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Belmont Club

Putin As Goldilocks

July 7th, 2014 - 4:01 pm

In the story of the Three Bears, Goldilocks samples 3 bowls of porridge left on the breakfast table by perambulatory bruins.   One bowl was too hot; the other too cold; but one was just right.  The Russian bear, according to the Economist, was in the same position in relation to the conflict in Ukraine.  Until recently it was just right.

What Mr Putin would really like is a conflict of just the right size: big enough to force Mr Poroshenko into concessions but not so large it drags Russia in directly or forces it to subsidise Ukraine’s eastern regions. As Mr Gorenburg explains, Mr Putin will facilitate the transfer of Russian arms, fighters and money so as to ensure that “the insurgency isn’t defeated, but while doing the minimum possible”.

The current instability was sized to fit Putin’s scenario: half-war, half-peace, all aggression. “Today’s Russia thinks of itself as a mobilisation state, ready to deploy a full array of instruments in a crisis.” In Putin’s strategic conception actions are not neatly divided into War and Peace but into a continuum of coercive instruments.

In Ukraine this means a policy that combines covert arms transfers, volunteer fighters called up by patriotic organisations, oligarchs and others, propaganda produced by state-run media, punitive arm-twisting over gas prices and a worsening of political repression at home. Officials in Moscow, who have taken to praising non-linear war even if they do not use the precise term, say they are wielding the same tools the Americans use all the time: first engineer protests, and if that doesn’t work, back them up by force.

Which is why Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s decision to escalate the fight caught Putin off-guard, according to the Jamestown Foundation. ‘Just right’ got a little too hot. Pavel K. Baev of Jamestown writes, ”the most dramatic turn in the protracted Ukrainian calamity last week was the decision of President Petro Poroshenko to end the ceasefire and resume the offensive against separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Poroshenko had every reason to conclude that the cessation of combat operations plays into rebel hands, since Ukraine’s control over the border with Russia was not restored and reinforcements from Russia were pouring into the motley gangs of pretentious warlords”. Having concluded that a demi-conflict was working in Russia’s favor, Poroshenko doubled down, scalding  Putin’s tongue.

This determined offensive has caught Moscow by surprise, since its working assumption was that Poroshenko would keep extending the truce, thus allowing the conflict to “freeze” and making possible the establishment of a de-facto independent “Novorossiya” in eastern Ukraine.

The Jamestown Foundation argues that many of Putin’s apparently conciliatory moves were intended to freeze the conflict in the kind of low-intensity limbo the Russian president hoped to maintain. It was sized to be just small enough to keep from triggering the Western war response and just quiet enough to lure them into a ‘partnership for peace’. But still big enough to gobble up Eastern Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is conducting relentless “shuttle intrigue” seeking to impress upon France and Germany that Russia’s prime aim is the cessation of violence through renewed talks with the separatists. President Vladimir Putin delivered his traditional address to the Russian ambassadors on July 1 and justified Russian actions in a remarkably cautious manner, avoiding any belligerence and denying any intention to exploit the Ukrainian crisis.

All of this was undone by the Poroshenko’s sudden forcefulness. Now Putin is faced with the prospect of losing his bet. Having miscalculated, he must either match the moves or go home to lick his wounds.

He was just about to convince his peers in France and Germany that Russia could become a key peace-maker when the plan for organizing yet another “frozen conflict” collapsed. He cannot snatch any victory out of the Slavyansk defeat, and even the promise to slam Ukraine with trade tariffs rings false, because Belarus and Kazakhstan have refused to approve them (, June30). The smart maneuvering aimed at preventing new Western sanctions is now seen by the outraged “patriotic” fringe, which has entered into the political mainstream, as an outright capitulation (BestToday, July 6). The spectacular consolidation of the tired regime around the Crimean “triumph” can quickly unravel and the disillusioned “volunteers” returning to the bleak normalcy in many depression-hit Russian regions could become street fighters in mini-Maidans (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 2).

News reports suggest the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk are about to be invested and besieged by Ukrainian forces. Three bridges leading to the city have been blown, according to the BBC, and the proxies are digging in. Ukrainian forces may be on the advance, but Putin’s proxies are still waiting for the Russian cavalry to their rescue. Will they come?

Mykhaylo Koval, a senior Ukrainian security official, said government troops were preparing to continue the operation against the separatists.

“There is a clear strategic plan, which has been approved. The plan is focused on two major regional centres: Luhansk and Donetsk. These cities will be completely blockaded,” Mr Koval said.

“These measures will result in the separatists – let us call them bandits – being forced to lay down arms.”

