828cloud

Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Tag Archives: Ukraine

Infographic: Ukraine’s Top Trading Partners and Products

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Five Lessons Taiwan Is Learning from the War in Ukraine

Lili Pike wrote . . . . . . . . .

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has elicited global outrage and pledges of support for the Ukrainian people. In Taiwan, it has also provoked an existential fear.

People in Taiwan have been riveted by the news from Ukraine, and for good reason. As tensions have risen between China and the U.S., Taiwanese officials and military analysts have warned of a growing risk of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. China claims the self-governed island as its own province and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland. The conversation has long been hypothetical; now, many Taiwanese have seen a version of their worst fears playing out in Europe.

Well before the war began, Taiwan’s leadership was already watching Ukraine — a country living, as Taiwan does, in the shadow of an aggressive autocratic neighbor. “Taiwan has been facing military threats and intimidation from China for a long time,” President Tsai Ying-Wen said at a national security meeting on Jan. 28. “Therefore, we empathize with Ukraine’s situation and support the efforts of all parties involved to maintain regional security.”

Tsai created a task force to study the growing conflict and its implications for Taiwan’s future. As the war has unfolded, Taiwan has joined Western allies in sanctioning Russia and sending aid — a stark contrast to China, which has declined to condemn the invasion and blamed the U.S. and NATO for provoking Russia.

“I think the people here, they are rooting for Ukraine and it has something to do with what might happen to Taiwan,” said Lai I-Chung, a senior adviser to Taiwan Thinktank and former director of China Affairs for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. “We want the Ukrainian people to be able to succeed in defeating the invading enemy. But we also hope that the international community can have a better or more progressive response to help the Ukraine people to defend against Russia, precisely due to the implication to Taiwan.”

It will be a long time before the broad lessons of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine are well understood. But experts tell Grid there are already important preliminary lessons for Taiwan and for all nations keeping a close eye on the Taiwan Strait.

A mirror for Taiwan (albeit an imperfect one)

The parallels between Taiwan and Ukraine are clear.

Historically, both have been ruled by powerful autocratic neighbors. Ukraine was a Soviet republic before the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991; Taiwan was ruled by the last Chinese imperial dynasty, the Qing, until Japan took control of the island in 1895. In recent years, both have grown closer to their Western allies, and those closer ties have been met by increasingly sharper threats. China and Russia have spun similar narratives about Western infringement and aggression: Russia used the eastern expansion of NATO as a pretext for war, and China has called Taiwan’s growing relationship with the West a provocation.

Most fundamentally for citizens of Taiwan and Ukraine alike, they have heard for years that theirs is not a real nation and that their land would one day be returned to its rightful ruler. Now that Putin has acted on his threat, Taiwanese are worried that the parallels will continue and put their sovereignty at risk.

But experts are also quick to point out important differences.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been recognized by the world as a sovereign state, whereas Taiwan exists in murkier waters. Since 1979, the U.S. has recognized the People’s Republic of China (the mainland) rather than the Republic of China (Taiwan). It’s a formula followed for geopolitical reasons by most of the world; only 14 countries recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. (Diplomatically, China does not allow countries to simultaneously have official relations with both).

Taiwan has also figured more prominently in U.S. foreign policy than Ukraine. China, not Russia, is the U.S.’s principal rival, and Taiwan sits in waters that are critical for global trade, military and even internet activity. (Important undersea cables run around Taiwan). “It occupies the most critical strategic terrain arguably on the planet today,” said Ian Easton, senior director of the Project 2049 Institute, an American think tank that advocates for U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific.

Taiwan is also an economic powerhouse. It is the U.S.’s ninth-largest trading partner, while Ukraine takes the 67th slot. Its GDP ranked 21st in the world last year; Ukraine’s was 57th. And Taiwan is the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors — the chips that are central to modern technology worldwide.

Another significant difference involves geography. Taiwan is an island. From a tactical perspective, that makes it a far more difficult target than Ukraine; it would be much harder for China to launch an invasion across 100 miles of water than it has been for Russian troops to cross the land border with Ukraine.

“It is well known that any potential Chinese attempt to invade Taiwan would be extremely high-risk in military terms,” Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, told Grid.

Lessons from Ukraine

Grid spoke with military and strategic analysts and Taiwan experts about the conflict’s lessons for Taiwanese policymakers and ordinary citizens. These experts don’t always agree — and all note that the lessons may change as the war plays out. But they offer initial answers to the question: What are the main takeaways from the war in Ukraine, as seen from Taiwan?

1. Prepare for war

For many in Taiwan, Putin’s invasion has made clear the need for greater preparedness. If a war that had seemed unlikely could come to Ukraine, then the same may prove true for Taiwan, and the Taiwanese have seen the effectiveness of fierce resistance put up by Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

“I think one of the consequences of the Ukraine invasion is telling people in Taiwan that the people matter and the will to resist matters,” said Lai, “and Taiwan actually enjoys better odds to defend itself in the face of invasion. If Ukraine can do it, then Taiwanese people can do it as well.”

Taiwan has been building its military power in recent years as China’s own military prowess has risen substantially. In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Tsai called for a further strengthening of the island’s defenses.

Experts also said the war underscores Taiwan’s need to ready its entire society for a potential conflict. “Taiwan should draw the lesson that it should have a strong reserve force and a territorial defense plan that includes arming civilians,” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund. Journalist Hilton Yip wrote in Foreign Policy that the conflict has also led to growing calls for Taiwan to improve its current four-month mandatory conscription system.

2. Time to ease tensions with China

Some ordinary Taiwanese citizens draw a different lesson: Putin’s invasion means that Taiwan must mend relations with the mainland to ensure that tensions never escalate to actual war.

While survey data shows that very few Taiwanese people want to reunite with the mainland now, the majority supports maintaining the status quo and only a small minority wants to push for immediate full independence. So that means that the island, by and large, doesn’t want to aggravate Beijing.

Among the older generation, some remember past conflict and wish to avoid it at all costs. Tu Dong-siang, a 58-year-old woman, told the New York Times she grew up on Matsu, Taiwanese islands that were frequently shelled by mainland troops in the 1970s. “We know how horrific war can be,” she said. “That’s why I think for Ukraine, and for Taiwan, being able to live is the most important.”

From this perspective, the lesson of the Ukraine war is simple: Tsai must make it her top priority to ease tensions with Beijing.

3. “Ambiguity” may not be an effective deterrent

Until December, when the U.S. stated categorically that it wouldn’t send troops to help Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, the U.S. position on troop deployment was unclear — an ambiguity seemingly intended to dissuade Russia from going to war. The U.S. has employed a similar approach of “strategic ambiguity” vis-à-vis Taiwan for decades, purposefully remaining unclear as to what the U.S. military would do in the event of a Chinese invasion of the island.

The U.S. has stuck with this “strategic ambiguity” policy as a balancing act, given its support for Taiwan’s democracy and the importance of the U.S.-China relationship. But for some in Taiwan, the Ukraine war casts doubt on the strategy.

“That actually tells us that the so-called strategic ambiguity, in terms of deterring aggressors, the value isn’t really that much,” said Lai. “If it failed to deter or dissuade the Russians from invading Ukraine, how much effectiveness will it have to dissuade or deter the possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan?”

Some prominent voices have said the lesson learned from Ukraine is that the U.S. needs a new Taiwan strategy. Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe said in a recent TV interview: “It is time to abandon this ambiguity strategy. The people of Taiwan share our universal values, so I think the U.S. should firmly abandon its ambiguity.”

Other experts warn that this would only escalate tensions with China. “For China, that could be a casus belli, you know, that could be a red line if the United States suddenly unambiguously commits to Taiwan’s defense or even goes further and tries to upgrade Taiwan’s diplomatic status,” said Michael Beckley, an associate professor of political science at Tufts University. “So I just think that would be foolish.”

4. The U.S. military may not come to the rescue

While the U.S. had no treaty or other obligation to intervene in Ukraine, the Taiwan Relations Act, signed into law in 1979, binds the U.S. to at least help Taiwan defend itself.

