22 November 2021 — Moon of Alabama
Ten days ago I wrote about the potential of war in the Ukraine:
There is fear in Russia that the U.S. is egging the Ukraine into a renewed active conflict with its renegade eastern Donbass region and thereby into a war with Russia.
The Biden administrations war mongering towards Russia may be seen to be free of cost. But it takes only one miscalculation in Kiev or some unforeseen incident in the Black Sea region and the situation could seriously escalate.
Moscow sees a salami slicing tactic at work that would only end with NATO directly confronting it on all its borders:
Moscow’s narrative is that the Western powers are deliberately fueling Ukraine’s revanchist instincts by arming it and encouraging President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is fighting for political survival, to believe that with Western support, a window of opportunity is opening to recapture the lost territories in Donbas and Crimea and thereby redeem his pledge to be his country’s savior.
And second, as Moscow sees it, the rising tensions with Russia have become a convenient alibi to involve NATO directly in Ukraine’s security and make it a template of the West’s containment strategy against Russia.
The level of alarm in Russia continues to be high. The current ticker on the right side of the TASS website includes these headlines:
- 22 Nov, 09:09 – Russian radars track over 50 foreign spy planes and drones near state borders over week
- 22 Nov, 10:32 – Migrants change strategy, attempt to cross into Lithuania in small groups, says Vilnius
- 22 Nov, 10:53 – Minsk does not want standoff fraught with conflict on border with Poland, Lukashenko says
- 22 Nov, 11:36 – Polish authorities use refugees as distraction from domestic problems, Lukashenko says
- 22 Nov, 12:02 – Anti-Semitism, Russophobia running rampant in Ukraine, Baltic states, warns Lavrov
- 22 Nov, 12:49 – Over 100 times in 50 years: Russian lawmaker points to extensive overseas meddling by US
- 22 Nov, 13:19 – Russia alarmed by Germany and France’s refusal to uphold implementation of Minsk accords
- 22 Nov, 13:35 – Belligerent rhetoric shows Kiev’s wish to send Donbass conflict into hot phase — Lavrov
- 22 Nov, 15:01 – Kremlin points to rising tide of Ukraine’s provocations with NATO-supplied weapons
- 22 Nov, 15:10 – Kremlin blasts West’s media crusade to portray Russia as ‘threat’ to Ukrainian settlement
- 22 Nov, 15:47 – Moscow, Minsk cannot but retaliate against Western pressure — Union State secretary
- 22 Nov, 16:01 – Topic of Ukraine will be touched upon at Putin-Biden meeting — Lavrov
The above are more then half of the links in the ticker column. It is thus extremely conflict heavy, far more than usual.
Russia has stated that it would intervene in the Ukraine should Kiev decided to invade Donbass. It would be the end of the Ukraine Moscow has said. (Russia would likely end up with taking the majority Russian east and south of the Ukraine. The rest would end up as a landlocked agricultural Nazi infested enclave.)
The Kremlin has also multiple times complained about the ever increasing amount of NATO activities near its border. A U.S. study confirms those activities:
There were some 2,900 incidents between NATO and Russian forces between 2013 and 2020. The three-year moving average increased by more than 60 percent over this eight-year timespan.
That increase was to a large part due to Pentagon policy during the Trump years that was not sanctioned by the White House. The Biden administration has recognized that and is trying to rein the Pentagon in:
The White House has asked the Pentagon to provide a rundown of exercises the U.S. military has taken in recent years in Europe to deter Russia, as well as the justification for each mission, as the Biden administration takes stock of military operations in the air, on land and at sea that are designed to check Kremlin power and reassure U.S. allies and partners in Europe.
The purpose of the request, according to a senior Biden administration official, is to give the White House full visibility into U.S. military exercises and other deterrence activities in Europe so new missions can be evaluated and scheduled in the context of past actions.
The senior official said the amount of information about such missions coming from the Pentagon to the White House when Biden took office was nowhere near what it was during the Obama administration, and the National Security Council was looking to restore the information flow.
The U.S. for its part has claimed that Russia is assembling more troops at its borders with the Ukraine. The claim is false. The Ukrainian defense intelligence chief recently provided a map with a table which shows that Russia has current only 40 Battalion Tactical Groups (ATG) at the ready while during the last ‘Russia invades’ scare in April it had 53 BTGs ready to go. How 25% less troops at the ready are supposed to a new danger is not clear to me.
Samual Charap from the Pentagon think tank RAND corporation warns that the U.S. must press the Ukraine to accept the Minsk agreement or it will almost certainly see Russia and the Ukraine at war. He mentions the alleged buildup of troops in Russia to then correctly note:
If Russia’s tactics feel like a repeat of the past, so, too, does the U.S. approach to the volatile situation in Ukraine. U.S. policy has generally been to offer sticks to Moscow and carrots to Kyiv. Successive administrations have tried to use coercive instruments — largely sanctions or the threat of them — to incentivize Russia to withdraw forces from rebel-held areas of the Donbas and deter further incursions. In parallel, Washington supports Kyiv economically, politically and militarily. The assumption is that the U.S. can coerce Russia into backing down by threatening consequences while strengthening Ukraine’s defenses and anchoring it to the West.
Threatening Russia does not work, he says, the U.S. must seek a comprise and that means pushing Kiev to finally implement the Minsk agreement and to negotiate with the Donbass rebels.
In response to critics of this ‘appeasement’ demand Charap states:
Samuel Charap @scharap – 21:27 UTC · Nov 21, 2021
This is *not* my idea of a good outcome. But, if my analysis of current Russian policy is right (and it seems like the USG is trying to convince allies of the same), the alternative (war) is far worse.
The warnings might have some effects on the White House. The Saker detects signs of secret negotiations between Washington and Moscow that may be at the core of the announced Putin-Biden summit:
Since a Presidential summit is only organized once both sides have already come to a general agreement, at least in principle, on at least some issues, if Putin and Biden do meet, that means that both sides have worked out at least the outlines of some kind important deal (not just empty statements, as was the case the first time around, at least officially).
In his recent speech Putin said “it is imperative to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security in this area, because Russia cannot constantly be thinking about what could happen there tomorrow“. If Biden is willing to not only give guarantees (the Russians, understandably, have *zero* trust in western promises, written or oral) but also to actually take actions, probably mutual, coordinated and verifiable actions by both sides, then a war in Europe could be avoided, rather easily in fact.
Will Biden undo the total mess created by Obama and Trump and their Neocon handlers?
For one thing, such a major political success would certainly help Biden with this (currently atrocious) approval ratings in the USA.
I don’t think that a deal would actually help Biden in the polls. The hawks would scream about it. They want a war in the Ukraine and the U.S. involved in it. However the U.S. public is still unlikely to support a war against Russia which would likely soon escalate.
But a Ukrainian Russian war that the Ukraine is sure to lose and in which the White House does not intervene will lead to huge loss of face.
That prospect then may indeed motivate Biden to give Russia the guarantees it wants.