Will Putin, having failed to find the “just right” porridge, now give it up? Pavel Felgenhauer in another Jamestown article says “the Kremlin apparently believes the time is ripe for a decisive drive to undermine U.S. influence and power worldwide and hit at the transatlantic link to undermine NATO, while the White House is occupied by the Obama administration, seen by Moscow as ineffective and indecisive.” Putin was ready for easy pickings. But now he’s encountered resistance, what will he do?

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rassmussen in a very recent interview with Euronews said NATO’s belief that Russia could be a partner has been rudely shattered by events in Ukraine.  NATO must re-arm, he says.

The security environment has changed dramatically. Russia’s illegal military actions in Ukraine are a wake-up call … in blatant breach of all its international commitments and also in breach of the fundamental principles of NATO-Russia cooperation. …

There is no doubt that Russia is heavily involved in destabilising the eastern part of Ukraine. They allow a flow of weapons and equipment and also fighters across the border into Ukraine.  … we can see in the Russian military documents that they consider NATO an adversary, so of course we have to adapt to that. …

We have seen Russian armed forces act very swiftly. … it’s now time to stop the cuts, reverse the trend and gradually increase defence spending.”

And if NATO re-arms and Obama leaves office then Putin’s window of opportunity will close.  There’ll be no more cuts to ‘unproven missile defense systems’, no more cancellations of ‘future combat systems’, no more unilateral disarmament — all of which ironically, may have led to the current problem in the first place. The situation is classically dangerous. Having encouraged aggression by weakness, the West must unavoidably increase the tension by strengthening itself.

The conflict is moving into a siege which may suit everyone’s book because it slows down the tempo of events. But at some point Putin will be forced to fish or cut bait. The rational response would be for him to cut his losses. Nothing in the Ukraine is worth a general war for Russia. Everyone hopes Putin will cut bait. But hope is not normally a policy, except recently.

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Top Rated Comments   
Great comment, but being disagreeable I feel compelled to find something to disagree with in it.

I choose this: About that Sweden 2030 thing- I used to work at a steel mill here in flyoverland USA, with a union, and I remember seeing a few guys who had their expected retirement dates noted on their hardhats, because of that sweet sweet union contract.

It stuck in my head because I figured they had no freakin' idea whether or not that company would stay in business long enough for them to retire- and it turned out it did not.

The same goes for those "youths"- to borrow a description from Mark Steyn- in Sweden, fantasizing about the distant future of 2030. They have no freakin' idea whether multiculti Euroland incorporated will remain in business then, or if it will have been replaced by or Ethnic Cleansing Limited.

The future is another country, and they will do things different there.

34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
First, looking at the calculus facing Putin, he has multiple problems to deal with.

1) he has to account for foreign reactions; US, EU, and Ukraine.
2) he has to account for the political risks internally if whatever he does is not seen as a success.
3) he has to measure the actual costs [in trade and in arms sales which are a tool of foreign policy] if things go south.

Foreign reactions are actually the easiest to figure. The EU will bow down to whatever Russia wants. There is no chance at all that Brussels will do anything but whine, even if EU members find themselves hosting Russian tanks.

The US is a similar problem, and has a similar but not exactly congruent solution. For as long as Buraq Hussein is in power, securely so, he can be depended upon not to stand up to any adversary of the United States. But, assuming that constitutional norms are followed [not likely, but possible] there would be a time limit of January 2017. If constitutional norms are NOT followed then the free ride continues. However, Obama's reactions may change in the second case if there is a domestic opposition movement. We are 4 months from one indicator of whether there will be a time limit.

Ukraine is also a simple decision. They have already chosen to fight, and that fight influences factors 2 & 3. Putin has to assume that they will continue. He has to choose whether to increase the Russian commitment to seizing East Ukraine, or to subvert the leadership of Ukraine, or to engage in "wet work" to decapitate the Ukrainian leadership. He cannot back off and let his minions be defeated.

If he does he will face internal opposition that could either topple him or limit his absolute control. And a lost seizure gambit will affect both trade [buggering around with natural gas supplies makes customers nervous] and both for foreign policy purposes, and fiscal purposes sales of Russian will take a hit. If the latest Russian military equipment, run by Russian "volunteers", can be defeated by the Ukraine; it does not make it attractive for other countries to want to equip their armed forces with them.

My guess: Putin will try to bribe or blackmail the leadership of Ukraine at several levels. That may or may not be possible, but it is the easiest and cheapest to try. I would also not be surprised if Poroshenko and his associates found themselves in the Ukrainian equivalent of Fort Marcy Park. And finally, if those fail I expect to see Putin escalate since there is no downside from the US or EU.

