Twenty years ago, Russia was a mess – no longer an enemy, not even an adversary and certainly not a partner. What was feared most was a collapse that might turn Russia into something resembling the former Yugoslavia, all pire. “I don’t like it when the U.S. flaunts its superiority,” complained Russia’s then president Boris Yeltsin, who insisted, “Russia isn’t Haiti…Russia will rise again.”
Events now confirm that; Russia is back. And it’s back as a bully to former Soviet holdings in Europe, as a challenge to the United States, and as one of the self-proclaimed leaders of what is allegedly a post-Western world.
This isn’t just a burst of imperial nostalgia akin to that of some European states a few decades ago. Nor is it a moment of post-bipolarity funk – a rebellion against an all-powerful America that didn’t make time for Russia when it was the time to do so, and a revolt against a uniting Europe that didn’t make room for its larger neighbour when it had been hoping for an invitation. As always, ghosts linger on. Seven decades of Soviet governance failed to bury centuries of Russian imperial history. La grande Russie doesn’t stay passively silent for long: her vocation is to be heard and expand, not to withdraw and shrink. The “soul” attributed by former U.S. President George W. Bush to Vladimir Putin after their first meeting in June 2001 mourned two decades of disrespect. Shorn of nearly a quarter of the Soviet Union’s post-1945 territories, Russia was still too big, too near and too nuclear for such treatment – not yet a true European power, but still a leading power in Europe. Russia thus longs for its imperial past, and the vexing question is how to impress upon its government in Moscow that there are limits to self-image that the Russian state can no longer sustain and which the West need not tolerate any longer.
“When Russia was weak in the 1990s,” remembers former U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a self-described hardliner on the Soviet Union, “we did a poor job…managing the relationship for the long-term.” The mistake, then, was to pay insufficient attention to Russia’s legitimate interests and concerns. Now that Russia looks stronger, the mistake would be to exaggerate the significance and relevance of those interests. America’s unfinished business with Russia is part of Europe’s own unfinished business, one half of which consists of an ever closer Union while the other half is being undone by national identities that challenge the EU member states’ sovereignty.
The end of the Cold War came abruptly. There was no cease-fire, no peace conference, no formal treaty and no settlement. As the Soviet Union held an unprecedented real estate sale, the West helped itself. What was in Europe was the Russian state of 1917. It might have seemed dead – “Mort à jamais?” as Marcel Proust had asked – but not forever or even for long. It was not wise to dismiss centuries of history that had seen Russia’s territories expand by one Belgium a year for 300 years, that had brutally imposed the Russification of ethnic minorities, and had relied on authoritarian and even totalitarian rule to subjugate its people.
Now it’s Vladimir Putin’s turn to dismiss his country’s most recent defeat and ride at the head of an anti-Western posse against what he calls the world’s “one centre of authority, one centre of force, and one centre of decision-making.” But that moment, too, will pass. As Russia’s economy runs out of gas, so to speak, it also finds itself short of energy – meaning; people and even security space. Over time, an under-developed, de-populated, and encircled Russia has no credible alternative to closer co-operation with the West. Too much history and too little geography separates Moscow from a dangerously ascending China, reportedly Moscow’s alternative of choice.
Boris Yeltsin had whimpered that if there was no clear winner, at least the Cold War had produced no loser. “We’re not talking about a relationship between superiors and inferiors, but between equals,” he wanted his “friend” Bill Clinton to know. There were echoes of Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 who insisted that defeated France should be treated as a co-equal. “If there are still allied powers,” Talleyrand told his victorious interlocutors, “then I do not belong here.” Of course, the legendary French diplomat was one of a kind, but in October 1991, on the eve of its collapse, the Soviet Union was also invited by the United States as the triumphant state to co-chair the Madrid Conference which then-Secretary of State James Baker viewed as “the end game for peace” in the Middle East. A decade later, Putin attacked his country’s implicit surrender and its dismemberment as a geopolitical catastrophe, “impossible to imagine” even while it was taking place.
