Doctor and activist

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Category: Europe

What is Happening in Ukraine?

Chas Freeman   30 September 2023

Here is a long , comprehensive and credible analysis.
The many lessons of the Ukraine war - Pearls and Irritations

My talk, like the conflict in Ukraine, is a long and complicated one. It contradicts propaganda that has been very convincing. My talk will offend anyone committed to the official narrative. The way the American media have dealt with the Ukraine war brings to mind a comment by Mark Twain: “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.”

Remarks to the East Bay Citizens for Peace. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Visiting Scholar, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
The Barrington Library, Barrington, Rhode Island, 26 September 2023.

I want to speak to you tonight about Ukraine – what has happened to it and why, how it is likely to emerge from the ordeal to which great power rivalry has subjected it; and what we can learn from this. I do so with some trepidation and a warning to this audience. My talk, like the conflict in Ukraine, is a long and complicated one. It contradicts propaganda that has been very convincing. My talk will offend anyone committed to the official narrative. The way the American media have dealt with the Ukraine war brings to mind a comment by Mark Twain: “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.”

It is said that, in war, truth is the first casualty. War is typically accompanied by a fog of official lies. No such fog has ever been as thick as in the Ukraine war. While many hundreds of thousands of people have fought and died in Ukraine, the propaganda machines in Brussels, Kyiv, London, Moscow, and Washington have worked overtime to ensure that we take passionate sides, believe what we want to believe, and condemn anyone who questions the narrative we have internalised. No one not on the front lines has any real idea of what has been happening in this war. What we know is only what our governments and other supporters of the war want us to know. And they have developed the bad habit of inhaling their own propaganda, which guarantees delusional policies.

Every government that is a party to the Ukraine War – Kyiv, Moscow, Washington, and other NATO capitals – has been guilty of various degrees of self-deception and blundering misfeasance. The consequences for all have been dire. For Ukraine, they have been catastrophic. A radical rethinking of policy by all concerned is long overdue.

Whence and whither NATO?

First, some necessary background. NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) came into being to defend the European countries within the post-World War II American sphere of influence against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its satellite nations. NATO’s area of responsibility was the territory of its members in North America and Western Europe, but nowhere beyond that. The alliance helped maintain a balance of power and keep the peace in Europe during the four-plus decades of the Cold War. In 1991, however, the USSR dissolved, and the Cold War ended. That eliminated any credible threat to NATO members’ territory and raised this issue: if NATO was still the answer to something, what was the question?

The U.S. armed forces had no problem responding to that conundrum. They had compelling vested interests in the preservation of NATO.

  • NATO had created and sustained a post-World War II European role and presence for the U.S. military,
  • This justified a much larger U.S. force structure and many more highly desirable billets for flag officers [Generals and admirals] than would otherwise exist,
  • NATO enhanced the international stature of the American armed forces while fostering a unique U.S. competence in multinational alliance and coalition management, and
  • It offered tours of duty in Europe that made peacetime military service more attractive to U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

Then, too, the 20th century had appeared to underscore that U.S. security was inseparable from that of other north Atlantic countries. The existence of European empires ensured that wars among the great powers of Europe – the Napoleonic wars, World War I and World War II – soon morphed into world wars. NATO was how the United States dominated and managed the Euro-Atlantic region in the Cold War. Disbanding NATO or a U.S. withdrawal from it would, arguably, just free Europeans to renew their quarrelling and start yet another war that might not be confined to Europe.

So, NATO had to be kept in business. The obvious way to accomplish that was to find a new, non-European role for the organisation. NATO, it came to be said, had to go “out of area or out of business.” In other words, the alliance had to be repurposed to project military power beyond the territories of its Western European and North American member states.

In 1998, NATO went to war with Serbia, bombing it in 1999 to detach Kosovo from it. In 2001, in response to the ‘9/11’ terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, it joined the U.S. in occupying and attempting to pacify Afghanistan. [ Ukraine contributed troops to this NATO operation despite not being a member of the alliance.] In 2011, NATO fielded forces to engineer regime change in Libya.

The coup in Kyiv, Crimea, and the rebellion of Russian speaking Ukrainians

In 2014, after a well-prepared US-sponsored anti-Russian coup in Kyiv, Ukrainian ultranationalists banned the official use of Russian and other minority languages in their country and, at the same time, affirmed Ukraine’s intention to become part of NATO. [Reportedly, by 2014, various agencies of the U.S. government had committed a cumulative total of $5 billion or more to political subsidies and education in support of regime change in Ukraine]. Among other consequences, Ukrainian membership in NATO would place Russia’s 250-year-old naval base in the Crimean city of Sebastopol under NATO and hence U.S. control. Crimea was Russian-speaking and had several times voted not to be part of Ukraine. So, citing the precedent of NATO’S violent intervention to separate Kosovo from Serbia, Russia organised a referendum in Crimea that endorsed its reincorporation in the Russian Federation. The results were consistent with previous votes on the issue.

Meanwhile, in response to Ukraine’s banning of the use of Russian in government offices and education, predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the country’s Donbas region attempted to secede. Kyiv sent forces to suppress the rebellion. Moscow responded by backing Ukrainian Russian speakers’ demands for the minority rights guaranteed to them by both the pre-coup Ukrainian constitution and the principles of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). NATO backed Kyiv against Moscow. An escalating civil war among Ukrainians ensued. This soon evolved into an intensifying proxy war in Ukraine between the United States, NATO, and Russia.

Negotiations at Minsk, mediated by the OSCE with French and German support, brokered agreement between Kyiv and Moscow on a package of measures, including:

  • a ceasefire,
  • the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line,
  • the release of prisoners of war,
  • constitutional reform in Ukraine granting self-government to certain areas of Donbas, and
  • the restoration of Kyiv’s control of the rebel areas’ borders with Russia.

The United Nations Security Council endorsed these terms. They represented Moscow’s acceptance that Russian-speaking provinces in Ukraine would remain part of a united but federalised Ukraine, provided they enjoyed Québec-style linguistic autonomy. But, with U.S. support, Ukraine refused to carry out what it had agreed to. Years later, the French and Germans admitted that their mediation efforts at Minsk had been a ruse directed at gaining time to arm Kyiv against Moscow and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (like his predecessor in office, Petro Poroshenko) confessed that he had never planned to implement the accords.

Moscow and NATO enlargement

In 1990, in the context of German reunification, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and Russia’s abandonment of its politico-economic sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe, the West had several times somewhat slyly but solemnly promised not to fill the resulting strategic vacuum by expanding NATO into it. But as the 1990s proceeded, despite a lack of enthusiasm on the part of some other NATO members, the United States insisted on doing just that. NATO enlargement steadily erased the Eastern European cordon sanitaire of independent neutral states that successive governments in Moscow had considered essential to Russian security. As former members of the Warsaw Pact entered NATO, U.S. weaponry, troops, and bases appeared on their territory. In 2008, in a final move to extend the U.S. sphere of influence to Russia’s borders, Washington persuaded NATO to declare its intention to admit both Ukraine and Georgia as members.

The eastward deployment of U.S. forces placed ballistic missile defence launchers in both Romania and Poland. These were technically capable of rapid reconfiguration to mount short-range strikes on Moscow. Their deployment fuelled Russian fears of a decapitating U.S. surprise attack. If Ukraine entered NATO and the U.S. made comparable deployments there, Russia would have only about five minutes’ warning of a strike on Moscow. NATO’s role in detaching Kosovo from Serbia and in U.S. regime-change and pacification operations in Afghanistan and Libya as well as its support of anti-Russian forces in Ukraine, had convinced Moscow that it could no longer dismiss NATO as a purely defensive alliance.

As early as 1994, successive Russian governments began to warn the U.S. and NATO that continued NATO expansion – especially to Ukraine and Georgia – would compel a forceful response. Washington was aware of Russian determination to do this from multiple sources, including reports from its ambassadors in Moscow. In February 2007. Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, declared: “I think it is obvious that NATO expansion … represents a serious provocation … And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?” On February 1, 2008, Ambassador Bill Burns, now the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), warned in a telegram from Moscow that, on this subject Russians were united and serious. Burns felt so strongly about the consequences of NATO expansion into Ukraine that he gave his cable the subject line, “Nyet Means Nyet” [“No means no.”]

