and questions about the future of the EU. These add to tensions resulting from war against Russia and its proxies in the East, with its human toll and polarizing political impact.

Oligarch-run media outlets and populist leaders increasingly promote anti-EU messages that would not look out of place in Brexit Britain. And pro EU Maidan actors and government officials, weary after years of hard work in a deteriorated political context, complain that “the EU is not delivering” – critiques amplified by their political opponents.

Well, one problem is defining "the West" as synonymous with the European Union proto-empire that is anti-Western, in my view. Blaming flagging Ukrainian faith in the West on the EU's failures and problems that Britain is successfully escaping seems wrong-headed to me.

If America and NATO states backed Ukraine more in an effort to wage war on Russia's hand puppet separatists in the Donbas and supported Ukrainian efforts to build up forces to attack Russia's Crimean jewels of bases around Sevastopol, maybe Ukrainians would have more faith in the West.

But Russia did not give up on pulling Ukraine into their orbit despite the initial handicap of invading Ukraine. You have to admire Russian willingness to work a problem no matter how bad it looks.

See Syria for example, where Russia sided with the apparently doomed Assad and now looks to exploit the Aleppo victory by assuring Assad's continued rule.

America, by contrast, always held back from working the Assad problem in a vain search for a "silver bullet" perfect rebel faction.

Russia is willing to start small with imperfect allies and work the problem. Like in Hungary:

That Russia, a nation intensely proud of its huge role in the defeat of Hitler’s Germany in World War II, would want anything to do with marginal, anti-Semitic crackpots who revere Hitler’s wartime allies in Hungary might, at first glance, seem beyond comprehension.

But Andras Racz, a Russia expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said it fit into a scattershot strategy of placing small bets, directly or through proxies, on ready-made fringe groups in an effort to destabilize or simply disorient the European Union.

Talk about an imperfect ally! But that does not deter the Russians. They work the problem.

Good Lord, in a sea of NATO, Russia is still making a play for Serbia, where Russia intervened in 1999 following the NATO air campaign against Serbia over the fate of Kosovo, by donating big-ticket weapons:

The main part of the donation is for six surplus MiG-29 'Fulcrum' fighter aircraft, a long-standing requirement for the Serbian Air Force. Also included in the deal was a donation of 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armoured reconnaissance vehicles.

And note Libya, as well. The Obama administration twisted an Arab League and UN Security Council mandate to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to protect people from Khadaffi's loyalists--that's why Russia didn't veto the resolution--into a regime change air war.

Russia has responded to the chaos by stepping into that mess to gain influence by offering support to Haftar (a former Khadaffi general who our CIA once had ties to):

Flush with success in supporting his ally in Syria, Vladimir Putin has a new ambition: supporting another one, this time in Libya. The effort is beginning to undermine the UN-backed government there.

Russian President Putin’s government is befriending a powerful military leader, Khalifa Haftar, who now controls more territory than any other faction in the tumultuous, oil-rich North African state. In two visits to Moscow in the past half-year, Haftar met the defense and foreign ministers, plus the national-security chief, to seek support. A top ally also visited last week and Russia is supplying funds and military expertise to Haftar’s base in the east.

I don't understand why we didn't back Haftar (or Hiftar), who Egypt and the UAE have supported, in joining the UN-recognized government rather than stiff-arm him.

The French had linked up with Hiftar, once. What happened? Why is there room for Russia to work the problem?

So now Putin has taken another step toward a stronger presence in the Mediterranean Sea that will add to Russia's gain in Crimea, which allows power projection into the Mediterranean Sea; and Syria, which provides a base in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for Russian ships and planes.

I did mention this Libya potential as part of a Russian Mediterranean gambit.

When enemies don't resist, a small start just means the journey takes longer--not that it is impossible to get there.

So don't assume that Ukraine is forever in the western camp despite the Russian handicap of invading and dismembering Ukraine. Russia, nation of paranoid nutballs though they are, works the problems.

UPDATE: Russia works the problem in Afghanistan, too, with the help of their Iranian friends.

Why we aren't working hard with rebels in Syria and with Ukraine to send Russian troops back home in body bags is beyond me.