Jiri and Leni Friedman Valenta

                                                 September 9, 2016

Donald, time is running out. Your views about Russia, Ukraine  and your relationship with Vladimir Putin must be clarified. Be sure that in the forthcoming debates, Hillary will set a trap for you, something similar to Garry Johnson’s “Aleppo moment.” Don’t let her create Syria and Ukraine moments. Putin also knows how to read people and you must not fall for his flattery. With his background in the KGB he is well versed in reading people and the art of the deal as well as maskirovka [deception].

But you are correct; we should explore a possible new relationship with Putin as Reagan did with Gorbachev.  And before that can happen, you must realize we cannot forge an anti-Islamist terrorist alliance, with him without serious steps to resolving the Ukraine crisis.

Some basic history:  Before the Putin-Trump  bromance there was a Bush-Putin bromance in 2001. George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin first met at a June 2001 summit in Slovenia. Putin warned Bush that al Qaida was planning an attack on the American homeland. They also had a discussion about the cross Putin was wearing. As Bush found out Putin is not just a former KGB officer, but a devout Christian. After 9/11 the Russians, bogged down in their war with Islamic terrorists in Chechnya, became our allies and helped us to prosecute Al Qaida and the Taliban with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

 So why did the  bromance  sour? The trouble began when “W”  and his NSA, Condi Rice, launched the 2003 Iraq war, based on faulty and even fabricated intelligence that Saddam Hussein had WMD and ties with al Qaida. Notice, Hillary Clinton vigorously supported and voted for the war in Iraq as a senator in 2002. Unlike many Democrats, she sounded like Vice President Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and other Republican advocates of it within the Bush administration. “Intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program,” declared Hillary.

While many Democrats and some prominent Republicans like Brent Scowcroft questioned the controversial issue of Saddam’s possession of WMD and support for the 9/11 terrorists, she did not. Unlike other public figures, people  like Donald Trump who sort of supported the war initially while not having  access to intelligence information, she voted for  war. By 2004, however,  Trump instinctively turned against it,

Along with France and Germany, Russia disapproved of the Iraq war. Why start a new one  with Afghanistan  unfinished? Then,  while still bogged down in Iraq, Bush and Rice launched a  drive to enlarge the  number of NATO countries at Russia’s periphery without a corresponding deepening of the NATO-Russia alliance. That was not welcome!  In the words of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “Trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching.

” Feeling “encircled” by NATO, Putin viewed our ambitions as “hegemonic.” Then came his aversion to the pro-west, 2004 color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which surely contributed  to his policies of undermining the new democratic leaders in those countries. There followed the 2008 invasion of Georgia and 2014 bloodless invasions of the Crimea and bloody proxy war in eastern Ukraine. 
Meanwhile, Putin is fully aware of the political and business ambitions of the Clintons. First, there was Hillary’s 2009 “reset” with Russia. Recall that this took place a year after the invasion of sovereign Georgia and occupation of its two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  But with the “reset,” Russia was forgiven. 
Ask why? The Secretary of State was busy at the same time swinging a deal with husband Bill’s help, that netted them a fortune. She okay-ed at the highest level  the sale to Russian firm Rosatom of a Canadian uranium mining company with vast stakes in the American West and Kazakhstan.  Russia gained a fifth of America’s uranium!  Hardly the art of the deal. The Clinton Foundation got  $2.35 million in donations from the company’s happy shareholders and Bill got a $500,000 speakers fee from the Russians!

That was surely fine with Putin, but the real turning point in the U.S.-Russo relationship was the 2011, Hillary- led intervention in Libya. In the debate before the U.N., Ambassador Susan Rice, as directed by Hillary, perpetuated the myth that the U.S. and NATO wanted to intervene in Libya primarily for humanitarian reasons. Supposedly they sought to prevent the massive slaughter of civilians by  Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. There was civil war but the slaughter was exaggerated.

As Gates reported, after Gaddafi was killed by the Libyan rebels, the Russians, who had abstained in the U.N. vote, believed they had been tricked. Moreover, a secular leader like Saddam, Libya’s Gaddafi had not only given up his nuclear program, but was eager to fight al Qaida with the U.S.   After his murder, al Qaida metastasized and the huge migration to Europe was unleashed. Libya became another failed state like Iraq.

