Ukraine lacks a modern mechanized and air-supported military capable of taking on Russia but, as Dr. Waller notes, Ukraine does not necessarily have to do that. Russia’s economy and influence over Europe depends on energy sales to European countries. That energy is delivered by Russian pipelines crossing Ukraine.
Here’s what Ukraine should do:
1. Send loyalist forces and pipeline engineers to occupy all Gazprom pipeline compressor stations, valve stations, and regulator stations.
2. Close the valves of one or more major pipelines, to demonstrate capability.
3. Issue orders to shut down entire pipelines by closing the valves and disabling them if necessary.
4. Plant demolition charges along the pipelines in remote areas, to detonate in the event it is necessary to destroy them.
The results will be catastrophic for both Europe and Russia.
For Russia, it would show that Ukraine effectively controls the single largest source of Russia’s hard currency inflows.
When Putin sent forces into Ukraine, he caused Gazprom’s market value to tank $15 billion in just one day.
Think, then, of how powerful the mere suggestion of a Ukrainian cutoff of gas would be on Gazprom, the Russian state, and the oligarchs who own the most shares of the company.
The results would also cause Europe to pay Ukraine some of the respect that was lost when Kyiv surrendered its nuclear weapons back to Moscow more than two decades ago. Ukraine could finally show that it isn’t just Moscow that controls Europe’s natural gas supply.
Ukraine can safeguard what’s left of its natural integrity – and even force Putin to remove Russian forces from the country completely – by building the easy capability to destroy the pipelines completely, should Putin remain the aggressor. Meanwhile, Ukraine can show its restraint as a responsible actor in the midst of a severe national crisis, earning more serious attention to the increasingly finlandized Europe. (Keep in mind that senior political figures, such as former German socialist chancellor Gerhard Schröder, is on the Gazprom payroll.)
By showing that it can – and will – shut down or wreck Gazprom’s gas lines crisscrossing its territory, Ukraine will be defeating the enemy without fighting him at all.
Kevin Drum, writing from the perspective of the Left in Mother Jones, predicts the US response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine:
Republicans will demand that we show strength in the face of Putin’s provocation. Whatever it is that we’re doing, we should do more.
President Obama will denounce whatever it is that Putin does. But regardless of how unequivocal his condemnation is, Bill Kristol will insist that he’s failing to support the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.
Journalists will write a variety of thumbsuckers pointing out that our options are extremely limited, what with Ukraine being 5,000 miles away and all.
John McCain will appear on a bunch of Sunday chat shows to bemoan the fact that Obama is weak and no one fears America anymore.
Having written all the “options are limited” thumbsuckers, journalists and columnists will follow McCain’s lead and start declaring that the crisis in Ukraine is the greatest foreign policy test of Obama’s presidency. It will thus supplant Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, and North Korea for this honor.
In spite of all the trees felled and words spoken about this, nobody will have any good ideas about what kind of action might actually make a difference. There will be scattered calls to impose a few sanctions here and there, introduce a ban on Russian vodka imports, convene NATO, demand a UN Security Council vote, etc. None of this will have any material effect.
Obama will continue to denounce Putin. Perhaps he will convene NATO. For their part, Republicans will continue to insist that he’s showing weakness and needs to get serious.
This will all continue for a while.
In the end, it will all settle down into a stalemate, with Russia having thrown its weight around in its near abroad—just like it always has—and the West not having the leverage to do much about it.
————————————————— “Theodore Dalrymple”, writing from the perspective of the Right in Taki’s Magazine, predicts the European response.
[T]he Ukrainian crisis has once again revealed the European Union’s complete impotence. Physiognomy is an inexact science, but it is not so inexact that you cannot read the bemused feebleness on the faces of people such as Van Rompuy, Hollande, and Cameron, the latter so moistly smooth and characterless that it looks as though it would disappear leaving a trail of slime if caught in the rain. Mrs. Merkel has a somewhat stronger face, but then she has the advantage of having spent time in the Free German Youth (the East German communist youth movement), which must at least have put a modicum of iron in her soul.
Be that as it may, Russia holds all the trump cards in this situation. It can turn off Western Europe’s central heating at a stroke, and for Europeans such heating is the whole meaning and purpose of life—together with six-week annual holidays in Bali or Benidorm. Therefore Europe will risk nothing for the sake of Ukraine, except perhaps a few billion in loans of no one’s money, a trifle in current economic circumstances. If Bismarck were to return today, he would say that the whole of Ukraine was not worth the cold of one unheated radiator.
Greg Satell, at Forbes, I think, accurately identifies Vladimir Putin’s motive in occupying the Crimea.
Crimea looms large in Russian history. It was the site of the Crimean War fought in the 1850’s against the French, British and Ottoman Empire . Although Russia lost, the bravery of its soldiers is still a source of Russian pride, much like The Alamo in Texas. Its resort city of Yalta hosted the famous talks between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill.
Yet Russia’s interests in Crimea go far beyond nostalgia. As important as the region is for Russian pride, as the map below shows it looms even larger in the geopolitics of the region.
The naval base at Sevastopol, on Crimea’s southwestern tip, is Russia’s only warm water port and its primary means of extending force through the Mediterranean. It has been alleged that the port city has been used extensively to supply Bashar al-Assad throughout the current civil war in Syria.
And while the lease agreement with Ukraine regarding the base remains valid until 2047, the majority of the Black Sea coastline is held by NATO allies except for Georgia on the east, which is actively seeking NATO membership, and Ukraine in the north.
