Guest Post: Speedbox – The Putin Gambit

Gambit (?æm·b?t): noun; a clever action in a game or other situation that is intended to achieve an advantage and usually involves taking a risk.

For the past several weeks, in particular, the Ukrainians, the EU, the USA among others have been speculating and commenting on the Russian troop build-up on the eastern border of the Ukraine.   More recently, Russian troops have been building up on the Belarussian border to Ukraine’s north. 

The assorted commentators speculate that Russia is planning to invade the Ukraine while Moscow has insisted it has no such intention and has simultaneously accused Ukraine and its allies of making up the claim to cover for their own aggression. 

The origins of this issue go back years  Ukraine was part of the Russian empire for centuries before becoming a Soviet republic and winning independence when the USSR broke up in 1991.  The country subsequently shed its Imperial Russian legacy and looked to forge closer ties with the West.  In 2014, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow sparking large public protests and his ousting.  Russia responded by annexing the Crimea and unofficially supporting a separatist insurgency in the Donbas region of Ukraine’s east.

More recently, Moscow has accused Ukraine of failing to honour the 2015 peace deal and criticized the West for failing to encourage Ukrainian compliance.  Moscow has also strongly complained about the U.S. and NATO providing Ukraine with lethal weapons saying that encourages Ukrainian hawks to try to regain the rebel-held areas by force.

But most of all and for several years, Russian President Putin has repeatedly condemned Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO saying that their inclusion into NATO would represent a ‘red line’ for Moscow.  Russia will not tolerate having NATO on its western border and at present, only Ukraine, Belarus and (comparatively) Finland offer a bulwark.  Putin also expressed serious concern about plans by some NATO members to set up military training centres in Ukraine giving NATO a military foothold without Ukraine actually joining NATO.

Putin is seeking “reliable and long-term security guarantees” from the U.S. and its allies “that would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory.”  Further, he agreed to substantive talks adding that Moscow would need not just verbal assurances, but “legal guarantees.”

So, the most recent troop build-up and menacing of Ukraine may be a gambit to convince NATO that the security of Russia’s border will not be compromised by Ukraine’s desire to philosophically shift to the West.

Indeed, only a few days ago Putin noted with satisfaction that Moscow’s warnings were finally gaining ‘traction’ and causing concern in the West.  He added: “It’s necessary to keep them in that condition for as long as possible so that it doesn’t occur to them to stage some conflict on our western borders that we don’t need.”

This issue will be resolved if the Ukraine provides a legal guarantee they will not join NATO and NATO exercises in the Ukraine will be prohibited.  In return Russia will legally guarantee that Ukraine’s borders will be respected and the separatists in Donbas will be actively discouraged and no support will be forthcoming from Moscow.  International observers will verify. 

The Crimea could be officially ‘retuned’ to Russian territory by the Ukraine in return for, say, free Russian gas to the Ukraine for the next 20 years. 

Whilst those terms may seem fanciful, the truth is that there is no upside for Moscow in an invasion of the Ukraine – the lost lives of Russian soldiers and lost treasure (through resulting global sanctions) will be very significant.  Russian troops will overwhelm the Ukrainian forces but it is certain to be hard fought.  And for what?  To carve the Ukraine in half along the Dnieper River?  Not to mention that the NATO forces are suddenly a lot closer. 

For the Ukraine, a legal agreement will secure all of its borders, including the re-claiming of the Donbas region, and although the Crimea is permanently lost, it could be argued it is already permanently lost and the free gas to the rest of the nation is fair compensation.  (Russia will never return the Crimea to Ukrainian control if for no other reason than the Russian Navy needs the warm water port of Sevastopol). We may be witnessing one of the greatest geopolitical gambits in recent history.  Or, we may wake up one morning in the coming days/weeks to news that Russia has invaded.  Interesting times.

27 thoughts on “Guest Post: Speedbox – The Putin Gambit”

  1. We may be witnessing one of the greatest geopolitical gambits in recent history. Or, we may wake up one morning in the coming days/weeks to news that Russia has invaded. Interesting times.

    Putin’s KGB personality assessment pointed out that his greatest weakness was that he was a risk taker.

    Otoh, he’s built up a strong hand to play in what appears to be the terminus ad quem of the Ukrainian problem, which has lingered for three decades now, not least because of inept Western meddling.


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  2. One does have to wonder what the point on NATO is these days.

    Who, exactly, is the ‘threat’ they’re defending against? I don’t think its Russia any more..


