The Wounded Bear

One of the puzzling questions about the war in Ukraine over the past year has been why the U.S. and more specifically President Obama, refuses to provide the weaponry and technology to Ukraine that it needs to defeat the Russian forces that have invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. This is rendered even more bewildering by the fact that a majority of the U.S. Congress supports such a move. One could probably extrapolate that most people in North America and Europe would also be in favour of such assistance to the beleaguered Ukrainian state. And yet, Obama and his NATO proxies in Europe have so far refused to take this step.

The official reason propounded for this strategy is that it is to avoid escalation of the war and the resulting bloodshed and casualties it would cause. Of course, no one knowledgeable about the situation buys into this lame explanation. That there would be an escalation should such assistance be provided is likely beyond doubt. However, what Obama and NATO are worried about are the consequences of another more troubling kind. What they no doubt fear is that the inevitable result of any significant escalation would be the end of Putin and the collapse of the current Russian state.

The fact is that Russia, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, is a failed, dysfunctional state. It is run by a motley collection of gangsters and secret service thugs. Its industrial base has withered away and it is only surviving economically because it is blessed with huge supplies of petroleum and other resources in its vast Siberian hinterland. With the current sanctions in place, even that vast natural wealth will no longer be able to sustain Russia for long in the current intertwined global economy. Further, it has been facing a huge brain drain as its best and brightest have been leaving Russia in droves the past few decades.

Even its vaunted military is no longer the force it used to be. Most of its air and sea fleets are composed of twenty and thirty year old technology that is long past its best before date. Its armies are stocked mostly with poorly trained conscripts that lack professionalism and motivation. Yes, there still are well trained and disciplined elite units, but they are limited in number and would be far from adequate in dealing with any major escalation in the fighting even when facing the revamped Ukrainian military, never mind the forces of NATO.

The truth is that an escalation of the fighting in Ukraine into a full scale war would be very problematic for the Russian forces, if the US and NATO were to go ahead and equip the Ukrainian military with the latest in effective defense technology. Any resulting Russian losses and embarrassment on the field of battle would likely destabilize the current government, and it would not take much to bring the current regime crashing down. Putin may be a messianic idealist with a dream of reviving Russian imperialistic glory, but I would hazard a guess that most of his oligarchic supporters are much more pragmatic and more concerned with preserving their wealth and power. Should that be threatened seriously, I have no doubt that they would find a way to do hasten Putin’s path into the afterlife.

As much as we would all love to see Russia crumble, that possibility must create nightmares for President Obama and NATO, and that is the likely cause of their reluctance to properly support Ukraine militarily. Let us remember that Russia still has a huge nuclear arsenal. For the moment, as much as we may dislike the Putin regime, we know at least that there is effective control over that stock of nuclear weapons. If the Russian government were to collapse, there are endless possibilities of such weapons falling into dubious hands – warlords, fanatics, mercenary generals willing to sell off these valuable assets to the highest bidder, etc. etc. Better that these weapons be in the hands of a devil you know than one you don’t and whose actions you can’t predict.

I really don’t know whether Obama has any altruistic sympathies for the Ukrainian people or not. However, I think his fear of the uncontrollable and unpredictable consequences of further escalation of the Ukrainian conflict is what is behind his unwillingness to take the crucial step of properly arming Ukraine. I would hazard a guess that he probably believes that continuing to apply an economic stranglehold over Russia will lead to a more orderly transition of power in Russia to political forces more amenable to co-operation rather than conflict.

It remains to be seen whether Obama’s calculations prove to be effective or not. In the meantime, Ukrainians and Russians continue to die in the Donbas, and ever more towns and villages are destroyed. Those in the war zone have little time to analyze the pros and cons of Obama’s strategy. They just pray that the war ends as soon as possible.