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The Russian military doctrine

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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The medal coined by the Hungarian State – after the powers of the Warsaw Pact had to return to their bases and to Russia, in particular, by March 31, 1991 – was very significant: on the front side the return of the Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers, portrayed with the irony of comics, while on the back side of the coin the bottom of a Russian-Soviet general on which the shape of a big kick stands out.

That was the situation at the end of a political, military and economic system that encompassed the para-Soviet area in a very dangerous and economically unstable network.

While the Soviet technocratic wings theorized factor accounting, according to Leontief’s model – albeit with real prices – the ruling classes imposed an economic and military alliance based on the simple coordination of national economic plans.

It could not be long-lasting and, indeed, it did not last.

It is worth noting that China uses the Leontief’s public accounting model still today.

This was the first Eastern structural crisis, which started in the 1960s and later dragged on until the end of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR collapse.

It was not just a “planned” economy, it was a productive system for strategic and political purposes that could no longer be credibly maintained.

The fall in oil prices with the new North Sea production – that Margaret Thatcher did not fail to use politically – and the related  drop in the Middle East oil barrel price were the two factors which blocked the residual desires of revenge of the USSR and its allies.

Conversely, the strategic swan song was the “Euromissile battle” in Europe.

It was a Milan-based leader of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), often travelling to Moscow, who directly informed Helmut Schmidt of the explicitly offensive line of the Soviet SS-20 deployment in the Warsaw Pact areas.

Those missiles were more powerful and precise than Pershing II ones, but expensive and very heavy.

It took the strategic genius of Bettino Craxi and of Admiral Fulvio Martini, an unforgettable friend, and later of Francesco Cossiga, to block a series of operations, which we would currently call Information Operations, designed to delegitimize and block the parallel deployment of NATO  Cruise missiles.

What is happening today? Vladimir Putin says he must protect the “outer space” of the Russian Federation, otherwise it can implode.

The Russian President likes to repeat that the Russian Federation has only three bases outside its borders – but, indeed, they are approximately 30 –  while the United States has a military network of about 800 bases.

The Russian polemic is partially true.

NATO has Eastern borders which are already targets, but Russia has semi-populated areas or regions in which treacherous populations live. If these regions are penetrated, the nerve centres of Russian defense can be reached.

Hence currently the Russian Federation considers it to be a new great power, after its Soviet phase, through a powerful, up-to-date and world-leading military apparatus, attentive to seal both the homeland and the areas of primary strategic interest for Russia. We saw it in Syria and we will soon see it in Libya and the rest of Africa.

While, during the Cold War, the Soviet Armed Forces had to cross the Gorizia Threshold from Hungary and the German Threshold from the Baltic to Thuringia up to Passau, so as to later spread to Western Europe, today the Russian Armed Forces must project the Russian power onto Eastern European areas and protect their Southern flank between Georgia and Ukraine, as well as make the areas bordering on China safe.

A global project that is much different from the old bilateral confrontation with the United States and its allies, as it happened until 1989.

We cannot even rule out that the “fall of the Berlin Wall” was precisely a phase of the strategic confrontation and not its end.

In fact, in New Lies for Old, a book written by an important KGB defector, namely Anatoly Golytsin, and published in the West in 1990, it is maintained that all the major “opening” operations of the Soviet regime were managed by the Party’s nomenclature, with a view to playing for time and involving Westerners in solving the USSR structural economic crisis.

A crisis which has been lasting since the beginning of Bolshevik power and made one of the most brilliant Russian dissident intellectuals, namely Andrei Amalrik, write another revealing book, Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984?

Currently the Russian Armed Forces are one of the mechanisms with which the Federation itself survives; they are not a prohibitive cost that blocks the “Socialist” economic development.

Let us now better analyze how the Russian Armed Forces are constituted  and what their current rules of engagement are.

The risk matrices evaluated by the Kremlin are now well-known: Russia views the US policy of global spreading of democracy as a power projection in disguise, under the banner of altruism and noble feelings. This applies both to the “colour revolutions”, from the Balkans up to Georgia and Ukraine and to the “Arab Spring” in the former USSR Islamic republics.

