Streetwise Professor

February 18, 2017

Putin Is So Smart That He Outsmarted Himself–You Should Have Listened to Me, Vlad

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:29 pm

Apparently there is buyer’s remorse in Moscow, as Putin and his coterie are disappointed at Trump’s failure to change dramatically the relationship between the US and Russia. Don’t believe me? The WaPoo and the FT say so.

This is no surprise to me at all. Indeed, from the time that the hysteria over alleged Russian manipulation of the US election broke out, I said Putin should be careful what he asks for, because it was be unlikely that Trump would behave as expected–and hoped, in Moscow, apparently. There are several reasons for this, some of which I pointed out at the time.

The first is Trump’s mercurial nature. Counting on what he says at time t to be reliable information for forecasting his behavior at T>t is a mugs’ game, because much of what he says is for tactical value and to influence negotiations, and because he changes his mind a lot, in part because he does not have strong ideological convictions.

I think Trump’s stand on Nato–an issue of particular importance to Putin–is a classic example. There is good sense at the core of Trump’s position: European Nato states have been free riding for years. He wants to get them to stump up more money. What better way than to threaten to ditch Nato? He has quite clearly put the fear into them. Then he dispatches his reasonable emissaries–Mattis and Tillerson–to lay out the framework of a modus vivendi.

The second is that Trump’s assertion of an independent United States with attenuated ties to traditional multilateral organizations is hardly helpful to Putin. This is especially true because part of Trump’s program along these lines is to revitalize the US military. Russia has strained mightily to overcome the decrepitude of its 1990s military, and has managed to recapitalize it sufficiently to make it a credible force. Even after these efforts, however, it can only dimly see the tail of the American military in the distance. If Trump goes into super-cruise mode, Russia’s expenditures will have largely been for nought. Closing the military gap required the US not to compete. Trump made it clear he would compete. How could Putin have desired that?

Nato was already the US military plus a few European military baubles hung on for decoration. A stronger US military makes Nato stronger, regardless of what the Europeans do. If the Europeans kick it up a bit too, well that all really sucks for Vlad.

The third is something that has only become manifest in the past months. Namely, the Democratic loss left them desperate to find a scapegoat. Russia has become that scapegoat, and anything said that is remotely positive about Russia unleashes paroxysms of fury–not just from Democrats, but from many Republicans as well. Any positive move that Trump would take towards Russia would be seized upon as evidence of a dark bargain with the Kremlin. So (as he acknowledged in his press conference) he has no political room to deal with Russia. Indeed, if anything he might be forced to being more Russophobic Than Thou in order to put this issue to rest.

That is, the dynamic created by his intervention has completely undermined Putin’s purpose. A self-inflicted wound.

There is yet more irony in this development. Along with their spawn, 1980s peaceniks who shrieked that Reagan’s robust stance with the Soviet Union threatened the earth with nuclear annihilation now sound like those in the hard right in the ’80s who thought Reagan was a wimp, and a traitor for talking with Gorbachev. Trump, of all people, is the one lamenting that defusing conflict and talking with the Russians would reduce the risk of nuclear holocaust.

All this calls into considerable doubt Putin’s vaunted tactical and strategic acumen. If indeed Russia intervened heavy-handedly in the US election, it is not turning out well for Putin. And evidently he recognizes this, and is sharply reducing his ambitions. Maybe, pace Stalin, we’ll see him write an article where he claims Russia is dizzy with success, and needs a respite to consolidate its gains.

Truth be told, I do not think that Putin thought that his machinations (whatever they were–and I am skeptical about some of the more lurid claims) would result in Trump’s election. I surmise that his objective was to damage Hillary, in the full expectation that she would win and it would be advantageous to deal with a weakened president. But, he was too clever by half, outsmarted himself, and now has to deal with an unpredictable dervish capable of turning any which way.

Viewed in this light, Putin is less Sorcerer, than Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who cast a spell he could not control: authoritarians who have been in control too long have a tendency to do that, because they are convinced of their own greatness. Whatever his intent, the unintended consequences of his actions have arguably left him worse of than if he had left well enough alone. I do not believe that it was his intent to elect Trump. When Trump was elected, he let his mind run wild with the possibilities, but he has now come crashing to earth.

Wiley Coyote comes to mind. That Acme Election Kit (or would it be the Acmeski Election Kit) hasn’t worked quite as planned, has it Vlad?

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  1. In recent news: Putin signed an order directing the Russian government to recognize passports issued by so-called ‘people’s republics’ of Donbass. Some see it as a first step of folliwing the Abkhazia-South Ossetia scenario: what woukd follow is recognition of these anclaves as souvereign states by Russia, then a security agreement is signed and the Russian troops occupy them openly.

    What Would Trump Do?

    Comment by LL — February 18, 2017 @ 4:48 pm

  2. I know what I hope Trump would do: stand idly by. If only Obama hadn’t made a mockery of the phrase “red line” I’d recommend that Trump decide if he has a red line, and if so where it is.