“We came, we saw and we killed him,” crowed Hillary, who now was bent on providing more arms to anti-Assad, rebels in Syria. Advised by her unofficial adviser, Sid Blumenthal, an Anglophile figure with contacts among arms dealers,  Clinton continued to reap hefty donations for her private hedge fund, the Clinton foundation. 

On Sunday we are approaching the anniversary of 9/11 but also the four years anniversary of Benghazhi-gate. Now we know there was no consulate in Benghazi but a mission that included a large CIA annex engaged in shipping the Libyan weapons to Syria via Turkey. The research of investigative reporters Seymour Hersh and Christophe Lehman show that Ambassador Chris Stevens, was aware and even involved in the annex arms shipments Hillary oversaw. Moreover, as we learned, he was preparing for Secretary Clinton’s visit later in the year. That’s why he was in Benghazi on the day he was killed.

 But the kicker is the assertions of these two reporters that the weapons for Syria were accompanied by the sarin gas allegedly used by  Assad on his own people.   The sarin, when tested, was not from Syria, but from Libya! These reports have to be verified. If true, they would put a different spin on America’s presumed reasoning as it considered military intervention against Assad in September 2013 to punish Bashir Assad. To us this is not a final verdict, but it surely must be explored.

The Obama-Hillary plan for Syria, as earlier in Iraq and Libya, became regime change and free elections. But once again Hillary disregarded the Middle East’s historical legacy and a political culture that had no prior experience in democracy. Was she even aware of the fault lines between Sunnis and Shiites?

 Much earlier than Hillary’s critics in America Putin’s foreign service reached the conclusion that ambitious and trigger happy Mrs. Clinton is a dangerous and an unreliable partner. Unsurprisingly, Republican  architect of the Iraq war,  Paul Wolfowitz,  and two other ardent supporters of it, Elliot Cohen and Max Booth, are now supporting Democrat Hillary and not Trump.  They surely remember Hillary’s robust interventionism.
Putin is well aware that both Russia and America are facing a long struggle with a common enemy, “Islamic terrorism,” the two words Obama and Hillary find so hard to pronounce. But the bottom line is that the resolution of the Ukraine crisis is the sine qua non of a return from a new Cold War back to the constructive relationship Putin started to develop with Bush. Its equitable resolution  is a precondition for  our lifting of the sanctions against Russia. 

The negotiations with Putin on Ukraine must not be left to Angela Merkel, Sooner than later, she will be out of office for letting in the Muslim deluge and the making of post- Brexit Europe. America must be involved in art of deal making on Ukraine. Possible compromise; Putin’s withdrawal of his military from eastern Ukraine, the international guarantee of Ukraine’s genuine independence and territorial integrity based on armed neutrality a la Switzerland.

We must say no to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, yet Ukraine can be armed with NATO defensive weapons. Full autonomy and civil rights must be provided to Russian speakers in the Eastern Ukraine. Russia’s right to use the  naval base of Sevastopol in the Crimea, home of the Black Sea fleet, must be guaranteed in perpetuity. However, as we did in the case of the Baltic Republics, we must never recognize de jure incorporation of the Crimea into Russia. It’s special status must be negotiated. For details on a negotiated proposal see my interview by Alexander Motyl in The World Affairs Journal, “Ukraine a Bridge linking Russia and the West?”

Back to you, Donald. All of Trump’s critics should remember, when Winston Churchill faced Hitler, he took the other monster, Stalin as an ally. He said, “If Hitler were to invade hell, I would at least make a passing reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” Putin is no angel, but he’s no Stalin. In a nutshell,  it is imperative that you not be accused of being a Putin stooge or supporting another “Munich agreement ” on Ukraine. But you're right to pursue the relationship.
  Obviously, in the remaining time, you must get to know the basics. Again, you must remember Winston Churchill; “Study history, study history; in history lie all the secrets of statecraft.”     

Professor Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University; a leading expert on the Ukraine


   Divining Putin's Intentions;  Why we Must                   Lose "Strategic Patience."

                   Jiri Valenta with Leni Friedman Valenta

​Comparing six different interventions at Russia's prior and present peripheries (since 1956) the Valentas hone in on Kremlin decision-making. What are the key factors determining the decision to invade? . What has changed? What is the same?   How have the use of Russian maskirovka  and strategic surprise  facilitated  Putin's interventions?

