Putin gives Kerry a chance to pull back from the brink

Global Research, December 16, 2015
CounterPunch 15 December 2015

Would you be willing to defend your country against a foreign invasion?

That’s all Putin is doing in Syria. He’s just preempting the tidal wave of jihadis that’ll be coming his way once the current fracas is over.  He figures it’s better to exterminate these US-backed maniacs in Syria now than face them in Chechnya, St Petersburg and Moscow sometime in the future.  Can you blame him? After all, if Washington’s strategy works in Syria, then you can bet they’ll try the same thing in Beirut, Tehran and Moscow.

So what choice does Putin have?

None. He has no choice.  His back is against the wall. He has to fight.  No one in Washington seems to get this. They think Putin can throw in the towel and call it “quits” at the first sign of getting bogged down. But he can’t throw in the towel because Russia’s facing an existential crisis.  If he loses, then Russia’s going to wind up on the same scrap heap as Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. You can bet on it. So the only thing he can do is win. Period. Victory isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

Do you think that Putin and his advisors have had their heads in the sand for the last 15 years, that they haven’t noticed the US rampaging around the globe bumping off one country after the other leaving behind nothing but anarchy and ruin? Do you think they don’t know that Russia is on the top of Washington’s hit-list? Do you think they haven’t noticed NATO inching closer to Russia’s borders while foam-at-the-mouth politicians in Washington wave their fists and growl about Hitler Putin and evil Russia?

Of course they’ve noticed. Everyone’s noticed. Everyone knows Washington is on the warpath and its leaders have gone stark raving mad. How could they not notice?

But all that’s done is focus the mind on the task at hand, and the task at hand is to whoop the tar out of the terrorists, put an end to Washington’s sick little jihadi game, and go home. That’s Russia’s plan in a nutshell.  No one is trying to cobble together the long-lost Soviet empire. That’s pure bunkum.  Russia just wants to clean up this nest of vipers and call it a day. There’s nothing more to it than that.

But what if the going gets tough and Syria becomes a quagmire?

That doesn’t change anything, because Russia still has to win. If that means sending ground troops to Syria, then that’s what Putin will do. If that means asymmetrical warfare, like arming the Kurds or the Yemenis, or the Taliban or even disparate anti-regime Shiites in Saudi Arabia, then he’ll do that too. Whatever it takes. This isn’t a game, it’s a fight for survival; Russia’s survival as a sovereign country. That’s what the stakes are. That’s not something Putin takes lightly.

Keep in mind, that Russia’s situation is entirely different than that of the US. The US is engaged in a vast “pivot” project to remove secular regimes that are hostile towards Washington, control vital resources from North Africa through the Middle East and across Central Asia, establish military bases wherever necessary, maintain the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, and redraw the map of the ME in a way that best suits the commercial and strategic interests of its core constituents; the banks, the multinational corporations and the big weapons manufacturers.

Russia doesn’t have any grandiose plans like that. Putin just wants to sell oil, make money, raise living standards in Russia, and get on with life. He figured that if he played by the rules– Washington’s rules– joined the WTO, then he’d be okay. But that’s not the way it works. The WTO’s rules, like the IMF’s rules are only upheld as long as they suit Washington’s strategic objectives. And when they don’t, well, then they’re dumped like a hot potato just like they were when the US implemented its economic sanctions on Russia or when the IMF allowed Ukraine to stiff Moscow for $3 billion in loans.  The point is, it’s a free market when Washington says it’s a free market, otherwise all bets are off.

The same rule applies to terrorism. For example, On Saturday, a group of terrorists detonated a car bomb near a hospital in the Syrian city of Homs. 22 people were killed and more than 70 were injured. So the Syrian government asked the UN Security Council to condemn the attack. Naturally, the Security Council said “Yes”, right?

Wrong. In fact, the UNSC refused to make any statement at all about the attack because, to do so, would be seen as supportive of the Syrian government that the US wants to topple. The bottom line: Blowing up civilians with car bombs is hunky-dory as long as the US benefits from it.

By the way, the Security Council is currently chaired by the US who made sure the draft was never even put to a vote.

Does that sound like a country that’s seriously committed to fighting terrorism or a country that is run by hypocrites?

