Many claim that Russia’s concern over NATO expansion is feigned and is an attempt to use it for another, usually a domestic purpose such as creating the sense of Russia as under siege – ‘the besieged fortress’ strategy – in order to justify his authoritarian rule. Putin has now demonstrated that his concerns over NATO expansion, especially to Ukraine, and violations of the Russia-NATO Council agreement by placing weapons on the territory of post-1999 new NATO member countries were real, not feigned. Those who pushed NATO expansion and denied its salience for Russians have on their hands a little of that blood Putin is so outrageously spilling in Ukraine. Perhaps it was this myth that held back European leaders from standing up to Washington’s insane hubris. As Tony Wood noted in the London Review of Books: “Why didn’t the government of Germany guarantee in writing that it would veto any additional NATO membership? It would have solved at least half of the problem. Why didn’t any other NATO government do so?” (https://lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v44/n04/tony-wood2/why-didn-t-they-stop-it)
Under the West’s illusion and lies that NATO expansion was a phony issue, Putin’s coercive diplomacy failed. Mixed messages from Kiev, including threats to acquire nuclear weapons, and the feckless daily Western warnings led Ukrainians to doubt the seriousness of the situation and continue to refuse to negotiate with the Donbass rebels. Zelenskiy condemned the Western warnings, doubting them because the Western powers never gave him evidence of the imminence of invasion he requested (https://strana.news/news/379743-zelenskij-dal-intervju-cnn-i-reuters-video.html). As a result, he continued his confused mix of offers to negotiate with Putin and challenging him with the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons, rejecting the Minsk 2 accord en toto, and (assuming Zelenskiy authorized them) the massive escalation Ukrainian forces’ attacks on Donbass on February 18th. One cannot shake the sneaky feeling that Washington and Brussels baited or at least wanted Russia to attack. Putin’s move is a boon for Biden’s approval ratings, NATO unity, arms sales, and Russia’s isolation.
We have stumbled into war in Europe, and the Ukrainians will now do everything they can to drag the West into the war; otherwise there is little chance of holding back the invader. But Putin is playing hardball, while the West’s elite, which now views LGBT issues as the defining issue of historical development, according to MI-6’s chief, plays the predictable softball, hanging Ukraine out to dry. Zelenskiy has tried to shame the West into intervening with no success. Evidence of Putin’s hardball: reminding the West publicly of Russia’s massive nuclear forces. For now, Ukraine is to be supplied with hundreds of tons of mostly defensive weaponry. It is likely that Western intelligence and CENTCOM have sent special forces and insurgency trainers to Ukraine, under the cover of announcing the withdrawal of several hundred US advisors. Zelenskiy’s call for foreign volunteers is so far the most dangerous development in his effort to Westernize the Ukrainian resistance. The Russians will immediately suspect that Western troops are being inserted into Ukraine in the guise of civilian volunteers. This could prompt Putin to attack or convince Belarus to undertake measures against targets in Poland, Lithuania, and Slovakia—the states most likely to be sources of civilian fighters or conduits through which those from other countries will arrive to Ukraine. Moscow may also undertake attempts to interdict military supply shipments to Ukraine, now coming from 19 Western NATO countries. The supply of weapons will prolong the war and is now likely intended by the West to bring down Putin by getting him stuck in an unpopular quagmire. This could work, but the battle will be long and bloodier than a short war ended by a negotiated peace and settlement on Ukraine’s neutral status, which Zelenskiy is now saying he is willing to negotiate. But prolongation of the war will bring instead of hundreds civilan fatalities, as it stands now, tens of thousands and might not produce Putin’s fall.
At the same time, it is unlikely that Putin expected the powerful Western response to his invasion, and he looks tense, perhaps seeing that the risks have proven greater, the Ukrainian people’s reaction more hostile, the fog of war thicker than he calculated they would be. Companies are fleeing Russia. Russian airlines are cut off from the West. Massive sanctions have been approved. Six Russian banks have been cut off from SWIFT, meaning in those cases where Russian businesses are still allowed to do business with the West, they will be unable to carry out the financial transactions necessary to do so. Russian sports, cultural institutions, prominent figures are being completely cut off from international competitions, such as soccer’s World Cup. The Russian economy, except for energy companies, is now completely isolated from the Western economy and will be arch-dependent on China. With Russian counter-sanctions – for example ending supply of rocket engines to NASA – Russia like the West is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Cold War 2.0 is fully here with a new Iron Curtain, virtually, economically, politic-militarily. As the WSJ noted: “two separate spheres of technological, monetary and military power” (https://archive.ph/fmEN2). This fulfills my expectation from years ago of a world split economically and eventually more generally resulting from NATO expansion and the inevitable conflict with Russia it would spark. The split will be hardened if or, more appropriately, when China invades Taiwan.
