The Impossible Has Become the Plausible
In the world of ultra high-stakes diplomacy there are scenarios that defy even the most outrageous B-movie plots. Then again, what the world has witnessed regardless of political leadership hue, is that the impossible has become the plausible.
Russia may not be the only country or even party who has plans to create a false flag – a pretext – for invading Ukraine. Many scenarios have been hypothesized such as skirmishes in the Donbas region or trouble on the Ukrainian-Belarus border.
However, no one has mentioned the most audacious one – the sabotage of one of the gas pipelines on Ukrainian territory. This would be the terrestrial version of the USS Maine which exploded in Havana Harbor on 15 February 1898 that greased the skids to the start of Spanish-American War.
This hyper-sensitive, economic and symbolic pretext might occur during the initial hours of the invasion or during the initial days which would justify Russia’s increased intensity against not only the Ukrainian armed forces but the civilians too.
The Flame that Ignites the Gas Leak
Russia is the obvious “Usual Suspect”. Sabotaging a gas pipeline would achieve several objectives simultaneously. Under authorized orders by Putin, Russia can immediately place the blame on the Ukrainian government that would justify an invasion to protect Russian investment and economic lifeline in the export of gas to European countries. The Russian public relations angle would be that it would seem ludicrous to blow up its own gas pipeline, the key to its key export revenue.
The other is anti-Putin elements in the Kremlin. In the Russian version of Operation Valkyrie, the invasion itself is a false flag in which collaborating generals provide unauthorized orders to sabotage a gas pipeline. The act is psychologically damaging to Putin who now knows he has formidable adversaries inside the Kremlin and a distraction from his wartime operations. As the war goes disastrously wrong for Russia it might produce cracks in the Russian leadership justifying a palace coup, Putin is arrested and Russian forces halt their advance and exit Ukraine.
There are several different elements in Ukraine who would profit enormously by sabotaging a gas pipeline. The pro-Russian Ukrainians, whether independently or under direct orders from Moscow, sabotage the gas pipeline to fuel and inspire the Russian war machine.
The other possibility is that patriotic yet delusional Ukrainians who believe that US/Nato will put boots on the ground on Ukrainian territory to directly fight the Russian army or at least take a more aggressive action than merely surveillance support and arms suppliers.
The Military Industrial Complex
This is a worldwide confederation of arms dealers whose smell of money holds priority over the smell of death. Using mercenaries to sabotage a gas pipeline would sow confusion and provoke accusations amongst the belligerents and supporting cast. Even if the mercenaries are captured and/or identified, the accusations and denials would run rampant as to which party hired them.
The biggest land war in Europe since WW II represents the biggest opportunities for the military industrial complex in decades for the sale of armaments, defensive and offensive, high-tech and low-tech. Furthermore, in a highly unstable, post-war environment, many countries worldwide will be clamoring to purchase arms because of similar situations in their regions either to defend themselves against a larger neighbor or invade a smaller one.
For reference purposes, the following chart entitled The Gas Pipelines Linking Russia and Europe provided by JP Morgan via The Economist present an excellent visual as to how the major pipelines linking Russia to Europe are routed.
“No Honor Among Thieves” or Autocrats for That Matter
The tiger and the bear – both apex alpha predators – by their very nature are incapable of sharing the mountaintop of anti-US autocracy. For this reason, I believe that the continental-sized egos of presidents Putin and Xi don’t allow co-leadership in their efforts to challenge the west.
A war in Ukraine would shake the Chinese because Russia has increasing used its vastly upgraded and modern military in increasingly larger operations and will have gained enormous experience on the battlefield. Chinese checkbook diplomacy can only go so far as Putin will indeed have the upper hand with the military “muscle”.
This might mean that China may be forced to engage in backdoor geopolitical maneuvering secretly seeking some arrangement with the west to counter Russian aggression.
One tactic for China is to purchase far less gas from Russia which would rapidly deplete Russia’s “economic fortress” of $630 billion established to withstand draconian western sanctions. This economic squeeze may force them to offer more favorable terms with US/Nato on a variety of matters.
In turn the US/Nato turns a blind eye or delivers of slap on the wrist for future Chinese aggressions. Or China gains considerably more market share in Europe by extending its Belt & Road Initiative with minimal US/European interference.
The Europeans might feel that it’s better (and healthier) to be beaten by a wallet than a weapon. The Chinese response to Russian claims of “betrayal”, in the ruthless jungle world of geopolitics, like Don Corleone in the Godfather explained, “It’s nothing personal, just business.”
Putin may be so laser focused on his grand scheme of reuniting the Russian speaking peoples in sovereign countries he believes were hijacked by the Us/Nato, that he is exceptionally vulnerable to a series of attacks from his enemies: internally within the Kremlin walls and his autocratic counterparts in Beijing.
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