    Comment by dearieme — February 19, 2017 @ 6:58 am

  3. I believe that too much emphasis has been placed on Putin when speaking of Russia. It would be more accurate – and informative – to refer to the Putin – Kadyrov axis that rules the RF. Once we understand that, we can get a firmer grasp on the nature of the revolutionary change Bannon (and Trump in his wake) is advocating.

    Trump is clearly a fan of the Bannonite proposed New World Order. White Christians (and we’re talking about a reconciliation of the Orthodox and Roman churches after the breach dating back almost ten centuries) will rule the roost. Moslems will be organized in their own subordinate states but subject to regimentation. Laws in such subordinate states will incorporate some Sharia concepts under cover of cultural sensitivity. Extremist Islamists and any seeking to overthrow the Christian leadership are to be extirpated. The model is of course Chechnya.

    While ISIS had pretensions to build a Caliphate, one has been established already and headquartered in Grozny. Does anyone seriously believe that Kadyrov does not enjoy the powers (if not the dress) of a modern-day Caliph?

    It is of course a fantasy. Putin has tried and failed – again and again – to find a Kadyrov for Dagestan. Tribal loyalties make it impractical to extend Kadyrov’s suzerainty over his neighboring Caucasian republics – evidently to Putin’s disappointment.

    Still, one can see the attraction of such a model to Bannon and his ilk. The Uzbeks may boil their Islamists alive, the Syrian intelligence services may emasculate insubordinate teenage boys, the Egyptian jailers may bugger their victims at will but nobody, really nobody, has dealt with Islamist extremist insurrectionists with quite the energy, efficiency and efficacy of Kadyrov and his hoods.

    It is based on the rationale of this chimerical vision that Bannon and the Russians aspire to bring about a reconciliation of US of A and Russia. Lucre naturally has helped lubricate the process (particularly for Trump and his family). But the way things are going, we might well see Bannon (and Trump?!?) arrested for treason before the year is out.

    Comment by Simple Simon — February 19, 2017 @ 8:32 am

  4. The only case that can be made for Crimea belonging to Ukraine is because Kruschev said so in 1954. Khrushchev as you may remember was unelected. The local governments in the Donbass that are pro Russian likely do have populations that in the majority consider themselves part of Russia. I always thought it would be best to split Ukraine with part Russian an part Ukrainian. Ukraine with the current borders will never progress as a nation. Split it and be done with it.

    Comment by pahoben — February 19, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

  5. @Professor, be careful about giving advice to Vlad. What if he starts listening? Who knows if Hitler had lasted that long without Hjalmar Schacht?

    I think that Vlad’s and his circle’s biggest problem is that they are quite simply incapable of believing that real working institutions can actually exist. Hence it must all be Russophobic special ops.

    The similarly ignorant Kremlin Nazis also had this assumption that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians have no choice but to be masochists longing for the Tsar’s whip. A very costly mistake indeed.

    Comment by Ivan — February 19, 2017 @ 2:30 pm

  6. @Ivan
    Sorry but I don’t understand your meaning. I think you suggest that a person cannot identify as Russian at this time in history unless he is coerced to do so by the Kremlin. If that is your suggestion it is simply wrong in that many people do strongly identify as Russian without coercion. This is true in Ukraine and elsewhere.

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2017 @ 12:55 am

  7. @pahoben,

    Oh, come on. Of course many people in Ukraine identify as ethnic Russians, yet most of them resist the Russo-Nazi idea that this self-identification somehow makes them the property of the Tsar. Tens of thousands of Russian Ukrainians are fighting to stop Putin right now, and I’m sure the same will be the case with Russian Estonians, Russian Latvians etc. if Putin ever invades.

    Comment by Ivan — February 20, 2017 @ 1:57 am

  8. @Ivan
    Who are these thousands of Ukrainians fighting against. In the Donbass they are fighting primarily against other Ukrainians that have the opposite position.

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2017 @ 8:21 am

  9. I always thought that Krushchev was Ukrainian but actually born on the Russian side of the border but spent much of his early life in Donbass.

    Comment by pahoben — February 20, 2017 @ 9:07 am

  10. […] soundly beaten by an outsider nobody fancied. As Streetwise Professor explains, Putin is probably slowly realising that Trump winning might not have been to bis advantage after all. He’s going to have a lot […]

    Pingback by Russia: Not Black and White | White Sun of the Desert — February 20, 2017 @ 10:07 am

  11. Yeah, fighting against the “Ukrainians” from places like Pskov, Chechnia and Buriatia. Clearly those territories should be ceded to Russia if Ukraine is ever to progress as a nation. Oh, wait…

    Comment by Ivan — February 20, 2017 @ 1:41 pm

  12. @pahoben: the naivette of your opinions on the topic is actually quite scary.

    This is not an ethnic conflict, this is a war between Communists and anti-Communists.

    Comment by LL — February 20, 2017 @ 4:14 pm

  13. Strategically speaking, Trump was always worse for Vlad. Hillary might’ve threatened and talked big but she was as intent on further weakening US military as Obama was.
    Trump might be random but he’s not a pussy.

