Russia’s Grand Strategy and Ukraine – Is Putin’s war already a strategic failure?
“NATO expansion was a threat to Russian influence, not to Russian survival”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94bqk8cB9iQ
Champion of Truth
“NATO expansion was a threat to Russian influence, not to Russian survival”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94bqk8cB9iQ
“The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine, almost exactly one year after it invaded the neighboring country.
In the 193-member body, 141 members voted in support of the resolution, exceeding the two-thirds threshold needed to pass.
even members — Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria — voted against the resolution. Thirty-two members abstained, including China, India, Iran and South Africa.
The nonbinding resolution, which is largely symbolic, calls for Russia to halt its attack on Ukraine and to withdraw its troops from the region, as well as for a lasting peace.”
“U.S. intelligence officials have determined that people with ties to Russian intelligence are planning to stage protests in hopes of toppling the Moldovan government, according to the White House.”
“Central and Eastern European countries, the most vocal supporters of arming Ukraine further, are equally dismissive of Beijing’s rhetoric.
“China’s plan is vague and does not offer solutions,” Ivana Karásková, who heads the China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe think tank based in Prague. “The plan calls on Russia and Ukraine to deal with the issue themselves, which would only benefit Russia; China continues to oppose what it calls unilateral sanctions and asks for the sanctions to be approved by the UN Security Council — well, given the fact that the aggressor is a permanent UNSC member with a veto right, this claim is beyond ridiculous.””
“Erdoğan, specifically, is raising new objections to the ascension of Finland and especially Sweden over what Turkey perceives as the latter’s lax policies toward Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and other groups that Turkey deems terrorist organizations. Most recently, Erdoğan has used a far-right politician’s burning of the Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm to harden his opposition to Sweden’s NATO bid.
All NATO members must approve new ones, so Erdoğan’s opposition is effectively a veto. The Turkish president is not alone in declining support— Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is also holding out, for now — but Erdoğan is seen as the more legitimate roadblock. Erdoğan is flexing his foreign policy power and influence, and seeking to improve his domestic political position, especially ahead of difficult elections this May.
“Erdoğan thinks Turkey has leverage. Erdoğan thinks Turkey has justifiable grievances about Sweden’s policies. Erdoğan thinks he has an opportunity to use that leverage to address those grievances in a way that would be good for Turkey’s national interests. And, in addition to all of that, the entire issue is good for Erdoğan politically,” said Nicholas Danforth, editor at War on the Rocks and nonresident senior research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.
Given all that, it’s not really surprising this spat over the Nordic countries’ NATO membership is dragging out. But this is also really not how the script was supposed to go — at least according to most of the rest of NATO.”
“In June, Sweden, Finland, and Turkey reached a memorandum of understanding to try to assuage some of Erdoğan’s concerns. Sweden and Finland lifted their arms blockades and agreed to a series of steps to cooperate with Turkey on terrorism-related issues.
But Erdoğan is pushing for more concessions, especially from Sweden. Some of the demands are wholly unrealistic, such as a request to extradite 130 purported “terrorists” to Turkey. As experts pointed out, Turkey operates under a pretty shaky definition of terrorism, and things that Erdoğan might consider terrorism look a lot more like freedom of speech in Sweden. Additionally, even in things like extradition, Sweden and Finland can’t just arbitrarily arrest people; it has to go through the judicial system, and the accused have due process.
Then, recent anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm and the burning of the Quran by one far-right protester have soured talks even further. Turkey condemned the burning as “anti-Islam,” with the Turkish Foreign Ministry saying that allowing such acts “under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable.” Turkey then scrapped talks with Swedish officials.
Sweden also condemned the act and the protests (which were actually anti-NATO protests). “This act plays directly into the hands of Russia and weakens our country, and it happened during the most serious security situation since the Second World War,” said. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström. (The book burner was reportedly funded by a journalist with Kremlin ties.) But, at the same time, Sweden said, the whole thing wasn’t actually against Swedish law, even if they were angry about it, too.”
