Russia’s endgame in donbass

On Wednesday, I gave a talk to the Centre of International Policy Studies (CIPS) on the subject, ‘Russia’s Endgame in Donbass’. You can read an abbreviated version of my talk on the CIPS blog here.

Somebody in the audience filmed the talk and has posted it on YouTube. You can watch it by clicking on the screen below. The Q&A is on the screen after.

13 thoughts on “Russia’s endgame in donbass”

  1. I would like a comment from you on the following speculation:

    Premise: Strelkov and friends represent certain “dead enders” that got soft purged out of the KGB/GRU/SVR/FSB in the 90s, but have retained considerable degrees of interpersonal links. These groupings do see Putin as a traitor/enemy (Putin was very active in fighting against Kriuchkov Coup attempt of August 91), who got rewarded by Yeltzin while “loyalists” (to the Security services of that time) got purged.
    In the vacuum in Ukraine, they saw a number of opportunities:
    1: Maximize confrontation with the west. Increased confrontation with the west will increase the demand for reliably anti Western people in Moscow, and generally offer these “dead enders” a way back to the center of power in Moscow.
    2: Calibrate their own outreach so that the political discourse in Russia moves to the right, and that their own views become a part of the Russian mainstream.

    They efficiently moved into the vacuum in South East Ukraine, established themselfs with massive name recognition, and in a way were the tail that managed to simultaneously wag multiple dogs. There were definitely those in the Kreml who wanted to leave Strelkov to hang out to dry, but Strelkov (with much assistance from US and Ukrainian media) managed to become so “linked with Russia” that he was simply “too Russian to fail”.

    Other then hardline Nationalists in Ukraine and China, I would argue that Russian Nationalists are the actual winners of this crisis.


    1. I think that gives them credit for more long-term planning than they were actually capable of. As I understand it, Strelkov and co. imagined that if they grabbed a couple of buildings in Donbass, the Russian Army would arrive to help them out, as it had in Crimea. It came as a bit of shock to them when nothing of the sort happened.


  2. >Strelkov and friends represent certain “dead enders” that got soft purged out of the KGB/GRU/SVR/FSB in the 90s

    Who are you talking about?
    Girkin supposedly worked in the FSB till the 2010s.

    Russian nationalists were weakened by the crisis because Maidan showed the nasty results of a nationalist “revolution” in a russophone country which is what many nationalists aimed for.
    Crimea made it impossible for them to be on Ukraine’s side and gain mass-appeal in Russia against the government.


  3. Paul; Why did you not point out that this is a CIA coup operation? No mention of that POS “diplomat” Vicki Nuland and her infamous conversation where she said “Fuck the EU”. You know where her and the “Ambassador” were picking out the future leadership of the Ukraine. No mention of the Ukie-NAZIs. No mention of how those NAZI scum burned people alive in Odessa. I’m getting the feeling you are nothing but a paid shill of the US deep state.


    1. ‘you are nothing but a paid shill of the US deep state.’ – others accuse me of being in the pay of the Kremlin. I take the fact that I receive abuse from both sides as evidence that I am somewhere safely in the middle.


      1. When trying to convert people towards a more “centrist” pov. it is often prudent to start with things they can readily acknowledge, and build an argument from this.

        In my experience with talking about the Ukraine topic with more “pro Maidan” or “generalized western media narrative believing” people, not browbeating them with “US coup” wins far more “converts” to a more nuanced and concillatory view.

        Especially when talking with Patriotic, as opposed to Nationalistic, Ukrainians. I mean, there is simply no reason why a country with a population of 40 something million and a pretty decent education system needs a Lithuanian minster of finance (iirc Abramoviciius actual record as an investment banker left a lot to be desired too, same with Jarezko), or why that country is turned into a bunch of sinecures for 3rd rate Georgian has been exiles.

        In addition, people well versed in US internal politics may (in my point of view correctly) state that Nuland appointment by Obama initially resulted from his attempt to be a “bipartisan president” and appointing Neocons to positions the neocons considered relevant but Obama considered irrelevant (yeah, Obama was proven terribly wrong. Frankly, if Obama would do the sane thing and “promote” Nuland to be the special head for US-Martian relations, you better pray that no life exists on mars), and that Nulands own antics may well come from a neo-liberal (Pyat is a neolib, not a neocon iirc) neocon attempt by both the Neocon and the Clinton factions to move back towards the spotlight and put pressure on Obama.

        To paraphrase Anatol Lieven, the US regime change apparatus is a pretty huge beurocratic machinery that is very good at self preservation by creating new flashpoints for which it becomes neccessary and considerable parts of it run on autopilot.

        People strongly underestimate how lazy, stupid, uninformed and unorganized US (or EU for that matter) foreign policy decision making actually is.

