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“Moscow understands only force and willingness to sacrifice human lives”

March 2, 2014

As I write, the Kremlin has won a seemingly bloodless victory by seizing Crimea without real resistance. As Europe panics and U.S. leadership seems to have no idea what to do about Vladimir Putin’s single-handed shredding of Europe’s post-Cold War rulebook, the next step is unclear. To be sure, if Putin moves forces into ethnically Russian areas of eastern Ukraine – as the Duma has “approved” and he told President Obama he reserves the right to – Europe will have a real war on its hands; it is already in its biggest crisis since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But a wider war cannot be ruled out. At a minimum, the post-1991 assurances that Europe would be forever at peace, that “soft power” could conquer all, or nearly so, that the continent’s biggest problems would be arguments over EU agricultural subsidies, have been shattered for good.

It is time to face some unpleasant facts. History – and force – is back with a vengeance, thanks to Kremlin belligerence, as I predicted last fall. Unless Europe wants to confront endless intimidation and worse at the hands of a resurgent Russia, it must dispense with pleasing nonsense and address the pressing need to defend itself and its values. I am posting below, in toto, the most forthright explanation of the situation I have yet found, an op-ed by Mart Helme, the former Estonian ambassador to Russia (thanks to Estonian relatives who saw this and alerted me). Entitled, “Moscow only understands force and willingness to sacrifice human lives,” this is a bracing, no-holds-barred must-read for anyone who cherishes European values, as I do, and wants to see them survive, as old threats reappear with a vengeance.

Was Hitler done with the Anschluss? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied just with Ukraine. And after Ukraine, Russia can only have one target – the Baltic states.

Russia has occupied Crimea. Western countries, including Estonia, are confused and able to utter only outdated and increasingly embarrassing platitudes. Russia will not wait for EU foreign ministers to eventually convene for a meeting, but is making hay while the sun shines – it is moving new military units and equipment to Crimea, expanding the conflict to eastern and southern Ukraine, and using Victor Yanukovych, who has sought refuge in Russia, to question the legitimacy of the people who seized power in Kyiv, and to create a cover for its criminal activities.

At the same time, the West is prattling in the United Nations where Russia holds veto rights at the Security Council, and making noise in the OSCE where all decisions need a consensus, which Russia (or any of its vassals) will naturally not allow to happen, while letting the leaders of big countries issue comically toothless statements instead. And with each passing day, Moscow is adding to the hard facts which the so-called international community must face.

In a nutshell, Russia is fighting ruthlessly and brutally, and proving to all that the post-Cold War world has been replaced by the post-post-Cold War world in which Moscow no longer considers the current international order, law, and organizations competent to solve problems.

What is applicable then? From Moscow’s point of view, only force and the willingness to sacrifice human lives when force is applied.

Is the West willing to do that? That is extremely unlikely. It is one thing to mount military operations against Afghan poppy growers and quite another to accept the challenge of a nuclear power with the world’s largest territory and the richest deposits of natural resources, which feels cornered in a deepening confrontation with the West and is not going to surrender its habitats without a fight.

Moscow knows – and so does the West but it is not willing to admit it even to itself – that Western civilization in its decadence has reached the final stage of its degradation where only money and comfort count. Careerists and anglers, who are able to navigate the ship only in good weather, have risen to the top during decades of inert existence. They will lose their heads in a storm, and can only utter banalities and behave accordingly.

Oswald Spengler in his “The Decline of the West” predicted more than correctly that money will bring down  Western democracy (that is exactly what has already happened), and then the power of money will be conquered by force. Europe, fighting for the rainbow flag and gender quotas, is a complete impotent in that respect; the United States, on the other hand, when considering intervening, is thinking about moves of a broader global game and must inevitably take into account that average Americans do not have a clue where someplace called Crimea is located. Moreover, the United States is tired of the problems of the rest of the world and wants to take a rest. And we do not know whether it intends to wake up and do something if a small country like Estonia screams for help at some point.

This is the essence of an existential question for a wider audience: Is the West (especially the United States) willing to start what would likely be a truly uncompromising fight in order to win Crimea, as well as the eastern and southern Ukraine back from Moscow? That is not likely. It is much more likely that the West will behave exactly the way it did in 1938 when Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler demanded that they have Czechoslovakia, the independence and territorial integrity of which had been guaranteed by the Soviet Union and France in the League of Nations.

At the time, the issue was left for Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to mediate, which resulted in Czechoslovakia being left to Hitler to tear apart. Was Hitler satisfied with that? No. Neither will Russia be satisfied with this. After Ukraine, Russia will only have one target – the Baltic states.