“Sweden and Finland are still trying to work something out, with Sweden introducing a law Thursday that would ban certain activities that could support terrorist organizations. Washington and Brussels are increasingly annoyed, with some leaders being pretty vocal about Turkey’s disloyalty. Congress has said Ankara will not get American-made F-16s (more on that later) unless it approves the NATO bids. More people are also saying that maybe NATO should just kick Turkey out (no more on that because, while it’s noteworthy politicians are even talking about it, experts said it’s not realistic and the mechanisms to do so are pretty fuzzy). Turkey, meanwhile, has basically said talks are meaningless in the current climate, though it floated the possibility of backing Finland for NATO, just not Sweden — something Finland immediately rejected, as the two Nordic countries are very close, and they purposely sought a joint bid.
And the standoff may stay this way, at least until May — which is when Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party are facing a difficult election.”
“Erdoğan’s obstinance is causing real frustration in Washington and throughout European capitals. This is not exactly new; even before Erdoğan, Turkey was always something of a NATO misfit — incredibly useful to the alliance because of its unique position, but also a power whose interests and perspectives did not always align with the rest of the alliance members.”
“In peacetime, Ukraine’s food exports were enough to feed 400 million people. Its farmers supplied a tenth of the wheat and half the sunflower oil sold on world markets. Its shipments of grains and oilseeds through the Black Sea fell to zero last March, from 5.7 million metric tons in February.
For net importers the impact was immediate and direct. Egypt and Libya had imported two-thirds of their cereals from Russia and Ukraine, for instance. Other countries were hit by the fallout: Prices shot up, first in response to the invasion, and again as countries like India imposed bans on grain exports.
“One of the cruelest ways in which Putin has used the weapons of war to impose costs on people around the world is the ways in which his early blockade of Black Sea ports raised prices for hungry people in dozens of countries around the world,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close ally of President Joe Biden and who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview.
Coons noted the U.N., Turkey and Ukraine’s work to forge the Black Sea grain deal has reduced some of the overwhelming strain on global food prices, “but not enough yet.”
In Ukraine, farmers could not sell their crops after a bumper harvest before the war left grain stores brimming. The next harvest, already in the ground, had nowhere to go, said Joseph Glauber, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The standstill to exports also endangered the home front. Before the war, almost half of the country’s budget stemmed from exports, and nearly half of those exports were agricultural, according to Dmytro Los of the Ukrainian Business and Trade Association. “So don’t forget that, during the war, we lost almost 45-50 percent of GDP,” Los said.
To stave off starvation abroad and rescue Ukrainian farmers, the EU set up overland “solidarity lanes” to help bring food exports out through Eastern Europe. And, in July, the U.N. and Turkey mediated the deal to allow safe passage for Ukrainian food shipments through the Black Sea.
Some 21.5 million tons of Ukrainian produce have been transported under the initiative, enabling the World Food Programme to deliver valuable aid to countries like Ethiopia and Afghanistan.
This has helped ease some of the pressure on global food prices — although they remain high — while ensuring Ukraine’s agriculture sector, a leading driver of its economy, doesn’t collapse.
“It’s very important for Ukraine, but it is even more important for the world,” said Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian MP who represents Odesa — one of the few ports covered under the current agreement.
As talks resume this week, the fate of the grain deal hangs in the balance. Both sides have plenty of gripes.”
“Daleep Singh, deputy national security adviser for international economics, National Security Council, White House: We thought we had quelled his appetite for territory by meeting him in Geneva and trying to address some of the strategic concerns he’d been raising, but then here we were again, with an even larger force.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: It’s 30 days after the exit from Afghanistan. Some people said that the invasion of Ukraine was a result of the withdrawal. I don’t agree. It’s obvious the invasion was planned before the fall of Afghanistan.”
“Bill Burns: [While I was in Moscow,] I was talking to [Putin] on a secure phone. It was a strange conversation. He was in Sochi — this was the height of yet another wave of Covid, Moscow itself was under a curfew — so he was isolating himself. The conversation was pretty straightforward. I laid out what the president had asked me to lay out to him. His response was a lot of what I had heard before from him about his convictions about Ukraine, and in many ways, his cockiness about Russia’s ability to enforce its will on Ukraine. His senior advisers were pretty consistent as well. Not all of them were intimately familiar with his own decision-making, so at least one or two of them were a little bit surprised with what I laid out to them because the circle of advisers had gotten so small.”
