Some Hard Truths About Russia and Ukraine

Posted on 2023-03-01
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Dayton, Ohio – I have watched the Ukraine-Russia war for over a year and have carefully parsed all the news and arguments coming from political types and even from some of my friends, looking to see where I might be in error in my judgment. I have come to a conclusion: Ukraine is about to be toast.

It didn’t have to be this way. Even Russia did not, originally, want it to be this way. When it first invaded Russia used a smaller than necessary force in the expectation that this would not be a long war. It expected it would finally force the US and the west to the bargaining table. It was a bold move, a move that would not have been necessary had the US ever given an honest hearing to Russian concerns about self-determination for those areas that had been traditionally Russian for near 500 years and the surrounding of Russia by NATO. Instead, ever since Bill Clinton Russia has been ushered to the kids’ table every time it wanted to talk about its grievances – while the “big boys” in the west decided Russia’s fate without Russia’s input.

Most of the area east of the Dnieper River in Ukraine has been historically Russian, not Ukranian, territory. In 1954 Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev transferred administrative control of Crimea and the Donbass to Ukraine. It was a routine move at the time as all of the territory involved, including Ukraine, was under tight Soviet control. It was just an administrative restructuring. The two main purposes of the move were as a tacit apology for the Holodomor (when Stalin forcefully starved millions of Ukranians) and to get a larger presence of ethnic Russians into the administrative structure of Ukraine. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 Ukraine retained the traditionally Russian territories it had gotten administrative control over under Khruschev. Throughout the 90’s surveys of the population of these territories consistently showed upwards of 70% wanting to reunite with Russia – because they were primarily Russian and had been governed by Russia for hundreds of years. Crimea had been Russia’s warm-water naval port since Czar Peter the Great, almost a hundred years before America’s declaration of independence. It was akin to having Massachusetts and Vermont declared Canadian territory because of an administrative decree of England from before the Revolution.

In early 2014 the US, under Barack Obama, sponsored the overthrow of the moderately pro-Russia Ukranian government and replaced it with a solidly pro-America, anti-Russia government. This put huge pressure on Russia, which was in danger of losing its vital warm-water port in Ukraine (something akin to our San Diego). Obama was assuring Congress that Russia would never dare to invade Crimea to secure its naval capacity. Literally, the day before Russia invaded, a small group of Congressmen called me on my birthday to get my take (at the time, there was still a group in Congress that valued my usually accurate assessment of such things). I told them that, of course, Russia would invade Crimea. It had to. Without Crimea, its capability to project naval power in the world would be severely crippled. One of them argued that there was only a very small chance that Ukraine would try to seize the naval facilities. I laughed and said, for Russia, the only chance that was acceptable was no chance. I used the potential loss of San Diego to put things in proper perspective. The call ended with them sobered, but not convinced. They would be convinced the next day. The next week several called back to see if I thought Putin would now invade Ukraine proper. I told them that was unlikely as there was no pressing strategic need and that, west of the Dnieper, Ukraine was largely Eastern-rite Catholic rather than Russian Orthodox as Crimea and the Donbass are. Ukraine proper would be a constant burr under Russia’s saddle. But because of western diplomats’ cluelessness about cultural imperatives and what a problem trying to govern Ukraine proper would be for Russia, Vladimir Putin would undoubtedly threaten to invade to leverage advantage from clueless western diplomats. That was how it remained until a year ago.

The Ukranian government following the color revolution the US sponsored increasingly persecuted ethnic Russians in the Donbass, even sending in an overtly fascist militia to do their dirty work. For purely domestic political reasons, Democrats demonized Russia beginning in 2016 as a cudgel to use against Donald Trump, thus foreclosing any possibility of rational diplomatic relations. Meantime, the ascension of Joe Biden led to renewed pressure to expand NATO, effectively surrounding Russia with a hostile alliance. Serious readers may recall how the US (rightfully) reacted when the old Soviets tried to establish a hostile nuclear base on our border in Cuba. Not a good plan if you are not filled with sophomoric hubris.

Russia and Putin got a big surprise, though. Instead of convening at the bargaining table to forge a peaceful solution, probably with a carefully monitored self-determination referendum in the disputed territories, the US immediately started pressing for a proxy war and regime change in Russia. We have the bizarre situation of the west pressing for a corrupt, authoritarian state (Ukraine) to wage war on a much larger corrupt, authoritarian state (Russia) in the name of…democracy!? Of course, the US itself has become a very corrupt, increasingly authoritarian state in which “democracy” is just a propaganda buzzword rather than a principle. Even in the midst of rising tensions, instead of trying to defuse them by putting a moratorium on new NATO countries, the Biden State Dep’t. advocates for more. And even now, with the specter of nuclear war rising, rather than listen to Russian grievances western diplomats walked out of an OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) meeting the moment Russian diplomats tried to speak. Why not just spit in Russian faces? It would scarcely be more provocative. These are the actions of people who desperately want war.

