Ukraine — Provocations and Stand offs

By Pat Walsh

Red Lines bring High Noon to Ukraine

“I don’t accept anybody’s red lines!” U.S. President Joe Biden, December 4, 2021, Washington.

“As a citizen of Russia and the head of the Russian state I have to ask myself: Why would we want a world without Russia?” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The foreign policy of the United States has lately consisted of the assertion of red lines – US red lines – across the world. These red lines are boundaries which the current US President has decided other states should not cross – or else! In asserting these red lines it was naturally assumed in the White House that other powers did not have red lines and that such things only applied to states other than the United States. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when Russia suddenly declared that it too had red lines, that the US and associated states should also not cross. And that is how the High Noon situation in Ukraine has come about.

Biden’s Red Lines

The US has blundered into the current situation. The blundering is a result of America having lost its bearings in the world after it became the sole superpower around 1991. During the Cold War the US acted, on the whole, realistically and effectively. It was presented with victory when, quite unexpectedly, “the General Secretary of the Communist Party did what the CIA had dreamed about but could never accomplish: he destroyed that system”(Stephen Kotkin, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2019, p.68.) Gorbachev capitulated to the West and dismantled the enemy state, facilitating the unipolar world presided over by the US. But the unexpected victory and sudden collapse of the enemy left the US unprepared for the position it suddenly assumed through Gorbachev’s inexplicable policy. The Soviet demise left no enemy for the US to orientate against and it began to lose its way in the world, recklessly destroying states, mostly in the Muslim world, for no particular reason other than to show what power it had.

The post-Cold War didn’t work out as it was hoped by the United States. Since President Biden came to power the US has been conducting a more minimalist expansionary strategy in the world than it did in the 1992-2016 period. In many ways this is the same policy as was practiced by his predecessor, President Trump, but that, of course, cannot be said. Trump cannot, under any circumstance, be credited with anything good whatsoever. It should not be said, for example, that he was pretty unique among recent presidents in that he started no new wars, and even ended a few, started by his predecessors.

After the US had rid itself of its rogue President, an “America Returns” foreign policy was being demanded in the pages of Foreign Affairs by the vast army of political analysts in America looking for renewed US action in the world following the Trump interregnum of inactivity. Many of these were “Russian Studies” academics who help define US Russian policy, but have reduced Russia to a mere caricature for their Western audience. 

The titles of articles in the Foreign Affairs periodical describe the revival agenda of the US after it had seen the back of Trump with a huge appetite for a reassertion of American power in the world. Here is just a sample of article titles from Foreign Affairsas Biden came to power: ‘How Trump Unmade American Foreign Policy’; ‘The Democratic Renewal’; ‘Why American Can’t Withdraw from the World’; ‘The Price of Primacy’; ‘Why America Must Lead Again’; ‘Saving America’s Alliances’; ‘Democracy Demotion’; ‘The Last War and the Next’; ‘A Superpower: Like it or Not!’; ‘’Turning Back the Authoritarian Tide’etc. etc.

The US had been chastened by the disasters of the Neo-cons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disasters of the liberal imperialists in Syria and Libya. In these adventures the US had squandered much of the goodwill it had accumulated in defending the democratic world against Communism during the Cold War. It attempted to reorder the world and failed and its public had its fill of “forever wars” – wars that had to be fought on the ground with US forces, which involved bodybags coming home. But the US was still “the indispensable nation” with a mission in the world, which had a duty to project US democratic values across the globe, whether they were wanted or not. 

So what was to be done?

President Biden’s policy involved a reassertion of the democratic mission of the US, tarnished by the Trump Presidency. It was based on the notion of red lines around a kind of US organised retreat from attempting to remake the world by military power. The historian Stephen Kotkin (biographer of Stalin) outlined what a more modest and functional US foreign policy would be after the forever wars the US had brought on. The idea was to declare to the world that America was back as the champion of expansionary democracy and make it clear to geopolitical opponents (Russia, China, Iran) what the US demanded of them through red lines they should not cross. This amounted to a US policy of “encirclement” and “containment” toward Russia.

