Ukraine tipping point: A major disruption begins

Interesting times.


Back to the future. (Image credit: Sergey Ponomarev)
Back to the future. (Image credit: Sergey Ponomarev)

This one is baked.  The West will lose the round.

How will Ukraine end up?  My prediction: effectively partitioned, with the western portion of the country nominally left independent (for now), but under permanent threat from Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.  There may well be an open-ended period of inconclusiveness, framed as an ongoing “negotiation” between an eastern government and the western government in Kiev, with the U.S. and EU clucking ineffectually over the process.  Then again, there may not be; it will depend on whom Vladimir Putin is trying to impress – and what impression he’s trying to leave.

The important factor in all of this is that it is happening without the slightest regard to the preferences or desires of a “global community” – the putative entity led for the last two decades by the United States.  Without U.S. leadership, there is no such entity.  And that means all bets are off, and anything is possible.

Americans need to wrap their heads around this.  The status quo is being proven as we speak to have no force.  There’s nothing there: no firewall, no dike, no safety net.  When a tidal wave hits our shores, probably first through economic consequences of some kind, it will be because we relinquished, several years ago, the leadership that could have deterred Putin from this course before he started on it.

That leadership never needed to be antagonistic to Russia, nor, conversely, did it have to accommodate unreasonable demands from her.  But in being absurdly weak against key threats to Russia (China, radical Islamism) – or even in actively abetting them – America’s leadership has had the effect of eroding Russia’s strategic position and sense of security.  Russia can’t afford to sit by and let the status quo be transformed out from under her because the U.S. isn’t guarding it anymore.

Make no mistake.  Vladimir Putin started out with predatory instincts.  He didn’t need to be induced into invading Ukraine.  The West hasn’t “driven” him to this.  But the West has removed the restraints of Western credibility on his actions, while at the same time raising the cost to Russia of compliance with a sclerotic and increasingly dysfunctional old order.

He had viable alternatives to what he’s done.  What Putin should have done is what the U.S. would have done if a problem like Ukraine’s had emerged in Mexico.  That kind of scenario, unlike any other, is actually a realistic analogy to the situation in Ukraine.  Would the U.S. in 2014 have invaded or occupied a portion of Mexico because of a crisis of government in Mexico City, from which there was zero military threat to American territory?  Of course not.  Putin doesn’t need to invade and occupy Ukraine either; he could secure Russia’s legitimate interests without putting one booted toe across the border.

But instead of doing what he should, he has done what he could get away with.  Now that Russia has made this move, other nations will have the same sense of growing insecurity – because of what Putin has done, as much because of anything else – coupled with an increased sense of latitude for disruptive action.

There’s bad news ahead, before we’ll see good again.  That said, there are a couple of positive factors in the mix; I would count three, actually, to start with.

One is that the major powers that might behave disruptively – Russia and China – are not driven by globalist ideologies in the way Hitler and Stalin were.  This is not to say that China doesn’t call herself a Communist nation, but it is to say that what we can expect of her will be on a “Chinese” model of power projection, rather than an ideological-revolutionary one.  The same is true of Russia.

Indeed, for Russia, today is a very different time from the Soviet revolutionary period.  Many in Russia see her as a surviving bastion of Western Christian civilization, and the European West as having – at least in some ways – lost its mind.  Russia’s ties with Syria, Greece, the Balkans, and Cyprus are based in large part on a shared religious heritage; the aggressive atheism of the Soviet socialist period is nowhere to be seen now, and Russia’s motives under Putin are conventional, geographical, and historically predictable.

This factor may or may not limit bloodshed.  It may at least set some natural limits on predation.

Meanwhile, the ideological element that does exist – radical Islamism – is and will remain alien to non-Muslim societies.  It can’t creep into community structures and governments elsewhere while pretending to be merely a part of the local culture, as collectivist radicalisms have done the world over, from Europe to the Far East to Latin America.  Islamism has to herald its coming; unlike statist collectivism in its various guises, Islamism can’t dupe the West – or any other culture – into turning, unawares, on itself.

The second factor is the existence today of globally interlinked information.  More than the “Internet” itself, we have the model of the Internet. Cut it off, and people will recreate it, whatever limitations are attempted by angry governments.  People who don’t accept the narratives of propaganda campaigns have a voice today, as they did not in the 1920s or 1930s – or 1950s or 1960s, for that matter.