Furthermore the Russian Federation fears jihadist Islam in North Caucasus and in the many Muslim regions across the nine time zones currently characterizing the country – not to mention the danger represented by Islamist radicalism in Afghanistan, which can easily spread also to the Russian territory.

It is worth recalling that Brzezinski decided that Central Asia should never fall under the Russian or Soviet hegemony and that the jihadist “small Satan” was needed to drive away the Soviet “great Satan” in Afghanistan – with the bad results which are before us to be seen.

However, in the framework of Global Strategy, alchemy rules – in which  “like cures like” – do not apply.

With specific reference to China, the current Russian National Strategy  theorizes that there are never enemies in the East. Nevertheless some groups in the Kremlin think that the danger of Russia as China’s junior economic partner needs to be avoided and they are not even sure that China can never collide – for its own security – in central Asian areas or on maritime borders with Japan and Taiwan.

As to defense spending, in 2016 Russia reached its peak since the USSR collapse.

Moreover, in 2015, defense spending reached 52 billion US dollars, equal to 4% of GDP.

A reasonable figure for a global and nuclear power.

The main project on which the Chiefs of Staff are currently focusing is the strategic armament program for rearmament from 2011 until 2020, for an estimated value of 19.4 trillion rubles (285 billion US dollars), with 31% of the Fund spent in the first 5 years (2011-2015) and 70% to be used from 2016 to 2020.

Furthermore, in 2017, defense spending, has fallen by 30% compared to the previous years so as to avoid the military budget blocking economic growth, which is still heavily dependent on the oil cycle, which – as is well-known – is now characterized by permanently low oil barrel prices.

Oil drilling and extraction in Saudi Arabia is not expensive – hence the country is not afraid of falling oil prices – but pumping oil and gas in Central Asia or even in Siberia has a very high cost.

Again at doctrinal level, the Russian official texts tell us that future wars  will be characterized by a quick initial “destructive period” – an old legacy of Soviet doctrines – which will be decisive for the continuation of war operations.

Speed, accuracy and quantity of non-nuclear weapons are decisive just as in the case of nuclear weapons – and this, too, is a legacy of the USSR doctrinal tradition.

Hence Russia theorizes the right to a nuclear response when there is also a conventional attack endangering the very existence of the State.

Therefore preventive strikes and deep attacks are always possible, with or without nuclear weapons that, for Russia, can also be used to de-escalate the conflict.

Another tenet of the Russian national doctrine is “non-nuclear deterrence”.

The issue lies in calculating the minimum amount of operations to make the damage inflicted on an opponent obviously unacceptable for the enemy.

For Russia, “strategic deterrence” is currently the mix of military, diplomatic, economic, spiritual, cultural and technological operations capable of stabilizing and blocking the opponents’ actions and showing the dissuasive resolve of the Russian elites.

An overview that is very different from the current NATO doctrines, which are developed in a very sectoral way, by paying little attention to the cultural and political significance of the operations planned.

Moreover, with specific reference to the C4ISR network (Command, Control, Communication, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance), Russia has a highly-centralized structure, directly into  Vladimir Putin’s hands, but also particularly scattered over the Russian Federation’s huge expanses. This structure is obviously redundant, safe and reliable, designed for the worst-case scenario and for the maximum threat to the network security.

Compared to the Soviet tradition, the current Russian military doctrine is much less focused on ground forces and their deployment, while there is more room for the strategic forces of the Navy and the Air Force.

The Russian nuclear Triad is currently composed of three groups of intercontinental ballistic missile systems, based on the old, but always well-functioning SS-18 and SS-19 missiles.

Conversely the SS-25 is an ICBM system moving on roads or railways and  an expansion and renewal of these networks, too, is foreseen in the future.

Two new submarine classes – at least ten units – have been included in planning, both nuclear-powered and equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Russian Aerospace Force has many bombers which make up the Long Range Aviation Command, while new aircraft models are being introduced in this area of the nuclear triad.

 Again at theoretical level, all the Triad forces are programmed to be used in three main scenarios: preventive strike, counter-strike before the enemy nuclear salvo and retaliation nuclear salvo.

It is worth noting that the new START agreement signed by Russia and the United States on April 8, 2010 provides for a maximum of 1,500 warheads for each platform and for both countries, as well as up to 800 ICBM and SLBM launchers and up to 700 operational strategic systems for both countries.

