Tag Archives: Geopolitics

The “Mariupol Standoff”, or the developement of new relashionship between East and West

“You can say things which cannot be done. This is elementary. The trick is to keep attention focused on what is said and not on what can be done.”

(Frank Herbert, from “Whippinng Star”, 1969)

A map of the situation in the eastern region of Ukraine, by Business Insider Intelligence

Welcome back to Unpredictable Past,

some time has passed since the last writing, but, as it is natural that it is, and as I often repeat, some events need the right time to be looked at and analyzed: and this is what I intend to do in this writing, whose processing time went into looking at things as they are, minimizing guesswork and finding as many facts as possible to support my claim.

In this paper I would like to start from the latest episodes that took place on the eastern border of Ukraine and then get to analyze with you the new course that the global geopolitical situation seems to have taken since the beginning of 2021. The event I am talking about has been defined as “Maripol Crisis”, from the city in the Donetsk Oblast, on the shores of the Black Sea, close to the borders of the Occupied Territories (or Separatists, depending on the point of view), which is generally referred to by the acronym ORDLO (Okremi Raioni Donetchkoi ta Lughanskoi Oblastei) and which has recently been the subject of clashes between separatists forces (ie the Russian army) and loyalists of the Ukrainian army, causing fear of a new escalation of violence in the region in the near future.

The “frozen” conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been going on for eight years, and dates the last escalation of this importance back to 2015, when, following the Ukrainian Revolution of the previous year and the beginning of the internal conflict with the separatists in the southeast of the country (in the regions of Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk and Donbass), the Russian armed forces “disguised” as civilian personnel carrying humanitarian aid invaded the country, occupying, in whole or in part, the aforementioned territories. On March 26 of this year, the tension begins to rise again: four soldiers of the Ukrainian Army were killed in Shumy, a village in the Mariupol area, very close to the border of the Occupied Territories, in which, in the meantime, as pointed out by Kirill Budanov, head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, the troops of the Russian Federation have massed for a total of about 110,000 effectives. Budanov asserted that these movements of the armed forces have a specific purpose: “[Its] goal is to keep Ukraine in the sphere of [Russia’s] geopolitical influence, force it to abandon Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and resolve the issue of the occupied territories [in the Donbass] on Moscow’s terms“.

On April 12, the Russian government takes a further step, and through the spokesman of President Vladimir Putin, Dmitri Peskov declares that: “[Moscow] will not remain indifferent to the fate of Russian speakers who live in the southeastern regions of Ukraine“. A clear reference (typical of the rhetoric of recent years, which used the term “Russophone” instead of “Russian” to pursue territorial claims without bringing up ethnic issues that could sound like the “reasons” adducted by Adolf Hitler during the Anschluss of the territories with a population of German origin into the Third Reich), to the policy begun two years ago by the Russian Federation regarding the granting of a “facilitated” passport to residents of the Occupied Territories who had requested it (to date there are about 400,000, out of 3 million of residents) for “humanitarian reasons”, behind which obviously lies the veiled threat of being able to have an easy casus belli should an armed intervention needs to be justified.

In response to this veiled threat, the following day April 13 at a meeting in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba confirmed the importance of the strategic partnership between the two countries. Both Ukrainian and American diplomats agreed that they needed to take action in order to “demotivate Moscow from further escalation“; the same day, US President Biden called his counterpart Putin to propose a meeting in which to discuss the issue in its entirety, but , when Moscow seemed to have achieved a “normalization” of the situation, the expulsions of diplomats and the implementation of new economic sanctions on the Sovereign Funds of the Russian Federation began in the US (officially relating to the case of Alexey Navaly and his treatment in detention), but which in my opinion had more the flavor of an appropriate response: “you-are-not-the-only-ones-able-to-use-humanitarian-pretexts-for-other-purposes“.

A declaration of intent absolutely not misunderstood, which has aroused a series of diplomatic reactions on both sides, as well as, obviously, within the European Union. The question arose spontaneously: “is it really a new line or is it just a way of pointing out a heavy question of internal politics?“. As we know, the four years of the Trump presidency were characterized by suspicion of interference by Moscow into the internal politics of the United States, a suspicion fueled by the “benevolent” attitude held by the former president regarding the relations between the two countries. I have often said it, but it is good to reiterate it: the Russian elites, out of conviction or opportunism, continue to feed the mythology of the Cold War, in the hope of being able to return to the table of the Great Powers and at the same time preserve their position of power, showing themselves to the eyes of the public opinion in their country as the only way to avoid falling prey to alleged “Western conspiracies”.

But let’s start from the beginning, since this situation is one of the results of other events that have occurred in recent months. The first and foremost is certainly the change of administration in the United States, with the beginning of Joe Biden’s mandate at the White House: shortly after taking office, the President, and his entourage, overturned the line of laxity towards the Russia: in February, at the Munich Security Conference, the American President peremptorily stated: “America is back“, making it clear that Russian interference (from propaganda to cyberwarfare) in the West would no longer be tolerated, reiterating then the concept in an interview with ABC, calling his counterpart Vladimir Putin “a killer”. Following that, the combined efforts of the Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Secretary of the National Security Council Oleksiy Danilov, leads to Ukraine’s “new approach” towards Russia, and managed to “give a shake” to the President Volodimir Zelensky, who, due to inexperience and lack of external support, left Russians do essentially what they wanted, using the Minsk Agreements as a lever to move Ukraine’s internal politics at will.

Here, in the West, if the global pandemic hadn’t made us deaf and blind, we’d be talking about front page stuff. Despite those facts, fortunately, a military escalation seems unlikely at present, for several reasons.

