Obama And Putin Are Trapped In A Macho Game Of “Chicken” And The Whole World Could Pay The Price

Barack Obama Vladimir PutinThe U.S. government and the Russian government have both been forced into positions where neither one of them can afford to back down.  If Barack Obama backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being “weak” and for having been beaten by Vladimir Putin once again.  If Putin backs down, he will be greatly criticized for being “weak” and for abandoning the Russians that live in Crimea.  In essence, Obama and Putin find themselves trapped in a macho game of “chicken” and critics on both sides stand ready to pounce on the one who backs down.  But this is not just an innocent game of “chicken” from a fifties movie.  This is the real deal, and if nobody backs down the entire world will pay the price.

Leaving aside who is to blame for a moment, it is really frightening to think that we may be approaching the tensest moment in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cuban missile crisis.

There has been much talk about Obama’s “red lines”, but the truth is that Crimea (and in particular the naval base at Sevastopol) is a “red line” for Russia.

There is nothing that Obama could ever do that could force the Russians out of Sevastopol.  They will never, ever willingly give up that naval base.

So what in the world does Obama expect to accomplish by imposing sanctions on Russia?  By treaty, Russia is allowed to have 25,000 troops in Crimea and Russia has not sent troops into the rest of Ukraine.

Economic sanctions are not going to cause Putin to back down.  Instead, they will just cause the Russians to retaliate.

In a letter that he sent to Congress this week, Obama claimed that the Ukrainian crisis is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Language like that is going to make it even more difficult for Obama to back down.

On Thursday, Obama announced “visa restrictions” on “those Russians and Ukrainians responsible for the Russian move into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula”, and a House panel passed a “symbolic resolution” that condemned Russia for its “occupation” of Crimea.

But those moves are fairly meaningless.  Leaders from both political parties are now pushing for very strong economic sanctions against Russia, and there does not appear to be many members of Congress that intend to stand in the way.

If the U.S. does hit Russia with harsh economic sanctions, what is going to happen?

Is Russia going to back down?

No way.

So let’s just play out the coming moves like a game of chess for a moment…

-The U.S. slaps economic sanctions on Russia.

-Russia seizes the assets of U.S. companies that are doing business in Russia.

-The U.S. seizes Russian assets.

-The Russians refuse to pay their debts to U.S. banks.

-The U.S. government hits Russia with even stronger sanctions.

-Russia starts dumping U.S. debt and encourages other nations to start doing the same.

-The U.S. gets Europe to also hit Russia with economic sanctions.

-Russia cuts off the natural gas to Europe.  As I noted the other day, Russia supplies more than half the natural gas to a bunch of countries in Europe.

-The United States moves troops into western Ukraine.

-Russia starts selling oil for gold or for Russian rubles and encourages other nations to start abandoning the U.S. dollar in international trade.

Of course the order of many of these moves could ultimately turn out to be different, but I think that you can see the nightmare that this game of “chicken” could turn out to be.

And what would be the final result?

Nothing would be resolved, but the global economy would greatly suffer.

What makes all of this even more complicated is that about 60 percent of the people living in Crimea are actually ethnic Russians, and a majority of the population appears to want to leave Ukraine and be reunited with Russia.  The following comes from a Reuters article

Crimea’s parliament voted to join Russia on Thursday and its Moscow-backed government set a referendum on the decision in 10 days’ time in a dramatic escalation of the crisis over the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula.

The sudden acceleration of moves to bring Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority and has effectively been seized by Russian forces, formally under Moscow’s rule came as European Union leaders held an emergency summit groping for ways to pressure Russia to back down and accept mediation.

The Obama administration is calling the upcoming referendum “illegal” and says that it will not respect the will of the Crimean people no matter how the vote turns out.

But the people of Crimea are very serious about this, and of course they never would be pushing for reunification with Russia if they had not gotten approval from Putin…

The decision, which diplomats said could not have been made without Putin’s approval, raised the stakes in the most serious east-west confrontation since the end of the Cold War.

The vice premier of Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, said a referendum on the status would take place on March 16. All state property would be “nationalized”, the Russian ruble adopted and Ukrainian troops treated as occupiers and forced to surrender or leave, he said.

There is no way that the U.S. government is going to accept Crimea becoming part of Russia, and there is no way in the world that Russia is going to back down at this point.  Just consider what geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group recently had to say

“Russia is not going to back down from Crimea, irrespective of U.S. pressure. Which means if the U.S. wants to find any resolution here, they’re going to have to find a way to come to terms with that. Now that the Crimean parliament has voted — clearly with Russian assent — we’ll have a referendum … and then further militarization of the peninsula by the Russians.”

What we need is someone with extraordinary diplomatic skills to defuse this situation before it spirals out of control.

