What's really going on in Ukraine
Ukraine is historically a part of the Russian heartland. Going all the way back to Russia’s progenitor state of Kievan Rus of the 10th century, founded by the Rurikid dynasty originating among Swedish vikings, Ukraine has been a part of, or closely connected to, the continuous political entity that we now call “Russia”.
Sure, there were periods where statelets on the contemporary Ukrainian territory were independent from formal Russian control, e.g. the Grand Principality of Kiev was under Lithuania for a century, a suzerain of the Golden Horde for a while, and there were various tribes occupying the contemporary territory in what’s a rather complex history.
However, what’s now Ukraine was really never outside of “Russian” hegemony and culture since the 1000s, and was formally a part of the Russian Empire since the 18th century.
This is not to say that Russia prima facie “has a right” to the territory in any legal or moral sense, my point here is just that they in many ways are intimately connected, and until very recently actually were part of the same political entity.
Ukraine’s sigificance to Russian security
Ukraine became formally independent about 30 years ago, in relation to the dissolution of the USSR. Strategically, Ukraine is indispensable for Russian security.
One aspect of this is the Black Sea region and Crimea, the importance of which was the key reason for Florence Nightingale’s Crimean War of the 1800s. Sevastopol has been Russia’s predominant warm water port since 1783 (meaning it’s viable year-round) and is the only avenue for power projection through the Mediterranean, affording the only really viable access to the Middle East, as well as the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Crimea also provides Russia with operational capacity in its close vicinity, e.g. for regional troop transportation and protection of its key trade routes passing through the Black Sea, and is vital for Russia’s strategic defence capabilities of the entire southern flank.
Read more here.
While not entirely defenceless, Russia would be very vulnerable if it lost just Crimea.
Moreover, Ukraine as such is geostrategically vital for a number of other reasons as well. It was the second-most important Soviet Socialist Republic not only due to its resources, population and productive capacities, but also since it’s basically a stone’s throw from the very heart of Russia. Take and hold Ukraine and you can just march into Moscow. Or starve it.
Look up the French, Swedish and German invasions of Russia for comparison. Sweden was routed at Poltava, Napoleon managed to burn Moscow to the ground but had to retreat. Hitler, however, seized Ukraine at the outset of Operation Barbarossa and did quite a bit of damage. The Ukrainan SSR was that yellow glob on the left:
Today, a key aspect of the situation is the fact that most gas exported by Russia passes through the Ukraine network. This comprises a significant portion of Russia’s trade surplus, and the fact that Europe in turn is arguably dependent upon this resource flow is also an important background factor.
Still, petroleum looms in the background as always. Russia exports almost as much as Saudi Arabia and is the no. 2 global producer. What’s more, its reserves are unexploited to a greater extent than those of almost any other significant producer, and arguably provides access to petroleum at a higher EROI than anywhere else in the world. I have written about the resource situation elsewhere, but to summarize, the West needs unimpeded access to this petroleum, at least in the mid-term, or it’s a sitting duck, incapable of staving off immediate decline.
The events up until today
Basically, Ukraine has been targeted by the West for “regime change” since at least the “Orange Revolution” of 2004 which was a creation of the NGO racket and Western intelligence, ousting the pro-Russian Victor Yanukovych. The succeeding Tymoshenko government privatized state assets and vocally supported NATO membership to “protect Ukraine from Russian aggression”. Things went back and forth for a while with Yanukovych as opposition leader, after which he was elected to the presidency in 2010 and played a chief role in shaping the succeeding two governments.
Then we of course end up with the US-backed coup in 2014, the “Revolution of Dignity”, according to Wikipedia. The purpose of this coup was to absorb Ukraine into the EU, indirectly rendering it a NATO asset, and of course reducing its utility as a Russian market. When Yanukovych in late 2013 or early 2014 appeared to be closing the door to this integration through an agreement with Russia, Ukraine “got couped”, its government overthrown, and an armed insurgency was instigated and supported by the West.
In view of the background factors, the West had few other options, of course. Especially in relation to Russia’s efforts at creating a Eurasian Union of which Ukraine would be fundamental, challenging the hegemony of the West, establishing common energy markets that could easily kill the petrodollar.
In wake of the coup, Russia then responded by securing its assets on Crimea through supporting the secession, as well as to some extent that of Luhansk and Donetsk, yet which were not formally recognized by Russia until just a few days ago. This ushered in the eight-year war in Donbas between the Ukrainan government and the secessionists. Early on, the Minsk agreements were implemented, with the purpose of establishing a cease-fire and reintegrating Luhansk & Donetsk into Ukraine, while granting them a certain measure of autonomy.