At first glance, disparity of forces in the field is evident, clearly in favor of Russia, and this fact alone could immediately make one think of the worst. But, as several military analysts have rightly pointed out, this deployment of forces does not necessarily have to be the prelude to a large-scale offensive. It could be configured, for example, as a “response” by the Russian Federation (together with Belarus) to the large military exercise carried out by NATO since the beginning of March, under the evocative name of “Defender-Europe 2021“, in which 27 Countries took part, including Ukraine, representing the largest coordination maneuver in 25 years, with a similar maneuver named “Zapad-2021” scheduled for September. Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defence Minister, stated the following: “a sudden check of the combat readiness of the troops of the Western and Southern military districts was carried out as part of [Russia’s] control measures and exercises during the winter period of training.

Second, an attempt at normalization has been carried out both in Europe, which began on April 16th, with France, Germany and Ukraine on the one hand and Russia (not represented at the summit, but nevertheless present) on the other, and, of course, by the United States, with Biden’s proposal to Putin of a meeting aimed at discussing the Ukrainian situation “on a broad spectrum“. Although these negotiations are currently at a standstill, the very fact that they exist implies that the military option is considered, even in the Kremlin, as something to be used as a threat but to be avoided at all costs. Further proof of this attitude, especially on the Russian side, is an apparently banal but interesting episode: in an interview with Rossiya24, a “government” broadcaster, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov stated that Russia was ready to “break relations with the European Union “on the Ukraine question. These statements were immediately followed by a quick denial by Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, who denied the Minister and backtracked very quickly, citing justifications of circumstance. Taking into account that Lavrov is certainly not a minor character or just any politician, the fact that he was so abruptly denied from above is indicative.

Is it all a matter of “flexing muscles” then? Not exactly, in my opinion.

A map of the Northern Crimean Canal as reported by BBC.com

Indeed, there is a goal that a possible offensive could aim at: the Northern Crimean Canal, recently closed by the Ukrainian government and source of supply of 80% of the country’s drinking water, which has caused many problems for the regions under control. Russian. The question is whether the Kremlin is ready to take this risk: if on the one hand the superiority of means could make a “blitzkrieg” conceivable, on the other hand this could turn out to be a move with decidedly catastrophic consequences, compared to a possible “gain” in territorial and resource terms. In fact, it would be necessary to fight on Ukrainian territory, where now there are about 300,000 veterans of the Donbass, motivated, benefited by the knowledge of the territory but who above all would be immediately supported by the West. Making the decision to attack to “send a signal” could prove to be the most counterproductive the Russian government has done in recent years.

Two problems face the Kremlin. First of all, as I have explained several times, the image is everything for the elite of the Russian Federation: how would the regime be able to explain the enormous cost in human lives, or a possible military failure (the army is still one of the few institutions in which the population trusts) in the context of that confrontation / clash that propaganda has been carrying out for years? The second problem concerns the economic repercussions that the decision to force the hand would have on the country: if on the one hand Europe must limit itself to warnings, the United States is planning a series of very heavy economic sanctions, for now stopped in Congress because the result of a bipartisan agreement between Republicans and Democrats whose internal tensions have not yet subsided after the electoral defeat of Donald Trump, but which in the eventuality of armed aggression would immediately come into being (who would risk, after the scandals of the previous four years, to support the soft line with Russia?), and that would be a very hard blow for the whole country. Also in this case, maintaining the image of “prosperity” would be very complex, and probably it will not be enough to “pull out nationalism when you run out of money” to get out of it, also because this would seriously risk triggering a further chain reaction. from which it would be impossible for the central power to escape unscathed.

At that point, the possible scenarios would be two: withdrawing and losing face, trying not to arouse excessive media hype and finding a way to justify the “setback” with public opinion (changing the game and reporting external problems within the country , downloading them, for example, on the non-organic political opposition to the system, such as that of Navalny for example), or to go straight and decide to tighten even more clearly the relations with the only other ally of weight on which Russia can count: the People’s Republic of China. This last hypothesis, in spite of those who have spoken for years of a common front between the two countries with an anti-Western function, is actually the result of a reasoning that was firm at the time of the Cold War, which seeks to replicate patterns known, making up for the inability to explain reality.

In fact, as I happened to underline on other occasions, the most concrete (but never manifested) danger that the Russian elites absolutely want to avoid running into is precisely an increasingly close relationship with China. The reason is obvious: if it is true that the export of raw materials to Chinese factories is among the most important components of the Russian economy, on the other hand, those in charge are clear that the more the country moves to the East, the more it risks becoming an appendage of Chinese power. With the exception of the military sector (of reduced size only by Beijing’s choice) all the cards are in favor of the Asian giant, which in recent years has extended its influence even on those countries that Russia normally considers “its own” (yes think of Central Asia, or, lately, some Balkan countries that have opened up to the Chinese vaccine market, but that’s another story), without anyone in Moscow being able to do anything about it or daring to risk criticism of any kind.

This time the situation seems to be decidedly more serious, even if some other events, apparently distant, can offer the explanation of the escalation.

And it is at this point that it is necessary to take a step back, and take a closer look at the foreign policy undertaken by the new American administration: as mentioned, if on the one hand it has all the appearance of a provocation against Russia, a retaliation for the precedents years of interference in American politics, it is not necessary to forget that the objective of the United States has long been another one. In fact, further east, precisely in the Pacific, a game is being played that the United States considers much more important than any confrontation with Russia, namely to contain the influence of the People’s Republic of China on the region. For years, the overwelming US military supremacy has kept the Asian giant’s ambitions in what it considers “rightfully” its own zone of influence at bay, but lately things have changed and Chinese naval forces have begun to accompany the economic expansion of the country in the Indo-Pacific area. It is no coincidence that one of Joe Biden’s first acts as president was to preside over the first meeting of QUAD, an alliance of the four democratic countries that have interests in the Pacific Ocean (India, Australia, Japan and United States) and who do not look favorably on China’s expansion to their detriment, that, as already reported on this site, could sign the beginning of significant changes in the area.