“Even though the United States and Taiwan aren’t allies and the United States doesn’t technically recognize Taiwan as a country, I think the defense partnership between the United States and Taiwan is much, much stronger,” said Beckley. “It has deeper historical roots than anything the United States has with Ukraine.”

Heath agreed: “There is a much higher likelihood that the U.S. military would intervene in a conflict between China and Taiwan.”

Still, when it comes to the U.S. commitment, the invasion of Ukraine worries many in Taiwan.

When President Joe Biden explained why the U.S. would not send troops to Ukraine, he said, “That’s a world war, when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.” It’s a statement that could easily apply to a U.S. conflict with China as well. Chinese nationalists on the mainland have made a similar point. “The performance of the U.S. in Ukraine should remind ‘Taiwan independence’ advocates: You cannot rely on Washington,” an article in the state paper Global Times stated.

5. Good news: The U.S. and its allies are likely to help in other ways

Despite NATO’s decision not to intervene militarily in Ukraine, Taiwanese may be heartened by the range and scope of support for Ukraine — from weapons shipments to punishing sanctions against Russia. For President Xi Jinping, that show of unity is a potential problem.

“For China, it’s very concerning, because it seems like the crisis is sort of rallying the United States and its allies and causing them to band together,” said Beckley. “It kind of lays down that DNA for a future crisis.”

At the U.N. General Assembly, only five countries voted against condemning Russia. China abstained — refusing to join the condemnation. Having tried to elevate its standing in multilateral institutions in recent years, China will see that “there’s a real danger of isolation,” said Yun Sun, co-director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center. More important, the sweeping economic response has already had a significant impact on the Russian economy, as Grid’s Matthew Zeitlin explained. Chinese leaders will worry about a similar response should they attack Taiwan.

“One lesson the U.S. can take from the Russian experience is the power of global finance,” said Heath. “The United States and its rich industrialized allies retain a powerful grip on international finance, and this remains a potent weapon to punish offending countries.”

However, it’s worth noting that it would be harder for the U.S. and allies to impose punishing sanctions against China; unlike the Russian economy, Chinese trade, finance and business are deeply intertwined with the global economy. “That would have severe blowback on us too,” said Easton.

Will Ukraine change China’s plans?

Almost universally, military experts expected the Russian army to secure a swift victory against Ukraine. Russia’s failures to dominate Ukrainian airspace, adequately supply its forces or capture key cities have been early surprises in the war. So have the casualty counts; Western officials estimate that Russia has lost thousands of troops already.

No doubt China’s military and political leaders are taking note.

Thomas Shugart, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the Chinese military is probably already closely studying the Ukraine war: “I’d be very surprised if there aren’t Chinese military observers, at least at the headquarters level and their attaches, observing very closely what’s happening at the tactical level with the war in Ukraine and taking their own very detailed lessons learned.”

One immediate concern in Taiwan: that the Chinese military will draw the conclusion that the time for action is now. According to a poll conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation in mid-February, more than a quarter of Taiwanese surveyed thought it was likely China would take the opportunity of the Russian invasion — and the West’s distraction — to attack.

However, several experts said it was unlikely China would make that decision. “I think China likely has concluded that the invasion was a mistake,” said Heath. “The war is already proving unaffordable to Russia, and prospects for victory look doubtful. Russia’s economy is crippled, and domestic opposition is rising. There is little in the Ukraine invasion to encourage China to attack Taiwan.”

The U.S. sent a high-level delegation of former military and security officials to Taiwan last week, bringing a message of support amid the Russian assault. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Tsai, “I do hope by being here with you, we can reassure you and your people, as well as our allies and partners in the region, that the United States stands firm behind its commitments.”

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at China’s Renmin University, said, “The Biden administration is, just in the heyday of Russia’s war in Europe, assuring Taiwan and doubtful opinion at home and beyond that it has both capability and will to intervene vigorously in two major theaters simultaneously, with the Indo-Pacific still kept as its strategic priority.” He added, “This is also intended, I believe, to send a message of deterrence to China, which certainly takes it into account.”


Source : GRID

Interview: ‘Yes, He Would’ – Fiona Hill on Putin and Nukes

Maura Reynolds wrote . . . . . . . . .

For many people, watching the Russian invasion of Ukraine has felt like a series of “He can’t be doing this” moments. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has launched the largest ground war in Europe since the Second World War. It is, quite literally, mind-boggling.

That’s why I reached out to Fiona Hill, one of America’s most clear-eyed Russia experts, someone who has studied Putin for decades, worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations and has a reputation for truth-telling, earned when she testified during impeachment hearings for her former boss, President Donald Trump.

I wanted to know what she’s been thinking as she’s watched the extraordinary footage of Russian tanks rolling across international borders, what she thinks Putin has in mind and what insights she can offer into his motivations and objectives.

Hill spent many years studying history, and in our conversation, she repeatedly traced how long arcs and trends of European history are converging on Ukraine right now. We are already, she said, in the middle of a third World War, whether we’ve fully grasped it or not.

“Sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again,” Hill told me.

Those old historical patterns include Western businesses who fail to see how they help build a tyrant’s war chest, admirers enamored of an autocrat’s “strength” and politicians’ tendency to point fingers inward for political gain instead of working together for their nation’s security.

But at the same time, Hill says it’s not too late to turn Putin back, and it’s a job not just for the Ukrainians or for NATO — it’s a job that ordinary Westerners and companies can assist in important ways once they grasp what’s at stake.

“Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just between democracies and autocracies but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force,” Hill said. “Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this.”

There’s lots of danger ahead, she warned. Putin is increasingly operating emotionally and likely to use all the weapons at his disposal, including nuclear ones. It’s important not to have any illusions — but equally important not to lose hope.

“Every time you think, ’No, he wouldn’t, would he?’ Well, yes, he would,” Hill said. “And he wants us to know that, of course. It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared…. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.”

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


Maura Reynolds: You’ve been a Putin watcher for a long time, and you’ve written one of the best biographies of Putin. When you’ve been watching him over the past week, what have you been seeing that other people might be missing?

Fiona Hill: Putin is usually more cynical and calculated than he came across in his most recent speeches. There’s evident visceral emotion in things that he said in the past few weeks justifying the war in Ukraine. The pretext is completely flimsy and almost nonsensical for anybody who’s not in the echo chamber or the bubble of propaganda in Russia itself. I mean, demanding to the Ukrainian military that they essentially overthrow their own government or lay down their arms and surrender because they are being commanded by a bunch of drug-addled Nazi fascists? There’s just no sense to that. It beggars the imagination.

Putin doesn’t even seem like he’s trying to make a convincing case. We saw the same thing in the Russian response at the United Nations. The justification has essentially been “what-about-ism”: ‘You guys have been invading Iraq, Afghanistan. Don’t tell me that I can’t do the same thing in Ukraine.”

This visceral emotion is unhealthy and extraordinarily dangerous because there are few checks and balances around Putin. He spotlighted this during the performance of the National Security Council meeting, where it became very clear that this was his decision. He was in a way taking full responsibility for war, and even the heads of his security and intelligence services looked like they’ve been thrown off guard by how fast things were moving.

Reynolds: So Putin is being driven by emotion right now, not by some kind of logical plan?

Hill: I think there’s been a logical, methodical plan that goes back a very long way, at least to 2007 when he put the world, and certainly Europe, on notice that Moscow would not accept the further expansion of NATO. And then within a year in 2008 NATO gave an open door to Georgia and Ukraine. It absolutely goes back to that juncture.

Back then I was a national intelligence officer, and the National Intelligence Council was analyzing what Russia was likely to do in response to the NATO Open Door declaration. One of our assessments was that there was a real, genuine risk of some kind of preemptive Russian military action, not just confined to the annexation of Crimea, but some much larger action taken against Ukraine along with Georgia. And of course, four months after NATO’s Bucharest Summit, there was the invasion of Georgia. There wasn’t an invasion of Ukraine then because the Ukrainian government pulled back from seeking NATO membership. But we should have seriously addressed how we were going to deal with this potential outcome and our relations with Russia.

