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Ukraine in Asia – A brief Analysis

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Since its unprovoked military aggression against Ukraine, Russia has inundated the world with misinformation and disinformation in efforts to justify its military operations and to claim its strict observance of the rules of warfare. Unsurprisingly, many of these efforts have often been penetrated due to the poor and blatant construction exposed by the mainstream Western mass media that perhaps interact closely with the intelligence circles.

But this hardly means that Western governments and the mass media are bona fide disseminators of war information that is free from distortion and manipulation. This is because, in the modern and contemporary history of war, government propaganda is a commonplace. It is instrumental to mobilize, sustain and strengthen domestic and international support for war efforts, particularly when magnified by mass media. An underdog country can use such propaganda to enhance international support, especially through provision of weapons, ammunition, logistics and, if feasible, reinforcements, to complement its inferior war capability, as well as economic sanction against the top dog country. On the other hand, the latter can employ such a propaganda to enhance popular morale and supplement resource mobilization capacity.

In fact, Western government war propaganda and the mainstream mass media reports have established a predominant international opinion that sides sympathetically with Ukraine as the innocent underdog[i]. This is particularly because numerous video footage has lively covered massive exoduses of Ukrainian women and children to neighboring countries, missile bombardment and other forms of shelling against urban residential areas, and vivid images of killed and injured noncombatants as well as combatants, among others. Unfortunately, timely open-source information on evolving operational and tactical realities is limited, partial, unbalanced and/or, biased,  possibly with intentional distortions and manipulations. Yet, the reports seem to prove atrocities committed by the Russian invasion forces, demonizing these forces and President Vladimir Putin at the levels of jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

Yet, war propaganda becomes unplausible and ineffective, especially when detached from evolving battlefield realities. Until then, war propaganda surely hampers coolheaded analysis and appropriate policy prescription on how to end a war, while unnecessarily protracting warfare involving a significantly higher death toll and further destruction.

In this light, this study will cast some different light on the tenability of the predominant factual recognition and discourse in mainstream Western mass media. The first jus in bello cases are about Western allegation of atrocities committed by the Russian side against Ukrainian non-combatants, particularly under the condition of extremely fierce urban warfare in the cities of Mariupol and Bucha. The second jus ad bellum case is about Russian allegation of U.S.-assisted biological weapon R&D in Ukraine. These cases are particularly important because most of Western news and reports have flatly turned down Russian counterparts as misinformation and disinformation, without any serious examination. Certainly, the current author of this piece does not enjoy any privileged access to classified information but only to open sources. Yet, careful examination of open-source materials, including Russian and alternative media sources, may make it possible to identify blind assumptions and invalid judgements in the current dominant Western discourse, if not to present correct facts and cogent judgements.

1. The Mariupol Case

1) The Context

Ukrainian President Zelensky stated in his on-line speech of March 23 to the Japanese Diet that several thousand Ukrainian civilians, including 121 children, had been killed, together with nine millions refugees and internally displaced civilians[ii]. This unexpectedly low level of death toll may indicate that Russian invasion forces exercised certain self-restraint in attacking civilians, except collateral damage.

In fact, Douglas Macgregor[iii], a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a Senior Advisor to Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, stated that, despite the strong impression generated by the repeated exposure to video footage, President Putin strictly ordered from the outset of the war to avoid killing civilians and destroying urban areas as much as possible[iv]. This is consistent with his historical outlook on the triune Russian national identity – White, Little and Great Russians (respectively, Belarussians, Ukrainians and Russians), characterized by strong historical unity and brotherhood[v]. Naturally ,it begs the question of why the Russian forces killed many Ukrainian civilians and severely destroyed urban residential areas in Ukraine, involving an inscrutable disjunction between Putin’s own creed and practice.

Extremely fierce urban warfare, especially in the City of Mariupol, is a natural consequence of the stark disparity of Russian and Ukrainian military power, to which both sides have even introduced foreign volunteer fighters and mercenaries[vi]. With its overwhelming superiority, the Russian invasion forces neutralized a significant portion of main high-end platforms, assets and on-ground facilities of the Ukrainian armed forces at the initial stage of the current war, including air superiority fighters, major battle tanks and the command & control systems[vii]. This is consistent with numerous video footage available in public domain that primarily captures Ukrainian infantry operations with portable anti-tank missiles for close combat and low-altitude anti-air missiles, while few high-end platforms are visible. In fact, the Russian Defense Ministry said that, soon after the start of the war, the Russian forces totally destroyed Ukrainian Air Force combat aircraft while some of them escaped to Poland and Romania[viii]. Reportedly, the Russia forces destroyed 974 Ukrainian tanks and other armored vehicles just for the first three weeks[ix]. No wonder, MacGregor judged that the Ukrainian units still active “(were) completely surrounded, cut off and isolated in various town and cities”, with supplies likely running out soon[x]. Ukrainian infantry and special operation forces in Mariupol were cornered at bay without reinforcement nor air cover. An Azov Battalion commander there vainly urged the U.S.-led NATO to make armed intervention against Russia, especially to set an effective no-fly zone over Ukraine, while attributing a grave humanitarian crisis in the making to Russia。[xi]

2) Who attacked the maternity hospital and the drama theater?

The Ukrainian government strongly condemned Russia for its military attack against a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 17[xii], which injured 17 people including women, children and doctors, with at least five of them dead thereafter[xiii]. But Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov justified the attack because an Azov Battalion unit turned the hospital to a combat base[xiv], claiming the victims as unavoidable and lawful collateral damage. Surprisingly, the pregnant woman on spotlight in the reports later disclosed that Ukrainian soldiers used the hospital as base while holding these civilians as human shield against Russian forces, suggesting that the incident was an act of self-destruct and a false flag operation by the Ukraine’s side[xv]. This is compatible with other fragmentary video footage that capture how Ukrainian civilians in Mariupol have been used as human shield[xvi] and prevented from leaving the city[xvii].

Also, the Ukrainian government alleged, echoed aloud by major Western mass media, that, on March 16, a Russian airstrike dropped a powerful bomb on the Mariupol Drama Theater sheltering some 1,300 local residents, including women and children, and despite large signs of “children” that were clearly visible from aircraft. Reportedly, the death toll reached at least to 300[xviii]. The Russian government flatly denied the allegation and instead accused the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian militia, of blowing up the theater building. This is compatible with the interview of a 17- year-old female survivor of the incident with the Abkhazian Network News Agency, who eye-witnessed Azov soldiers hiding themselves behind civilian hostages in the building[xix].

More specifically, a Russian military spokesman stated that Azov Battalion units held civilian hostages in the theater building as human shield, using the upper floor as firing points. This means that the Russian attack aimed at these units, involving significant civilian casualties as collateral damage during the engagement[xx]. This is a plausible account on what happened, particularly given the very similar circumstances of the above hospital case.