Currently, the latest Russian statistics on the START agreement tell us that 1,765 warheads on 523 missile, marine, land and aircraft carriers are available on the Russian Federation’s territory.

 Together with the indirect, cyber and intelligence strategies, this is Russia’s effort to become a global power in a multipolar and post-American world.

Conversely, in Europe, the Armed Forces are experiencing their worst phase, with few men, few and obsolete means, a vast distance from their respective ruling classes and a doctrinal level that is often borrowed – with some simplifications – only from the one used by the US Armed Forces, which have different interests and strategies, as well as increasingly different goals from those of the European military systems.

The new Russian defense doctrines mark the end of the old neo-positivistic military tradition, such as that of the US field manuals describing the amount of bullets needed to shoot a specific target down.

The era of the cultural, technological, intelligence and political war has begun – the kind of conflict that was indicated by the Soviet intelligence defectors who, in the United States, were very surprised that no one studied Sun Tzu, the Thirty-Six Stratagems or the cultural and psychological aspects of what we now call – by using Russian terminology – the “hybrid war”.

Those who will reform our European nations – after this difficult and gloomy phase of economic, social and cultural demobilization – shall   immediately pursue the material, spiritual and doctrinal rearmament of our Armed Forces.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Putin, United Russia and the Message

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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On Dec. 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin took part in the plenary meeting of the 18th United Russia party congress, reiterated the key challenges, problems and accomplishments for the nation. The congress delegates identified the challenges and priorities in the party’s work for the coming year.

Putin acknowledged the party’s support during his presidential election campaign, saying it was “a momentous thing shaping the top institution of power” in Russia. This concerns the president, the government, the region – any level, down to the local or municipal one.

Putin further referred to an action plan that was presented in a condensed form in the Executive Order in May 2018 and that set out in national projects drafted by the Government (the majority in the Government are United Russia members) and was supported by legislators (United Russia holds the majority in the State Duma). He pointed to the fact that there would not be any success without United Russia’s backing at the regional and municipal level.

“The United Russia party plays a special role. For a number of years the party has been showing its competence, its ability to make responsible decisions, explain these decisions to the people,” Putin told the party delegates during his address, while acknowledging frankly that there have been pitfalls and problems in the political leadership.

Leadership means making responsible decisions the country needs. This leadership is an enormous resource to achieve dynamic and substantive change that can ensure a radical improvement in the quality of life and greater well-being of the population.

Putin reminded the party meeting that the entire world going through a dramatic situation. In his words: “the world is undergoing a transformation, a very powerful and dynamically evolving transformation, and if we do not get our bearings, if we do not understand what we need to do and how, we may fall behind for good.”

He suggested that United Russia with its tremendous legislative, organisational and human resource potential must fully utilise it and consolidate all of society, in solving development issues, in implementing the nationwide agenda.

Putin told the party delegates never allow any sort of rudeness, arrogance, insolence towards people at any level – at the top level and the lowest, municipal level. This is important because it does the country a disservice, it is unfair to the people and it denigrates the party to the lowest of the low. The public demands fairness, honesty and openness.

What is “society” after all? It is the people. Thus, one key factor here is that people’s opinions and attitudes must necessarily be taken into account. There must be commitment to implementing people’s initiatives, and their initiatives must be used in attaining common goals, especially at the municipal level, according to the Russian leader.

The most crucial thing for a political party is a steady standing of its representatives and that United Russia does not have to fear change but rather work strategically towards making a change for the better.

Putin further asked the delegates to work relentlessly for a free democratic country, development of nationwide tasks, realisation of new ideas and approaches. Discussions and competition, including within the party itself are very efficient tools for solving problems in the interests of the nation. United Russia has to do everything needed to instil both inside the party in particular and in society in general this political culture, an atmosphere of dialogue, trust and cooperation with all political forces of Russia.

