After the war, can Russia win the peace?

19 Dec

After all that has gone down, even if the Kremlin is inclined through enlightened self interest to magnanimity, I can’t see the man on the Moscow omnibus buying it. A month ago I wrote that:

Ukraine stands exhausted and mortally bleeding, its leadership on the verge of civil war. Having made the fatal calculation that Uncle Sam would stand by it come what may, Kiev will lose swathes of Russian speaking territory in the east and south, with a worst case scenario of losing Odessa and access to the Black Sea 1 (and with it the Mediterranean) to become a landlocked state. Goodbye Odessa; goodbye every other grain exporting port. Hello a rump Ukraine, its streets the fiefdom of fascists aggrieved, armed to the teeth and baying for the blood of ‘traitors’. From sick man of Europe to basket case in two years which saw a nation’s youth – and its not so young – cut down in hundreds of thousands.

And for what? This is a war that need not and should not have happened but which Washington – on the back of its own hubristic calculations – moved heaven and earth to provoke and keep going.

The only upside I see for Ukraine is that Russia will not want a failed state on her border. But in the aftermath of victory, such far-sightedness won’t be easy to sell to Russians whose husbands and sons and fathers and sweethearts will not be coming home.

steel city scribblings, December 7  – NATO/EU leaders fear US-Russia talks

Fifteen minutes into a wide ranging but closely focused discussion yesterday at The Duran – featuring regulars Glenn Diesen and Alex Mercouris with former UK diplomat Alastair Crooke guesting – the question raised in my header arises.

Later the erudite Mr Crooke opines that once the extent of their betrayal by the West 2 becomes painfully clear, even “Western Ukrainians” may rediscover a common heritage with their eastern neighbour, the world’s largest country. I don’t rule that out but it strikes me as a touch fanciful. I look to more material – and more immediately effective – underwriters of a lasting peace. 3

In any case, such newfound and putative commonality would also require the Kremlin’s ability to sell Russians on the ‘enlightened self interest’ I began with. Western ruling elites have shown repeatedly that Russia cannot trust them: America’s through a thousand deeds and utterances to the effect they recognise no friendship, only marriages of convenience, and will renege on any treaty the moment it no longer suits their perceived interests; Europe’s through decades of subservience to Washington, however harmful to their own citizens. 4

Moscow will need cast iron guarantees that agreements made out of necessity and weakness will not be abrogated the moment the West feels strong enough to do so. This is the subject of the necessarily speculative but important piece from Yves Smith, also yesterday, on the Naked Capitalism site.

As Russia Signals It Can Achieve Maximalist Aims in Ukraine, How Would Russia Manage Kiev and Western Ukraine?

The West has made many bold pronouncements of its intentions for post-war Ukraine…of course, assuming a post-war Ukraine, starting with having Ukraine join NATO and the EU. And Russia has mainly ignored them and until of late, avoided making similar pronouncements. Russian officials had held to the mantra of pursuing the Special Military Operation until all its objectives were achieved. Russia has notably been closed-mouthed about how the war has been going, much to the consternation of some in Russia, who wanted to see Russia playing a more aggressive propaganda game.

So why is Russia acting in what would seem to be an out of character manner, telegraphing a maximalist view of what its Special Military Operation aims translate into when big funding packages in the US and EU are in play? Specifically, that if no one tries to come to a deal soon, Russia will install a more cooperative government, which translates into taking most or all of Ukraine. And Putin has even taken to giving more history lessons as to why Ukraine is at a minimum a branch of the Russian people and has declared Odessa to be a Russian city. 1

One would think Russia would be more circumspect. After all, pointing out what ought to be obvious is still more reality than the Collective West can bear right now. And there is a lot of “If we don’t give Ukraine more money and weapons, Putin will go to Paris” talk. Russian officials saying the end game will likely require more territorial, as in a lot more, can be spun as proof of those fears.

As we’ll discuss shortly, absent a wildly unexpected development, Russia has the capacity to subdue all of Ukraine by force. Normally cautious Russian officials are effectively saying that to Russian citizens, even at the risk of further provoking the US and NATO. That is likely because they know full well what some Western commentators have pointed out, that the West simply cannot begin to compete with Russia in arms production, even before getting to the superiority of Russian systems in most categories. Despite recognition of that sorry fact in some quarters, the West is not making serious efforts to rearm or increase manning levels. And a second, more critical factor with respect to Ukraine is it has burned through nearly all of its experienced soldiers, and is falling short of filling the ranks with new conscripts, who wind up being cannon fodder.

