Thursday, October 16, 2014

Trading Los Angeles for Narva

This is the blog post I have been trying to write for several weeks now but have not found the right words.  Still haven't but will try anyhow.

What does Putin want? The cottage industry of analysts, pundits, journalists and specialists have had a great time trying to figure that out.  Some say he is totally mad but insanity, real or feigned, is not a bad tactic in foreign affairs as it keeps the enemy off balance and afraid, because Lord only knows what they might actually DO. They all agree on one thing and that is he wants to stay in power indefinitely because any other alternative is too dangerous for him and his gang of "Crooks and Thieves".

To that end, he has turned Russia back into an almost Stalinist state with all the accouterments.  Stalin has been rehabilitated from the great butcher to the great manager.  The organization "Memorial" which has attempted to document the crimes against humanity committed during Soviet times and since (their mistake) has earned them the ire of the Kremlin which is in process of shutting them down country wide.  Furthermore, Putin is in process of rehabilitating Felix Dzerzhinsky. Even reading the linked article should give you nightmares.

Then there is the ideology necessary in any kind of totalitarian system.  Marxism (and iterations) is out; Nationalism is in.  Eurasianism, Russian World, National Boshevism, some kind of combination of Red and White, (keeping in mind the words National Socialism). While Putin is right about the "vaccination against Nazism" wearing off, it is in his own country where Nazism is strongest.

Russians opposition to Ukraine's independence began long ago, most recently including the support given to Yanukovych and "family" to drain the country dry and culminated in the events in 2014 leading to the current war in the Donbas can be interpreted two ways, possibly both right.  Putin cannot afford to have a successful liberal democratic country with economic ties to Europe on his western border serving as a reminder to Russians that they are missing out.  Putin also may well want to revive the Russian Empire to what ever previous borders he can get away with.

The "Putin Doctrine" is that Russia is honour bound to "Defend oppressed Russian (speaking) people where ever they may be".  (Especially in countries which used to be colonies of Russia/USSR, and whether they want it or not).  This was his cover for direct interference in Ukraine, both in Crimea and Donbas.  The tactics used in this asymetrical type of warfare have worked quite well and we can expect to see them repeated.

Recreating the Russian/USSR Empire and USA (NATO) and EU stand in his way. Russia blames all its problems and its aggressive actions on "The West" ("The Devil made me do it"). This of course is nonsense but rational logic rarely plays a role in politics, domestic or foreign.

So far none of the countries in which Russia has interfered militarily have belonged to NATO.  His next targets do belong to NATO, the three Baltic Republics, in particular Estonia and Latvia.  The same playbook is already being used, stirring up feelings already bitter among the ethnic Russian population as they have gone from being the ruling class to at best ordinary citizens or for many who arrived, after Stalin took over, as simple permanent residents.

But how, when or why would NATO come to their rescue?  Do not expect tanks to roll across the borders as in Czechoslovakia in 1968, but expect exactly the same creeping infiltration as occurred in Ukraine.  So what is the trigger mechanism and what is the response?  Putin expects NO response as he suggests that America will be unwilling to "trade Los Angeles for Narva" meaning if NATO interferes it will mean war.

Estonia, with Narva, an ethnic Russian enclave, in the upper right.

Latvia, with the % of ethnic Russians in red.
Putin is playing hardball.  He has warned USA/NATO not to interfere, and made no secret of his intent to use the nuclear option if Russia FEELS threatened. Russia has practiced nuking Warsaw and is willing to gamble that NATO will not launch nuclear retaliation in response to destruction of anything less than a national capital of the status of Berlin/Paris/London. He is confident that Moscow (the ONLY important part of the Russian Empire, the rest are colonies) is safe from a nuclear strike with its extensive protective anti-missile shield.

IF NATO does not respond, it is finished as is USA, as a guarantor of world peace, which is Putin's aim.  And if he can play the countries of the EU against each other and destroy it as a coherent decision making body (such as it is) then he will have achieved the ability to rebuild the Russian Empire and create Eurasia from Lisbon to Vladivostok under Russian control.

The sanctions, topped off with lower oil prices, are bringing the Russian economy to a grinding halt. But Putin cannot back down, nor does he want to.  He is taking the propaganda war to the world and putting pressure on European countries by reminding them that the sanctions imposed on Russia are hurting them far worse than they re hurting Americans.

This is true.  Russia is a European problem and Europe should be dealing with it BUT EU is indecisive at the best of times and Putin has driven wedges where ever he can, especially because he has economic and gas related leverage. Which means it is and will become more so an American problem.  Americans have been called in twice to clean up European problems.  A Eurasia under Putin, right out of 1984 is far more dangerous to the world than a bunch of cutthroats intent on taking over the Middle East and reestablishing a Caliphate because they believe going back to the 6th century will make Islam powerful again. Putin only wants to go back to the 19th century and he can and will destroy NATO to get there.

To quote Paul Gregory (article reference immediately above) if Obama did say: “Geopolitically…what happens in Ukraine does not pose a threat to us.”  (then) that remark may go down in history along with Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” statement.


  1. Meanwhile, to quote Jackson Browne, "Everybody walks right by like they're safe or something".

  2. I will put my pundit hat on to say that I don't think Putin will try to take Narva. I too have a long post on the subject that I haven't written yet. I am still in the link-collecting stage. But with every day that goes by, I think the probability becomes less and less. I should warn you that my errors in judgement tend to fall on the optimistic side.

    I have a number of reasons behind that conclusion. I think that Putin has made a great many mistakes already. The Russian military is not strong enough to continue the troubles in eastern Ukraine and open another front at some distance. NATO membership is a deterrent.

    Narva also has geographic advantages over eastern Ukraine. The entry to Russia from Estonia is across a bridge over a high gorge. I have no doubt that the Estonians would close or blow that bridge if necessary. There are places between Narva and Chudskoye Ozero/Peipsijärv where the river can be crossed fairly easily, but it does provide some barrier. Additionally, an Estonian official (can't recall who) commented that the way to deal with "little green men" is to shoot the first one over the border. The Estonian detective was kidnapped in southern Estonia, where the terrain is more like that in eastern Ukraine.

    I have no doubt that every effort is being made to stir up dissatisfaction in Ida-Virumaa County, but so far it has had no obvious effect. As in Ukraine, few are eager to become Russian citizens.

    The sanctions are having an effect, and the declining price of oil is likely to magnify that. China is interested in Russia only as a supplier of raw materials. Angela Merkel canceled a meeting today with Putin because he did his favorite trick of being late.

    The war of nerves will continue, but I think it will not expand.

    1. Thanks for comments, Cheryl. I am always happy when someone who actually knows stuff adds and corrects. Our optimism and pessimism should balance out. I am always happy to be wrong. In a previous post I quoted someone who calculated the war in Ukraine would resume in time to disrupt the Oct 26th election. I disagree. It will resume after the G20 in Australia. Putin is sending the conscripts home but keeping the professionals on the border. He needs the land link to Crimea too badly to stop now. May I be wrong again.


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