“We see a growing demand for church institutions,” said Orbán.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Monday warned that Europe and Hungary have entered an “era of dangers,” after taking his fifth oath as prime minister in parliament.
Orbán spotlighted the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the economy, as well as what he called the “cultural alienation [that] is growing between the western half of Europe and Hungary.”
Hungary’s Prime Minister said such cultural alienation between the two regions hs been brought about because his nation “believe[s] in the Christian civilizational foundations of Europe, and in the nation,” which other nations had “given up.”
“Everything that has happened since 2020 points in one direction: Europe and the Hungarian people in it have entered an age of danger. The decade began with the coronavirus epidemic and continued with the war. The sanctions from the war brought an economic downturn,” Orbán said. “The war and sanctions policy caused an energy crisis, and U.S. interest rate hikes brought an age of inflation.”
Orbán also highlighted the dangers of unmitigated immigration policy and its implications for the Christian population, saying, “All of this will bring the age of economic downturn, threatening epidemics may recur, migration may deepen and may intensify.” “Such is the program of the great European population exchange, the essence of which is to replace the missing Christian children with migrants,” Orbán went on to say. “Such an experiment is a program of gender madness and a liberal Europe that transcends nation-states and Christianity, and puts nothing in their place.”
ORBÁN SEES PATH TO SUCCESS:
The Hungarian Prime Minister was hopeful that Hungary could fend off Christianity’s decline by supporting churches. “It is a difficult task, but we can succeed. We can succeed because the Hungarians were carved out of hard wood, so we stubbornly resist the decline,” he said.
“We will provide the conditions for preaching the gospel. We see a growing demand for church institutions, and helping them will be important,” stated Orbán.
“Hungarians across the border can count on us, we will continue our work of national unification.”
ORBÁN SWIPES AT GEORGE SOROS:
“I shall strive to be worthy of this enormous trust, which is unprecedented in the whole of Europe,” said Orbán. “It is food for thought that we have won by the largest margin ever, at a time when all human reasoning suggested that we were also competing on the most difficult terrain. The Hungarian left and their international allies, politicians, financiers and the media all rallied against us. Let us make it clear: Brussels and George Soros were also playing to ensure our downfall. They threatened us however they could. No wonder this victory fills us with electrifying energy. My friends, there is nothing so exhilarating as to be shot at without result. We have won four times in a row, despite financial crises, a global pandemic, floods of migrants, and even a war that was – and is – threatening our country. Such a winning streak is unusual in Europe, and even in the wider Western world; and the scale of the victory is unprecedented.”
Orbán was reelected as premier in the 199-seat assembly by 133 votes to 27 against.
The prime minister has been pursuing close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he would not support banning his country’s oil imports from Russia as the European Union has proposed. While speaking on state radio on May 6, Orbán said that such an embargo would drop an “atomic bomb” on Hungary’s economy.
Americans find it difficult to determine whether the Biden administration’s policy decisions regarding Ukraine are the product of a deliberate strategy, extraordinary incompetence, or some combination of both. Threatening Russia, a nuclear armed power, with regime change and then annunciating a nuclear weapons policy that allows for the United States’ first-strike use of nuclear weapons under “extreme circumstances”—responding to an invasion by conventional forces, or chemical or biological attacks—suggests President Biden and his administration really are out of touch with reality.
American voters instinctively grasp the truth that Americans have nothing to gain from a war with Russia, declared or undeclared. A short trip to almost any supermarket or gas station in America explains why. Last week, inflation hit its highest point in nearly 40 years and gas prices have skyrocketed since the conflict in Ukraine began.https://760ea848867bbd6b479f554a70f0b89f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Thanks to the Western media’s non-stop dissemination of unfavorable images of Russia’s leaders and its military, it would appear that President Biden is able to espouse any narrative that suits his purpose. Obscuring the true origins of this tragic conflict, however—NATO’s eastward expansion to include Ukraine—cannot alter strategic reality. Moscow can no more lose the war with Ukraine than Washington could lose a war with Mexico.
Ukraine’s proximity to Russia gives Moscow unconstrained and immediate access to Russia’s reserves of military manpower, equipment, and firepower. Notwithstanding Moscow’s determination to avoid unnecessary collateral damage to Ukraine’s population and infrastructure, Russian Air and Ground Forces are at liberty to methodically destroy Ukrainian resistance in detail.
Russia’s commodity-based economy, with its abundance of food, energy, minerals, and other resources, creates enormous strategic depth for Moscow on the Eurasian landmass. These resources make Moscow Beijing’s natural strategic partner, thus securing Moscow’s Asian border. Moscow’s role in stabilizing Central Asia also makes Russian strength indispensable for the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative rooted as it is in the historical Silk Road, linking the economies of East Asia to Europe, Africa, and the Near East.
At the same time, Washington’s frequent use of financial sanctions have severely weakened, if not wrecked trust in the U.S. led global financial system. It is far more likely that countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa will either bypass sanctions to buy discounted Russian and Belorussian commodities or simply refuse to enforce them.
To minimize the impact of financial sanctions imposed by Washington and the European Union, Russia began “de-dollarizing” its economy years ago. Unburdened by the kind of odious sovereign debt that plagues Washington, Moscow has been able to stabilize the ruble with interest rate increases, and links to gold reserves. Now, de-dollarization is spreading. China, India, and Saudi Arabia are introducing de-dollarization policies as an anti-sanction measure. Saudi Arabia’s offer to sell oil in Chinese yuan raises real questions about the future of the petrodollar.
Despite Japan’s public display of solidarity with Washington, Tokyo really made its bed with Eurasia when Tokyo signed on to membership in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Program (RCEP), the world’s largest trade bloc. Predictably, Tokyo already declared it will not ban Russian oil and natural gas imports and Japan will continue to work with Russia on important joint economic projects.
