We Poked the Bear

“Most cynical has been the West’s Big Lie that Ukraine would enjoy eventual NATO membership. In 2008, at Washington’s behest, the transatlantic alliance told Georgia and Ukraine that someday they would be inducted. Western officials spent the last 14 years repeating that promise.

However, Tbilisi and Kiev are no closer to joining, an unofficial recognition that virtually no member wants to add either one. Yet Washington led the consensus rejection of Moscow’s demand that the two states be excluded in the future. Rather than admit the truth, alliance members prevaricated, even though admitting the truth might have forestalled Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“Long forgotten is Vladimir Putin’s conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag more than two decades ago. He explained:

“No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.”

He went on to declare: “One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes.”

However, his attitude changed as NATO advanced. Despite the mass amnesia that appears to have afflicted the Cold War’s victors, they offered numerous assurances to Soviet and Russian officials that NATO would not march ever eastward to Russia’s borders. For instance, reported George Washington University when it released a trove of declassified U.S. documents: “Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.”

The allies also whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and those around him. Explained GWU: “Declassified documents from U.S. and Russian archives show that U.S. officials led Russian President Boris Yeltsin to believe in 1993 that the Partnership for Peace was the alternative to NATO expansion, rather than a precursor to it, while simultaneously planning for expansion after Yeltsin’s re‐election bid in 1996 and telling the Russians repeatedly that the future European security system would include, not exclude, Russia.”

In a detailed study, UCLA’s Marc Trachtenberg concluded that the allies originally promised to respect Moscow’s security interests. However, he added: “It was only later that U.S. leaders realized that the USSR had become too weak to prevent them from doing whatever they wanted. So by mid‐1990, the February assurances were no longer taken as binding. What Gorbachev called the ‘sweet talk’ continued, but the whole vision of a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect, it became increasingly clear, was at odds with the reality. All of this was, and still is, deeply resented in Russia.””

“Russian complaints continued. Early the following year a State Department cable (released by Wikileaks) reported: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.””

“the problem is not that the allies ignored East European demands that Washington garrison states of little relevance to its own security. Rather, it is that the U.S. and its allies ruthlessly ran roughshod over Russian security interests in expanding NATO up to Russia’s border—just 100 miles away from St. Petersburg. Moreover, Washington repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to aggressively promote regime change, through financial and diplomatic support as well as military force.

Washington sought to impose its will not just in its own sphere of influence, the Western hemisphere, but in countries once part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Allied claims to be surprised and shocked by Moscow’s complaints are careless at best, dishonest at worst. The West thought there was nothing Russia could do. Alas, the U.S. and its allies were wrong.

Of course, the past will do little to solve the present. However, Washington policymakers should start learning from their mistakes. Two decades of disastrous wars have left thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners dead. To this toll can be added those dying in Ukraine, another unnecessary war spurred by Washington’s arrogance and myopia.”

Biden races against time to unlock Ukraine’s trapped grain

“The Biden administration and European allies have been working for weeks to build out the European Union’s “solidarity lanes,” a patchwork of ad hoc rail and truck land routes out of Ukraine, with the eventual goal of shipping the bulk of the grain to Romania’s seaports, so it can reach fragile countries across Africa and the Middle East reeling from food shortages and severe drought. But for now, they’re trying to keep it from being stolen by Russian forces or spoiling in makeshift containers inside Ukraine as the fighting continues.”

Negotiating to End the Ukraine War Isn’t Appeasement

“A negotiated end to the conflict is the right goal — and one that needs to arrive sooner rather than later. Ukraine likely lacks the combat power to expel Russia from all of its territory, and the momentum on the battlefield is shifting in Russia’s favor. The longer this conflict continues, the greater the death and destruction, the more severe the disruptions to the global economy and the food supply, and the higher the risk of escalation to full-scale war between Russia and NATO. Transatlantic unity is starting to fray, with France, Germany, Italy and other allies uneasy about the prospect of a prolonged war — especially against the backdrop of rising inflation.”

