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In for a Pound
I have been following the excellent war historian Michael Vlahos for a good portion of the ongoing Ukraine War. I have benefited from his perspectives on history and his well-considered geopolitical insights. Dr. Vlahos’ formal credentials and subject matter expertise are unimpeachable – and unquestionably shade the autodidactic musings of an obscure voice speaking from a rural backwater at the southern rim of the Great Basin.
But with that deservedly flattering preface, I shall now presume to critique and rebut his latest hypothesis in relation to what he seems to believe would be a mutually acceptable resolution to that war on the part of the United States (ostensibly “NATO”) and the Russian Federation.
I will be responding to the latest brief discussion in a podcast series featuring John Batchelor and Dr. Vlahos.
The discussion begins with Mr. Batchelor articulating a series of hypotheticals apparently founded on an assumption that Vladimir Putin is operating from a tenuous position of power and full control over both his generals and the fundamental strategic aims driving the prosecution of this war.
In my studied opinion, there is emphatically zero basis for the assertion that Vladimir Putin is not securely in control of both the Russian military and Russian foreign policy. Nor is there any credible evidence that powerful elements within the Russian military oppose Putin and have even remotely contemplated the idea of deposing him. Indeed, to the extent these notions have any traction in the west, I attribute it entirely to the #EmpireAtAllCosts cult, the arms industry-funded think tank propagandists, and the unbridled intrigues of quasi-supranational western intelligence agencies.
Nevertheless, parting from the premise described above, Batchelor and Vlahos proceed to hypothesize a “peaceful solution” to the war in Ukraine founded in a Russia/NATO partition of Ukraine, with an undefined NATO-controlled western portion juxtaposed against what they indeterminately denominate “Novorossiya” in the east.
Frankly I was shocked by the proposition. In my judgment, it is not only geopolitically incoherent, but inexplicably naïve.
To their credit, both Mr. Batchelor and Dr. Vlahos appear to acknowledge that the only meaningful parties to this war (and its eventual cessation) are those of the waning American Empire (“NATO”) and a Russian Federation that long-resisted and has now decisively rejected assimilation into the hegemon-dictated “rules-based international order”; a Russia that is convinced the brief epoch of American global hegemony has ended, and that a return to a balance-of-powers multipolar world is both inexorable and imminent.
But I am thoroughly persuaded that the “solution” Batchelor and Vlahos propose would be utterly unacceptable to both parties – and would represent not only an unearned victory for NATO, but an unmitigated defeat for both Russian geostrategic interests and Vladimir Putin’s domestic political support.
Many geopolitical analysts have commented to a limited degree on Putin’s bold address to the world delivered even as Russian forces had commenced their “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, but few, if any, have focused their attention on the equally portentous address Putin delivered three days earlier.
In his February 21, 2022 speech, Putin meticulously recounted the relevant history of the region dating back multiple centuries, and focused specifically on the events that followed in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. (see End Note below)
In addition to Putin’s history lesson, he makes particular reference to a detailed proposal Russia delivered to the United States and its NATO allies in mid-December 2021 – a proposal that effectively amounted to a “final warning”; a last-ditch effort to avoid war in Ukraine.
Consider his words carefully, and particularly in light of how Russia has unswervingly adhered to the three primary war objectives Putin articulated in his February 24th speech.
Last December, we handed over to our Western partners a draft treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on security guarantees, as well as a draft agreement on measures to ensure the security of the Russian Federation and NATO member states.
The United States and NATO responded with general statements. There were kernels of rationality in them as well, but they concerned matters of secondary importance and it all looked like an attempt to drag the issue out and to lead the discussion astray.
We responded to this accordingly and pointed out that we were ready to follow the path of negotiations, provided, however, that all issues are considered as a package that includes Russia’s core proposals which contain three key points. First, to prevent further NATO expansion. Second, to have the Alliance refrain from deploying assault weapon systems on Russian borders. And finally, rolling back the bloc's military capability and infrastructure in Europe to where they were in 1997, when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed.
I submit we can confidently assume Putin was as deadly serious on February 21, 2022 as he was on February 24, 2022; that he was not bluffing; that he was resolved to “raise the stakes” commensurate to whatever was required to achieve the objectives he had so carefully articulated.
