Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The US Election outcome is not so bad Part 2: Ukraine and the Baltic States

Made me laugh...

In my last post, I commented on how the situation in Syria had inflamed tensions between the US and Russia, and how Trump's election should calm things down a bit.

However, it should hopefully also help calm things down between Russia and NATO - and for that we shall look at the Ukraine.

As we can see, the former Soviet Republic is located right on Russia's south-western European border.  Now, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the various republics went their respective ways.  Ukraine, which had long had a nationalist independence movement, was for the most part very happy to go off on its own.

However, as always, things were not quite so clear cut.  You see, the eastern part of Ukraine has a population that is largely ethnically Russian, speaks Russian, and wishes to maintain ties with Moscow.  The western part of the country speaks Ukrainian, and wants an independent Ukraine with close ties to the West and the EU.  Roughly, the country breaks down in this wise (based on the census of 2001):

See that red blobby bit on the bottom?  That's the Crimea.
Things kicked off in 2013 when the then president, Viktor Yanukovich, bucked the trend of previous governments throughout the 2000s and rejected closer ties to the European Union by refusing to sign an association agreement with the EU at the last minute, sparking peaceful protest.  During these protests, Yanukovich signed a treaty with Russia instead, and took a multi-billion dollar loan from her.  Things got rather warm at that point, and on 18th February 2014, violent clashes took place in Kiev, leaving 82 people dead.  Long story short, by the 22nd February, the protesters were in control of Kiev and the parliament scheduled a new presidential election - Yanukovich having fled to Russia.  American Senators and EU suits lined up to congratulate the protesters. Freedom and Democracy were alive and kicking, was the message.

Russia, having long dabbled in Ukrainian affairs, voted in the Duma to deploy troops to Ukraine on 1st March 2014.  Within a day, Russian troops had complete control of the Crimean peninsula.  Of course, the world and his wife lined up to brand Putin a madman, a tyrannical megalomaniac with imperial ambitions.

Of course, the Russophile east of the country was not quite so happy with the outcome of matters, and from March 2014 there was war in the Donbas region, with ethnic Russians opposing the new government - and supported by a number of Russian citizens.

So the Russians are the baddies, right?  Well....yes, they are.  But again, things are never quite so simple.

See, the Crimea had been part of Russia for a very great many years before the Soviet era. In point of fact, the Crimea was only transferred to the administration of Ukraine in the 1950s, as an administrative convenience.  The Black Sea Fleet belonging to Russia was based there following the breakup of the USSR, although there was a bit of a tug-of-war going on over the fleet and the bases between Russia and Ukraine.  So Russia understandably got a bit twitchy when things kicked off in Ukraine.

Consider also, that the removal of Yanukovich was in fact a coup d'etat - Petro Poroshenko, Yanukovich's successor has said as much and even asked the supreme court of the country to declare it a coup.  Furthermore, the main movers behind the revolution was the far-right Svoboda party.  What the west had supported was, in fact, the overthrow of a democratically elected government by a fascist putsch.  Whoops.  Not so squeaky clean, are we?

As a result of the annexation of the Crimea, sanctions have been imposed on Russia, which has had serious effects on the Russian economy.  In response, Russia has banned western food imports, which has had the unfortunate (but predictable) effect of driving up food prices in Russia, hurting the man in the street as much as the sanctions do.

Now, both NATO and the EU have played their parts in this pantomime.  NATO, doubtless with much prompting from the USA, has sought to strengthen itself by recruiting a number of former Soviet republics.  The EU has also sought more members, expanding from 16 member states to 28 (and back to 27 soon enough, if the anti-democratic elements within our own parliament are kept at bay) since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 turned the EEC into the EU.  Both organisations have been fishing in what has long been Russia's pond, and Russia is none too happy about seeing its sphere of influence thus eroded.  The USA would not tolerate it, but expects Russia to accept it without complaint.

Now, think on this:  if the EU, through bungling managerialism and a lack of nous when it comes to realpolitik, had had an army to send out into the world, just how much of a mess would it have made of the Ukrainian crisis?  Yet its own army is just what the EU is pushing for.

This brings us to the Baltic states, and Poland.

As a result of both the drives by NATO and the EU to recruit these states, and the ramping up of tensions with Russia over Syria, NATO troops, tanks and missiles have been massed on Russia's borders in the Baltic states and Poland, heightening tensions still further.  With Trump in the White House, it is likely that we shall see much of this pressure lifted, which we can hope will result in tensions deflating.

So again, Trump's wish to improve relations with Russia mean that war with Russia is looking increasingly less likely than it did with the prospect of a Clinton administration.

So that's good.

