Sunday, 13 February 2022

"A Whiff of Munich in the Air"

The chance of a Russian invasion of Ukraine? Highly unlikely. That's not me, but Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President speaking a fortnight ago. Since then, the US and UK governments have warned conflict is imminent. Russia had planned spectacular false flag operations to use as a pretext for an invasion, a plot to engineer a coup and install a pro-Putin puppet, a campaign of sabotage by undercover agents, and all manner of skulduggery prefacing the kind of lightning war not seen in Europe since the 1940s. The US State Department and the duumvirate, with the emphasis on the dumb, of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace have talked tough on consequences and sanctions for Russia. But if they're too tight how will the Tory Party make up the lost Russian money?

If Putin's show of strength on Ukraine's borders are for internal consumption, that is doubly true of the posturing by the Joe Biden and Boris Johnson governments. For Biden it's about telling his hawkish establishment that the chafing isolationism of the Donald Trump years are done, and the USA is back, baby. Whereas the Donald flattered dictators and authoritarians, in the US liberal imaginary Biden is leading the charge against them. Just don't mention Saudi Arabia, ever. And for the Tories here? Post-Brexit, the diminishment of the UK economically can be recuperated, at least on the level of spectacle, militarily. As the Tories fancy the UK as Western Europe's largest martial power (it isn't), sabre rattling is a way of demonstrating to its audiences that it matters and can still play a leadership role in world affairs. And given the fundamental anxieties of the Tory popular base, frightening them a little won't hurt either.

It's with this in mind one should approach the absurdity of the Ben Wallace interview in the Sunday Times. Because we haven't had enough Second World War similes these last two years, Wallace argues that the Ukraine crisis has "a whiff of Munich in the air." Now there's a line designed to attract attention. This pong is a not subtle dig at the diplomatic efforts of Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz. Macron in particular has attracted ire for offering guarantees in exchange for certain guarantees. Or what is normally referred to as "diplomacy" and "talks". What's scary, says Wallace, is as the talks have continued the troops have carried on building up on the border, though outlets have been reporting there are now 130,000 gathered for "military exercises" for about a week now. And, adding to a contrived sense of urgency, Der Spiegel have acquired a Russian plan to invade Ukraine. I'm sure the Russian military have planning documents for putative invasions of all its neighbours and the near abroad, just as NATO have a continually updated plan to attack Russia.

There is real danger made all the more combustible by the stupidities of Anglo-American diplomacy. They misrecognise, probably entirely wilfully, what this game is. The basic reading that Putin is chancing his arm to rewrite the status quo in Eastern Europe is largely correct. There's the long-standing grievance over the expansion of NATO eastwards after the end of the Cold War. Though, contrary to Moscow's claims, there was no formal agreement between the West and the USSR (as was), the admission of former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet republics are perceived as a block on the Kremlin's big power ambitions by Putin and his circle. This is reinforced by the fire last time, when the Western powers publicly backed and supported the overthrow of Moscow's man in Kyiv. Having seen the bad blood in Europe over Brexit, the paralysis induced by Covid, the Afghanistan debacle, and noting Western publics' scepticism toward military action, shifting troops towards Ukraine's border while undertaking joint exercises in Belarus is pretty straightforward brinkmanship. Think the periodic histrionics customary to the North Korean dynasty, minus the blood curdling language but backed by more serious military hardware.

