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Ukraine: Fixing a Broken Country

HISTORY:

As far back as the early 1980’s the ‘Donbas region’ of Ukraine was a hotbed of separatist sentiment and was mostly ignored by the former Soviet Union although it was occasionally useful for Moscow to support the separatists to better control successive independent-leaning Ukrainian governments.

Over decades of time, this situation evolved so that whenever Luhansk or Donetsk separatists pushed their agenda in Ukraine too far, Ukrainian governments simply called Moscow to assist by delivering a military-style thrashing to the Donbas separatists, effectively ending further protests, demonstrations, or separatist leaders speaking on either Ukrainian TV or Donbas television or radio stations (and sometimes, illegal Donbas radio stations).

It was such a small matter that Western policymakers criticised Soviet actions in the Donbas region less than once per decade. Nobody cared because eastern Ukraine was one of the least important places on planet Earth from 1945-onward.


MAJOR AIRLINE CORRIDOR PASSES RIGHT OVER DONBAS REGION:

In the 1990’s, the airspace above Ukraine suddenly became useful for transcontinental airlines which were able to shave hundreds of miles from their route when travelling from Europe to the burgeoning Middle East, India, anywhere along the refurbished Silk Road route (China’s One Belt-One Road route, first proposed by former President of China Hu Jintao in 1999) and Australia.

This huge surge of tourism created virtual traffic jams in the skies over eastern Ukraine — home of the Donbas separatists.

Airlines saved millions of dollars of fuel per year by taking the Ukrainian route to and from the Middle East, India and Western Australia. But the separatists were wary of such overflights. In fact, there were a number of aircraft shootdowns in the skies over Donbas since 1998, although the separatists were never directly implicated in these incidents.

NOTE: Since the Russian Army commenced hostilities with a view to complete occupation of the Donbas region on February 24, 2022, the world’s airlines have taken care to stay away from Ukraine as you might expect.


WHAT DOES EVERYONE WANT?


Russian president Vladimir Putin just didn’t wake up one day and suddenly decide to attack eastern Ukraine.

It seems that the Russians have become uncomfortable with a separatist region located near their southern underbelly. Several strategic Russian cities and military bases (including Russia’s largest and most secret nuclear airbase) are located within 600-miles from Luhansk, Ukraine = less than 30-minutes flight time for a western fighter jet.

You can be assured that more than any other security issue Russian generals face, it’s that nightmare that keeps them awake at night.

With increasing talk of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, and the broken promise by Western countries to not invite the Baltic republics to join NATO (at the end of the Cold War in 1990, Western politicians agreed with Russia that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania wouldn’t join NATO for 50-years) it looks like the Russian president decided that the West intended to again act in bad faith.

Op-Ed: Russia’s got a point: The U.S. broke a NATO promise (LA Times)


The EU leadership doesn’t want all of Ukraine:

1: Ukraine has always been an economic black hole — as far back as Peter the Great — and every year since, the country has been a drain on Russian and later, Soviet finances. Even since Ukraine won their independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 it can barely afford to exist. It’s a ruggedly beautiful and harsh land, populated with durable people who somehow manage to grow millions of tons of hardy wheat, barley, and sunflowers every year. But not as profitably as the United States or Canada.

2: For it’s part, the EU doesn’t want to inherit a troubled eastern Ukraine that borders Russia’s most strategic region. If the EU were to attempt to solve the problem of the Ukrainian breakaway republics it would carry huge geostrategic implications for the EU-Russia relationship. And the EU would find themselves at a distinct disadvantage should the Ukrainian separatist republics call Moscow for military assistance. Never in history would a major power have willingly walked into such an obvious and well-laid trap. No way at all for the EU to win, even if the American military were to offer significant help.

Which is why the EU seems to be passively watching the convulsions in the Donbas while trying to provide maximum humanitarian assistance to those fleeing the conflict zone.

Eventually, Russia will fully occupy and control the Donbas region and those republics will simply and quietly become part of Russia and the remainder of Ukraine will join the EU.

And because the strategic eastern portions of Ukraine would by then belong to Russia, any future Russian president would see little remaining threat to whatever happens to be left of Ukraine, joining NATO.


The US and Canada don’t want to get involved in another shooting war in Europe:

Neither country wants a war with Russia, especially over two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine, nor will they offer anything more than moral support to Ukraine, to the EU, or to NATO, combined with humanitarian support for the millions of Ukrainian refugees.

Let’s hope that North America’s greatest contribution will come in the form of humanitarian assistance by accepting Ukrainian refugees into their countries with easy entry requirements.

Other than the fact that eastern Ukraine was a useful flyover route for European and Middle Eastern airlines, there’s nothing in Ukraine of any real value to US or Canadian investors — no oil, no natural gas, no mining. It’s mountainous, swampy, brutally cold in winter, and the land there is only useful to those willing to engage in subsistence farming or timber production.

Why Donbas is at the heart of the Ukraine crisis (CNN)


Vlad Putin wants the Donbas region; The EU wants the rest of Ukraine to join the EU; And North America is playing along:

The only factors then are time (because, given enough time these three goals will reach a point of convergence) and the unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Russia, the European Union, and North America need to dramatically ramp-up their response to those negatively affected by Russia’s military action in eastern Ukraine.

