It is gratifying that Putin was not instantly blamed by “patriots” for a full-scale defeat of Ukrainian troops in the Donbass, which did not happen in January-February, and for the Moscow consultations with Merkel and Hollande.
However, that would negate neither their desire that victory should have already come yesterday, nor the certainty of the most radical that Putin will anyway “give up Novorossiya,” nor the identical fears of moderates immediately on the signing of another truce (if it is going to be signed)—which is necessary not only for regrouping and replenishing the army of Novorossiya (which really could be effected without ceasing active hostilities), but also to consolidate the changed configuration on the international front, as well as to prepare for new diplomatic battles.
In fact, no matter how much attention amateurs of political and/or military operations (internet “Talleyrands” and “Bonapartes”) pay to the situation in the Donbass and Ukraine as a whole, that is only one point on the global front, as the fate of the war is being decided neither in Donetsk Airport nor in the hills by Debaltsevo. It is being decided in the offices of Staraya Square [the headquarters of the Presidential Administration of Russia -ed.] and Smolenskaya Square [the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia -ed.] as well as in offices in Paris, Berlin and Brussels. Because the war is just one of the many arguments in a political debate.
Political decisions will not always be understood by the public and military
This is the toughest, the last argument, the use of which is associated with a greater risk, but business neither starts with a war nor ends with the war. War is an intermediate step that fixes the impossibility of compromise and is designed to create a new environment in which either a compromise is possible or the need for it disappears in connection with the disappearance of one of the parties to the conflict. That comes at the end of hostilities, when the troops return to the barracks and the generals write their memoirs and prepare for the next war, and politicians and diplomats summarise the results of the confrontation at the negotiating table.
Political decisions will not always be understood by the public and the military. For example, the Chancellor of Prussia (later the German Reich Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck) during the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, in spite of the insistent desire of the King (the future Emperor), Wilhelm I of Prussia, and the demands of the generals, would not allow the taking of Vienna, and he was absolutely right. So he sped up a peace agreement on Prussia’s terms, and made sure that Austria-Hungary forever (until its liquidation in 1918) became a junior partner of Prussia and later of the German Empire.
In order to understand how, when and under what conditions the fighting can be ended, we need to know what exactly the politicians want and how they see the conditions of the postwar compromise. At the same time, the reasons why the fighting took just such a character—low intensity civil war with occasional truces—will become clear, not only in Ukraine but also in Syria.
We obviously cannot be interested in the opinion of Kiev politicians—they do not decide anything. External control of Ukraine is not even hidden and no matter whether Estonian or Georgian ministers are over there—they are still American ones. It would be a big mistake to be also interested in the views of the leaders of the DPR and the LPR on the future. The republics exist because of Russian support and as long as Russia supports them; therefore, the interests of Russia must be guaranteed (including against making independent decisions and initiatives). Too much is at stake for Zakharchenko, Plotnitskiy or someone else, no matter who, to be able to make independent decisions.
In fact, today the EU can choose whether it stays under an American yoke or tilts towards Russia
We are also not interested in the EU’s position. Much depended on the EU until the end of last summer, when the war could have been prevented or stopped at the very beginning. At that moment, a tough, principled anti-war position of the European Union was required and actually might have blocked US actions aimed at inciting a war; it would have made the EU an independent and important geopolitical actor. The EU missed that opportunity and acted as a faithful vassal of the US. As a result, Europe now stands on the brink of frightful internal upheavals, it has every chance in the coming years of repeating the fate of Ukraine, except with a greater roar, with great loss of blood and with fewer prospects that, in the foreseeable future, everything will calm down (someone will come and establish order).
In fact, today, the EU can choose whether it stays under the American yoke or tilts towards Russia. Depending on the choice, Europe can get away with only a slight shock (in the form of losing part of its periphery and fragmentation of some countries), or it may fall into collapse. Judging by the unwillingness of the European elites to openly break with America, collapse, as mentioned above, is almost inevitable.
In fact, we should be interested in the opinion of the two major players who define the configuration of the global front-line and who, in fact, аrе fighting for victory in the new generation of warfare (Third World Network-centric war). These players are the US and Russia.
