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Would America Go to War with Russia?

Would America Go to War with Russia?.

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March 22, 2014

Vice President Biden was in Warsaw last week to reassure our eastern NATO allies that they have the support of a “steadfast ally.” But if Russia moved against Poland or the Baltic States, would the United States really go to war? Or would we do nothing and effectively destroy the NATO alliance?

President Obama has ruled out a “military excursion” in Ukraine. America is not obligated legally to take action against Russia for annexing Crimea. We would not go to war if Russia mounted a large-scale invasion of Ukraine to restore the ousted, pro-Moscow government of Viktor Yanukovych, currently under U.S. sanctions. And we would not even send troops if Ukraine was partitioned, or absorbed by Russia. Americans have no interest in such a conflict, and no stomach for it.

NATO allies are a different matter. The North Atlantic Treaty is a mutual-defense pact, and Article 5 says that an armed attack against one member state “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This is a clear red line. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and most NATO allies sent troops to support the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Could the current crisis expand to touch NATO? The developing situation in Ukraine has been compared to Germany’s absorption of Austria in 1938, or the subsequent partition and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Hillary Clinton compared Russian president Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, which by extension puts President Obama in the role of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who famously failed to achieve “peace in our time” at Munich.

Push the analogy further. The Second World War was sparked by Warsaw’s resistance to Berlin’s demand to annex the Polish Corridor, a small stretch of land—smaller than Crimea—separating the German provinces of Pomerania and East Prussia. Hitler responded by invading Poland and partitioning it with the Soviet Union. Britain and France had pledged to defend Polish independence, and two days after Germany invaded, they declared war. In his war message, Chamberlain explained that Hitler’s actions showed “there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”

This may or may not describe Mr. Putin, as Mrs. Clinton alleged. But if similar circumstances arise in the near future, will the United States honor security guarantees made to Poland and the Baltic States when the Russian threat was only a theory?

Mr. Biden stood with Estonian president Toomas Ilves Tuesday to “reconfirm and reaffirm our shared commitment to collective self-defense, to Article 5.” He wanted to make it “absolutely clear what it means to the Estonian people” and that “President Obama and I view Article 5 of the NATO Treaty as an absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor—we will honor.” Shortly thereafter, Moscow “expressed concern” about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia. Mr. Putin justified his actions in Crimea as “restoring unity” to Russian people. Estonia’s population is 25 percent ethnic Russian, compared to 17 percent in Ukraine, mostly in the north and east part of the country. Suppose anti-Russian riots “spontaneously” broke out in Estonia. What would the United States do if Moscow invoked a “responsibility to protect” these people and bring them “back” to the Motherland? Would President Obama take military action against Russia over a small, secluded piece of a tiny, distant country? Would it be like the Polish Corridor in 1939? This is highly doubtful—highly doubtful.

Aren’t we obligated by treaty to intervene? Mr. Biden mentioned the “absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor.” It was so important he said it twice. However, Article 5 says that NATO members pledge to come to the assistance of the attacked state using “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.” It doesn’t take a White House lawyer to see the gaping loophole—President Obama can simply deem that the use of U.S. force isn’t necessary. He can walk back the red line, as he did with Syria. Stern talk and minimal sanctions would follow, but Estonia would lose some, if not all of its territory. And in practical terms it would mean the end of NATO, which is one of Moscow’s longstanding strategic objectives. Mr. Putin’s chess game does not end in Crimea.

James S. Robbins is Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China | Zero Hedge

Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China | Zero Hedge.

If it was the intent of the West to bring Russia and China together – one a natural resource (if “somewhat” corrupt) superpower and the other a fixed capital / labor output (if “somewhat” capital misallocating and credit bubbleicious) powerhouse – in the process marginalizing the dollar and encouraging Ruble and Renminbi bilateral trade, then things are surely “going according to plan.”

For now there have been no major developments as a result of the shift in the geopolitical axis that has seen global US influence, away from the Group of 7 (most insolvent nations) of course, decline precipitously in the aftermath of the bungled Syrian intervention attempt and the bloodless Russian annexation of Crimea, but that will soon change. Because while the west is focused on day to day developments in Ukraine, and how to halt Russian expansion through appeasement (hardly a winning tactic as events in the 1930s demonstrated), Russia is once again thinking 3 steps ahead… and quite a few steps east.

While Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the “Holy Grail” energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis. One which, as some especially on these pages, have suggested would lay the groundwork for a new joint, commodity-backed reserve currency that bypasses the dollar, something which Russia implied moments ago when its finance minister Siluanov said that Russia may regain from foreign borrowing this year. Translated: bypass western purchases of Russian debt, funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasurys, and go straight to the source.

Here is what will likely happen next, as explained by Reuters:

Igor Sechin gathered media in Tokyo the next day to warn Western governments that more sanctions over Moscow’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine would be counter-productive.

 

The underlying message from the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was clear: If Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances. 

 

The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West.

More details on the revelation of said “Holy Grail”:

State-owned Russian gas firm Gazprom hopes to pump 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year to China from 2018 via the first pipeline between the world’s largest producer of conventional gas to the largest consumer.

 

“May is in our plans,” a Gazprom spokesman said, when asked about the timing of an agreement. A company source said: “It would be logical to expect the deal during Putin’s visit to China.”