Each of these blocs must immediately begin to offer expedited travel and immigration arrangements to a people that are simply and profoundly victims of geography and circumstance. They’ve done nothing to deserve what’s happening to them and it’s up to Western countries do the right thing.

And so far, the response by these three blocs has been underwhelming.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing a war they didn’t start or want, deserve a Western response orders of magnitude better than they’ve experienced to date.

 

Written by John Brian Shannon

Why Vlad Putin’s Re-election is Good for the West

by John Brian Shannon

Western leaders should be pleased that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been returned to power in Russia’s March 18 presidential race capturing 77% of the vote in what appeared to be an easy win for the four-time Russian president.

From the West’s point of view, the worst thing in the world would be a weak president in Russia (or any nuclear power) who could be replaced with a known or completely unknown person in the midst of a political crisis.

Even worse from the West’s point of view, would be a military coup. Western politicians simply don’t understand the mindset of normal Russians or their politicians, let alone the Russian military mindset!

Note: Vlad Putin also served one year as Russia’s Premier (1999) and a full term (2008-2012)


Vlad Putin’s Foreign Policy

While no one can deny that Mr. Putin is in business for Russia and that he wants to build the country into an economic powerhouse, he has delivered surprisingly moderate foreign policy that allows it to compete with other industrialized nations and he has played a helpful role in the verbal altercation between North Korea and the United States.

He continues to be an active force for good in institutions such as the United Nations, the BRICS countries, the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), OPEC, the GCEF (Gas Exporting Countries Forum) and more.

Here’s a nice graphic that shows how important the BRICS economies are to the overall global economy.

Russia and BRICS members

The combined GDP of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will outpace the G20 countries prior to 2050, by the way.


Blame Russia!

Unfortunately, Russia-bashing is popular in some foreign capitals and it seems centred around Russia’s infinite resource wealth and jealousies over a total land area that makes it the largest country in the world by a significant margin.

Russia’s 17.1 million square kilometres easily make it the world’s largest by area. In fact, if Russia were to lop off 7 million square kilometers, it would still be the largest — and the lopped-off section would still rank seventh overall! — WorldAtlas.com

For those who complain about high military spending in Russia, it continues to run double-digit defence budgets (69 billion in 2016) while countries China runs triple digit-defence budgets (215 billion in 2016) and the United States runs triple-digit defence budgets (611 billion in 2016) even surpassing quadruple-digit defence budgets during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Infographic: The Top 15 Countries For Military Expenditure in 2016 | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista


Vlad Putin’s Domestic Policy

His domestic policy has improved the lives of older Russians who suffered the hardships of two world wars, the Cold War, and the ever-present brutal weather, building Russia into what it is today. Yes, Russia’s senior citizens love Vladimir Putin who would vote him President for Life if it weren’t for the term limits on presidential office.

It’s a credit to Mr. Putin that he didn’t attempt to change the constitution of the Russian Federation in order to serve more than two consecutive terms as President, instead serving as the country’s Premier from 2008-2012 until he was once more eligible to run for the country’s highest office.

Even during the 2008 global recession and following an unprecedented downward spike in the global oil price, the Russian economy continues to perform better than expected and Putin has created hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country in almost every segment of the economy.

Any election where the incumbent wins 77% of the vote, that person can only be considered a hugely popular and unifying figure, and there is a bit of ‘Putin-mania’ during elections in Russia. The other candidates just can’t compete with that level of popularity even if they have decent or even enlightened policies on offer. Which says it all, doesn’t it?


Summary

The citizens of the relatively new Russian Federation (managed democracy) experiment and its predecessor the (communist) Soviet Union have lived an utterly different reality than the West since 1917. While Russians may look like us and even act like us, their society is different from Western society in many ways.

And that’s especially true during a crisis of any sort where Russians drop their differences no matter how strident their positions and view any outsider as an enemy of the state and as a deeply personal enemy.

It’s easy to see this in action. Every time someone in the West attacked Vlad Putin publicly, his popularity rose by another 10 per cent. Maybe Vlad will send his political enemies in the West a nice bottle of champagne to thank them.

But whether Western politicians are jealous of Putin’s constantly high polling numbers, his landslide election result, the size of the country he leads, or the astonishing resource wealth of the country, every politician in the world should breathe easier knowing that we’ll be dealing with the same Vladimir V. Putin for the next 6 years — and not someone unknown.

We know who Mr. Putin is and although we might not always agree, we know he doesn’t care to press nuclear buttons, or start brushfire wars in faraway places to boost his popularity.

Not that we should ever kowtow to Mr. Putin. But we know who we’re getting. And minor irritations aside, the West should breathe a huge sigh of relief and be thankful that a new Russian president didn’t arrive on the scene wanting to turn modern-day Russia into an amped-up Soviet Union — for just one example of how it could go bad for the West.

Congratulations to President Vladimir Putin on another successful run for presidential office, for knowing what is important to the people of Russia, and for working his pragmatic plan to give it to them. Три приветствия! (Three cheers!)

 

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