Russia’s enormous share of energy and food in European and global markets always meant war between Russia and Ukraine would be a nightmare scenario. It was no surprise when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned on April 2 of the serious worldwide consequences of the Russian war in Ukraine, saying, “We must ensure that this war comes to an end quickly.”
Scholz is right. Price surges in energy and food will now lead to expanded drilling for oil and gas around the world, as well as increased farming for wheat, barley, and corn outside of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. But these actions will not compensate for the looming structural commodity deficits or supply chain problems affecting fertilizer and metals.
Washington’s ruling class has a long record of misjudging strategic reality. Seeking to advance NATO through Ukraine to Russia’s western border may well be the worst blunder in American foreign policy since the end of World War II, but Washington learns nothing and remembers nothing. After the defeat of Anglo-French military power in June 1940, the combined power of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and Imperial Japan was unassailable. Had the three remained in alliance, neither Washington, nor any combination of powers, could have challenged them for decades.
President Biden and Washington’s uniparty are fostering the domination of the Eurasian landmass by a collective arrangement of the world’s leading economic powers including Russia, China, India, Japan, Central and Southeast Asia, thereby restoring the strategic condition Washington feared in 1940. American voters would prefer that Washington focus on shoring up American economic prosperity, controlling inflation and restoring the rule of law, not war with Russia.
President Biden would be wise to follow Scholz’s example and work to end the dangerous conflict in Ukraine. Even so, for the indefinite future the use of U.S. military power in the Eastern Hemisphere will now involve the potential for war with more than one first-class power in more than one region of the world at a time. Well done, Mr. President.
Douglas Macgregor, Col. (ret.) is a senior fellow with The American Conservative, the former advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, a decorated combat veteran, and the author of five books.
In early November, months before the war began, CIA Director William Burns visited Moscow to deliver a warning: The U.S. believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing to invade Ukraine. If he went ahead, he would face crippling sanctions from a united West.
As for Ukraine, Mr. Putin told Mr. Burns, it wasn’t a real country.
After returning to Washington, the CIA chief advised President Biden that Mr. Putin hadn’t yet made an irrevocable decision, but was strongly disposed to invade. With European nations heavily dependent on Russian energy, the Russian military modernized, Germany going through a change of governments and the U.S. increasingly focused on a rising China, Mr. Putin gave every sign of seeing this winter as his best opportunity to bring Ukraine back under Moscow’s control.
Over the next three months, Washington struggled to persuade its European allies to mount a unified front. The U.S. itself was trying to balance two aims: talking Mr. Putin down while avoiding actions that he might treat as a provocation; and arming Ukraine to make an invasion as costly as possible.
In the end, the West managed neither to deter Mr. Putin from invading Ukraine nor reassure him that Ukraine’s increasing westward orientation didn’t threaten the Kremlin.
By now, this had become a well-established pattern. For nearly two decades, the U.S. and the European Union vacillated over how to deal with the Russian leader as he resorted to increasingly aggressive steps to reassert Moscow’s dominion over Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
A look back at the history of the Russian-Western tensions, based on interviews with more than 30 past and present policy makers in the U.S., EU, Ukraine and Russia, shows how Western security policies angered Moscow without deterring it. It also shows how Mr. Putin consistently viewed Ukraine as existential for his project of restoring Russian greatness. The biggest question thrown up by this history is why the West failed to see the danger earlier.
Washington, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and its allies at first hoped to integrate Mr. Putin into the post-Cold War order. When Mr. Putin balked, the U.S. and its European partners had little appetite for returning to the strategy of containment the West imposed against the Soviet Union. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, led the EU’s big bet on peace through commerce, developing a dependence on Russian oil and gas that Berlin is now under international pressure to reverse.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization made a statement in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would one day join, and over nearly 14 years never followed through on membership. The EU drew up a trade deal with Ukraine without factoring in Russia’s strong-arm response. Western policies didn’t change decisively in reaction to limited Russian invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, encouraging Mr. Putin to believe that a full-blown campaign to conquer Ukraine wouldn’t meet with determined resistance—either internationally or in Ukraine, a country whose independence he said repeatedly was a regrettable accident of history.
The roots of the war lie in Russia’s deep ambivalence about its place in the world after the end of the Soviet Union. A diminished Russia needed cooperation with the West to modernize its economy, but it never reconciled itself to the loss of control over neighbors in Europe’s east.
No neighbor was as important to Russia’s sense of its own destiny as Ukraine. The czars’ takeover of the territories of today’s Ukraine in the 17th and 18th centuries was crucial to Russia’s emergence as a major European empire. Collapsing Russian empires lost Ukraine to independence movements amid defeat in World War I and again in 1991, when Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly for independence.
After the chaotic 1990s, the security-service veterans around Mr. Putin who took over Russia’s government complained bitterly about what they saw as the West’s encroachment on Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe. An array of newly democratic countries that had been Moscow’s satellites or former Soviet republics joined NATO and the EU, seeing membership of both institutions as the best guarantee of their sovereignty against a revival of Russian imperial ambitions.
Key moments in NATO’s eastward expansion
Since the end of the Cold War, a string of countries have joined NATO or sought to do so.
* In 2008, NATO said Ukraine and Georgia would be members one day. NATO gave Bosnia a Membership Action Plan in 2010. The U.S. and Canada (not pictured) were founding members of NATO in 1949. Current international borders shown except where noted.
Viewed from elsewhere in Europe, NATO’s eastward enlargement didn’t threaten Russia’s security. NATO membership is at core a promise to collectively defend a member that comes under attack. The alliance agreed in 1997 not to permanently station substantial combat forces in its new eastern members that were capable of threatening Russian territory. Russia retained a massive nuclear arsenal and the biggest conventional forces in Europe.
Mr. Putin thought of Russian security interests more broadly, linking the preservation of Moscow’s influence in adjacent countries with his goals of reviving Russia’s global power and cementing his authoritarian rule at home.
The link became clear in Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election. Mr. Putin let the U.S. know in advance who should win.