The reason I ask this now is because, on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to attend an emergency meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss issues that are too sensitive to reveal to the public. There’s a lot of speculation about what the two men will talk about, but the urgency and the secrecy of the meeting suggests that the topic will be one of great importance. So allow me to make a guess about what the topic will be.

When Kerry arrives in Moscow tomorrow he’ll be rushed to meeting room at the Kremlin where he’ll be joined by Lavrov, Putin, Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu and high-ranking members from military intelligence. Then, following the initial introductions, Kerry will be shown the evidence Russian intelligence has gathered on last Sunday’s attack on a Syrian military base east of Raqqa that killed three Syrian soldiers and wounded thirteen others. The Syrian government immediately condemned the attack and accused US warplanes of conducting the operation. Later in the day,  Putin delivered an uncharacteristically-harsh and threatening statement that left no doubt that he thought the attack was a grave violation of the accepted rules of engagement and, perhaps, a declaration of war. Here’s what he said:

“Any targets threatening the Russian groups of forces or land infrastructure must be immediately destroyed.”  This was followed shortly after by an equally disturbing statement by Putin to the Russian Defense Ministry Board:

Special attention must be paid to strengthening the combat potential of the strategic nuclear forces and implementing defense space programs. It is necessary, as outlined in our plans, to equip all components of the nuclear triad with new arms.

Why would an incident in the village of Ayyash in far-flung Deir Ezzor Province be so important that it would bring the two nuclear-armed adversaries to the brink of war?

I’ll tell you why: It’s because there were other incidents prior to the bombing in Ayyash that laid the groundwork for the current clash. There was the ISIS downing of the Russian airliner that killed 224 Russian civilians. Two weeks after that tragedy, Putin announced at the G-20 meetings that he had gathered intelligence proving that 40 countries –including some in the G-20 itself–were involved in the funding and supporting of ISIS. This story was completely blacked out in the western media and, so far, Russia has not revealed the names of any of the countries involved.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think the United States is on that list of ISIS supporters?

Then there was the downing of the Russian Su-24, a Russian bomber that was shot down by Turkish F-16s while it was carrying out its mission to exterminate terrorists in Syria. Many analysts do not believe that the   Su-24 could have been destroyed without surveillance and logistical support provided by US AWACs or US satellites. Many others scoff at the idea that Turkey would engage in such a risky plan without the go-ahead from Washington. Either way, the belief that Washington was directly involved in the downing of a Russian warplane is widespread.

So, I ask you, dear reader, do you think Washington gave Turkey the greenlight?

Finally, we have the aerial attack on the Syrian military base in Deir Ezzor, an attack that was either executed by US warplanes or US-coalition warplanes. Not only does the attack constitute a direct assault on the Russian-led coalition (an act of war) but the bombing raid was also carried out in tandem  with a “a full-scale ISIS offensive on the villages of Ayyash and Bgelia.”  The coordination suggests that either the US or US allies were providing  air-cover for ISIS terrorists to carry out their ground operations.  Author Alexander Mercouris– who is certainly no conspiracy nut–expands on this idea in a recent piece at Russia Insider which provides more detail on the incident. The article begins like this:

Did Members of the US-Led Coalition Carry Out an Air Strike to Help ISIS? Russia Implies They Did. Russian statement appears to implicate aircraft from two member states of the US led coalition in the air strike on the Syrian military base in Deir az-Zor….This information – if it is true – begs a host of questions.

Firstly, the Syrian military base that was hit by the air strike was apparently the scene of a bitter battle between the Syrian military and the Islamic State.  It seems that shortly after the air strike – and most probably as a result of it – the Islamic State’s fighters were able to storm it.

Inevitably, that begs the question of whether the aircraft that carried out the air strike were providing air support to the fighters of the Islamic State.

On the face of it, it looks like they were. After all, if what happened was simply a mistake, it might have been expected that the US and its allies would say as much.  If so, it is an extremely serious and worrying development, suggesting that some members of the US-led anti-Islamic State coalition are actually in league with the Islamic State.  (“Did Members of the US-Led Coalition Carry Out an Air Strike to Help ISIS?” Alexander Mercouris, Russia Insider)

So there it is in black and white. The Russians think someone in the US-led coalition is teaming up with ISIS. That should make for some interesting conversation when Kerry sashays into the Kremlin today.