During the high point of the “American Century” (1991-2016) the US exerted military force as the first option of foreign policy and asserted that the basic determinant of the relationship between states rested on military power and the willingness to use it. But whilst the US may have scaled back its military ambitions after the chastening experiences of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, it has not retreated from its political ambition to maintain the predominance of its sphere of influence in the world. That sphere of influence is all-embracing in relation to the globe and universal in relation to humanity. International issues are still seen in black-and-white terms, in absolute moral categories. America alone is seen as holding the moral authority of the world and any reluctance within the US to exert that is viewed as defeatism. There remains a belief derived from fundamentalist Protestantism that the human condition is defined as a choice between good and evil and that there should be no shirking in the willingness of the good (US and the forces of democracy) to confront the evil (all others and alternative systems). 

Henry Kissinger once said: “Moral purpose was the key element of motivation behind every American policy and every war in the twentieth century.” That is why it was inconceivable that someone openly without moral compass should be commander-in-chief in the White House, disabling the moral impulse that motivates a war-fighting expansionary state.

After the Afghanistan debacle, when good beat a retreat from evil, having failed to impose itself on evil, Biden sent out several emissaries to Moscow, including the pragmatic CIA Director, William Burns. These emissaries seem to have spent time pleading with the Kremlin to behave, be a good boy, and accept the US red lines. In public President Biden was laying down the law to show who was still boss of the world, of course. It was communicated to the Kremlin that if the Russians did not invade Ukraine there would be no conflict with the US. This was the US red line Russia was requested to not cross while it was expected to accept that NATO and its military forces could continue the advance to its borders, up to the red line, with colour revolutions promoted to produce regimes hostile to Moscow. 

After the US had declared “the end of history” and stated that the 21st Century would be “the American Century” this request was, not unreasonably, seen by the Kremlin as a sign of weakness, and an opportunity was understood to be appearing to roll back the advance of US power and challenge the unipolar world.

Putin’s Red Lines

Shortly after President Biden showed his hand, and stated that only the US had red lines, Putin called his bluff and dramatically raised the stakes.

On December 17, the Russian Foreign Ministry put its cards on the table in the shape of two draft texts — a “Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees”and an “Agreement on Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation and the Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO]”.Moscow stated its intention of obtaining “legal security guarantees from the United States and NATO”and requested the United States and its NATO allies to meet its demands without delay. 

Vladimir Putin, completely breaking with Russian diplomatic practice, issued what was a public ultimatum to Washington. And the Russian leader did this presumably knowing full well that his ultimatum would be completely unacceptable to the US, “the indispensable nation” of the world. 

In essence, Putin was inviting the United States to reduce itself to the status of just another element of humanity – still a superpower, of course, but just one superpower among others, rather than the predominant power which dictates to the world. After only two and a half decades the curtain would fall on the “American Century”.

The Russian ultimatum demanded that “the following be legally established: the renunciation of any enlargement of NATO, the cessation of military cooperation with post-Soviet countries, the withdrawal of American nuclear weapons from Europe and the withdrawal of NATO armed forces to the borders of 1997”

It was also suggested that Russia and the United States commit to not deploy nuclear weapons abroad and to withdraw those already deployed, as well as to eliminate nuclear weapons deployment infrastructure outside their respective territories. Article 4 of the Russian communique stated that “the Russian Federation and all participants which were, as of 27 May 1997, member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shall not deploy their armed forces and armaments on the territory of any other European state in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997.” And Article 7 specified that “the participants, which are Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, shall refrain from conducting any military activities on the territory of Ukraine, as well as of the other States of Eastern Europe, Transcaucasia and Central Asia.”

The area stipulated by Moscow includes the fourteen Eastern European and Balkan states that have become members of NATO during the last two decades, including those where additional forces of the North Atlantic Alliance have been deployed since the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016. The US is also invited to leave the Russian Seas – the Black Sea, the Baltic, Barents etc., and to stop the flights of American bombers over the whole of Europe and most of Asia. 