Contrary to Western and Ukrainian media reports there is no evidence that Russia’s offensive has been stalled in any serious fashion. Russia has sent into Ukraine only the first echelon of some 50,000 troops, with 100,000 troops ready to sweep in should Kiev not negotiate or submit to Russian conditions. The Russian air force is methodically taking out Ukraine’s military and governmental infrastructure, has not created massive casualties, is probing and pulling back when receiving strong resistance around key population centers while inserting diversionary groups to attack local targets as the main forces surround the cities. Some key cities – Kharkiv (Ukraine’s second largest city), Melitopol’, and Mariupol’ – have been taken; others, including Kiev, will soon be encircled. The strategy appears to be the one I expected should Putin decide for an invasion beyond Donbass. France’s Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin as the second round of Russian-Ukrainian negotiations were underway and came away with the impression that Putin will take all of Ukraine if Kiev does not accept Moscow’s conditions. In reality, a quick look at the map shows that the Russian forces are moving from the south through Kherson (captured) north to Cherkasy, then Kiev. From Belarus in the north moving south to Kiev, the Russians are attempting to encircle and create a line approximating the Dnieper River, surrounding many Ukrainian forces against the Dnieper or on its left bank where they will be squeezed by the eastern from pushing west. Once Kiev is encircled, if the Ukrainians do not surrender then the second echelon is likely to come in, and Russian forces will attempt to capture the leadership if not the city. Meanwhile Russian and DNR/LNR forces are moving from the east. Presumably, if enough Ukrainian sources and the leadership escape encirclement and capture in the east and move west into Galicia they will be pursued in the west. Even if this forces Putin to occupy all Ukraine, he is likely to take only the east up to the Dnieper. If he tries to take right bank Kiev, his forces could be isolated and surrounded by the Ukrainian forces that escaped to the west. If no Ukrainian forces escape to western Ukraine, then Russian can more easily settle for all eastern Ukraine.
All is not lost. The second round of peace talks produced an agreement on providing humanitarian assistance and evacuation corridors for civilians in captured and surrounded cities. The Russian Defense Ministry says it has begun facilitating humanitarian shipments from Russia. Russian media is providing limited coverage of the war, but the message is Moscow wants peace, and there is no denigration of Ukrainians in the news. The third round of talks are reportedly to focus on a general ceasefire or perhaps something more. Chairman of the State Duma’s International Committee Leonid Slutskii, a member of the negotiating delegation, said there was an initial agreement that needed to be approved at the higher levels of both countries and after finalized in the third round would require parliamentary approval (https://echo.msk.ru/news/2989071-echo.html and https://strana.news/news/380065-na-perehovorakh-s-rossiej-mohli-dohovoritsja-ne-tolko-o-humanitarnykh-koridorakh.html). This could mean either an agreement on Ukraine’s borders with Donbass and/or Ukraine’s neutral, non-bloc status; NATO membership must look less appealing to a regime that was held out to dry, to die to the last Ukrainian for NATO’s right to expand when and how it feels like regardless of that right’s consequences. So all is not bleak and is very different from what Western media report as usual.
At the same time, any agreement between Moscow and Zelenskiy may be impossible for Kiev to implement. Especially after Putin’s invasion, the neofascist, who are normally virulently intransigent regarding any peace with Moscow/Donbass will be violently intransigent. Neofascist armed formations such as Dmitro Yarosh’s armed DUK and Andrey Biletskiy’s Azov, if not wiped out by Russian forces before a ceasefire, will be determined to block any settlement. Sniping at stood down Russian forces, diversionary attacks, and efforts to seize power after any Zelenskiy-Putin ceasefire are very likely. Given Putin’s goals of demilitarization and denazification, there is virtually no path, at least no easy path, that I can see for Putin to be able to withdraw forces. Whether or not the neofascists continue to fight after a ceasefire, Russian forces will be pursuing them. In this way, I see no way for a ceasefire to hold or for Russian forces to withdraw, unless Zelenskiy orders army forces to turn on the unofficial armed formations. That would risk a Ukrainian civil war.
