Ukraine: An Analytic Synthesis and Some Media Consideration, or the "German Problem"
An Analytic Synthesis and Some Media Consideration
[Image: Screen grab from the Der Spiegel article which is the primary source of discussion.]
Publication date: 2022-01-23
Update 2022-01-24: Added a magnificent interview by Aaron Maté to sources, and referenced it in a newly added Post Script. It is that good. Its at the end of Sources. If you’ve already read this article, go straight to it and watch it.
As this newsletter has been reporting, the big geopolitical picture is of the China/Russia alliance and the BRI-mega project, as recently, beautifully contextualized by Alfred McCoy. This is echoed by another excellent recent piece by Pepe Escobar.
On the Ukrainian front of the geopolitical tug of war one should consider the positions of the major players.
The Russian position is very clear. They have said in no uncertain terms that Ukraine becoming a member of NATO is a "red line", as succinctly expressed by veteran Foreign Minister Lavrov: "Niet, means niet!". The same is true for Georgia. Unfortunately, NATO members supplying arms to Ukraine creates a pseudo-member or perhaps proxy-member, and this is what is creating the current tension.
Russia's published draft security treaty does not discuss Ukraine, but the greater Russian/European border space. It seeks to limit the deployment of offensive weaponry in the space, and to limit military exercises within it, amongst other things.
China’s position? They know that what is being delivered to Russia is awaiting them. Thus, they’ve Russia’s back and are watching very closely.
The west's Mighty Wurlitzer has been screaming about imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, but this is a stupid idea. As Patrick Armstrong put it, Ukraine is an "impoverished, de-industrialized, divided, corrupt and decaying mess". Russia has no interest in causing all sorts of trouble to claim this poisoned chalice. The status quo, especially now that the USA has committed to not install offensive missile systems in Ukraine, suits them perfectly. If the Minsk Accords are not pursued, but the breakaway republics in the Donbas remain, Ukraine cannot join NATO. If the Minsk Accords are followed through and some degree of military independence is provided to the 'republics' then membership is still unlikely. So, job done without any "invasion", either way.
This “problem” was created by the USA with its 2014 "Maidan" coup. Then Vice President Biden had a deep hand in the coup, and his son Hunter has profited from it.
The USA's motives for advancing the membership of Ukraine into NATO are at least two-fold. Firstly, its a potentially lucrative weapons sales opportunity for the "Military Industrial Complex". It also delights the old Cold Warmongers in the foreign policy establishment. These people are so trapped in the mindset of the cold war. They have disregarded lessons from WWII and are not paying attention to what is happening now.
What has changed over the last 7 odd years since the USA engineered the Nuland-"Fuck the EU" coup in Ukraine? The status of the major NATO European partners and the nature of global political economics have both moved glacially, but inexorably.
New realities of global finance and resources availability are at play. Back in 2014 the JCPOA was still happening. Now, Iran is a member of the SCO, and is selling its oil to China. Russia and China had yet to build their alternatives to the SWIFT system, which they are now integrating. The USA was still playing drone games in Afghanistan, and the Iranians were just coming to assist the Iraqi Shi’a to evict ISIS from Iraq. Russia was yet to be invited into Syria to prevent their overthrow by foreign funded religious extremists. Saudi Arabia was just thinking about attacking Yemen. Venezuela’s Maduro had yet to experience the wrath of the USA’s regime change efforts in supporting Guaido as an “interim” President who had never stood for the office. Brazil’s Roussef had yet to be ousted, or Lula imprisoned, to bring in the reactionary Bolsonaro.
The USA? Yeah, 3 presidents, the RussiaGoat intelligence, media and political scam, the Trump presidency, the exposure of the latest part of the Clinton machine scandal, and a peoples revolution inspired by even more intelligence psy-ops.
Its been an eventful 7 years.
The "ever reliable" UK has decided that this whole Ukrainian game is a chance for her to raise her international standing. After visiting Odessa to promote arms sales to the Ukraine, HMS Defender sailed very close to if not within the 12 nautical mile exclusion zone around Russia's Naval port at Sevastopol. A quick reminder here: the Sevastopol naval facility was not included in the intra-USSR transfer of Crimea to Ukraine. It has always been Russian post the Crimean war in the 1850’s.