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  3. Whilst those terms may seem fanciful, the truth is that there is no upside for Moscow in an invasion of the Ukraine

    Yep, strange this post came up because I watched What might happen if Russia does attack Ukraine? minutes ago and it raises the same issue I have argued in relation to the China-Taiwan threat. The more you dig into the details, the more problems you see in mounting an invasion.

    duncanmsays:
    January 27, 2022 at 11:59 am
    One does have to wonder what the point on NATO is these days.

    Who, exactly, is the ‘threat’ they’re defending against? I don’t think its Russia any more..

    Putin is desperately trying to maintain the illusion that Russia is a superpower. It’s GDP is the same as Canada, the air force is decrepit and can’t even afford to buy the latest new beaut fighters, the navy is old and rusty, but the ground forces appear very capable.
    What is the point of NATO? Bureaucracies die long and slow.


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  4. Fact, the Crimea is where Tartars originated, was always Russian until a drunken Khrushchev gave it back to The Ukraine. Poroshenko stirred up so much drama in the Crimea by insisting that the inhabitants, mainly Russians not speak Russian but only Ukrainian. The Ukraine knocked off Russian gas from the pipeline running through there and refused to pay for it so Russia rerouted the pipeline to the North. Russia didn’t shut down the power generating plants in Eastern Europe, the Europeans did that all by themselves when they went green and now bitch about Russia profiteering. Black hats and White Hats. Does anyone ever think that the good old USA would ever leave the Ukraine once they get a foothold there for I have a bridge in excellent condition for sale at the right price. Source, a Ruski born missus in the oil and gas industry who by the way loves her adopted country of 25 years and one day.
    moderated

  5. “One does have to wonder what the point on NATO is these days.”

    Alas, Trump asked the same question, so asking this automatically makes you “bad”, a “conspiracy theorist” etc etc.

    And , of course, the answer Trump got was “umm.. Shut up!”


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  6. NATO has long outlived its usefulness
    The Euroweenies have seen to that.
    The EU want their own Army.
    I hope the Spanish organise it. Tomorrow.


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  7. Peter Hitchens is always interesting on this issue:

    “Ukraine is not Czechoslovakia. Putin is not Hitler or Stalin. He has no ideology, racial or social. He has been complaining for years, using every peaceful means, against the expansion of Nato into Eastern Europe. He has asked, quite reasonably, who it is aimed at.

    Nato was set up to deter aggression by the USSR, an empire which ceased to exist 31 years ago. Russia is not the USSR. Keeping Nato in existence is like maintaining an alliance against the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman Empires, which vanished a century ago – a job-creation project.

    He rightly points out that Moscow (mostly without violence) let go of vast tracts of Asia and Europe, and unwillingly permitted the reunification of Germany – something Margaret Thatcher was pretty reluctant about as well. In return, the then leaders of the West said they would not expand Nato to the east (a huge archive of documents at George Washington University in the US confirms this).”


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  8. The EU want their own Army.
    I hope the Spanish organise it.

    A reasonably competent force not in the thrall of the Germans or the French?

    Sounds like a superb outcome. Leave the Visegrad and Baltic nations to work with the Poms, Frogs (when amenable) and Yanks on matters militarily and diplomatically mutual (but not necessarily NATO or Son-of-NATO), and let the EU enjoy its autumnal years in a delusion of martial grandeur.


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  9. The only people who are doing the sabre rattling in Washington are the gun runners funding the swamp creatures. I’ve watched/read various analyses of this issue and it’s ostensibly a non-issue, ergo the sabre rattling.


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  10. One does have to wonder what the point on NATO is these days.

    Who, exactly, is the ‘threat’ they’re defending against?

    Most recently it was the Taliban.

    That went well.


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  11. The country subsequently shed its Imperial Russian legacy and looked to forge closer ties with the West.

    That’s news to a substantial amount of the population.

    Russian troop build-up on the eastern border of the Ukraine.

    Is it really a build up if the vast majority of the forces have been there since 2014?


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  12. The author should familiarise themselves with the work of Aaron Maté.
    Or Max Blumenthal.
    They could also listen in to Matt Taibbi’s Callin tomorrow at 5:30am.


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  13. feelthebern says:
    January 27, 2022 at 9:53 pm
    “The country subsequently shed its Imperial Russian legacy and looked to forge closer ties with the West”.
    That’s news to a substantial amount of the population.

    Surprising you would say that bern. Anyway, prepare to be amazed. The protests and subsequent fleeing of President Viktor Yanukovych was global news and widely commented upon. For your edification, read on……

    In November 2013 a wave of large scale protests (known as Euromaidan) erupted in response to president Yanukovych’s refusal to sign a political association and free trade agreement with the European Union at a meeting of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius, Lithuania. These protests continued for months. In February 2014 clashes between the protestors and the riot police became violent, and resulted in the deaths of nearly 130 people, including 18 police officers.[29] On February 21, an agreement between president Yanukovych and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition was signed that called for early elections and the formation of an interim unity government. The following day, Yanukovych fled from the capital ahead of an impeachment vote.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolution_of_Dignity

    Let’s look at some of the headlines from the time….