It is now crucially important to inquire what the Azov Battalion is all about and if the troop has the established notoriety of committing such atrocities.

3The Azov Battalion[xxi]

The Azov Battalion is now a part of the Ukrainian National Guard, which is the country’s gendarmerie under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Its name originates from the fact that it has been based in Mariupol in the Azov Sea costal region since 2014, first as a volunteer militia that fought against Russian separatist forces in the Donbas War and later in the same year incorporated into the National Guard while expanded in scale into a regiment. As Russia labels it as neo-Nazis, it in fact uses controversial symbols resembling the Nazis SS Wolfsangel, though it denies any connection with Nazism[xxii]. Yet, in 2015, an Azov spokesman disclosed 10-20% of units consisted of neo-Nazis members[xxiii]. The concern over the Azov is serious enough to the extent that the U.S. Congress enacted a legislative measure, Consolidated Appropriation Bill of 2018, to ban military aids to the paramilitary due to its white supremacist ideology and neo-Nazism[xxiv].

The Azov has faced serious allegations of committing torture and war crimes, including the grossly underinvestigated case of the 2014 Odessa Clashes in which some 50 pro-Russia separatists were killed[xxv]. In fact, the U.N. Human Rights Office of High Commissioner published reports that connect the Azov Battalion to war crimes such as mass looting, unlawful detention, and torture[xxvi]. Clearly. Russia’s counter-allegations on  the above atrocities in Mariupol are at least compatible with an established understanding on Azov’s behavioral pattern connected to war crimes.

Actually, Russia’s emphasis and Western de-emphasis on the Azov Battalion is obscurely central to their intensified exchanges of war propaganda and counter-propaganda, on the ground that the paramilitary has constituted a major U.S instrument of covert military intervention in Russia-Ukraine armed conflict. More specifically, the CIA had a secret advisory and training program for Ukrainian paramilitaries and militias, most probably including the Azov, for eight years until shortly before the start of the current war, despite the aforementioned legislative ban. The CIA has had training centers in the U.S. and eastern Ukraine for sniper techniques[xxvii], anti-tank missile handling, covert communications, and other tactics necessary for insurgency and counter-insurgency[xxviii]. Thus, the issue of the Azov Battalion cannot simply be reduced to the question of war crimes, but can only be fully comprehended in the context of a U.S.-Russia proxy war over the Donbas region that is central to NATO expansion to Ukraine and determination of their spheres of interest.

2. The Bucha Case

A similar suspicion of war propaganda is not easily excludable, with a focus on the atrocities allegedly committed by the Russian armed forces against local Ukrainian civilians in the city of Bucha. Major Western governments and the mainstream mass media are condemning, with strongest terms, the unspeakable atrocities against local Ukrainian civilians on the way of retreat after hard battles to vainly capture Kiev. However, on March 31 when the Russian forces left the city, its mayor did not at all mention of the atrocities in an interview with a Ukrainian on-line news site[xxix] which is compatible with his bright expression in a selfie video taken on the same day[xxx]. On April 2, when Ukrainian army forces entered the city to make sure of a complete retreat of the Russian forces, the video footage by a local news media captured no corpse on roads and no sign of emotional distress among the local population. On April 1, Azov Battalion troops entered the city[xxxi], and on April 3, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense released video footage as evidence of the atrocities committed by the Russian forces, which neither the New York Times nor the Pentagon are independently able to verify the assertion of the Ministry[xxxii]. In addition, in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. and the U.K. blocked Russia’s proposal to send an independent fact-finding mission to Ukraine[xxxiii].

Thus, there is a good possibility that the Azov Battalion might have fabricated or purposefully committed at least some parts of the “atrocities” by itself[xxxiv]. (More specifically, to differentiate which camp they belong, pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian civilians wear blue or white armbands respectively. Many corpses in Bucha wore white armbands as in video footage available. The Azov and/or other ultra-right militia units may have committed the atrocities out of emotional impulse, while the mass media and propaganda section of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs may have made up the scene to impute responsibilities of war crime to the Russian invasion forces[xxxv]. It should be reminded that the current war has the dimension of ethnic conflict as well as that of inter-state war.)

Given the leading role of BBC reports on this matter with the analysis of a satellite image, this begs the question of if the U.K. intelligence circles are engaged in elaborate war propaganda against Russia to mislead and manipulate other major Western governments and mass media[xxxvi].

3. The Case of Biological Weapon R&D

Possession of weapon of mass destruction by a revisionist power may constitute a casus belli of a status quo power, particularly when the latter sees the former’s move as its existential threat or serious threat against its vital national interests. Yet, legitimatizing a war has to satisfy some procedural requirements according to international law with presentation of solid evidence to the international society.

In this light, Russia’s allegation on Ukraine’s nuclear weapon programs is not tenable at all, at least at this point, due to its abrupt aggression against Ukraine without presenting any substantial evidence[xxxvii]. Also, there are little significant related information in public domain, though Ukraine has active nuclear power plants with some substantial potential to develop nuclear weapons as the country was part of the Soviet Union.

But Russia’s accusation of U.S.-assisted biological weapon R&D in Ukraine, as articulated with a trove of original documentation by Lieutenant-General Igor Kirillov, Commander of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troop of the Russian Army[xxxviii], is not totally deniable but seems plausible with open-source information[xxxix]. Most remarkably, Victoria Nuland, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, admitted the existence of biolaboratories in Ukraine under the bilateral cooperative programs of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations[xl], while the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department unequivocally denied U.S.-funded biological weapon laboratories in Ukraine[xli]. In addition, an official letter from an official in charge at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to a project manager of Black & Veatch, a DTRA contractor, attests to their significant collaborative research relationship, while another official letter from an official in charge at the DTRA office in Kiev to an official in charge at the Ukraine Ministry Defense indicates their clear awareness of the potential usefulness of their research collaboration for biological weapon development[xlii].

Certainly, the Agency’s Biological Threat Reduction Programs may serve bona fide statutory purposes, not designed to contribute to virus and other biological weapon R&D. Yet, suspicion remains, given that the offense and defense of biological warfare is generally the head and tail of similar biological weapon technologies while there is no clear demarcation line between military and civil research in most advanced virus and other biological R&D that involves genetic manipulation. The lack of confidence in the sectoral culture has recently become worse because Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President Biden, hid the fact before a Senate hearing that the EcoHealth Alliance, New York City-based nonprofit organization, funneled U.S. public funds to gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses at China’s Wuhan lab, making it feasible to bypass stringent domestic regulations and strict public eyes. The experiment is suspected potentially useful for biological weapon R&D, and a virus leak from the lab might have been a primary cause of the current COVIT-19 pandemic[xliii].