When White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice visited Mr. Putin at his dacha outside Moscow in May that year, the Russian leader introduced her to Ukrainian presidential contender Viktor Yanukovych. Ms. Rice concluded that Mr. Putin had arranged the surprise encounter to signal his close interest in the election’s outcome, she recalled in a recent interview.
Mr. Yanukovych’s initial election victory was marred by allegations of fraud and voter intimidation, triggering weeks of street protests and strikes that were dubbed the Orange Revolution. Ukraine’s supreme court ordered a new vote, which pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko won.
The Kremlin saw the Orange Revolution as U.S.-sponsored destabilization aimed at pulling Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit—and as a prelude to a similar campaign in Russia itself.
To ease Moscow’s concerns, the Bush administration outlined the limited financial support it had given to Ukrainian media and nongovernmental organizations in the name of promoting democratic values. It totaled $14 million. The White House thought the modest sum was consistent with Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda” of supporting democracy but hardly enough to change the course of history.
The gesture only confirmed Russian suspicions. “They were impressed at the result that they thought we got for $14 million,” recalled Tom Graham, the senior director for Russia on Mr. Bush’s National Security Council.
Three months after losing Ukraine’s government to a pro-Western president, Mr. Putin decried the breakup of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
U.S. intelligence learned in 2005 that Mr. Putin’s government had carried out a broad review of Russian policy in the “near abroad,” as the Kremlin termed former Soviet republics. From now on, Russia would take a more assertive approach and vigorously contest perceived U.S. influence.
Ukrainian officials heard the message too. When President Yushchenko’s chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, visited the Kremlin in November 2005, he discussed the Orange Revolution with Mr. Putin. Mr. Rybachuk described the street protests as an indigenous movement of Ukrainians who wanted to choose their own political course.
Mr. Putin brusquely dismissed the notion as nonsense. He said he had read all of his intelligence services’ reports and knew the movement had been orchestrated by the U.S., the EU and George Soros, Mr. Rybachuk recalled in an interview.
At a separate encounter, Mr. Bush asked Mr. Putin why he thought the end of the Soviet Union had been the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. Surely the deaths of more than 20 million Soviet citizens in World War II was worse, Mr. Bush said. Mr. Putin replied that the USSR’s demise was worse because it had left 25 million Russians outside the Russian Federation, according to Ms. Rice, who was present.
Mr. Putin showed another face to Western European interlocutors, however, encouraging them to believe that he wanted Russia to be part of the wider European family. Soon after becoming president, he wowed Germany’s Parliament with a speech promising to build a strong Russian democracy and work with the West. Speaking in fluent German, perfected while he was a KGB officer in the former East Germany, he declared: “The Cold War is over.”
He charmed politicians and business leaders around Europe and opened pathways for lucrative trade. European leaders called Russia a “strategic partner.” German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi were among those who considered him a close friend.
Mr. Putin was personally active in facilitating good economic relations, recalled longtime German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger. In one meeting, the issue of bureaucratic obstacles to German purchases of Russian wood came up. Mr. Putin phoned the relevant minister and resolved the matter in minutes.
“Putin said ‘Right, problem solved—what’s next?’ ” Mr. Ischinger remembered.
Perceptions changed in January 2007, when Mr. Putin vented his growing frustrations about the West at the annual Munich Security Conference. In a long and icy speech, he denounced the U.S. for trying to rule a unipolar world by force, accused NATO of breaking promises by expanding into Europe’s east, and called the West hypocritical for lecturing Russia about democracy. A chill descended on the audience of Western diplomats and politicians at the luxury Hotel Bayerischer Hof, participants recalled.
“We didn’t take the speech as seriously as we should have,” said Mr. Ischinger. “It takes two to tango, and Mr. Putin didn’t want to tango any more.”
Mr. Putin’s demeanor with pro-Western leaders became more aggressive. In a meeting with a Balkan head of state during an energy summit in Croatia, Mr. Putin railed against NATO and called its severing of Kosovo from Serbia the greatest violation of international law in recent history. Years later, he would cite Kosovo as a precedent for seizing Crimea from Ukraine.
His rage rising, Mr. Putin rattled through grievances. He shouted expletives at his translator, who was struggling to keep up.
“The room fell silent. It was incredibly awkward: The president of the mighty Russian Federation was bullying a mere interpreter trying to do their job,” one participant said.
In Ukraine, President Yushchenko was struggling to fulfill the hopes of the Orange Revolution that the country could become a prosperous Western-style democracy. Fractious politics, endemic corruption and economic stagnation sapped his popularity.
Mr. Yushchenko sought to anchor Ukraine’s place in the West. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2008, he met with Ms. Rice, by then the U.S. Secretary of State, and implored her for a path to enter NATO. The procedure for joining the alliance was called a Membership Action Plan, or MAP.
“I need a MAP. We need to give the Ukrainian people a strategic focus on the way ahead. We really need this,” Mr. Yushchenko said, Ms. Rice recalled.
Ms. Rice, who was initially uncertain about having Ukraine in NATO, gave a noncommittal answer. When the request was debated in the National Security Council, Mr. Bush said NATO should be open to all countries that qualify and want to join.
A NATO summit was set for April 2008 in Bucharest, in the vast Palace of the Parliament built for Romania’s former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. The alliance’s summits are usually well scripted in advance. Try as it might, the White House couldn’t overcome German and French resistance to offering a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia.
Berlin and Paris pointed to unsolved territorial conflicts in Georgia, low public support for NATO in Ukraine, and the weakness of democracy and the rule of law in both.
Ms. Merkel, remembering Mr. Putin’s speech in Munich, believed he would see NATO invitations as a direct and deliberate threat to him, according to Christoph Heusgen, her chief diplomatic adviser at the time. She was also convinced Ukraine and Georgia would bring NATO no benefits as members, Mr. Heusgen said.