Summarizing what should be and is painfully obvious to all, but apparently to the White House, which keeps prodding at Russia, is the following:

The worse Russia’s relations are with the West, the closer Russia will want to be to China. If China supports you, no one can say you’re isolated,” said Vasily Kashin, a China expert at the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) think thank.

Bingo. And now add bilateral trade denominated in either Rubles or Renminbi (or gold), add Iran, Iraq, India, and soon the Saudis (China’s largest foreign source of crude, whose crown prince alsohappened to meet president Xi Jinping last week to expand trade further) and wave goodbye to the petrodollar.

As reported previoisly, China has already implicitly backed Putin without risking it relations with the West. “Last Saturday China abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote on a draft resolution declaring invalid the referendum in which Crimea went on to back union with Russia. Although China is nervous about referendums in restive regions of other countries which might serve as a precedent for Tibet and Taiwan, it has refused to criticize Moscow. The support of Beijing is vital for Putin. Not only is China a fellow permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with whom Russia thinks alike, it is also the world’s second biggest economy and it opposes the spread of Western-style democracy.”

This culminated yesterday, when as we reported last night, Putin thanked China for its “understanding over Ukraine.” China hasn’t exactly kept its feelings about closer relations with Russia under wraps either:

Chinese President Xi Jinping showed how much he values ties with Moscow, and Putin in particular, by making Russia his first foreign visit as China’s leader last year and attending the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi last month.

 

Many Western leaders did not go to the Games after criticism of Russia’s record on human rights. By contrast, when Putin and Xi discussed Ukraine by telephone on March 4, the Kremlin said their positions were “close”.

The punchline: “A strong alliance would suit both countries as a counterbalance to the United States.” An alliance that would merely be an extension of current trends in close bilateral relations, including not only infrastructure investment but also military supplies:

However, China overtook Germany as Russia’s biggest buyer of crude oil this year thanks to Rosneft securing deals to boost eastward oil supplies via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and another crossing Kazakhstan.

 

If Russia is isolated by a new round of Western sanctions – those so far affect only a few officials’ assets abroad and have not been aimed at companies – Russia and China could also step up cooperation in areas apart from energy. CAST’s Kashin said the prospects of Russia delivering Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets to China, which has been under discussion since 2010, would grow.

 

China is very interested in investing in infrastructure, energy and commodities in Russia, and a decline in business with the West could force Moscow to drop some of its reservations about Chinese investment in strategic industries. “With Western sanctions, the atmosphere could change quickly in favor of China,” said Brian Zimbler Managing Partner of Morgan Lewis international law firm’s Moscow office. 

 

Russia-China trade turnover grew by 8.2 percent in 2013 to $8.1 billion but Russia was still only China’s seventh largest export partner in 2013, and was not in the top 10 countries for imported goods. The EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for almost half of all its trade turnover.

And as if pushing Russia into the warm embrace of the world’s most populous nation was not enough, there is also the second most populated country in the world, India.

Putin did take time, however, to thank one other country apart from China for its understanding over Ukraine and Crimea – saying India had shown “restraint and objectivity”.

 

He also called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the crisis on Tuesday, suggesting there is room for Russia’s ties with traditionally non-aligned India to flourish.

 

Although India has become the largest export market for U.S. arms, Russia remains a key defense supplier and relations are friendly, even if lacking a strong business and trade dimension, due to a strategic partnership dating to the Soviet era.

 

Putin’s moves to assert Russian control over Crimea were seen very favorably in the Indian establishment, N. Ram, publisher of The Hindu newspaper, told Reuters. “Russia has legitimate interests,” he added.

To summarize: while the biggest geopolitical tectonic shift since the cold war accelerates with the inevitable firming of the “Asian axis”, the west monetizes its debt, revels in the paper wealth created from an all time high manipulated stock market while at the same time trying to explain why 6.5% unemployment is really indicative of a weak economy, blames the weather for every disappointing economic data point, and every single person is transfixed with finding a missing airplane.

Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce "Holy Grail" Gas Deal With China | Zero Hedge

Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China | Zero Hedge.

If it was the intent of the West to bring Russia and China together – one a natural resource (if “somewhat” corrupt) superpower and the other a fixed capital / labor output (if “somewhat” capital misallocating and credit bubbleicious) powerhouse – in the process marginalizing the dollar and encouraging Ruble and Renminbi bilateral trade, then things are surely “going according to plan.”

For now there have been no major developments as a result of the shift in the geopolitical axis that has seen global US influence, away from the Group of 7 (most insolvent nations) of course, decline precipitously in the aftermath of the bungled Syrian intervention attempt and the bloodless Russian annexation of Crimea, but that will soon change. Because while the west is focused on day to day developments in Ukraine, and how to halt Russian expansion through appeasement (hardly a winning tactic as events in the 1930s demonstrated), Russia is once again thinking 3 steps ahead… and quite a few steps east.

While Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the “Holy Grail” energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis. One which, as some especially on these pages, have suggested would lay the groundwork for a new joint, commodity-backed reserve currency that bypasses the dollar, something which Russia implied moments ago when its finance minister Siluanov said that Russia may regain from foreign borrowing this year. Translated: bypass western purchases of Russian debt, funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasurys, and go straight to the source.