Reynolds: Do you think Putin’s current goal is reconstituting the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, or something different?

Hill: It’s reestablishing Russian dominance of what Russia sees as the Russian “Imperium.” I’m saying this very specifically because the lands of the Soviet Union didn’t cover all of the territories that were once part of the Russian Empire. So that should give us pause.

Putin has articulated an idea of there being a “Russky Mir” or a “Russian World.” The recent essay he published about Ukraine and Russia states the Ukrainian and Russian people are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.” He’s saying Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same. This idea of a Russian World means re-gathering all the Russian-speakers in different places that belonged at some point to the Russian tsardom.

I’ve kind of quipped about this but I also worry about it in all seriousness — that Putin’s been down in the archives of the Kremlin during Covid looking through old maps and treaties and all the different borders that Russia has had over the centuries. He’s said, repeatedly, that Russian and European borders have changed many times. And in his speeches, he’s gone after various former Russian and Soviet leaders, he’s gone after Lenin and he’s gone after the communists, because in his view they ruptured the Russian empire, they lost Russian lands in the revolution, and yes, Stalin brought some of them back into the fold again like the Baltic States and some of the lands of Ukraine that had been divided up during World War II, but they were lost again with the dissolution of the USSR. Putin’s view is that borders change, and so the borders of the old Russian imperium are still in play for Moscow to dominate now.

Reynolds: Dominance in what way?

Hill: It doesn’t mean that he’s going to annex all of them and make them part of the Russian Federation like they’ve done with Crimea. You can establish dominance by marginalizing regional countries, by making sure that their leaders are completely dependent on Moscow, either by Moscow practically appointing them through rigged elections or ensuring they are tethered to Russian economic and political and security networks. You can see this now across the former Soviet space.

We’ve seen pressure being put on Kazakhstan to reorient itself back toward Russia, instead of balancing between Russia and China, and the West. And just a couple of days before the invasion of Ukraine in a little-noticed act, Azerbaijan signed a bilateral military agreement with Russia. This is significant because Azerbaijan’s leader has been resisting this for decades. And we can also see that Russia has made itself the final arbiter of the future relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia has also been marginalized after being a thorn in Russia’s side for decades. And Belarus is now completely subjugated by Moscow.

But amid all this, Ukraine was the country that got away. And what Putin is saying now is that Ukraine doesn’t belong to Ukrainians. It belongs to him and the past. He is going to wipe Ukraine off the map, literally, because it doesn’t belong on his map of the “Russian world.” He’s basically told us that. He might leave behind some rump statelets. When we look at old maps of Europe — probably the maps he’s been looking at — you find all kinds of strange entities, like the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in the Balkans. I used to think, what the hell is that? These are all little places that have dependency on a bigger power and were created to prevent the formation of larger viable states in contested regions. Basically, if Vladimir Putin has his way, Ukraine is not going to exist as the modern-day Ukraine of the last 30 years.

Reynolds: How far into Ukraine do you think Putin is going to go?

Hill: At this juncture, if he can, he’s going to go all the way. Before this last week, he had multiple different options to choose from. He’d given himself the option of being able to go in in full force as he’s doing now, but he could also have focused on retaking the rest of the administrative territories of Donetsk and Luhansk. He could have seized the Sea of Azov, which he’s probably going to do anyway, and then joined up the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with Crimea as well as the lands in between and all the way down to Odessa. In fact, Putin initially tried this in 2014 — to create “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” but that failed when local support for joining Russia didn’t materialize.

Now, if he can, he is going to take the whole country. We have to face up to this fact. Although we haven’t seen the full Russian invasion force deployed yet, he’s certainly got the troops to move into the whole country.

Reynolds: You say he has an adequate number of troops to move in, but does he have enough to occupy the whole country?

Hill: If there is serious resistance, he may not have sufficient force to take the country for a protracted period. It also may be that he doesn’t want to occupy the whole country, that he wants to break it up, maybe annex some parts of it, maybe leave some of it as rump statelets or a larger rump Ukraine somewhere, maybe around Lviv. I’m not saying that I know exactly what’s going on in his head. And he may even suggest other parts of Ukraine get absorbed by adjacent countries.

In 2015, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was at the Munich Security Conference after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. And he talked about Ukraine not being a country, saying pointedly that there are many minority groups in Ukraine — there are Poles and there are Romanians, there are Hungarians and Russians. And he goes on essentially almost inviting the rest of Europe to divide Ukraine up.

So what Putin wants isn’t necessarily to occupy the whole country, but really to divide it up. He’s looked at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other places where there’s a division of the country between the officially sanctioned forces on the one hand, and the rebel forces on the other. That’s something that Putin could definitely live with — a fractured, shattered Ukraine with different bits being in different statuses.

Reynolds: So step by step, in ways that we haven’t always appreciated in the West, Putin has brought back a lot of these countries that were independent after the Soviet collapse back under his umbrella. The only country that has so far evaded Putin’s grip has been Ukraine.

Hill: Ukraine, correct. Because it’s bigger and because of its strategic location. That’s what Russia wants to ensure, or Putin wants to ensure, that Ukraine like the other countries, has no other option than subjugation to Russia.

Reynolds: How much of what we’re seeing now is tied to Putin’s own electoral schedule? He seized Crimea in 2014, and that helped to boost his ratings and ensure his future reelection. He’s got another election coming up in 2024. Is any of this tied to that?

Hill: I think it is. In 2020, Putin had the Russian Constitution amended so that he could stay on until 2036, another set of two six-year terms. He’s going to be 84 then. But in 2024, he has to re-legitimate himself by standing for election. The only real contender might have been Alexei Navalny, and they’ve put him in a penal colony. Putin has rolled up all the potential opposition and resistance, so one would think it would be a cakewalk for him in 2024. But the way it works with Russian elections, he actually has to put on a convincing show that demonstrates that he’s immensely popular and he’s got the affirmation of all the population.

Behind the scenes it’s fairly clear that there’s a lot of apathy in the system, that many people support Putin because there’s no one else. People who don’t support him at all will probably not turn out to vote. The last time that his brand got stale, it was before the annexation of Crimea. That put him back on the top of the charts in terms of his ratings.

It may not just be the presidential calendar, the electoral calendar. He’s going to be 70 in October. And 70 you know, in the larger scheme of things, is not that old. There are plenty of politicians out there that are way over 70.

Reynolds: But it’s old for Russians.

Hill: It’s old for Russians. And Putin’s not looking so great, he’s been rather puffy-faced. We know that he has complained about having back issues. Even if it’s not something worse than that, it could be that he’s taking high doses of steroids, or there may be something else. There seems to be an urgency for this that may be also driven by personal factors.

He may have a sense that time is marching on — it’s 22 years, after all, and the likelihood after that kind of time of a Russian leader leaving voluntarily or through elections is pretty slim. Most leaders leave either like Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko thought that he might leave, as the result of massive protests, or they die in office.

The only other person who has been Russian leader in modern times longer than Putin is Stalin, and Stalin died in office.

Reynolds: Putin came to power after a series of operations that many have seen as a kind of false flag — bombings of buildings around Russia that killed Russian citizens, hundreds of them, followed by a war in Chechnya. That led to Putin coming to power as a wartime president. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 also came at a difficult time for Putin. Now we’re seeing another big military operation less than two years before he needs to stand for election again. Am I wrong to see that pattern?

Hill: No, I don’t think you are. There’s definitely a pattern here. Part of Putin’s persona as president is that he is a ruthless tough guy, the strong man who is the champion and protector of Russia. And that’s why Russia needs him. If all was peaceful and quiet, why would you need Vladimir Putin? If you think of other wartime leaders — Winston Churchill comes to mind — in peacetime, Winston Churchill got voted out of office.

Reynolds: Speaking of Chechnya, I have been thinking that this is the largest ground military operation that Russia has fought since Chechnya. What did we learn about the Russian military then that’s relevant now?