The US position is clear and transparent. In the second half of the ’90s of the twentieth century, Washington finally missed an opportunity to quietly reform the Cold War economy and thereby avoid the inevitable crisis of the system, the development of which was limited by the finiteness of the planet Earth and all its resources, including human one, which was in conflict with the need to indefinitely increase printing and the circulation of dollars.
As soon as Russia claimed its right to make its own political decisions, its clash with the US became inevitable
After that, the US could only prolong the agony by plundering the rest of the world—the Third World countries to start with, then potential competitors, then allies and then close friends. That robbery could last only as long as the US remained the world hegemon and this hegemony was unquestioned.
That is why, as soon as Russia claimed the right to make its own political decisions (even if not of global but only of regional significance), its clash with the US was inevitable. And this clash cannot result in a compromise peace.
For the US, a compromise with Russia means a voluntary renunciation of hegemony; it will entail a rapid systemic catastrophe (not only economic and political crisis, but also the paralysis of state institutions and the inability of the state to perform its functions, i.e. its inevitable collapse).
If the US wins, a systemic crash awaits Russia. After such a “rebellion” its ruling class will be punished with liquidation, imprisonment and confiscation; the state will be fragmented, substantial territory annexed, military power destroyed.
We need to understand what the Russian leadership wants to achieve, specifically Russian President, Vladimir Putin
So the war will continue until victory, and any interim agreements should be considered only as temporary truces, a necessary respite for regrouping forces, mobilising new resources and recruiting additional allies.
In fact, for the sake of completeness, we lack only the position of Russia. We need to understand what the Russian leadership, specifically Russian President, Vladimir Putin, wants to achieve. We are talking about the key role of Putin within the Russian system of government. It is not an authoritarian, as many claim, but an authoritative role. Thus it is not based on a legislatively consolidated autocracy, but on the authority of the person who created that system, is forcing it to work effectively, and is standing at its head.
In fact, during fifteen years of rule, Putin, despite the difficult external and internal situation, has been trying to maximise the role of the government, the legislative assembly and even of the local authorities. These were quite logical steps that should have given the system completeness, stability and continuity. Since no politician reigns forever, ensuring political continuity, no matter who comes to power, is a key feature of the sustainability of the system.
So far, unfortunately, achieving full autonomy of the system, i.e. its ability to function without the president’s supervision, has failed. Putin continues to be a key link in the system precisely because popular trust is concentrated in his person, whereas the system itself (represented by public authorities and individual agencies) is much less trusted.
In this situation, Vladimir Putin’s opinion and his political plans have become critical for the formation of Russia’s foreign policy; and while the phrase “no Putin—no Russia” is an exaggeration, the phrase “what Putin wants—so Russia wants,” from my point of view, reflects the real situation quite accurately.
The level of confrontation that Russia allowed herself in relation to the US grew very slowly
First, note that the man who, for fifteen years, gently led Russia to its revival, under conditions of American hegemony in world politics and significant opportunities for Washington to influence the internal politics of Russia itself, has a good understanding of the nature of the struggle and his adversary. Otherwise he would not have lasted so long.
The level of confrontation that Russia allowed herself in relation to the United States, grew very slowly, not to some point noticeable. Russia did not react to the first attempt at a the colour revolution in Ukraine in 2000-2002 (“cassette scandal”, “Gongadze case” and the action “Ukraine without Kuchma”).
Russia outlined an alternative position, but did not actively intervene in the coup of November 2003‒January 2004 in Georgia and of November 2004‒January 2005 in Ukraine. In 2008, in Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia involved its troops against a US ally (Georgia). In 2012, Russian ships in Syria demonstrated a willingness to confront the US Navy and its NATO allies.
In 2013, Russia began preventive economic action against the regime of Yanukovich having contributed to his realisation of the harmfulness of signing the Association Agreement.