Now second, there is the matter of this.

Marie Claude
Wretward, your a idiiot on the US State department pay chedk<<<< (sic)

Noncombatants are advised to seek shelter.

Marie Claude,

For the last several months it has been noted by myself and others here that your limited command of English has been degrading, and that your syntax and "voice" has been varying. As if your avatar is being written by more than one person. We have several commenters here who are either employed by an institution or are a group effort. I think that in itself is not disqualifying. We know from your past writings that you don't like America or Americans [no problem because many here return the feeling]. We know that in any foreign policy dispute involving the United States, you will side with our opponent. While we may not agree with you, you have that right. You frequently ascribe stands and motives to various American political figures that just make no sense from what we know of them. Once again, it is your right; and we can take into account the fact that English is at best a second language for you and seems rapidly to be moving to third place. And your knowledge of us is filtered through the French media. We have a similar problem in that if we don't work very hard to get information from multiple sources; our information on France is based on the American fishwrap media.

This is a symposium of, to be honest, fairly superior thinkers. No hacks here. And we are more informed than 90% of the people of the world.

We come here because of the insight, honest insight, that our host provides. He is an original thinker, who can and does connect disparate facts into a sensible narrative.

You have accused him of being a journalistic prostitute in the service of not only the American government, but also one of its most incompetent branches. He is both too honest to work for the American government and too competent to have anything to do with the State Department.

He is a free man, speaking freely, from one of the freest and proudest countries in the world. And you have insulted him greatly.

I'm pretty sure that in his role as our esteemed host, he will not say anything. But you owe him an apology.

Subotai Bahadur
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Even the best general has to guard against logical fallacies. One is admiring a plan for its elegance. Remember there are always two players in any conflict. Both sides get to decide what they are fighting for and where and when to act.

That makes war unlike the many simulations of conflict that public perception manipulators practice to keep control. Most of the conflicts that the Statists have exploited domestically in the US, the EU and elsewhere where fraudulent in that both sides were collaborating in setting up a false crisis and resolution. For example most of the consent decrees used to advance leftist agendas are not the result of a genuine conflict. The judges bureaucrats and the lawyers for both sides were often in collusion to advance a program at the expense of the general good.

Similarly Putin as a KGB man is an expert at subversion and paralyzing an opponents reflexes. He is not an expert at real conflict. He may prove good at it but that was not his training or his expectation. A few weeks ago when the separatist partisans were running wild and Crimea fell we had our Lubyanka minders assuring us that the Ukrainian officers and troops would defect to Moscow at the first shot. We were told that no one wanted to die for the fascist stooges in Kiev and L'vov. That last may be partly true but it does not mean that people are eager to die for or live under Putin.

Some of the Ukrainian troops may be fighting for a United Ukraine and others may even believe the propaganda that they are Little Russians, and still then fight for a freer Russia. That is the big risk for Putin and his oligarchs. 100,000,000 Russians may decide that they don't want to go to war for Gazprom with America, where they all have cousins now, or with Poland and Ukraine who are proving that Europe and Nato can be Slav friendly.

It is improbable that Nato will rearm. To many are attached to the public teats now in Europe and also now in America, to willingly allow even a few percent of GDP to be spent on rebuilding the forces. If however the realization that Uncle Sugar is not there does change perceptions then in Europe as in Japan the consensus could swing quickly. It would be the hight of Irony, the Ironic class should appreciate it, if The World's Greatest Gun Salesman produced a rearmed West.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (74)
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OpEd in the Wall Street Journal

Putin's Ukraine Assault: In a Shambles but Far From Over

"Nearly three months after Russian mercenaries and Russia-backed proxies began grabbing parts of eastern Ukraine in April, Ukraine's armed forces have made important breakthroughs against the occupiers. Significantly, the forced retreat of these Russian proxies on Sunday from Slovyansk and some other insurgent-occupied cities was chaotic. Some insurgents simply dropped their weapons and have been trying to escape to Russia or the Crimea region of Ukraine, which remains firmly in Russian hands. Others have merely fallen back and redeployed in rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk, provincial capitals in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

As a result, today some three-quarters of the territory of the Donbas and nearly half of its population is back under the control of the Kiev government. Ukraine's forces have reportedly captured large amounts of weapons and ammunition, including anti-aircraft weapons with documentation and operating instructions indicating their origins in Russia.

Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Adm. Ihor Kabanenko, told me in Kiev last week that Ukraine has sealed most of its border with Russia. Now the Ukrainian government is moving quickly in the formerly occupied cities to provide services such as medical care for the sick and elderly. It is resuming payments of pensions and wages that were interrupted by the insurgent takeovers. Television reports from independent Ukrainian channels make clear that as emergency supplies of food arrive, the population—earlier portrayed as pro-separatist by Russian and other media—is not hostile to Ukraine. A poll taken last week by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology showed that in the Donbas, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko now enjoys more trust than either Russia's President Vladimir Putin or the insurgents.

Russian media have also changed their tone markedly since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began to make major progress in mid-June. There has been a sharp decline in the use of terms like "fascist junta" to describe Ukraine's government. Some Russian media outlets have even reported on the humanitarian relief efforts by Ukraine's forces".
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment

Old Doug,
That was me speaking to BCA. No quotes there.

My argument was designed to offer grounds for broader support, including yours. While I do condemn the Putin regime as engaged in crony fascism, I do not exonerate the EU or for that matter the leadership in the US. My argument is merely that a Russian may look at the corrupt but somewhat more successful system in the EU, in terms of material prosperity and the appearance of a more tolerant intellectually and culturally active society, and prefer it to the neo-soviet thuggery being advanced under Putin. By the standards and for the concerns of most of the people who frequent this blog freedom in America is imperiled and in Europe it is a shadow of what we desire. You get no argument from me in deploring those conditions. My belief is that things are worse in Russia. While Putin has claimed the mantle of patriotism I think that seeing him as the best that nation can expect is selling them short. It is perfectly reasonable to disagree with me or anyone else as to how much the United States should promote a more law abiding government and social culture in Russia or Iraq or anywhere else. All that I claim is that Russians and Arabs and Venezuelans and Nigerians and Chinese and Germans and Japanese etc. are all equally worthy of decent government. All are capable of thriving under and supporting such a decent government. The proof is that all have come to America and done so. That does not mean that we can hand anyone the Declaration of Independence to read, as Ho Chi Minh did with two OSS officers standing next to him, and expect miracles to occur.

Is Putinism inefficient? That I do believe.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Remarkably well reasoned, and stated.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Artistic" license.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Blast from the Past: "... there may be many who reject Putin's crony fascism as a less efficient alternative to Euroism."

But what is Euroism if not also a fascist society, a crony society where private ownership is allowed as long as it does what the Political Class demand? The differences between Putinism and Euroism are subtle. The noble democratic free Europe of American leftist imagination never really existed -- and certainly does not exist now.

The sad part is that Obama's America is well down the road to fascism also (whether of the European or Russian variety), with no hope of relief from the Institutional Republicans.

Oh for a Reagan! One does not have to be a "Putin enthusiast" to recognize that he is proud of his country and wants the best for it and its people. Wouldn't it be nice if every country, including the US, were similarly blessed?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment

BC Alexis,
I thought the Whey were Putin's allies to be used against our Curdish friends. Chew on that.

The talk that come Winter the Yurps fold and Putin wins may be true or it may be wishful thinking from Putin enthusiasts. The Winter will hurt Russia too. Putin is no anointed Czar that someone died and left in charge. He is just a political intriguer.

We may be seeing multiple conflicts interleave. That is normal. While there is Putin's grand plan to subvert the US and the EU there is also a civil war going on within the Slavic world. Parts now identify with the Liberal West and part identify with the Authoritarian East. Even within those who reject the EU model or who are suspicious of the US as a cultural model, and millions are not repulsed by the US or despite the propaganda can see past Obama's sewer to Reagan's city, there may be many who reject Putin's crony fascism as a less efficient alternative to Euroism. If despite the provocations the Ukrainians decline to use genocide to prop up Putin then the Russians may prefer the Little Brother's model to the one in Moscow.

What Putin has now is the Crimea. Without land supplies it is just a seaport with a liability attached. If driven to the wall the Ukrainians may attempt to block the channel. If that can be done anonymously then how could Putin respond? The possibility that such a move might be studied does not mean that it will happen. The Georgians failed to blow the Roki tunnel.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
BC Alexis,
"I thought the Whey were Putin's allies to be used against our Curdish friends. Chew on that"

MC is poasting as BC!
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Putin need not worry. Obama is likely to be replaced by another degenerate in his mold.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Concur with other comments about time being Putin's ally. Winter will make the EU yet more "flexible" due to control of the natural gas supply.