Here is what will likely happen next, as explained by Reuters:

Igor Sechin gathered media in Tokyo the next day to warn Western governments that more sanctions over Moscow’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine would be counter-productive.

 

The underlying message from the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was clear: If Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances. 

 

The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West.

More details on the revelation of said “Holy Grail”:

State-owned Russian gas firm Gazprom hopes to pump 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year to China from 2018 via the first pipeline between the world’s largest producer of conventional gas to the largest consumer.

 

“May is in our plans,” a Gazprom spokesman said, when asked about the timing of an agreement. A company source said: “It would be logical to expect the deal during Putin’s visit to China.”

Summarizing what should be and is painfully obvious to all, but apparently to the White House, which keeps prodding at Russia, is the following:

The worse Russia’s relations are with the West, the closer Russia will want to be to China. If China supports you, no one can say you’re isolated,” said Vasily Kashin, a China expert at the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) think thank.

Bingo. And now add bilateral trade denominated in either Rubles or Renminbi (or gold), add Iran, Iraq, India, and soon the Saudis (China’s largest foreign source of crude, whose crown prince alsohappened to meet president Xi Jinping last week to expand trade further) and wave goodbye to the petrodollar.

As reported previoisly, China has already implicitly backed Putin without risking it relations with the West. “Last Saturday China abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote on a draft resolution declaring invalid the referendum in which Crimea went on to back union with Russia. Although China is nervous about referendums in restive regions of other countries which might serve as a precedent for Tibet and Taiwan, it has refused to criticize Moscow. The support of Beijing is vital for Putin. Not only is China a fellow permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with whom Russia thinks alike, it is also the world’s second biggest economy and it opposes the spread of Western-style democracy.”

This culminated yesterday, when as we reported last night, Putin thanked China for its “understanding over Ukraine.” China hasn’t exactly kept its feelings about closer relations with Russia under wraps either:

Chinese President Xi Jinping showed how much he values ties with Moscow, and Putin in particular, by making Russia his first foreign visit as China’s leader last year and attending the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi last month.

 

Many Western leaders did not go to the Games after criticism of Russia’s record on human rights. By contrast, when Putin and Xi discussed Ukraine by telephone on March 4, the Kremlin said their positions were “close”.

The punchline: “A strong alliance would suit both countries as a counterbalance to the United States.” An alliance that would merely be an extension of current trends in close bilateral relations, including not only infrastructure investment but also military supplies:

However, China overtook Germany as Russia’s biggest buyer of crude oil this year thanks to Rosneft securing deals to boost eastward oil supplies via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and another crossing Kazakhstan.

 

If Russia is isolated by a new round of Western sanctions – those so far affect only a few officials’ assets abroad and have not been aimed at companies – Russia and China could also step up cooperation in areas apart from energy. CAST’s Kashin said the prospects of Russia delivering Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets to China, which has been under discussion since 2010, would grow.

 

China is very interested in investing in infrastructure, energy and commodities in Russia, and a decline in business with the West could force Moscow to drop some of its reservations about Chinese investment in strategic industries. “With Western sanctions, the atmosphere could change quickly in favor of China,” said Brian Zimbler Managing Partner of Morgan Lewis international law firm’s Moscow office. 

 

Russia-China trade turnover grew by 8.2 percent in 2013 to $8.1 billion but Russia was still only China’s seventh largest export partner in 2013, and was not in the top 10 countries for imported goods. The EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for almost half of all its trade turnover.

And as if pushing Russia into the warm embrace of the world’s most populous nation was not enough, there is also the second most populated country in the world, India.

Putin did take time, however, to thank one other country apart from China for its understanding over Ukraine and Crimea – saying India had shown “restraint and objectivity”.

 

He also called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the crisis on Tuesday, suggesting there is room for Russia’s ties with traditionally non-aligned India to flourish.

 

Although India has become the largest export market for U.S. arms, Russia remains a key defense supplier and relations are friendly, even if lacking a strong business and trade dimension, due to a strategic partnership dating to the Soviet era.

 

Putin’s moves to assert Russian control over Crimea were seen very favorably in the Indian establishment, N. Ram, publisher of The Hindu newspaper, told Reuters. “Russia has legitimate interests,” he added.

To summarize: while the biggest geopolitical tectonic shift since the cold war accelerates with the inevitable firming of the “Asian axis”, the west monetizes its debt, revels in the paper wealth created from an all time high manipulated stock market while at the same time trying to explain why 6.5% unemployment is really indicative of a weak economy, blames the weather for every disappointing economic data point, and every single person is transfixed with finding a missing airplane.

Is This The Provocation? Ukraine Soldier Allegedly Killed By Russians In Crimea | Zero Hedge

Is This The Provocation? Ukraine Soldier Allegedly Killed By Russians In Crimea | Zero Hedge.

As feared earlier, the attack by “unidentified” forces on a Ukrainemilitary base in Semferopol has resulted in fatalities:

  • *UKRAINE SOLDIER KILLED AFTER UNIDENTIFIED GUNMEN STORMED BASE
  • *UKRAINE SOLDIER’S DEATH IN CRIMEA CONFIRMED BY DEFENSE MINISTRY

And two further “self-defense” fighters are injured. Once again it seems the market misread Putin’s comments and one wonders how will Turchynov respond?

