The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Brief Meditations on Putin and Small Suggestions That May Support Achieving Peace Through Diplomacy

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). in preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions that he has made, but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond concerning Ukraine. What Western decisionmakers require is some reliable foresight into Putin’s actions. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate thinking among readers on new lines of thought and provide kernels of ideas on how to proceed for foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmaking.

On February 24, 2022, frightful predictions of a Russian invasion were realized as Russian forces moved into the country from several points, to include attacks from the territory of Belarus. So many had hoped that the possibility of war would remain just a possibility, and good minds in Western capitals would find some solution and reach an agreement with Moscow by which Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, and the West in general would be satisfied. Evidently, in Ukraine, many wanted to avoid war to the extent they acted as if it were an unlikely possibility. With the surprise and shock barely worn off most Ukrainians at the time of this writing, some have scrambled to move West in order to escape the oncoming death and destruction, and others have joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces or have simply taken up arms in order to be part of a planned insurgency. They are ready and regularly giving all in defense of their homeland.

Not unexpectedly, at the center of it all is Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his mindset. Concerning the Ukraine crisis, the matter with Putin runs deeper, more subtle than it seems many might suppose. One might be aware of this given the multitude of reports on Putin attempting to see reason in his actions. With considerable discomposure, greatcharlie states that many one sided analyses of Putin and the current crisis continue to stifle the advancement of understanding about him. That in turn may be hampering effective action and keeping diplomacy stagnated. One sided analyses fail to genuinely consider the other party’s thoughts and needs. In preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond. To be effective, top foreign and national security policy decisionmakers need to attain a full understanding of both Putin and new situations as they begin to develop. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate the thinking of readers on new lines of thought and kernels of ideas on how to proceed mainly for US foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmakers,  but those analysts and decisionmakers of other Western governments, too. The word heart-wrenching marginally describes scenes viewed worldwide on broadcast and online newsmedia of Ukrainians ruined by war. One cannot look without compassion at what is happening there. With emotions about Ukraine running high, greatcharlie approaches the subject of Ukraine with caution. What comes to mind are words of French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In one of his best-known dramas, “The Misanthrope” or “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux”, Molière writes the sardonic advisory to which greatcharlie has always paid heed: “That any gentleman should always keep in stern control this writing itch we’re seized with; That he must hold in check the great impatience We feel to give the world these idle pastimes; For, through this eagerness to show our works, ‘Tis likely we shall cut a foolish figure’.”

Putin at press conference following bilateral meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022 (above). Putin insists that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russian.

Putin’s Explanation for the War

In his February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, Putin laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. Outlining his authority to invade Ukraine, in his own words, Putin explained: “In accordance with Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter, with permission of Russia’s Federation Council, and in execution of the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, ratified by the Federal Assembly on February 22, I made a decision to carry out a special military operation.” As for his reasoning for the invasion, Putin stated: “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” As for the scope of the special military operation, Putin explained: “It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force. At the same time, we have been hearing an increasing number of statements coming from the West that there is no need any more to abide by the documents setting forth the outcomes of World War II, as signed by the totalitarian Soviet regime. How can we respond to that?”

Boiled down, Putin stated with conviction that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger for ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russia. For almost every other national leader, there is no valid argument to support his choice. Most of the world would likely agree that what he has done is brustschmerzangst, strange and just wrong. In taking this dark, murderous route of invading Ukraine, Putin has sufficiently made the case, once again, that he can be a cruel monster. Few could reasonably deny that Putin cuts the figure of an immoral and cruel ethno-religious nationalist, not exactly steered spiritually by the precepts and strictures of the Russian Orthodox Church, but seemingly by obsession with his own hatred. Hardly any newsmedia commentators in the West, just to stir debate, would go through any pains to single out the points in Putin’s favor. Given choices of whom to alienate on the world stage, Putin has made the top of list. 

In Book X, Section 38 of his Meditations (161 AD-180 AD) the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (April 26, 121 AD-March 17, 180 AD), stated the following about the inner thinking of individuals: “Remember that what pulls the strings is the force hidden within; there lies the power to persuade, there the life,—there, if one must speak out, the real man.” In continuing its discussion on Putin, greatcharlie recognizes that many readers may not find the discussion immediately following satisfying, but it is asked that readers allow some room for maneuver on the following points.

All that has transpired in Russia since Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared the Russian Federation as a sovereign country, no longer a republic of the collapsed Soviet Union, has been the manifestation of Putin’s vigorous, and yes, masterful mind. Even the criminal mind can be regarded as masterful. Coldly exploring Putin, given his accomplishments despite his atrocious actions, it could be assessed that Putin is indeed a noteworthy individual. (The same might be said of Satan!) Perhaps some might coldly assess that Putin has been somewhat brave in the way that he spoke for what he says he believes in, brave in the way he takes on challenges presented to him and challenges he creates. He is ruled by his passions. if an Russian Orthodox Catholic priest, he would become the Primate. If a musician, he would rule the stage. None of this is not stated out of any respect or deference, but clear-headed consideration.

Within the foreign and national security bureaucracies of Western governments, formulating the best response diplomatically on Ukraine will mean better understanding Putin and how he thinks. Analyses within the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, given their access of analysts to intelligence reports, access to classified information collected by friendly foreign governments, their institutional knowledge and experience, etcetera, are understood to be a cut above that of the mainstream newsmedia. Stating this with no intention to offend, it would seem given outcomes and newsmedia reporting on the matter, that presently despite special sources, greater capabilities, and nuances, those bureaucracies are seemingly producing analyses somewhat similar to what the aforementioned newsmedia has on Putin. As a result, finding answers to cope effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. It was once common wisdom that significant US involvement alone in earlier times would have had a steading effect. However, it does not appear to have such powers at the present. Neither promises nor “vague” threats from the US could induce Putin to pull back his forces and refrain from invading Ukraine. International law and maintaining international peace and security mean absolutely nothing to Putin any more.

The agreement Moscow signed promising not to invade Ukraine is the Budapest Memorandum. Drawn up in 1994, the Budapest Memorandum essentially states that Ukraine, having agreed to relinquish its nuclear arsenal which at the time was the third-largest in world, would be assured its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the other countries that signed the deal. Ukraine’s nuclear warheads would be transferred to Russia for decommissioning, and Ukraine would join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state. Other than then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the memorandum was signed by then US President Bill Clinton, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin, and the United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major. With regard to assuring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ukraine was only provided a politically binding security assurances to respect its independence and sovereignty which guaranteed its existing borders. The US was unwilling to agree to intervene then should Ukraine’s sovereignty be breached, and it clearly remains unwilling today. The government in Kyiv in 1994 very strangely put Ukraine in a wickedly precarious situation, relying too heavily on the goodwill of other countries. They did not know what the future would bring. Surely, they could not forsee or imagine the present-day Russian invasion. For Ukrainians, the deal reached in Budapest was a very bad one.

Putin interrogating the head of the Russian Federation Foreign Intelligence Service on February 21, 2022 during a Security Council meeting the Kremlin. (above). Western analysts have created the impression that they are unable to see Putin straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.”

The Hopeless Search for a ‘Good Reason” for This War

Concerning the reasons for things,, the renowned “spy novelist” John Le Carre in his blockbuster work Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Simon & Schuster, 1972) had his main character explain reason can be founded in three ways: “reason is logic”; “reason is motive”; and, “reason is a way of life.” Among those who examine Putin regularly, some surely would find his recent decision-making very difficult to reconcile within the settled order of nature. To that extent it is worth examining because it is inexplicable. The rational part of greatcharlie insists upon it.

A common theme heard in Western foreign policy circles and newsmedia concerning Putin’s attitude and behavior before and during the first few days of the invasion was that Putin was bent on reestablishing the Soviet Union as it existed before its collapse. Standing in the way of that expansion, was his perception of alleged expansionist aims of NATO. That perceived NATO expansion into Ukraine, which remains a real “threat,” an absolutely horrifying possibility to Putin and his advisers. Boastfully, provokingly Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky amplified the notion of Ukraine joining NATO before and more so right after the invasion. and before the invasion, his words likely stayed with Putin much as a song that would not get out of his head. In the fragile negotiations organized on the initiative of Ukraine and Russia since the invasion began, and endorsed by the US and other Western countries, Zelensky has back tracked on the matter, saying NATO membership is no longer an immutable position of Kyiv. However, that is due to the fact that far greater matters concerning Ukraine’s future, including the retention of its territory, are now at stake. Once a very weighty issue is now a simple bargaining chip of value yet to be fully determined at the negotiating table.

Intriguingly, US intelligence officials have made their assessments that Putin cannot be seen straight. CNN on March 1, 2022 reported that the US intelligence community has made evaluating Putin’s state of mind a top priority, seeking to establish how that is affecting his handling of the rapidly escalating Ukraine crisis. Although the US intelligence community has spent many years evaluating Putin, and possesses a considerable institutional knowledge about him as greatcharlie alluded to earlier when discuss the US foreign and national security bureaucracies, CNN noted that it has “a notoriously poor view into his day-to-day decision-making. The Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.” In fact, CNN reported, based on information from an official source, that there has not been any new comprehensive assessment by the US Intelligence Community that indicates a particular change to Putin’s overall health. (It would appear that Gospodin Vladimir Vladimirovich has been terribly unhelpful concerning US efforts to evaluate him!) The fact that such a gap in knowledge and understanding about aspects of Putin’s life exist should not at all be satisfactory for the US Congress or for executives and managers within the Intelligence Community, itself.

Interestingly enough, there was also no serious discussion of Putin being off-key in the months leading to the invasion or even on February 24, 2022. In preceding posts on Ukraine, greatcharlie noted with curiosity that national leaders in the West, despite declaring Putin a violent, loathsome man, rarely if ever put into question his mental state. Thiere was no discussion of Putin’s mental state as he began the build up of Russian forces near Ukraine in 2021. On March 31, 2021, when the US European Command raised its awareness level to “potential imminent crisis” in response to estimates that over 100,000 Russian troops had been positioned along its border with Ukraine and within Crimea, in addition to its naval forces in the Sea of Azov. Indeed, European Command made it quite clear that there were signs of potential violence. An assessment of Putin’s mental state that greatly called into question his ostensible preparations to blindly inflict harm on the people of Ukraine may have changed everything for top decisionmakers in Western governments..

Observing how Putin was being perceived in Moscow, there was apparently no concern among political leaders about his mental state. indeed,, he was actually provided even greater powers by Russian political leaders to carry out his plans for Ukraine. On February 15, 2022, Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, voted overwhelmingly to ask Putin to formally recognize Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Donetsk People’s Republic)or Donetsk and Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Lugansk People’s Republic or Luhansk People’s Republic) or Luhansk. Before the invasion, Donetsk and Luhansk were still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent republics. Putin took the step authorized by the Duma. The greatest concern in the West when Hi did so was the fact that it meant a formal end to Russia’s role in maintaining the integrity of the ceasefire between Ukrainian and separatist forces constructed under the Minsk Agreements. Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on Telegram after the vote: “Kyiv does not comply with the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots living in Donbas need help and support,” He went on to state: “In this regard, [Duma lawmakers] believe the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics will create grounds for guaranteeing the security and protection of their inhabitants from external threats.”

Returning more directly to the issue of Western perceptions of Putin’s mental state, surely, there are those among US foreign and national security policy analysts who conversely would assess that his recent actions are consistent with those prior. An example provided in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled, Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”, Putin would be willing to Russia to challenging and uncertain military operations. The prime example offered was the second on Chechnya by Russian forces in 1999. Russian forces went in depite having been unsuccessful in an operation there three years earlier. Speculation about Putin’s mental health became most popular after his broadcast address on his decision to order a special military operation against Ukraine. Reportedly, the most shocking aspect of the address for top officials was the justification he gave for the invasion. On February 25, 2022, US Senator Marco Rubio relayed on Twitter @marcorubio that Putin “has always been a killer, but his problem now is different & significant,” suggesting he was basing his assessment on intelligence briefings given to him as the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He tweeted further: “I wish I could share more,but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with #Putin.” Summing up all that he could say publicly what he gleaned from the briefing Rubio stated: “It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have 5 years ago.”

CNN on March 1, 2022 noted that following the Congressional briefing that Rubio attended, the floodgates further opened regarding Putin’s mental state. Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who served in that post during the administration of US President Barack Obama tweeted that Putin had “changed,” and sounded “completely disconnected from reality” and “unhinged.” Former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, who also served under Obama, referred to Putin on CNN as “unhinged” and warned, “I worry about his acuity and balance.”

A photo from the Stasi archives in Dresden picture of Putin (second from the left) standing with a group of senior Soviet and East German military and security officers and officials. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, through that service, he certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions.

When one moves into the realm of conjecture, one guess is as good as another. What may not make sense to one, might speak volumes to another. Among other, more recherché, even outré, explanations for Putin’s behavior are the following. There are those who would point to Putin’s service in the behemoth Soviet Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the virtual nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. Yet, that same KGB service surely had Putin working alongside Ukrainians who he appreciated and observed serving the service well in what was once East Germany. He certainly would be aware of numerous acts of sacrifice and valor by Ukrainians in the service of the KGB. It would seem remembering those KGB comrades would cause Putin pause and compel him to reflect hard on such a decision to invade Ukraine. Fraternité! However, clearly such thoughts about his KGB service provided no barrier to his actions. Interestingly, as Putin place much concern over the history of Ukraine in his calculus of how to proceed, he conversely would likely say thoughts of his KGB would not be relevant. What is most pertinent are circumstances as they exist today! Hearing his thoughts on the intersection of these matters would surely reveal an intriguing duality. 

Putin himself has played a active deliberate role in glazing over any prospective windows into him with staged scenes for worldwide newsmedia distribution. The truth of the moment is anyone’s guess. Putin likely has a near bottomless bag of tricks. The more recherché his behavior, the greater attention it gets and the greater its chances of retention. In the aforementioned CNN report of March 1, 2022, it is noted that one US official told the newsmedia house that US intelligence officials “have been on guard for the possibility that Putin’s strategy may well be to project instability, in an attempt to push the US and allies to give him what he wants for fear that he could do worse.” Still further, Putin, after all, is a fan of comedy. Supposedly, one of his films was “Ivan Vasilyevich Menyayet Professiyu” (“Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession”) (1973), a Soviet comedic film in which Ivan IV “The Terrible” is accidentally transported by time a machine in a apartment building to the present and the apartment building superintendent and a petty thief are sent to the 16th century a try to require themselves as Ivan the Terrible and a duke of his court. Absolute madness ensues. Russian cultural references, dry humor, and crni humor, is found in many of the characters’ lines. What may have tickled Putin about the film is not so much what was unexpected, but those things that were also outré. (When Putin is in a good mood, certainly unlikely the way he is today, one might speak figuratively that even the heavy planet Saturn which symbolizes maturity, responsibility, discipline, and stewardship, would laugh and leap with him. Yet, this is beside the question.) Surely, there is nothing humorous about anything Putin has done in Ukraine, but again concerning the diplomatic front and political warfare front, as mentioned the US Intelligence Community might agree, he is well-aware of the type of impact certain images, some possibly facetious, would most likely have upon Western observers.

Considering Putin’s recent behavior, perhaps it is not so much that Putin has changed, it may be the case that he has just gotten a little older, and that could have been expected. With age everything changes. Without any intention to appear ageist, greatcharlie suggests that this is an idea lost of many under 65. Of course, not every senior is the same. Some individuals actually shine brighter and find their true selves. Some do not change at all, either for the better or for the worse. Yet, perhaps it is very well the case that Putin, at 69, has entered a new era and has lost interest in what he might perceive as shoe-horning himself into Western constructs to gain some sense of attainment, sense of arrival, sense of assuring Russia a place on the world stage, the first tier. Knowing that Russia is a superpower, whether foreigners agree or not, may now be enough for him. Ukraine evinces this suggested mindset well.