    Comment by Krzys — February 20, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

  14. @LL
    Actually a better description is. culture vs culture. In fact for some it is Eastern Orthodox vs non Orthodox. For some communist vs non communist. Others would cite other reasons but cultural affinity in those regions lie with Russia rather than the EU.

    Pew Reserach Council after the vote found 91% support in Crimea for the vote and becoming Russia citizens. I don’t belive Pew is under Kremlin coercion. I cannot find any polls in Donbass proper.

    Comment by pahoben — February 21, 2017 @ 2:32 am

  15. @pahoben

    This is all very interesting and enlightening, including the history of Crimea being a part of Ukraine. But it is all totally irrelevant; what is relevant is the law. And the law is actually quite simple: the borders between the former member of the USSR have been set as they were on 25th of December 1991, at the moment of disbanding of the USSR and according to the USSR Constitution of the moment.

    That’s it, everything else is lyrics.

    Comment by LL — February 21, 2017 @ 8:44 am

  16. @LL
    Actually the law is not that simple and in fact the right of self determination is well recognized in international law.

    Comment by pahoben — February 21, 2017 @ 11:03 am

  17. @pahoben: the right of self-determination in the international law does not equate to the right to change the established borders. Moreover, the right to change the established borders exists only and only if any of the following three conditions is true:

    1. The existing supreme authority to which everyone owes allegiance ceases to exist. For example, Habsburg empire is gone. Or the empire of the Othmans.
    2. Parts of a federation decide to secede. See the former Yugoslavia or former USSR.
    3. The central government demonstrably persecutes the local population, takes away its basic rights, terrorizes it. See Kosovo.

    In absence of any of these conditions, the principle of territorial integrity supersedes any desires of any part of a country to change borders. There is a right to pursue a secession if there is enough people to support it, but it can be legal only if and when is sanctioned by a central authority. Which, in case of Crimea, is the Supreme Rada (the pairlament) of Ukraine.

    No other authority in the whole world can make that decision. Least of all, the government of Russia.

    Comment by LL — February 21, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

  18. @LL
    The Rada is the most disfunctional legislative body that can be imagined. It is disfunctional to the point that it hasn’t managed in two years to pass legislation required by Minsk II that would allow local elections to proceed in the Donbas. Ukraine will be disfunctional for the forseeable future. A contributing factor is that Ukraine is divided culturally and the only chance for development is to reduce as much as possible the internal domestic conflict that paralyzes the country. Secession should reasonably be decided on the facts and when the facts include a local population in a contiguous area that elect to be part of Russia and the details of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the historical details of who controlled what and a central government that is horrifically divided and contentious then the facts support succession for the Donbass maybe (depending on election results) and the recognition that historically Crimea is part of Russia.

    I don’t see military intervention by the US serving any good purpose. Split it and let the EU manage entry into the EU if that is the agreed course of action by Ukraine. The last thing Ukrainians need is a never ending conflict amongst the various very strongly divided domestic groups. It serves no good purpose for anyone except feel good globalists and likely some interest groups in Ukraine.

    Comment by pahoben — February 21, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

  19. A contributing factor is that Ukraine is divided culturally and the only chance for development is to reduce as much as possible the internal domestic conflict that paralyzes the country.

    The problem is people think Ukraine is divided simply between pro- and anti-Russians which can easily be separated by geography and language. This is simply not the case: I know ethnic Ukrainians living in supposedly pro-Russian areas who speak Russian as a first language with their parents and Ukrainian as a second language, but don’t want to be part of Russia. The only way Ukraine could be split is if there were massive relocations of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people into the respective zones. If that’s what people want then they should say it, but there is no other way to split the country.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 22, 2017 @ 4:09 am

  20. Actually the law is not that simple and in fact the right of self determination is well recognized in international law.

    Well, yes. But Crimea didn’t engage in self-determination, they supposedly voted to be annexed by another country over the course of a weekend. If this is recognised in international law there are astonishingly few precedents. I actually can’t think of any.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 22, 2017 @ 4:14 am

  21. @Tim
    The Donbass and Crimea are well defined areas that can be split. The Crimeans voted for Russian citizenship and as I mentioned above the follow up Pew Research Council poll indicated extremely high support amongst the Crimean population for Russian citizenship. I have every reason to believe that an extreme large majority of Crimea preferred Russian citizenship to Ukrainian citizenship.

    I agree that Ukraine will be disfunctional no matter the course of Donbass but it would reduce the chaos to some extent.

    People of a certain mindset can’t imagine that a population could prefer Russian citizenship to EU citizenship. Because of this prejudice they can’t imagine that in a free and fair election the outcome could be Russia rather than the EU and will never accept it as being possible. Personally I would never wish to be a citizen of the EU and I am a detached observer. For religious or historical or for family or for political reasons the people of Donbass amy prefer Russian citizenship. Who is being protected if that isn’t allowed?