“[…] we don’t have any reason to think it’s more than military exercises.” So opined a senior U.S. intelligence official on February 27, 2014. Only after Vladimir Putin’s “little green men” without insignia took over the airport and government buildings in Crimea did the light go on. We saw this movie before in 1968 Czechoslovakia. As the 1975 Pike Committee concluded, “U.S. agencies were not up to the difficult task of divining Soviet intentions…they only found them [the Soviet tanks] in the streets of Prague, but only by way of a Czech radio news broadcast.” Similar story in 1956 Hungary, 1979 Afghanistan, 1980–81 Poland, 2008 Georgia and 2014 eastern Ukraine.

This study discusses Russian interventions at her periphery, or what Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s partner in their presidential game of Round Robbin, has called its “sphere of privileged interests.” Note, however, that after the 1991 geopolitical amputation of Russia, the periphery moved dramatically inward. Rather than much of Eastern Europe, it now includes Ukraine, the Baltic States, Moldova, Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

Comparing the post-Soviet invasions of Georgia and Ukraine to interventions past, our purpose here has been to discern key factors of Russian decision-making. What is still constant? What is new? How can we better divine Russian intentions and so enhance preemptive diplomacy?  For more, CLICK HERE.


        Tags:    jvlv.net       World Affairs Journal         Dr. Jiri Valenta           Dr. Alexander Motyl             Russo-Ukrainian War           Resolving Ukraine Conflict 

        Editors Note:  Guest writer, Professor  Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University in New Jersey, is possibly America's best leading  expert on Ukraine.   Dr. Valenta is also pleased to have received his endorsement as of February 2018 as follows:

​Dr. Jiri Valenta is not only an excellent East Europeanist with a vast and deep knowledge of the region and its history, politics, society, and culture. He is also a remarkably prescient scholar who has managed to be on the right side of history with regard to a country that is still woefully understood in the West: Ukraine. Dr. Valenta predicted Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of Crimea back in 2014. He has also understood the importance of US weapons supplies to Ukraine and predicted over a year ago that the Trump Administration would, despite dire warnings by analysts to the contrary, support Ukraine, provide it with weapons, and adopt a tough stance on Russia. Dr. Valenta's ability to understand Ukraine and Russia derives in no small measure from his past and present scholarship as well as his personal experience of communism and Soviet power. As a result, he brings to his analysis theoretical sophistication, empirical knowledge, and personal experience, a combination that very few scholars possess.
Prof. Alexander Motyl, Rutgers University-Newark 

​A woman lays flowers on tires forming part of a roadblock at a check-point manned by armed  pro-Russian militants outside the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk.

​​​​         ​​​​Tags:    Why We Must Arm Ukraine       Leni  Valenta        Dr. Jiri Valenta           Vladimir Putin        Maskirovka             Petro Grigorenko


                Published in the Kyiv Post

   Jiri and Leni Valenta - America Must                    Finally Arm Ukraine

                                                   April 22, 2015

Pauline Demyanenko, 78, reacts as she stands outside her home in the village of Nikishino on April 21 in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Only a handful stayed during the fighting here and as people returned to the village counting some 450 houses they found some 240 of those reduced to rubble or had been destroyed beyond repair. The lack of building material and limited emergency food deliveries see mostly elderly people with no were to flee returning and sheltering in their still habitable outhouses. AFP PHOTO / ODD AND 

Russian leaders are not seeking to restore the Soviet empire.

As in the past, however, they exhibit heightened concern over their vital national security interests at their periphery, or what Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s partner in their presidential game of Round Robin, coined as Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests.”

Thus, regime change or its prevention has uniformly constituted the Kremlin’s underlying motive for all the military interventions at Russia's periphery since Budapest 1956. The periphery, however, dramatically changed with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Rather than much of Eastern Europe, it now includes Ukraine but also the Baltic states, those of the Caucasus, Moldova and Central Asia. For more,CLICK HERE.

                                 Published in the Kyiv Post


                              April 21, 2014 

 ​There are some hopeful signs for a free and democratic Ukraine.  Despite Vladimir Putin´s continuous psychological pressure via deployment of military forces on Ukraine´s Eastern border, and continuous separatist occupation of government buildings in nine large cities in Eastern Ukraine, something quite unique has happened. 

While almost no one anticipated a Crimean invasion, almost everyone predicted a coming Russian invasion of the Eastern Ukraine. All the signs were there, including Putin´s own comments about “New Russia.”  Non-nationalist websites have been blocked in Russia, and after the annexation of the Crimea, we witnessed the same orgies of nationalism in Red Square, Moscow, that we saw when Hitler´s car appeared at the Brandenburg Gate after the full occupation of Czechoslovakia.  

