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Ukraine: the beginning of the end (II)

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

April 16, 2024

In these dark times, the word “truth” has become an archaism. A good example is the war in Ukraine, about which the Western political-media class has been practicing its specialty —to lie— for two years.

As we have been stating since the very beginning and should be obvious by now (even to journalists), this was never a war between Ukraine and Russia, but a proxy war between the US and Russia taking place on Ukrainian soil, with the US putting up the money and Ukraine putting up the dead. Europe, meanwhile, was to become the economic collateral casualty due to the ineptness of the EU bureaucracy, always obedient to its American master.

The real reasons for the war never had anything to do with the defense of the weak, nor with the defense of the ideals of freedom and democracy (in Ukraine?), but with the naked American geopolitical interest in eroding Russia, as several American senators made clear months ago[1]. Indeed, they had no qualms in affirming that the military aid to Ukraine had been “the best investment for US security in history[2]“, since having invested “only 3% of the annual military budget, we have managed to degrade the Russian army by 50% without losing a single American life[3]“. Although the senators didn’t get the numbers right (after all, they are just politicians), these outrageous statements show that the West has lost not only its mind, but its soul as well: for the US government, only American lives matter (or rather, the electoral impact of the loss of American lives), but the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian lives lost to achieve exactly nothing have been “a good investment”, mere pawns sacrificed on the chessboard to temporarily weaken the adversary. Are these the values that the West pretends to stand for?

A war provoked and prolonged by the West

The Western slogan insisted on describing the Russian invasion as “unprovoked”, against all evidence. In reality, the US had been provoking Russia with the successive NATO annexations and, in particular, with the initiative to incorporate Georgia and Ukraine at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008, despite the US ambassador in Moscow himself, William Burns (now CIA director), making it known that the incorporation of Ukraine was “the reddest of red lines” not only for Putin, but for the entire Russian ruling class: “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests[4].”  

Six years later, in 2014, by all accounts the US supported a coup d’état against the democratically elected Ukrainian president and, after putting in place a friendly government, subsequently encouraged Ukraine to disregard the Minsk Agreements, agreements that former Chancellor Merkel would suggest years later were nothing more than a trick on Russia “to buy time” and rearm Ukraine[5].  

Since the 2014 coup, NATO had been training and rearming the army of Ukraine (a non-member country) that threatened to lengthen the civil conflict taking place in eastern Ukraine (14,000 dead[6] up to January 2022 with no headlines whatsoever in the Western media) and recapture Crimea, home to Russia’s only warm seas naval base. In Russian eyes, therefore, the invasion was seen as a preemptive strike in the face of an existential threat and was strategically aimed at deterring the Ukrainians from seeking confrontation, guaranteeing their neutrality, and ensuring implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Russia envisioned a conflict lasting a few days or weeks (like the one in Georgia in 2008), followed by a quick negotiation and agreement, like the one they were on the verge of signing in Turkey in April 2022 a few weeks after the invasion began (when there were hardly any casualties on both sides).  

However, when Ukraine was about to sign such agreement, the US and UK decided to prevent it, as confirmed by the former Israeli prime minister[7] and the Turkish foreign minister (negotiations had been held in Turkey). Quite rightly, retired German General Harald Kujat, former Chief of Staff of the German Army and former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee (CMC), has been blunt in stating that “all Ukrainian and Russian deaths since April 9, 2022, are because [the West] prevented Ukraine from signing a peace treaty with Russia[8].” Don’t forget this.

The two pillars of Western propaganda

The fallacious narrative about the Ukrainian war has rested on two pillars. The first is the extremely poor image we in the West have of Putin, an image we never had of any Soviet leader. Why this focus on Putin, I wonder, among so many other psychopathic power junkies swarming around, from East to West? The answer lies in the fact that, beyond the chills caused by his iciness, we have been subjected to a successful demonization campaign launched by Anglo-Saxon propaganda, which has sought to make us forget that Russia was part of the G-8 until the events in Ukraine in 2014, or that Putin and Obama shared friendly laughs at the G-20 in 2012[9] , or that Bill Clinton described in 2013 the Russian autocrat as a “very smart” person and a reliable partner. Indeed, asked by the interviewer whether he could be trusted behind closed doors, Clinton replied: “He kept his word on all the deals we made[10]“. Incidentally, Clinton politely referred to the Russian leader as “Mr. Putin” while today Biden calls him a “crazy son of a bitch[11]“, a great advance of civilization.  

The second pillar on which Western propaganda has rested is the ignorance of Russian reality. For the West, Russia has always been a riddle wrapped in a mystery within an enigma, as Churchill used to say. An example of this is the reaction to the recent presidential elections, immediately branded as fraudulent by the West, in which Putin would have been re-elected by an alleged 87% of the votes.

Of course, electoral fraud is common in pseudo-democratic regimes, democratic in form but autocratic in substance, as is the Russian case. However, the question is this: does Putin really need to commit fraud to win the elections? Here we are confronted with an uncomfortable fact, namely that Putin has always been very popular in his country.