4. Reflection

Hitherto, this investigative inquiry has cast significant doubt and suspicion on the established Western discourse that sided uncritically with Ukraine in its war against hyper-demonized Russia, almost exclusively on the basis of Western government war information and mass media reports, and without carefully checking Russian reports.

Of course, Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine is utterly indisputable, and a great number of innocent Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the current war, either in atrocity or collateral damage. But who killed how many civilians and in what ways is not self-evident as reported in the Western media, especially in the context of ethnic conflict and urban warfare as the world learnt from gross information manipulation in the former Yugoslavia ethnic conflict[xliv]. It is increasingly necessary to check Western reports carefully against Russian ones, while verifying the authenticity of allegedly “original” U.S. documents presented by the Russian government and mass media. The U.S. government will be accountable, if verified.

Inundated with propaganda and counter-propaganda both by the West and Russia day after day, both political leaders and the public in the West will suffer self-poisoning effect of the hyper-demonized image of Russia on making coolheaded policy analysis. It is high time that the Western governments and mainstream mass media recalibrate war propaganda and counter-propaganda, in view of the need to think of how to end the current war and to keep diplomatic channels open with Russia that would most unlikely capitulate, given that it is a nuclear power coequal to the United States.


[i] Despite the current image of an innocent victim, Ukraine has continually played a disturbing role to Asian and international security, particularly because it sold an ex-Soviet aircraft career, Varyag, as scrap to China, that has been already repaired and commissioned as the country’s first aircraft career, Liaoning; and because Ukraine has not effectively banned outflows of ballistic missile technologies to North Korea that has significantly contributed to the development of its nuclear weapon programs. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say”, New York Times, August 14, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/14/world/asia/north-korea-missiles-ukraine-factory.html.

[ii] Ukrainian President Zelensky ‘s speech to the Japanese Diet, Japan Forward, March 24, 2022, https://japan-forward.com/read-the-full-speech-by-president-of-ukraine-volodymyr- zelenskyy-to-japans-national-diet/.

[iii] Steve Benen, “Why a former Trump appointee’s pro-Russia rhetoric matters”, MSNBC, March 1, 2022, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/former-trump-appointees-russia-rhetoric-matters-rcna17957.

[iv] Tyler Stone, “Macgregor: Washington Wants War To Continue As Long As Possible In Hopes To Overthrow Putin”, Real Clear Politics, March 16, 2022, https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2022/03/16/macgregor_washington_wants_war_to_continue_as_long_as_possible_in_hopes_to_overthrown_putin.html. “Former top Pentagon advisor Doug Macgregor on Russia-Ukraine war”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFngc_8RiVc. His statement is faithfully recorded in: “American military expert explains ‘slow’ Russian advance in Ukraine”, RT, March 16, 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/552098-ukraine-speed-operations-civilians/.

[v] Vladimir Putin, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, July 12,2021, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181.

[vi] Will Fyfe , “Ukraine: Private militias recruiting former soldiers”, BBC News, March 10, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-60676720; “Russia claims to kill ‘180 foreign mercenaries’ in strike on western Ukraine”, Time of Israel, March 13, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/russia-claims-missile-strike-in-western-ukraine-killed-180-foreign-mercenaries/; Mari Saito and Elaine Lies, “Dozens volunteer to fight for Ukraine in pacifist Japan”, Japan Times, March 2, 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/03/02/national/japan-volunteers-ukraine/; and, Jack Losh, “Putin Resorts to Syrian Mercenaries in Ukraine. It’s Not the First Time.”, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/25/russia-war-syrian-mercenaries-car-ukraine/

[vii] Luke MacGee, “How long can Ukraine hold out in the war for the skies?”, CNN, March 18, 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/17/europe/air-superiority-ukraine-russia-intl-cmd/index.html.

[viii] Joseph P Chacko, “Ukrainian Airforce combat aircraft totally destroyed, some escaped to Poland and Romania, says Russia,” Frontier India, March 7, 2022, https://frontierindia.com/ukrainian-airforce-combat-aircraft-totally-destroyed-some-escaped-to-poland-and-romania-says-russia/.

[ix] “Russia says it destroyed 974 Ukrainian tanks and armoured vehicles -TASS”, Reuters, March 9, 2022, https://jp.reuters.com/article/ukraine-crisis-russia-tanks/russia-says-it-destroyed-974-ukrainian-tanks-and-armoured-vehicles-tass-idUSP4N2HB01U.

[x] “Former top Pentagon advisor Doug Macgregor on Russia-Ukraine war”, op.cit.

[xi] “Official appeal of Azov commander, the major Denis Prokopenko, to the world community”, March 7, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ8KFqQWRbY.

[xii] “Mariupol hospital attack: Pregnant woman hurt in bombing gives birth “, BBC, March 11, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60715492.

[xiii] Katie Polglase, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Livvy Doherty, “Anatomy of the Mariupol hospital attack”, CNN Special Report, March 17, 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2022/03/europe/mariupol-maternity-hospital-attack/index.html.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] An interview with Marianna Vyshemirskaya, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWn6I8cCAug.

[xvi] https://mobile.twitter.com/j_sato/status/1507201492326838273.

[xvii] https://twitter.com/stillgray/status/1504758870635597831.

[xviii] “Historic Theater Sheltering Mariupol Civilians Hit By Air Strike, Number Of Casualties Unknown”, Radio Free Europe, March 16, 2022, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-mariupol-thearer-destroyed-strike/31756641.html. Tim Stelloh, “Satellite images show apparent devastation, hunger in Mariupol”, NBC News, March 30, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/satellite-images-show-apparent-devastation-hunger-mariupol-rcna22119.

[xix] Max Blumenthal, “Was bombing of Mariupol theater staged by Ukrainian Azov extremists to trigger NATO intervention?”, Monthly Review Online, March 22, 2022, https://mronline.org/2022/03/22/was-bombing-of-mariupol-theater-staged-by-ukrainian-azov-extremists-to-trigger-nato-intervention.

[xx] “Ukraine backtracks on Mariupol theater claims”, RT, March 18, 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/552266-mariupol-theater-civilians-survived/.

[xxi] There are at least several major pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian militias, including those similar to the Azov Battalion. This study focuses primarily on the Azov as atypical example due the limited analytical purpose. Mitch Ruhl, “Paramilitary Forces in Ukraine: Matches to a Powder Keg”, Small Wars Journal, February 21, 2022, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/paramilitary-forces-ukraine-matches-powder-keg.

[xxii] “Azov Battalion”, Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation, https://stanford.app.box.com/s/7ocm1tlvp2uydbki04qiuph4oa5j8tg9.

