This is an absolutely amazing story in the Guardian. The chief of the German navy – a vice-Admiral, not some low ranking officer – has said (I am repeating the Guardian and Al-Jazeera reports ) that the idea that Russia wants to invade Ukraine is “nonsense” and that all Putin wants is “respect” which he “probably” deserves and giving someone respect is low-cost. (Al-Jazeera reports the vice-Admiral’s remarks at more length; apparently he said that even the idea that Russia wants to take Donbass is “nonsense”).
Not surprisingly the vice-Admiral has tendered his resignation. He is off-message, out of the psychotic group-think, and had to go. Not a good idea to tell these people the truth.
Of course Russia does not want to invade Ukraine. It is incredible that people can (if they are genuine) really delude themselves into believing this. Think it through; what would a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine look like? Firstly; there would be a lot of fighting and thousands of Russians and Ukrainians would die. Putin thinks of the Ukrainians as part of the Slav family – of course they don’t want to kill them! An invasion would cost not just thousands of Russian lives but also a lot of money. The Russian domestic population would be utterly bewildered. And then – once they had ‘won’ they would be faced with ruling a country where they are loathed by the majority, at least in the centre and West of Ukraine. They would face a partisan war and would only be able to rule like the Nazis – with constant terror. The Russian population would not stand for it. And what would they gain? Ukraine is a poor country (far poorer than Russia) with no noticeable resources to steal. (Ukraine gets a lot of income from transit of Russian gas; of course that income would end and indeed the pipelines would probably be shut down). Europe would almost certainly stop buying Russian gas transited through an occupied Ukraine, which would be a catastrophe for the Russian budget, even before any new sanctions. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said it would be a “quagmire”. She hasn’t thought it through; it would be far worse. It would be a total disaster. If the supposed aim would be to defend Russia’s borders from NATO – all they would have done is shift the border further West, and extended it, making it harder to defend! Of course that would be an illogical military strategy. It might well result in the end of Putin’s government. Of course it is complete nonsense.
The idea that Russia wants to invade Ukraine is being put out by Kiev to try to get support from the West in their local dispute with Russia. The strategy seems to be working. The US, UK and Baltic states are all pouring weapons into Ukraine. It looks to me like Ukrainian intelligence is working overtime to delude the West about the threat from Russia. There is a steady stream of intelligence briefings from Kiev being echoed by Western capitals. (However this may have its limits; even the Guardian’s ever-ready to believe anything about Russia Luke Harding doubts one of the latest stories about a Russian attempt to install a government of their choosing in Kiev. If Luke Harding doubts it it must be off the scale of believability).
If Kiev, emboldened by the receipt of arms from the US, UK and Baltic states and by the seeming willingness of the West to believe any story they feed them, decides to attack Donbass then Russia will intervene to protect the people in Donbass. They have said that. (Kiev has recently been briefing that the Minsk agreements were signed under duress which is a bad sign; they are giving themselves permission to violate them; worryingly I have seen NATO member Lithuania recently say that Minsk was effectively dead i.e. again they are giving Kiev permission to attack Donbass. Pouring weapons into Ukraine while declaring the peace process dead is of course obvious aggression; but it will not be reported as such by the Western media). I would guess that part of the game being played by the West with all this talk of “invasion” is so they can then depict any such protective manoeuvre from Russia as an aggressive “invasion”.
Why is Putin making the demands he is making of NATO now? I mean the obvious “non-starter” demands that NATO or the US unilaterally agree that Ukraine and Georgia will never be admitted and that NATO pulls its forces out of Bulgaria and Romania – and pulls back (completely?) in the Baltics.
My speculative reading of this is that Putin (like other politicians) is thinking about his legacy. The constitutional reforms of 2020 widely misreported in the Western media as a ruse to extend Putin’s term of office were (if you look at the details) a rational set of changes to improve the interoperability of the main institutions of the Russian state. They introduced more “checks and balances” with the effect of strengthening the state. My guess is that Putin sees this as his internal legacy. He is leaving the house tidy. (Also no gay marriage). And what he is trying to do with the current negotiations with NATO is to tidy up Russia’s external relations before he retires. The problem here is that NATO is not going to play ball. They aren’t (I don’t think) going to give Putin a signed document promising not to expand further (let alone retreat). A signed document limiting military exercises and perhaps a new INF treaty might be something Putin feels is worthwhile; but it would be a long way short of his overriding goal of establishing peaceful relations with NATO and eliminating the perceived threat to Russia. The Kremlin are certainly strategic thinkers and they must have a plan B for when their main demands are not met. My guess would be that this will involve a change of military posture, for example maintaining a permanent force all along Ukraine’s borders, putting nuclear weapons in Belarus and so on. I doubt that would be what Putin would want; it would not solve the problem. (I wonder if he would even stay on in office after 2024 if this problem does not have a solution he can be happy with, but I doubt it). At any event unless Putin has recently gone quietly insane we can be certain that he doesn’t want his legacy to be bloody and disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
One final point. It is a truism in anti-Russia circles in the West that Putin wants to recreate the USSR. These agitators often point to a statement Putin made that he regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union. We can at least correct this:
He reiterated that view in April 2005 when he characterized the break-up of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century’ but promptly added that it was impossible to fantasize about resurrecting the old Soviet state.Freeze, Gregory L.. Russia (p. 495). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
The agitators just quote the first half. Strangely, it seems to be the West phantasising about the recreation of the USSR. Does NATO miss it?