But all of a sudden things came to a pause!  Unexpectedly, the Kremlin called U.S. President Barack Obama and at his request, another Geneva conference was set up on April 17 to address de-escalation of the crisis. Four actors; Russia, Ukraine, E U and U.S.  What happened?   

Putin´s FSB (KGB successor) got wind of three new developments.  1.  The European Parliament´s consideration of energy sanctions that will hurt the Southstream pipeline.  2.  In the U.S. Congress, the Republicans, led by Senator John McCain, are pushing for lethal arms to Ukraine.  3.  Most importantly, the Ukrainian military demonstrated it can fight.  All of these reasons relate to the Kremlin´s perception of a much-increased cost of a further intervention.

Exploded by now is the myth that economic sanctions can modify Putin´s behavior.  Sanctions on high Kremlin colleagues and oligarch banks were laughed off.     Despite the tumbles of the ruble and Russian market,   Putin, has seemed unshaken. The result has been the rise of the alternate myth that economic sanctions will not matter at all.  Wrong!   

Russia has an Achilles heel.  With its extractive economy, Russia can be posited as a giant gas station.    Roughly half of its GNP is dependent upon gas and oil, which also account for 70% of its exports.   Putin has compensated for Russia´s lack of economic diversity by sewing up gas and oil pipelines both in the Middle East and Europe, thus pressuring the EU.   However, the oil and gas streams cut both ways.  Europe needs the gas, but Putin needs the profits, and here energy economic sanctions, can make a difference.  

Since the 2004 Orange Revolution, and in spite of Russian puppet Viktor Yanukovych´s return to power in 2010,  Putin has considered the Ukraine unreliable.  Thus, even as he has tried to block the building of alternate pipelines to European markets, he has also tried to diversify GAZPROM gas  AND ROZNEFT oil pipelines flows so as to avoid Ukraine.

In the north, Russia´s GAZPROM owns 51% of Nordstream AG, the rest held by Germany and Holland. Chaired by former German chancellor and Putin friend, Gerhard Schroder, the security of its completed pipelines is not in question.  Perhaps the only issue is whether NATO country Estonia will permit the exploration of new Nordstream pipeline routes through its waters.  However, the Southstream pipeline, also 51% owned by GAZPROM,  is a different story.  It´s far from being finished.  Originating in Russia and going through the Black sea to the economic zones of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia to Italy, it could be put into jeopardy by  adverse changes in EU policy.

And perhaps that has started to happen.  On April 16 the European Parliament was said to have  voted to terminate this project and slap sanctions on Russia for its interventionist policies..   

Unsurprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asked for an immediate meeting on April 17 in Geneva.  Four actors:  Russia, Ukraine, U.S. and EU.  Did Putin realize that if he went ahead with a large scale invasion of the Eastern Ukraine the future of Southstream would  be at stake? 

Surely one of Putin´s reasons for annexing the Crimea was to attain its bountiful oil and gas reserves.  He also knows that Yanukovych  signed  oil and gas exploration contracts with American companies Exxon and Shell.  Putin sur
ely would like these contracts renegotiated in his favor-  That  will not happen if there is an invasion.

The second factor  is the military one.  Putin likes low cost invasions.  It´s not as though Russia´s economy is exactly exuberant.  For a while it looked like the rag tag, demoralized army of the Ukraine, penetrated by Russian agents,  would not be able to repel separatist activities in the nine large cities of the Eastern Ukraine.  Then there was President Obama´s taking all military options off the table and being  slow to beef up military hardware in Poland and the Baltics.

Yet, amidst grotesque reports of Russian separatists  not letting Ukrainian troops pass and even taking over their motorized vehicles, and the Ukrainian forces  not being able to dislodge the separatists from their strongholds,  there came what might be a sudden turning point.  The  Ukrainian army showed it could fight.  On April 16, itrepelled an overnight attack of 300 separatists on their military base in the city of Mariupol.  The toll was three assailants dead, thirteen wounded and more than 60 captured.