In April 2008, NATO nonetheless invited both Ukraine and Georgia to join it. Moscow protested that their “membership in the alliance is a huge strategic mistake which would have most serious consequences for pan-European security.” By August 2008, as if to underscore this point, when an emboldened Georgia sought to extend its rule to rebellious minority regions on the Russian border, Moscow went to war to consolidate their independence.

Civil and proxy war in Ukraine

Less than a day after of the US-engineered coup that installed an anti-Russian regime in Kyiv in 2014, Washington formally recognised the new regime. When Russia then annexed Crimea and civil war broke out with Ukraine’s Russian speakers, the United States sided with and armed the Ukrainian ultranationalists whose policies had alienated Crimea and provoked the Russian-speaking secessionists. The United States and NATO began a multi-billion-dollar effort to reorganise, retrain, and re-equip Kyiv’s armed forces. The avowed purpose was to enable Kyiv to reconquer the Donbas and eventually Crimea. Ukraine’s regular army was then decrepit. Kyiv’s initial attacks on Russian speakers in the Ukrainian eastern and southern regions were largely conducted by ultranationalist militias. By 2015, Russian soldiers were fighting alongside the Donbas rebels. An undeclared US/NATO proxy war with Russia had begun.

[Prior to the U.S. and NATO decision to aid Ukraine against its Russian-backed separatists, these militias were commonly identified as neo-Nazi in the Western media.  They professed to be followers of Stepan Bandera – who has now been adopted as a revered national figure by Kyiv.  Bandera was famous for his extreme Ukrainian nationalism, fascism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and violence.  He and his followers were allegedly responsible for massacring 50,000 – 100,000 Poles and for collaborating with the Nazis in the murder of an even larger number of Jews.  After the US/NATO proxy war broke out, despite their continuing display of Nazi regalia and symbols on their uniforms and their ties to neo-Nazi groups in other countries, Western media ceased to characterize these militias as neo-Nazis.]

Over the course of the next eight years – during which the Ukrainian civil war continued – Kyiv built a NATO-trained army of 700,000 – not counting one million reserves – and hardened it in battle with Russian-supported separatists. Ukrainian regulars numbered only slightly less than Russia’s then 830,000 active-duty military personnel. In eight years, Ukraine had acquired a larger force than any NATO member other than the United States or Türkiye, outnumbering the armed forces of Britain, France, and Germany combined. Not surprisingly, Russia saw this as a threat.

Meanwhile, as tensions with Russia escalated, in early 2019 the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty, which had barred ground-launched missiles with ranges of up to 3,420 miles from deployment in Europe. Russia condemned this as a “destructive” act that would stoke security risks. Despite ongoing misgivings on the part of some other NATO members, at American insistence, NATO continued periodically to reiterate its offer to incorporate Ukraine as a member, doing so once more on September 1, 2021. By that time, after billions of dollars of U.S. training and arms transfers, Kyiv judged it was finally ready to crush its Russian speakers’ rebellion and their Russian allies. As 2021 ended, Ukraine stepped up pressure on the Donbas separatists and deployed forces to mount a major offensive against them timed for early 2022.

Moscow demands negotiations

At about the same time, in mid-December 2021, twenty-eight years after Moscow’s first warning to Washington, Vladimir Putin issued a formal demand for written security guarantees to reduce the apparent threats to Russia from NATO enlargement by restoring Ukrainian neutrality, banning the stationing of U.S. forces on Russia’s borders, and reinstating limits on the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe. The Russian foreign ministry then presented a draft treaty to Washington incorporating these terms – which echoed similar demands put forward by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. At the same time, apparently both to underscore Moscow’s seriousness and to counter Kyiv’s planned offensive against the Donbas secessionists, Russia massed troops along its borders with Ukraine.

On January 26, 2022, the U.S. formally responded that neither it nor NATO would agree to negotiate Ukrainian neutrality or other such issues with Russia. A few days later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laid out his understanding of the American and NATO positions at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council as follows:

“[Our] Western colleagues are not prepared to take up our major proposals, primarily those on NATO’s eastward non-expansion. This demand was rejected with reference to the bloc’s so-called open-door policy and the freedom of each state to choose its own way of ensuring security. Neither the United States, nor [NATO] … proposed an alternative to this key provision.”

Moscow wanted negotiations but, in their absence, was prepared to go to war to remove the threats to which it objected. Washington knew this when it rejected talks with Moscow. The American refusal to talk was an unambiguous decision to accept the risk of war rather than explore any compromise or accommodation with Russia. U.S. and allied intelligence services immediately began releasing information purporting to describe impending Russian military operations[5] in what they described as an attempt to deter them. [The “special military operation’ mounted by Russia bore little resemblance to the specific predictions put forward in this information warfare, which appears have been designed as much to rally support for Ukraine and boost its morale as to deter Russia.]

Russia invades Ukraine

In mid-February, fighting between Ukrainian army and secessionist forces in Donbas intensified, with OSCE observers reporting a rapid rise in ceasefire violations by both sides but with most allegedly initiated by Kyiv. Perhaps disingenuously, the Donbas secessionists appealed to Moscow to protect them and ordered a general evacuation of civilians to safe havens in Russia. On February 21, Russian President Putin recognised the independence of the two Donbas “people’s republics” and ordered Russian forces to secure them against Ukrainian attacks.

On February 24, 2022, in an address to the Russian nation, Putin declared that “Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine” and announced that he had ordered what he called a “special military operation” “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide . . . for the last eight years” and to “strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.” He added that:

“It is a fact that over the past 30 years we have been patiently trying to come to an agreement with the leading NATO countries regarding the principles of equal and indivisible security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we invariably faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts at pressure and blackmail, while the North Atlantic alliance continued to expand despite our protests and concerns. Its military machine is moving and, as I said, is approaching our very border.”

The official narrative put forward in U.S. and NATO information warfare against Russia contradicts every element of this statement by President Putin, but the record affirms it.

The run-up to the U.S.-Russian proxy war in Ukraine

In the post-Soviet era:

  • NATO – the U.S. sphere of influence and military presence in Europe – constantly expanded toward Russia’s borders despite escalating Russian warnings and protests.
  • By contrast, Moscow was in constant retreat. It had abandoned its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. It made no effort to reestablish it.
  • Moscow repeatedly warned that NATO enlargement and U.S. forward deployment of forces that might threaten it, especially from Ukraine, were a grave threat to it to which it would feel compelled to react.
  • Given NATO’s transformation from a purely defensive, Europe-focused alliance into an instrument for power projection in support of U.S. regime-change and other military operations beyond its members’ borders, Moscow had a reasonable basis for concern that Ukrainian membership in NATO would pose an active threat to its security. This threat was underscored by U.S. withdrawal from the treaty that had prevented it from stationing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, including in Ukraine.
  • Moscow consistently demanded neutrality for Ukraine. Neutrality would make Ukraine both a buffer and bridge between itself and the rest of Europe, rather than part of Russia or a platform for Russian power projection against the rest of Europe.
  • By contrast, the United States sought to make Ukraine a member of NATO – part of its sphere of influence – and a platform for the deployment of U.S. military power against Russia.
  • Moscow agreed at Minsk to respect continued Ukrainian sovereignty in the Donbas region, provided the rights of Russian speakers there were guaranteed. But, with support from the U.S. and NATO, Ukraine declined to implement the Minsk agreement and redoubled its effort to subjugate the Donbas.
  • When Washington refused to hear the Russian case for mutual accommodation in Europe and instead insisted on Ukrainian membership in NATO, the U.S. government knew that this would produce a Russian military response. In fact, Washington publicly predicted this.
  • Early in the resulting war, when third-party mediation achieved a draft peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, the West – represented by the British – insisted that Ukraine repudiate it.

This sad incident brings me to the war aims of the participants in the war.