I submit that his domestic popularity AND the support of his generals correlate closely to the perception that he will not waver from those objectives, and that it has only been the misplaced sense that he might be failing, or at least stumbling, or that he might even pull back from his stated objectives that has resulted in meaningful criticism arising from his domestic supporters, be it in government, the military, or the general public.
I further submit that, in my estimation, it is precisely the burgeoning faith that Putin will resolutely pursue and achieve his stated objectives that has resulted in the unprecedented willingness of China, Iran, India, and other geostrategically important Eurasian and Global South nations to not only openly support Russia in this conflict, but to also, in many instances, openly defy imperial decrees forbidding military and commercial relations with Russia.
Indeed, I submit that a large proportion of the support Russia continues to command in Europe is directly correlated to a pervasive perception that the Russians “really meant it” when they solemnly, formally, and explicitly informed the United States and NATO that peace would henceforth be contingent on them “… rolling back the bloc's military capability and infrastructure in Europe to where they were in 1997, when the NATO-Russia Founding Act was signed.”
Now, of course, many will automatically retort that it is one thing to demand such a thing, and another altogether to be able to “make it happen”. But I would argue (as I have since January 2022) that the folly of arrogantly dismissing Russia’s legitimate security demands, and the cynical act of using Ukraine as a proxy army to harm Russia – and ultimately attempt to effect its dismemberment – would, in the end, result only in the end of American hegemony, the end of NATO, and the rebirth of a multipolar world.
It has been my observation that many “veterans” of the empire’s peak period (1991 – 2003) cannot grasp the cold hard reality that we are well into the story arc of an irreversible historical hinge-point.
The lucre-drunken bankers are now gnawing at the carcass of the goose that laid the golden eggs: the hegemonic global dollar system which permitted the US to conjure ex nihilo unlimited amounts of “money” which they then used to purchase and consume the products of the world, and thereby export the inflationary monetary consequences across the globe.
The imperial legions – both on the ground and in the air – never really were the Nephilim warriors of popular legend, and now the severely depleted force has its remaining strength diluted in hundreds of foreign bases dotting the planet.
The imperial navy is an anachronistic relic – a surface fleet not meaningfully dissimilar to the one that sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1945 … except in terms of its radically reduced numbers.
Speaking in the context of the vulnerability of surface ships to 21st century missile capabilities, one US Navy admiral is reported to have observed, “We have two kinds of ships in the navy: submarines and targets.” I discuss the issue at length in this essay from July 2022: Dinosaurs of the Deep Blue Sea.
And yet a great many still cling to the fond delusion of American military supremacy, and are unshakably convinced that, were the US to directly employ its conventional forces against Russia, it would overwhelm their defenses in a matter of days.
I address this American exceptionalist fantasy in another essay from July 2022: The United States Could Not Win and Will Not Fight A War Against Russia.
And yet three decades of flying effectively unopposed strike missions against vastly inferior adversaries have imbued most of the western world with the belief that American air power is impregnable – a myth that ought to have already been dispelled by the unprecedented demonstration of Russian air defense capabilities in Ukraine.
Even so, it is clear the Russians are fully cognizant of both American weaknesses and the capability of Russian defenses to defeat perceived American strengths.
It is for this reason I am convinced Putin’s Russia would never consider for a moment a proposal to bring this war to an end on the basis of a partition of Ukraine into NATO-controlled and Russian-controlled sections. Quite to the contrary, it is clear to me and a great many observers that Russia is now poised to win this war in a decisive fashion, and to then dictate to Ukraine and its western handlers the terms of surrender, the disposition of territories, and the conditions upon which peace in the region can be maintained going forward.
There is also very good reason to conclude Russia “really meant it” when they demanded that NATO pull back to its pre-1997 borders in Europe, and that they will not accede to any agreement with NATO that does not meet that precondition. That said, Russia need not reconquer the Warsaw Pact nations in order to achieve this objective. They need only to refuse to do business with them and the rest of Europe until they themselves shake off their vassal chains, exert their sovereignty, and construct a pan-European security structure independent of American hegemony.
In relation to Putin’s description of the events of the last three decades, I would strongly recommend this essential recent interview of former US ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock, wherein he recounts these matters from his uniquely authoritative vantage point, and thereby confirms most of Putin’s perspectives on those same events.
I would however note that, although Matlock’s interpretations of events in which he participated are essential pieces of the larger puzzle, I disagree with several of his interpretations of recent and current events, and consider most of his remedial proposals to be effectively impossible.