In autumn 2008, the violence and intensity of the war in Georgia were, according to Robert Gates, “eye openers” that demanded “a different set of lenses.” “Russia’s behaviour,” he announced, “has called into question the entire premise of our [strategic] dialogue and has profound implications for our security relationship going forward – both bilaterally and with NATO.” On the whole, though, he ignored his own warnings, which were not heeded by either by the two presidents he served as Secretary of Defence. On the contrary, a newly-elected Barack Obama soon sought a reappraisal, or reset, of U.S.-Russian relations, as if to make amends. Now however, Putin’s will to re-adjudicate the verdict of History restores a sense of conflict that can no longer be ignored by those he charges with having “not simply robbed” but altogether “plundered” his country.
The confrontation between the West and Russia in the spring of 2014 is no more about Ukraine than the 2008 war in Georgia was just about Georgia. Neither of these countries is a core American interest, and the EU states have shown little interest in bringing either into their Union any time soon. Ukraine and Georgia before have been crises for Russia more than for the West, and what has made of “their” crisis “our” problem is Russian behaviour that in each case has threatened the European institutional and territorial order built up over the past 60 years. From the start, though, Putin was not discreet about his intentions – how he viewed Russia and what he thought of the West. “A proud man who loves his country,” nevertheless felt George W. Bush, deceptively moved by a “sense of Putin’s soul.” In his first major speech after Putin returned to the presidency which he had for a while loaned to Dmitri Medvedev, Putin urged the Russians “not to lose themselves as a nation” and to reject the “standards imposed on us from outside” at the expense of “our traditions.” In a dubious replica of Ronald Reagan 20 years earlier, the Russian president unveiled an “evil empire” – a U.S.-led, post-Christian Western world said to be exporting godlessness, permissiveness, and moral depravity. Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, Putin does not want a common home with Europe, but hopes instead to build one of his own: No longer Russia in Europe or even Europe with Russia, but Europe to Russia and even, at least for the post-Soviet space, Europe in Russia.
Why Nikita Khrushchev chose in 1954 to return Crimea to the Soviet Republic of Ukraine is more puzzling than Putin’s decision to return it to Russia. A proletarian intellectual who goes to the geopolitical barricades to fight for what he believes more than for what he knows, Putin echoes Nikolai Danilovsky, whose brand of Russian nationalism nurtured Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s belief in a “Great Russian hegemony” dedicated to “a great renewal … for the whole world” which, wrote Dostoyevsky, was endangered by a Western civilisation whose invasion “begins with luxury, fashions, scholarship, and art – and inevitably ends in sodomy and universal corruption.” That same conviction makes of Putin a gambler prepared to bet heavily on a doctrine of imposed self-determination for what he claims is, “the biggest ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders.”
Nor is the renewed confrontation between Russia and the West about more recent but no less spurious analogies. Comparing Putin to Hitler, and interpreting his discourse as a translated rendition of Mein Kampf, is no more constructive than comparing Nazi Germany to post-Soviet Russia. Tantamount to assimilating spring 2014 with autumn 1938, the analogy is hardly relevant when the Western democracies today show so little interest in waging the war against Russia that they should arguably have favoured in the 1930s over appeasement. History does not grant time outs for the replay of bad calls. Similarly, evoking a new Cold War with Russia is to return to March 1948, and call for the rollback that the United Sates might have favoured over the containment that the influential commentator Walter Lippmann at first dismissed as a “strategic monstrosity.” Get real: conditions with Ukraine are not comparable to those that prevailed in Munich, or on the eve of the coup in Czechoslovakia; Putin is no more a menacing reminder of Hitler or Stalin than Obama is a reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain or Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“There will be costs for any military intervention,” warned President Obama in February 2014, on the eve of the Russian annexation of Crimea. But pray tell: what was there for Putin to fear after he had witnessed a year earlier Obama’s reluctance to enforce his own “red lines” in Syria with John Kerry himself calling their threatened strike “unbelievably small”? There has been little Obama could do relative to how much Putin can take, in Ukraine and even some of the non-NATO territorial space in Europe. After the military option has been taken off the table, what’s left is pontification – about being on the wrong side of history, as Obama put it – to deter an adversary whose sense of history goes the opposite way.
“Not to rush to judgment,” advised veteran American diplomat George Kennan after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and “not to write off the Russians and their leaders. Patience, patience – that’s what we need.” That may well be sound advice, but for how long and how far? There is a long game to be played: don’t provoke Russia and its leaders with empty threats, to be sure, but don’t indulge Russia and its people with too much “understanding” either. Let it be stated once and for all: History does not owe Russia the apologies it owes Ukraine and other territorial pieces of Europe’s tragic geography of pain. That is the area where can still be heard the silenced sounds of war, and where can best be smelled the worst odours of death. As historian Timothy Snyder has noted, more Ukrainians were killed fighting Nazi Germany than American, British, and French soldiers combined – not to mention the millions who had been starved to death by Stalin before the war. The history of Russia has been written by what it did to its people and in the lands of its neighbours rather than the other way around.
