Free Markets, Free People

The Crimea (and beyond)

When the Russians more or less militarily annexed the Crimea a couple of days ago , it was pretty obvious the West wasn’t going to go to war over it, any previously mumbled promises to Ukraine that implied we might aside.  It’s still obvious, not that avoiding a war is a bad thing and all.

Who can blame Europe for not wanting another war? They’ve hosted so many, and I’m reliably told if you wander about you can still find nostalgic bits of wreckage to prove it.   There are parts left over from wars everywhere. Castles, forts, the Kaiser Wilhelm church (what’s left of it) in Berlin.  Graves….lots and lots of graves.  Graves of local men, and graves of men who came from across the world, and graves of civilians.

In January of this year, in Euskirchen Germany, a bulldozer operator was killed by a bomb from WWII, and it’s not uncommon for unexploded ordnance to be found, some dating back to the big fandango they held 100 years ago this year.   The Europeans have done a super job of cleaning up the place, and I’m 100% certain they aren’t interested in having to do it again anytime soon.

This is why, no one, not even the allegedly crazy Russians, really wants to die for real-estate to get it back into Russia.  Maybe some Ukrainians are willing to die out of pride for Ukraine, but the Russians prefer it be done with the bare minimum of shooting, explosions and death.   Even ‘crazy’ ‘evil’ people understand that upsets folks, and the shooting, explosions and death get out of control, and pretty soon it’s happening everywhere in sight.   The Russians don’t want a war either, but they’re not averse to picking up (re-acquiring) some real-estate on the cheap.

For my entire life we, Americans, helped keep the Russians from taking over the joint by being in places they wanted to be before they could be there. Kudos to NATO and all for asking us to stay.  But everybody knew when we parked Americans in their path all across Europe and the Russians did drive tanks through Fulda Gap…if they did it over American bodies; America was likely to take a war-like exception to it.  Geo-politics and military science is brutally practical about things like that, and the Russians understood.  America was across the ocean and much harder for Soviet tank division to blitzkrieg than a quick push to the east bank of the Rhine.  We made it difficult for them by being where they wanted to be in ways that only war, or government over throw, could clear us out of.  We stood in Western Europe and they stood in Eastern Europe and we glared at each other.  The Europeans understood where the fight was going to happen if it happened.  If some were nicer to the Soviets (now the Russians) than we liked, it was probably out of practicality.   At times they glared at both us and the Russians.

The ‘other’ people further east, in the Russian zone, just had to live with the Russians because clearing them out would wreck the joint, and everybody knew that too.  They didn’t glare at anybody because they didn’t dare.  Then the Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc collapsed, they became Russians again and Ukrainians and Latvians and Estonians and Lithuanians and Moldovans and Serbs and you get the idea.

The Europeans don’t want a war, the Russians don’t want a war, we don’t want a war.  Having so much experience in wars, and cleaning up after wars, one can understand the reluctance to do the centennial anniversary reenactment of 1914 this year with live rounds.

Still, Russian occupation of the Crimea should never have happened if the West was sincere about helping the Ukrainians keep their lands (especially after the Russians vs Georgia take-down in 2008).   I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places. But our word has to mean something too, and if we bother to give it, we ought to keep it.  Not keeping it leads to where we are, drawing red lines and erasing them just as quickly, making threats on an international basis and then barring a couple people from Disney World to show how much we mean it.   There’s a whole set of posts that could be written on why we let down our guard in Europe.  A quick hit list, military use fatigue, the cost, the simple hope that the not Soviet Russians weren’t going to start up the ‘let’s take over a country’ club again, resurgent Russian pride, feckless American policy, and a new world order.

The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold.  A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium.  Who knew?   It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently.   I do know our Secretary of State thinks they exist ( I mentioned feckless American policy); Angela Merkel seems to think they exist.  But maybe no one forwarded the memos to Vladimir Putin, because all in all he seems pretty proud of using the old rules, and so are his constituents.

No, there is no magic set of new rules.  I can’t even say it would be nice, because not only is it not real, it’s not even clearly laid out what it means internationally.  Furthermore the old rules still work and still apply.  Power and vacuums of power.  In fact these new rules already seem remarkably ineffective against people who still use the old rules. As a result there aren’t any new magic formulas or methods for getting the Russians to give Crimea back now either.    They certainly aren’t going to do it because we in the West tell each other that Russia is naked in the eyes of the world.  They aren’t going to do it no matter how many times some idiot calls them ‘evil’.   They aren’t going to do it because they suddenly understand they’re violating the 21st century rules.

Just because the West doesn’t want to apply power doesn’t mean the Russians can’t and won’t.   When a country can take over a chunk of another country in a week, there really isn’t much threats that will take months to show effect are going to do to stop them.   Done deals.  Because people don’t want to wait that long for results (especially the Ukrainians in this case), and life, and business, and in Europe’s case, the need to heat their houses, goes on.