The Russian ultimatum also proposed that“the parties exclude the deployment of nuclear weapons outside the national territory and return to the national territory the weapons already deployed outside the national territory at the time of the entry into force of this Treaty.”

President Putin had described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”He was now signaling that Russia had arisen from the ashes and was acting as the heir to the USSR, a superpower that had made a comeback and which was now entitled to negotiate with the West on an equal footing. That was a severe shock to Washington: What presumption! What impudence!

The Russian think tank Russtratreflected the new air of confidence that was pervading Putin’s Russia, which was now“putting it up”to the West in a new multipolar world:

“In the next year and a half, Russia will considerably change the balance of global power… Russia’s current historical situation is unique. The state has prepared itself for the major challenges that may arise under critical pressure. Huge reserves have been accumulated, including gold. National financial and information infrastructure plans have been created and launched. Digitization has begun to encompass the entire economy, bringing it to a new level of competitiveness. The expansion of our own industrial base, including in highly sensitive high-tech areas, is proceeding in leaps and bounds, the ‘technology gap’ is closing. We have overcome critical dependence in the area of food security… For the past five years, the army has been the world’s leader. In this area, the ‘technological gap’ is in our favor and is only widening… Moreover, the explosion of planetary inflation is causing an energy crisis, which makes the Europeans, for the most part, much more accommodating and rules out a blockade of our energy supplies, whatever we do… Working with China everything will become much easier for us. And for China too, from which we will divert attention, which will free our hands even more… Russia has restored its weight in the international arena to the point that it is able to dictate its own terms in the shaping of international security…. The decrepit empire of the Stars and Stripes, weakened by LGBT, BLM, etc…. will not survive a two-front war.”

This was not idle boasting. Adam Tooze, British economic historian and columnist with the Financial Times, noted that Russia had been preparing its economic defences for a number of years for the moment when bit came to bit against the West. He explained that if the West thought it could easily disable Russia through sanctions it was mistaken:

“Russia is too big a part of global energy markets to permit Iran-style sanctions against Russian energy sales. Russia accounts for about 40 percent of Europe’s gas imports. Comprehensive sanctions would be too destabilizing to global energy markets and that would blow back on the United States in a significant way. China could not stand by and allow it to happen. Furthermore, Moscow, unlike some major oil and gas exporters, has proven capable of accumulating a substantial share of the fossil fuel proceeds. Since the struggles of the early 2000s, the Kremlin has asserted its control. In the alliance with the oligarchs it calls the shots and has brokered a deal that provides strategic resources for the state and stability and an acceptable standard of living for the bulk of the population… Putin’s regime has managed this whilst operating a conservative fiscal and monetary policy. Currently, the Russian budget is set to balance at an oil price of only $44. That enables the accumulation of considerable reserves.

If you want a single variable that sums up Russia’s position as a strategic petrostate, it is Russia’s foreign exchange reserve. Hovering between $400 and $600 billion they are amongst the largest in the world, after those of China, Japan and Switzerland. This is what gives Putin his freedom of strategic manoeuvre. Crucially, foreign exchange reserves give the regime the capacity to withstand sanctions on the rest of the economy. They can be used to slow a run on the rouble. They can also be used to offset any currency mismatch on private sector balance sheets. As large as a government’s foreign exchange reserves may be, it will be of little help if private debts are in foreign currency. Russia’s private dollar liabilities were painfully exposed in 2008 and 2014, but have since been restructured and restrained… This strong financial balance means that Putin’s Russia will never experience the kind of comprehensive financial and political crisis that shook the state in 1998. Nor was it by accident that it was as those foreign exchange reserves approached their first peak in 2008 that Putin began to articulate his determination to end the period of Russia’s geopolitical retreat.”