Ms. Merkel told Mr. Putin in advance that NATO wouldn’t invite Ukraine and Georgia to join, because the alliance was split on the issue, but the Russian leader remained nervous, Mr. Heusgen recalled.
As the NATO summit approached, Mr. Bush held a videoconference with Ms. Merkel, but it soon became clear that no consensus would be reached beforehand.
“Looks like a shootout at the OK Corral,” Mr. Bush said, according to James Jeffrey, the president’s deputy national security adviser at the time.
Ms. Merkel was flummoxed by the American reference and turned to her interpreter, who confessed that he, too, had no idea what the U.S. president meant.
Over dinner in Bucharest, Mr. Bush made his case for giving Ukraine and Georgia a MAP—to no avail. The next day, Ms. Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley tried to find a compromise with their German and French counterparts.
Ms. Rice, a Soviet and Russia expert, said Mr. Putin wanted to use Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia to rebuild Russia’s global power, and that extending the shield of NATO membership could be the last chance to stop him. German and French officials were skeptical, believing Russia’s economy was too weak and dependent on Western technology to become a serious threat again.
In the final session, Ms. Merkel debated in a corner of the room with leaders from Poland and other eastern members of NATO, who advocated strenuously on behalf of Ukraine and Georgia. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus strongly criticized Ms. Merkel’s stance, warning that a failure to stop Russia’s resurgence would eventually threaten the eastern flank of the alliance.
Mr. Bush asked Ms. Rice to go join the animated discussion. The only common language among Ms. Merkel, the east European leaders and Ms. Rice was Russian. So a compromise statement was negotiated in Russian and then drafted in English, Ms. Rice said.
“We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO,” it read. But it didn’t say when. And there was no MAP.
Many of Ukraine’s supporters were heartened. But some officials in Bucharest feared it was the worst of both worlds. NATO had just painted a target on the backs of Ukraine and Georgia without giving them any protection.
“The fact is we rejected Ukraine’s application and, yes, we left Ukraine in a gray zone,” Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister at the time, said in an interview.
Mr. Putin joined the summit the next day. He spoke behind closed doors and made clear his disdain for NATO’s move, describing Ukraine as a “made-up” country.
In public comments that day, he also questioned whether Crimea had been properly transferred from Russia to Ukraine during the Soviet era. Daniel Fried, who was the top State Department official on Europe, and Mariusz Handzlik, then the national security adviser to Poland’s president, jumped to their feet in shock. It was an early sign that Mr. Putin wouldn’t let the status quo stand.
Four months later, the Russian army invaded Georgia, exploiting a conflict between Georgia’s government and Russian-backed separatists. Russia didn’t take Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, but it showed it had no qualms about intervening in neighboring countries that wanted to join NATO.
Mr. Putin’s fears of a Ukrainian-style popular revolution infecting Russia were heightened by a wave of demonstrations in Russian cities beginning in 2011, when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against the lack of democracy. “For fair elections” was the protesters’ slogan.
Mr. Putin believed the protests were a U.S.-sponsored effort to overthrow him, said Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist who later attended a dinner hosted by Mr. Putin in Sochi. The Russian president told his guests that people didn’t take to the streets spontaneously but rather were incited by the U.S. Embassy, Mr. Krastev said. “He really believes it.”
The Kremlin organized large countermarches, which were billed as “anti-Orange demonstrations.”
Sporadic pro-democracy protests continued for nearly two years, despite rising repression. Mr. Putin cracked down on opposition parties, free media and nongovernmental organizations.
The concurrent Arab Spring protests, which toppled several authoritarian rulers in the Middle East, further heightened Mr. Putin’s fear, said Mr. Heusgen, the adviser to Ms. Merkel.
“He then became a fervent nationalist,” said Mr. Heusgen. “His great anxiety was that Ukraine could become economically and politically successful and that the Russians would eventually ask themselves ‘Why are our brothers doing so well, while our situation remains dire?’ ”
Ukraine hung in the balance again.
Mr. Yushchenko slumped to 5% of the vote in Ukraine’s 2010 presidential elections. Mr. Yanukovych won—fairly this time, said international observers—after campaigning for friendly relations with the West and also Russia. He found it was difficult to have both.
Mr. Yanukovych negotiated a free-trade agreement with the EU. At the same time, however, he was under pressure from Mr. Putin to join a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. EU officials said Kyiv couldn’t do both, because the customs rules would clash.
The EU, following its standard playbook on trade and governance, demanded that Ukraine revamp its judiciary and improve the rule of law as a precondition for a trade deal. Russia used sticks and carrots: At various moments it blocked goods imports from Ukraine, but it also offered Kyiv cheaper gas prices and a $15 billion loan.
In November 2013, Kyiv abruptly suspended talks with the EU, citing Russian pressure. Mr. Putin called the draft EU-Ukraine deal a “major threat” to Russia’s economy.
At an EU summit in Lithuania, Mr. Yanukovych defended the suspension and asked the EU to include Moscow in a three-way negotiation about the deal. EU leaders replied that letting a third party infringe on others’ sovereignty was unacceptable.
“We expected more,” Ms. Merkel sternly told Mr. Yanukovych in a conversation caught on camera.
“We have great problems with Moscow,” Mr. Yanukovych replied. “I have been left alone for 3½ years in very unequal circumstances with Russia,” he said.
Anti-government protests spread across Ukraine that winter. The largest were on Kyiv’s central Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan.
To the protestors, the EU association agreement was more than a trade deal: It expressed hopes of reorienting Ukraine towards the more democratic and prosperous part of Europe.
Clashes with riot police became frequent. In February 2014, police killed dozens of protesters in one day, sparking defections among Mr. Yanukovych’s political allies.
Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
On Feb. 21, a group of EU foreign ministers brokered a power-sharing deal between Ukraine’s government and parliamentary opposition aimed at defusing the crisis. But the massive crowd on the Maidan booed the agreement and demanded Mr. Yanukovych’s resignation. Riot police melted away from central Kyiv as they sensed power, and political cover, slipping away.