But does the new Russian open show of confidence merely reflect its ability to prostrate Ukraine? Or could it also mean Russia also believes it has come up with solutions to another big problem we flagged from the outset, “winning the peace”? Occupying hostile territory is costly and corrosive. How does Russia plan to get in sufficient good graces with the population in the largely-ethnically Ukrainian west Ukraine?

Read the full piece – and then some. The average standard of below-the-line comment at Naked Capitalism is high for a site of such relative prominence. Yves’ piece is no exception and I recommend at least a skim read of the responses her thoughts have elicited.

* * *

  1. I was too cautious back in November.  As Yves makes clear, loss of Odessa and access to the Black Sea is far from being the “worst case scenario” for Kiev.
  2. Ukrainians’ recognition of their betrayal both by their leaders and by the West at large is one thing. Europeans’ recognition of their betrayal both by their leaders and by the US is another. I’ve alluded to the latter often but a more thorough reckoning is overdue.
  3. Alastair’s invocation of Ancient Rus and the genes Russians and (all) Ukrainians allegedly share does not, I hasten to add, preclude my “more material underwriters of a lasting peace”. When all is said and done, the man’s a former high ranking diplomat who’d agree on a good deal with the “political realism” of John Mearsheimer, whose predictions have been so resoundingly upheld since the idea of Ukraine joining NATO first began to gain traction.
  4. Aside from the question of how much European leaders knew in advance of America’s sabotage of Nord Stream, the most striking recent example of bad faith this side of the pond is the boast by Angela Merkel, confirmed by François Hollande, that Minsk had been a decoy to string Russia along. President Putin was a Europhile, hitherto resistant to Kremlin voices, their suspicions long confirmed, which insisted the West would never accept Russia as a peer. He seemed genuinely and personally hurt by the former Reich Chancellor’s thrice repeated triumphalism. UPDATE December 20: today a post on Andrew Korybko’s substack – see Putin’s Admission Of Naivety About The West – focuses on how this is now a factor in the RF President’s thinking.

5 Replies to “After the war, can Russia win the peace?

  1. A brief comment on this observation:

    Russia will not want a failed state on her border.

    A failed Ukrainian state is certainly one very likely scenario.

    However, as we are reminded daily via comment on this conflict, this is a proxy war in which the RF has in systemic terms gone toe to toe with the combined Collective West and using only a fraction of its military capacity outperformed the West on every metric. Not just militarily but also economically, industrially and politically. As Andrei Martyanov consistently reminds us, the level of competency at all levels across the West is so systemically dire it is difficult to make a watertight case for this being peer-to-peer.

    Which raises the more problematic possibility of what if the “failed state” on the border is not limited to Ukraine?

    I’ll leave that particular brick in the water for better minds to ponder.

    • Possibly even a ‘failed EU’? After all, how long can the various populations put up with the semi-criminal blundering of half-witted cretins like Scholz and von Der Leyen?

      • To Jams and Dave both: I agree.

        For all its woes, Britain has so far largely escaped the right wing upsurge all too visible in the US and mainland Europe. For a von der Leyen or Scholz – and to their groomers, mentors and fellow globalists across the pond – that upsurge is only explicable in terms as fatuous as they are insulting; the knee-jerk intellectual failures of what Mrs Clinton so tellingly dubbed “the deplorables”.

        Almost a century ago Trotsky got much closer to the truth. Then as now rentiers were riding roughshod over blue and white collar worker alike. Even big industrial capital was feeling squeezed. And then as now the far right had been faster than the left to recognise and leverage the fact. Said Trotsky:

        Not every frustrated petit-bourgeois can be an Adolf Hitler. But there’s something of Adolf Hitler in every frustrated petit-bourgeois.

        As noted by Mercurious and Crooke in the linked Duran podcast, Russia may well choose – insofar as a torched economy allows it – to be conciliatory with ordinary Ukrainians west of the Dneiper. But the Banderites of Azov and C14 stripe are another matter. Unless they are dealt with ruthlessly, not only is the primary goal of denazification jeopardised. So too – given the causal link between the interests fronted by the minnows you identify, and the appeal of fascism – is that of a truly neutral Ukraine.

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