Thursday, February 27, 2014

Everybody’s Getting “Nulanded” When It Comes to Ukraine




Think I understand the U.S. thinking in bulldozing ahead with the Ukraine coup despite the collywobbles of the EU.

The EU wanted to keep Russia on board with the transitional government.

The U.S. said, F*ck the EU, we’re going to make a statement in Ukraine.  So they pushed the coup through to its conclusion and put in power a government that wants to have nothing to do with Russia.

In other words, F*ck Russia. 
 
The objective was to present Putin with an unpalatable choice.

He could either make a spectacle of his impotence by doing nothing, which will probably encourage anti-Russian states in the near beyond and also empower pro-US fans of the “occupy the square and make a ruckus” persuasion in Russia’s allied neighbors like Belarus and maybe in Moscow itself;
Or Russia could try a more forcible response, in which case it would be excoriated and ostracized as the bad guy of Eurasia one more time.

I expect that the U.S. response to the EU concern that, by blowing up the transitional arrangement, it was wrecking Ukraine’s best chance to get out of the mess as part of a Western/Russian condominium, is that Putin will be subjected to a vigorous shaming campaign if he doesn’t swallow his resentment and help out the Ukraine.

In order to lay the foundation for this likely development, the Ukrainian coup is getting a PR makeover almost laughable in its rapidity.

To deny any justification for Russian disgruntlement, the coup—which, for months, was clearly pitched as an initiative by pro-European/anti-Russian ethnic Ukrainians in the West to forestall the criminal negligence by the pro-Russian government of putting its eggs in the Russian Customs Union basket instead of proceeding with the EU agreement—is being repackaged as a unified national revolution against the insane kleptocracy of designated fall guy Yanyukovich.

Despite the awkward optics of alleged Queen of the Kleptocrats Yulya Timoshenko taking her place in the new government, the new, improved Ukraine revolution product a.k.a. Coup Two has been simultaneously rolled out in fora as diverse as John Kerry’s press conference in Washington and in the anti-Putin Moscow Times.   

And I expect that the new government will be prevailed upon to deny its undeniable anti-Russian roots by repealing the embarrassing law that superseded the previous acceptance of Russian as an official language with a ban on the use of anything but Ukrainian in government business.

Thesis: If all the Ukrainian revolution wanted to do was kick some corrupt dirtbags out of office and had no grudge against Russia, in other words, how could Vladimir Putin be so mean to the Ukrainians as to let them stew in their own juice?

If Putin gets obstreperous about ethnic Russians in Crimea, the security of the Black Fleet naval base at Sebastopol, renegotiating the concessional price for gas, recognizing the new government, or holding back on the rest of the $15 billion previously promised to Yanyukovich…well, I think the op-eds have already been written.

And if Ukraine turns to ordure as a result of national division, IMF austerity, and an economic rupture with Russia, I can hear Victoria Nuland saying, F*ck Ukraine.  It was already f*cked anyway.

In honor of this development, I’ve written a little poem:

An American Poem for the EU, Russia, and Ukraine


We did the coup;

Nothing you can do.

So ignore the pain

And help out Ukraine

Or we’ll do the work

To make you look like a jerk

And you’ll all be Nulanded together!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ukraine's Got Problems? Blame Russia!



Orwell would be pleased that the pro-European opposition in the Ukraine stuck it to Putin and the ex-Bolshies.

Maybe he would have been less pleased with the linguistic legerdemain that is emerging the as the mainstay of the new Ukrainian regime.

The current situation in Ukraine is apparently pretty grim: flatlining growth, imminent insolvency, consternation and anger among the sizable ethnic-Russian community, a whiff of separatism in the Crimea, a bunch of outright Fascists who apparently see the coup as their Reichstag moment and a chance to bully their way into control of a decisive bloc of votes in the Parliament…

And it looks like the US-inspired coup that blew away an EU-sponsored transition pact has also stripped away Russian (as in Putin) and ethnic-Russian (as in the eastern & southern portions of the country) enthusiasm for helping the new government out in dealing with Ukraine’s difficulties.

Unless Russia can be prevailed upon to pony up the remaining $12 billion of the $15 billion it promised Yanyukovich, the new government is going to have to turn to the EU for the Western financial shovels that, hopefully, will dig the Ukraine out of its hole instead of digging it deeper.

Apparently, the standard recipe for a country that can’t pay its bills (Ukraine is looking at a couple of likely bond defaults this summer) is an IMF rescue package contingent on implementation of austerity measures.

