Russia-Ukraine – When Stratfor Gets Surprised, We Worry


Think back to the Cold War. That was a worldwide conflict fought by USA & USSR via proxy wars in other countries. Every action by one would result in a response by the other in another sphere or region. The two superpowers were determined adversaries committed to the conflict. But it was a conflict waged with reason & cold rationale. There was very little “venom” on either side. President Reagan did call the Soviet Union an evil empire but, underneath the rhetoric, he built a relationship with USSR chief Gorbachev. Fast forward to President George W. Bush and you find the same focus on being able to talk to President Vladimir Putin without emotion and venom. Such a non-emotional rational even respectful adversarial relationship is present today in the US-China relationship even in a potentially contentious issue like South China Sea.

Contrast this with the sheer emotion in the relationship between President Bush and Saddam Hussein. That relationship was intensely personal and cold hard logic played no part in it. We all know what that led to. The US is still trying extricate itself from that conflict even at the cost of tacitly accepting Iran’s dominance over the current Iraqi government. Speaking of Iran, it is indeed possible that the US will eventually attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the US-Iran dialog seems totally devoid of emotion or venom. President Obama is working that problem in a rational & sensible manner. That is good because intense emotion and personal, racial, historical venom is extremely dangerous in a conflict, especially a military conflict. Usually intense emotion leads to dangerous decisions that can spiral out of control.

We do not really understand Eastern Europe. At best, we can hope to study it from the outside. But that is a poor substitute for the deep inner understanding that comes from having experienced & studied it for decades. So we listen to others who have forgotten far far more about Eastern Europe than we would ever hope to know. One such is George Friedman, the founder of Stratfor, the widely respected strategy & intelligence firm. Stratfor tries to analyze geo-strategic situations like the Ukraine conflict using its resources and come to predictions about the extent, intensity, and duration of such conflicts.

This week, Stratfor acknowledge their surprise about what is happening in the Ukraine conflict. Their surprise comes not from any overt actions by either Russia or USA but from the sudden emotional raising of the stakes. Analyzing the recent US decision to deploy 300 paratroopers in Lviv, Western Ukraine, Stratfor writes:

  • “It is a fairly routine exercise, but under these circumstances, what had been routine now takes on special meaning. … The atmosphere has become increasingly toxic. Under the circumstances, every military exercise must be taken seriously for its implications.  … There is, of course, a certain hollowness to all this rhetoric and maneuvering. …  At the same time, the rhetoric and the charges disproportionate to the forces available are still noteworthy.” (emphasis ours)

Soon, we could see US & Russian troops very close to each other in a trip wire type situation, something we never saw during the Cold War. Until recently, Ukraine was a Russian-European conflict with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lead. Now, according to Stratfor:

  • “It is difficult to see how either side backs off its position; this has become an American-Russian confrontation. Both are increasingly locking themselves into a hostile posture. Neither is in a position to launch a war, but both are ultimately capable of waging one. We expected a new Cold War between the United States and Russia, but we are surprised at the speed and venom that is framing this confrontation. The force is not there to match the venom, but given the intensity, no one should be confident that the force will not be generated.” (emphasis ours).

There is nothing more dangerous in the world than a potential America-Russia military confrontation. ISIS & other local conflicts are almost trivial compared to what could unfold from Ukraine. When Stratfor gets surprised at the “speed” and “venom” of such a confrontation, we worry. We worry a lot.


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