“Bill Burns: My own impression, based on interactions with him over the years, was a lot of this had to do with his own fixation on controlling Ukraine. He was convincing himself that strategically the window was closing on his opportunity to control Ukraine.”
“Bill Burns: His conviction was that without controlling Ukraine and its choices, it’s not possible for Russia to be a great power and have this sphere of influence that he believes is essential. And it’s not possible for him to be a great Russian leader without accomplishing that.”
“Wally Adeyemo: The diplomacy between the president and the secretary getting people aligned on sanctions before Russia invaded was probably the biggest difference between this time and Crimea in terms of our ability to act quickly and effectively — things that we were unable to do back then.”
“Gen. Paul Nakasone: We sent a [U.S. Cyber Command] team forward, and they land in Kyiv on the fourth of December. Within a day or two, the leader calls back, and she tells my Cyber National Mission Force commander, her boss, “We’re not coming home for a while. In fact, send more people.” We sent our largest “hunt forward” package into Kyiv. That stays there for a little over 70 days. What is a “hunt forward” operation? A hunt forward operation is focused at the partner’s request to look at a series of networks — we identify malware, tradecraft and anomalous behavior in those networks that point us to adversaries and allow the partner — in this case, Ukraine — to strengthen those networks.
The interesting thing that she — the team leader — said: “They’re really serious about this.” This is the third time that we had been back in Ukraine, and there was just a different feeling in terms of how Ukraine was approaching it. When we provided information, they were moving on it, correcting the vulnerability, and looking for more.”
“Amb. Michael Carpenter: We thought, “OK, if there’s a crisis of European security, then let’s talk about it. Let’s identify the Russian concerns and see if there’s a way that we can address them through diplomacy.” Poland assumed the chairperson-ship of the OSCE on January 1, 2022, and so I immediately went to go visit with the Polish Foreign Minister to talk about the diplomatic angle. He was very receptive, and subsequently launched a process called the renewed European Security Dialogue. Russia basically refused to engage, and that’s when it became increasingly clear the Kremlin really had no interest in diplomacy all along. It was bent on war.
All of its alleged concerns — everything that it was putting out there in the public domain — was really a smokescreen. They turned their backs completely on the diplomacy that we were proposing at the OSCE, the diplomacy that was being proposed on behalf of NATO and then also bilaterally what we were discussing with the Russians. There was nothing to offer them, because they didn’t even want to talk.”
“Bill Burns: I saw Zelenskyy in the middle of January to lay out the most recent intelligence we had about Russian planning for the invasion, which by that point had sharpened its focus to come straight across the Belarus frontier — just a relatively short drive from Kyiv — to take Kyiv, decapitate the regime and establish a pro-Russian government there. With some fair amount of detail, including, for example, the Russian intent to seize an airport northwest of Kyiv called Hostomel, and use that as a platform to bring in airborne forces as well to accelerate the seizure of Kyiv.”
“Antony Blinken: I saw Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva in late January, the 21st, because we were determined to exhaust every diplomatic avenue. It was incredibly blustery in Geneva — I’ve never seen Lake Geneva more agitated in my life, like an ocean with a major storm setting in. I alluded to that and said, “You know, we have a responsibility to see if we can calm the seas — calm the lake.” Lavrov was uncharacteristically focused on his talking points, and there wasn’t much extemporaneous give and take, which is not usually the case with him.
I wanted to see if there was some final way of breaking through and suggested we spend some time alone after the meeting with our teams. We sat in chairs about a foot from each other. I asked him, “Tell me, what are you trying to do? What is actually going on here? Is this really about your purported security concerns? Or is this about something theological, which is Putin’s conviction that Ukraine is not an independent state and has to be subsumed into Russia? If it’s the former, if this is genuinely from your perspective about security concerns that Russia has, well we owe it to try to talk about those and our own profound security concerns about what Russia is doing, because we need to avert a war. But if it’s about the latter, if this is about this profoundly misplaced view that Ukraine is not its own country, and you’re determined to subsume it into Russia, well, there’s nothing to talk about.” He couldn’t or wouldn’t give me a straight answer.”