If you want to know how much Russian blood has been spilt to defend it, do some research. For the impatient: 156 000 Red Army soldiers died defending Crimea, and particularly the naval port in Sevastopol against the German invasion early in WWII. Russia abandoned Odessa (for which they will probably never to be forgiven) to add to the Crimean defense. The siege in Crimea begins at the same time as the Wehrmacht is approaching Moscow during the late Autumn of 1941. The Crimean defenders failed their defense in the summer of 1942, having held up the German 11th Army, including 9 infantry divisions, for 8 months during attack and counter-attack across the whole of Crimea. The defenders withstood around 1000 artillery pieces, one of which delivered 7 ton shells. It is an all too little known heroic defense of Mother Russia in her Great Patriotic War. Sorry, readers, there will be the odd historical reference in this article. The longest has just passed.
Given all of the USA military planes buzzing the boundaries of annexed Crimea's airspace, the Russian military were getting mighty annoyed. HMS Defender’s course, armed with two journalists, was a pure media stunt.
The UK is currently supplying arms, including aircraft, to the Ukraine. Some other European nations are also involved in arms supply. They are the usual suspects with a vendetta against the Russians, possibly with good reason; Poland and the Baltic states.
During the recent discussion (see last article) between Ray McGovern and Scott Ritter, we hear Ritter declare that Russia is very serious about this security treaty and that they may well take military action. McGovern agrees with the seriousness, but sees military action as unlikely, with which this author agrees. Ritter declares that the USA's "written response" to RusFed's (my abbreviation for the Russian Federation, which I am now too bored of typing) draft security treat was written before the follow up meeting last Friday between Blinken and Lavrov, though it was not delivered. This may well be the case. Then why was it not delivered? The answer seems to be that the requisite agreement between NATO members had not yet been achieved.
Ritter discusses the empty "toolbox" available to the USA/NATO alliance. He disregards their ability to doing anything successful militarily, and having been a military intelligence officer for decades, his analysis deserves attention. The economic options of sanctions seem to be having trouble getting off the ground, as alluded to in earlier articles and upon which we shall expand further below. The third option is diplomatic, and they seem to be having trouble coordinating that too. So, USA/NATO is in a bit of a pickle.
The problems are a little Italy, France and particularly Germany.
Apparently Italian President Mario Draghi has been making noises about wishing to meet President Putin and pouring cold water on economic sanctions. But, there's an Italian Presidential election coming very soon, and Silvio Berlusconi has thrown his hat in the ring, so there may be domestic political motive there.
The same is true for France's President Macron who has been calling for more of a middle path rather than the "every option is on the table" rhetoric preferred by the USA's foreign policy hawks. Again, there's a French Presidential election coming, and France currently holds the rotating 6 month EU Presidency, so Macron’s position may also be coloured by domestic politics. It seems strange that taking a calmer position requires some justification, but such is the nature of the coercion behind the scenes in the NATO alliance.
The real problem is Germany. The reasons for that we shall learn as we parse a Der Spiegel article.
A Little Media Dabbling
This newsletter has resisted the temptation to make fun of western media and their pathetic attempt at "news". That “news” is disguised opinion, with little external sourcing and often claiming "anonymous officials" (meaning intelligence operatives) as human sources. Its too easy and boring to shoot it down in flames. But, succumb I have to the temptation. Rest easy, reader, there are pearls in the chosen piece.
Yesterday, an interesting article was published at Der Spiegel with a by-line the length of a phone book (yes, its all there in gory detail in the sources below, including the baker’s dozen of journalists). We shall indulge in gleaning what we can from it, and observing its opinion, rhetoric and structure. Reading the article before the analysis below may prove helpful.
In order to not just pick on Der Spiegel, a brief article by the Wall Street Journal on a directly related matter shall follow.
The Der Spielgel article's first paragraph is “wunderbar”:
To a certain degree, the visit was a conspiratorial one. No photo, no press release – and the first meeting was a small one. William Burns, the head of the CIA, first attended a meeting last week with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his chief of staff Wolfgang Schmidt at the chancellor’s behest. Later, they were joined by Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, and staff members from Scholz’s Chancellery. The head of America’s foreign intelligence agency told them bluntly that if Russia attacks Ukraine, the pressure on Berlin to take a clear stand against Moscow will increase.
First sentence as a hook line? Check. We then learn that there were two meetings. Scholz demanded that ('at the behest') his chief of staff also be present. This informs us that Burns had requested a private one-on-one meeting, which Scholz wisely denied. There’s a certain arrogance there, with the CIA director expecting a one-on-one with the German Chanceller. But, no luck for him cornering the Chanceller. The second meeting added Burn's counterpart, BND Chief Kahl, and other members of the Chancellery.
