Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reflections on Ukraine - Part 1: Russia

Disclaimer: I´m abusing my wargaming blog for something non wargaming-related, but with my focus on modern wargaming and making miniatures for modern conflicts, I don´t think I´m leaving the primary topic of this blog.

 I usually do not involve myself in the open political discussion on the internet, knowing that this will usually produce flame wars and heavy disputes. So I´m doing it here, where I can moderate or end the inevitable discussion at my whim -  against better knowledge, I want to throw in my personal analysis on the situation in Ukraine as I am increasingly having the impression that many people don´t seem to understand what is going on – which results in absurd claims, demands and support for positions that are not helpful to resolve the situation!
I am hoping to shed some light onto the situation by providing some historical and strategic analysis. Many people don´t seem to understand strategic interests and motives of the different actors in the conflict and don´t think things through. That being said, you are free to disagree with my analysis, it is purely my personal, subjective impression on the situation – and I might be wrong!  
Another warning: This is a european perspective, so I might not conform to the American narrative.
I´m willing to discuss this topic with you in a polite and educated manner, but I will heavily moderate any comments that are not analytical and neutral in their wording and content. 

Before we dig deeper into the actual topic, we should talk about the framwork and make some things clear: First, what is national interest and how should we make foreign policy decisions? 

National interests are generally determined by geography (including economic geography), the countries rulers and the political system, history and collective experiences and their values, including religion and ideology, which are in part shaped by all of the aforementioned.

National interests can be valued at different levels of importance, they can be vital - if the country would be threatened in any conceiveable way in its sovereignty, medium to long term economic situation or power status. These are the kind of national interests that might require the use of force in any conceiveable way to protect. 
There are other, less important national interests - these are the ones you can use to negotiate a compromise, give up for the really important objectives or pursue without military means by using non-violent, diplomatic means. 

From these more or less important national interests you can deduct a clear and distinct set of foreign policy objectives that have some kind of ranking - and you can determine the required ressources to achieve these objectives.
The objectives require measures that need to be planned and, again, ressources allocated at a lower level. 

It´s a bit like business economics, really. 

What does that have to do with the situation in Ukraine, you might ask?
It´s the framework to analyse what is going on. 

Let´s start with the Russian perspective: 

The historical situation, which should be quite well known to wargamers, is such that Russia has been invaded several times throughout the 18th and 20th century by continental european powers, namely France and Germany -  Napoleonic Wars, World War 1,  during the Russian Civil War (supported by foreign interventions!), World War 2...  Wars fought on russian soil, with massive casualties and destruction of their homeland.
After World War 2 the russian leaders shaped their sphere of influence to create a situation where this would never happen again throughout their lifetime. They installed a set of client states along the western border of the Soviet Union and organized them into their strategic alliance, the Warsaw Pact, acting as a buffer zone between NATO members and Russian homeland. 
They forged a military doctrine that had the objective to fight any future conventional war on enemy soil to limit the amount of destruction in their own sphere of influence. 
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia had to observe an expansion of NATO towards Russian borders with the extention of the Atlantic Treaty Organisation by taking in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungaria, Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republik, and Romania. 
They observed the discussion of a planned deployment of missile defense screens into Poland in 2009 (which was eventually canceled) 
It observed NATO and Western Powers increasingly demolishing their credibility by breaking international law  (if you don´t believe me, please have a thorough read on the following subjects with a special eye on the conduct with international law: Kosovo War, War in Afghanistan, Invasion of Iraq 2003 and the following COIN-Campaign, Libyan Intervention / UN-Resolution 1973 and its implementation,  Civil War in Syria (especially American led intervention & airstrikes). 

Does seem like a long list, huh? Some cases are stark breaches of UN protocol - Iraq, Syria -  Others are borderline cases where people twist and interpret the UN charter to their own liking. 

With these events in mind, please look at the following map: 

Blue: NATO
Red:  Membership not goal
Green: Promised invitation
Light Blue: Membership Action Plan countries 
Grey: Undeclared intent 

Now add to this picture the following information
"Finland has made various technical preparations for membership, and in April 2014, announced they would sign a "Memorandum of Understanding" with NATO on Finland's readiness to receive military assistance and to aid NATO in equipment maintenance."

Furthermore, Finland and Sweden have signed Host Nation Support Agreements with NATO.

These agreements allow NATO troops to be stationed inside or transit through the country. 

Now put your self into the russian position and think how you would assess the situation. 

The major national interest of keeping a buffer zone between the Russian, european core homeland  -where the majority of its population and industry is located  - and major foreign powers is clearly being threatened.

Of course, our perspective as citizens inside NATO countries makes us think: "Why is Russia scared of NATO? We are a defensive alliance that seeks to protect its member countries?" 
Yet again, put into a historical perspective and combined with the deep seated scepticism about NATO intentions that has been fostered throughout the communist rule of the country should give you a glimpse of the russian worries! 
Just ask yourself why WE are scared of the Russians, who have done nothing prior to the occupation of crimea (which we´ll deal with separately)...

And there´s always the question: Against whom should NATO countries defend themselves? Who is the perceived threat and the potential enemy? I think the answer is obvious to you, and so it is to Russian foreign policy makers

Now combine this narrative with the troop deployments towards the Russian borders that occured in the light of an escalating crisis in the ukraine and the seizure of crimea and the wording of diplomatic approaches to Russia within the last year.  Russia was demonized by almost all of the West for occupying part of a foreign country (hello again, Iraq War!), economically sanctioned, confronted with impossible demands of ending support for the rebels and closing their borders and turning over crimea to ukraine.

Maintaining a buffer for the russian homeland has been a russian strategic objective for decades, ever since World War 2. This VITAL national interest is now being threatened and Russia will not give in. It will not accept a Ukraine that is part of NATO without having a buffer zone of reasonable size. A major foreign alliance in their backyard is not acceptable to the Kremlin, as it would open up a tremendeous room for maneuver and a huge military pressure. In contrast with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia or even Finland, there is a large border between Ukraine and Russia, a border that cannot be secured and contained as easily as the borders with other NATO partners. 
So, naturally, Russia is very likely supporting the rebels in eastern ukraine, hoping to force the West and the Ukrainian government into negotiations OR facilitate the violent creation of a buffer zone by permanently estabilishing the independend peoples republics of eastern Ukraine as entities friendly to Russia.

Before turning towards Crimea itself and its strategic importance for Russia (in the second part of the series, if I don´t get torn apart by criticism) I want to conclude this entry with a historical analogy and a question to think through: 

In 1961, on the doorsteps of the US homeland, the Cuban revolution occured. During the same year, the CIA backed counterrevolution (invasion of pigs bay) was set into motion in order to oust the revolutionary government that was likely to become part of the soviet alliance.
The coup failed, a year later the inevitable happened and Cuba became a host country for russian strategic missiles. 
The US government contemplated a full scale invasion, which would have been unstoppeable, but without doubt result in a major confrontation with the Cuban allies, the Warsaw Pact.
Instead, a blockade was implemented to put pressure onto the russians and force them to negotiate. 

My question to you: 
What do you think would happen if Mexico would be hit by a coup or an unfavourable election result that would bring it onto a distinctly anti US-path, including the potential inclusion into an alliance with a major foreign power that was not aligned with your bloc (let´s say China or Russia)? 

Have fun thinking it through :) 

Until next time!

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