In each individual period of time, Putin allows himself only that level of confrontation with the US which Russia was able to withstand
Moscow could not save Ukraine from the coup d’état—because of the meanness, cowardice and stupidity of Ukraine’s leaders (not only Yanukovych but all of them, without exception), but after the armed coup in Kiev in February 2014, Russia entered into an open confrontation with Washington. Before this, conflicts alternated with periods of improved relations whereas, since the beginning of 2014, Russian‒American relations have been deteriorating rapidly, and almost immediately reached the point at which a pre-nuclear era a war could be automatically declared.
Thus, in any given period of time, Putin allowed himself such a level of confrontation with the US which Russia was able to withstand. If, now, Russia does not limit the level of confrontation, then Putin believes that Russia can win the war of sanctions, the war of nerves, the information war, the civil war in Ukraine, the economic war.
That is the first important conclusion about what Putin wants, what he expects. He expects to win. And considering how well he prepares his actions, how thoroughly he calculate chances, one can be sure that when the decision was made not to retreat under pressure from the US, but to respond, the Russian leadership had double, if not triple, guarantees of victory.
I note that the decision to enter into conflict with Washington was adopted not in 2014 nor in 2013. The war of 08.08.08 was a challenge that the US could not let go unpunished. After that, each subsequent stage of confrontation led only to an increase in the stakes. Since, in 2008-2010, the resource (not only military or economic, but complex) potential of the United States was much higher than today, and the potential of Russia was much less than it is now, the main objective was to achieve a smooth, rather than explosive raising of the stakes. Therefore, it was necessary to delay an open confrontation where, as now, the masks are dropped and everyone understands that there is a war, as much as possible on the longer term. And better not to allow it to happen at all.
Every year the US has weakened whereas Russia has become stronger. These processes were objective, it was impossible to stop them. One could confidently calculate that by 2020-2025, without any confrontation, US hegemony would be finished in an evolutionary way; the US will not be thinking about how to rule the world but about how to be rescued from internal catastrophe.
In conditions of global peace, the final self-destruction of the politico-military and financial-economic global system created by the US is inevitable
Thus, Putin’s second desire is to maintain peace or the appearance of peace as long as possible, because peace is objectively beneficial for Russia, since in the state of peace, without incurring huge costs it gets the same political result, but with a much better overall global situation. Therefore, Russia is now also constantly offering peace. Similarly, in the case of peace in the Donbass, the Kiev junta will also collapse. Here Russia’s actions are correctly described in Sun Tzu’s maxim: “The best war is one that does not start.”
It is obvious that no fools are working in Washington, whatever has been said in Russian talk-shows or written by bloggers. In the US, they clearly understand the situation in which they have ended up. Furthermore, they understand that Russia has no plans to eliminate them and is really ready to cooperate on an equal footing. But the socio-economic situation in the US is such that any cooperation is not acceptable for them—economic collapse and social explosion will occur before Washington (even with the support of Moscow and Beijing) is able to make the necessary reforms (especially considering that at the same time it will be necessary to reform the EU). In addition, the political elite that grew in the US in the last twenty-five years is accustomed to the status of the world owners. They truly do not understand how anyone can argue with them.
For representatives of the US ruling class (not so much for business as for bureaucracy) to suddenly have to go from arbiters of the destinies of wild natives to equal contracting parties is unbearable. It is like asking Gladstone or Disraeli to work as the Prime Minister of Cetshwayo in Zululand [Cetshwayo kaMpanda, King of the Zulu Kingdom, 1872-79 -ed.]. That is to say, unlike Russia, for whom peace is advantageous, for the US, war is an inevitability.
In principle, any war is a fight of resources. Typically, the winner is the one who has more resources, who can commonly mobilise more soldiers, build more tanks, ships, planes. However, sometimes a strategically lost war has been won tactically, directly on the battlefield. Such were the wars of Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, as well as Hitler’s campaign of 1939-1940.
Nuclear powers cannot face each other on the battlefield. Therefore, the question of the resource base is of paramount importance. That is why for the past year we have seen a desperate struggle between Russia and the US for allies. Russia has won. If on the US side are only the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan (and even then not always and not unconditionally), Russia managed to mobilise BRICS in her support, gained a firm foothold in Latin America, and began displacing the US from Asia and North Africa.
