During the last decade the United States switched its geopolitical focus from Europe to Asia. The axis of New York – London is changing to an axis of Los Angeles – Beijing, as was predicted by the French historian Fernand Braudel. As a result of this global process, we can see a decrease of US interest to Eastern Europe in general, which is now affecting Ukraine in particular. Since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, the United States has not shown great political and economic interest in Ukraine as a state. Ukraine does not fall into the sphere of importance for America’s geopolitical interests, and Washington had little interest in the internal political life of Ukraine.
The general guideline of US foreign policy is the support of countries with parliamentary democratic systems that respect freedom of expression and speech. This is not pretentious slogans and propaganda tinsel but sober calculation, because democratic societies are more stable and reliable as allies. After the Second World War the emergence of the bipolar world ideology became the main geopolitical driver in US and USSR alliances. To enter one of the political blocks, the country had to align with the appropriate ideology and political system.
However after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia lost its ideological underpinnings and partially adopted Western values. There was even a time when there was a hope for Russia’s integration into the Western political and value system. But unfortunately, due to their fear of losing power and their inability (or unwillingness) to reform the country according to the liberal-democratic, economic and political principles, the Russian ruling circles turned towards the reconstruction of the regional hegemon empire. Several years ago George Friedman, a leading American international analyst, noted that Putin was skillfully crafting a system of satellites around Russia. This system of satellite countries is less economically challenging for Russia than the centralized Soviet Union: de jure independent states do not have to constantly receive huge subsidies for modernization and development – they just sit on the tip of the needle of small grants and rebates for hydrocarbon fuel. Russia also strongly supports corrupt regimes on its borders. It is easier to remotely control the direction of the country by compromising and blackmailing in a corrupt society. The economic and political amalgam for this system was supposed to be the Eurasian Union.
On the other hand, Ukraine has always been very important for the maintenance of regional hegemony for Russia. But at the same time it has been hard to keep it in the Russian sphere of influence. After the Orange Revolution, for Moscow it was clear: it is necessary to have a backup plan in case of a new failure of political and economic manipulations. Of course, analysts from Washington understood this, and the US has followed a process for achieving their own vision based on the geopolitical interests of the US in Eastern Europe.
After the Ukrainian political and economic turn point of Euromaidan, the Russian Federation violated not only the borders of Ukraine, but also challenged the entire global security system, including nuclear stability. We have seen a return to the cold war era situation where no democratic country was immune from aggressive interference of its neighbor. At this point the actions of the Russian Federation became a direct threat to the authority and security of the United States. The question for the United States is how can the US guarantee the security of its friends and allies in such circumstances? Engagement in a new arms race is an unpalatable option; it is not just expensive, but very expensive, even for the US.
The rough estimate of only nuclear weapon modernization would cost in the range of one or two trillion dollars. Unlike conventional weapons, which you can later sell and recover some o the initial expenditure, this amount is simply taken out of the economy and becomes a net loss. You should also consider the cost to maintain this weapon in a state of combat readiness. There are of course additional drawbacks to a focus on nuclear weapons; including the environmental aspects.
As a summary of the previously stated information we can say that the US was faced with a tough decision to respond to the Russian aggression. The response scale could not be usual response as in the cold war era with the relatively small monetary and organizational resources the US has been willing to commit. On the contrary, a significant response was required.
The US government had to choose between two options of tactical response to the threat from the Russian side: cutting out or strangulation.
The cutting strategy – is an active tactic of direct military intervention that includes delivery of modern weapons, and the provision of government and private military experts. In addition to military measures, economic measures include a blockade of the Russian elite to arrest financial dealings. However the problem is the same – it is a very expensive strategy. The high cost is not only financial but also in terms of reputation (“Why those Americans stick their nose into wherever they want?”), human resources (the life of an American soldier is an absolute value and the loss of even one – a serious problem for the country). A good example is Afghanistan and Iraq failed military campaigns. They showed that for the US a conventional war is easy to win, but it is difficult or almost impossible, for the external force to establish a peaceful post war society.
