Russia is struggling to assert itself as a strategic power — America is struggling to finish Russia off as a strategic power
Right in the middle of our beautiful Europe with its wonderful peaceful order, suddenly there’s war again? Just how could it come to this? Yes, how indeed? One thing is for certain: war did not just break out all of a sudden in the midst of the most beautiful peace. Nor did some crazed Russian autocrat rush into war for some inexplicable reason. As is always the case, the reasons for this war were created in peace. They were created by states that have once again reached a point in their dealings that they each think they have to inflict a crushing defeat on the other. In the present instance, the reasons have been a long time brewing. And the fact that it is now starting in Ukraine is no coincidence either.
It has now been more than a quarter of a century since a far-sighted strategic thinker and security advisor to the American president made his assessment that Russia's fate, its status and role in the world, would be decided with Ukraine:
"It cannot be stressed enough that without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994, “The Premature Partnership,” quoted in Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder on Ukraine, December 2, 2021, cfr.org),
The American strategist knew that it is of crucial strategic importance for Russia to keep this large neighboring state on its side politically. And, of course, he did not mean to imply that Russia’s vital interests have to be considered when dealing with this state. Just the opposite: he meant to say that gaining control over Ukraine would bring the American world power a decisive step closer to its strategic goal of making its Russian rival irrelevant as a military factor.
That is the objective followed by America and its allies in NATO and the EU in having systematically transformed the sovereign states in Russia’s western neighborhood that emerged from the disintegration of the Soviet Union into a zone dominated by NATO and associated politically and economically with the EU. To call this a ‘sphere of influence’ would be an understatement, given that these states have been firmly anchored in Western alliances and — conversely — fundamentally withdrawn from Russian influence and interests. The economic plight of the former Soviet allies or Soviet republics proved useful in this regard; the EU was able to exploit it by offering the prospect of membership in an economically strong common market. The decision to join up was not left entirely to the free will of the people. Instead, the EU reinforced its enlargement process with the political support of the USA and promoted the nationalism set free in Eastern Europe — insofar as it was directed against the former Soviet alliance supremacy or the Soviet Union as a whole — with innumerable so-called NGOs and ‘advisors’ in order to establish a Western-oriented nationalism as these nations’ reason of state. And step by step, Western control over eastern Europe was secured militarily, largely tucked away in NATO and groomed as a site for NATO forces.
In the case of Ukraine, the West has been all the more unwavering in its resolve to gain exclusive control over Ukraine. In a first go at it, the “pro-Western” Viktor Yushchenko was brought to power in 2004 by means of a “color revolution,” (“orange” in this case) and in 2008 the United States offered Ukraine and Georgia the prospect of joining its war alliance. After Yushchenko’s replacement by Viktor Yanukovych, the second attempt followed in 2014: after rejecting the association agreement with the EU, Yanukovych was overthrown by an uprising on the Maidan (“Independence Square”) organized with American help, after which the nationalist anti-Russia camp took power and immediately declared Ukraine to be under the protection of the EU and the USA. The EU made explicit that this was precisely the higher purpose of the EU’s eastern enlargement. As it said at the time, Ukraine’s planned association with the EU was none of Russia’s business, and as such nonnegotiable.
At this point, however, Europe had exhausted its method of peacefully conquering Eastern Europe. Russia no longer merely accepted under protest the continued ignoring of its strategic and other interests. Instead it created facts on the ground by annexing Crimea, actively supporting the uprising in eastern Ukraine, where large parts of the population rejected the anti-Russian line pursued by Kiev, and thus made it clear that the West had crossed a red line. The West then took the next step by ostracizing and sanctioning Russia, rallying the states of the world behind their position, and thus making clear that Russia had no choice but to accede and accept its own progressive encirclement.
From the very start, it has been impossible to overlook what is at stake in Ukraine: a power struggle at the highest level. One side is out to assert itself as a power that enforces its interests in the world, fights for influence over foreign sovereigns, claims a corresponding status, and has the weapons needed to press its claim. The other side is out to enforce its world order, in which such a Russia has no place precisely because the American claim to global dominance is indivisible: it cannot be shared.
I. Russia reaches a turning point
1. The Kremlin takes stock
The Russian government presents the results of the entire post-Soviet stage of the brave new world order and makes some serious accusations: for thirty years, the forward advance of NATO has broken all assurances within the framework of the two-plus-four[i] negotiations.
“It is common knowledge that we were promised that the NATO bloc infrastructure would not expand eastward by one inch. Everyone knows this. Today we see where NATO is: in Poland, in Romania and in the Baltic states. They said one thing but did another. … they simply cheated.” (Vladimir Putin, February 1, 2022, en.kremlin.ru)
Whether and in what form this promise was ever even made may be relevant when it comes to NATO justifying its actions under international law. But as far as the unmistakable facts of the strategic situation is concerned, the Western denials and refutations of this promise essentially amount to a diversionary tactic. The fact is that the Western war alliance has not only incorporated the Warsaw Pact states, the entire former buffer zone of the Soviet Union, but now also treats them and former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine as integral components of its front against the Kremlin and has moved its military infrastructure right up to Russia's borders.
“NATO used to play with phrases such as ‘temporary deployment.’ Now they are talking about a fully sustainable and rotational presence. This, in fact, means a permanent presence. … If you read the reports by the leading Western political science centres, they frankly admit that NATO has created new vulnerabilities for itself by moving its borders to the suburbs of St Petersburg. At the same time, the distance from Tallinn to St Petersburg can be covered by bike; NATO combat aircraft can reach St Petersburg in less than ten minutes.” (Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko’s interview published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta on December 20, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
The Russian analysis in detail:
a) The transformation of Ukraine into a decidedly anti-Russian frontline state is what gives the military threat to Russia a new quality, one that is crucial to the outcome of a war.
“… what they are doing, or trying or planning to do in Ukraine, is not happening thousands of kilometres away from our national border. It is on the doorstep of our house. They must understand that we simply have nowhere further to retreat to." (Vladimir Putin, December 21, 2021, en.kremlin.ru)
Since 2016, hundreds of instructors from various NATO countries have collaborated to drill all Ukrainian army units as part of the “Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine.” Their arms, organization, and combat technology have been brought up to NATO standards through more or less uninterrupted maneuvers, and the army has gained enormous clout. From a depleted force with a few thousand still deployable soldiers, crushed in the Donbass war, it has become a serious adversary with its own military capabilities. About half of the Ukrainian army is located at the line of contact in the east; in addition, there are the armed formations of the Ukrainian right-wing. The force is equipped with large quantities of second-hand weapons and, increasingly, modern US equipment, which is now being deployed rather than stored far away from the front — as demanded by the Trump administration. More recently, the force has also received Turkish combat drones. So much for Ukraine’s compliance with the so-called ceasefire. The American Air Force supplies the data necessary for an invasion of the separatist republics.
Ukraine’s ability to wage war has been increased accordingly, and the current government has left no doubt about its will to wage war, as can be seen from its deployment in the spring of 2021 and the relevant strategic plans to which Russia refers:
“In March 2021, a new Military Strategy was adopted in Ukraine. This document is almost entirely dedicated to confrontation with Russia and sets the goal of involving foreign states in a conflict with our country. The strategy stipulates the organisation of what can be described as a terrorist underground movement in Russia’s Crimea and in Donbass. It also sets out the contours of a potential war, which should end, according to the Kiev strategists, ‘with the assistance of the international community on favourable terms for Ukraine,’ as well as – listen carefully, please – ‘with foreign military support in the geopolitical confrontation with the Russian Federation.’” (Vladimir Putin, February 21, 2022, en.kremlin.ru)
In the spring, Ukraine was still thwarted from undertaking a military offensive by its protective powers, but what remained was a permanent threat of war against the two ‘people’s republics’ and their protective power, Russia.
- Due to the Alliance’s control over Ukraine, Russia has lost its most important strategic forward area in Europe; NATO thus stands directly on the more than 2000 kilometer–long border with Russia. It dominates the former Russian foothold almost completely, rapidly equipping it with more and more means of warfare (expansion of airports, radar stations, naval bases), including heavy equipment such as rocket artillery with a range of around 1000 kilometers. Most threatening for Russia, of course, is the deployment of short- and medium-range missiles in Ukraine, which, after the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty, is once agan permitted.
- The Ukrainian navy, in conjunction with NATO forces, has been used to limit the maneuverability of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its access to the Mediterranean. Its still modest capabilities have been rapidly expanded, primarily with British assistance. A modern military infrastructure up to NATO standards has arisen on the Black Sea, Ukraine has received new frigates and landing ships — a valuable addition to the NATO destroyers and frigates (each with a few dozen cruise missiles and/or nuclear-tipped missiles on board) that regularly cruise and undertake maneuvers in the Black Sea, opening up ever more threatening, separate strategic front on the southern Russian periphery.
- NATO has been practicing war in Ukraine with all kinds of permanent maneuvers, from night landing operations to rocket launches at Russian power centers and exercises in deterrence, including with nuclear weapons, all without Ukraine formally joining the alliance. The scope of these maneuvers, with Georgia and Ukraine as participants, have required the Russian adversary to be permanently ready for war, along with provocations on the threshold to open warfare — last spring, a British destroyer in full combat readiness set course for the home port of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and was only stopped by bombs dropped by the Russian air force. And such steps are not only being taken in Ukraine; NATO maneuvers with heavy weapons take place year-round on all Russian borders, representing a permanent, intentional threat of invasion. The next exercise in the Arctic has been announced, in which ‘neutral’ states such as Finland and Sweden are also included as a matter of course and are emphatically made aware that their security can ultimately only be guaranteed within NATO.