The West had attempted to subdue Putin’s Russia through sanctions and to isolate Russia internationally. It failed. Domestically, Putin is strong, if not stronger than ever. The economic crisis caused by collapsing oil prices that beset Russia a few years ago has passed and now it holds all the energy cards against Europe, which has foolishly surrendered its energy security at the behest of Green hysteria. Putin has successfully constructed new relationships with China, Turkey and a number of other states, including governments within the EU itself, who have fallen foul of the European liberal assault on the traditional structures of life that hold these societies together.

The Russian collapse, began by the political idiot, Gorbachev, and continued by the personally ambitious drunkard, Yeltsin, was arrested by Vladimir Putin. The West, however, refuses to accommodate a stable Russia within its world, under the man who saved it. The West will only accommodate a weak “democratic” Russia which can be plundered of its substantial resources by international capital and local opportunists. 

However, it should not be forgotten that Russia, despite the best efforts of Vladimir Putin, is a shadow of its former Soviet self. The Russian sphere of influence in Europe has been reduced to Transnistria, two Russian pieces of the former Ukraine SSR, two slivers of the former Georgian SSR, the failed state that replaced the Armenian SSR, and a small military presence in the rump of the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast of the Azerbaijan SSR. The Russian economy is today only 1/15th of the size of the US economy, when the USSR was 1/3rd of the size of its Cold War adversary. The Eurasian Economic Union is inconsequential aside from Russia and Kazakhstan. Use of Russian language is in decline in all the ex-Soviet space, aside from Belarus. Half the Russian middle class (the high earning part) live abroad where it acts as an asset to the West, with London particularly facilitating the plunder of Russia by its émigré oligarchs, to the increasing distaste of Washington. 

These developments have, on the other hand, had the consequence of making the present slimmed down Russia a leaner and meaner fighting machine. It is a premier land power with enormous energy resources, situated in the geopolitical heartland of the world. Its military is fit for purpose and its military technology is more advanced than that of the US in many important areas. The expertise acquired in this sphere during Soviet times cannot be liquidated like the system that produced it. While US military technology is primarily a commodity to be sold to customers abroad its Russian equivalent is designed and focused on one aspect – defensive war-fighting. Russia has an immense and proven ability to sustain casualties in war and hardship without breaking under intense pressure. It can always destroy the world with a push of a button if the world threatens the existence of Russia and no doubt the button pushers in Moscow are much less likely to blink than their counterparts in Washington on the day of Armageddon.

The US bombs Muslim states because it can without fear of response (aside from a few enraged Muslims who make their own small bombs). The US puts sanctions on Russia because it cannot bomb it, without a fearsome response. Russian economic power is not substantial enough to harm the US in reply, although it can harm Europe if it chooses to by reducing energy supply. The US neither bombs nor sanctions China. It cannot afford to. That, hopefully puts US foreign policy and the geopolitical balance of power in the world in context. 

Good generals choose battles at the place of their own choosing and at the most opportune moment. Heads of states, as commanders in chiefs of their nations’ armed forces, bear this ultimate responsibility. Whatever one thinks of Vladimir Putin it should be clear by now that he is an exceptional statesman. Joe Biden, on the other hand, is a mediocre and transient product of liberal democracy. 

Where Red Lines Meet – Battlefield Ukraine

As Pepe Escobar has noted of Ukraine: “Maidan 2014 was an operation supervised by Obama/Biden”. It is not clear, therefore, whether Biden has learnt his lesson from the 2014 debacle or whether he views Ukraine as unfinished business for the US.

The Russophobe Zbigniew Brzezinski (of chessboard fame) once stated that Russia’s revival was dependent upon reintegrating independent Ukraine into Russia. He conceptualized Maidan 2014 when he was presented with a secret report on the development of Russian advanced missiles. He determined to make Ukraine another Afghanistan for Russia from that moment. That was meant to be a trap for Russia. But becoming another Afghanistan should be a much more frightening prospect for Ukraine. 

