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Ukraine and Russia: A war that nobody wants but everyone talks about

Russia’s leadership does not perceive the European actors in the Ukraine conflict as serious dialogue partners– and rightly so?

Berlin (24/1 – 38.46). One outcome should be cyrstal clear to everyone in Russia, Europe, the United States and Asia. The day the Russian Federation crosses the Ukranian border the proverbial rubicon reached a point of no return. Europe will be at war.

Like 9/11, the Ukranian “assistance” by Moscow is as ill conceived as the U.S. adventures in the Hindukush, and the European ambitions of the former colonial power France in Africa dragging the EU into a new security paradigm somehow led Europe, the US and Russia on a lethal collision course of brinkmanship.

Paradoxically the US response after the 9/11 attack was needed but as Stanley McCyrstal said once, “You can kill your way out of terrorism”. A move in response by the United States after 9/11 received, surprise, surprise, support from the Russians.

Fast forward. To waste twenty years of failed counter terror isolatism by the US, the superpower threw in the towel and sent the signal to rest of us mere mortals. You support the United States, in times of need do not count on the US will defend you. And the European allies are also covered with the proverbial manure of failed nation-building, failed development policies going back to the 1950’s.

We see similar failures of the western, liberal hegomonic thoughts when it comes to Iran, China and the South China Sea and the EU’s mission in Africa. John Maersheimer pointed out in a 2015 presentation if anyone in Washington thinks the Chinese are push-overs, think again, “they eating us for lunch”.

Whats left if diplomacy and economy benefits fail? Just send weapons, primary export article of the United States. War, after all is good for business.

President Biden clearly stated, ‘no US forces’ to be placed in the Ukraine. Non-state actors, PMC are not covered, except the Russian Wagner group was sanctioned by the European Union and the United States. Biden’s announcement was another signal of confused US foreign policy.

Enter the Matrix, Russian style. In a range of interviews since June last year president Putin expressed his frustration with the “American way of doing things”. Say one thing, but do something completely different. This followed by an near idiotic question by US reporter in June 2021 ‘of the agreement [of verbal promise of no NATO expansion] is that written down?’. (see 52:24 min into the interview).

Besides embarrassing the Russian president from then onwards a Russian line in the sand was drawn. Putin since then demanded security guarantees in writing of no eastward expansion. Period.

Since 1991 the United States and Europe missed a opportunity of a lifetime. Get the Russians integrated. No, yuppies in the White House since Bush 41 were living in the world of illusions of happy democracies are willingly embraced by the now democratic Russians. Greed is good, high life, Russians saw in the post-1991 collapse of the Soviet Union the fallacy of the United States.

Education standards in Russia are much higher, and the national pride in ‘Rodina’, the motherland, is still strong. Putin is a product of the collapse of 1991 were woman veterans and Heros of Soviet Union red banner medals, equal to the medal of honor begged for a few Kopeks, (cents), for food.

Putin is a product of this period. A lot of us remember this period vividly. And the 21st wokists in Washington, Brussels and Berlin have forgotten the totalitarian collapse of a belief system. It’s deeply personal. Russia, like China, demands respect.

With approximately 27 million Russian war deaths, one can argue Russia has a point. History may not matter in west, and the Facebook generation of hipsters, it does in Russia. History matters.

A view expressed by the German Naval chief, which sits uncomfortable with the new masters in Berlin. Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenback following his informal remarks in India was sacked (or resigned depend what your political correctness view is). However his message should not be missed. Russia is not a peer state enemy and Germany and Europe will need Russia in the fight against China. He reflected a US academic view on Russia which nailed in his assessment that moved Russia from a supporter of the Iranian nuclear control regime to, go guess, withdraw from it. A view clearly not shared by the hawks in Minsk, and Berlin and some EU states. Schoenback will enjoy his retirement.

After the Republican defeat we back to the Clintonian world vision. For Russians nothing has changed. From Moscow’s view sanctions allowed to recalibrate Russian foreign policy and old frenemies like China and countries in Africa renewed Russian trade interests.

The Europeans and U.S. claims the allies are still a peaceful hegemons, a view not shared in Syria, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan and a few other gardening spots outside the ‘core countries’. The non-core countries the western narratives are somewhat not important.

Oddly enough the friction across the globe has increased, domestically the United States are deeply divided along the party fault lines of 21st century wokists clashing with 20th century pragmentism in Washington. The Jacksonian Trumpists lost, the leftist crazies run amok making the US an uneasy partner. Putin and his administration are 20th century realists of dealing with broken promises by the United States and the Europeans and hence we reached the point of broken promises to be fixed. Period.

Top US intelligence policy officials for years belittled Russia for being a declining state power. The Europeans, particulary the former Foreign Affairs and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the European Parliament Deputy Chairman Janusz Onyszkiewicz were pushing to promote expansion to Belarus and the Ukraine since 2004 with the Polish position was articulated in a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung conference in Warsaw that year to not support the elections in Belarus.

So for eighteen years both the United States and Europe pushed the boundaries like a school yard bully and promoted their version of western, democratic, liberal values. In Russia and China these policies are just not supported. Somewhere along the way the camel back broke and Russia, China and the west started to drift apart.

One of these moments was the 2008 NATO conference in Rumania. In a moment of hubris NATO announced Georgia and Ukraine are invited to join NATO.