All this adds up to a military buildup that is capable of opening up war scenarios on several fronts that the Kremlin can no longer control by conventional means:
“If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia. We cannot but react to this real danger, all the more so since, let me repeat, Ukraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country. We are seeing how persistently the Kiev regime is being pumped with arms. … In the last few months, there has been a constant flow of Western weapons to Ukraine, ostentatiously, with the entire world watching. Foreign advisors supervise the activities of Ukraine’s armed forces and special services and we are well aware of this. Over the past few years, military contingents of NATO countries have been almost constantly present on Ukrainian territory under the pretext of exercises. The Ukrainian troop control system has already been integrated into NATO. This means that NATO headquarters can issue direct commands to the Ukrainian armed forces, even to their separate units and squads." (Vladimir Putin, February 21, 2022, en.kremlin.ru)
This inventory of the ‘real danger’ from the Russian point of view is not a mere way of looking at things, it is by no means only ‘felt’ that way in Russia, but coincides with the really existing, enormous military build-up of NATO forces in the east. This is also soberly supposed as a fact by NATO military experts when they assume in their planning that the “conventional balance of power” in Central and Eastern Europe has “shifted” massively to Russia’s disadvantage. And this coincides with the ever more severe official NATO classification of Russia as an enemy, a status Russia has acquired by insisting on its legal claims for strategic supremacy in Eastern Europe. And that is not all.
b) The next item on Russia’s list consists in missile sites in Poland and Romania, which, as mentioned earlier, could soon be joined by others in Ukraine:
“It is extremely alarming that elements of the US global defence system are being deployed near Russia. The Mk 41 launchers, which are located in Romania and are to be deployed in Poland, are adapted for launching the Tomahawk strike missiles. If this infrastructure continues to move forward, and if US and NATO missile systems are deployed in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow will be only 7–10 minutes, or even five minutes for hypersonic systems. This is a huge challenge for us, for our security.” (Vladimir Putin, December 21, 2021, en.kremlin.ru)
This gives the USA the option of destroying major cities, command centers, missile silos, decisive military infrastructure of all kinds in the European part of Russia within minutes, thus inflicting militarily unpreventable, catastrophic damage on the enemy and at the same time depriving it of the ability to launch an effective counterstrike; in other words, the option for the “decapitation strike” that US strategists have been dreaming of for a long time.
c) Russian ‘concerns’ (a condescending term used by Western diplomacy to dismiss how Russia sees the situation) are reinforced by the fact that since the end of the Soviet Union, America has terminated step by step all arms control treaties with the sole exception of New START, thus serving Russia a new edition of Reagan’s arms race that “you can’t win.”
“He [Alexander Grushko, deputy foreign minister] pointed to the complete degradation of the arms control system: 'It all began when the United States pulled out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty. Then it prevented NATO countries from ratifying the agreement on the adaptation of the conventional forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which might serve as a corner stone of European security. Then the US administration dropped the INF treaty (on the elimination of intermediate and shorter-range missiles). And last year the Open Skies Treaty was seriously undermined. … In conducting their military policies, the United States and its allies have been trying to gain superiority in all media: on land, in the air and at sea. Now there are also outer space and cyberspace. As well as all possible theaters of combat operations. Conceptually, operationally and technically the threshold of nuclear weapons use is being lowered. We see that the scenarios of various exercises incorporate the nuclear component, which causes our most serious concern.’” (TASS, January 12, 2022, tass.com)
d) Furthermore, Russia has been forced to recognize that all its diplomatic efforts to gain respect for its security interests have come to nothing. Offers such as Gorbachev’s ‘common European home,’ the proposal to build a ‘European peace architecture,’ remain unanswered, just as the alternative that Putin presented at the Munich Security Conference in 2007.
“Back in 2009, we submitted a draft European Security Treaty for the consideration of our Western colleagues. We were misunderstood and rather rudely. We were told that this would never be on the table. We cited the documents, including the Charter for European Security and other documents, which spell out the need to observe the indivisibility of security principle. We made clear that we want to translate the political commitments that we all assumed into a legally binding form. Their answer said it all: legally binding security guarantees can only be granted to Alliance members.” (Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, January 14, 2022, mid.ru/en/)
“Over two years ago, after the Americans destroyed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, we sent an initiative of President of Russia Vladimir Putin practically to all OSCE countries. He invited them to join a unilateral moratorium that we imposed on the deployment of land-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. It was conditioned on the non-deployment of the same missiles of US make. We suggested a joint moratorium. As soon as we announced it, the Americans and Europeans, the NATO members called us sneaky. They said we had already deployed Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region and now want to deprive them of such an opportunity. When he put forward this initiative two years ago, President of Russia Vladimir Putin suggested reconciling verification measures that were later explained by the Defence Ministry. We wanted to invite them to visit Kaliningrad, look at the Iskander systems deployed there and see for themselves (as we suggested to them many times) that they did not fall under the restrictions of the INF Treaty. In return, we wanted to visit US missile defence bases in Romania and Poland to look at MK-41 launchers. Lockheed Martin produced them and promoted them on its website as dual purpose: for missile defence and launching offensive cruise missiles. … NATO representatives said that this did not suit them. … The ever suspicious NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, again said that this was an underhanded proposal.” (Sergey Lavrov, January 13, 2022, mid.ru/en/)
e) When it comes to Ukraine diplomacy, Russia no longer holds any illusions about the Franco-German ‘mediation efforts’ in the Normandy Format, realizing that France and Germany are not acting as honest brokers, but are instead backing Ukraine’s refusal to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk Agreement. This is an attempt to undo at the negotiating table what Ukraine was once forced to sign in the face of Russian military superiority — something that Ukrainian politicians have now officially gone on record to say.
“What they [our Western colleagues] must do, instead of playing games, is force [Ukraine’s president] Vladimir Zelensky to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2202, which approved the Minsk Agreements. …
“They have proposed reversing the order now, saying ‘Give our border back to us, and after that we will decide if there will be a special status or not.’ Take the Ukrainian draft law On the Principles of State Policy of the Transition Period, about which President Putin spoke with President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel on many occasions, and which he mentioned yesterday in a conversation with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The Ukrainian government has submitted it to the Verkhovna Rada. This bill prohibits Ukrainian officials from implementing the Minsk Agreements. It stipulates lustration [purge of government officials] instead of amnesty, a military-civilian administration instead of a special status, and no elections coordinated with that part of Ukraine. It only stipulates ‘regaining control over the occupied territories,’ as they say.
“Although France and Germany have promised to dissuade Zelensky from promoting this bill, energetic efforts are being made to include it in the legislative process. They have submitted it to the Council of Europe. The Council’s Venice Commission said that in its opinion it is fine. It said something on the legal techniques but did not mention that this bill directly contradicts the relevant UN Security Council resolution.” (Sergey Lavrov, December 22, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
European negotiators respond to Russian complaints with semi-public statements, according to which Zelensky, in the interest of maintaining his government, simply could not be expected to fulfill the contractual obligations. Lavrov countered:
“I will not hide my disappointment with your answer. Take, for instance, the part where you say that our proposals contain provisions that ‘will certainly not find acceptance’ among Normandy format countries, in particular, ‘the establishment of direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.’” (Diplomatic correspondence between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, released November 17, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
Elsewhere, the highest European representatives ‘praise’ Ukraine's policy, thus reinforcing the revanchist standpoint of the Zelensky government:
“Only two days after the telephone conversation during which the leaders of France and Germany reaffirmed their full commitment to the Minsk agreements, Kiev hosted the European Union–Ukraine summit that resulted in the adoption of a lengthy statement, signed by President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky praising ‘the constructive approach of Ukraine in the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group’ and the way it has implemented the Minsk agreements. Nothing was said about Donetsk and Lugansk, or the need for direct dialogue with them. Russia was presented as an ‘aggressor country’ and called a ‘party to the conflict’ in Donbass. All this runs counter to what Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron promised.” (Sergey Lavrov, October 22, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
In the face of this confrontation, the Russian Foreign Ministry, in a demonstrative breach of diplomatic custom, published the correspondence with Le Drian and Maas in order to present to the world proof of how European negotiators are lying about their diplomatic assurances:
“I am certain that you will understand why we had to take this unusual step, as it concerns telling the international community the truth about how international legal obligations assumed at the highest level are being fulfilled." (Diplomatic correspondence, op. cit.)
“… the French and the Germans have co-sponsored these documents and are parties to the Normandy format, but they are beginning to side completely with the Ukrainian regime. … President Vladimir Zelensky recently had meetings with the heads of Germany and France … Once again, Kiev’s actions to carry out the Minsk Agreements received full support. What this means is that either our colleagues acknowledged their inability to ensure the implementation of the provisions that we set forth together, or they are knowingly seeking to undermine the Minsk Agreements for the benefit of the Kiev regime.” (Sergey Lavrov, December 22, 2021, op. cit.)
After umteen rounds of negotiations, the chief Russian diplomat concludes that the European ‘partners’ are either unable or unwilling to force Ukraine to fulfill its treaty obligations. Either they lack the necessary political power or they are cheats; in any case, they are not suitable as negotiating partners, and Russia takes its leave from the Normandy format as a pointless organization.
2. Russia draws a red line for the West: No admission of Ukraine to NATO
The prospect of Ukraine becoming not only de facto but also de jure assimilated into NATO poses an essential strategic threat to Russia. Lavrov points out that NATO countries are enabling Ukraine to undertake military operations, so that after entering the Western alliance, Ukraine would be in a position to draw Russia directly into a war with NATO:
“Now that the Kiev regime is frantically looking for ways to divert attention from its inability to resolve socioeconomic problems and to peacefully settle the conflict in Donbass in accordance with the Minsk Agreements, the West is hinting and is in every possible way encouraging the Kiev authorities to use military force in Donbass. This is what Washington and other Western capitals and the NATO leadership are doing. …
We cannot rule out the possibility that the Kiev regime might slide into a thoughtless military venture. This creates a direct threat to the security of the Russian Federation. (Sergey Lavrov, November 30, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
The Russian president speaks plainly about the further political intentions of the great protective power of Ukraine in affirming and cheering on its ruling anti-Russian reason of state and providing it with the necessary weapons:
“Suppose Ukraine is a NATO member. It will be filled with weapons, modern offensive weapons will be deployed on its territory just like in Poland and Romania – who is going to prevent this. Suppose it starts operations in Crimea, not to mention Donbass for now. … Imagine that Ukraine is a NATO country and starts these military operations. What are we supposed to do? Fight against the NATO bloc? … I still believe the United States is not that concerned about Ukraine’s security … Its main goal is to contain Russia’s development. This is the whole point. In this sense, Ukraine is simply a tool to reach this goal.” (Vladimir Putin, February 1, 2022, op. cit.)