It is much less risky to use the strategy of strangulation – sanctions instead of bombs; economic strangulation rather than military exhaustion. Putin could say about this – nonviolent peace coercion. If the United States made the decision to put aside military methods and focus on political ones, the foreign policy doctrine of the Russian Federation has evolved in the opposite direction. Of course, for Russia, the war is a great risk, perhaps even more so than for the US. But before eating its prey, Moscow, like a spider, decided to prepare its victim for digestion. For more than 20 years the Armed Forces of Ukraine were deliberately destroyed by resource depletion, destruction of material and technical base, and destructive personnel policy. Particularly successful in this area were defense ministers Salamatin and Lebedev, which are considered to be direct agents of the Kremlin. After this preparation Ukraine was looking like an easy target. The complete surrender of Ukrainian national interests was planned for presidential election in 2015. In the event of Yanukovych’s failure, Russian tanks were prepared for an easy march on Kyiv. But the Revolution of Dignity, that was expected at the time of presidential election, happened much sooner. This factor saved Ukraine from the loss of independence. Whether it was supported by Western intelligence agencies is another question. The main reason of the revolution is the irrepressible greed and extreme stupidity of the power elite that was ruling at the time. It is logical to assume that the United States knew about the Kremlin’s plans to change the world order and somehow prepared to oppose them.
Russia had Iran as an example of how to prepare for possible sanctions. In April 2013, the Russian Federation began preparation of its payment system, similar to SWIFT, but only on a national scale. This system is in test mode now and will be implemented in the summer or fall of 2015. There have been other attempts to obtain ‘import substitution’ technologies. One of the examples is a failed attempt to buy “Opel” as a source of technology for the Russian automotive industry.
Annexation of Crimea, as an act of looting by Putin’s Russia, was the catalyst for the United States to initiate the strangulation strategy. Initially, the Americans wanted to just move the “Russian bear” and a little “mow his claws”. There were a few ugly stories with a forced sale of the BP stake in Eastern Siberia–Pacific Ocean oil pipeline and share of “Shell” in the Sakhalin oil fields. Crimea became a sanity test for the Russian Federation as a state, in which it proved to be a looter, as well as an arrogant and greedy robber.
Putin has failed the test as a leader of a civilized country that respects the laws and agreements and keeps its word to the world public. After the annexation of Crimea in March of 2014 the choice was made in favor of the hard strangulation of Russia. The plan was flexible and invariant. Up to a certain point there was an appearance of an attempt to reason “crazy gas pump” by negotiation. That was done so the beast tightly gets into the trap. It was already clear that Russia does not care about all the international agreement on safety.
It did not matter after that what Russia was doing and whether Ukraine suffered from that or not. The US government slowly and methodically did their work. But their interest was that Ukraine was preserved as a state and as a subject of dispute.
The agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia intended to prevent possible reduction of oil production levels. The next step was waiting to get the maximum effect, which is achieved with minimal losses of the stakeholders and preparation and adaptation to the new conditions of the world market by weaker and unprepared allies. The next step was LNG reception terminals construction completion as a countermeasure against the growing blackmail power and pressure from Putin towards the civilized countries of the region.
Attempt to appease the aggressor.
Absolutely ridiculous sanctions and useless talks were necessary to convince Angela Merkel and François Hollande that negotiations are useless, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, they provided the time for the formation of public opinion in Europe about the uselessness of negotiation with Russians.
Another factor that needs to be considered is the internal political contradictions and struggles within the European Union (some members of the EU dissatisfaction with Germany and France decisions relative to Greece and some other countries of the Union, adoption of new members, etc.). Advocates of more radical and strict measures in relation to Russia are relatively new members of the EU – Poland and the Baltic States.
The next part was waiting for a reason to introduce more stringent measures since Russia’s next steps were not difficult to predict. Once Russia crossed the line of legality, allowing uncontrolled delivery of weapons to militants and encouraging violence, sooner or later disaster had to happen. And it did. The terrorists did not want to shoot down the “Boeing”, but it happened anyway. It was a predictable result of the aggressive policy of lawlessness, encouraged by Putin, and the world has yet to learn whether it was a direct order. If not this one, another airplane would have been shot down. If not an airplane, something else would happen. Two days later the price of oil went down. The United States had opened the strategic oil reserve and poured some oil on the market. It was just enough to set the dynamics for the declining oil price. The right paw fell into the trap.