War aims in Ukraine

Kyiv has not wavered from its objectives of:

  • Forging a purely Ukrainian national identity from which Russian and other languages, cultures, and religious authorities are excluded.
  • Subjugating the Russian speakers who rebelled in response to this attempt at their forced assimilation.
  • Obtaining U.S. and NATO protection and integrating with the EU.
  • Reconquering the Russian-speaking territories Moscow has illegally annexed from Ukraine, including both the Donbas oblasts and Crimea.

Moscow clearly stated its maximum and minimum objectives in the draft treaty that it presented to Washington on December 17, 2021. Core Russian interests have been and remain:

  • (1) to deny Ukraine to the American sphere of influence that has engulfed the rest of Eastern Europe by compelling Ukraine to affirm neutrality between the United States / NATO and Russia, and
  • (2) to protect and ensure the basic rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine.

Washington’s objectives – which NATO has dutifully adopted as its own – have been much more open-ended and unspecific. As National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan put it in June 2022,

“We have . . . refrained from laying out what we see as an endgame. . .. We have been focused on what we can do today, tomorrow, next week to strengthen the Ukrainians’ hand to the maximum extent possible, first on the battlefield and then ultimately at the negotiating table.”

Inasmuch as the first principle of warfare is to establish realistic objectives, a strategy to achieve them, and a plan for war termination, this is a perfect description of how to brew up a “forever war.” As Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen attest, this has become the established American way of war. No clear objectives, no plan to achieve them, and no concept of how to end the war, on what terms, and with whom.

The most cogent statement of U.S. objectives in this war was offered by President Biden as it began. He said his goal with Russia was to “sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come” – whatever it takes. At no point has the United States government or NATO declared that the protection of Ukraine or Ukrainians, as opposed to exploiting their bravery to take down Russia, is the central American objective. In April 2022, Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin reiterated that U.S. aid to Ukraine was intended to weaken and isolate Russia and thereby deprive it of any credible capacity to make war in future. Quite a few American politicians and pundits have extolled the benefits to having Ukrainians rather than Americans sacrifice their lives for this purpose. Some have gone farther and advocated the breakup of the Russian Federation as a war aim. If you are Russian, you don’t have to be paranoid to see such threats as existential. Russian President Putin assesses U.S. war aims as directed at humbling the Russian Federation strategically and, if possible, overthrowing its government, and dismembering it. The United States has not disputed this assessment.

Peace set aside

In mid-March 2022, the government of Turkey and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mediated between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, who tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement. The agreement provided that Russia would withdraw to its position on February 23, when it controlled part of the Donbas region and all of Crimea, and in exchange, Ukraine would promise not to seek NATO membership and instead receive security guarantees from a number of countries. A meeting between Russian President Putin and Ukrainian President Zelensky was in the process of being arranged to finalise this agreement, which the negotiators had initialed ad referendum – meaning subject to the approval of their superiors.

On March 28, 2022. President Zelensky publicly affirmed that Ukraine was ready for neutrality combined with security guarantees as part of a peace agreement with Russia. But on April 9 British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv. During this visit, he reportedly urged Zelensky not to meet Putin because (1) Putin was a war criminal and weaker than he seemed. He should and could be crushed rather than accommodated; and (2) even if Ukraine was ready to end the war, NATO was not.

Zelensky’s proposed meeting with Putin was then called off. Putin declared that talks with Ukraine had come to a dead end. Zelensky explained that “Moscow would like to have one treaty that would resolve all the issues. However, not everyone sees themselves at the table with Russia. For them, security guarantees for Ukraine is one issue, and the agreement with the Russian Federation is another issue.” This marked the end of bilateral Russian-Ukrainian negotiations and thus of any prospect of a resolution of the conflict anywhere but on the battlefield.

What happened and who’s winning what

This war was born in and has been continued due to miscalculations by all sides. NATO expansion was legal but predictably provocative. Russia’s response was entirely predictable, if illegal, and has proven very costly to it. Ukraine’s de facto military integration into NATO has resulted in its devastation.

The United States calculated that Russian threats to go to war over Ukrainian neutrality were bluffs that might be deterred by outlining and denigrating Russian plans and intentions as Washington understood them. Russia assumed that the United States would prefer negotiations to war and would wish to avoid the redivision of Europe into hostile blocs. Ukrainians counted on the West protecting their country. When Russian performance in the first months of the war proved lackluster, the West concluded that Ukraine could defeat it. None of these calculations have proved correct.

Nevertheless, official propaganda, amplified by subservient mainstream and social media, has convinced most in the West that rejecting negotiations on NATO expansion and encouraging Ukraine to fight Russia is somehow “pro-Ukrainian.” Sympathy for the Ukrainian war effort is entirely understandable, but, as the Vietnam War should have taught us, democracies lose when cheerleading replaces objectivity in reporting and governments prefer their own propaganda to the truth of what is happening on the battleground.

The only way you can judge the success or failure of policies is by reference to the objectives they were designed to achieve. So, how are the participants in the Ukraine War doing in terms of achieving their objectives?

Let’s start with Ukraine.

From 2014 to 2022, the civil war in Donbas took nearly 15,000 lives. How many have been killed in action since the US/NATO-Russian proxy war began in February 2022 is unknown but is certainly in the several hundreds of thousands. Casualty numbers have been concealed by unprecedentedly intense information warfare. The only information in the West about the dead and wounded has been propaganda from Kyiv claiming vast numbers of Russian dead while revealing nothing at all about Ukrainian casualties. It is known, however, that ten percent of Ukrainians are now involved with the armed forces and 78 percent have relatives or friends who have been killed or wounded. An estimated 50,000 Ukrainians are now amputees. (By comparison, only 41,000 Britons had to have amputations in World War I, when the procedure was often the only one available to prevent death. Fewer than 2,000 U.S. veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions had amputations.) Most observers believe that Ukrainian forces have taken much heavier losses than their Russian enemies and that hundreds of thousands of them have given their lives in their country’s defence and efforts to retake territory occupied by the Russians.

When the war began, Ukraine had a population of about thirty-one million. The country has since lost at least one-third of its people. Over six million have taken refuge in the West. Two million more have left for Russia. Another eight million Ukrainians have been driven from their homes but remain in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s infrastructure, industries, and cities have been devastated and its economy destroyed. As is usual in wars, corruption – long a prominent feature of Ukrainian politics – has been rampant. Ukraine’s nascent democracy is no more, with all opposition parties, uncontrolled media outlets, and dissent outlawed.

On the other hand, Russian aggression has united Ukrainians, including many who are Russian speaking, to an extent never seen before. Moscow has thereby inadvertently reinforced the separate Ukrainian identity that both Russian mythology and President Putin have sought to deny. What Ukraine has lost in territory it has gained in patriotic cohesion based on passionate opposition to Moscow.

The flip side of this is that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking separatists have also had their Russian identity reinforced. Ukrainian refugees in Russia are the hardest of hardliners demanding retribution from Kyiv. There is now little to no possibility of Russian speakers accepting a status in a united Ukraine, as would have been the case under the Minsk Accords. And, with the failure of Ukraine’s “counteroffensive,” it is very unlikely that Donbas or Crimea will ever return to Ukrainian sovereignty. As the war continues, Ukraine may well lose still more territory, including its access to the Black Sea. What has been lost on the battlefield and in the hearts of the people cannot be regained at the negotiating table. Ukraine will emerge from this war maimed, crippled, and much reduced in both territory and population.

Finally, there is now no realistic prospect of Ukrainian membership in NATO. As NSC Advisor Sullivan has said, “everyone needs to look squarely at the fact” that allowing Ukraine to join NATO at this point “means war with Russia.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has stated that the prerequisite for Ukrainian membership in NATO is a peace treaty between it and Russia. No such treaty is anywhere in sight. In continuing to insist that Ukraine will become a NATO member once the war is concluded, the West has perversely incentivised Russia not to agree to end the war. But, in the end, Ukraine will have to make its peace with Russia, almost certainly largely on Russian terms.

Whatever else the war may be achieving, it has not been good for Ukraine. Ukraine’s bargaining position vis-à-vis Russia has been greatly weakened. But then, Kyiv’s fate has always been an afterthought in U.S. policy circles. Washington has instead sought to exploit Ukrainian courage to thrash Russia, reinvigorate NATO, and reinforce U.S. primacy in Europe. And it has not spent any time at all thinking about how to restore peace to Europe.

