The Journey to Today in the Ukraine

Big Red Car here.  Well, I got The Boss to return to the ATX.  The old boy had enough of Sun Valley and Steamboat Springs and spring skiing.  Back to the ATX in time for SXSW and 300 people in line for cabs at the airport.  Never saw so many nerds in my life.

The mess in the Ukraine is not over and the potential for the Ukrainian military to brush up against the Russians continues to heighten with each passing day.

As to motivations

It is important to know that Putin and Russia have had a longstanding relationship with the Ukraine.  It is not some neighboring chunk of land, it is a very strategic toehold on the Black Sea and a place that had been Russian for over 200 years going all the way back to Catherine the Great.  Catherine took Crimea from the Ottoman Turks in the Turko-Russian War.

It is important to note that the reign of Catherine was considered the Golden Age of Russia and that she grew Russia into a European power through conquest and diplomacy.   When Vladimir Putin lies in his big bed dreaming, he dreams of the Golden Age of Russia.  Like Vlad says:  “What the Hell was wrong with the 18th and 19th centuries?”

I am pretty sure that Sec of State John Kerry would not have approved of this behavior — so non G-8ish, no? — but Vlad Putin is probably thinking:  “Hey, how about Vlad the Great?”

The Ukraine has historically been Russia’s breadbasket with an enormous agricultural surplus which had historically fed Russia.

The Ukraine also was the home to important weapons development and almost every Russian tank was made in or designed in the Ukraine.  The old T-64 which mounts a 125MM gun in a smoothbore barrel capable of shooting a missile in addition was designed and produced in the Ukraine.  The T-64 is still in the Ukrainian inventory and is a work horse of a tank.  We may see Ukrainian T-64 v Russian later development tanks before this is all over.

NATO encroachment

NATO is a MILITARY alliance.  It is not an economic, trade, social allliance.  It is a military alliance.

The “nut” of NATO is Article 5 which requires all NATO countries to come to the aid of any NATO country when attacked.  It is unequivocal.  Recently the Baltic Republics and Poland have asked for assurances that the US is still committed to NATO and Article 5.  These new NATO members are feeling the hot, fetid breath of the Russian bear on their necks.

Me, I would have grave reservations about fighting the Russians in the Baltic states.  Did we make a huge mistake admitting them to NATO?  Provocative back when the USSR was crumbling?

Does the US want to go to war over Estonia?  Latvia?  Lithuania?  Not me.

NATO sang a siren song to both Georgia and Ukraine to lure them into NATO.  The idea of a NATO nation on the Russian border — particularly one that had been part of Russia itself and had been part of the USSR prior to its collapse — made Putin’s head explode.

How would the US feel about Canada having joined the Warsaw Pact?  Remember how apoplectic we became when Cuba was found to harbor Russian ICBMs?  Rightfully so.  We were ready to go to war over it.  We came very close.  Much closer than history had ever revealed.  Is this really so different than the Ukrainian situation?  Yes, but not much different.

The bad thing is that nobody with a brain wants NATO to come to the defense of a nation sharing a border with Russia.  While I think that NATO has devolved into a toothless tiger, there are some places that NATO simply does not have a strategic interest.


The United States has left a trail of breadcrumbs which has led us to this difficult spot.

1.  In Kosovo, we allowed the locals to declare their independence and to secede from Yugoslavia based on the wishes of a divided Serbian and Albanian population.  The United Nations oversaw this phenomenon.  This is not very different from the Russian notion of allowing the Russian sympathizers in both the Crimea and eastern Ukraine to secede and to join the nation of their choice — Russia.   The fact that the Russians have gotten the support of the Crimean political leadership, the Crimean Parliament and are conducting a plebiscite next Saturday makes it all smell a bit like borscht.   By this I mean this is a faux Russian democratic urging at work here — like in Kosovo.

Russia will jam the Kosovo plebiscite up the West’s nose.