“Emily Horne: We decided Jake was going to go out to the podium with [White House spokesperson] Jen [Psaki] the next day and do a couple of things: One, was going to make very, very clear that any American or dual nationals in Ukraine needed to get out immediately and that the calvary would not come to rescue Americans after an invasion has begun. That was certainly a lesson learned from Afghanistan: You can’t over-message that, and you have to be extremely clear, even at the risk of causing a little bit of panic. The Ukrainians were not terribly happy about that message, but we absolutely did not have a choice, given what we were seeing. The new phrase that Jake deployed on that February 11 press conference was “We are in a window where an invasion could begin at any time.””
“Gen. Mark Milley: I know that was a huge lot of diplomacy. There’s a lot of effort being done by Secretary Austin, Secretary Blinken, Jake Sullivan, myself, the president himself, to try to dissuade Russia from doing this and to warn them if they did it these will be likely consequences.
Derek Chollet: There have been multiple attempts — not just by us. There were other countries, the French, the Germans, others were engaging Putin. No one was getting anywhere.”
“Antony Blinken: The invasion didn’t take place for another week, precisely because we were able to call Putin out publicly. The fact that we were able to continue to declassify information, call him out at the Security Council, have the president use the ultimate bully pulpit to call him out — that put them a little bit off the timeline that we had seen.”
“Jake Sullivan: This was uncharted territory — the idea that there would be a major land war in Europe, with all of the ripple effects that that could cause, that felt like an enormous weight on me, on the whole team, most especially on the president. It was extremely hard to sleep.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: The Ukrainians, at the very end — probably about two weeks prior — really begin to mobilize their country into a nation at arms. They really got into full swing, where you started seeing all the men — and a lot of the women — learning how to use weapons, mines, hand grenades, explosives and all that stuff. Then you also saw a significant mobilization of Ukrainian people into the army — reservists — and you saw the disposition of the Ukrainian forces to begin to change into their wartime locations.
There was a large evacuation of civilians out of what was expected to be the frontline areas, a real flurry of diplomatic activity, and then also decisions made by the international community — most countries pulled out their embassies out of Kyiv. That’s a big, big decision. When you start seeing stuff like that happening, you start realizing that war is getting close.”
“Matthew Miller: There is sometimes this unrealistic sense that America can wave a magic wand and control the world. That’s just not true. We don’t have magic wands.”
“Colin Kahl: Sometimes people say, “Well, if you were going to give them this stuff, why didn’t you give them all at the beginning?” And the reality is, as a matter of dollars and logistics, we couldn’t. We’ve given $27 billion of security assistance. We didn’t have $27 billion at the beginning of the war. As a matter of actual and bureaucratic physics, you have to prioritize. What the secretary has been ruthless about is, “What does Ukraine need right now for the fight?” In the initial phases of the conflict, that was anti-armor, man-portable and short-range air defense systems, and artillery and ammunition for their Soviet legacy systems, and more Soviet legacy air defense systems. We poured in the Javelins and the Stingers and scoured our own stocks from the Cold War for Soviet era ammunition and stuff we swept up around the globe.”
“Gen. Mark Milley: People don’t think about war — even today. When I say to people, “There have been 35,000 or 40,000 innocent Ukrainians killed in this war, a third of their economy has been destroyed, an estimated 7 million internally-displaced persons, and another 7 million refugees out of a pre-war population of 45 million — you’re looking at 30 to 40 percent of that country displaced out of houses.” People sit there and go: “Oh?””
“The invasion eliminated a brutal dictator, something many Iraqis were grateful for in itself. But it also for years eliminated even the distant vision of that good life. As one Iraqi woman told journalist Nir Rosen for his 2010 book Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, “My message to the American people after five years, they destroyed us and didn’t help us, they didn’t reconstruct the country, they even added more destruction to us. The days during Saddam were better. Now there is killing and nothing good. Before there was security and life was going on easily…now things are getting worse and worse, killing in the streets.” As late as 2016, 93 percent of polled young Iraqis considered Americans their enemies for a war that Bush and his team framed as their liberation.”
