Guest Post: Speedbox – How did we get here? From Clinton to Putin

Some would have you believe that the world couldn’t have acted to prevent the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as Russia has simply been ultra-aggressive.  Some went so far as to suggest that Russian President Putin wants to re-establish a Soviet-like empire.  Neither of those suggestions are true.

As it stands, we see sanctions falling like confetti on Russia although there is no doubt that the global sanction ‘pile-on’ is also an implicit warning to China lest it have any ideas about Taiwan.

It isn’t possible in this post to identify each sanction and the sanction-busting (work around) that Russia has devised, but those plans were developed over many years and China will play a very substantial role.  Other nations such as India and Brazil (the BRIC alliance) are also working on methodologies to circumvent the strict ‘letter’ of the sanctions as are a handful of other countries, but China is the key.

The principle reason behind Putin’s action is the national defence strategy of Russia.  Namely, if Ukraine were to become a member of NATO, that would represent an existential threat to Russia.  Currently, Ukraine acts as an effective buffer between NATO members Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary  to central Russia.  Ukraine’s location compliments the existing buffers to the north (Belarus) and the far north (Finland).  NATO members Estonia and Latvia, who share borders with Russia, are too small to be of concern and the borders are easily defendable.

Why now?  Because Russia believes that Ukraine’s admission to NATO is simply a matter of time under US President Joe Biden.  Make no mistake, there is real enmity between Biden and Russian President Putin, and Russia had information that the US was quietly canvassing NATO members to provisionally admit the Ukraine.  Effectively, a fait accompli would be sprung and Russia’s western border would be badly compromised.  The US has denied they were involved in any canvassing.

The truth or otherwise of that matter cannot be known but it is indisputable that American foreign policy since US President Bill Clinton has been one of arrogance and utterly tone-deaf to Russia’s national security concerns and NATO.  The US has taken every opportunity to keep Russia ‘off-balance’ in that regard and the invasion of Ukraine is the inevitable end result.

The problems began when Clinton’s foreign policy pushed for the expansion of a US-dominated NATO eastward toward Russia.  That strategy reneged on promises that George H. W. Bush had given to Moscow during the final weeks of the Soviet Union that NATO would not move beyond the eastern border of a united Germany.

Instead, by 1998 under Clinton, the US had campaigned to allow Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary into NATO.

Former Clinton secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, asserted that the goal of both Washington and the newly free members of the defunct Warsaw Pact “was to do for Europe’s East what NATO and the Marshall Plan had done for Europe’s West.”  The objective “was to create a sphere of common interest in which every nation would live in security.”

Unsurprisingly, the Russians saw it differently.

Not everyone in Clinton’s administration was 100% on-board with the plan.  Although he didn’t trust Russia, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott warned that “Russian uncertainty about its future is inescapably among the factors to be taken into account in shaping decisions about European security.”

Note that this was occurring only a few short years before Vladimir Putin became President and he was already far from a disinterested observer.  It is well recorded that in 2005 he made his now famous remarks: ”First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”.  With that statement, Putin virtually put the world on notice.

But most western governments had no interest in querying US foreign policy and were happy to bask in the belief that the US was in charge as the ‘world’s policeman’.  Pondering how to leverage the rise of China for domestic national benefit was of much greater interest.

Meanwhile, America’s pro-NATO policy, without any consideration for Russian sensitivities, has been so successful that from the initial twelve member nations in 1949, NATO has expanded to thirty nations today.  Eleven of those since 2004.

Only the terminally stupid would think that continually expanding NATO eastward to the Russian border would not be construed as a hostile act.  Yet, every US administration since Clinton has insisted that Russia had nothing to fear.

Thus, by the time the 1990s drew to a close, the momentum toward a new cold war was well underway.  And from any realistic perspective, Ukraine’s fate was effectively sealed following the Euromaiden protests of 2013/4 that swept the last Ukrainian politician sympathetic to Russia out of office.

There was a brief glimmer of hope around 2015/6 when former German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to broker a deal between Russia and the Ukraine that included formally ceding the Crimea to Russia and the Ukraine promising not to join NATO.

In return, Ukrainian sovereignty was guaranteed in addition to huge Russian investment and interest free loans, plus discounted gas, were all on the table – but Ukraine wasn’t interested in any negotiations.  At the time Ukraine owed Russia tens of millions of dollars for gas (some of which Ukraine had stolen) and Russia offered to wipe that debt as well.

Instead, the new and emboldened Ukraine government preferred to believe their own ‘Revolution of Dignity’ press releases.