So now Russia is furious. The west has made perfectly clear that Russia will never be treated with any seriousness so long as this team of Keystone Diplomats are running the show. The western narrative is that Putin is an authoritarian madman. I agree with the authoritarian part, but I think he is the shrewdest major leader on the globe, with the keenest grasp of geo-political realities. I also think he is one of the most patient of global leaders. He tried for over two decades to get the west to give him a hearing on his grievances on NATO and ethnic Russian territory in the Ukraine, only to get airily dismissed every time. He started the war with Ukraine with limited aims, hoping for good faith bargaining. He got the back of the west’s hand. He got his Nord Stream Pipeline blown up – probably by the US. I know of no act of war Russia has committed against the US, but I know of several the US Has committed against Russia. Yet even now, Russia restrains its response to US provocations to threats only.

Again, Putin is shrewd and plays for far more than momentary advantage. He knows that, ultimately, Russia must come in conflict with China. It is a geographic imperative for a China that is determined to be eastern hegemon and global financial center. Putin also knows that the US cannot be its ally under the current regime – which would be useless and treacherous even if it could be an ally. But he also knows that when the hour of confrontation comes, he desperately needs America. So he has got to thread this in a manner to completely discredit the current American regime without alienating the bulk of Americans. I think Putin is now focused on three primary strategic objectives:

  • Completely subjugate Ukraine. Embarrassed by the unexpected pushback he got from the west when he had taken pains to amass only enough forces to trigger negotiations, Putin now knows he must completely dispel the illusion that the west can subjugate Russia through a proxy, or even open, war. I actually don’t think he will keep Ukraine (though he may hold onto it until the ultimate confrontation with China has played out). The problems with Russia trying to govern Ukraine west of the Dnieper are the same as they were 30 years ago. The next push will NOT be a show force; it will be full force.
  • Completely bust up NATO. NATO is an alliance whose sell-by date passed a generation ago. Its only purpose now is to harass Russia and remind her that she is a second-rate power. It continued to grow as an alliance against a threat that was no longer there (at least until the west started overtly beating the drums of war against Russia). It sapped resources that were desperately needed for a Southeast Asia Treaty Organization to defend against the threat of an ascendant and ambitious China. Putin intends to reveal NATO for the paper tiger it has become and the US military as the feckless, unreliable force it has become.
  • Amass hard evidence of US corruption in Ukraine. The US has been the leader in trying to provoke war against Russia, in refusing to even listen to its grievances. Putin is making plans to gather the evidence of massive financial corruption by US officials in Ukraine and of illegal bioweapons research sponsored by the US. The aim is to completely discredit the current regime while maintaining the possibility of friendship, or at least alliance, with the larger body of US citizens. Putin aims to make it clear he means America no harm, but will devastate the existing US officialdom and its foreign policy establishment.

Some have asked me about China’s “peace plan.” China has no peace plan for Ukraine, just 12 vague platitudes. Xi Jinping may be evil, but he’s not stupid. He, too, understands the ultimate confrontation that must come with Russia. If Russia succeeds in the three priorities I listed above, she will come out of this much stronger than she went into it. Xi dreads that possibility and hopes to cut that off and force Russia to support him in his attack on Taiwan without having grown stronger and having opened up the possibility of alliance with the US against the true great military and economic threat to the world.

There is real danger in all this. Russia has an odd habit of bumbling into initial confrontations as Clark Kent, only to be humiliated. Then, when its opponents think it is crushed, it emerges as Superman in the next set of battles. Often, though, Russia cannot abide success without overreaching. A successful subjugation of Ukraine could lure it into deeper military efforts in western Europe. That could set off a genuine global war.

The bottom line is that, before the summer is over, I expect Russia to completely crush Ukraine. When it comes, it will come as quickly as the fall of Afghanistan did. And it will be even more humiliating to the US, which has been emasculated by its own leaders – leaders who are fond of making bold statements they have not a chance of carrying out.

I have fought for a year to try to find the flaw in this reasoning. If Regis Philbin were around I would tell him, “This is my final answer.”


Hope you didn’t miss our interview with Don Warden, director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, near Green Bay. It is the only American Shrine associated with an approved apparition of Our Lady.


Thank you to all who have donated to keep CORAC going in our latest fundraising drive. We are about halfway to where we need to be. If you have not yet donated and you can, I sure would appreciate it.


The squirrels who organized my Louisville, Kentucky visit. They are led by Lew and Donna Hudson, at far left. I’m a bit leery that some of them remarked to me, that in hard times, squirrels make great eating.

If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.

Find me on Twitter at @JohnstonPilgrim


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