In short, the Russian government does what it does because Russia is what it is: a country unable to imagine life without empire, and unprepared to populate its new democracy with truly democratic leaders. The annexation of Crimea was not just Putin’s way of showing Obama his manhood, rather it is a renewed bid to fulfill the idea the Russians have of themselves and of Europe. Russians may not like all that their president does, but over 80% of them approve his action. Meanwhile, Obama satisfies the broad preference of Americans who wish to do less in the world, but his foreign policy approval rating shows support from fewer than one person in three. It is as if there was public embarrassment and even some shame relative to the way in which Americans as a nation like to think of themselves.
You know where to begin, noted Kennan on more than one occasion, but often ignore where you’re going to end. So it was after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and with the division of Germany in 1949, and since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. First Georgia, and since then with Crimea and Ukraine, Putin started “something” – but what? Does he know where he is going? In the same vein, Obama has shown he knows how to stand up to the so-called swaggerers – but will he also know where to stand up, and for what? This is Kennan turned inside out: knowing how it will end because of the limits of Russian power may actually be easier than knowing where to begin. War is no longer the way of history, but how do you bring along those whose own history takes them another way?
Over 40 years ago, President Richard M. Nixon hoped to put in place a strategy that would calibrate interests and capabilities. Knowing “when it makes a real difference and is considered in our interest” was not easy then, with a surge of Soviet power and the rise of “new influentials” which Nixon viewed as the introduction of a new multipolar order. America, he pledged, “cannot – and will not – conceive all the plans, design all the programs, execute all the decisions and undertake all the defence of the free nations of the world.” Now as then, Obama’s foreign policy reticence is shared by a majority of Americans who want “to come home.” But also like them, it is a source of concern for a large number of America’s closest allies in need of strategic reassurance. The irony is plain for all to see. Ten years after the fiasco in Iraq, the global demand for American power has never been higher, but its credibility rarely lower and its reliability more in doubt.
To convince its friends, a preponderant power must be right; to tame its enemies it must be strong; to do both, it must inspire trust. All too often Obama has appeared to do the reverse – at best, right for what he said but weak for what he did and ineffective in the way he did it. By his own account, comfortable with complexity – “the big things” as Bill Clinton noted – Obama can easily win an argument, but a lack of attention to what follows often leaves his exchanges with adversaries unheard, his reassurances not implemented, and his likeable personality not trusted. In any case, this, too, is not just about Obama but, more broadly, about a post-American world. Long past the Cold War, and possibly past America’s prime too, this is not a world an emerging post-Western America understands well: every power a potential ally but every partner a possible adversary, depending on needs and urgency; every judge a penitent and every penitent a judge, depending on the case and the moment – Kosovo and Crimea, Iraq and Syria, Moscow’s Afghanistan and Washington’s Afghanistan, and so forth.
Obama did not originate this world – one in which the dwindling U.S. supply of security for growing world demand since the Cold War, comes together with a reduced world supply of security for rising American demand since 9/11. Nor did Obama “lose” Putin or “betray” Crimea any more than Roosevelt betrayed Eastern Europe at Yalta and Truman lost to Stalin at Potsdam. Still, there has been too much loose talk in the United States about rebalancing, to Asia or elsewhere; too much ill-timed talk of a reset, with Russia or others; too much vacuous talk, about leadership from behind and too much dismissive talk about the EU and its leaders or about Putin and his leadership. Words can impress momentarily for their elegance, but they matter more durably for their substance. Admittedly, Putin is not in Obama’s intellectual league, but more plainly, he can nonetheless hammer home his points the old fashioned way – with the domineering Slavic idea of a strong and united Russia.