Antigovernment protests spread across Ukraine that winter. The largest were on Kyiv’s central Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan. To the protesters, the EU association agreement was more than a trade deal: It expressed hopes of reorienting Ukraine toward the more democratic and prosperous part of Europe.
Clashes with riot police became frequent. In February 2014, police killed dozens of protesters in one day, sparking defections among Mr. Yanukovych’s political allies.
On Feb. 21, a group of EU foreign ministers brokered a power-sharing deal between Ukraine’s government and parliamentary opposition aimed at defusing the crisis. But the massive crowd on the Maidan booed the agreement and demanded Mr. Yanukovych’s resignation. Riot police melted away from central Kyiv as they sensed power, and political cover, slipping away.
The beleaguered Mr. Yanukovych sat in his office with Colonel General Sergei Beseda of Russia’s FSB, successor to the KGB, who had been dispatched by Mr. Putin to help quell the revolt. Gen. Beseda told Mr. Yanukovych that armed protesters were planning to kill him and his family, and that he should deploy the army and crush them, according to Ukrainian intelligence officers familiar with the conversation.
Instead, Mr. Yanukovych soon fled from Kyiv in a helicopter.
The Kremlin saw the turn of events as a coup by U.S. puppets and anti-Russian nationalists. In support of this view, Kremlin propagandists cited a video of two U.S. diplomats handing out cookies on Maidan to protesters and police after a night of clashes. Russian intelligence later leaked a recorded phone call in which the same two U.S. officials discussed who should be in the next Ukrainian government.
Mr. Putin held an all-night meeting with his security chiefs, in which they discussed the extraction of Mr. Yanukovych to Russia—and also the annexation of Crimea, the Russian leader later recounted. Mr. Yanukovych, who is believed to be living in exile, couldn’t be reached for comment.
Within days, Russian troops without insignia occupied the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow had affirmed as Ukrainian territory in three treaties in the 1990s. Crimea’s regional parliament, in a session held at gunpoint, voted to secede from Ukraine.
Russia also fomented and armed a separatist rebellion in the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s industrial heartland. When Ukrainian forces took back much of the rebel-held territory that summer, Russian regular troops intervened and dealt Ukraine’s poorly equipped army a bloody defeat.
Vladimir Putin has used military force in his quest to rebuild Russia as a great power
(Not all the descriptions made it to this post. mrossol)
Mr. Putin’s show of military force backfired politically. He had won control of Crimea and part of Donbas, but he was losing Ukraine.
The country had long been deeply divided along regional, linguistic and generational lines. If young educated people in western Ukraine dreamed of Europe, older people and workers in eastern regions were more likely to speak mother-tongue Russian and look to Russia as the country’s natural partner.
Those divisions manifested themselves during Ukraine’s bitterly fought elections and during the Orange and Maidan revolutions. But they receded after 2014. Many Russophone Ukrainians fled from repression and economic collapse in separatist-run Donbas. Even eastern Ukraine came to fear Russian influence. Mr. Putin was doing what Ukrainian politicians had struggled with: uniting a nation.
Moscow sought to regain its political leverage in Ukraine by using the so-called Minsk agreements: fragile cease-fire deals brokered by Germany and France that aimed to end the fighting in Donbas. The agreements promised local self-government for separatist-held districts of Donbas within a decentralized Ukraine.
Ukraine’s new government under President Petro Poroshenko, elected in May 2014, which signed the Minsk agreements under duress, feared Moscow wanted to cement pro-Russian statelets within Ukraine that would limit the country’s independence. Moscow in turn accused Kyiv of failing to honor the accords. A low-level war in Donbas rumbled on until this year, claiming over 13,000 lives.
Mr. Putin never tried to implement the Minsk accords, said Mr. Heusgen, the German chancellery aide, because their full implementation would have resolved the conflict and allowed Ukraine to move on.
Ms. Merkel took the lead in Western efforts to talk Mr. Putin out of his course. Mr. Putin frequently lied to her face about the activities of Russian troops in Crimea and Donbas, aides to the chancellor said.
At a conversation at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane, Australia, during a G-20 summit in late 2014, Ms. Merkel realized that Mr. Putin had entered a state of mind that would never allow for reconciliation with the West, according to a former aide.
The conversation was about Ukraine, but Mr. Putin launched into a tirade against the decadence of democracies, whose decay of values, he said, was exemplified by the spread of “gay culture.”
The Russian warned Ms. Merkel earnestly that gay culture was corrupting Germany’s youth. Russia’s values were superior and diametrically opposed to Western decadence, he said.
He expressed disdain for politicians beholden to public opinion. Western politicians were unable to be strong leaders because they were hobbled by electoral pressures and aggressive media, he told Ms. Merkel.
Despite having few illusions about Mr. Putin, Ms. Merkel continued to support commercial cooperation with Russia. On her watch, Germany became increasingly dependent on Russian oil and gas and built controversial gas pipelines from Russia that bypassed Ukraine and Europe’s east. Ms. Merkel’s policy reflected a consensus in Berlin that mutually beneficial trade with the EU would tame Russian geopolitical ambitions.
The U.S. and some NATO allies, meanwhile, began a multiyear program to train and equip Ukraine’s armed forces, which had proved no match for Russia’s in Donbas.
The level of military support was limited because the Obama administration figured that Russia would retain a considerable military advantage over Ukraine and it didn’t want to provoke Moscow.
President Trump expanded the aid to include Javelin antitank missiles, but delayed it in 2019 while he pressed Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to look for information the White House hoped to use against Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and Mr. Biden’s son, an act for which he was impeached.
Russia, for its part, tried to end the U.S. military aid by hinting at a geopolitical swap. In March 2019, two Russian planes landed in Caracas, Venezuela, carrying military “specialists” to support Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. Russian commentators close to the Kremlin floated the idea of trading Russian support for Venezuela for American support for Ukraine.