All those facts leads me to ask: what if these maneuvers, apparently aimed at striking Russia, were instead a way to put the country’s leadership in front of a choice between West and East?

That Joe Biden’s “provocative” statements serve this purpose? And that the “outstretched hand” of Europe, specifically of French President Emmanuel Macron, is not a simple sign of surrender, but rather a counterweight in a “carrot and stick” strategy, intended to go and see the bluff carried out. for decades now from the upper echelons of the Kremlin? In this situation, two key points of the ideology of the facade of the Russian Federation seem to begin to fail, namely that of its “peculiar identity”, neither Western nor Eastern, together with that of the Cold War which sees the country as the main pole of anti-atlantist, an idea that loses credibility even in the eyes of the Russians themselves with each passing year. That somewhere in Washington they have understood that the program of responding to Russian propaganda with other propaganda, the one centered on embezzlement by members of Putin’s “inner circle” is a fallacious and useless strategy, as demonstrated by the Navalny affair , and that perhaps the real breaking point will be to confront Russian public opinion with something far more significant? Such as “what shall we do with our lives?”

In a possible future confrontation (whose lines have already been “drawn”) to balance the relationship between West and East, there is no doubt that the side on which Russia will take sides will be fundamental, not only for geopolitical issues, but also for the future of Russian citizens themselves: to let autocratic power preserve itself, becoming more and more enveloped in a decadent spiral that will inevitably lead to a sort of vassalage condition with respect to China, or to deny itself, its image and all the propaganda rhetoric put in place to hold together the “pieces” of the country and gradually groped a rapprochement with the much-maligned West?

As Andrei Piontkovsky stated in an interview with Olga Khvostunovna on the Institute for Modern Russia website: “To ensure that Russian changes its foreign policy, the battle for the minds of Russian citizens has to be won“. And perhaps, I think as a European, it is not the only battle that must be fought and won, if we really want the future of all of us to be different, but that’s another story.

The “Eternal Gulag”, a look inside Post-Soviet Countries resistance to changes

“Speaking in London with Mikhail Khodorkovskij we said to ourselves that we realize one thing. If a person has been in the Soviet Gulag, as soon as he leaves he cannot be free, he does not know what freedom means. The bandits have taken over and we continue to live by the rules of the Gulag. We can only prepare people for the future which could be quite far away.”

(Svjatlana Aleksievich, in an interview by Fabrizio Dragosei for the italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, March 28, 2017)

Welcome Back to Unpredictablepast.com,

This article is intended to be what we could define as the conclusion of the events concerning the protests in Russia, generated by the attempted murder of the main opposition leader Alexey Navalny and his subsequent arrest and conviction, through a lightning trial with fairly motivations and questionable sentence. As usual, when I say “conclusion”, I am not referring to the fact that the movement of events is over, and that I will stop following it in detail, but that the right moment has arrived to draw some conclusions from the facts previously analyzed.

Inside there will also be some reflections on Belarus, and on other ex-Soviet countries that have experienced similar events and of which it is good to talk again, also in this case trying not to limit ourselves strictly to the facts and trying to observe everything in the most wide range possible, and every possible example will help us in analyzing the situation, and to do this, we will go through a series of points that most of the situations considered so far have in common:

Державничество (Dierzavnichestva)

An incomprehensible term for a Westerner, but one that is crucial if one wants to understand what is the heart of the problem in some post-Soviet countries, above all the Russian Federation. Often, especially in English texts, it is simply translated as statism or, at times, nationalism: an error in my opinion, not just because russian language has specific terms to indicate statism (этатизм, etatiszm), nationalism (национализм, nazionaliszm) or patriotism (патриотизм, patriotiszm).

This word has a different meaning, however, in the sense that it includes and amplifies the previous terms and can be translated with the paraphrase “Either [Russia] is great, or it is not”. A concept that could be assimilated in some way to the politics of the French “Grandeur”, with the difference that, while progressively the latter succeeded in a more or less tragic way (think only of Algeria and what was called Indochina) to come to terms with the end of a historical era, that of Imperial Colonialism, the Russian Federation, which since 1989 has inherited much of what was the Soviet Union, has not been able to do so.

The issue certainly deserves a detailed study, but, speaking of the reasons that led to the current situation, it necessarily deserves a prominent position, as essentially all the others derive from it. If you think about the most important international events in the last twenty years, you will realize for yourself how this ontological vision of a state based on its “prestige” (the term is used by George Orwell in one of his most important writings, Notes on Nationalism) was the main impediment to a “normalization” of Russia within the world context, and also within it: every attempt made in this direction (yes, even by Vladimir Putin) has crashed into this insurmountable wall created by a Past that has progressively become both Present and Future.

The desperate attempt not to lose a prominent role as a Superpower can be found hidden in every attitude of the Russian government: from foreign policy, still mainly governed by a more or less veiled hostility towards the West, to the series of murders or attacks carried out towards political dissidents. Everything refers to an image of Undisputed Power, or at least of “new bipolarism” or “new Cold War” that the ruling class wants to give of the country, making it explicit both with concrete actions (but, to note, without ever exceeding), and through the propaganda that rages especially on the web (to date, the flagship product is the infamous Sputnik V vaccine).

Even smaller countries closely linked to Russia (such as many of those of the former USSR or adhering to the Warsaw Pact) still have similar problems, albeit in a “reduced” version: Belarus is a perfect example (in the articles I have I wrote about it extensively), but also the countries of Central Asia (those that Erika Fatland wittily defined as Sovietistan) have been heavily affected by this attitude: “imitative” in domestic politics and “limiting” in foreign policy.