The episode showed that the Ukrainians deserve  U.S. military aid – anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapon -- to strengthen their defenses, and some American leaders are calling for this.  After all, it wouldn´t be the first time that America provided arms to Ukrainian partisans.  They did it after WWII.  They did it for the Yugoslavs  through NATO member Italy, in 1949-52,  thus deterring Stalin´s intendedinvasion, and during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, they helped the Afghan Muslim resistance through  Pakistan.  

True, the results of the Geneva, April 17 temporary agreement on the de-escalation of the Crimea,  has so far not been able to resolve the conflict in the Eastern Ukraine.  Moreover, Russia´s deployment of its rapid response forces on the borders continues, as does the refusal of  Russian-speaking separatists to vacate their captured government buildings. Nor has Russia made any great effort to pressure the separatists to depart. However, it would be too simple to assume that Denis Pushilin, the  president of the self-proclaimed, “People´s Republic  of Donetsk,” is just the stooge of Putin and that Putin has total control of him or his followers.

Kiev must address the fact that the Eastern Ukraine, is not just spiritually and culturally,  but also  economically  linked with  Russia .   Not only the oligarchs but also the managers and skilled workers in the coal and steel industries of the East must be asking if integration with the EU would not be harmful to local interests.  They fear dislocations such as unemployment and factory closings. p.  Yet, the advantages of not living under  a dictatorship, having self-determination and free access to the more advanced West are considerable.

Some may ask, why has the U.S. been laggard in helping the Ukraine?   Americans generally dislike war,  but its leaders have also been slow to realize the need to stand up to aggression.  U.S. vital national interests are not directly threatened in the Ukraine, a non-member of NATO, but the  U.S has an important dog in this fight.  Putin´s interventionism  threatens not just the regional stability involving  our NATO allies, but  the entire world order.  If  Putin succeeds in invading the Ukraine or neighboring Moldova,  we will undoubtedly return to the Cold War between East and West,  with the potential for further escalation of the conflict as happened in the horrible past. 

 If not  challenged by America, other  irredentist regimes  will follow Putin´s example of disregard for international law; China has claims  on  islands in the Far East, Nicaragua lusts for part of Costa Rica for the building of a controversial canal.  India and Pakistan are at odds over Kashmir  and Azerbaijan and Armenia over, Nagorny Karabach,   Even Russian territorial integrity is threatened by separatists demands in Chechnya and Dagestan .  As long as the military buildup around the Ukraine is not dealt with, the U.S. should  supply  arms to the Ukraine.

            The Ukrainians separatists  should be allowed a referendum assuring the linguistic and civil rights of Russian speakers in the Ukraine.   There should also be active participation of the Party of Regents in the forthcoming election. Incidentally, it appears that this party does not agree with the continued separatist occupation of government buildings.  However, NATO and Kiev must be on guard, since the Russians are masters of maskirovka (deception).  The May 25 elections represent a decision-making deadline for Putin – either to accept a free Ukrainian state or continue the military intervention.  To avoid one, U.S. preventive diplomacy should also provide some carrots for Putin.  If he chooses to live with an independent Ukraine, energy sanctions might  be lifted.  Moreover the U.S. and NATO can provide guarantees to Putin that neither the Ukraine nor Georgia will join NATO.  In the long run, if Russia transcends into a more democratic country, Ukraine and Russia together could apply for NATO membership.  Moreover, OECC observers could be asked to assess the demands of the Russian large minorities in Estonia and Latvia as well as Ukraine.

 One can observe that the deployment of  NATO military assets in Estonia, Poland and Lithuania is slowly increasing.  American leaders on both sides of the aisle are starting to call for arms to the Ukraine.   As Winston Churchill once put it, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” 

 ​ Tags:    jvlv.net       World Affairs Journal         Dr. Jiri Valenta           Dr. Alexander Motyl             Russo-Ukrainian War           Resolving Ukraine Conflict           

          PUBLISHED IN THE WORLD AFFAIRS JOURNAL;                                      UKRAINE'S  ORANGE BLUES


        Ukraine: A Bridge Linking the West

                          and Russia?

   An Interview of Dr. Jiri Valenta by Alexander J. Motyl

 This article offers tactics and possible solutions to U.S. policy-makers for resolving the Russo- Ukraine crisis. 



MOTYL: Dr. Jiri Valenta, you’ve had extensive experience dealing with the Russians during and after the Prague Spring and wrote a seminal work on its tragic denouement, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968 (Johns Hopkins, 1991). Is there a solution to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war that would be acceptable to Ukraine, Russia, and the West?