The growing trend of authoritarianism in the Western world (writ large to include Russia and everything to its west) is being strengthened, adding to China’s enormous ‘contribution’ to the new global authoritarianism. In Russia, various media are being shut down or censored. Republican activists are being detained. Thousands of protesters have been detained, though most released, yet many likely to be convicted for unsanctioned protest. One girl was arrested for a tweet. Russia’s full isolation from the West and its alliance with China will be strengthened, adding more impetus to Russia’s development into a harsh authoritarian regime.
In the West, the growing censorship and repression of the kind we have seen in the US in response to the January 6 Capitol events and in Prime Minister’s Justin Trudeau authoritarian response to the Canadian trucker’s freedom convoy will now intensify. Notice how much coverage has been given over the last decade to the numerous and influential neofascists in Ukraine, their 20 February 2014 Maidan snipers’ massacre, 2 May 2014 Odessa immolation pogrom, and various murders and other attacks on those who do not express the proper thoughts. Now the censorship will intensify that already being supported by the Democrat Party-state regime, for example, with calls from the White House press secretary Jen Paski to de-platform those, such as Joe Rogan, who think and speak the forbidden ideas. It is now targeting anyone who dares suggest that NATO expansion and deployment of weapons near Russia played a role in the making of the Russo-Ukrainian war or questions the democratic nature of the Maidan regime will be kept from expressing their views in the public square and repressions – lost access to platforms, social media sites, demonetization, perhaps violence with impunity or state measures against Russians or those offer an alternative view – and such will likely begin. The great democracy promoter Michael McFaul has called for banning ‘Putin apologists’ from all public platforms—that is, people with anything to say other than: Putin is Hitler, Russians bad, Russia is solely to blame for this conflict, Ukrainians are innocent of any and all wrongdoing and courageous (https://twitter.com/McFaul/status/1496828995878338564). At the same time, McFaul tweeted, then removed his support for the fascist principle of collective guilt for all Russians, all of whom must now pay a price for their leader’s aggression (https://twitter.com/McFaul/status/1499016607041007619 and linked at Revolver.com under the heading “Crazed GAE ambassador rips off the mask… he’s a genocidal freak…” on March 2). Such a call is quite unbalanced when one considers that one can make quite a list of US military operations that killed and maimed far more than Putin’s operation has so far or perhaps even will. Are McFaul and the rest of us culpable for Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. (This comes from a professor, no less.) The new authoritarianism of McFaul’s Democrat Party-state will breed resistance pushing the world’s arrogant leaders to move beyond soft authoritarianism — as Putin had begun to do — in the direction of totalitarianism, which will be facilitated Silicon Valley and its analogs in the east, from the all-seeing eye of the new technologies. Intel monitoring, de-platforming, being fired from work, and ESG repression are the wave of the future.
In Russia, opinion surveys show that the majority approve of Putin’s invasion. A VTsIOM survey found that 68% of Russian citizens support Putin’s military operation in Ukraine, 22% oppose it, and 10% are undecided (https://wciom.ru/analytical-reviews/analiticheskii-obzor/specialnaja-voennaja-operacija-v-ukraine-otnoshenie-i-celi and https://echo.msk.ru/news/2987735-echo.html). In one survey, Putin’s popularity had its highest interval increase in years, rising from 62% to 71% in the days after the war began (https://echo.msk.ru/news/2988173-echo.html). Even a CNN commissioned poll, conducted just before the war began, found that two-thirds of those able to decide supported the war in order to prevent Ukraine’s membership in NATO: 50% for, 25% against and 25% undecided (https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2022/02/europe/russia-ukraine-crisis-poll-intl/). But I suspect this support is thin, and with growing costs in blood and economic well-being, Russians will begin to protest in larger numbers perhaps in ways difficult to foresee. Already, the ruble has crashed to more than R100 per dollar from around 70. Major shipping companies have halted traffic to and from Russia, excluding food and medical supplies. All major Western companies have left Russia, leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed. In the West, Canadian and American truckers are the sign of things to come in their cold civil wars. Some three thousand demonstrators were detained countrywide in the first week of the world.