How about Russia?

Has it succeeded in expelling American influence from Ukraine, forced Kyiv to declare neutrality, or reinstating the rights of Russian speakers in Ukraine? Clearly not.

For now, at least, Ukraine has become a complete dependency of the United States and its NATO allies. Kyiv is an embittered, long-term antagonist of Moscow. Kyiv clings to its ambition to join NATO. Russians in Ukraine are the targets of the local version of cancel culture. Whatever the outcome of the war, mutual animosity has erased the Russian myth of Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood based on a common origin in Kievan Rus. Russia has had to abandon three centuries of efforts to identify with Europe and instead pivot to China, India, the Islamic world, and Africa. Reconciliation with a seriously alienated European Union will not come easily, if at all. Russia may not have lost on the battlefield or been weakened or strategically isolated, but it has incurred huge opportunity costs.

Then, too, NATO has expanded to include Finland and Sweden. This does not change the military balance in Europe. Western portrayal of Russia as inherently predatory notwithstanding, Moscow has had neither the desire nor the capability to attack either of these two formerly very Western-aligned and formidably armed but nominally “neutral” states. Nor does either Finland or Sweden have any intention of joining an unprovoked attack on Russia. But their decision to join NATO is politically wounding for Moscow.

Since the West shows no willingness to accommodate Russian security concerns, if Moscow is to achieve its goals, it now has no apparent alternative to battling on. As it does so, it is stimulating European determination to meet previously ignored NATO targets for defence spending and to acquire self-reliant military capabilities directed at countering Russia independently of those of the United States. Poland is reemerging as a powerful hostile force on Russia’s borders. These trends are changing the European military balance to Moscow’s long-term disadvantage.

What about the United States?

In 2022 alone the United States approved $113 billion in aid to Ukraine. The Russian defence budget then was then less than half of that — $54 billion. It has since roughly doubled. Russian defence industries have been revitalised. Some now produce more weaponry in a month than they previously did in a year. Russia’s autarkic economy has weathered 18 months of all-out war against it from both the U.S. and the EU. It just overtook Germany to become the fifth wealthiest economy in the world and the largest in Europe in terms of purchasing power parity. Despite repeated Western claims that Russia was running out of ammunition and losing the war of attrition in Ukraine, it has not, while the West has. Ukrainian bravery, which has been hugely impressive, has been no match for Russian firepower.

Meanwhile, the alleged Russian threat to the West, once a powerful argument for NATO unity, has lost credibility. Russia’s armed forces have proven unable to conquer Ukraine, still less the rest of Europe. But the war has taught Russia how to counter and overcome much of the most advanced weaponry of the United States and other Western countries.

Before the United States and NATO rejected negotiations, Russia was prepared to accept a neutral and federalised Ukraine. In the opening phase of its invasion of Ukraine, Russia reaffirmed this willingness in a draft peace treaty with Ukraine which the United States and NATO blocked Kyiv from signing. Western diplomatic intransigence has failed to persuade Moscow to accommodate Ukrainian nationalism or accept Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO and the American sphere of influence in Europe. The proxy war seems instead to have convinced Moscow that it must gut Ukraine, keep the Ukrainian territories it has illegally annexed, and likely add more, thus ensuring that Ukraine is a dysfunctional state unable either to join NATO or to fulfil the ultranationalist, anti-Russian vision of its World War II neo-Nazi hero, Stepan Bandera.

The war has led to the superficial unity of NATO but there are obvious fissures among members. The sanctions imposed on Russia have done heavy damage to European economies. Without Russian energy supplies, some European industries are no longer internationally competitive. As NATO’s recent summit at Vilnius showed, member countries differ on the desirability of admitting Ukraine. NATO unity seems unlikely to outlast the war. These realities help explain why most of America’s European partners want to end the war as soon as possible.

The Ukraine War has clearly put paid to the post-Soviet era in Europe, but it has not made Europe in any respect more secure. It has not enhanced America’s international reputation or consolidated U.S. primacy. The war has instead accelerated the emergence of a post-American multi-polar world order. One feature of this is an anti-American axis between Russia and China.

To weaken Russia, the United States has resorted to unprecedentedly intrusive unilateral sanctions, including secondary sanctions targeting normal arms-length commercial activity that does not involve a U.S. nexus and is legal in the jurisdictions of the transacting parties. Washington has been actively blocking trade between countries that have nothing to do with Ukraine or the war there because they won’t jump on the U.S. bandwagon. As a result, much of the world is now engaged in pursuit of financial and supply-chain linkages that are independent of U.S. control. This includes intensified international efforts to end dollar hegemony, which is the basis for U.S. global primacy. Should these efforts succeed, the United States will no longer be able to run the trade and balance of payments deficits that sustain its current standard of living and status as the most powerful society on the planet.

Washington’s use of political and economic pressure to compel other countries to conform to its anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies has clearly backfired. It has encouraged even former U.S. client states to search for ways to avoid entanglement in future American conflicts and proxy wars they do not support, like that in Ukraine. To this end, they are abandoning exclusive reliance on the United States and forging ties to multiple economic and politico-military partners. Far from isolating Russia or China, America’s coercive diplomacy has helped both Moscow and Beijing to enhance relationships in Africa, Asia, and Latin America that reduce U.S. influence in favour of their own.

To summarise:

In short, U.S. policy has resulted in great suffering in Ukraine and escalating defence budgets here and in Europe but has failed to weaken or isolate Russia. More of the same will not accomplish either of these oft-stated American objectives. Russia has been educated in how to combat American weapons systems and has developed effective counters to them. It has been militarily strengthened, not weakened. It has been reoriented and freed from Western influence, not isolated.

If the purpose of war is to establish a better peace, this war is not doing that. Ukraine is being eviscerated on the altar of Russophobia. At this point, no one can confidently predict how much of Ukraine or how many Ukrainians will be left when the fighting stops or when and how to stop it. Kyiv just failed to meet more than a fraction of its recruitment goals. Combating Russia to the last Ukrainian was always an odious strategy. But when NATO is about to run out of Ukrainians, it is not just cynical; it is no longer a viable option.

Lessons to be learned from the Ukraine war

What can we learn from this debacle? It has provided many unwelcome reminders of the basic principles of statecraft.

  • Wars do not decide who is right. They determine who is left.
  • The best way to avoid war is to reduce or eliminate the apprehensions and grievances that cause it.
  • When you refuse to hear, let alone address an aggrieved party’s case for adjustments in your policies toward it, you risk a violent reaction from it.
  • No one should enter a war without realistic objectives, a strategy to achieve them, and a plan for war termination.
  • Self-righteousness and bravery are no substitutes for military mass, firepower, and stamina.
  • In the end, wars are won and lost on the battlefield, not with propaganda inspired by and directed at reinforcing wishful thinking.
  • What has been lost on the battlefield can seldom, if ever, be recovered at the negotiating table.
  • When wars cannot be won, it is usually better to seek terms by which to end them than to reinforce strategic failure.

It is time to prioritise saving as much as possible of Ukraine. This war has become existential for it. Ukraine needs diplomatic backing to craft a peace with Russia if its military sacrifices are not to have been in vain. It is being destroyed. It must be rebuilt. The key to preserving Ukraine is to empower and back Kyiv to end the war on the best terms it can obtain, to facilitate the return of its refugees, and to use the EU accession process to advance liberal reforms and institute clean government in a neutral Ukraine.

Unfortunately, as things stand, both Moscow and Washington seem determined to persist in Ukraine’s ongoing destruction. But whatever the outcome of the war, Kyiv and Moscow will eventually have to find a basis for coexistence. Washington needs to support Kyiv in challenging Russia to recognise both the wisdom and the necessity of respect for Ukrainian neutrality and territorial integrity.

Finally, this war should provoke some sober rethinking here, in Moscow, and by NATO of the consequences of diplomacy-free, militarised foreign policy. Had the United States agreed to talk with Moscow, even if it had continued to reject much of what Moscow demanded, Russia would not have invaded Ukraine as it did. Had the West not intervened to prevent Ukraine from ratifying the treaty others helped it agree with Russia at the outset of the war, Ukraine would now be intact and at peace.

