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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Who Knows About The Ukraine?

“My ardent desire is, and my aim has comply strictly with all our engagements foreign and domestic; but to keep the U States free from political connections with every other Country. To see that they may be independent of all, and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.” George Washington, letter to Patrick Henry — 1795.

On April 13, it was announced that U.S. Army paratroopers were arriving in Poland on as part of a wave of U.S. troops heading to shore up America's Eastern European allies in the face of Russian meddling in Ukraine.

Fox News Reported:

“Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said an initial contingent of about 600 troops will head to four countries across Eastern Europe for military exercises over the next month.

First, about 150 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy, are arriving in Poland.

Additional Army companies will head to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and are expected to arrive by Monday for similar land-based exercises in those countries.

The show of strength comes as the United States, European allies and Ukraine try to ease tensions with Russia and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. All sides struck a diplomatic agreement last week, but it remains unclear whether pro-Russian demonstrators, who took over a series of government buildings in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea, will back down.

Under the current plan, U.S. troops would rotate in and out of the four Eastern European countries for additional exercises on a recurring basis.

"We're looking at trying to keep this rotational presence persistent throughout the rest of this year," Kirby told reporters, adding that over time the exercises could expand to other countries.

The exercises are part of an effort announced last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel aimed at reassuring NATO allies of America's commitment to the region's defense.

Kirby said the U.S. will likely plan other exercises and will continue to work through NATO on joint measures that could be scheduled in the future.

"It's a very tangible representation of our commitment to our security obligations in Europe, and the message is to the people of those countries and to the alliance that we do take it seriously. And we encourage our NATO partners to likewise look for opportunities of their own to do this same kind of thing for one another," said Kirby. "And I think if there's a message to Moscow, it is the same exact message - that we take our obligations very, very seriously on the continent of Europe."

Armed pro-Russia groups have occupied areas in eastern Ukraine and have refused to leave until the country's acting government resigns. There was a burst of violence Sunday, with three people killed during a shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russian troops. The U.S. has asserted that some of the troops are Russian special operations forces, and officials are pressing Russian to abide by an international accord aimed at stemming the crisis in Ukraine.”

So what does this mean? If you want to know I suggest you read “Command Authority” by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney. Most of know who Tom Clancy was, but not many know about Mark Greaney. He has a degree in international relations and political science. He is the author of the Gray Man novels, the most recent of which is Dead Eye. In his research for those novels, he has traveled to a dozen countries and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine, and close-range combat tactics. In essence he is an expert in foreign relations and what is going on in the world, probably as much if not more than the State Department or the CIA.

Over the years Clancy’s books have been somewhat prophetic. His Clear andTom Clancy Present Danger foretold the U.S. involvement in the drug wars in Colombia and his 1994 Debt of Honor predicted an airliner used as a guided missile crashing into the Capital Building — seven years before September 11, 2001.

Over the past few years until Clancy’s death in 2013 Clancy had franchised his novels to several authors The latest and final being Mark Greaney. Most critics believe that the bulk of Command Authority is the work of Greaney and that Clancy had little to do with it except for franchising the characters.

The story first takes us back 30 years, to a meeting between a GRU Special Forces Captain and a special member of the KGB. The purpose of this meeting is not fully revealed until much later as events unfold, piece by piece. Present day finds Jack Ryan Jr in London working on not military or political but financial intelligence - and a case involving Russian intelligence and criminal elements that will ultimately lead him into the upcoming fray. Meanwhile, Ryan Sr. meets with a former foe and now friend (a retired SVR chief) at the White House, who warns the president that the new Russian chief-of-state seeks to return his country to the days of old - just prior to dying due to being poisoned with a radioactive isotope. In Moscow, a Croatian assassin takes the fall after pulling off a devastating bombing that takes out someone in addition to, and much more important than the "targeted" UK finance man (and former British agent) - the current head of the SVR.

The new president of Russia has what most would call skeletons (literally) in his closet and he will do anything - everything - to keep those tucked away and out of sight as he continues executing his plans (and opposition) for what he envisions as Russia's domination. He will stop at nothing to achieve his agenda, including merging the separate FSB (internal) and SVR (foreign) intelligence agencies into one, under the leadership of his chosen man.

In the fictional novel the President of the United States is able to expose the Russian president for the scoundrel he is and curb his incursion into the Ukraine at the Crimea He was able to accomplish this with black ops and Special Forces along with a few bold moves.

