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What in the World?

Support for Ukraine puts Russia in unexpected situation

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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After months of building up troops on the Ukrainian borders, Russians are facing more opposition than they expected. While White House officials are warning an invasion could come at any time, the resistance against Russia is growing, meaning Vladimir Putin is going to have to make a difficult decision.

In addition to trying to convince the Western world that it should control Ukraine and Belarus, the Russians are also after every country of the former Soviet space that broke away back in 1989 to 1992. That includes Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, as well as the constituent states of the former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Albania).

Needless to say, everyone in all of those countries has told the Russians to, um, shove it, and the Russians are now publicly pouting because no one’s taking them seriously.

In fact, the Russians have been a bit hamfisted with a lot of their effort here. From a military point of view, the Ukrainians have been able to capitalize on everyone feeling kind of sorry for them and have been able to absorb huge amounts of military material from a number of Western countries. So the Americans and the Baltics have famously sent in javelin anti tank missiles and stinger anti-aircraft missiles.

The French had been providing a lot of air defense materials. The Turks have come in and provided a lot of drones, which we’ve seen in the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict of last year worked to great effect against Russian equipment. And the Brits are basically taking everything they possibly have that is in their spare warehouses and sending it direct.

Even the Germans who have been desperately trying to stay out of this have sent a few thousand troops up to the Baltics as part of NATO reconnaissance and NATO confidence building.

Countries that are not part of NATO – Sweden and Finland – are also supporting Ukraine by providing military equipment.

The military balance is still strongly in the Russians’ favor, but it’s not nearly as lopsided as it used to be. And any Russian move strategically into Ukraine now would come at a much, much higher price.

At this point, the biggest achievement for Russia since this all started is that personalities on the American right like Fox’s Tucker Carlson are saturating the airwaves with talking points written by the Kremlin.

Aside from that one specific game, this is not going well for the Russians. And at some point this is gonna go one of two ways. The Russians are gonna move and pay the price for the war, which will be high. Or the Russians are gonna have to figure some way to climb down. And in a political authority where really there’s just a handful of men at the top who are making all of the decisions, that is the kind of thing that now might actually threaten the regime of Vladimir Putin. 

Hey everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado. Travel’s been picking up a little bit so I apologize for being out of pocket, and I’m about to take off on another two-week trip. So I figured it would be a good time to kinda get my thoughts out there on what is going on in the situation with Ukraine. 

Now, over the course of the last several weeks the Russians have moved over 130,000 troops hard up on the Ukrainians borders. They actually carried out military exercises with tens of thousands of troops in Belarus, which is basically a satellite state of Russia these days.

And they’re trying to convince the Western world that the Russians should have control over the security policies of not just Ukraine and Belarus, but every country of the former Soviet space that broke away back in 1989 to 1992. So that includes Estonia Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, as well as the constituent states of the former Soviet, excuse me, the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, those guys.

Needless to say, everyone in all of those countries has told the Russians to, um, shove it, and the Russians are now publicly pouting because no one’s taking them seriously.

In fact, the Russians have been a bit hamfisted with a lot of their effort here. From a military point of view, the Ukrainians have been able to capitalize on everyone feeling kind of sorry for them and have been able to absorb huge amounts of military material from a number of Western countries. So the Americans and the Baltics have famously sent in javelin anti tank missiles and stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which are kind of fire and forget. They’re very easy to operate.

And the Russians learned the hard way back during the Soviet times about what some of these weapon systems could do in the hands of people who really hadn’t had much training.

The French had been providing a lot of air defense materials. The Turks have come in and provided a lot of drones, which we’ve seen in the Azerbaijani Armenian conflict of last year worked to great effect against Russian equipment. And the Brits are basically taking everything they possibly have that is in their spare warehouses and sending it direct.

Even the Germans who have been desperately trying to stay out of this have sent a few thousand troops up to the Baltics as part of NATO reconnaissance and NATO confidence building.

The military balance is still strongly in the Russians’ favor, but it’s not nearly as lopsided as it used to be. And any Russian move strategically into Ukraine now would come at a much, much higher price.

