Putin Misplays His Cards, what Could Have Been a Winning Hand has become the Road to Armageddon
Paul Craig Roberts
Every day that passes raises my concern that the Kremlin is mishandling a dangerous situation and making it more dangerous. Putin and Lavrov send every wrong signal. The message they should be sending is “Don’t Tread on Me.” Instead, Lavrov whines that his “Western partners” are being mean to Russia, and Putin offers energy so NATO countries can continue their war against Russia and be saved from freezing to death while they are fighting against Russia.
Putin still doesn’t understand that he is at war. He speaks as if Russia is a member of the European Community.
The UN General Assembly passed a resolution demanding that Russia repudiate its reincorporation of four former provinces of Russia and unconditionally withdraw from Ukraine. Lavrov says that Washington is conducting “diplomatic terror” against Russia by controlling by intimidation the General Assembly’s vote.
How could Lavrov have expected any other outcome? If Lavrov wants the vote to go the other way, Russia, instead of the US, must become the country that pays the bills. Is Lavrov so out of touch with reality that he expects the UN to do anything but support Washington, the paymaster?
Aljazeera reports that two days ago Putin offered to ship natural gas to Europe through the one undamaged Nord Stream pipeline. This is the same Europe that is sending railway cars of weapons for Ukraine to use to kill Russians. This is the same Europe that supports Washington’s sanctions against Russia and imposes additional sanctions on its own. This is the same Europe that calls for regime change in Moscow and bans Russian athletes, performances of Russian composers and musicians, steals Russian assets, and refuses to comply with contractual agreements.
But the President of Russia wants to support their war effort against Russia by selling them energy. Does the Kremlin represent Russia, or is the Kremlin a marketing agent for an oil company?
The German government told Putin “NO,” we prefer for Germans to freeze to death and for German industry and economy to shut down than to displease Washington by buying your natural gas. How long before we see Putin on his knees begging Germany to let him give them the gas?
Putin knows that Washington and NATO Europe are determined to destroy Russia and break the country up into principalities comparable to Germany before the unification of Germany in 1871. Putin recently addressed the Russian people on the West’s declared threat against Russia, so why does he beg Europe to let Russia strengthen Europe against Russia by supplying Europe with energy?
In Washington the neoconservatives who control US foreign policy see the inconsistency between Putin’s words and deeds as Putin’s irresolution and inability to use force. This is why Washington is so confident that Russia can be defeated.
I think Washington is misreading the situation, and so is Putin. Putin is trying to avoid a real war and trying to show Europe that he is a friend and not an enemy. Putin’s play is obvious. He is telling Europe to ditch their Washington master and enjoy warm winters and operating industry with Russian energy. It would even be better for Americans who would continue to have parts for their BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes, and VWs.
Washington sees Putin as a person whose red lines are fictional and undefended. The recent Russian strikes, belatedly after eight months of being at war, against Ukrainian infrastructure are regarded by neoconservatives as being a weak response to the Ukrainian attempt to blow up the Crimea bridge. It was a tit for a tat, not a demonstration that Ukraine faces destruction if Ukraine widens the war beyond the Russian police action in Donbass.
The neoconservatives who make Washington’s war policy regard Putin’s willingness to allow the Ukrainian government to conduct war against Russia while Russia leaves Ukraine protected from attack an indication that Russia lacks the will to really fight.
Consequently, Washington believes that it has the advantage and will continue to escalate the provocations, expecting from the Kremlin only Lavrov’s whining and Putin’s offer of energy aid to NATO Europe.
At some point soon arriving, Russia is going to have to really fight and show the military competence and determination necessary to cause Washington to pull in its horns, or Armageddon will be amongst us.
Israel Shamir Understands and Reports the Limited Russian Intervention in Ukraine in the Same Way as I do
Putin has botched what could have been an easy victory that would have concluded before Washington had time to impose sanctions and organize Ukraine’s army and weapons supply. But Putin cannot free himself from his illusions and delusions about the West. Thus, the war has expanded into the conflict that Putin hoped to avoid. The question is whether Putin yet realizes that Russia is at war. He says so in speeches, but his actions are not in agreement with his words. In the end it seems that Putin himself is an Atlanticist Integrationist, not a Russian nationalist.