“The boys doing Bush’s foreign policy thinking had a prewar paper trail planning Saddam’s overthrow that stretched back a decade. It had become an article of neoconservative faith by the turn of the century that Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, should have deposed the Ba’athist dictator as the capper to the 1991 war that expelled his armies from Kuwait. In 2001, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), full of folk who would forge W.’s foreign policy, made it clear that this grand plan was much larger than a single tyrant: It was about a “need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf [that] transcends the…regime of Saddam Hussein.” The government’s official National Security Strategy for 2002, issued in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, incorporated PNAC’s thinking, pushing the principle that any country seen as credibly threatening U.S. interests should be brought to heel with hard military power, not just the softer stuff of cultural influence and diplomacy and trade.
Even before September 11, Bush Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill would later report, one of the administration’s highest priorities was finding a way to topple Saddam. In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, most any military act, no matter how severe or reckless, could be framed as an urgent fight against terrorism, even if not related to 9/11 itself. The prospect of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)—deploying them, selling them, maybe just handing them over to Osama bin Laden—was a bedtime story with terrifying potency for a rattled public. Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder reported as early as February 2002 that the White House was clandestinely planning to invade a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11.”
“The WMDs were not found. They were not there. Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, gave it to us straight: Nothing was found to justify the war on its own terms. “It’s not for lack of trying,” Conway said in a May 30, 2003, Defense Department briefing from Baghdad. “We’ve been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwait border and Baghdad but they’re simply not there.”
The administration fell back on the argument that Saddam never gave up “aspirations and intentions” toward obtaining such weapons. (Of course, nothing would inspire him more to use them if he had them than invading his country to overthrow him. But not much was said about that.) Very thin accusations that Saddam had allied with or aided Al Qaeda before 9/11 were floated and similarly did not hold water.
As head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer by then was essentially viceroy of Iraq; to flex how deeply we were obliterating the cause and memory of Saddam Hussein (who was executed in December 2006), Bremer disbanded the old Iraqi army and barred nearly all Ba’ath Party members from participation in government. Suddenly, hundreds of thousands of aggrieved and unemployed young men were stalking the country, and nearly anyone with experience running schools or hospitals or water treatment facilities or oil refineries or electrical plants weren’t allowed to work on any of those things.”
“After seven years of U.S. occupation, Rosen writes in Aftermath, “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed. Many more had been injured. There were millions of widows and orphans. Millions had fled their homes. Tens of thousands of Iraqi men had spent years in American prisons. The new Iraqi state was among the most corrupt in the world. It was often brutal. It failed to provide adequate services to its people, millions of whom were barely able to survive.””
“With negotiations complicated by Washington’s insistence that its troops must be able to act with complete legal impunity in Iraq, Bush, and later Obama, agreed to pull out all armed forces by the end of 2011. But with the rise of more militant chaos in the 2010s from the Islamic State group, American troops were back fighting throughout most of the 2010s. With that mission now officially over, about 2,500 troops still remain there, allegedly to merely assist and advise the Iraqis (who recently spent nearly a year trying to pull together a government, an effort marred by the usual factional rivalries, mass protests, arrests, and murders).”
“Beyond all the misery and chaos caused in Iraq itself, the U.S. came nowhere close to the neoconservative dream of a democratic domino effect in the Middle East. What resulted from the Iraq adventure was greater power and influence for America’s sworn enemy Iran, plus weapons and experienced jihadists and sectarian rivalries spreading around the region.
“Rather than being inspired by what happened in Iraq after the invasion,” former Middle Eastern CIA man Paul R. Pillar wrote in The National Interest in 2011, “Middle Easterners were repelled by it. If the violence, disorder, and breakdown of public services in Iraq were the birth pangs of a new Middle Eastern order, most people in the region wanted nothing of it.””