It is naive to maintain that the West can influence Russia by imposing sanctions and freezing funds of the ruling kleptocratic clique. Putin & Co. have transferred their assets to a safe place by now, and Russia can withstand a long economic blockade stoically because the average Russian, unlike Europeans and Americans, is able to survive on vodka and potatoes alone. But it is Germany which will be unable to stay in business without Russian raw materials.

In 2008, Russia tested the West by launching a military attack against Georgia. The West failed the test. According to the peace treaty, negotiated with the French president as a mediator, Russia should have withdrawn troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but we all know very well that Moscow has so far not done that. It is highly unlikely that Russia will leave Crimea now that it has been conquered; even moreso, considering that historically it has never been an organic part of Ukraine.

In fact, Ukraine has only one – bloody – option to regain control over Crimea (and other potentially separatist regions). That means mobilizing the armed forces and going against the aggressor with arms. Just like Yanukovych was brought down at a price of victims’ blood, Russia will retreat when it meets decisive armed resistance. Because Russia is not nearly as strong as it makes itself out to be.

The authorities currently in power in Kyiv with all their economic problems are probably too much Western puppets to do what they are obliged to do under the Ukrainian Constitution. Sacrificing a Crimea or a Donetsk means nothing for Western countries which are sprawling in their own comfort zone.

After all, Western leaders, brought up in the spirit of the 1960’s hippie ideology, are familiar with only one motto – “Make love, not war”. Russia is familiar with the lyrics of a different song: “A yesly zavtra voyna … ” – if there is war tomorrow.

From → History, Strategy

27 Comments
  1. John Miller permalink

    At last for god’s sake one genuine article. When syrian muslims are killing each other and US yawned, when black africans in sudan, rwanda etc kill each other and US slept, why is US so excited when slav/christians/white want to kill each other in russia/ukraine? let US stay the hell out of ukraine issue and let ukraine army stand up for its own country first before world can intervene.

    If cuba tomorrow becomes part of russia and declare themselves as russian state/annexure and welcome russian army and if russia lands 50,000 troops in cuba what will america do? it will do EXACTLY what putin is doing now.

    in ukraine, the west has overplayed its hands by forcing the democratically elected govt (the yankavich govt was elected by people of ukraine in free and fair elections and not by russia). fair enough he was ousted in people coup. now let the army/people of ukraine stand and fight russia if russia advances in south ukraine and east ukraine.

    adding to all of above is the complicated history of ukraine/crimea.

    people of afghanistan (talibans now and mujhadeens then) was supported by US in fight against russians. let ukraine fight now and then US can go in just like it did in afghanistan in an covert manner (if at all US wants to do that).

    cold war all over again. unfortunately yes. but remember putin is playing divide and rule which the british did with aplomb for 3 centuries from 16th to 19th in india/africa/latin america killing millions of people directly or indirectly. britain of all states has NO voice to speak against putin absolutely.

    but there is an easy way out of this. let putin make his move into southern ukraine/eastern ukraine and ukraine can do what MLK/Gandhi did. which is non violent movement against the russian army. or there is more easy way out. engage putin directly and take care of his concerns in ukraine.

  2. Reblogged this on reporting on Ukraine and commented:
    John R. Schindler is professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, where he’s been since 2005, and where he teaches courses on security, strategy, intelligence, terrorism, and occasionally military history. Before joining the NWC faculty, he spent nearly a decade with the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer. There’s not much he can say about that, except that he worked problems in Eastern Europe and the Middle East with a counterespionage flavor, and he collaborated closely with other government agencies who would probably prefer he didn’t mention them. He’s also served as an officer specializing in cryptology (now called information warfare for no particular reason) in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

  3. Just read Mr. Miller’s comments, and was reminded of the long-ago Negotiator Neville Chamberlain, who (fatuously) proclaimed : ” Peace in our time !”

    I also have childhood memories of Dad and another visiting farmer taking about Hitler’s proclaimed need for “living space”-because Germany had become so crowded. Understandable, our visitor thought.

    That said, the same arithmetic that militated against any kind of war with Russia , is still pretty much valid, and I can understand Mr. Miller’s comments perfectly.

  4. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    An uncomfortable situation is rapidly growing worse : Damned if we do; Damned if we don’t .

  5. Rob permalink

    You don’t see the big picture at all John Miller. If Russia topples Ukraine, Russia will move on to Poland next. Putin is a maniac. He will not stop with Ukraine. If the world does not stand up to Putin now (we had a chance to do that in 2008 with Georgia) then god help us all. The world will be a different place in the next decade………
    Russia’s concerns over Ukraine is that Putin wants “little Russia -Ukraine” to obey them. What Russia fails to remember is that the nation of Ukraine existed before Russia!

  6. Steve permalink

    Why is it a non-issue when NATO member Turkey sends tanks to occupy parts of a sovereign country to protect an imperiled ethnic minority (and keeps soldiers there for 38 years), but already “the biggest crisis in 46 years” when Russia does the same for a few days?