        One should add that, just because the US may be more lazy/stupid then evil, this does not mean that the US designs should not be resisted. A case can be made that an “evil but sane machiavellian” US would be less of a threat to the rest of the world then a “Stupid jingoist” US that still has nukes and just does not understand what it is doing at all.


  4. “…his attempt to be a “bipartisan president” and appointing Neocons to positions … ”

    In my mind, this view assigns way too much agency to the American president. Nah, in reality it’s like this:

    “People strongly underestimate how lazy, stupid, uninformed and unorganized US (or EU for that matter) foreign policy…”

    The essence of foreign policy seems clear enough: destabilize anything that’s growing too strong. And I believe it’s smart, relentless, and efficient.


  5. …listening to your presentation… may I suggest a slightly different way to describe your doves/hardliners/balancing-act theory?

    How about this: Mr. Putin is simply a puppet (or the figurehead) of the syndicate of Russian oligarchs who are currently negotiating with the American/western/global syndicate, demanding a better seat at the table. Would this work for you?


  6. …in your presentation, I think you assign to much agency to ‘Kiev’. They have none. The game is between the US, RF, and EU. The RF’s goal is (as you stated, and I agree) stabilization. The US’ goal is destabilization. And the EU is the swinging component. It is, to a significant degree, a US puppet, but destabilization is against its most basic interests. And that’s the game.


  7. …to the guy talking about (in effect) the Budapest memorandum, turning it into rhetorical “how can Ukraine now trust anything the Russians say or do?!!”, I would reply that Ukraine, the subject of the Budapest memorandum, doesn’t exist anymore. It self-liquidated Feb 22, 2014, when the legitimate elected government was brought down by radical nationalist militants, and replaced by a west-dominated russophobe junta.

    So, these days we have something called “the Kiev regime”, not ‘Ukraine’. And this is not a rhetorical statement; it’s factual.

    The Kiev regime is not the subject of the Budapest memorandum, and the Kiev regime and its supporters should admit it, once and for all (especially since they do already admit that there was a ‘revolution’ in Kiev), own it, and stop whining. They have no claim to territorial integrity, or monopoly to violence, or anything else a legitimate government could claim. They are in a process of establishing it; they are in a middle of the civil war caused by the putsch (or ‘revolution’ as they choose to call it). IOW, the guy asking the question is totally outta line; he’s a provocateur.


    1. I was of opinion that internationally binding treaties, to come into effect, must be ratified in one form or another by the representative bodies of the participants. Say, the current “Iran deal” has to be “sold” to both Senate and Congress othervise it won’t be worth a paper it’s been written on.

      [Rhetoric question time]: When was the Budapest memorandum ratified by Russia?


  8. Now, I recently talked with some Chinese.

    Their take on the Budapest Memorandum was:

    1: China didnt sign on to it because they wanted to be under absolutly no pressure to interfere/intervene in anything regarding Ukraines sovereignity or territorial integrity in any way shape or form. France IIRC took the same path.
    2: They found it striking that the US broke the spirit of the memorandum twice, first by blatantly interfering in Ukraines internal affairs, and then by mostly doing nothing over Russia following violation of Ukraine territorial integrity.
    3: China strongly dislikes the upswing in International nuclear proliferation that the US double violation of the Budapest Memorandum will bring.
    4: Any hope of disarming North Korea is lost, Chinese attempts to “normalize” North Korea have been set back.
    5: Russia, no longer having a western option that patriotic options would consider, will become more dependent on China. While Russias overall power increased tremendously under Putin, Russia is seen as “resurgent”, not “rising” (difference between these terms is apperantly more concise in Chinese). In addition, US emnity against Russia will create additional constraints for her resurgence. The Chinese are pragmatic about this, US capacity to corall allies against acting contrary to their own interest is not unlimited, and while the US can demand Germany to cut trade ties with Russia, they cannot demand that Germany cuts trade ties with Russia and China simultaneously.
    To an extent, Russia is seen as an anti-western-hegemonial wavebreaker. Being a wavebreaker is a pretty thankless task though, states are cold monsters, and dont pay other states for things these other states are going to do anyway.
    6: Predictions on how this crisis ends in Chinese eyes vary hugely. There is a “Oh noes, Moscow will fall and we are next!” camp which is pretty far from having a majority. The current thinking is that, 5-10 years, Ukraine will be on the sideline again. As of now, the forces fueling the war hold political power that far outdoes their economic and population potentials, and the current course is simply not sustainable outside of massive countrywide repression for which Kiev arguably lacks the resources. At some point, the Oligarchs will purge the Nationalist and strike a deal. The Oligarchs could also, as opposed to purging the Nationalists themselfs, try to have the Nationalistis commit suicide via seperatists, but this may backfire because this may create more nationalists then it kills.


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