Centralization of Powers

The second question which, in my opinion, is an obstacle to any change is that of the centralization of powers and the consequent “messianic” vision that is generated within the population, including both “the average man” and “the ‘intellectual”.

This problem stems from both historical reasons and purely political intentions. Without the need (as is done in some cases) to go back to Kievan Rus’, to the Mongols and so on, if you look at what was the “feeling” one breathed in the few years in which the decline of the USSR took a strong acceleration until its dissolution, it can be seen that the element that terrified those who at the time lived the events in the first person, was the terror of a civil war, especially within the RSFR. Once the Central Power lost its grip on a territory of such vastness and heterogeneity, the fear was not only justified, but concretely realized: not at the level, for example, of the Civil War following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, but, for example, with the birth of movements with a strong ethno-nationalistic or religious connotation, which once the Soviet “Mastiff” disappeared recalled the ancient hostilities and unleashed a myriad of local conflicts, just think of the Caucasus area, where the conflicts and animosities of ethnic, nationalistic, religious are still there to make the whole area a powder keg.

The political clash between parties and factions was also very strong, fueled by both these fears and by the disastrous “economic transition” implemented by Yeltsin, leading to the “Constitutional Crisis” (in fact an attempted coup by some high grades of the Army, then used by Elstin as a pretext to center all the powers on himself, as the President of the Russian Federation) of 1993, resolved with the shelling of the Parliament, an episode that, in hindsight, became a tragic preamble of the following years.

The White House (The building in which the Russian Parliament reunites) burning after being shelled by artillery fire

Matter of fact, when Vladimir Putin replaced Boris Yeltsin as President of the Russian Federation at the eve of the new millennium, he found the way cleared to do what he wanted, or rather, what, as we will see, the country expected from him.

His figure should have put an end to the internal clash by acting as a balance in the “redistribution” of powers, which subsequently led to the hypertrophic expansion of the presidential cabinet to the detriment of the constitutionally appointed bodies to guide the Russian Federation, which in the course of the years have become “facades”: legally they exist and their powers are constitutionally legitimized and regulated, de facto, everything passes through the presidential entourage (a body that only with the last referendum had a sort of de jure legitimacy) which imposes its decisions to all other state bodies.

“Political Messianism”

And it is precisely from this centralization of powers on the figure of the Head of State that another problem arises that should not be underestimated: “Political Messianism“.

If it is true that historically the Russians have had a very close and personal relationship with the figures in power, this is something that is more part of a medieval legacy than of a democracy (even under construction, as it was at the time). This is because in the population the conviction is created that only the apex of power can act on public life, disempowering them and at the same time generating peaks of ecstasy at every regime change and profound resignation in the following period: Gorbachev, Yeltsin and finally Putin have had all this “sacred aura”, which heralded an epochal change, then regularly disappointed. Of the three, the last is the only one who made sure that this aura was continually renewed in some way (and he did, for better or for worse).

In this sense, citizens are beginning to get used to this ambivalent thought: on the one hand, there is no alternative to the current state of affairs, or there is fear that the change will be disregarded and will lead the country towards disaster; on the other hand, the change at the top is seen as a New Advent, in the Christian sense of the term, something inevitable and that will surely open the doors to the Golden Age by sweeping away Evil. Both attitudes are the furthest away from a democratic process: they reflect an almost monarchical attitude towards power, the activity of the citizen is limited to being for or against a power that, although perceived in a highly personal, it remains something inaccessible, untouchable, but above all not contestable.

Political Messianism does not look at political figures in rational terms, but in emotional terms, which makes any public debate worthy of the name useless: everything is reduced to a Manichaeism that sees the Rightful on one side and the Damned on the other, creating a climate of perennial tension in which the entire social body is involved on a daily basis. We cannot know if Alexey Navalny will be the next President, or at least if he’s movement will led to a political change, but it does not matter as long as the centralization process is not reversed and the figure of the Man of Providence does not come to decline in the eyes of the population.

Corruption

As I have already stated, fighting corruption, especially in those countries where it is endemic, such as Russia (in fact, since the Soviet Union). But as usual, “the devil hides in the details”: perhaps few remember that, but corruption was one of the biggest problems even during the governments of Boris Yeltsin, a period in which the notorious figures of the “Oligarchs” emerged, of which “Tsar Boris” had to secure economic support especially during his second term, making many concessions to them, to the point that some went directly into the presidential cabinet or the government. Putin himself, at the time the right arm of the mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoliy Sobchak, was embroiled in shady deals concerning the embezzlement of Western aid together with his boss, doing his utmost when he lost his power due to his own illness to make him expatriate.

St. Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchack and a young Vladimir Putin 
Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

This is why he was chosen as Yelstin’s successor. No machinations of the KGB / FSB, or other sort of spy-story conspiracies: two things were expected from him, a safe conduct for the President (also too ill to fulfill his duties) and for his family, and a continuity with Yeltsin’s line on power management. But those who hoped to be able to maneuver “Volodiya” at will, soon realized that they had made a big mistake.

Starting from his second term as President of the Federation, Putin unleashed the judiciary (in the meantime passed almost entirely under the control of the presidential entourage) against the Oligarchs: lightning trials, heavily mediated, found many of them guilty of financial crimes, causing them to end up in imprisonment or forcing them into exile, and, more importantly, the state seized their properties by reassigning them to the new “circle” that Putin had created in the first years of government. Thanks to this “Witch Hunt” its popularity skyrocketed, both at home and, unfortunately, in the West, a first sign, of which few realized, that the idea of ​​a democratic Russia had been set aside and that also in countries where the rule of law was not just a facade, something had changed, and liberal democracy had begun to be devoured by the cancer of the “Vox Populi, Vox Dei”.

