ANALYSIS – Vladimir Putin is reported to have remarked that it must be tough to lose to men that were once farmers and miners as Ukraine’s troops pull out of Debaltseve. But that tells you everything about the nature of the enemy that opposed Kiev’s European leaning government and how hard they were prepared to fight for territory that is going to become ‘New Russia’. Europe and Nato never really understood what Crimea and the Russian speaking lands of Ukraine meant to the regime in Moscow. On a practical level, every modern nation needs an airport and transport links to function – that’s why Donetsk airport is in ruins and Debaltseve would have been flattened, much like Grozny, had President Petro Poroshenko not pulled back his men. And on a higher more historical level, for Putin and the men backing him, Russia’s history is an ongoing phenomenon stretching back more than six hundred years – it was built on the conquests of Vikings and has continued to this day through Chechnya, Georgia and now Ukraine. That’s why today’s appeal to the Russian backed rebels to pull back from all of Ukraine’s sovereign land – including Crimea – and to honour the second broken truce will fall on deaf ears. For Europe, in Moscow’s eyes, is weak and unable to stand up for itself without Washington – that was the perception formed during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s when American bombing saved Nato from the kind of defeat it has suffered today in east Ukraine. And as for Washington who has played the role of outside superpower its diplomacy has completely failed to convince Russia to alter course and as a consequence it has learned much like the European powers did in the Crimean war of the 1855 that there are limits to what it can achieve – even if it is a superpower that is currently planning a three-year war against ISIS that recognises no geographical limits.
ANALYSIS – One outcome is certain if the current state of affairs is allowed to continue – the creation of a NEW Russia in the east of Ukraine. The rebels are fighting despite a ceasefire which was also broken by the Russian backed fighters on the first time – this can only mean they are intent on securing a railway link from Donetsk to Luhansk. Already, the newly emerging state has secured the airport – all it needs is the port of Mariupol for a link to Russia proper. The longer this conflict is allowed to drag on, the less favourably Vladimir Putin is emerging – clearly he doesn’t care, Russia’s sovereign wealth funds are large enough to sustain it through any Western sanctions and he clearly doesn’t fear Europe’s military prowess, which has fought poorly in other theatres. Ukraine says it needs modern weapons to defend itself – unfortunately it is right.
THE DOMINOES FALLING Tanks at Debaltseve, Donetsk Airport and Crimea SOURCE Tumblr
ANALYSIS – A day doesn’t go by when some mention is not made of how low relations between Russia and the West have fallen – Mikhail Gorbachev is now warning of an iron curtain, he had of course spoken of a new cold war.
Here in the West, Russia hit by a falling oil price is mocked it’s rouble we are told is a laughing stock even in its own country. Poland is concerned about the increased navy and airforce activity the big bear is conducting in the Baltic Sea region. And Russia’s undeclared war in eastern Ukraine rages on, with Kiev suffering losses, as Moscow is crippled with far reaching economic sanctions which on top of the plunging oil price makes the optimism at the beginning of the year as Putin hosted the Sochi Winter Games appear to be a distant mirage. And as Russia speaks of the rights of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine, Chechen rebels reminded the Kremlin that they too have rights – the right to be free of Russian bondage – with their recent attack on a police station in Grozny.
The West has some responsibility for the way Russia has developed since the fall of Communism – when exactly is a subject of debate, observers say Europe’s inactivity over the Georgian war had emboldened Putin in his dealings with Ukraine, first in Crimea which he has seized and then in the east of Ukraine where black scarfed men appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Others go back further to the Chechen war of 1995, as an excellent article in Novaya Gazeta argues today that the war destroyed any chance Russians had of having true democratic reform. All this is true but the seeds of the current situation regarding Russia and the West lie immediately after the downfall of the Soviet Union when Moscow reached out to the West for guidance, and was rewarded with reforms that led to its bankruptcy. There are extreme nationalists, Geoffrey Sachs, one of the economic advisors helping Russia back to its feet with ‘shock therapy’, claimed, who say the West is stabbing Russia in the back. That decade after the fall of Communism is known as Russia’s lost decade and one of those extreme nationalists who rose through the ranks of the KGB in the ensuing chaos is now President of Russia.
