It’s time to face the truth.
Western “media democracies” are a crucial agenda-setter for politics. The fact that they continue to use the term “pro-Russian separatists” and not “Russians” at this stage makes them to allies of the Russian president and to allies for his expansionist plans.
At the point of writing, there is only a tiny minority of local separatists left as a great part of the original separatists and volunteers fighting against the Ukrainian state have been killed. In January 2015 the powerful group of “Batman” was liquidated – at the moment the “Kazakhs” are done for at Debaltseve and nearby locations. Some of those actually are replaced by Russian or local criminals. All those have been welcome cannon-fodder for the Russian president and always sent at the front line first. They fulfilled two purposes: to wear out Ukrainians and to keep up the façade. The first purpose has only partly worked out (even if there still are many questions, for example why commanders did not give the order to blow-up the Donetsk airport, or why they have risked encirclement at Debaltseve). The second purpose largely worked out: no-body outside Ukraine is ready to officially admit that Russia has been fully responsible for the whole war in the Donbas. Some observers state that the Russian president is too dangerous, and western politicians and media fear what he will do if they would accuse him of leading a war against Ukraine. But it might be worse: Politicians or media editors in the west might not take him seriously.
It is high-scale artillery warfare.
This not taking seriously has two implications: to underestimate Russia, and to underestimate/igore the war in the Donbas. If the west wants to believe Russia is weak, if it wants to believe, the Ukrainian army is not capable of launching coordinated army operations including tank battles at Debaltseve, if the west ignores war realities in the Donbas, we also have to ask if the west is “still in touch with reality”. Why is Russia able to mobilize people, material, media and able to provoke a large-scale artillery war, if it is so weak? Western responsible should not turn their minds away from the military facts: This is not a “civil war” in which everybody uses just what he can, or some kind of “conflict”. In contrary, Donbas-battles are full-scale army operations. The Ukrainian army may have many shortcomings, but it is doing the best it can. Is the EU doing what it can? First, official statements try at all cost to evade the impression that Russia is a threat (and NATO’s proposed rapid-reaction force of some 5.000 does support this picture). Secondly, armies of the EU member states operate in the “peace-modus”, i.e. helicopters and other material might not function, personnel is not ready for combat (The most striking example is Germany). The idea of a conventional army, including heavy artillery and tank divisions has been abandoned a few years ago. Now we have “professional armies” with “rapid-reaction forces”. They might not be ready in the case of emergency. And they might not be ready to face a Russia that does not stick to the rules of war (let alone the rules of diplomacy). So, for example how to counter sophisticated multiple rocket-launch systems with a “rapid-reaction force”? How to counter a “nuclear-incident”, say, over the English Channel? Will NATO really help Baltic countries in the case of hybrid warfare? The public in Europe does not get answers to those questions. Are western responsible really not aware of the fact (and the almost hysteric decline to sent weapons to Ukraine is a proof of it) that the only European army able to face Russia’s hybrid warfare and conventional operations is…. Ukraine?
Russia does not care about human losses.
Such as the west does not care about Russian human losses. They are just ignored. This is well in line with the understanding of the Russian soldier being “material”. In all former wars of the last hundred years, Soviet/Russian soldiers have been trained to be material, so only few of them protest or even desert, and if they ever do, the secret service waits for them behind the front. Being material has not changed until today. Take the recent example of the January 2015 battle for the Donetsk airport that consisted of various storming attempts (volunteer groups, units led by warlords and Russian regular army). Casualties for all have been massive. Only Russian army losses are counted. So, on the Donetsk airport, between 12 and 22 January 2015 losses for the most involved units (98th paratrooper division Kostroma / 331 th and 1065th; 76th guards air assault division Pskov/ 104th, 175th and 234th ; 22 th GRU-brigade, 5th tank brigade Ulan Ude; some of them already being part of the summer 2014 offensive) were: 402 killed, 435 wounded, 192 missing. Those and the few hundred uncounted men lost their life for a huge pile of rubble – the new terminal was finally blown up by the Russian forces and most of the Ukrainians gassed out. The last act of the battle for the Donetsk airport was another proof that Russia does not play by the rules (which unfortunately was no topic in the western press). Since the beginning of the war its forces have used human shields and deliberately attacked civilian objects (ongoing while you are reading this article). The Russian president offered a corridor for the Ukrainian forces blocked in Ilovyask in August 2014, and then gave order to attack and kill outgoing Ukrainian forces. Those are war crimes. As Russia’s wars are largely dehumanized, however, few care about Russian war crimes.