Naturally, some of the reasons for this alleged popular support for Putin are spurious, such as the iron fist control that the Russian government exercises over the media, the cult of personality over the persona of the president and the non-existence (or suppression) of relevant opposition figures. But beyond these impositions typical of repressive regimes, there are objective reasons that would justify Putin’s popularity in his home country under more normal circumstances, and it is crucial to understand them, if we can prevent our (manipulated) emotions get in the way of our reasoning capabilities (if interested, please see the Annex at the end of this article).

NATO’s strategic defeat

In my previous essay I analyzed the situation on the frontlines and the accelerated defeat of Ukraine, a defeat that this blog —against prevailing wisdom at the time— already considered “inevitable” back in February 2023[12]. Now I would like to mention the profound strategic consequences —to the detriment of the West— that, in my view, will bring this war.  

Indeed, NATO’s decision to massively support the Ukrainian effort was intended to create a wound for Russia through which it would bleed for a while, but this was a tactical, short-term move. The US also believed that the conflict would undermine popular support for Putin and even went so far as to dream of regime change, a specialty of US foreign policy. It also believed that sanctions adopted under the alibi of war would wreak havoc on Russia’s economy.

However, all these voluntarist ideas once again showed that the US lacks true strategists and has too many sorcerer’s apprentices. Indeed, it always surprises me that a country so rich and enriching (and whose Constitution created the greatest experiment in freedom in history) should have governments who suffer from a genetic difficulty in understanding (and respecting) how the world works beyond its borders. Arrogance doesn’t help either, and when arrogance meets ignorance the result is disaster.

None of the US objectives have been met. First, popular support for Putin has grown stronger and no regime change is in sight. Moreover, regime change may come sooner to the US (with Trump) than to Russia.

Secondly, the sanctions by USA (United Sanctions of America) have not broken the Russian economy but the European one with the complicity of the inept EU bureaucracy. The cost of energy has multiplied, and European companies have been forced to sell their assets in Russia at bargain prices, taking huge losses. After a period of adaptation, Russia and its huge natural resources will fall into the arms of the East.

Thirdly, the abusive and illegal nature of some of these sanctions, such as the freezing of Russia’s foreign reserves, has not significantly harmed Russia (at least in the short run), but on the contrary has provoked irritation and annoyance in the rest of the world, which sees, once again, that the Anglo-Saxon world order is based on rules that only apply to others: “Rules for thee, not for me”. Undoubtedly, breaking the most basic principles of mutual trust between countries will have long-term consequences to the detriment of the dollar, the currency of the debtor country par excellence, whose days as a world reserve are numbered (just ask the BRICS). This will probably be the biggest self-inflicted mistake of the US in its history: the East has identified the feet of clay of the US giant, that is, the US dollar, and has declared war on it. The duration of this economic war is, of course, uncertain; the result is not.

Fourth, NATO’s massive involvement and its triumphalist propaganda campaign, premature and reckless, has ultimately created an image of impotence of the organization itself and of the US. In fact, the speed of adaptation of the Russian army after its initial serious setbacks, its paradigmatic success in static defense and two years of very tough conflict against a very tough enemy have made it the most highly trained army in the world. Despite the high price it has paid, far from feeling down and self-conscious (as happened with its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989), the war in Ukraine has made it regain self-confidence and it is today possibly a more fearsome opponent than it was two years ago.

A more dangerous world

The fact that NATO has so explicitly and jubilantly aided Ukraine by providing offensive weapons and intel that have caused the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers will have two ultimate unintended consequences. The first will be to weaken the principle of nuclear deterrence, an indispensable element of global security. Indeed, NATO has played with fire with a nuclear power in the certainty that it would not press the button, being led as it is by a rational actor. Other actors will not react with the same restraint, but in any case, countries that depend most on nuclear deterrence (such as Israel) will see their security weakened and their adversaries becoming bolder.

The second, more tangible consequence, will be that the US and NATO will not be able to participate in any mission abroad without fearing that their adversary will be openly armed by Russia with modern weaponry and provided with intelligence data that will result in the death of Western soldiers. Russia will not forget, as only the East knows how not to forget, and revenge is a dish best served cold.

All in all, the war in Ukraine may turn out to be a colossal strategic mistake by the US. The West will not only lose the war, but also the remnants of any moral authority left, and if, in a panic, NATO creates a last-minute escalation to try to camouflage its defeat, the world will not only never be the same again, but it will also go to war. The world has become a more dangerous place.

ANNEX: The mystery of Putin’s popularity

According to the only independent Russian polling company respected in the West (and whose data Statista draws on[13]), the most recent polls before the elections showed Putin’s approval rating at 86%[14], not much different from the one supposedly obtained in the elections. What’s more: over the past 20 years, Putin would have maintained support ranging from 58% to 88%. If these numbers are roughly true, how come? A brief historical overview is needed.

