Ukraine: War is coming, part 2

Maybe I should have called this post ‘How wars start by accident’

In my last post I made the Afghanistan comparison to show that in the face of a smaller less well equipped enemy the Russians could not win a decisive war. The same for Chechnya, they basically had to destroy the country and even then the Chechen militia were not finished off, in the end the Russians had to change their strategy from direct military intervention in order to bring some form of order to that country.

Ukraine is different, yes her fighting force is smaller but ironically, in many ways is better equipped than their Russian counterparts, Ukraine was until recently an exporter of arms to Russia, but they stopped exports due to the current crisis, in fact it is one of the global leaders of arms exports as its quality control and engineering is seen as being of higher quality that of the same systems which are made in Russia. You can read part 3 of this series here.

I don’t believe Russia really wants to see war in Ukraine and I don’t think the Ukrainians want war either but both sides are playing a game of Chicken, to see who will blink first, the problem with that is the mentality that one can never back down, they are going to stumble into a war that neither side really wants to have. The USA and EU are also partly to blame, they are trying to push Russia into a corner over the situation in Ukraine and that will simply make the situation worse, Putin will feel he has no choice but to come out fighting. I am no fan of Putin but I don’t believe he wants to have a war but he feels that the options left open to him are becoming fewer by the day. This is going to become an accidental war.

Consideration should also be given to the economic consequences of any war between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is effectively broke and is only being kept going by foreign loans. How they will ever be paid back is anybodies guess. More dramatically, Russia might also get into serious trouble. There is a huge amount of capital flight, money being withdrawn from Russia, by businesses and individuals alike. Something I heard today that was very interesting is that companies have been using their shares as collateral for bank loans. I hadn’t realized this but apparently it is common practice. The problem is that the value of shares in Russian companies are plummeting due to a lack of business confidence and uncertainty about the future related to the situation between Russia and Ukraine. The banks have made loans against the value of shares and are now well into negative equity territory. The Russian banking sector is now trying to call in these loans but the cash isn’t there as much of it has already been deposited outside the country. Russia is potentially facing a full on banking crisis to rival that of the USA in 2008. Their central bank has been using its huge cash reserve to maintain liquidity in the system but the money is being used up fast. The longer uncertainty and instability continues between Russia and Ukraine, the worse the situation will become. Even if war between the 2 countries is brief, the long term consequences will be felt for a long time. The Russian banking system could effectively be bankrupted. Even without a war between Russia and Ukraine things could be about to become very difficult in the Russian banking system. If that were to happen, what would the political consequences be for Putin? You can read part 3 of this series here.

Advertisements

Russia, Crimea and the Eastern Orthodox Church Lead Way To War

The Crimea region of Ukraine is now under de facto Russian control. It is a simple fact on the ground. The rights and wrongs of this are for others to discuss, I’m more interested in the reasons why and the possible consequences.

As I was going through various news sources over the weekend, what else can I do after a knee operation, I saw a picture that stopped me in my tracks. It shouldn’t surprise me, the role of religion in politics is hardly new. The image I saw, link here, was of Eastern Orthodox priests blessing Russian troops as they take control of Crimea. I have been thinking about this image and what it means.

Outside the Orthodox community many people don’t realize just how powerful the Orthodox church is and how much power and influence it has in Russian politics. Its Patriarch, Kirill Gundyaev and Vladimir Putin have been forging strong links for more than a decade, even though there is an official separation of Church and State in the Russian Constitution. Kirill is a Russian nationalist through and through, believing that Russia should play a major role, even a dominant one, in world affairs as part of his belief in  ‘Russian Civilization’, coincidentally when Putin was campaigning to become Russian President in 2012 he put the idea of ‘Russian Civilization’ at the heart of his campaign, something he was influenced to do by Patriarch Kirill perhaps? Why not, the two men have been close for years and Kirill is very good at influencing political thinking.

As a result, the Orthodox church has tremendous power, so when events erupted in Ukraine one can imagine that Kirill with his very strong nationalistic tendencies would have been eager to use the opportunity to encourage Putin to take back control of the Crimea, historically a part of Russia. Add to this the long term disputes between the Orthodox church and the Vatican over property and influence in Ukraine and you begin to realize how the current situation is playing into the hands of the Orthodox. For a thousand years the Church and State have been different sides of the same coin. Only during the Soviet period was the link broken but after the collapse of The Soviet Union actions were quickly taken to rebuild the power and influence of the Church. Although never proven, as any inquiry has always been blocked, there is strong circumstantial evidence that Patriarch Kirill had very close links to the KGB and Politburo in the days when the Church was heavily controlled. Kirill is known as an astute politician and diplomat, as a very worldly man he knows how to use difficult circumstances to his advantage. The strategic thinking of the Orthodox Church would have had them urgently looking at ways to take advantage of the unrest in Ukraine.