After World War II, the strategy of containment was embraced as a third way between appeasement and war, the two options that had been pursued by the Western democracies during the interwar years – the former to avoid the latter until the latter grew irresistibly out of the former. Fears that containment was too passive and could not rollback Soviet advances were proved wrong, and whether a different strategy would have achieved rollback faster seems unlikely. What is now known is that after some initial geopolitical confusion, the Soviets were stopped until they ran out of time, and the United States was careful to look elsewhere whenever the Soviets used force to control their half of Europe, in Hungary and elsewhere. With war on behalf of any non-NATO or non-EU country now largely ruled out in the West, Russia’s renewed passion for empire must be denied with a firm yet prudent narrative similar to that of President Truman in March 1947.
How best to assist Ukraine begins with the plaintive recognition that little can now be done to keep the country entirely whole, or even free. Twenty years of Western neglect stand in the way of the former goal, and centuries of territorial and cultural intimacy with Russia constrain the latter. The echoes of past calls for the early “liberation” of Eastern Europe during the Cold War still resonate. “What are you proposing to do,” John Foster Dulles was asked when Secretary of State. And President Eisenhower answered at the start of the 1956 crisis in Hungary when he announced that “the day of liberation may be postponed where armed forces for a time make protest suicidal.”
What followed – a “holocaust,” wrote Eisenhower – should not be forgotten. But we must face the fact that Russia’s annexation of Crimea will not be reversed any time soon, if ever, and preventing further amputation is the best that can be expected. History still shapes Ukraine’s destiny – two peoples in a single country that urgently needs a new constitutional formula to if it is to maintain its unity. But geography, with borders shared by seven neighbours, also gives Ukraine pivotal significance for Russia and the West. Attempts by either to build Ukraine up as an outpost against the other will not go unanswered and would deepen a dangerous geopolitical fracture in the heart of Europe.
The 1955 neutralisation of Austria, concluded at a time when Moscow could have imposed partition, is an adaptable precedent. For 40 years after that, Austria was left out of the Western institutions, but the West was not kept far away from Austria. That time-out was well used, for Austria gradually became a non-member member of the European Community, thereby easing its transition to full EU membership shortly the end of the Cold War. By comparison, a quarter of a century of bad governments has made of Ukraine a failed state which the EU is unwilling to adopt and which Russia looks unable to rehabilitate. We should also consider Russia’s own condition – the state of its economy, the health of its society, and the efficacy of its own governance. Russia is back, admittedly, but not as Yeltsin had hoped: however influential it wants to be, this is a demandeur state whose staying power suffers from a lack of capabilities, including people; dwindling market power, including oil; and shrinking security space, with an expanding NATO in the West, while China grows ever stronger and more intrusive in the East and Islam more unsettled and even threatening in the South. These are the facts of geographic and economic vulnerability which Gorbachev understood when trade, mostly with Eastern Europe, amounted to less than 4% of the total Soviet economy. Now, Russia’s foreign trade represents 30% of GDP, with more than half of its exports going to the West, mostly to Europe and mainly consisting of oil and gas sales that contribute the major share of Moscow’s revenues. Add to this Russia’s need for Western capital for technology purchases and the question of who needs whom is clear. Even as the West lacks the military will to deter Putin in the short term, it has the economic power to alter Russia’s behavior before long.
When asked what he thought of Western civilisation, Gandhi reportedly answered that “it would be a good idea.” At 65 years of age, the transatlantic alliance, too, still looks as if it would be a good idea. The obstacle to putting the idea into practice is not a matter of capabilities or even commitment. Rather, what is lacking is the confidence that the capabilities will be used effectively and the commitment assumed evenly; absent such confidence, the will to act is lacking. For the European allies who have become used to relying on the United States for waging, winning, and ending their wars, the recent display of inefficacy in Iraq and Afghanistan is squarely un-American. But if not the United States, who? For Americans who have repeatedly urged Europe to do more, the institutional standstill since the 2008 financial crisis is increasingly exasperating. If Europe cannot be rendered capable as a Union, how can it be responsible for its own security?
These questions, and the expectations they raise, have surfaced many times before. Now, however, their resonance is being heightened not only by Russia’s resurgence in the East but also by Germany’s influence in the EU and America’s drift to Asia and other influential newcomers. In other words, the Western alliance is once again troubled by a Russian problem which the United States can no longer ignore, a German problem which the EU can no longer hide, and an American problem which NATO can no longer dilute. The balance of military forces appears to favour Russia more than ever before; rarely, too, has the balance of economic influence been as favourable to Germany as it is now and never has America sounded less European.
