Ukraine and Russia have been in a standoff since Russia overran Crimea in 2014. Russian-backed “separatists” control large chunks of Ukrainian territory, and Russia is now preparing for what looks like a final push to crush Ukrainian aspirations of an alliance with the West and a future free of Kremlin domination.
The only hope for Ukraine lies in support from the Biden administration, which is to say, there is no hope.
Russia has prepped the battlefield through effective use of its energy power. Natural gas prices in Ukraine are already through the roof. Now Russia has not only cut off supplies of coal to Ukraine but also blocked the passage of freight trains carrying coal from Kazakhstan to Ukraine.
Former Russian opposition lawmaker Illia Ponomaryov, who now lives in Kyiv and works as an executive at Kyiv-based mining company BGV Group, stated the obvious when he said recently that the stoppage of coal sales and trains from Kazakhstan is part of a Russian effort to put pressure on Ukraine.
“Somebody in Moscow believes that Ukraine will run into serious energy-supply difficulties throughout the winter season. Obviously, Russia wants additional leverage to press on Ukraine’s government,” Ponomaryov said.
The cessation of deliveries forces Ukraine’s six coal-fired power plants to find alternative sources of coal. They will not be easy to come by. All across the globe energy sources have driven power companies to return to the use of coal to produce electricity. Ukrainian stockpiles of coal are already dangerously low. At the start of November, coal reserves at Ukrainian thermal power plants stood at 578,000 tons, just one-fifth of the government’s plan for 2.9 million tons.
So desperate is Ukraine for power that it has now resumed importing electricity directly from Russia. That puts Vladimir Putin in the position of quite literally being able to shut off the lights in Ukraine anytime he wants.
While Putin preps the battlefield with threats of Ukrainians heading into the long, harsh winter unable to heat their homes he is also setting the stage to do things the old-fashioned way. At least 90,000 Russian troops are massed near the Ukrainian border preparing for what looks very much like a push to Kyiv. Earlier this year Russian forces conducted a series of large-scale command and staff exercises. Those now look suspiciously like they were dry runs for what is to come.
Washington has responded with predictable – vague assurances and finger-wagging. Last week Biden sent CIA Director Bill Burns to Moscow last week to caution senior Kremlin officials about taking any action in Ukraine. Burns’ last high-profile assignment involved a trip to Kabul in the midst of our catastrophic withdrawal. His purpose then was apparently to beg the Taliban to help us get our people out of harm’s way. That suggests any warnings he may deliver are likely to be of little interest to Putin and his generals.
Russia has a history of saber-rattling. All appearances are, however, that this time the saber will be drawn, and things will get real in a hurry.
“It is certainly an unprecedented buildup, and if Russia wanted to invade Ukraine, it has the capability and capacity to overwhelm Ukrainian forces,” a senior congressional aide told CNN recently. “With such a large buildup, Putin could order an invasion at any time and there would be very little warning.”
Representatives Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) voiced their concerns in a letter to Biden.
“With the recent massing of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, we urge your administration to take immediate and swift action to provide support to Ukraine in the form of intelligence and weapons,” they said.
They also “urged” the administration to “deploy a U.S. military presence in the Black Sea to deter a Russian invasion.”
Ukraine at least appears to understand exactly what Russia intends.
“We perfectly understand what is ahead. We perfectly understand how Russia is at war. We are ready for escalation, ready for a new round of warfare. We are prepared for a defensive operation, and if necessary, also a counter-offensive.”General Oleksandr Pavlyuk, commander of the troops fighting pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas.
On November 1, Politico reported that “Among the units that began moving in late September from other parts of Russia where they are usually stationed, is the elite 1st Guards Tank Army.” The 1st Guards Tank Army is a specialized Russian unit designed to engage in deep thrusts into enemy territory. Its presence suggests strongly that the goal of any Russian attack will not be limited. It will involve a move to seize the Ukrainian capital and install a pro-Russian government.
Biden began his term in the White House by moving to cripple the American oil and natural gas industry. In short order, he then announced support for the construction of a Russian pipeline to Europe, which would bypass Ukraine and limit that nation’s ability to prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon. Since that time in ways almost unimaginable he has telegraphed to the entire world America’s weakness and unreliability as an ally and a strategic partner.
The thugs and dictators of the world have not missed any of this. Even as China growls and contemplates seizing Taiwan, Russia senses the golden opportunity to resolve the Ukraine question to its satisfaction. Kyiv wants a future inside NATO and the European Union. Moscow wants Kyiv, if not formally annexed, at least cowed and back in line as a vassal state.
Biden’s incompetence and malfeasance provide Putin with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He will not waste it. The Russian attack on Ukraine has already begun, and Biden will do nothing to stop it.