    This logic makes no sense to me.

  7. “…and U.S. leadership seems to have no idea what to do about Vladimir Putin…”

    My guess is you’re old, fat, white and bald. Too old to pick up a weapon, to feeble to do anything other than recommend that someone else’s kid go to Ukraine and die uselessly, because derp.

    Pootie Poot Isn’t going to start WW3. Settle down, charge up your rascal scooter and plan tomorrows trip to walmart to pickup your little blue pills.

    • White, not old, not fat, quite a lot of great hair. You want to settle this like a man or do you just talk tough, little man?

  8. Great article John. The Spenglerian analysis spot-on in terms of Europeans wanting a confrontation with Russia that no Euro is prepared for at all – bureaucratic Brussels’ emperors with no clothes whatsoever . Well done.

  9. A reader permalink

    Thanks for this and all your Tweets.

  10. Sean Meaney permalink

    Get back to me when there has been elections in the Ukraine involving everyone and not just the pro Europe minority who protested until they got what they want and threats from the US president not to arrest them for terrorism.
    What was needed in Syria was the detonation of one Russian nuke in a terrorist held town in northern Syria to encourage the terrorists to leave.

  11. Herb Abrams permalink

    Thank you for finding, translating and posting this article.

    I remind myself:

    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

    John Stuart Mill

  12. Jim Taylor permalink

    Outstanding article and a clear wake up call to every thinking person who understands history. This is our Munich; President Obama is our Chamberlin. The leader of the only country that could, if it wanted to, mount a military operation in Ukraine makes a tepid responses that sound like something out of the mouth of Truman Capote.
    Instead of a George H.W. Bush moment, “This aggression will not stand” President Obama utters some proclamation to the effect that we will do all we can to aid Ukraine, short of actually helping. This whole farce plays out like an episode from BBC’s “Yes Minister”, except this deadly serious business. I have a soon to be 18 year old son and I fear our President and the Ass Clowns he calls a foriegn policy team are going to stumble through this affair right into a European war, which will quickly spread to the Middle East. If ever we needed a Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan or Bush, its now!
    Our only hope is that like with Munich and Hitler, Comrade Putin will need a year or two to digest his meal of Crimea before moving on to the second course and maybe we will wake up a elect a leader for President instead of a community organizer.

  13. Tannenburg permalink

    Haha, what a ridiculous article! Pure propaganda- painting Putin as Hitler (offensive to Russia too, since they essentially took on the brunt of the Wehrmacht). I have no axe to grind national or ideological- the propaganda machines on both sides are in overdrive. The Ukraine, is well within the Russian sphere of influence, regardless of the historical animosities. That Yanukovych was indeed unconstitutionally removed is a fact, that he became, wittingly or otherwise, a Russian stooge is a fact, Russia is wary of the West and not without good reason.

    Putin is a vile Autocrat true, but he is in effect doing what any leader would do- protecting his national (business) interests and in Ukraine they are vast; $30bn invested, energy, agricultural and industrial export markets, vital pipelines into Central Europe-Germany, Austria etc. Russia’s main access point via the Black Sea Fleet, to the southern oceans and seas, Suez and beyond. Meanwhile the neo-cons, the unelected EU bureaucrats and the Oligarchs of the US financial system all want to draw the Ukraine into their own orbit, break the power of Russian energy supplies, supplant it with their own pipelines from the ‘liberated’ ME, all the while encouraging an insane hard core of Neo-Nazis and extreme nationalists to push more liberal Ukrainian politicians into more strident positions- dragging with them the average ordinary Ukrainian, who has the choice of either massive austerity as dictated by a crooked Brussels, or becoming a vassalage under a corrupt Russian puppet-state run by gangster-elite.

    All the politicians who talk tough about the crisis only do so from the point of view of having their own state-of-the-art NBC bunkers, the rest of us will be atomised should a shooting war with the west start and then rapidly escalate (America’s reluctant military,who are barely able to fight yet another mass conventional war, will quickly resort to air-power, drones and tactical nukes if they have to, to preserve the US’ status as world power and reserve currency holder. If they falter, China will dump their Treasury Bonds lickety-spit, either that or take Russia’s and Eastern Ukraine’s side under the Nuclear Umbrella treaty they signed with the old Ukrainian government…

    Cry Havoc…

  14. gogs permalink

    of this whole damn mess the most amazing thing is nobody ever mentions germany and the part they play.

    merkels the main driving force behind the EU’s move east,this is where the tension with russia comes from,yet germanys no where to be seen.its american and british diplomats taking the heat.

    i’m all for covering russia at every inch we can,but its about time germany also steps up and accepts some responsibility.

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