It is about the Soviet Union.
Russia’s history is full of imperialist ambitions that never have been contained by democratic forces or rule of law, and the west is used to accept them. For example, Ukrainians were forced into the Soviet Union just as the Baltic States or Caucasian countries which was silently accepted by the world. Ukraine has been not the first and the last victim. For Russians (not only for its president), the fall of the Soviet Union is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. To restore the Soviet Union in its orginal form will be difficult. To restore Russian power in Europe is easier, as it is not primarily a question of military power, but a question of influence. Influence has many forms. It means to coopt the internet, news agencies (see Reuters, AP and DPA reporting on the issue), national media, human rights organizations, artists, political parties and politicians in European countries. Influence can be also ensured by security services, and/or armed forces ripping off territory. All those have the goal of destabilization which works in favor of Russia’s power. Direct neighbors of Russia primarily have to face the threat of terrorist attacks and armed interventions. This includes the option of territorial expansion, such as infamous Novorossiya (ensuring a badly needed land bridge to Crimea), Transnistria, Latvia, parts of Georgia and Kazakhstan, and Belarus. The economic situation in Russia might be bad, but Putin’s presidency has never been about the economy. Russia cares about influence and power first – this might be economic (gas for example), but the Russian world does not fall apart if it is not. There are many instruments (one example), and influence can also be ensured in fueling anti-democratic movements and co-opting political leaders with anti-NATO, anti-EU and anti-liberal arguments.
We do not necessarily have to make comparisons with Hitler (which surely causes the German press to hyperventilate) when it comes to European imperialism, power and war. The picture of Hitler, the use of the word “appeasement” or even drawing parallels between 1939 and 2014(2015) is sometimes appropriate to generate attention. This has not proved productive, as the European consensus is that Hitler cannot by compared with anybody. Full stop, end of discussion. But there should be a discussion: This comparison has been made (albeit rarely), because there is war in Europe that has been initiated for the same reasons Hitler made his territorial acquisitions in Austria and Czechoslovakia. This comparison should also be made because the Russian president and his puppets use similar hate speech, and do everything possible and impossible to support hate in the Russian people. Their targets are the United States, NATO, the western civilization, but above all, it is about Ukraine and Ukrainian “fascists”. More precisely, it is ethnic hate, Russian media/political puppets go for. For this purpose, made-up news and atrocities committed by Ukrainians are presented on an almost daily basis in Russian media. Russia has blamed a Ukrainian for the crash of its currency, and quite successfully discredited Ukrainians; dehumanized them. The best proof is that western correspondents and others (otherwise very concerned with the individual rights of any human being) ignore the incitement of the Ukrainian people.
Face evil. The dehumanization of a certain people is a first step towards mass murder. Russia and its puppets have killed civilians deliberately and did not stick to the rules of war in Chechnya in the 1990s, they do this now in the Donbas (e.g. parading of prisoners of war or using human corridors and truces for dirty tricks). In connection with Ukraine, there is a long Russian “tradition” of violating their human rights in the 20th century. For example, the Red Army between 1918 and 1920 officially fought against Ukrainian nationalists, but practically could kill any Ukrainian. Much of this was also termed “civil war” (a convenient term to disguise ethnic-based warfare). In the early 1930s, Russia’s Stalin was responsible for the liquidation of Ukrainian peasants as a class, just as for the liquidation of Ukrainian intellectuals (four to five million dead). Between 1946 and 1949, 300.000 Ukrainian “nationalists” were deported to Siberia. In the beginning of the 1980s, Ukrainians were the largest ethnic group imprisoned for political reasons (60-70%) (source). The west has not to evoke Hitler. Stalin is even better. Stalin waged ethnic warfare, kept Ukraine with force in the Soviet Union and committed crimes against the Ukrainian nation. The west has seriously to worry about the fact that more than 50% of the Russians see Stalin in a positive light and that they support a president that has taken steps to rehabilitate Stalin and ignored Stalin’s crimes against the Ukrainian nation. The 85% support of the Russian president is also a confirmation that his hate-rhetoric is well-received. Hate and lies are not a guarantor of peace – they are a guarantor of war.
The war against the European Union and the US has already started.