While greatcharlie always senses it is moving out on shaky ground when suggesting medical causality for an individual’s behavior, but perchance Putin may have a B1 vitamin deficiency. As an odd symptom of B1 vitamin deficiency, one can become disconnected from reality, not rational, or reasonable. 

Surely, the notion that there may be something supernatural about Putin’s attitude and behavior at this time would offend all reason of most observers and analysts alike. Yet, perhaps Putin may have been put under the control of a dark shaman who has sinister intentions. Hopefully on this point, greatcharlie will not be accused of faulty humor. What would be most supportive of efforts to get to heart of the matter would be an explanation from disciplined reasoning that would be albeit more prosaic, not guesses that boil down to nonsense. As touched upon earlier, claiming that Putin is unstable and behaving irratically is not an answer. It is an expression of symptoms of observed, associates them with actions,  but that information does not explain their cause. To that extent, such assessments presumably unintentionally mask the failure to find real answers, develop useful information. National leaders and policymakers cannot neither develop worthwhile plans nor comfortably base decisions on such.

Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych following the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan, Putin likely felt more and more that  remnants of the former Soviet Empire which he hoped to hold on to were being chipped away by the West, bit by bit. Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront as he surely perceives it as an important feature of Western efforts expand eastward toward Russia’s border. Indeed, NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and that the government in Kyiv has been pulled far from Moscow’s political reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that he has logically reached that conclusion. given Western actions.

With further regard to Euromaidan, since then, national administrations in Kyiv that came to power after the exit of Yanukovych have gambled on what they wanted and saw as a sure bet, partnership with the West, which attendantly meant the exclusion of nearly everything from Russia that they could exclude safely, reasonably. Kyiv believed Ukraine, its growing partnership with the West, seemingly formalized with the US-Ukraine Strategic Security Pact along with existing agreements such as the Budapest Memorandum, the Minsk Agreements, meant greater security for Ukraine. Kyiv took a considerable risk taking that approach, and it lost. Although it should not have happened, but nonetheless did happen, Putin responded. He figuratively closed the casino and all the winnings on the tables. By tethering itself to the West, Ukraine surely did not become more secure. Perhaps the real issue is that Putin sees Ukraine as a whole-minus the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic–traitorous, since Kyiv, under its present leadership, for all intents and purposes, has turned its back to Russia immutably. Ukraine had become the object of Putin’s pain.

One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. Indeed, for greatcharlie, an reliable undemanding, uncomplicated way to develop an understanding of Putin’s perspectives on Ukraine would be to thumb through his expressions on the Ukraine matter. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. A brief sampling of pertinent expressions by Putin, to avoid being “too prolix,” reveals his concerns, sense of vulnerability to the West and that these expressions were both persistent and consistent.

US President Barack Obama during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014 (above). One might consider that Putin’s most recent behavior and choices may possibly be part of a pattern of expression and actions seemingly given too little serious attention in not just the run up to the invasion but years before. There have been numerous reports and transcripts of chief executive level telephone conversations, speeches, statements, and declarations that should not have left anyone in doubt that he was coming for Ukraine at some point if the matter were not addressed in some fulsome way beforehand. During their March 2014 call, Putin told Obama that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin declared, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”

2014 Telephone Conversation with Obama

Reportedly, during a 90-minute phone call with Putin from Washington on March 2, 2014, Obama warned that Russia could face “serious repercussions” unless it halted military operations in Ukraine. Obama further stated to Putin that his actions were a “clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law.” Obama additionally urged Putin to pursue “direct engagement with the government of Ukraine” and support the “dispatch of international observers under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In a reported statement from the Kremlin, Putin told Obama, bluntly, that the US-backed interim Ukraine administration was threatening “the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots” in Crimea. Putin reportedly went on to say, “In the case of any further spread of violence to eastern Ukraine and Crimea,” and he warned, “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” However, in an official statement from the Kremlin concerning the telephone call Putin had Obama on March 2, 2014, it was declared that “in reply to Obama’s concern over the possibility of the use of Russian armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin drew his attention to the provocative and criminal actions on the part of ultranationalists who are in fact being supported by the current authorities in Kiev.” The Kremlin statement further noted that “The Russian President spoke of a real threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and the many compatriots who are currently on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that in case of any further spread of violence to Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” Themes from the Russian side of that conversation still heard today were the threat of ultranationalists (neo-Nazis) and threat to the lives and health of Russian citizens and compatriots who were in Ukraine. Notably, Putin deliberately describes Ukraine, a sovereign country as a territory. It was a subtle utterance Obama might have missed the significance of.

Putin’s Speech at the State Duma on March 18, 2014

One of Putin’s greatest expressions of vulnerability in his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In the official Kremlin transcript of that speech, Putin is quoted as stating the following on Ukraine and the rise of ultranationalists: I would like to reiterate that I understand those who came out on Maidan with peaceful slogans against corruption, inefficient state management and poverty. The right to peaceful protest, democratic procedures and elections exist for the sole purpose of replacing the authorities that do not satisfy the people. However, those who stood behind the latest events in Ukraine had a different agenda: they were preparing yet another government takeover; they wanted to seize power and would stop short of nothing. They resorted to terror, murder and riots. Nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites executed this coup. They continue to set the tone in Ukraine to this day. On the matter of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, to which Putin refers directly as Russians, he stated: “The new so-called authorities began by introducing a draft law to revise the language policy, which was a direct infringement on the rights of ethnic minorities. However, they were immediately ‘disciplined’ by the foreign sponsors of these so-called politicians. One has to admit that the mentors of these current authorities are smart and know well what such attempts to build a purely Ukrainian state may lead to. The draft law was set aside, but clearly reserved for the future. Hardly any mention is made of this attempt now, probably on the presumption that people have a short memory. Nevertheless, we can all clearly see the intentions of these ideological heirs of Bandera, Hitler’s accomplice during World War II.” Putin would add further in the speech: “Those who opposed the coup were immediately threatened with repression. Naturally, the first in line here was Crimea, the Russian-speaking Crimea. In view of this, the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and lives, in preventing the events that were unfolding and are still underway in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkov and other Ukrainian cities.” As for the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv and attendantly the sovereignty of Ukraine itself, Putin explained: “It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to. Many government agencies have been taken over by the impostors, but they do not have any control in the country, while they themselves – and I would like to stress this – are often controlled by radicals. In some cases, you need a special permit from the militants on Maidan to meet with certain ministers of the current government. This is not a joke – this is reality.” Then, declaring his authority to act of what he perceived as a dangerous situation, Putin stated: “Naturally, we could not leave this plea unheeded; we could not abandon Crimea and its residents in distress. This would have been betrayal on our part.” The same the three elements were repeated in the speech as in the telephone call with tge March 2014 Obama telephone call, Ukraine was a base for neo-Nazis, ethnic-Russians lives were endangered, and Ukraine’s sovereignty was questionable.

Concerning Putin’s sense of vulnerability to the West, it was laid out in the open for all to hear. To summarize, Putin vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating Western actions that fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Doubtlessly, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time so inflamed Putin’s sense of ardor to respond militarily.

Putin’s July 2021 Essay on Ukraine

During the Summer of 2021 and more so during the run up to the invasion, many passed their eyes over Putin’s July 12, 2021 essay entitled, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” All in all, it is very interesting as a piece of history but has little to do with the present realities in the minds of reasonable thinkers and could hardly be the sort of thing that civilized, technologically advanced, industrial societies would go to war over. In greatcharlie’s view, it is essential to take note of Putin’s understanding of the matter to discern his true mindset lies, how his thinking works on the matter. It will doubtlessly have an impact on how he may settle on the matter as events take shape on the battlefield. 

Although Putin goes as far back as the odyssey of the Ancient Rus, dwells in the history of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries and moves more expediently through the 17th and 18th centuries, to explain the historical ties and the bond between Ukrainians and Russians, perhaps most relevant to his view of Ukraine’s place as a sovereign country starts with the Bolsheviks. Boiled down what can be gathered by greatcharlie from the essay as concisely as possible, greatcharlie recounts the following highlights from the essay. Putin explains that following the February Revolution, in March 1917, the Central Rada was established in Kiev, intended to become the organ of supreme power. In November 1917, in its Third Universal, it declared the creation of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) as part of Russia. In December 1917, UPR representatives arrived in Brest-Litovsk, where Soviet Russia was negotiating with Germany and its allies. At a meeting on 10 January 1918, the head of the Ukrainian delegation read out a note proclaiming the independence of Ukraine. Subsequently, the Central Rada proclaimed Ukraine independent in its Fourth Universal. Putin then explains that Ukrainians after signing a separate treaty with German bloc countries  Rada delegates signed a separate treaty with the. Germany and Austria-Hungary which needed Ukrainian bread and raw materials. In order to secure large-scale supplies, they obtained consent for sending their troops and technical staff to the UPR. Putin states that in fact, this was used as a pretext for occupation, by 1918, Ukraine was in his view essentially under German protectorate. Following the revolutionary events in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918, Ukrainian nationalists proclaimed the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (WUPR) and, in January 1919, announced its unification with the Ukrainian People’s Republic. 

Putin goes on to explain that in July 1919, Ukrainian forces were crushed by Polish troops, and the territory of the former WUPR came under the Polish rule. According to Putin, in April 1920, Symon Petliura signed a secret conventions on behalf of the UPR Directorate, giving up–in exchange for military support–Galicia and Western Volhynia lands to Poland. In May 1920, Petliurites entered Kiev in a convoy of Polish military units. Yet, as early as November 1920, following a truce between Poland and Soviet Russia, the remnants of Petliura’s forces surrendered to those same Poles. Putin, however, also reflects back to note that in early 1918, when the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic was proclaimed, it asked Moscow to incorporate it into Soviet Russia. This was met with a refusal. During a meeting with the republic’s leaders, Soviet Premier Vladimir Lenin insisted that they act as part of the pre-existing Soviet Ukraine. On 15 March 1918, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) directly ordered that delegates be sent to the Ukrainian Congress of Soviets, including from the Donetsk Basin, and that ”one government for all of Ukraine“ be created at the congress. The territories of the Donetsk-Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic later formed most of the regions of south-eastern Ukraine. 

Putin explains that under the 1921 Treaty of Riga, concluded between the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and Poland, the western lands of the former Russian Empire were ceded to Poland. However, he reminds that in 1939, the USSR regained the lands earlier seized by Poland. A major portion of these became part of the Soviet Ukraine. In 1940, the Ukrainian SSR incorporated part of Bessarabia, which had been occupied by Romania since 1918, as well as Northern Bukovina. In 1948, Zmeyiniy Island (Snake Island) in the Black Sea became part of Ukraine. Imaginably, poignant to Putin was relaying the fact that in 1954, the Crimean Region of the RSFSR was given to the Ukrainian SSR, in gross violation of legal norms that were in force at the time. Putin’s reality on that matter founded his action to capture Crimea in 2014. It may be enough to comment on the this part of essay by quoting the 20th century US financier and statesman, Bernard Baruch, who remarked: “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”

As for the Ukrainian identity, Putin explained that “In the 1920’s-1930’s, the Bolsheviks actively promoted the ”localization policy“, which took the form of Ukrainization in the Ukrainian SSR. Symbolically, as part of this policy and with consent of the Soviet authorities, Mikhail Grushevskiy, former chairman of Central Rada, one of the ideologists of Ukrainian nationalism, who at a certain period of time had been supported by Austria-Hungary, was returned to the USSR and was elected member of the Academy of Sciences. Putin emphasized that “The localization policy undoubtedly played a major role in the development and consolidation of the Ukrainian culture, language and identity. At the same time, under the guise of combating the so-called Russian great-power chauvinism, Ukrainization was often imposed on those who did not see themselves as Ukrainians.”

The decision of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I to allow a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Catholic Church from the Russian Orthodox Church for many in Russia may have oddly validated Putin’s concern that West was using its influence to pull Ukrainians away from their cultural traditions. Putin’s position on the matter has garnered support from thehead of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. There are not too many issues that could potentially reach the majority of the Russian population on the West’s alleged intention to separate Ukraine from Russia than to create or emphasize a connection between West and the schism from Russian Othodoxy in Ukraine. On that matter, Putin declared: “Our spiritual unity has also been attacked. As in the days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a new ecclesiastical has been initiated. The secular authorities, making no secret of their political aims, have blatantly interfered in church life and brought things to a split, to the seizure of churches, the beating of priests and monks. Even extensive autonomy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church while maintaining spiritual unity with the Moscow Patriarchate strongly displeases them. They have to destroy this prominent and centuries-old symbol of our kinship at all costs.”

Regarding his concern over the alleged welcomed and influential place of neo-Nazis hold in Ukraine, politically, militarily, and socially, Putin expressed: “I think it is also natural that the representatives of Ukraine over and over again vote against the UN General Assembly resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism. Marches and torchlit processions in honor of remaining war criminals from the SS units take place under the protection of the official authorities. Mazepa, who betrayed everyone, Petliura, who paid for Polish patronage with Ukrainian lands, and Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazis, are ranked as national heroes. Everything is being done to erase from the memory of young generations the names of genuine patriots and victors, who have always been the pride of Ukraine.”

The July 2021 essay presumably was shaped not only for the benefit of future historians but certainly for the present-day domestic audience in Russia and the people of Ukraine. What the Russian public was supposed to take away was a sense the that West was trying to destroy Russia and its actions in that direction, many disguised, have been quite sinister. Putin explained: “Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity. And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. As a result of such a harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians, the Russian people in all may decrease by hundreds of thousands or even millions.” As for the Ukrainians, Putin left them with a choice to atone for their error of turning westward by joining a path he prescribed or face severe consequences, invasion. Likely in his own mind, he “judiciously” stated: “Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us. We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous. Putin made what was a thinly veiled threat in stating: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.” Then given what has transpired in Ukraine since February he made a statement which now could be labelled bizarre: “Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be ”anti-Ukraine“. And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide.”

Putin during his February 24, 2022 televised address on Ukraine (above). In his February 24, 2022 televised address, Putin put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West, more specifically the US, and well-serves as a fulsome expression of the accumulation of stress and his sense of vulnerability. In his own words, Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.”

Putin’s February 24, 2022 Televised Address on Ukraine 

While Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised address made just hours before the invasion of Ukraine was not a comprehensive expression of his ideas and theories to include subjects neo-Nazis and Ukrainian sovereignty called attention to here, although in declaring the right to move Russian forces into Ukraine, he indicates that he has does not recognize the sovereign rights of the country. Putin does, however, put before his audience a review of his sense of threat to Russia from the West and an alleged anti-Russia mindset of Western governments. Putin’s contends that “over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.” One Putin’s earliest expressions of resentment, albeit in a nuanced, subtle manner, toward the US was a 1999 essay entitled “‘Russia at the Turn of the Millennium’–A Strategy for Russia’s Revival.” In his February 24th address, he returns to that idea, far more aggressively stating: “As for our country, after the disintegration of the USSR, given the entire unprecedented openness of the new, modern Russia, its readiness to work honestly with the United States and other Western partners, and its practically unilateral disarmament, they immediately tried to put the final squeeze on us, finish us off, and utterly destroy us. This is how it was in the 1990s and the early 2000s, when the so-called collective West was actively supporting separatism and gangs of mercenaries in southern Russia. What victims, what losses we had to sustain and what trials we had to go through at that time before we broke the back of international terrorism in the Caucasus! We remember this and will never forget.” Putin went on to state on the matter: “Properly speaking, the attempts to use us in their own interests never ceased until quite recently: they sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration, because they are contrary to human nature. This is not going to happen. No one has ever succeeded in doing this, nor will they succeed now.” 

