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Ukraine: Fixing a Broken Country

by John Brian Shannon

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.

Western Powers Attack Syria

by John Brian Shannon

The International Order is Broken

We know this because the world’s politicians are using military means to solve what are essentially political problems they don’t know how to solve.

As the Syrian crisis rolls into its 8th year no clear winner has emerged, other than ISIS has been degraded by Western and Russian forces operating throughout Syria.

Not that Russia and the West are working together to destroy ISIS, rather, Western countries are working to destroy the evil entity to prevent it from spreading across the Middle East and the Western world, while the Russians are tearing ISIS apart because it represents an internal threat to Syria, its longtime ally.

Which are reasonable and noble goals.

But at any time since the Syrian conflict began in 2010, Western, Russian and Syrian diplomats could’ve worked out a plan to solve the terrorist problem inside Syria and could’ve wrapped up the whole mess within 24 months with relatively few civilian casualties. But they didn’t. Or they couldn’t.

The very definition of broken-ness, right there.


“No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.”
Albert Einstein


Why Are We Broken?

When the interests of several countries align — and they still can’t put together a unified coalition — it’s a textbook case of a broken international order.

Which is how we stumbled into WWI, WWII, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, and several other conflicts, such as the Rwanda genocide that killed 800,000 people in a matter of days. And we know how those wars turned out, and we know how many people were killed in total in those 20th-century conflicts.

The failure of politicians and their diplomats to find better solutions and thereby prevent those wars is appalling beyond any scale that humans can understand.


“All war represents a failure of diplomacy.”
Tony Benn


 Sometimes, very complicated problems can stem from a very simple problem.

FOR EXAMPLE: The neighbourhood’s troubled teen filling your car’s fuel tank with water overnight — although a simple act in itself — can cause serious problems after the car is driven the following morning. Such a simple act can cost a vehicle owner hundreds of dollars to repair and cause major inconvenience.

And likewise, every war fought in the 20th-century was caused by an astonishingly simple misunderstanding of human psychology by the world’s politicians and diplomats.

We are broken because those politicians believed that employing ‘Win-Lose’ thinking to solve problems was the preferred path, instead of realizing that ‘Win-Win’ thinking is a higher form of thinking that only humans can employ to solve problems.

Every war since 1900 is the direct result of employing ‘Win-Lose’ thinking to solve political problems. Another way to say it, is that every single death and injury caused by war in the 20th-century is 100% on the heads of the people who practiced politics and diplomacy in that century — because their thinking wasn’t up to the task.

Never in human history had anyone seen bungling on the scale of 20th-century world leaders.

Therefore, as the ‘default mode’ for politicians in the 20th-century was to employ ‘Win-Lose’ thinking, every serious disagreement inexorably turned into war and mega-millions died as a result.

Because the politicians of the day resorted to their animal instincts, over 250 million people were killed in war and in famines caused by war in the 20th-century. Some might call that number a conservative estimate of the total death toll.

Sobering, isn’t it?


Aren’t We Better Than That?

Apparently not. Because even today we’re still using bombs to solve the problems we’re not smart enough to solve. Problems that humans created aren’t being solved, because we’re not using the right methods to solve our problems.

So we bomb our way out of problems.


Using ‘Win-Win’ Thinking to Solve Our Problems

There are few examples of the world’s politicians using ‘Win-Win’ thinking to solve our very human psychological problems.

Ending the Cold War is the stellar achievement for diplomats in the 20th-century. And just in time, because the civilization that humans built over thousands of years came dangerously close to annihilation many times during the Cold War.

Another example of ‘Win-Win’ thinking occurred when the world’s politicians and scientists came together to sign the Montreal Protocol to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons from our supply chains; chemical compounds that were rapidly destroying the Earth’s ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol has been called ‘the most successful accord in history’.

Yet another example of ‘Win-Win’ thinking occurred when the Allied Powers joined forces after World War II to rebuild Europe using the Marshall Plan to fund food aid, reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, and to help establish a fairer world order based on peaceful relations. In postwar Japan, the Allied Powers facilitated the country’s rebuilding by purchasing billions of dollars of Japanese goods which benefited the Allied Powers as much as it benefited the former Axis Power.

Without the assistance of these, the most brilliant minds that ever lived, humanity may have become extinct long before the year 2000.

The ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who ended the Cold War, the ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who ended the use of chlorofluorocarbons, and the ‘Win-Win’ thinkers who invested in the former Axis Power economies during the postwar era, changed our world for the better (at the very least) and may be responsible for saving all life on the planet (at best).

Those examples prove ‘Win-Win’ thinking can work to solve our problems and that we don’t need to retain ‘Win-Lose’ thinking as our default problem-solving method.


Regardless of the Method we Choose, we Must Stand Up for Our Principles

President Donald Trump today authorized 3 military strikes inside Syria to hit suspected chemical weapon sites and chemical research and development facilities ostensibly used by the Syrian military.

The president cited Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution in his justification for the attack saying that Syria represented an area of strategic importance to the United States. However, there almost isn’t a place on Earth that is of less strategic importance to the U.S. and its allies, as Syria.

It may be the president misread his teleprompter — because Syria isn’t a strategic place from the U.S. viewpoint — and if he sticks to that view he will spend days or weeks defending this military action to members of the Congress and Senate.

What is of strategic importance to the United States (and what would work for members of Congress charged with upholding the U.S. Constitution) is that preventing the proliferation and use of chemical weapons is of strategic importance to the United States, and therefore, President Trump’s authorization of use of force is justified and necessary, and in the best interest of the United States.

In that way the president’s use of force is legal and justified under the U.S. Constitution, and may also serve as a deterrent to a Syrian regime that seems bent on destroying significant numbers of its population and has refused any chance to allow them escape to another country.


Choosing Humanity vs. Hubris: Why We Fight

Exterminating your own citizens because they have a different political view isn’t acceptable and no doubt President Trump is privy to images and videos from Syria that are marked classified because they’re too horrific for U.S. television viewers to see.

And let’s be honest, seeing those images hastened his decision to veer hard towards military action rather than continuing to employ so-called ‘Soft Power’ to bring about a diplomatic solution to the Syrian debacle.

It may be that punishing Syria each time it uses chemical weapons against civilians or terrorist entities will serve as an effective deterrent. However, Syrian forces may become more adept at hiding such attacks from Western eyes and ears.


“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized.”
Theresa May


Syria’s plan seems to be to kill every terrorist, every non-combatant family member of terrorists, or anyone stuck in areas known to contain terrorist entities.

While this may seem normal to dictators, it is highly offensive to civilized people. Even Syria’s ally Russia, abhors attacks on civilians and non-combatants — and Russian citizens seem extremely offended when chemical attacks are used to solve what are, in the final analysis, human problems for which the diplomats haven’t yet found solutions.


Short-term Deterrence or Long-term Mutual Success?

Whether Tomahawk missile attacks act as a deterrent to Syrian chemical weapons attacks inside Syria, or not — at least President Trump can say that America and its allies didn’t stand idly by and let it happen without challenging it.

Yet, the long-term way to solve this crisis is to show these heinous acts on every television in the world, to explain what is actually occurring there, to make chemical weapons use anywhere unacceptable to everyone, and to use ‘Win-Win’ thinking to save our broken, but still human, civilization.

When we finally adopt ‘Win-Win’ thinking as our default option to deal with human-caused problems, that will be the day that human beings finally surpass the animal kingdom in every way on this planet. And if we don’t, our short break from the threat of Cold War-style Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) will soon be over.

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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