The Donbass conflict
While the West supported the violent and unconstitutional overthrow of the democratically elected Yanukovich government, any uprisings in the very East of the country that had voted for the disposed Yanukovich would not be tolerated. The government that had come to power on the streets of Kiev very quickly resorted to violently suppress the uprisings that were taking place in the majority ethnically Russian areas to the East and South of the country. This action took place under the motto: “It’s okay for us to illegally overthrow a government, but don’t you dare protest it”.
At this juncture it is worth recalling that the Donbass area has been under siege since 2014, a period during which the Ukrainian army has been at war with its ethnic Russian population in the Donbas area. It is a war which saw over 14000 people killed, war crimes being committed and saw over one million people either seeking refuge abroad or seeing them internally displaced. Nobody in the West cared about any of this until the Russians entered the fray in 2022.
In 2015 the Minsk peace accords at been signed with the ambition of solving the crisis in the Donbas, but the agreements were not fulfilled. Could we really expect Russia to sit back for all eternity watching ethnic Russians being killed and abused in the Donbass? The insane, malevolent Putin sat back for eight years watching the carnage. Again, the narrative seems at odds with the myth. Since when did it become acceptable to the West that it was okay to kill your own citizens? The Minsk accords, to which the Ukrainian state was a signatory, were not especially demanding of the authorities in Kiev, stipulating that the Donbas region should be given a degree of autonomy and that the people should be allowed the use of the Russian language, while Russia would recognise the sovereign territory of the Ukraine. It appeared a pragmatic compromise. Russia has proven in Transnistria, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia that it abides by similar settlements. Indeed, the conditions of the Minsk accords were more favourable to Ukraine than any of the aforementioned precedents. Yet this rather pragmatic approach was a hurdle too far for certain extreme groups within the Ukraine. Rather than suing for peace, the then President Poroshenko removed Ukraine’s neutral status from the constitution, before the current president Zelensky passed a law in which the stated aim was the reintegration of the Crimea, this was followed up with a troop deployment to the border regions of the peninsula.
A comment by the film producer Oleg Sentsov described the mood of the more radical elements in Ukrainian society who stated that “the Ukraine should fight for the land and not the people, then the people are brainwashed by Russian propaganda and if they come back into the Ukraine then they will vote once more and nothing will change”.
In an indirect way Sentsov underscores one of the issues inherent to Ukrainian society. Then irrespective of the xenophobic tone, it is not clear why the Ukrainian nationalists who clearly despise the Russian ethnicity or the Western states that support any anti-Russian government in Kiev would want to have such a large Russian population integrated into the Ukrainian state. As history shows Ukrainian politics is a seesaw that vacillates between both pro-western and more Moscow friendly governments. The last thing both the aforementioned groups seek is a democratic election in which the people of the East and South vote in another Russia orientated government. Having seen two revolutions in less than a decade, it appears unsustainable to continue along with the same mistakes. In fact, given the well-known splits in Ukrainian society it was evident even before the Orange Revolution that Ukraine was threatened by the dark looming shadow of civil war and division. Again, the Minsk agreement appears to have been a pragmatic approach taken by Russia. And yet again the Russian position was rejected. Rather than accepting pragmatism the fanatics pushed for war.
Even in the build up to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, the US was playing hardball, rejecting all of Moscow’s requests, while simultaneously claiming they were open to diplomacy. In one attempt Russia seems to have deliberately overplayed its hand, when requesting that the NATO boundary should be pushed back to where it was in 1997. It is clear that nobody in Moscow could conceive of this as realistic. Rather it was possibly designed to enable the West to claim a victory, while meeting Russian concerns over NATO expansion in the Ukraine and beyond. The overstretch was made to facilitate cooperation.
Reiterating the same sentiments as already expressed thus far, is it really possible for Russia to put up with the Ukrainian assaults on the Donbass? The water blockade of the Crimea, plus the ever-increasing weapon deliveries that were unbalancing the status quo along the Ukraine, DNR and LNR contact line? The delivery especially of the Bayraktar drone from the NATO member Turkey and the touted positioning of Western missiles in Ukraine are clearly synonymous with the conditions of the security dilemma as expressed at the start of this article.
In fact, the increasing professionalism of the Ukrainian forces thanks to its western backers, plus the doubling of the Polish army meant that Russia had genuine security concerns not only for the Russian population in the breakaway republics, but also at its very border. That Poland took such an active role in the protests that followed the Belarus election (Belarus is a Russian ally) in May 2020 also did little to quell Russian fears. Indeed, it would appear that inducing paranoia and fear among the head of state in the Kremlin was a key strategy of the NATO states, then a 2019 report by the Rand cooperation laid out a series of strategies in a 2019 document entitled “Extending Russia”.
You can see a summary of the US anti strategies as devised by the Rand Corporation below.