If the West is serious, and worried about the Russians moving into Kiev, park ‘non-threatening’ NATO forces in Kiev.  Not just visiting, full time. Park a ‘non-threatening’ contingent of ground troops in Estonia (note the date of that article, last year…). See if the other Baltic countries would like to have permanent physical NATO contingents with troops who are not local. Go beyond ‘air policing’. Put the equivalent of a guard contingent on the equivalent of the Rhine bridges before the Russians do the equivalent of occupying the Rhineland.

And hit our own damn power reset button. Drill like hell for natural gas and oil here in the US and export it to Europe to cut their dependence on Russia.  The Russians will understand, they’ll bitch, but they’ll stop because they really don’t want the same war we don’t want.  There can’t be a whole lot in Estonia the Russians want to die for.

Project POWER back into the vacuum we’ve created before Putin again proves the old rules, the same ones Hitler used so well, still work just fine.   Do it before Chamberlain calls to say he wants his ‘new’ rules back.

Not gonna happen, I realize.  We have ‘smart’ diplomacy now, we lead from behind.  We’re going to jaw about the new international rules the millennium brought us, and threaten the Russians with our economic power even while we struggle to keep that power turned on for ourselves.

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19 Responses to The Crimea (and beyond)

  • That’s a QUALITY post.
    I agree with you about our word having to mean something. I really don’t care much about Ukraine either outside of it being the fuel for a funny scene in Seinfeld, but maybe we should’ve thought of that before we made them give up their deterrent weapons in exchange for some negligible security guarantees we were never prepared to give.
    I also agree that Putin doesn’t want war – nobody does (except maybe the Chinese kinda sorta) but once these dangerous games start things can go pear-shaped pretty quickly. Putin correctly sees Western weakness- what if he decides that we are weak enough that he can push the limits- say roll the tanks into the NATO Baltic states?  Then for all practical intents we are merely a few bad polls away from the Golfer in Chief having to “do something”  Not a confidence-inspiring scenario, is it?

  • Of course, the alternate is to duplicate the Russian’s idea of relieving distressed peoples … like say Cuba
    I’m sure Cuba would vote tomorrow to become a US territory.

  • I think it is worth noting that Hitler did not want war with the US or the UK, and initially did not intend to fight in North Africa or invade Norway, Greece, etc. He also did not have plans for world conquest.
    These sort of events do not always go as planned.

  • “I have mixed emotions about our policing the world, and our commitments to far flung places”
    Well, the world has been in the “bubble” of Anglo-Saxon naval power since at least 1805 (with the exception of much of the Pacific in the first half of 1942). We really have a commitment to a certain level of “policing”. While I think we also need to minimize messy land operations as much as possible, we also can’t go to a “just protect us at the borders” approach.

  • Even the Brits can empathise with the Russians protecting their own interests against EU incursion.

    “Only Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea ranked below the European parliament when those polled were asked how positive or negative they felt towards them. “

  • “The biggest one we hear about is this inane belief in some new order that has taken hold.  A magic set of rules for countries came into being when we hit the millennium.  Who knew?   It’s not clear, to me anyway, why that is, must be a side effect of climate change or something because I don’t recall any burning bushes or Jewish prophets with stone tablets making the news recently.”
    Well it does exist in a sense. It is the result of Anglo-Saxon naval power I mentioned above. It isn’t magic, it is based upon the economic and military power of the US specifically and the Angloshere generally with support from a few others such as France. Basically, an ordered world due top a well behaved and powerful Western culture. It is a “bubble” of sorts, and those protected in the bubble don’t always grasp the reality of the situation.

    • There may have been such a hope of a “magic set of rules for countries” around the time of the Iraq War, but as the Iraq War went South in April of 2004, I think even the most strident neo-cons lost hope in that.
      Are we now to believe that while the neo-cons lost hope, the Progressives continued to believe ?  .. or began to believe ?  Will Progressive believe any thing ?

      • The Iraq War resulted from very different thinking. It was not based upon the idea that we are now in a new era. It did contain a related error, i.e., a failure to realize the significance of culture in the success of nations.
        It is interesting that some on the left made the argument that Iraq wasn’t ready for American democracy, and also point out the difficulties caused by Iraq’s diversity. Arguments they won’t consider in other contexts.
        I will say that there was a reasonable argument for the Iraq War. Even Obama has admitted as much through his actions, by selecting a VP and two SoSs that voted for the war. The Iraq War didn’t have to be a failure, long term it is a failure because of Obama and the Democrats ability and will to use it politically.

