A couple of hours ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech that some reflexively anti-Russian pundits called “a declaration of war.” It wasn’t. At least not right now. My colleague, Bonchie, has all the details in Putin Gives a Bonkers Speech on Ukraine, Drops the Last Puzzle Piece in Place for War. The bottom line is that Putin declared he would recognize the de facto independence of the pro-Russian Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine. If you are shocked by this, I would submit you should back away from the video game console and start paying attention. Supporting an autonomous status for Donetsk and Luhansk has been Russia’s position since the annexation of Crimea. Since that time, Russia has issued Russian passports, which implies citizenship, to anyone in Donetsk and Luhansk who wants them. To date, about 20% of that population has taken Moscow up on the offer. In the context of this ginned-up “crisis,” it is hardly surprising that Putin would carry through on a move that has been telegraphed for nearly a decade…but wasn’t executed until Joey SoftServe was in the Oval Office.
Besides officially recognizing autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk, Putin’s speech was boilerplate Russian sniveling that we’ve heard since the USSR imploded some 30 years ago.
Here are highlights courtesy of Reuters.
“Those who embarked on the path of violence, bloodshed, lawlessness did not recognize and do not recognize any other solution to the Donbass issue, except for the military one. In this regard, I consider it necessary to take a long overdue decision to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. I ask the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to support this decision, and then to ratify the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with individual republics. These two documents will be prepared and signed in the very near future. And from those who seized and hold power in Kyiv, we demand an immediate cessation of hostilities.
“Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine. Announcing the decisions taken today, I am confident in the support of the citizens of Russia. Of all the patriotic forces of the country.”
ON UKRAINE MEMBERSHIP OF NATO
“If Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia.”
ON ORIGINS OF MODERN UKRAINE
“Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began immediately after the revolution of 1917…
“As a result of Bolshevik policy, Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect. This is fully confirmed by archive documents … And now grateful descendants have demolished monuments to Lenin in Ukraine. This is what they call decommunisation. Do you want decommunisation? Well, that suits us just fine. But it is unnecessary, as they say, to stop halfway. We are ready to show you what real decommunisation means for Ukraine.”
ON UKRAINIAN STATEHOOD
“Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”
ON BREAK-UP OF USSR
“Russia assumed obligations to repay the entire Soviet debt in return for the newly independent states giving up part of their foreign assets. In 1994, such agreements were reached with Ukraine, but they were not ratified by Ukraine…
“(Ukraine) preferred to act in such a way that in relations with Russia they had all the rights and advantages, but did not bear any obligations…
“From the very first steps they began to build their statehood on the denial of everything that unites us. They tried to distort the consciousness, the historical memory of millions of people, entire generations living in Ukraine.”
ON NATO’S 2008 MEMBERSHIP PROMISE TO UKRAINE AND GEORGIA
“Many European allies of the United States already perfectly understood all the risks of such a prospect, but were forced to come to terms with the will of their senior partner. The Americans simply used them to carry out a pronounced anti-Russian policy. A number of member states of the alliance are still very skeptical about the appearance of Ukraine in NATO. At the same time, we are receiving a signal from some European capitals, saying what are you worried about, this will not happen literally tomorrow. Yes, in fact, our American partners are also talking about this. Well, we answer, if not tomorrow, so the day after tomorrow. What does this change in a historical perspective? Basically, nothing. Moreover, we know the position and words of the U.S. leadership that active hostilities in eastern Ukraine do not exclude the possibility of this country joining NATO if it can meet the criteria of the North Atlantic alliance and defeat corruption. At the same time, they try to convince us over and over again that NATO is a peace-loving and purely defensive alliance, saying that there are no threats to Russia. Again they propose that we take them at their word. But we know the real value of such words.”
ON THREATS TO RUSSIA
“We clearly understand that under such a scenario, the level of military threats to Russia will dramatically increase many times over. I pay special attention to the fact that the danger of a sudden strike against our country will increase many times over. Let me explain that U.S. strategic planning documents contain the possibility of a so-called preemptive strike against enemy missile systems. And who is the main enemy for the U.S. and NATO? We know that too. It’s Russia. In NATO documents, our country is officially and directly declared the main threat to North Atlantic security. And Ukraine will serve as a forward springboard for the strike. If our ancestors had heard about it, they probably would simply not have believed it. And today we don’t want to believe it, but it’s true.”
“They are trying to blackmail us again. They are threatening us again with sanctions, which, by the way, I think they will introduce anyway as Russia’s sovereignty strengthens and the power of our armed forces grows. And a pretext for another sanctions attack will always be found or fabricated. Regardless of the situation in Ukraine. There is only one goal – to restrain the development of Russia. And they will do it, as they did before. Even without any formal pretext at all. Just because we exist, and we will never compromise our sovereignty, national interests and our values. I want to say clearly and directly that in the current situation, when our proposals for an equal dialogue on fundamental issues have actually remained unanswered by the United States and NATO, when the level of threats to our country is increasing significantly, Russia has every right to take retaliatory measures to ensure its own security. That is exactly what we will do.”
