Russia, once again a Sucker

Defense expert Alexander Golts, agreeing with a point we made last week and writing in the Moscow Times, points out how Ukraine has suckered Russia on the Sevastopol naval base deal it recently inked:

The Duke of Wellington used to say some victories are worse than defeat. I suspect that President Dmitry Medvedev’s “brilliant diplomatic victory” in Kharkiv on behalf of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will in reality create very serious problems for Russia in the future.

After inflating gas prices for Ukraine a few months ago, Moscow has now graciously agreed to reduce them by 30 percent in exchange for Kiev’s agreement to extend the lease on the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol through 2042. The Kremlin thereby resolved an important strategic problem. Only a few years ago, the Black Sea Fleet, which is virtually locked in by the Bosporus, seemed like a deadweight and a throwback to the Cold War era. But the increasingly unstable situation in the Caucasus and Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 have given the Black Sea Fleet a new meaning. It gives Russia the ability to deploy its forces rapidly into a region where crises are most likely to develop. In addition, the Kremlin believes that keeping the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea symbolizes Russia’s continuing influence over Ukraine.

Russian leaders have been burned more than once by the rulers of former Soviet republics who promised Moscow military and political perks in exchange for financial assistance. That happened with the now-dethroned Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who received more than $500 million from Moscow in return for his promise to close the U.S. military base at Manas, located just outside of Bishkek. Bakiyev announced he would close down the U.S. base, but several months later, it turned out that the base was still operating; it was simply renamed as a “transit center.”

It has been the same story with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has repeatedly found ways to exploit the militaristic rhetoric of Russian leaders. As soon as Moscow raised the alarm of a military threat from NATO, the Belarussian leader immediately began beating his chest and shouting that his country would do everything it could to repel a U.S. or NATO attack on Russia. Obviously, in the midst of this generous display of “Slavic brotherhood” and solidarity, it would have been inappropriate for Moscow to haggle with Minsk over such a petty and mundane issue as the price for Russian oil and gas.

But when the Kremlin nevertheless has raised that question, Lukashenko switches from a warm “Slavic brother” to a nasty blackmailer, threatening to kill key joint defense and economic projects that are of strategic importance to the Kremlin. In this way, he once refused for some months to sign an agreement with Moscow for the creation of a collective rapid reaction force.

Mindful of how they got burned by Bakiyev and Lukashenko, Medvedev and Putin decided not to fall in the same trap with Yanukovych. But this is exactly what happened. With the lower gas prices to take effect immediately, Ukraine can now save roughly $4 billion annually, whereas the lease extension will only take effect only after the current agreement expires in 2017.

At the same time, Ukrainian opposition parties have made it clear that once they come to power, they will annul the agreement. On one hand, Ukrainian law affirms the country’s neutral status and clearly prohibits the presence of any foreign military presence. At the same time, however, so-called “transitional articles” of Ukraine’s constitution state that “the use of existing military bases on Ukrainian territory for the temporary presence of foreign military forces is permissible on a lease basis in a manner determined by the international treaties of Ukraine ratified by the Verkhovna Rada.” This means that the fate of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will depend directly on the next Ukrainian president’s political leanings and how the leader chooses to interpret the law.

At the same time, Yanukovych has already made the Kremlin a hostage to his hold on power — and he has been in office for only two months. Now Moscow has a deeply vested interest in seeing that Yanukovych or another member of the Party of the Regions remains in power right up through 2042. And the $4 billion per year in gas discounts that Russia has already promised Ukraine could turn out to small potatoes compared with the sums Yanukovych could demand from Russia in the years ahead, knowing that he has the upper hand in the relationship.

18 responses to “Russia, once again a Sucker

  1. Voice of Reason

    This is a beautiful article explaining why this treaty is terrible news for Russia and great news for Russophobes. So, let us all celebrate this treaty as our defeat over Russia.

    And Golts is absolutely right: the fact that the Ukrainian President put his signature to this lease and the Ukrainian Parliament ratified it – this doesn’t make this treaty binding.

    On the other hand, the Russian vague verbal promise to give Ukraine a 30% discount on gas for the duration of the lease – it is totally legally binding. So, if the next Uke president breaks the lease, Russia will joyfully continue to give Ukraine this 30% discount.