The West is not the only source of social or moral wisdom – nor is the ascendant post-modern leftism of the West its only valid civilizational representative.  It has never been more possible for diverse voices to make contact, and make their cases, outside of “official” or sanctioned channels.  It’s never been easier for the ruling narratives to be challenged.  It isn’t clear that we know what to do yet with that latent form of power, but I think it will play a part in deterring imperialism based on Big Lies and false consensuses.

The third factor is the reality that the post-1945 status quo has, to a significant extent, outlived its usefulness.  It would have been much better to lurch into a new order with a strong West, and without an existential crisis for Western liberalism, but the outlines of the old order have been brittle for some time.  We need to find a new basis for balance and healthy relations anyway.  Trying to preserve what was, without modification, was never a realistic option.

So there is a certain amount of time we don’t have to waste in mourning and regret.  We’ll spend it better in foreseeing what we want from a new order, and what can be done at this point.  About the partition of Ukraine: nothing.  About anything else: very little, if anything, while Obama is in the White House.  There are realities that will become permanent – that will be irreversible – because he has nearly three years left in office; one of those is the geopolitically meaningful presence of Eastern hemisphere powers, especially Russia and China, in the Americas.  That can’t be undone, even with a change of administrations in Washington in 2017.

We will have to see what other developments come to leave indelible scars on history as the next few years unfold.  The one thing the U.S. could do unilaterally, with significant and useful effect, we know Obama won’t do.  That’s loosen his clamps on the U.S. economy: open the floodgates of American energy production and reduce regulation on American business.  These measures would humble Russian gas in the world market, and strengthen the relative position of the U.S. Treasury, increasing revenues to counteract our massive debt.

But Obama won’t do that.  So we wait, and take note of how reality changes around us.  Alarming, lawless, non-consensual government is not sustainable, and the period we are entering on is not our ultimate fate.  Things won’t get better by themselves.  It will depend on what we do.  But that’s actually good news.  The interesting times to come will be signed with our names.  Unprepared as we may feel, there is no one else.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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23 thoughts on “Ukraine tipping point: A major disruption begins”

  1. Partition does seem the most likely outcome.

    Both China and Russia now have further proof of just how weak the West now is and, they will act on it in a progressively aggressive manner.

    Obama will continue to gut and ‘reform’ the US military, leaving America with nothing but verbal bluster and nuclear retaliation as our default options. Just two deployable aircraft carrier groups and a refusal to put American boots on the ground, reduces our ability to project American military power to the temporary.

    Obama is, intentionally or not, strengthening our enemies and weakening America and our allies. He is doing so not just militarily but economically as well. The Fed just announced that it will no longer ‘assist’ the EU.

    “Janet Yellen, newly confirmed Federal Reserve (Fed) chair, announced February 19th that America’s central bank is moving to cut off the massive financial lifeline that has been subsidizing the European banking system since the beginning of the global financial crisis in March of 2008.”

    The consequences of this will be profound but Obama is not the source of our problems.

    “The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails America. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools, such as those who made him their president”. Václav Klaus (former Premier of the Czech Republic)

  2. Thanks, GB — I agree, the Fed’s move is significant. I’ve been trying to scope the ramifications down in my head to a manageable post. This one did have to come at some point; we should never have gotten it started in the first place. But once we did, the graceful option for withdrawal would have to involve significant improvement in Europe’s economic and financial picture. That improvement not being there, the transition will be ungraceful.

    Klaus is also right, of course. We need to at least keep in mind what we’re really talking about, however, which is not a majority of Americans being fools, but a majority of voters in 2008 and 2012. That was a sizable number in each year — 69.5m and 65.9m, respectively — but it’s still substantially less than one third of Americans in both cases.

    There’s never been a time in history when liberty and good character didn’t have their detractors from among the people who were enjoying their benefits. The banshees will never stop howling. But their noise doesn’t mean they are winning. Every battle is won against resistance and odds; the only ones we are guaranteed to lose are the ones we give up.

    1. It’s over.

      Obama has overseen the beginning of WWIII. We won WWII and the cold war and tossed it aside in 25 years for free cell phones, everyone on food stamps, and women’s birth control for no charge.