Today’s real world is much different. When Vladimir Putin first came to power in 1999, he talked ideologically but acted rationally. He listened to a range of opinions, from liberal economist Alexei Kudrin to political fixer Vladislav Surkov — people willing to tell him hard truths and question groupthink. He may have regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, but he knew he couldn't re-create it. Perhaps the best metaphor is that while he brought back the Soviet national anthem, it had new words. There was no thought of returning Russia to the failed Soviet model of the planned economy. And as a self-professed believer who always wears his baptismal cross, Putin encouraged the once-suppressed Russian Orthodox Church.

He was a Russian patriot, but he also was willing to cooperate with the West when it suited his interests. One of the first leaders to offer his condolences after the 9/11 attacks, Putin shared Russian intelligence on al Qaeda with the United States. He did not hesitate to protect Russia's interests against the West -- in 2008 Putin undercut any thought of NATO expansion into Georgia by launching a war against its vehemently pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili — but Putin's challenges were carefully calibrated to minimize repercussions while maximizing gains. He shut off gas to Ukraine, unleashed hackers on Estonia, and, yes, sent troops into Georgia, but he made sure that the costs of asserting regional hegemony were limited, bearable, and short term.

But that was the old Putin. Today, the West faces a rather different Russian leader.

According to Foreign Policy Magazine:

“In Putin's actions at home as well, the Russian president is eschewing the pragmatism that marked his first administration. Instead of being the arbiter, brokering a consensus among various clans and interests, today's Putin is increasingly autocratic. His circle of allies and advisors has shrunk to those who only share his exact ideas. Sober technocrats such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu played seemingly no role in the decision-making over Crimea and were expected simply to execute the orders from the top.

This has become one of the new themes of Russian politics: the conflation of loyalty to the Kremlin with patriotism. It says much that dissidents at home, from journalists failing to toe the official line to protesters on the streets, are castigated either as outright "foreign agents" (every movement, charity, or organization accepting foreign money must register itself as such) or else as unknowing victims and vectors of external contamination -- contamination, that is, from the West, whose cosmopolitanism and immorality Putin has come to see as an increasing threat to Russia's identity. As a result, Putin's relationship with Russia's elite -- now often foreign-educated, usually well-traveled, and always interested in economic prospects abroad -- has become tortuous. Having provided members of the elite with opportunities during his first presidency, Putin not only mistrusts the elite now, but sees it as unpatriotic. Some $420 billion has flowed out of Russia since 2008, and in 2013, Putin decried those who were "determined to steal and remove capital and who did not link their future to that of the country, the place where they earned their money." In response, he launched a program of "de-offshorization" that has prompted major Russian telecom, metals, and truck-manufacturing companies to announce their return to Russia. And Alexander Bastrykin, the powerful head of the Investigative Committee and one of Putin's closest acolytes, promised a crackdown on schemes designed to transfer money out of the country.

These efforts are representative of a broader reconsolidation that requires the West to stay out of Russia's politics and that prevents its ideas and values from perverting Putin's country. In this context, Yanukovych's ouster from the Ukrainian presidency was the inevitable catalyst for a decisive expression of a new imperialism. From the Kremlin's perspective, a Western-influenced and -supported opposition movement in Kiev rose up and toppled a legitimate leader who preferred Russia over the European Union, in the process threatening the liberties and prospects of the ethnic Russian population in Ukraine's east.”


“The pragmatic political fixer of the 2000s now genuinely believes that Russian culture is both exceptional and threatened and that he is the man to save it. He does not see himself as aggressively expanding an empire so much as defending a civilization against the "chaotic darkness" that will ensue if he allows Russia to be politically encircled abroad and culturally colonized by Western values at home.

This notion of an empire built on the basis of a civilization is crucial to understanding Putin. There are neighboring countries, such as those in the South Caucasus, that he believes ought to recognize that they are part of Russia's sphere of influence, its defensive perimeter, and its economic hinterland. But, he stops short of wanting forcefully to bring them under direct dominion because they are not ethnically Russian. Even when Moscow separated the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008, for example, it set them up as independent puppet states; it did not annex them into the Russian Federation.

Putin does insist, however, that Moscow is the protector of Russians worldwide. Where there are Russians and Russian-speakers and where Russian culture and the Russian Orthodox faith hold or held sway, these are nash -- "ours." Despite his mission to "gather the Russian lands" like the 15th-century's Prince Ivan the Great, this does not necessarily mean occupying Crimea today, Donetsk in eastern Ukraine tomorrow, and Russian-settled northern Kazakhstan the day after, but it helps define what he thinks is Russia's birthright. In his defense of the annexation of Crimea, he said that the Soviet Union's collapse left "the Russian nation … one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders."