Hill: It’s very important, that you bring this point up because people are saying Ukraine is the largest military operation in Europe since World War II. The first largest military action in Europe since World War II was actually in Chechnya, because Chechnya is part of Russia. This was a devastating conflict that dragged on for years, with two rounds of war after a brief truce, and tens of thousands of military and civilian casualties. The regional capital of Grozny was leveled. The casualties were predominantly ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. The Chechens fought back, and this became a military debacle on Russia’s own soil. Analysts called it “the nadir of the Russian army.” After NATO’s intervention in the Balkan wars in the same timeframe in the 1990s, Moscow even worried that NATO might intervene.

Reynolds: What have we learned about NATO in the last two months?

Hill: In many respects, not good things, initially. Although now we see a significant rallying of the political and diplomatic forces, serious consultations and a spur to action in response to bolster NATO’s military defenses.

But we also need to think about it this way. We have had a long-term policy failure going back to the end of the Cold War in terms of thinking about how to manage NATO’s relations with Russia to minimize risk. NATO is a like a massive insurer, a protector of national security for Europe and the United States. After the end of the Cold War, we still thought that we had the best insurance for the hazards we could face — flood, fire etc. — but for a discounted premium. We didn’t take adequate steps to address and reduce the various risks. We can now see that that we didn’t do our due diligence and fully consider all the possible contingencies, including how we would mitigate Russia’s negative response to successive expansions. Think about Swiss Re or AIG or Lloyds of London — when the hazard was massive, like during Hurricane Katrina or the global financial crisis in 2008, those insurance companies got into major trouble. They and their clients found themselves underwater. And this is kind of what NATO members are learning now.

Reynolds: And then there’s the nuclear element. Many people have thought that we’d never see a large ground war in Europe or a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, because it could quickly escalate into a nuclear conflict. How close are we getting to that?

Hill: Well, we’re right there. Basically, what President Putin has said quite explicitly in recent days is that if anybody interferes in Ukraine, they will be met with a response that they’ve “never had in [their] history.” And he has put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert. So he’s making it very clear that nuclear is on the table.

Putin tried to warn Trump about this, but I don’t think Trump figured out what he was saying. In one of the last meetings between Putin and Trump when I was there, Putin was making the point that: “Well you know, Donald, we have these hypersonic missiles.” And Trump was saying, “Well, we will get them too.” Putin was saying, “Well, yes, you will get them eventually, but we’ve got them first.” There was a menace in this exchange. Putin was putting us on notice that if push came to shove in some confrontational environment that the nuclear option would be on the table.

Reynolds: Do you really think he’ll use a nuclear weapon?

Hill: The thing about Putin is, if he has an instrument, he wants to use it. Why have it if you can’t? He’s already used a nuclear weapon in some respects. Russian operatives poisoned Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium and turned him into a human dirty bomb and polonium was spread all around London at every spot that poor man visited. He died a horrible death as a result.

The Russians have already used a weapons-grade nerve agent, Novichok. They’ve used it possibly several times, but for certain twice. Once in Salisbury, England, where it was rubbed all over the doorknob of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who actually didn’t die; but the nerve agent contaminated the city of Salisbury, and anybody else who came into contact with it got sickened. Novichok killed a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, because the assassins stored it in a perfume bottle which was discarded into a charity donation box where it was found by Sturgess and her partner. There was enough nerve agent in that bottle to kill several thousand people. The second time was in Alexander Navalny’s underpants.

So if anybody thinks that Putin wouldn’t use something that he’s got that is unusual and cruel, think again. Every time you think, “No, he wouldn’t, would he?” Well, yes, he would. And he wants us to know that, of course.

It’s not that we should be intimidated and scared. That’s exactly what he wants us to be. We have to prepare for those contingencies and figure out what is it that we’re going to do to head them off.

Reynolds: So how do we deal with it? Are sanctions enough?

Hill: Well, we can’t just deal with it as the United States on our own. First of all, this has to be an international response.

Reynolds: Larger than NATO?

Hill: It has to be larger than NATO. Now I’m not saying that that means an international military response that’s larger than NATO, but the push back has to be international.

We first have to think about what Vladimir Putin has done and the nature of what we’re facing. People don’t want to talk about Adolf Hitler and World War II, but I’m going to talk about it. Obviously the major element when you talk about World War II, which is overwhelming, is the Holocaust and the absolute decimation of the Jewish population of Europe, as well as the Roma-Sinti people.

But let’s focus here on the territorial expansionism of Germany, what Germany did under Hitler in that period: seizure of the Sudetenland and the Anschluss or annexation of Austria, all on the basis that they were German speakers. The invasion of Poland. The treaty with the Soviet Union, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, that also enabled the Soviet Union to take portions of Poland but then became a prelude to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Invasions of France and all of the countries surrounding Germany, including Denmark and further afield to Norway. Germany eventually engaged in a burst of massive territorial expansion and occupation. Eventually the Soviet Union fought back. Vladimir Putin’s own family suffered during the siege of Leningrad, and yet here is Vladimir Putin doing exactly the same thing.

Reynolds: So, similar to Hitler, he’s using a sense of massive historical grievance combined with a veneer of protecting Russians and a dismissal of the rights of minorities and other nations to have independent countries in order to fuel territorial ambitions?

Hill: Correct. And he’s blaming others, for why this has happened, and getting us to blame ourselves.

If people look back to the history of World War II, there were an awful lot of people around Europe who became Nazi German sympathizers before the invasion of Poland. In the United Kingdom, there was a whole host of British politicians who admired Hitler’s strength and his power, for doing what Great Powers do, before the horrors of the Blitz and the Holocaust finally penetrated.

Reynolds: And you see this now.

Hill: You totally see it. Unfortunately, we have politicians and public figures in the United States and around Europe who have embraced the idea that Russia was wronged by NATO and that Putin is a strong, powerful man and has the right to do what he’s doing: Because Ukraine is somehow not worthy of independence, because it’s either Russia’s historical lands or Ukrainians are Russians, or the Ukrainian leaders are — this is what Putin says — “drug addled, fascist Nazis” or whatever labels he wants to apply here.

So sadly, we are treading back through old historical patterns that we said that we would never permit to happen again. The other thing to think about in this larger historic context is how much the German business community helped facilitate the rise of Hitler. Right now, everyone who has been doing business in Russia or buying Russian gas and oil has contributed to Putin’s war chest. Our investments are not just boosting business profits, or Russia’s sovereign wealth funds and its longer-term development. They now are literally the fuel for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Reynolds: I gather you think that sanctions leveled by the government are inadequate to address this much larger threat?

Hill: Absolutely. Sanctions are not going to be enough. You need to have a major international response, where governments decide on their own accord that they can’t do business with Russia for a period of time until this is resolved. We need a temporary suspension of business activity with Russia. Just as we wouldn’t be having a full-blown diplomatic negotiation for anything but a ceasefire and withdrawal while Ukraine is still being actively invaded, so it’s the same thing with business. Right now you’re fueling the invasion of Ukraine. So what we need is a suspension of business activity with Russia until Moscow ceases hostilities and withdraws its troops.

Reynolds: So ordinary companies…

Hill: Ordinary companies should make a decision. This is the epitome of “ESG” that companies are saying is their priority right now — upholding standards of good Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance. Just like people didn’t want their money invested in South Africa during apartheid, do you really want to have your money invested in Russia during Russia’s brutal invasion and subjugation and carving up of Ukraine?

If Western companies, their pension plans or mutual funds, are invested in Russia they should pull out. Any people who are sitting on the boards of major Russian companies should resign immediately. Not every Russian company is tied to the Kremlin, but many major Russian companies absolutely are, and everyone knows it. If we look back to Germany in the runup to the Second World War, it was the major German enterprises that were being used in support of the war. And we’re seeing exactly the same thing now. Russia would not be able to afford this war were it not for the fact that oil and gas prices are ratcheting up. They’ve got enough in the war chest for now. But over the longer term, this will not be sustainable without the investment that comes into Russia and all of the Russian commodities, not just oil and gas, that are being purchased on world markets. And, our international allies, like Saudi Arabia, should be increasing oil production right now as a temporary offset. Right now, they are also indirectly funding war in Ukraine by keeping oil prices high.