In all these cases, the dilemma is daunting. This is a surprising end to a century of total wars that were fought mostly around these two European superpowers and where there was decisive American leadership. Yet as the United States “pivots” to Asia, which it knows to be inevitable, it hopes for a Russia that is strong enough to not be tempted by China, but weak enough to not concern the EU. And it expects a Europe that is united enough to bury the past century with a fully completed union, but divided enough to depend on an American leadership that is still learning how to consult with, rather than merely inform its allies. Meanwhile, as Europe struggles with institutional questions that it knows to be indispensable, it awaits a Germany assertive enough to lead, but compliant enough to be overruled.
Back to Kennan, then: patience, patience – don’t provoke but indulge. What else? This is how the Cold War was won and half of Europe redone; this is how the other half of Europe will make the continent whole after it has been kept free. The strategic recipe hasn’t really changed much: To borrow from the quip of Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, America is still very much “in”, and while Germany should no longer be kept “down” (now that the EU is up), Russia must be kept “out” until such time as it’s prepared to come in.
First published by the Europe’s World, article re-posted per author’s permission
Russian interview with Putin (and others) discusses geopolitics, nationhood, and America
No Russia, no world discusses and presents a new feature-length, interview-laced, documentary, about the way that Russians, and also Putin, view America, and view the future of Russia. Here are, for me, the highlights from the included video (and I shall link to previous commentaries from me at relevant points, so as to clarify some of the references that are spoken about):
7:34- Carla Del Ponte, UN prosecutor on Syrian war crimes: “The important thing is for peace to prevail, so that civilians can return to their homes, so that refugees return to Syria. I think only Russia can achieve peace in Syria.”
17:15- A Russian soldier says “And all of a sudden, the symphony of the power structures and the Russian people, they joined into one melody. In Spring of 2014 [right after the U.S. coup in Ukraine, Crimea broke away from Ukraine and resumed being a Russian province], we understood that we are one people, this is our president, our forefathers are behind us, this is our history — and all of this combined is our whole.” His eloquent expression of nationhood moved me. Though I am not Russian, nor have even visited there, and feel no particular personal identification to any of its many cultures, Russia under Putin might now be occupying much the same significance in world affairs today that my own country, America, did under FDR, as the moral leader of an emerging new international order. We all live in FDR’s shadow. Future generations could find themselves living in Putin’s. (That’s if the American aristocracy won’t so crave war, so that there soon won’t be any future at all.) The threat in FDR’s time was the German aristocracy; the threat in ours is the American aristocracy. Perhaps Russia, during Putin’s leadership, is up to that challenge, as America was during FDR’s. I hope so.
23:20- Putin: “[In 2012,] They introduced the Magnitsky Act under absolutely imaginary pretexts. … 50 new sanctions, I think. I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that this is 2012 — before any events in Ukraine, before the reunification with Crimea — but sanctions are in full swing! … They have always attempted to ‘contain’ the development of our country — so, I think the answer is simple. It’s just a method against competition. It’s illegitimate, it’s unjust, but that’s how it is. And, of course, it’s an attempt to contain the defense capability of our country.”
27:00- “[In 1991,] we expected that with the end of the Warsaw Pact, NATO would cease to exist too. Or, at least, as we were told at the time, this organization would not expand. We assumed some kind of tectonic changes in international relations to take place, but they did not. It turned out that under the guise of this ideological war, there was also a geopolitical war. For geopolitical interests [’The Great Game’ as aristocracies call it]. Secondly, they thought that they no longer had to consider anyone else in their decisions. [As Obama often expressed this, the United States is “the one indispensable nation”, which means that all others are dispensable.] … They started to support separatism and radicalism in our Caucasus region. They bombed Yugoslavia in 1999 without a resolution from the UNSC [U.N. Security Council]. They just spat on everything — they bombed it, destroyed the country. … If the people of Yugoslavia strove for independence, maybe it’s good. But did you have to do it by that method? … I doubt it. I am assured it should not have been done. … Then Afghanistan. Then Iraq. Then two waves of NATO expansion.”
33:40- “In 1992 or 1993, the then Mayor [of St. Petersburg, Anatoly] Sobchak took me with him to Bonn, where he met with Chancellor Kohl. At some point, Kohl asked all the attendees to leave [but] I was left to translate between the two. … And that was the first time I heard the Chancellor say, ‘I don’t see a future for Europe without Russia.’ For me, as a former KGB officer, it was completely unexpected.” (Putin continued by making clear that he views Russia as being part of Europe, “culturally and spiritually, its science, its defense potential.”)