      Putin will swallow all of central europe from a sphere of influence perspective and let the basket cases of western europe bankrupt themselves. When do we say it is too much? Part of Georgia? Nah. Ukraine? Nah. The Baltics? Taiwan? Don’t think that isn’t being contemplated right now while they quiver at the thought of the G-8 PLANNING sessions being cancelled. This is comical.

      It is dangerous when you allow the silly to be in places where the serious should sit – but we made our decision. The world is about to become infinitely more dangerous. Our sec of state just ridiculed a foreign power for using 19th century tactics in the 21st century. That they we extremely successful seems to have gone un-noticed by our elites in DC.

      We are leaving to our children not just mountains of debt so Obama and the rest of the DC crowd can live like princes, but they will need to spill their blood, in what may be a hopeless quest to keep the light of self government alive. You could argue that we have already abdicated on that front.

      This is how empires, even benign ones, die.

      1. No, its not the beginning of WWIII. That would be a nuclear confrontation and as long as America has a superiority in nukes and her nuclear subs, there’ll be no nuclear war.

        Arguably however, its the end of Pax Americana and a much more dangerous world. At this time I don’t think that Putin’s ambitions extend to central Europe either. After western Europe bankrupts itself perhaps but given the future demographics of Europe, I’m not certain that Putin even wants that developing headache.

        Taiwan’s gone but there’s a chance that it will go the way of Hong Kong.

        We have indeed made our decision and future generations will curse those of today but as Reagan pointed out, liberty is always just a generation away from extinction. To its eternal shame, many of today’s adults have made the decision to sell their descendants into economic slavery and perhaps worse. Perhaps they’ll be sent back in another life to endure what they’ve wrought. It would certainly be karmic justice.

        We never had an empire, at least as traditionally defined but many predicted how our decline would come about.

        “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” John Adams

        “A Democracy will cease to exist when it takes away from those who are willing to work and gives to those who would not.” Thomas Jefferson

        “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” – Benjamin Franklin

        “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation” President James Madison

        “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” A. Lincoln

        “Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter; from the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government.” – Daniel Webster

        The founders tried to protect our nation from the inherent vulnerabilities of a democracy by containing our democracy within the framework of a Constitutional republic.

        Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 identified our Achilles heel as had Jefferson before him;
        “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money. A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it.”

        The American left seized upon that vulnerability and has been using it since the great depression to undermine America through the growth of the entitlement state.

    1. Thanks for the link JE. If the Russians attack the Ukrainian ships, an effective state of war will then exist between Russia and Ukraine, correct? If so, that is when I would expect Putin to move on, at the least, the eastern Ukraine.

  3. Kiev’s control of major southeastern urban centers continues to slip.

    Clashes are reported between pro and anti goverment forces in Odessa. Evidently, the central goverment cannot control the Ukrainian extremist factions.

    Russian naval units have been spotted off Odessa’s coast. Under the current state of affairs in Crimea, without Odessa, Ukraine is effectively landlocked. So, I assume the port will come under the control of the local Russian authorities at some point.

    If one person dies at the hands of Ukrainian nationalist extremists, purportedly bused into Odessa from Lvov (ala Lvov to Kiev for the Euromaidan protests), Putin gets his pretext and it’s the end of Ukraine.

  4. GB – Ukraine could invoke a state of war right now, based on Russia’s acknowledgment on Saturday that there are Russian troops in Crimea.

    Russia’s surrender ultimatum would be designed to give the Ukrainians only the choice of surrendering, or firing on Russian forces and thus bringing in an overt, official Russian incursion. (jgets outlines the latter in his latest comment.)

    Bottling up the Ukrainian coastline is of course an economic measure that will quickly become intolerable. Ukraine will be able to import what she needs; it’s exporting to earn revenues that she’ll have more trouble with. The EU will probably want this situation resolved before the Maidan Ukrainians are ready to give in.

    It will all be unpleasant and gut-wrenching to watch in slow motion.

  5. some updates

    CVN-77 in the Saronic Gulf (from

    Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odessa express willingness to join Crimean Autonomous Republic. (rianovosti). Now the vehicle for (possible) annexation is revealed. They are engaged in some Nation-building of their own. Smart model.