First, information from Russia reproduced in western media, social networks, the use of experts in talkshows etc. directly support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Those measures have to be regarded at least acts of aggression. Unfortunately, media and politics are not ready to acknowledge the extent of propaganda and that they might be manipulated. So, they refuse to accept that information from Russia directly supports war and aggression, and thus are far away from using the term “information war”. Which helps them to ignore Russia is staging a media war against the western media system and to downplay the methods Russia uses. An important pillar of Russia’s strategy here is to count on the western habit that every denial or statement will be duly reported on (such as the mantra-like “Russia denies troop involvement in Ukraine”, nearly two million hits on google). To admit an information war is going on would implicate to reflect certain terms, e.g. the term “civil war”, still used by news agencies and reproduced by national media, or the term “pro-Russian separatists”. This would also imply to admit mistakes which nobody does like to do (the author has not seen a single excuse from authors that denied Russian involvement in the annexation of Crimea; instead there might be references now that Russian involvement had been clear from the beginning). Second, Russia is working full-time in order to destabilize the European Union with the help of those who hate the democratic system. This destabilization is now beginning to threaten the European Union, most pronouncedly involved in this destabilization are extreme right- and left-wing parties: The French Front National has received considerable funds from Russia, such as Greece’s Syriza has personal contacts to Russian fascist Dugin (who called Ukrainians “a race of degenerates”) and to oligarchs who directly financed the annexation of Crimea. Both Hungary and Serbia are in Russia’s orbit, such as considerable social strata in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Action is needed.
This is what democracies are not good at. They prefer to react.
Therefore they will tend to lose when being confronted with a determined dictator. Even more if this dictator seemingly has no plan. Remember, Russian culture is not to “have a plan” or to be “rational”. This makes the situation even more dangerous. But there is a solution: make a plan and follow it through. The US would be the first to do so as they are alone and the most powerful country in the world. But their president wants to stay out of international troubles. This will be difficult as Russia has identified America and NATO its main enemy, which is regularly repeated by Russian politicians and media. At this point of time, the American president does not take Russian threats seriously. He certainly will have to at a later stage, but it might be too late then. The EU is too weak to break Russia’s influence – on an institutional scale it struggles with members that tend to support Russia, do not know what to do, or want a more determined line – and therefore determined action in the form of substantial financial and military help for Ukraine on an institutional EU-scale is not possible (this so far has also been true for a combined EU-humanitarian effort for southeastern Ukraine). Single EU-countries have been reluctant to take substantial action, and support has been mostly verbal which amuses the Russian and frustrates the Ukrainian side.
The only country that can and is forced to take action is Ukraine.
Ukraine lacks finance and modern anti-missile weapons (among others), so they cannot act with more determination on the battle field; and they simultaneously are urged by American and European representatives to reform the state without receiving substantial financing. Ridiculously, the single serious plan to refinance and restructure Ukraine is obstructed. In fact, Ukraine has to face four battlefields: the so-called international community focuses rather on anti-corruption reforms than on Russia’s aggression without providing substantial funds, the Ukrainians who have to cope with poverty and go through a humanitarian disaster, and Russia’s aggression that is combined with a global information campaign against Ukraine. Russia for its part shows action and has deployed considerable forces to Russia’s western part and to the Ukrainian border. The claim of some western politicians that they themselves would be more determined if Ukrainian politicians would be can only be termed cynical. President Porosehnko a week ago twittered WorldwakeupRussiainvadedUkraine and parliament declared Russia an aggressor state. Ukraine does not declare war on Russia and does not stage a counter-offensive, because it lacks resources and because it remembers well how bad the 2008 Russian war against Georgia ended for Georgia. A small detail is that the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (that stated the use of force by Georgia against Russian troops was not justified) was led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini who continues to be involved in the Ukrainian OSCE mission. Ukraine so far has evaded Georgian mistakes. But still many in the west blame rather Ukraine than Russia for being aggressive, and responsible for the war (best expressed in the continuous claim that “both sides accuse themselves of being responsible”, some 17.9 million google hits).
Ukraine takes action, but all rhetoric and actions against Russia are highly risky maneuvers.
The west so far has taken the risk of some sanctions that in combination with a falling oil price have caused economic decline in Russia, but had no impact on Russia’s aggression.
What is important for Russia is influence, remember.
The next step to cut influence is easier than sanctions.
Russia invaded Ukraine.
It is as simple as that.