The Weak Russia Hypothesis
One really hates to keep coming back to a recurring theme in the pages of this publication regarding the mishandling of the Russian Federation by the post-Cold War strategies of Western neoconservatives. Yet when the grip of neoconservatism — the old trope of liberals mugged by reality who flaked away from the Republican Party because of the candidacy turned presidency of Donald J. Trump — seems to lose its grip on reality?
Sober minded adults need to step up.
The argument that Ukraine can and will defend itself against Russia is noble enough. Certainly, if manpower alone were enough to determine the scales, the 300,000-man Ukranian army should be more than sufficient to repel the cream of the Russian armed forces — 190,000 men — now husked along the Ukranian border and ensconced inside the Donetsk basin.
Yet there is something delimitingly immoral about the thought of turning Ukraine into a new Syria through a policy of making a territory the size of Texas “indigestible” according to NATO and EU policy makers — none more loudly than those found within the Biden administration. Moreover, it is politically naive to think that the Ukrainian people — who consider themselves brothers to the Russian people (if perhaps hesitant about their government) — are going to fight to preserve the power elites propped up by what one writer in these pages has consistently called the “Brusselian Empire” among other superlatives.
Neoconservatives tropes about the use of American firepower and blood to preserve the Pax Americana — liberal internationalism — have already been repudiated in the public square, not merely because their arguments are flawed but because they have been disproven by experience. Afghanistan proved to be a debacle. Iraq remains a teetering experiment. The run of democratic uprisings sponsored by the Obama administration in places such as Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Syria threatened to undermine key US allies in places such as Jordan, Qatar, and the Gulf States.
And then there is the US-sponsored democratic uprising in the Ukraine.
Interestingly enough, the neoconservatives firmly ensconced in the Democratic Party post-Trump know they have a losing argument. Ergo arguments such as these:
Of course, if one just sees the world as an imperial carve-up, none of this matters. For the far left, America’s empire is no better than Russia’s – and for the far right, Russian imperialism is a boon to the White Supremacy and bigotry against LGBTQ+ that they crave.
Of course, the very term “of course” implies that whatever follows is not a matter of course. To the American far-left who all seem strangely loud when it comes to environmentalism, anti-pipeline rhetoric as it suits Russian energy producers, anti-war rhetoric as it suits America’s enemies, social unrest as it suits the aims of narrow political interests — all of these things have been duly noted by Russian state media as part and parcels of the failures (and totalitarian nature) of the very party the neoconservatives have wandered back into the Democratic household, morally bankrupt yet with suitcases packed filled with unfolded clothes and full of promises that they are going to change.
To the American far-right? If one is looking to see where the fascists have chosen a home? Look no further than the Azov Battalion:
Images of Konstantynovska laying prone with a Kalashnikov, an Azov member standing above her in camouflaged fatigues that bore the group’s Wolfsangel logo – a Germanic symbol that was used by various SS armored and infantry divisions and is now popular among neo-Nazis – quickly made the rounds on social media.
This prompted Russian state media to accuse the West of seeking to downplay the role of the far right in Ukraine.
Ms. Konstantynovska — it should be noted — is well into her 80s.
This is the citizen army the neocons want to throw into the maw of combat? For the patriotic cause of EU membership??
Founded as a volunteer militia by members of the Patriot of Ukraine neo-Nazi group during the early days of the war in country’s east, in 2014, Azov helped recapture Mariupol from the separatists before being incorporated into the national guard as a regiment. Its troops have been accused of war crimes by the United Nations, while its paramilitary arm, the National Corps, has been linked to attacks on local Roma and members of the LGBT community.
These are (of course) the same concerns about white supremacy and LGBTQ community that some pretend to care about.
At least, insofar as it fits the present-day narrative.
Yet the wider problem — and one truly wonders whether Ukraine would have benefited from the $85bn in military hardware the Biden administration left behind in Afghanistan six months ago — isn’t whether or not the present-day Maidan installed government of Ukraine will seek any port in a storm. Nor is it in the woeful lack of support NATO has extended to Ukraine. Nor is it in the Russian desire to return “little Russia” (that’s what Ukraine means, folks) back to the fold after the Maidan uprising of 2013/14. Nor is it even in the historical and geopolitical connections between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
This one is just pure math.
Unlike Western media which wilted at the number of wounded and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia is more than happy to absorb casualties in numbers which make the neoconservative left salivate with hunger. The disparity in combat aircraft alone will give the Russian Federation immediate air superiority if not supremacy in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s ability to stretch out Ukranian interior lines with amphibious landings along the Black Sea coast only make the disparity in tanks that much more raw, as Russian T-90s square off against modernized (sic) Ukrainian T-64s — the same tanks used by the Syrians in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (that were thrashed by British Challenger tanks using squib rounds on the Golan).
Which leaves the bloodthirsty neoconservative left with one alternative: insurgency.
Perhaps I am a bit less sanguine about the prospect of leaving 40 million Ukrainians to the tender mercies of the Kremlin than others. Yet it should strike more than just one causal observer of counterinsurgency that a policy that wishes civil war upon a population of 40 million is not a liberator — but a psychopath.
Yet this is the corner which many neoconservatives — still fighting the last war — have boxed the Russian Federation into over successive administrations still unwilling to admit that maybe (just maybe) America won the Cold War. The “weak Russia” hypothesis has been a long-standing dream of many in the policy establishment who came up in the aftermath of the Cold War during the 1990s. Such a Russia would be just large enough to be able to mine Siberia for her riches, but never strong enough to assert itself on the world stage. What former US Senator John McCain referred to as a gas station with a country is the very maximum limit of Russian power — a Slavic Saudi Arabia who just might happen to be on the same team when it comes to Islamist fundamentalism, one might add.
