About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.

Summary:  It’s another world crisis. As usual quite obvious things remain invisible to US geopolitical experts and even diligent readers of the US news media. Here is an attempt to fill in the blanks around the conflict in the Ukraine (putting it in a larger context), with links to useful sources of information about specifics of the conflict. Part one; see part two.

Grand Strategy

“You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

— Secretary of State John Kerry displays awesome hypocrisy on Face the Nation, 2 March 2014

It’s sad to watch the belligerent, often ignorant, US hawks again go hysterical. Before enlisting yourself or your children, please read these useful things to know about the conflict in the Ukraine:

  1. Our weak response to this (strong rhetoric, weak actions) results from an incoherent grand strategy.
  2. History suggests that we (American public) don’t know what’s going on. Key facts are hidden from us, or lost amidst the propaganda barrages of both sides.
  3. Russia is acting according to historical norms. They violate the post-WW2 laws established by the United Nations Charter, …
  4. just as we have done so many times — and even more frequently since 9-11. Our betrayal since 9-11 of the post-WW2 order we built gives us little credibility in conflicts like Ukraine.

The last point deserves more attention. It’s the “clean hands” doctrine, which provides a useful lens through which to see this conflict:

A person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of the claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. (from The Legal Dictionary)

First, there have been ample rumors of covert US involvement in the Ukraine — another chapter in the long list of US programs to destabilize or replace governments hostile to US political or corporate interests. Needless to say, these give us “dirty hands” when complaining about Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Clean hands?

Second, the legal concept of “clean hands” violates a more basic doctrine of common sense: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Russia’s actions in the Ukraine mirror those of the US in dozens of nations since WW2 — and even more since 1890. See this list of US interventions in other nations; and this more detailed list of interventions in Latin America.

Even considering only recent history, criticizing Russia for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty is hypocritical from the nation who invaded Grenada, Iraq, and Afghanistan (especially since the 9-11 Commission found only a minor role of Afghanistan in the 9-11 attack, and the US government’s case for attacking Iraq was fake).

Third, great powers have spheres of influence. It’s a reality of geopolitics, one which power-mad American hawks ignore — putting the US at risk (eventually one of our interventions will spark severe blowback). Recognition that US power has limits always brings forth anguished cries that “we’re no longer a superpower” (e.g., Christian Science Monitor). No need to cry for our lost omnipotence, for it never was.

Recognizing sphere of influence is not just Realpolitik in a world with nuclear-armed great powers, but a cornerstone of US foreign policy for two centuries. The Monroe Doctrine (1823) declared the western hemisphere to be our sphere of influence. The Carter Doctrine declared the Persian Gulf to be another US sphere of influence:

An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
— Carter’s 1980 State of the Union address

Russia’s declaration of influence in its “near abroad” shows the effect of American leadership. We’re a city on the hill, setting an example that others’ follow. We can hardly complain when they imitate us.

For more about this conflict, and what it says about America, see America’s hawks sing a song of national decline.

Chess Board
The world is not a chess board

Useful resources, going beyond the usual blather

Please post links to useful articles in the comments, with a note describing why you found this of interest! This will be updated.

(a)  Various articles:

  1. Making Russia Pay? It’s Not So Simple“, Peter Bakermarch, New York Times, 1 March 2014
  2. Provocative (but unverified): “Reichstag Fire in Kiev“, Dmitry Orlov, 1 March 2014
  3. Recommended: “Here’s What Is Going to Happen With Ukraine“, Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, 1 March 2014 — We’re running the standard script.
  4. The Ukrainian Grand Delusion” by billmon — Summary: “U.S. and E.U. to pro-West Ukrainians: You f***ed up, guys. You trusted us.'”
  5. Recommended: “The Resolve Fairy and the Precedent Fairy“, Robert Farley (Prof Dipomacy, U KY), Lawyers Guns, and Money, 2 March 2014
  6. Why Russia No Longer Fears the West“, Ben Judah, Politico, 2 March 2014 — They neither fear nor respect a West run by plutocrats interested only in money, lacking strength and morality.

(b)  From the London Review of Books:

(c)  From the New York Review of Books:

  1. A Way Out for Ukraine?“, Timothy Snyder (Prof History, Yale), 5 December 2013
  2. Fighting for the Soul of Ukraine“, Tim Judah (journalist for The Economist), 9 January 2014
  3. Ukraine: The New Dictatorship“, Timothy Snyder, 18 January 2014
  4. Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda“, Timothy Snyder, 1 March 2014
  5. Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine“, Timothy Snyder, 20 March 2014

For More Information

(a)  Posts about Russia:

  1. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
  2. “The Medvedev Doctrine and American Strategy”, by George Friedman, 4 September 2008
  3. Rumors of financial war: Russia vs. US, 22 September 2008
  4. Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?, 12 December 2008
  5. More weekend reading; information you want to have!, 23 December 2008 — Russia as the last man standing in a region of demographic collapse.
  6. A free lesson from Russia: how to manage a banking crisis, 6 February 2009
  7. “The Russian Economy and Russian Power” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 2 August 2009
  8. How the Soviet Menace was over-hyped – and what we can learn from this, 13 October 2009
  9. A view of the world from Russia, 30 May 2010
  10. The Truth and Beauty about the Pussy Riot, 26 September 2012
  11. The Truth and Beauty about Russia, 1 October 2012

(b)  Posts about the Georgia-Russia conflict (learning from the previous cycle):

  1. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  2. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 12 August 2008
  3. What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
  4. Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
  5. Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
  6. Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II, 16 August 2008

(c)  Posts about grand strategy:

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  2. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  3. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  4. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  5. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  6. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  7. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering , 9 July 2008 — chapter 7
  8. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
  9. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009
  10. Is America fighting the tide of history? Are we like the Czars in the 19th century?, 29 July 2010
  11. Realism and Realpolitik – Setting the Conditions for America’s Survival in the 21st Century, 23 February 2012
  12. The Obama Doctrine: we will attack and destroy all non-nuclear rivals, 31 March 2012
  13. Are we following in the footsteps of Athens? Let’s leave the path before we come to the same end., 3 May 2012
  14. Look at America’s grand strategy. Why do we believe this nonsense?, 5 March 2013
  15. How America can survive – even prosper – in the 21st century, 17 February 2014

30 thoughts on “About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.”

  1. Below is my one cents worth. Good stuff here FM, thanks!!

    Prelude to World War: We Are Hungry in Three Languages” by John Stanton, Pravda, 28 February 2014 — John Stanton is a Virginia based writer.


    The combination of financiers, investors, technocrats and politicians is toxic. They run the world with formulas and a market ideology that has long since past its prime. They simply write off as “bad debt” large swaths of world’s population-to include in the United States and European Union-as unemployable, uninsurable. Once they have jettisoned those millions from the official economic figures, the economy magically improves as investors get excited. They claim that taxes stifle corporate investment when, in fact, corporations pay very little taxes thanks to politicians. Incredulously, they seek a move to the free market in a time of growing poverty, inequality and unrest.

    Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Libya, Mexico (?), Chile, Spain, Greece and Yemen are just a few of the countries with populations unhappy with economic conditions ranging from factory closings, low wages and high unemployment. A good lesson for Americans is the plight of one of their own, Detroit, Michigan.

    As a placard in Bosnia Herzegovina put it, “We are hungry in three languages.” So when global rebellion comes in dozens of languages–based on the simple desire for the “right” to be secure in work, food, shelter and clothing–spills over to one country after another–to include the USA–the financiers, investors, technocrats and loathsome politicians will turn to the American national security apparatus to protect them, most likely by fighting in a foreign land already in the midst of a civil war or open rebellion. Hagel should say No.

  2. To the Editor: Your comments about the Ukraine situation are well-taken, especially about the US covert meddling in Ukrainian politics which are so vital to Russia. Certainly we could have an analogous situation here in the US, if there were a total collapse of the economy, and a disintegration of the US central government with new sectional nations being established.

    Let’s say that this results in the new nation of “Aztlan” (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado) where a majority of the people still speak English, and the old “American” truncated government still has rights to the naval bases in San Diego Harbor, and Camp Pendleton. Let’s surmise that his new nation of “Aztlan” has been in existence for 20 years. Certainly the right wing and military of the old “US” would heartily resent this, and be happy to invade the new “nation” when it was politically expedient.

    This to me is the true situation in the Ukraine. I understand that about 75 to 80% of all Ukrainians actually speak Russian on a daily basis, even at home. Look, the Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries ! Harrison

    1. Russian speaking doesn’t necessarily mean ethnic or religiously (orthodox) Russian, or that they wouldn’t prefer a pro-EU government. Also, Ukranian speaking doesn’t necessarily mean they would want to live under the current mix of revolutionaries, some of who are just plain scary and would make me pick up and move if they came to power here.

      Furthermore, the populations are too mixed, geographically, to just split the country up and separate the sides that way. The only place that would make some limited sense is in Crimea, where it has basically happened already.

      There was also massive and totally shameless election fraud in the 1990’s, and the usual looting by post-communist oligarchs. I don’t know if that’s still the case, but probably their faith in democracy is low.

  3. Reading much analysis of the Russian-Ukraine conflict is painful, for what it reveals about our lack of self-awareness — bordering on amnesia. For example:

    The Invasion Of Crimea Is Russia’s Worst Foreign Policy Blunder In A Generation“, Mark Adomonis, blog of Forbes, 2 March 2014 — Money quote:

    At the present moment it’s totally unclear whether Russia simply intends to break off Crimea as a punishment for the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych or if Russia intends on a much larger (and much more dangerous) campaign to overthrow and replace the current Ukrainian government. Neither of these are the slightest bit justified, and any Russian attempt to forcibly remove Crimea from Ukraine would violate a raft of international laws and treaties.