There are also signs of cracks within the pro-Putin elite, if not the regime ruling group itself. There have been some gestures of resistance at lower levels. At higher levels, Alfa Bank’s Mikhail Fridman, born in Lviv, his “favorite city,” issued a statement expressing regret about, if not opposition to the war, calling a “tragedy for both the Ukrainian and Russian peoples” and pleading for the cessation of hostilities (www.newsru.co.il/finance/27feb2022/mf.html). Pro-Putin oligarch Oleg Deripaska, though always a bit of a maverick, has come out against the war. He makes the point that in addition to the Chernobyl sarcophagus there 15 nuclear energy plants numerous nuclear waste and material sites that are at risk of creating a catastrophe exceeding the Chernobyl accident by several times (https://strana.news/news/379980-rossijskij-oliharkh-deripaska-prizval-k-skorejshemu-prekrashcheniju-vojny-v-ukraine.html). Shortly after Deripaska’s appeal, a battle at the Zaporozhsk Atomic Energy Station resulted from a firefight between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Federation Council senator, wife of the late St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, who was Putin’s political mentor, Lyudmilla Narusova broke ranks by revealing in open session that contrary to official statements, young contract soldiers have been used in the invasion’s first wave and that one unite was wiped out in battle 96 percent (https://vesti.ua/mir/na-zasedanii-sovfeda-priznali-chto-v-ukraine-u-armii-rf-gromadnye-poteri).
In this way and so many others, Putin’s decision to start this war, no matter how much he was provoked, is a mistake that is about to cost, him, his country, and the world dearly. But remember the precondition for Putin’s move was NATO expansion and revolutionist democracy promotion that deployed a violent coup, a war on Donbass, and military aid to Kiev, placing it in a head-to-head confrontation with Russia and its powerful security vigilance culture vis-à-vis Western invasion, intervention and interference. Also remember that the same elite telling you that NATO expansion to Russia’s borders had nothing to do with Putin’s actions, that the West has done nothing provocative to threaten Russian national security, and that the 20 February 2014 snipers’ massacre was carried out by the Maidan protest’s neofascist wing not Yanukovych’s police is a conspiracy theory or Putin disinformation operation is the same nomenklatura that is telling you that the police should be defunded and anyone who says otherwise is a racist until they say that the police should be funded (see Biden’s State of the Union address), that it is appropriate for the FBI to investigate parents for seeking to protect their children from racist critical race theory and pornography in their schools, that transgender boys should be able to use girls’ bathrooms, that there are tens of genders, that transgendered men should be able to compete in female sports, walking on the grass around the Capitol on 6 January 2021 is worthy of a five-year prison sentence, that the 2020 elections were the cleanest elections in US history (despite overturned election laws and massive fraud found in key swing stats), that Trump is Hitler, that Trump was colluding with Russia, and that refuses to tell you that Hillary spied on Trump and set the criminal Russian collusion fake in motion. The difference is that the lies about domestic politics cannot be nearly as fatal as lies that lead to war involving the world’s leading nuclear weapons power. Almost all political leaders are serial liars in our disinformation or simulacra age. The result is war.
“In order to understand Russia’s security-maximizing as well as its perplexity and consternation over NATO expansion and Western actions in Ukraine, one must understand the history of relations with the West that made Russia’s security culture and vigilance norm. Once one understands this, one will also understand why Russians oppose NATO expansion and just how dangerously the West is playing with fire by expanding NATO to Russia’s western border, especially attempting to do so in Ukraine” (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/01/09/the-history-of-western-influence-meddling-intervention-and-invasion-in-the-formation-of-russias-security-culture-and-vigilance-norm/).