The United States had the option of two tactical decisions
Of course, it is not obvious, but to judge by the results of voting in the UN, it turns out that on the side of Russia (to not support the US officially means to speak out in support of Russia) there are countries who together control about 60% of world GDP, more than two thirds of the world population, and more than three quarters of the land mass . That is to say, Russia is able to mobilise more resources.
In this regard, the United States had the option of two tactical decisions. The first one gave a hope of success and was adopted by the US since the early days of the Ukrainian crisis.
This was an attempt to force Russia to choose between bad and worse. She was asked to either accept the existence of a Nazi state on her borders (and in this case a dramatic downgrading of her international prestige and the trust and support of her allies) and after a short time to be at risk of attack by internal and external pro-American forces, with no chance of survival, or to send the army into Ukraine, quickly sweep away the junta which had not had time to settle, to restore the legitimate government of Yanukovych, but to be accused of aggression against an independent state and the suppression of the people’s revolution, and to suffer smouldering discontent in the Ukraine and the need to constantly expend significant resources (military, political, economic, diplomatic) to maintain the puppet regime in Kiev (as any other in such conditions would not have been possible there).
Russia has bypassed this decision. Direct invasion never happened. The Donbass is at war with Kiev. The Americans must now pointlessly pump scarce resources into the doomed puppet regime in Kiev, while Russia can calmly offer peace.
The task is to destroy as much as possible the life support system and push the population to the brink of survival
In this regard, the US employed a second variant. It is as old as the hills. If you cannot hold some ground which will inevitably be taken by the enemy, it should be destroyed as much as possible, so that victory for the enemy would be worse than defeat, and all its resources would be spent on the support of existence and attempts to restore the site destroyed by you. Thus the United States ceased any assistance to Ukraine other than political rhetoric, but encourages Kiev to spread civil war throughout the country.
The Ukrainian arena shall burn not only in Donetsk and Lugansk, but also in Kiev and Lvov. The task is to destroy as much as possible the life support system and push the population to the brink of survival. Then, there will be millions of very hungry, very bad and heavily armed men on the territory of Ukraine, conducting an internecine slaughter for food. And this massacre could only be stopped by placing an excessive foreign military presence on the territory of Ukraine (the Militia alone will not be enough) and by massive injections of funds to feed the population and to aid economic recovery (up to the point where Ukraine would be able to start to feed herself).
Clearly, all of these costs will fall on Russia. Putin rightly believes that not only the budget, but all public resources—including the military—will, in this case, be overstretched and unable to bear the burden. Therefore, the task is not to allow Ukraine to catch fire before the Militia is able to quickly bring the situation under control. It is necessary to minimize casualties, destruction, to preserve at least some economy and the life support systems of large cities so that the population would at the very least survive and not die; then the Nazi thugs will be hauled in by the Ukrainians themselves.
Herein, the EU appears as Putin’s ally. Since the US has always tried to use European resources in dealing with Russia, the EU, that was the weakest link even without it, is finally exhausted; long overdue centrifugal processes have commenced within it.
Europe cannot resist the US, but it is mortally afraid of burning Ukraine
If now on its eastern border Europe also inherits a completely destroyed Ukraine, whence shall pour—not only to Russia, which will be insulated by the buffer of the People’s Republics—but also to the EU, millions of armed men (not to mention such delights as drug trafficking, arms shipments to whoever wants them, export of terrorism, etc.); the European Union simply will not be able to withstand all this.
Europe cannot confront the US, but it is mortally afraid of burning Ukraine. Therefore, for the first time during the conflict Hollande and Merkel are not just trying to sabotage the US demands (introducing sanctions but trying not to implement them), but are also venturing a minimum of independent action, trying to achieve at least some compromise; if not peace, then at least a truce in the Ukraine.
If the Ukrainian arena flares up, it will burn out quickly, and the EU will become an unreliable partner; if it is not ready to go over to the camp of Russia, then at least it should take a neutral position. Washington, as part of its strategy, will be forced to incinerate Europe as well.