This war did not need to take place. Every party to it has lost far more than it has gained. There’s a lot to be learned from what has happened in and to Ukraine. We should study and learn these lessons and take them to heart.


First published by Chas W. Freeman, Jr. American diplomat, businessman, and writer September 26, 2023

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How is the Ukrainian Offensive Going?

6 September 2023

We heard a lot about how Ukraine was going to have a major offensive, which was expected to be hugely and quickly successful.  It does not seem to have been, and it is well known that it takes at least 3 times as many attackers as defenders to be successful.

Russia was defending. Russia had air superiority. Russia has 3x Ukraine’s population (143 million to 43 million), and far more industrial and military production capacity. Ukraine had not enough weapons and lots of different types of weapons from many different donors.

The silence has been deafening. Here is a military historian with a very pessimistic view, but one that seems well supported by the evidence presented.

It seems hopeless that Ukraine can capture all its lost territory including the Crimea, so it will either fall into a war of attrition which it cannot win, or have a peace imposed on it by the West when they tire of supplying more weapons and/or Ukraine simply runs out of soldiers. The Chinese peace initiative?

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Putin, Prigozhin and Ukraine

30 June 2023

We hear about the NATO-supported Ukraine counteroffensive, but it seems to have taken very little actual territory. It is well-known that it is easier to defend than to attack, and the Russians key objective that may be seen as ‘existential’ for them is to have a land bridge to the naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.

There has been a lot of commentary about Putin appearing weak, and thus having an inevitable fall. This may or may not be true, but the Ukrainian advance seems minimal.

Seymour Hersh is a highly respected US journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war and more recently had highly credible story about how the US blew up the Russia to Germany gas pipeline in the North Sea.

He has a website.  Here is his article on what happened in Russia. It is sobering reading


The Russian ‘revolt’ that wasn’t strengthens Putin’s hand

Seymour Hersh Jun 29

The Biden administration had a glorious few days last weekend. The ongoing disaster in Ukraine slipped from the headlines to be replaced by the “revolt,” as a New York Times headline put it, of Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the mercenary Wagner Group.

The focus slipped from Ukraine’s failing counter-offensive to Prigozhin’s threat to Putin’s control. As one headline in the Times put it, “Revolt Raises Searing Question: Could Putin Lose Power?” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius posed this assessment: “Putin looked into the abyss Saturday—and blinked.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken—the administration’s go-to wartime flack, who weeks ago spoke proudly of his commitment not to seek a ceasefire in Ukraine—appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation with his own version of reality: “Sixteen months ago, Russian forces were . . . thinking they would erase Ukraine from the map as an independent country,” Blinken said. “Now, over the weekend they’ve had to defend Moscow, Russia’s capital, against mercenaries of Putin’s own making. . . . It was a direct challenge to Putin’s authority. . . . It shows real cracks.”

Blinken, unchallenged by his interviewer, Margaret Brennan, as he knew he would not be—why else would he appear on the show?—went on to suggest that the defection of the crazed Wagner leader would be a boon for Ukraine’s forces, whose slaughter by Russian troops was ongoing as he spoke. “To the extent that it presents a real distraction for Putin, and for Russian authorities, that they have to look at—sort of mind their rear as they’re trying to deal with the counter offensive in Ukraine, I think that creates even greater openings for the Ukrainians to do well on the ground.”

At this point was Blinken speaking for Joe Biden? Are we to understand that this is what the man in charge believes?

We now know that the chronically unstable Prigozhin’s revolt fizzled out within a day, as he fled to Belarus, with a no-prosecution guarantee, and his mercenary army was mingled into the Russian army. There was no march on Moscow, nor was there a significant threat to Putin’s rule.

Pity the Washington columnists and national security correspondents who seem to rely heavily on official backgrounders with White House and State Department officials. Given the published results of such briefings, those officials seem unable to look at the reality of the past few weeks, or the total disaster that has befallen the Ukraine military’s counter-offensive.

So, below is a look at what is really going that was provided to me by a knowledgeable source in the American intelligence community:

“I thought I might clear some of the smoke. First and most importantly, Putin is now in a much stronger position. We realized as early as January of 2023 that a showdown between the generals, backed by Putin, and Prigo, backed by anti-Russian extremists, was inevitable. The age-old conflict between the ‘special’ war fighters and a large, slow, clumsy, unimaginative regular army. The army always wins because they own the peripheral assets that make victory, either offensive or defensive, possible. Most importantly, they control logistics. special forces see themselves as the premier offensive asset. When the overall strategy is offensive, big army tolerates their hubris and public chest thumping because SF are willing to take high risk and pay a high price. Successful offense requires a large expenditure of men and equipment. Successful defense, on the other hand, requires husbanding these assets.

“Wagner members were the spearhead of the original Russian Ukraine offensive. They were the ‘little green men’. When the offensive grew into an all-out attack by the regular army, Wagner continued to assist but reluctantly had to take a back seat in the period of instability and readjustment that followed. Prigo, no shy violet, took the initiative to grow his forces and stabilize his sector.

“The regular army welcomed the help. Prigo and Wagner, as is the wont of special forces, took the limelight and took the credit for stopping the hated Ukrainians. The press gobbled it up. Meanwhile, the big army and Putin slowly changed their strategy from offensive conquest of greater Ukraine to defense of what they already had. Prigo refused to accept the change and continued on the offensive against Bakhmut. Therein lies the rub. Rather than create a public crisis and court-martial the asshole [Prigozhin], Moscow simply withheld the resources and let Prigo use up his manpower and firepower reserves, dooming him to a stand-down. He is, after all, no matter how cunning financially, an ex-hot dog cart owner with no political or military accomplishments.

“What we never heard is three months ago Wagner was cycled out of the Bakhmut front and sent to an abandoned barracks north of Rostov-on-Don [in southern Russia] for demobilization. The heavy equipment was mostly redistributed, and the force was reduced to about 8,000, 2,000 of which left for Rostov escorted by local police.

“Putin fully backed the army who let Prigo make a fool of himself and now disappear into ignominy. All without raising a sweat militarily or causing Putin to face a political standoff with the fundamentalists, who were ardent Prigo admirers. Pretty shrewd.”

There is an enormous gap between the way the professionals in the American intelligence community assess the situation and what the White House and the supine Washington press project to the public by uncritically reproducing the statements of Blinken and his hawkish cohorts.

The current battlefield statistics that were shared with me suggest that the Biden administration’s overall foreign policy may be at risk in Ukraine. They also raise questions about the involvement of the NATO alliance, which has been providing the Ukrainian forces with training and weapons for the current lagging counter-offensive. I learned that in the first two weeks of the operation, the Ukraine military seized only 44 square miles of territory previously held by the Russian army, much of it open land. In contrast, Russia is now in control of 40,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory. I have been told that in the past ten days Ukrainian forces have not fought their way through the Russian defenses in any significant way. They have recovered only two more square miles of Russian-seized territory. At that pace, one informed official said, waggishly, it would take Zelensky’s military 117 years to rid the country. of Russian occupation.

The Washington press in recent days seems to be slowly coming to grips with the enormity of the disaster, but there is no public evidence that President Biden and his senior aides in the White House and State Department aides understand the situation.

Putin now has within his grasp total control, or close to it, of the four Ukrainian oblasts—Donetsk, Kherson, Lubansk, Zaporizhzhia—that he publicly annexed on September 30, 2022, seven months after he began the war. The next step, assuming there is no miracle on the battlefield, will be up to Putin. He could simply stop where he is, and see if the military reality will be accepted by the White House and whether a ceasefire will be sought, with formal end-of-war talks initiated. There will be a presidential election next April in Ukraine, and the Russian leader may stay put and wait for that—if it takes place. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has said there will be no elections while the country is under martial law.