[xxiii] Oren Dorell, “Volunteer Ukrainian unit includes Nazis”, USA Today, March 01, 2015, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/03/10/ukraine-azov-brigade-nazis-abuses-separatists/24664937/.

[xxiv] Rebecca Kheel, “Congress bans arms to Ukraine militia linked to neo-Nazism”, Hill, March 27, 2018, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/380483-congress-bans-arms-to-controversial-ukrainian-militia-linked-to-neo-nazis/.

[xxv] Roman Goncharenko, “The Odessa file: What happened on May 2, 2014?”, Deutsche Welle, May 2, 2015, https://www.dw.com/en/the-odessa-file-what-happened-on-may-2-2014/a-18425200.

[xxvi] “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 November 2015 to 15 February 2016″, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, February 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Countries/UA/Ukraine_13th_HRMMU_Report_3March2016.pdf; and, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine 16 February to 15 May 2016″, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, May 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Countries/UA/Ukraine_14th_HRMMU_Report.pdf.

[xxvii] Ben Tobias, “War in Ukraine: Fourth Russian general killed – Zelensky”, BBC News, March 16, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60767664.

[xxviii] Zach Dorfman, “CIA-trained Ukrainian paramilitaries may take central role if Russia invade”, Yahoo News, January 14, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/news/cia-trained-ukrainian-paramilitaries-may-take-central-role-if-russia-invades-185258008.html.

[xxix] “Bucha liberated from Russian invaders – mayor”, UKRINFORM, April 1, 2022, https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3445989-bucha-liberated-from-russian-invaders-mayor.html.

[xxx] https://twitter.com/j_sato/status/1510943234129682432.

[xxxi] “Scenes of desperation and death as the Russians retreat from suburbs outside Kyiv”, New York Times, April 2, 2022, 10:27 p.m. ET,  https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/04/03/world/ukraine-russia-war.

[xxxii] Anushka Patil, April 3, 2022, 7:03 pm ET, Ibid. “Pentagon can’t independently confirm atrocities in Ukraine’s Bucha, official say”, Reuters, April 5, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/pentagon-cant-independently-confirm-atrocities-ukraines-bucha-official-says-2022-04-04/?fbclid=IwAR1rCp3Z1FlmsyaJhHP3L8roWIyS8OrFiOoDW2pVIwVzqoNPMblxw7THUDg.

[xxxiii] “Russia calls Security Council meeting over Bacha”, RT, April 3, 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/553242-bucha-un-security-council/.

[xxxiv] “Russia and Ukraine trade accusations over Bucha civilian deaths (TIMELINE)”, RT, April 4, 2022, https://www.rt.com/russia/553274-bucha-war-crimes-allegations/.

[xxxv] “If you are living in Bucha, please use blue arm band. don’t use white arm band like Russian”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFZar6DXD1Y. Nick Griffin, “MSM’s Bucha Tall Tale”, Sputnik International, April 5, 2022, https://sputniknews.com/20220405/msms-bucha-tall-tale-1094504500.html.

[xxxvi] “Bucha killings: Satellite image of bodies site contradicts Russian claims”, BBC News, April 6, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/60981238.

[xxxvii] “Russia, without evidence, says Ukraine making nuclear ‘dirty bomb’”, Reuters, March 6, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-without-evidence-says-ukraine-making-nuclear-dirty-bomb-2022-03-06/.

[xxxviii] “US biological facilities in #ukraine #russia #war”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYzmIIYfx4g.

[xxxix] More than a dozen of DTRA documents on biolabs in Ukraine are archived though they had been removed from the official website of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. For the hyperlinks to them, see, Silviu Costinescu, “US ran gruesome bioweapon research in over 25 countries. Wuhan, tip of an iceberg”, June 3, 2021, https://silview.media/2021/06/03/us-ran-grewsome-bioweapon-research-in-over-25-countries-wuhan-tip-of-an-iceberg-ecohealth-alliance-implicated-again/.

[xl] “What Victoria Nuland really said about biolaboratories in Ukraine”, EURORADIO, March 13, 2022, https://euroradio.fm/en/what-victoria-nuland-really-said-about-biolaboratories-ukraine.

[xli] Ling Qiu “Theory about U.S.-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine is unfounded”, New York Time, March 12, 2022, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/03/12/world/ukraine-biolabs-media-claims/.

[xlii] Ilya Tsukanov, “Russian MoD Names Curator of Pentagon-Funded Biolabs in Ukraine, Releases Original Docs”, Sputnik International, March 17, 2022, https://sputniknews.com/20220317/russia-believes-components-of-biological-weapons-were-created-in-ukraine—mod-1093960475.html.

[xliii] Emily Crane, “NIH admits US funded gain-of-function in Wuhan — despite Fauci’s denials”, New York Post, October 21, 2021, https://nypost.com/2021/10/21/nih-admits-us-funded-gain-of-function-in-wuhan-despite-faucis-repeated-denials/#.

[xliv] Shinya Watanabe, “The Influence of the Nation-State on Art : The Case of the Former Yugoslavian Countries”,2004, http://www.shinyawatanabe.net/nationstate/thesis3.htm.

MD Advisory Board Member Professor of International Politics and National Security Faculty of Law St. Andrew's University (Momoyama Gakuin Daigaku)

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Eastern Europe

Lessons of Ukraine and the Death of Leadership: Only History Exists

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A child walks past a damaged building in eastern Ukraine. (FIle) © UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson V

Having considered a plethora of articles pontificating on Moscow’s military action in Ukraine, whether journalistic, academic, ideological, purely propagandistic and/or emotional, I feel constrained to say, as a diplomat turned historian of diplomatic history, that there seems to be a lack of understanding of why the so-called ‘international community’ (read ‘collective West’) currently seems to be suffering from a bout of ignorance, confusion and inconsistency in its inter-state relations. At the risk of sounding supercilious, I shall explain why so many agenda-driven pundits, in their shallow ‘analyses’, do not seem to have a clue about why our alleged leaders are running around like headless chickens. To begin to understand, we need to go deep into the causes of our institutional instability. These causes begin with the individual.

My starting point is that the current disorder is directly related to the quality of our alleged leaders, who no longer seem to have the space to reflect on reality. This is reflected in society as a whole. Put more subtly, in order to reflect, one needs the space not to have to think. Think about this (if you have some mental space), and you may begin to get my point. If you cannot grasp this, then you had better stop reading, since you may have inadvertently succumbed to the phenomenon of mind-numbing globalism-induced speed and greed assailing much of the ‘international community’ (i.e. the ‘West’), which has resulted in a lack of awareness of history. The teaching of history in western universities is indeed dying. Opinions have been replaced with appinions, and diplomacy with Twittering and Facebooking. Let us now deal with the salient factors, beginning with our mental underpinning, and then comment on the current ‘Ukrainian stupidity’.