Despite the problems Russia has encountered engaging with the West, Putin explained that Moscow tried to reason with Western powers. He noted that in December 2021: “We made yet another attempt to reach agreement with the United States and its allies on the principles of European security and NATO’s non-expansion. Our efforts were in vain. The United States has not changed its position. It does not believe it necessary to agree with Russia on a matter that is critical for us. The United States is pursuing its own objectives, while neglecting our interests.”

Putin moves on to the notion of Russia becoming in way similar to the designation in the children’s game “It” on a forever it, the forever enemy of the West, and NATO would exist as long as there was a Russia. Putin remarked: “Those who aspire to global dominance have publicly designated Russia as their enemy. They did so with impunity. Make no mistake, they had no reason to act this way. It is true that they have considerable financial, scientific, technological, and military capabilities. We are aware of this and have an objective view of the economic threats we have been hearing, just as our ability to counter this brash and never-ending blackmail. Let me reiterate that we have no illusions in this regard and are extremely realistic in our assessments.” Seemingly well-aware of the deficits in the capabilities of his conventional forces and delinquencies of Russian commanders, the consequences of which are full display in Ukraine, Putin placed emphasis Russia’s nuclear forces with regard to the countries’ defense, stating: “As for military affairs, even after the dissolution of the USSR and losing a considerable part of its capabilities, today’s Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states. Moreover, it has a certain advantage in several cutting-edge weapons. In this context, there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.” Concerning the foreign military presence and build up on Russia’s borders, Putin noted that : “At the same time, technology, including in the defence sector, is changing rapidly. One day there is one leader, and tomorrow another, but a military presence in territories bordering on Russia, if we permit it to go ahead, will stay for decades to come or maybe forever, creating an ever mounting and totally unacceptable threat for Russia. To the extend that relates to NATO expansion, Putin explained: “Even now, with NATO’s eastward expansion the situation for Russia has been becoming worse and more dangerous by the year. Moreover, these past days NATO leadership has been blunt in its statements that they need to accelerate and step up efforts to bring the alliance’s infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders. In other words, they have been toughening their position. We cannot stay idle and passively observe these developments. This would be an absolutely irresponsible thing to do for us. Putin went on to declare: “Any further expansion of the North Atlantic alliance’s infrastructure or the ongoing efforts to gain a military foothold of the Ukrainian territory are unacceptable for us. Of course, the question is not about NATO itself. It merely serves as a tool of US foreign policy. The problem is that in territories adjacent to Russia, which I have to note is our historical land, a hostile “anti-Russia” is taking shape. Fully controlled from the outside, it is doing everything to attract NATO armed forces and obtain cutting-edge weapons. I have already said that Russia accepted the new geopolitical reality after the dissolution of the USSR. We have been treating all new post-Soviet states with respect and will continue to act this way. We respect and will respect their sovereignty, as proven by the assistance we provided to Kazakhstan when it faced tragic events and a challenge in terms of its statehood and integrity. However, Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist while facing a permanent threat from the territory of today’s Ukraine.”

Noting that his use of military power to resolve the supposed threatening situation in Ukraine was not unprecedented, Putin remarked: “Let me remind you that in 2000–2005 we used our military to push back against terrorists in the Caucasus and stood up for the integrity of our state. We preserved Russia. In 2014, we supported the people of Crimea and Sevastopol. In 2015, we used our Armed Forces to create a reliable shield that prevented terrorists from Syria from penetrating Russia. This was a matter of defending ourselves. We had no other choice.” Indulging what was long nursed reckless and dangerous eccentricity concerning the West, Putin went further to say: “The same is happening today. They did not leave us any other option for defending Russia and our people, other than the one we are forced to use today. In these circumstances, we have to take bold and immediate action. The people’s republics of Donbass have asked Russia for help.” Propter curam meam in perpetuo periculo non eritis. (Because of my care (concern), you will not be in perpetual danger.) Hey-ho!

The “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation

Worthwhile to note along with these expressions is a very strong and apposite 2013 Military Statement a response to NATO expansion and Putin’s sense of vulnerability and belief that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”, it was noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin accepted the threat assessment of the the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition is also part of that picture. To rehearse the defense against the West, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced massive strategic military exercises Zapad 2017, scheduled to take place in September 2017. He said the joint exercise, which would include Russian and Belarusian forces, will be the “main military event of 2017.” Further, the two countries armed forces will cooperate in over 130 events and measures. Shoigu explained: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.”

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). On February 14, 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources.

Message from the Biden Administration to Putin on Ukraine: “To Hell with You!”

Well before the Ukraine crisis, arguably Washington did not appear willing to approach Moscow with a mind to address in some fruitful way the concerns he broached. That tack has apparently played a role in bringing parties to the conflict to the point where they are today. At the end of 2021, in the face of the aggregate of Putin’s expressed concerns about Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba ssigned the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership in Washington, DC on November 10, 2021. Much of the Charter concerned countering Russian aggression, It notes that the US and Ukraine share a vital national interest in a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine. It recognizes Ukraine’s situation vis-a-vis Russia developing into a near impossible one. “Section II: Security and Countering Russian Aggression” of the Charter explains that the US has offered Ukraine all that it can to prevent further encroachment on its territory and interference in its affairs. To that extent, the Charter says that the US is determined to gird Kyiv’s capabilities to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Both are considered “concurrent priorities.” Describing those steps, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine intend to continue a range of substantive measures to prevent external direct and hybrid aggression against Ukraine and hold Russia accountable for such aggression and violations of international law, including the seizure and attempted annexation of Crimea and the Russia-led armed conflict in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, as well as its continuing malign behavior. The United States intends to support Ukraine’s efforts to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions, and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions against or related to Russia and applying other relevant measures until restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

More specifically, on Crimea and the civil conflict in the Donbas stirred by Russia the Charter indicated that the US has no intention of backing away from its position on the matter. Apparently to avoid any ambiguities or misunderstandings in Moscow, the Charter firmly declares the US position on Crimea and the Donbas as following: “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and reaffirms its full support for international efforts, including in the Normandy Format, aimed at negotiating a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-led armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine on the basis of respect for international law, including the UN Charter. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to use the Crimea Platform to coordinate international efforts to address the humanitarian and security costs of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, consistent with the Platform’s Joint Declaration.”

As for the way in which the US would tangibly support Ukraine’s defense, there are no warnings of intentions to take extreme measures, to include military action. However, the Charter states: “The United States and Ukraine endorse the 2021 Strategic Defense Framework as the foundation of enhanced Ukraine-US defense and security cooperation and intend to work to advance shared priorities, including implementing defense and defense industry reforms, deepening cooperation in areas such as Black Sea security, cyber defense, and intelligence sharing, and countering Russia’s aggression. The United States and Ukraine are key partners in the broader Black Sea region and will seek to deepen cooperation with Black Sea Allies and partners to ensure freedom of navigation and effectively counter external threats and challenges in all domains. Directly in terms of US military assistance, the Charter explains: “The United States remains committed to assisting Ukraine with ongoing defense and security reforms and to continuing its robust training and exercises. The United States supports Ukraine’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner to promote interoperability. Ukraine intends to continue to enhance democratic civilian control of the military, reform its security service, and modernize its defense acquisition processes to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations. The United States and Ukraine underline the importance of close cooperation within international institutions, including the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, and intend to multiply efforts in finding new approaches and developing joint actions in preventing individual states from trying to destroy the rule-based international order and forcefully to revise internationally recognized state borders.” It is precisely this section of the Charter that likely occupied Putin’s mind.

Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine, perhaps one might be better enabled to derive the sense of the vulnerability, mentioned often here, that lies within in Putin, especially toward the US and its allies and how it has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, many of whom had held senior posts in the Obama administration, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, Putin had experienced considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment in his dealing with Obama administration officials, particularly on Ukraine. As he appeared to have perceived their actions, they found it rather piquant to interact with him as if he were a lesser party, and his positions and concerns were undeserving of consideration. Communications were condescending, actions were often insulting. In an explosion of aggression, doubtlessly in part response to his treatment, he conquered Ukraine and tormented civil war in the Donbass. He engaged in other destabilizing efforts. Apparently, he never forgot. Seeing the appointment of many of those same officials in even higher posts in the Biden administration, Putin viewed everything they did with a sense of their past actions. One might theorize that although he could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, Putin could reach the Ukrainians who, as suggested earlier, he may view as something akin to “defectors”, surely he would view them as “traitorous”. He knew what anguish and loss that would cause those officials and it would cause the same and much for the “Ukrainian followers.” To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engaged, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration and settle scores once and for all. (See greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post for a fuller discussion of its analysis of Putin’s view of the Biden administration officials,)

It is almost certain that Putin planned to move into Ukraine, surely into the Donbas, at some point in the first quarter of 2022. Yet, there was also the chance he would reconsider if the right type of discussions and negotiations were initiated. As it was, Moscow’s talks with Washington before the invasion had reached the doldrums. What Moscow would hear most from Washington were continual statements, alerts that Russia would invade immediately may have struck Putin curious at first, but eventually it would almost create the impression in him that he was being mocked as massed troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine. After a second round of talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Putin green-lit Macron’s relating of a message to Washington that he was willing to meet Biden. However, he surely viewed such talks as undesirable and pointless after the precondition that he would agree not to invade Ukraine was communicated by Washington. That message from Washington, more than embarrassing, was most likely viewed by Putin as an effort to humiliate him. No one in Russia, out of self-preservation, would ever be so short-sighted as to communicate with the Russian President, particularly in what remains a very intense, highly stressful, period of uncertainty. Quite well-viewed now is the February 21, 2022 exchange at a Security Council meeting in the Kremlin between Putin and Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Naryshkin, an absolute Putin loyalist, known for his aggressive anti-western statements, became visibly uncomfortable as Putin interrogated him on Ukraine. One can only imagine the gasps sounded within his foreign, national security, and economic advisers when they discovered that was the response sent to him from Washington. Among his very top advisers, there was likely a palpable sense that fiery sea of anger, rage, and hatred churned violently inside of him. In that situation, none of them could be certain of what might happen in the immediate hours after receipt of the message.

As a crucial diplomatic communique, it was oddly void of subtlety, nuance,  wisdom. It was surely the clearest way to signal one’s side was not being thoughtful. While greatcharlie does not believe this was the intention, some might believe, within a degree of reason given what is known about Putin and given the tense circumstances then, that the message was oddly enough designed to provoke or aggravate him. Looking at the message now, it is doubtful those who constructed it, would recognize thar it could have been perceived as condescending or that it was short-sighted to demand the precondition concerning invasion. One might go as far as to state that demanding Putin accept a precondition–the would fly in the face of everything that he was expressing, negate him as national leader to be reckoned with–so publicly under the circumstances was surely not the best way to respond if a resolution was authentically sought. There were other ways to communicate with the Russian President, some furtively, that more likely would have resulted in an assurance from him concerning invasion. The reply was incautious, unwarranted.

In Book I, Chapter 3, of his masterwork, On War, the renowned Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz explained: “Strength of character does not consist solely in having powerful feelings, but in maintaining one’s balance in spite of them. Even with the violence of emotion, judgment and principle must still function like a ship’s compass, which records the slightest variations however rough the sea.” (See the standard English translation from Michael Howard and Peter Paret, editors, Carl Von Clausewitz On War (Princeton University Press, 1976)). Intriguingly, despite what may have been stated here on the nature actions taken toward Putin before the invasion, since it began, the Biden administration has displayed a more calibrated, more disciplined approach to Putin, making better considered decision on when to act and when to observe and evaluate. Chasing Putin up the ladder of escalation will bring nothing good. Imaginably, there is the thought among responsible decisionmakers in Washington that peace will eventually come to Ukraine in some way, likely through negotiation with Moscow. Having apparently taken this approach, the Biden administration as a result has incurred the wrath of news media commentators and political opponents alike. Though many may insist providing more advanced, heavier weapons to Ukraine will provide Ukrainian forces a real chance at endsieg, it is difficult to see how Ukrainian forces will muster power superior to that of the armed forces of Russia and eject Russian force from Ukrainian territory in way in which Moscow would continue to hold back greater, more powerful parts of its arsenal. The way in which a lasting peace might be constructed will depend upon how the environment for it is shaped.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law, peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have served as a high intensity stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

A Glimmer of Hope: Peace through Diplomacy

Quaeritur belli exitus, non causa. (Of war men ask the outcome, not the cause.) The ongoing death and destruction in Ukraine, the smashing of any sense of international law and peace and security as of this writing, are enough of a catalyst to prompt more than urgent action to get a handle of the matter. Concerns over the likely near term deletorious impact on the global economy have also served as a considerable stimulus. Before the invasion and shortly afterward, there was such a thickness not just between the two parties, but supportive parties involved on both sides, that negotiation had appeared hopeless. Any steps in that direction could have been at best described as desultory. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Just saying there is unity but acting in independent ways obvious to the world bring into question not only unity, but respective aims.

Concerning the US and the rest of the West, they must make the choice to find peace and save lives or go out to slay the dragon, Russia, and let the chips fall where they may. It is clear the West wants to avoid getting itself in a war with Russia. Western leaders say it all the time. However, some words spoken by many Western political leaders might convince observers that the West is moving closer to doing what it has already decided, for good reason, not to do so.

Now that Russian forces are in Ukraine, Putin has made slightly veiled threats concerning nuclear weapons. In response to such threats and the Ukraine crisis in general, some US political leaders have suggested that Putin must be removed from power in Russia. There has been additional talk of encouraging Russian officials and institutions, and the Russian people in general, to move against Putin could hardly be well-considered. Off-the-cuff remarks from US political leaders concerning the next moves must stop, if the US is to accomplish anything remotely leading to a desired, favorable peace. Long gone are the days of “dignified scorn”. The lack of moderation, temperance, could prove to be the source of a downfall. 

While some commentators in the US newsmedia suggest that the invasion signals Putin’s dénouement is drawing much closer, such is not actually the case. Such is the product of fertile imaginations. In point of fact, Putin will very likely manage. Conceivably, he hardly believes he is overmatched by the Ukrainians, the West, or the Russian people. To be sure, as of this writing Putin neither has displayed any apparent intentions nor has he expressed any desire to ride off. There are no big concerns at home from political leadership in power. At the moment, there is no stalking horse who possesses anything near Putin’s “popularity” that would be remotely favorable to the West and could potential displace him. 

For now it seems that Ukraine will unlikely be the issue that brings down Putin’s government. The Russian people have domestic concerns that have primacy. Surely, Putin maintains his appeal to many in Russia, and not just those those buried in the backwaters. Perhaps unimaginably to some promoting regime change is the reality that Putin to many Russians represents order, stability, and there is a certain constancy they feel from him to them through his style, image, and actions as a their leader. There is political opposition and an opposition movement that struggles against his government. There is also a burgeoning antiwar movement. However, the opposition movement, though world renowned, does not pose to great a threat at the moment that he would need to fortify the Kremlin. As for the anti-war movement, while very important, will unlikely gain momentum, size, and strength nationwide.

Interestingly enough, according to the Japan Times, polls and interviews indicate many Russians now accept Putin’s contention that their country is under siege from the West and had no choice but to attack. The Russian public’s endorsement of the war is not attendant to the patriotic groundswell that greeted the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The polls on the matter were conducted by Levada, Russia’s most respected independent pollster. In terms of numbers, its polls revealed Putin’s approval rating reached 83%, up from 69% in January 2022. Around 81% surveyed stated they supported the war, describing the need to protect Russian speakers or ethnic-Russians in Ukraine as its primary justification. (Authors of the Japan Times article cautioned that analysts note “polls in wartime have limited significance, with many Russians fearful of voicing dissent, or even their true opinion, to a stranger at a time when new censorship laws are punishing any deviation from the Kremlin narrative with as much as 15 years in prison.”)