Biden’s political problems, in terms of next year’s presidential election, are acute—and obvious. On June 20 the Washington Post published an article based on a Gallup poll under the headline “Biden Shouldn’t Be as Unpopular as Trump—but He Is.” The article accompanying the poll by Perry Bacon, Jr., said that Biden has “almost universal support within his own party, virtually none from the opposition party and terrible numbers among independents.” Biden, like previous Democratic presidents, Bacon wrote, struggles “to connect with younger and less engaged voters.” Bacon had nothing to say about Biden’s support for the Ukraine war because the poll apparently asked no questions about the administration’s foreign policy.

The looming disaster in Ukraine, and its political implications, should be a wake-up call for those Democratic members of Congress who support the president but disagree with his willingness to throw many billions of good money after bad in Ukraine in the hope of a miracle that will not arrive. Democratic support for the war is another example of the party’s growing disengagement from the working class. It’s their children who have been fighting the wars of the recent past and may be fighting in any future war. These voters have turned away in increasing numbers as the Democrats move closer to the intellectual and moneyed classes.

If there is any doubt about the continuing seismic shift in current politics, I recommend a good dose of Thomas Frank, the acclaimed author of the 2004 best-seller What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, a book that explained why the voters of that state turned away from the Democratic party and voted against their economic interests. Frank did it again in 2016 in his book Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? In an afterword to the paperback edition he depicted how Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party repeated—make that amplified—the mistakes made in Kansas en route to losing a sure-thing election to Donald Trump.

It may be prudent for Joe Biden to talk straight about the war, and its various problems for America—and to explain why the estimated more than $150 billion that his administration has put up thus far turned out to be a very bad investment.

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An End to the War in Ukraine?

3 March 2023

There is a still a cheerful assumption that Russia can be driven out of Ukraine, and this is accompanied by copious rhetoric about Putin’s unprovoked aggression, the need to fight for democracy, and a dismissal of his claim that it is an existential issue for Russia.

It is also hopefully assumed that the war will end when Putin falls, but that fall is extremely unlike.

Putin sees the war as an existential issue for Russia. Whether this is right or wrong, it is certainly an existential issue for him, and he needs either a victory or a settlement that saves face.

It must be noted in terms of strength that Russia has more than three times the population of Ukraine (146 v 41 million) and the per capita income in 2021 of Russia was almost three times that of Ukraine ($US12,259 v $4,594- UN figures). The casualty figures available are decidedly (and no doubt deliberately) vague.

The Chinese have a 12 point plan that, strangely, has not been seriously discussed in the Australian mass media. It was hard even to find the plan, though there was plenty of commentary that it was vague in detail, paid only lip service to territorial integrity and did not condemn Russia.   A copy of it is at [1] or [2].  This is at least a starting point. 

An article by Jeffery Sachs arguing for peace is below some of my comments.

Some background issues:

The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and James Baker, the then US Secretary of State is said to have promised Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted German reunification.   Russia also agreed to independence for Ukraine, despite the fact that its base was in Crimea. 

After the Soviet collapse the East European countries flocked to join NATO, which accepted them. The list is extensive: the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania; from old Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia.  Even Albania, which had been the most hard-line communist country in Europe, joined NATO. 

Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008 easily when its government tried to assert its authority over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were demanding autonomy and were recognised by Russia.  The Russian invasion went beyond those provinces but did not occupy the capital, Tbilisi[3].  Western reaction was muted, which is said to be the reason that Putin was so emboldened and regarded the West as decadent.  Georgia was Western-oriented and had applied to join NATO.

Ukraine wanted to join NATO and since the invasion, Finland and Sweden have also applied.

From a Russian perspective, NATO had been encroaching east.  There had been a pro-Russian government in Ukraine up to 2014 under President Viktor Yanukovych but when he did not sign a treaty between Ukraine and the EU there was the Maidan revolution in February 2014, probably helped by the CIA.   Petro Poroshenko was elected President. 

The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, collectively called the Donbas, and Transnistra in Moldova are significantly Russian oriented, and Russia supports their requests for autonomy and their separatist movements.  Russian troops are ‘peacekeeping’ in Moldova as they were in the Georgian provinces.    Whether these provinces want to be part of Ukraine or part of Russian is hard to determine, particularly  now, but one might suspect that there is considerable division of views and that they would prefer local autonomy to the highest degree possible rather than a distant government of either flavour.  A number of polls in 2014 came to different conclusions[4].  A 2020 poll showed primary concern was for local issues and fear of war[5].  Ukraine was having trouble dealing with the separatist movements before Russia invaded, so there are parallels with Georgia there.  Perhaps because of the Ukrainian military’s reluctance to fight Ukrainians, the Azov Brigade[6], a right-wing privately funded paramilitary group initially did most of the fighting against the Russian –backed separatists, which allowed Russia to claim it was fighting Nazis who had killed pro-Russian Ukrainians.  The actions of the Azov brigade were not popular, yet they were somewhat controversially absorbed into the Ukrainian army[7].

After the Crimean invasion, separatists seized control in Luhansk and Donetsk and declared their independence in May 2014. There was a civil war there, which led to the Minsk agreements in September 2014 and February 2015 that led to a ceasefire with the separatists having control of about a third of the provinces, with the objective to return the region to Ukraine but with significant local autonomy[8].   Russia recognised the independence of the breakaway regions in February 2022, just before it invaded.  

The Russians invaded Crimea in 2014 in response to the change of government in  Kiev.  The provincial Parliament in Crimea was pro-Russian, and initially Putin claimed that the invasion there was from Crimea itself.  There was little voting in Donetsk and Luhansk as the Kiev government did not have good control there.   While ‘territorial integrity’ is taken to mean existing borders, Kiev’s demand for this means that Russia would have to agree to its naval base being isolated, and Kiev having another attempt at suppressing the pro-Russian separatist provinces on Russia’s border.

Russia currently occupies about 20% of Ukraine’s territory and now has a land corridor in the south west of the country that links it to its key naval base in Crimea.  The only other link it had was via the 19km Kersh Strait Bridge, which is 19km long.  The bridge was planned after the 2014 Ukrainian coup and was completed in 2018.   Clearly if the government in Ukraine is hostile to Russia, it does not want to have its major warm water naval base only accessible by a bridge, and would never concede Crimea. 

The US arms industry, which is immensely influential in US foreign policy, is the chief beneficiary of the war, and President Biden has pledged support for as long as it takes. The Republicans, however control the Senate, and have an increasing isolationist voice.  The US President has quite a lot of discretion in waging wars, but if the US economy goes into recession there is a significant chance that the Republicans may win the 2024 Presidential election.   That is quite soon in terms of Russian war thinking.

For Americans, war is an inconvenience, fought overseas.  Russians have quite a different history.  In WW2 Russia lost far more people than the Germans and all the Allies in Europe combined, 26 million, or 13.7% of the population[9]. Russians see WW2 as one between themselves and Germany and were very critical of the rest of Allies for not helping them earlier. The long siege of Stalingrad ended in February 1943 and the Russian armies were advancing for 16 months before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944.  So if Putin can convince Russians that it is an existential issue their expectations of what has to be sacrificed will be quite different to the US.

Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian whose show ‘Servant of the People’ had him as a history teacher who accidentally became Prime Minister because a student filmed his rant about corruption and it went viral.  He was honest and the satire on corruption was a huge hit because Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries. He was elected with his party having the same name as his comedy show.  He is well intentioned, and not a US puppet as some in the leftist media has portrayed him, but it is unlikely that he can end a nation’s entrenched corrupt traditions.  But recent US articles have said that US arms are getting to the frontline, which was a concern early in the war[10].  He wants the territorial integrity of Ukraine and a total victory over Russia.  The question is whether he is realistic, and to what extent the West will support him if the war drags on.

If one is to explore the lofty rhetoric of democracies deterring unprovoked aggression, one would have to concede that the US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya could be called the same. If one is to draw historic parallels with Chamberlain conceding Czechoslovakia to Germany, one could say that the difference is that Putin would know that even if he moves the border a bit to provinces that already had a Russian speaking and Russian-orientated population, he would have steep and organised resistance to any further moves in Ukraine or elsewhere.

Listening to a Chinese peace proposal sounds like a good idea.