This has to be an international response to push Russia to stop its military action. India abstained in the United Nations, and you can see that other countries are feeling discomforted and hoping this might go away. This is not going to go away, and it could be “you next” — because Putin is setting a precedent for countries to return to the type of behavior that sparked the two great wars which were a free-for-all over territory. Putin is saying, “Throughout history borders have changed. Who cares?”

Reynolds: And you do not think he will necessarily stop at Ukraine?

Hill: Of course he won’t. Ukraine has become the front line in a struggle, not just for which countries can or cannot be in NATO, or between democracies and autocracies, but in a struggle for maintaining a rules-based system in which the things that countries want are not taken by force. Every country in the world should be paying close attention to this. Yes, there may be countries like China and others who might think that this is permissible, but overall, most countries have benefited from the current international system in terms of trade and economic growth, from investment and an interdependent globalized world. This is pretty much the end of this. That’s what Russia has done.

Reynolds: He’s blown up the rules-based international order.

Hill: Exactly. What stops a lot of people from pulling out of Russia even temporarily is, they will say, “Well, the Chinese will just step in.” This is what every investor always tells me. “If I get out, someone else will move in.” I’m not sure that Russian businesspeople want to wake up one morning and find out the only investors in the Russian economy are Chinese, because then Russia becomes the periphery of China, the Chinese hinterlands, and not another great power that’s operating in tandem with China.

Reynolds: The more we talk, the more we’re using World War II analogies. There are people who are saying we’re on the brink of a World War III.

Hill: We’re already in it. We have been for some time. We keep thinking of World War I, World War II as these huge great big set pieces, but World War II was a consequence of World War I. And we had an interwar period between them. And in a way, we had that again after the Cold War. Many of the things that we’re talking about here have their roots in the carving up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire at the end of World War I. At the end of World War II, we had another reconfiguration and some of the issues that we have been dealing with recently go back to that immediate post-war period. We’ve had war in Syria, which is in part the consequence of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, same with Iraq and Kuwait.

All of the conflicts that we’re seeing have roots in those earlier conflicts. We are already in a hot war over Ukraine, which started in 2014. People shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that we’re just on the brink of something. We’ve been well and truly in it for quite a long period of time.

But this is also a full-spectrum information war, and what happens in a Russian “all-of-society” war, you soften up the enemy. You get the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps doing your job for you. The fact that Putin managed to persuade Trump that Ukraine belongs to Russia, and that Trump would be willing to give up Ukraine without any kind of fight, that’s a major success for Putin’s information war. I mean he has got swathes of the Republican Party — and not just them, some on the left, as well as on the right — masses of the U.S. public saying, “Good on you, Vladimir Putin,” or blaming NATO, or blaming the U.S. for this outcome. This is exactly what a Russian information war and psychological operation is geared towards. He’s been carefully seeding this terrain as well. We’ve been at war, for a very long time. I’ve been saying this for years.

Reynolds: So just as the world didn’t see Hitler coming, we failed to see Putin coming?

Hill: We shouldn’t have. He’s been around for 22 years now, and he has been coming to this point since 2008. I don’t think that he initially set off to do all of this, by the way, but the attitudes towards Ukraine and the feelings that all Ukraine belongs to Russia, the feelings of loss, they’ve all been there and building up.

What Russia is doing is asserting that “might makes right.” Of course, yes, we’ve also made terrible mistakes. But no one ever has the right to completely destroy another country — Putin’s opened up a door in Europe that we thought we’d closed after World War II.


Source : Politico

Russia’s War in Ukraine Could Spur Another Global Chip Shortage

Morgan Meaker wrote . . . . . . . . .

On Thursday morning, explosions rocked at least seven cities in Ukraine, heralding the start of a full-scale Russian invasion. Among Putin’s first targets was Odesa, a seaside city huddled around the Black Sea, and one of the country’s busiest ports. But it is also home to a little-known company called Cryoin, which plays a big role in the global production of semiconductors.

Cryoin makes neon gas, a substance used to power the lasers that etch patterns into computer chips. It supplies companies in Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan, but most of its neon is shipped to the US, the company told WIRED. Now analysts are warning that the ripple effects caused by disruption to Cryoin’s supply could be felt around the world.

Cryoin’s production of neon and other gases ground to a halt on Thursday as the invasion began, says business development director Larissa Bondarenko. “We decided that [our employees] should stay at home for the next couple of days until the situation is clearer, to make sure that everyone is safe,” she says, adding there was no damage to the facility as of Monday. Despite plans to restart production over the weekend, missiles over Odesa meant it was still too dangerous. Bondarenko, who lives half an hour away from the site by car, says she has been sleeping in her basement. “Thank God we have one in our house.”

Semiconductors act as the technological brains in our phones, laptops, smart homes, and even cars. The industry is already wrestling with shortages as it struggles to keep up with pandemic demand for devices. In 2021, chip shortages restricted production for almost every major carmaker, with companies like General Motors shutting entire factories as a result. Apple, one of the world’s largest chip buyers, told manufacturers in October that it would make 10 million fewer iPhones in 2021 than planned due to chip shortages, according to Bloomberg.

But Russian aggression in Ukraine is making the industry nervous that these shortages could be intensified by a repeat of 2014, when prices for neon gas spiked by 600 per cent in response to the annexation of Crimea. Last week, US and Japanese governments were scrambling to make sure that will not happen again, pressuring their chip industries to find alternative sources of this obscure gas before it’s too late.

Ukraine is just one of a series of choke points in the global semiconductor industry. Around half of the world’s neon gas comes from the country, TechCet, an electronic materials advisory firm which advises some of the world’s biggest chipmakers including Intel and Samsung, told WIRED.

Ukraine’s neon industry was built to take advantage of the gases produced as byproducts of Russian steel manufacturing. “What happens in Russia is that those [steel] companies that have the facility to capture the gas will bottle it and sell it as crude,” says Lita Shon-Roy, president and CEO of TechCet. “Then someone has to purify it and take out the other [gases] and that’s where Cryoin comes in.”

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the world’s chipmakers were even more dependent on Ukraine because the country supplied around 70 percent of neon gas. “There were delays in shipments because of border crossing issues,” says Shon-Roy, and the raw materials needed to make neon were also in short supply. “Russia was focusing a lot of their efforts on war and not making steel.”

Burned by that experience, the chip industry scrambled to diversify its supply. A company called Cymer, which is owned by Dutch chip giant ASML and makes the lasers used to draw patterns on advanced semiconductor chips, tried to reduce its consumption of neon. “Chipmakers are concerned about recent escalation of neon prices and supply continuity,” David Knowles, vice president and general manager of Cymer, said at the time, without specifically mentioning Ukraine.

Bondarenko says the price spike in 2014 was mainly caused by a feud between rival neon producers Cryoin and Iceblick, which is no longer operating. However, if access to Russian crude does become an issue, she says, Cryoin has enough supplies to keep production going until the end of March. If that runs out, she claims there are Ukrainian crude producers that Cryoin can turn to as alternatives.

Instead she is more worried about getting neon out of the country. “Borders right now are very overloaded as people, civilians, are trying to evacuate,” she says. “If the authorities of countries where our clients are located are able to influence the border situation for the commercial shipments then that would be a great help [and] it will not affect the whole industry worldwide.”

Chipmakers have played down how much they will be affected by the crisis in Ukraine. “There’s no need to worry,” Lee Seok-hee, CEO of South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix, said last week, adding the company had “secured a lot” of materials. Koichi Hagiuda, the minister of economy, trade, and industry in Japan, said Japanese chipmakers are not expecting a “major impact” on their operations because they can source materials elsewhere. The country imports 5 percent of gases used in semiconductor production from Ukraine.

But there are signs that despite the warning of 2014, Ukrainian neon still plays a major role in the industry. ASML told WIRED it sources “less than 20 percent” of the neon it uses in its factories from Russia or Ukraine. “Along with our supplier we are investigating alternative sources in the event of a supply disruption from Ukraine and Russia,” a spokesperson says.