  • I did some quick math.
    Ukraine: 45 million people – 3 million people (Crimea) = 42 million people.
    Russia: 143 million people + 3 million people (Crimea) = 146 million people.
    Obviously Putin cannot actually invade and absorb Ukraine without a major fight. Keep in mind that Ukrainian nationalist guerillas after WW II fought until 1956.
    I also highly suspect that Ukraine did not defend Crimea because they know its not really Ukrainian. However, Eastern Ukraine may be a different story.
    This is why I suspect Putin is done for now. Crimea was what he wanted. Eastern Ukraine and his forces on alert serve to allow him time to consolidate Crimea.
    Will he go into other areas? Doubtful. There is far more chance of a real war in those areas. Maybe he can hunt and peck and grab some other 70% Russian areas, but those are at higher risk for actual war starting, and really offer much less than Crimea’s naval ports do in terms of strategic value.
    The Baltic states would also seem to be not worth the effort. Russia could barely handle Chechenya. Do they really want Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?
    Finlandization maybe, outright takeover, not likely.
    Of course, I could be dead wrong – perhaps Putin is in a bubble and thinks he will be welcomed. Where is the “real” red line? (hat tip: the podcast.) DonS also points out these things can get out of hand.
    I think I would agree with the author: send some ground units NOW to these locations, near Ukraine, but not in Ukraine. Allow Ukraine to be a “buffer” state if we don’t want to antagonize Russia.

    • I also want to comment on Bush’s handling of Georgia/South Ossetia/Russia vs. Obama in the crisis.
      South Ossetia had a population in 2007 of 70,000 people.  This is equivalent to Germany’s taking of Memel prior to WW II, i.e. not significant.
      Crimea is far more serious.
      As an aside, I am reading wikipedia about Germany taking over Czechoslovakia, and I learned that not only Germany took territory from the Czechs. Poland and Hungary also invaded and took little chunks! And Slovakia declared independence!
      “Following lengthy negotiations and blatant war threats from Hitler, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with French leaders tried to appease Hitler. In the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, the major European powers allowed German troops to occupy the Sudetenland, for the sake of “peace in our time”. Czechoslovakia had already mobilized over one million men and was prepared to fight for independence, but was not allowed to participate in the conference. When the French and British negotiators informed the Czechoslovak representatives about the agreement, and that if Czechoslovakia would not accept it, France and Britain would consider Czechoslovakia to be responsible for war, President Edvard Beneš capitulated. German forces entered the Sudetenland unopposed, celebrated by the local ethnic German population. Soon after, Polish and Hungarian forces also invaded parts of Czechoslovakia. Poland annexed the Zaolzie area.
      Hitler continued to put pressure on the Czech government. On March 14 Slovakia declared her independence under Jozef Tiso, which was recognized by France, Britain and other important powers. The following day, Emil Hácha accepted a German occupation of the remaining parts of the Czech lands. From the Prague Castle, theProtectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was proclaimed by Hitler.”
      So maybe I should re-think my position that there is no way for Eastern Ukraine to become Russian…a little independence here, a little deal with Poland over Lviv, a little protectorate here.

      • I believe that the Bush administration considered military action of some sort with respect to the invasion of Georgia, and Gates opposed it. Of course, at that point any robust effort by Bush would have had the main effect of killing whatever chance McCain had of winning the election. Putin timed that action very well.

    • One thing Putin seems to have accomplished is keeping Ukraine outside of NATO. No chance NATO will consider a country with a territory dispute with Russia. Also, it looks like Putin is sending special ops into parts of Ukraine, which leads me to think he intends to do something there.

  • Crimea was Putin’s Rhine moment.  I guess the next acquisition will be far more reaching than most are perceiving.

  • Putin had no choice. Sevastopol is Russia’s only warm water port, its gateway to the world. A glance at a map makes clear that the only viable option for sustaining the naval base there is through Ukraine. The fate of Ukraine is up to the new government – guarantee access or face the consequences.

    • I want to make a small amount of pushback against the claim that Russia really needs Sevastopol:
      1) Russia has other major naval bases in the Black Sea. The largest is Novorossiysk, and it is a completely modern port, whereas Sevastopol is aging. In fact, there was squabbling about renovating it between Russia and the last, supposedly pro-Russian, president of Ukraine.

      2) Novorossiysk is ice free, but not warm water. Sochi also has a port, which being farther south might be warm water.

      3) Russia already extended the lease. I see no evidence that they would have been kicked out.

      4) Those new French helicopter carriers would be based at Novorossiysk…if its such a poor port compared to Sevastopol, then why do that?
      5) The Turks control the entrance to the Black Sea. This makes black sea fleets less useful than one would imagine.

      I’d really like to see some naval export opine on this, because maybe a “warm water” port really is more useful than it seems. Or maybe its a 19th century concept, like coaling stations.

    • Also, Sevastopol is not Russia’s gateway to the world.
      In terms of shipping trade, Russia’s biggest grain exporting port is….Novorossiysk.
      Its bigger container ports are St. Petersburg. Also ice-free.
      If you look at a map, logistically speaking, Sevastopol is not close to Russia. You are not going to send your exports to that port. Its much closer to Ukraine, but Ukraine’s main port is Odessa.
      Again, I suspect Sevastopol is useful, but not essential in the modern world. I have to wonder if its more important in an age of wooden ships that needed their barnacles cleaned by divers or something like that.

    • Heh, all this talk of ‘warm water’ ports.
      It’s like some people don’t REALLY believe in AGW isn’t it.

  • Some dictators want war as it gives the nation something to do, obtains lots of goodies (pillage and looting) and conquests give der volk/comrades something to be proud of as it shows how tough they are.