The US Election Outcome is not so bad Part 1: Syria

Well, it's been a while since last I blogged.  Not that anyone will have noticed, mind you.  I let Brexit pass without comment (others did it far better than I could), news items have come and gone, but given the current meltdown now underway about the result of the US Presidential Election, I felt that I had to comment.

So now - Donald Trump is the President Elect.  This is not necessarily as bad as it seems - not least because Hillary Clinton is not fit to run a whelk stall, let alone the world's only superpower.

So why do I say that?

Well, there are a number of reasons.  This will be a long post but I'll try to keep it interesting, and I will have to commit the sin of simplification to a degree.  For the most part, what it boils down to is war.  First and foremost, we have avoided the likelihood of war with Russia.  Which is not as crazy as it sounds.

This is...complicated, so I shall break it down a bit.


Take a look at the situation in Syria.  It's a total mess, and most of us have wondered why, and just what the hell the West (especially the US) is up to.  ISIS seem to have no trouble laying hands on arms and equipment supplied by the US, the Kurds are not supported, Russia's help seems to be resented, and there seems to be a narrative that Assad is somehow worse than ISIS.  Just how has never been explained.

Well, as ever, it comes down to oil.  And gas, of course.

See, Europe is largely dependent on Russian oil and gas.  Needless to say, the various European countries and the EU are none too keen on this.  Neither are the Americans, on account that they would rather Europe was dependent on Saudi and Qatari oil, as those countries are US allies in the Middle East.

To break this near monopoly, a pipeline has been proposed, to run from either Qatar - a US ally:

or Iran, which is allied to Russia:

Either way, the pipeline will have to run through Syria, which has its own oilfields as well.  With Assad in charge, chances are any such pipeline would be primarily supplied by Iranian oil; Russia would still have quite some sway over Europe's supply.  And Russia is not afraid of cutting off the supply to countries during conflicts in its own form of modern-day hydraulic despotism.

So, the US favours the Qatari pipeline - and needs Assad out of the way for that to happen.  They also could not afford to upset Turkey - which is why the West is failing to help the Kurds (who have long fought Turkey to establish their own homeland in Kurdistan) and Turkey is being considered for EU membership, and why Erdogan's maniacal despotism is given a free pass.

As a side note, you will notice that the Iranian pipeline will also have to pass through Turkey, albeit only slightly.  Which goes some way to explaining why Russia did nothing when Turkey shot down a Russian jet last year - that, and Turkey being a member of NATO.  Putin is far too smart to provoke a war with the NATO countries over a single fighter jet.

Anyway - for Western ambitions to succeed, Assad must fall.  ISIS, whatever their ambitions, are not a serious threat to the West and never have been; in point of fact, their geographical area of influence has shrunk considerably over the past year:

So the West is happy to let ISIS run about committing atrocity after atrocity, as every day weakens Bashar Al Assad ever further.  What the West is not happy about is Russia intervening to help Assad out.

So, in an attempt to have things their own way, the US have tried a number of things.  A ceasefire, for example, that ended in a shambles because it was not binding on some of the rebel groups, who carried on fighting - causing Putin and Assad to respond in kind.

So Hillary Clinton wanted to impose a No Fly Zone in Syria; naturally, Russia would not accept America unilaterally imposing such zones, and trouble was predicted by a great many people.  Let's face it, Hillary is not exactly Carl von Clausewitz when it comes to military strategy as the debacle in Libya will attest.  And she is not afraid of war, either; she voted for the war in Iraq, she is in favour of air strikes on Iran should that country not kowtow to US demands, she played a key role in the US strikes on Libya, and so on.

Furthermore, Hillary firmly believes that Russia and China were behind various cyberattacks on the US, including hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Congress - even though John MacAfee, who despite his being somewhat unhinged, I would be inclined to believe in this sort of thing - denies that Russia had anything to do with it.  Hillary, however, advocates a military response against Russia.

So, had Hillary been in a position to impose her no-fly zone, there is a good chance that Russian jets would be shot down as a matter of policy.  And you can guess where that would lead.

So make no mistake regarding the conflict in Syria - humanitarian factors are at the bottom of everyone's list.  This is simply a new round of The Great Game; a proxy war between America and Russia to control the supply of oil to the whole of Europe.  And that is something that both sides would be prepared to go to war over.

However, Donald Trump has made it clear from the outset that it is his intention to improve US / Russia relations, and is prepared to work with Putin on a number of matters including Syria.  Needless to say, neither NATO nor various European leaders are keen on this - although quite what the European leaders think would be the result of allowing things to continue as they are is not overly clear.

What is looking good, though, is that had Hillary Clinton been elected, we would have been looking at a very good chance of a Third World War.  That seems, at least for the present, to have been averted - certainly to those with half a brain.  Quite where the 'liberal' (was ever a philosophy so mis-named?) idea that Trump's election would be the start of WW3 comes from is anyone's guess.