By Dmitry Orlov, posted with permission from the author
I have received a flurry of emails from people concerned that World War III could erupt at any moment. Most of their concern has a single cause: the crazy stuff printed and broadcast by Western press. But I would like to suggest that it is Western press that is the problem, not any incipient military conflict involving the Ukraine. Western press is a joke: there were no weapons of mass destruction; freon does not poke holes in the ozone layer; Trump was not a Russian agent; Syria did not use chemical weapons against its own people; carbon dioxide emissions cause global cooling, not global warming (but not much of it in any case); there are no Russian troops in the Donbass; and… Russia is not going to invade and annex the Ukraine. Furthermore, no number of enticements or provocations can make Russia want to do so. It just plain doesn’t want to trouble itself with that miserable, blighted land.
Suppose you are in a tense negotiation with someone. And suppose that someone puts a plate on the table. On that plate is a bagel. It has green spots and white hair growing out, it is oozing brownish goo, it reeks of ammonia and even the flies are refusing to land on it. And suppose that certain someone then says: if you eat this bagel, it’s war! That’s a tough negotiating stance, isn’t it? After all, that’s really laying down the law, giving an ultimatum, no ifs ands or buts and all that. By adopting this stance, Biden gets to channel just the tiniest bit of John Wayne, with a swagger instead of his usual precarious stumble. For a brief, shining moment he gets to talk to a real world leader and look presidential rather than like a doddering fool who has a useless toxic bimbo for a sidekick.
That’s essentially what Biden did. He told Putin in no uncertain terms: If you invade the Ukraine, then there will be sanctions from Hell. (Begging the question of what sanctions from Heaven would be like, but, never mind, the US is Hell and the Russians seem OK with that.) Biden was careful to point out that the US would not come to the Ukraine’s rescue, because the Ukraine is not a NATO member and so the US is under no obligation to actually take any risks on its behalf, but rest assured that it would huff and it will puff and threaten to blow Putin’s house down should he invade. And should he not invade, then would be right back to “Hey, Vlad, it’s great to see you! It’s your pal Joe, remember me?”.
But would Putin ever be tempted to “eat that bagel”? No, certainly not! The Ukraine is looking most unsavory. Ever since its independence three decades ago it has been progressively dismantled by a rapacious oligarchy, its industry sold for scrap and its infrastructure decaying to truly dangerous levels.
Its major assets are as follows:
• 15 Soviet-era nuclear reactors which are being run flat out but there are rolling blackouts anyway, and which are due to be shut down for good, with no funds available to refurbish them
• Quite a lot of good farmland but a dire shortage of paved roads, locomotives or rolling stock to bring the harvest to the docks
• An aging and destitute population that has shrunk by about a third since independence since most able-bodied people have gone to work abroad, millions of them moving to Russia.
• A gas pipeline network that is technically obsolete, being five times less energy efficient than the newest Nord Stream 2, and that is having its redundant pieces cut up and sold for scrap even as some of it is still running.
Its liabilities include a very high level of external debt that is unlikely to ever be repaid using export revenues and a large crop of neo-Nazi meatheads with blood on their hands. Russia has already got almost everything it wanted from the Ukraine, which is Crimea and the Donbass.
The only thing Russia wants from the US regarding the Ukraine is a written security guarantee that the Ukraine will never be made part of NATO, or have NATO troops or weapons systems on its soil, or be allowed to enter into any other anti-Russian alliances that may crop up should NATO dry up and blow away. Putin asked the US to sign binding legal documents that will block any further encroachment on lands that border Russian territory. This would reduce the risk of an accidental war and allow Russia to focus less military strength on its western border.
However, such security guarantees are not something that Biden can provide without suffering a massive loss of face and destroying any sense of purpose that NATO has been struggling in vain to cultivate ever since the USSR collapsed three decades ago. But sometimes just making a demand is almost as good as having it acceded to. If the US fails to help Russia meet its perfectly reasonable security requirements, then that unties Russia’s hands to do so without US help, leaving the Americans free to simply ignore the situation (something they know how to do quite well) to avoid embarrassing themselves.
And that is a good option to have, since there is no shortage of embarrassments for the Biden administration as it is. Producer price inflation in the US is already running at 25%, and is likely to translate into 12-15% consumer price inflation by next summer, but any attempt to crush inflation by raising interest rates Paul Volcker-style would instantly collapse the entire financial pyramid scheme. As it is, the nation’s finances are in a state that will soon necessitate the Congress to pass a bill declaring the term “balanced budget” to be hate speech. Given the experience in Afghanistan, repatriating all the US troops stationed overseas before the money runs out, to avoid stranding them in faraway lands without any resupply, is going to be a bit of a doozy. The midterm elections next fall are likely to make Biden a lame duck for his remaining two years as the number of people willing to vote for his party is likely to be exceeded by the number of those wanting to give Biden another colonoscopy.
Against this backdrop, it becomes obvious why Biden was visibly eager to talk to Putin and even raised his hands in a teleconference hug, for here is a national leader whose biggest national problem of late is a certain rogue parliamentarian (Rashkin of the Communists) who shot a moose without first obtaining a hunting license. Never mind that Putin referred to his teleconference with Biden as a “protocol event” and spoke the words “Mr. Biden” with an even mixture of exasperation and resignation. It was all in a day’s work for Putin, and so you should probably find something else to worry about because World War III over the Ukraine is off the table. There is no grand finale for America to look forward to; just lots of pain, and then, of course… collapse.