The US/UK view, however, is that having wrenched Ukraine out from under Putin's thumb, save the long-running conflict in the Donbas and the "loss" of Crimea, seeing it back in Moscow's orbit is unconscionable. Even allowing Ukraine to consider a permanently neutral status guaranteed by treaty is a step too far. In fact, the current status of Ukraine as a friendly associate of the alliance suits US and UK governments. The permanent tension is good for the arms trade and, they believe, domestic politics - something that transcends party divisions. With both sides seemingly committed to a zero sum game, the danger of war can never be entirely discounted.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to think the threat is overblown and that there's something pf the "45 minutes to launch WMD" about Wallace's claims an invasion is nigh. As the defence secretary is fond of WWII comparisons, let's consider another. In 1939, Poland's population was 34 million and Hitler fielded an army of 1.5 million, 2,500 tanks and 2,000 planes to overwhelm the country. In 2022, Russia has 130,000 troops in place and more modest complements of armour and air support. It is facing a Ukraine of 44 million people with 215,000 front line troops ready to go, with 53,000 militarised "border guards" and a 60,000-strong national guard. This is not counting the irregulars. Great show has also been made of the materiel and "advisors" dropped into Ukraine by the Western powers. In short, Putin hasn't amassed anywhere near a sizeable enough force if he was serious about invading. A war would be costly, drawn out, and a thrust toward Kyiv could easily get bogged down, air supremacy or no. And Russia has a colourful history of dealing with leaders who take them into unwinnable wars. Putin knows this, Macron knows this, and Wallace, Truss, and Johnson know it too.

I suppose in one respect the Defence Secretary's posturing aligns with the UK/France connivances over Munich. Wallace's appeasement comment was sharply criticised by Ukraine's ambassador to this country, attacking him for pouring cold water on the efforts of others and showing up division in NATO. What Wallace shares with Neville Chamberlain is the utter disdain of small countries and minor nations. When the signatures went on the Agreement, which gifted the Sudetenland to Hitler, Britain and France did so without consulting with the Czechoslovak government at all. They signed away the country's border areas, which contained some of its most advanced industries and most defensible terrain to appease the Nazis. Over Ukraine, witness the contrasting behaviours of our respective governments. The UK, shouting its mouth off about invasion and trying to whip up fears of war. And Ukraine? The President repeatedly saying the chances of a Russian attack are low, and generally trying to keep a cool head on things. If Wallace and the Tories respected the rights of small nations, they would defer to Kyiv's efforts at defusing the crisis instead of attempting to ramp it up.

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Blissex said...

«they would defer to Kyiv's efforts at defusing the crisis instead of attempting to ramp it up.»

My impression is that the relentless and synchronized bigging up of the imaginary Ukraine situation is purely a "distraction operation" from the internal issue of "Washington Consensus" countries, in particular USA and UK, to replace the fantasies of the Trump "russian puppet" story, and to obfuscate real issues like the continuing COVID-19 epidemics, slowed down but not that much by mass vaccinations, and the deflation of real wages and the inflation of real housing costs, etc.; this is far more important than throwing under the bus the ukrainians.

Zelensky did not just say that a ruassian attack is "Highly unlikely", he also complained that all the scaremongering by the USA and UK governments is driving out investors and provoking a capital flight the the Ukraine, which is severely harming the economy of what is already a largely failed state.

MY impression of the russian military situation is that it is defensive: the ukrainian government ordered not so long ago their military to take back Donbass and Crimea by force (perhaps after a "false flag" operation), the ukrainian military have receive much funding and equipment and training from NATO to prepare for a "pre-emptive" attack on Donbass and Crimea, and the russian forces inside the russian borders seem indeed to small to mount an invasion, but large enough to push back an attack on Donbass and Crimea.

One sign of the times is an editorial in "The Economist" arguing that the Mink Agreement should not be respected by Ukraine, France and Germany, because the agreed federal solution for the Donbass should be reneged on.
This is also argued in: (which seems pure propaganda to me).

Blissex said...

«and to obfuscate real issues like the continuing COVID-19 epidemics»

As to those, here is a fascinating article arguing that continuing the very successful "TTI"/"zero COVID" strategy *in China* is both good for China and the western economies, but of course not for the western economies and their citizens themselves:
«the policy of trying to contain Covid will continue through 2022 and even beyond. The government acknowledges the policy has costs, but still believes these are outweighed by the benefits, according to a recent IMF report. Even access to better vaccines might not be enough to push China to change track because relying on shots alone isn’t effective at stopping infections as mutations can evade immunity, according to Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “We previously thought Covid-19 could be basically contained through vaccines, but now it seems that there’s no simple method to control it except with comprehensive measures,” he told the state-backed Global Times newspaper recently, adding that China will continue its current policies as long as imported infections have the ability to trigger large-scale outbreaks. Yet as the past two years have demonstrated, temporary and isolated shutdowns don’t mean manufacturers and exporters stop working and goods don’t get onto ships. So the longer China sticks with Covid zero, the better it’ll be for the rest of the world.»

