Above Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, with President Vladimir Putin in 2017. (The Kremlin)
It is absolutely necessary that Moscow holds the line for the sake of a new security order in Europe and a sustainably stable world order in our time.
“They must understand,” Sergei Lavrov said in one of his many public statements last week, “that the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.”
The Russian foreign minister has repeated this thought almost ad infinitum lately. He speaks, of course, of the Biden administration and the diplomats who bear its messages to others.
Here is another of Lavrov’s recent utterances:
“We are very patient… we have been harnessing [burdens] for a very long time, and now it’s time for us to go.”
I do not know quite what Lavrov means by “harnessing burdens.” I suspect it is a translation problem, and he said something closer to “bearing burdens.” But it is perfectly clear what he means when he says it is time for Russia to go: He means it is time to advance beyond the status quo, move on from post–Cold War security arrangements that have allowed NATO, in the name of the Atlantic alliance, to aggress toward the Russian Federation’s western borders more or less at will since the Soviet Union met its end.
All that Lavrov, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have said and done since the Ukraine crisis re-erupted late last year indicate one simple, hard-as-granite reality. In consequence of the many pointedly provocative moves the West, notably the U.S. and Britain, have made in Ukraine over the past year, our planet now has a brand-new red line etched upon it.
I hope Russia draws it in the deepest scarlet. As a diplomatic tactic, red lines are not very often advisable: They tend to paint the painter of the line into a corner. This one is absolutely necessary if we are to see a new security order in Europe. A new security order in Europe is essential if we are to achieve a sustainably, stable world order in our time.
We read here and there of comparisons between the Ukraine crisis and the crisis across the Taiwan Strait that the U.S. has similarly conjured of late. Russia is to Ukraine as China is to Taiwan, this sort of thing. Geopolitics is not so simple. But while this obscures some things, it illuminates others. Russia does not want to “invade” Ukraine any more than China wants to reassert its legitimate sovereignty over Taiwan by force.
Beijing’s red line on any suggestion of independence for Taiwan is in my view the severest red line any nation has drawn in our time. Only the dumbest of the dumb in Washington — on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon — refuse to understand this.
Beijing’s Line of Red
China’s red line is as old as the Kuomintang’s retreat to Taiwan after Mao took Beijing in October 1949. While it does not want a messy, internationally costly conflict across the Taiwan Strait now, which is wise, this is not to say the line on the sovereignty question is any the less red.
It is the same, but also different in the Ukraine case. The last thing the Kremlin wants is to assert sovereignty over the corrupt, crawling-with-Nazis scene in Ukraine. But Moscow has made it plain just in the last month or so that its red line is no more negotiable than China’s in the Taiwan case.
Let Russia’s be very red, then. Let it glow in the dark.
Why do I say this? It is simple: This latest round of the Ukraine crisis, which began when the U.S. cultivated and ultimately directed the 2014 coup in Kiev, makes it clear that Washington and London, with the Continent’s capitals ambivalently in tow, are not going to stop aggressing eastward to Russia’s frontier until they are made to stop — at a red line.
By appearances, it seems that U.S. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the covert ops people in Washington do not understand this. Biden, in his blurry speeches and public pronouncements, and Blinken, in his numerous diplomatic encounters, make it very plain they will never consider a declaration limiting NATO’s expansion, or any other circumscription of Ukraine’s future relationships with NATO and more broadly the Western alliance.
At the Blinken–Lavrov exchange in Geneva last Friday, our guitar-strumming secretary failed to give his counterpart written responses to Moscow’s request for formal commitments on Ukraine and the larger question of security arrangements in Eastern Europe. Instead, he promised Washington would deliver these sometime this week. We must await this.
Not hopefully, I must quickly add. I see little to no chance the U.S. and NATO, which also received Russia’s proposals in a separate draft agreement last month, will advance matters on any of these questions regardless of what Washington puts on paper this week.
Does this mean the U.S., the U.K. and NATO don’t see the red line? Don’t they understand, in the way Lavrov uses this word, that accepting the new red line “is the key to everything?”
Biden, true enough, is a step away from assisted living, if he does not already require it behind the White House’s windows. Blinken, equally so, is somewhere between a Schlemiel (the klutz who knocks over a bottle of wine at table) and a Schlimazel (he into whose lap the wine spills).
Biden, Blinken, and golf caddies such as NATO Secretary–General Jens Stoltenberg: It is impossible to accept that they do not know well what Moscow has just done, the depth and hue of line it has drawn. The only exception here is Boris Johnson. Britain’s latest Old Etonian prime minister, who seems to have stepped out of a Monty Python skit, may indeed be too stupid to know what time it is.