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Even if Putin were hypothetically moved from power, it is unlikely anyone among policymakers and decisionmakers in Washington would have the slightest idea of what  would likely come next in that circumstance. It is very likely that an undesirable outcome might be the result once again from US incited “regime change” in a foreign land. Indeed, those making statements concerning regime change have no idea what doors they may be opening that would have been best to have kept closed. Ignorance of subject matter does not bother many commentators. If the story of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a tragedy–it has the hallmarks–its players will indoubitably meet respectively with ill-fate. Important for the US and other Western powers, concern primarily with the interests of their countries, is to straddle the line concerning their involvement in all aspects of the conflict, but to avoid crossing over it. Crossing that line would very likely put them on a path leading to some tragic outcome, much both Russia and Ukraine are traveling now. Ce n’est pas la vache qui crie le plus fort qui fait le plus de lait.

There is no good reason to raise Putin’s ire on the “regime change” front between the US and Russia. A tacit modus vivendi, as well as clear cut international law, must be observed to prevent the US and Russia from stumbling on an oblique, tragic path to war. As is the case on many issues concerning US foreign and national security policy decisionmakers, everything must happen immediately. Of course, Ukrainian lives are at the time of this writing being destroyed every second the conflict rages on. Still, respectfully with that dreadful circumstance in mind, one might posit that many of those so willing shoot from the hip, tossing out ideas unrealistic or reckless for the most part when examined in the round one might guess apparently have not been burned or at least singed enough over time to learn how to figuratively sit on a rabbit hole. The ones from the military, intelligence services, law enforcement, and diplomatic corps who have spent considerable time in the field possess the most awareness and experience with such.

Malo indisertam prudentiam, quam loquacem stultitiam. (I prefer silent prudence to loquacious folly) No more bad seeds as these need to be planted, that has been the pattern. Enough of that has been done already. Energies should be directed at deescalating, halting, and to the greatest degree possible, reversing the terrible circumstances, working with whatever may be left to salvage and build upon.

Putin (above) at “For A World Without Nazism” rally and concert at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on March 18, 2022. A big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Putin would indeed leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on to captured Ukrainian territory among a future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.”

Thoughts on the Nuance of Diplomacy between the Warring Parties

Much has been torn away from the Ukrainian people, time, life, happiness, as a result of the Russian invasion. Hope to a small degree might spawn from forms of restitution and replenishment from the West. While it may make a difference, it would not make things right. However, with the coming of peace, fighting men and women on both sides will live on their days to age. Neighbors who survived and those who may return will have the chance to each other again. Families may start anew. The lives of some young family members, due to war, have sadly run full compass. Yet, those who may survive the war, albeit not as triumphantly as they might have imagined, must rebuild a new world for themselves and their posterity, stronger, far greater, than the one the lived in before. Cela requerra des efforts importants des deux.

The mounting death toll in Ukraine has forced President Volodymyr Zelensky to consider concessions to Russia in order to bring an end to the devastating conflict, but the specific elements of any peace deal his government may be discussing with Moscow remain a mystery to Western leaders, said US and European officials. At the same time, by mid-March 2022, Zelensky was claiming 14,000 Russian soldiers, naval troops, and airmen had been killed in Ukraine. While his claims if true speak well of the prowess of Ukrainian forces regular and irregular, it will surely influence negotiations for peace. Moscow will hardly be willing to surrender back territory to Ukraine if the cost of its capture was indeed so high. Any stand to retain captured territory could resultantly become an impediment to a satisfactory negotiated peace for Ukraine. In that vein, the very act itself of negotiating with their Russian counterparts is what many would rightly call an act of courage given how they must steel themselves against personal reactions to the loss of so many Ukrainians to Russian arms. The prospects for negotiated peace could be ruined with anger and grief. On the battlefield, such official Ukrainian government claims of massive numbers of Russian troops killed in action, rarely combined with wounded in action estimates and precise numbers captured troops, could very well lead to decisions by rouge Russian units or units of private military companies to take matter into their own hands in terms of settling scores. Hurt people hurt people! Additionally, hiding in almost all armed forces are individuals who capable of monstrous acts and atrocities. On first thought, greatcharlie’s mind harkens back to the series of 82 prints created by 1810 and 1820 by Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya entitled “Los Desastres de la Guerra” (“The Disasters of War”). The works depicted atrocities committed during Spain’s Peninsular War (1808-1814) versus Napoleon and setbacks to the liberals after the Restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1814. Atrocities of any kind would surely poison, if not kill, efforts to secure a negotiated peace by the present-day warring parties in Europe. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Speaking from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Kuleba stated one day before the negotiations held in Turkey on March 29, 2022 that the Ukrainian negotiation delegation was given clear instructions from Zelensky on what he dubbed as the minimum program and the maximum program. The minimum program included talks concerning humanitarian questions, such the well-being of civilians (meaning noncombatants) and humanitarian corridors. The maximum program referred to talks aimed at establishing a stable ceasefire. He also noted that Zelensky gave clear instructions to the Ukrainian delegation not to trade over people, land, or sovereignty. These are not subjects for negotiation. He explained that the Ukrainian position is concrete, and is supported by international law, Ukraine’s Armed Forces, international sanctions that have been applied against Russia, and weapons that have been handed over to Ukraine to defeat Russian forces.

As for Russia, there has been a near endless chain of heavy losses of Russian troops since the invasion began–nearly every new loss being greater than the one proceeding it. If Putin has cornered himself, it may very well be due to his failure to realize that he was receiving bad intelligence on the situation in Ukraine and what to expect there, his own miscalculations, even hubris. No one is infallible. In a self-assessment, he might discover, self-diagnose, that some disturbance, rumples, have his smooth, grounded reasoning, within his normal parameters. Indeed, Putin’s energy appears to have been wrongly circuited. His talents and what has been a reliable intuition seem darkened. It is enough to say It will take having a lot of things go his way at this point for him to turn the situation on the battlefield around and spectacularly win his war. Otherwise, he must find a clean, honorable off ramp, the best being negotiations. However, if Putin might wish to engage authentically in peace negotiations on Ukraine, he must recognize that the biggest adjustments needed to allow for a fruitful process would be the ones he must make within himself. As far as greatcharlie is concerned, negotiations would be Putin’s best route out a worsening situation. 

All flowers must grow through dirt. That aphorism sounds somewhat worthless as aphorisms do under circumstances similar to the one that currently besets Ukraine. Nonetheless, up through dark and thick of sullen earth must peace be given a chance to grow and its growth must be nurtured if this present tragedy is to be brought to an end. Essential will be drawing on energizing minerals scattered in the soil, even if only present in gentle numbers. Both sides must seek an intellectual solution to the problem, not an emotional one. No party should use the negotiation as an alternative ways to settle scores. Rather than emotions, grace and inner strength should be sourced, especially on Ukraine’s side, to overcome challenges. Negotiators must be determined, focused, shrewd, innovative, mutually inspiring without theatrics. Hopefully, no party to the negotiation will have to the inclination to sit on the talks and plan surprise military moves that would doubtlessly end any chance of a negotiated peace. Russia and Ukraine must find a solution that allows both sides to feel secure and protected from attacks from the point of any agreement forward. There must also be a commitment on both sides to leave space the advancement of the societies of the other’s country in a way that allows their people to heal and get beyond the wounds of the war as best as possible. Qui se ultro morti offerant, facilius reperiuntur, quam qui dolorem patienter ferant. (It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than men who will endure pain with patience.)

As the situation stands now and may likely pan out, “making things right” will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Hardly with the intention of offering false praise to Putin or to offend any readers, but greatcharlie acknowledges the fact that the Russian President is a very intelligent man, not just on paper; he earned a doctorate in Economic Sciences from Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University) in 1997, which was not a small academic achievement in his day. He is also a very experienced leader, thoroughly steeped in the entire post-Cold War history of interactions between East and West. Surely, he is aware that younger generations of Ukrainians would insist upon a life-style and future similar to their counterparts in Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, than those in present-day Russia. As was alluded to in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post entitled “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help,” the same could be said of younger generations of Russians. Putin would leave a huge problem behind for whoever might follow him as Russian Federation President. That would be his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia. Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.)

Thereby, after all is said and done, the big issue for top officials in the Kremlin to think about in negotiations if the refuse to return territory acquires in the war, whether the fact is recognized or not, whether the situation is desired or not, is how Russia, after Putin either leaves office for good or “shuffles off this mortal coil,” will retain what it tore from Ukraine. Just as Putin failed to recognize that the intelligence he was receiving on Ukraine was inaccurate, he may not have considered that the will may not exist to hold on by future generation or two, given the territorial gains were “ill-gotten.” Putin knows how to weaponize the internet, striking adversaries with cyberattacks, destroying networks, obliterating archives, altering data, collecting confidential information, spreading disinformation, etcetera. Yet, he is of a generation that may not fully grasp the transformative impact of the internet among the young. Using the internet, the young in Russia never needed the permission of the government to travel away from their country to observe, to take in, the world outside of Russia. They likely can do even more than that using the internet. This is not to gloss over the fact that young people in Russia have not lost more pleasure than they have been able to glean using online sites as a result of government censorship and instructions to abstain from viewing certain sites. Yet, they can still see, hear, and communicate with the outside world with a device as meager as an iPhone. The expenditure of effort to disrupt such links to the outside surely far surpasses the actual ability of the government to accomplish that. Perhaps the effort itself has created a false impression of success among those who try so hard to bust things up. Le palais de nos chimères a croulé avec mes illusions. 

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) As the situation stands now and will likely pan out, making things right will be the task of future generations of Ukrainians and Russians. Important now is for the current generation to keep younger generations energized by their strength, positive spirit, or infuse them with the idea that Ukraine must be made whole again by using the right vibes, love and light, not hatred and anger, which could easily find a place in the psyche of those individuals so damaged by war. The younger generations must be encouraged to try working with each other to find real restorative solutions when it is their turn to lead.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security. First, they must think what can physically be done to ensure security for both sides. Second, they must consider what can be done on paper. The scenery of this drama has been set in such a way that external parties may need to be called upon, perhaps the UN with a peacekeeping force of countries neither party may find threatening. That would likely leave the US, other Western countries, particularly EU countries, and NATO Member States out of the mix. No one benefit from an agreement that includes some military response to guarantee its enforcement. At the talks in Istanbul, the Ukrainian delegation presented their Russian counterparts with a framework for peace under which Ukraine would remain neutral and its security would be guaranteed by third-party countries, to include the US, the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Turkey, and China. There would be an arrangement similar to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, under which an attack on one would trigger a joint response by all. Yet, given the likely consequences of Western military action to enforce peace in Ukraine, a nuclear exchange, such a guarantee might end up being something akin to the one the United Kingdom and France provided Poland against possible attack from Nazi Germany in 1938. Ironically, the fear that Putin could act in a way similar to Nazi Germany is the impression, legacy the Putin has created. He actions reflect those of a leader drawn after the reviled German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the historical nemesis of the Russian people. Putin has failed to follow his own precepts.

Together, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators have already shared a number of technical accomplishments to date. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Moscow had completed two prisoner exchanges with Kyiv since the invasion of Ukraine started. Humanitarian corridors have been established. They must keep trying, segment by segment, to tackle issues that will result in the construction of both a sustainable and enforceable, binding agreement that guarantees security.

The Way Forward

Often included in greatcharlie’s posts is a quote from the renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, who said: “Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.) Concerning future relations between the US with Russia, without flickering candlelight and romance, diplomats from both the US and Russia, must meet soon enough to establish some framework upon which can be constructed a way to ameliorate tensions between the two countries on reasonable terms. That would mean coming to agreement on issues on which relative positions were unshakable before the killing, maiming, and destruction of property began without spending too much time on finger-wagging at the negotiation table concerning Ukraine. A new way of thinking toward Putin and his government will be the only chance for anything fruitful to come from interactions between the two countries. In the past, especially before the invasion, the failure reach a positive outcome from diplomatic efforts between Washington and Moscow was less a matter of wrong intention–although an argument could be made for that–and wasting time, than it was as a matter of running out of goor ideas. Leveling everything and starting from scratch is certainly not the answer. However, an infusion of fresh perspectives, fresh ideas, to ignite thinking among the seasoned analysts might help. With no intention to hurtful by broadly accusing analysts or decisionmakers with questionable behavior, greatcharlie is aware that there are a few who simply lift new ideas by mining the writings of those outside of the foreign and national security bureaucracies. It is not just a poor solution, absolutely the wrong answer. That will at best garner bits and pieces that in many cases will be misinterpreted or misapplied. A direct dialogue with those who might display novel ways at looking at issues will better enable the astute to grasp what may on occasion be their recherché line of thinking, which may bring analysts to an understanding, a view to a matter, they had not seen before. Le meilleur moment pour planter un arbre était il y 20 ans, le deuxième meilleur moment c’est maintenant.

On this point, greatcharlie feels compelled to ingeminate the position expressed in the conclusion of its August 31, 2020 greatcharlie post US counterintelligence services should consider hiring individuals from outside the bureaucracy who are already known due to demonstrated interest in the subject matter and recognized as possessing some ability to present what may be unorthodox innovative, forward-looking perspectives. New thinkers can rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. From the inside, one might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outsiders as mere surmisals and suppositions from those perceived lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to an issue. With no intent to condescend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. The purpose of using such perspectives is to have a look at issues from other angles. Thinking outside the bureaucracy would hopefully move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in special cases that may be hard to crack. Indeed, what outsider brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside the box thinker. One could say the length and breadth of that knowledge and experience allowed for an alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been sought through personal study. It may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, but it is hardly such given what is at stake. Leaders of US foreign and national security bureaucracies must turn their minds to the goal of transcending beyond the sort of analyses developed in the past and look inward, tweaking the discourse, elevating the depth of thinking, raising their expectations, and thereby transforming assessments produced into something far better. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, if Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others

North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un with his country’s future, its children, at youth rally (above). Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan may not assure peace Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s northern neighbors might react poorly to a denuclearization agreement. More specifically, the Russian Federation might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a troubling manipulation of Pyongyang, leading to a US encroachment toward its borders. Hypothetically in response, Moscow might create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korean territory. Without deterrent power, Pyongyang may not be able to prevent that. Those engaged in the denuclearization negotiations should give consideration to this possibility as such a scenario could bust everything they might achieve.

What US President Donald Trump wants from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same end product that was at the root of his decision to talk with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un in 2018: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured the mitigation of economic pressure, to include draconian sanctions implemented under a maximum pressure campaign, that has had a considerable deleterious effect not only upon North Korea’s economy but its existence. Additionally, Trump has assured that the prospective partnership with the US would be a long-term and a robust path toward economic vitalization, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Indeed, the US would be prepared to support the economic transformation of North Korea, supporting not only the growth of its industrial capabilities and capacity, but introduce North Korean firms to new techniques and technologies for efficient and high quality production. Further, the US would encourage new investment in North Korea from other industrialized countries, to include its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, both of whom it currently views as adversaries. What is being presented to North Korea is the choice to be something other than a stranger, or worse, an outcast, to the rest of the world. Even so, throughout 2019, demurs and objections were heard from senior officials of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Their comments appeared to echo a speech by Kim at the 1st Meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, on April 12, 2019, during which he indicated a willingness to negotiate “on the condition that [the US] has the right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.” Kim further stated at the Supreme People’s Assembly that he would “wait patiently until the end of the year for the United States to make a bold decision.” Kim’s words were uttered long before he and Trump met impromptu at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Panmunjom on June 30, 2019, but they nevertheless seem to have stuck within the North Korean foreign policy apparatus. In Washington, it all rings bells, reminding of the past and raising questions whether Pyongyang’s ways of thinking and doing things are trapped in amber. For the sake of the negotiations and their potential for enhancing global peace and security, one should hope that is not the case.

Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan, however, may not assure peace on Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s neighbors immediately to its north, China and the Russian Federation, may not react well in the wake of a denuclearization agreement. Based on what it has declared to be its strategic interests, the Russian Federation in particular, might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a threat, and that Washington was simply manipulating Pyongyang in order to move closer to the Russian Federation’s borders. Hypothetically, Moscow might decide to create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korea’s sovereign territory to halt any perceived encroachment by the US. Without deterrent power, it is hard to see how Pyongyang on its own could keep the Russian Federation off its land. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation has displayed a propensity for maligned behavior. There is still a chance fate will bring a denuclearization agreement as envisioned by Trump, all of North Korea’s neighbors will put down the shutters and accept the new development, and the Russian Federation, in particular, will show restraint. That would be ineffable. Nevertheless, if there is a chance that everything might not land quietly and gracefully, requisite caution must be shown now by the negotiating parties. Trump must be on guard.

This is the ninth in a line of occasional commentaries concerning the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization published by greatcharlie since August 2017. An enchantment on the matter and support and enthusiasm for the effort has stimulated the preoccupation. Through its commentaries, greatcharlie has sought to put together the arithmetic of what both sides, the US and North Korea, are doing on the matter. In this commentary, greatcharlie emphasizes that realism must be a key ingredient to the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Nothing discussed here should sound extravagant in today’s world. Together the US and North Korea must open the figurative box from which all the essential qualities and ingredients for a longstanding, sustainable peace are released, and at the same time avoid releasing the makings of conflict from another direction. Both sides must really look at the situation diligently, not dismissing unpleasant possibilities, to ensure negotiators do not construct an agreement that may not serve either side’s purposes in the long-run. Through such a reflective approach, greater unity of purpose and action can grow between the negotiating parties, and the viable and sustainable peace sought more likely will be found. Certum est quod certum reddi potest. (It is certain, whatever can be rendered certain.)Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that they can cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US would not pose difficulties. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its economic well-being, Pyongyang has displayed a curious sort of faith in Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources mainly come into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Putin and Xi control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival already rests in their hands. Kim can allow that to go on, or seek a better path for his country.

A Concern from Outside the Box or from Left Field?

One might conclude that there is an almost inherent connection, a natural affinity, between North Korea, China, and the Russian Federation. The defunct Soviet Union, the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, was the model from which North Korea structured its government. As it is the first and largest Communist government in Asia, there is much that North Korea has mirrored in a cultural sense from China. In support of Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but also provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to engage covertly in combat operations. The Russian Federation, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower, and to a degree has taken on from the Soviet Union the image of caretaker for North Korea. Nevertheless, China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater than that of the Soviet Union in terms of blood and treasure. China has really been the country’s steward and economic lifeline.

Alieno more vivendum est mihi. (I must live according to another’s whim.) China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that it would not pose difficulties to cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US. Indeed, If Kim possesses any doubts that an agreement would not lead to North Korea moving up and away from the status quo, one might assume the two countries can quietly interfere and exert influence on Kim. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Pyongyang has shown a curious sort of faith in both Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources apparently can still slip into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival pretty much rests in their hands. Kim can allow things to go on as they are and bend to the will of China and the Russian Federation, or seek a far better path for his country. It would reasonable for him to prefer the later. Having ambition is not an offense.

To the extent that officials in China and the Russian Federation feel North Korea is their ball to play with, an agreement that would create firm, lasting ties of friendship between the US and North Korea would likely stick in their throats. If unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim before an agreement is signed, one or both may decide to pose a threat to the agreement afterward. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim if he moves alongside the US. However, Beijing knows where to draw the line. The Russian Federation might do far more, which is the point of interest here. As alluded to earlier, at some point, Putin might order Russian Federation forces to move into North Korea’s sovereign territory with the objective of creating a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula. The goal would be to set a limit to the likely perceived encroachment by the US. After its nuclear arsenal might potentially be evacuated under the terms of a denuclearization agreement. North Korea would lack the deterrent power to scare away a Russuan Federation move onto its territory, and could become the victim of just that. A conventional response might also be less feasible as the bulk of North Korea’s conventional forces may continue to face south near the DMZ for a while even after a denuclearization agreement is reached. Korean People’s Army forces of sufficient power are not presently deployed north in a manner to fend off an attempted land grab by the Russian Federation.

The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. It borders the Russian Federation along approximately 29 kilometers of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and to its east is the Sea of Japan. A rocket launching site is located at Musudan-ri. The Hoeryong concentration camp is also located in the province. It has some value as a line of access by rail to Russia. However, since no customs area exists there, most bilateral trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation moves first through China, raising costs. Ironically, the border with the Russian Federation, having no huge benefit to Pyongyang for years, could become a liability as a point from which hostile forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could land significant numbers of forces at Chongjin. The capability and capacity of the Russian Federation armed forces to conduct such an operation was well-demonstrated during their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. Putin has already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US sharing the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. Considering the possibility of an extreme reaction, a military incursion by the Russian Federation into North Korea, would not be out of court.

The View from Russia

Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. If Pyongyang turned toward Washington, Putin might feel Moscow had been figuratively stabbed in the back after having provided North Korea with assistance and support for decades. In terms of his personal relationship with Kim, Putin may feel a deep sense of betrayal. Putin has shown how he will respond when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being pulled toward the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US either sharing, or even touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are lucky that NATO got on top of their situation right away!) Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea would have the North Korean people believe that their country is a fortress from south to north. A robust, whirlwind of an attack by Russian Federation forces by air, land, and sea, would very likely be able to rapidly displace or destroy any North Korean forces much as a whirlwind has the ability to uproot the staunchest oak tree. On the other hand, if Russian Federation forces are able to act with sufficient stealth and surprise, and–as was the case with Crimea–without any “bang and boom”, they may be able to capture North Hamgyong Province without a struggle. As with Crimea, they may be able to “accommodate” Korean People’s Army troops deployed in the province, perhaps even taking them back to the Russian Federation “to ensure their safety.” Mala mens, malus animus! (Bad mind, bad designs!)

Putin would likely offer some pretense that would “legitimize” the hypothetical incursion. For example, he could conceivably declare that North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation granted by some long-held document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a monumental, decades old debt is owed to the Russian Federation by North Korea. Alternatively, by entering North Hamgyong, Putin may claim the Russian Federation has taken an in-kind repayment territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might attempt to claim a Russian Federation incursion into the area was executed for humanitarian reasons, shocked by what was being said by former detainees in Moscow about atrocities taking place in the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp. If former detainees are not available, Moscow would find some. Under the second and third scenarios, Putin could leave the door open as to whether the Russian Federation land grab was temporary or permanent.

Long before Trump declared his intent to campaign for the US Presidency, the Russian Federation was concerned with the figurative noose being placed around it by US bilateral relationship building with countries on its borders. That thinking is reflective of the Russian Federation’s defense doctrine as articulated by Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. Recall that on February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” Gerasimov provided the first glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The clever boots on the Russian Federation General Staff assessed that future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.”  Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders proffered that outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may actually invade the Russian Federation from different directions to physically grab its territory and resources. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. That plan, and later variations of it, have guided Russia’s thinking on defense and defense spending since 2016, during which it exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, and on other national security related and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. Further, the 2016 plan has guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on its border with Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s Syria operation is also part of that picture.The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. Enlarging the map above, one can see the province in the northeast corner of North Korea. It borders the Russian Federation along 18 miles of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and the Sea of Japan to its east. The border with the Russian Federation could become a key point from which Russian Federation forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could also land significant numbers of troops at Chongjin. The Russian Federation armed forces’ capability to conduct such an operation was demonstrated by their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.

Putin Will Take Risks

The hypothetical offered here should have a realistic feel because history has been used as a guide to develop it. Rational inferences are made from what Putin has been saying and doing. For example, with regard to Ukraine, what cannot be forgotten is the text of a lengthy call that Putin had with US President Barack Obama on March 6, 2014, Putin said Ukraine’s government came to power as the result of an “unconstitutional coup” and was “imposing an entirely illegitimate decision onto Crimea and the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine. Russia cannot ignore calls for help on this matter and is responding accordingly in full compliance with international law.“ On another occasion, Putin insisted that he was only acting in response to Western behavior toward Russia. When speaking about Ukraine at a conference in Moscow on April 16, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.” It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. For that reason, despite the drain on its defense budget, the Russian Federation currently has its troops sitting in the sovereign territory of others, to include: Armenia; Belarus; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Moldova; Syria; Tajikistan; Vietnam; and, at least a far as Kiev is concerned, Ukraine. Among the countries on that list who have reluctantly accepted the Russian presence or who have very publicly and vigorously demanded that Russia leave their territory are: Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Belarus has grumbled about its Russian “guests”. Thereby, as denuclearization agreement would mean Pyongyang was moving closer to Washington, North Korea could definitely meet the same fate as the countries mentioned. Thus, conceptualizing a possible military incursion into North Korea by the Russian Federation is not out of court.

The Russian Federation is not the only country that has insisted upon placing its troops in another country without welcome in order to shape the situation within it. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan had a near ravenous desire to carve out a 32 kilometer deep and 480 kilometers wide buffer zone along the entire Turkish border with Syria. Through Operation Peace Spring, Erdogan hoped to establish a safe area in his planned buffer zone for millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He also planned in undertaking what he declared to be a counterterrorism operation. Once Turkish forces moved into the autonomous Kurdish territory in Syria, understanding that there would be heavy fighting with the Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units, militias affiliated with the sworn enemy of the Turkish government, the Kurdistan Workers Party which has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey amassed nearly 15,000 Turkish forces along with 14,000 fighters of the Syrian National Army attacked Syria on October 9, 2019. Recall that on December 19  2003, then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to voluntarily eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction programs, to include its nuclear weapons program which was initiated in 1969 when he took control of Libya’s government. He also agreed to limit Libyan missiles to range no greater than 300 kilometers. US President George Bush stated at the time: “With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations. And Colonel Gaddafi knows the way forward Libya should carry out the commitments announced today.” However, from March 19, 2011 to October 31, 2011, under the mandate of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, the Obama administration led NATO forces and those other countries under Operation Unified Protector against Gaddafi regime. The multinational force imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi in support local fighters that eventually overthrew Gaddafi and killed him on October 20, 2011 alongside a road. (In just mentioning Libya’s elimination of its nuclear weapons, greatcharlie feels it is stepping out on shaky ground. On May 13, 2018, the matter was publicly discussed by the former US National Security Adviser John Bolton while details of the June 12, 2018 Trump and Kim Singapore Summit were still being negotiated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Indeed, Bolton made the unhelpful suggestion that the “Libya model” of denuclearization could be applied to North Korea, which would require it to eliminate all of its nuclear weapons before it receives economic sanctions relief and other support for it economic vitalization. Much to the dismay of Trump, Bolton’s public suggestion placed the summit in jeopardy somewhat.)

Without reservation, greatcharlie believes that nuclear nonproliferation is the correct direction in which the world should move. Having stated that, and with no intention of being whimsical about the matter, perhaps if Gaddafi had hypothetically retained his nuclear program, even at the aspiring stage it was in when he surrendered it, he would still be alive and in power in Tripoli. In that same vein, one might let oneself go and suggest if Kiev by chance had kept nuclear weapons under its control, Crimea would unlikely have fallen and the Donbass would be less of a mess. Outlining how hypothetically Ukraine could have plausibly retained those weapons would require adding a complicated coda to this section, completely unsuited in size for this commentary. What actually occurred is Ukraine agreed to divest itself of all nuclear weapons and nuclear infrastructure in accord with the Lisbon Protocol In 1992, along with considerable diplomatic effort and political maneuvering, By 1996, Ukraine had returned all of its nuclear warheads to Russia in exchange for economic aid and security assurances, and it became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in Ukraine was eliminated in 2001 under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. At the time it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including an estimated 1,800 strategic warheads, 176 long-range ballistic missiles, and 42 strategic bombers.A transit map of North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province (above). In a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab, Kim might turn toward Beijing to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. However, China would unlikely want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, China would likely insist that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a relationship with the US. China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too!

Preparing for the Worst

Kim has always had much to worry about from Putin. It stands out a mile. For that reason, North Korea and its prospective US partner should at least consider the potential of a very aggressive Russian Federation reaction as an important “what if”. The matter merits treatment. Ways to prevent it from happening should be considered, and plans should be developed on how to use means available in response. The lack of right discernment on this hypothetical matter could lead to untold suffering. Unless greatcharlie is extremely mistaken, as far as Pyongyang might be concerned, the most plausible way to cope with the matter, would likely be to maintain some level of deterrent nuclear capability. Washington would hardly want to hear anything of the kind. Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and medium-range nuclear capable missiles alone are military equities it possesses that Moscow may want no part of. Readying those systems for launch could coincide with any discernible build up of Russian Federation forces near or along the northern border. That may have a deterrent effect. If some means to make a Russian incursion impossible or unprofitable is not available, attempting to respond before or after an attack has begun will unlikely amount to much

As has been witnessed, the best available option for the US after the fact in response to the Russian Federation’s incursion into Ukraine has been to train Ukrainian government forces and equip them with a limited set of weapons, mainly anti-tank javelin systems. That effort could only attenuate the considerable tactical advantages that Donetsk and Luhansk secessionist forces possessed as a result of being fully supported by Russia. Indeed, the tank-busting javelins along with tactical training from both US and European military advisers may have enhanced the chances of survival for the Ukraine government forces on the battlefield, but they have not allowed Kiev to successfully defeat or eject Russian and Russian-backed forces from the Donbass. Crimea remains firmly in the Russian Federation’s hands.

There is the possibility that preemptive diplomacy, right now, could successfully assuage concerns about a potential Russian Federation military incursion into response to a denuclearization agreement. That would not mean including Moscow in the diplomatic process of denuclearization to prevent it from engaging in malicious behavior. Although there is plenty available from which one can make inferences, Moscow has not as yet said or done anything directly that would indicate an intention to move into North Korea and create a hypothetical buffer zone across their mutual border. In fact, Russia may never do anything of the sort in the end. Still, there is no reason to wait and see on a matter that could potentially keep an agreement from being fully realized. Accordingly, as a reasonable precaution, Washington may want to broach the matter with Moscow, explaining that its concerns stemmed from its past actions.

The US-North Korea relationship might very well grow into something very special. Still, it is unlikely that in a time soon after the signing of a prospective denuclearization agreement that the Communist regime in Pyongyang, with its self-reliant identity, would seek recourse from Trump and the US to find the answer to a hypothetical Russian Federation military incursion into North Hamgyong. On a personal level, Trump undoubtedly would want to see Kim through his troubles. However, if North Korea is unable to fend off a land grab north, it is unclear what exactly the US could do effectively to repair the situation after the fact. Attempting to drive Russia out of North Korea with economic sanctions in response to a hypothetical incursion may not prove fruitful. That tack has not worked most obviously with its incursion into Ukraine. Pointing out what is obvious, a decision by the US to go toe to toe with Russia with thermonuclear weapons over North Korea would be daylight madness. That would hardly be a genuine option. The chance that any US President would alternatively throw US forces into a conventional fight with the Russian Federation over North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province is less than zero.Imagery of the Russian Federation-North Korea border along the Tumen River with an area of detail showing a railroad bridge across the river (above). Conceivably, Putin may find reason to declare North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation as granted by some document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a decades old debt is owed by North Korea to the Russian Federation. Putin may claim by entering North Hamgyong, Moscow had taken an in-kind repayment in territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might also attempt to claim an incursion into the area was for humanitarian reasons, given the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp is located in the province.