The desire in the US to unleash a war – any kind of war – in Ukraine seems to be aimed at producing a calamity for Russia in order to bleed her of resources. The British Foreign Secretary, who apparently fancies herself as a second Iron Lady, recently warned Russia that it faced a quagmire like Afghanistan if it invaded Ukraine. One suspects that it is the US/UK who would most like a Russian invasion of Ukraine and that Biden’s mysterious comment about a Russian incursion being acceptable was meant to lure Russian forces into Ukrainian territory as the Germans were lured into Belgium in 1914 in the belief that Britain would not make war on it. A similar trick was played on Saddam Hussein in 1990 when the US Ambassador assured him that America had no position on his dispute with Kuwait, encouraging his army into the turkey shoot on the Basra Highway.

It has become a mantra within the US elite that Russia wishes to reabsorb Ukraine. But the reality is precisely the opposite. Ukraine is presently a failed state, a basket case politically and economically. Even the Donbass, the supposed object of Russian annexation is largely a rust belt. Russia’s only interest in it is to do with the welfare of its substantial Russian population who were endangered by those who were taking power in Kiev in the coup in 2014. In 2014 Russia could have intervened militarily to support the legitimate, elected government in Kiev and protect it from the coup. The Kremlin chose not to do so, probably mindful of the burden that would have been placed on both Russia’s military and economic resources. Instead it moved swiftly to guard its key strategic interests in Crimea and support the defence of the predominantly Russian population in eastern Ukraine through various forms of assistance.

Ukraine, until it was fashioned into a state by the Soviet Union, was a patchwork of territories belonging to different empires and populated by a range of peoples, many of whom were Russian. Both Donbass and Crimea were part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine but were not Ukrainian. They were gifted to the Communist Party of Ukraine by the Russian Communists under Khrushchev. Khrushchev seems to have wished to alter the demographic composition of Ukraine in favour of the Russian element through this act of kindness. When Yeltsin issued his invite to self-determination in August 1991, as part of his political maneuvering against his General Secretary, he insisted that Ukraine should return the Russian lands, if it was leaving the Union. He was backed vociferously by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But Yeltsin and Gorbachev, with the USSR in meltdown and US assistance a priority, did not push the issue after Ukraine voted to leave the Union. The US looked on, encouraging both Gorbachev and Yeltsin to self-inflicted destruction.

This did not mean that the problem of the predominantly Russian areas of the former Russian territories of Ukraine went away. They became a national problem for the newly independent Ukraine to handle wisely not only for the sake of internal coherence of their state, but for future good relations with their Russian neighbour.

According to the rules of NATO membership a member country cannot have foreign, non-NATO military forces present on its territory. So Ukraine, presumably, would need to redraw its boundaries, without Crimea and the DOR and LPR to gain admittance. Such a partition of Ukraine would clearly be detrimental to Moscow’s strategic interests since it would make Ukraine a more likely member of NATO. Donbass, as an autonomous part of Ukraine, with protection for its substantial Russian element, would undoubtedly be the best result for Putin.

Russia has therefore no intention or need to invade Ukraine. It certainly would not be in its interest to do so. It would probably take such a step through extreme provocation. It is only the West which can embolden the Ukrainians into such a provocation.

Where Russia is threatened by Ukraine is through the presence of Western military forces being stationed there through joining NATO. The threat to Russian national security would be severe in such an eventuality. NATO military aircraft deployed in Ukraine would be capable of reaching Moscow in 20 minutes; US warships sailing out of Odessa would menace the Russian navy in the Black Sea; soldiers and equipment stationed on Ukrainian soil would be a direct threat to Russia, as similar forces are in Poland and the Baltic, stretching the Russian defensive line.

It has been suggested lately that Russia is not really worried about NATO military expansion to its border. It is, in fact, afraid of democracy. This is the line peddled by Anne Applebaum who the BBC recently employed to ward off the notion that Russia was understandably concerned at been ringed by hostile and advancing military forces – a fact which had been gaining traction among the Western public. Applebaum (whose ethnic origins and connections make her an archetypal US Russophobe) put forward the line that a successful and democratic Ukraine on Russia’s borders would be fatal to Putin’s Russia. 

