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Ukraine In Crisis: Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

By Jay Holmes

If we are to have any chance of understanding the present dynamic of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, we must look to the history of the region and its people. In Part One, we followed the Ukraine Timeline from the founding of the first Ukrainian city in 907 A.D. through the ascendance of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0. In Part Two, the Timeline continues up to the present Russian invasion. Today, we look at current situation and what it means to Europe and the West.

 

Kiev Protestors February 18, 2014 image by Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com.jpg wikimedia commons

Kiev Protestors February 18, 2014
image by Mstyslav Chernov
Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

 

The crisis in Ukraine is the product of many factors. Russian speaking pro-Russian citizens populate the Crimea and other areas of Ukraine. Putin is using this most effectively to satisfy the centuries-old Russian imperial ambitions to expand southward. Russia has well equipped military forces based in the Crimea by treaty with the Ukraine — a treaty that many Ukrainians no doubt deeply regret today. Ukraine shares borders with Poland, Romania, and Moldavia, which are all becoming more “Europeanized” and more “Western-looking” with each passing year. Unfortunately for Ukraine, they also share borders with Russia and with her pro-Putin police state ally, Belarus.

A clear majority of Ukrainians have rejected the police state values of Russia and Russian allies. They have made it clear that they want to be part of Europe. On the surface, this is evidenced by the Ukraine’s attempts to forge a trade agreement with Europe. That trade agreement included provisions for basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary. Vladimir Putin remains opposed to that trade agreement and opposed to those basic human rights because such basic human rights make it more difficult for him to operate as a dictator in Russia and to achieve his goals for the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union.

The Crimea and the region of Ukraine that lies between Russia and the Crimea are of immense value to Putin. If he is able to annex or control those areas, Russia and any members of the Eurasian Customs Union will then have direct access to the Black Sea and hence the Mediterranean. Part of Putin’s timing in taking over the Crimea has to do with the weather. Historically, the winter has meant a decrease in military operations in and by Russia. In a reversal of that trend, Russia now prefers to conduct as much of its military operations in Ukraine while the weather is still cold.

 

Russian Gas & Oil Pipelines Through Ukraine map by Victor Korniyenko, wikimedia commons

Russian Gas & Oil Pipelines Through Ukraine
map by Victor Korniyenko, wikimedia commons

 

That’s because Ukrainian gas supplies come from Russia. Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, Moldavia, and Turkey all get between 64% and 100% of their natural gas supplies from Russia.  Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Romania receive between 14% and 48% of their natural gas supplies from Russia.  Those natural gas supplies are more critical during colder months. That basic fact of European life gives Russia important leverage over any European response to its actions in Ukraine.

Given Putin’s naked expansionist ambitions and Western Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas and Russian oil, Putin may be boldly aggressive in Ukraine. Responses from the West will range from muted to lame “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not be without a stiff price.” However, Russia has been trying for a thousand years to rule the Crimea and the greater Ukraine. In spite of ruthless genocides and unbridled brutality, it has never succeeded in the past, and it’s unlikely that the Ukrainian people will bend to Russian will regardless of support or the lack thereof from the West.

Vladimir Putin is telling his audiences in Russia and in Ukraine that Ukraine’s anti-government protestors are led by a Jewish conspiracy. He is simultaneously telling everyone outside of Russia and Ukraine that the protestors are dangerous anti-Semite Nazis. They are neither. The protestors in Ukraine are a broad coalition of diverse affiliations ranging from women’s rights groups and lesbian and gay rights groups to right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. What they share is a desire for Ukraine to be free of Russia and for its citizens to enjoy basic human rights.

Putin may see a victory for himself in Ukraine, but should he be unlucky enough to pursue and achieve that victory, the results will make the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan resemble a picnic compared to dealing with the Ukrainians and their sympathizers in the West. Putin will undoubtedly make his best effort to gain as much territory as he can and as many Ukrainian concessions as he can without instigating a full-scale war in Ukraine.  If he miscalculates, the price will be steep for Ukraine, but it will also lead to a severe decline in the Russian economy, which might further erode Putin’s popularity at home.

 

March 2, 2014 Protestors against Russian invasion: "Crimea is Ukraine." image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

March 2, 2014
Maidan protestors against Russian invasion:
“Crimea is Ukraine.”
image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

 

An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians has made it clear that they want independence from Russia, human rights, and membership in the European community. Their demands are reasonable. For the sake of the Ukrainians as well as Russians and Europeans, let us hope that the power-thirsty Russian dictator does not overplay his hand.

