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Confrontation Can’t Be Avoided By Actively Seeking It

The Economist wants [1] to confront Russia now:

The West has seen Russia brush off its threats and warnings. It looks feeble and divided. Yet, after the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, even doves should grasp that the best chance of stability lies in standing up to Mr Putin, because firmness today is the way to avoid confrontation later.

It sounds superficially plausible that “firmness” now will help avoid confrontation later, but it’s not true. All that this is saying is that they would prefer that Western governments escalate the crisis sooner rather than later. There is no particular reason to think that Russia will respond to such “firmness” in the way that hawks expect, and imposing stronger measures now could trigger an even more drastic and unwelcome Russian response. Western governments could do everything that is demanded in the editorial from military exercises to severe financial sanctions, and it would in all likelihood have no effect on Russian behavior. Taking a hard line with Russia is practically guaranteed to result in more hostility and provocative action. That would also leave Western governments with no realistic options for responding to further Russian interference, and it would also expose them to Russian retaliatory measures whose costs most Western governments and electorates are not prepared to bear. In short, the argument for more “firmness” is that Western nations should be willing to bear significant costs to pursue a strategy that will very likely fail on its own terms. It should come as no surprise that there are hardly any governments that accept this argument.

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9 Comments To "Confrontation Can’t Be Avoided By Actively Seeking It"

#1 Comment By Andrew On April 17, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

The main issue here is what “standing up to” means?

a) economic?
b) military?

what else? It is not enough to mention that the premise of this Economist’s conclusion is entirely wrong–not having a clue about Russia is becoming a defining characteristic of “Western” pundits. Sanctions? I don’t think that Economist really has any idea what this will entail, NOT for Europe (this is important, but secondary) but what it will mean inside Russia. Economist has no idea about Russian….economy. I will omit military issues here.

#2 Comment By Johann On April 17, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

The Economist has been cheer-leading every interventionist war since Kosovo. I have been a subscriber for at least 20 years, but will not be renewing my subscription. Its a shame because they are one of the few English language magazines that gives truly comprehensive world wide news coverage, even in many smaller countries. They have an extensive network of world-wide correspondents. Their depth of world-wide news I believe in unequaled. But I just can’t stomach their propaganda anymore.

#3 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 17, 2014 @ 9:19 pm

The shamelessness of it all is what gets me…

The Economist:

“The storming of police stations in eastern Ukraine over the weekend by pro-Russian protesters…is a clever move, for it has put the interim government in Kiev in an impossible position. Mr Putin has warned that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. If the country’s government fails to take control, it will open itself to charges that it cannot keep order within its own borders. But its soldiers are poorly trained, so in using force…it risks escalation and bloodshed. Either way, it loses.”

What does this remind of? Hmmm? I’ve got it, it was the same “clever move” that the West played on the elected president of the Ukraine, not so long ago. Finance and organize endless, disruptive and ultimately violent demonstrations in Kiev. If the president, Yanukovych, resorted to force, he was a brutal thug, a dictator, etc, etc. If he didn’t, well then, obviously, he “had lost control” and could no longer govern his own country.

“The West has seen Russia brush off its threats and warnings. It looks feeble and divided.”

Just as the West brushed off Putin’s and Russia’s threats and warnings, no? Making him and it look the same way.

“Yet, after the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, even doves should grasp that the best chance of stability lies in standing up to Mr Putin, because firmness today is the way to avoid confrontation later.”

I have nothing to add to Mr Larison’s succinct disposal of this piece of self contradictory non sense.

“Russia insists that it has played no part in the seizure of towns such as Sloviansk and Gorlivka. This is implausible….Russian agents have turned up in custody and in reporters’ notebooks, organising the protests and, some say, paying for them. Russia has been meddling in eastern Ukraine for weeks…”

Again, the volt face is astounding. All Fall and Winter, Western meddling, open and overt, to the extent of US diplomatic personnel personally encouraging coup makers and literally feeding them on the streets, was not only countenanced by the Western media, but celebrated. The only condemnation was that “not enough” was being done. But now, ironically, interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine is some sort of crime against humanity!

