Ukraine Bites Nails as Russia Rattles Saber and Rocks Boat

My nine o’clock consultation today was Dr. Kolka Drystalo Lysyidiko D.Sc., Ph.D., L.LD., B.Y.O.B., the undersecretary of political affairs at the Ukrainian Embassy here in Washington DC. We have been discussing Ukraine’s relationship with Russia and the implications of Soviet economic, social and military history for the future of Eastern Europe quite some time at this point – since 2014, actually. That’s when the Russian Federation annexed the Crimea, which the Soviet Union had made a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 and therefore was expected to remain as such after the demise of the USSR.
Of course, the Crimean Peninsula has changed names, hands, overseers, religious affiliation, currencies, governments and allegiances more than fifty times since the Cimmerians arrived there, running away from the Scythians, about three thousand years ago, and it’s not, strictly speaking, a heartland region of Ukraine. Sure, the Ukrainians were upset about the Crimea thing, but the situation Russia created in 2014 was never something that rendered Dr. Lysyidiko the nervous wreck I encountered this morning. Not even the subsequent Russian incursion into Donbas region of eastern Ukraine had upset him anywhere near this much.
“That pyzda, Putin!” He fumed as he plunked down on the couch in my office in front of the window overlooking the White House. “Making porridge! We need a solution before he plants a pig on us!”
“And presumably,” I began, “That solution would come from NATO?”
“Ha!” Lysyidiko scoffed. “Talk about the wolf! You think NATO will do anything when one-hundred-seventy-five thousand Russian troops storm out of the Donbas, headed for Kyiv? NATO is nothing but a squeezed lemon!”
“A shooting war involving NATO and Russia could easily escalate beyond Ukraine,” I observed. “Much as I love and respect your country, no one in NATO wants to see World War III start over Ukraine.”
“Why not?” He demanded. “It’s as good a place as any!”
“But there’s the question of nuclear weapons,” I reminded him. “The eventuality simply cannot be ignored.”
“You seriously think that a NATO intervention on behalf of Ukraine to repel a Russian invasion would result in nuclear war?” He fumed. “Come on, Tom, we both know better than that! Russia is – how do you say it here in Washington – a [expletive]-ant country – yes, a [expletive]-ant country, that’s how you say it. Russia is nothing but a total [expletive]-ant country these days! Its per-capita GDP is half that of Slovakia’s – eleven thousand dollars a year, Tom! What’s that here in the US, for a two-income household with four people? Five thousand dollars under your 2021 Poverty Line, that’s what! And if you take into account that two hundred oligarchs account for more than thirty percent of that, the average Russian is living on the equivalent of seven thousand dollars a year. Total, ragged, starving poverty, that’s what that is!”
“Um… I hope you will forgive me for pointing this out,” I reminded him, “but the annual per-capita GDP in Ukraine is three thousand dollars.”
“Because of the [expletive] Russians!” He stormed. “I’ll tell you what the Russian Federation is – it’s an over-populated Bulgaria with rockets! You think Putin is crazy enough to use nuclear weapons? Hell, there’s only a thirty-six percent probability that any given Russian nuclear missile will even leave its launch pad without blowing up!”
“Really? I trust we are keeping that little tidbit under our hats,” I cautioned.
“We’re not announcing it in our press releases, if that’s what you mean,” he huffed.
“If the Russians are that lame these days,” I shot back, “why would Ukraine need NATO to help kick them off your turf?”
“All right,” he conceded with a sigh, “Maybe their conventional forces are more than Ukraine can handle alone. But if NATO were to come in on our side, don’t be surprised if China invades Russia the day afterward.”
“Perhaps, if Russia started a war and began losing it, badly,” I mused. “But otherwise, isn’t it more likely they will pretend to be friends with the Russians?”
“Why wait for weather from the sea?” Lysyidiko growled. “No water flows under a stone buried in the mud, you know.”
“So you think NATO support could turn a Russian invasion from a problem into an opportunity?” I asked.
“You said it,” he affirmed with a vigorous nod. “Russian demands for restriction of NATO’s eastward expansion are totally illegitimate, and Russia is nothing but a spoonful of tar in the barrel of honey. NATO should help Ukraine scoop it out and throw it on the garbage pile of history, where it belongs.”
“I hope you are not expressing such sentiments outside the confines of this room,” I admonished. “Remember, as you Ukrainians say, words are not sparrows.”