The differences between China and "the west"? The chinese government is not obsessed with "fatalistic liberalism" ideology, and big sales by Pfizer, Moderna, J&J in China are not going to happen, so betting everything just on vaccinations every 6-9 months is not applicable.

Blissex said...

«the ukrainian government ordered not so long ago their military to take back Donbass and Crimea by force (perhaps after a "false flag" operation), the ukrainian military have received much funding and equipment and training from NATO to prepare for a "pre-emptive" attack on Donbass and Crimea»

The other factor is that an invasion of Ukraine would cost a lot of money, and the russian government has better ways of spending it.

I think that to understand that one has to look at how Azerbajan took back in October 2020 most of the armenian-majority Nagorno-Kharabak with an attack using turkish drones and support. The ukrainian government has thereafter been buying turkish drones and support. Surprise!

A lot of the russian deployments inside their own borders is ECM and anti-aircraft stuff to ensure that there is a no-fly zone over Donbass and Crimea ready when the ukrainians make their "pre-emptive" defensive attack :-), plus some tanks and ground troops to defend that stuff from incursions by the ukranisns to take them out. It's not complicated.

Given how badly the already screwed and looted ukrainian economy has been hit by the media campaign about the fantasy of a russian invasion, I doubt that the ukrainian government wants now to double down on the "pre-emptive" attack on Donbass and Crimea.

Blissex said...

«much funding and equipment and training from NATO to prepare for a "pre-emptive" attack on Donbass and Crimea»

The precedent here is the "pre-emptive" attack by the georgian fascists on south Ossetia, to ethnically cleanse it after it had declared independence, and it was not even populated by ethnic russians, but by ossetian/scythes (like north Ossetia that is part of the Russian Federation). The person who ordered the attack and ethnic cleansing was the "colourful" Saakashvili, who was a very good friend of the current president ("Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy triggered a diplomatic row with Georgia by offering the post of deputy prime minister to former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili") but is no back in Georgia in less happy circumstances.
«PARIS (Reuters) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had long planned a military strike to seize back the breakaway region of South Ossetia but executed it poorly, making it easy for Russia to retaliate, Saakashvili’s former defence minister said. [...] the United States was partly to blame for the war, having failed to check the ambitions of what he called a man with democratic failings.»
«5:13PM BST 08 Aug 2008
World leaders have appealed for a ceasefire in the conflict, which erupted after Georgia launched a huge offensive aimed at imposing its control over the rebel province with its large Russian population.»
«Tensions came to head in early August 2008, when, after nearly a week of clashes between Georgian troops and separatist forces, Georgia launched a concerted air and ground assault attack on South Ossetia's main city, Tskhinvali.»
«Fatefully, the Georgian leadership attempted to pre-empt further Russian aggression and advanced into Ossetian territory. In doing so, they allowed Russia to claim that Georgian aggression started the war.»

BCFG said...

We are the Nazis by the way

Anonymous said...

I suspect the regime in Kiev, backed by the West, is planning an ethnic cleansing operation in the East, and when the ethnic cleansing operation begins the West are expecting Russia to come to the defence of the people in the East. And if Russia does come to their defence the West can claim, look we told you Russia would attack.

What else can explain this demented hysteria and propaganda?

BCFG said...

Is the staggering levels of propaganda and hysteria being displayed by the Western media and politicians not worthy of a detailed study? It is quite astonishing. What does it say about the people of the West that their leaders think they can ram this claptrap down their throats? Consumerism really is a disease more pernicious than religion.