39:00- The documentary announcer criticizes Merkel’s immigration-policy: “As admitted by German experts, … 4 out of 5 migrants don’t wish to study [to learn German and to learn skills to become productive in the economy]. They want to receive benefits.” If this is true, then perhaps America’s billionaires are aiming to destroy the social-welfare states in Europe, so as to spread America’s sink-or-swim economy, make the public as desperate as possible. Perhaps that’s one reason why Europe’s role is to take in the people who have lost their homes and their life’s savings in the countries that we’ve bombed and that we’ve aided the jihadists to decimate and destroy — that it’s in order to flood Europe with culturally alien ‘third-world’ immigrants, who (with those difficulties) will drain, instead of grow, Europe’s economy.
41:25- Putin: “In some places, liberalism is giving up its positions. … The multicultural model they tried to build in Europe, not only did it not work, but my [European] colleagues who wanted it, today say themselves that it failed.” Q: “Will we lose our national identity?” A: “Us? No. It’s too dear to us. … [Some] Russians convert to Russian Orthodox, other Russians convert to Islam, but, still, together, this is ‘us’ [regardless of religion].”
56:45- Putin, referring to Ukraine’s violations of the Minsk agreements it had signed that established a pathway by which Donbass would democratically re-enter being part of Ukraine: “The law on amnesty is not [even] being signed [by Ukraine]. The law on special status of Donbass [within Ukraine] is not signed. Practically [on Ukraine’s side] nothing is signed. To the contrary, they signed a law on ‘de-occupation’, which doesn’t mention the Minsk agreements at all. They do this to themselves, with their own hands.”
1:07- Putin is presented with Western media characterizations of him as an evil man and “Putin’s War on The West,” and is asked “What’s it like to be the main global villain?” He answers: “I have some very good anchors. Those anchors are the interests of the Russian Federation and its people.”
1:14- Q: “We see the targeted approach to distance our allies from us. They’re working Belarus, Kazakhstan, working Armenia very actively. We see the way they drip poison into their ears. How can we counteract this?” A: “Whoever drips poison anywhere will end up drinking it themselves, at the end of the day. We have a good saying about it: ‘Don’t spit into the well [from which we all drink]’.”
1:27- Putin: “What we have to do in the near future is to ensure that it is technological innovation that is the main driver behind Russia’s development. If we can achieve this — which includes all of its components: digital technology, biology, fundamental sciences — then without a doubt, Russia will preserve the status of a great superpower.”
On 3 June 2014, I headlined “How and Why the U.S. Has Re-Started the Cold War (The Backstory that Precipitated Ukraine’s Civil War)” and, with a number of graphs, showed the drastic improvement in Russia’s economy under Putin, and in the lifespans and other welfare-indicators of the Russian people, and I explained why the U.S. aristocracy want to get rid of him. But, given that America’s anti-Russian war (which has thus far included Serbia, Iraq, Georgia, Syria, Ukraine, and other Russia-friendly governments, and is now moving on to Russia itself) was established on 24 February 1990, before Putin was even in the picture, there’s no reason for him to take The West’s insults personally. This has been the U.S. Government’s plan even before there was any President Putin.
New American-Russian Conflict: A Confrontation beyond Cold War
The conflict between the White House and Grand Kremlin Palace, which by far is more dangerous and intense than that of the Cold War era, seems to have reached its peak.
The 2008 Russo-Georgian War was a clear instance of Russian military confrontation with one of the allies of the United States.
The Russo-Georgian War was a war between Georgia, Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia and Georgia were both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union.
During the battle, Russians troops drew very close to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, forcing Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia who was a US ally to surrender. Then, the dialogue between Georgia (US) and Russia began at two levels. On the surface, were the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) special moves for expansion to the East and the adoption of military configurations in the Baltics. However, the underlying agenda for the US was to bring down Russia’s political system through its neighbors like Ukraine.
Today, we are witnessing the power struggle between Russia and the US that has certain properties.
The tension between Moscow and Washington, as mentioned, is rising, and both states more than ever before have been boasting their power to the extent of elimination of the other. Failed plans such as “Anti-Proliferation: to limit the expansion of nuclear weapons technology” and Nuclear Disarmament: to reduce the total number nuclear devices in existence, ideally down to zero,” are clear examples of the conflict.