How did we get to this point?
Let’s review the bidding. In December 2019, Joey SoftServe and Ukraine President Zelensky had a telephone call. The Associated Press reported that Biden had leaned on Zelensky to make territorial concessions to Russia during that call.
Administration officials have suggested that the U.S. will press Ukraine to formally cede a measure of autonomy within its eastern Donbas region, which is now under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists who rose up against Kyiv in 2014.
Euronews confirmed this reporting. This opening move by Biden confirmed for Putin and Europe that the United States doesn’t see Ukrainian territorial integrity as a US security goal.
In a unique action of political courage and foresight, on January 13, the Senate entertained a bill to impose sanctions on the Russian Nord Stream 2 project to send a message to Putin that his adventurism would not be tolerated. Egged on by the White House, Senate Democrats killed the bill. No other attempt to sanction Russia has been introduced by Chuck Schumer or any Democrat.
On January 19, Biden publicly signaled that his junta would be okay with some Russian movement into Ukrainian territory.
It’s not clear whether those differences could be affected by Biden’s suggestion, during a marathon news conference on Wednesday, that the severe economic and political retaliation Western nations have threatened would not occur if Russia took some kind of military action that fell short of a large-scale invasion.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does,” Biden said. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera, but if they actually do what they are capable of doing with the force they’ve massed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.”
Meanwhile, US media has been carrying improbable story after improbable story (The Washington Post Throws Shade on a Major CNN ‘Scoop’ About Intercepted Russian Communications and Rightfully So) while Blinken and Biden and others are continuing to predict an immediate invasion.
Just two days ago, President Zelensky indicated that he was less than excited about how Biden was “helping” him.
Zelensky, too, urged Western leaders to spend less time warning Kyiv about the number of Russian troops on Ukraine’s doorstep, and to instead break their “silence” about how their nations planned to respond. Speaking to CNN in Munich, Zelensky called on the United States and Europe to articulate what sanctions they would impose on Russia, to serve as a deterrent.
“We don’t need your sanctions after the bombardment will happen and after our country will be fired at, or after we will have no borders and after we will have no economy or part of our country will be occupied,” Zelensky said. “Why would we need those sanctions then?”
But the Biden administration has been reluctant to articulate its planned targets with such specificity. The administration has hinted that sanctions would target at least some of Russia’s larger state-owned banks; restricting Russian exports also remains a potential tool. Meanwhile, Congress’s attempts to articulate the gamut of measures via legislation effectively ran aground this past week over a dispute between the parties about what sanctions ought to be imposed immediately, as opposed to in the event of an invasion.
Over the weekend, a security conference was held in Munich on the Ukraine “crisis.” For reasons we can only speculate, Joe Biden elected to stay home and send loudmouth, cackling naif Kamala Harris to represent US interests. This, by itself, should be grounds for impeachment and removal of Biden when the GOP takes over Congress. As the president doesn’t need to be in office to impeach and remove him from office, we can do this to Biden even if we have to reenact King Charles II dealing with the Regicides.
The Biden junta’s response has been singularly toothless, considering they admit they anticipated Putin’s move.
We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately. President Biden will soon issue an Executive Order that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine. This E.O. will also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine. The Departments of State and Treasury will have additional details shortly. We will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.
To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine.
We are continuing to closely consult with Allies and partners, including Ukraine, on next steps and on Russia’s ongoing escalation along the border with Ukraine.
Why wasn’t the executive order drafted and ready to sign if they anticipated the move? Beyond that, it is useless. There are probably close to zero US companies and persons with direct trade, finance, or investment in Donetsk and Luhansk. The sanctions are not secondary sanctions, that is, roping in companies that deal with companies with interests in Eastern Ukraine, so US banks can continue to work with Russian banks heavily involved in that area. This, alone, shows the sanctions are just not serious. In the last paragraph, it won’t be lost to the Russians that Ukraine is almost mentioned as an afterthought rather than the primary aggrieved party.
As it stands right now, Putin has run the table. He can move troops into Donetsk and Luhansk, should he wish, because he has recognized them as autonomous. No matter how flimsy this looks to the foreign policy establishment, those would be the people who screwed the pooch here in the first place; it will be plausible to most of the world. No sanctions will be imposed on him. And he’s set the predicate for rolling back NATO from Georgia (the country not the state for the benefit of the assclowns at Media Matters) and the Baltic States
What we have just experienced was one of two things. Either Putin punked Joe Biden and left all the world to gape in amazement at the ease and audacity of the act, or he worked hand-in-glove with Biden and Anthony Blinken to carve up Ukraine at virtually no cost to Putin–sort of reminiscent of how Poland was dismembered in 1939. Either way, US credibility suffered the same damage and Putin was able to show that Joe Biden is just not up to the task of responding to challenges. What happens over the next few years will be ugly.