2.  Not to go too far back in time, but you may remember that Czechoslovakia wandered off the Communist gameboard in 1968 and the Russians invaded the country with tanks in the streets of every village?  They killed a lot of people World War II style.  Europe was agog in rhetorical opposition.  Six months later everyone was fascinated by the prospects of their country’s World Cup team.  Europe did nothing.  The US did nothing.  The Russians crushed the Czechs with tanks and the world did nothing.

London is the playground of the Russian oligarchs.

France is selling warships to Russia.

Germany has a $22B flow of trade and the Germans are amongst the world’s largest exporters.

Who is going to stick their finger in the eye of the Russian bear?  Nobody.

3.  Recently the Russians captured two provinces —   Abkhazia and South Ossetia — of Georgia and the world similarly did nothing.  May be worthwhile to review the circumstances.

Two Georgian provinces — ethnic Russians all and sharing a border with Mother Russia — were giving the central government in Georgia a hard time.  They rebelled.  New Georgian President sent tanks to crush them.  The Russians ultimately intervened and put an old fashioned ass whipping on the Georgian military forces.  These two provinces are today part of Russia.  The world did nothing.

The Georgia debacle happened in the last six months of the Bush administration and therefore the Obama administration inherited the problem as to leading a response.  What did the Obama administration do?  Hilary and Barack went through the “Russian Reset” stupidity in which they rewarded the Russian aggression with a clean slate and no repercussions.

 “That’s Bush’s deal, not ours.”

If you were Putin what would you have thought?

4.  In the Bush administration, the Americans negotiated carefully and confidently with a then weakened Russia and decided to install a huge radar array in the Czech Republic and ten anti-missile installations in Poland.  The Russians whined that this could essentially destroy their nuclear deterrent because they claimed these anti-ballistic missile installations could shoot down their rockets headed to nuke the US.

Folks who knew that business said the ABM installations were way too close to the point of Russian launch and they were not really effective because they would be chasing a rocket rather than intercepting a rocket on a collision course — simple physics and geometry.

The Americans even offered to delay the implementation of these facilities until the Iranians had a missile delivery nuclear capability — meaning they would still not be ready to go today.

No sooner did President Obama take office than he pulled the plug on this program.  All because Vladimir Putin growled at the President.  Russian bears growl all the time but if you feed their anger, they will keep coming as they now think you to be a pussy.  Russian bears like to slaughter pussies.  It is their national culture.

5.  In Syria, President Obama threatened lines, red lines and double dog dare don’t you cross THIS line lines — the bombers were warming up and what happened?  Nothing.

Putin inserted himself in the middle of it and learned that our President is not one to follow through on any threat.

6.  One Edward Snowden showed up in Moscow looking for a home and asylum.  The Russians gave him both.  President Obama threatened that this would have a huge impact on US – Russian relations because we wanted Snowden and his purloined secrets back.

What did we do?  Nothing.

7.  In Iran, President Obama threatened military action and then sat down with the Iranians smoked a bit of choom and the next thing one knew the frozen Iranian assets — the real pain point — were released and the Iranians were still enriching the crap out of their uranium.

Putin watched closely how President Obama both rolled over and exposed America’s only real Middle Eastern ally, Israel.  Said Vlad:  “Hmmmmm.”

This is a short list of seven individual happenstances which have emboldened the Russian bear and its leader, Vladimir Putin.  From Putin’s perspective he sees a feckless and inexperienced American leadership which is not willing to take tough stances and follow through.  Even the response thus far in the West in the Ukrainian situation validates that perspective.

One other thing I would like you to remember.  Putin was a KGB officer before he became a “politician”.  He has been reading the tape for a long time.  He has been in charge in Russia for almost two decades and has had a protracted period of time to take the measure of the Obama administration and to compare them to prior regimes.  He is also in an adventurous frame of mind willing to take some big chances.

If you were Putin what would you do?

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway, I’m just a Big Red Car.  Be kind to yourself.  Say a prayer for Ukraine.