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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has a 90 minute phone call yesterday. We’ve embedded the readouts below. Contrary to common practice, there’s no indication as to who initiated the chat. But it’s not hard to think that Scholz did, since the German readout depicts him as presenting demands to Putin, the most cheeky being that Russia declare a ceasefire and immediately withdraw from Ukraine. We’ll return to these documents shortly. The striking quality of the readouts is there is almost no overlap between the two of them. It appears that each leader regarded virtually of what his counterparty said as not worth dignifying by repeating.
The timing of Scholz trying to arm-twist Putin does not appear to come out of the media-gasm over the Ukraine Kharkiv offensive. It instead appears to be driven by NATO attempting to escalate with Russia. I say “attempting” because like the Kharkiv offensive, this NATO bristling may be more optical than real. I must confess to having to rely on third-party takes as opposed to having read some of the key documents, so feel free to add confirming or conflicting information (preferably with links).
Right now, some of the Ukraine war-watching commentators are speculating on whether Russia will escalate due to the setback in Kharkiv. Note that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this morning said that Russia is not considering general mobilization.
As we’ll also cover soon, the more information comes out, the more it appears that this was a PR success achieved at real cost not just to Ukraine’s war-making capability but also its position on the battlefield.
However, Ukraine is seeking security guarantees from the West which would come awfully close to making Ukraine a de facto member of NATO. This may be just another Ukraine big ask, like its constant demands for more money and huge weapons deliveries. My guess is that if Russia escalates soon (and the occasional hits to the electrical grid would not amount to that; it would take major missile strikes and/or increased troop commitments), it would be that Russia regards the security guarantee threat as serious and decided to get out in front of it, and not due a mere battlefield embarrassment that might even be a plus in the long term.
To back up and give a timetable: NATO had a major meeting on September 8. Various commentators reported on rumors that Western officials had told the Zelensky government it needed to show some sort of success by this meeting so as to get more goodies. Personally, I think the goodies would have been forthcoming regardless. Western governments are too deeply invested in Ukraine to appear to back out now. And the reality is the West is running low on weapons it can send Ukraine. Note that Brian Berletic, who makes a habit of reading Department of Defense, Department of State, and NATO documents, read the new NATO, really US, commitments made at that meeting and didn’t find them to be impressive. As I read it, it’s $2.2 billion, half Ukraine, half to 18 other countries. Berletic noted most of Ukraine spending was going to training, not equipment.
Ukraine had obligingly ginned up offensives. The one in Kherson was a disaster. The one in Kharkiv was either a stunning success or Ukraine pushing on an open door, depending on your vantage. My comments here are based on the latest roundup by Alexander Mercouris, who remember was highly critical of Russia not having prepared for and stood up to the Kharkiv offensive, since it had been known to be in preparation at least two weeks before. Mercouris reported that the evidence was supporting the view that Russia had engaged in a planned retreat. It had had a force equivalent to 10 BTGs in Kharkiv, but had reduced that to one by the time of the Kharkiv attack. The remaining forces consisted of DPR/LPR militia members and territorial officers and they got out with very few losses. It also appears Russia is holding the line at Oskil River.
Mercouris has changed his original view of the withdrawal from disastrous to “deeply cynical” but also said it left Ukraine “punching at air”. Even more important, Mercouris claimed that Ukraine had had to pull troops out of other positions in Donbass, including defending the linchpin city of Bahmut. Many believe that once Bahmut falls, the last Ukraine defense line in Donbass will collapse. The Wagner Group has apparently entered the Bahmut suburbs.
So if Russian forces can take Bahmut in the next couple of weeks, that suggests it might be possible for Putin to tamp down demands with Russia that the SMO kick into higher gear. Even if the Western press downplays the loss of Bahmut, the Russian public will understand the significance. And there’s a dustup under way between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Defense and Foreign Ministry might need to take stock of it, since it could make resource demands.
Nevertheless, there’s every reason to think that Scholz was trying to take advantage of the perceived big Ukraine win in his call to Putin. But he hit a brick wall. Scholz’s push to get Russia to negotiate with Ukraine based on a ceasefire, withdrawal of troops, and “respect for the sovereignity of Ukraine” which I take to mean “respect for Ukraine’s right to join NATO” was not dignified by mention in the Kremlin writeup.
Nor did the Kremlin readout acknowledge Scholz that Putin to implement the measures in the IAEA report on the Zaporizhia nuclear plant immediately. Instead, the Kremlin summary comes off as if Putin gave Scholz a lecture on what the document contained and pressed the point that Ukraine had been shelling and hence caused the safety risks.
