Russia has recently set out its list of demands for a resetting of the position of the United States in Europe. The Americans have reacted cautiously, promising to give the Russians an answer “shortly”. It would be unwise to hold one’s breath awaiting a positive response from the Americans. Even in the highly unlikely event they respond positively to the Russian proposals, there must always remain the fundamental question: Can they be trusted?
There is a single characteristic that marks United States foreign policy conduct since the end of the Second World War and it is that any agreement they enter into lasts only as long as they consider desirable or in their interests to do so. The classic illustration of that point, and one that no doubt featured heavily in Putin’s assessment of the situation and the making of Russia’s demands, has been a steady movement Eastward of the NATO alliance.
It needs to be remembered that at the time of the reunification of Germany, Soviet acquiescence of the deal was bought with a promise by the Americans that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the East. It took very little time for that promise to be broken. NATO’s Eastward expansion to Russia’s borders has been the dominant political military phenomena of the intervening 30 years.
There is no doubt that Putin is deadly serious about Russia’s desire to see an end to this relentless expansion. The expansion has been made with one objective uppermost in mind, and that has been the United States desire to “confront” Russia. The purpose of this confrontation is blindingly obvious. It is to provoke Russia into doing something that will lead to an immediate expansion of the level of sanctions imposed upon it. Further sanctions are clearly the objective and the Americans and their allies will stop at nothing to provoke a Russian reaction that can be used as a justification of the long-desired increase in sanctions.
For reasons that I will come to, an increase in sanctions are unlucky to trouble the Russians very much. A more immediate problem for them will be the appropriate reaction to NATO’s expansion to include Ukraine. There is little doubt that such an expansion is part of the American plan. It has been ever since the United States inspired coup in 2014 that over- threw the legitimate Ukrainian government and replaced it with what can only be described as a Neo Nazi horror show.
On an economic level, the coup has been disastrous. The Ukrainian economy has been receding ever since, with a steady loss of population equalling the economic downturn. There is no reasonable prospect of the Ukrainian economy improving in the foreseeable future. The decline in the economy has been matched by a political decline. The current leader Volodymyr Zelensky has been engaged in a war of attrition with his political rivals.
The Kiev government has also refused to implement the terms of the Minsk accord that they signed in 2015. That agreement was designed to end the political deadlock caused by the effect of removal of the two Donbass republics from Ukraine following the United States inspired coup. Not only has Ukraine failed to meet its obligations under the Minsk accord, it has in effect waged war on the two breakaway regions, killing thousands of people, including women and children.
Part of the major reason for Ukrainian recalcitrance has been the tacit support of Germany and France who have consistently failed to insist that Ukraine comply with the terms of the Minsk accord. Since the recent German election, the attitude of the Germans has deteriorated in respect of Russia. The new German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock is a blatantly pro United States Green. She has spent her brief time in office thus far in going out of her way to present an anti-Russia line. Given the variety of problems currently facing Germany including a grave shortage of energy to keep their population warm in the coming winter, her attitude is, frankly, remarkably stupid.
The new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made some recent comments designed to ease the tension, but he really needs to give his foreign minister a sharp reminder of the nature of geopolitical reality. German industry takes a more realistic line and is dismayed at the deterioration in German – Russian relations since the election. It will be interesting to see how much longer Baerbock can survive in the face of the twin pressures from a dismayed business elite and a population growing colder by the day.
Putin has remained remarkably quiet about the obvious stalling by the European Union over approving the pipeline. He could usefully point out that the pipeline was a major project of now retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel who resisted enormous United States pressure to cancel the project. It is extremely disappointing to see the German government apparently capitulating to the Americans and go cold over approving the pipeline coming into action. That has apparently been the case since September.
One reason for Putin not making a major fuss over the German apparent capitulation to United States pressure is that he has alternative markets for the energy. That market is to the east, where China is willing to take as much of the Russian supplies as they are able to provide. Russia has recently announced that massive supplies of natural gas will be provided through a new pipeline laid through Mongolia, which will enhance substantially Mongolia’s royalties.
The availability of the giant Chinese market greatly reduces the economic pressure upon Putin, as indeed it would in the event of further western sanctions. The political support of China is also a major factor in Putin’s response to any further United States pressure on Ukraine.
There is little doubt that at least some members of the United States establishment would like to integrate Ukraine into NATO. That this has not yet happened is due to two major reasons. The first is that, as already noted, Ukraine is an economic basket case and will provide no useful economic benefit for the European Union, and will probably be an enormous drain on the European Union.
The second reason is that despite United States bluster about further sanctions on Russia should Russia choose to intervene directly in Ukraine, the reality is that United States sanctions have a limited effect, and that effect gets less by the day as Russia developed a range of non-western defence mechanisms, including an alternative to SWIFT developed with China, and its growing trade with nations to the East who are less enthralled to the United States line than the Europeans.
United States behaviour is highly unlikely to change, with their weapons sales to Ukraine being but one example of their reluctance to engage in real reform in the region. It may be that Putin’s best policy with Ukraine is to simply wait. The country is facing enormous social and economic problems. It may only be a matter of time before the population rises up against the present grossly incompetent and illegitimate government. Putin’s best policy may simply be therefore, one of patience.