In Belarus, Lukashenko seize his personal power more or less in the same way: as we already saw in the essay on his ascent to power, he uses his position to launch a massive anti-corruption campaign, which basically cut off the head of the Belarusian State, and replace them whit himself.

Today, in both countries, the corrupt have changed, but not the system of corruption, which is inevitably linked to the concentration of power and the maintenance of a balance of forces that move under the apparently granite skin of the administration. We also have someone else who, very naively, thinks of eliminating corruption by eliminating the corrupt: whoever succeeds Vladimir Putin, tomorrow or ten years from now, will have to seriously ask themselves the question, and put it in front of the population, or the cycle will simply start again from the beginning.

Et Pluribus Unum

A third point never dealt with in a democratic way is the heterogeneity and complexity of territories, ethnic groups and religions that make up Russia, just as the relationship with the other former Soviet Republics has never been dealt with in the same way.

This attitude has mainly two reasons: the first, the more concrete one, is that many of the regions that claim more autonomy, or at least a more decentralized federal system, are strategic for the economic survival of the Federation, which is entirely based on the export of materials. the first that come largely from the transural territories, but whose control in the years passed, as mentioned, to Moscow, or, even better, to the circle created around the President. We have seen how, even during the pandemic emergency, resources continued to be drained from these territories in exchange for meager state subsidies and the burden of managing an unprecedented health crisis.

The second reason is that of the “prestige” of the “Dierzavna”: Vladimir Putin, in particular, represented, compared to his predecessor, the “champion” of the unity of the Russias, starting from the beginning of his mandate, which coincided with the Second Chechen war, passing through the war with Georgia up to the invasion of the Ukrainian territories considered “natural part of Russia”. A symbolism that is progressively decaying, due to the increasing intolerance of some Regions towards the central government, and above all because of the economic power of China, which is slowly eroding Russia’s influence on some territories, without this being able to counter it in any way.

The Russian Federation in this has inherited the behavior of the USSR in all respects, exchanging tanks and guns with threats of an economic or psychological war, but the principle remains the same and indeed, makes everything a house of cards even more shaky, with unpredictable consequences.

Smaller former Soviet republics have adopted the same attitude over the years: the confrontation in Nagorno-Karabakh that I have repeatedly spoken of is the most striking example. Power is based on the ability or not of the rulers to gain prestige and superiority over the Enemy, seen as an atavistic nemesis with which there is no compromise: yesterday Ilham Aliyev was a hated corrupt autocrat, today a national hero, in the same way, his counterpart Pashinyan was the hero of the Velvet Revolution, now a traitor who lost Artsakh. There are places where coexistence is not impossible, it has been made impossible in order to rise to power and keep it at the expense of the population.

Lack of concern about Liberal Democracy

In conclusion of what has been written so far, you can understand how much the discussions made around Russia and other countries in recent months take on surreal connotations, at least as far as I’m concerned. We have pages after pages of analysis, forecasts, hypotheses with a common substrate: the constant avoidance of concrete problems.

Those who, including me, deal with these events, should try to free themselves from a debate that feeds the problems, rather than trying to solve them. This does not mean not taking a position or boasting an alleged objectivity, but understanding how much we are personally involved and why, without thinking of being immune to it just because we know a little more than the average reader. This would not only help those who try to fight seriously so that their country comes out of a situation considered unsustainable, but also to notice how much this attitude goes to question our beliefs, and personal prejudices, which contribute to fuel the problem, making it endemic.

This is the “Eternal Gulag” in which the post-Soviet countries have fallen (and they are not the only ones, but this is another story): a continuous struggle between factions that slaughter each other to divide increasingly scarce resources, under the close surveillance of guards “ideological”, armed and threatening, which do not let anyone leave the camp and do not send news from the outside world, which in the meantime is moving forward.

Is there anything to be learned from the Nagorno-Karabakh War?

“The war which is coming
Is not the first one. There were
Other wars before it.
When the last one came to an end
There were conquerors and conquered.
Among the conquered the common people
Starved. Among the conquerors
The common people starved too.”

(Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956)

Gunduz Agayev, Azerbaijani satirical cartoonist vignette about the 2020 conflict, for Meydan.tv

Welcome back to Unpredictablepast.com,

In this article we will return to talk about the events inherent in the Nagorno-Karabakh area, about two months after the end of the armed conflict. I recently read this article about the “Military Lessons We Can Learn From the Nagorno-Karabakh War“, and it got me thinking:

Is there really anything we can learn from the Nagorno-Karabakh War?

Obviously I am referring to something other, that does not specifically concern the military aspect itself. But, since this is precisely the question that attracted my attention, it could be a good starting point: the elapsed time interval will allow us to look at the events in perspective, and verify whether some of the assumptions that had been discussed in the previous articles were correct or not.

Before we start, a brief summary of the facts could be useful: the conflict, which began on September 27, 2020 when the Azerbaijan Army launched the Iron Fist operation (in original, Dəmir Yumruq əməliyyatı) against the Republic of Artsakh, created after the war of 1988 – 1994 and de facto territory of the Republic of Armenia, although officially recognized as Azerbaijani territory, ended after about a month and two weeks of fighting, which saw an unstoppable Azerbaijani offensive recapture many of the territories of Karabakh, including the city of Shusha, until a trilateral agreement for an end to hostilities, ratified on 10 November between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia, which sent a contingent of 2000 men to the scene with the function of “PeaceKeeping”.