Does Kerry have any clue that Putin and his lieutenants are probably going to produce evidence that coalition warplanes were involved in the bombing of the Syrian military base?  How do you think he’ll respond to that news? Will he apologize or just stand there dumbstruck? And how will he react when Putin tells him that if a similar incident takes place in the future, Russian warplanes and anti-aircraft units are going to shoot the perpetrator down?

If I am not mistaken, Kerry is in for a big surprise on Tuesday. He’s about to learn that Putin takes war very seriously and is not going to let Washington sabotage his plans for success. If Kerry’s smart, he’ll pass along that message to Obama and tell him he needs to dial it down a notch if he wants to avoid a war with Russia.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

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Engdahl: Why I wept at the Russian parade

Posted on New Eastern Outlook, May 13, 2015
by F. William Engdahl

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Something extraordinary just took place in Russia and it may have moved our disturbed world one major step nearer to peace and away from a looming new world war. Of all unlikely things, what took place was a nationwide remembrance by Russians of the estimated 27 to perhaps 30 million Soviet citizens who never returned alive from World War II. Yet in what can only be described in a spiritual manner, the events of May 9, Victory Day over Nazism, that took place across all Russia, transcended the specific day of memory on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1945. It was possible to see a spirit emerge from the moving events unlike anything this author has ever witnessed in his life.

The event was extraordinary in every respect. There was a sense in all participants that they were shaping history in some ineffable way. It was no usual May 9 annual show of Russia’s military force. Yes, it featured a parade of Russia’s most advanced military hardware, including the awesome new T-14 Armata tanks, S-400 anti-missile systems and advanced Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets. It was indeed impressive to watch.

The military part of the events also featured for the first time ever elite soldiers from China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army marching in formation along with Russian soldiers. That in itself should shivers down the spines of the neoconservative warhawks in the EU and Washington, had they any spines to shiver. The alliance between the two great Eurasian powers—Russia and China—is evolving with stunning speed into a new that will change the economic dynamic of our world from one of debt, depression, and wars to one of rising general prosperity and development if we are good enough to help make it happen.

During his visit, China’s President XI, in addition to his quite visible honoring of the Russian Victory event and its significance for China, met separately with Vladimir Putin and agreed that China’s emerging New Silk Road high-speed railway infrastructure great project will be integrated in planning and other respects with Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union which now consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia with several prospective candidates waiting to join. While it may seem an obvious step, it was not at all certain until now.

The two great Eurasian countries have now cemented the huge oil and gas deals between them, the trade deals and the military cooperation agreements with a commitment to fully integrate their economic infrastructure. Following his meeting with Xi, Putin told the press, “The integration of the Eurasian Economic Union and Silk Road projects means reaching a new level of partnership and actually implies a common economic space on the continent.”

It’s Zbigniew Brzezinski’s worst geopolitical nightmare come to fruition. And that, thanks to the stupid, short-sighted geopolitical strategy of Brzezinski and the Washington war faction that made it clear to Beijing and to Moscow their only hope for sovereign development and to be free of the dictates of a Washington-Wall Street Sole Superpower was to build an entire monetary and economic space independent of the dollar world.

The Parade of the Good

Yet the most extraordinary part of the day-long events was not the show of military hardware at a time when NATO is not only rattling sabres at Russia, but even intervening militarily in Ukraine to provoke Russia into some form of war.

What was extraordinary about the May 9 Victory Day Parade was the citizens’ remembrance march, a symbolic parade known as the March of the Immortal Regiment, a procession through the streets of Moscow into the famous and quite beautiful Red Square. The square, contrary to belief of many in the West was not named so by the “Red” Bolsheviks. It took its name from Czar Alexei Mikhailovich in the mid-17th Century from a Russian word which now means red. Similar Immortal Regiment parades involving an estimated twelve million Russians took place all over Russia at the same time, from Vladivostock to St. Petersburg to Stevastopol in what is now Russian Crimea.