These were signed yet never fully implemented, and according to the Russian administration, increasingly violated by a slowly collapsing Ukrainian state, reduced to a colony with a puppet regime, also citing a ramp-up in attacks on the civilian population of the semi-independent regions.
Here’s the gist of the Kremlin’s perspective on the current situation:
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.” In fact, this is nothing other than preparation for hostilities against our country, Russia.
As we know, it has already been stated today that Ukraine intends to create its own nuclear weapons, and this is not just bragging. Ukraine has the nuclear technologies created back in the Soviet times and delivery vehicles for such weapons, including aircraft, as well as the Soviet-designed Tochka-U precision tactical missiles with a range of over 100 kilometres. But they can do more; it is only a matter of time. They have had the groundwork for this since the Soviet era.
In other words, acquiring tactical nuclear weapons will be much easier for Ukraine than for some other states I am not going to mention here, which are conducting such research, especially if Kiev receives foreign technological support. We cannot rule this out either.
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. Since 2014, the United States alone has spent billions of dollars for this purpose, including supplies of arms and equipment and training of specialists. 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.
The United States and NATO have started an impudent development of Ukrainian territory as a theatre of potential military operations. Their regular joint exercises are obviously anti-Russian. Last year alone, over 23,000 troops and more than a thousand units of hardware were involved.
A law has already been adopted that allows foreign troops to come to Ukraine in 2022 to take part in multinational drills. Understandably, these are primarily NATO troops. This year, at least ten of these joint drills are planned.
Obviously, such undertakings are designed to be a cover-up for a rapid buildup of the NATO military group on Ukrainian territory. This is all the more so since the network of airfields upgraded with US help in Borispol, Ivano-Frankovsk, Chuguyev and Odessa, to name a few, is capable of transferring army units in a very short time. Ukraine’s airspace is open to flights by US strategic and reconnaissance aircraft and drones that conduct surveillance over Russian territory.
All of this eventually led up to a Russian ultimatum, given in December 2021, pertaining to the security issues mentioned in the quotation above, as well as to NATO agreeing to refrain from formal expansion, termed “aggressive proposals” in the linked Guardian article.
On 30 November 2021, President Putin stated that an expansion of NATO's presence in Ukraine, especially the deployment of any long-range missiles capable of striking Moscow or missile defence systems similar to those in Romania and Poland, would be a "red line" issue for the Kremlin. He said that these missile-defense systems may be converted into launchers of offensive Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles. According to Putin, "If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be seven to 10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed." NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated: "It's only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence to try to control their neighbors." (Wikipedia)
The Saker gives another perspective:
Russia politely requested that NATO confine its activities to its location as of 1997, and keep out of the former Warsaw Pact territory. This was to abide by the promises that the United States made to the Soviet Union at the time that the Soviets agreed to disband the Warsaw Pact. Both the United States and NATO responded negatively to the initiative, but agreed to hold negotiations with Russia during the week of January 11-14, 2022 (The Saker, https://thesaker.is/the-not-ultimatum/)
This ultimatum was finally (predictably) rejected:
After this formal recognition was ratified by the Duma, the Russian administration issued an ultimatum to Kiev to cease aggression against the newly-recognized republics, swear off NATO membership, and demilitarize. DNR and LNR officials likewise demanded the evacuation of Ukranian troops from their respective territories.
When Kiev inevitably refused, Russia embarked on the ongoing military operation against Ukraine.
The Ukranian defence capabilities seem to be more or less neutralized after a day and a half of war. The air force and navy is basically knocked out, as is the air defence, rendering what remains of the ground forces without support, and probably very little cohesion.
Kiev is encircled and about to fall, as are many major cities and population centers. The Ukrainian defence will likely be enveloped in days, hopefully implying some possibility of a short conflict.
But in reality, we’re probably looking at something reminiscent of the aftermath of the Iraq war. Russia will most likely make short work of the regular forces and bring about a regime change, sure, but it seems almost inevitable that whatever then becomes of Ukraine will have to contend with a protracted conflict against a stay-behind insurgency supported by NATO.
Indeed, as Pål Steigan says regarding the overarching conflict, which I must agree to in light of the resource situation and the general state of the global economy:
“This war will not stop until Russia is conquered and divided, or has put an end to the US offensive.”