3. Russia issues an ultimatum to the West
Russian leaders see NATO’s successes in the East for what they are: steps toward establishing superior war capability. It presents this finding with all the formal diplomatic trimmings to the USA and NATO in order to inquire about their willingness to go to war.
“… it is imperative to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security in this area [Russia’s western borders], because Russia cannot constantly be thinking about what could happen there tomorrow." (Vladimir Putin, November 18, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
Russia thereby insists on its right and invokes promises made to it, namely the formula of “indivisibility of security” in the OSCE[ii] treaties, which stipulate that OSCE states “will not strengthen their security at the expense of others,” in order to accuse the NATO countries of violating the law.
“In 2010 in Astana, and before that in 1999 in Istanbul, all presidents and prime ministers from the OSCE countries signed a package that contained interrelated principles to ensure the indivisibility of security. The West “ripped out” just one slogan from this package: each country has the right to choose its allies and military alliances. But in that package this right comes with a condition and an obligation on each country, to which the Westerners subscribed: not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others. … Let me emphasise that presidents, including the US President, signed under these commitments promising that no one would seek to bolster one’s security at someone else’s expense. The United States claims that the right to choose alliances is sacrosanct. But we say, provided it doesn’t worsen the security situation for any other country. This is what you signed, my dear sirs.
“They are now trying to present our proposals as an ultimatum, but we are there to refresh their memories and make sure that instead of equivocating they set forth in all honesty their interpretation of what their president signed up for. If he signed these documents while being confident that Russia would never be able to get what they promised, they must acknowledge that. This will be yet another confession on their part.” (Sergey Lavrov, January 28, 2022, mid.ru/en/)
Russia insists on its right by submitting new treaties to the USA and NATO, demanding — given its bad experiences with Western assurances – that they provide written justifications for the answers they give :
“Our initiatives are a condensed presentation of the 30-year experience of our relations with the West …” (Sergey Lavrov, January 26, 2022, mid.ru/en/)
“NATO’s military infrastructure is approaching our border. We were deceived at every turn, starting with verbal promises and ending with the political commitments set down in the Russia-NATO Founding Act. This time … we want to see legally binding guarantees.." (Sergey Lavrov, December 22, 2021, op. cit.)
Similarly, Russia demands written answers on how the West intends to adhere to the principle of indivisibility of security:
“We want to receive a clear answer to the question how our partners understand their obligation not to strengthen their own security at the expense of the security of other States on the basis of the commitment to the principle of indivisible security. How specifically does your Government intend to fulfil this obligation in practical terms in the current circumstances? If you renege on this obligation, we ask you to clearly state that.” (Sergey Lavrov, February 1, 2022, mid.ru/en/)
“Pocketing the first part of this inseparable package (the right of each state to choose alliances), our US and NATO colleagues then try to cross out all the rest, without which the first part is invalid. We are not bound by this norm (respect for the right to choose alliances) if it is applied in flagrant violation of the other parts of this inseparable package. We have explained this in sufficient detail. Now we are awaiting responses in writing" (Sergey Lavrov, January 14, 2022, op. cit.)
Specifically, the Russian draft treaties demand that the USA and NATO refrain from further expansion at Russia’s expense, in particular that they refrain from commandeering further ex-Soviet republics, and return their military infrastructure and forces to 1997 levels, i.e., before NATO’s first eastward expansion. The American world power should refrain from further nuclear buildup around the Russian Federation, dismantle the short and medium-range missiles it has already deployed — including the infrastructure it needs to use these weapons — cease training military personnel to use these projectiles in all “non-nuclear countries,” and also refrain from deploying new short- and medium-range nuclear missiles on its own territory that could threaten Russia. Russia offers a deal on an equal footing, committing in return not to build up a new nuclear threat in the form of short- and medium-range missiles, thus proposing a return of nuclear deterrence to the capacities of the USA and the Russian Federation.
The draft treaty submitted to NATO also calls for it to refrain from accepting new members as well as restrictions on permanent invasion exercises in the notoriously crisis-ridden Baltic and Black Sea regions.
This list of demands presents the other side with an ultimatum: the USA can agree to negotiations on the red lines drawn by Putin, to negotiations on something like a demarcation of spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, the establishment of a de-NATO-fied buffer zone in Central and Eastern Europe. The USA can thus acknowledge the existential threat posed to Russia by its successful encirclement strategy, commit to remove that threat, and coexist peacefully with the great power to the east. Or it can confirm that this forward advance is an explicit political project, and that America therefore cannot and will not live with Russian power, consequently putting war on the agenda. If that is what America is after, it should also put this on record in writing and thus publicly declare to the world that its rule-based world order stands for nothing other than the legitimization of American power.
4. The diplomatic ultimatum is underlined with a threat of war
The warning against the “categorically unacceptable” (Lavrov) further disregard of Russia’s “red lines” is a threat of war, and Russia also backs it up militarily.
“No one should doubt our determination to defend our security. Everything has its limits. If our partners keep constructing military-strategic realities imperiling the existence of our country, we will be forced to create similar vulnerabilities for them. We have come to the point when we have no room to retreat. Military exploration of Ukraine by NATO member states is an existential threat for Russia.” (Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Foreign Policy, December 20, 2021)
For this reason, after Ukraine’s war bluster in the winter of 2021, the Russian leadership deployed troops on Ukraine's border and supplemented it with an explicit threat to destroy Ukrainian statehood in the event of an attack on the Donbass.
“… our recent warnings have had a certain effect: tensions have arisen there anyway. … it is important for them to remain in this state for as long as possible, so that it does not occur to them to stage some kind of conflict on our western borders which we do not need, we do not need a new conflict." (Vladimir Putin, November 18, 2021, op. cit.)
In the draft treaty presented to the USA, the Russian side also reminds its enemy at the outset who it is dealing with — “reaffirming that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and recognizing the need to make every effort to prevent the risk of outbreak of such war among States that possess nuclear weapons …”
Lest anyone in Washington be mistaken about the seriousness of the situation, i.e., the Kremlin's resolve to confront it militarily, Russia rehashes memories of the Cuban missile crisis, demonstrates several military countermeasures, hints at the use of others, and finally orders an exercise of Russia’s strategic deterrence forces, including the testing of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles — just to clarify what is in Russia’s arsenal in case the West has any doubts.
For its part, Russia threatens to act unpredictably in order to intimidate and deter its adversary. Parallel to the diplomatic offensive aimed at forcing the USA and NATO to choose between respecting or disregarding Russia’s security needs, the Russian leadership strengthens the military deployed on Ukraine’s borders to the extent that it can be mobilized at a moment’s notice on various fronts. And at the same time, it accompanies these advances with the declaration that it does not intend to invade — provided that the USA and NATO can bring themselves to negotiate the security guarantees demanded by Russia. It thus makes very clear that if the USA and NATO refuse Russia’s demand for official recognition of its security interests, they will be dealing with a Russia whose pursuit of its security interests will no longer be predictable for the American world power and its war alliance.
II. The USA responds
1. Russia’s request for recognition of its security interests: rejected!
The US leadership declares the Kremlin’s demands to be definitely “unfulfillable” and NATO’s eastward enlargement to be a possession that Russia simply cannot get around. America categorically rules out recognizing Russia’s security interests; after all, that would amount to annulling all the strategic advances of recent decades, which have been so successful in putting its powerful rival into its current predicament. Despite the severity of Russia’s threat, the American world power simply refuses to make any changes to its program of degrading Russia to a regional power and forcing it into submission.
“The demands [of Moscow] include an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and to cooperation with former Soviet republics that are not members of the Western military alliance — in particular Ukraine. Russia is also calling for limitations in Europe on missile deployment and military exercises. After the talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Sherman said she made clear that the first two demands — which would keep Ukraine out of NATO forever and bar military cooperation with Kyiv — are nonstarters. ‘We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open-door policy, which has always been central to the alliance. We will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States.’” (US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 11, 2022, rferl.org)
The US war alliance is apparently nothing but an “open door.” The Deputy Secretary of State refuses to acknowledge that there is any anti-Russian purpose guiding the alliance and justifying its policies. He flatly denies that NATO’s advance could in any way pose a threat to Russia. NATO thus declares its intentions, which are, of course, well-meaning, and entirely ignores the actual strategic situation its expansion has brought about. NATO demands that it be viewed as a large aid organization for sovereign states seeking protection. It leaves no doubt as to who provides protection from whom – and has much sympathy for the fears of the Baltic states, etc., about their big neighbor. So the latter shouldn’t be surprised if the free exercise of the right of self-determination of peoples —
“Every country has the right to decide its own path." (Stoltenberg et al. at every conceivable opportunity)”
— happens to have rapidly led to the largest war alliance of all time expanding to include thirty nations. To reject Russia’s request to undo NATO’s eastward expansion, NATO’s representatives resort to the simple trick of designating the states wishing to join the alliance as the actors in charge of the alliance — even if it goes without saying that NATO reserves the right to ignore, until further notice, the wish of some nations to exercise their sovereign right of self-determination to join. Whatever NATO’s representatives might say, the alliance continues to be the real driver that determines admission, and in this case it instrumentalizes the national ambitions of the applicants, which it uses to achieve its strategic interest in expanding eastward. “Russia has no veto power” (Stoltenberg, Blinken[iii] et al. at every conceivable opportunity) — no further ‘justifications’ are offered. By accusing Russia of seeking to ‘forbid’ the West of something, of thereby making a merely imagined legal claim, presuming that it has a right to which it is not at all entitled, NATO completely dismisses Russia’s interest in fending off the existential threat to its power posed by NATO’s control over the buffer zone Russia demands to have.
Russia’s core demands have been rejected once and for all. Moscow has to accept that.