Burns has been very involved in international diplomacy recently. His visit to Moscow was published by the RusFed, probably against his wishes. He was declined a face to face meeting with Putin and instead interacted with his relevant local counterpart, though Putin did grant him a phone chat. Burns has also been to Ukraine. So, the USA is using its foreign intelligence Chief to place diplomatic pressure on allies to unify behind a position which the USA wishes to take in their response to the RusFed draft security treaty. Of course, Blinken and Sherman have their roles too. Its quite a "task force". If you’d like to read what Blinken said in Germany recently, you’ll get all the USA talking points you wish.
Der Spiegel continues:
Germany and the United States have been far apart on the issue of Russia for the past several weeks. Burns brought a trove of intelligence with him on troop movements and sabotage units to convince Berlin of the U.S. view of the Russian threat.
A "trove of intelligence" on "troop movements" (by Russian troops in Russia) and "sabotage units", eh? What is a "sabotage unit"? A "unit" must be a collection of people. What is it they are meant to be sabotaging whilst in Russia, Der Spiegel? Or is this “newspeak” for “army engineers”? Really, I’m mystified.
Next we learn that USA President Biden had invited Chanceller Scholz to Washington at short notice, which Scholz declined due to an already filled schedule of important engagements. More important than meeting the President of the USA? Apparently.
Der Spiegel were a little mystified, too:
It’s rather difficult to fathom: Russia is building up the biggest threat since the end of the Cold War, deploying around 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, stationing tanks, artillery and rocket launchers, and the German chancellor is unable to clear his schedule to accept an invitation from the American president.
“Biggest threat since the end of the Cold War”. Really? What, you think Russia are going to invade the Ukraine, waltz over Poland and re-take East Germany in a reverse of Operation Barbarossa or some crazy new variant of Operation Bagration? Get a grip, Der Spiegel. There is no threat whatsoever to Germany, militarily. But, there is a threat, and you get there in the end.
Our “baker’s dozen” then start to illustrate their opinion position with:
What else must happen to trigger a greater sense of urgency in Berlin? Is it not enough that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to blackmail the West, issuing ultimatums and threatening military consequences if NATO doesn’t rule out Ukrainian membership in the alliance?
We know its opinion because they are asking questions, not making statements. They throw in the odd keyword "urgency", "blackmail", "ultimatums", and "threatening". There is "urgency", but that's about treating the RusFed position seriously and responding to it in a timely fashion. But, there is no "blackmail". It is not an "ultimatum" but a draft. Its just below the title on the front page of the RusFed Foreign Ministry page at which its published, journos. The draft treaty is for discussion and negotiation. There is no threatening either; there are positions and consequences. To quote Lavrov at the press conference after last Friday's meeting with Blinken:
You mentioned the statement that Ukraine poses no threat to Russia. I will remind those who analyse our public statements and positions: Russia has never, nowhere, not once threatened the Ukrainian people through its official representatives.
This is a precise and encompassing statement, not an opinion, and you can shoot it down in flames if you can find any evidence to the contrary. So, back to that “biggest threat”, the “blackmail” and the “ultimatums” …
To conclude their introductory section and their opinion Der Spiegel continue with this horrid simplification and misrepresentation:
As if Putin hasn’t already shown the world with the occupation of Crimea that he doesn’t much care about international law. As if the Baltic states' worries were unfounded that they could face a similar situation to that of eastern Ukraine, where Russian leaders, with the help of loyal separatists, have been sabotaging the sovereignty of the government in Kyiv since 2014.
“As if” the annexation of Crimea was a direct result of the USA-led coup in Ukraine, and a threat to Russia's only warm water naval port at Sevastopol. The plebiscite that followed the annexation was 90+% in favour of joining Russia. And, before you start going all "rigged election", its “as if” Crimea is dominantly, dominantly ethnic Russian and Russian speaking. The territory was transferred from Russia to the Ukraine SSR during the Soviet Union as an internal land transfer. We know that the EU supports people claiming their independence when they want to join EU/NATO, hello Kosovo! But, leaving an existing European nation? No. I cite Catalonia. One could cite Scotland too.
If, Spiegel, you want to get down and dirty, it could talk about the forced removal of tens of thousands of Crimean residents to other parts of Russia, “gulags” even, post WWII for their “alleged collaboration” with the invading Nazi’s. There was collaboration with the Nazi occupiers by Crimean Tartar nationalists, and tens of thousands of Russians were killed during Germany’s occupation. But, then its gets all “down in the weeds”, doesn’t it?
The operation to retake Crimea and Sevastopol during WWII involved almost half a million Russian soldiers and was completed on May 7th, 1944, just under two years after Sevastopol had been lost. That period, during WWII, is the only time Sevastopol was not both Russian territory and under Russian control, since the Crimean War in the 1850’s.
