This article has been revised since the Russian Federation’s recognition and military support of Donetsk and Lugansk as sovereign territories.
At the top of the headlines for the past few months, we have constantly heard that the Russian invasion of Ukraine’s eastern border is “imminent.”
Putin has insisted that he is placing troops on Ukraine’s border solely for negotiation that Ukraine never be admitted to NATO and that NATO allies curtail their military exercises on Russia’s border. Since the 1990s, NATO has routinely run military exercises along Russia’s borders in eastern European nations, while the renewal of nuclear weapons treaties have run into repeated road blocks. He’d also like the Soviet-era the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties (SALT and SALT II) reinstated. Another underlying strategy is to provide a fail-safe so that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will open on schedule.
In the time of the Soviet Union, NATO guaranteed certain security measures along the bordering eastern bloc countries. With the dissolution of country in 1991, NATO reneged on those guarantees while continuing to view the Russian Federation as though it poses the same threat. Putin now wants the security measures reinstated and to move forward with energy supply and better trade with Europe. Short term nuclear missile limitations are in everyone’s best interests. There is no reason that the negotiations Putin has demanded on these central concerns should not go forward.
Wagging the Dog
The invasion talk is a “tail wagging the dog” exercise by both liberal and conservative media in the west. The Biden administration is raising the specter of a war as an opportunity to talk up sanctions.
The politicians and the mainstream media want the threat of a Russian invasion to make an excuse for the fact that gas prices are going to soar in 2022. Market analysts are predicting $5 per gallon in many states. However, that is probably an understatement. Gas prices will be at an all-time high in the United States by the summer just in time for the midterm election season. Biden curtailed oil production in the USA through an executive order on his first day in office. This has helped Russia economically because prices are now higher. Now the president is looking for culprits to blame without taking direct responsibility.
Meanwhile, the conservative media largely follows the biased reports of the news services against all common sense. The conservative agenda is to make Biden look like he has an inept and dangerous foreign policy when Putin is merely rattling a sabre to call attention to reasonable demands. Ukraine will never join NATO since the current requirements for member nations make this impossible. So this assurance is not a difficult matter. It is also understandable that Putin wants the west to return to the nuclear proliferation agreements of the 1970s and 1980s. The limiting of nuclear weapons is in the best interest of all humanity. So the media’s characterizations of Putin as a “thug” and a “bully” are suspect.
A review of recent history is in order to understand a complex situation. Russian troops supported South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, two republics that had proclaimed autonomy from Georgia. Then in 2014, the Russians reclaimed a Soviet era naval base and territory in the Crimean peninsula that has strategic military and trade importance. Since those two actions, the western nations of NATO insisted that Putin was planning to invade eastern Ukraine. There have been frequent news articles since 2014 claiming that this was “inevitable” or “imminent.” Meanwhile, Russia’s economy suffered in the aftermath of the Maiden Revolution of 2014 when oil prices stayed low and then dropped in 2017.
The Role of Nord Stream 2
The completion of Nord Stream 2 (NS-2), a 745-mile natural gas pipeline, which is built but not yet operational, would bypass the pipeline built through Ukraine that linked Russian to Europe since the time of the Soviet Union. Russian energy will be delivered directly to Germany through this North Sea pipeline. With energy prices headed toward an all-time high, this bodes for a recovery of the Russian economy, which was one of the world’s fastest growing until 2014.
NS-2 is about two years past the dead-line. The United States is not against Russian deliveries of natural gas via Ukraine or Polish pipelines since it may always control Germany’s industry by blocking these deliveries using influence over the governments of these countries. The story changes if it is made via NS-1 and NS-2 since they are directly controlled between only Russia and Germany.
Recently, Biden has been repeatedly vowing to “bring an end” to Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine. Consider these words of the president carefully. Imagine if Russia, which borders Alaska and Canada vowed to “bring an end” to an already built pipeline between the United States and Canada, if Biden did not pull troops out of the Middle East. The pretention would be that Russia actually had power over Canada to enforce such an embargo. Ironically, in his first day in office in 2021, Biden signed an executive order to revoke the permit that was granted for the operation of the Keystone XL Pipeline between Canada and the United States. This sent energy prices skyrocketing. Russia and the Middle East OPEC nations are the direct beneficiary of this. With friends like this at home, enemies abroad are irrelevant.
Similarly, Biden presumes unilateral power over NATO partner Germany’s relationship with Russia. This all changes once the gas flow starts. Russia’s positioned troops on Ukraine’s border has forced Biden to bluff and bluster an “end” to Nord Stream 2. With skyrocketing energy prices, is Germany in the position to allow a unilateral decree by Biden to hurt their economy?
During the Obama administration similar tactics were used to try to squeeze Putin into abandoning the pipeline.
In early 2016, Amos Hochstein, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs, said, “This is a project that will serve the Russian narrative completely from all aspects … and it creates just the chasm [the Russians] want in the middle of Europe” (Politico).
The ineptitude of Obama’s efforts in hampering Russia’s trade relations with Europe six year ago was exposed when the pipeline went ahead as planned. When certified by Germany, it will provide about half of Germany’s energy. This is a huge play on Putin’s part and will be a shot in the arm for Russia’s economy. The final go ahead for the pipeline could become part of future negotiations.
This in turn opens the door for Russia to gain economic power and control over its economic relationship with Germany. With Europe’s largest economy dependent on Russia, this will essentially emasculate NATO. At that point, the west will lose a large portion of its power to deter Russia from taking actions against western interests. This will get the negotiations for the security measures Russia has long requested back on track again. The irony is that this is obvious, but the western press insists on playing along with the narrative of the imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine and a return to the Cold War.
In short, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is not between these two Slavic nations at all, but rather a stand-off between Russia and the United State’s NATO allies.