2. America takes sovereign control over defining the situation
The next step in America’s offensive consists in defining the world political situation. The sole issue that America is willing to put on the agenda, the only thing it is willing to address in its relationship with Russia, is the Russian threat not to accept Ukraine as a component of the NATO front. The issue is framed not as a confrontation between Russia and NATO, but exclusively as an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This is what the US administration warns of on a daily basis, fleshed out with vivid details, until finally Blinken presents the full Russian battle plan to the UN:
“First, Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack. This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian Government. We don’t know exactly the form it will take. It could be a fabricated so-called ‘terrorist’ bombing inside Russia, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians, or a fake — even a real — attack using chemical weapons. … After that, Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans. We believe these targets include … Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million people." (Secretary of State Antony Blinken, February 17, 2022, state.gov)
So, first of all, America announces that it has detailed information on Russia’s plans. Its certainty definitely does not derive from any ‘declassified information’ gleaned by its great intelligence services. It is so well aware of Russia’s intentions because it is perfectly aware that by rejecting Russia’s demands, it confronts Russia with the alternative of either abandoning what it defines as an existential interest or making good on its threat:
“And remember that while Russia has repeatedly derided our warnings and alarms as melodrama and nonsense, they have been steadily amassing more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, as well as the capabilities to conduct a massive military assault.” (ibid.)
So, secondly, Blinken declares that America sees through Russia entirely, that Russia will not surprise it at all with an invasion, that America can already anticipate every detail of it, including the date the invasion will begin and which war crimes Russia will commit. And thirdly, America shows that it is completely unimpressed by the prospect of an invasion. It remains completely in control of the situation, because it has long since prepared for it thoroughly. Biden:
“We prepared extensively and carefully. We spent months building a coalition of other freedom-loving nations from Europe and the Americas to Asia and Africa to confront Putin. I spent countless hours unifying our European allies. We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression. We countered Russia’s lies with truth.” (Joe Biden, March 1, 2022, whitehouse.gov)
Blinken and Biden triumphantly proclaim that they have the ‘truth’ on their side, so much so that the Secretary of State even flirts with how delighted he will be if his prediction proves wrong — “If Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine, then we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong.” (Antony Blinken, February 17, 2022, op. cit.) This documents a standpoint of boundless superiority with which the leaders of the American world power tackle the situation created by Russia, having not only observed its unfolding, but also having precipitated it with strategic foresight. It is the US that leaves Russia with the one choice of either giving in and accepting the conversion of Ukraine into a decisive part of NATO’s military potential or of militarily stopping this transition, either capitulating or entering into the confrontation for which Ukraine has been prepared. And it announces its firm resolve not to be impressed in any way by Russian counterthreats. America expects Russia to attack Ukraine, it is ready for any escalation, and it is certain that it has everything it needs to assert its dominance in the event of escalation.
3. The revival of NATO as an extended arm of the American world power
Washington responds to Russia’s demand for security guarantees, which the latter reinforces by assembling troops on the Ukrainian border, with its own massive buildup and mobilization of military forces. It undertakes to restore NATO. President Biden is revising the line of his predecessor, Trump, who with his policy of ‘America first!” had declared NATO ‘obsolete’ and held any consideration for the interests of allies to be an unnecessary burden that would only make America the servant of foreign interests, entangling it in machinations that would not pay off for America. Biden exorcises the allies’ high-handedness — see Macron’s[iv] diagnosis of ‘brain death’ — that had almost reached the point of rejecting NATO, and obligates them to show their loyalty to the alliance by escalating the confrontation with Russia, creating a situation that requires an unambiguous decision from the Western Europeans. In this way, America mobilizes within a very short time a powerful war coalition of thirty states ready to make their contribution to the conflict with Russia.
a) The military contributions,
demanded of and supplied by Europe, are incorporated byAmerica into a three-tiered deterrent; first:
Making Ukraine “indigestible” for Russia with much more money and armaments
This is to force Russia to recognize the new strategic situation.
“And, you know, we’re going to fortify our NATO Allies, I told him, on the eastern flank — if, in fact, he does invade. We’re going to — I’ve already shipped over $600 million worth of sophisticated equipment, defensive equipment to the Ukrainians. The cost of going into Ukraine, in terms of physical loss of life, for the Russians, they’ll — they’ll be able to prevail over time, but it’s going to be heavy, it’s going to be real, and it’s going to be consequential. In addition to that, Putin has — you know, has a stark choice: He — either de-escalation or diplomacy; confrontation or the consequences.” (Joe Biden, January 19, 2022, whitehouse.gov/)
The core of America’s strategy is to make it impossible for Russia to assert what it deems its security interests, and thus force the Kremlin to accept the occupation of its most important strategic forward area by its enemies. US strategists are preparing a war scenario in which Russia will face a permanent war of attrition in Ukraine if it attempts to assert interests militarily. This is what is meant by the “high cost” of a Russian invasion. Ukraine gets the honor of being allowed to wage war against a massively superior adversary, a war in which America soberly calculates the demise of the Ukrainian army and the destruction of the country and its people because — from a strategic point of view — it is worth it. The aim is to make Russia fight and decisively weaken itself in its large neighboring country.
To this end, the US and NATO are building up their Ukrainian partner militarily, arming the Ukrainian army so as to enable it to inflict heavy losses on the Kremlin with comparatively modest military means, i.e., with massive sacrifices and heavy losses on their own part.
Among the assets given to Kiev to defend the homeland are, first and foremost, shoulder-launched missiles and short-range artillery to counter a Russian invasion with armored vehicles, attack helicopters, and low-flying fighter and transport aircraft; in addition, the experts cannot emphasize enough, small arms and plenty of ammunition for stalling enemy advances through a kind of guerrilla warfare. Britain is helping with weapons that pose no threat to Russia if only because they are not strategic in nature, and with an army of military trainers giving Ukrainian soldiers the skills they need for urban warfare.
And as if it was not already clear enough, the Pentagon later adds the warning that Russia will get no joy out of a victory over its neighbor, since the US will make sure that the defeated but patriotic Ukrainians prepare a second Afghanistan for the occupiers.
In the event that Russia nevertheless chooses to escalate in order to extricate itself from the intolerable war scenario its enemy has prepared for it, it will have to face the concerted power of NATO and its neutral collaborators on the Russian borders, which are daily building up their militaries.
NATO allies as well as ‘neutral’ states around Russia reinforce the threat environment
In addition to the progress already made in encircling Russia, NATO is intensifying the very military measures that Russia categorically demands to be taken back, and is expanding its presence on Russia’s borders at record speed. Whether all this is still compatible with the old NATO-Russia Act[v] of the 1990s is of no interest. For Western propaganda outlets, the necessity of these measures is to be viewed in light of an immanent Russian invasion, which justifies any degree of military build-up. The purpose is to confront Russia with a completely incalculable and uncontrollable military situation with ever new means of warfare; to confront it with a strike force built up around its borders — mainly in the west and south — which is sufficient to inflict military destruction and defeat on Russia in the event that it resorts to the use of military power.
- For this, new military means are needed to achieve even better control of the airspace in the far north, the Baltic and Atlantic approaches; to move even closer to the home ports of the Russian navy in order to confine it there and, in particular, to be able to combat the strategic nuclear submarines stationed there more effectively, and so on and so forth; included in this scenario is the prospect of making it impossible for Russia to defend its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.
Also needed is even more Enhanced Forward Presence[vi] on Russia’s western border; a few thousand more troops, even more quickly deployable, even more mobile, even more unpredictable for the enemy:
“Jens Stoltenberg said in Romania that NATO will continue to reinforce its presence of in the East. ‘We have also raised the combat readiness of NATO reaction forces. These troops remain in their home bases, but if needed they can be relocated anywhere in the alliance.’ The alliance is also considering a more long-term presence in the Black Sea region.” (Deutsche Welle, February 12, 2022)
- “To deter Russia” on the “Southeastern flank,” NATO also plans to “station multinational combat troops in Romania. The so-called battle groups have hitherto been located only in the Baltic countries Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, as well as in Poland. Along with Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria will host multinational NATO units.” (Deutsche Welle, ibid.)
In general, NATO is establishing a new level of interoperability and pooling of capabilities in the anti-Russian alliance of states:
“… British, French and Estonian soldiers will work alongside one another across a range of armour, infantry, planning, engineering and artillery scenarios. Members of the UK-led Battlegroup are also joined by soldiers from the British Army's Parachute and Yorkshire Regiments, who will learn to train alongside armour in a winter environment. … F-16 fighter jets from the Belgian Air Force, currently stationed at Ämari Air Base in Estonia as part of the NATO Air Policing mission, will provide the air support …” (“NATO eFP Battlegroup Estonia and Estonian Army hone interoperability during largest winter exercise,” NATO, February 2, 2022, mncne.nato.int)
NATO thus also ensures that all of its members “aim their surveillance capabilities (satellites and other sensor systems) towards the region in crisis and immediately share any findings with the alliance.” (US General Wolters, Spiegel Online, December 18, 2021)
Deployment of America’s own military
The US military has not deployed its own troops to Ukraine, and it will not do so until further notice. The American world power is directing the great anti-Russian front from behind, using the capabilities of its allies, which it has successfully prepared to operate with each other, involving its own forces in various missions according to its priorities, primarily in the aerial reconnaissance needed for an adequate assessment of the military situation.
It is moving units already stationed in Europe eastward and bringing over a few thousand troops, including elite paratroopers, from the United States to meet all contingencies. Washington thus confronts the Kremlin with a situation in which all Russian military operations from the Baltic to NATO’s “southern eastern flank” can be directly countered with the combined forces of the alliance — along with the option of a rapid and massive reinforcement of these tripwire forces. The necessary logistics have been set up and tested in maneuvers.