The broader realities are that by breaking our promises to the Russian Federation not to interfere in their near abroad (Ukraine and Belarus) while allowing the European Union to be a stalking horse for NATO expansion, the reaction of the Russian Federation was wary if not cautious right up until the US-sponsored Maidan uprising in 2013 that snapped Ukraine off of the Russian sphere of influence. Before then? Russia still had aspirations for what they termed to be a tripartite US-EU-RUS alliance. After Maidan? The Russians decided that the West wanted the dismemberment of Russia entirely.
Such a policy inevitably drove the Russians into the arms of the only remaining power bloc: China.
Of course, neoconservatives who abandoned their principles due to Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS is real) never cease to amaze those who observe them. Once proud anti-communists, they now champion policies that turn former adversaries into allies. Driving the Russians into the arms of the Chinese — so it seems — is a worthwhile outcome if only it serves a purpose. Not stability on the world stage, nor isolating America’s enemies, nor even NATO expansion into Eastern Europe or developing the OSCE framework into something more reliable for the Russian Federation to work with the Western alliance.
What is the the purpose? Ah yes… condemning Trump.
Yet one notices a few things. Under the Obama administration, not only did the Russians sponsor an insurgency in the Donbas but actually annexed portions of Ukranian territory. During the Biden administration, the Russians have surrounded the Ukranians on three fronts and are threatening to gobble up eastern Ukraine if not gobbling up the entirety of the country writ large.
During the Trump administration? The Russians were on notice and didn’t dare make a move.
Trump announced his desire to move US military assets further east into Poland and Romania; the Democrats howled in protest. Trump opposed Nord Stream 2; Democrats howled in protest and almost immediately opened the project once Biden was in office. Trump had zero financial interests in Ukraine; Democrats howl at the very mention of Burisma.
Yet none of this matters to the neoconservative left. Damn Trump, damn everyone who won’t damn Trump, damn everyone that won’t put lights in his windows and sit up all night damning Donald Trump.
Even if it damns 40 million Ukrainian people — women and children — to a senseless conflict they will not win without serious minded NATO support.
And so, no — Ukraine will not be able to resist the Russian Federation despite the well-wishers sitting behind keyboards hoping that Trump (who last I checked is no longer president) will continue to be damned all day and all night long. Claims that recognizing this fact are rooted in white supremacy and anti-LGBTQ sentiment can be mailed directly to the Azov Battalion (or the Ukranian Orthodox Church).
Wondering aloud who in their right mind would be cheering for a mass insurgency in Eastern Europe that could threaten to plunge the region — if not Europe and NATO — into a wider world war? Well… let’s just say they haven’t gotten the taste of blood out of their mouths just yet.
That is to say, other people’s blood.
The reality in in the ongoing Ukranian-Russian conflict is that the Russian Federation will bleed Russians in a way that America (and other NATO allies) will not bleed for Kiev. Just as the United States would not tolerate a Russian or Chinese-friendly government in Mexico, neither will the Russian Federation tolerate a satellite to the “Brusselian Empire” (not my coin phrase) in the very land where the Russian Empire was born.
In short, the Obama administration stole Kiev. The Russians want it back and will bleed to take it back. Unless those preaching war are willing to volunteer and take the one-way ticket to Kharkov or Donetsk to fight for an abstraction, it is safe to ask the question what — if any? — national interest the United States and our allies have in a pro-Western government in the Ukraine.
If one exists? Send in NATO peacekeepers and be prepared to bleed to defend a pro-Western democracy in Ukraine. 50,000 NATO troops with US observers along the Ukranian border would resolve the problem overnight. Inquiries about whether any Russian soldiers exist in the Donbas should be followed up with a Ukranian-led elimination of the occupiers. Co-signatories to the Budapest Agreement can then hammer out whatever long-term reassurances the Russians require regarding their use of the naval base at Sevastapol — and only then with Ukranian assent will a deal be struck and the occupation of Crimea end.
Just be sure to ask the follow up question. How many American mothers should bury their sons? For Kiev? For a “weak Russia” hypothesis? So that a handful of neocons can reinforce their choice to despise anything touched by Trump?
That right there is probably the nub of the complaint. My reasons for opposing the Trump candidacy are well known and well documented. Yet I refuse to trade my principles, my values, my belief in tradition and conservatism and a government that governs least is a government that governs best for yet another partisan tradition hostile to my values. The neoconservatives who damned Republicans then hopped on board with Reagan and Bush who hopped right back off because Trump wasn’t as sanguine about pushing the Pax Americana at the business end of an M-16?
For as much as we scream about big government liberals, is there anything worse than a big government neoconservative? Neocons might wag the crooked finger at Putin as a big government conservative, but if the flicker of conscience is still there, they might hesitate — because Putinism ultimately is big government neoconservatism.
Don’t worry: they will swallow the hypocrisy clean. Provided, that is, they can chase it with a dollop of damning Trump.
Meanwhile, the Russian Federation — should they proceed to take the Ukraine — will discover a means of expanding their sphere of influence that they have used in places such as Chechnya and Georgia through a use of psyops, misinformation, and finally leaning into the decadence of the West. The Chinese government will play it patiently, knowing that Taiwan will be a far more difficult plum to pluck.
The neoconservatives won’t care either way, at least so long as the masters of war are at play.