Fiona Hill, the top NSC official for Russia, flew to Moscow the next month, where she told foreign ministry and national security officials there would be no trade, Ms. Hill recalled in a recent interview.
Mr. Zelensky, a former comic and political outsider, had won a landslide election victory in 2019 on a promise to clean up corruption and end the war in Donbas. But he aroused Mr. Putin’s scorn at their first and so far only meeting, a December 2019 summit in Paris where French President Emmanuel Macron and Ms. Merkel tried to break the impasse on implementing the Minsk accords.
Mr. Zelensky bluntly rejected Russia’s interpretation of the accords, recalled a senior French official who was present. “The Russians were furious,” the official said. Eventually, Messrs. Putin and Zelensky agreed on a new cease-fire and to exchange prisoners. Many present thought the Russian leader loathed his new Ukrainian counterpart, the official said.
Mr. Macron sought a rapprochement with Mr. Putin, even suggesting he could be a partner for Europe in managing China. He invited Mr. Putin to the Palace of Versailles and to his summer residence in the Fort of Brégançon on the French Riviera. Their conversations were mostly cordial and businesslike, according to French officials.
But in telephone conversations from 2020 onward, Mr. Macron noticed changes in Mr. Putin. The Russian leader was rigorously isolating himself during the Covid-19 pandemic, requiring even close aides to quarantine themselves before they could meet him.
The man on the phone with Mr. Macron was different from the one he had hosted in Paris and the Riviera. “He tended to talk in circles, rewriting history,” recalled an aide to Mr. Macron.
In early 2021, Mr. Biden became the latest U.S. president who wanted to focus his foreign policy on the strategic competition with China, only to become entangled in events elsewhere.
The U.S. no longer saw Europe as a primary focus. Mr. Biden wanted neither a “reset” of relations with Mr. Putin, like President Obama had declared in 2009, nor to roll back Russia’s power. The NSC cast the aim as a “stable, predictable relationship.” It was a modest goal that would soon be tested by Mr. Putin’s bid to rewrite the ending of the Cold War.
Russia positioned tens of thousands of troops around Ukraine’s eastern border as part of a spring military exercise. Meanwhile, Kyiv was cracking down on Mr. Putin’s Ukrainian friend and ally, the politician and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, shuttering his TV channel and placing him under house arrest for alleged treason.
In April, the White House considered a $60 million package of weapons for Ukraine. But after Russia ended its military exercise the administration deferred a decision to set a positive tone for a June summit between Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin in Geneva.
When Mr. Zelensky met with Mr. Biden in Washington in September, the U.S. finally announced the $60 million in military support, which included Javelins, small arms and ammunition. The aid was in line with the modest assistance the Obama and Trump administrations had supplied over the years, which provided Ukraine with lethal weaponry but didn’t include air defense, antiship missiles, tanks, fighter aircraft or drones that could carry out attacks.
Soon afterward, U.S. intelligence agencies learned that Russia was planning a military mobilization around Ukraine that was vastly greater than its spring exercise.
U.S. national security officials discussed the highly classified intelligence at a meeting in the White House on Oct. 27. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned that Russian forces could be ready to attack by the end of January 2022.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan posed several questions, including why Russia would take such a military action at that time, what the U.S. could do to harden Ukraine and how the U.S. might try to dissuade Mr. Putin. The gathering decided to send Mr. Burns on his mission to Moscow.
On Nov. 17, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, urged the U.S. to send air defense systems and additional antitank weapons and ammunition during a meeting at the Pentagon, although he thought the initial Russian attacks might be limited.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Mr. Reznikov that Ukraine could be facing a massive invasion.
Work began that month on a new $200 million package in military assistance from U.S. stocks. The White House, however, initially held off authorizing it, angering some lawmakers. Administration officials calculated arms shipments wouldn’t be enough to deter Mr. Putin from invading if his mind was made up, and might even provoke him to attack.
The cautious White House approach was consistent with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s thinking. He favored a low-profile, gradual approach to assisting Ukraine’s forces and fortifying NATO’s defenses that would grow stronger in line with U.S. intelligence indications about Russia’s intent to attack.
A paramount goal was to avoid a direct clash between U.S. and Russian forces—what Mr. Austin called his “North Star.”
Efforts to dissuade Mr. Putin from ordering an invasion, however, were faltering. When Karen Donfried, the top State Department official for Europe and Russia, visited Moscow in mid-December, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov handed her two fully drafted treaties: one with the U.S. and one with NATO.
The proposed treaties called for a wholesale revision of Europe’s post-Cold War security arrangements. NATO would withdraw all nonlocal forces from its Eastern European members, and the alliance would shut its door to former Soviet republics.
In a cavernous conference room at Russia’s foreign ministry, Ms. Donfried asked Mr. Ryabkov and the numerous other Russian officials present about the proposals. She received scant answers and left convinced that the demands had been drawn up at the highest level. The draft treaties were soon posted on a Russian government website, which added to U.S. concerns that the demands were diplomatic camouflage for a military decision it had already taken.
On Dec. 27, Mr. Biden gave the go-ahead to begin sending more military assistance for Ukraine, including Javelin antitank missiles, mortars, grenade launchers, small arms and ammunition.
Three days later, Mr. Biden spoke on the phone with Mr. Putin and said the U.S. had no plan to station offensive missiles in Ukraine and urged Russia to de-escalate. The two leaders were on different wavelengths. Mr. Biden was talking about confidence-building measures. Mr. Putin was talking about effectively rolling back the West.
On Jan. 9, as U.S. intelligence indications pointed ever-more-clearly to a full-blown invasion of Ukraine, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met Mr. Ryabkov and a Russian general for dinner in Geneva. Ms. Sherman brought along Lieutenant General James Mingus, the chief operations officer on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, whom she hoped might encourage the Russians to think twice about their invasion plan.