Besides, America is ramming home to Russia what the final stage of a possible escalation of its armed conflict with NATO would look like. The superpower in the background is greeting its enemy — not yet with new nuclear missiles in Europe, but — with an aircraft carrier battle group:
“The United States is retaining a nuclear aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean instead of sending it on to the Middle East in order to reassure allies as tensions remain high over Ukraine … ‘[the] schedule change reflects the need for a persistent presence in Europe, and is necessary to reassure our allies and partners of our commitment to collective defense.’” (US Defense Department official, GlobalSecurity.org, December 28, 2021)
The extension of this unit’s mission serves to clarify that the American world power itself is and will remain present with considerable forces in the expanded theater of war. If Russia secures its red lines by force, it should expect to receive America’s “robust response,” i.e., to end up in a major war with the world power.
The closing of military ranks between the USA and the European NATO partners has thus succeeded. Russia faces the combined military apparatus of thirty nations, (almost) united in their will to war and all shifted into war-readiness.
Of course, nobody wants a war. Least of all the US government. In the event that Russia should consider securing its disregarded vital interests by force, America has announced that it will impose an unacceptably high “price” on Russia — but America is not threatening war. To be more precise: it has not threatened an American-led “unilateral” war. Biden does not want that — “at least for now”:
“At the same time, Biden made it clear Wednesday that U.S. troops wouldn’t be sent to Ukraine to confront the Russians, and announced future talks between the U.S., its top NATO allies and Russia to address some of Moscow’s security concerns.” (Associated Press, December 9, 2021, apnews.com)
“President Joe Biden said Wednesday that U.S. support for Ukraine against a worrisome buildup of Russian forces will not include additional U.S. troops, at least for now. ‘That is not on the table’” (Defense One, December 8, 2021, defenseone.com)
How reassuring: Ukraine is — most likely — not worth a Third World War to the United States. Fighting Russia in the prospective Ukrainian theater of war is not something it wants to do itself, “at least for now.” The world power can afford the luxury of letting others fight for its cause and maintaining the freedom and autonomy to decide what means it will use to challenge Russia, where and how it will escalate the conflict. It has quite other means at its disposal to inflict devastating damage on Russia.
b) The sanctions
The peace lover in the White House knows that America has another powerful weapon besides its military: its dollar imperialism:
“I have been very, very straightforward and blunt with President Putin, both on the phone and in person. We will impose the most severe sanctions that have ever been imposed …” (Joe Biden, February 07, 2022, whitehouse.gov)
And, look, I think you’re going to see — for example, everybody talks about how Russia has control over the energy supply that Europe absorbs. Well, guess what? That — that money that they earn from that makes about 45 percent of the economy. I don’t see that as a one-way street. … it’s like my mother used to say: ‘You bite your nose off to spite your face.’ … We are in a situation where I think there will be serious economic consequences. For example, anything that has to do with dollar values, if they — if they invade, they're going to pay; they're not going to — their banks are not going to be able to deal in dollars. So a lot of things are going to happen." (Joe Biden, January 19, 2022, op. cit.)
In the American view, Russia represents an almost absurd challenge: it has a pitiful economic base, with a GDP that amounts to just 7.2% of America’s, is almost entirely dependent on fuel exports, but nevertheless has military resources that are a real problem and that it is not entitled to have. By using Russia’s economic weakness and dependence as a weapon against it, the US intends to make clear to Russia that it cannot in fact afford to be so militarily powerful. Biden has thus announced America’s intention to destroy the Russian economy, adding new measures virtually every day:
- When it comes to SWIFT[vii] America has sought from the outset to exclude Russia from international payment transactions — in other words, to paralyze the cross-border trade this nation has lived on since rejecting its socialist planned economy and losing its economic bloc. It’s no wonder that the European business community and its interpreters in the ‘quality press’ are alarmed about the ruinous consequences of this sanction. Excluding Russia would be “the atomic bomb for the capital markets and also for trade in goods and services” (Friedrich Merz,[viii] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), 18.1.22).
- And as far as Nord Stream 2[ix] is concerned, the US president announces in the presence of the stoic-looking German chancellor Olaf Scholz that he will be the one to cut the project short if worst comes to worst — “We will bring an end to it … We will — I promise you, we'll be able to do it.” The prospect of ruining the Russians’ billion-dollar investment and much greater future earnings is worth relativizing the sovereignty of the esteemed German partner a bit, so Mr. Scholz cannot avoid sacrificing a key element of German energy imperialism for the anti-Russian cause.
- Furthermore, Russian industry is to be cut off from vital supplies, such as access to semiconductors and cutting-edge software; the US wants to deprive Russia of the ability to modernize its military, and to paralyze its entire aerospace program.
- In addition, there is the direct attack on foreign property and on the freedom of movement of the political elite, of Lavrov, Putin, and his inner circle.
The sanctions, which are calculated to inflict “as much damage as possible” on Russia in the long term, are therefore combined with impositions on the European partners. The Americans soberly accept the fact that the sanctions harm its partners as well, in some cases to a significant extent. After all, there is a lot at stake: “It's about standing up for what we believe in.” (Biden, February 15, 2022)
Recently, Biden specifically addressed the Russian people in a friendly manner and assured them that America wishes them only the best. So much so that it is employing economic sanctions as powerful levers to impoverish them. Of course this is only to help them understand that the regime under which they live cannot withstand American pressure and will perish, and that they should therefore definitely look for other leaders.
These clarifications are further underscored by the announcement that all diplomatic means will be employed to isolate Russia in almost all spheres of intergovernmental activities, to morally ostracize it, i.e., to make it the ‘pariah state’ that according to the American definition it actually already is, i.e., that it should absolutely become.
And precautions are already being taken in case Russia, as expected, fights back against the sanctions — e.g. with cyberattacks.
In response to Russia’s intent to blackmail the West by amassing troops on Ukraine’s border, Russia is faced with a counterattack intended to show it the ineffectiveness of its means of power, i.e., to force it to recognize that capitulation is the only realistic option. For this, the USA does not even have to bring its military to bear. This world power is free to exploit a whole arsenal of civilian means with the potential to inflict sufficient damage to destroy its enemy.
On this basis, America most generously offers to negotiate.
4. “Continue discussions” with Russia: always!
The Russian government’s warnings that it will not take part in talks in which it sees no sign of any serious willingness to meet its demands remain fruitless. In fact, America provokes these very warnings. By incessently repeating that, despite everything, “nonstop diplomacy” remains top priority in Washington, it offers Russia a diplomacy that definitely rules out recognizing Russian interests. Instead, America offers negotiations on secondary, marginal issues or on issues where America might gain something from an agreement.
For example, Washington could imagine an informal agreement not to admit Ukraine into NATO in the next few years, and also offers certain concessions in the implementation of the Minsk agreement. These are also comparatively easy concessions for the USA to make — after all, they are entirely at the expense of Ukraine.
And a bit more transparency with military maneuvers is also conceivable, perhaps even agreements on no longer stationing short- and medium-range missiles. After all, negotiating this category of weapons out of the hands of the Russians is certainly worth a try.
Russia is thus confronted with the poisoned alternative of either losing any legitimacy in the eyes of the world by rejecting this ‘offer’ and taking the blame for the ‘end of diplomacy’; or abandoning its demands for respect of its great power status by agreeing to this ‘offer.’
III. The power struggle escalates
1. It does not take the Russian leadership long to realize the failure of its final diplomatic attempt — by threat of war — to wring from the USA the contractually secured recognition of its existence as a major nuclear power. It faces the alternative of either resigning itself to the existential threat on its borders and subordinating itself to the world power, or of forcibly obtaining the refused respect, as dictated by the responsibility Russian leadership has for such a powerful nation. It moves from threat to open war, invades Ukraine to enforce its "red lines" by force and compel the other side to recognize its strategic interests.
It takes this decision in the knowledge of the crushing scenario that is in store for it. In explaining his decision to occupy Ukraine, Putin explicitly refers to the threatened sanctions that will be devastating for Russia; he tells his citizens that it will be hard for them and their country. And he points out that time is pressing, because Russia has to expect that its arms will be strategically devaluated in the foreseeable future by the American arms program. He thereby makes clear that for Russia, this war is about much more than Ukraine. It is a question of survival as a respected great power, to which it has no alternative.
By announcing his limited war goal of ‘demilitarizing’ and ‘neutralizing’ Ukraine, Putin continues to link his decision to invade with a final inquiry as to whether the other side might concede to Russian demands after all. But by opening the military campaign, Putin also accepts the prospect of unforeseeable, destructive consequences beyond Russia’s control. After all, even if he should manage to achieve this limited goal in Ukraine, his insistence on a turnaround in Russia’s relationship with the American world power and NATO cannot be achieved at all in this limited case. He cannot force the other side by means of military force in Ukraine to abandon its efforts to dismantle Russian power.
2. The American government is responding to this militant transition in its own way as a superior world power. Not only is it completely unimpressed and miles away from allowing itself to be wrangled into an arrangement that in any way takes Russian interests into account — on the contrary, it is wholly prepared to turn the Kremlin's escalation into a catastrophe of unimagined proportion for Russia.
Biden downright brags that he has known about Russia’s plans for months — no wonder, he is the one who maneuvered Russia into its dilemma — and that he has prepared a whole series of new, devastating military measures to counter the Kremlin’s anticipated actions and will be able to use them according to his sovereign decision. Firstly, the United States and its allies are ensuring that the campaign becomes the bloody fiasco predicted for the Russian army by increasing the supply of weapons to the Ukrainian theater of war — which encompasses visibly more “lethal” equipment, in the meantime even fighter jets are being discussed. Secondly, Biden’s war alliance is increasing its military clout against Russia, stationing weapons and troops all along Russia’s western border. Thirdly, economic sanctions are adopted that immediately have a ruinous effect on the Russian economy, devaluing the ruble, destroying the capital of large state-owned enterprises such as Gazprom,[x] depriving Russian sovereign wealth funds and the national Bank of Russia of access to billions of dollars of assets held in Western private banks and central banks, cutting them off from any dollars transactions, in other words expropriating them.
Fourthly, America is rallying essentially the whole world to put up a world war united front against Russia, announcing the crushing defeat of Russia militarily, diplomatically, and economically.