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 5:45 am

  22. @Tim
    I have no idea if it is true or not but the estimates I have seen are that 750,000 Ukrainians (call them refugees or not) have already left Eastern Ukraine for Russia. For a total population of 45MM that is not an insignificant number (1.7%).

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 6:02 am

  23. well, well, well – I did not think I would see pahoben spewing Kremlinoid propaganda – but there it is. And, as usual, Kremlinoids are just so happy to appease Rasha with Ukraine’s sovereignty.

    Things were developing just fine in Ukraine until RUSSIA invaded Ukraine, with “little green men” in Crimea, and with RUSSIANS in Eastern Ukraine, including RUSSIAN military weapons, including tanks.

    And Pew Research?

    As is typical with Kremlinoids, pahoben counts on noone actually looking at what he is spewing, and pahoben did not provide any link.

    Here is what is included in the Pew results:

    “Because of security conditions on the ground, the Ukraine survey includes all regions except Luhans’k, Donets’k and Crimea, or roughly 80% of the population.”

    Here is the link to the Pew Research Council findings:

    pahoben continues to spout the Kremlinoid propaganda about the so-called Crimean referendum, which has been covered many, many times previously.

    The bottom line is that the “referendum” was conducted at the point of a gun, and in some areas, the vote turnout was over 100%!!!!!

    But I guess that’s how much Rooshans just absolutely lahv and adore Putler.

    Comment by elmer — February 22, 2017 @ 8:15 am

  24. @Tim–re splitting Ukraine. Reminds me of Indian partition in 1948. That worked out swell, right?

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 22, 2017 @ 9:21 am

  25. @Elmer
    You are confusing the Pew polls. As I said there has been no poll in Donbass and the poll you are reffering to was related to Donbass. If you look further you will find the earlier unconnected Pew poll immediately after the vote in Crimea that found 91% support for the Russian option. I will send the link later.

    Not a Kremlinoid and no ideological driven agenda just an appreciation for the actual conditions in Ukraine. I always held this view of Ukraine. Whoever has it as a dependent state will have problems beyond measure and always held this same view.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 10:58 am

  26. @elmer
    Here you go-and who actually looked-

    In Crimea support for Russian citizenship for Crimeans as shown on the Pew website was 88% for Russia and 4% against. There is no interpretation at all involved-the actual results of the poll. They want to be part of Russia then let them be part of Russia. I realize this hits the sensitivities of Neocons and Progressives and Globalists of other stripes to actually allow people to determine their political fate.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 11:10 am

  27. @pahoben – once again: people are not free to change the recognized borders just because they feel like it. If this is the way you understand the right to self-determination, you are dead wrong.

    There are rules in the world, and the inviolability of the borders is one of the most basic ones (Helsinki accords, BTW). These rules are mandatory for everyone and those who break them must be punished and forced to comply.

    This is all one needs to know about Crimea and the whole mess around Ukraine. The remaining question is: does the United States still want to be the enforcer of the rules and act like a boss of the unipolar world? Or to voluntarily give up its role, crawl back and sit quietly hoping nothing bad will happen if the unreformed Commies like those running Russia and China are given the free reign.

    Comment by LL — February 22, 2017 @ 12:57 pm

  28. The Donbass and Crimea are well defined areas that can be split.

    Crimea was, the Donbas isn’t. Hence the fighting.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 22, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

  29. They want to be part of Russia then let them be part of Russia.

    I understand this argument, but it would be a lot easier to swallow had Russia not flattened Grozny as a lesson to the Chechens who wanted independence. Putin has several times stated that the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation is sacrosanct. That of its neighbors, seemingly not so much. The sad thing about this is, having set the precedent, Russia may well find chunks of its own territory being carved off in future using similar methods. When – not if, when – Russia descends into chaos again perhaps the Germans might run a poll in Kaliningrad asking the residents if they want to be part of Germany again.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 22, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

  30. So, a Pew poll in the occupied territory is all that is needed to legitimize a military occupation? That must be the sort of legal theory taught where Putin has studied. But I hear Americans might have not been very frank with the pollsters recently, despite there being no Russian troops roaming Oklahoma. Go figure.

    Comment by Ivan — February 22, 2017 @ 1:56 pm

  31. @Tim
    I was referencing the relatively clear boundaries shown at this link and assume that the vote in the red areas would be pro Russia and so a well defined contiguous area

    Let the Ukrainians worry about Ukraine and not engage in another half ass police action that will help nothing in the long run.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

  32. What would my opinion be if California voted for secession? I would enthusiastically support their decision.

    In some cases secession makes sense and other cases not. It depends on the particulars. To say it never makes sense or it always makes sense is too simplistic.

    If something is worth going to war for then it should be prosecuted fully and completely to the end and otherwise a fools game.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

  33. I was referencing the relatively clear boundaries shown at this link and assume that the vote in the red areas would be pro Russia and so a well defined contiguous area

    I’m not convinced that assumption is valid. Sure, the Russians would have us believe everyone in that area wants to be Russian but reality struck when they tried a repeat of their Crimean trick and came up against serious resistance. The populations are far too mixed and their desires too unknown to say that even ethnic Russians are pro-Russian, let alone that they would want to be part of Russia.