In the years following the fall of the sinister Soviet tyranny, Russia suffered a crisis of existential dimensions only comparable to the loss of the great European empires (Spain in 1898, Austria in 1918 or Britain after WWII). Indeed, the Soviet empire was dismembered, and its geopolitical weight turned into a shadow of what it had once been. The country danced to the tune of its old nemesis, the US, the clear winner of the Cold War and the only superpower at the time. To make matters worse, Russia suffered a humiliating defeat in the First Chechen War (1994-96).

Wounded national pride – something a Slav takes seriously, as the Ukrainians have also demonstrated with their courage – was compounded by an unprecedented economic crisis and rampant corruption. Russia’s GDP fell by 50% in just 8 years until the perfect storm of 1998, when the ruble suffered a sharp devaluation, the country suspended payments and inflation reached 84%. This economic catastrophe was due in part to the rottenness of the communist economic system, and in part to the incompetence of Boris Yeltsin’s governments, whose personal weaknesses made him a malleable leader, suitable for American geopolitical interests, but disastrous for his people. Under his rule, corruption reached grotesque heights with oligarchs appropriating the main Soviet public enterprises at bargain prices.

With Putin’s rise to power in January 2000, things changed. He brought order to the prevailing anarchy, strengthened the rule of law (which in Russia is always applied selectively) and curtailed the abuses of the oligarchs. Of course, corruption remained an endemic problem, but it became orderly rather than chaotic, if you will pardon the irony. What is more, the attitude of Putin’s first governments was, according to a reliable British source, an eagerness to take back what the Yeltsin-era oligarchs had “stolen” from the state[15]. He would later create his own oligarchic class.  

But maybe the most important factor in Putin’s success was the economy, as he was able to capitalize the huge oil bull market (with the price of the barrel going from 30 to 200 dollars) that started by sheer coincidence with his coming to power. Naturally, Russia is still today a relatively underdeveloped country in terms of GDP per capita, but what is relevant for the purposes of Putin’s popularity is the growth in living standards since he came to power: in a decade, GDP per capita had doubled in constant terms[16], which implies a growth of 7% p.a.  

The following graph shows the evolution of Russia’s GDP per capita (PPP) in constant terms since the fall of the Wall until 2022 (in USD 000s), according to the World Bank. Note that Putin comes to power near the bottom:

Unemployment has also been reduced from an artificial 13% to a figure of 3% in 2023[17] and taxes were simplified and reduced, so that today the income tax in Russia has a flat rate of 13%. It should be added that, according to Gallup, an American company, 75% of Russians are satisfied with their level of personal freedom and 71% feel safe walking the streets at night[18].

Finally, Putin recovered the national pride of a country that longed to be respected. Culturally, Russians tend to admire a strong leader, and in Putin they found one. The cult of personality surrounding his persona did the rest.

All these data show that, beyond the opinion that Putin deserves in the West (something that he does not care about and may even benefit him at home), objectively the Russian people have seen their living conditions improve since he came to power, and that means a solid base of popular support which is, of course, increased by the propaganda of the regime itself and by the capitalization of the typical Eastern feeling of victimhood that is fed time and again by the explicit arrogance of US misguided foreign policy since 1991. Not to understand this is to understand nothing.

[1]Sen. Blumenthal (opinion): ‘Ukraine is at the tip of the spear’ (ctpost.com)
[2] Senator Mitt Romney en X: “The single most important thing we can do to strengthen America relative to China is to see Russia defeated in Ukraine. A weakened Russia deters the CCP’s territorial ambition, and halts Putin’s vision of reestablishing the old Soviet Union. Supporting Ukraine is in our interest. https://t.co/X21GGs0lTW” / X (twitter.com)
[3] Ukraine used 3% of US defense budget to destroy half of Russian army — war news / The New Voice of Ukraine (nv.ua)
[4] The Back Channel, William J. Burns, Random House 2019
[5] Putin: Russia may have to make Ukraine deal one day, but partners cheated in the past | Reuters
[6] Conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: A Visual Explainer | Crisis Group
[7] Western Bloc Led by ‘Aggressive’ Boris Johnson Ruined Russia-Ukraine Peace Deal, Leading to Year-Long Bloodshed, Says Ex-Israel PM (ibtimes.sg)
[8] Talk im Hangar-7: Zwei Jahre Ukraine – Freiheitskampf oder Kriegstreiberei? | Kurzfassung (youtube.com)
[9] Putin and Obama share a laugh at G-20 (2012) (youtube.com)
[10] CNN’s Piers Morgan Speaks with President Bill Clinton – 2013 CGI Annual Meeting (youtube.com)
[11] https://edition.cnn.com/2024/02/21/politics/biden-putin-crazy-sob/index.html
[12] We have also been lied to about Ukraine – Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo (fpcs.es)
[13] Putin approval rating Russia 2024 | Statista
[14] Левада-Центр : Indicators (levada.ru)
[15] Beyond Business, John Browne, Orion Books
[16] GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2017 international $) – Russian Federation | Data (worldbank.org)
[17] Russia – Unemployment rate 2021 | Statista
[18] From the Kremlin to the Kitchen: Russian Life in 6 Charts (gallup.com)          

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