  2. Francis Smyth-Beresford

    I don’t understand how Ukraine has “suckered” Russia, and evidently,
    neither does Alexander Golts. It makes for a titillating headline, but
    Golts spends much of his article reinforcing the strategic importance of
    the Black sea to Russia, conceding that sea control in the region is
    vital to Russia for control of fractious states.

    Additionally, Russian support is constructive to Ukrainian assets, and
    the deal has stabilized Ukraine’s plunging economy, at least

    The debt to Russia was largely exacerbated by previous leader Yulya
    Tymoschenko; although it didn’t hurt her personally, and she is in fact
    very wealthy as a result of speculation on Russian gas prices.

    As well as protecting potential logistic interdiction routes for Russian
    forces, it is critical for Russia to maintain control over the Baku
    -Tblisi – Ceyhan pipeline route, as it cannot afford to cede oil
    interests in the Caspian basin to Western interests.

    Yanukovich’s win was the will of the people, and the issue is Ukraine’s
    to decide. International monitors pronounced the election fair.

    Golts arranges his theory around the ridiculous notion that Moscow must
    now ensure Yanukovich or a suitable crony remains in power until 2042.
    Rubbish. All Moscow needs do is make sure Ukrainian voters realize that
    partnership with Russia is in their best interests (Ukraine does better
    than double the trade, both import and export, with Russia that it does
    with the next closest competitor). The floundering failure of the
    western-engineered Orange Revolution is graphically evident to all, and
    revoking the basing agreement will drop off the agenda like a hot rock
    as soon as any prospective rival to Yanukovich sees that the voters
    don’t really want to antagonize Russia. No politician who wants to get
    elected pushes an agenda he or she knows is unpopular.

    As to the notion that Yanukovich “has the upper hand in the
    relationship”, such an addle-headed suggestion requires no
    contradiction. Military experts should stay out of political issues.

    • Oh, you must have missed the opening paragraph. Let’s look at it again:

      The Duke of Wellington used to say some victories are worse than defeat. I suspect that President Dmitry Medvedev’s “brilliant diplomatic victory” in Kharkiv on behalf of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will in reality create very serious problems for Russia in the future.

      If you’d like to read more about how Ukraine suckered Russia, we suggest this:

      Then again, you give the impression of being an illiterate goon, so perhaps our advice is futile.

      • Francis Smyth-Beresford

        This answers the question….how? So somebody who’s supposedly a military expert in all service branches – commenting on alleged catastrophic developments in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Strategic Rocket Forces – but was not the Russian equivalent of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or even in the military, says he “suspects” the decision will create “very serious problems for Russia in future”. You could maybe find a more vague statement, but it’d take some doing.

        Information on Alexander Golts is amazingly hard to come by. He’s a prolific writer – as I mentioned, criticizing all branches of the service with a fairly even hand – although I cannot find where he was ever a member of any of them. References list him variously as a “military analyst”, a “military expert”, and a deputy editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal. Prior military service in any branch of anyone’s military? Not that I could find. Academic credentials that illustrate his background as a military historian or informed commenter? Again, nothing that I could find, and I gave it a good effort. I googled “Alexander Golts military background”, “academic background”, and just “background”. Zip. Lots of articles, uniformly critical of the Russian military, but so what? Plenty of people fancy themselves qualified to comment on matters about which they know basically nothing. Some of them even have a good deal of responsibility for knowing, and are still sans clues. An excellent example – Paul Wolfowitz.

        Here’s a couple of clangers Mr. Wolfowitz dropped when he was Deputy Secretary of Defense of the United States, leading up to the Iraq war:

        “There has been a good deal of comment — some of it quite outlandish — about what our postwar requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher end predictions we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark”

        Well, that analysis wasn’t much off the mark at all, was it? At peak strength there were better than 170,000 troops in Iraq, and it isn’t over and the army is still there.

        “I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years.”

        Gee, I can’t, either. But the cost of the war in Iraq blew past $200 billion in 2006, and the war has been going for 7 years.

        How about his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, the Big Cheese of Defense at the time? You’d think he’d have a grip on everything military, wouldn’t you? I mean, it was his job.