In an atmosphere of reverence and quiet, some three hundred thousand Russians, most carrying photos or portraits of family members who never returned from the war, walked on the beautiful, sunny spring day through downtown Moscow into Red Square where the President’s residence, the famous Kremlin, is also located.

To see the faces of thousands and thousands of ordinary Russians walking, optimism about their future beaming from their faces, young and the very old, including surviving veterans of the Great Patriotic War as it is known to Russians, moved this writer to quietly weep. What was conveyed in the smiles and eyes of the thousands of marchers was not a looking back in the sense of sorrow at the horrors of that war. Rather what came across so clearly was that the parade was a gesture of loving respect and gratitude to those who gave their lives that today’s Russia might be born, a new, future-looking Russia that is at the heart of building the only viable alternative to a one-world dictatorship under a Pentagon Full Spectrum Dominance and a dollar system choking on debt and fraud. The entire Russian nation exuded a feeling of being good and of being victorious. Few peoples have that in today’s world.

When the television cameras zoomed in on President Vladimir Putin who was also marching, he was walking freely and open amid the thousands of citizens, holding a picture of his deceased father who had served in the war and was severely wounded in 1942. Putin was surrounded not by bulletproof limousines that any US President since the assassination of Kennedy in 1963 would have, were he even to dare to get close to a crowd. There were three or four presidential security people near Putin, but there were thousands of ordinary Russians within arm’s length of one of the most influential world leaders of the present time. There was no climate of fear visible anywhere.

My tears

My tears at seeing the silent marchers and at seeing Putin amid them was an unconscious reaction to what, on reflection, I realized was my very personal sense of recognition how remote from anything comparable in my own country, the United States of America, such a memorial march in peace and serenity would be today. There were no “victory” marches after US troops destroyed Iraq; no victory marches after Afghanistan; no victory marches after Libya. Americans today have nothing other than wars of death and destruction to commemorate and veterans coming home with traumas and radiation poisonings that are ignored by their own government.

That transformation in America has come about in those same 7o years since the end of the war, a war when we–Americans and Russians, then the Soviet Union of course—had fought side-by-side to defeat Hitler and the Third Reich. Today the Government of the United States is siding with and backing neo-nazis in Ukraine to provoke Russia.

I reflected how much my countrymen have changed over those few decades. From the world’s most prosperous nation, the center of invention, innovation, technology, prosperity, in the space of seven decades we have managed to let our country be ruined by a gaggle of stupid and very rich oligarchs with names like Rockefeller, Gates, Buffett and their acolytes in the Bush dynasty. Those narcissistic oligarchs cared not a whit for the greatness of the American people, but saw us as a mere platform to realize their sick dream of world dominion.

We let that happen.

I’ll let you in on a secret that I recently discovered. The American oligarchs ain’t all-powerful; they ain’t some new Illuminati or gods as some try to convince us. They ain’t omniscient. They get away with murder because we allow them. We are hypnotized by their aura of power.

Yet were we to stand tall and clear in the open and say, “These silly would-be Emperors have no clothes!,” their power would evaporate like cotton candy in hot water.

That’s what they’re terrified of. That’s why they are deploying the US Armed Forces into Texas to stage war games aimed at US citizens; that’s why they have torn up the Constitution and Bill of Rights after 911. That’s why the Created a Department of Homeland Security. It’s why they try to terrify our citizens to vaccinate with untested Ebola or other vaccines. It’s why they are desperate to control free expression of political ideas in the Internet.

Now, when I reflect on the true state of America today compared with Russia, it brings tears. Today the economy of the USA is in ruins. It has been “globalized” by its Fortune 500 global companies and the banks of Wall Street. Its industrial jobs have been outsourced to China, Mexico, even Russia over the past 25 or so years. Investment in the education of our youth has become a politically-correct sick joke. College students must go deep into debt to private banks, some $1 trillion worth today, to get a piece of paper called a degree in order to look for non-existent jobs.

Our Washington government has become serial liars who have lied to us about the true state of the economy ever since Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War ordered the Commerce and Labor departments to find ways to fake the numbers to hide the developing internal economic rot. The consequence, followed by every president since, is that we live in a fairy tale world where the mainstream media tells us we are in the “sixth year of economic recovery” and have a mere 5.4% unemployment. The reality is that more than 23% of Americans today are unemployed but through clever tricks have been defined out of the statistics. Some 93 million Americans are unable to get full time work. It isn’t the fault of Obama or Bush before him or Clinton, Bush, Reagan or Jimmy Carter. It’s our own fault because we were passive; we gave them the power because we did not believe in ourselves enough. We let billionaires decide for us who will be our President and Congress because we no longer believed that we were good.