Der Spiegel, lumping together the Baltic states and the Donbas, is disingenuous in the extreme. The Ukrainian government love their eastern Ukrainian countrymen so much that they removed their language as a dual national language, have completely refused to negotiate with their leadership even after they agreed to under the Minsk accords and have been shelling them and their businesses with Howitzers.
The article’s next paragraph summarizes the divisions amongst the German polity in how Germany should best respond to the pressure from Washington over the situation in Ukraine, given the trade relations between Germany and Russia, on which they elaborate for most of the rest of their article. We're about to move out of opinion and into reporting. There is still plenty of opinion, but commentary below shall highlight the "reporting" with a couple of sidelines on “info-graphics”.
Before we get to that, it is worth reminding ourselves that the coup in Ukraine, though coordinated by the USA was supported by local neo-Nazi paramilitary elements, particularly the Azov Battalion. Germany may have some sensitivity about arming governments with neo-Nazi elements, particularly against Russia. Ya know, history and all that.
The current German government coalition’s two major parties are the SPD and the Greens. Der Spiegel continues:
Within Chancellor Scholz’s SPD, there is a strong tendency to downplay the threat of war. Many within the SPD, but also within the Green Party, share the Kremlin’s opinion that Russia had been deceived during the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union.
Chancellor Scholz’s SPD and this author concur. If you don't arm the Ukrainian government, but instead pressure them to engage in the agreed process (to which Germany is a signatory) of the Minsk Accords the chances of war are extremely minimal. It seems the Greens have a sense of history and perhaps know about that “not one inch eastward” promise by USA representative Baker before the German reunification. Perhaps our dozen plus one of journalists have heard of it too.
Following a paragraph of Atlanticist speculation the article includes the results of a survey in the style of lies, damned lies and statistics. Der Spiegel hires "Civey" to perform a survey and they, in the small text below, show the details. Between Jan 14 and 19 (this year, one presumes) which included 5 013 respondents, each is asked "What should the German government's fundamental approach in its response to Russia be?" and given the following options in some undeclared, and hopefully randomized, order:
a mixture of both, or
The graphic then displays the "confrontational" response. The "bar" for the largest group choosing that response (the Greens) takes the full width of the graphic, rather than say 42% of a 100% width, and none of the other statistics are presented.
[Image: extracted from the article being discussed].
A counter graphic of the combination of all other responses could have been presented with the following numbers:
Parties Who Do Not Wish to Fuel War, by percentage
A scientific type graph, which I would be very surprised if “Civey” did not give them, would have shown all parties to 100% width, with the percentage of each of the four response types represented, and also annotating the total number of each party affiliation surveyed. But, no, we don’t get that. To put it another way, the survey gathered 25 essential numbers; each of the 4 response counts, and the total respondents for each of the five parties. We get 20% of that information. Does Der Spiegel think its readership are stupid or is there another explanation?
They immediately follow their "Confrontational" info-graphic by informing us of Washington’s desires [parenthesized edit is mine]:
The message from Washington, meanwhile, is that deterrence only works if you don’t take any options off the table. The Americans’ view is that those options include arms deliveries to Ukraine and the threat of maximal [economic] sanctions. But the German government is tapping the brakes on both fronts.
Personally, I don’t get it. You follow a survey of German opinion by informing us of Washington’s geopolitical desires? The info-graphic requires no commentary or context?
This is followed by a slight against the new German Foreign Minister (member of the Green Party) Baerbock [emphasis mine]:
On Monday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock traveled to Kyiv. Since taking office, Baerbock says, nothing has taken as much of her attention as Ukraine's security – before once again ruling out arms deliveries of any kind to her Ukrainian hosts. For now, Baerbock isn’t prepared to break with Green Party principles in the way that Green Party éminence grise Joschka Fischer did back when he was foreign minister and dared to back the German military deployment to Kosovo. Germany’s restrictive arms policy is well known, said Baerbock, who is also co-chair of the Green party. "I don't change my position based on where I am at the moment," she said.
Interestingly enough they throw Kosovo in there. She isn't prepared to "break with ... principles" as Fischer did so that Kosovo could declare its independence. But, Crimea cannot rejoin Russia!? Get your opinions in order, Der Spiegel.
The article continues by examining the position of the “pro-business” FDP party which currently chairs the Defense Committee in the Bundestag, which implies they are a partner in the government. The interesting term "defensive weapons" is introduced. The FDP's "foreign policy expert" Alexander Graf Lambsdorff cites the War Weapons Control Act which prohibits Germany from supplying weapons to various parties or "crisis areas" of which the Ukraine is one. [I am not a lawyer, and don’t speak German, so I have no idea what the relevant German laws are. But, Lambsdorff claims that the law he cites prohibits the supply of certain classes of weapons to Ukraine, though not things like protective vests and helmets.]