The incident occurred in Crimea’s main city of Simferopol, regional defence ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said, without specifying whether the base was stormed by Russian soldiers or pro-Kremlin militia who also patrol the peninsula.

Via Interfax,

One self-defense fighter has been killed and two more injured in Simferopol, according to the Crimean news agency which cited a source in the republic’s Interior Ministry.

The self-defense fighters were shot by a sniper from an uncompleted building opposite a Ukrainian military base, the source said

We’re now easily a couple hundred meters away from base entrance “foreign journalists are liars”-Russian self defense pic.twitter.com/2xQsNyeqa5

— Ed Flanagan (@edmundflanagan) March 18, 2014

Is This The Provocation? Ukraine Soldier Allegedly Killed By Russians In Crimea | Zero Hedge

Is This The Provocation? Ukraine Soldier Allegedly Killed By Russians In Crimea | Zero Hedge.

As feared earlier, the attack by “unidentified” forces on a Ukrainemilitary base in Semferopol has resulted in fatalities:

  • *UKRAINE SOLDIER KILLED AFTER UNIDENTIFIED GUNMEN STORMED BASE
  • *UKRAINE SOLDIER’S DEATH IN CRIMEA CONFIRMED BY DEFENSE MINISTRY

And two further “self-defense” fighters are injured. Once again it seems the market misread Putin’s comments and one wonders how will Turchynov respond?

The incident occurred in Crimea’s main city of Simferopol, regional defence ministry spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said, without specifying whether the base was stormed by Russian soldiers or pro-Kremlin militia who also patrol the peninsula.

Via Interfax,

One self-defense fighter has been killed and two more injured in Simferopol, according to the Crimean news agency which cited a source in the republic’s Interior Ministry.

The self-defense fighters were shot by a sniper from an uncompleted building opposite a Ukrainian military base, the source said

We’re now easily a couple hundred meters away from base entrance “foreign journalists are liars”-Russian self defense pic.twitter.com/2xQsNyeqa5

— Ed Flanagan (@edmundflanagan) March 18, 2014

Crimea To Abandon Hyrvnia, Switch To Russian Ruble On April 1st | Zero Hedge

Crimea To Abandon Hyrvnia, Switch To Russian Ruble On April 1st | Zero Hedge.

Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev has told RIANovosti that the region will abandon Ukraine’s Hyrvnia:

  • *CRIMEA TO SWITCH TO RUSSIAN RUBLE APRIL 1: RIA NOVOSTI

This is not a total surprise as Reuters reported the Crimean Deputy PM stating “we are ready to introduce a ruble zone,” a week ago.

For the last few years the UAH/RUB exchange rate has oscillated around 38 in an ‘almost’ peg anyway…

But this move would isolate Crimeans from the potentially large devaluation that capital flows would create should a default occur (which looks increasingly likely)

From Reuters last week:

The Ukrainian region of Crimea could adopt the Russian ruble as its currency and “nationalize” state property as part of plans to join the Russian Federation, a regional official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Interfax news agency cited Rustam Temurgaliyev, Crimea’s vice premier, as saying: “All Ukrainian state enterprises will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean autonomy.”

Hoping Moscow would let Crimea become part of Russia, he said: “We are ready to introduce the ruble zone.”

Of course, this may lead to the emergence of an even more broad ‘black market’ for dollars or rubles in Ukraine as we are sure the Ukraine government would fight back with capital controls of some sort.

Crimea To Abandon Hyrvnia, Switch To Russian Ruble On April 1st | Zero Hedge

Crimea To Abandon Hyrvnia, Switch To Russian Ruble On April 1st | Zero Hedge.

Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev has told RIANovosti that the region will abandon Ukraine’s Hyrvnia:

  • *CRIMEA TO SWITCH TO RUSSIAN RUBLE APRIL 1: RIA NOVOSTI

This is not a total surprise as Reuters reported the Crimean Deputy PM stating “we are ready to introduce a ruble zone,” a week ago.

For the last few years the UAH/RUB exchange rate has oscillated around 38 in an ‘almost’ peg anyway…

But this move would isolate Crimeans from the potentially large devaluation that capital flows would create should a default occur (which looks increasingly likely)

From Reuters last week:

The Ukrainian region of Crimea could adopt the Russian ruble as its currency and “nationalize” state property as part of plans to join the Russian Federation, a regional official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Interfax news agency cited Rustam Temurgaliyev, Crimea’s vice premier, as saying: “All Ukrainian state enterprises will be nationalized and become the property of the Crimean autonomy.”

Hoping Moscow would let Crimea become part of Russia, he said: “We are ready to introduce the ruble zone.”

Of course, this may lead to the emergence of an even more broad ‘black market’ for dollars or rubles in Ukraine as we are sure the Ukraine government would fight back with capital controls of some sort.

What Happens After Sunday’s Crimea Referendum Vote? | Zero Hedge

What Happens After Sunday’s Crimea Referendum Vote? | Zero Hedge.