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 22, 2017 @ 3:07 pm

  34. @Tim
    Yes and that would be determined by a vote as provided for in the Minsk agreements.

    You said Oklahoma and not California? In Oklahoma if there was a foreign occupation force wandering around then that force would have a helluva lot more to worry about then a vote going against them.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 3:30 pm

  35. @pahoben
    Here is what the “well-defined contiguous area” looked like in 2014 before several major offensives by the Russian army:×889.jpg

    Amazing, how quickly those “voting patterns” can change when Putin is “voting”.

    Comment by Ivan — February 22, 2017 @ 3:43 pm

  36. Report on some locations of Russian “voting machines”:

    Comment by Ivan — February 22, 2017 @ 3:50 pm

  37. @Ivan
    Just noticed something hilarious about your posts.

    The Progressive story is that it WAS Putin voting in Oklahoma.

    That guy sure knows his way around booth.

    Comment by pahoben — February 22, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

  38. @pahoben – nonsense. Supporting and enforcing the established rules of the world order helps, in the long run, us, the United States, our allies and, if one thinks of it, the whole world. People of Crimea want to be a part of Russia? fine: there are legal ways of achieving that.

    But no country may take another country’s territory other than by mutual agreement. This is the rule that is paramount and that is what I believe the United States has an obligation and the right to defend. Being a superpower comes with responsibilities and if you think we can ignore them – God help us all…

    Comment by LL — February 23, 2017 @ 5:35 am

  39. Yes and that would be determined by a vote as provided for in the Minsk agreements.

    Firstly, on what grounds should this vote take place? The only ones who seem to want such a vote is Russia, and even they haven’t said so. Usually when a referendum to secede takes place, this is preceded by the forming of a political party with this aim (think UKIP or SNP or Sinn Fein) in order to establish the political legitimacy of the movement. The Crimeans, for all their supposed desire to join Russia, never thought of forming a party to advocate for this – nor did they petition any of the heavily pro-Russian Ukrainian governments that have been in power since independence. Where is the political party advocating independence for the Donbass, or for the region to join Russia? What is their manifesto? Who are their spokesmen?

    Comment by Tim Newman — February 23, 2017 @ 8:19 am

  40. Thank you, LL. At least one firm voice of reason!

    Comment by ETat — February 23, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

  41. […] As Streetwise Professor has pointed out: […]

    Pingback by Ill-Informed | White Sun of the Desert — February 24, 2017 @ 3:40 am


    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2017 @ 9:16 am


    Because Putin is about to meet the Pottery Barn Rule: You break it, you own it.

    Now of course, trying to get others to pay for the messes it creates is par for the course for Putin’s Kremlin.

    It expects Ukraine to pay for the reconstruction of war-torn territories in the Donbas — which are war-torn only due to a Russian invasion.

    And it’s said the West should compensate Moscow for sanctions imposed after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine — as well as for the adverse effects of countersanctions Russia imposed on the West.

    Putin’s been crowing for some time about reviving Russia’s military might and great power status.

    But being a great power is expensive — and the bill is about to come due.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2017 @ 9:19 am


    KYIV, Ukraine—The Kremlin’s strategy of military aggression in Ukraine and Eastern Europe has backfired, spurring former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries to become a de facto anti-Moscow military bloc, while NATO rearms and reinforces its eastern flank.

    Altogether, Eastern Europe has become the most rapidly militarizing region on earth, which is not to Moscow’s advantage.

    “I think [Russia’s military policies] have failed because they stimulated national resistance and the beginning of NATO rearmament,” Stephen Blank, senior fellow for Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council, told The Daily Signal.

    “But there is no threat to Russia,” Blank added, underscoring how NATO and Ukraine are building up their militaries as a defensive move, which is not a bellwether for any offensive action against Russia.
    Dear reader:

    In today’s media environment, there are few publications that Americans can rely on to learn the “other” side of the issues.

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    Keep The Daily Signal Free

    In 2014, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after a hybrid warfare invasion. Russia subsequently launched a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, which is still ongoing and has so far killed about 10,000 Ukrainians.

    Since 2014, Russia has also ratcheted up military provocations against NATO forces across Eastern Europe.

    “Russia’s aggression against its neighbors has changed the threat perception of many NATO members, many of whom have finally taken steps to increase defense spending.”

    Russian warplanes have made provocative flybys of NATO ships and aircraft. And Moscow has deployed new military hardware to its Kaliningrad exclave, a territory nestled between the Baltic countries and Poland, which are all NATO members.

    “These are definitely not made for TV operations, but major military actions and threats of larger ones against Ukraine and the Baltics,” Blank said, referring to Russian aggression.

