Monday, January 26, 2015

As Ukraine heats up again, and the picture in the Middle East enmurkifies, we have to worry, how threatened does Putin feel?


Maybe Putin doesn't think in the long term because he sees only a series of short terms that he absolutely has to control.

by Ken

As if the Middle East mess weren't messy enough, and as we still try to process the implications -- for both the locals and for us -- of the collapse of the long-tottering Yemeni government, and the hardly unexpected death of Saudia Arabia's King Abdullah (and the accession to the throne of yet another half-brother, King Salman, but with the naming of his nephew, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as deputy crown prince, the first member of the next generation of the House of Saud to stand in the official line of succession), not to mention convulsions that are felt all through the region, now things are heating up to the north, in Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists appear to be on the move. ("War Is Exploding Again in Ukraine; Rebels Vow More," the NYT head says.)

And if you don't think developments in Ukraine and on the Arabian peninsula can be closely related, think again.

Throughout the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine (the crisis that has included Russia's legally unsacnctioned annexation of Crimea -- you remember that crisis?), Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has seemed to get his way, and to get away with murder, at pretty much every step, to the frustration of most onlookers. And through all of it, commentators who have seemed to me to have some idea of what the situation entails have insisted that each action of Putin's was all but certain to negatively impact Russia in the long term but that in the short term there wasn't much that could be done to or about him. You get the feeling that in Putin's thinking there is no long term, a short term that he needs to control in order to be in a position to control the ensuing short term, and so on.

In his post on the heating up in Ukraine, Ian Welsh has a lot to say about that link to Saudi Arabia, but he also has interesting things to say about Putin's situation and outlook. Perhaps the reason he can't afford to think in terms of a "long" term is that he's thinking even more than the rest of the world what a post-Putin Russia will look like, and he likely understands that it doesn't look good for him.
The question, then, is this: how threatened does Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership feel? Putin is unlikely to survive a leadership change for long unless it is his hand-picked heir who takes over, and maybe not even then. Many others in his government would similarly be in danger.
I think the whole piece is worth a close read. I think you'll see why I've boldfaced the final paragraph.
So, the Separatists are now on the offensive in the Ukraine

2015 JANUARY 24

by Ian Welsh

Granted, I think the evidence points to significant Russian support. Nonetheless, the Ukrainian army is just embarrassing at this point.

Back in 2008 I wrote that Crimea and the Ukraine would be the next likely flashpoint, and that Russia would never tolerate any possibility of losing Sevastapol. The serious people who know how the world works told me how wrong I was—that the Ukraine and Europe and Russia were in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But arrangements change, and Russia has always been a country with a clear view on what its strategic interests are.

So now we have an economic war against Russia and a shooting war in the Ukraine, encouraged by the Russians (and by the Americans: the first big Ukrainian offensive occurred after CIA chief Brennan visited.)

Sanctions did little to the Russian economy, but crashing oil prices did. Russian currency dropped almost exactly in concert with the drop of oil. Given the consensus that dropping oil prices so precipitously was a Saudi decision, meant in part to take out high cost unconventional oil production, but also in part to damage Russia and Iran, this can only be seen as hostile foreign action by the Russians.

Russia’s vulnerability is due to mistakes made by the Russians. The lack of diversification of the economy, and the vast corruption made Russia a petro-state, reliant almost entirely on oil revenues. Countries which need to import a great deal are always vulnerable to foreign economic action.

The question, then, is this: how threatened does Putin and the rest of the Russian leadership feel? Putin is unlikely to survive a leadership change for long unless it is his hand-picked heir who takes over, and maybe not even then. Many others in his government would similarly be in danger.

If they feel endangered, then the traditional thing to do is start a war. This proxy-war in the Ukraine may not be enough.

Keep an eye on the security of Putin’s leadership. If it starts looking insecure, the Americans will think they are close to getting what they want: a new leader, who will understand he rules only so long as they are kept happy. But it will also be the point Russia becomes most dangerous.

DWT SCHEULE NOTE: Next post at 7pm PT/10pm ET

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At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Ford Prefect said...

Ian's analytical points seem valid, although this time his sourcing is only US sources that have a major interest in promoting war with Russia. I do agree that in the longer term Putin and his crew have serious concerns. So too anyone else who may get caught up in that power struggle. But right now, I don't think that's so much the issue.