By the same token, Russians today, amid brutal Western economic and financial warfare sanctions; amid a NATO war in Ukraine that has led more than one million Russian-speaking Ukrainians to flee to Russia for safety, despite the demonization in the western media of their country, exude a new optimism about their future. What makes Vladimir Putin so extraordinarily popular, with over 83% approval, is that he acts out that growing sense of representing that Russian soul, the people who are good, being just, being right, the sense that the vast majority of Russians today have.

That was overwhelmingly visible in the faces of the May 9 marchers. You could feel that Putin on the speaker’s podium felt it when he looked into the vast crowd. It was clear when Defense Minister Shoigu, a Russian-Mongolian Tuvan-born Buddhist, respectfully and humbly made the Orthodox sign of the cross with bowed head as he passed through the Kremlin’s Saviour Tower to take his place aside Putin. As Victor Baranets, a noted Russian journalist put it: ”At that moment I felt that with his simple gesture Shoigu brought all of Russia to his feet. There was so much kindness, so much hope, so much of our Russian sense of the sacred in this gesture.“  The legendary Russian Soul was manifest on May 9 and its alive and very well, thank you.

And that’s why I shed the tears on May 9, watching hundreds of thousands of peaceful Russians walk through their capital city, the city that saw the defeat of Napoleon’s army and of Hitler’s. I was moved deeply watching them slowly and deliberately walking into the Red Square next to their President’s residence at a time when Washington’s White House is surrounded by concrete barriers, barbed wire and armed guards.

You could see it in the eyes of the Russians on the street: they knew that they were good. They were good not because their fathers or grandfathers had died defeating Nazism. They were good because they could be proud Russians, proud of their country after all the ravages of recent decades, most recently the US-backed looting during the 1990’s Harvard Shock Therapy in the Yeltsin era.

I shed tears being deeply moved by what I saw in those ordinary Russians and tears for what I felt had been destroyed in my country. We Americans have lost our sense that we are good or even perhaps again could be. We have accepted that we are bad, that we kill all around the world, that we hate ourselves and our neighbors, that we fear, that we live in a climate of race war, that we are despised for all this around the world.

We feel ourselves to be anything but good because we are in a kind of hypnosis induced by those narcissistic oligarchs to be so. Hypnosis, however, can be broken under the right circumstances. We only have to will it so.

Postscript:

The last time I wept at a public event was in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and Germans—east and west—danced together on the symbol of the Cold War division between East and West, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy rang out. The German Chancellor made a speech to the Bundestag proposing the vision of a high-speed rail linking Berlin to Moscow. Then, Germany was not strong enough, not free enough from guilt feelings from the war, to reject the pressure that came from Washington. The architect of that vision, Alfred Herrhausen, was assassinated by the ‘Red Army Fraction’ of Langley, Virginia. Russia was deliberately thrown into chaos by IMF shock therapy and the criminal Yeltsin family. Today the world has a new, far more beautiful possibility to realize Herrhausen’s dream—this time with Russia, China and all Eurasia. This is what was so beautiful about the May 9 parade.

F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.
First appeared: http://journal-neo.org/2015/05/13/why-i-wept-at-the-russian-parade/

Alexander Mercouris: Diplomatic talks in Moscow — a two-part analysis

Posted on Vineyard of the Saker, February 6, 2015

Talks in Moscow – a two-part analysis
by Alexander Mercouris

Part one (On 6th February 2015)
They have apparently continued for 5 hours and are still not finished though it seems some sort of document is being prepared for tomorrow.

Three comments:

1. If negotiations go on for 5 hours that does not suggest a smooth and conflict free discussion.

2. One of the most interesting things about the Moscow talks is that they mainly happened without the presence of aides and officials i.e. Putin, Hollande and Merkel were by themselves save for interpreters and stenographers. Putin and Merkel are known to be masters of detail and given his background as an enarque I presume Hollande also is. However the German and French officials will be very unhappy about this. The Russians less so because since the meeting is taking place in the Kremlin they are listening in to the discussions via hidden microphones.