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G20 Summit: Looking for Compromise

Natalia Eremina

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The G20 is an important international forum, a meeting place for representatives of the world’s largest economies. Now, we can say that the division into the so-called “developed” and “developing” economies is irrelevant within this forum. Additionally, the G20 generally does, indeed, represent the interests of the global population, since its countries account for over 80 percent of the gross world product and two thirds of the entire population of the planet. It is also important to remember that such venues are very convenient for privately owned businesses, which, through the support of governmental agencies, can get favourable opportunities to hold talks with their foreign partners. Additionally, a rather large number of meetings and talks at G20 summits remains outside the spotlight, but their results confirm the significance of the many unofficial meetings, informal negotiations and talks on the side-lines of the summits. These meetings, which take place in a variety of formats, are vital for understanding the issues that are most important for leading international participants and whether there is consensus among them on the approaches required to resolve these issues. Moreover, as we consider meetings and agreements concluded on the side-lines of G20 summits, we can, to a degree, draw conclusions on the current configuration or re-configuration of international relations.

From the outset, we will note that the importance of G20 summits is gradually growing, even though they started out as meetings of ministers of finance and their initial goal was to formulate a joint response to global financial issues. Today, the summit has transformed into an international venue for discussing issues of global financial and economic policies and other pressing matters of the day. However, economic and financial issues remain significant for G20 discussions.

The summit is also important for the expert and political communities of various countries that assess the prospects of inter-country interactions. Apparently, at the Argentina summit, the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin attracted the greatest interest, but it never happened, since the U.S. President cancelled it at the eleventh hour, which certainly demonstrates the growing tensions in U.S.–Russia relations.

At the same time, the summit is useful, since its function is not to settle bilateral relations, but to develop common approaches that satisfy different states with different economic indicators and representing different political regimes.

G20 summits are convened to discuss several pressing issues proposed by the presiding state.

The summit held in Argentina was devoted to building a consensus for fair and stable development. Face-to-face meetings between heads of state are particularly important for handling the task. The goal of the summit indicates that the global community is aware of the current tectonic shifts in the global economy and in world politics. For a full-scale scale discussion of the problem, four issues were put on the agenda: the future of work and new professions, infrastructure for development, sustainable food future and gender mainstreaming.

Clearly, the G20 is not just a venue for discussing issues that have been defined as key; it is also an opportunity to “compare notes” via different formats “inside” the summit. For instance, we can say that France, Germany, Austria and Italy did not represent themselves or their interests alone, but were also united by their common tasks as EU countries. In addition, as one of the world’s largest economies, the European Union is a member of G20 as a single body. At the present summit, the European Union was represented by the heads of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. Similarly, BRICS countries use G20 to discuss issues of their own.

G20 in Implementing Russia’s Strategic Tasks

Russia’s current strategic priority is to take part in the establishment of the concept of a multipolar world and in elaborating new principles of interaction within integration processes in Eurasia. Therefore, special emphasis will invariably be placed on the possibilities for implementing the idea of “integrating integrations” at G20 summits, and this summit was no exception. In particular, special attention was paid to mechanisms for connecting the development of the EAEU with the “One Road – One Belt” strategy. In addition, issues of stepping up cooperation within BRICS are also addressed, and there is an ongoing search for parties interested in bolstering global political and economic stability through the instruments of “integrating integrations,” which entails Russia paying attention to China, India and other Asian partners, as well as the gradual stable growth of Russia’s interests in Latin America.

As for meetings that have the greatest significance for Russia, the key talks for understanding the development of Russia’s foreign policy are the now traditional sessions held with BRICS countries. In addition, a meeting was also held between the heads of state of Russia, India and China (in the RIC format). Objectively, this format could be the most efficient, since interaction between Eurasia’s three largest states is of principal significance for both regional and global security. The dialogue on security issues and collaboration in all areas will be continued at the second Belt and Road Summit in April 2019 that Xi Jinping invited Vladimir Putin to attend.

The President of the Russian Federation was probably one of the most active figures at the present summit. Naturally, he had a meeting with representatives of Argentina. It is all the more important today since the EAEU and MERCOSUR are building up their cooperation potential, and a Memorandum on Cooperation is being prepared. What is more, Russia and Argentina concluded an agreement on nuclear power generation that will allow Russia to start construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants in Argentina.

The main topic of discussion at the meeting between Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was the Syrian agenda. Indeed, an exchange of opinions on this question now, when various formats of building up the peace process are being discussed, is of particular importance. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation discussed the current situation in Syria with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also confirmed the significance of the Turkish Stream for the stable and secure development of the economy of Turkey and other states.