“Washington has not only a right to discuss war aims with Kyiv, but also an obligation. This conflict arguably represents the most dangerous geopolitical moment since the Cuban missile crisis. A hot war is raging between a nuclear-armed Russia and a NATO-armed Ukraine, with NATO territory abutting the conflict zone. This war could define the strategic and economic contours of the 21st century, possibly opening an era of militarized rivalry between the world’s liberal democracies and an autocratic bloc anchored by Russia and China.
These stakes necessitate direct U.S. engagement in determining when and how this war ends. Instead of offering arms with no strings attached — effectively leaving strategy up to the Ukrainians — Washington needs to launch a forthright discussion about war termination with allies, with Kyiv, and ultimately, with Moscow.

To prepare the ground for that pivot, the Biden administration should stop making claims that could tie its own hands at the negotiating table. Biden insists that the West must “make it clear that might does not make right.” Otherwise, “it will send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory and subjugate other countries. It will put the survival of other peaceful democracies at risk. And it could mark the end of the rules-based international order.”

Really? Russia has illegally held Crimea and occupied a chunk of Donbas since 2014. But the rules-based international order has not come to an end; indeed, it has performed admirably in punishing Russia for its new round of aggression against Ukraine. Washington should avoid painting itself into a corner by predicting catastrophe if Russia remains in control of a slice of Ukraine when the fighting stops. Such forecasts make compromise more difficult — and risk magnifying the geopolitical impact of whatever territorial gains Russia may salvage.”

3 Scenarios for How Putin Could Actually Use Nukes

“Tactical nuclear weapons are often called “battlefield” or “theater” weapons to distinguish them from much more powerful strategic nuclear weapons, but they are far more destructive than conventional weapons. During the Cold War, tactical nuclear weapons had yields ranging from tens or hundreds of tons of TNT to thousands of tons. These weapons came in many forms: gravity bombs, short-range missile warheads, anti-aircraft missiles, air-to-air and air-to ground missiles, anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes and even demolition devices or mines. Reportedly, the smallest tactical weapon in the Russian nuclear arsenal has a yield of about one-third the size of Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs, or equivalent to about 5,000 tons of TNT.

There are a few ways that such a tactical nuclear weapon could be used to fire the kind of “warning shot” envisioned in Russian military doctrine. These options come with increasing degrees of risk for the U.S., Ukraine and its allies, and for Russia.”

Despite the Strange New Respect for Mitt Romney, He Still Was Wrong about Russia

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made Sen. Mitt Romney winner of the latest “strange new respect” award. When running for president in 2012 Romney insisted that Russia was “without question our number one geopolitical foe.” He’s being held up as a geopolitical prophet even though he was ostentatiously wrong then and remains wrong today.”

“Despite Moscow’s unhappiness with US policy, only in Georgia had Moscow responded violently toward a military threat. And that appeared to be a one‐off event. The Putin government did little to obstruct Washington’s imperious, incompetent interventions despite Putin’s 2007 criticism. And the two countries were nowhere at existential odds. Indeed, cooperation even seemed possible on regional issues, such as addressing the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.
Nor had the Russian army performed particularly well in Georgia, exhibiting “structural and technological weaknesses,” according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. IISS also noted that “the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff remain on the whole reluctant to reform and modernize.” The Putin government sought to reform its armed forces, but the process was nowhere near complete by 2012. Prior to the US election IISS noted that despite claims modernization objectives had been largely achieved, “the reforms have not always run smoothly.” In particle, “personnel issues continue to bedevil the modernization process.” Finally, “modernizing the equipment used by military personnel is another challenge.” Although the Russian armed forces were improving, they did not threaten the US in any significant way, nor should they overmatch European capabilities, at least if America’s allies contributed meaningfully to their own defense.

