The American Secretary of State is adding air miles to his account this week by visiting Kiev, Berlin and tomorrow Geneva for meetings with President Zelensky, Chancellor Scholz and RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov respectively. However, whether abroad or at home he is a captive of the U.S. foreign affairs community echo chamber, utterly indifferent to external stimuli and incapable of responding appropriately to the changing environment. Everywhere he repeats the mantra that Russia is about to stage a classical invasion of Ukraine, just as everywhere President Biden repeats daily that the Russians will face consequences for their actions, very grave damage to their economy as a result of American led sanctions.
Meanwhile reality develops on its own, paying no heed to the script written in stone in Washington, D.C.
The Russians have a very flexible and constantly changing set of responses to threats and opportunities. This is what makes it so difficult for us commentators to foresee the actual path to denouement. But it is also what makes it almost certain the Russians will get what they want and change the European security architecture to their advantage in the face of American obtuseness.
A couple of days ago, several Russian news portals carried the story of a new generation Russian nuclear submarine packed with missiles capable of laying waste to half of America surfacing just outside US territorial waters in a ‘peek-a-boo’ exercise to show they operate undetected by the Pentagon in permanent watch off of US shores. This may have been fake news, but if so it was seeded as a taste of what is to come shortly in real news as the Russians say ‘gotcha, the game is up’ to Washington and unsheathe their hypersonic missiles and deep sea nuclear drone on board real submarines off US east and west coasts. The message: ‘Please sign here on our treaties of mutual security in Europe.’
Yesterday, another route to resolving the Ukraine confrontation in their own favor was set out for the world to see: several legislators advanced a bill in Russia’s State Duma calling upon President Putin to recognize the rebellious Donbas republics of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent countries. This means applying to the Donbas the scenario which played out so successfully in Crimea in 2014: they become independent, then they hold a referendum to which international observers are invited calling for unification with the Russian Federation, followed in short order by their annexation.
In such a scenario, would a shot be fired? No! Would there be an invasion or even an attack by Russia on Ukraine to justify application of any new sanctions? No! Are these possibilities being entertained by Blinken & Company as the Secretary of State travels the globe to align allies? Obviously not, and this is why his diplomatic mission is a waste of everyone’s time.
I am surprised that Foreign Minister Lavrov is going the extra mile and proceeding to meet Blinken in Geneva tomorrow. From the Russian standpoint, such a meeting would have one purpose only: to collect the written response of the American side to the draft treaties they received on 17 December. In his press conference in Kiev yesterday, Blinken said he is not carrying the written response. Consequently, the meeting can be no more than a photo opportunity for the vacuous Mr. Blinken.
In mentioning the possible annexation of Donbas above, I do not mean to suggest that that alone will satisfy the Russians that their security concerns have been met. So long as the United States, the U.K. and other NATO member countries supply weapons and training to the Ukrainian military, Russia cannot rest easy. And just yesterday, in a move that makes as much sense as the Ukrainian idea of applying sanctions on Russia before they break any china, the United States announced it has approved sending another $200 million in military aid to Kiev. That is to say, it continues to prioritize pouring oil on the flames rather than finding solutions with Russia.
What move the Russians might make after an annexation of Donbas will also likely depend on the overall political context, including changes of position within Europe and consultations with China at the start of February when Vladimir Putin travels to Beijing.
Resolution of the Ukraine problem for Russia absent agreement with the US and NATO on the country being declared neutral would be possible only by destruction of Kiev’s military infrastructure, for example by aerial bombardment and missile strikes. That would put an end to NATO deliveries of materiel, training and war games at Russia’s front porch.
Meanwhile, there are growing signs of European disillusionment with leadership on Russia relations coming from Washington. Yesterday, in his five hour address and discussion with the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, President Macron called for Europe to reach its own settlement with Russia as Europeans to Europeans, without US participation. Of course, Macron was grandstanding as usual and he is a lightweight in European decision-making compared to his counterpart in Berlin, the German Chancellor. However, Scholz also has been making sounds showing disagreement with the stiff-necked and utterly unrealistic sanctions policy coming from Washington. The influential business newspaper Handelsblatt had a day before indicated that the most severe sanction proposed by the US administration, cutting Russia off from SWIFT, would be a grave mistake, since the Russians could in short order achieve the same functionality in international settlements via a system they will jointly operate with the Chinese, and the only loser would be Europe. This is not to mention Scholz’s defense of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as very important to the German economy, whatever the Americans may wish.
As I say, the geopolitical landscape is changing daily. The only ones too stubbornly proud and intellectually limited to appreciate this are the top officials in the Biden Administration, including the president himself. Yes, there will be a price to pay…
In closing, I mention that Iran’s PressTV has been closely following developments between Russia and the West, with all the more reason to do so provided by the state visit of their President to Moscow. I had the pleasure of participating in an interview with them yesterday evening:
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2021