I’ve long marveled at the capacity of the Russians to play the Long Game. This includes the ability to provoke at the right point, absorb painful setbacks, feign defeat and then come roaring back consolidating their gains on the geostrategic battlefield.
Syria is one such battlefield, Ukraine is another. First, let us consider the consolidation of the eastern Ukraine by the Russians.
Oh, you haven’t heard? While no one was looking, Vladimir Putin got the eastern part of that country. It’s a fait accompli and the Crimea is no longer landlocked by the Kievan junta. (Many thanks to LewRockwell.com, sputniknews.com, Zerohedge.com and The Vineyard of the Saker. All excellent websites.)
There were no parades, no proclamations, no announcements. But yet it was done.
And how was it done? Several weeks ago, the Russian Federation recognized several documents that were put out by Donbass separatists. In a nutshell, all identification documents held by the people of that part of Ukraine would be sufficient for travel to and from (and within Russia). Just like my Oklahoma driver’s licence allows me to fly to Hawaii and to fly (or sail) from Honolulu to Maui.
It gets better. All industry in the East is now nationalized. This means that Hunter Biden won’t be able to drill for shale oil there. The Kiev government has closed down the border from the separatist regions, effectively recognizing that line as the real border. What this means is that the new border between Ukraine and Russia has now shifted several hundred miles to the West (of Russia). All land within that border is now “Novorossiya”. Perhaps most important of all, the Russian ruble is now the only legal currency there. It goes without saying that all taxes on all industry in Novorossiya will now go to Moscow, not Kiev.
Petro Poroshenko, the President of the Ukrainian state (put in through a Neocon coup it should be remembered), is not pleased. He personally complained to Vice President Mike Pence who for his part promised “to hold Russian to account” but nobody is going to hold their breath. We’ll discuss more of what that means below but for now, the Anglosphere is not taking Poroshenko’s concerns seriously. For proof, we can consider the fact that Boris Johnson, the British foreign minister, who was recently in Kiev, “was focusing exclusively on the upcoming Eurovision competition, and not on the dramatic developments taking place in the southeast”.
And lest anyone think otherwise, they are dramatic. As noted above, “Novorossiya” is for all intents and purposes an integral part of the Russian Federation.
Even if the Kievan junta doesn’t officially recognize the new de facto border, the idea that it could mount a military offensive against the separatists is now out of the question. For one, it doesn’t have the resources or the manpower to reclaim those areas. Second, no one in Kiev who’s in their right minds wants to provoke Putin. Third, the entire Ukrainian economy is a basket case. The southeastern regions are in just as bad a shape. Finally, there is no way that the President Trump is on board with spilling American blood and spending American treasure for a country right on Russia’s doorstep. Ain’t gonna happen. Even if (through some miracle) Kiev were take them back , they would be saddled with an even worse financial situation, this one with the added irritant of having to control a surly, violent, pro-Russian population.
But this is where it gets especially delicious: Vladimir Putin doesn’t want anybody to officially recognize the separatists regions as an integral part of Russia –at least not yet. Why? Because as long as part of Ukraine is “occupied” the rest of Ukraine cannot join NATO. This is for the same reason that Putin cleaved off parts of Georgia after their provocation of Russia back in 2008. According to the NATO charter, no country can join it if there are irredentist claims against it or if any part of its land is in secession. (Hear that California: now’s your chance!)
So how can we state with a great deal of confidence that Pence was merely lending an ear to Poroshenko? How do we know that he didn’t rush back to Washington with baited breath and immediately start laying plans for the next Operation Barbarossa? Good question. For that, we must look further south, to Syria.
Though Syria is far from pacified, the fact remains that Russia is calling all the shots there. According to gulfnews.com, the Russians are “openly working with the Kurds to obstruct Erdogan’s buffer-zone”.
A little back-story: six months ago, both Putin and Turkish President Erdogan had agreed in principle to “an endgame” when they met in St Petersburg. A careful arrangement was constructed in which each player (Russia and Turkey) would agree to turn a blind eye while each country’s military created certain buffer zones. Assad would remain as president of a rump Syrian state and Turkey would have a Turkish-controlled (and Kurdish-free) buffer zone in which it could repatriate the 2.3 million Syrian refugees currently living on Turkish soil. It was actually working quite well as long as both parties held to their side of the bargain.
Unfortunately, nobody expected the election of Trump last November. With the new American President, Erdogan saw a way out of the bargain in that he thought that he could bend Trump to his side. To that end, he started marching on territory that was to be part of Russia’s sphere of influence.
Unfortunately for Erdogan, his assessment of Trump proved to be premature. Russia struck back by “hammering out an agreement with the Manbij Military Council, a branch the [Syrian Defense Forces], whereby the Kurdish militia would hand over control of several villages west of Manjib to the Syrian Army”. In effect, this nullified the Turkish sphere of influence significantly. More importantly, Putin was now openly working with the Kurds. This of course is bad news for Turkey in that the much-feared Kurdish Question has now reared its head. (A full one-quarter of the Turkish population is actually Kurdish and their incipient nationalism has long been smothered by the Turks.)
The bad news for Turkey didn’t stop there. In late February, the CIA met with the “moderate” Syrian rebels giving them an ultimatum to “unite or else”. This meant that the writing was on the wall for them. By most accounts, it is now clear that the US is no longer going to bankroll the Syrian rebels. It’s all over but the shouting. Besides, the US is laying plans to attack ISIS and those aren’t going to come to completion without Putin’s support.
As for Erdogan, he spoke personally to Trump on the telephone “asking for US cover to prevent Kurdish advances on Al Raqqa…[n]ot only did Trump refuse to commit, but provided the SDF, at their request, with anti-tank weapons, mine detectors and other military equipment.” In other words, Trump did the exact opposite of what Erdogan wished. This was nothing less than a slap in the face.
Therefore the endgame is no longer between Erdogan and Putin in regards to Syria but between Trump and Putin. And Trump appears to have thrown in his lot with Putin and Assad. Given such a scenario, it is extremely doubtful that the US will make any noises regarding the cleavage of the Ukrainian state by Russia. And so the EU along with the rest of NATO, will have “deal with it”.