In human terms, the prescription is for pain: devaluing the currency to boost exports (while making imports more expensive), making the economic environment more attractive for foreign investment (depressed wages, business-friendly laws & regs), and keeping the foreign bondholders happy (balanced budgets, focus on debt repayment, bye-bye services, pensions, & deficit stimulus).

The key question will be if misery achieves the level of Greece & Spain (likely) and if Ukraine will turn the corner toward economic growth with reasonable alacrity (?). 

Thanks to the precipitous success of the coup, the new government finds itself with the prospect of the Ukrainian engine firing on only the European half of its geopolitical cylinders and a significant portion of the electorate presumably displeased with the Hobson’s choice of IMF austerity that the coup has forced upon it.

As a matter of human nature and political calculation, there is an obvious response to the new Ukranian government’s largely self-and-West-inflicted problem: Blame Russia!

Blaming Russia takes a certain amount of heavy lifting because Russia, while propping up Yanyukovich with the $15 billion loan and some bond purchases, was conspicuously passive during the crisis.  Yanyukovich was apparently no particular friend of Putin, and Medvedev openly berated him for being a doormat in the final days.  Russia let Yanyukovich stew in his own juice and, when he abandoned his presidential post, dropped him like a hot potato.

The EU and the United States, on the other hand, enthusiastically supported the opposition demonstrators, even when things got spectacularly ugly and, with the threat of sanctions (and probably more) materially supported—one might say *ahem* meddled in--Ukrainian domestic politics.

Fortunately, the Ukraine’s new rulers can count on the assistance of the West, if not with substantive assistance, then with vociferous lip service in blaming Russia for Ukraine’s difficulties.

With the fragrant smell of buyer’s remorse filling the international space, obviously it was time to turn to themes more pleasant than “Maybe America sh*t the bed in Ukraine”.  Unleash the pro-Western diplomats, pundits, and correspondents!

NATO’s Anders Rasmussen obligingly reframed the ruckus in Ukraine as “freedom fighters v. autocrats” conveniently forgetting that Yanyukovich had achieved the presidency after a closely contested election that had received the “free and fair” stamp of approval.

"We stand ready to continue assisting Ukraine in its democratic reforms..."

John Kerry also stepped up to remind the world that the real problem was not a reckless and divisive coup rather irresponsibly encouraged by the United States.  And by the way, the fight hadn’t been over the Russian vs. EU orientation of the country.  With the publicizing of Yanyukovich’s gold-plated ostrich farm, it was time to roll out some new product: people vs. kleptocracy! while skating past awkward details like the enormous wealth somehow accummulated newly released heroine Yulia Tymoshenko:

Some Russian officials accuse the West of being behind the revolt against Yanukovych. U.S. and European officials have adamantly denied such allegations.

Kerry said the Ukrainian people had risen up themselves against a "kleptocracy" and added that he suspected that some elements in Russia had advised Yanukovych to crack down hard on his opponents.

And let’s not forget the Karl Rove jiu-jitsu move (the legendary strategist’s tactic of attacking an opponent’s strong point in order to turn it into a weakness.  Most famous victim: John Kerry, whose military heroics trump card was Swift-boated into an electoral liability in the 2004 presidential campaign).  So Russia didn’t intervene in Ukraine like the US did; well, it might.  

"I think Russia needs to be very careful in the judgments that it makes going forward here," Kerry said. "We are not looking for confrontation, but we are making it clear that every country should respect the territorial integrity, the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia has said it will do that, and we think it's important that Russia keeps its word."

Most remarkably, Kerry also took the opportunity to stir the pot in Georgia (the Central Asian Georgia we want to integrate into the EU and NATO, not Hoagy Carmichael’s), since he was speaking at the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Partnership Commission:

[Kerry] announced additional, but unspecified, U.S. assistance "to help support Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic vision." And, he denounced Russia's continued military presence in the breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the cease-fire that ended the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict.

With all this going on, this assurance rang rather hollow:

"What we need now to do is not get into an old, Cold War confrontation," he said. "We need to work together in what does not have to be a zero-sum game to provide the capacity of the people of Ukraine to choose their future."

Since Kerry has given virtually the same assurances to the People’s Republic of China, there was probably a lot of cynical eye-rolling among the mandarins in Beijing.

AP ‘s Matthew Lee bylined this piece and deserves special mention for a misleading reference to the 2008 Georgia War:

Those steps have raised fears of possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine along the lines of its 2008 operation in Georgia, which was condemned by the United States and its European allies.