The Ukies are attacking positions and killing a lot of civilians. They are doing so with Western guidance. The "rebels" in turn seem to be doing better tactically and claim to have taken prisoners. As for the US, there are Americans fighting in Ukraine:

DOD has also announced it will be training the UKR "National Guard." You'll recall this force was created after the putsch, when the regular army essentially disintegrated during its several "anti-terror campaigns." The NG is composed almost solely of units from Pravyi Sektor and Svoboda, Ukraines competing Nazi parties. So the US is now literally directly aiding Nazis in Ukraine. There's simply no way they can weasel on that point. Perhaps the WH would care to qualify its reasons for this?

Add in that Senators Feinstein and McNasty are now pushing for US troop deployments in Ukraine and Syria and perhaps what we really should be watching for is US aggression of the kind that leads to escalation. Apparently, the US believes it can prevail in a war with Russia.

At 4:43 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Lots of good thoughts, FP. Thanks for joining in!


At 2:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly urge that the NYT not be considered an accurate source of analysis of US foreign policy. It is simply the stenographer of empire and, with the Ukraine situation, has clearly demonstrated that Judith Miller was not an isolated player but a symptom of systemic rot.

I'd suggest that Mr Welsh's post is more in the vein of a NYT propaganda piece than an article giving an accurate description of the situation. The first part of my comment his site is repeated below.

As to the NYT hand-maiden-of-empire, see:


On the regurgitated group-think on Crimea, start here:

For actual empire-propaganda-free analyses see:
especially P. Escobar

A partial response to Welsh's article:

"Separatists" = those who object to the US-conceived and coordinated fascist coup in their country.

Please, the evidence of 'Russian support.' And, if you do deign and manage to supply the evidence, please explain: why Russia, which gave the Ukraine its independence (at the insistence of the west), which physically borders it and which left millions of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, is in ANY way less justified in "supporting" the resistance of those millions to the illegal coup against their democratically elected regime, than is the US to have concocted and and achieved that coup that illegally overthrew that regime?"

The critical question remains: what justification do we have to continually foment chaos on the other side of the world and then demonize, for resisting us, those whose lives we are trying to ruin? (Said demonization then, of course, with help of the scriveners of empire, becoming THE story ... and justification for more destruction.


John Puma

At 3:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See also:

"Six Big Lies About The Ukraine: Washington’s Narrative Is Pure Propaganda"

BY Dmitry Orlov via ClubOrlov blog
August 28, 2014


John Puma

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Ford Prefect said...

Well, first off, consider the facts and sources separately. Ian's thinking seems valid to me, but the info he's using looks rather iffy. So I think it's unfair to qualify Ian's piece as propaganda. He's merely missing the other half of the equation, which is to say what the US/NATO is up to.

Some of your sources are suspect as well, like the Saker. That's not to say those sources are necessarily wrong at all. It's just that they have an agenda too. So consider the source and information separately.

I tend to prefer people like Pepe Escobar, Parry et al, as they are the most believable. The bottom line with Ukraine is there really aren't any "good guys" and the benighted people of that country are stuck with that reality.

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Ford Perfect:

You need to prove that Welsh's analysis, which you concede is one-sided, is merely accidentally defective.

If you did prove this, then, he is "simply" dangerously careless.

I don't think he is that lame. This leads me to conclude intentional, one-sided analysis, that is, propaganda.

The give away is the preoccupation with Putin/Russia's attempts to defend themselves as opposed to the US's aggressive flirting with nuclear holocaust.

John Puma

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Ford Prefect said...

To JP:

Look at his other pieces on this topic. That post is not long or terribly deep. His relying on one piece from NYT shows he didn't put too much thought into it.

If anything, that means he wasn't trying to be complete. Besides, his points about the Kremlin aren't exactly invalid. Or they may become more valid as things escalate. But mostly I think Russia's position isn't all that urgent right now. The pressure seems to be mostly on the putsch government to defeat the "rebels." To this end, the US is now training (and possibly already fighting on the side of) the UKR National Guard.

Anyway, I think it's harsh to call Ian's smallish post "propaganda." His other work suggests his thinking is typically better. That's all I have to say on this point.


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