What is at stake for the American world power and its allies is just as fundamental as Russia’s self-assertion. America sees the latter as an assault on the world order, as questioning its global dominance. And because the “criminal” behind this challenge is a power that, thanks to its military capacity, is capable of calling this order into question, it represents an unbearable limit on America’s power, an existential threat that must be removed no matter what.
3. For both sides, the substance of what they are and claim to be as nations is at stake. The one side sees its status as a great power and significant actor in the world of states on the line; the other sees its unrestricted global domination in question. These positions are irreconcilable. They cannot tolerate being relativized, for that would be tantamount to abandoning the position completely. Both sides, therefore, see the assertion of their own standpoint as an existential matter that has to be settled once and for all. And so they go at each other, moving from deterrence to a confrontation in which both sides escalate the use of their means of violence in order to force the other to give in. They do this in the knowledge of the means of power that the other side has at its disposal and in the firm determination to keep and exercise escalation dominance, i.e., to answer every escalation by the other side with a further escalation of its own. The difference is that it is the Russian state power, which has been put on the strategic defensive in this struggle, that has made the transition to a military offensive and is faced with the bad alternative of ‘withdrawal or further escalation.’ Meanwhile the superior American side — still — retains the freedom in its escalation to decide on when and how to make the transition to direct military confrontation, and thus also to refrain from further escalation without losing any ground, which only means that America retains the freedom to postpone escalation. Or to make strategic ‘advance payments’ …
Ukraine is the first battleground for this confrontation.
[i] Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany
[ii] Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
[iii] US secretary of state Antony Blinken
[iv] Emmanuel Macron, president of France
[v] Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, 1997
[vi] NATO-allied forward-deployed defense and deterrence military force in Central and Northern Europe.
[vii] The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication serves the execution of worldwide financial transactions and payments.
[viii] German lawyer and politician, Christian Democratic Union.
[ix] Natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany running through the Baltic Sea.
[x] Russian majority state-owned multinational energy corporation.
 Subsequently, after the bloody course of democratizing Ukraine, some European politicians have regretted the EU’s action as a ‘mistake’; an easy confession, since the change of camp had already taken place and the putsch had been declared to be a form of Ukraine’s free self-determination. Of course there was never any thought of reversing the said ‘mistake.’
 More on this in GegenStandpunkt 1-14: “EU-Osterweiterung zum Dritten: die ‘östliche Partnerschaft’ mit der Ukraine. Europa geht bis an die Grenzen seiner Methode friedlicher Eroberung und darüber hinaus” [EU enlargement to the east for the third time: the ‘eastern partnership' with Ukraine. Europe goes to the limits of its method of peaceful conquest and beyond”] and GegenStandpunkt 2-14: “Ein Bürgerkrieg in der Ukraine und eine neue weltpolitische Konfrontation” [“A civil war in Ukraine and a new global political confrontation.”] Untranslated.
 The Russian position is quoted in detail below. The Western media, with its superior ethos of free discourse and inquiry, sees no need to publicize the other side’s argumentation, and also explicitly approves of suppressing the attempts of Russian media to make itself heard: note the current prevention of a German-language television channel of Russia Today. The issue is settled by identifying the other side’s voices as ‘fake news,’ ‘disinformation.’ That is the modern version of labeling the standpont of the other side as mere propaganda that cannot be permitted to circulate.
The matter would be easy to brush off if it were merely the subjective perception of the Russian leadership. But it is worse than that: here we have a military world power explaining to its declared adversary the strategic position in which it perceives the latter to have put it, and why it cannot tolerate that position. To consider this a mere delusion is a biased stupidity of the global democratic public. To ignore this is nothing less than a counter–declaration of war by Western state powers.
 NATO advisors complain that the Ukrainian military continues to suffer from a number of deficiencies; due to the government’s notorious lack of money, soldiers and officers occasionally go unpaid, while the volunteer units have not been completely integrated into a strict command hierarchy. Nevertheless, the ‘westernization’ of the Ukrainian army has had an effect (see the article in GegenStandpunkt 2-20: “Von Russland befreit, bis zum Ruin verwestlicht, von Krisen überrollt” [“Liberated by Russia, Westernized to the point of ruin, overrun by crises”] untranslated).
“Ukraine’s rearmament is being driven primarily by the USA, which has spent a good $2.5 billion on it since 2014 and plans for another $300 million in its next military budget. Among other things, Washington supplied at least 360 ‘Javelin’ anti-tank missiles, 30 armored vehicles, and 24 ‘Raven’ reconnaissance drones. This is according to a report by the Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC)… The Czech Republic has supplied Ukraine with 50 used infantry fighting vehicles and 40 used self-propelled guns, and from Poland it received another 37 used infantry fighting vehicles plus 54 used armored personnel carriers, according to BICC… Turkey, in turn, is selling Ukraine the armed ‘Bayraktar-TB2’ drones successfully tested in the Azerbaijani war against Armenia, among others.” (junge Welt, December 10, 2021)
“Another goal of the armed forces was to participate increasingly in multinational exercises to further improve the newly introduced standards and gain NATO experience… The Ukrainian Armed Forces are ranked 29th in the international ranking of countries’ armed forces, with 250,000 troops on active duty and a reserve of over 900,000 personnel (Ukrainian data). The defense budget now takes up over five percent of the gross domestic product.” (Michael Barthou, Truppendienst, August 26, 2018, truppendienst.com)
 “The US. Air Force has flown an initial reconnaissance mission over eastern Ukraine near the border with Russia… The Northrop Grumman/Boeing E-8 Joint STARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System) aircraft is a complex designed to provide remote surveillance and target assignment, locate and classify ground targets around the clock in any and all weather conditions, and coordinate combat operations and exchange data bilaterally with ground forces in real time." (sna/Sputnik News Agency, December 29, 2021, sputniknews.com)
 The Ukrainian side makes no secret that its desire to ‘bring peace’ and ‘take back’ its legitimate territory amounts to a war scenario between NATO and Russia: “Yermak [Andriy Borisovich Yermak, head of Ukraine’s Office of the President] claims that his boss emphasized to Biden that Ukraine has no intention of attacking anybody: ‘We want to bring peace to our country, take back our territory and our people.’” (RT DE, December 10, 2021, de.rt.com)
 More in GegenStandpunkt 3-21: “„Wie die Ukraine die Szenerie eines drohenden Kriegsausbruchs produziert und die Welt um eine neue Anklage gegen Russland bereichert” [“How Ukraine is setting the scene for an imminent outbreak of war and enriching the world with a new indictment of Russia”], untranslated.
 “The US government is open to talks on the number of offensive missiles to be stationed in the Ukraine, according to high-ranking officials.” (Zeit Online, January 9, 2022) Up to this point, Ukraine had denied any such arms buildup.
 “Great Britain has been leading the way when it comes to building up the Ukrainian Navy. In June 2021, representatives of both countries signed an agreement providing for close cooperation not only in supplying new warships, but also in training the Ukrainian Navy and building new naval bases such as in Berdyansk, whose construction is supported both by the USA and the EU. In addition, Ukraine will receive two minesweepers that the British Navy decommissioned in August. Finally, the parties plan to jointly produce speedboats and a frigate… Kyiv has also orded 20 new patrol boats from the French shipyard Ocea, five of which will be assembled in Mykolaiv in Ukraine.” (junge Welt, December 10, 2021)
 “Ukraine is permitting more foreign soldiers on its soil this year, in accordance with a resolution by the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday in Kyiv. It permits 2000 US soldiers and another 2000 from other NATO countries to be permanently stationed throughout the country in 2021. That is 1000 more soldiers than the previous year. Throughout the year, foreign military equipment as well as up to ten airplanes will be allowed inside the country bordering on Russia. According to the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, they will be used for tactical exercises as well as for training Ukrainian soldiers. Furthermore, Ukraine will host six joint maneuvers with foreign partners in 2021.” (Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, January 26, 2021, rnd.de )
 “Finland, which has a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) land border with Russia, has responded to the Kremlin’s military build-up and muscle-flexing in the region by reinforcing its defense infrastructure. 2021, Finland signed a $11.2 billion deal with Lockheed Martin to purchase 64 F-35A aircraft to replace its aging fleet of Boeing F/A-18C Hornets. … Finland’s deepening defense relationship with NATO was evidenced in January when U.S. aircraft conducted refueling exercises over northern Finland as part of international maneuvers led by the Finnish Air Force’s Lapland Air Squadron. The exercises, run over four days to Jan. 27, saw Finnish F/A-18 Hornets refueling with a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker." (Defense News, February 4, 2022, defensenews.com)
 “Nicht erst unter Trump, unter Trump aber in neuer Entschiedenheit: Die amerikanische Weltmacht treibt die Entmachtung ihres russischen Rivalen voran” [“Not first under Trump, but under Trump with new decisiveness: the American world power pushes ahead with the disempowerment of its Russian rival”], GegenStandpunkt 3-19, untranslated.
 “The appearance of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is a strategic threat to us. Because the range can be extended from 110 kilometres to 300, to 500 — and that is it, Moscow will be in the strike zone. This is a strategic threat to us. And that is how we took it. We definitely must and will take it very seriously.” (Vladimir Putin, February 22, 2022, en.kremlin.ru)
 “Rüstungsdiplomatie unter Trump und Biden: INF, Open Skies et al. gekündigt, New START verlängert. Fortschritte in der amerikanischen Friedenspolitik gegen den Rivalen in Moskau” [“Arms diplomacy under Trump and Biden: INF, Open Skies et al. terminated, New START extended. Advances in America’s peace policy against its rival in Moscow.”] GegenStandpunkt 3-21, untranslated.
 Further reading in GegenStandpunkt 1-07: “Putin auf der Sicherheitskonferenz: Wir können auch anders” [“Putin at the Security Conference: We can also do otherwise”], untranslated.