    Russia has also conducted cyber warfare attacks on the electoral processes of multiple NATO countries, including, but not limited to, the U.S., Germany, and France.

    “Russia is likely to continue its military provocations against NATO members since the image of an unpredictable [Russian President Vladimir] Putin serves Moscow’s interest in fueling fears of another war in Europe,” Daniel Szeligowski, senior research fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told The Daily Signal.

    By casting doubt as to “whether NATO is capable of defending its members in case of aggression,” Szeligowski said Russia is trying to reassert influence over what it considers its “near abroad”—essentially the territory of the former Soviet Union.

    Yet, Russia’s gambit appears to be backfiring.

    “Russia’s aggression against its neighbors has changed the threat perception of many NATO members, many of whom have finally taken steps to increase defense spending,” said Daniel Kochis, policy analyst in European affairs at The Heritage Foundation. “This is something that decades of haranguing by multiple U.S. administrations has failed to do.”

    NATO Still Matters

    Anticipating a potential war with Russia, former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries have undertaken a crash course military buildup.

    Accordingly, the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania have had the two fastest-growing military budgets in the world since 2014, according to IHS Jane’s.

    Despite the military buildup, however, Eastern European countries are, for the most part, not looking to freelance their own national security outside of NATO’s collective defense umbrella. In fact, Russian aggression has increased NATO’s clout in Eastern Europe since 2014.

    “Regional security cooperation between countries on NATO’s eastern flank leads to greater coordination and capacity development, and thus should be further strengthened,” Szeligowski told The Daily Signal.
    In Latvia, civilians welcome a U.S. Army Stryker convoy in 2015. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

    In Latvia, civilians welcome a U.S. Army Stryker convoy in 2015. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

    “However,” Szeligowski added, “it needs to be seen as complementary to NATO, since it cannot replace U.S. security guarantees within the alliance.”

    Despite not being a NATO member and therefore not enjoying NATO’s collective defense guarantee, Ukraine has also turned to NATO as a hedge against Russian aggression.

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has ordered Ukraine’s military to adopt NATO standards by 2020. And when combined Russian-separatist forces launched an artillery and rocket blitz on the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka at the end of January, Poroshenko announced plans to hold a national referendum on NATO membership for Ukraine.

    NATO will not accept a Ukrainian bid for membership while the country is at war. But Poroshenko’s move highlights how invoking the possibility, however slim, of NATO membership is a way to deter, or antagonize, Russia.

    “Since Russia’s aggressive actions began three years ago, NATO has stood by Ukraine— this will not change,” NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller said during a Feb. 9 joint press conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.

    NATO, Redux

    Russian aggression has spurred NATO to rearm and adopt a more aggressive posture toward Moscow.

    The Western military alliance (originally conceived to oppose the Soviet Union) has collectively pledged to boost military spending while it follows through on plans to deploy its forces eastward toward Russia’s borders in ways unseen since the Cold War.

    “Russia is working to undermine NATO solidarity, to create fractures and exacerbate differences within the alliance,” Kochis said. “It’s essential NATO members retain a united front to withstand these tireless efforts.”

    At a gathering of defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis pressed for all NATO countries to meet the alliance’s minimum defense spending target of 2 percent of gross domestic product.

    Currently, only five countries—the U.S., Estonia, Greece, Poland, and the U.K.—meet the 2 percent mark.

    “Americans cannot care more for your children’s security than you do,” Mattis said during a speech at the meeting.

    As a response to Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, NATO has plans to send four 1,000-troop-strong battalions toward Russia’s borders; one for each of the three Baltic countries, and one for Poland.

    Additionally, NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force comprises about 5,000 troops. The unit is meant to “respond to emerging security challenges posed by Russia, as well as the risks emanating from the Middle East and North Africa,” according to a statement on NATO’s website.

    Overall, the U.S. has about 35,000 military personnel in Europe, including two Army infantry brigades. To deter Moscow, the U.S. has recently deployed an additional heavy brigade to Poland, comprising about 3,500 troops and 87 tanks, as well as a unit of 500 troops to Romania.

    The U.S. also has troops in Ukraine conducting a training mission for Ukraine’s armed forces.

    “The U.S. has restated its commitment to NATO and Article V, and Russia should recognize that those security guarantees remain rock solid,” Kochis said. “Any deviation only invites aggression and miscalculation.”

    The Big Picture

    NATO’s eastward deployments are still just a fraction of Ukraine’s military buildup near Russia’s border, underscoring how the overall military balance of power in Europe has shifted since 2014 due to Russian aggression.

    Ukraine now has about 60,000 combat troops, supported by heavy artillery and armor, forward deployed to the Donbas—Ukraine’s embattled southeastern territory on the border with Russia.

    That’s a force of 60,000 combat troops near Russia’s border that wasn’t there prior to 2014.

    “Russia’s actions in Ukraine are first and foremost about domestic Russian politics,” Kochis said. “A stable, economically prosperous Ukraine on Russia’s borders is seen as a threat to the survival of the Russian regime.”