A quick review of the Wikipedia page for the Georgia War will inform the vast armies of the clueless in the West that it was Georgian forces that attacked South Ossetia—a largely Russian enclave which had broken away in the early 1990s and was patrolled by Russian peacekeepers under an agreement with Georgia—in an attempt to reconquer the wayward province, and got their asses handed to them in a Russian counterattack.

First irony alert: Georgia’s President at the time, Mikheil Saakashvili—a mainstay of the US-backed GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) alliance of pro-NATO anti-Russian states--launched the attack during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  Efforts to create a pattern of Olympic-related Russian misbehavior, as was done during the Ukrainian crisis, are BS.  On the other hand, it looks like the West prefers to conduct its skullduggery at Olympic-time, when Putin is obliged to be on his best, global-buddy behavior.

Second, the truce agreement covering South Ossetia and Abkhazia—the one that Saakashvili broke—was signed in Sochi in 1992.

Third, and hopefully last irony alert.  Saakashvili tried to bring his talents to the Ukraine in December as a member of a delegation of CANVAS, the U.S. supported democratization/color revolution outfit, but was declared persona non grata by the Ukrainian government, together with three dozen other CANVAS worthies who adore democracy but apparently don’t adore all democratically-elected governments.

As a concrete matter, I do not believe that Russia will be very interested in trying to reabsorb the Crimea, even if the local ethnic-Russian population cobbles together an independence movement (the province is already largely autonomous and has replaced the mayor of Sebastopol and taken a variety of other measures to prevent Kiev’s writ from ruling in Crimea) as the South Ossetians did.  

There are 250,000 or so Tatars in Crimea, about 12% of the population, and they hate the Russians with a passion and good reason.  Over 100,000 Crimean Tartars died at Stalin’s hands in the 1930s and, when Hitler’s armies arrived, there were a significant number of Crimean Tatar collaborators (as there were ethnic Ukrainian collaborators).  As a result, the Soviet Union deported the entire Tatar population after World War II and almost half of the deportees perished from hunger and disease.  The rest returned to their homeland after perestroika and, after independence, set up their own independent political body, Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, which declared sovereignty over the Crimean Tartar people, with a flag and national anthem.  Living in a predominantly Russian district, the Crimean Tatars are vigilant against renewed Russian perfidy.

With this historical and organizational context, it is not surprising that the Tatars were able to put thousands of people on the streets of Simferopol, a regional capital in Crimea, pronto, to face down a few hundred ethnic Russians who were agitating about independence after the coup.

And, for extra credit, the Tatars are Muslim, and some were chanting allahu akhbar and “Tahrir Square” during the confrontation.

No, Russia does not want a piece of another Islam-inflected resistance movement and I expect Vladimir Putin has no plans to try to annex the Crimea.

Of course, if the Black Sea Fleet facilities are threatened, it’s a whole ‘nuther ball game, and I suspect that the Russian military drill that got everybody up in arms today, as well as Moscow’s undoubted behind-the-scenes machinations in the Crimea, have that particular contingency in mind.

The biggest problem for image-makers in the West and in Kiev will be to gloss over the Ukrainian-chauvinist feelings in the central government by celebrating painstaking efforts to set up a “unity” government (while ignoring the sizable contingent of out-and-out Ukrainian fascists who were central to the coup’s success, and embarrassing artifacts like the outlawing of Russian as an official language).

In this context, the anxieties of the ethnic Russians in the Crimea is a godsend, because lets the government and its Western allies conflate ethnic and regional resistance to the central government with Russian meddling.

The Guardian is already enthusiastically on board.

In its first version of the report on the Russian military drill , the lede described the Russian military exercise as:

…a move that will dramatically elevate fears of a separatist threat in Ukraine.

When the article was updated, cooler heads probably prevailed and the lede morphed into the marginally more accurate:

…appeared to be a display of sabre-rattling aimed at the new government in Kiev.

Who knows what refinements the next edition will bring.

What will be particularly interesting will be the effort to try to get Russia to bring a few billions to the table to help with the bailout, while at the same time berating Russia for fostering dissatisfaction with the current government.  Heroic efforts by the Guardian and the rest of Western prestige media will be needed to keep that particular ball rolling.

But no matter the context, and in direct proportion to the floundering of the West-backed government, expect Russia to be the propaganda gift that keeps on giving.





Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Was the Ukraine Coup America’s Main Event at the Sochi Olympics?




In my previous post, I speculated that the US and EU orchestrated the climax of the Ukraine crisis to occur while Vlad was preoccupied with presiding over his beloved Olympics, and unwilling or unable to destroy the soft power vibe by intervening forcefully in the Ukraine, or even giving the matter his more complete attention.