Der Spiegel does make effort to represent the resistance to German supply of weaponry to Ukraine within the government, highlighting from where this political position may have emerged over time.
Jürgen Tritten, a veteran Green member of parliament, said the proposal would contradict the principle of not delivering weapons to war zones. Trittin has since become the foreign policy point man for his parliamentary group, but nothing has changed in terms of his categorical rejection of arms deliveries. He told DER SPIEGEL that the "entire German government” considers arms deliveries to Ukraine to be a mistake. Moreover, he says, there is no distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. "You shouldn’t fool yourself or others about that."
This paragraph is immediately followed by their next “info-graphic” highlighting the locations of the “around 100,000 [Russian] troops” on Ukraine’s “borders”:
[Image: the background image (including all the circles) is from the article, but the text had to be regenerated over it as this poor author’s screen was not large enough to grab a single screen image. But, though the fonts are likely wrong, the text and positioning is accurate. Please compare with the article to verify, should you wish.]
Firstly, the numbers are wrong. There are 13 blue circles, which I’ll categorize in sizes based on the index given at the top left:
3 x 7,500 large circles
1 x 6,000 (next smaller) circle
2 x 5,000 (going smaller) circle
4 x 4,000 circles
3 x 1,000 circles
Total: 57,500. I tried to keep the “larger circles” high in estimated size. Try yourself. See what you get. But, 60,000 is not 100,000. Next, the unit (one of the 1,000) to the south east of Moscow is bloody well not on the Ukraine border, its on the outskirts of Moscow. I mean, how dumb do you think we are? Thirdly, the type of “troops” (Army, Navy, Airforce?) are not specified. Russia has several airforce bases around the northeast of the Black Sea. As for Russia’s naval base at Sevastopol, it requires extensive defenses to be provided by the army, involving at least ground troops, fixed defended gun emplacements and associated logistics, communications, naval maintenance staff, not to mention the sailors themselves!. They are not going to be involved in any “invasion” of anything, they already have an extremely important role.
In earlier pieces on Crimea/Ukraine I have provided topographic and linguistic maps, which you may find useful. The topographic map itself explains most of the Russian forces’ positioning. The concentrated units are in three locations; to Ukraine’s north, to the east of Donbas, and in Crimea. Well, if you want to get into Russia with land forces that can move quickly, there are three ways to go. The northern route leads you to that collection of forces. The eastern route through the Donbas leads you to that force collection. Or, you can attack Crimea, and meet Russian forces there. These are not “opportunistic” placements of troops. They are strategic placements, based on logistics and topography.
Almost all of the other units are stationed at significant road junctions in this section of Russia. This is because Russia is not stupid; they are both able to hold those points, if ordered, or use the road networks to rapidly redeploy. The one to the north east of Ukraine not on a road junction is near the border on the Russian Highlands. It is almost certainly a radar intelligence station, possibly with long range artillery, or missiles or god knows what, and associated defensive troops and communications and logistics support. The northernmost unit collection, east of Belarus, is border defense, with a possible “help Belarus in case anything silly happens” dual role.
I maintain that I do not believe that Russia wants to invade Ukraine as it does not want it. Least of all does it want Kiev (Kyiv), and those units close to the north of Ukraine are either defending (yes) or going to Belarus (if required) or Kiev (ha ha). Look at the roads and the mountains.
I am not a military analyst, but what I see is: defense of Sevastopol, defense of the Black Sea, radar observation on the heights, defense of key routes into Russia, and reserve units in the rear. Of course, any of these groups could move from a defensive to offensive stance, if conditions change. If an armed government force cannot do this, then they don’t deserved to be called “military”. Its their job, and by all accounts the Russian military are professional, well trained, armed, and led.
Russia has between 800,000 and 900,000 military personnel, with another 250,000 in reserve. Right now, their land threat from any national army is from the west and/or southwest. They’ve just saved Kazakhstan from a coup, have an alliance with China, and neither Mongolia nor North Korea are going to give them any trouble, and that’s it for their entire southern and eastern flanks. Whatever is in the west now, they could easily reposition another 100,000 in no time without significantly weakening their defenses elsewhere.
The whole scary info graphic is free of specificity or any relevant commentary to provide context, and even its numbers don’t add up. But, I like maps, so thanks Der Spiegel.