The next step was the direct invasion by the Russian regular army into Ukraine and the ensuing battle of Ilovaisk. Taking a cynical approach, we can say that the geopolitical outcome of Ilovaisk was a victory for Ukraine. It caused the third round of sanctions, even though in a somewhat truncated form. These sanctions included a ban on the supply of oil production industrial equipment and restrictions on credits for Russian state companies.
The next to fail was Russian stock market. Putin’s Russia did not even realize the scale of damage and did not realize the true cost of Ilovaisk. Direct losses are estimated at 60 to 80 billion dollars. Indirect and consequential losses are hard to imagine. The Russian elites withdrew money, closed businesses, and evacuated families.
The following event was the downfall of the Russian ruble and the collapse of the oil price. The financial attack on the Russian ruble that happened on the 16th of December 2014 will be in history books someday. It was a hint to stop the attack on Donetsk airport. The destruction of Donetsk airport cost Russia several dozen billion dollars. The following military and political events of Debal’tseve and Minsk II agreements put three legs of the “Russian Bear” in the trap.
As a result Russia lost the gas war. Direct losses are 6 to 8 billion dollars from the gas that was not delivered. In addition it caused huge loss of reputation, and reputation, as they say, is more precious than gold. The EU began the systematic construction of LNG terminals, increased engagement in energy conservation projects, and considers reducing gas dependence from Russia. The gas transportation system is prepared for reverse operation. The US government is almost ready to supply Europe with gas and oil. Furthermore the sanctions on Iran are about to be removed, further improving world supply. So Russia has lost the oil war as well. It has lost its ability to manipulate the world with gas and oil supply.
Some politicians in Russia have started to understand that the current situation can turn into an embargo on energy in the next six months. This time it will be without an oil price jump (as was the case with Iran). For next three months the US will wait for an excuse to impose an embargo, having a full opportunity to make it painless and even profitable for them. Their commercial storage systems will be filled with incredible speed (85 million barrels in 2.5 months. At this rate, in 3 to 5 months all available storage, including dormant pipelines and supertankers, will be filled with oil).
Russian analysts can see it, but it is not a fact that they are able to convey to Putin and his government.
The Kremlin’s has different options:
1) Minimize the real support to the terrorist groups in the occupied territories and attempt to push the fake republics back to Ukraine according to the Minsk agreement.
2) Continue the supply of weapons and ammunition to terrorist groups, but remove the Russian Federation regular armed forces. This is an attempt to avoid new sanctions and embargoes.
3) Search for a pretext, even far-fetched, for the full-scale invasion of Russian troops to Ukraine.
Putin still has 3 to 4 months to the point when Russia will be an easy financial target. Therefore, he can still take advantage of the situation. Probably, Putin will choose the second option. He will increase the combat capability of the local armed groups with arms, ammunition and volunteers (real volunteers that are not part of the Russian Federation regular armed forces) as much as possible and let them fight. He needs at least one large-scale mercenaries’ victory without the intervention of the federal army troops. The small operations like Verkhnyotorets’ke or Kryms’ke are not sufficient to provide Russia with this sense of victory. Putin needs to either destroy a sizable part of the Ukrainian army in a pocket or to capture a major industrial center. The terrorists have only two options. The attack will be between the water reservoirs or on the town of Popasna.
Sponsorship of the terrorists in Ukraine, the so-called militia, is almost unnoticeable in comparison to the economic losses. Military costs can be estimated as:
1) Military vehicles – about 1500 units: 700-800 million dollars.
2) Ammunition – logistics cost of 150 thousand tons about 15-25 million dollars. Plus repair cost of railroads [link in Russian: https://informnapalm.org/informnapalm.org/7860-suhodolsk-rossyjskye-zheleznodorozhnye-sostavy-s-boeprypasamy-na-zh-d-stantsyy-krasnodon] 3) Mercenaries – taking into account rotations – 60 – 80 thousand people. At an average price together with the recruitment of 3-5 thousand dollars per person will be 200-300 million dollars. Plus the same amount for the local militia.
4) Diesel fuel – 100-200 million dollars.
5) The most expensive – regular combat units of the Russian Federation army. We can make the assumption of two interventions with cost of 500 million dollars.
The total cost is about $ 2.5 billion dollars is less than 2% of the loss of $ 150 billion of gold reserves.
Prepared by a group of Ukrainian political commentators and translated by Oleks Tansky specifically for INFORMNAPALM.ORG. When copying and using the material and information a link to our project and the author is required.