Crimea, after all, is historically, ethnically, and culturally Russian,Ukraine_unrest which is why, after its residents voted in favor of annexation, Putin approvingly noted that "after a long, difficult, exhausting voyage, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their native harbor, to their native shores, to their port of permanent registration -- to Russia." By contrast, the case to reach out to Transnistria in Moldova, for example, or even eastern Ukraine, is less clear. The Transnistrian Russians are relatively new colonists, arriving after World War II, and eastern Ukraine has Russian cities, but also a Catholic, Ukrainian countryside.”

But what he once merely frowned upon, Putin now wants to ban. The conservative backlash, with laws against gay "propaganda," the heavy-handed prosecution of members of punk band Pussy Riot after their "blasphemous" performance in a church, and renewed state control of the media, all speak to a new moral agenda -- a nationalist and culturally isolationist one. Just as Putin has been trying to "de-offshorize" the Russian elite, he is now launching what could be called a "moral de-offshorization." His more recent pronouncements have been full of warnings about the "destruction of traditional values," threatening the moral degradation of Russian society.”

The two things that Putin believes in and is doing are the incorporation of all ethnic Russians into a homogeneous empire and the destruction of NATO. Even though the Ukraine is a part of NATO’s Partners for Peace, a paper tiger at best, Putin see any involvement by NATO in the Ukraine as a threat to his plans.

Some 80 years ago another nationalist concerned with the ethnic security of his people had a plan. His plan, like Putin’s, involved expansion of his Third Reich into neighboring countries for the purpose of protecting ethnic German’s from the hordes polyglot populations created by the League of Nations after the end of the First World War. First was the Saarland where a plebiscite was promoted and voted in by the majority of ethnic Germans living there. Then came the Rhineland occupation to liberate more ethnic Germans from the French occupiers while the European powers, Mainly Britain and France looked on. Next was the Sudetenland (a part of Czechoslovakia – and artificial nation created by the League of Nations when the carved up the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This part of Czechoslovakia was one Bohemia- a part of Germany). Then came another “peaceful” takeover when the people of Austria voted to annex themselves to the larger Third Reich. This Anschluss, as it was called, was a vote created by Nazi provocateurs working inside of Austria. Finally ,after promises to Britain and France not to expand anymore, Adolph Hitler’s army tore down the border barriers at the border between Germany and the rest of Czechoslovakia and moved in to annex (take over) the remaining part of the country. Hitler had now consolidated his power over much of Europe without firing a shot while the allied power stood by helpless to stop him. Next came Poland and the beginning of the Second World War.

I am not comparing Putin to Hitler. There are many differences, but the parallels in the strategies do not escape me. Also we have seen feckless actions of NATO in the recent debacle in Libya. The member nations did not even have enough cruise missiles, aircraft, bombs, bullets, or communications to conduct the establishment of the no-fly zones to protect the Libyan rebels from the forces of Coronel Gadhafi.

In realty there is no NATO. What NATO member will risk lives and treasure to protect the Ukraine or Estonia or Latvia and Lithuania? These countries all have substantial numbers of ethnic Russians. Also Germany gets most of its natural gas from Russia and I don’t think they are too anxious to risk Putin turning off that supply so sanctions have will have little effect.

The only nation that can protect the Ukraine or the Baltic states is the United States and I firmly believe that will not happen. There will be blustering and threats from the White House but they will amount to nothing. Putin knows this. The American people will never support military action in Eastern Europe especially after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and our suffering economy. We can’t even decide to rid ourselves of Middle Eastern oil by building the Keystone Pipeline. Putin holds the winning hand and he knows it. Time is on his side.

All this helps explain the difficulty that Western governments have in understanding and dealing with him, especially this most aggressively cerebral U.S. administration. It seems that much is lost in translation between the Kremlin and the White House. Putin is not a lunatic or even a fanatic. Instead, just as there are believers who become pragmatists in office, he has made the unusual reverse journey. Putin has come to see his role and Russia's destiny as great, unique, and inextricably connected. Even if this is merely an empire of, and in, his mind — with hazy boundaries and dubious intellectual underpinnings — this is the construct with which the rest of the world will have to deal, so long as Putin remains in the Kremlin.

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