“…the Kremlin has much to fear from the pro-European demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. It appears determined to see the new Ukraine fail.”

Yes, Russia fears NATO being expanded right up to its heartland, a point which it has made again and again since the break up of the USSR twenty years ago, and which it has repeatedly and forcefully stressed in the last five years. Russia does want “the new Ukraine,” ie the Ukraine controlled by hyper nationalists who desire to make Russian speaking citizens into persona non grata, and to join the EU and NATO as quickly as possible, to fail. Why wouldn’t it? And why shouldn’t it?

“There are several reasons why Russia might want to destabilise Ukraine. One motive could be to stop the presidential elections, due on May 25th. That would deprive Ukraine of the elected leadership it needs to restore order. A second could be to justify overt Russian intervention. Mr Putin is capable of exploiting either anarchy or bloodshed as a pretext to move his troops… into Ukraine But occupation would come at a heavy cost, so the Kremlin might prefer…civil conflict that destroys the authority of Kiev, followed by a parallel government for eastern Ukraine. There is nothing wrong with federalism in principle, but this would be a formula for Russian domination.”

Again, the double standard being applied here is almost comical in its transparency. The West, which helped overthrow an elected government, and essentially put a different one, more to its liking in power (with, again, US diplomatic personnel literally choosing candidates for office) and which reneged on an agreement to speed up elections ahead of schedule, is now suddenly all about law and order, preventing anarchy, legitimate government, holding elections right away, stemming “outside” interference, and so on.

“those who risked their lives in the Maidan for a chance of something better…”

Again, how The Economist can laud the foreign sponsored coup makers in Kiev, and still keep up the crocodile tears for the poor little Maidan protestors (who brought down a government with their violence), while at the same time condemning unconditionally and without nuance the current protests in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, which are no more foreign sponsored than Maidan was, is amazing. Do the editors of the Economist think so little of their readers? Do they really think that this kind of “We have always been at war with EastAsia” stuff is going to fly?

“Mr Putin..has claimed a duty to intervene to protect Russian-speakers wherever they are. He has staged a referendum and annexation, in defiance of Ukrainian law. And he has abrogated a commitment to respect Ukraine’s borders, which Russia signed in 1994 when Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons. Throughout, Mr Putin has shown that truth and the law are whatever happens to suit him at the time.”

Again, simply amazing. The US, the UK and the EU intervened first, no? And the US and the UK also signed that 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which they also promised to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty, to NOT intervene in its internal affairs, and to not aid and abet coup makers. “Truth” is the first casualty here, while “law” is something, apparently, that comes and goes based on the convenience of its presence to our brave editors.

I can’t deal with any more of it. It is simply impossible to take it seriously. The extent of the one rule for me and another for thee mentality, the notion that the West can do any damn thing it pleases, but then turn around, and in the same country and the same year, condemn those very same things when done by others, is breathtaking. And stupefying. And grossly insulting.

#4 Comment By Carroba On April 17, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

As usual, Economist offers its Russophobic and nonsensical advice on dealing with Russia. In Economist’s view, only weak and disintegrating Russia is good Russia. What would back this firmness? It surely wouldn’t be credibility, for nobody outside of Poland and ex-Soviet republics on the Baltic believes that NATO would intervene if Russia invaded Ukraine. If Kiev attempts to forcefully subdue those who rebelled against it, Russia will step in. Indeed, “firmness” could only encourage the more militant members of the government in Kiev to use force, making Russian invasion much more likely.

Things for the US are pretty simple here. No national interest of our is endangered by Russia keeping Ukraine in its sphere. To paraphrase Bismarck, the whole of Eastern Europe is not worth bones of single American Marine. To the extent it could ever become, it would be to keep Russia’s eastern borders secure so it can more effectively help us balance the only country likely to emerge as a serious rival to us, China. I know that this doesn’t jive well with our bloated and largely useless national security machine (perhaps best symbolized by Nuland-Kagan neocon “power-couple”), but it is clear as day.

