Russia and Ukraine, February 14, 2022… Czekmate’s Operational Analysis & Commentary

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – MARCH 11, 2020: A plenary meeting of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, to consider constitutional changes in the third and final reading. Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS

De-escalation in Ukraine?  The Duma is forced to consider recognition of the Luhansk and Donbas regions

The past twenty-four hours have seen protean developments in the diplomatic panorama with respect to the standoff between Russia and Ukraine.  As of this writing, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Kiev and reports are slow to emerge.  He will be in Moscow tomorrow.  But the press picture emerging from Russia appears to show that the Kremlin is finding a new way forward.  Also clear from this is that his methods are imperfect, but they show an agility of statecraft resulting in Putin generally getting his way from this row between the two countries.

The Russian state legislative assembly, known as the Duma, has two proposals regarding the recognition of the separatist regions of Donbas and Luhansk.  One is presented by the Communist Party and the other by the United Russia Party.  Putin does not claim official leadership of United Russia, but it is chaired by his longtime ally Dimitri Medvedev.  The party generally does as he instructs and is the largest party in the Duma. 

Put bluntly, the true nature of the Russian government remains as it was in Soviet days, that of an authoritarian state.  In the post-cold war/détente era, Russia has picked up the veneer of political pluralism, free markets, and federalism.  These are strictly pretense.

Domestically and diplomatically, it is a sleight of hand that the Russian Federation includes the Duma in its decision calculus.  But it seems to be a new course of action.  The Putin government was slow to make clear that the central complaint animating the buildup of Russian forces disposed toward Ukrainian territory, was the implementation of the Minsk agreement with respect to the two regions in question.  It was a subject change from the enlargement of the NATO alliance which was his original point of emphasis as the buildup gained global attention.

It was the week of February 6th, when the shift occurred after the allies would not commit to any course of action with respect to NATO enlargement.  Putin’s initial calculation may have been to humiliate the west by breaking “allied consensus” that NATO is open to all aspirants who meet membership criteria.  Allied consensus isn’t merely a diplomatic term of art, it is an inviolable method of doing business in the alliance.  Amid the war mongering din of western press, Putin’s team slyly changed the subject to that of the treatment of the two separatist regions, saying nothing about their ongoing occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.

It appears to have worked.  Throughout this saga, Putin’s team has seized and retained the diplomatic initiative throughout the rise in tensions and has shown a deftness at rolling with circumstances that tends to be intrinsic to authoritarian countries in high stakes moments of international politics.  It is an agility that comes with the unity of effort among the entire state and state influenced apparatus.  This includes, but is not limited to, the central government, the legislative and judiciary, the press, and industry.  In such instances a political position can turn on a dime at the direction of the ruling elite.

Such is the case with the kabuki theater surrounding the Duma’s consideration of recognition of the Donbass and Luhansk, while artfully leaving Crimea off the table.  You can be assured that Putin’s team wrote a set of points for members of the Duma.  One is likely to be wholly unacceptable (likely the communist party proposal) and the other will be more “moderate” (United Russia’s proposal).  Both of which will move the goalposts using the Minsk agreement into terms preferable to Moscow’s outlook.  They will provide the west “an out” and save face that what the Duma decides could have been worse.  According to English language editions of Russian media, the measures are to be considered while German Chancellor Scholz is to be in Moscow (tomorrow) for talks on the Ukraine issue as well as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Czekmate has seen nothing concrete regarding the Duma measures, but when one overlays the rise in inflammatory rhetoric from those regions (Donbas and Luhansk) alongside the fabulism being reported by the Russian press, this is the State Department’s (Ned Price) false flag.  It is in progress now, but the script is flipped in favor of a de-escalation. 

Such exaggerations by the Russian media in tandem with the Duma debate are meant as much for Russia’s domestic consumption as they are for the world.  Putin is on thin ice when it comes to deploying the Russian military.  Since the interventions in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan of the 1990s through the first decade of this century, the Russian population is restive on the question of military adventurism.  They were brutal interventions by the Russian army. 

Many observers argue that the deployment to Syria using elite non-conscript formations shows that the Russian government has overcome this through instituting a volunteer military.  However, this policy is not universal in the Russian military.  Further, the Russian population historically galvanizes in defensive campaign where the country is being viewed as victimized.

Thus, Putin’s move with respect to the separatist regions is recast to address an effrontery constructed by the west against the pan-Russian identity and a literal mortal danger to fellow would-be countrymen.  The actual history of Russophone Ukraine is the legacy of Josef Stalin’s induced famine of these regions in 1932-33.  After that engineered genocide, the Soviet state resettled Russian speakers in these lands and Moscow has since nurtured these culturally Russian affinities over the decades.  This was a means of asserting political influence over greater Ukraine.  90 years later it is still in play, being capitalized on for the purposes of giving Putin this alternate course of action.

The Scholz visit to Moscow tomorrow, will be telling.  Does Germany, with heavy exposure to the Russian economy through its trading relationship, deliver a compromise?  Does Crimea remain off the scene?  It is the home to the Russian Black Sea fleet and its southern aspirations.  Do Putin and his coterie maneuver past an outright conflict and settle short of the war that the White House is desperate for?  Captain Dementia, Jake Sullivan and Hillary need a subject change stat.  

Czekmate will try to keep the Fighting Czekmates Group updated, and pass development as warranted.

This a very respectable write up of the current state of play in Ukraine. Well worth your time to take in and disregard cable news in the US. If you read/view nothing else but read this, you’re pretty well up to speed. Czekmate will help with where it looks like it is all going.

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