Eurasia note #38 - Putin's Narrowing Window in Ukraine
Warmongers await their opportunity, on several fronts
West has spared some Russian oligarchs from sanctions — regime change in waiting?
Russia’s slow advance emboldens neocons, prompting Biden’s warnings.
Turkish negotiations disappoint, second day of talks cancelled.
Polish defence ministry wants peacekeepers, no-fly zone over humanitarian corridors.
Russian forces take Mariupol, Kherson in south, isolate Chernihiv in the north.
Russian forces back off Kyiv, retreat at least 35km to the east.
UN says 4 million refugees have fled Ukraine, 6.5 million displaced internally.
(1,600 words or eight minutes’ read.)
Tbilisi, Mar 31, 2022
Having embroiled Russia in a war, a faction of the investor class is trying to goad the U.S., too.
When Joe Biden said that president Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” the message was intentional or, at least, he aired deliberations behind closed doors. Likewise his words to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division about Ukraine: “you're going to see when you're there.”
Whether this originates from neocons or the 1,000 top corporations behind the World Economic Forum in Davos, or the bankers who traditionally finance both sides in war is moot — choose your cohort among the Owners. Some are motivated by weapons profits. Others seem to be looking for war, more or less contained.
The broader picture is that sanctions risk catastrophic damage to the global economy, even more than to Russia. A detailed look at who is sanctioned, or not, suggests the West may be readying its “home team” of Russian oligarchs in the hope of unseating Putin (see below for more).
As Russia’s ground offensive has bogged down, so the State Department has increased the rhetoric. Putin has always implied he does not want to control western Ukraine.
Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin said Moscow was reducing military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv to give negotiations the best chance. In the south Russia has control of Mariupol and Kherson
Talks in Istanbul on Tuesday failed to progress into a second day.
The lack of urgency on the part of Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy suggest U.S. negotiators are talking in his ear. Beforehand he offered concessions; in the meeting room his representatives seem more entrenched.
This suggests the Atlanticists rather than Ukraine’s leadership arrived for the talks with little intention to make peace; on the Russian side this may embolden those prepared to dig in.
This is not to take sides but to interpret outcomes.
Weighing the risk
The more troops the U.S. and NATO move to the Polish border, the more Russia may want to finish the offensive before it entangles with NATO by error or intent.
The Polish Ministry of Defense proposes deploying 10,000 NATO troops as an international contingent to “protect humanitarian corridors” and to enforce a no fly zone over them.
The moment of greatest risk is when the protagonist over-estimates the strength of his position. The West is certainly not the victim, however much the media cries out in pain. The bulk of the Armed Forces of Ukraine had massed against the Donbas by mid-February, before Russia’s intervention in a war that has been ongoing since 2014.
The direction of Russia’s push suggests it won’t stop until Donetsk and Lugansk regions are freed in their entirety which means the AFU will be encircled or pushed back.
Who is leading whom? For some it is personal. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants. For others like the British, they are unable to escape a historical hatred of Russia. For aristocrats running the EU, and the Owner-Investors, the lure of war profits and resources in play is the opportunity of a lifetime.
Ukraine has not yet categorically agreed to non-nuclear status, outside of NATO, and still aspires to join the European Union which, in view of the European Defence Agency, amounts to a proto military bloc.
The Biden administration’s 2022 Nuclear Posture Review omits the traditional assurance of no first use. “The Nuclear Posture Review language does not apply exclusively to nuclear attack but extends to extreme circumstances that would require the United States to defend allies and partners,” assistant defense secretary for international security affairs Celeste Wallander told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. 
Broad economic hit
Sanctions clearly hurt the West, posing a threat not just to fuel supplies but food. The U.S. has ratcheted sanctions about as high as it can against Russia and is now turning on China and, perhaps soon, allies like India.
There may be a broader agenda at play. The war only amplifies disruption that was already underway, much of it deliberate policy — from lockdown and the closure of businesses, to the axing of pipelines and the reduction of fracking, and the Green agenda.
See Moneycircus, Mar 24, 2022 — Eurasia note #36 - Beyond War: Containing The Fallout
Russia’s retaliation to Western sanctions has been muted, so far. Europe continues to pay it $285 million a day. From this week it wants “unfriendly countries” to pay in roubles only and says it will not ship gas for free — effectively threatening a cut off.
The unfriendly countries — which include all of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, the U.S. and Canada, Japan and South Korea — say the demand represents breach of contract. However several of those countries froze Russia’s holdings of foreign currency; they can hardly object when Russia says “roubles only.”
It’s a game of who blinks first to stop the flow of gas and oil: the unwilling customer or the testy supplier.
Oil exports are even more important, at $104 billion in 2021 for crude, petrol, and diesel against $43 billion for natural gas, according to campaigners Transport & Environment (T&E).
The best outcome for the rest of us would be for Russia and China to tie their currencies to oil, gold and genuine manufactured wealth. This is not just about sound currency but society’s priorities: do we take raw materials and make stuff or do we let money, unhinged from any concept of value, dictate humanity’s future, including all the opportunities that negates?