“(N)ow the risk of escalation is greater because (Zelenskiy) was unwilling to stand up to the ultranationalists and neofascists and their illegal armed formations and extremist activities. Now, with collapsing ratings, he is too weak to do so. With neofascists on one side and Russians on the other, the prospects for a resolution of the Ukrainian crisis and Donbass war remain low. The risk of escalation is indeed high” (https://gordonhahn.com/2021/12/21/zelenskiys-theater-of-simulacra-update/ and https://gordonhahn.com/2022/01/02/zelenskiys-theater-of-simulacra-update-2/).
“Who will snap first now: the separatists, Kiev’s neofascist element, Zelenskiy, or Putin? Whatever the outcome, the West has marched blindly into this conflict and is now actively helping to fuel the conflict, but in the West only Russia will be blamed. In Russia, only the West will be blamed. Both sides are wrong, and the Ukrainian allies of each are unreliable elements, who despise each other as all hell. The blood-letting seems to have only just begun. The only questions are where, how, and when” (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/02/18/washingtons-truly-feckless-operation-boost-sagging-joes-ratings-and-the-march-to-war/).
“This has left Ukraine exposed in a very difficult position; one not primarily driven by Russian imperialism but constant attempts led by faraway Washington to establish pro-Western leadership in Ukraine at Russia’s expense, given Moscow’s opposition to NATO expansion. So Ukraine is being placed at risk and the window of risk is being kept open by Washington’s NATO policy. We know that the West is more to blame for this dangerous tectonic because Russia is prepared to accept steps that remove this problem: a neutral Ukraine on the Austrian or Finnish models. It is NATO that has chosen to ignore such solutions and demanded its door remain ‘open’ while keeping it closed, seducing Ukraine to come close but leaving her out in the cold of NATO’s making” (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/02/05/who-is-driving-a-wedge-between-the-west-and-kiev/).
“the situation in and around Ukraine is critical. The West pushed Ukraine over the edge in 2014 and threw down the gauntlet to Moscow when it backed the Maidan revolt made on the blood of police and demonstrators spilled by the Maidan’s neofascist wing. Ukraine has not recovered, and a new cold war is sparked. The interwoven complex of strategic security issues, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Donbass civil war, and instability is an explosive mix. Negotiations are the only way out, but things may have already reached the boiling point. Another rise in temperature could set the pot overflowing and push us all over the edge” (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/01/31/putins-coercive-diplomacy/).
“One thing is for sure, if there is not at least some progress in Russian-NATO and/or US-Russian talks and atmospherics, which is unlikely to occur during a Biden presidency, we will continue to creep to a war in Eastern Europe. Just as there are sure to be some in Moscow who would like to see Russian troops in Donbass, even in Kiev, there are sure to be some in Western government, NATO, and think tank offices thinking along the lines recently expressed by Yarosh: “(W)e have gained an invaluable experience that will allow us to destroy so much of the enemy’s vitality and burn so much of their technology that it will eventually cause an internal revolutionary explosion inside the Russian Federation that will lead, in turn, to self-elimination of the Empire” (www.facebook.com/dyastrub/posts/4636833736393474)” (https://gordonhahn.com/2021/12/25/putin-is-not-planning-to-invade-the-donbass/).
TRUE, I GOT PUTIN’S INVASION WRONG, LIKE THE UKRAINIANS THEMSELVES:
“These steps expose the whole ‘imminent Russian invasion’ scam. There is not a sane soul in Washington (no that’s not the end of the sentence), who believes in the Putin invasion ruse, who also believes that Putin would attempt to push his army to Kiev. Not one. Even if the Ukrainians or, less likely, the West provokes Putin to act, he will only occupy Donbass to put Minsk 2 behind, end Donbass residents’ misery under the Ukrainian army and its neofascist volunteer battalions’ occasional mortar and artillery attacks, and gather in Donbass coal” (https://gordonhahn.com/2022/01/24/reading-between-the-gray-old-ladys-lines/).
February 20, 2022: Ukraine’s defense minister says Ukraine sees no Russian attack force near Ukraine’s borders (https://vesti.ua/strana/reznikov-zayavil-chto-ne-vidit-formirovaniya-gruppirovki-vojsk-rf-na-granitsah).
God Bless the people of Ukraine, those fighting on both sides who refrain from war crimes, and anyone else who may become victims of this needless catastrophe.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, www.cetisresearch.org.
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021) He has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.