I would say Russia have let down the people of East Ukraine. They should have annexed the whole region. Let us recapitulate what happened in Ukraine.

In 2014, the elected leader was overthrown in a violent nationalist coup (Nationalists shouting very sinister anti Russian slogans). This coup came after a previous coup in 2008, when the president the people in the East overwhelmingly voted for, was once again overthrown in a coup. A pattern repeated in many countries, where the US empires interests were asserted by shitting on democracy.

The people of the East of Ukraine decided enough was enough, they said, we do not want to live in a country where our vote is not respected and has no meaning. We do not want to live in a country that sees us as an enemy within. So the people of the East rightly declared their independence. This is the point the Russian troop should have come in, but instead the Russians left the people in the East at the mercy of neo fascist Russophobic mobs, and an extreme nationalist government that shelled its own people, killing thousands.

Russia allowed the criminal US Empire to illegally invade Iraq by abstaining at the UN and allowed them to set up bases in Syria. They are reaping what they have sown.

The question is will Russia ever stand up to these criminals? The US empire and its lackeys think Russia will never stand up to them, so they push and prod.

The bloated, overfed and over consuming yanks have a lot more to lose in a global war than Russia, it is about time that Russia recognised this and strategically changed from being a passive doormat to something much more assertive and threatening. Problem is Russia probably thinks the West are as crazy as they appear.

So my bet is that Russia will remain a doormat because Putin is nowhere near a lunatic as the leaders of the US and Britain. It will be Russia’s sanity that will prevent escalation.

Incidentally the level of outright blatant lying being flooded into the mouths of politicians and in every media organisation makes you wonder if anything the UK or US says has ever been even close to the truth. I don’t think I believe anything any US or UK leader says, both now and in the past. And these are not small lies, they are on the grandest scale.

The Syrian chemical bullshit was another example of astonishing lying.

Still, at least Claire Balding is getting a fair wage now, £1.3m a year, up from £300k the previous year. A modest increase, but thanks to the woke hystericals for ensuring justice be done!

Blissex said...

«What else can explain this demented hysteria and propaganda?»

Unless you are an "investor" please don't pay any attention to these numbers, focus on the Ukraine, or on statues and pronouns, or on wallpaper or beers in Downing Street,

Wage increase rate: 3.2%
Retail price inflation: 7.5%
Property price increase rate: 11.2%

BoE rate to mates: 0.5%
Mortgage teaser rate: 1.8%
Mortgage long term rate: 3.5%

Plus some common contracts specify a rate of increase of 3-4% plus retail price inflation, so rents are growing by 10-11% and mobile service by 11-12%.

Blissex said...

«the level of outright blatant lying being flooded into the mouths of politicians and in every media organisation makes you wonder if anything the UK or US says has ever been even close to the truth.»

I think that many USA etc. government and corporations have a policy of *always* lying, even when the truth would be more advantageous to them, because:

* They reckon that the truth is a precious commodity and should not be given for free. Consistency in muddying things is more important the occasional advantage in telling the truth.

* Suppose that telling the truth accidentally turns out not advantageous, then whoever told the occasional truth can be blamed. But if a lie accidentally turns out to be not advantageous, whoever told it can at least say "Well, I was trying".

Anonymous said...


the problem with these statistics:

"Wage increase rate: 3.2%
Retail price inflation: 7.5%
Property price increase rate: 11.2%

BoE rate to mates: 0.5%
Mortgage teaser rate: 1.8%
Mortgage long term rate: 3.5%

Plus some common contracts specify a rate of increase of 3-4% plus retail price inflation, so rents are growing by 10-11% and mobile service by 11-12%."

is that you can't spin them, they actually hit people where it hurts. So the question then becomes, how can twaddle about Ukraine possibly take peoples minds off the fact that they are a lot worse off than they were before?

Searching for that answer takes us down a very dark and depressing road indeed! Time to get the flags out, its the Queens platinum jubilee. Hoooray!