VALENTA: Russian leaders abhor large, endless military campaigns and prolonged, costly wars. Many in Russia believe the war in Afghanistan led to revolutionary change and, in turn, to the 1991 fall of the empire. The Kremlin prefers low-cost interventions as in 1968 Czechoslovakia or bloodless ones as in 2014 Crimea. 

The prerequisite for avoiding future intervention is deterrence: making it too costly for Russia to intervene. Strategists and policy makers should study the advice a Ukrainian general-turned-dissident, Petro Grigorenko, gave Prague Spring leader Alexander Dubček. Grigorenko advised blocking main roads to halt tank armadas and defending aerodromes so as to prevent strategic surprise. Dubček feared bloodshed and refused to follow Grigorenko’s advice. In southeast Ukraine, they did follow it, and Grigorenko’s advice proved to be correct and effective.

MOTYL: What model of security would work best for Ukraine?  For more, CLICK HERE.

        Tags:    jvlv.net       World Affairs Journal         Dr. Jiri Valenta           Dr. Alexander Motyl             Russo-Ukrainian War           Resolving Ukraine Conflict 

        Editors Note:  Guest writer, Professor  Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University in New Jersey, is possibly America's best leading                 expert on Ukraine.   Dr. Valenta is also pleased to have received his endorsement as of February 2018 as follows:

Dr. Jiri Valenta is not only an excellent East Europeanist with a vast and deep knowledge of the region and its history, politics, society, and culture. He is also a remarkably prescient scholar who has managed to be on the right side of history with regard to a country that is still woefully understood in the West: Ukraine. Dr. Valenta predicted Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of Crimea back in 2014. He has also understood the importance of US weapons supplies to Ukraine and predicted over a year ago that the Trump Administration would, despite dire warnings by analysts to the contrary, support Ukraine, provide it with weapons, and adopt a tough stance on Russia. Dr. Valenta's ability to understand Ukraine and Russia derives in no small measure from his past and present scholarship as well as his personal experience of communism and Soviet power. As a result, he brings to his analysis theoretical sophistication, empirical knowledge, and personal experience, a combination that very few scholars possess.
Prof. Alexander Motyl, Rutgers University-Newark






                                                                                     By Alexander Motyl
  January 3, 2017

Recent evidence suggest that Russia may be planning a major land war against Ukraine. While Russian President Vladimir Putin talks peace, several leading Russian analysts have explicitly endorsed the “Syrian variant” with respect to Ukraine.

Are they speaking for themselves or are they acting on behalf of the regime, sending out trial balloons in order to test the popular, and overseas, response to the possibility of an all-out war? In democracies, private analysts generally speak for themselves. In authoritarian, totalitarian, and fascist regimes, highly placed analysts often speak on behalf of the leader—though unofficially, thereby providing him with plausible deniability.

On December 20, a senior expert of the Center for Military-Political Research at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Mikhail Aleksandrov, stated that if the Ukrainian military violates the ceasefire in the eastern Donbas in a massive way, Russia should respond with a “massive attack of the Donbas armies”—a reference to the 35,000 heavily armed Russians and Russian proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces—“supported by our aviation and long-range systems: that is, by our rocket systems, cruise missiles, and Iskander rockets.” 

On December 27, the popular TV program, “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” featured Aleksandr Kofman, the former “minister of foreign affairs” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, and Rostislav Ishchenko, a former Ukrainian journalist who defected to Russia. The three debated how Russia and its proxies should seize Ukraine’s cities.

Ishchenko suggested that Russia should be wary of sending its ground forces into Ukraine’s large cities: “What if those idiots”—the Ukrainians—“hunker down in the big cities? Should we then send the infantry in to get slaughtered? Those would be huge losses for the Russian army.”

In response, Solovyov said: “We took Aleppo rather quickly. And it’s there that we learned to solve tasks in this manner. Moreover, the DNR army has learned to fight in cities. There’s no need to worry. The people of Ukraine will not fight for them”—meaning the democratic government in Kyiv.

Kofman is equally optimistic about the Russian army’s chances: “I know that as soon as our armies approach any city, the Ukrainian army always abandons it. That’s a fact.”