Russia for her part says the West led by the US is punishing Moscow for taking a stand on Syria – this was of course the same bloodthirsty West that had launched eighteenth century colonial wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya which resulted in the appallingly ‘primeval’ scenes of Colonel Gaddafi’s slaughter. There are no Russian soldiers in Ukraine just freedom fighters who are very different from the terrorists in Chechnya. And the economic sanctions just mean Russia looking further East for trade selling arms to India, gas and oil to China and sealing closer economic ties with central Asia. But behind the bravado Moscow knows it’s just kidding itself – for the dream that Mikhail Gorbachev and later Boris Yeltsin had of fostering closer ties with the West is over for various reasons, some historical and cultural, others through fear, this was of course the same Russia that conducted a near genocidal war against the men and children of Chechnya the savagery of which only rivalled the Soviet Union’s actions in Afghanistan and the same Russia who laughed at claims that the Serbs were committing ethnic cleansing in the Balkans first in Bosnia and later Kosovo.
How the new reality now plays out on the world stage and how that also affects the West’s dealings with China – who will wonder how it can get on with the Northern Hemisphere having seen how it’s failed to accommodate Russia – are of course the questions for 2015 and beyond.
ANALYSIS – The decline in relations between Russia and the West began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Moscow having turned its back on Communism looked to its former Cold War foe for guidance. The year was 1991, and what followed in the months and years after can today be seen for what it is – a great lost opportunity.
Washington sent in its academics, including one Jeffrey Sachs who came up with a revolutionary idea of his own called shock therapy – opening up the state and its assets to market forces.
Within seven years, a superpower was bankrupt and today’s Russia is arguably still suffering from the after effects both socially and economically. Russians regard that dark period in their history as a lost decade. It was a time when a forward thinking and humanitarian leader like Boris Yelsin, who pulled his troops out of Grozny and continued to enact reforms of the state and economy, was made to look like a drunk fool as Russia lurched from one crisis to another. He, like Mikhail Gorbachev before him, had not believed the Soviet propaganda about the bad old West.
And like Gorbachev, he was reduced to looking like a modern Sultan dangling at the end of a puppet master’s string.
When Vladimir Putin stepped into the breach, he brought a form of order as well as respectability. But all that has come at a terrible cost – in the killing fields of the Caucasus where he installed a modern day Khan, and now with the fall of his man in Ukraine could a war be looming over the future of the Crimea? Looking at the scenes of ethnic Russians in Crimea clearly rejecting recent events in Kiev and seeking guidance from Kremlin that remains a possibility as Vladimir Putin uses all the tools at his disposal to preserve a vital pillar of Russia’s security and identity.
Last night’s BBC documentary Putin, Russia and The West contained perhaps the most powerful and disturbing footage broadcast on terrestrial television yet.
A boy from a village in Chechnya is dragged out of his home by Russian soldiers, he is heard screaming for his life – ‘hy-aa Allah’ – and the narrator tells us that his body was found much later buried in a Russian base.
The pictures which were shot before the Moscow Theatre siege, and of course much earlier than Beslan, are perhaps also the first hard proof of what Russia’s soldiers were doing as they attempted to reconquer Chechnya for their president, Vladimir Putin.
Russia’s military doctrine when it comes to conquering and reconquering its restive Muslim provinces has been simple – the harder you hit them, the less likely they are to come back again.
Russia’s soldiers were of course the original ethnic cleansers, a process that began under Ivan the Terrible is still ongoing to this day in the Caucasus republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingush Settia.
Little wonder then that the West has found it hard to accommodate Russia as a part of Europe or Nato.