Israel Shamir says that Putin’s unwillingness to fight a real war means the war will go on, but not necessarily result in nuclear war because neither side wants it. My concern is that Putin’s Goody Two Shoes behavior will continue to encourage more provocations until matters spin out of control. At some point there will be red lines crossed that not even a pro-Western Atlanticist Integrationist can accept.
The Dull War
The war was predominantly dull; with little movement. Trench warfare as in WWI. The big mistake was at the beginning when Russia tried to take a country of 40m with a few soldiers. The Head of Russian Intelligence Mr Naryshkin recently admitted that Russia had no reliable intelligence on Ukraine. For many years, since 1991, Russian intelligence service did not follow developments in the Ukraine. So Russia went to war, hoping the Ukrainians would greet their soldiers with flowers. It ended with a big retreat of the Russian troops. Putin thought he could make an agreement with Kiev, but it turns out the Ukraine signs agreements one day and reneges on them the next day. So it went on, until half a year later the Russian army began mobilization of its reserves.
It was not all bad: Russia had good and bad moments in its fight with Ukraine. A good moment was the capture of Mariupol on the Azov Sea coast. A bad moment was the Kharkov retreat. A silly moment was the grain deal and the withdrawal from Serpent Island. Moments of trouble were when the US/UK marines exploded the gas pipelines and when Daria Dougin was assassinated. A moment of truth is the present critique of the army commanders, including calls for the Defence Minister to shoot himself. People are unhappy with the way the Russian army is acting. The explosion on the Crimea Bridge has made this feeling acute.
And at this moment Putin called General Surovikin to take charge of the war in Ukraine. Surovikin is a popular general who commanded the Syrian operation and he has been nicknamed “General Armageddon” for obvious reasons. And Gen. Armageddon did what the people wanted: he launched dozens of cruise missiles on Ukrainian cities. Kiev has been attacked for the first time; electricity was knocked out in many places, including Kharkov. Until now Putin took care of the Ukraine infrastructure as if it were his own. Now this has changed. One thing remained: the Russians try to preserve civilians, as opposed to the Ukrainian military who do not mind killing civilians.
The war started because since the 2014 coup the Ukrainians had been shelling the Donbas, a predominantly Russian-populated area in the South East of the country. Putin tried to solve the conflict by the Minsk agreement, which promised an autonomous Donbas within federal Ukraine. The Ukrainians signed the Minsk agreement but had no intention of observing its articles. They killed thousands of people from the Donbas, mainly by shelling their shops, schools, and even streets. The nationalists of the Azov Battalion were especially ferocious towards the Donbas people. When Russian troops came to help the Donbas in February this year, the Azov fighters retreated to the vast underground caverns of Mariupol steel works.
However, they surrendered soon enough: to be sealed in caverns is not much fun, though they had food and water. Some two thousand fighters went into captivity. The people of the Donbas wanted to send them to a tribunal together with foreign mercenaries. But Moscow overruled them and they were exchanged for Russian POWs, and, annoyingly, for an opposition politician. Some Azov POWs were killed by the Kiev shelling of the POW camp: they apparently had begun to reveal harmful truths about their actions. The exchanged Azov fighters were carried by an oligarch, the Russian Jew Roman Abramovitch, in his private jet to the UAE. This also annoyed the people, who would have preferred them to stand trial.
The patriotic Russians were quite upset by the way war was conducted. They felt that the Russian commanders were too soft on the Ukraine while the Ukrainians continued shelling the Donbas. Russian writers and artists often supported the Ukraine. In Moscow, money was gathered for the Ukraine, not for the Russian army. Now, General Armageddon’s blitz has changed this feeling, but still the Ukraine has many supporters in Russia in pro-Western circles. That is not likely to change soon: 30 years of pro-Western politics can’t be undone in a moment. Frustration was high, because the Donbas was shelled but Kiev was unharmed.