 “This includes a special status for Donbass, agreed with the republics, that the special status is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine, with federalisation and decentralisation included in it as a key element, as is stated in the Minsk agreements. This also includes an unconditional amnesty and the holding of elections according to the rules agreed upon between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk on the basis of the OSCE principles. That is all they need to do. After that, the Ukrainian state regains full control of the part of its border with Russia it does not control now. No one can deny this. This is written in black and white in the Minsk agreements.” (Sergey Lavrov, November 18, 2021, mid.ru/en/)
Lavrov cites “… the Ukrainian regime’s consistent attempts to sabotage the Minsk agreements. They do not want to fulfil them; they want to rewrite them. To do that, they are trying to convene ministerial and highest-level meetings in the hope that once we are all sitting down at a table having tea, they might have a chance to persuade either Sergey Lavrov or Vladimir Putin ‘to adjust this part here a bit’ because Kiev cannot fulfil it the way it is.’ (ibid.)
 “Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council … ‘The fulfillment of the Minsk agreement means the country’s destruction … When they were signed under the Russian gun barrel — and the German and the French watched — it was already clear for all rational people that it’s impossible to implement those documents.” … Danilov called for negotiating a new document that could be realistically implemented, adding that it should force ‘Putin to simply pull his troops and tanks back.’” (U.S. News & World Report, January 31, 2022, usnews.com)
 Russia also repeatedly tried to point out to Ukraine’s European protectors how generously it has overlooked Ukraine’s treatment of high democratic values, such as freedom of expression, among others:
“As for media outlets, when three television channels were banned in Kiev, we took the matter to our French colleagues. They said that they are all for the freedom of speech, but these channels have been banned in accordance with the Ukrainian legislation. This is indictive. We want the EU to play an independent role. Here is one more example involving Ukraine. The EU acted as the guarantor of the February 2014 agreement between Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition. But the very next day the opposition tossed away the agreement. Brussels kept silent, and now some people describe that revolt as a ‘democratic process.’” (Sergey Lavrov, January 14, 2022, op. cit.)
 Clearly, the calculations made by strategists on both sides with regard to the military advances of their respective opponents offer material for the bad habit of morally weighing the military actions taken by both sides in order to arrive at a deeply personal decision (perhaps by way of the childish question, ‘Who started it?’) on which side has the right to wage war — a procedure used merely to justify a bias grounded in entirely different reasons.
 The OSCE agreements establish, on the one hand, the security of the individual states as a right that state powers tend to violate, and they ensure, on the other hand, the common ‘indivisible’ security of the signees, thereby declaring this contradiction to be entirely reconcilable. That is a very constructive application of international law, which establishes the rights of states to use force.
 Two treaty articles read:
“Article 6: The Parties shall undertake not to deploy ground-launched intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles outside their national territories, as well as in the areas of their national territories, from which such weapons can attack targets in the national territory of the other Party.
“Article 7: The Parties shall refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national territories and return such weapons already deployed outside their national territories at the time of the entry into force of the Treaty to their national territories. The Parties shall eliminate all existing infrastructure for deployment of nuclear weapons outside their national territories.
“The Parties shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons. The Parties shall not conduct exercises or training for general-purpose forces, that include scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons.” (Proposal for a Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees, December 17, 2021, mid.ru/tv/)
 Russia likewise insists on receiving the blessing of international law and demands a written confirmation that the USA and NATO violate the terms of the OSCE agreements: “This will be yet another confession on their part.” After all, Russia is exposed at this level as well to the attacks of the representatives of the ‘rules-based world order,’ who assert their interests in the form of binding terms conforming to international law and in turn insist that Russian interests be declared illegitimate as conflicting with international law. Their aim, of course, is that the world of states fall into line behind America’s leadership.
 The Russian military is strengthening its presence especially on its Western border and around the Black Sea to such a great degree that its threat becomes credible; it carries out maneuvers constantly, shoots down a satellite to prove that it is also capable of waging war in space, sends strategic bombers on patrol and tests new hypersonic missiles, all in order to make clear how far Russia is willing to go.
“The launching of twelve ‘Zirkon’ hypersonic missiles on Christmas eve was quite a peculiar gift to Washington. Just a few days before Christmas, an American test of its own hypersonic missiles failed. According to Russian media reports, the ‘Zirkon’ missiles have the potential to do significant damage to the aircraft carrier fleets the USA uses to dominate the seas.” (junge Welt, January 5, 2022)
“Russia responds by downing a satellite… NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg stated that the test is cause for concern, because it shows that Russia is developing new weapon systems capable of destroying infrastructure critical to commercial navigational and communication systems… Back in June, NATO resolved that attacks in or from space would be treated in the future as cause for invoking NATO’s collective defense clause, which hitherto only applied to attacks from land, air, sea and cyberspace. One of the reasons offered for this step was that attacks upon satellites could, in the case of war, be used to partially paralyze civilian life. They could be used to seriously impair cashless payment systems, mobile telecommunications, or navigational systems for road, sea, and air traffic.” (Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten, November 16, 2021)
 See, for example, the disclosure by Victoria Nuland — who at the time as Assistant Secretary in the US State Department had orchestrated the Maidan Revolution for the US — during her Ukraine visit last year: “At the meeting with parliamentary group leaders, according to one participant, his deputy, Victoria Nuland, who had been reactivated after 2017 and was traveling with him, told the parliamentarians to stop constantly raising this issue. She said it doesn't do Ukraine any good.” (junge Welt, May 7, 2021)
 The US representative to the United Nations writes to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that she has to to note how Russia will rampage through Ukraine after the invasion; the CIA already has insight into the death lists:
“I would like to bring to your attention disturbing information recently obtained by the United States that indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned. These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons. Specifically, we have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation” (US letter to the UN alleging Russia is planning human rights abuses in Ukraine, Washington Post, updated February 20, 2022)
Charges of probable war crimes can already be prepared.
 The European allies are accordingly being fiercely worked on by American officials:
“Behind the scenes, U.S. officials began sharing intelligence with European allies, warning that a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent. American and British officials have, unusually, shared intelligence about the threat with European partners outside the Five Eyes intelligence network, whose only European member is the United Kingdom. … In recent weeks, a team of diplomats and sanctions experts, including the State Department’s Molly Montgomery and Erik Woodhouse, went to Europe to lay the groundwork for punishing new joint U.S. and European sanctions on Moscow if the Kremlin doesn’t back down …” (Foreign Policy, December 6, 2021, foreignpolicy.com)
 The war scenario:
“Russia could inflict significant damage on Ukraine’s military through aerial assaults on the front lines, military facilities and critical infrastructure … Though Russia’s air force has not flown against a hostile air defence since the Georgian war, ‘there’s plenty of cruise and ballistic missiles that can come into play here from either the Black Sea or from the Russian homeland, and the Ukrainian air defence system will struggle to cope’ (Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation) … A potential strike could use airborne missiles as well as heavy artillery and long-range flamethrowers … ‘That would be incredibly devastating on Ukrainian land power’” (Financial Times, December 31, 2021, ft.com)
“Ukraine’s armed forces, though better than they were when Mr Putin first started biting chunks out of their country in 2014, are not nearly strong enough to stop a Russian invasion. Nor is there any chance that NATO countries will intervene militarily to defend Ukraine. … However, there are ways to raise the costs to Mr Putin of invading. … Although Russia could easily overrun Ukraine, occupying a country for the long term is a different matter, as America found in Iraq. Ukraine needs to make itself indigestible. The West should supply it with more financial aid and defensive weapons to help it become so. … the aim should be to make even a minor war unattractive for Mr Putin.” (The Economist, December 18, 2021, economist.com)
“Lithuania is planning to ramp up support for Ukraine by increasing the number of military instructors in the country and providing both lethal and non-lethal equipment, Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said on Monday. ‘Given the serious security challenges Ukraine is facing, we are planning to support it with real practical measures, such as increasing the number of instructors in our military training mission, as well as sending material assistance, both lethal and non-lethal, and humanitarian assistance,’ Anušauskas said after Lithuania’s State Defence Council meeting. Lithuania will send thermal imaging equipment to Ukraine shortly, according to the minister. The government resolution is currently being drafted, he added. ‘The government is committed to providing [Ukraine] with the necessary equipment worth at least one million euros every year,’ Anušauskas said.” (Lithuanian National Radio and Television, January 11, 2022, www.lrt.lt)
“Today, the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Foreign Affairs, joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to announce $340 million for immediate support to Ukraine and for the extension and expansion of Operation UNIFIER, the Canadian Armed Forces’ military training and capacity-building mission in Ukraine. This extension and expansion of Canada’s military presence in support of Ukraine will ensure that members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) will continue to provide enhanced military training and mentorship to Ukraine’s security forces through to the end of March 2025. In the coming days an additional 60 troops will be deployed to Ukraine to join the approximately 200 women and men already on the ground, with the ability to increase the total number to 400 CAF personnel. The CAF will also work with the Communications Security Establishment on measures to support enhanced intelligence cooperation and cyber security and cyber operations. This increased support will help Ukraine strengthen its security and ability to defend itself against a range of threats.” (January 26, 2022, canada.ca)
“Germany's defense minister officially announced the aid on January 22, but stressed that weapons in Berlin would not come to Kiev's aid. Christine Lambrecht in an interview with the newspaper Welt am Sonntag said that the field hospital will arrive in Ukraine in February. At the same time, a training base for Ukrainian medical staff will be provided. Germany has already supplied Ukraine with respirators, the minister said, adding that Ukrainian soldiers with severe injuries received in fighting in eastern Ukraine are being treated in German hospitals.” (Daily News, January 23, 2022, www.txtreport.com)
“Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced the country’s government approved on Feb. 1 the delivery of Piorun (Thunderbolt) short-range, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and munition to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. ‘We are ready to supply to Ukraine several dozen thousand rounds of ammunition and artillery ammunition, air defense systems, and also light mortars and reconnaissance drones,’ Morawiecki said …’ (Defense News, February 2, 2022, defensenews.com)
 “Since 2015, the UK has helped to build the resilience and capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces through Operation ORBITAL, which has trained over 22,000 Ukrainian troops. … We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems. … This security assistance package complements the training and capabilities that Ukraine already has, and those that are also being provided by the UK and other Allies in Europe and the United States. Ukraine has every right to defend its borders, and this new package of aid further enhances its ability to do so. Let me be clear: this support is for short-range, and clearly defensive weapons capabilities; they are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia.” (Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, January 17, 2022, gov.uk)
 “Ukraine is training volunteers in the belief that partisans could be an important factor in confronting Russia … Meanwhile managers, programmers, salesmen, and drivers run through a pine forest near Kiev with wooden assault rifles. Girls with medical bags also take part in the exercise. The goal of the training program, which the Ukrainian government is implementing, is to form a civil resistance that will continue the fight in case the Ukrainian army is defeated … similar programs exist in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as a response to a perceived threat from Russia. There they also enlist part of the civilian population and teach the basics of guerrilla warfare.” (Moskovskij Komsomolets, December 27, 2021, mk.ru)
 “Many member states decided at the end of January to expand their presence in the Baltics and the Black Sea region for the short term as a reaction to the continued Russian military build-up… In the view of the Alliance, these reinforcements are in accordance with the NATO-Russia Founding Act. In 1997, the Alliance committed to refrain from stationing ‘substantial’ numbers of troops ‘permanently’ in the former member countries of the Warsaw Pact. However, a clear definition of what is meant by ‘substantial’ and ‘permanently’ was never reached. Both sides have competing interpretations.” (FAZ, February 16, 2022)
 Control of the north:
“Denmark is in talks to allow US soldiers and military equipment on its soil, ending a decades-long policy that barred foreign troops from its territory … The discussions are not about the opening of a separate US base but about allowing American troops to train and conduct exercises with their Danish counterparts as well as increased naval co-operation, according to defence minister Morten Bodskov. Denmark, a founding member of Nato in 1949, has had a policy of not allowing foreign troops or nuclear weapons on its soil since the 1950s when, under pressure from the Soviet Union, it declined to let the US station any forces.” (Financial Times, February 11, 2022, ft.com)
“Nordic alliance members Denmark and Norway have both increased their military presence and readiness in the High North and Baltic Sea. Denmark has provided additional frigates and four F-16 fighters to support NATO’s naval and air operations in the Baltic Sea area. … ‘Our actions in support of NATO … are intended to enforce the sovereignty of the Baltic states. We will supply more capacity if a changing situation demands and the need arises,’ said Trine Bramsen, Denmark’s defense minister” (Defense News, February 4, 2022, op. cit.)