While good for the Orthodox church, the risks to Putin are high. This is one of the clever games of Kirill, influence a leader to take action and if it goes wrong he can come out of the situation looking relatively innocent with the knowledge that a political backlash against him would be difficult to implement because of the Church’s influence over the majority of the Russian population. If on the other hand things go wrong for Putin and his government in their approach to Ukraine then the Russian economy is going to suffer, it will be trusted even less than before and the Cold War could easily return. Putin’s pride would also take a very personal hit as the country would blame him directly if things go wrong.

The situation in Ukraine is still developing, as of time of writing no shots have yet been fired. While Russia has moved troops into the Crimea region there are many questions about overall Russian military readiness, it has an extremely top heavy command structure and the numbers of soldiers ready to fight is less than many suspect. Add to the fact that a lot of Russian military hardware is less than reliable and you begin to understand the gamble that Putin is taking. There is a part of me that wonders if maybe he was encouraged to act against his better judgement by the Orthodox church which supplies him with so much of his popular support through their preaching from the pulpit. Looking at the situation now it would seem that Russia would like to provoke Ukraine into firing the first shot, but whoever fires the first shot the consequences for the Ruble will be dramatic. Ukraine on the other hand is also on the verge of bankruptcy, its options are limited unless the promise of funds made by the West come to fruition. Don’t under estimate the Ukrainians, they have been developing a reputation as an arms exporter. When the Soviet Union collapsed they inherited a lot of factories that make military hardware. A lot of these were closed but what they have done is improved on the designs of Soviet era hardware and then selling it, their quality control is recognized as being better than that of Russia, hence one of the reasons why they have been able to successfully develop their exports. Ukrainians also have a strong backbone and will not give up without a fight if that is what they feel they must do.

The situation is still very fluid, the stakes on both sides are extremely high and the Orthodox Church in Russia is influencing the situation more than most people realize. The next 24-48 hours are going to be interesting.

Let’s talk about Russia and Ukraine

The situation is heating up at the moment. The ethnic Russians of Crimea, which is an autonomous region of Ukraine but until the 1950’s was part of Russia is making a very determined effort to separate itself from the rest of Ukraine. Putin now has approval from the Duma, Russian parliament, to protect Russians in Ukraine, militarily if need be.

So what might happen. Obviously this is a very fluid situation at the moment. We have both Ukraine and Russia saying they want to maintain the geographic integrity of the country. If that will actually happen is another question. There is no denying the fact that eastern Ukraine is inhabited by predominantly ethnic Russians who want to have closer ties to the motherland. The easiest solution would be for Ukraine to split along ethnic lines.

However if there is a fight between the two countries the outcome would not necessarily be guaranteed for Russia. While it does have a very big army it also has a big problem, namely a very top heavy command structure. Officers make a very big proportion of its fighting force and they have spent the last decades working on making themselves richer rather than acting as one would expect them to. They simply are not battle ready for a genuine fight on a large scale. Add to this the fact that when the Soviet Union collapsed a lot of military manufacturing plants that were placed in Ukraine by the Soviet leadership were handed over to Ukraine.

It is true that Ukraine simply didn’t have the funds to keep a lot of these factories going and closed a lot of them. But over the last few years Ukraine has slowly been developing a name for itself as an arms exporter of Russian copy weapons. The reason for this is due to the fact that Ukrainian engineering is seen as being of higher quality than that of Russia. If the two countries do come into combat against each other then Ukraine will have access to higher quality equipment of the same make that Russia also uses.

Then you have to throw into the equation the fact that Ukraine has pretty much run out of money. Unless it can get some financial backing from somewhere it simply wont be able to afford a war to resist Russia if it attacks, at the same time it might feel that desperate times call for desperate measures and throw everything it has at Russia, which I have to say would give Russia something to seriously think about. Russia is not as militarily strong as she portrays herself to be and Putin knows this.

So where does this leave things? For the time being, until things become more apparent, I would say that eastern Ukraine will ultimately return to Russia, and with it very good agricultural land that would be good for Russia as it has very little of its own.

Then of course we have to throw The USA into the pot. These are two countries which thrive on trying to outwit the other. What will USA involvement be, only time will tell, but I can assure you that it wont be able to resist using the situation to try and stir up the Russia/Ukraine situation for its own benefit. I’m not taking sides, Russia also takes every opportunity it can to make life more difficult for the USA. That is the nature of their rivalry.

The next few days will throw more light on the situation. At the end I am trying to get across the fact that if Russia is looking for a war it wont be like taking on Georgia as she did a couple of years ago, admittedly it was Georgia who started that fight. Ukraine might be poor but she also has certain strengths which will give Russia pause for thought. Watch this space.