Now we can judge the current impasse between the Anglosphere portion of the West and Russia for what it is. Washington, London, and Brussels see the red line as clearly as anyone else and, resisting the reality of our moment, fight a rearguard action against what it means for Europe’s “security architecture.”
A Provocation Too Far
They know they cannot win a war against Russia on Ukrainian soil. And they will not fight one, accordingly, unless a grave mistake is made. As Scott Ritter just wrote in Consortium News, and Marshall Auerback earlier argued in The Scrum, Ukraine shapes up as a provocation too far for Washington, London and Brussels. It’s Kiev as Waterloo. It’s the end of Western expansionism.
Last week the U.S. delivered the first shipment of $200 million worth of weapons it has promised Ukraine. Britain is as we speak airlifting troops and materiel from depots in England and Scotland. And the White House is talking about deploying troops to Eastern Europe.
This is on top of all the other assistance these two nations have provided Kiev in recent years — since the 2014 coup, indeed. What about this, one may ask.
Here’s a time-lapse of all of the United Kingdom to #Ukraine weapons airlift flights from the morning of the 17th of January to this very minute on the 19th of January 2022. The UK has no intention of letting Ukraine fall. pic.twitter.com/p4DcNv25mt
— George Allison (@geoallison) January 19, 2022
My answer: This is about maintaining tension and danger at the highest possible pitch for as long as possible. This circumstance, if one steps back to consider it, meets all the West’s core objectives. The last time this happened, readers take note, it went on for four decades. It is a depressing thought but in all likelihood what we are in for. They don’t call it Cold War II for nothing.
There is — who could miss it? — the information war the West, the U.S. and Britain well in the lead, are running on the Ukraine crisis. For its breadth and relentlessness, it may well be unmatched. The thought that Russian troops on Russian soil are aggressing but American and British personnel in Ukraine are just doing the right thing has been with us for many months.
In the last week we have read that Russia has sent out-of-uniform soldiers or mercenaries into Ukraine, has intelligence operatives preparing a false-flag op against the people in Donbas it supports, and, as of Sunday, is getting ready to install a former legislator from the same party as the ousted Viktor Yanukovych as a puppet president in an elaborate coup operation of its own.
I will never quite get over how clumsy and rubbishy the propaganda issuing from Western intelligence agencies usually is.
The Info Op
This info op appears to serve three purposes. In no particular order, these are to blur causality so as to cast Russia as responsible for this crisis, to maintain public fear and ignorance in the West and to keep all options open in the very unlikely event war breaks out.
Think about this last: Ghost stories about Russian spooks readying to blow up power grids, communications towers and water supplies effectively licenses the madmen in Kiev or covert operatives from the West to spark a conflict and point all fingers at Moscow.
In the matter of causality, here is a paragraph from a Reuters piece published Monday afternoon:
“Russia denies planning an invasion. But, having engineered the crisis by surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south, Moscow is now citing the Western response as evidence to support its narrative that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.”
The first sentence of this paragraph is correct. Everything else in it is utterly false, perpendicular to the truth. It is essential to pay attention to these things: It is this kind of lying that allowed Cold War I to go into the history books as somehow the result of Russia’s malign intent – Russia, which had just lost 20 million to 27 million people and whose economy was a shambles.
Is there anything good to say about the Ukraine crisis as we enter another week of it? Not much, even if the West proves wise enough to stay clear of a war it cannot possibly win. But there are a few things to watch.
One, I hope Russia holds to its red line and in time succeeds in forcing a redrawing of the security map along its western border and into Europe. Two, so long as Biden–Blinken insist on a sanctions regime to end all sanctions regimes if Russia “invades” Ukraine, we will see increasing disunity in the Atlantic alliance. The more of this the better.
The Germans and French want no part of this Anglo–American circus, if you have not noticed. Germany, it is worth noting, refused Britain air rights for its weapons transports. Berlin and Paris may not be run by philosopher-kings, but a more independent Continent within the Western alliance is without question net positive, as argued previously in this space on numerous occasions.
A final thought in this connection. Among those be-all, end-all sanctions is one that would suspend Russia from the financial settlement system known as SWIFT. I read now that the U.S. is stepping back from this one because it would prompt Moscow and Beijing to accelerate plans already in motion to develop a system independent of SWIFT and not subject to Washington’s geopolitical whims.
For once they are getting smart down there inside the Beltway. That is exactly what it would do.
The coalescing of non–Western powers, far from least Russia and China, is a reality well beyond the course of the Ukraine crisis and this or that sanction. The relentless campaigns against the Chinese and Russians in the two-front Cold War these past few years have done a great deal to encourage unity between the two. This will not reverse under any circumstance.
Disunity in the West, unity in the non–West. It is wane and wax. Maybe it is red lines — Moscow’s, China’s — that make the difference between the one and the other.