NATO plays a pivotal role in the recent dispute between the two states. In the summer of 2017, NATO troops held a large scale defensive drill, “Iron Wolf 2017”, on the border separating Poland and Lithuania, to deter Russian aggression.
In response, Russia conducted Zapad 2017 military drills with Belarus in September of the same year in Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad bordering Poland and Lithuania. It was Russia’s largest exercise since the Cold War with 12,700 troops in the drills.
In 2017, Russia tested its new hypersonic missile, 3M22 Zircon, an anti-ship missile with five times the speed of sound.
Clearly, Moscow’s objective is to challenge NATO and the US naval and military capabilities. However, on a larger scale, Russia intends to frighten the US and the EU and create a sense of fear and insecurity through boast of power, a sense of “warning that a war is on the way.” Obviously, here NATO will change the balance of power to the benefit of Russia.
On the other hand, the recent decision by the US and NATO members in the establishment of two command centers in America and Germany against Russia, and enhancement of NATO and US nuclear weapons in German’s territory, reveal Washington’s long-term military strategy against Moscow.
The concerns have put Washington’s and NATO’s at an alert level for a possible military attack on Moscow.
Despite recent warnings from influential political figures like former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, the late and ongoing conflicts between the US and Russia can lead to a condition far more grim than the Cold War era.
In this mayhem, factors such as “multiplicity of actors,” “increasing the rate of international actors’ vulnerability,” “modernizing nuclear weapons,” will enhance the cost of the new confrontation between Washington and Moscow.
Europe turns into battleground between US, Russia
As the conflict between Washington and Moscow is on the rise, many analysts believe the world will be going through a repeat of tensions of the Cold War era or even worse.
NATO’s (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and Russia’s new type of military drills both represent a radicalization of the climate between the two sides and a shift from “political” dispute to “military” conflict.
Although the real conflict is between Washington and Moscow, NATO’s European member states will inevitably get affected by the dispute, the result of which can severely threaten the European Union’s (EU) security.
European countries were hit the worst post-World War II andCold War and were the main victim of the wars devastating effects due to their geopolitical position.
Today, given the deployment of American’s nuclear missiles in Europe and Russian’s on Western European borders, Europe can once again become the “main battlefield” between the White House and the Kremlin.
Even if no war breaks out between the United States and Russia, European countries will experience the aftermath of the conflict on their economy, which is pretty much dependent on imports and exports, and will be hit by a tsunami of immigration.
Nowadays, the likelihood of the European Union collapse, due to internal and external threats, has increased more than ever before which is a matter of concern for many EU leaders.
In a wrap, European states don’t hold certain theoretical and practical framework or policy in regulating relations with Moscow and Washington, thus many of them have become involved in the conflict between the two powers, a process that can be very dangerous for the European Union.
What can salvage the European continent which is stuck in the middle of the US and Russia’s tug of war is the formation of a coalition of EU member states that are also part of NATO to mediate in the growing crises between the United States and Russia.
US, Europe meddle in Russian elections
Tensions have escalated between the United States and Russia. These tensions have also appeared in various parts of the world, including Syria, the Mediterranean, the Baltics, and the Crimean Peninsula. As time passes, the battlefield between the United States and Russia becomes wider. European countries, too, have directly gotten involved in the complex situation. On the one hand, without the support of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), they have the power to form an independent and unified army to counter Russia’s threats. On the other hand, their commitments to the United States and NATO have led to a sharp decline in their maneuverability in the peaceful settlement of existing conflicts between the United States and Russia.
What is certain is that European countries, as effective actors in the international arena, see their security as a precondition for avoiding a persistent controversy (especially in the military dimension) between the US and Russia. European countries know well that in the event of any conflict between Washington and Moscow, Europe will be the main venue for it. But will the European countries have mediation power between the White House and the Kremlin? Will they be able to resist engagement in case of chronic tensions between Russia and the US? The answer to this question is definitely no.
The fact is that the membership of many EU member states in NATO as well as the specific geo-strategic and even geo-economic status of the European Union has made these countries part of the conflict between the United States and Russia. While, according to the best-known mediation rules in the international system, if the independence of an actor is less, mediating power also declines. Europe can not only play a mediating role between the United States and Russia, but will directly influence the conflict. The European Union is now faced with Russia in various geographic and strategic areas.