There are concerns that the US is even more vulnerable. Last week, the White House urged US chipmakers to find alternative suppliers, Reuters reported. “We see huge amounts of imports coming into the US from [Russia and Ukraine],” says TechCet’s Shon-Roy. “It is my educated assessment that what’s coming into the US from Russia and Ukraine could be as much as 80 to 90 percent of all [neon] imports.” US chipmaker Intel did not respond to a request for comment.

But sourcing neon from elsewhere will not be easy. Any disruption in Ukraine will hit chipmakers at a time when the industry is already under intense pressure from post-pandemic demand. “The drive behind increased production is so strong that it is causing strain in the supply chain everywhere, even without a war,” Shon-Roy adds. “So there is no excess supply of this kind of gas that I know of, not in the Western world.”


Source : WIRED

The Javelin Is Wrecking Putin’s Army. Here’s How the Anti-Tank Weapon Works.

Ross Pomeroy wrote . . . . . . . . .

Ukraine is a highly devout country – about 87% of its 41 million citizens practice Christianity. So it’s notable that, to many Ukrainians, Mary Magdalene now has a new moniker: St. Javelin.

The viral meme (shown above) recasting the “Apostle of the apostles” is in reverence to a device that knows no religion: the FGM-148 Javelin portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile. Since the start of Putin’s dastardly invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian freedom fighters have extensively utilized the American-made weapon system – co-produced by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – to rain destruction down upon the Russian military’s armored vehicles. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry estimates that 102 tanks and 536 armored vehicles had been destroyed as of February 26th. The Javelin likely factored heavily into that rousing combat success.

“This weapon allows a single soldier to target and destroy even the most heavily armored main battle tank with an almost guaranteed kill rate, at great range and with minimal risk,” Army Capt. Vincent Delany wrote of the Javelin for West Point’s Modern War Institute.

So how does this ‘holy’ piece of military machinery work? Laypersons might be envisioning a bazooka-like operation, but anti-tank weapons have evolved considerably since that quintessential rocket launcher was deployed in World War II. With the Javelin, a soldier using the portable, reusable Command Launch Unit (CLU) looks through an infrared sight to locate a target up to an incredible 2.5 miles away. When the user spots a target, he operates a cursor to set a square around it, almost like cropping an image. This is then sent to the onboard guidance computer on the missile itself, which has a sophisticated algorithmic tracking system coupled with an infrared imaging device. When the missile locks on to the target, the operator can launch the self-guided weapon and quickly relocate or reload to fire another missile at a different target.

The Javelin originally debuted in 1996, bearing a couple remarkable innovations. For one, it offers a “soft launch.” David Qi Zhang of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute explained what that means in his Master of Engineering thesis on the Javelin.

“The first motor… produces enough thrust to launch the missile out of the tube and a safe distance away, but is completely burned before the nozzle left the tube, leaving no exhaust to hit the operator. The flight motor then ignites to propel the [missile] along its attack path,” he wrote.

A second innovation of the Javelin is that it strikes from above. The missile rises high into the air, up to 490 feet, then blasts down on its target from a steep angle, striking the top of an armored vehicle or tank, where the armor is typically weakest.

Russian tanks are not helpless against the Javelin. Most are equipped with explosive reactive armor. When struck by a penetrating weapon like a missile, the armor detonates, blasting a metal plate outwards to damage the missile’s penetrator and prevent it from piercing the tank’s main armor. The Javelin overcomes this by having tandem warheads, one to deal with the reactive armor plate, and the second to impact the tank’s armor itself. Modern Russian tanks are also equipped with a radar system called Arena, which detects incoming missiles and automatically fires a wide burst of projectiles to destroy or redirect them. But here, again, the Javelin reigns supreme, Delany says.

“The Javelin can defeat Arena while in top-attack mode, due to the missile descending from too steep an angle for the system to engage properly,” he wrote.

Ukraine had been shipped roughly 77 launchers and 740 missiles before Putin invaded. Many, many more of each are now on the way courtesy of the U.S. and European allies. May the Ukrainians put them to good use. Slava Ukraini!


Source : Real Clear Science


Watch video at You Tube ( 1:00 minutes) . . . .

Ukraine Invasion Spotlights the Delicate State of Democracy

Ted Anthony wrote . . . . . . . . .

The secretary-general of the United Nations opened the most recent annual meeting of Earth’s leaders with a bleak assessment of the planet’s state of affairs. Humanity, he said, faced “a moment of truth.”

“Peace. Human rights. Dignity for all. Equality. Justice. Solidarity. Like never before, core values are in the crosshairs,” Antonio Guterres said. “A sense of impunity is taking hold.”

Guterres’ message to the U.N. General Assembly takes on even more relevance with the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine. Those things he outlined? They are bedrock principles of democracy — a once-on-the-upswing method of human governance that in recent years has been taking body blows across the world.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion advances the anti-democratic trend – one that has seen strongmen, some elected, prod their nations toward dictatorship and ignore once-solid democratic norms. In doing so, they are collectively pounding at the door of democracy’s always-delicate house.

The invasion is “surely a watershed moment for the future of global democracy,” says Stephen E. Hanson, a professor of government at William & Mary in Virginia and author of “Post-Imperial Democracies,” which in part examines Russia after the Soviet Union dissolved.

In recent years, the ascent of a group of what some consider dictators within democracies — Putin, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Narendra Modi of India, Viktor Orbán of Hungary — has gradually chipped away at the outer boundaries of democratic systems while still talking the talk of democratic principles. Appearing democratic, it seems, is the new democracy.

In the United States, Donald Trump has produced similar concerns, stoked by his ongoing claims of a stolen election. That has helped inspire efforts to change state laws to limit access to polls, and to stock election administration roles with allies, stoking fears that a free and fair vote may be overturned in a nation that was, until recently, a beacon for the world’s democracies.

The rub: Each of these leaders has been chosen by their people — or, at least, by democratic-style systems. “Globally, populists that undermine democratic norms have gained more traction in elections over the past 20 years,” says Douglas Page, a political scientist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

This gradual rebranding of democracy for the 21st century has been exacerbated by leaders of more traditionally authoritarian governments who call their systems democratic, too. Even China’s Xi Jinping, never a democrat, has maneuvered his nation’s hybrid of communist tenets and market economy into a personality-driven rule that is presented as a form of democracy.

So when Putin orders the invasion of Ukraine in a manner that tacitly invokes democratic principles even as he circumvents them, he offers up a face of democracy as viewed through a glass, darkly. Experts say this is designed to give him cover as a democratic leader at home while allowing him to do pretty much what he wants elsewhere.

“The space he holds on the democratic scale, he is not a full-blown authoritarian leader. He doesn’t have the same means available to oppress his people. He still has democratic elements, even though they’re vanishing,” says Stefanie Kasparek, an assistant professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania who studies international political institutions.

Not that Putin has worried excessively about appearing democratic. At home, he has spent years harshly stamping out both public dissent and political opposition, targeting rivals and jailing opposition party leader Alexei Navalny, whom the Kremlin declared a terrorist last month. Nevertheless, says Kasparek, “There are democratic elements that he can’t fully ignore.”

That was illustrated Tuesday when Russia’s upper legislative house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country. Yet the ask — largely pro forma, given Putin’s level of authority — gave him cover to say that his actions were endorsed by democratic systems within his own nation.

“Democracy led to Putin being in power in the first place and has served him considerably as a tool to keep power,” Crystal Brown, a political and social scientist at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts who studies the effect of institutions on global political systems, said in an email.

Why is the appearance of democracy — or, at least, the surface reliance on it even when a leader’s actions seem undemocratic — so important? It’s a complex question.

In Putin’s case, while his through-line may be a glorious re-aggregation of the Soviet Union, he is playing to a domestic audience that includes many who turned their back on that same communist-era collection of republics — and in some cases did so using democracy as a North Star. To them, the principle is important.

So Putin deploys raw power externally, in everything from his approach in Crimea to the online attacks on U.S. elections — and thus is able to flout the West, which holds itself up as democracy’s standard-bearer. Internally, he is constrained by the support he needs from those inside Russia wary of dictatorial authority being used against them.