As for the war events themselves, and in particular that described by the article, personally, more than a science fiction war scenario, reminds me of an old French saying: l’argent est le nerf de la guerre. Azerbaijan has behaved no differently from many other petro-states we know: the enormous proceeds of natural resources are directly reinvested in the army and security apparatuses, which does not displease the arms producing countries (most of the which are part of the West) only to be indignant because the weapons sold are actually used. Armenia, which does not possess the same kind of resources, was doomed to succumb even in a more “conventional” war.

The second issue that comes to mind is that we can learn not to make predictions about events of this kind: for example, the fact that the conflict has not escalated, thing of which many were apparently sure, assuming a new “Syrian” scenario in the Caucasus. This was not the case, as I stated at the time, mainly for two reasons, related to each other: the first is that the area is surrounded by “relatively” stable territorial powers, even if some of these, such as the Turkey, they played a leading role in the unfolding of the conflict; the second reason is linked to that adjective “relatively” which describes the stability of the surrounding countries: if everyone had an interest in “flexing their muscles” within the war scenario, no one had the intention of entering directly into the conflict, which it would have done nothing but undermine the precarious internal stability that lies beneath the bombastic and warlike facade.

We could learn from what happened that not all situations are similar just because they appear to us so: often the emotional component that accompanies the analysis misleads us, reflecting more our fears or hopes than an accurate study of the current situation and of it’s surroundings. This often leads many towards a catastrophic tendency not supported by any evidence or concrete fact, which, paradoxically, often makes them look away when the war events are over, without understanding that the real scenario to keep an eye on. in the case of these “frozen conflicts” it is precisely what lies in the middle of the actual confrontations. But the former end up (for better or worse) in the newspapers, the latter do not.

Protests in Yerevan against the 2020 ceasefire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo by Garik Avakian

The third thing we can learn is not to turn away from a war scenario as soon as they stop shooting.

For example, it seems that people have largely forgotten what is happening in Armenia after the ceasefire agreement, which, it should be remembered, cedes the “occupied territories” of Artsak back to Azerbaijan, was signed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan: thousands of people took to the streets, and hundreds stormed the Parliament buildings in the capital Yerevan. The protests continued throughout the month of November, with demonstrations in Yerevan and other cities demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, who just two years ago was the hero of the Velvet Revolution.

Now the whole Armenian society has found its own scapegoat (everyone, from former president Levor Ter-Petrosian to both catholicoi of the Armenian Apostolic Church Karekin II and Aram I, have asked for his resignation); National Assembly President Ararat Mirzoyan was nearly lynched by the angry mob and demonstrators came to his home to threaten his daughter. On November 11, other demonstrators invaded the Radio Liberty / Radio Free Europe station in Yerevan attacking journalists, shouting “Turks” at them, and inviting them to leave the country; same fate befell the headquarters of the Open Society foundation. On the other hand, the government reacted lifting the limitation imposed by martial law and with arrests and releases of the main opposition leaders, clearly for intimidation purposes.

But this is only the beginning: the cession of the territories occupied by Azerbaijan means the beginning of a mass exodus from those regions of the Armenian population, who have decided to make “scorched earth” of their cities rather than leave them in the hands of the Azerbaijanis, and to even take the bodies of their relatives with them from cemeteries (along with the obvious vandalization and looting of some Muslim places of worship, particularly in the larger cities). When these displaced people arrive, in all likelihood, in Armenia, the situation will only worsen, as the protests do not seem to stop, probably waiting for that very moment to obtain the dismissal of the government.

There is no need to be a fortune-teller to imagine that the next Armenian government will focus as much as possible on revanchism to secure a long period of power.

In particular, what remains to cause more concern is the Lachin Corridor area: it too should, in theory, be returned to Azerbaijan, last in the timeline, and I do not think it is a coincidence that there installed the “Peacekeeping” force of the Russian Federation. For those who have not read the history of the conflict, the Lachin Corridor is a strategic area that connects Armenia to “mountainous” Karabakh, the part of the region that was not taken over by the Azerbaijani army and what remains of the Republic of Artsak, and from which the war of 1988 – 94 started. Yes, because, militarily speaking, if it is “relatively” easy to fight in the flat areas around the mountains, it is quite another thing to take the entrenched areas in the mountains, where the “sci-fi “Turkish Azerbaijani offensive has in fact stopped. Therefore, whoever controls the mountainous part of Karabakh is in fact in a dominant position, although it may be in the minority. As we have seen, Russia has not moved much in favor of Armenia and its Prime Minister “not approved” by the Kremlin, but it is not certain that this situation will not be reversed in the years to come.

A map of the cheasefire agreement: the parts in blue / light blue are those that will pass through Azerbaijan, the one in light orange represents mountainous Karabakh and the one marked with red stripes is the Lachin Corridor area

Thus, while the troops parade in Baku, the seeds of the next war have already been sown. And this can lead us to the third “lesson” that we can learn from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is the stabilizing function of the conflict itself in certain areas of the world.

This time it was the case of Azerbaijan, which, backed by Turkey, decided to take its internal problems outside, trying to carve out a prominent role within the region: it is always about the winners, and the transformation of Caucasian country in another petro-state that uses the income derived from raw materials to invest them in militarization and regimentation of society has been accomplished. As stated above, a not dissimilar future is likely to await Armenia once the transition phase becomes a fact, and especially once Russia has resolved its internal problems.

As long as the “threat” situation persists, the citizens of both countries have seen their rights dissolve and nationalist fanaticism rising like a tide, as we have previously seen with regard to Armenia: a situation that takes a lot of trouble from regimes. authoritarians like Azerbaijan, and which soon makes one forget the reasoning of losses in terms of human lives and civil liberties to follow the emotion and hysteria of “victory”. At least for now.

