The narrative in our news bulletins and commentary, and coming from Putin himself, has been centred on his fear of NATO expansion and alleged security concerns for Russia. It sounded feasible, though trumped up. Putin has also long maintained a rhetoric of defending ethnic Russians in Ukrainian territory, first in Crimea and then in Donbass and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Russia, historically, has shown little concern for its people to such a degree. It’s poppycock.
However, after watching the video below, and doing some reflecting, it seems to me that the real issue is—MONEY. Watch this video first, and then consider a few issues and questions that have been exercising me today.
Russia and Ukraine were very pally-pally in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, but this all changed with the protests that drove Viktor Yanukovich from power in Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine wanted more democracy, and was increasingly enticed by greater links with Europe. That alone was enough to put the wind up Putin.
Now, as you will have seen in the video, exploration in the Black Sea before 2014 had raised the prospect of huge reserves of natural gas and oil. While Ukraine was a fellow kleptocracy in bed with Russia, Putin would have been prepared to share some of the spoils with Ukraine, in whose territorial waters the majority of these projected reserves lie.
So, with Yanukovich gone and Ukraine looking more independent in its outlook, Putin wasted no time, and invaded Crimea, and thus claiming a huge proportion of Ukrainian territorial waters, and thus the resources they contain. Nord 2, which bypasses Ukraine and would save Putin billions in transit fees, was only one part of the strategy for what is, it seems, an attempt to dominate the world by means of controlling as much of its energy as it can.
Putin’s net worth is estimated to be up to $200 billion, an amazing feat for someone who began life as a KGB officer and Communist apparatchik. It is clear evidence of what we know more obviously from the number of Russian oligarchs infesting the world: Russia is a kleptocracy, and the state is used to serve the interests of a small elite of kleptocrats and cronies.
So, perhaps Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not about installing a regime that will serve his alleged national security interests but rather his personal and financial ones. His power is built on enriching those who prop him up. He projects an image of being a Christian warrior, but away from the photo ops his actions give the lie to this quickly enough to anyone who takes some care to look.
Some commentators think that Putin’s war is a shot in his foot because he is now having to devastate a country he wanted to keep largely intact so that he could install a regime to his liking.
However, what if he actually wants to devastate Ukraine? He has been content to sit outside Kyiv and other cities and bomb them to smithereens. He has destroyed Ukraine’s oil and gas facilities on the Black Sea. In fact, his only real progress is on the Black Sea coast.
So, my fear is that Putin wants to deprive Ukraine of all its Black Sea coastline, and so claim its territorial waters and the immense reserves of gas and oil that it is predicted they hold. The rest of Ukraine he couldn’t care less about, and the more enfeebled it can be made, the better for him.
Half of Putin’s war chest, the sovereign fund of $630 billion+ in foreign currency he salted away it now seems in order to withstand the weaker sanctions he expected, is now frozen by the heaviest sanctions ever seen. Some estimates claim that the war is costing Putin $15 billion per day. These reserves will not hold up too much longer if that is the case. Putin seems not have envisaged so united a West and so valiant a Ukraine. Sanctions are so comprehensive that not only Putin but his fellow oligarch kleptocrats, on whom he bases his power, are also suffering. He is pushing Sweden and Finland towards NATO. The EU may soon offer Ukraine expedited membership, and the EU treaty has a mutual defence clause. Even China is quietly rolling back its recent strong ties with Russia. (Hopefully, it is has learned enough from Putin’s miscalculation to realise that a move on Taiwan would be folly.)
For these reasons Putin is now likely to be even more dangerous and unpredictable. Egomaniacs abhor being thwarted. His rage may turn even more unhinged and desperate.
Keep watching events in the south of Ukraine, where Russian forces are making their only real progress. My fear is that Putin will capture as much of the coastline as he can, and devastate the rest of Ukraine.
Putin is no Christian warrior, standing up for Christian values against a decadent west. Our decadence suits him just fine. Follow the money. And pray for Ukraine.