Gen. Mingus had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, been wounded and earned a Purple Heart, and he spoke frankly about the challenges Russian forces would face. Invading a territory was one thing, but holding it was another, and the intervention could turn into a yearslong quagmire, he said. The Russians showed no reaction.
Not all U.S. allies believed its intelligence assessment. All could see that Russia was deploying a massive force on three sides of Ukraine. But most European allies found it hard to believe Mr. Putin would really invade.
In mid-January, Mr. Burns made a secret trip to Kyiv to see Mr. Zelensky. The U.S. now had even more information about Russia’s plan of attack, including that it involved a rapid strike toward Kyiv from Belarus. The CIA director provided a vital piece of intelligence that helped Ukraine significantly in the first days of the war: He warned that Russian forces planned to seize Antonov Airport in Hostomel, near the Ukrainian capital, and use it to fly in troops for a push to take Kyiv and decapitate the government.
European leaders made last-ditch attempts to talk Mr. Putin down. Mr. Macron visited the Kremlin on Feb. 7, where he was made to sit at the far end of a 20-foot table from the socially isolating Russian dictator.
Mr. Macron found Mr. Putin even more difficult to talk to than previously, according to French officials. The six-hour conversation went round in circles as Mr. Putin gave long lectures about the historical unity of Russia and Ukraine and the West’s record of hypocrisy, while the French president tried to bring the conversation back to the present day and how to avoid a war.
Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who had succeeded Ms. Merkel only in December, fared no better at Mr. Putin’s long table on Feb. 15.
Mr. Putin opened the meeting with a forceful litany of complaints about NATO, meticulously listing weapons systems stationed in alliance countries near Russia. Mr. Putin then talked about his research on Russian history going back a millennium, about which he had written a lengthy essay last summer.
He told Mr. Scholz that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians were one people, with a common language and a common identity that had only been divided by haphazard political interventions in recent history.
Mr. Scholz argued that the international order rested on the recognition of existing borders, no matter how and when they had been created. The West would never accept unraveling established borders in Europe, he warned. Sanctions would be swift and harsh, and the close economic cooperation between Germany and Russia would end. Public pressure on European leaders to sever all links to Russia would be immense, he said.
Mr. Putin then repeated his disdain for weak Western leaders who were susceptible to public pressure.
The German chancellor returned to Berlin far more worried than he had left it.
Mr. Scholz made one last push for a settlement between Moscow and Kyiv. He told Mr. Zelensky in Munich on Feb. 19 that Ukraine should renounce its NATO aspirations and declare neutrality as part of a wider European security deal between the West and Russia. The pact would be signed by Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden, who would jointly guarantee Ukraine’s security.
Mr. Zelensky said Mr. Putin couldn’t be trusted to uphold such an agreement and that most Ukrainians wanted to join NATO. His answer left German officials worried that the chances of peace were fading. Aides to Mr. Scholz believed Mr. Putin would maintain his military pressure on Ukraine’s borders to strangle its economy and then eventually move to occupy the country.
U.S. and European leaders held a video call. “I think the last person who could still do something is you, Joe. Are you ready to meet Putin?” Mr. Macron said to Mr. Biden. The U.S. president agreed and asked Mr. Macron to pass the message to Mr. Putin.
Mr. Macron spent the night of Feb. 20 alternately on the phone with Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden.
The Frenchman was still talking with Mr. Putin at 3 a.m. Moscow time, negotiating the wording of a press release announcing the plan for a U.S.-Russian summit.
But the next day, Mr. Putin called Mr. Macron back. The summit was off.
Mr. Putin said he had decided to recognize the independence of separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine. He said fascists had seized power in Kyiv, while NATO hadn’t responded to his security concerns and was planning to deploy nuclear missiles in Ukraine.
“We are not going to see each other for a while, but I really appreciate the frankness of our discussions,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Macron. “I hope we can talk again one day.”
—James Marson and Warren Strobel contributed to this article.
UnHerd, 3/22/2022, by Thomas Fazi, who is a writer, journalist and translator.
The West, following the lead of the United States, has reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by introducing a “crippling” regime of sanctions. It is a “total economic and financial war” aimed at “caus[ing] the collapse of the Russian economy”, the French finance minister Bruno Le Maire candidly admitted. And yet many of the current sanctions appear to be run-of-the-mill restrictions used against several countries in the past. A number of them — including export bans and the freezing of certain assets — have been imposed on Russia since its annexation of Crimea in 2014. Even the much-discussed exclusion of a number of Russian banks from the main international banking message system, SWIFT, is not new, having already been used against Iran, with mixed results.
The most controversial aspect of the new sanctions regime is without a doubt the freezing of Russia’s offshore gold and foreign-exchange reserves — about half of its overall reserves — but even this is not unprecedented: last year, the US froze foreign reserves held by Afghanistan’s central bank in order to prevent the Taliban from accessing its funds; the US has also previously frozen the foreign-exchange reserves of Iran, Syria, and Venezuela.
So, taken individually, these measures are not as exceptional as they’ve been portrayed. However, never before have so many sanctions been deployed at once: there are already 6,000 various Western sanctions imposed on Russia, which is more than those in existence against Iran, Syria and North Korea put together. Even more importantly, none of the previous targets of sanctions were remotely as powerful as Russia — a member of the G20, and the world’s largest nuclear power.
Likewise, none of the 63 central banks that are members of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel — known as the central bank of central banks — has ever been the target of financial sanctions. The BIS itself has even joined in on the sanctions in order to prevent Russia’s access to its offshore reserves. This really is unprecedented: since its establishment in 1931, the BIS had never taken such a measure, not even during World War II.
So what should we expect from the sanctions? Western pundits and commentators have little doubt: the sanctions will hamstring the Russian economy, sow discontent among the Russian people and elites alike, and possibly even cause the downfall of the Putin regime. At the very least, we’re told, they will hinder Russia’s war efforts. But history suggests otherwise: see Iraq, or more recently Iran. Far more likely is that this turns out to be the latest Western strategic miscalculation in a long list of strategic blunders, of which the United States’ inglorious withdrawal from Afghanistan is just the most recent example.