Here, I believe that these are the “possible” lessons that we can learn from a conflict like that of Nagorno-Karabakh, while Western newspapers, if and when they talk about it, delight in the interesting dissertation on which were the best “drones”, if those of Erdogan or Nethanyau, without asking who and why moved them, using pseudo-intellectual terms such as Neo-Ottomanism or “Hybrid War”, or even pulled out of some from books by William Gibson (with all due respect), such as “Cyberwarfare” to disguise one’s own guilty disinterest.

The last lesson we can learn is perhaps this: our guilty disinterest. Of course, we are all focused on a global pandemic that has affected our lives in one way or another, but beyond this it seems that foreign events, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh war, attracted our attention for a short time, a a bit like fireworks: we watch them until they make noise and sparkle, and then turn our gaze to something else that glitters somewhere else.

I hope these lines may have provided you with some interesting reflections and that they were not too “abstract”. I thank you for coming to the end and I’ll see you next week.

Can the West Really Save Belarus?

“Even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.”

(George Orwell, 1984)

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their November 26 meeting in Minsk. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA)

Welcome Back to UnpredictablePast.com,

Let’s go back to Belarus, as promised, in case there was something new on the horizon. But this time I can go more straight to the point of the question, as the historical and social context has already been dealt with extensively.

Two recent events mainly brought me back to the issue: the first is an appeal to the West (therefore the United States and the European Union) made by the opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to intensify the sanctions against the regime and thus push Lukashenko to yield, and the second, again in this sense, is the possibility put in place by the dictator himself to reform the Constitution and leave the office of president after 26 years, probably under pressure from Russia, and because, as I stated previously, something is falling apart within that part of the state that has remained faithful to him: the security apparatus.

Also, I happened to read this article by Natalia Radina on chapter97.org, titled “The Battle That Defines The Fate Of The Planet” or “Why the West Should Save Belarus”, and more than why it makes me wondered on how. yet, because in all this, there is still an unsolved question, to which everyone seems to avoid asking for an answer: what is the future of post-Lukashenko Belarus?

This is not a question I would like to ask analysts or experts, and it is not an “experiment” for making predictions (which, as you know, I am very suspicious of), but a serious request to the Belarusian Coordination Council and its members, that I have decided to put here in writing, who knows that it will not be possible to clarify:

1. Will the future Belarus try to join/get close to the European Union?

2. What will the relations of the future Belarusian government be with Russia?

3. What is the position of the Coordination Council on capital punishment?

4. Will a new Constitution be drawn up, taking into account the problems of the past one (eg, will “super-presidentialism” be overcome)?

5. How does a possible new government intend to relate to the bureaucracy and state apparatus build up during the past 26 years and currently in power?

6. How would a possible new government regulate itself on transparency and accountability issues (eg Covid-19 Pandemic numbers)?

7. What will the relations between State and Church be? Which ones with minorities and LGBT communities?

8. How will the new government approach the economic reforms needed to modernize the country?

Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a speech as she holds a picture of politician and political prisoner Mikalay Statkevich while receiving the Sakharov human rights prize at the European Parliament in Brussels on December 16.

Obviously the previous questions must be taken according to the criterion of the right / duty to report. I am absolutely in favor of the end of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s reign of terror, and in solidarity with those who are unfairly in prison, exile, or who continue to suffer physical and psychological abuse, but this is not enough: the Belarusians seem willing to change their rulers, but they are equally willing to change their your lifestyle?

Unfortunately, sooner or later, even the most genuine idealism will have to face the reality of a country that has remained closed in on itself for almost thirty years, and which will inevitably begin to come under pressure from all sides, political and economic. This I have already explained in previous articles. It is not enough to speak of democracy for it to magically materialize, or of renewal for those who are closely linked to the old apparatus to give way.

The activism of the Belarusian opposition has done something extraordinary, but now is the time to put the cards on the table. Yes, as Tsikhanouskaya said, European leaders coul be more “brave”, but the issue for the moment remains in the hands of the Belarusian people and how strong their desire for change is.

Otherwise, the next “Lukashenko” is around the corner, it will only be a matter of time.

The borders of Nagorno-Karabakh or “how broad is the conflict?”

“I sit on a man’s back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.”

(Lev Tolstoj, Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence, 1886)

An Armenian soldier stands among the ruins of a house destroyed by the recent shelling of Martakert

Welcome back to Unpredictablepast,

In the last article on Nagorno-Karabakh I put forward the hypothesis that the determining reason of the post-96 conflicts was linked to the internal stability of the two countries, rather than having very specific war objectives. I am still convinced of this, but given the many questions about which other countries were more or less directly involved in the conflict, I realize that I have been lacking in explaining that part of the problem. I hope this piece will clarify some points left unclear.

While remaining convinced that a more obvious involvement of the countries in question remains a distant hypothesis, this does not mean that their governments are not trying to take advantage of the situation to “resolve” some internal issues. And obviously, in doing this they put an already problematic situation into a more precarious balance, and the fact that the conflict will probably not fully escalate doesn’t mean that it will be less terrible.

Georgia

The Caucasian country closest to the two contenders has always remained neutral within the clash. Nonetheless, the fact of hosting numerous communities of Armenian and Azerbaijani refugees makes it vulnerable and exposed to destabilization, should the two minor ethnic groups become radicalized to the point of clashing or starting to support their side in a violent way. In addition, the government of Tbilisi fears that the supplies of arms and aid from Turkey and Russia, which must necessarily pass through the national territory, put the country in the difficult position of not being able to maintain its neutrality in order to preserve its national sovereignty.