This two-pronged approach to democracy — making a show of upholding the very tenets one is violating — is hardly limited to Putin. It has played out in other nations, with sometimes chaotic outcomes.

In the United States, for example, Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud in the 2020 election won by Joe Biden — an attempt to wipe away a democratic process — helped fuel the rage that produced the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters trying to overturn the outcome. Through it, Trump insisted he was the champion of democracy, not the one getting in its way.

“Everywhere these men make the same basic argument: The `neoliberal’ order merely pretends to be democratic, when in fact it is run by representatives of the `deep state’ who conspire to steal from ordinary people and undermine social order through the destruction of traditional moral values,” Hanson says.

“They portray themselves as the unique saviors of the traditional nation, and demand unconditional personal loyalty from all who serve them,” he said in an email. “That such a recipe for the destruction of democratic institutions has proven to be so potent around the world is one of the most remarkable developments of the early 21st century.”

What, then, might the unfolding of the Ukraine saga mean for democracy writ large? Biden insists the outcome is certain: “In the contest between democracy and autocracy, between sovereignty and subjugation, make no mistake: Freedom will prevail,” Biden said in an address Thursday.

He made it sound obvious. But given recent years’ events — including those leading up to his inauguration — reality is less definitive. Democracy doesn’t always prevail. And even when it does take hold, its permanence isn’t guaranteed — a lesson that, just like during the Cold War, goes far beyond what’s happening in eastern Europe right now.

“The world does not want to enter into a large-scale conflict. That gives a lot of leeway for leaders to push those boundaries of democratic appearance without actually being democratic,” Kasparek says. “It’s effectively a game of chicken.”

In that metaphor, democracy itself is the car. But the problem with a game of chicken quickly becomes obvious: Eventually, inevitably, you crash.


Source : AP

Did U.S. Provoke Putin’s War in Ukraine?

Patrick J. Buchanan wrote . . . . . . . . .

When Russia’s Vladimir Putin demanded that the U.S. rule out Ukraine as a future member of the NATO alliance, the U.S. archly replied: NATO has an open-door policy. Any nation, including Ukraine, may apply for membership and be admitted. We’re not changing that.

In the Bucharest declaration of 2008, NATO had put Ukraine and Georgia, ever farther east in the Caucasus, on a path to membership in NATO and coverage under Article 5 of the treaty, which declares that an attack on any one member is an attack on all.

Unable to get a satisfactory answer to his demand, Putin invaded and settled the issue. Neither Ukraine nor Georgia will become members of NATO. To prevent that, Russia will go to war, as Russia did last night.

Putin did exactly what he had warned us he would do.

Whatever the character of the Russian president, now being hotly debated here in the USA, he has established his credibility.

When Putin warns that he will do something, he does it.

Thirty-six hours into this Russia-Ukraine war, potentially the worst in Europe since 1945, two questions need to be answered:

How did we get here? And where do we go from here?

How did we get to where Russia — believing its back is against a wall and the United States, by moving NATO ever closer, put it there — reached a point where it chose war with Ukraine rather than accepting the fate and future it believes the West has in store for Mother Russia?

Consider. Between 1989 and 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev let the Berlin Wall be pulled down, Germany be reunited and all the “captive nations” of Eastern Europe go free.

Having collapsed the Soviet empire, Gorbachev allowed the Soviet Union to dissolve itself into 15 independent nations. Communism was allowed to expire as the ruling ideology of Russia, the land where Leninism and Bolshevism first took root in 1917.

Gorbachev called off the Cold War in Europe by removing all of the causes on Moscow’s side of the historic divide.

Putin, a former KGB colonel, came to power in 1999 after the disastrous decadelong rule of Boris Yeltsin, who ran Russia into the ground.

In that year, 1999, Putin watched as America conducted a 78-day bombing campaign on Serbia, the Balkan nation that had historically been a protectorate of Mother Russia.

That year, also, three former Warsaw Pact nations, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, were brought into NATO.

Against whom were these countries to be protected by U.S. arms and the NATO alliance, the question was fairly asked.

The question seemed to be answered fully in 2004, when Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria were admitted into NATO, a grouping that included three former republics of the USSR itself, as well as three more former Warsaw Pact nations.

Then, in 2008, came the Bucharest declaration that put Georgia and Ukraine, both bordering on Russia, on a path to NATO membership.

Georgia, the same year, attacked its seceded province of South Ossetia, where Russian troops were acting as peacekeepers, killing some.

This triggered a Putin counterattack through the Roki Tunnel in North Ossetia that liberated South Ossetia and moved into Georgia all the way to Gori, the birthplace of Stalin. George W. Bush, who had pledged “to end tyranny in our world,” did nothing. After briefly occupying part of Georgia, the Russians departed but stayed as protectors of the South Ossetians.

The U.S. establishment has declared this to have been a Russian war of aggression, but an EU investigation blamed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for starting the war.

In 2014, a democratically elected pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in Kyiv and replaced by a pro-Western regime. Rather than lose Sevastopol, Russia’s historic naval base in Crimea, Putin seized the peninsula and declared it Russian territory.

Teddy Roosevelt stole Panama with similar remorse.

Which brings us to today.

Whatever we may think of Putin, he is no Stalin. He has not murdered millions or created a gulag archipelago.

Nor is he “irrational,” as some pundits rail. He does not want a war with us, which would be worse than ruinous to us both.

Putin is a Russian nationalist, patriot, traditionalist and a cold and ruthless realist looking out to preserve Russia as the great and respected power it once was and he believes it can be again.

But it cannot be that if NATO expansion does not stop or if its sister state of Ukraine becomes part of a military alliance whose proudest boast is that it won the Cold War against the nation Putin has served all his life.

President Joe Biden almost hourly promises, “We are not going to war in Ukraine.” Why would he then not readily rule out NATO membership for Ukraine, which would require us to do something Biden himself says we Americans, for our own survival, should never do: go to war with Russia?


Source : Patrick J. Buchanan

Infographic: Key Facts About Ukraine

See large image . . . . . .

Source : Visual Capitalist

Ukraine Crisis Tests China-Russia Partnership

Russia’s military buildup along its border with Ukraine is testing the possibility of a Moscow-Beijing axis lining up against the U.S. and its allies.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing this month fed speculation that a new alliance could form between the two great powers as they face off with the U.S. over a range of issues.

Russia and China have backed each other’s positions on opposing a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan.

But the relationship remains lopsided. China’s confident rise as an economic and political force contrasts with Russia’s growing isolation and reversion to Cold War tactics of intimidation and bullying.

China also remains opposed to actions that could damage its territorial ambitions, from the South China Sea and Taiwan to the Indian border.

Here are some of the main factors driving, and blocking Russo-Chinese relations:

WHERE DOES CHINA STAND ON THE UKRAINE CRISIS?

China has not criticized Russia over its moves against Ukraine, and has joined in verbal attacks on Washington and its allies. Addressing the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out against the U.S., accusing “a certain power” of “stirring-up antagonism.”

However, in response to a question from conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, Wang said the “sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of any country should be respected and safeguarded, because this is a basic norm of international relations.”

“Ukraine is no exception,” Wang added.

He also stated that major powers should act in defense of global peace and no country should “repeat the past mistake of forging rival alliances.”

That chimes with China’s longstanding opposition to military alliances and often invoked — but often breached in practice — policy of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

The comments were also in keeping with Beijing’s quest to replace a global order underpinned by alliances it considers threatening to its own development. Those include NATO and newer groupings joining the U.S. with Japan, India, Australia and other states with which China has substantial foreign policy disputes.

WHAT DID THE XI-PUTIN SUMMIT ACHIEVE?

Xi and Putin met ahead of the opening ceremony of the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Beijing, after which they issued a lengthy joint communique seen as announcing a new and closer relationship.

The two sides said they “strongly support each other” in confronting what Xi called “regional security threats” and “international strategic stability,” without directly naming the U.S.

The meeting between the leaders marked their 38th contact in person and by phone, a number touted by Beijing as a sign of closeness between the countries that had been rivals for leadership in the Cold War’s socialist bloc.