Fear of Simplicity

In his history of the Peloponnesian Wars, Thucydides wrote that the simple way of considering matters, which is so much the example of a noble nature, was seen as an absurd characteristic, and soon died. Humans, most of whom feel insecure, do indeed tend to avoid simplicity, often hiding in theory, psychological models and circumlocution to justify their behaviour or approach to problems. In short, they fear being naked and exposed, often for no logical reason. Many look only to the future, ignoring the fact that only history in its purest form—the past—exists. As all is permanently flowing, the present cannot exist, as it becomes history as it happens. It follows that the future cannot exist, as it, too, becomes history as it occurs. By future, then, we really mean our desires and plans. And by ‘present’ we mean ‘awareness’. Mankind expends great effort in ignoring, or cherry-picking from, history, even decrying it as a dangerous irrelevance to progress (whatever ‘progress’ actually means).

It seems that many pundits are unaware of what triggered the current disorder. For example, in 2004, I took the risk of predicting to myself that the addition of ten new members to the EU, including atavistically Russophobic Poland and the Baltic statelets, also NATO members, would lead to a lack of EU foreign policy cohesion, and to institutional instability. And so it has, but many of our so-called western analysts appear oblivious to even this recent history (let alone of earlier history), preferring to concentrate on the current engineered narrative—often imposed—of Russia trying to re-create the Soviet Union, which is balderdash. Let us now try to think a little deeper, and leave the gutter press—and ‘mainstream’—narrative.

From Individual to State

Individual human characteristics such as fear, insecurity, greed, love and hate are what make up groups, institutions and states. The more secure a state is and feels, the less likely it will be to behave irrationally and aggressively, just as is the case with an individual. But when lack of communication sets in, suspicion and fear increase, as does, concomitantly, lust for power. As Thucydides wrote, ‘love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all this evil.’ The evil was of course the Peloponnesian Wars that so devasted the Greek world. The result of suspicion and greed has been with us since time immemorial, and serious statesman like Bismarck and de Gaulle understood this well. Today matters have altered: there are few real statesmen left in the West. Comparing the likes of de Gaulle, Willi Brandt, Jean Monnet and Helmut Schmidt with Anthony Blair, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Joe Biden, is totally unfeasible.

Such people seem more emotional about nations, rather than states, not understanding the difference, and that states came into being in order to control the atavistic lusts of humans. Any even brief reading of Giambattista Vico (beloved of James Joyce) will grasp that the world moves from chaos and back to order, and then back to chaos. At the moment, there is increasing chaos, particularly in the so-called ‘West’. Yet still most people in the ‘West’ have been systemically and systematically inculcated with the idea that they are an example to the rest of the world, which is apparently less developed and lacking in real values.

Mental Confusion

Many pundits lack clear understanding of the difference between the concept of ‘state’ and ‘nation’, the latter muddied by the idea of the ‘nation-state’, a veritable oxymoron. Etymologically speaking, a nation is where one is born. Nowadays, a nation is a group of people of similar language, culture, religion, blood and heritage, usually born in the same area. As such, very few nations correspond precisely to state borders. Perhaps the Jewish State can claim to be, since the majority of its inhabitants are Jewish. The question becomes tricky, however, when one considers that more Jews reside outside the Jewish State than inside it. In this sense, the Jewish nation covers most countries of the world. Mass movements of populations have rendered a completely precise definition of a nation difficult. For example, when an American president speaks of the American nation, one can wonder whether he means anyone born in the US, which includes original indigenous tribes and elements of various other nations, or whether he really means ‘state’, but prefers the more emotional sounding ‘nation’.

The concept of state is simpler: a group of peoples living within a defined and internationally recognised border, with its own government and sovereignty. As such, territory is the essential factor. We know enough about the ancient Greek city states and Renaissance Italy to see that states based on territory have existed for a long time. One can also argue that pre-imperial England and France were states, rather than empires. But when we come to the term ‘nation-state’, matters become complicated.

First, many IR analysts, often of the realist school, use the words ‘nation’ and ‘state’ interchangeably. A way of avoiding this ambiguity is to use the word ‘country’, but even that is vague. To confuse the issue, politicians and others use the term ‘national interest’, when they really mean ‘state interest’. Even the term ‘international relations’ lacks in precision, since it really means ‘inter-state relations’.

Unlike with the word ‘state’, it is difficult to come to terms with the term (pardon the pun) ‘nation-state’; it seems to be a utopian ideal at best or an oxymoron at worst. The fixation with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 by many IR analysts and historians has rather muddied the waters, since there are claims that the concept of sovereignty arose out of the various associated treaties. While it is true that various sovereign German states were created out of the Holy Roman Empire, and that they were able to choose whether to be Roman Catholic or Protestant, and that the principle of equality between states was established, Jean Bodin had already established the concept of sovereignty in 1576, in his work Les Six Livres de la République, in which he argued that a state should be sovereign. There are also differing interpretations of sovereignty, perhaps one of the more extreme versions being encapsulated in Louis XIV’s statement ‘L’état, c’est moi’. A geohistorian might prefer the word ‘independence’. But for all the Peace of Westphalia’s contribution to the idea of sovereign states respecting each other’s sovereignty, it could even be argued that it served as a failed attempt to establish a permanent peace, since in fact it led to further strife, this time between nominally sovereign countries, perhaps because de Groot’s ideas on international law, encapsulated in his book ‘On the Law of War and Peace’, published in 1625, were not to every sovereign state’s liking.

As to the idea of Westphalian religious freedom, in 1685, France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed freedom of worship to Protestants in 1598, and England continued to discriminate against Roman Catholics until well into the Nineteenth Century. Religion and nationalism continue to be a problem to this day, as the case of the break-up of Yugoslavia and, at a world level, Moslem fundamentalism and Christian Zionism, demonstrate. Attempts to create states based on nations have failed, as for example the case of the Kurds and Yugoslavia dramatically show, and continue to show. Consider the history of Albanian nationalism, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. The nation-state is simply an ideal, rendered impossible because the word ‘nation’, with its emotional content, clashes with the cold and rational state. A homogenous nation governed by its own sovereign state is more of an ideal than a reality, although Iceland and Japan may lay claim to a measure of convergence.