Geoffrey Roberts, the British historian, in a review of Prof. Sakwa’s Frontline Ukraine for the Irish Times on 25 April 2015, noted the following about the character of the Ukrainian regime that makes it a force for instability and a very unlikely cause of “democratic” concern for Russia:

“The ultranationalist tendencies of the Kiev regime sit ill with the liberal democratic values of the EU, and they are likely to become increasingly uncomfortable bedfellows. Kiev may succeed in realigning Ukraine with the West, but, as its defeat on the battlefield shows, it does not have the power to impose its will on the Russian-backed separatists. Within Ukraine are millions of Russian-speaking citizens who share neither Kiev’s mono-nationalism nor its Russophobia.

Ukraine is one of the most corrupt and inefficient states in the world, much worse than even Russia. During the civil war its oligarchs have gained even more power and riches, protected now by private armed militias. In practice the alternative to the federalised Ukrainian state proposed by Russia is not some idealised western liberal democracy but a feudal Ukraine based on an opportunistic alliance of oligarchs and ultranationalists.

Before the (2014) crisis Russia was Ukraine’s biggest and most important trading partner. Ukraine depends on Russian energy supplies. Millions of Ukrainian citizens live and work in Russia and send vital resources back home. Without Russian participation there is no viable solution or alternative to the economic collapse suffered by disintegrating Ukraine.

… The nationalist genie is out of the bottle in Russia as well as Ukraine, and the EU has been exposed as incapable of transcending hackneyed cold-war perspectives. Cold warriors on both sides are having a field day while those Ukrainian citizens who see their country as a bridge between Russia and the EU have been marginalised by a civil war in which thousands have died. The disintegration of Ukraine will likely continue and may lead to further violent uprisings.

The one hope is that it is in Russia’s vital interest to stabilise Ukraine. For that to happen, Sakwa writes, “Moscow needs to show the courage of compassion towards Ukraine. It is a country that in many respects is another part of Russia itself, while Russia is inevitably part of Ukrainian identity. The crisis will only be resolved when ‘normal’ relations are established between the two countries.”

In the bygone era of objective meaning “democracy” used to be understood merely as a particular way of forming a government – government for the people by the people. But what is meant these days in the West by “democracy” is entirely different. What is required today of a “democratic state” by the US/UK/EU is uniformity with the current policies of the West. The outcome is now what constitutes “democracy” not the process. There is no democratic right to be wrong, as Poland, Hungary and Turkey, among others are finding out. 

Unfortunately the EU and US/UK have been determined to frustrate any efforts at stabilising the Ukrainian state due to their determination to weaponise it against Russia in the cause of “democracy”.

Prof. Richard Sakwa argues that the European Union has become an auxiliary of US/NATO’s expansion into central and eastern Europe. It has ruled out what it supposedly stands for in the world – the seeking of accommodation, compromise and engagement – when it comes to Russia, and the EU leadership in Brussels has turned the issue of Ukraine’s “free democratic choice” into an instrument to isolate and destabilise Putin’s Russia. Russophobes in Poland, the Baltic States and other countries have brought into the EU their historic antagonisms with Russia and this anti-Putin camp in Europe has combined with the virulent Russophobes in the US (many, like Anne Applebaum, with ethnic origins and family connections in Eastern Europe) to demonise the Russian President and deny his country’s legitimate security interests and concerns.

The contention that NATO and EU enlargement is no threat to Russia is belied by NATO’s increasing military exercises on Russia’s borders and its belligerent calls to arm Ukraine and increase its military forces.