Undoubtedly, in the near future, we will see more serious political conflicts regarding Europe’s relationship with the United States and NATO. These disagreements will augment conflict between the United States and Russia. Since 2014, as a result of the crisis in Ukraine and the intensification of tensions between Russia and NATO in Syria, Europe has directly entered the conflict between the United States and Russia. In 2017, the trend was intensifying. In the NATO military maneuvers in the summer of 2017 in Poland and Lithuania, NATO members presented a controversial military confrontation with Russia. By contrast, Russia also responded sharply to NATO’s military maneuvers in the Kaliningrad area. Undoubtedly, in 2018, the tensions between Russia and the United States will increase further. However, the main question is, what will be the future of Europe? No one can answer this question.
The United States and the European Union are making a joint and complementary effort to change the political fabric of Russia. Washington and NATO members are well aware that one of the major ways in which the Russians rethink foreign policy and the retreat of the Kremlin against NATO threats is to deflect Russia’s internal structure through the emergence of some political conflicts and chronic disagreements.
The next point is that the United States and the European Union consider the “election” as the most sensitive political event in Russia which can strengthen the pro-NATO currents within Russia and weaken Putin’s power. In other words, the United States and Europe see Russia as an opportunity to inject some of the deterrent factors in Moscow’s domestic and foreign policy towards the 2018 presidential election. Washington and Europe know that according to polls Putin will be reelected. Nonetheless, NATO members are struggling to strengthen the internal divide between Russian parties and the Russian people. The West does not pay much attention to the outcome of the Russian presidential elections, but seeks to curb Russia’s power by creating a turbulent political atmosphere inside the country.
Putin Explains Why Russia’s New Weapons Can’t Be Stopped by ABMs
In a “Russia Insight” TV interview of Russian President Vladimir Putin that was uploaded to youtube with English subtitles on March 10th, NBC’s Megyn Kelly asked him why America’s ABMs wouldn’t be able to knock out Russia’s new missiles. He answered (16:40): “We have created a set of new strategic weapons that do not follow ballistic trajectories, and the anti-missile defence systems are powerless against them. This means that the U.S. taxpayers’ money has been wasted.”
A ballistic missile — the types of missiles at which an ABM or anti-ballistic missile is directed — is not just any type of missile, but instead is a missile with a certain type of trajectory, which goes above the Earth’s atmosphere and then comes down largely using the force of gravity instead of continuously under propulsion and strict control. Putin is saying that Russia’s new missiles, which are designed so as not to be adhering to the flight-paths that ballistic missiles do, can’t be hit by anti-ballistic missiles.
Putin referred to Russia’s largest new missile as “Voyevoda.” The missile’s manufacturer posts online about it, “33 launches in all were conducted, 97.4% of them successful.”
She then asked him whether these weapons will be used only if Russia comes under a nuclear attack, or against any attack; he answered it would be either a nuclear attack “or a conventional attack on the Russian Federation, given that it jeopardizes the state’s existence.” He implied that if an ally of Russia gets attacked, Russia will respond only with non-nuclear forces.
Then, he volunteered to say, in response to a question about what the issues would be that Russia would want formal negotiations with the U.S., that, “today, when we are acquiring weapons that can easily breach all anti-ballistic missile systems, we no longer consider the reduction of ballistic missiles and warheads to be important.”
She asked whether the new weapons he was referring to could be “part of the discussion,“ and he said they “should, of course, be included in the grand total.”
This interview continued with non-nuclear matters, such as the accusations that he had interfered in America’s 2016 Presidential contest, or tried to. His answers were very direct, but viewers who support the ongoing Russiagate investigations will probably not believe his answers.
As regards the weapons-issues, there is posted online a brilliant technical description of the types of engineering issues that the Russians have been developing for decades, in which they’ve led the world and in which their lead has been widening, and which were behind what Putin was speaking about in his March 1st speech. Though that technical description was a reader-comment, instead of an article, it was article-length, and makes the issues clear; and the article that it was commenting upon was itself brilliant: and it links to an earlier brilliant article by Andrei Martyanov; so, all three of those together enable a pretty clear understanding of what’s involved in Russia’s biggest strategic-weapons breakthroughs.
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