For Kim, a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab would be a nightmare. It would also likely be the first occasion when Kim would have a palpable sense of separation from Moscow, and plenty of anxiety would come with that. Kim would never consider capitulation to whom would then be an erstwhile ally. However, dazed and confused by an inundation of likely negative reports about the situation in North Hamgyong, Kim may initially run toward what is familiar. Kim might turn toward Beijing and press it to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. Under such a scenario, China certainly would not want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, Beijing would likely take the position that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a historic, new relationship with the US. Thus, unwilling to knock on Putin’s door on behalf of its close ally, Beijing’s advice to Pyongyang would likely be “Talk to Moscow!” China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too! Understanding Putin, Beijing would likely have parsed out the whole matter early on, imagining Putin getting his nose out of joint about a denuclearization agreement, and never ruling out a military incursion. China would likely find it quite imaginable under such a hypothetical that Moscow would expect Pyongyang to rush to the negotiation table despite any fighting that may be underway. To prevent an unanticipated response from China, in such a hypothetical scenario, Moscow presumably would quietly inform Beijing of its planned action and intentions just before any prospective military operation began. Beijing would also undoubtedly place the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Liberation Air Force units near North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province on alert just in case Moscow’s operation went beyond its expressed purpose and scope. From those who have proven to be false one can rarely obtain anything true.

Tu si hic sis, aliter sentias. (If you were in my place, you would think differently.) Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if the most senior officials there were convinced the denuclearization agreement was the fillip for a Russian Federation attack. Indeed, a possible consequence of a Russian Federation incursion might be that Pyongyang would turn its back on the US. Under tremendous stress and not thinking clearly, Kim may very likely wonder whether Trump had considered the contingency. Moreover, Kim might conclude that Trump may have actually predicted what would issue with Putin following a denuclearization agreement and sought the agreement knowing North Korea would eventually be left open to attack. If that were to become his mindset, potentially, Kim might even begin to behave once again in a belligerent manner toward Trump, and might once again begin using over-the-top language. That would most likely signal the point at which Kim will have made the decision to negotiate with Moscow on terms for the withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from North Korea’s northern province. With a dodgy leader as Kim, anything might be possible in such a situation.

One could imagine under the hypothetical here that Putin might plan to use force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, Putin’s goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement and have North Korea make amends for its sin by cutting the cord with the US. Perchance as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. That would likely mean putting the matter before the UN Security Council. Note that using military force to drive countries to the negotiating table was also a favored stratagem of the Obama administration. If Moscow and Pyongyang might have an inkling that they could get away with it, to quell international condemnation of the Russian Federation over a hypothetical military incursion, they might offer a story about some mix-up in timing occurred over a movement by Russian Federation troops to North Korea for a planned joint exercise. They would deny any disharmony existed. In that vein, Pyongyang would probably keep the North Korean people in the dark about the hypothetical incursion. Pyongyang would very likely refrain from making any official reports of the embarrassing episode, hoping it could resolve the matter quickly, and make the whole thing go away.

One could imagine further, under the hypothetical put forward here, that Putin, the maestro himself, might calculate an incursion into North Hamgyong would create political confusion and disarray in Pyongyang. Prospective talks with Moscow in such a situation might take place with or without Kim at the helm in Pyongyang. Kim might even have the courage or insanity to throw the Korean People’s Army into fight with Russian Federation forces. Nevertheless, likely being incapable of ejecting the invaders from the sovereign territory of North Korea, Kim would live under a frightful cloud. He would unlikely be absolved of responsibility for the possible crisis. He could possibly be seen within the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea as inciting the Russian Federation’s action with his denuclearization agreement. A scenario can be imagined in which Kim would no longer be considered fit to serve as the North Korean Communist Movement’s figurative lodestar. The Workers’ Party of Korea might decide to replace him. That would be harder to conceal, but if they did so, they would try to present a plausible reason for the change. Surely there are those in Pyongyang with designs on Kim’s spot. (Note that no matter how things fall, war, peace, or a leadership change, both the Russian Federation and China would be beneficiaries of the success of the US in getting North Korea to denuclearize.)Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Unable to do anything to rectify the hypothetical situation proffered here, Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if it indeed was the cause for a Russian Federation attack. One could imagine under the hypothetical proffered here that Putin might plan to use of force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, the goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement with the US. Perhaps as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program.

Matters Pyongyang Should Address in the Diplomatic Process on Denuclearization

Abundans cautela non nocet. (Abundant caution does not harm.) Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would seem akin to daylight madness to ignore what might very well knock down whatever might be constructed. Pyongyang supposedly understands Moscow. Therefore, it surely understands that Moscow only sees it as a junior partner, not equal to it. If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Moscow. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. If they have not broached such an important issue, the indications and implications may be that Pyongyang was being disingenuous about its interest in denuclearization and North Korea’s economic vitalization. What their real intentions are, might be put into question. On the other hand, it is imaginable that North Korean foreign and national security officials possibly may not be cleared to discuss what may very well be a sensitive matter for Pyongyang: the Russian Federation’s reaction to a denuclearization agreement! It may be a matter, a secret, only for the purview of Kim and members of the Central Committee. The thing about secrets is that outsiders very rarely know what they are. If US negotiators are not willing to broach and fully address this matter with their North Korean counterparts, they may be setting the stage for failure, taking a huge gamble with something extremely important. There would exist an element of superficiality to the negotiations. If the North Koreans clam up in response to their inquiry, US negotiators could respectfully request that their counterparts seek clarification and instructions on the matter from Pyongyang. It may turn out that the matter would need to be broached at the highest level: Trump and Kim.

If ever North Korean negotiators are queried about their country’s concerns over an aggressive Russian Federation reaction to Kim signing a denuclearization agreement with the US, and they are willing to respond, common sense would demand that they completely outline security concerns Pyongyang feels the new situation might create. It would be the best time to explain any concerns that voiding themselves of nuclear weapons to the point in which they would not have any deterrent nuclear power at all would inherently dangerous, having China and the Russian Federation as neighbors. At that point, US negotiators must be able to offer real solutions to mitigate the North Koreans concerns. If North Korean negotiators, once queried, fail to speak forthrightly, and answer “Who is this Putin fellow to whom you keep referring?” or something to that effect, US negotiators would be provided with a real sense of Pyongyang’s genuineness. North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un observes weapons test (above). If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Putin. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would be daylight madness to ignore what could knock down whatever might be constructed.

Suggestions

Quoniam id fieri quod visit non potest, velis id quod possit. (As that which you wish cannot be effected, you should wish for that which may be obtained.) A desire by Kim to retain the ability to deter any sudden, rogue moves by China or Russia, would be the most plausible reason he could offer for retaining his existing nuclear arsenal. If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. (The immediate elimination of North Korea’s long-range missile program must remain a US stipulation.) At the same time, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be phased in place. A demonstration of unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany Korean People’s Army on patrols North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not serve as a deterrent to a Russian Federation incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult. Alternatively, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some ominous military and naval deployments were under way. That alternative would most likely be far more palatable to the North Koreans. While that would be happening, some US and South Korean in phases and at a deliberate pace, could move away from the DMZ, much as Russian Federation forces withdrew from Germany after reunification. US forces could be reallocated to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to reassure allies of the US commitment to their defense and continue to effectively preserve Northeast Asian peace and security.

As aforementioned, nuclear nonproliferation is the correct way for the world to go. Another option that may be very off-putting to US officials would be to allow North Korea to retain a portion of its nuclear arsenal after a phased reduction to serve as a deterrent. That deterrent power must be specified publicly to ensure that the small number of weapons retained would have a deterrent effect. In Washington, there would likely be a political backlash over walking back from the initial demand for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in North Korea. To ameliorate concerns about that in a practical way, some additional specific steps that could be taken. If the North Koreans could put their suspicions and distrust aside, on-site joint US, North Korean, South Korean, and Japanese inspection teams could be deployed where the nuclear deterrent would be kept in North Korea. As part of the larger denuclearization agreement, military liaison offices could be created in North Korea, South Korea, and Japan for military officers of all countries involved in maintaining peace and security on the Korea Peninsula which would facilitate the deployment of those inspection teams. The prospective North Korean military liaison officers would also have the right to make escorted visits to one another’s bases in the region. An open skies arrangement with regard to flyovers by aerial reconnaissance and surveillance satellites of all sides should be agreed to in additional to physical inspections by prospective military liaison officers. As suggested in the first option, it could also be proposed that US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability  serve as a type of “peace force” to patrol the North Korea’s northern border in cooperation with the Korean People’s Army. As an alternative here too, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some odd, threatening military and naval deployments were under way. With high expectations about their inventiveness, negotiators could certainly devise additional steps to create a more secure situation.

A third option might be for the US to provide Pyongyang with an assessment of the likelihood that the Russian Federation might seek to establish a buffer zone on North Korean territory in reaction to a denuclearization agreement. In following, the suggestion might also be made to Pyongyang that in conjunction with eliminating nuclear weapons from its arsenal, military equities once organized to defend against an attack from the south should be moved north. It was stated in a publicly available portion of 1995 US Defense Intelligence Agency report published by the Federation of American Scientists that North Korea has deployed over 10,000 artillery systems (mostly multiple rocket launchers and self-propelled artillery systems) near the DMZ.  They most likely have many more deployed now. Once those forces begin moving north, they could be kept in cantonments, while fighting positions could be constructed where they could be immediately deployed in an emergency on the northern border. Of course, under this hypothetical scenario, Moscow may declare the redeployment of Korean People’s Army forces as threatening. In response, North Korea could make clear diplomatically that the redeployment is part of comprehensive change in its national defense strategy. It might appear impolitic but it would be truthful for Pyongyang to declare the redeployment as necessary given the Moscow’s pattern of creating buffer zones in its neighbors’ sovereign territory to provide a theoretical bulwark against US and European encroachment toward its border. Moscow may also decide to deploy its own forces near or on the northern border under such a scenario. However, if the North Koreans bring sufficient power to bear, the threat of a possible Russian Federation attack aimed at grabbing territory should be stemmed. While that is happening, some US and South Korean forces could be redeployed to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to preserve Northeast Asian peace and security vis-a-vis China and Russia, who would ostensibly remain as regional adversaries. With Tokyo’s consent, there could potentially be some redeployments to Japan. The DMZ, North Korea-South Korea relations, and the whole unification issue would left to bilateral talks between the two countries. The US could play a supporting role, if asked. Pyongyang may view the proposed assessment and suggestion to redeploy its forces as a manipulation, a ploy to have it drop its defenses south and open the door to a joint US and South Korean invasion. It would be the task of US negotiators to convince their North Korean counterparts by words and deeds that such is not the case.US, South Korean, and North Korean troops handling a US soldier’s remains from the Korean War (above). If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction weapons that will eventually result in its complete elimination. In tandem with that, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be put in place. A demonstration of support and unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany the Korean People’s Army on patrols of North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not be a deterrent to an incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult.

After reaching a denuclearization agreement, North Korea should no longer think solely about directing its military equities at the US, South Korea, and Japan. Pyongyang must be assured and understand that their military equities would be directed at North Korea. As explained here, the sizable and capable armed forces of China and the Russian Federation would still pose threats to their security, and possibly North Korean security. Training exercises and testing of weapons for self-defense is a right and even necessity that should not simply be stripped from any country in the region. One must also consider practical issues, for example, the metal of armored and mechanized weapons tends to fatigue when sitting idle. However, the agreement might support a move away from extempore tests and exercises and toward greater transparency among military forces. Countries in the region could agree to engage in limited exercises and testing during scheduled dates and times determined via discussions among senior military and diplomatic officials. Critical to maintaining peace and security following a prospective agreement would be the construction of some means for the US, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea to monitor developments, tests, deployments, and other activities as partners to ensure peace.

To create firm channels of communication that will strengthen confidence and dissipate distrust, there must be regular interactions between non-military government officials working on North Korea’s economic vitalization. Interactions should move from likely being stolid and officious to more personable yet still professional. Advisory teams from all governments could interact very closely to guarantee internationals in North Korea are well-informed of the laws under which they must operate, and informed of culturally expected behavior by guests in North Korea. This will help eliminate mysteries about the country which was mostly closed to outsiders, and allow visiting officials and businessmen proceed with their work with confidence and walk with an assured step. The influx of well-trained and acculturated business people, experts on North Korea, will hopefully facilitate that. Success might be measured empirically by the number of congenial linkages created between US and North Korean firms. Eventually, US firms might receive contracts to provide supplies and perform services.US President Donald Trump (left) and Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at the DMZ. The entire diplomatic process on denuclearization might seem much as a rabbit hole to Kim, given the many facets and angles that he needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

The Way Forward

It is burdensome to hold on a hope that has not yet been fulfilled. Impatience, however, can poison diplomacy, and is rarely viewed as sensible by those in foreign services worldwide who instead extol statesmanship and sangfroid. To that extent, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US negotiators have responded to maximalist North Korean demands and cavilling with anodyne statements. In seeking to create a sustainable peace in Northeast Asia, Trump has demonstrated once again that he is willing to take on situations that are not easy. While negotiations appear to still be moving through the confidence building stage between negotiating parties, defusing old animus, the fact that everything has actually reached this point must be credited to Trump. With the many facets and angles that Kim needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, the entire denuclearization process might seem much as a rabbit hole to him. One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

What has been presented here are aspects of a hypothetical scenario in which a denuclearization agreement could ironically open another door to a conflict on Korean Peninsula. In that struggle, North Korea would not be pitted against the US, South Korea, and Japan. Rather, North Korea might find itself struggling against its longtime companion, the Russian Federation. Policymakers and negotiators on both sides must consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula both as it is now and how it might appear after an agreement is reached. Likely threats to a prospective denuclearization agreement must be sorted out with a similar level of interest as sanctions relief is for one party and the drawdown of the nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles is for the other. While impatience may poison for diplomacy, superficiality is its bane. Policymakers and negotiation teams may need to take a new, diligent look across all aspects of the situation, paying as close attention as possible to potential unpleasant developments that may arise once an agreement is reached. If a denuclearization agreement that is genuinely viable and sustainable cannot be found due to new wrinkles, perhaps an agreement somewhat short of what was originally sought, could be considered. In the extreme, the undesirable and regrettable decision to stop seeking an agreement altogether may need to be made. The collapse of the process would not at all be a blot on Trump’s escutcheon. However, the curtain has not fallen yet. Hopefully, both sides can come up with a smart solution for this important issue. Omnia prius experiri, quam armis, sapientem decet. (It becomes a wise man to try all methods before having recourse to arms.)

Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?

screenshot_2016-11-19-06-59-36

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left) with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (right). Putin wants to keep the Republic of Belarus within his country’s sphere of influence. Yet, due to regional security concerns, Belarus has gained new importance in the West. Lukashenko, once called Europe’s last dictator, is being approached by the EU and US. He has responded by trying to strengthen ties with them. Some Western analysts conclude Putin will not react well to this development. However, Belarus’s ties to the EU could actually enable its ally Russia to circumvent sanctions through a creative trade arrangement.

According to an October 29, 2016 article in the New York Times entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters,” dozens of demonstrators held a gathering in front of the headquarters building of Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB in Minsk to commemorate the 1937 execution of over 100 members of the Belarusian intelligentsia under the orders of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Josef Stalin. The demonstrators also protested continuing repression in Belarus.  The demonstration was not authorized, however the police did not interfere. The annual commemoration provides the Belarusian public a rare opportunity to show disapproval for the government led by President Alexander Lukashenko. Nikolai Statkevich ran against Lukashenko in the 2010 Belarusian Presidential Election and was imprisoned for five years afterward. The New York Times article quoted him as stating: The fear of repression haunts Belarus as before. Today’s authorities are ideological heirs of those times.”