Put simply, without a naval base in Crimea Russia is finished as a global military power.
Julia Ioffe notes the additional key consideration: that no one can stop him. Certainly not Barack Obama.
Why is Putin doing this? Because he can. That’s it, that’s all you need to know. The situation in Kiev—in which people representing one half of the country (the Ukrainian-speaking west) took power to some extent at the expense of the Russian-speaking east—created the perfect opportunity for Moscow to divide and conquer. As soon as the revolution in Kiev happened, there was an unhappy rumbling in the Crimea, which has a large Russian population and is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It was a small rumbling, but just big enough for Russia to exploit. And when such an opportunity presents itself, one would be foolish not to take it, especially if one’s name is Vladimir Putin. ...
Putin, sees the world according to his own logic, and the logic goes like this: it is better to be feared than loved, it is better to be overly strong than to risk appearing weak, and Russia was, is, and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion. And it will gather whatever spurious reasons it needs to insulate itself territorially from what it still perceives to be a large and growing NATO threat.
What we don’t know, at this point, is whether Russia will contentedly gobble down the Crimea and stop, the way it did in the case of Georgia, or whether Russia will go on to occupy and annex Eastern Ukraine or the entire country.
If Russia simply takes the Crimea, Ukraine loses a nice vacation land and a semi-autonomous portion of territory to which it had only a pretty modest historical claim. Ukraine only acquired the Crimea as a gift by Nikita Krushchev in 1954. If Crimea had a legitimate historical owner, that would be the Crimean Tartars, conquered by Tsarist Russia in 1783, then deported en masse by Stalin in 1944 for collaborating with the German Occupation.
So, if Russia takes back and gets to keep its key warm water naval port, what does that really mean. A scene comes to mind from the late 1970s, when I was fresh out of Yale, and was working on war games at Simulation Publications in New York for the great Jim Dunnigan. The news of the day involved the contrast between some recent dramatic Soviet naval expansion and a further reduction of the US Navy’s budget by the peanut farmer.
The development team was sitting around a large table discussing current events gloomily and debating whether our next game should be a grand scale US versus Soviets Naval game. The arguments, as always, flew hotly back and forth, but finally one of the older and most cynical grognards called out: “OK, when was the last time Russia won a naval battle?”
We had a room full of military history buffs, all of whom were thrown basically for a loop. You could almost hear the gears spinning and smell the wiring overheating as we all racked our memories.
After a while, one very knowledgeable man suggested the 1827 Battle of Navarino during the Greek War for Independence. But, no, another expert objected: the Russians formed only a portion of an Allied fleet, and were effectively under British command.
The next best suggestion referred vaguely to Russian warships beating the Turks while under the command of Rear Admiral John Paul Jones in 1787 or 1788. At which point, the whole table broke up in laughter at the idea of what would happen to a Russian Navy with a centuries long tradition of not very much were it ever to encounter the US Navy, equipped with an enormously long tradition of victory.
Let Putin have Sevastopol. If Russia really needs to be a significant naval power in order to be a Global Power, Russia is still going to be out of luck.
Short but pleasant enough Russian shooting game. You are a Russian Federation officer with gold braid on your sleeve, practicing shooting your Makarov. Hit “start” (the button near the trigger). Control your wobbling grip, line up the sights on the bullseye, and quickly trigger off the three rounds you’ve been allotted. This is a rapid fire game. You are being timed, and do not have enough seconds to line up individual shots.
I found it pretty easy to get a good group in the vicinity of the ten-ring. This game makes me wonder if real Makarovs have such nice trigger pulls.
The Guardian has the story of an 80-Year-Old who fought a bear and was tossed off a cliff and still survived.
An octogenarian versus a hungry Russian bear. It was a confrontation that could have ended only one way, and yet shepherd Yusuf Alchagirov was sitting upright in bed this week and happily munching on the three traditional pies his family had baked in celebration at his survival.
The bear approached Alchagirov, 80, in a raspberry field in the southern Russian region of Kabardino-Balkaria last week, but despite his age, Alchagirov showered kicks and headbutts on the bear and managed to knock it off balance.
The bear, apparently irritated by the feisty shepherd, tossed him off a cliff and sauntered away, said Alchagirov in an interview with local television. He was hospitalised with bruises, bite wounds and four broken ribs, but was spared a mauling, and released within a few days. It is not known whether the bear suffered any lasting injuries.
“I got off easy. It would have killed me if I’d chickened out,” Alchagirov said.
Richard Fernandez is worried that Putin might grab Egypt while Barack Obama bicycles and golfs on Martha’s Vinyard and his administration dithers over the decision to support secularism and the Egyptian Army or radical Islam, democracy, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Decisions, decisions.
So Obama remains hunkered down in Martha’s Vineyard, emerging periodically from his vacation home, like a cuckoo from a clock, to make a statement no one appears to hear, playing for time. No one in the Beltway seems to know what line to take. Shall they restore democracy in Egypt by supporting the Muslims Bros, knowing they too will take their revenge on the generals and the Copts? Suspend aid to the Egyptian military and open the door to Russia, who might do a hat trick and scoop up Saudi Arabia into the bargain?
Choices. Choices. What happened to the good old days when one could vote “present”? The Beltway is reading the tea leaves for a sign. And all they’re getting is Jay Carney.
I’m not worried. Frankly, I think Putin would do a much better job.