    But if Russia’s actual goal is regime change, and the authorization for the use of military force passed by the upper house of parliament was so vaguely worded that it could be used to justify any course of action, then we could shortly be seeing open warfare in Europe for the first time since the end of the Second World War. However even if we end up with the least-bad option of Crimea turning into a Russian enclave like Abkhazia or Transdniestria (which, for the record, would still be really bad!) Russia has made a colossal miscalculation that could poison its relations with Europe and the United States for a generation.

    Unlike in 2008, when the Georgians really did start shooting first and thus gave the Russian intervention in South Ossetia a patina of justification, nothing that’s happened in Crimea or anywhere else in Ukraine even remotely resembles just cause. The Russian intervention in Crimea is a naked attempt to use military force to influence the politics of another country, and it will be seen as such by everyone in Europe and the United States.

    Life in the bubble! How many times has the US used force (covert or overt) to change regimes since 1890? Since WW2? Since 2000? How often has it been done with even a pretense of legality under international law?

    1. Indeed. And Adomanis is one of the relatively sane US commentators on Russia matters.

      Teh Krazy runs deep among the Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite & Punsidocracy (AFPE&P)

  4. @John Right on. The virus of “free markets” was in evidence in 1991 when the IMF et al. imposed “free market shock therapy” on Russia and what resulted has been described as “the sale of the century” of state assets to private investors, many Jewish traders excluded from the all-Slav state bureaucracy, but some to Harvard “experts” assisting the IMF! As the (fictional) Gorbachev notes in “Freedoms Sunset,” the true Caesars today are the billionaires arbitraging national labor markets against one another while paying little in tax on the threat of taking their business elsewhere.

    Fiat money banking has emerged as the handmaiden of the oligarchs, inflating national economies with debt, and then pricking the bubble to deflate the assets so the oligarchs can pick up the assets on the cheap. I shudder to think that we may hear such talk in America as the solution to our fiscal crisis. These are literally murderous strategies being pursued by the ultra-rich. For a really bizarre but heartfelt take on the world situation from an apostate 0.01 per center, a scion of the P&G Gambles, see http://www.thrivemovement.com‘s movie. When the top 85 families own as much the bottom 3.5 billions people, we’re already pretty much at “Plantation World.”

    A delegation from Wall Street is in the Ukraine now, seeking to lend money at “equity-like rates.”

    I wrote my Senators, both worthless Republican hacks, saying that military involvement in the Ukraine was a losing proposition, to split the Ukraine if necessary. The Russians are not going to give up the Crimea; it’s already theirs.

    1. Benign,

      File your comment on “sad but true.” For more about the “free market” “shock therapy” at work, see Greece. In the hole since 2008, on the steep slide down since March 2010:

      (a) Greek Tragedies, 2014 Edition“, Francesco Saraceno (Italian economist working in France), 28 February 2014

      (b) What you should know about Greece’s present state of affairs“, Yanis Varoufakis (Prof Economics, U of Athens), 1 March 2014

  5. Hi FM,

    First, I’m not an expert on Ukraine, but this post discusses “clean hands.”

    While there is undoubtedly the probability that we’ve had covert operations in Ukraine, there is well documented overt deployments/partnerships (training, education, financing, and mentoring) particularly from our military’s Special Forces, Psyops, Civil Affairs, and Foreign Affairs officers.

    These operations are legal and unclassified. Basically, the host government requests them. And, yes, they often provide cover for the “other” operations.

    For many, these type of rotations are considered a break after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I wonder how that muddies the waters with our commitment and “clean hands?”


    1. Mike,

      Thanks for the comment!

      The nature and significance of “clean hands” are in the eyes of the beholders, so Putin might see this differently than I. Still, standard military aid (e.g., training, equipment) don’t “taint” us from criticism of Russia’s action in the Ukraine.

      But, as you note, since WW2 we so seldom know the full extent of US destabilization operations. Even today, I wonder how many Americans know of the 1953 coup in Iran — and the CIA’s role in it, and how it affects their view of America. Too many Americans see ourselves as the “white hats” on the world stage, and find it baffling that others see us differently.

    2. Concur. Imagine if Chinese or Russian advisors were providing military training to the Mexican Army in order to help them with their counter-narco efforts!!!!

  6. There are two important points that could affect us all, EU more then USA due to energy dependence on Russia’s energy.
    Two myths about the Ukrainian conflict 2 March 2014, Sober Look. Sober Look is a no-hype financial blog that typically relies on data analysis and primary sources.