Given this morning’s UN vote declaring the Crimea referendum invalid (and Russia’s obvious veto – along with China’s abstention), and on the heels of Lavrov’s words Friday that Russia would decide how to respond to the Crimean vote after the referendum had been held, it is thought-provoking to consider Putin’s options given the vote’s outcome is a near-certainty voting in favor of accession to the Russian Federation (especially in light of this morning’s images across Crimea). Europe’s Council on Foreign Relations notes “not knowing Vladimir Putin’s strategy makes it hard for Europe and the West to come up with meaningful and workable responses. In a way, we are all speculating and trying to get a glimpse into Putin’s soul. The five points below attempt to reinforce or refute some aspects of the conventional wisdom that has emerged from all this speculation.”

 

Via CEFR,

1. Has Putin always wanted to invade Crimea?  

Russian diplomats (who probably hate their jobs these days) have made elaborate attempts to demonstrate that no international law has been broken in Crimea. But the breach is blatant and the pretext used to justify invasion is thinner than thin – and Moscow knows it.

It is true that some hawkish groups in Moscow probably could not care less about international law. They would approve of any means to reunify Slavic lands. However, the bulk of the establishment has in fact always maintained a different position. For example, the Russian foreign ministry has traditionally adhered to a rigidly legalistic view of world affairs: in effect, post-1945 international law, with its strict emphasis on state sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the inviolability of borders. Newer and softer concepts, such as the responsibility to protect, are alien to them.

Putin himself has always passionately belonged to that legalistic camp, as evidenced by his positions on Libya, on Syria, and on multiple other issues. Therefore, deciding to invade Crimea cannot have been easy for him. He must consider that something extremely important is at stake. The corollary is that in defending his conception of what is at stake, he may well be ready to go further than many of us assume.

2. Is Putin out of touch with reality?

Angela Merkel’s statement that Putin is out of touch with reality, which was leaked to the New York Times, gave rise to a considerable amount of conjecture and comment. Some people concluded that Putin has gone mad. In fact, while he may be living in his own version of reality, it looks like Putin’s world has actually been around for a long time.

Putin seems to sincerely believe that dangerous extremist groups have taken power in Kiev. He may genuinely not realise that the events in Kiev represented a classic popular revolution. As pointed out by Fiona Hill, it is possible that the whole concept of popular revolutions is alien to Putin. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Russia was having its own revolution, Putin was not there – he was serving the KGB in Dresden. He did not personally witness the fact that a massive number of people were involved in the overthrow of the Soviet Union. His being abroad for these pivotal events, as well as his KGB schooling and worldview, may have made it easy for him to see the collapse of the Soviet Union as the result of a conspiracy by a few combined with betrayal by others.

Similarly, Putin may see current events in Ukraine as a conspiracy by the West, which was definitely his view of the Orange revolution of 2004. Or he may see the situation as the result of recklessness: actions along the same lines as Western involvement in Libya and Syria. As Putin sees it, in both places the West has supported marginal and extremist groups against legitimate leaders, in a naïve hope that democracy will somehow take root in the ruins of the old regimes. It may well be that he saw the West applying the same logic to Ukraine and decided that he could not allow anything of the kind to happen in Ukraine.

Added to this, he likely feels a sense of betrayal over the West’s (as he sees it) geopolitical incursion into Ukraine, and over the West’s failure (as he sees it) to support Viktor Yanukovych after the agreement of February 21. All this comes together to form the reality in which Putin lives.

This means that what we are seeing as Putin’s revisionism may still be inspired largely by his conservatism. Also, much of his reality is indeed based on false premises. But understanding this does not make it easier to set the record straight and make Putin see sense – as multiple Western interlocutors have by now discovered.

3. Does Putin want to use Crimea as leverage over Ukraine? 

Some analysts assume that Russia will stop short of incorporating Crimea, but will instead keep it in a Transnistria-style legal limbo in order to use it as leverage over Kiev. It seems likely that obtaining leverage over all of Ukraine, as opposed to just Crimea, is Moscow’s real goal. But it is hard to predict exactly what Moscow will see as sufficient and reliable leverage.The government that came to power in Kiev in late February is weak. Contrary to Moscow’s claims, it is not illegitimate – it is as legitimate as it can be under the circumstances. However, it still does not represent the whole of society in the ways that a government should. In theory, it would have been easy for Moscow to gain leverage over the new government by using a mixture of legitimate and more shady means. But Moscow did not even make the attempt.

By now, it is unclear just how much the “Transnistrianisation” of Crimea would add to Moscow’s leverage. Kiev is now considerably less amenable to making a deal with Moscow than it would have been less than a month ago. Many in the nationalist camp may be secretly relieved to see Crimea go, taking with it its two million Russian voters and Russian base.

As recently as a week or so ago, Russia could probably have counted on the West to put pressure on Kiev. The West is terrified by what Moscow is doing and it does not know how to respond. So, many would have been relieved if, instead of annexing Crimea, Russia stopped at “Transnistrianisation”. The West would have been ready to put pressure on Kiev to accept Moscow’s conditions – thereby, of course, contributing to prolonged bad governance in Ukraine and, consequently, to more trouble down the road. But Moscow did not try to use the West either – and now it could be too late for that as well. The build-up of Russian troops at Ukraine’s borders has probably made the West more determined to counter Russia and less likely to go for unholy compromises. And, likewise, the massing of troops could indicate that Moscow is not interested in making use of Western pressure. The sort of control over Kiev that the Kremlin has in mind may be of a much harder sort than mere co-option and coercion.