One wonders why this is happening? Even if the Russian officials are not listening in Merkel and Hollande will assume they are. The fact that Russian officials were not present is therefore less significant than that German and French officials have been barred from the meeting by their respective chiefs, suggesting that Merkel and Hollande do not entirely trust them.

There has been an extraordinary degree of secrecy about this whole episode and it rather looks as if Merkel and Hollande were anxious to stop leaks and to prevent information about the talks from getting out. Presumably this is why their officials were barred from the meeting. From whom one wonders do Merkel and Hollande want to keep details of the meeting secret? From the media? From other members of their own governments? From the Americans? What do they need to keep so secret? The frustration and worry on the part of all these groups must be intense.

3. The fact that the British are excluded from the talks is going down very badly with many people here in London. It has not escaped people’s notice that this is the first major negotiation to settle a big crisis in Europe in which Britain is not involved since the one that ended the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Of course it is largely the fault of the inept diplomacy of Cameron, who has taken such an extreme pro-Ukrainian position that Moscow simply doesn’t see him as someone worth talking to. Also one suspects Merkel and Hollande do not trust Cameron not to leak the whole discussion to whomever they want to keep it from. Having said that it is difficult to see this as anything other than further evidence of Britain’s decline into complete irrelevance. I cannot imagine Thatcher being excluded in this way. If the United Kingdom is indeed in the process of breaking up (and as I suspected the Scottish referendum settled nothing with polls indicating that the SNP may make an almost clean sweep of all the seats in Scotland in the election in May) then the slide into irrelevance still has a long way to go.

Part two (On 7th February 2015)
I am coming increasingly round to the view of Alastair Newman that Merkel and Hollande came with no plan to Moscow but with the purpose of having what diplomats call “a full and frank discussion” in private with Putin looking at all the issues in the one place in Europe – the Kremlin – where they can be confident the Americans are not spying on them. That must be why they sent their officials away.

It is also clear that Merkel’s and Hollande’s visit to Kiev before their flight to Moscow was just for show.

Poroshenko’s officials are insisting that the question of federalisation was not discussed during Poroshenko’s meeting with Hollande and Merkel. Hollande has however now come out publicly to support “autonomy” for the eastern regions i.e. federalisation, which makes it a virtual certainty that in the meeting in Moscow it was discussed. The point is that Merkel and Hollande did not want to discuss federalisation with Poroshenko because they know the junta adamantly opposes the idea and did not want him to veto it before the meeting in Moscow had even begun.

The problem is that since everyone pretends that federalisation is an internal Ukrainian issue to be agreed freely between the two Ukrainian sides, its terms will only be thrashed out once constitutional negotiations between the two Ukrainian sides begin. Since the junta will never willingly agree to federalisation, in reality its form will have to be hammered out in private by Moscow after consultations with the NAF and with Berlin and Paris and then imposed on the junta in the negotiations.

Saying this shows how fraught with difficulty this whole process is going to be.

Not only are there plenty of people in the Donbass who now oppose federalisation (and some in Moscow too I suspect) but this whole process if it is to work would somehow have to get round the roadblock of the Washington hardliners, who will undoubtedly give their full support to the junta as it tries to obstruct a process over which it has a theoretical veto. Frankly, I wonder whether it can be done.

If the process is to have any chance of success then Merkel and Hollande must screw up the courage to do what they failed to do last spring and summer, which is publicly stand up to the hardliners in Washington and Kiev and impose their will upon them. Are they really willing to do that? Given how entrenched attitudes have become over the last few months and given the false position Merkel and Hollande put themselves in by so strongly supporting Kiev, the chances of them pulling this off look much weaker than they did last spring.

I would add a few more points;

1. There is one major difference between the situation now and in the Spring, which might offer some hope of movement.

Anyone reading the Western media now cannot fail but see that there is a growing sense of defeat. Sanctions have failed to work, the Ukrainian economy is disintegrating and the junta’s military is being defeated.