Russia needs to do business with the states around it but cannot in relation to Ukraine, at present. Ukraine has been pulled in different directions by the EU, US/UK and its economic ties to Russia. Its elected leader was deposed in a Western organised coup in 2014 and it began to tear itself apart. Ukrainian sovereignty and cohesiveness is all about maintaining a delicate balancing act between Russia and Europe in which Russia is not threatened by foreign military forces. That position, which was maintained between 1991 and 2014, was disrupted by Western ambition to detach Ukraine completely from the Russian sphere. It was Brussels that decided to force the Ukrainians to choose between Europe and Russia but in doing so it bungled the operation, much to the chagrin of the US (in the immortal words of Victoria Nuland: “Fuck the EU!”). 

If Russia or China attempted to overturn the Monroe Doctrine and detach Mexico or Canada from the US sphere it is pretty clear that there would be stubborn resistance from Washington. That, after all, was what the Cuban missile crisis was all about. And yet the West assumes that Russia should tolerate such a thing on its borders.

Ukraine has the potential to be a glacis, which is the medieval term for the area beyond a castle where fighting and killing takes place. The British described Afghanistan as the glacis of India in the past.

There are people in the US and the EU who are only too willing to fight Russia on Ukrainian territory to the last Ukrainian. But there is no general will to fight for Ukraine in the US and even less will to fight for it in the EU. Some of the US’s European allies are already in retreat as talking gets tougher from Washington and thoughts turn to the energy and cost of living crisis that already confronts Europe, even without a war with Russia.

The EU is currently being pressurised by Washington to commit to further sanctions to enhance the economic encirclement of Russia. President Biden’s National Security advisor, Jake Sullivan, made what the US expects from Europe very clear in November, 2021, when he said: “We want the terms of the system to be favourable to American interests and values… a favourable disposition in which the US and its allies can shape the international rules of the road on the sorts of issues that are fundamentally going to matter to the people of America”. The new German administration is being warned to expect the scrapping of Nord Stream II and its consequent loss to Europe’s energy supply. This eventuality, hastened by a conflict in Ukraine, would certainly make Europe’s economy more dependent on the United States. It would become a much more pliable instrument of US policy, in particular in relation to a future isolation of China.

There is some will to supply Ukraine with the military equipment that might encourage an incursion into the separatist area that could draw in Russian forces e.g. an attack on the city of Donetsk. The size of the Russian force suggests that this is the limit of Moscow’s contingency planning at present. In such an eventuality Russian air power will make short work of Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainians are very likely to abandon their new weaponry and run for it, as the US armed and trained Georgians did in 2008, leaving territory behind for the Russian forces to simply walk into. But perhaps that is Washington’s plan!

This thought may have been responsible for Ukrainian President Vlodymyr Zelensky publicly disagreeing with Washington about the imminence of a Russian invasion. It has suddenly dawned on him that if war is coming it is Washington that is pushing for it, with the Russians willing to fight it if necessary. That has placed Zelensky in an awkward position in which he is likely to be requested to do his duty by Washington or be hung out to dry.

Even if there is an escalation that provokes a swift Russian military strike on Kiev there will be not a bullet fired in defence of Ukraine by the West. Ukraine will play the role Poland played in 1939. It will be merely be a battlefield with Ukrainians providing the casualties for Western moral propaganda. 

It appears that Russia holds all the cards in the current situation. It is well prepared to defend itself and has determined to stand and fight on the Ukraine line. Its red line is a real line – the last ditch, if you like. President Biden’s red line, on the other hand, is an arbitrary assertion from which retreat is both possible and, indeed, highly advisable. 

If Russia is not provoked into a military intervention in Ukraine this will, of course, be presented as Western resolution in the face of Russian aggression which deterred Putin. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. But the Western objective is always to control the narrative, despite the truth of the matter. That is what “soft power”is all about.

However, if the Ukrainian nationalist elite persists with its attempts to join NATO, against the desire of a substantial part of the Ukrainian people, there is a real danger that Ukraine will cease to exist in the form that it has previously existed.

At the time of writing the U.S. has responded to the security demands Russia laid out in its two draft treaties by rejecting all the major proposals and says it is only willing to negotiate on secondary issues. Russia will surely respond to that within a few weeks and Putin is usually a man with a surprise up his sleeve.