“The Norwegian military is expanding the [Bodø air] base to also house P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, putting key aerial and naval surveillance assets into an area that has seen an uptick in Russian military exercises.” (Defense News, January 6, 2022, defensenews.com)
 The US Navy has been pursuing the same aim over the last two years by sending — for the first time since the end of the Cold War — destroyers into the Barents Sea. There it seeks to monitor and neutralize the Russian Northern Fleet and its atomic submarines, the backbone of Russia’s second-strike capacity in its own operational area.
 “Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department continues to use F-16 aircraft in the Baltics, another hotspot for NATO air patrols along the border with Russia. American jets arrived in Poland earlier this month, joining Polish and Belgian F-16s to prepare for that mission …” (Defense News, January 6, 2022, op.cit.)
 “The return of theater-support missiles, brought on by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty’s demise, challenges Russia’s security and undoubtedly influences the country’s decision-making. Since the treaty’s end, Russia’s actions have sent a clear message that it would not let intermediate-range missiles reemerge in Europe. However, the response from the West not only failed to address Russia’s concerns but treated the reintegration of these missiles as a foregone conclusion, focusing almost exclusively on the relative advantage that their deployment could provide to the United States and NATO. While NATO expansion may very well be the primary driver of Russia’s actions toward Ukraine, the return of these strategic missiles is also a factor that the United States should consider.” (War on the Rocks, January 28, 2022, warontherocks.com)
 “We will limit Russia's ability … to be part of the world economy ... and we’re going to impair their ability to compete in a high-tech 21st century economy.” (Joe Biden, February 24, 2022, whitehouse.gov)
 Some Republicans are calling for the sanctions instrument to be used preemptively, namely, to ban Nord Stream 2 regardless of whether Russia invades Ukraine. Though the Republicans do not have a majority in the US Senate, they do not want to jeopardize the united front with Europe for the time being. “A bipartisan push to pass the 'mother of all sanctions' failed after Republicans insisted on imposing broad penalties before an invasion and Democrats, backing the White House, refused.” (New York Times, February 18, 2022, nytimes.com) But the good idea of carrying out the ‘punishment’ regardless of whether the crime has been committed is now gaining broader approval. And to the degree that America no longer bothers with any political-moral veneer, it gets at the real purpose of these sanctions, which is simply to finish off an adversary.
 “Some of the most powerful impacts of our actions will come over time as we squeeze Russia’s access to finance and technology for strategic sectors of its economy and degrade its industrial capacity for years to come. … we estimate that we’ll cut off more than half of Russia’s high-tech imports. It will strike a blow to their ability to continue to modernize their military. It’ll degrade their aerospace industry, including their space program. It will hurt their ability to build ships … And it will be a major hit to Putin’s long-term strategic ambitions.” (Joe Biden, February 24, 2022, op.cit.)
 “… these are people who personally gain from the Kremlin’s policies and they should share in the pain.” (Biden, ibid.)
 “Asked … what could stop Putin if sanctions can't, Biden responded, ‘I didn't say sanctions couldn't stop him. The threat of the sanctions … imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things … It's going to take time … We have to show resolve so he knows what is coming. And so the people of Russia know what he's brought on them. That's what this is all about.’” (Cable News Network (CNN), February 25, 2022, cnn.com)
 “The US and European allies are preparing what is being described on both sides of the Atlantic as the most aggressive package of economic and financial sanctions ever assembled … Senior Biden administration officials said they have now drawn up ‘specific sanctions packages’ focused on Russian oligarchs and their family members. They would not say who would be on the list, because of concerns about ‘flight risk’, but the scope could be broad. US officials said some names would be drawn from a classified list of potential targets sent by Treasury to Congress in 2018. Given how many Russian oligarchs have assets and other financial interests in the UK, support from Britain has been crucial to US efforts, and senior Biden administration officials have touted their co-ordination with London on the individual sanctions packages. On Monday, the UK vowed to introduce new legislation strengthening London’s ability to target Kremlin-linked businesses and their owners in the country. … The US and the EU also want to strike at the heart of the Russian banking system and cut Moscow significantly out of the international financial system … Russia’s largest financial institutions, including Sberbank, VTB, Gazprombank, The Russian Direct Investment Fund and Alfa Bank, are all in the line of fire. … The US and the EU have discussed imposing very stringent export controls on western technology in order to inflict as much damage as possible to Russia’s industrial base and its capacity to innovate. … measures to include emerging technologies such as quantum computing and artificial intelligence. … one of the most potent tools the US could deploy in this realm is the so-called ‘foreign direct product rule’, which was used to rein in Chinese technology company Huawei. The rule would prevent third countries from exporting certain sensitive technologies containing US components to Russia. ‘Export controls deny something to Russia that it needs and can’t easily replace from anywhere else,’ a senior Biden administration official said last week, adding: ‘What we’re talking about are sophisticated technologies that we design and produce that are essential inputs to Russia’s strategic ambitions.’ Arguably the most politically and economically sensitive arena in which the US and the EU are preparing sanctions is the energy sector. Moscow is heavily reliant on energy exports as a source of foreign reserves, and the EU relies on Russian gas for 40 per cent of its consumption. … Despite some uncertainty over the position of the new German government, the US and the EU have determined that if Russia decides to invade Ukraine, they would stop the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany from becoming fully active. … Brussels is particularly concerned about a possible collapse in gas supplies in the event of a war, either because of damage to Ukrainian pipelines supplying Europe or Russia moving to restrict gas supplies." (Financial Times, February 1, 2022, ft.com)
 “To the citizens of Russia: You are not our enemy. And I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine — a country and a people with whom you share such deep ties of family, history, and culture. Seventy-seven years ago, our people fought and sacrificed side by side to end the worst war in history. World War Two was a war of necessity. But if Russia attacks Ukraine, it would be a war of choice, or a war without cause or reason." (Joe Biden, February 15, 2022, op. cit.)
 “‘If Russia pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond,’ Biden said … According to the report [which presented President Biden with numerous options for the U.S. to conduct major cyberattacks against Russia], the options included disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, cutting off electric power and disturbing Russian railway traffic.” (Defense One, February 24, 2022, defenseone.com)
 "Biden said the U.S. was prepared to help with “confidence-building measures” to implement a 2015 peace deal. … Administration officials have suggested that the U.S. will press Ukraine to formally cede a measure of autonomy within its eastern Donbas region, which is now under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists … For Biden, the challenge will be encouraging Kyiv to accept some of the facts on the ground in eastern Ukraine, without appearing to cave to Putin … That could include measures such as allowing the Russia-allied Donbas region to control its own health care, police and schools … Asked about any need for Ukrainian compromises, Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that ‘Ukrainians have come forward with constructive ideas for how to move the diplomacy forward. We’re encouraging that.’” (Associated Press, December 9, 2022, apnews.com)
 The West leaves no doubt that in this case it will have no choice but to conclude that Russia aims to escalate and wage war. Take, for instance, the outrage at the fact that Putin and Lavrov declined to let themselves be made fools of at the Munich Security Conference: “Hundreds of decision-makers at the conference strongly regretted Russia’s unwillingness to face its critics.” (Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Conference, on the ARD-Morgenmagazin [ARD morning show].)
 “Following the European Union, the USA levied severe sanctions on the Russian central bank. US citizens and institutions are forbidden to carry out any transactions with the central bank. Additionally, the bank can no longer carry out any dollar transactions worldwide, according to a high-ranking representative of the White House. He stated that, combined with the sanctions imposed by America’s allies, Moscow can no longer access the larger part of its currency reserves (which amount to $630 billion) in order to cushion the economic impact of the war. The US Treasury Department stated that it had imposed additional sanctions on the Russian State Investment Fund, its chairman, and the finance ministry in Moscow.” (Tagesschau, February 28, 2022)
© GegenStandpunkt 2022