Brute military force is only one option, although historically the most common. Diplomacy is as unlikely to resolve this matter as ever. That does leave the tech savvy ex-KGB a wide range of options. That could include denial of service attacks on Ukranian servers in general, hacking their national bank/comms/power systems, false flag ops focused on swaying the media, honey pots (real or illusionary), creating a few deniable industrial accidents involving chemical plant malfunctions/dam failures/etc.

However - Putin is only one man. The Ukranians could have a deniable martyr take him out of play and the Russians would take several months to regroup and coalesce around a new leader.

At the end of the day, Russia can be considered the winner if they retain the Crimea and Ukraine if they regain it.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
OT, but, what the hell!

From Zerohedge:

"At almost double the $2 billion that many had expected, The Washington Post reports that The White House will request $3.8 billion from Congress in emergency funding to deal with an influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America."

Let's see........

3.8 billion is 3,800 million. This is the equivalent of giving $3,800 to each of a million individuals or a million to each of 3,800 individuals.

So, which is Barry going to do?? He could buy off all of these invaders (and many more) at $3,800 a head if they would self-deport or he could enrich the coffers of 3,800 of his bestest inner-circle buddies.

What do you think???
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think, no, I know: We're Screwed.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment

NATO isn't going to do jack or squat and the entire world knows it. Most of Europe spends less than 2% annually on defense, despite their promises and assurances. They treat us geopolitically and militarily like the Greeks treat the Germans and it's time to cut them loose.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ohh! But you forgot that 1,000 man "Euro Army" recently seen parading around Brussels.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
One does not need to be a fan of Ukrainian nationalists nor seek a fight against Mr. Putin to realize how he is using European right wing parties as his toilet paper. He doesn't like them. He doesn't respect them. He uses them, and when he is done, he will throw them away. For those who are always the bridesmaid and never the bride, his attention may feel flattering, but he only seeks to hollow out the European far right just as his predecessors hollowed out European communist parties on the far left.

When Mr. Putin is done, whey will be his puppets and they will dance to his tune.

Mr. Putin is highly adept at laying traps. Politicians such as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen are falling right in. Mr. Putin must be treated with caution as either friend or foe, for he is far from averse to wiping himself with useful idiots who would like to imagine they are his allies.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Correction: When I wrote “whey” in the 2nd paragraph, I meant to write “they”.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Here is an interesting link on the situation in eastern Ukraine. Is it accurate? I have no idea. But I am in good company. When the UN announced there were 160,000 refugees from Eastern Ukraine, the spokeswoman for the US State Dept said she could not confirm that number.

Summary of the action around Slavyansk from that blog:
"AAR (After Action Review). For three months Polkovnik Strelkov tied down the vast majority of the Ukeland Army in his small area. His position was untenable from the beginning. He and his men persevered and fought. He commenced a well planned and masterfully executed evacuation of his forces and many civilians in the dark of night under the very noses of a force that vastly outnumbered him and that force was arrayed all around him. The evacuation column arrived to Donetsk in broad daylight. He arrived with 20 men in April and three months later left with an army of reasonably well equipped, very well trained, and blooded veterans after savaging many units of the Uke army."

My uninformed guess about the future: Putin is waiting for Poroshenko to trigger a humanitarian disaster when he attacks the much larger city of Donetsk. Every day Putin waits is a day closer to Winter, when the Europeans will lose interest in paying for a Ukrainian civil war. When the time is right, Putin will step in to "stop the slaughter of civilians". And the headlines will be about Kim Kardashian's latest bling jewelry.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
If the genocide talk is anywhere near accurate, will Poroshenko create a angry hardened rebel army of Russian Speaking Ukrainians willing to stand up to the Ukrainian army and fight for their homes? Or is it the other way around? Have the Russian speaking Ukrainians of the Eastern Ukraine so abused and pissed off the non-Russian speakers already, that these attacks are retribution for earlier Russian formented violence? Or it is a combination of the two? Who knows?

There may be a starker division in allegiances that most Americans had first thought. In their post,
Arch Puddington and David Kramer argue that with the exception of Georgia and Moldova, every Eurasian former Soviet Republic has followed the harsh authoritarian model blazed by Vlad Putin.

On the other hand however, every other former Soviet Bloc country in Central Europe has strongly embraced democracy and human rights. There seems to be polar opposite viewpoint toward Democracy depending on whether a countries people view themselves as European or view themselves as within the former Soviet Eurasian sphere. In Ukraine, that fault line runs right down the middle of the country, where the Russian Speakers view themselves within the former Soviet Sphere and the rest view themselves as European.

This division of aspiration and thought may run much deeper and passionate than previously thought, and as a result this war may not be so easy to resolve..
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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