Ukrainian Identity Weakness

Technically and legally, Ukraine is a sovereign state, but hardly a solid one: a mishmash of Slavic tribes and religions, a history of strife and border changes, only papered over by the Soviet experience. Then, just as in the Balkans, atavism took over, and previously externally imposed artificial constructs began their inevitable collapse. As an astute British ambassador wrote, ‘it is certainly arguable that the younger the state, the more the quest to seek an identity’. The older and more established the state, the more entrenched will be the characteristics of its people, since the institutions established hundreds of years ago are part and parcel of those states. Such states (and here we are thinking of, for example, Russia, France, England and Japan) have a certain linguistic continuity and an unbroken line of literature going back to even before the state was formed. In the case of Ukraine, the oldest institution is the Russian Church.

Geopolitical Stupidity

To crown it all, we have the current obsession with the term ‘geopolitics’, used almost ad nauseam by politicians, journalists and academics today to explain matters. Usually, they do not even know the difference between geopolitics and geostrategy, using the terms interchangeably, blissfully unaware of the dangers of over-simplification (as opposed to their shying away from simplicity). It all boils down to the fact that geopolitics has proven to be an excuse for creating unnatural borders based on business, and grabbing other people’s resources. It is enough to look at a map of the Middle east and Africa to grasp this. Certain Arab states were created because of oil interests. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States come to mind. The fact that the close links of these countries to the West can be explained geopolitically (thanks to oil or, as I call it, black blood) demonstrates that geopolitics today has little to do with people or morality, but more with the interests of large corporations and the governments that support them in the name of ‘national’ interests. People become geostrategic fodder. From a British viewpoint, geopolitics means keeping Germany and Europe away from Russia, as it has done for at least the last two hundred years, and is currently doing, along with US-controlled NATO. Morality and regard for human life have little to do with geopolitics, whose proponents tend to suffer from inconsistency and hypocrisy.

Inconsistency and Hypocrisy

Listening to the US Secretary of State, Blinken, pontificating on a rules-based international order is a bizarre experience, given that the US has itself been destroying this order for several years, by unilaterally pulling out of international treaties, and illegally attacking sovereign states, with its acolytes. The pundits seem to have forgotten Kosovo, Iraq and Libya. When former US president Bush, of Iraq-killing fame, mixed up the Ukraine and Iraq, this spoke volumes for his stupidity, even if after sniggers from the audience, he recognised his Freudian slip. To hear a British ambassador speak to some Athenian students of ‘we, the forces of good’ in the run-up to the illegal destruction of Iraq reduces him to an arrogant puppet propagandist. Given what has happened to western diplomacy in the age of digitalised globalism, this not surprising.

Death of Western Diplomacy

Not all western diplomacy has succumbed to egotism, digitalisaton and Twitterisation: the Vatican, for example, still sticks mainly to tradition. Professional diplomats were once the nuts and bolts of relations between states. Before electronic communication came to the fore, they had considerable authority, but once political leaders in different countries could communicate with each other on the telephone, jump on an aeroplane to meet their homologues abroad, and nowadays hold video conferences, ambassadors and their staff and officials at home found their importance diminishing to that of a public relations agent. Nevertheless, their advisory rôle remained crucial: a Foreign Minister can hardly be expected to know his counterparts the world over, let alone the hundreds of bilateral issues between his country and the two hundred odd countries with which his country has relations.

But globalisation, and the speed of its accompanying digital technology, have had a major effect on traditional diplomacy. Take the case of the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO): the registry no longer exists, the typing pools have disappeared, and ambassadors no longer write valedictory despatches. Despatches as a whole are disappearing. With the slow but inexorable introduction of the desktop computer, e-grams (the first one was sent in 2004) have replaced telegrams, and minutes are e-mailed to colleagues, sometimes in the same room. Since there are no registries, it is far more difficult to access the file: instead, there is a series of cumbersome electronic steps to be gone through. Although all communications are meant to be registered, the procedure is far too time-consuming for most officers to bother to register a minute, letter or e-gram. In the serious days, whenever one read a letter, telegram or report, and had acted on it, one wrote either ‘pa’ (‘put away’) or ‘BU’ (Bring Up’), with a date. Before filing the paper, the registry clerk would note the ‘BU’ date, and give the file to the desk officer on the desired date.

All that is gone. According to a recently retired ambassador, the collective memory has gone, and most written work is done ‘on the hoof’. Where once the FCO had three personnel departments, namely Personnel Operations Department, Personnel Services Department and Personnel Policy Department, there is now a ‘Human Resources Directorate’. Where there was once Training Department, we now have the Human Resources Directorate, which includes a ‘Recruitment and Development Department’, including in turn a ‘Learning and Development Team’.

The FCDO now uses the language of globalisation. This change has been accompanied by a dumbing down in training. A human resource (person) no longer benefits from week-long—and longer—drafting courses, which were once run by retired diplomats. They are now offered through ‘Civil Service Learning’. Thus, much of the FCO’s past expertise in training has been subsumed into the broader Civil Service, and partly stultified.

The upshot of all this is that diplomats meet each other far less during their working day, huddled as they are in front of their computers. On-line meetings also often replace face-to-face ones. Electronic communication substitutes for natural communication. The American spell-check, based on American operating systems and Windows has by and large replaced the draft wending its way upwards to be perfected. There is far less formality. Only older members of the service sign letters to their homologues with ‘Yours ever’, as was once the accepted custom. As for the enjoyable quick gossip sessions, the demise of the Registry has killed them off.

A ‘Chief Operating Officer’ (once known as ‘Chief Clerk’) of the Diplomatic Service proudly announced not long ago that six ministers and eighty ambassadors were on Twitter, almost as if this is the be-all and end-all of successful diplomacy and communication. Yet it is well known how controversial Twitter can be, and that it can lead to all kind of spats, not to mention being open to attack from virtually any quarter. Twitter is essentially a private game, often for people to bloat their egos. Those who use it to promote their official views or careers open themselves to unwarranted attacks from cranks and enemies. To imply that it is a useful part of diplomacy is off-beam. It can actually lead to a dissipation of seriousness, and is but a cheap substitute for serious analysis and evaluation, so vital to the formulation of policy. For even if there is still some traditional formulation of policy, it is surely being eroded subliminally in the minds of those responsible for the interests of the United Kingdom. As Guicciardini wrote: ‘Any man who takes upon him to introduce changes into the government of Florence, unless he be constrained thereto by necessity or happen to be at the head of affairs, lacks wisdom. […] after the change is made you are condemned to endless torment in having always to fear further innovation.’ We see how fashionable innovations can create their own momentum, and get out of control. This is what is currently happening, with the Ukrainian stupidity a prime example.