4. Is Putin acting only in response to domestic pressures?

Some analysts claim that the whole Crimea affair was begun in order to impress the domestic public, who have increasingly fallen out of love with Putin. Others, even those who do not share that interpretation, claim that Putin cannot back down because of domestic pressures. It is true that the invasion has boosted Putin’s ratings. And the domestic media-propaganda machine has created a powerful momentum for annexation, which has the support of many in Russian society. But it is still hard to believe that any of this constitutes serious limitations of action for Putin, especially given that he does not have to face the ballot box any time soon.

Russian society has no capacity for an informed and critical discussion about foreign policy. The state-controlled media is masterful in justifying the regime’s actions, whatever they may be. Portraying a climb-down as a victory would be easy. (This kind of method is described well in an old Soviet joke about a 100-metre race between Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev: after Reagan’s win, the Soviet news agency reported that “in yesterday’s race between the heads of state the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR achieved a precious second place. The president of the Imperialist United States finished second-last.”)

In short, for the moment at least, Putin is in no way hostage to his domestic constituency. But that does not mean that he will want to de-escalate or back down.

5. Will sanctions stop Putin?

Different people see different logic behind Western sanctions on Russia. Some hope that sanctions, or the threat of them, will force Moscow to back down. Others hope that sanctions will alienate Russian elites from Putin and leave him with little domestic support. Others simply believe that people who were instrumental in acting against sovereignty and territorial integrity deserve to be punished. And some look at the situation from a long-term perspective and think that sanctions should be applied to erode the economic foundations of an increasingly aggressive regime.

Much of this reasoning seems accurate and justified. But even so, the calculation that sanctions will make Putin reverse course does not ring true. Ever since the domestic protests of 2011-2012, Putin has lost trust in the members of his elite who keep their money in the West and so are vulnerable to Western pressures. Losing their support, therefore, does not really matter to him. They have no leverage over him. In any case, “repatriating money” has been an unofficial policy for quite a while.

Sanctions, as well as Putin’s growing alienation from Russian elites, may well have effects in the medium term. But they will not stop Putin on Sunday or in the days ahead. Even so, this does not mean that sanctions are futile or unnecessary – especially because it seems more and more likely that we are now facing a longer-term battle between Russia and the West.

What Happens After Sunday's Crimea Referendum Vote? | Zero Hedge

What Happens After Sunday’s Crimea Referendum Vote? | Zero Hedge.

Given this morning’s UN vote declaring the Crimea referendum invalid (and Russia’s obvious veto – along with China’s abstention), and on the heels of Lavrov’s words Friday that Russia would decide how to respond to the Crimean vote after the referendum had been held, it is thought-provoking to consider Putin’s options given the vote’s outcome is a near-certainty voting in favor of accession to the Russian Federation (especially in light of this morning’s images across Crimea). Europe’s Council on Foreign Relations notes “not knowing Vladimir Putin’s strategy makes it hard for Europe and the West to come up with meaningful and workable responses. In a way, we are all speculating and trying to get a glimpse into Putin’s soul. The five points below attempt to reinforce or refute some aspects of the conventional wisdom that has emerged from all this speculation.”

 

Via CEFR,

1. Has Putin always wanted to invade Crimea?  

Russian diplomats (who probably hate their jobs these days) have made elaborate attempts to demonstrate that no international law has been broken in Crimea. But the breach is blatant and the pretext used to justify invasion is thinner than thin – and Moscow knows it.

It is true that some hawkish groups in Moscow probably could not care less about international law. They would approve of any means to reunify Slavic lands. However, the bulk of the establishment has in fact always maintained a different position. For example, the Russian foreign ministry has traditionally adhered to a rigidly legalistic view of world affairs: in effect, post-1945 international law, with its strict emphasis on state sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the inviolability of borders. Newer and softer concepts, such as the responsibility to protect, are alien to them.

Putin himself has always passionately belonged to that legalistic camp, as evidenced by his positions on Libya, on Syria, and on multiple other issues. Therefore, deciding to invade Crimea cannot have been easy for him. He must consider that something extremely important is at stake. The corollary is that in defending his conception of what is at stake, he may well be ready to go further than many of us assume.

2. Is Putin out of touch with reality?

Angela Merkel’s statement that Putin is out of touch with reality, which was leaked to the New York Times, gave rise to a considerable amount of conjecture and comment. Some people concluded that Putin has gone mad. In fact, while he may be living in his own version of reality, it looks like Putin’s world has actually been around for a long time.

Putin seems to sincerely believe that dangerous extremist groups have taken power in Kiev. He may genuinely not realise that the events in Kiev represented a classic popular revolution. As pointed out by Fiona Hill, it is possible that the whole concept of popular revolutions is alien to Putin. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Russia was having its own revolution, Putin was not there – he was serving the KGB in Dresden. He did not personally witness the fact that a massive number of people were involved in the overthrow of the Soviet Union. His being abroad for these pivotal events, as well as his KGB schooling and worldview, may have made it easy for him to see the collapse of the Soviet Union as the result of a conspiracy by a few combined with betrayal by others.