    Global tensions have generally been good for Russia and the current situation is no exception. Russia is not afraid of US administration’s sanctions threats. More dollars are about to start flowing to Putin and his friends (see story)

    Myth # 2: Similarly those who don’t believe that the Ukrainian conflict will have a major impact on the US (see story) may want to rethink their position. Ignoring these major geopolitical developments just because Ukraine doesn’t have a direct economic link to North America is shortsighted.

    1. Jordan,

      (1) Agreed. Russia’s role as a major energy supplier to Europe puts them beyond any likely and significant economic or political sanctions.

      (2) “Similarly those who don’t believe that the Ukrainian conflict will have a major impact on the US (see story) may want to rethink their position. Ignoring these major geopolitical developments just because Ukraine doesn’t have a direct economic link to North America is shortsighted.”

      That’s hardly cogent analysis. Any event can be so described, but I’ll need a more than potentious talk before worrying.

    2. FM
      I am not at all concerned with US media as Kevin Drum is, my main and only concern is the victim, Ukraine. All important points that matter were not predicted, sure predicting is almost crazy, but trend can be visible.
      Even tough Ukraine is not huge grain exporter, but going from exporter to importer of grain, which will happen if there is a violent conflict, could raise world food prices. So i linked Complex System Institute, to point toward impact that extended violence in Ukraine could easily have on the world. Another “spring” is in offing. Will it get there faster due to the Ukraine developements has fair relevance to all of us.

      EU has a plan to do to Ukraine just as it did to Croatia; force upon them a strangulating monetary system in order to deindustrialize and then to take over the ownership of the fertile land trough financialization. Deindustrialization is half way there, they work trough west oriented oligarchy promising them a piece of a pie and forcing a hand trough debt. And i do not see EU backing down which is what Putin is demanding. EU is pretending that they did not do nothing to cause the problem while continuing with the plan.

      I would like to see Ukranian oligarchs join and understand that they do not need outside help, that they do not need foreign money, and that they will never get it, that they already have all they need to make a prosperous country. But russian and EU sided oligarchs want to fight for a larger piece of the pie, even tough it will shrink due to their infighting. If only they could cooperate and see their potential they could grow it enourmously without any help from outside. There is no help from outside even tough they believe that is the only way. They will never get a real help from outside, same as Croatia is not getting it no matter what IMF and Troika promise. All the help they need is from their own people.

  7. Pingback: About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don't know. | Gradegood

  8. The US news media usually helps the President cope with foreign problems with bad advice and poor analysis, delivered in an inflammatory manner. Grown-up from their days of “yellow journalism”, but still contributing reckless jingoism. These are news stories; the op-eds and editorials tend towards delusional — or insanity.

    I pity Obama, trying to run a great nation so many of whom retain the outlook of children.

    Christian Science Monitor:

    “The US and its European allies are threatening economic sanctions against Russia over its military incursion into Ukraine. But the crisis raises questions about a new cold war and the US as the lone superpower.”

    New York Times:

    “The Russian occupation of Crimea has challenged Mr. Obama as has no other international crisis, and at its heart, the advice seemed to pose the same question: Is Mr. Obama tough enough to take on the former K.G.B. colonel in the Kremlin?”

  9. Some more links for you. Are you aware Ukraine has set a precedent with a neo Nazi government in power now?

    The Sad Progression of the Ukrainian Protest Movement From Democracy and the Rule of Law to Ultra-nationalism and Anti-semitism


    Neo-Nazis Pour Into Kiev
    A stream of European jihadists have traveled to Syria to wage holy war. Now a group of European neo-Nazis are traveling to Ukraine to save the white race
    Ultranationalist neo-Nazi parties on the march in Ukraine
    Op-Ed: Tea With Neo-Nazis: The Violent Nationalism in Ukraine
    The violence in Ukraine is a show case of the pan-European rise of race hatred. Europe is engaging in a risky blindness. Again.
    Ukraine: the opposition aren’t all angels. Some are neo-Nazis
    This Map Explains Why Ukraine Is So Divided Over Russia
    On Russia, Don’t Believe The US Media
    Distorting Russia
    How the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine.
    Cheering a ‘Democratic’ Coup in Ukraine
    A Selective View of ‘Democracy’

    Neocons and the Ukraine Coup

    A Shadow US Foreign Policy

    ‘Russia is sick of being humiliated and pushed around by ignorant outsiders’: MoS columnist PETER HITCHENS says Putin DOES have a right to intervene

  10. Pingback: News, Commentary, & Analysis. Mar. 13, 2014. #RealEstate #Insurance #Economics | PropertyPak

  11. Pingback: News, Commentary, & Analysis. Mar. 13, 2014. #RealEstate #Insurance #Economics | PropertyPak.com®

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