Values

In the West’s current obsession to attack all things Russian, we are constantly bombarded with the phrase ‘our values’, as if we are better than the rest. The word ‘democratic’ is used non-stop in the propaganda. Never mind that the American/NATO export of our ‘superior’ values has led to millions of dead civilians in lesser countries, rendering them failed states, and worse than before. Never mind that NATO member Turkey is dictatorial in many ways, or that the UK has a political prisoner, Julian Assange. In fact, much of the West has descended into moral decadence and decay, in the name of ‘neo-liberalism’, with ‘wokishness’ and egotism in the ascendant. Now it is considered good practice to teach little schoolchildren about unnatural sex and changing gender (as if that is possible!). LGBTQ etc rules the roost. Indeed, it is one of the FCDO’s official aims to export the message to the world. This is western morality. A clear exception in the West is Hungary, which has a decent leader. Russia has realised the insidious influence of the neo-liberal woke brigade, and has taken steps to prevent its children being seduced.

If any of you think that this is irrelevant to the title of this brief essay, think again: people as a whole, including our leaders, have been affected by the decay which, let us note, includes the undermining of education. Not so long ago, the British Prime Minister, Cameron, spoke of ‘broken Britain’, referring to family life. He would have done well to mention the increasing disappearance of history. As we start to conclude, bearing in mind our starting point that the current disorder is directly related to the quality of our alleged leaders, who no longer seem to have the space to reflect on reality, let us mention the German Green Party: it has transmogrified from a peace-loving, environment-loving movement to a war-mongering anti-Russian party. It is bizarre that a youngish woman, Annalena Baerbok, is a Green, and German Foreign Minister, doing all she can to promote NATO’s anti-Russia agenda. In this connexion, I wonder if any of you has noticed the increase in the number of youngish women politicians in Europe, presumably in the name of having to be politically correct and wokish. A recent photograph of foreign ministers of the G7 shows four women and four men. The women are all wearing trousers. One is inclined to wonder whether one day some of the men will be wearing skirts or dresses. Even the revered and reviled Margaret Thatcher would wear a dress. Should anyone think that I am tending towards misogyny, think again: one of the most impressive women on the world stage is the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. She makes Baerbok look like a small-minded and badly educated child, just as Sergei Lavrov does. Indeed, the quality of Russian officials reflects a superior education and knowledge of history, as well as a sense of decent manners.

Finally

If you have got this far, you may agree that it is time to conclude. As a former diplomat turned historian of diplomatic history, this is what I have gathered, simply put: following the West’s failure to westernise Russia during the Yeltsin years, it was unable to accept this failure, since the NATO business juggernaut had no reverse gear. Once atavistically anti-Russian Poland and the Baltic statelets had jumped on the bandwagon, prodded by the US and EU, it was only a question of time before Moscow would have to react in one way or another. NATO’s eastward expansion continued, for no logical reason. The Maidan coup was the last straw, when the Donbas was attacked. The Kiev regime began to kill Russian-speakers, and despite the Minsk agreements, Kiev did not honour them. Moscow felt morally obliged to help its Russians. To cut a long and tortuous story short, there is now a proxy war between NATO and Moscow. NATO has no reverse gear, and the low-quality western ‘leaders’ are simply not up to the job.

Strange though it may seem, it has fallen to the cynical but realistic Henry Kissinger to say what needs to be done: Ukraine must cede territory to Russia for the killing to stop, and to avoid nuclear war. As for the pundits saying that things will never be the same again, this is nonsense: Ukraine will simply return to its former natural shape as a small and hopefully neutral buffer state. To paraphrase Guicciardini, things have always been the same, the past sheds light on the future, and the same things return, albeit in different names and colours. He also wrote: ‘In my youth I believed that no amount of reflection would enable me to see more than I took in at a glance. But experience has shown me this opinion to be utterly false; and you may laugh at anyone who maintains the contrary. The longer we reflect, the clearer things grow and the better we understand them […] The affairs of this world are so shifting, and depend on so many accidents, that it is hard to form any judgment concerning the future.’

I doubt very much whether the likes of Baerbok and Truss have even heard of Guicciardini, but I’ll wager that Lavrov has. Only history exists.

From our partner RIAC

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Eastern Europe

Demystifying the Myth of War Crimes in Ukraine

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image source: war.ukraine.ua photo: Vadim Ghirda

Hypocrisy – a prevalent trait of the western powers. West’s policies on human rights are deluged with double standards. What is going around the world is a secondary, to them safeguarding their interest is prime. What Indian barbaric regime is doing in India with the minorities and in Indian occupied Kashmir, Israelis in Palestine, is not enough to catch an eye, because Muslims are dying, its none of their business. Let’s recap what USA did in Afghanistan and Iraq. How war crimes done by the west in these countries can be ignored. Humanity suffered at the hands of these western states. Innocent people got killed in the drone strikes and the West called it ‘Collateral Damage’. Innocent civilians suffered pain, hunger, and anguish, but West was mute. Human rights are for all without any discrimination based on religion, origin, race and colour. Unfortunately, the hypocrite USA only consider Human Rights for its allies and the holy land of USA. Clear violations of international humanitarian law are done by USA and its western allies in Afghanistan and other states. Moreover, the crime partner of USA, India is doing ferocious acts in India Occupied Kashmir, but all of them are silent.

As per the standards set by USA, kill innocent people and then an apology by Central Command is enough to justify an unjust loss of human life. Yes, the world should follow this too. Why only Americans have the right to make unjust just. Who will set an example of justice, war mongers, liars and killer USA? Oh yes, wonderful, now make big news out of nothing or yes something on Ukraine. Ukrainians are the only human left on the face of earth to get the western sympathizes. But it’s important for the Ukrainian decision makers to not to be fooled by the USA. Demystifying the war crimes by Russia in Ukraine is not to support Ukraine but yes to counter Russia. The very reason why this conflict started is West itself. And then, yes USA is excellent at imposing sanctions and it did the same with Russians as well. But, literally speaking who is going to listen to USA, not even India, one of the USA’s defense partners.

International Criminal Court – ICC should know its responsibility and first of all held USA accountable for the war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fake news, misinformation, mal-information, and disinformation is playing big role in manipulating the contemporary international politics. States are using this to hijack the actual information and create an environment of mistrust. Access to actual information in such circumstances in becoming difficult.  Why Russian news channels are blacklisted, why only Ukrainian and other foreign media outlets are into play. USA is busy in narrative building based on fake information.  USA is actually selling the despairs of Ukrainian people.  Therefore, huge responsibility also lies on journalists as well. Are we living in the stone age or in 21st century? Where is responsible journalism? The journalist and civil societies should work as pressure groups and push ICC to open investigations on unlawful killings by USA and its allies in Afghanistan. ICC also open inquires on the atrocities done by Israelis in Palestine, and Indian barbarism in Indian Occupied Kashmir. A detailed systematic investigation is need of hour.