“Yes,” he agreed, “once they fly out, you cannot catch them back. Don’t worry about what we Ukrainians say among ourselves – or to our friends, like you, Tom. We know that NATO in general and the United States in particular don’t care a rat’s [expletive] about Ukraine.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,” I told him. “President Biden just announced severe consequences for Russian aggression against Ukraine. He’s pledged to mount a comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives aimed toward making it difficult for Putin to go forward.”
“Sure,” Lysyidiko replied with a cynical shrug, “and he’s going to have a Zoom Summit with Putin tomorrow and tell him all about it.”
“Let’s face facts,” I suggested. “As perturbed as you are about the circumstances, realistically speaking, most likely what we are looking at here isn’t even a real preparation for an invasion – it’s probably just Putin’s ploy to get leverage for the removal or easing of existing sanctions still in place after the Crimean annexation and occupation of the Donbas region.”
“No way!” Lysyidiko objected. “What the international community needs is a regime implementing more sanctions, not less! And that’s what I want to talk to you about. What kind of new sanctions can be applied to Russia if they try to take more of Ukraine’s territory?”
“The difficulty there,” I observed, “is that the individuals involved in the previous transgressions are largely the same ones involved in this one, and they’re already sanctioned. Likewise, all the money that could be frozen outside of Russia is already frozen. And all the trade that can be cut off without doing more damage to Europe and the US than Russia has already been halted.”
“Which is why I’m paying you your outrageous hourly fees!” Lysyidiko yelped. “So come up with some ideas – now!”
“Oh, well, since you put it that way,” I parried, “sure, let’s consider… what kind of innovative options might be… pursued… um… how about… we hit Russia where it really hurts?”
Lysyidiko leaned forward with intense interest. “Such as what?”
“Cut off the Russian mail-order bride trade,” I suggested.
Lysyidiko’s eyebrows shot up. “Mail order brides?”
“Absolutely,” I confirmed. “Think about it – what does Russia have that it can export besides petroleum, natural gas, and caviar?”
“Coal and wheat,” he offered. “Plus iron and nitrogenous fertilizer.”
“And mail-order brides,” I repeated. “Bigger than iron and nitrogenous fertilizer combined, actually, but since it’s off the books, you don’t see it in the official statistics. If the European Union and the US were to crack down on the Russian mail-order bride trade, it would cut a big hole in Putin’s pocket, I can assure you, and the pockets of a lot of other obscenely wealthy Russians as well.”
“Hmm,” Lysyidiko pondered, “Okay, sounds good. let’s consider that. It might even increase the market for Ukrainian mail-order brides; what with the commodity substitution effect and so forth.”
“It very well could,” I agreed. “Now, how about if the NSA, GCHQ, allied NATO and Five Eyes IT resources concentrated on shutting down Russian Internet scams?”
“Yes,” Lysyidiko murmured, thinking deeply, “I can see where that would cripple a key segment of the Russian economy. But – do you suppose the effort could spare Ukrainian scammers? Our economy really does need the money, you know.”
“I’m sure that could be arranged,” I opined. “Neither the US, its allies or NATO is interested in being the world’s policeman, after all.”
“That’s good to know,” Lysyidiko averred.
“And I’m also sure that the same thing could be arranged with respect to Russian porn sites,” I noted. “Internet scams, Web porn sites – pretty much the same crowd getting kicked in their Rubles.”
“And the Ukrainian porn sites would be allowed to continue operating – business as usual?”
“Same deal as the scammers,” I said. “No reason to expect otherwise.”
Lysyidiko cracked a wide smile. “That would be very good for the Ukrainian economy.”
“If you say so,” I replied, “you’re the expert on Ukrainian economics. And then, of course, a global crackdown on Russian oligarch money laundering. That would…”
“Yes, yes!” Lysyidiko interrupted enthusiastically. “The Russians have ten times as much money stashed in off-shore accounts, secret trusts, shell corporations and South Dakota banks as we do! Oh – and there wouldn’t be anyone going after us, would there?”
“Oh, no, never,” I confirmed. “After all, you’re not getting ready to invade anyone.”
“Excellent!” Lysyidiko exclaimed as he leap up, now bubbling with enthusiasm. “I’m off to the embassy! We’ll show Putin where the crayfish are hiding!”
“No doubt you will,” I called after him as he hurried out the door.