    Somebody should really find out who’s in charge of Crisis Management over in Moscow. They’ve been outstanding up till now.

    1. CVN-77’s presence is meaningless. I’m not surprised people still care about where the carriers are, but as a reminder (I know jgets doesn’t need this one), a US carrier can’t go through the Turkish Straits. The Montreux Convention prohibits it.

      The Bush (carrier) will almost certainly have a port visit in the Med before proceeding to the Gulf. She’s likely to participate in a small exercise or two as well. Such events are now fit into the East coast carriers’ schedules as they move to and from the Persian Gulf.

      None of it will mean a NATO military response is being planned.

    2. Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odessa’s expressing a willingness to join the “Crimean Autonomous Republic” is an indication I suspect that Putin wants at least the eastern and southern Ukraine and will not settle for simply the Crimean peninsula. Annexation is now almost certainly in the cards.

      1. If no solution is found in the interim, I expect the remaining cities of the southeast to follow suit. I just can predetermine when this will take place. In terms of International law and diplomacy, it’s much more facilitating to create an expanded new state based on a autonomous Crimean core than to outright annex the Donbas and remaining southeast to mother Russia. It also dilutes the percentage of Tatars in the new state’s total population as a bonus. Another masterful counterstroke for Russia, and essentially a reestablishment of the prevailing pre-1990 geopolitical order. If finally implemented, of course.

        All Russia needed was the Eastern Ukraine to attain 90% of her previous force strength. Shorn of it’s non-productive western conquests and its alien Central Asian populations, with an 85% core Slavic population, she’ll be a leaner, meaner, spirited, and viable incarnation of the Russian empire. Will she develop into a force for stability and progress? It will partially depend on the West’s reaction and Russia’s subsequent behavior..

        Some tactical points concerning this hypothetical outcome, I am curious about how the situation in Dnepropetrovsk will unfold. It’s Tymoshenko’s home town, but is Russian leaning. More importantly it’s the major gas hub for Southeastern Europe and Turkey. It’s also a major industrial center, home of Yuzhmash. For those who know, an important acquisition indeed. How this will affect the frozen status of Transnistria and whether and accommodation is silently in the works on Moldova with the Rumanians has me wondering also. Same applies for the Hungarians, Slovaks and Belorussians concerning some territories in the western part of Ukraine. Although not as much.

        One would hope, they are burning the midnight oil in certain offices west of the Oder.

    1. Yes, I just read his piece. Always a strategic thinker. He has a lawyers understanding: If everyone leaves a binding agreement a little upset, but not shooting each other, it is the best deal possible under the circumstances.

    1. Shocking news GB. So the Ukrainian Navy is a mortal threat to the Russian Navy? Or they may sail away in spite of orders? Looks like Putin may not have the control he thought he had. Your thoughts?

      1. Routine exercise with the Rumanians and Bulgarians. No biggie. It does position a very capable vessel in the Black sea for the time frame specified for a non-Black Sea State. How long escapes me, Optcon would know.

        Some squadrons of F-16’s will deploy in the Baltic along with some F-15’s a little later on recent exercises with the Greeks in Crete. So I’ve heard.

        A presence, no more than that I believe.

  6. One curiosity.
    The Secretary of State recently called the events in Ukraine a Russian “aggression”. Today, the President called it a Russian “intervention”.

    1. I believe the Beta Male lead administration in Washington could agree on: The Ukrainian situation is a “Misunderstanding.”
      Best regards jgets.

  7. That’s all excellent. I do have to dissent from the Mexico analogy (I heard Stephen Cohen, Kremliln apologist par excellence) make a similar one to Canada) as I think the nature and extent of US interest in Mexico are quite dramatically different than those or Russia in the Crimea and in Ukraine tout court. Those interest are many and significant but he problem is that Putin is going about vindicating them in a comprehensively (and as OC suggest unnecessarily) illegitimate and dirty manner.

    And yes, of course, Obama discarding of the Monroe Doctrine is just on the many absurdities of his foreign and defense policies that will take a great deal of good judgement, leadership and effort to fix. On this point there are some suggesting, even on this very day (March 9) that the final bracket of the Republican nomination is what some forecast it to a year ago: Christie v. Paul. This prospect (which I disagree with, btw) hardly bodes well for the future of US foreign/defense policy.

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