It seems that is Putin soft-pedalling the campaign: he still hopes for positive changes after the US midterm elections, and in keeping the Third World on his side. Time will show whether this is a reasonable hope. The Western mainstream media is batting for the Ukraine. Russians killed are presented as victims of Russian ethnic cleansing, as in Bucha and Izium. The grain deal was concluded only because the media screamed about starving Africa. It was a flop: only 2% of the wheat went to poor countries while the rest went to the EU. Russians also gave away Serpent Island, a perfect base for starting a landing operation in Odessa.
The Ukrainian elite receive a lot of money, and high level contacts and appreciation. Mrs Zelensky was wined and dined by HRH the Princess of Wales. They are not going to like peace and being consigned to obscurity. Putin’s desires are quite irrelevant now as the big customer of the Ukraine is the US/UK, and they gain from war. The war is paid for by Europe; the US gets profits. Now the US sells liquefied gas for 4 times the Russian price, and the Europeans pay.
Sure, it is costly for the Ukrainian people; they suffer under Russian missiles. But the US does not care. For them it is profitable. German industries will probably go down: even better for the US. They hope they will relocate to the US.
There is no doubt the Russian gas pipelines were severed by US/UK sabotage. Russian sources name even the person who did it (Lt. Chris Bianchi). Now we learn that NATO tried to bomb the gas pipelines in 2015 for the first time, but they were apprehended. Only now has it become known. Alas, Sweden does not want to allow Russian access to the site of explosion; nor does it wants to share the results of its investigation. The terrorists did a messy job: they left one pipeline untouched, so the Russians and the Germans can start pumping gas right away if there is the political will. But it’s unclear whether the Germans have any political will outside of conforming to US wishes.
The US’s Party of War is very strong and Russians have no chance of defeating it. But it does not mean a nuclear war is unavoidable. Neither the US or RF Presidents wants it. Probably the conventional war will go on without crossing to the nuclear threshold. The peace agreement probably will fall short of the wishes of both sides, but Russians are unwilling to enter another Minsk agreement just to be abused by Kiev.
Russia and Sanctions
The main US/EU weapons against Russia are sanctions and the Iron Curtain. While sanctions have made only a little dent in the fabric of Russian society, this is not the case with the Iron Curtain. It is painful and annoying. For the last 30 years, Russians have got used to travelling to Europe. Now they have to change their habits. Yes, Russians can travel to Turkey and to Israel, to India and to Latin America, but Europe was nearby and friendly. Now it is difficult to reach: usually they can via a flight to Istanbul, but for much more money. It is especially painful for wealthy Russians: they used to spend their weekends in Paris and London; not anymore.
Sanctions are probably disturbing for businessmen, but ordinary people notice them less in Russia than in Europe. Meat is good and plentiful; gas is cheap; theatre is good and inexpensive. The whole Ring of the Nibelungs (four extra-long operas) can be heard for a hundred dollars.
Inflation happens in Russia, like everywhere else. But there is no green madness, or gender craze. There are no patriotic teaching or songs. Russia is quite progressive but not too much. Churches are open and full of worshippers. Actually, life is normal. Perhaps too normal for a country whose frontline just collapsed because of lack of soldiers.
Mobilisation has come to correct this deficiency. For the first time in 80 years Russians are mobilising, and it went poorly. Volunteers were refused, while the sick and elderly were drafted. A lot of relatively young pro-Western people escaped to Georgia and Israel, where there is no need for visas. But still, the necessary amount of folk were drafted. In two months, the Russian army will have enough soldiers to keep the frontline.
In the meantime it is dealing with terror. The explosion of the Crimea Bridge has been investigated. It turned out that the explosives were sent out of the Ukraine by a boat ostensibly loaded with wheat according to the wheat deal. The deadly load went via Bulgaria and Georgia to Russia. Just now Russian security has detained the Ukrainians who smuggled two Igla anti-aircraft missiles with launchers via Estonia. They planned to down civilian airplanes in Russia. Estonia was involved in the killing of Daria Dougin, a young Russian lady, daughter of philosopher Alexander Dougin, in the vicinity of Moscow. The Estonian minister congratulated Ukraine for the terrorist act on the Crimea Bridge. Lithuania tried to stop Russian access to its enclave in East Prussia. In short, the Ukraine is not alone, and Russia has many neutral sympathisers, but few allies.
The war goes on…