Lastly, while we’re on this topic, why is Germany or any other EU country interested in Russia’s troops moving around Russia? Because Ukraine is no longer performing the wonderful role it was as a neutral buffer state between EU/NATO and Russia. Why? Because of the USA instigated a coup in Ukraine in 2014 with the intention of pressuring Russia. The whole thing is a “problem, reaction, solution” set up. But, back to the intriguing article …
The next most interesting passage in the lower section of the article is:
Despite the debate among the Greens and the FDP, the German government has so far shown no inclination to respond to Kyiv’s demands for weapons. This is mainly due to the SPD. Arms deliveries could be seen as contributing to the escalation, says Nils Schmid, the foreign policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group, "not to mention the historical implications, in which German weapons would be used against Russia for the first time since World War II."
Yes, supplying Ukraine with arms may well "contribute" to the escalation, and here's where that old WWII bugbear surfaces.
Kiev (Kyiv) can demand all the weapons it wants, but if they don’t want to fight, then the peaceful solution has been sitting on their desks for over 5 years. Ask yourself, why has the “Normandy Format” (i.e the Minsk Accords) not been engaged? Which national and international forces are deliberately blocking it? Answering these questions may expose a little more of the “back room” maneuvering that has been playing out over the period. I suspect one would find local forces in Ukraine, the USA and NATO leadership, and a bit of Germany’s former government in there too with a touch of German/French rivalry thrown in just to spice it all up.
I feel for Scholz. He’s been placed in a difficult position and from what I read is playing it as carefully as he can. Just not agreeing to be isolated by Burns was informative.
Der Spiegel eventually gets to the economic and energy component to the challenge [emphasis and parenthesized editing mine]:
Excluding Moscow from SWIFT would bring all payments between Russian and German companies to a halt. This includes loans that companies service with banks in the respective countries. But what worries Berlin the most is the possible loss of energy supplies to Germany [from Russia], payments for which are also made via SWIFT. That eventuality would further increase the already high prices for the fuel. It’s also questionable how quickly alternatives could be found. Russia covered [they mean provided or perhaps supplied, but these are “strong” words] 55 percent of Germany’s natural gas needs in 2020.
In theory, Germany could also obtain supplies of liquefied natural gas from the U.S., Africa or the Middle East. There is gas is available, but there are no German port terminals where the LNG tankers could dock. It would have to go through plants in the Netherlands, Poland or Italy.
Government’s don’t do “in theory”; policy needs to based on what is achievable. The sentence also contradicts their “how quickly” statement in the preceding paragraph. Nonetheless, Der Spiegel make an excellent point about the lack of LNG tanker terminals in Germany. The follow up question would be what excess capacity exists in the gas lines from the Nederlands, Poland or Italy? Is it even possible to move the amount of LNG required? I don’t know, but my guess would be no. 55% of Germany's gas supply as reserve capacity in the LNG lines? Seems unlikely. So, that's a bit of checkmate, which exposes the whole situation.
Der Spiegel obtains comment from the Economics Minister, who is from the Green Party:
Economics Minister Habeck, whose ministry is also responsible for sanctions, is opposed to cutting off Russian access to SWIFT. Habeck also doesn’t want to put the emphasis on confrontation. Instead, Habeck told DER SPIEGEL, "We should think about new areas of business that can help lead both sides out of the confrontational role."
Der Spiegel are quick to remind us that the Economics department is responsible for implementing Economic sanctions. Well, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.
One could ask, “Is Habeck supporting Scholz or the other way around?”, but this would be a very anglophone two-party system query. My understanding of European multi-party governments is that, yes the odd backroom tricky deal occurs, but more likely its a cabinet meeting. The question, with input from the bureaucracy, is “what happens if we sanction Russia and kick them off SWIFT?” The answer is god awful; rise in fuel prices, lack of fuel, various investments go belly up, a major hit on the economy and thus government revenue, thus cut backs in government services or borrowing money, the German people suffer and our government is in trouble. Ok. Next item, …
The article then moves on to an extensive discussion of the NordStream II gas pipeline project which was instigated by Germany as a low carbon fossil fuel measure while Germany refactors its energy supply towards a carbon neutral target after decommissioning its nuclear power reactors post the Fukushima disaster.
The discussion of the pipeline exposes lots of politicking:
More recently, though, Scholz has changed his tone and warned Moscow of a severe European response should Putin elect to launch an offensive. The chancellor specifically mentioned the agreement between Merkel and Biden that the pipeline under the Baltic Sea could only go into operation if Ukraine continues to be a transit country for Russian gas deliveries to Europe. "We are committed to all aspects that are part of that. Including the fact that there will be a high price to pay and all options will be under discussion in the event of a military intervention in Ukraine."