Similarly, Putin may see current events in Ukraine as a conspiracy by the West, which was definitely his view of the Orange revolution of 2004. Or he may see the situation as the result of recklessness: actions along the same lines as Western involvement in Libya and Syria. As Putin sees it, in both places the West has supported marginal and extremist groups against legitimate leaders, in a naïve hope that democracy will somehow take root in the ruins of the old regimes. It may well be that he saw the West applying the same logic to Ukraine and decided that he could not allow anything of the kind to happen in Ukraine.

Added to this, he likely feels a sense of betrayal over the West’s (as he sees it) geopolitical incursion into Ukraine, and over the West’s failure (as he sees it) to support Viktor Yanukovych after the agreement of February 21. All this comes together to form the reality in which Putin lives.

This means that what we are seeing as Putin’s revisionism may still be inspired largely by his conservatism. Also, much of his reality is indeed based on false premises. But understanding this does not make it easier to set the record straight and make Putin see sense – as multiple Western interlocutors have by now discovered.

3. Does Putin want to use Crimea as leverage over Ukraine? 

Some analysts assume that Russia will stop short of incorporating Crimea, but will instead keep it in a Transnistria-style legal limbo in order to use it as leverage over Kiev. It seems likely that obtaining leverage over all of Ukraine, as opposed to just Crimea, is Moscow’s real goal. But it is hard to predict exactly what Moscow will see as sufficient and reliable leverage.The government that came to power in Kiev in late February is weak. Contrary to Moscow’s claims, it is not illegitimate – it is as legitimate as it can be under the circumstances. However, it still does not represent the whole of society in the ways that a government should. In theory, it would have been easy for Moscow to gain leverage over the new government by using a mixture of legitimate and more shady means. But Moscow did not even make the attempt.

By now, it is unclear just how much the “Transnistrianisation” of Crimea would add to Moscow’s leverage. Kiev is now considerably less amenable to making a deal with Moscow than it would have been less than a month ago. Many in the nationalist camp may be secretly relieved to see Crimea go, taking with it its two million Russian voters and Russian base.

As recently as a week or so ago, Russia could probably have counted on the West to put pressure on Kiev. The West is terrified by what Moscow is doing and it does not know how to respond. So, many would have been relieved if, instead of annexing Crimea, Russia stopped at “Transnistrianisation”. The West would have been ready to put pressure on Kiev to accept Moscow’s conditions – thereby, of course, contributing to prolonged bad governance in Ukraine and, consequently, to more trouble down the road. But Moscow did not try to use the West either – and now it could be too late for that as well. The build-up of Russian troops at Ukraine’s borders has probably made the West more determined to counter Russia and less likely to go for unholy compromises. And, likewise, the massing of troops could indicate that Moscow is not interested in making use of Western pressure. The sort of control over Kiev that the Kremlin has in mind may be of a much harder sort than mere co-option and coercion.

4. Is Putin acting only in response to domestic pressures?

Some analysts claim that the whole Crimea affair was begun in order to impress the domestic public, who have increasingly fallen out of love with Putin. Others, even those who do not share that interpretation, claim that Putin cannot back down because of domestic pressures. It is true that the invasion has boosted Putin’s ratings. And the domestic media-propaganda machine has created a powerful momentum for annexation, which has the support of many in Russian society. But it is still hard to believe that any of this constitutes serious limitations of action for Putin, especially given that he does not have to face the ballot box any time soon.

Russian society has no capacity for an informed and critical discussion about foreign policy. The state-controlled media is masterful in justifying the regime’s actions, whatever they may be. Portraying a climb-down as a victory would be easy. (This kind of method is described well in an old Soviet joke about a 100-metre race between Ronald Reagan and Leonid Brezhnev: after Reagan’s win, the Soviet news agency reported that “in yesterday’s race between the heads of state the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR achieved a precious second place. The president of the Imperialist United States finished second-last.”)

In short, for the moment at least, Putin is in no way hostage to his domestic constituency. But that does not mean that he will want to de-escalate or back down.

5. Will sanctions stop Putin?

Different people see different logic behind Western sanctions on Russia. Some hope that sanctions, or the threat of them, will force Moscow to back down. Others hope that sanctions will alienate Russian elites from Putin and leave him with little domestic support. Others simply believe that people who were instrumental in acting against sovereignty and territorial integrity deserve to be punished. And some look at the situation from a long-term perspective and think that sanctions should be applied to erode the economic foundations of an increasingly aggressive regime.

Much of this reasoning seems accurate and justified. But even so, the calculation that sanctions will make Putin reverse course does not ring true. Ever since the domestic protests of 2011-2012, Putin has lost trust in the members of his elite who keep their money in the West and so are vulnerable to Western pressures. Losing their support, therefore, does not really matter to him. They have no leverage over him. In any case, “repatriating money” has been an unofficial policy for quite a while.

Sanctions, as well as Putin’s growing alienation from Russian elites, may well have effects in the medium term. But they will not stop Putin on Sunday or in the days ahead. Even so, this does not mean that sanctions are futile or unnecessary – especially because it seems more and more likely that we are now facing a longer-term battle between Russia and the West.

Russia Rejects Demands To Leave Crimea

Russia Rejects Demands To Leave Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a press conference in his country residence of Novo-Ogaryova outside Moscow on March 4, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 4 said that deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had no political future but asserted he was legally still head of state. AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE - POOL / ALEXEY NIKOLSKY        (Photo credit should read ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS/KIEV, March 5 (Reuters) – Russia rebuffed Western demands to withdraw forces in Ukraine’s Crimea region to their bases on Wednesday amid a day of high-stakes diplomacy in Paris aimed at easing tensions over Ukraine and averting the risk of war.