Clever, clever America, if this was the case.

Of course, with what we know now about the aggressive Western destabilization effort in Ukraine—which included subversion, coercion, and even comfort and aid to violent insurrectionists against Yanukovich’s hapless elected government—it is rather ironic that the Western media anointed Putin History’s Greatest Monster February 2014 Edition.

You remember that, don’t you?  The mean, anti-democratic, gay-hating, Pussy-Riot whipping autocrat who might unleash tyrannical Russian might against the freedom fighters in Maidan Square?

Well, it is also ironic that Putin preached non-intervention and let Ukraine (and Yanukovich, obviously not his BFF) stew, while it was the West and the ever-reliable Western media that engaged in active cheerleading and more, intervening in Ukraine to facilitate the overthrow of an elected government on Russia’s borders.

Wait a minute.  Maybe that’s too ironic.  Maybe it was intentional.  Maybe the Western campaign against Putin and Sochi was part of the pre-emptive framing effort to depict events in Ukraine as a struggle of freedom-loving Euro-Ukrainians against the Evil Empire.

I always thought the ostensible reason for the near universal boycott of the Sochi opening ceremonies by President Obama and the EU states always smelled a little fishy.  As I recall, the guy who runs Belgium was the only Atlantic leader who showed up.

Of course, nobody said We’re boycotting.  It was just, we’re too busy, (F*ck you Vladimir). 
 
There was considerable rumbling in the Western press, I recall, that the forces of freedom were dumping on Putin and Sochi because of the anti-gay propaganda law, a justification that has a few holes in it, considering that the legal position of LGBTs is more protected in Russia than it is in several US states.  And let’s not forget the brutal oppression of stray dogs—cute, cuddly puppies!—by the heartless Russian bear.

Maybe the Sochi-time hostility was more a matter of making sure that Putin and Russia were on the wrong side of global opinion—and less likely to risk spoiling the optics of the Games by throwing themselves into a regional crisis—when Ukraine finally blew up.

As to why the United States was so keen to hand Russia a geopolitical loss, maybe it has to do with support for the EU’s long-standing desire to wrench Ukraine into the Western column.

I hope so.

Because an alternate possibility is that the United States did it for revenge, to punish Putin for not going along with the US program on Syria.

That’s not great because, if so, the decision might have been made out of short-sighted spite, and the West might have taken sole custody of the Ukrainian tar baby just as its finances are teetering to collapse and the split between eastern and western Ukrainians threatens to turn into a permanent rift.

It would be…ironic! There’s that word again!—if punishing Putin over Syria turned Ukraine into another Syria.

I don’t think this revenge scenario is too outlandish.  President Obama seems to be a man who likes his revenge served cold—icy cold—and maybe underneath that controlled fa├žade he was itching to show Putin that Russia could not lightly defy US demands to withdraw support from Assad and collapse the Syrian government.  I believe personal disdain and the need to assert his credentials as world’s numero uno big boss drives President Obama’s foreign policy with regard to Putin, with the Chinese leadership (ever since he was subjected to a finger-wagging tirade by China’s chief climate negotiator for America’s botched outing at the Copenhagen summit in 2010), and of course, his counterproductive crusade—now in its third dismal year with a promise of further escalation-- to destroy Syria and further destabilize the Middle East in order to punish Bashar Assad for refusing to go when Obama told him to go.

One hopes that twelve-dimensional chess is guiding US moves in the Ukraine.  But if that policy is in the hands of a crude neo-con like "Fuck the EU" Victoria Nuland, maybe we’re looking at another one of those “nobody could have foreseen” bloody foreign policy botches that the US seems to specialize in nowadays.

And Putin might have the last laugh, withholding Russia’s promised contribution of $15 billion while the EU scrambles to come up with the $30 billion Ukraine needs to get through the year (amazingly, the US has to date made no commitment to provide financial aid, something the EU is probably noticing; and thinking Thanks a Billion! Not! Vicky Nuland, since the aggressive US strategy blew up the transitional government negotiated by the EU that might have kept Russia in the game and on the hook).

A year from now it might be Vladimir Putin who’s saying Thanks! Victoria Nuland.  Thanks to you I was spared the cost and trouble of propping up a dysfunctional pro-Russian government in the Ukraine.  I saved $15 billion bucks…turned a nice profit since I could drop concessional pricing in the new gas contracts…and I picked up east and south Ukraine as new Russian provinces for free!

Clever, clever...maybe too clever America.