There was nothing that justified calling Russia a geopolitical foe, let alone America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” And there probably wouldn’t have been reason to make that argument today absent events of 2014.”

“Yet even his terrible war on Ukraine doesn’t directly threaten America. At least so long as both Washington and Moscow avoid a clash that could escalate. Putin may grow more reckless having presumably miscalculated in expecting an easy victory. The Biden administration might grow more aggressive in supporting Kyiv to maximize Russia’s distress. Putin’s nuclear alert is a reminder of the global stakes, especially if he feels he has painted himself in a corner.

Thankfully, unlike during the Cold War, Moscow and Washington are not playing a winner‐take‐all ideological game. The US remains vastly stronger militarily and America and Russia still have no essential territorial disputes. Although their objectives sometimes conflict in areas such as the Middle East, that has been exacerbated by the steady deterioration of their relations over the last eight years, which has encouraged Moscow to challenge the US globally. Another unfortunate consequence: The Putin government also has turned to Beijing, but additional American pressure only pushes them closer.

Moreover, Moscow lacks the power to dominate Europe, let alone Eurasia. Europe still should be defended, but it is long past time for the Europeans to take over that responsibility. Indeed, Russia’s attack on Ukraine should be the famed fire bell in the night for Europeans. Already Moscow has unified both NATO and the European Union against his country. He even has provided a demonic figure, not quite as dramatic as Adolf Hitler, but still sufficient to enrage his opponents.

The US can be most effective not by rushing more forces to Europe, but rather by calling its allies to account. Washington should make clear that Putin’s criminal aggression has not changed the fact that for America China remains a far more significant challenge. Their security is ultimately their responsibility.”

” Russia’s lawless attack is an atrocity but does not change basic geopolitical reality: Moscow is principally a problem for Europe, not America. Since the end of the Cold War Russia stopped being a significant geopolitical foe of the US and has not turned into one since. Dealing with the ongoing war still won’t be easy. However, while punishing Russia for its criminal conduct Washington must ensure that neither it nor its alliance partners get drawn in. That could turn a limited conflict into a nuclear confrontation and a world in which no one would be debating geopolitical threats anymore.”

‘Everything is gone’: Eastern Ukraine residents say Russia is wiping their towns off the map

“To be precise, between Feb. 24 and May 30, at least 4,149 civilians were killed, including 267 children, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. The true numbers of civilian casualties are much higher but can’t yet be fully counted because of active fighting and lack of access to areas under the control of Russian forces, the organization added.
The deaths bring the total number of civilians killed as a result of Russian military aggression in Ukraine to more than 7,500 over the course of eight years. Prior to Feb. 24, 3,404 civilians had been killed in the war in the Donbas, which broke out in April 2014. A vast majority of those casualties occurred in the first nine months of the war, when the fighting was at its peak. Several ceasefire agreements that never fully materialized kept the fighting at a simmer, with each side trading pot shots from well-worn trenches.

Lyman, a once-quiet town surrounded by a forested nature reserve and the bone-white chalk mountains, was once home to 20,000 residents — more than 43 percent of which were ethnic Russians, according to local data — until people began spilling out in recent weeks. It had largely avoided hostilities, save for some street fighting with automatic rifles and grenade launchers in 2014.

Now it’s synonymous with Russia’s brutal new military campaign in the Donbas, demolished homes and shattered lives.

“We can never go back. There is nothing left there for us,” cried a woman brought to the Raihorodok staging area carrying several bags of clothing and possessions, her two young children in tow. “They are bombing everything. Our city is dying.”

Her husband interjected: “No, the city is already dead.”

The family, who declined to be identified, said their home had been partially destroyed in mid-May. They spent nearly two weeks living in a neighbor’s basement with little food and water, no toilet, electricity and gas until Holtsyev and the other rescuers came to pick them up. Everything they had to begin their new lives fit into four duffel bags. Asked about what they would do next and where they would go, the husband tried to speak but no words came out of his mouth; he just shook his head and shrugged.”