Turkey

As explained in the previous article, Turkey and Azerbaijan are two countries united by very deep ties, so much so that they consider themselves “one nation”. But these are certainly not the reasons that push Turkish President Erdogan to help the Azerbaijani “brothers”: exactly as for his intervention in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, what matters most to the country’s enstablishment is to avoid confronting the deep economic crisis that affects the country since 2018, and keep the population “mobilized” in order to avoid internal turbulence. This is a task entrusted above all to propaganda, which continues to attribute the country’s problems to external “machinations”, and to spread this theory of a “Neo-Ottomanist” project, in which many, even among seasoned Western observers, firmly believe.

But in my opinion it is a bluff.

Basically, in addition to hitting the Kurds in northern Syria and sending around mercenaries picked up from the ranks of what was Daesh, Turkey has done very little else. The fact is that to wage a serious war, one must be able to afford it, and Turkey, in addition to it’s economic crisis, has to deal with growing international isolation, following Erdogan’s authoritarian squeeze in response to the attempted coup d’etat in July 2016, which was only the culmination of a democratic involution that the country has been experiencing for some time, and which has substantially alienated the country from the sympathies of its allies: while remaining formally within NATO, I do not believe that the other member countries would be willing to support Turkey and its President in any way.

Russia

Russia has traditionally supported Armenia (while selling armaments to both sides over the years), and even today its funding is directed there. Despite this, Russia can only limit itself to threatening and little more: the country has been severely hit by the global pandemic, both in terms of the number of victims and economic repercussions, due to the lower demand for raw materials. The war effort to keep Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime going is already quite grueling, not to mention the internal problems in neighboring Belarus, and ultimately within itself.

Russia and Armenia have a mutual defense pact, as the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian tried to recall (as already mentioned, who came to power without the consent of Russia, after the so-called “Velvet Revolution”), but in the Kremlin they pointed out that this is valid only if the clashes were to cross the borders of the Armenian territory, and therefore do not include the territories of the Republic of Artsakh, namely those of Nagorno-Karabakh. This quibble suggests that Russia is firmly determined to avoid direct involvement in the conflict, in addition to the fact that it does not tolerate the new Armenian administration, less prone towards it, and, who knows, hoping that as the conflict progresses it will be able to get rid of it.

Of course, the looming presence of Russia keeps a possible greater commitment by Turkey at bay, and, as has happened in the past, its military presence in the region is capable of stopping Azerbaijan’s advance at any moment. But, despite this, it is a hard blow for the Russian enstablishment not to have a greater say in the matter and not be able to broker even a ceasefire, fearing to see what once considers as his own areas of influence pass under the protection of other patrons.

Bloodstained stretchers outside a military hospital near the front lines of the Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo by: AP

Iran

In its attempt to establish itself as a regional power, Iran also finds itself involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. Given its position, it has always been, but now obviously the question is different: the rivalry with Turkey in trying to polarize Muslim countries around it, and the indirect confrontation that the two states fought during the Syrian civil war and in northern Iraq have worsened theirs relations, and this now also reflects on the Nagorno-Karabakh question. In fact, the area north of Iran is mainly populated by a Turkish population of Azerbaijani origin, which in the last month has often protested against the passage of Russian supplies and weapons directed to Armenia, passing through the territory of the Islamic Republic. Obviously the Ayatollahs see Turkish interference in these protests, and have reacted with brutal repression, fearing that a separatist movement could also arise in its Azerbaijani-majority regions if things in Nagorno-Karabakh will see a significant change.

Israel

Few people know this, but the relations between the State of Israel and the Republic of Azerbaijan are long-standing (think, for example, that post-Soviet Azerbaijan is one of the few Muslim countries to have recognized Israel as a nation) . Mainly these are trade agreements that see oil supplies from Baku in exchange for military supplies from Tel Aviv, and which are still ongoing. This has sparked some debate, as Armenia claims a “moral” affinity with Israel, as both Jews and Armenians have been subjected to a massive planned genocide. But Benjamin Netanyahu’s realpolitik has shown us several times that he is not inclined to be convinced by this type of argument, and indeed, given the proximity (and as we have said, the hostility) between Azerbaijan and the Iranian arch-enemy, the Israeli government will do everything to keep such a valuable ally in a strategic position.

China

China has very strong economic interests in the region: as mentioned, for several years it has been trying to free the regions of the Caucasus from Russian influence, and in some ways, through the “Silk Road” project it is somehow succeeding, in discreet way we are used to, preferring commercial relations to armed threats. This time, however, there seems to be something slightly different: the weakening of Armenia would mean a further, and advantageous, weakening of the Russian presence in the area.

In addition to this, there is the fact that China tends to support countries that claim the principle of their own territorial integrity, rather than those that claim the Principle of Self-determination, having within it numerous regions that claim their own autonomy from Beijing (in order of time we have seen the oppression of the Uighurs of Xinjiang and the repression of anti-Chinese protests in Hong Kong) and, in contrast to the usual institutional silence, the Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Wang Jingqing, openly declared himself in favor of the return of the Nagorno-Karabakh under the control of Azerbaijan, of whose territory it would officially belong.

Conclusion

In the midst of this game of opposing forces, there are military and civilian casualties, the number of which continues to rise (even if the two sides are often reluctant to report correct data), and, for the moment, is not seen on the horizon. the possibility of a lasting ceasefire achievable in the short term.

For my part, I hope the situation is clearer to those who have asked me about it. Also I would like to remember what was said above, namely that this is not some kind of game just because we watch it from afar: it is much more important to focus on the issue from a human and humanitarian point of view: exacerbated nationalism, ethnic hatred. and the Enemy’s “stabilizing” desire are much closer than we think, as John Donne said in his famous sermon:

…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

(Meditation XVII, 1624)

Thank you for reading these lines, in which I have tried to summarize the situation surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh War, I hope they have answered your questions, for the rest, you can contact me as you prefer.