We would be well advised to recall that Bill Clinton also signed the U.S.-China Relations Act in October 2000 which granted Beijing permanent normal trade relations with the United States and paved the way for China to join the World Trade Organization in 2001.  Successive US administrations have nurtured and promoted China to its current status.

From a global security perspective, how’s that working out for us?

Reap what you sow folks.

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March 5, 2022 2:36 pm

There were so many off ramps, and Russia has long been warning what the red lines are, and yet here we are.

Only going to get worse, even if Ukraine dies down and ends diplomatically. Too many countries have felt the weight of the USA in one way or another, and will take an opportunity offered to either lay the boot in or get away from their shadow.

I’m expecting we will see an increasing move away from the USD, worsening supply problems, and regional powers like Iran flexing their muscles. A massive shift in the world where a significant chunk of the population has grown up with the USA as the power will be trying to find their feet when that is no longer true.

We live in interesting times.

March 5, 2022 2:53 pm

Historically, Obama and Biden (even before he was president) must take much of the blame for the current situation.
Ironically now Putin would be gleeful that Biden is president, and U.S. leadership is at its lowest ebb.

March 5, 2022 2:55 pm

You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was not a long-term Democrat Grand Plan, spoiled for four years by that ruffian Trump. Now back to the business of destroying the US from the inside.

March 5, 2022 3:00 pm

From what I have read, I am sure that Sleepy Joe is President in name only, it is his minders and controllers who are responsible for his policies. I guess that Trump’s successor would inherit a poisoned chalice, due to the catastrophic and cumulative failures of America’s foreign policy over the past 30 years. Nations such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan have been destroyed, and yet the USA doesn’t seem to learn. Who is it that decides America’s foreign policy, and why do they get it wrong every time?

March 5, 2022 3:24 pm
Ed Case
Ed Case
March 5, 2022 4:43 pm

The President at the moment is a guy named Douglas Emhoff.
He’s married to Kamala Harris, so don’t get overexcited over any [fake] news that Harris is on the way out.
Joe’s doing his 8 years as Puppet-In-Chief, then it’s Harris’s turn.

Cassie of Sydney
March 5, 2022 5:50 pm

“Who is it that decides America’s foreign policy, and why do they get it wrong every time?”

The neocons.

March 5, 2022 6:09 pm

And who elected the neocons?

Cassie of Sydney
March 5, 2022 6:31 pm

“And who elected the neocons?”

Nobody. The neocons gave us Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Ukraine.

March 5, 2022 6:31 pm

Joe’s doing his 8 years as Puppet-In-Chief

You reckon he’ll last 4 years?

March 5, 2022 6:34 pm

which again shows that Trump was right over target and why he was removed

Cassie of Sydney
March 5, 2022 6:36 pm

Speedbox, thank you for this. It aligns with my thinking of the whole Russia/Ukraine dispute.

Everyone here should listen to the following….”The Destabilisation of Ukraine

It’s a good analysis of the situation and it’s chilling. The machinations of the US state department under Obama/Biden/Biden…with that criminal Victoria Nuland (married to neocon Robert Kagan) spearheading what happened in Ukraine in 2014.

Putin, after eight years of patience, finally had enough.

Cassie of Sydney
March 5, 2022 6:37 pm

“You reckon he’ll last 4 years?”

Who knows but I hope he does because the though of cackling Kamala is frightening.

March 5, 2022 6:44 pm

I’ve read a fair bit about the horrors of the Soviet Union- it was bad even before Stalin took over. The sadism- giving hungry people on their way to a GULAG tinned fish and then no water. Just one example.

Then after 1991 what was a force to be reckoned with became a sad joke under Yeltsin. I got the impression that the place had got its act together with Putin- maybe I’m wrong. Anyway I really need to go there sometime and see for myself (as much as a brief visit can inform you).

March 5, 2022 6:47 pm

Also the US attempts to humiliate Russia makes me despise the American foreign policy establishment with their summa cum laude bludge degrees from Harvard and Yale.

March 5, 2022 6:51 pm

Finally, after what has happened in the US I’m not sure how it is in anyway better than the old Soviet Union- political prisoner committing suicide in jail in DC. Sounds like Lubyanka in the 50s.

March 5, 2022 6:52 pm

PS great post Speedbox

March 5, 2022 9:13 pm

miltonf says:
March 5, 2022 at 6:44 pm
Anyway I really need to go there sometime and see for myself (as much as a brief visit can inform you).

Russia and the Ukraine are remarkable countries. If you are into WW2 history, they are a treasure trove! Everywhere you turn – every little town – city – has a story of Stalin and/or WW2. Monuments to battles well known and not well known, markers of mass graves where you can pay your respects, almost every small town has a museum staffed by an elderly Russian who enjoys telling the local stories…….