    About 3,000 to 5,000 regular Russian troops remain in the Donbas, along with about 40,000 pro-Russian separatists.

    In the months following Ukraine’s February 2014 revolution, Russia launched a hybrid invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, ultimately annexing the territory.

    Russia followed up the seizure of Crimea with a proxy war in the Donbas. A combined force of pro-Russian separatists and Russian regulars was on the march in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and there were worries then that Ukraine could be split in two, or that Russia might launch a large-scale invasion.

    A cease-fire called Minsk II has kept the war at bay since February 2015. But the fighting never really stopped. Today, the conflict is static, mostly fought from fixed positions in trenches with long-range, indirect fire weapons, such as artillery and rockets.

    Today, about 3,000 to 5,000 regular Russian troops remain in the Donbas, along with about 40,000 pro-Russian separatists, according to Ukrainian military estimates.

    The war in eastern Ukraine has killed about 10,000 Ukrainians and displaced about 1.7 million people, according to estimates by humanitarian groups.

    Do or Die

    Prior to 2014, the Ukrainian military had been gutted by corrupt government officials who pilfered weapons and supplies for sale to arms dealers.

    Yet, in the past three years, and while fighting a war, Ukraine has rebuilt its military into the second largest in Europe (behind Russia), comprising about a quarter-million active-duty troops and about 80,000 reservists—that’s a jump of at least 25 percent from its pre-2014 manpower levels.

    Additionally, Ukraine increased its military budget by 23 percent the year after the war began. Ukrainian defense spending is scheduled to increase by 10 percent each year going forward, according to IHS Jane’s.

    Ukraine has also revamped its military-industrial complex. In 2015, Ukraine was the world’s ninth-largest weapons exporting nation. In 2016, Ukraine’s arms exports contracts jumped by 25 percent from 2015 levels, totaling about $750 million.

    Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, has called for Ukraine to rank among the world’s top-five weapons exporting nations by 2020.

    Ukraine’s military revival has been meteoric, and it would never have happened without Russia’s takeover of Crimea, or its proxy war in the Donbas.

    Ukraine’s strategic military doctrine now identifies Russia as the country’s top security threat. Resultantly, Kyiv is rebuilding its military with the specific objective of defending against a Russian invasion.

    Ukraine’s military center of gravity used to be in its western regions, a carryover from the Cold War when the Red Army massed its strength on the Soviet Union’s western borders to oppose a NATO invasion from that direction.
    A statue of Vladimir Lenin in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

    A statue of Vladimir Lenin in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

    Today, however, Ukraine’s military forces have moved eastward, digging in to defend against Russia.

    Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine has also sparked a cultural backlash among the Ukrainian people.

    Ukrainians share a common language, religion, and cultural history with Russia. And many Ukrainians have friends and family living in Russia.

    Yet, 72 percent of Ukrainians have an unfavorable opinion about Russia, and 77 percent consider Russia to be a threat to its neighbors, according to a recent poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Ukrainian think tank.

    That’s a sharp change from 2011, when 84 percent of Ukrainians had a favorable opinion about Russia.

    Ukraine is, bit-by-bit, purging itself of all things Russian, and all reminders of the Soviet Union.

    In 2015, Ukraine’s parliament passed a series of “decommunization” laws, which outlawed all symbols of the Soviet Union, including the hammer and sickle flag, and statues of Vladimir Lenin. Even the Soviet national anthem was banned.

    Towns and cities with Soviet-era names were also renamed. The city formerly called Dnipropetrovsk—Ukraine’s fourth-largest city—is now simply called “Dnipro City.”

    The excised “petrovsk” referred to communist leader Grigory Petrovsky, for whom the city was named in 1926 by Joseph Stalin.

    Comment by elmer — February 24, 2017 @ 9:22 am

  45. @Tim: regarding political parties – there have been a number of those, ostensibly fighting against oppression of all things Russian and seriously fighting for the money coming from Moscow. The current “prime minister” or whatever of Crimea (criminal nickname “Goblin”) was leading one of those, they had like 4% in the Crimean parliament.

    Comment by Ivan — February 24, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

  46. National and international governments have over stepped their bounds and various electorates are now trying to claw back authority to a more local level. This is the case in the EU and the US and elsewhere with respect to global regulation. Sufficient percentages of various electorates have seen the likely outcome of Globalization to realize not in their interests.

    Central planning doesn’t work and will not work because far too many variables. Sufficient homogenization of populations has not worked and will not work to allow international regulation to be the fundamental level of regulation.