Unfortunately, we have Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett and John Kerry running things.

What a mess.

So why is Ukraine such a big deal anyway?

In a recent article, Peter Farmer explained succinctly why Ukraine is so incredibly important…

The Ukraine is strategically-important for a number of reasons. It sits astride enormous petroleum and natural gas deposits found in the Black Sea region. The nation is also home to an extensive network of liquid natural gas pipelines which crisscross it; control the Ukraine and you control its pipelines – and thus the flow of energy into the hugely-lucrative European market. Western energy firms such as Exxon-Mobil, BP-Amoco and Chevron are locked in competition with the Russian energy giant Gazprom – for control/exploitation of as-yet-undeveloped petroleum deposits not only in the Ukraine, but in neighboring Poland and Romania. Fracking technologies and other new extraction methods have only added urgency to the competition. Income from fossil fuels development is the lifeblood of the new Russian economy. Threats to the regional hegemony of Gazprom are likely to be treated by Putin and Russia with the utmost urgency and seriousness.

The Crimean Peninsula is also home to the Black Sea fleet of the Russian navy, which leases its base at Sevastopol from the Ukrainian government. Since the Black Sea – via the Dardanelles – provides the only warm-water base with access to the Mediterranean Sea – it is of enormous importance to Russia. Its loss would be a crippling blow to the Russian fleet.

Finally, the Ukraine – once known as the “bread basket of Europe” – is home to arguably the finest temperate agricultural region in the world. Its topsoil is widely-acknowledged by agronomists to be among the world’s best. Control the Ukraine and you control the grainery of Europe – and can exert tremendous leverage upon worldwide grain agricultural commodities prices.

If the U.S. insists on playing a game of brinksmanship over Ukraine, the consequences could be disastrous.

For one thing, as I mentioned above, the status of the petrodollar could be greatly threatened.  The following is how Jim Willie is analyzing the situation…

If the Kremlin demands Gold bullion (or even Russian Rubles) for oil payments, then the interventions to subvert the Ruble currency by the London and Wall Street houses will backfire and blow up in the bankster faces. Expect any surplus Rubles would be converted quickly to Gold bullion. If the Chinese demand that they are permitted to pay for oil shipments in Yuan currency, then the entire Petro-Dollar platform will be subjected to sledge hammers and wrecking balls. The new Petro-Yuan defacto standard will have been launched from the Shanghai outpost. If the Saudis curry favor to the Russians and Chinese by accepting non-USDollar payments for oil shipments, then the Petro-Dollar is dead and buried.

In addition, if Russia starts dumping U.S. debt and gets other nations (such as China) to start doing the same, that could create a nightmare scenario for the U.S. financial system very rapidly.

So let us hope and pray that cooler heads prevail.

In my recent article entitled “The Top 12 Signs That The U.S. Economy Is Heading Toward Another Recession“, I discussed how the U.S. economy appears to be hurtling toward another major downturn.

And on Thursday, we learned that office supplies giant Staples has just announced that it is going to close 225 stores.

Even without this major international crisis, the U.S. economy would still be deeply troubled.

But if the United States and Russia do declare “economic war” on each other, all hell could start breaking loose.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be much hope of anyone backing down at this point.  In an editorial for the Washington Post, Henry Kissinger stated that it “is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea.”

Very interesting word choice.

So this is the situation we are facing…

-The U.S. government seems absolutely determined to “punish” Russia until it leaves Crimea.

-Russia is never going to leave Crimea, and has promised to “respond” harshly to any sanctions.

Most Americans are not paying much attention to what is going on in Ukraine, but this is a very, very big deal.

In the end, it could potentially affect the lives of virtually every man, woman and child on the planet.

Russia Threatens To Abandon The U.S. Dollar And Start Dumping U.S. Debt

The Kremlin - Photo by Pavel KazachkovThe Obama administration and the hotheads in Congress are threatening to hit Russia with “economic sanctions” for moving troops into Crimea.  Yes, those sanctions would sting a little bit, but what our politicians should be made aware of is the fact that Russian officials are promising “to respond” if economic sanctions are imposed on them.  As you will read about below, one top Kremlin adviser is even suggesting that Russia could abandon the U.S. dollar and start dumping U.S. debt.  In addition, he is also suggesting that if sanctions are imposed that Russian companies would not repay the debts that they owe U.S. banks.  Needless to say, Russia could do far more economic damage to the United States than the United States could do to Russia.  The U.S. financial system relies on the fact that the rest of the planet is going to use our currency to trade with one another and lend gigantic piles of it back to us at super low interest rates.  If the rest of the world starts changing their behavior, we are going to be in a massive amount of trouble.  Those that believe that the United States is “economically independent” are being quite delusional.