[9] Russia: military deaths 10.6 million, civilian deaths 16 million, 13.7% of population. Germany military 5.0 million, Civilian 7.2 million 8.2%; France military 210,000, civilian 390,000 1.4%. UK military 0.6 million, 67,000, civilian, 1%. Australia military 31,700, civilian 700, 0.58%, USA 407,000 military, 12,100 civilian, 0.3% of population. Wikipedia accessed 3/3/23


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The Queen and I

9 September 2022

I cannot say I ever met the Queen, or that she had a clue who I was, so if you are looking for that, read no further.

I was at the Coronation amazingly enough, as my father went to England to study surgery and I was taken to the parade and was apparently old enough to wave a flag, but not old enough to remember doing so.  (No sums please).

A friend from school, whose father was a parson and who was a very decent fellow went to London for life experience and got a lowly place at a respected PR firm.  It turned out that the PR firm did the PR for the Queen and he was attached to the small unit that did it.  His major boss was promoted to head the whole organisation and the next boss left suddenly and he, at a relatively young age became the Queen’s personal PR agent.

He was there for some years then came back to Australia, as he wanted his kids to grow up as Aussies.  He was much admired for his work there and was naturally quizzed at some length about how things worked.  He said that the Queen was very hard working and always very thoroughly briefed about everyone she was meeting, both their personal background the political or social issues that they were interested in.  He said she was astute, conscientious, kind and decent.  But she was not a Pollyanna. She was realistic about people. If they were silly, she would tacitly acknowledge this as she sought a strategy to deal with the situation.  He was very discrete about specifics and did not mention that he was rushed back to London to deal with the Royal fallout from Diana’s famous TV interview, but he did let one significant issue slip.  He was asked about the Queen’s attitude to Australia becoming a Republic. 

You may recall that a majority of Australians wanted Australia to be a Republic but they were split over whether the President should be a figurehead like a Governor-General or Queen, or whether he/she should have executive powers as in the USA.  John Howard therefore arranged that Electors were asked on 6 November 1999 whether they approved of:

A proposed law: To alter the Constitution to establish the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic with the Queen and Governor-General being replaced by a President appointed by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Commonwealth Parliament.

This naturally split those who wanted a Republic into those who wanted a President appointed by Parliament and those who wanted an elected President.  This carefully crafted split allowed the No vote to win.

The Queen apparently felt that it was inevitable that Australia should become a Republic and that it should stop silly-shallying with it and get on with it as Canada had done.  Naturally she did not say so, and my friend, who has since died would roll over in his grave if he knew that I was taking the role of a gossip columnist in writing this.

But I believe this story to be true, significant and a tribute to the Queen’s realism. 

My view is that we should have a President who is non-executive, and we need major constitutional change as to how Parliament works at the same time.  The latter half may be a hard ask.

But there is no doubt that the Republican debate is coming soon.

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Victory of Liz Truss in UK: Style over Substance

7 August 2022

Liz Truss is Britain’s new Prime Minister.  A few things are worthy of comment.  She was elected by the members of the Conservative Party 81,326 votes to 60,399 for Rishi Sunak. 

Prime Ministers used to be elected by their Parliamentary colleagues, which is obviously a lesser number but at least has people doing the job assessing the candidates’ competence.  I am not a huge fan of Presidential systems, but the 141,725 Conservative members who were in the ballot are only 0.002% of the UK population and the Conservative party members are 63% male, 58% over 50 and 80% in the top half of the class demographic spectrum.  So much for government ‘by the people’.

Her defeated rival, Rishi Sunak, had at least been Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer) and had resigned to force Boris Johnson’s resignation.  He was a multi-millionaire in his own right, having worked for Goldman Sachs and being involved in hedge funds.  His wife, Akshata Nurty was one of India’s wealthiest women as an heiress of Infosys and worth 690 million.  Together they were said to be worth 730 million pounds.  He was also dogged by stories that his wife had the money offshore in various trusts and paid minimal tax. ( )   Some commentators said that his Indian heritage may have been a problem with the Conservative party membership.

It is part of the continuation of mediocre candidates winning in Anglo elections. Trump, Johnson, Morrison, Truss.  Something is clearly wrong with our systems.  My view as often stated is to go to Swiss-style Direct Democracy. Politicians are part-time and keep their previous jobs, which they return to after the maximum two terms. People can collect signatures to force debate on issues or even overturn Federal legislation with quarterly referenda. Political parties exist as here and the Parliament in similar, but the party hierarchies are much less powerful as there is no long-term career as a politician.

Here is a better summary of Liz Truss than I could have written.  It has been in a number of papers and journals:

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Want to know about high energy prices?

4 September 2022

It is about market failure.  When public power utilities were privatised a market was set up and power producers could bid into a market to supply at a certain price for each period of time.  But obviously if someone bid in at a low price for part of the market, they would then watch as others bid in higher and made more money.  So the price to all producers was set at the last bid, so the cheap producers made a lot of money.

There were a few problems. The amount of electricity needed varies widely. Coal fired power is not very flexible-it needs a constant load, cannot be stopped and can vary its output only slowly and within a limited range. When renewables came, solar is only in the daytime, and wind varies, so the system had a problem with ‘stability’- the ability to dispatch power when it was needed.

Another problem was rorting, though no one wanted to talk about this.  There were big players who could withhold power so that there was a shortage; the price went up, and then they all cashed in. ‘Imperfect competition’ as economists would call it.  No one wanted to build coal plants and there was not enough storage to let renewable energy last overnight or for dull or windless days. So the Morrison government said that gas was a ‘transition fuel’ and more gas plants would be built.

Meanwhile the Australian gas industry agreed to massive export contracts on the assumption that they could frack Australia as the US had been fracked. But the environmentalists realised the harm this did and resisted.  So our price of gas went up.  So the companies pressured the Albanese government, which is now breaking its election promises and approving fracking. Sorry environment- what is a bit of permanently polluted groundwater and desertification between friends?

Of course years ago, publicly owned utilities run by professional engineers were charged with providing electricity and gas to the public on a non-profit basis. They charged enough to cover their costs with some money for maintenance and future planning.  The price was the average price of generation, not the most expensive component.  The model worked quite well and could again.  The change to a ‘market’ was ideological.

At an international level, the problem is similar, but it all being blamed on Russia, which is only partly true.  Naturally in a globalised world, we are also affected by the European gas market, but less directly, especially if we frack to get out of it; which is a very bad solution, substituting a long-term problem for a short-term one.

Here is an international article:
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22 June 2022
I am currently in Finland, holidaying after the EuPRA (European Peace Research Association)
Conference in Tampere.
I had hoped that there would be more insights on the Ukraine situation, but peace research has its
topics and budgets set years ahead, so Ukraine was barely mentioned and no new insights given.
Finland generally is very pro-Ukraine, with Ukrainian flags flying alongside Finnish ones at railway
stations and even Ukrainian flag stickers on traffic poles.
The conference was mainly about ‘positive peace’ which means trying to get harmonious social
policy, with papers on minority, immigrants and disadvantaged groups, rather than ‘negative peace’
which is taken to be the absence of war. So there was surprisingly little on politics or foreign policy.
The situation of the indigenous ‘Sami’ (formerly called Lapps) was also a big topic. Researchers claim
it is very hard ever to get funding for peace research, and it has to be framed as ‘conflict resolution’.
The conference had a distinctly feminist flavour both in attendance and in tone. It was very
competently organised, principally by Masters and PhD students from the Tampere Institute of
Peace Students. Despite their acronym, TIPSY, the students were very serious and organised.
Participants were shepherded around by Norse goddesses, who seemed charmingly unaware of
their aesthetic attributes.
Finland is an affluent, modern country of 5.5 million with an ambience very like Sweden. They have
the best education system in the world, and almost all speak excellent English. Signs used to be
written in Finnish, Swedish and Russian, but there is a trend towards Finnish and English, as all
Swedes speak English, and Russian is becoming less important to the Finnish economy. Finnish is
quite a distinct and unusual language, quite different from Swedish, which was used by the elite
when Sweden occupied Finland, and is widely spoken. Finland has high taxes, a good welfare system
and a very high standard of public facilities. Incomes seem high as prices are about 50% higher than
in Australia. Petrol is about $A3.75/litre. There is a Universal Basic Income and no visible poverty.
I had not known much about Finnish history, but it had been something of a rural backwater with a
very low agricultural population, principally populated from Sweden. It was under Sweden until the
Swedish-Russian war of 1721, when it came under Russia. The Swedes took it back in 1788, and
Russia took it back in 1809, but left it relatively autonomous. Finnish nationalism was relatively late
to develop, starting in the 1850s. A Scot, Finlayson, set up textile factories in Tampere in the 1850s,
based on the model of Manchester, England. Tampere became the industrial heart of Finland. Lenin
came to Finland and stayed for some time in Tampere as it had a high population of workers. He
promised to give the Finns autonomy if the revolution succeeded. He actually met Stalin in Tampere
so the Lenin Museum there claims that there was the birthplace of the Soviet Republic.
Stalin had his own methods of funding the revolution, which included robbing banks such as the
Helsinki branch of the Russian bank. Relations between the Russians and the semi-autonomous
Finns had generally been good, though the Tsar in his last days from 1899 tried a policy of
Russification, which was not popular.
Lenin had to flee Finland from the Tsarist police, but after the revolution succeeded in 1917 the
Finnish Senate declared independence. Lenin kept his promise and supported the new republic but