Security threats to both domestic and allied states of the Russian Federation
As we see many of the conclusions the Rand report settled on became reality in the last 2 years. As we see it was a key strategy to overthorw the Lukashenko government in Belarus, it appears attempts were made in Kazakhstan to limit Russian influence in Central Asia, bureaucratic procedures were implimented to prevent the delivery of gas through the newly constructed Nordstream pipeline, Ukraine was given increased lethal aid, US strategic nuclear bombers carried out flights off the coast of the Crimea, a British ship sailed into Russian territorial waters. The EU too has been engaged in funding Moldovan NGOs that have sought to shift public opinion in the country from its traditional outlook to a more Western vision: this included promoting certain influencers or leaders who could help make such shifts more likely. We even see that the report stipulates the placing of NATO troops on Russia’s very border.
In light of the reports title “Extending Russia” it’s clear the intent was to maximise Russian insecurity. Given the psychological underpinnings of the security dilemma and collating it with Western strategy, it’s evident that Russia was forced to strike. It was forced to strike while it could still ensure its regional primacy. Indeed given that Western strategies were aimed on a two prong approach in which Russian security was to be undermined both domestically and on its periphery the Russian claim that the military operation was indeed mounted on an existential threat to its survival is not only clearly demonstrable but exceedingly compelling from a realist point of view.
Perhaps most worrying of all is: what exactly the US sought to achieve in its objective to exploit tensions in the South Caucasus? After all here we are talking about Chechnya, which in the early 1990s saw Islamic fundamentalists trying to establish an Islamic emirate. It’s not a great leap of the imagination to believe this is a resort to supporting terrorist groups in the region.
In keeping with the idea of extending Russia, one cannot help but notice that the negotiations for peace that took part in the early phase of the war have now vanished altogether, with some claiming that US strategists are hoping that Russia gets bogged down in the Ukrainian quagmire. A suspicion that seems to have been confirmed this week by the US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin who expressed his desire that Russia be weakened by the conflict in the Ukraine.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the Russian federation was pushed into a corner, to the extent that it had no option but to lash out while it still could in order to stave of potential security threats from hostile neighbours in the future. This is consistent with realism and the security dilemma that has been around for tens of thousands of years.
By design the West had created multiple security threats for Russia, not only by extending NATO to several points along the Russian borders, but by exacerbating the conflict in the Donbas, challenging Russian allies in Belarus, Central Asia and by helping to militarise both the Polish and Ukrainian military.
The Western claim that Ukraine was more than a decade away from NATO membership and is therefore not a valid Russian justification for Russian concerns is misguided. After all realpolitik is a concept that deals with the facts on the ground, here Ukraine was clearly a de facto NATO state.
Further Western claims which purport not to have understood Putin, or to dismiss him as insane can clearly be dismissed as fictitious. Not only has it been clearly established on the record that NATO expansion into Ukraine was a red line (with previous warnings in Georgia, Transnistria), but also the claims made or questions raised such as “What does Putin want?” are clearly aimed to obfuscate a Western audience. The Western media and its experts (often belonging to NATO sock puppet think tanks) have been describing Putin as a realist for decades, indicating they understood him very well.
The crux of the Ukraine crisis from a grand strategic point of view could be seen as an attempt at weakening any potential anti-hegemonic alliance as Brzezinski had written about in the early 1990s, but also by moving Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit, the West hopes to contain any potential for Russia to increase its power vis a vis the West. With the arming of the Ukraine, the increasing military presence across its boarder and threats to its interests in many geographical hot spots, Russia was being positioned between a rock and a hard place. After final attempts at a pragmatic solution were rejected, Russia acted to reduce the power of a hostile state on its border while it still could. It is a highly unpalatable outcome, but entirely rational.
By its size, resources and potential Russia is completely intolerable to the West. It was not enough that the Soviet Union collapsed, and NATO expanded into all the previous areas of the Warsaw pact, but renewed containment strategies and a zero-sum approach by the US, saw further extension of NATO into the very former Soviet Republics. Given the history of Russia and their expressed concerns since the 1990’s, it was clear the West was on for a collision course. Ultimately the Ukraine conflict is about US strategic imperatives, its complete aversion to a multipolar world and its desire to enforce a form of universal liberalism, the democratic implications of which should be understood beyond the Western centric meta-ethics that dictate discourse in the transatlantic space.
Forebodingly, if this analysis is correct, then we are almost certain to be on a collision course with China in a similar vein. We can expect tensions to rise not only over Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Macao, Tibet, but also of course over Taiwan and several Islands in the South China Sea. It is possible that even North Korea will come into sharp focus in the coming years.
An element that has not been satisfactorily addressed is also the Ukrainian association agreement with the EU indicated military cooperation between the two political entities, that is practically de jure NATO cooperation.
For those who simply believe that replacing Putin will change the situation, clearly fail to understand that the geopolitical realities of the Russian Federation are not bound to one person. The solution either has to rest in the US accepting a multipolar world, or the Russian federation needs to be broken into ever smaller pieces. This exactly underscores the Russian argument: what is taking place in the Ukraine is an existential security threat, as the neorealist political scientist John Mearsheimer explains this in his “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics”.