Special Thanks to photographer Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe Photographers for the amazing photographs he made available at Wikimedia Commons. Please visit the Unframe Photographers site at Unframe.com and Mstyslav Chernov’s site at MstyslavChernov.com for more outstanding documentary photos.


21 thoughts on “ Ukraine In Crisis: Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

  1. Pingback: Ukrainian Conquest Part Two: 2001 – Present « Bayard & Holmes

  2. Holmes, I know it is illogical to blame the chicken for getting its head chopped by the farmer especially when they are penned in but the Ukraine has entered into one after another really bad alliances. Russia has been a problem going back to 1783 and then the Nazis. They can’t win for losing. Your post was insightful and hopefully not a preview of the future. I’d hate to have all of the futurists who predicted a war with Russia turn out to be right. We’ll keep watching.

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Tomwisk.

      Putin is damaging his economy with each escalation that he chooses in Ukraine. On the surface, the Russian economy looks great compared to Europe. If we take a deeper look, we see a tremendous amount of hidden foreign debt in the form of Bonds held by foreign investors. That venture capitol becomes a bit more difficult to obtain as Russia becomes more engaged in Ukraine. Having the flow of Russian gas through the Ukrainian lines would hurt the Ukraine and Europe but in the long term it would harm Russia even more.

      The greatest forces presently opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are internal rather than external. Lets hope that Putin doesn’t miscalculate.

      • The Ukraine has become like a woman involved with an abusive man. They break up and he wins her back through intimidation/seduction. They’ve reached the stage now of “Don’t worry about those troops, they’ll protect you from the capitalist pigs. By the way, if they offer you money, don’t turn it down” We’ve all seen this happen in real life, who knew it happens in world politics?

  3. Pingback: Ukraine Crisis: Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas « Bayard & Holmes

  4. It’s a serious issue and one that, I fear, is unlikely to end well, one way or another. The worst crisis since the end of the Cold War. We’ll see. Hopefully sense will prevail.

    I have this vague idea of a French and British peacekeeping force being sent to the Crimea, perhaps via the Alma, Balaclava and then Sebastopol, all the while overlooked by refined ladies’ tea parties. But maybe I’m thinking of something else… 🙂

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Matthew. “It’s a serious issue and one that, I fear, is unlikely to end well.” Sadly I must agree with you. It doesn’t help that a happy ending was not likely for Ukraine before Putin showed up.

      I love your sense of history. I bet a few UK historians are wistfully remembering the 1918 British expedition to Russia. They very nearly bombed Moscow that time.

      • History informs: narrative changes, but human nature usually doesn’t. My great uncle was on one of the British ships operating in the Baltic in 1919. Even while combat ops were going on, the sailors on the lower decks were orgaanising ways of quietly floating tinned food ashore, because they knew the ordinary Russians, who had been caught out in a war not of their making, were starving. As you can imagine there was hell to pay when the officers found out. But it underscored the reality of these things, which is that the ordinary people are the losers every time, one way or another.

  5. Pingback: (Re-Blog) Russia and the Power of Gas | mrmeangenes

  6. Great post. Really helped explain a complicated subject. From listening to Public Radio, I gathered part of the issue was the Ukrainian president got elected saying he’d move the country closer to Europe, but then Putin paid him big dollars, and the president followed the money. And the people are justifiably angry about that. What do you think of my understanding. (I don’t claim it to be exactly what NPR said, just what I took from the stories.)

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Marsha. Thank you for visiting. I agree with your assessment. Most Ukrainians want to be part of Europe. Russia and many Russians in Ukraine want Ukraine to be closely tied to Russia. Putin has cash to spare. Our one billion loan to help Ukraine with energy bills is nothing compared to the cash that Putin has to offer.

      One of the greatest problems that Europe (from Ukraine to Lisbon) is facing is the need for energy to run their economies and at least partially to heat their homes. Russia has energy to export but lacks the best technologies for managing oil and gas production and export.

      Putin is aware that his gas surplus and oil surplus only have value if someone pays for them.

    • on ,
      Jay holmes said:


      Hi Steve. Thank you for your very thoughtful response.

      “We should pressure our own politicians to be more proactive about “freezing” the accounts of tyrants.”

