Putin’s ultimatum and the U.S. response

Russian troops on maneuvers. Source: Reuters,

President Vladimir Putin has threatened “appropriate retaliatory military-technical measures” if the USA does offer written guarantees of no military activities in Eastern Europe, no NATO membership for any post-Soviet country and no new military bases on the territory of former Soviet states.

This is what President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev in return for allowing reunification of Germany and withdrawing Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.

Subsequent U.S. presidents said this was just an informal verbal agreement and not binding. Russia had to submit because it was weak. Since then Russia has become powerful and is in a position to demand that the former promise can be kept. And this time put it in writing!

For Russia, this is a matter of national security.  For the USA, it is not.  For us Americans, it is a question of avoiding humiliation, not a question of survival.

Russia does not now threaten the U.S. homeland. But this could change.

Russia has not ruled out putting troops and missiles into Cuba and Venezuela, nor deploying submarines with its new hypersonic nuclear weapons into North American coastal waters.  What awwma more likely is that Russian subs would be allowed to refuel in Cuba or Venezuela.

I do not predict these particular things would happen.  Probably what Putin does would be completely unexpected.

There is no reason to think Russia plans to invade and occupy Ukraine or any other country.  That would be foolish.

Putin has learned from Soviet and U.S. mistakes to avoid quagmire wars.  His military interventions, like the recent one in Kazakhstan, have been short and decisive.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken does not claim Russia threatens the U.S. homeland.  He says Russia is a threat to the new “rules-based international order.”

This refers to the complex of alliances and free trade areas where U.S. hard and soft power guarantees access for global corporations and banks.

Russia, along with China and Iran, do threaten this U.S.-dominated international order.  But ordinary Americans have no stake in it.  This new international order does not benefit American working people. It does benefit the managers and stockholders of those countries.

Blinken says Ukraine and Georgia have the right as sovereign nations to ally themselves with NATO if they choose.  That is not the question.  The question is whether the USA has an obligation or need to bring these countries into an anti-Russian alliance.

I recall that we US Americans didn’t care about legal niceties when Nikita Khrushchev threatened our security by trying to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

Besides, Ukraine is not a sovereign country in any meaningful sense.  Back in 2015 and 2016, then Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire the prosecutor who was investigating corruption in a company that employed his son, Hunter.  The prosecutor was fired and the investigation, after a short interval dropped.  In 2019, President Donald Trump asked the investigation be re-opened, and it was.

During the former Cold War, there was agreement that Austria and Finland would be neutral.  I don’t recall any great demand by the people of either countries to join NATO or the Warsaw Pact.  Surely they preferred this limitation on their sovereignty to being battlefields. 

I don’t think Putin or Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expect anything to come of the current talks.  I say “talks” because they aren’t negotiations.  I think Putin has made up his mind what he’s going to do, and is giving the USA every chance to back off so that, after the event, he can say he gave fair warning.

I don’t think Putin will initiate an attack on U.S. troops.  I think it more likely that he will do something that will change the apparent balance of military power in a dramatic way.  

Neither Putin nor Biden want war.  They aren’t madmen.  But Kennedy and Khrushchev weren’t madmen, either.  Even so, they went to the brink of war, and nearly over the brink.  Hopefully we’ll be less reckless or just as lucky than they were.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.  We must hope for the best and prepare for the worst.  Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will!


Putin’s Challenge to Western Hegemony—the 2022 Edition by Adam Tooze for Chartbook.

The Failure of This Week’s U.S.-NATO-Russia Meetings Makes War More Likely by Bernard for Moon of Alabama.

This Is How the U.S. Does Dialogue by Pepe Escobar for Strategic Culture Foundation.

Is Geneva 2022 Munich 1938 Without Chamberlain’s Piece of Paper?  How to Read the US Paper for Peace in Our Time by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.  An alternate copy.

Russian roulette: as croupier at this particular table, I invite you to place your bets by Gilbert Doctorow [Added 1/15/2022]

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