After all, Russia has been preparing for this moment for quite some time. Following the first wave of Western sanctions, in 2014, and partly in retaliation against them, Putin embarked on what analysts have dubbed a “Fortress Russia” strategy, building up the country’s international reserves and diversifying them away from US dollars and British pounds, reducing its foreign exposure, boosting its economic cooperation with China, and pursuing import substitution strategies in several industries, including food, medicine and technology, in an effort to insulate Russia as much as possible from external shocks.
True, Putin made the mistake of leaving around half of those reserves parked in foreign central banks, resulting in these now being confiscated. But nonetheless Russia still has access to more than $300 billion in gold and foreign-exchange reserves — more than most countries in the world and more than enough to cushion any short-term fall in exports, or prop up the rouble (for a while).
Moreover, the Russian central bank reacted to the sanctions by stopping capital flows out of Russia and nationalising the foreign exchange earnings of major exporters, requiring Russian firms to convert 80% of their dollar and euro earnings into roubles. It also raised interest rates to 20% in an effort to attract foreign capital. These measures are aimed at bolstering the rouble’s value and providing a flow of foreign exchange into the country. They appear to be working: while the rouble is around 40% of its value since the start of the conflict, the Russian currency’s free-fall seems to have come to a halt for now, even registering an uptick over the past two weeks. For the time being, Russia’s financial account — the difference between the money flowing in and out of the country — is far from disastrous.
Let’s not forget that the main source of Russia’s foreign-exchange reserves — oil and gas exports — has been excluded from the sanctions, for obvious reasons: for most European countries, Russia accounts for a huge part of their oil and gas imports (and other staple commodities), and there’s simply no way of replacing those energy sources from one day to the next.
In short, Russia runs no risk, in the short term, of running out of reserves and not being able to pay for its imports. But even assuming that the West decided to put a stop to all its imports from Russia overnight, there’s no reason to believe that this would bring the Russian military machine to a halt. The notion that “we are financing Russia’s war by purchasing gas and oil”, as the Finnish prime minister recently stated, is fundamentally misplaced.
As the economist Dirk Ehnts has observed, the Russian military machine, for the most part, doesn’t rely on imports (if anything, Russia is an arms exporter). It is sourced domestically and, like the salaries of its soldiers, is paid for in roubles, which the Russian central bank can create in an unlimited quantity, just as the Bank of England does when it comes to pounds.
Equally unfounded are rumours of an impending Russian default. In recent years, the Russian government has taken steps to reduce its foreign liabilities: its foreign currency-denominated debt amounts today to about $40 billion — a tiny amount compared with the size of Russia’s yearly exports of more than $200 billion in oil and gas. Any decision to default would be entirely political. We mustn’t forget that the very creditors expecting to be paid back in dollars are the same that have just confiscated a good part of Russia’s dollars — if the latter were to default on their payments, it would be an even bigger problem for their Western creditors. As with Russia’s oil exports, hurting Russia inevitably means hurting ourselves as well.
Might a selective ban on exports of specific high-tech Western components, some of which are bound to be used in Russia’s defence industry, prove more effective? Possibly. But Russia has been reducing the dependence of its military-industrial apparatus on foreign components and technologies for years. More importantly, both hypotheses — that Russia’s economy and military can be brought to their knees through export and/or import bans — rest on the flawed assumption that the whole world is on board with the sanctions. But that is far from the case.
While most of the world’s nations — 143 out of 193 — voted for a resolution in the UN’s General Assembly condemning Russia, the 35 countries that abstained include China, India, Pakistan and South Africa, as well as several African and Latin American states. These and many more countries — including several that voted in favour of the resolution, such as Brazil — have strongly criticised the sanctions against Russia and can be expected to continue trading with Putin. It’s frankly very hard to call Russia isolated when some of the world’s largest economies have refused to support the West’s sanctions regime.
However, much will depend on the policy response of the Russian government. Obviously, the withdrawal of many foreign firms and decline in foreign investments will increase unemployment. But the Russian government can cushion the blow by resorting to a “Keynesian” expansionary fiscal policy aimed at boosting domestic investment and supporting incomes. If ever there were a time for Russia to abandon its historically ultra-tight fiscal policy, as several Russian economists have been arguing for some time, it is now.
Two weeks ago, I suggested that, in the short term at least, the US will benefit from the conflict in Ukraine. In the long term, however, it is slowly becoming clear that US-led global Western order will suffer. The West’s imposition of sanctions — involving not only governments, but also private companies and even allegedly apolitical organisations such as central banks — has sent a clear message to the countries of the world: the West will stop at nothing to punish countries that step out of line. If this can happen to Russia, a major power, it can happen to anyone. “We will [never again] be under the slightest illusion that the West could be a reliable partner,” the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said. “We will do everything so as never, in any way, to be dependent on the West in those areas of our life which have a decisive significance for our people.”
Those words are bound to reverberate across the world, with dramatic implications for the West. As Wolfgang Münchau has warned: “For a central bank to freeze the accounts of another central bank is a really big deal… As a direct result of these decisions, we have turned the dollar and the euro, and everything that is denominated in those currencies, into de facto risky assets”. At the very least, it will inevitably push countries to diversify their reserves and increase their yuan holdings, in order to loosen the West’s grip on their economies and bolster their economic resilience and self-sufficiency. Even if it doesn’t push countries straight into Beijing’s arms, as is already happening with Russia, it will likely lead to the emergence of two increasingly insulated blocs: a US-dominated Western bloc and a China-dominated East-Eurasian one.
In this new pseudo-Cold War, “non-aligned” countries could find that they are in a better position to assert their sovereignty than they were under the American global empire. Forget “the collapse of the Russian economy” — this could be the result of the West’s new economic war.