    Ukraine protests turn deadly – Protesters keep an eye on police as they man a barricade in Kiev.
    Protester stands on top of barricades in Kiev.
    Riot police block streets in Kiev.
    Orthodox priests lead the funeral service for slain protester Mikhail Zhiznevsky in Kiev on Sunday.
    Molotov cocktails sit in a basket ready to be used by protesters in Kiev.

    Meanwhile……

    At least four people have been shot dead and hundreds injured as demonstrators clash with police over new laws limiting the right to protest in Ukraine. The Interior Ministry said Wednesday that more than 70 people have been detained since midday Sunday. The ministry said 195 police officers had been injured and 84 hospitalized since the situation turned violent Sunday.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/22/world/europe/ukraine-protests/index.html

    If you need more, try this youtube link for footage. Just stunning that “a substantial amount of the population” were unaware. Maybe it was just you.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeGFP4ZQWJA


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  14. The US military industrial complex needs and enemy it can rely on, to scare and distract the people, but not actually start a war. The Russians are perfect. And the Russians have bad form in Ukraine, between 3 and 10 Million were starved in the 1930s, bad memories and easy to stir up.

    The West (or US) has been in a cold war stand off with Russia for many years. Economic sanctions against Russia have been severe.
    But Ukraine joining NATO would be close to a declaration of war against Russia. Who benefits?

    Meanwhile China has made it clear which side it is on, especially to Australia.

    And back in the USSA, they are led by Brezhnev, and Georgia is always on my mind.


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  15. Putin is just messing with the west and particularly the US government, like State Dept and the various US agencies .. it’s a different game to what they think the game is

    you all know it’s winter over there right?

    Putin is hardly going to go to war in the middle of winter


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  16. Ellen of Tassie. I remember the reunification and my mother’s anger at Thatcher. The USSR with its adolescent Eastern European university lecturers was a disgusting and perverted regime. That socialist sickness had to fail. Remember that Russia pushed all its borders 400 west and trucked in their denizens to replace the indigenous populations.
    Push the borders 400 km to the east and all the Russians are frog marched out of the Ukraine.
    The democratic idiots in the west Merkel, Macron, Italian pm want the elimination of the Ukraine as there is no strategic benefit to them – thanks for sticking up for the under dog with an wish for self determination.
    moderated

  17. Speedbox, you’re kidding right?
    The US funding of one group of crooks in Kiev versus a Moscow funded group of groups in Kiev makes for outstanding footage.
    Most of the country are accepting of the crooks of either side.
    They just don’t want to be some part of a parlay to get US taxpayer dollars into the hands of one group of crooks.


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  18. It’s obvious by now that the US (or the neocons) are the bad guys.
    They have been vying for a war with Russia since the Obama days, now they are determined to get one.

    Perhaps they are still bitter after being kicked out of the Soviet Union back during the Stalin purge of the Bolsheviks.

    Putin has been very reasonable and quite cool in the current stoking of the fires. This will not go well for the US or Europe.


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  19. Botswana,

    The Tatars most certainly did not originate in the Crimea. They swept over Russia from the east in the time of Genghis Khan. They ruled over various pockets of Russian people until the time of Ivan the Terrible. He broke their military hold, often using methods as terrible as the Tatars themselves had used to keep their serfs in check. When their time was done and they were driven out or killed, only small groups remained, the Crimean Tatars, the Bessarabian Tatars and so on. But they did not originate there.

    Tatars are hated in Russia to this day and were openly discriminated against in the former USSR. Their surnames gave them away – those that ended in -iev were instantly known as the descendants of Tatars. They were denied advancement in most fields.

    My former brother-in-law is a Tatar, born in Samarkand in the 1960s. He expressed surprise at how Asiatic his son’s eyes were when he was born: “Where did he get those?”

    And yet, even today, a very common saying in Russia is: “Scratch a Russian, find a Tatar”. Ever noticed the flatter faces and prominient cheekbones that most Russians possess?


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  20. Luzu says:
    January 28, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    I can’t be bothered searching it up right now but I understand that every Russian alive today still has approximately 0.5-1% DNA that is directly traceable back to those times. Millions of ‘ethnic’ Russian men and boys were outright murdered whilst the women were used as ‘breeding stock’ for the invaders.


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