This will reveal the horrible face of these elites of international arena. The USA forces in Afghanistan have “committed acts of torture, killings, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence”.  Did Russian forces have created a ‘secret kill team’ to allegedly kill innocent Ukrainian Civilians?  The answer is NO.  Let’s also consider ‘Collateral Damage’ in the case of Russia – Ukraine War. Instead of making world fool again on Ukraine, USA should remorse over its war crimes. A shameless country with no ethos is going to advocate Human Rights when its own citizens are not safe from the hate-fire it started. Humanity – a word, not known to USA. All it knows is to control other states’ resources, sovereignty, and independence. Subtle interference in the other countries’ internal matters, and creating fault-lines to manipulate the policy making. I doubt USA as an example of human rights and democracy. Disinformation is the new normal for USA.

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Eastern Europe

The Illusion of Constraint: Russia Advances in Eastern Ukraine Despite Harsh Sanctions

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The war of attrition is gradually becoming a reality as Russia continues to make gains in the east. According to Ukrainian officials, Russian forces now control about 80% of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk. Despite new aid packages by the US and European Union (EU), Ukrainian armed forces are struggling in Donbas as a brutal Russian offensive is underway – forces now controlling over 20% of Ukrainian territory, according to president Zelensky. Analytical estimates reveal that Russia (alongside pro-Russian rebels) has already seized almost 90% of eastern Donbas; en route to upend the city of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the province of Luhansk. And geopolitical experts believe a similar showdown in the neighboring Donetsk province would ease Russian domination over the entire Donbas region.

The Ukrainian dignitaries have consistently insisted on long-range artillery support to counter Russia’s onslaught. However, a single contention prevails in the Western cohort: supplying long-range weaponry could enable Ukrainian attacks beyond Russian borders, perhaps invoking a direct conflict with a belligerent Russia. Thus, the Western support remains mostly limited to conservative alternatives as Russia defies earlier odds to gain an upper-hand. The core western defense has been the barrage of sanctions imposed on Russia and the damage to the Russian economy. The West believes it could avoid militarily provoking Russia and still economically debilitate the country to the point of desperate negotiation. However, the truth is far divergent from this popular belief.

Even after three and a half months, the torrent of sanctions has failed to decimate the Russian economy as initially envisioned by the West. Putin has spent the last two decades fortifying the Russian economy via integration into the global financial apparatus. Sure, the invasion in late February spurred financial restrictions and constraints on trade. But the initial panic has since receded as relative stability is taking on the reins. The Central Bank of Russia has played a pivotal role in preventing a financial collapse. As sanctions threatened to spur a crisis, the Bank of Russia hiked the policy rate to 20% – encouraging savings; preventing the egress of investments. The Kremlin mandated the state-owned enterprises to hold export receipts in Roubles. And salaries and pensions were generously increased to compensate for the inflationary effects of the invasion. Three months forward, the interest rates are back to the pre-invasion level of 9.5%. The Rouble – crashing to a record low in days following the invasion – is trading near four-year highs. And inflation, though still a vice, has cooled off to 17% year-on-year from a two-decade peak in April. While fiscal and monetary policies have considerably stabilized the economy, another underlying factor has unsurprisingly buttressed the rebound: the Russian energy sector.

Foreign companies are pulling out, investments are downgrading, and currency reserves are locked up around the globe. Then how exactly is Russia financing the war in Ukraine? Sure the stocks of imports are running low, and people are spending less. Yet how is the Russian war machine still operational when the world is closing up for Russia? Ironically, the world is indirectly financing the Russian agenda in Ukraine. Fossil fuel exports have always been monumental for the Russian economy. Receipts from oil and gas exports made up roughly 45% of Russia’s federal budget in 2021. According to a market report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Russia’s oil revenue alone is up by 50% this year – despite the toughest raft of sanctions ever meted out by the West. The US has utterly banned Russian energy imports while the EU has managed to reduce its reliance on Russian energy supplies. According to the data from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) – a Finnish nonprofit think tank – the EU lowered natural gas imports from Russia by 23% in the first 100 days of the invasion (February 24 to June 3) compared to the same period last year. The data further reveals that the EU reduced its oil imports from Russia by 18% in May. Still, Russia earned a record $97 billion in revenue from exports of fossil fuels despite a modest fall of 15% in export volumes. How is that possible?

Despite trading at roughly 30% discount from international prices, Russian crude is sailing as surging global oil prices are still fetching receipts over 60% higher compared to last year. The volumes have certainly lowered as many countries have refused to trade with Russia to avoid American fury. Yet some countries have contended for cheap Russian energy supplies to guard domestic economic interests. India has been surprisingly vocal and determined about its choices of self-interest despite Western pressure. Since the invasion, India has procured 27% of its crude needs from Russia – up from less than 5% in April. According to research, India has cumulatively imported roughly 18% of Russia’s total oil exports since the invasion – increasing from roughly 1% pre-war quota. China has been another noteworthy importer of Russian oil, building its strategic reserves amid high global oil prices. Despite agreeing on a partial embargo banning roughly three-quarters of Russian oil imports to the region, Europe would not cast a substantial blow to Russia until 2023. While criticizing India and China for purchasing Russian oil, the EU has perhaps neglected its own energy imports from Russia, approximating €57 billion in the first 100 days of the invasion. And in spite of lofty promises to wean off Russian energy, European countries like Hungary and Slovakia would continue to rely on Russian oil via pipeline till at least 2024. Hence, while the West convenes to topple Russian dominance in Ukraine, the efforts are unfortunately not enough to fluster Putin – at least in the short run.

Nonetheless, the sanctions would hurt Russia somewhere down the line. Elvira Nabiullina – Governor of the Bank of Russia – recently admitted: “The effect of sanctions has not been acute as we feared at the beginning. [However] it would be premature to say that the full effect of sanctions has manifested itself.” The windfall energy export receipts may continue, but the import shortfall could damage the productivity of other sectors of the Russian economy. However, we need to understand that this is a war of attrition. And (despite a budget deficit) Russia has enough fiscal room to finance its domestic and military needs shortly. Mr.Richard Connolly – Director of the Eastern Advisory Group – sums up the reality perfectly: “For as long as the political will is there in the Kremlin and for as long as export prices remain high, I don’t see any immediate financial constraints confronting the Kremlin.” Hence, as sanctions fall short and Ukrainian defense fissures, the outlook is bleak – especially when Kyiv is resistant to negotiate territorial gains to fend off a humanitarian catastrophe.

Ultimately, the West needs to acknowledge its failure and decide: Is the sluggish war in favor of Ukraine or Russia? And what would be the primary goal of negotiations if Russia gains enough territory to dictate the terms? Given how the West has already exhausted almost all of its economic options and military options are off the table, I wonder how even the negotiations could do any good to Ukraine!

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