Consider this section as an example why Russia hasn’t made any substantive response to the document:
As many have pointed out, the IAEA would not acknowledge who was doing the shelling. The IAEA does say the shelling needs to stop, but then presents “agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone” as a precondition. First, one assumes Russia is a relevant party, but Ukraine won’t negotiate with Russia and the feeling is mutual. Second, it’s unseroiusness verging on bad faith not at a bare minimum to recommend UN peacekeepers police any safety zone.
As to Scholz’s demand that Ukraine POWs be treated properly and give the Red Cross access, the only part of that discussion reflected on the Russian side is Putin telling Scholz that Russia was compliant here and Ukraine was not.
Putin similarly made points that were not acknowledged in the German readout. The Kremlin account shows Putin complaining about Ukraine shelling civilians and destroying their infrastructure.
Putin also objected to “unblocking the ports” deal not being respected, since the rationale was to get grain to poor countries. Instead, Putin before this call publicized that nearly all of the Ukraine grain has gone to Europe. Putin also pointed to the failure to facilitate Russian food and fertilizer exports, despite promises to do so.
Shockingly, the only Scholz readout reference to the discussion of grain and food was Scholz telling Putin “not to discredit the agreement”. If anyone from a poor country that thinks it’s been shortchanged on grain connects the two readouts and sees Scholz as trying to hector Putin into not calling out Europe for hogging the Ukraine grain, it’s not hard to imagine they’d be even more unhappy.
Finally, Putin again offered to open Nord Stream 2 and said it was “deeply cynical” for Europe to blame its gas mess on Russia.
Finally, back to the new Ukraine bright idea of bigger, better security guarantees. Yesterday, TASS featured this story prominently, including a detailed summary of what Ukraine was seeking, suggesting that Russia thought it important to acknowledge that this was on its radar. However, this scheme has been published after the NATO meeting last week, and was developed by Ukraine with the input of “ex-Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen,” as in no current NATO or NATO member officials are involved. So this looks like Ukraine lobbying to get this item on a NATO agenda.
Dmitry Medvedev made clear that Russia would see any such move as a major escalation. As TASS described in a companion story, Medvedev describes Kiev’s draft of ‘security guarantees’ as prelude to WWIII:
Kiev will not receive any “security guarantees”, in particular, because its draft is essentially a “prologue” to World War III, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev believes.
“The Kiev camarilla has given birth to a project of ‘security guarantees’, which are essentially a prologue to a third world war. Of course, no one will provide any ‘guarantees’ to the Ukrainian Nazis,” he wrote on his Telegram channel on Tuesday.
He believes that the agreement proposed by Kiev is tantamount to “applying Article 5 of the North Atlantic Pact to Ukraine.” This article refers to collective defense as a principle central to NATO’s founding treaty. Collective defense means that an attack on one of the alliance’s members shall be considered as an attack on all members.
Reader Lawn Dirt translated Medvedev’s Telegram statement:
Dmitry Medvedev: Prologue to the Third World War
The Kiev Camarilla gave birth to a project of “security guarantees”, which are essentially a prologue to the Third World War
Of course, no one will give any” guarantees ” to the Ukrainian Nazis. This is almost the same as applying Article 5 of the North Atlantic Pact (Washington Treaty) to Ukraine. For NATO, it’s the same shit, just a side view. That’s why it’s scary.
Our sworn friends-Western superiors of various calibres, to whom this hysterical appeal is addressed-should finally understand one simple thing. It directly concerns the hybrid war between NATO and Russia. If these idiots continue to rampant pumping the Kiev regime with the most dangerous types of weapons, sooner or later the military campaign will move to another level. It will have no visible boundaries and no potential predictability of the actions of the parties to the conflict. It will follow its own military scenario, involving new participants in it. It has always been so.
And then the Western countries will not be able to sit in their clean houses and apartments, laughing at how they gently weaken Russia with someone else’s hands. Everything flares up around them. Their people will get their hands full of grief. They will literally burn the earth and melt concrete. We’ll be hard hit, too. It will be very, very bad for everyone. For it is written, “By these three plagues, by the fire, smoke, and brimstone that came out of their mouths, a third part of the people died” (Revelation 9: 18).
But for now, dim-witted politicians and their dim-witted think tanks, thoughtfully twirling a glass of wine in their hands, talk about how they can deal with us without entering into a direct war. Dull idiots with a classical education.
Let’s hope this trial balloon goes nowhere. Things will get even uglier if it doesn’t.
00 Bundeskanzler Scholz telefoniert mit dem russischen Präsidenten Putin
00 Telephone conversation with Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz • President of Russia