The people are friendly and welcoming. Moscow is a vibrant cosmopolitan city with something north of 15 million residents and ‘pumps’ 24/7. Architecture in St Petersburg is stunning. Museums and palaces that are breathtaking. I attended a performance of Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Ballet and would find it hard to describe the venue such is its beauty.

Even a short visit will demonstrate that the people of Russia (in particular) are nothing like we were led to believe when we were children (and subsequently).

The Ukraine is the same, but somewhat ‘different’ to Russia. Kiev is beautiful, east to a ‘hard’ city like Kharkiv or west to Odesa which is as ‘alive’ as any in western Europe….. plus of course dozens of small cities or minor towns in between.

And then there’s the Crimea…..Sevastopol, Yalta, Kerch…..

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
March 6, 2022 12:21 am

Cassie – lotus eaters you tube video. Hmmm – Ukraine has always been passive but Russia not,
But I keep thinking on how Russians behave compared to us in the west.
I keep thinking of the ufc title fight between Connor McGregor and the well behaved man from Degastan.
I keep thinking I like the man fro. Dagestan,
The Putin over the Democrats,

March 6, 2022 12:45 pm

“Also the US attempts to humiliate Russia makes me despise the American foreign policy establishment with their summa cum laude bludge degrees from Harvard and Yale.”

Yeah – they totally ignored the absolute brilliance of Trump’s policies.
Handing the Syria “issue” to Russia simultaneously stoked Putin’s ego, placing him as the “deputy” charged with policing the middle east, it also (would have, if allowed to continue) forced the countries in that region to turn their anger away from the USA and instead towards Russia. At the same time it reduced the US’s defense spending while increasing Russia’s, at a time when America’s energy independence and status as a net exporter of energy kept a lid on oil and gas prices, keeping Russia working hard to “make a living” from energy.

The big flaw of this strategy was the establishment’s investment (both policy and financial) in the old policy agenda – both left and right establishment politicians as well as deep state “big wigs” stood to lose a shed-load of cash if this was allowed to proceed, as well as halting their vampiric destruction of the US economy, and they fought it at every step of the way.

Living the dream
Living the dream
March 6, 2022 7:07 pm

Dover Beach; There is in fact no evidence that Ukraine was joining NATO. There is evidence that NATO would not accept Ukraine.
More importantly, what exactly do you mean when commenting that Ukraine believed its own press releases? That they were foolish to think they could avoid invasion?
In short, are you suggesting that Putin should be free to invade anyone he likes?

March 7, 2022 9:50 am

“There is evidence that NATO would not accept Ukraine.”

They refused to rule it out, despite this being one of the conditions Russia specified for an independent Ukraine.

How is it that when Libia or Syria “cross the line” drawn by the US, it is fine for NATO and well as the US to go in and “We came, We saw, He died”, yet when someone crosses Russia’s “red line” it is not OK for them to act after years of trying other methods?

How is it that the threat of missiles in Cuba (160km away from US) is “crossing the line”, but the threat of missiles in the Ukraine (right on the border with Russia) is not “crossing the line”?
Especially when Russia has made it clear for a long time that this is not something they can accept.

Not saying Russia is right, not supporting Putin/Russia in what they have done – I would much prefer some real-politic diplomacy here, and recognition of oft-stated Russian concerns. Whether or not you think they have valid reasons is irrelevant – they have stated those concerns and been ignored. Recognise their concerns, take it slowly, let them get used to the idea, prove to them there is no threat to them. Is that really too much to ask? Apparently it is – apparently it’s OK to not just ignore these concerns, but to ramp up pushing harder and harder to put them at a disadvantage and mnake them even more paranoid. Push them to ally with the CCP, instead of getting them on our side against the CCP.

The US (the entire establishment) has been “poking the bear” by proxy in the Ukraine for years over this and completely ignoring Russia’s complaints – “They have nothing to fear from NATO” they say. Perhaps not, but given their history, Russia has genuine reasons to be paranoid about their border security, and it’s not like they haven’t made their position very clear about this. Yet we just pushed them ever harder. Hardly a surprise the eventually said “Enough!”.

March 7, 2022 9:44 pm

Absolutely brilliant, “Kneel”, just as good as the OP. Thanks both.
I lament that the Swamp won and got rid of Trump, a Swamp with tentacles as far away as Australia. Yes, the one whose PM did not have Trump’s phone number when he won the election. And whose other PM was the first to ring up and congratulate Biden even before the results were certified.
It does smell like the end of the world, ongoing for more than a decade not counting Trump’s small intermission.

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