        But he said this; “…we know where [the weapons of mass destruction] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat”

        Thanks, Donald. That rules out international waters and deep space.

        The point is, “suspecting” that something is going to “cause serious problems in future” is such a noncommittal statement that it isn’t really a statement, and Alexander Golts has no military experience that I could find. Academic boffins who spend their lives studying military history or the history of conflict typically do not end up deputy editors of a second-rate independent newspaper, with the occasional byline in bigger periodicals.

  3. When you say ” let us all celebrate this treaty as our defeat over Russia,” what is exactly the group are you referring to making yourself a part of, using the word “our”

    • Voice of Reason

      I refer to all those who are happy that Ukraine has suckered Russia into this deal.

      Aren’t you happy?

    • We are happy. But the world “our” that you used means you think you belong to this group too. Do you?

      • Voice of Reason

        No, RV, I don’t “belong” to any groups. Unlike me-too knee-jerkers like you, I am an independent thinker and don’t follow mob mentality.

        You proudly brag that you are a life long card carrying Democrat. As I recall, you even voted for Obama out of this mob instinct, even though you don’t like him.

        I would never carry cards to make me feel that I “belong”, and I vote intelligently.

        • I never voted for President Obama and never said I did. As for “carrying a card” I guess your teaches at the KGB academy did not teach you well enough. This is an idiomatic expression meaning “stalwart.” No cards are being carried, and neither Democratic nor Republican party has a formal membership or any membership cards.

          • Voice of Reason


            1. Are you saying you voted for McCain?

            2. I am not surprised that when a Black man ran for President, your conscience told you not to vote for him, even though you have been a “card-carrying Democrat” all your life.

            3. I guess you dropped out of elementary school before they started teaching reading comprehension. When I used your term “card-carrying”, I also meant a “stalwart”. I am not even aware that Democrats hand out plastic membership cards, do they?

            4. Since you are so determined to teach me English, please teach me what your phrase “your teaches” above means.

            • 1. Yes

              2. What does it have to do with race? I did not vote for him because of his lack of experience, plus I have some Jewish reasons.

              3. Well you said you would never carry a card; maybe I should not have taken you literally. There are no cards nor any formal member ship

              4. Everybody is entitled to make a typo

  4. “This means that the fate of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will depend directly on the next Ukrainian president’s political leanings and how the leader chooses to interpret the law.”

    Not at all, the hidden beauty of this agreement is that even if Ukraine will annul it in future, Russia will just disregard this, and will continue to keep its base in Sevastopol unilaterally, with all military support that may be needed in the case. This will be a LEGAL reason for claiming Sevastopol back, so annulling this deal would be great news for Russia.

    • Perhaps we should consider annuling giving away Crimea, or Alaska?

      • I don’t know how to classify the transfer of Crimea, but Alaska was really sold and your Czar did get the money. Are you prepared to go to war over Crimea or Alaska?

      • If you’d consider turning over, say, 75% of the Russian GDP for the next hundred years, Ukraine would no doubt gladly surrender Crimea to you without a struggle. Then Russia would collapse from bankruptcy, as it’s already quickly on the way to doing now, and Ukraine could take it right back, and a big slice of “Russia” besides. Vladimir Putin may be the best thing that ever happened to Ukraine!

  5. Hugo,

    Russia keeping Sevastopol unilaterally by force … great news for whom? That outcome would hardly invigorate the already quite so disheartened “slavic brotherhood” between these two slavic “brothers”…

  6. Neighborly corporate raid
    Edward C. Chow

    It is always useful in a corporate raid to have insider’s help. The raider also takes advantage of moments when other stakeholders are preoccupied elsewhere. This fits the current situation perfectly. This last deal of gas for 25-year extension of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Crimean base lease is based on the misnomer that Ukraine is getting a “discount” on Russian gas, which unfortunately has been unquestioningly reported by the media. Ukraine is getting no such thing. It is getting a similar price as European buyers after Gazprom was forced at the beginning of this year to adjust prices because of lower demand and market pricing due to ample global gas supply. Nevertheless, Russian and Ukrainian leaders claim that this new bargain will give the Ukrainian economy a $40-billion boost between now and 2019—virtual benefit from virtual discount.

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