Finally, on December 29, Mikhail Khazin, a Russian economist, TV anchor, columnist, and ex-member of the presidential administration, suggested that Ukraine be divided between Poland and Russia. In the Russian part corresponding to Ukraine’s southeast, Moscow should effectively ban Ukrainian language and culture. The Russian-occupied north of Ukraine, corresponding to Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv provinces, would be transformed into an agricultural hinterland stripped of industry and armed forces. The “excess population” would be deported to Russia’s Far East.

Unfortunately, says Khazin, there may be “several million people that cannot be reformed.” What should Russia do with them? His answer: “They need to be partly terminated, and partly expelled.”

Especially terrifying about these statements is the matter-of-fact manner in which they were made. Mass killings, aerial bombardments, ethnic cleansing, and genocide are, evidently, perfectly respectable options.

They are not alone. The Russian fascists, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Aleksandr Dugin, have long since used equally extremist language.

Zhirinovsky has called for the “total annihilation” of the Baltic states and Poland. Dugin, a philosopher with a following in the West, routinely endorses imperialism and war. Putin himself has also engaged in his share of terrifying saber-rattling.

At the very least, the recent commentary in Moscow testifies to a brutalization of Russian political culture. As in other fascist states like Nazi Germany, violence, killing, and annihilation have become normalized and routinized, to the point that perfectly respectable gentlemen can now consider genocide as a perfectly respectable policy option for the Kremlin. It’s as if a democratic government were to appropriate and legitimize open hate speech—and not bat an eyelash while employing it.

The more worrisome possibility is that these talking heads aren’t just engaging in idle speculations and what-if scenarios, but that their focus on specifics—which Ukrainian cities and which Ukrainian provinces to target—suggests that, this time, they may mean it. This time, they really may be recommending that the Kremlin engage in an all-out war against Ukraine.

This wouldn’t be the first time that non-Kremlin spokesmen would have presaged Kremlin policy with their comments. The Soviets practiced this technique on a regular basis, with analysts affiliated with the state-supported policy institutes regularly dropping hints and testing the waters in both direct and indirect, Aesopian language requiring Kremlinological skills to be deciphered and correctly understood. Under former President Boris Yeltsin, when Russia was still a democracy, policymakers and analysts could express themselves openly. With the growing “fascisization” of the Putin regime, indirection and trial balloons have come back into fashion. And with good reason: Putin, the self-styled benevolent dictator, needs always and everywhere to appear to be a man of peace. He may threaten and he may growl, but talk of genocide, all-out war, and mass killing is reserved for his subordinates.

Strikingly, only Ishchenko, the Ukrainian traitor who knows Ukraine, truly understands that an invasion would not be a cakewalk and that Russian troops would suffer high casualties. In contrast, Solovyov and Kofman take it as a “fact” that Ukraine’s armed forces would not fight.

Their myopia is remarkable, if only because the Ukrainian army has fought Russia and its proxies to a standstill in the eastern Donbas. With only 6,000 battle-ready troops in early 2014, when Russia’s invasion of Crimea and the Donbas took place, Ukraine now has close to 100,000 experienced soldiers, a competent and experienced officer corps, and increasingly sophisticated hardware. Moreover, the population has become highly patriotic and anti-Russian and would fight. A Russian invasion would likely succeed, as Russia could deploy its air power to devastating effect, but the subsequent occupation would be exceedingly costly.

Based on the estimates of several American counter-insurgency experts, it is reasonable to conclude that Russia would need the following force levels to carry out an occupation. In order to occupy Donetsk and Luhansk provinces alone, Russian would have to deploy somewhere between 26,702 and 133,514 troops. A “land bridge” from Crimea to Transnistria would mean occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odesa provinces—which would entail somewhere between 46,497 and 92,994 soldiers. Occupying all seven southeastern provinces would require between 118,536 (26,702 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 91,834 for the others) and 317,182 (133,514 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 183,668 for the others). If Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, it would need an additional 548,587 troops—for a grand total of 667,123 to 865,769 troops. Kyiv city and Kyiv province alone would require 90,676 occupying soldiers.

Could Russia pull off such a war, even as it is embroiled in Syria?

Probably. But the costs would be immense—not just to Ukrainians, who would die in the hundreds of thousands, but so, too, to Russians, who would also die in the hundreds of thousands.

The prospect of such high losses would deter rational leaders. Would they deter Putin, however, given his own contribution to the brutalization of Russian culture and Donald Trump's possible acquiescence to Russia's interventions in its near abroad? That the answer is not obviously no should be a cause of worry for the entire world.
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