In order for U.S. economic sanctions against Russia to be effective, Europe would also have to get on board.

But that simply is not going to happen.

As I noted yesterday, Russia is the largest exporter of natural gas on the planet.  And Russia is also Europe’s largest supplier of energy.

There is no way that Europe could risk having Russia cut off the gas, especially considering the economic condition that Europe is currently in.

To get an idea of just how incredibly dependent the rest of Europe is on Russian natural gas, check out the chart in this article.  A whole bunch of European nations get more than half their natural gas from Russia.

And according to the Telegraph, even the UK has already completely ruled out economic sanctions…

Europe would be pushed back into recession, Russia into financial meltdown. This is not the sort of self harm Europe is prepared to contemplate right now. Indeed, thanks to the indiscretion of a UK official, who was snapped going into Downing Street with his briefing documents on display for all the world to see, we know this to be the case. Trade and financial sanctions have already been ruled out.

So the U.S. can do whatever it wants, but Europe is not going to be any help.  Perhaps Canada will stand with the U.S., but that will be about it.

On the flip side, the Russian Foreign Ministry is promising “to respond” if the United States does impose economic sanctions…

Russia said on Tuesday that it would retaliate if the United States imposed sanctions over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

We will have to respond,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. “As always in such situations, provoked by rash and irresponsible actions by Washington, we stress: this is not our choice.”

So what would the response look like?

Lukashevich did not say, but top Kremlin adviser Sergei Glazyev is suggesting that Russia could abandon the U.S. dollar and refuse to pay back loans to U.S. banks…

“In the instance of sanctions being applied to stated institutions, we will have to declare the impossibility of returning those loans which were given to Russian institutions by U.S. banks,” RIA quoted Glazyev as saying.

“We will have to move into other currencies, create our own settlement system.”

He added: “We have excellent trade and economic relations with our partners in the east and south and we will find a way to reduce to nothing our financial dependence on the United States but even get out of the sanctions with a big profit to ourselves.”

Glazyev also stated that Russia could start dumping U.S. debt and encourage other nations to start doing the same.  The following comes from a Russian news source

“We hold a decent amount of treasury bonds – more than $200 billion – and if the United States dares to freeze accounts of Russian businesses and citizens, we can no longer view America as a reliable partner,” he said. “We will encourage everybody to dump US Treasury bonds, get rid of dollars as an unreliable currency and leave the US market.

Clearly Russian officials understand the economic leverage that they potentially have.  In fact, Glazyev seems fully convinced that Russia could cause “a crash for the financial system of the United States”

“An attempt to announce sanctions would end in a crash for the financial system of the United States, which would cause the end of the domination of the United States in the global financial system.”

On that last point Glazyev is perhaps overstating things.

On their own, the Russians could do a considerable amount of damage to the U.S. financial system, but I doubt that they could completely crash it.

However, if much of the rest of the world started following Russia’s lead, then things could get very interesting.

Just yesterday, I wrote about how China has chosen to publicly stand in agreement with Russia on the Ukrainian crisis.

If China also decided to abandon the U.S. dollar and start dumping U.S. debt, it would be an absolute nightmare for the U.S. financial system.

And keep in mind that the Chinese were already starting to dump a bit of U.S. debt even before this latest crisis.  In fact, China dumped nearly 50 billion dollars of U.S. debt in December alone.

The only way that the current bubble of debt-fueled false prosperity in the U.S. can continue is if the rest of the world continues to lend us trillions of dollars at ridiculously low interest rates that are way below the real rate of inflation.

If the rest of the world stops behaving in such an irrational manner, interest rates on U.S. government debt would rise dramatically and that would also mean that interest rates on virtually all other loans throughout our financial system would rise dramatically.

And if that happened, it would be a complete and utter nightmare for our economy.

Unfortunately, most Americans have no understanding of these things.  They just assume that we are “the greatest economy in the world” and that nothing is ever going to threaten that.

Well, the truth is that we are rapidly approaching a “turning point”, and after this bubble of false prosperity pops things will never be the same in the United States again.

The Kremlin - Photo by Pavel Kazachkov

12 Signs That Russia Is Ready To Fight A War Over Crimea

Russian Military VehiclesRussia will never, ever give up Crimea without a fight.  Anyone that thinks otherwise is just being delusional.  The Russian Black Sea fleet’s main base at Sevastopol is far too strategically important.  In addition, ethnic Russians make up approximately 60 percent of the population of Crimea, and most of the population is rabidly pro-Russian.  In fact, many prominent Crimean politicians are already calling for reunification with Russia.  So if you have been thinking that Russia is just going to fold up shop and go home now that pro-European protesters have violently seized power in Kiev, you can quit holding your breath.  The truth is that Russia is more than willing to fight a war over Crimea.  And considering the fact that vitally important pipelines that pump natural gas from Russia to the rest of Europe go right through Ukraine, it is not likely that Russia will just willingly hand the rest of Ukraine over to the U.S. and the EU either.  If the U.S. and the EU push too hard in Ukraine, a major regional war may erupt which could ultimately lead to something much larger.