he hoped for world revolution, so sent help to the Reds in Finland who initiated a civil war in 1917.
The Reds were strong in the industrial cities such as Tampere. The White nationalists were more
middle class and rural. The war was short and brutal with victory to the new White republic but
many were killed and there were considerable recriminations. Russia at that time was fully occupied
with its own internal strife, but Finland respected their power, remained neutral and benefitted
from trade with Russia, as it increasingly industrialised.
In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, which pledged non-aggression
between Germany and Russia and gave the western half of Poland and Lithuania to Germany. The
eastern half of Poland and all the countries east of it were ‘given’ to Russia.
The Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia were in this agreement, and so was Finland. Safe from attack by
Russia, Hitler then started WW2 by attacking Poland, and the Russians moved to take their half (so
that Poland ceased to exist). The Baltic States quickly fell to Russia, but Finland resisted, successfully
at first, but the Russians overcame them and took some territory in an unfavourable settlement, but
left them some degree of independence. When Germany invaded Russia, they demanded passage
through Finland to attack Norway, and the Finns agreed, not having much option. The Finns then
supported the Germans to get some of their territory back from the Russians, so in the settlement
after the war in 1944, the Russians took even more territory from the Finns, including part of
Lappland in the north, so that Finland no longer reaches the Arctic Ocean and Russia meets Norway
above them.
After WW2 the Finns built a Nordic welfare state and developed their industries, Nokia being the
best known example. Farm forestry is still a major industry, particularly pine and silver birch. There
are almost no grazing animals. They concentrated on education and industrialisation and their
economy grew as fast as many of the Asian ones, but with higher wages. They took a very neutral
foreign policy stance not to offend Russia, but did join the Euro currency launch in 2002.
Geographically, Finland is quite a large country as it extends so far north. It has no mountains and
only low hills and a large number of lakes which tend to have their long axes to the south-west due
to fact that the country was covered by a huge sheet of ice in the Ice Age, which moved to the south
west. It is quite warm in summer (now) and the Finns go to their summer cottages on the lakes. In
winter it is very cold, so all the houses are triple glazed and well insulated. There are no solar panels
and they are trying to become carbon-dioxide neutral, telling you on the tickets how much carbon
dioxide is produced by your bus or train journey. 28% of the electricity used is of nuclear origin.
Travelling is reasonably easy, though the Finnish language is difficult but almost everyone speaks
reasonable English. Getting used to cars on the right side of the road is a bit of a challenge, and
walking on the footpaths also, and the latter is rendered more complicated by the fact that the
footpaths also have a section for bikes and electric scooters which takes half the footpath, but there
is no consistency on which half. Finns smoke more than Australians and seem to have a lot of junk
food restaurants, so I suspect that the prevalence of obesity will be rising, especially as electric
scooters now considerably outnumber bikes, and are available everywhere to be picked up and used
after buying a plan and putting in a code.
It is a question of getting used to things, but in the meantime I am enjoying the capital of Lappland,
Rovaniemi. It is not possible to see the Northern Lights as these are at the Winter solstice in

December- here at present the sun sets for about half an hour a day and it never gets dark. The 8am
temperature is 14 degrees. I have heard that it is cold in Australia.

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A Russian Perspective on Ukraine- (Gregory Clark article below)

25 April 2022

While the brutal tactics of the Russians in Ukraine make horrendous continuing news, significant aspects of the origins of Russia’s Ukraine invasion have been ignored by Western media.  This does not justify the invasion, but one might wonder if the Donbas region in the East could ever have been retained within Ukraine.

It is well known that there is a gradation across the Ukraine from West to East, those in the West favouring Europe about 90%, but those in the East, the Donsek region, has almost 90% keen to merge with Russia.  There was a strong separatist movement in these provinces, with ongoing fighting. The Ukrainian army was not keen to fight other Ukrainians and it was said that neo-Nazi groups were involved in fighting the separatists using very Fascist tactics. 

Historically there had been some strong right wing groups in the Ukraine, and it might be noted that when Germany invaded, troops from Ukraine were recruited and fought with them against the Russians.  At the end of the war, naturally these groups were not seen, but it has been said that the CIA was in touch with them, and that they facilitated the successful storming of the Ukrainian Parliament in the coup in 2014, which led to the Donbas region in the east attempting to secede from Ukraine and Russia seizing Crimea.  It might be noted that Crimea was given to Ukraine by Russia in 1954 when they were both part of the USSR. The transfer was facilitated by Nikita Khrushchev who needed the Ukrainian votes to further his own career, and made little difference while Ukraine was in the USSR.

Fighting continued in the Donbas region which includes the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk. The fighting led to the Minsk Agreement in September 2014, but the agreement failed leading to Minsk II in February 2015.  Luhansk and Donetsk were supposed to become autonomous regions, but it has never happened.  Fighting has continued, so Russia’s claim that they are fighting Nazis is not as absurd as it has been painted, at least in those regions.

When the USSR was collapsing the US Secretary of State James Baker promised Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990 that NATO would not recruit countries to the East.  However, those countries were fearful of a Russian resurgence and wanted to join NATO.  The USSR collapsed in 1991. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined in 1999 and Russia objected.  Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004.  Note the marked move of NATO to the East.  Albania and Croatia joined in 2009, Montenegro in 2017 and North Macedonia in 2020.  The Balkan countries presumably joined as protection against Serbia, which started the wars as Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991-1999.  Serbia was a strong Russian ally. 

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia wanted a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, but Ukraine along with Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have expressed membership aspirations.  No one was willing to give a guarantee the Ukraine would not join NATO even as the Russian troops massed for the invasion, though some hoped that Putin was bluffing.

Russia is now the 11th biggest economy in the world, ahead of Spain and Australia at 12th and 13th, so economically it is only a middle power, but having been a superpower with an empire recently, it has weapons far in excess of other middle powers and as it pursues a commodities-led recovery it hankers for its old Empire.

The German Social Democrats, the coalition partners of Angela Merkel, assumed that if Russia were integrated into the European economy by Germany buying their gas there would be no wars.  This has been a major miscalculation. Germany was dependent on Russia for 55% of their gas, this having gone up when then they closed their nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster.  They still get 39% of their gas from Russia and are reluctant to turn it off as it would cause a major recession there.  This is very controversial in Germany at present.  Someone calculated that German purchase of Russian gas can pay for a tank every 20 seconds.

Here is an article by Gregory Clark, who spent 10 years with the Australian Dept. of External Affairs (which was the Foreign Relations Dept.) and resigned in 1965 in protest at Australia going into Vietnam. He went to Tokyo and was the lead correspondent for The Australian in Japan 1969-74 and a Japanese academic. He came back as an advisor to Prime Minister and Cabinet in 1974-76 (the Whitlam era), and returned to Japan after that. 

Western media have failed dismally in reporting the Ukraine war

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