Njet, said the Russians. Georgia gotten his nose bloodied, the Europeans and the United States had to prop up the regime. Russia reestablished a balance that is acceptable to Moscow. Strike Two, Period.

John Maersheimer long term moderate professor at the University of Chicago since 2015 argued publically that the Ukraine represents no strategic interest to the United States. Russia does, the Ukraine does not. The Ukraine was since the days of the German invasion of Russia, a strategic buffer.

His 2015 lesson is not just entertaining but deeply informative. Unfortunately no-one in Washington listened.

Neither did Afghanistan any good to the bilateral attitudes towards the United States or Europe. The US crediblity, including the Europeans, are damaged. Biden’s withdrawal although morally correct has strategic consequence and geo-political, peer-state competition returned.

After the intelligence community rang the alarm bells of the Russian built up on Ukrainian border, it emerged the administration of Vladimir Putin warned since 1991 that an eastward expansion by NATO is not acceptable. Strike One, Period.

Anyone who ever dealt with Russian officials will quickly recognize, Russians are forgiving, but not when it comes to the proverbial ‘red lines’ the US always talks about it but seldom honors. Not so for the Russian character. The ‘Njet’ negotiation style is legendary.

And if a Deputy Foreign Minister warns publically of not crossing the redlines that should be a wake up call for the west. Instead threats, mobilization, movements, surveillance and the climate of distrust ratched up the heat between the Russians and the west. The language of war appeared. Ball One.

Followed by the steady build up of a D-day landing size invasion force. Ball Two.

If nobody gotten the memo, in early January Russian diplomats extracted their depedents from the mission in Kyiev. Followed by the announcement to evacuate dependents and non-essentials US diplomatic mission personnel from the Ukraine. If the rest of the foreign mission follow the U.S. example we are close to war. Ball Three.

Now we have a list of demands that are going to be costly for the west. I argue this may be a new page turner for the power state relationships or heading down the path of war. Team Biden thinks the Russians will power grab some parts of East Ukranian territory to negotiate concessions from the US and EU if not achieved by non-violent means, diplomacy. A large pool of experts agree with the U.S. president.

The Europeans, just another sideshow, toothless paper tiger?

The unfortunate foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has the task of representing a group of 27 member states whose different foreign and economic policy interests make it impossible to find a common line. Its the nature of things in the European Union.

The threat of sanctions against Moscow in the current situation is all more fading as EU countries are not even clear about what kind of attack by the Russians should trigger such a reaction. Moscow’s reaction can be summarized as ‘Alors’?, so what?

You want to sanction us? Bring it on. The Russian character is one of resilient stubbornness. So was the support for Syria. Putin successfully argued even if Russia agrees to replace the Assad regime, who is taking his place? The answer is a long silence from the Americans.

But things are also in trouble between the institutions in Europe themselves. The intimate enmity between Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is considered an open secret in Brussels – and not just since their highly distressing appearance in Ankara, which caused a lot of excitement on social media under the hashtag “Sofagate”. 

In the world of masculinity the German commission president misreads the Muslim reaction by Turks was considered normal. For the political correct and wokism crowd, a shocker. Putin and the Turks are laughing and just shaking their collective head.

Van Leyen highly unpopular while she was heading the German defense ministry will continue learn to navigate the hurdles of ‘Realpolitik’. This time facing the real threat of war in Europe.

As a reminder, Michel was allowed to sit next to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while von der Leyen was assigned a deep sofa several meters away. That’s how easy it is for the EU leaders to be paraded on the world stage.

If a negotiated solution with European participation succeeds at all, then it will probably be within the framework of the Normandy format established in 2014, a semi-informal contact group to which the most powerful EU countries Germany and France belong alongside Russia and Ukraine. 

However, it is also doubtful that these two will now take over the leadership role for the Union with full vigour: the new government in Berlin has not yet properly settled in, while French President Emmanuel Macron is in the middle of the election campaign. 

Europe is once again too self-absorbed to play an international role.

Final, A warning from the past

If we want to learn from the past I recommend to visit the German war graves in Vacez, Slovakia, Verdun, France, or Sebrenica. The graveyard nestled on the foothills of the Karpathian mountains is a stark reminder of the consequence of politics. About 8,000 German soldiers were buried killed mostly in the final months of the Second World War. A local guide told me the figure is as high as 25,000 with many of the death too mangled to be identified.

Vacez is not an exception, it is the norm for Europe. War graves of two world wars are peppered in every town, city and country from Portugal to Moscow. We buried billion of Europeans over some geographical slither of land that Russia warned us for 30 years to respect.

Europe is once more on the verge of a peer-power conflict. This time its about security guarantees for Russia that never again wants war on its footsteps. I recommend to visit Vazec, the beauty of the mountain ranges are stunning. And if you have enough time, visit grave stone 2/92-96. Like all of them, eight young men are found their lasting resting place. One of them was my grand-uncle, killed only 90 days before the war ended. It is a sobering moment when recognition sets in that war with Russia is not a winning proposition. Once more, Europe on the brink of war is faced with young men doing the dying for failed collective leadership and foresight.

Lets hope both Russian, Europeans and Americans talk their way out of the ides of March and we avoid building new graveyards for our generation of young men, regardless of passports, language, culture or country. War in the Ukraine would be Strike Three. Game over, Period.