Russia and Ukraine have very deep historical ties.  Most Americans may not think that Ukraine is very important, but the Russians consider Ukraine to be of the utmost strategic importance.

As an American, how would you feel if another nation funded and organized the violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Canadian government and replaced it with a government that was virulently anti-American?

By doing this to Ukraine, the United States and the EU are essentially sticking a pin in Russia’s eye.  Needless to say, Russia is extremely angry at this point and they are gearing up for war.

The following are 12 signs that Russia is ready to fight a war over Crimea…

#1 More Russian military vehicles continue to pour into Crimea.  Just check out this video.

#2 Russian military vehicles have been photographed in the main square of Sevastopol.

#3 Russian military jets near the border with Ukraine have been put on combat alert.

#4 Russia has ordered “surprise military exercises” along the Ukrainian border.

#5 In connection with those “exercises”, it is being reported that Russia has deployed 150,000 troops along the border with Ukraine.

#6 Russia already has approximately 26,000 troops stationed at their naval base in Sevastopol.

#7 Russian ships carrying additional soldiers have been spotted off the coast of Crimea…

Russia’s large landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov has arrived near the Russia Black Sea Fleet’s base at Sevastopol, which Russia has leased from Ukraine since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The ship is reported to be carrying as many as 200 soldiers and has joined four additional ships carrying an unknown amount of Special Forces troops. Flot.com also reported over the weekend that personnel from the 45th Airborne Special Forces unit and additional divisions had been airlifted into Anapa, a city on Russia’s Black Sea coastline.

#8 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the following statement to reporters on Wednesday…

“Measures are taken to guarantee the security of our facilities.”

#9 An unidentified Russian official has told the Financial Times that Russia is willing to use military force to protect Crimea…

Moscow earlier revealed that it would be ready to go for war over the Crimea region in order to protect the large population and army installations.

“If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war. They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia,” an unidentified Russian official told the Financial Times.

#10 Officials in Sevastopol have “installed” a Russian citizen as mayor of the city.

#11 Approximately 120 pro-Russian gunmen have seized the Crimean parliament building and have raised the Russian flag.

#12 There are rumors that Russian authorities have offered protection to ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych…

Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, declared on Thursday that he remained the lawful president of the country and appealed to Russia to “secure my personal safety from the actions of extremists.” Russian news agencies reported that he had already arrived in Russia, but officials did not immediately confirm that.

No matter what the “new government” in Kiev says, and no matter how hard the U.S. and the EU push, Russia will never give up Crimea.  The following is what a recent Debka article had to say about the matter…

There is no way that President Vladimir Putin will relinquish Russian control of the Crimean peninsula and its military bases there – or more particularly the big Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. This military stronghold is the key to Russia’s Middle East policy. If it is imperiled, so too are Russia’s military posture in Syria and its strategic understandings with Iran.

And you know what?

The people of Crimea do not want Russia to leave either.  In fact, they overwhelmingly want Russia to help defend them against the “new government” in Kiev.

As you read this, militia groups are being formed in Crimea to fight back against the “nationalist invasion” that they are anticipating.  Just check out the following excerpt from a recent Time Magazine article

Many of the people at the rally in Sevastopol were not just ready to believe. They were convinced of the imminent nationalist invasion. What scared them most were the right-wing political parties and militant groups that have played a role in Ukraine’s revolution. “What do you think they’re going to do with all those weapons they seized from police in Kiev? They’re going to come here and make war,” said Sergei Bochenko, who identified himself as the commander of a local militia group in Sevastopol called the Southern Russian Cossack Battalion.

In preparation, he said, his group of several hundred men had armed themselves with assault rifles and begun to train for battle. “There’s not a chance in hell we’re going to accept the rule of that fascist scum running around in Kiev with swastikas,” he said. That may be overstating the case. Nowhere in Ukraine has the uprising involved neo-Nazi groups, and no swastikas have appeared on the revolution’s insignia. But every one of the dozen or so people TIME spoke to in Sevastopol was certain that the revolt was run by fascists, most likely on the payroll of the U.S. State Department.

And just remember what happened back in 2008 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  The Russians have already shown that they are not afraid to militarily intervene in order to protect Russian citizens.

So what would the U.S. and the EU do if a war erupts between Russia and Ukraine?

Would they risk a direct military confrontation with Russia in order to help Ukraine?

I am very concerned about where all of this could be heading.

What about you?

What do you think?

Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…

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