In the most important war for our legitimate national security interests in since the invasion of Korea, war against Al Quaeda in Afganistan, Russia proved a far more useful ally than the entire continental portion of NATO alliance. Where were, pray tell us, brigades of Estonian, Polish, French and German infantry to tackle insurgency in the most dangerous areas of Afganistan? To what use can we ever put the mighty Lithuanian airforce should we need its help to battle the militants in Yemen and Somalia who might be planning the next attack on our homeland? I sincerely hope that Denmark’s imposing navy, with its unmatched projection capabilities, will come to our aid if we ever have to face off against China’s growing naval might…Military weakness of European countries and their consistent unwillingness to come to our aid whenever we need it but is not in their direct national interest, points to the whole absurdity of continuing to expend our wealth on their protection. Sure, while the Soviet Union threatened to overrun Western Europe and possibly attack us next, we had to deter it. Now, however, we are nothing more than lackeys of a few insignificant and chauvinistic countries in their fight against all things Russian, not least their own Russian minorities whose mistreatment we so shamelessly ignore.

This all comes to a very simple point. For decades an army of national security “experts” and bureaucrats grew around the effort to win the Cold War. When that war was won, they had nothing to do and had to find new dragons to slay. It didn’t matter how much money it cost us or how many people in foreign countries had to die. Our elites had families to feed and nothing was going to get in the way. That is why our policy is so erratic, so inconsistent, and so often in complete opposition to our basic national interests. Only when costs of those blunders become significant in the form of many soldiers dying and budget deficits exploding, do average people notice those blunders and force change. Unfortunately, the people leading us from one pointless war to next don’t always get it right, tho they do try hard to fight only easy wars, and sometimes get us into bloody messes. The only good thing about Ukrainian crisis is that there is no danger of that, for nobody is seriously considering that we fight the Russians if they invade Ukraine.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On April 18, 2014 @ 12:44 am

Not surprising that a magazine that touts western oligarchic interests, should puff their interests in the Ukraine.

#6 Comment By Ken_L On April 18, 2014 @ 12:49 am

The Economist writes that “European voters will not put up with gas shortages, so an embargo is not plausible.” It then proceeds to recommend punitive measures against Russia which are likely to be met with retaliatory measures causing gas shortages. I guess the logic is that in the latter case European voters can be told “Don’t look at is, it’s the Russians being aggressive again.”

Interestingly I don’t see much support at all for this kind of belligerence within mainland Europe; it’s mainly being driven from across the Atlantic and to a lesser extent the UK. I guess old habits die hard – in this case, slipping into the Cold War mindset where Europe was just a chessboard for the Great Game to be played by others.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 18, 2014 @ 8:14 am

Firmness isn’t the issue. There ought to be a sense of seriousness about our policy choices and reasons for having them.

While Iraq and Afghanistan could make some sense if you were just angry and wanted revenge or you strung the analysis ought far enough or if you thought womenkind were near extinction by Islam (snore) one could take those adventures seriously.

But inviting revolutions the way this admin has from month one in office, especially in democracies — just made no sense. And all the firmness in the world is not going cover the foolishness of that strategic advance.

Reminds one of the silliness of dirty tricks squad hoping that the target will change. Silly and wholly unserious approach.

#8 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On April 18, 2014 @ 11:35 am

This is just the Munich syndrome at work. If we had only gone to war over Sudentenland (it is theorized), we might have avoided WWII and fought a smaller war instead. Like all counterfactuals, it can be neither proven nor disproven.

Neocons just take this as a universal principle, that we must go to war over everything and if we don’t, WWIII will follow.

#9 Comment By Andrew On April 18, 2014 @ 2:06 pm


While Iraq and Afghanistan could make some sense

Afghanistan made all sense–politically and militarily. It was mishandled, of course. But it was sound decision to go in, the matter was with HOW.

Iraq–a complete strategic blunder, which can not be rationalized either from position of policy (any) or militarily. Total absurd and totally indefensible decision.