The EU and US now seem to be approaching Lukashenko with outstretched arms. Lukashenko, once the target of profound obloquy in the West and whose government was called “Europe’s last dictatorship” in 2005 by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is now covered with good words to the extent that his past iron fisted actions have nearly been cloaked. Belarus, in response to EU and US overtures, has engaged in a vigorous effort to curry favor and strengthen ties with them. The question of whether Lukashenko can genuinely recurvate westward after being oriented so long toward Russia has been responded to by some EU leaders with rather Delphine statements.

Putin wants Belarus to remain in Russia’s sphere of influence. He wants to keep Belarus in the Central Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Some Western foreign and defense policy analysts would quickly point out that Lukashenko has never been disposed to completely subordinating the interests of Belarus to that of Russia, or of the West for that matter. Pedictably, those Western analysts have concluded Putin, their bête noire, likely perceives Lukashenko as being disloyal, and suggest that he could react aggressively. Such analyses simply signal a fear of Russian military power. They also signal a fear that when the interests of any country in Russia’s sphere of interest is detectably at odds with those of the Kremlin, a “second Crimea” may be in the making. Crimea happened. Putin acted aggressively. However, Crimea should not be the baseline to gauge Putin’s thinking and actions going forward. Putin does not act impulsively; he acts with purpose. He can well-distinguish between what he wants for the moment and what he wants most. Putin does not want to have Russia defined as a rogue country with a military that is nothing more than an army of conquest. Having built solid relations with Minsk, especially with regard to security, for over a score of years, it is hard to imagine Moscow attempting to militarily intimidate or actually attack Belarus over its contacts with the EU. Extrapolations perpetuating such notions are counterintuitive. In fact, Putin has hardly reacted. He may very well recognize some potential in his ally’s new EU contacts for Russia to circumvent economic sanctions via a creative trade arrangement.

belarus_ing

Belarus is a 207,600 square kilometer, landlocked country, bordered by the Russian Federation to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. When Putin took office, he viewed Russia’s relations with Belarus as unsatisfactory and improved them. Belarus’s strategic importance to Russia increased following regional events such as NATO’s creep into the post-Soviet space, and the “Color Revolutions.” Belarus and Russia have had a few political and economic rows. Still, the two countries are staunch allies.

Belarus: In Brief

The Republic of Belarus is a 207,600 square kilometer, landlocked country, bordered by the Russian Federation to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk. While the borders of Belarus were set at the end of World War II, they were shaped mostly when some territory of the Second Polish Republic was reintegrated into them after the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. During World War II, Belarus lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The Soviet Union redeveloped the republic in the post-war years. On July 27, 1990, the Parliament of the Belarus declared the republic’s sovereignty, and on August 25, 1991, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared itself an independent country. Since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the President of Belarus. His leadership was widely criticized in the West. Lukashenko perpetuated a number of Soviet-era policies, to include state ownership of large sections of the economy. For years, political opposition was violently suppressed. Elections in Belarus were declared rigged by the international community.  The country’s rating under The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index was the lowest in Europe until 2014. Freedom House assessed Belarus under Lukashenko as “not free.”  It was labelled “repressed” in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. In the Press Freedom Index for 2016 of Reporters Without Borders, it was ranked 157th out of 180 countries.

Belarus’s Ties to Russia

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the newly formed Russian Federation tried to control the post-Soviet space by creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 8, 1991. However, Belarus, much as other republics in the CIS, began drifting away from Russia, which at that time was attempting to cultivate Western relations and save its broken economy. In the early 1990s, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was concerned that his country’s involvement with Belarus might put its bridge building efforts with the West at risk. Yet, while Russia was fixed on improving relations, Western capitals discerned Russia’s inability to act effectively. NATO began to expand east. Stung and threatened by what he perceived as an effort by the West to isolate it from the European environment by grabbing up Central and Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics, Yeltsin sought to improve ties with Belarus. Relations between the two countries became so congenial that in the mid-1990s, following Lukashenko’s rise to power, Yeltsin concluded Belarus would be an ideal candidate for integration with Russia. After signing the Treaty of Friendship, Good-Neighborliness and Cooperation with Belarus, Yeltsin declared that “the two nations [had] shared a common historical experience over many centuries.” That, he explained, “created the basis for signing the treaty and other documents on deeper integration of our two countries. Among all CIS countries, Belarus has the greatest rights to such a relationship due to its geographical location, its contacts with Russia, our friendship and the progress of its reforms.” One year after April 2, 1996 when the integration process was launched, the Union of Belarus and Russia was established. It culminated with the founding of the Union State between Belarus and Russia on December 8, 1999. When Putin took office, he determined that the status of the relations with Belarus was unsatisfactory and criticized the Union State Treaty. He sought to put real content into it. He formulated a policy genuinely directed at realizing unification. His proposal was to complete unification either in a federation model which meant that Belarus would join the Russian Federation, or build a union which is similar to the EU. However, Belarus rejected those approaches and there was no change. Still, Putin did not abandon the idea of unification completely. The next goal became integration. The strategic importance of Belarus to Putin increased as a result of international events, to include. NATO’s activity in the post-Soviet space; the decision of many Eastern European countries to orient westward; a US plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland or the Czech Republic; and, the “Color Revolutions.”

gazprombelarus-1

Russia’s share of Belarus’s international trade is 48 percent. In 2015, $17.1 billion in Russian exports went to Belarus. More than half of Belarus’s purchases from Russia are in crude oil alone–reportedly $9 billion in 2015. Disagreements over profits and payments from the energy trade led to the Gas Wars of 2004, 2007, and 2010. In the 2010 row, Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev and Russian energy giant Gazprom claimed Belarus owed Russia $200 million in gas arrears for that year. Belarus demanded transit fees owed by Russia. The matter was resolved and went away.

Considering that integration with Belarus would be costly, it is reported that Moscow sought to maximize gains from it. Its goals became to reduce the economic burden which Belarus laid on its economy, and to take over Belarus’s energy transit infrastructure. That tack spurred many of the political and economic rows. Among those conflicts was a disagreement that arose when Lukashenko accused Russia of offering a $500 million loan to Minsk on the condition that it recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Lukashenko angrily retorted that the position of Belarus was not for sale. Regarding the close military cooperation between Belarus and Russia, Lukashenko compared Belarus’s population of 10 million people as a human shield for Russia against the West. That service, he said, “was not free.” The Milk War erupted in July 2009 when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, explaining that they did not comply with new regulations. Belarus accused Russia of using the ban for political reasons, but Russia denied that. In a statement presented by his press service, Lukashenko lashed out, stating: “Economy serves as the basis for our common security. But if Belarus’s closest CSTO ally is trying . . . to destroy this basis and de facto put the Belarusians on their knees, how can one talk about consolidating collective security in the CSTO space?” Lukashenko acted by refusing to attend the 2009 CSTO summit in Moscow. The CSTO, Putin’s counterweight to NATO, groups Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in a security arrangement. Shortly afterward, Russia lifted the ban and Belarus resumed importing of dairy products to Russia. Additionally, there were the Gas Wars of 2004, 2007, and 2010. In the 2010 Gas War, a dispute arose over a claim by Russian Federation Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev and Russian energy giant Gazprom claimed that Belarus owed $200 million in Russia gas arrears for supplies it had used that year. Belarus then demanded transit fees owed by Russia. A resolution was found and the matter quietly went away.

The EEU is an economic integration bloc of post-Soviet republics. It succeeded the erstwhile Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in January 2015. Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joined the EEU later that year. The bloc coordinates policies of its member states in key industries. In that spirit of coordination, the argument between Belarus and Russia over the price of natural gas was resolved, although the two sides have apparently not yet reached a consensus on the scale of the price discount (if any) or the mechanism of its delivery to Belarus. Russia’s share of Belarus’s international trade is 48 percent. In 2015, $17.1 billion in Russian exports went to Belarus. More than half of its purchases from Russia are in crude oil alone–reportedly $9 billion in 2015. Of Belarus’s overall exports, 39 percent is directed to Russia. Those imports from Belarus totaled only $10.4 billion. For the most part it sells Russia value-added goods in return. Aside from trucks and industrial machines, Belarus sells processed foods. A network of Belarusian grocery stores operates in major Russian cities.

000601_667386

Above is an assembly line at the Minsk Motor Plant. Nearly a third of Belarus’s overall trade is with its second largest trading partner, the EU. Belarusian exports to the EU are dominated by mineral fuels. Chemicals, agricultural products, machinery and textiles form a much lower share. While the EU has withdrawn trade preferences for Belarus, the potential to greatly expand trade exists.

The Strong Military Linkage Between Belarus and Russia

Although there have been some setbacks in the political and economic integration of Belarus and Russia, the military-integration process between them has been successful. Cooperation with Belarus fits snuggly within Putin’s vision for geopolitical order in the post–Cold War world. Putin has never accepted the expansion of the EU and NATO into Central and Eastern Europe. It was practically guaranteed that Putin would push back against what he might call an intrusion into Russia’s near abroad. The near abroad is what Moscow refers to as the territory surrounding Russia’s borders. The term was reportedly popularized by former Russian Federation Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev in the early 1990s. For centuries, Russia has sought to ensure its physical security through its control over neighboring territory. For Putin, the term represents a concept akin to the Monroe Doctrine.

On February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin has accepted the threat assessment of the the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition is also part of that picture. To rehearse the defense against the West, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced massive strategic military exercises Zapad 2017, scheduled to take place in September 2017. He said that the joint exercise, which would include Russian and Belarusian forces, will be the “main military event of 2017.” Further, the two countries armed forces will cooperate in over 130 events and measures. Shoigu explained: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.

russiaeuropemap

Belarus (shaded in green), Russia (shaded in violet), and their neighbors. Providing a glimpse of the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation, on February 14, 2013, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, explained the depletion of oil, gas and other natural resources will become an ultimate world crisis by 2030. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade Russia from several directions to grab its land and resources. Lukashenko insists that Belarus will remain part of Russia’s defense.

Ubi concordia, ibi victoria! (Where there is unity, there is victory.) To a great degree, Russian and Belarusian regional security approaches have been harmonized. Lukashenko has pledged that Belarus will be an integral part of the Russian Federation’s defense. Indeed, he has gone as far as to say that the army of Belarus, the modernization of which was nearly completed, was ready to defend Russia’s western border. According to RIA Novosti, Lukashenko declared: “We, together with the Russian people, the Russians, will defend our common homeland in the highly important for Russian western direction. We will be dying in this direction to defend Belarus and Russia.” Lukashenko has referred to the Belarus population as 10 million human shields in the defense of Russia. Lukashenko further stated that the Belarusian Army will be able to show resistance to any aggressor.  Prior to those statements, Lukashenko told the Belarus Parliament that he would not allow the country’s opposition to depict Russia in the image of an enemy. Lukashenko declared to the Belarus Parliament: “The Russians are our brothers, with whom we have been living for a very long time.”

sergei-shoigu-e-putin

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition is also part of that picture. Shoigu announced that massive military exercises would be held by Russia and Belarus in 2017 to rehearse their joint defense against the West.

A New Military Doctrine for Belarus

Following deliberations in the Belarusian Parliament, Lukashenko signed a new edition of the country’s military doctrine into law. While the doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, it is hinted in no uncertain terms that NATO is its most likely adversary. Indeed, according to Paragraph 11.3 of the doctrine, direct military threats to Belarus include “the expansion (or creation) of military-political alliances in the European region in which the Republic of Belarus is not included,” and attempts by such alliances to carry out “global functions.” Meanwhile, Paragraph 11.4 alludes to the threat posed by “the strengthening of the offensive capabilities of states (or coalitions of states), including the unilateral establishment of strategic missile defense systems, precision-guided weaponry equipped with non-nuclear warheads for attacks against the military forces and infrastructure of the Republic of Belarus,” and other measures “leading to a disruption of the existing balance of forces, as well as the building up of military infrastructure by states bordering Belarus.” There is an emphasis on the dangers of “missile defense” and cruise missiles disrupting the existing balance of forces in the region. (The new doctrine surely refers to NATO and the ongoing buildup of its’ forces in Eastern Europe, including US missile defense system deployed in Romania and Poland.) In addition to direct military threats, the new Belarusian military doctrine discusses military-political, military-strategic and military-economic threats to the country. When presenting an earlier draft of the doctrine for parliamentary deliberation, Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Andrei Ravkov explained that “a particular emphasis was placed on the negative trends associated with the development of the concept of ‘Color Revolutions,’ and mechanisms aimed at changing the constitutional order and violating state’s territorial integrity by provoking internal armed conflicts.” Those mechanisms would include the use of private military forces, and “hybrid warfare.”

Months before the new doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko, while discussing priorities for the armed forces on October 31, 2015, directed his government to focus on developing special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems. Those military elements are best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering efforts of adversaries and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations both in urban areas as well as the countryside. Minsk harbors suspicions that an effort might be afoot to topple Lukashenko. It views Ukraine, not Russia, as a possible hybrid warfare threat.

dsc_0680

Belarusian troops (above). Following deliberations in Parliament, Lukashenko signed Belarus’s new military doctrine into law. The doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, but it is apparent that NATO is deemed the greatest military threat. Accordingly, Lukashenko declared: “We, together with the Russian people, the Russians, will defend our common homeland in the highly important for Russia western direction. We will be dying in this direction to defend Belarus and Russia.”

A New Military Doctrine for Belarus

Following deliberations in the Belarusian Parliament, Lukashenko signed a new edition of the country’s military doctrine. While the doctrine, updated for the first time since 2002, does not directly identify the countries which serve as a threat to Belarus, it is hinted in no uncertain terms that NATO is its most likely adversary. Indeed, according to Paragraph 11.3 of the doctrine, direct military threats to Belarus include “the expansion (or creation) of military-political alliances in the European region in which the Republic of Belarus is not included,” and attempts by such alliances to carry out “global functions.” Meanwhile, Paragraph 11.4 alludes to the threat posed by “the strengthening of the offensive capabilities of states (or coalitions of states), including the unilateral establishment of strategic missile defense systems, precision-guided weaponry equipped with non-nuclear warheads for attacks against the military forces and infrastructure of the Republic of Belarus,” and other measures “leading to a disruption of the existing balance of forces, as well as the building up of military infrastructure by states bordering Belarus.” There is an emphasis on the dangers of “missile defense” and cruise missiles disrupting the existing balance of forces in the region. (The new doctrine surely refers to NATO and the ongoing buildup of its’ forces in Eastern Europe, including US missile defense system deployed in Romania and Poland.) In addition to direct military threats, the new Belarusian military doctrine discusses military-political, military-strategic and military-economic threats to the country. When presenting an earlier draft of the doctrine for parliamentary deliberation, Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Andrei Ravkov explained that “a particular emphasis was placed on the negative trends associated with the development of the concept of ‘Color Revolutions,’ and mechanisms aimed at changing the constitutional order and violating state’s territorial integrity by provoking internal armed conflicts.” Those mechanisms would include the use of private military forces, and “hybrid warfare.”

belarus-drill_2031154i

Belarusian special forces in training (above). In the new Belarusian military doctrine, emphasis is placed on trends associated with the development of the concept of “Color Revolutions,” and methods aimed at provoking internal conflicts to destabilize the country and violate its territorial integrity. A year ahead of the doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko directed his government to further develop special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems: elements best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations.