Hidden in the middle there is "only go into operation if Ukraine continues to be a transit country". Gazprom tried to withdraw from the Ukraine pipeline, and accept the financial costs written into the contract, but was forced to complete its contract by Putin, reportedly. However, that contract expires in 2024 (or is it 2025?) and at that point Gazprom wants nothing more to do with the aged infrastructure which would cost too much to maintain, especially considering that Ukraine taxes its use in fees and siphons gas from it. So, the key phrase here is "goes into operation". Once NordStream II is "in operation" who cares what happens with the Ukraine pipeline? I credit both the German and Russian political elite, and bureaucracy, being intelligent and attentive. They know what is happening. Their words are chosen carefully.
Then the USA's pressure is highlighted:
CIA Director William Burns apparently asked Scholz to cease referring to the pipeline as a "private economic venture" ahead of his meeting with the U.S. president.
Its “as if” the CIA is acting as a censor of the German Government! How d’ya feel about them apples, Germany? Behind this, there is a game within a game. Germany, to avoid having to comply with the stupid new energy policy based on the “Spot Market” did not directly engage with Russia for its desired NordStream II pipleline. Instead, German companies dealt with Russian companies and its all a “private economic venture” to bypass the European energy policy rules. To look for the game withing the game within the game, one could ask you influenced the end result of the new Spot Market energy policy.
The article concludes with a few paragraphs emphasizing the "all the options need to be on the table" type USA talking points and "economic sanctions" need to be among them. This is all pretty stupid really, when this article has just shown why this is all such a bad idea for Germany.
We learn that our Baker’s dozen have done a very good job of highlighting the “conspiratorial” pair of meetings, and digging into the real economic, legal and energy policy challenges that sit below this “German problem”. That the text is couched in Alanticist rhetoric, including vacuous info-graphics, to deliver a NATO narrative is disappointing.
I feel for the journos. I don’t blame them, I blame the editors. The reporting, when you dig it out, is good. The point about a lack of LNG terminals is really good. No doubt whoever dug that up also asked the natural follow on, as I did. But, the answer is unprintable, else it gives the entire game away. The “no LNG terminals” point nails the entire argument to the mast. Well done, whoever that was.
Soviet Howitzers to Ukraine!
Our second article is from the Wall Street Journal, but because its behind a paywall, the link is from the wonderful people at Archive.org. [Actually, one little understood service delivered by Archive.org is a frozen in time snapshot of an article. Publications do update their articles to fix minor error, or re-engineer narratives even. Archive’s services allow us who are referencing articles to refer to one which will not change. This author is greatful for the service.]
The summary of the story is that Estonia wishes to transfer some D-30 Howitzers, which fire 122 mm high-explosive rounds up to 20 Km, to Ukraine. Unfortunately for them, the artillery was stationed in East German at reunification. During the 1990's they were transferred to Finland, which then transferred them to Estonia. As with all major military equipment, they come with limitations on use and transfer, and as these were from the reunified Germany, Germany gets to say how they can be transferred. Here we return to that War Weapons Control Act, or some equivalent. The WSJ article is somewhat remiss in informing us of whatever legal restrictions may be preventing Germany from permitting the transfer of these artillery pieces.
The WSJ article largely focuses on its headline of "Germany prevents NATO ally ..." but does quote a German official:
German officials said the impasse results from a longstanding policy regarding arms exports to tense regions.
“The principle governing arms exports is always the same—whether they come directly from Germany or from third countries—and no permission has been issued at this stage,” a German government spokesman said. “It is not possible to estimate the outcome of the process at this moment,” he added.
So, the WSJ is really adding to the general pressure on Germany to "get in line" with "all options on the table" type USA pressure. The part of the article which caught my eye was its consideration of the provenance of the artillery pieces:
The howitzers, originally made in the Soviet Union, were stationed in former East Germany. After German reunification, Berlin exported the guns to Finland in the 1990s, which then passed them on to Estonia in 2009, Estonian, Finnish and German officials said.
The curious phrase is "originally made in the Soviet Union". Now, in essence this doesn't matter, as they were "stationed in former East Germany" and the now reunified Germany is responsible for the "end use" of its armaments. The implication is that Germany is preventing Estonia from exporting a Soviet (rather than German) weapon. Its a pretty sly tactic.
[The D-30 was designed in Russia and it and its variants have a very long history extending back to WWII. It has been a very effective artillery piece for indirect fire (long range, high explosive shells). It also has a potential role as a direct fire anti-tank weapon with high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) shells.]