That was not the case last spring, when many in the West had convinced themselves that the junta would win the military struggle with the NAF. The confrontation strategy Merkel opted for in July based on that belief has totally and visibly failed. It is not therefore surprising if she is now looking for a way-out by reviving some of the ideas that were being floated by the Russians in the spring. She now has a political imperative to look for a solution in order to avoid the appearance of defeat, which would leave her position both in Germany and Europe badly weakened. That political imperative was not there in the spring. It is now. In a sense the pressure is now on her.

2. I should stress that it is Merkel who is Putin’s key interlocutor. The reason Hollande is there and appears to be taking the lead is to provide Merkel with cover. The one thing Merkel cannot afford politically is the appearance of a Moscow-Berlin stitch-up that the hardliners in Washington, Kiev, London, Warsaw and the Baltic States will claim is a new Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to divide Europe into German and Russian spheres of influence. Whether we like it or not in Germany the shadow of Hitler still hangs heavy and exposes Berlin to endless moral blackmail whenever it tries to pursue with Moscow an independent course. That is why Merkel needs Hollande present when she meets Putin for talks of the sort she’s just had in Moscow.

3. One other possible sign of hope is that there is some evidence that a sea-change in European and especially German opinion may be underway.

Whatever the purpose of the ongoing debate in Washington about sending weapons to the junta, whether it is a serious proposal or an attempt to secure diplomatic leverage or a combination of the two, it has horrified opinion in Europe, bringing home to many people there how fundamentally nihilistic US policy has become.

All the talk in the Western media yesterday and this morning is of a split between Europe and the US. That is going much too far. However for the first time there is public disagreement in Europe with Washington on the Ukrainian question. Whether that crystallises into an actual break with Washington leading to a serious and sustained European attempt to reach a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis against Washington’s wishes is an altogether different question. I have to say that for the moment I very much doubt it.

4. I remain deeply pessimistic about this whole process. The best opportunity to settle this conflict diplomatically was last spring. I cannot help but feel that as Peter Lavelle said on the Crosstalk in which I appeared yesterday, the train has now left the station.

A peaceful solution to the Ukrainian conflict ultimately depends on European resolve to face down the hardliners in Washington and Kiev. It is going to be much harder to do this now than it was last year.

Moreover, despite the bad news on the economy and on the front line in Debaltsevo, the hardliners in Kiev are bound to have been emboldened by all the talk in Washington about sending them arms, which is going to make the effort to bring them round even harder than it already is.

The besetting problem of this whole crisis is that the Europeans have never shown either the resolve or the realism to face the hardliners down though it is certainly within their power to do so. In Merkel’s case one has to wonder whether her heart is in it anyway. My view remains that this situation will only be resolved by war, and that the negotiations in Moscow will prove just another footnote to that.

5. If I am wrong and some autonomy really is granted to the Donbass, then I make one confident prediction. This is that the Ukraine will in that case disintegrate even more rapidly than it would have done if federalisation had been agreed upon last spring or summer.

Following such a terrible war, I cannot see people in the Donbass accepting federalisation as anything other than a stepping stone to eventual secession and union with Russia. If the Donbass secures autonomy, I cannot see people in places like Odessa and Kharkov failing to press for an at least equivalent degree of autonomy to that granted to the Donbass. If the Europeans are prepared to see the Donbass achieve autonomy, by what logic can they deny it to the people of Odessa and Kharkov?

More to the point, the November elections showed the emergence of what looks like an increasingly strong potential autonomy or even independence movement in Galicia.

Given that a terrible war has been fought and lost in the east to defeat “separatism” in the Donbass, and given the widespread disillusion with the junta in Kiev, it is difficult to see how many people in Galicia will not feel betrayed if the grant of federalisation to the Donbass is now imposed on them after so many of their men died to prevent it. If in reaction Galicia presses for the same sort of autonomy as the Donbass – which it could well do – then the Ukraine is finished. I doubt it would hold together for more than a few months. If federalisation had been granted last spring or summer before the war began then it is possible – likely even – that the Ukraine could have been held together in a sort of state of suspended animation at least for a while. I don’t think there’s much chance of that now.

 

http://vineyardsaker.blogspot.com/2015/02/talks-in-moscow-two-part-analysis.html