There’s also all kind of fun and games going on with NATO. We haven’t seen this degree of strategic unity among the NATO Alliance members since before the Soviet Union fell. I mean, we’re talking like Reaganite levels of agreement on the broad goals of policy vis-a-vis the Russians right now. That wouldn’t have happened if Putin and the Russian government have been so direct, and, to be perfectly blunt, hamfisted in trying to get their way. Their demands have just been so far over the top that no one is taking them seriously, as the British foreign secretary pointed out very directly in her visit to Moscow earlier this week. 

Now there’s also a lot going on on the diplomatic and the economic side of things. The French President Emmanuel Macron went to Moscow in an attempt to negotiate on Europe’s behalf. And his, his trip was an utter failure because he came out of Moscow stating what he thought were a number of understandings from the meeting and the Russians immediately undercut him.

And so this French position of trying to stake out an independent diplomatic position for Europe as a whole that, of course, French leads, has kind of led to an embarrassing failure and has left everyone in Europe looking to the United States.

In Germany, the chancellor, Scholz, was actually in the White House to meet with Biden this week, and that did not go the way that the Russians were expecting. The Russians have always thought broadly accurately that the Germans are desperate to avoid taking a military position versus the Russians because they’re dependent upon the Russians for a lot of raw materials, most notably oil and natural gas. And there is a new pipeline that comes from Russian territory through the Baltic Sea down to the German coast called Nord Stream that the Germans and the Russians have been trying to work on quietly in the background for the better part of the last 15 years.

Well, it’s now operational, the first phase and the second phase is ready to go. But with Biden standing right next to him, Biden said that if the Russians move into Ukraine, that Nord Stream is dead, not Nord Stream II, all of Nord Stream, and Scholz, right next to him, color draining from his face, basically nodded, attempted to smile, and said that that we were in a unity position with the Americans. This is definitely not what the Russians were expecting.

And in comparison to every single sanction that has been suggested to be levied against the Russians, this one, a natural gas pipeline, just being shut down. This is how Russia earns the money to do everything that Russia does. It is the first potential sanction that has been floated in this administration – actually since George Herbert Walker Bush – that the Russians care about at all. And with the German chancellor standing right next to him, Biden has now made it policy.

In addition, other countries in the area that are not even part of NATO, are joining in. I mentioned early how the Turks were providing, um, down failure, drones, drones, dear God. But also two non-NATO members, Sweden and Finland, are kind of getting into it. They are also providing military equipment to the Ukrainians. Both of them are now openly discussing the pros and the cons of joining NATO directly.

And the Fins in specific have just announced a plan to spend over $9 billion to acquire American F-35 fighter bombers. Now the F-35 program is kind of the pinnacle of American military aerospace. And the Americans are only sharing that technology with the friends and family group and kind of the inner circle of allies. Traditionally that has not included Finland, cuz Finland has been one of those pseudo neutral countries between the West and Russia.

Well, that’s not the case anymore. We actually have stronger military cooperation between the Americans and the Swedes and the Fins than we have between the Americans and the French and the Germans who are actually NATO allies. And I don’t mean to suggest for a second that there isn’t tight coordination with the French and the Germans right now.

So from the Russian point of view, these anti-Ukraine actions have just consolidated the entire Western world in general and NATO, in specific, in a way that it just hasn’t existed since the 1980s. 

Now, from the Russian point of view, this is not a mission critical problem because the general position that the Russians have is that we ultimately need to secure control of Ukraine in order to plug the gaps, the invasion routes between the rest of the world and the Russian heartland. And so everything else is ancillary to that, but that doesn’t mean it’s useful.

And in fact, the biggest thing the Russians have achieved since this all started a couple months back is that there are now personalities on the American right like say Fox’s Tucker Carlson who have rhetorically joined arms with preexisting Russian shills like Bernie Sanders to saturate American airwaves with talking points that are written by the Kremlin.

I mean the degree that Fox has basically gone from a conservative news outlet to a Russian news outlet is really shocking. And Tucker Carlson is now plastered across internal Russian propaganda television stations day after day after day. 

Aside from that one specific game, this is not going well for the Russians. And at some point this is gonna go one of two ways. The Russians are gonna move and pay the price for the war, which will be high. Or the Russians are gonna have to figure some way to climb down. And in a political authority where really there’s just a handful of men at the top who are making all of the decisions, that is the kind of thing that now might actually threaten the regime of Vladimir Putin. 

This is getting loud. This is going to get louder. And we’re gonna know in the course of the next couple of months the fate of the Russian government from now on. Stay tuned. Until next time.

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