    I understand the dream that many people have for a global utopia where all conflicts are settled by international oversight (dominated by the West) but it just doesn’t work and will not work. The international landscape is now dominated with frozen conflicts that are never resolved. The dream is just a dream.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 4:55 am

  47. @Ivan
    Crimea will not be part of Ukraine. Crimea has fundamental strategic value only for Russia and there is nothing that can be done short of all out war to change the current course. It will not happen. The US has bigger fish to fry than Crimea. Much better if Russia and the US are united at the big fish fry.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:06 am

  48. If members of the EU are disposed to placing Crimea under Ukrainian control then they should have at it. They would prefer the usual directions to the US of let’s you and him fight and then hide behind a domestic veil of anti US rhetoric.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:13 am

  49. If the US has been the leader of the West and the EU is the result of US leadership then really time to reevaluate the path down which the US has led. What a bunch of weak whiny entitled malcontents following the leader.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:27 am

  50. Tell you the truth if I were in a foxhole and the enemy was coming through the wire I would feel much safer with the average Russian citizen at my back then the average EU citizen. Not even close. The US (central US) and Russia are warrior cultures while the EU is some type of feminized whiny duplicitous shelterd wards of the nanny state culture.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:39 am

  51. Common childhood dream in the central US is being a SEAL. In the EU and US coastal areas a common childhood dream is being a barrista and whipping up a mean latte.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 6:33 am

  52. Top Ten Dreams of the EU

    10.Immigrants from the Middle east will do all our work
    9. Immigrants from Eastern Europe will do all our work
    8. Immigrants from Asia will do all our work
    7. Our national government will give us more benefits
    6. The EU will give us more benefits
    5. Our national government will shorten our work week
    4. The EU will shorten our work week
    3. Our governments will make all bad things stop
    2. The oppreesors in the US will FOAD
    1. The US will protect us

    Funny some pro Jihadi company bought the rights to be makers of childhood vaccines in Denmark and got a swwet heart deal from the government besides. The electorate in Denmark think maybe this isn’t such a good idea.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 8:53 am

  53. @pahoben,

    be careful what you wish for about that average Russian citizen watching your back: his grandpa from zagradotryad has taught him a trick or two, so you may unexpectedly (for you anyway) find some extra holes in that back of yours.

    Uniting with terrorists to fight terrorism makes a lot of sense, too. Remember that FSB “sugar” inadvertently discovered by Ryazan cops? Remember what happened to Litvinenko who exposed it? Oh, and Russian is the working language in many ISIS units, so steady supply of terrorists to unite against is guaranteed.

    As long as Russia keeps paying a steep price for the externalities it is creating by the occupation of Crimea, I don’t care either way. But the US under Obama made Merkel look like a leader, FFS. Trump administration (post Flynn) looks much better. Let’s see.

    There is no bigger fish to fry than maintaining a rules-based international order dominated by the West. Alternatives don’the work and will not work.

    Comment by Ivan — February 27, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

  54. That was “don’t work and will not work”

    Comment by Ivan — February 27, 2017 @ 2:45 pm

  55. @Ivan
    There are Russian speakers in ISIS including many Chechens so what’s new. I remember the outrage of the west in how the cousins of these poor fighters were brutalized by the Russian occupation of Chechnya. Whats a brutalized Chechen fighter to do if not travel to Syria and join ISIS. No future in being a Chechen fighter in Chechnya-life span is too short.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:11 pm

  56. @Ivan
    Interest rereference to zagrad otryad and similarly the US should continue to supply a kind of shtrafbat for the EU.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:39 pm

  57. I have daily contact with ex British special forces and have a standing inivitation to overnight at the SAS club in Knightsbridge for which I am honored. They often tell me how modern veterans are treated with contempt in the U.K. If with contempt in the U.K. I can imagine how elsewhere in the EU. They were amazed at the end of American Sniper how Kyle was honored in Texas on the way to burial. Just the opposite in the U.K. I don’t see why the EU is worth defending. Just a weak nanny state culture.

    Comment by pahoben — February 27, 2017 @ 5:54 pm

  58. @pahoben,
    strafbat to the EU? You mean all those unarmed Americans being shot in the back by EU police with machine guns? Get a clue! Speaking of honoring the military: the Russian “tractor drivers vacationing in Donbas” are routinely buried like dogs, with families intimidated and/or paid off into silence. So much for the “warrior culture” you are hallucinating about. Drug gangs in inner city gettoes have more of a culture.

    Mattis already told the Eurocrats they had to pay for their own security. They have been living in a bubble for too long, while smugly disregarding the serious Russian threat that Eastern Europe has been desperately screaming about like forever. So the US has been doing nobody a favor by ignoring the problem for so long.

    Last time I checked there were like 80k well-equiped “Chechen fighters” in Chechnya, all ready to make sure Russia keeps paying that tribute on time. And if a police state like Russia keeps sending thousands of fighters to ISIS, while missing them in air raids and occasionally leaving them a nice bounty of military equipment, as during that hasty retreat from Palmira – that’s all pure coincidence, of course.

    Comment by Ivan — February 27, 2017 @ 10:18 pm

  59. @Ivan

    They are non denominational with respect to weapons-Russian, US, Israeli-it doesn’t matter till the ammo runs out.

    Comment by pahoben — February 28, 2017 @ 10:56 am

  60. In fact you might say they are the Unitarians of weapons.

    Comment by pahoben — March 2, 2017 @ 4:26 pm

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