The fall of the Soviet Union remains an obsession among Chinese Communist leaders, along with Putin, a former officer in the Soviet KGB who shares Xi’s authoritarian leanings and has aligned his foreign policies with those of Beijing while courting China’s market for Russian energy resources and military hardware.

In its own readout of the Xi-Putin meeting, however, China held back on making a full-throated endorsement of Russia’s strategy of attacking alleged Western threats to its security.

IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN UKRAINE AND TAIWAN?

China’s Communist Party leadership is believed to be watching the U.S. response to Russia’s actions closely for signs of how Washington would behave if Beijing were to move against Taiwan.

China has been dispatching military aircraft and holding threatening war games in hopes of undermining support in Taiwan for the self-governing island’s de facto independence.

Washington provides Taiwan with fighter jets, warships and other arms and is legally required to consider threats to the island as matters of “grave concern.” That doesn’t obligate the U.S. to intervene militarily on Taiwan’s behalf, but the possibility has not been ruled out, with allies such as Australia and Japan potentially joining in a conflict.

WHERE IS AMERICA LEFT IN THE DEBATE?

China is not putting its weight behind Russia’s foreign policy gambits, but the frostiness in relations with Washington shows no sign of thawing, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations and director of the Center on American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University of China.

“I believe that the Chinese government will continue to take care of China itself in the first place rather than take care of Russia,” Shi said. In the meantime, relations with Washington will remain fraught, particularly over the issue of Taiwan.

Beijing blames heightened tensions with the U.S. on what it calls a false depiction of China as a strategic rival.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s visit to China that led to the establishment of formal diplomatic ties in 1979 and a new era of trade and economic relations. No joint celebrations have been announced.


Source : AP

Why Is Russia Invading Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?

Paul Kirby wrote . . . . . . . . .

By air, land, and sea, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people. For months President Vladimir Putin had denied he would invade his neighbour, but then he tore up a peace deal, sending forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east and south.

As the number of dead climbs, he is now accused of shattering peace in Europe and what happens next could jeopardise the continent’s entire security structure.

Where have Russian troops attacked and why?

Airports and military headquarters were hit first, near cities across Ukraine, including the main Boryspil international airport in Kyiv.

Then tanks and troops rolled into Ukraine in the north-east, near Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people; in the east near Luhansk, from neighbouring Belarus in the north and Crimea in the south. Paratroops seized a key airbase just outside Kyiv and Russian troops landed in Ukraine’s big port cities of Odesa and Mariupol too.

Moments before the invasion began, President Putin went on TV declaring that Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of what he called a constant threat from modern Ukraine.

Many of his arguments were false or irrational. He claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine – it is a vibrant democracy led by a president who is Jewish. “How could I be a Nazi?” said Volodymr Zelensky, who likened Russia’s onslaught to Nazi Germany’s invasion in World War Two.

President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule. Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east, backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives.

Late in 2021 he began deploying big numbers of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s borders. Then this week he scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent.

Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards the European Union and the West’s defensive military alliance Nato. Announcing Russia’s invasion, he accused Nato of threatening “our historic future as a nation”.

How far will Russia go?

Russia has refused to say if it seeks to overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government, although it believes that ideally Ukraine should be “freed, cleansed of the Nazis”. Mr Putin spoke of bringing to court “those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians”.

It was a thinly veiled hint and by invading from Belarus and seizing Antonov airport close to the outskirts of Kyiv, there is little doubt that the capital is well within his sights.

In the days before the invasion, when up to 200,000 troops were within reach of Ukraine’s borders, he had focused his attention on the east.

By recognising the Russian proxy separatist areasof Luhansk and Donetsk as independent, he had already decided they were no longer part of Ukraine. Then he revealed that he supported their claims to far more Ukrainian territory. The self-styled people’s republics cover little more than a third of the whole of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions but the rebels covet the rest, too.

How dangerous is this invasion for Europe?

These are terrifying times for the people of Ukraine and horrifying for the rest of the continent, witnessing a major power invading a European neighbour for the first time since World War Two.

Dozens have died already in what Germany has dubbed “Putin’s war”, both civilians and soldiers. And for Europe’s leaders this invasion has brought some of the darkest hours since the 1940s. It was, said France’s Emmanuel Macron, a turning point in Europe’s history. Recalling the Cold War days of the Soviet Union, Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of Ukraine’s bid to avoid a new iron curtain closing Russia off from the civilised world.

For the families of both armed forces there will be anxious days ahead. Ukrainians have already suffered a gruelling eight-year war with Russian proxies. The military has called up all reservists aged 18 to 60 years old. Top US military official Mark Milley said the scale of Russian forces would mean a “horrific” scenario with conflict in dense urban areas.

The invasion has knock-on effects for many other countries bordering both Russia and Ukraine. Latvia, Poland and Moldova say they are preparing for a big influx of refugees. A state of emergency has been declared in Lithuania and Moldova, where thousands of women and children have already entered.

This is not a war that Russia’s population was prepared for either, as the invasion was rubber-stamped by a largely unrepresentative upper house of parliament.

What can the West do?

Nato has put warplanes on alert but the Western alliance has made clear there are no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine itself. Instead they have offered advisers, weapons and field hospitals. Meanwhile, 5,000 Nato troops have been deployed in the Baltic states and Poland. Another 4,000 could be sent to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia.

Instead, the West is targeting Russia’s economy, industry and individuals.

  • The EU has promised to restrict Russian access to capital markets and cut off its industry from latest technology. It has already imposed sanctions on 351 MPs who backed Russia’s recognition of the rebel-held regions
  • Germany has halted approval on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a major investment by both Russia and European companies
  • The US says it will cut off Russia’s government from Western financial institutions and target high-ranking “elites”
  • The UK says all major Russian banks would have their assets frozen, with 100 individuals and entities targeted; and Russia’s national airline Aeroflot will also be banned from landing in the UK.

Ukraine has urged its allies to stop buying Russian oil and gas. The three Baltic states have called on the whole international community to disconnect Russia’s banking system from the international Swift payment system. That could badly impact the US and European economies.

The Russian city of St Petersburg will no longer be able to host this year’s Champions League final for security reasons. Europe’s football governing body Uefa is also planning further measures.

What does Putin want?

President Putin partly blamed his decision to attack on Nato’s eastward expansion. He earlier complained Russia had “nowhere further to retreat to – do they think we’ll just sit idly by?”

Ukraine is seeking a clear timeline to join Nato and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov explained: “For us it’s absolutely mandatory to ensure Ukraine never, ever becomes a member of Nato.”

Last year President Putin wrote a long piece describing Russians and Ukrainians as “one nation”, and he has described the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 as the “disintegration of historical Russia”. He has claimed modern Ukraine was entirely created by communist Russia and is now a puppet state, controlled by the West.

President Putin has also argued that if Ukraine joined Nato, the alliance might try to recapture Crimea.

But Russia is not just focused on Ukraine. It demands that Nato return to its pre-1997 borders.

Mr Putin wants Nato to remove its forces and military infrastructure from member states that joined the alliance from 1997 and not to deploy “strike weapons near Russia’s borders”. That means Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

In President Putin’s eyes, the West promised back in 1990 that Nato would expand “not an inch to the east” but did so anyway.

That was before the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, so the promise made to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev only referred to East Germany in the context of a reunified Germany.

Mr Gorbachev said later “the topic of Nato expansion was never discussed” at the time.

What has Nato said?

Nato is a defensive alliance with an open-door policy to new members, and its 30 member states are adamant that will not change.

There is no prospect of Ukraine joining for a long time, as Germany’s chancellor has made clear.

But the idea that any current Nato country would give up its membership is a non-starter.

Is there a diplomatic way out?

Not for now, but any eventual deal would have to cover both the war in the east and arms control.

The US had offered to start talks on limiting short- and medium-range missiles as well as on a new treaty on intercontinental missiles. Russia wanted all US nuclear arms barred from beyond their national territories.

Russia had been positive towards a proposed “transparency mechanism” of mutual checks on missile bases – two in Russia, and two in Romania and Poland.


Source : BBC