Media as Foreign Policy Mouthpieces
The Der Spiegel article follows what seems to be the current standard in establishment western media. The headline is a bit “click-baity”. It is followed by some sort of hook and then many paragraphs of largely opinion which sets up the tone for the piece. In the later part of the article, the actual reporting occurs in which useful information can be found.
The first “info-graphic” is particularly revealing in that it removes most of the information obtained in the survey which Der Spiegel commissioned. The second “info-graphic” is nothing more than a collection of pixels to reinforce a narrative.
The WSJ article is interesting in a different way to Der Spiegel’s. Why is a financial journal reporting on the obscure transfer of some aging artillery pieces from Estonia to Ukraine? It makes no sense. There is no financial aspect to the story at all. That is obviously not its purpose. The WSJ is just showing the USA State Department that it is a good little newspaper. Pat, pat.
I particularly enjoyed their rather sly insinuation that Germany is preventing Soviet weapons being given to Ukraine to defend them against, not quite Soviet, but close enough, “threats”.
Countering the Narrative
The “clickbait headline, several paragraphs of opinion, before useful information interspersed with more opinion” method, is clearly designed to play on peoples’ lack of time. It is designed to deliver narrative, not information.
This author agrees that time is too short and has invested some time in finding commentators who cite sources and give their opinion. One discovers the mainstream narrative by having it being discussed in context and with referenced sources. This provides a much more nuanced overview and alleviates having to sift through the mainstream reportage hunting for useful information. Of course, one must still be on one’s guard, especially against one’s own biases! But, is that not preferable to just blindly absorbing narrative via osmotic pressure?
A keen observer will note that while this newsletter’s citations are complete with title, author, publication and date, when referring to them, they refer to the person rather than publication. That’s the trick, dear reader, find your sources, not publishers.
Sometimes the best complement to an article takes a while to surface. Below, at the bottom of “Sources” is a fantastic interview of Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, Richard Sakwa. The interviewer is Aaron Maté, a journalist for whom this author has the greatest respect.
This article begins at the global geopolitical scale and quickly moves into the challenges for Germany in the current USA/NATO provocation around the generated crisis in Ukraine. The odd reference is made to WWII era history of Crimea and Sevastopol. This interview, below, adds the missing piece; the history of Europe and Russia, and Ukraine, from the early 1990’s (the end of Cold War I) to the present day, and I mean present, like today.
Professor Sakwa’s analysis is penetrating, and his knowledge of the history, treaties and tensions through the period are detailed and exacting.
Please watch this 45 minute interview. It is engrossing and deeply insightful.
This newsletter now has a Twitter handle @YesXorNo which will announce future articles on publication, and welcomes all discussion.
Eurasia’s Ring of Fire, The Epic Struggle over the Epicenter of U.S. Global Power, Alfred McCoy, TomDispatch, 2022-01-16
Iran-Russia Hit Maximum Strategy, Pepe Escobar, Unz Review, 2022-01-21
Herald indulges UK Foreign Secretary’s demented remarks on China, (former Australian Prime Minister) Paul Keating, Pearls and Irritations, 2022-01-23
UKRAINE CRISIS: US ‘Toolboxes’ Are Empty, Scott Ritter, ConsortiumNews, 2022-01-21
A War of Nerves, Germany Has Little Maneuvering Room in Ukraine Conflict, Markus Becker, Florian Gathmann, Matthias Gebauer, Kevin Hagen, Valerie Höhne, Martin Knobbe, Veit Medick, Jonas Schaible, Fidelius Schmid, Christoph Schult, Christian Teevs, Gerald Traufetter und Severin Weiland, Der Spiegel, 2022-01-21
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s answers to media questions at a news conference following talks on security guarantees with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Geneva, January 21, 2022, Russian Foreign Ministry, 2022-01-21
The Siege Of Sevastopol: Why The Crimean Campaign Means So Much To Moscow, Radio Free Europe (a USA funded media network), 2014-05-07
Germany Blocks NATO Ally From Transferring Weapons to Ukraine, Michael R. Gordon and Bojan Pancevski, Wall Street Journal (via Archive.org), 2022-01-21
US and UK escalate Russia war fever, but NATO splits over Ukraine emerge, Aaron Maté interviews Prof Sakwa, Pushback/The Grayzone, 2022-02-24
NETWORK, Sidney Lumet, 1976 - The Tube Lies, Peter Finch, FilmStruck youtube channel, uploaded 2018-03-06
Mystify, INXS (from one of their great albums “Kick”, released in 1987), their youtube channel, uploaded 2012-09-12
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