US-Russia relations

[ANALYSIS] The Russians are coming!

Bobby Tuazon
[ANALYSIS] The Russians are coming!
'Biden’s war hype is wrapped in a fog, and navigating it adroitly is the only way to find the truth'

In war, truth is the first victim. Disinformation spreads false narratives – and war hysterias.

In the ongoing Ukraine crisis, US President Joe Biden along with most western media hyped the threat of a Russian invasion on Kyiv, capital of Ukraine, on February 16. No invasion happened. Responding to Biden’s phony prediction, Moscow pulled back on February 15 some of its troops deployed along its western border with Ukraine. This did not stop Biden from warning, citing intelligence sources, that the Russian attack was imminent. Challenged by reporters, his spokesman could not show evidence.

Biden’s war hype is wrapped in a fog, and navigating it adroitly is the only way to find the truth.

Russia, the world’s largest country with a 144-million population, has been encircled by US and NATO forces despite Western assurance after the Cold War ended in 1990 regarding the non-expansion of Western forces. In violation of an agreement, NATO began to station troops, ships, and planes along Russia’s borders. Similarly, the US exited the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 and pledged to establish a ballistic-missile defense (BMD) system in Europe, leaving Russia vulnerable in the event of nuclear war. Ukraine, which broke away from the USSR upon its dissolution, has received military aid and equipment from the west and planned to become a member of NATO.

These events ignited fears of foreign intervention – a longstanding Russian historical concern. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that if the US-led NATO continued its aggressive policies Moscow would take “military-technical” reciprocal measures to defend itself. “They have pushed us to a line that we can’t cross,” he said.

Aggravating this situation is the fact that until today Ukraine has refused to implement the Minsk II Agreement of 2015 which called for self-government in its eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, both populated by ethnic Russians, under a new federation with a new constitution and election. The agreement also provided for the withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and mercenaries. Russia has insisted that the Minsk II pact be enforced.

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Russian petro-state

In truth, there are at least three issues underpinning the brouhaha over the so-called Russian invasion scare: energy, Ukraine lobbying in the US Congress, and Biden’s domestic troubles. A petro-state, Russia is the world’s single largest exporter of natural gas, and the second largest oil exporter — just behind Saudi Arabia. Russia has struck a deal with Berlin to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would supply gas directly to Germany. The stakes are high: with gas storage depleting, German industrialists are desperate for Russian gas, and so are other countries like Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Italy. As a whole, the European Union imports 40% of its gas from Russia.

Since the 1960s when Europe first began importing Russian gas, Washington perceived Russian energy as a threat to US leadership and Europe’s energy security. Using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” the US has in recent years become the world’s largest gas producer and a major exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). And it wants to muscle in on Europe’s huge market, displacing Russian gas. Germany is under pressure from Washington to quash its gas pipeline deal with Russia. The ugly side of the “threat of Russian invasion” is now revealed: Washington threatens to use economic sanctions – including on the Nord Stream 2 – to deter Moscow from attacking Ukraine.

Ukrainian lobby

The move to scuttle Nord Stream 2 has been fueled by a strong Ukrainian lobby with the support of US legislators. The Ukrainian government led by President Volodymyr Zelensky wants the pipeline project abandoned, otherwise it will lose the billions of dollars that Ukraine currently earns from transiting Russian gas to Europe. In a tweet last January, Zelensky said Nord Stream 2 is “no less an existential threat to our security and democracy than Russian troops on our border.” Backed by Biden, a new bill authored by Democratic senators seeks to block completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and has been called the “mother of all sanctions.”

The Ukraine lobby amplifies the voices of those pushing for more aggressive and military US responses to the current crisis. The call boosts the lobbying of the US war industry to earmark bigger defense allocations for billions of arms sales to Ukraine. Clearly, the powerful weapons manufacturers are beating the drums of war louder; tensions will bring more profit, and actual wars will bring more bonanza. 

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Biden’s domestic troubles

Meanwhile, Joe Biden faces acute domestic troubles owing to his government’s poor handling of the pandemic, high unemployment, and an economic downturn that will surely hurt the Democrats’ performance in the November mid-term elections. His policy of brinkmanship on Russia aims to raise his current low trust rating and divert the US public’s attention away from domestic issues.

For all the hue and cry about a Russian invasion, the US’ European allies in NATO are actually divided on how to deal with Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. France, Germany, and Italy balked over the US threat of economic sanctions on Russia because such moves would backfire on their own economies. France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have been talking to Putin, hoping to calm the situation with an offer of high-level negotiations involving major stakeholders including the US. Both Macron and Scholz echoed Putin’s oft-repeated assurances that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine – but will retaliate if provoked. They also agree that the West should address Russia’s legitimate security guarantees in the form of a formal agreement. Surprisingly, on January 26, political advisors of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine confirmed support for the 2015 Minsk II agreement and an unconditional ceasefire. 

Thus, even as Biden keeps on harping about a “Russian invasion,” another track – diplomacy – has been opened to prevent a war over Ukraine which could engulf the whole Europe and deteriorate into an all-out war where nobody wins. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is pleading to the major powers to back down adding that diplomacy has no substitute.

As we write, Russia has recognized the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a bid to legitimize them as separate states, which essentially implements the Minsk II Agreement. Putin has also sent 10,000 Russian troops to the two regions to help defend their sovereignty amid sporadic shellings from Ukrainian forces, according to independent sources like the International Red Cross.

We will see more about this in the coming days. – Rappler.com

Bobby M. Tuazon is the current Director for Policy Studies of the think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG). A professor at UP Manila, Tuazon has co-authored and edited 15 books on governance, electoral reform, and international strategic affairs.