On 24 February 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin went on television to announce the Special Military Operation in Ukraine. Russia is a legalistic society, so Putin did not declare war or even say it was an invasion, as those terms carry meaning within Russian law that would trigger other parts of the law. We are now fast approaching the two-year anniversary of what everyone involved thought was going to be a quick and largely bloodless path to a negotiated settlement.
For the last eighteen months Russian leaders have talked about the conflict lasting years, as it is now a proxy war between Russia and its partners and the United States and the vassal states of the West. Some have suggested this war is like the Thirty Years War in that it will radically change the moral and political order in Europe, eventually seeing the United States exit Europe entirely. Others see this as another sign that the West is in crisis and headed for dark times.
Putting aside the big picture aspects of the war, things may be running ahead of schedule, at least from the Russian perspective. The first big item to start the year is the stalemate in Washington over Ukraine funding. To the shock and horror of the neocons and their fellow travelers, the public is not interested in the issue, which means there is no risk to opposing more money for Ukraine. The result is money for Ukraine is probably a dead issue for 2024.
That will have enormous implications for Ukraine. The billions flowing from Washington to Kiev do three important things. First, Zelensky uses the money to buy loyalty, as he is Washington’s bagman. This allows him to buy off the various factions in Ukraine and make sure pro-Washington people are in the government. It is why he has faced little opposition to cancelling the elections. Those inclined to speak out against this have either been bribed or jailed by those being bribed.
That brings up the second thing the money does for Ukraine. Those dollars are not just dumped on Ukraine. Instead, the dollars are converted into Ukrainian hryvnia, which are then deposited into the Ukraine banking system. Of course, Ukraine also gets euros from selling energy products and agricultural products to the EU on special deals and those are converted to hryvnia. This is what allows Kiev to pay government employees and mask the money printing to pay the soldiers.
The final piece of the puzzle is the corruption around converting dollars and euros into weapons that can be used in the war. Even regime media has been forced to admit that a lot of the weapons have ended up on the black market. No one knows how much has been stolen or who is doing the stealing, but Ukraine is a pirate’s cove now, with privateers, official and unofficial, stealing everything they can. Even Kiev is getting worried about the degree of theft.
If the flow of dollars stops or even significantly declines, all three legs of the Ukrainian side of the racket will snap. We may be seeing the first signs of this in the drama between President Zelensky and General Zaluzhny. It has been known for months that Zelensky wants to fire Zaluzhny, but so far, he has not been able to do it. Zaluzhny simply refuses to cooperate by resigning or taking another position. Instead he posts pics of himself with the leader of the ultra-nationalist faction.
When the president of a country wants to fire his top military officer, the officer usually resigns in order to save some face. In some cases, the civilian leader will fire the man in order to make a point. Truman fired MacArthur in order to send a message and underscore the subordination of the military to the civilian government. When the civilian leader cannot fire the top military commander and that commander is openly challenging the civilian leadership, there is a crisis.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the head of the Wagner organization repeatedly challenged the authority of the Russian government. He even went so far as to stage a ceremonial march on Moscow. The Russians foolishly thought they could tolerate the behavior of Prigozhin until that point. They realized their error and it was not long before Prigozhin’s plane was falling out of the air in pieces.
You also have to add in the fact that Ukraine is a lawless, corrupt kleptocracy now flooded with weapons and soldiers. Last year, one of Zaluzhny’s lieutenants was blown up by a grenade hidden in a gift intended for Zaluzhny. Someone tried to poison the head of the secret police, Kyrylo Budanov, but missed and poisoned his wife and some of his staff instead. Of course, the Russians mysteriously got the coordinates of Budanov’s location and tried to take him out with a missile.
In such conditions, it is not hard to see how the end of dollars from Washington could set off a political crisis. If that is not enough, the war is going poorly for Ukraine as the Russians slowly ramp up the pressure on all fronts. According to Ukraine, they need thirty thousand new recruits a month to keep up their numbers, which means they are losing a thousand men a day in this war. Many of those men are trained, experienced soldiers who cannot be replaced with raw recruits.
As of this writing, the Russians have broken through one of the biggest strongholds in Ukraine, a place called Avdiivka, or often spelled Avdeevka. Since 2014 the Ukrainians have been building this place up with tunnels, bunkers, mine fields and heavy weapons, to be an anchor point of the front line. Reports from Ukraine say the Russians have entered the city and have trapped Ukrainian forces. That would mean a starving out operation will be followed by a surrender.
There are similar stories around smaller fortifications along the front and all of it is due to the shortage of men and material. According to Ukraine, they have mobilized close to a million men so far and they have plans to mobilize half a million more. Those kinds of losses are added pressure on a political system that has major cracks. If the money runs out, it is not long before some factorions think about what sort of deal they can cut with the Russians to end the war.
Collapse is like the famous Hemingway line about bankruptcy. It happens a little at a time and then all of a sudden. Armies collapse slowly over time then they begin to surrender in great waves. Governments collapse over a period of time, punctuated by crises until the principles either flee or end up dead in a final crisis. The current crisis in Ukraine could be just one chapter, but not the final chapter. Maybe the Republicans will produce the money and save the day.
Regardless, all of this points to a catastrophe down the road and probably right around the November presidential elections, which will make for great drama. Eventually the reality of Ukraine will come home to Washington, no matter how hard they try to pretend it does not exist. Like all bankruptcies, the failure of imperial foreign policy proceeds a little here and a little there, all leading to a point when the whole project collapses, maybe taking the empire with it.
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