      I agree, but the banking picture is sadly clouded by our own corruption in the political and banking sectors in the West. Many Western politicians and billionaires would hate to encourage any more transparency in international banking.

  7. on ,
    Steve said:


    Is this really a miscalculation by Putin aka (mini-Stalin)?

    1) Putin sees Ukraine incursion as replay of Georgian and similar adventures where Sudentenland type land-grabs succceded without cost or consequence.

    2) Following his massive foreign policy setback in Kiev, Putin sees annexation of Crimean as a master stroke to:
    a) Limit further expansion to NATO towards the borders of Russia. (Nato does not accept candidate states with disputed frontiers), and
    b) Secure (legitimate) Russian interests re their Black Sea naval bases, and gas pipelines
    c) Discourage internal dissent in Russia inspired by the Kiev rejection of thieves disguised as politicians.
    d) Justify the above under the (reasonable) banner of protecting Russian ethnic minorities (60% in Crimea) and even more in parts of Eastern Ukraine,

    3) Putin (KGB) is well briefed to evaluate the likely response of EU/USA:
    a) EU collectively spineless and wholly lacking in will to think beyond short-term commercial interests; and
    b) USA as no longer willing to project military force at the cost of American casualties;
    c) USA unwilling to project economic force at the cost of the next election.

    On the face of it then, Putin gets away with his replay of 1936 if the fate of Ukraine depended entirely on foreign support from EU/USA.
    But there are some other factors that he has perhaps overlooked.

    1) The Ukrainians are not pussy-cats to be trampled over with impunity.

    They are a nation of 40 million with magnificant combat credentials.
    Very tough customers with fantastic powers of endurance. Women included.

    Those of us raised in the West, don’t fully appreciate that it was the USSR that beat Hitler.
    And that the lion’s share of the action was on the Southern Front (primarily in and defended by Ukrainians).
    In real terms, the UK and USA were just a side-show.
    Indeed, relatively few Russians were engaged compared with the numbers of Ukrainian forces.

    So nobody, least of all the Russians, should doubt the fortitude of Ukrainians in defending a just cause against a foreign agressor.
    My advice to the Russians is to choose your enemies very carefully.
    Don’t allow Ukraine to become another Afghan humilation.

    2) The Kiev demonstrations have been misinterpreted internationally.
    They were NOT primarily over:

    a) Polish vs. Russian ethnic dominance – despite a history of ethnic division and unhelpful early electoral experiences of “winner takes all”.

    b) Giving in to Russian bullying over the true price of Gas (power).
    Ukrainians generally understand the economic imperitive of securing continued energy supply.

    c) Joining the EU vs. the “Eurasian Federation of Dictators with Hands in the Till”.
    “EU” should better be interpreted as a value set including self-determination, the rule of law, democratic accountability and transparency.

    In this context, it is significant how the crowds in the Maidan were very cool towards (corruption-tainted) Timoshenko despite her solid pro-EU credentials.

    The Kiev demonstrations are at base about the yearning of ordinary folk to see a better life for their children, based on the ideals symbolized by the EU – of freedom from bullying and corruption, self-determination and the rule of law.

    The Kiev demos were the latest manifestion of the “Arab Spring”.
    The whiff of “freedom” is intoxicating, even in Moscow where folks are also tired of the many gangster snouts in the public purse.

    Russian ethnic minorities have little to fear from the Ukrainian ethnic populace.
    They have learned their lesson from the “winner takes all” early experiences of democracy and now genuinely seek a more inclusive model on western lines.

    Putin is rightly terrified of the Kiev experience on his doorstep.
    a) It is absolutely opposed to everything he stands for.
    b) it could, and probably will, embolden their Russian counterparts.

    Once upon a time, Russian tanks would have rolled into Kiev.
    Thankfully, Putin’s horizons are now curtailed to Eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea ports.

    My advice to the “powers that be” is to reflect carefully about which enemy we confront.
    Russia is not the enemy. Nor are the poor cannon-fodder who wear their national uniform.
    The enemy is the clique of gangsters worldwide, who abuse their political power to rob the public purse.
    And who subvert and exploit the security services to protect and sustain their own abuse of power.

    Their universal systemic weakness is that they cannot trust their own banking systems, so they have to store their ill-gotten gains in our banks!
    We can act powerfully against them by sequestering their personal back accounts.
    We should do so, ruthlessly.