Months before the new doctrine’s promulgation, Lukashenko, while discussing priorities for the armed forces on October 31, 2015, directed his government to focus on developing special operation forces, rapid response forces, intelligence and control systems. Those military elements are best equipped to defeat intelligence-gathering efforts of adversaries and fight diversionary groups and illegal armed formations both in urban areas as well as the countryside. Minsk harbors suspicions that an effort might be afoot to topple Lukashenko. Officials there view Ukraine, not Russia, as a possible hybrid warfare threat.

bn-mp447_eubela_p_20160215104757

The EU welcomed Lukashenko’s desire to have Belarus play a constructive role in the region by hosting four-party peace negotiations on Ukraine, as well as his decision to maintain political distance from Russia over Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey. The EU called for further human-rights advances by Lukashenko. EU ministers have encouraged Belarus to develop a “vibrant civil society” with more freedom for the media. They have held out the prospect of more trade, economic aid and fast-tracked visas for Belarusians traveling to the EU. Still, many wonder if Lukashenko’s efforts are authentic.

Minsk and Brussels: A Rapprochement?

Some experts have said that it was Lukashenko who began making overtures to the West following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, considerable economic troubles in Belarus, and a degree of instability in Eastern Europe. He managed to grab the attention oF EU leaders in a positive way when he decided to free a number of political prisoners and host multiparty mediations in Minsk for the cease-fire in neighboring Ukraine. EU governments, claiming that they based their decision on content and merit of Lukashenko’s efforts, suspended sanctions on Belarus’s leaders in October 2014. In February 2015, EU foreign ministers terminated sanctions, removing asset freezes and travel bans on 170 officials, including Lukashenko. Three Belarusian companies were also taken off the EU blacklist. The EU maintains an arms embargo and sanctions against four people suspected of being involved in the disappearance of dissidents in the 1990s. Lukashenko responded by intensifying fence mending efforts with the West. As of late, Belarusian diplomats have been pouring considerable energy in enhancing their country’s relations with the West, hoping to capitalize on Belarus’ newfound importance for regional stability. Their approach is bicameral. On the one hand, they seek to develop bilateral cooperation with specific EU countries. On the other hand, they want to develop cooperation with the EU as an institution focusing on the Eastern partnership, a dialogue on modernization, and visa issues. Lukashenko’s current perspective of the EU appears to be reflected in his statements in favor of dialogue with it.  On March 5, 2016, Lukashenko explained: “The Europeans . . . are ready to cooperate with us, including for the sake of security in Europe. We say to them that we’re always open to [talking].” EU and US delegations continue to visit Minsk, but results have been thin. The US has expressed hope not only for improved cooperation on trade, but also on non-proliferation and combating human trafficking.

Praetio prudentia praestat. (Prudence supplies a reward.) Commenting on Belarus, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, remarked, “This is clearly not a rosy or perfect picture . . . but when we see significant, even if limited steps, in what we feel is the right direction, we feel it is right to encourage them.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of the “beginnings” of a thaw with Belarus, and concluded, “It’s worth testing in such a situation how much willingness and reciprocity there is on the Belarus side.” Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told reporters, “This is an experiment.” He went on to state: “As a neighbor of Belarus, we are pleased as we hope this will improve relations with the EU and of course with Poland.” While the EU leaders allege they had no intention of prying Belarus from Putin’s hand, that nonetheless was viewed as possible. The EU called for further human-rights advances by Lukashenko. Indeed, in a statement, the EU ministers encouraged Belarus to develop a “vibrant civil society” with more freedom for the media. They held out the prospect of more trade, economic aid and fast-tracked visas for Belarusians traveling to the EU. Lukashenko will take what is offered, but what he really wants from EU countries is financial assistance. Belarus’s international reserves are at the lowest since 2011. Although there has been some direct private investment from the US in Belarus, its development has been relatively slow given the uncertain pace of reform. The US has encouraged Belarus to conclude and adhere to agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the program of macroeconomic stabilization and related reform measures. As of this writing, the International Monetary Fund is still deciding whether it should provide Belarus with a $3 billion, 10-year loan.

russian-forces-tighten-grip-on-crimea

Above are Russian “green men” in Ukraine. In the West, every new statement, every move by Minsk concerning its armed forces, has taken on additional significance in the context of Belarus-Russia relations.  Western analysts still insist that Belarus faces the threat of hybrid warfare from Russia. They conclude that Moscow will monitor Belarus’s improving relations with the West, looking for any signs of a serious loosening of ties with Russia.

Are Problems Between Belarus and Russia Becoming Inexorable?

Ad connectendas amicitas, tenacissimum vinculum est morum similitudo. (For cementing friendship, resemblance of manners is the strongest tie.) At the Third Forum of Russian and Belarusian Regions on June 9, 2016, Putin explained: “In a collaborative effort, Russia and Belarus work to deepen integration processes in Eurasia. As members of the Union State, we are carrying out about 40 programs and are jointly developing advanced technology programmes, primarily, for the aerospace industry, satellite navigation, geological exploration, and agriculture.” Putin further stated: “We are forming the Eurasian Economic Union’s common market for goods, services, capital, and labour, thereby facilitating sustainable economic growth of the member countries and enhancing the competitiveness of our producers on domestic and foreign markets.”  

Some interesting statements have been made by Belarusian officials concerning their country’s security relationship with Russia. There is the example of Belarusian Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov, who, speaking on February 23, 2016, stated that security of the country relied also on military cooperation not only with Russia and members of the CSTO. He also underlined Minsk’s “strategic” military cooperation with China and “aspiration to develop a constructive dialogue with NATO in order to strengthen international and regional security.” An interview of Belarus’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei with the Polish daily, Rzeczpospolita, on October 17, 2016, has been called significant because it was titled “We Are Not Dependents of Russia.” In the West, every new statement, every move by Minsk concerning its armed forces has taken on additional significance in the context of Belarus-Russia relations. When Shoigu announced that a “joint military organization of the Union State” would be created starting in 2016, including notional unification of the two countries’ armed forces, it appeared Belarus-Russia military ties were further strengthening. Yet, in the West, it was viewed by some analysts as a unilateral statement by Russia, and an effort to save face and show the world that the relationship was still intact. Western analysts note that there was no comment from Belarus on the joint military organization of the Union State. There is a perception in the West that Russia routinely announces joint initiatives with Belarus which have not been endorsed by Minsk. When an announcement of a joint air defence system was made in Russia, Belarus did not comment on it, at least publicly. Reportedly, that same week, Belarus TV broadcasted an extended feature on the country’s Air Defense Troops without once mentioning the new military agreement with Russia. Although the general in charge of the Belarusian Air Force has been nominated as the commander for the “joint system,” Western analysts saw the move simply as a face-saver for Minsk. The lack of reaction by Belarus was said to signal Minsk’s disapproval of the effort by Moscow to control the provision of its security. When Belarus needed to purchase modern fighter aircraft to upgrade its ageing air force, Moscow announced instead that Belarus would be hosting a Russian airbase. Western analysts insist that Moscow pressured Lukashenko for the airbase. However, he insisted upon and arranged the aircraft purchase.

Alter ipso amicus. (A friend is another self.) Some Western analysts have concluded that Russia will observe Belarus’s improving relations with the West, looking for any serious threat to its ties. Yet, that idea conflicts with the reality that Putin considers Belarus to be an integral part of Russia’s geopolitical and cultural space. Moscow has invested heavily in preserving and increasing its influence in the country. Lukashenko has no plans to have Belarus abandon Russia. If some drop in the strength of Belarus’s ties to Russia has occurred, it is negligible.From 2008 to 2010, Putin neither acted violently nor took a hostile tone toward what he perhaps regarded as a recalcitrant, yet typical Lukashenko, with his dalliance toward the West and he has no intentions of reacting aggressively toward Belarus now. Putin knows Lukashenko could never stand by wistfully in the face of Russian decisions impacting Belarus. Putin would never allow Russia to be directed by a foreign capital either. Clashing with Lukashenko is the last thing Putin would want. This may especially be true because Belarus might be able to provide Putin with the possibility to overcome EU sanctions related to Ukraine.

a8181f8b-b1f8-4989-a952-f1bad29a4786_mw1024_s_n

Moldova, just as Belarus, is not subject to EU sanctions. Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin has proposed that Moldova allow Russia to move its goods into a “European zone” in the pro-Russia autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia as a way for Russia to circumvent EU imposed sanctions. As long as Belarus is not subject to sanctions and the EU is open to trade with it, hypothetically, Russia could move its goods into Belarusian territory, and then have the its goods sold to the West as Belarusian goods, thereby escaping restrictions.

Putin’s Possible Move Regarding Belarus?

US and EU sanctions against Russia over Crimea’s annexation will not go away unless Russia returns the region to Ukraine. Russian Federation Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev remarked at a press conference on November 11, 2016, “Our position is that sanctions will remain unchanged.” Just as the Baltic States were never recognized as part of the Soviet Union by the West. Crimea will always be recognized as part of Ukraine, not Russia. As it was explained in the September 30, 2016 greatcharlie.com post entitled “Putin’s Next Target May Be Moldova, But His Goal Is to Increase Trade, Not Conquer via Military Action,” Russia is well-aware that cooperation stimulates economic growth and higher standards of living on both sides of a border by improving conditions for free trade and exchange. Inter-border cooperation is understood to be a prerequisite of broader integration processes and improving relations between neighboring countries. It can serve as a mechanism for coping with the challenges and jolts resulting from the new divisions created between EU and EEU countries.

As long as Belarus is not subject to sanctions and the EU is open to trade with it, hypothetically, Russia could move its goods into Belarusian territory, and then have its goods sold in the West as Belarusian goods, thereby escaping restrictions. Much as with oil and gas pipelines, Belarus would essentially serve as a relay or refining point for Russian goods targeted for Western markets. For that to even become a possibility, it would certainly be in Russia’s interest to see Belarus improve its relations with the EU, particularly with regard to trade and investment. Belarus could be handsomely remunerated with percentages of profits made or perhaps with greater subsidies on imports of Russian resources. There are certainly limits to the level of Russian products Belarus could absorb for sale to the West. Resale of Russian goods at value added prices would murder the project. Russia certainly could not attempt to move goods into EU countries via Belarus at a level equal to anything it might achieve by trading with them directly. Moscow and Minsk would surely set parameters for the bilateral deal. However, the smallest level would surely be far more than Russia could sell as long as sanctions are in place. Trading an EEU partner’s goods externally in this manner may very well be covered in the economic bloc’s trade provisions. Beyond profit, benefits of this trade arrangement would include: the preservation of Belarus’ brotherly relationship with Russia; Lukashenko’s would have no need to be concerned that the sovereignty of Belarus and its interests were not being respected; and, collective arrangements with Russia such as EEU and CSTO will remain intact. Indeed, Belarus would remain in Russia’s sphere of interest. Note that Belarus is among the few states in Europe that has not asked for membership in the EU. While Belarus has strove for better contacts with EU lately, it has simultaneously sought to further its economic and political ties with Russia.

In many ways, this hypothetical trade arrangement between Belarus and Russia would resemble the creative arrangement Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Rogozin proposed for trade with Moldova. Moldova is not subject to EU sanctions. Thus, theoretically, Russia could move its goods into a proposed European zone in Moldova via the pro-Russia autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia and avoid restrictions. A trade arrangement of this type between Belarus and Russia would also resemble the Outward Processing Trade regime that the EU introduced for Belarus. That regime raised import quota amounts for textiles and clothing manufacturers within the EU thus allowing them to produce garments in Belarus that will return to the EU after processing. Additionally, the arrangement would resemble the somewhat awkward way in which some Belarusian firms have been relabelling food from EU countries and selling them in Russia thereby avoiding Russian sanctions. Probae est in segetem sunt deteriorem datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent. (A good seed, planted even in poor soil, will bear rich fruit by its own nature.)

What Might Encourage Putin and Lukashenko to Take This Course?

What might encourage Lukashenko and Putin to seek this arrangement is the fact that after Russia, the main trading partner of Belarus is the EU. Nearly, a third of the country’s overall trade is with the EU. That trade could most likely be expanded with a nuanced cultivation. Belarusian exports to the EU are dominated by mineral fuels. Chemicals, agricultural products, machinery and textiles form a much lower share. While the EU withdrew its trade preferences to Belarus under the Generalized Scheme of Preferences in 2007 in response to Belarus’ violations of the core principles of the International Labour Organization, exports from Belarus to the EU did not cease. The decision only required Belarus to pay import tariffs at the standard non-preferential rate. Trade was also promoted through the Outward Processing Trade regime,which was mentioned earlier.

Lukashenko stands on terrain high enough to survey the liabilities involved in moving closer to the West. Voices in the West have indicated that not all are impressed with Lukashenko’s positive words and a perceived unwarranted rapprochement to Belarus. Even when EU ministers decided to lift most sanctions against Belarus in 2015, they said concern remained “with the situation of human rights in Belarus.” Ministers called on Minsk to abolish the death penalty and implement Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) recommendations on democracy before the 2015 Belarusian Parliamentary Elections. An OSCE report said October’s election showed Belarus had a “considerable way go to” on democratic standards, noting the absence of safeguards against multiple voting, limited choice available to voters and the uneven playing field between Lukashenko and his political opponents. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Mikloś Haraszti, stated after the 2015 Belarusian Presidential Election that he had seen no changes in “the dismal human rights situation.” Drawing the EU closer to improve the position of Belarus and in turn improve the trade situation for Russia, would require Minsk to engage in very nuanced interactions with Brussels and EU capitals. Lukashenko and Putin would also need to be concerned that in working to soothe EU concerns over human rights and good governance, they might inadvertently trigger EU leaders to request that Lukashenko step down from power to ensure Belarus would be governed by an authentic pro-EU, pro-democracy leadership. That request could soon become an insistent voice for regime change.

1037763070

Drawing the EU closer to improve the position of Belarus and in turn improve the trade situation for Russia, would require Minsk to engage in very nuanced interactions with Brussels and EU capitals. However, Lukashenko and Putin would also need to be concerned that in working to soothe EU concerns over human rights and good governance, they might trigger EU leaders to request that Lukashenko step down from power to ensure Belarus would be governed by an authentic pro-EU, pro-democracy leadership. That request could soon become an insistent voice for regime change.

The Way Forward

In William Shakespeare’s comedy, All’s Well That Ends Well, Helena, a physician’s daughter, chooses to marry Bertram, a man of high social position in the French court, but he rejects her love. In response, Helena engages in a plot to wed Bertram by employing what has come to be known as the “Bed Trick.” As she begins to execute her plan in Act 3, Scene 7, Helena states: “Why, then tonight, Let us assay our plot: which, if it speed, Is wicked meaning in lawful act; Where both not sin, and yet a sinful fact: But let’s about it.” A trade arrangement between Belarus and Russia as outlined here will likely cause discomfort for those who reasonably demand compliance with imposed sanctions. There is nothing inherently wrong with finding and exploiting a loophole in a regulation, business contract, or sanctions. One must have the will to seize the opportunity.

As the leader of a world power, Putin fully understands that his policies should make the Russian people hopeful for the future, not anxious or intimidated. Negative outlooks only advertise the limits one has. Reacting negatively to growing Euro-Belarus ties would not be useful. Inter-border cooperation has greatly assisted in harmonizing domestic policy priorities and international and regional security issues between Belarus and Russia. Inter-border cooperation between Belarus and Russia, albeit from different perspectives, is a prerequisite for improving the relations of both countries with the EU. (The EU is drawing closer to Belarus due to the nature of its ties to Russia. Russia may move closer to Belarus to exploit its improved ties to the EU.) Belarus is already a priority for Russia’s diplomatic, military, political, and economic resources. If Putin senses that he can, with Lukashenko’s cooperation, exploit the rapprochement between the EU and Belarus to circumvent imposed sanctions, that tack could eventually be accepted by Moscow as a mechanism for coping with problems stemming from the divisions between EU and EEU countries.