Russia does not need a fire from the Atlantic to the Carpathian Mountains (when the territory from the Carpathians to the Dnieper will still be smouldering embers)
It is clear that the complex of civil and interstate wars on a continent bristling with weapons up to its eyeballs, where more than half a billion people live, will be far worse than the civil war in Ukraine. The Atlantic ocean separates the United States from Europe. Even Britain could hope to sit behind the English Channel. But Russia and the EU share a very long border.
Russia does not need a fire from the Atlantic to the Carpathian Mountains (when the territory from the Carpathians to the Dnieper will still be smouldering embers). Therefore, another of Putin’s desires—as far as possible to arrest the most negative effects of the fire in Ukraine and in Europe, since fully preventing them is not possible—if the US wants, it can start the fire; we must be able to quickly extinguish the fire and to save what is most valuable.
Thus, wanting to protect the legitimate interests of Russia, Putin wants peace, peace and once again peace, since peace allows it to be done with the greatest effect and the lowest cost. Well, since peace is no longer possible and the truces are becoming more virtual and fragile, it is necessary for Putin to end the war as quickly as possible.
Formally, nothing has changed, peace on almost any terms still benefits Russia
I want to stress that if, a year ago, a compromise could have been reached on the most favourable terms for the West (Russia still gets its, but over time, so why trifle?), now it is no longer possible, and each time the terms are getting worse and worse. Formally, nothing has changed, peace on almost any terms still benefits Russia. Only one, albeit the most important, component has changed—public opinion. Russian society is longing for victory and retribution. As I pointed out above, the power in Russia is authoritative, but not authoritarian, public opinion (unlike in the “traditional democracies”) is not an empty phrase for it .
Putin is the main link (binding the system) only as long as he is well respected by the majority of the population. If he loses the support of the people, since Russian political circles have not yet put forward a figure of equal stature, the system will lose stability. The government only enjoys authority as long as it successfully embodies the desires of the masses. So that the defeat of Ukrainian Nazism (albeit diplomatic) should be obvious and uncontroversial—only on that basis the compromise is now possible for Russia.
Thus, regardless of the desires of Putin and the interests of Russia, the overall balance of power, priorities and possibilities of the parties leads to the fact that the war, which should have ended in Ukraine last year, will almost inevitably affect Europe. And one can only guess what would be more effective—American gasoline or the Russian fire extinguisher; but certainly peacekeeping by Russian leadership will be limited not by its wishes, but only by real possibilities. One can not fight against the will of the people and the course of history even individually, and only when they match, then the only reasonable solution of an experienced politician is to understand what the people want and where the historical process is headed and to support it with all his power.
Given the scale of the coming fire, deciding the fate of all Ukraine is not something prohibitively complex
The logic of the described above processes makes it extremely unlikely that the wishes of supporters of the creation of a separate state of Novorossiya will be satisfied. Given the scale of the coming fire, deciding the fate of all Ukraine is not something prohibitively complex. At the same time it will be an expensive pleasure.
It is logical that the Russian people will have a question: if Russians, whom we rescued from the Nazis, live in Novorossiya, why do they have to live in a separate state? And if they want to live in a separate state, why should Russia rebuild their cities and factories? These questions have only one reasonable answer—the inclusion of Novorossiya into Russia (the more so because, for fighting, there is something already there; but for management, the situation is worse). Well, once a part of Ukraine can join Russia, then so can the rest. Moreover, it is likely that by the time this issue will have to be decided, the EU (as an alternative to the Eurasian option) will have already ceased to exist.
Logically, if reunion is the decision, it will be of a unified federal Ukraine, not some other strange formation. I think that today altering the political map remains premature. By the end of this year the war in Ukraine will obviously have ended, but if the US will be able to set the EU ablaze (and they will try), the final resolution of territorial issues will be postponed for at least a couple of years, maybe longer.
However, even here we benefit from peace. In conditions of peace, the expansion of the Russian resource base, the transfer to her side of new allies (former partners of the USA) and the marginalization of Washington, territorial reorganisation, firstly, will be greatly simplified and, secondly, will temporarily lose crucial importance (especially for those who are being reorganised).
Rostislav Ishchenko, president of the Centre for System Analysis and Forecasting, specially for “Current Commentary”