    They respect only power and money. And if we take away their money, their power will surely follow.
    We should pressure our own politicians to be more proactive about “freezing” the accounts of tyrants.
    And show the tyrants the same respect for the rule of law as they show their own people.

    • From Holmes —

      Hi Steve. Thank you for your very thoughtful response.

      “We should pressure our own politicians to be more proactive about “freezing” the accounts of tyrants.”

      I agree, but the banking picture is sadly clouded by our own corruption in the political and banking sectors in the West. Many Western politicians and billionaires would hate to encourage any more transparency in international banking.

  8. Completely agree with your stance on the Ukrainian situation, and the ulterior motives and weak justifications of Putin. I believe in the importance of hypocrisy in this situation – not only of Putin (in comparison to his stance on Syria) but also America (“drones?” I hear you say). Recently just wrote about this on my blog (mediasporic.wordpress.com) – check it out if you wish.

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Ochuchuk. Thank you for your visit. In politics there is almost always more than enough hypocrisy to go around. Drones in and of themselves are neutral, like cars, oil, helicopters etc. Their use can be far less neutral. I am ok with using drones in combat or to kill terrorists. A problem arises when innocents are killed by the weapons launched from the drones. The Taliban and Al Qaeda have almost always made exaggerated claims concerning the deaths of innocents from drone launched weapons.

      There is a key difference in Ukraine and in how drones are being used in the Mideast. Ukraine had not attacked Russia. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have attacked innocent people from many nations. I support the use of drones against terrorists and enemy combatants. I don’t support the use of drones against innocents whether they are American citizens or someone else’s citizens.

      Drones are powerful devices. Many local dictators-in-training in local governments are purchasing drones as fast as they can to complement the increased survelince capabilities that we citizens are financing for them. There is an old saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That saying may be an oversimplification of the human population, but clearly here in the USA and in Europe, we have seen a growth in power grabbing by our governments. They often act as though we are serfs and must serve the government. Our constitution in the USA is quite clear that government should exist to serve the people and not the other way around.

      I look forward to visiting your blog.

    • on ,
      Jay holmes said:


      Thank you for your visit. One often arrives at that sentiment when discussing foreign policy.

  9. I liked your article, I think nobody will ever doubt the will of the Ukrainian people (even the Russian speaking part) however the interference and infiltration of the FSB in various layors of Ukrainian life is more worrying since it will hard to root out. Ukraine being a second Afghanistan is highly unlikely to happen, the country being devided in two different nations might be a scenario, albeit far away. Most likely Russia will keep intimidating the Ukraine as long as the NATO, The EU and the US allow it, which unfortunately could be for quite some time

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Paul. Thank you for your visit. I agree that Russia will not likely cause another Afghanistan-like scenario because, as you allude to, they will likely concentrate on areas where the Russian population is in a clear majority and where those Russian Ukrainians are heavily influenced by the Russian government.

      I believe that the FSB would only play minor roles in Ukraine as compared to the Russian SVR foreign intelligence service, Though the SVR would technically be forbidden by Russian law to operate in Ukraine due to a “commonwealth security agreement,” they likely ignore that law because Ukraine never ratified the final charter. SVR also has the advantage of having no real oversight by the Russian government. They report directly to Putin. Putin can legally issue any orders that he likes to the SVR without any review or consultation by anyone outside of the SVR. That would be the equivalent of the British PM being able to issue any secret orders that he wished to MI-6 and much of GCHQ without any interference from the rest of the British government. The US equivalent would be Obama personally commanding the CIA, DIA, NSA, NGA, NRO, and much of the DOE without any reporting to or oversight by the congress.

      It might be interesting to know all the turf wars going on between FSB and SVR in Ukraine. Now that Russia is annexing the Crimea, the FSB will no doubt ramp up operations there. We’ll never get to know how bloody the internal Russian competition will be for control of the Crimea by competing secret police groups.

  10. on ,
    WladSikorsky said:


    Russian authorities told people not to panic on Tuesday as the battered ruble plunged to record lows, floored by tensions with the West over Ukraine, new sanctions and falling oil prices. The national currency fell to 38.82 rubles per dollar after weakening on Monday to below 38 against the dollar for the first time. It also broke through the symbolic level of 50 rubles per euro for the first time in several months http://tinyurl.com/oav6ozl

    There is more than one way of skinning the cat. Putin will have plenty of time to repent at leisure for his Ukrainian adventure.

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