The European Union offered Ukraine’s new pro-Western government 11 billion euros in financial aid in the next couple of years provided Kiev reaches a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Germany, the EU’s biggest economy, also promised bilateral financial help.

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Ukraine’s new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, caused a fall in the Ukrainian bond and currency markets by saying his economically shattered country may start talks with creditors on restructuring its foreign currency debt.

A U.N. special envoy had to abandon a mission to Crimea after being stopped by armed men and besieged inside a cafe by a hostile crowd shouting “Russia! Russia!” Dutch diplomat Robert Serry agreed to leave Crimea to end the stand-off.

And the U.S. Defense Department, in an apparent attempt to signal resolve to Moscow, announced military measures to support eastern European NATO allies adjoining Russia and Ukraine.

Russia and the West are locked in the most serious battle since the end of the Cold War for influence in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with historic ties to Moscow that is a major commodities exporter and strategic link between East and West.

Ukraine pulled out of a trade deal with the EU under Russian pressure last year, sparking months of protests in Kiev and the Feb. 22 ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich, a Russian ally.

Ukraine says Russia has occupied Crimea, where its Black Sea fleet is based, provoking an international outcry and sharp falls in financial markets on Monday, though they have since stabilised.

The foreign ministers of Russia, the United States, Britain, and Germany met their French counterpart and French President Francois Hollande in Paris to try to start a diplomatic process to defuse the crisis.

But diplomats said it was not clear whether Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would take the crucial step of attending talks with Ukraine’s new foreign minister, a member of a government Moscow has described as illegitimate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry left the meeting at Hollande’s office without making any statement.

Earlier, Lavrov repeated Moscow’s assertion – ridiculed by the West – that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under Russian command.

Asked whether Moscow would order forces in Crimea back to their bases, Lavrov told a questioner in Madrid: “If you mean the self-defence units created by the inhabitants of Crimea, we give them no orders, they take no orders from us.

“As for the military personnel of the Black Sea Fleet, they are in their deployment sites. Yes, additional vigilance measures were taken to safeguard the sites … We will do everything not to allow any bloodshed.”

FACE-TO-FACE

Russia did not attend a meeting with Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia of the so-called Budapest group created to assure Ukraine’s security after it abandoned nuclear weapons in 1994.

But Kerry and Hague said they would try to bring the Russian and Ukrainian ministers together later in the day.

Poland’s foreign minister tweeted that he would attend a meeting in Paris with those two ministers plus the United States, Germany, Britain, France and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

But there was no confirmation that all sides would attend the session, which could be the first step in a diplomatic mediation process.

NATO and Russia were holding talks in Brussels amid concerns that a standoff between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Crimea could still spark violence, or that Moscow could also intervene in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

In a sign of heightened tensions in the east, a pro-Russian crowd in Donetsk, Yanukovich’s hometown, recaptured a regional administration building they had occupied before being ejected by police, a Reuters witness said.

The West is pushing for Russia to return troops to barracks, accept international monitors in Crimea and Ukraine and negotiate a solution to the crisis through a “contact group” probably under the auspices of a pan-European security body.

SANCTIONS

France said European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday could decide on sanctions against Russia if there is no “de-escalation” by then. Other EU countries, including Germany, are more reticent about sanctions.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said early measures could include restrictions on visas, the assets of individuals and existing discussions on economic ties with Russia.

President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended Russia’s actions in Crimea, which used to be Russian territory, and said he would use force only as a last resort.

This eased market fears of a war over the former Soviet republic after sharp falls on Monday, though Russian shares and the rouble slipped again on Wednesday, and Ukraine’s hryvnia dropped against the dollar.

Russian forces remain in control of Crimea, where Interfax reported they seized control of two Ukrainian missile defence sites overnight, and Putin gave no sign of backing down.

In Brussels, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said EU deliver assistance to Kiev would in part be contingent on Ukraine signing an IMF loan deal, which will require painful economic reforms such as ending domestic gas subsidies and letting the hryvnia float.

“The package combined could bring an overall support of at least 11 billion euros over the next couple of years,” Barroso told a news conference. The United States offered Ukraine $1 billion in loan guarantees on Tuesday.

G7 MAY MEET SOON

At his first news conference since the crisis began, Putin said on Tuesday that Russia reserved the right to use all options to protect compatriots who were living in “terror” in Ukraine but that force was not needed for now.

He told his cabinet on Wednesday he did not want political tension to detract from economic cooperation with Russia’s “traditional partners”. But the foreign ministry said Moscow was preparing counter-measures against Western firms if necessary.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after speaking to Obama that the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations were considering meeting in the near future, a move that would exclude Russia, which joined what became the G8 in 1998.

Lavrov told European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that an EU-brokered agreement signed by political leaders in Kiev on Feb. 21 should be the basis for stabilising the situation in Ukraine, his ministry said on Wednesday.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress the U.S. military was stepping up joint training through an aviation detachment in Poland and boosting participation in a NATO air policing mission over the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – the only former Soviet republics that are members of the Western alliance.

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