The meeting between the President of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on energy issues, with the two parties agreeing to extend the agreement on cutting oil production.

Vladimir Putin also met with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, with the Japanese side raising the issue of concluding a peace agreement. For Russia, the issue is not particularly relevant anymore, and at the meeting, the two heads of state agreed to continue active cooperation to increase the level of mutual trust between the two sides.

Of course, a great number of people were interested in the informal conversation between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who only had time to exchange opinions on the “Kerch Strait incident.” Trump’s refusal to meet with the President of the Russian Federation means a further loss of confidence between the two countries.

On the whole, meetings between heads of state were of particular importance at the summit, since, for instance, the meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs was downsized due to the absence of Russian and French ministers of foreign affairs, the U.S. Secretary of State and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

G20: The International Agenda

The so-called Iran nuclear deal has become one of the most crucial problems in international relations. Russia and the European Union have adopted the same stance on this issue.

In addition to economic matters, G20 also tackled the climate change problem and proposed complete and utter compliance with the decisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, significant progress is unlikely after the withdrawal of the United States from the accord.

No less important were the discussions on the problem of terrorism. The G20 countries agreed that their Leaders’ Hamburg Statement on Countering Terrorism needed to be implemented. Incidentally, that statement declared the need to fight terrorism internationally in all its forms and manifestations. However, the current situation is extremely complicated, and discussions concerning Syria confirm this fact.

The influence of the European Union and the United Kingdom on the international security agenda and their claim that Russia is the main disrupting force are just as worrying. The European Union, in the person of Donald Tusk, sought to expand the summit’s agenda with a discussion of Russia’s so-called aggression against Ukraine, which he likened to the problem of trade wars. However, despite the suggestion put forward by both Tusk and the United Kingdom that the G20 discuss Russia’s allegedly impermissible conduct and use some instruments against it, the proposal failed to gain traction. It say a lot that the “Kerch Strait incident” did not overshadow any of the meetings held by the President of the Russian Federation at the G20 Summit.

The attention of international actors was also focused on the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, who failed to achieve a consensus on economic interaction, but agreed to a 90-day moratorium on introducing increased tariffs. Accordingly, special hopes are pinned on this interim measure. Clearly, China will not make the unilateral concessions that the United States is calling upon it to do, appealing instead to the idea of a compromise.

Results of the G20 Summit

While the summit’s final declaration does not contain specific figures and objectives for the most sensitive issues on the agenda, it does offer mechanisms for their resolution. In this respect, the summit did not turn out to be a breakthrough in resolving pressing issues. However, it demonstrated that no issue will ever be resolved if the parties abandon dialogue and compromise.

The results of Russia’s efforts at the summit include the signing of a large set of bilateral agreements between public and private bodies. The summit also demonstrated that Russia is actively and successfully stepping up cooperation with Latin American countries and enhancing its multi-format collaboration with the BRICS nations, particularly with China and India.

It is both curious and telling that the media was most interested in the meetings held by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump. However, we should mention the different approaches of these heads of state. For example, the President of the United States demonstrated that his country was not especially interested in following the established rules and was far more concerned about retaining the right to develop new rules of the game independently of other participants in international relations. Meanwhile, China’s and Russia’s leaders spoke about cooperation and compromise both in their joint meetings held in various formats and in their conversations with other heads of state. Additionally, the fact that the world is changing rapidly was recognized at the summit, meaning that the rules of the game can and should be changed and that new rules need to be formulated, but only through collaboration and compromise.

The heads of state also appealed to the IMF and the World Bank to work towards improving the economic situation in various countries and increasing the transparency of their work in interacting with states. This should help reduce sovereign debt and ensure that the recommendations offered by international financial institutions in individual states are implemented more effectively.

In addition, the leaders of the G20 countries concluded that responses need to be developed to current and future challenges in the development of the WTO and attempts should be made to avoid excessive contradictions, sanctions and tariff restrictions. The parties also agreed that the WTO needs to be reformed for it to work more efficiently. This aspect will be considered at the next summit in Japan.

Interestingly, virtually all countries supported multi-laterality, confirmed their commitment to the rules of international trade and agreed that efforts to overcome crisis trends in the global economy should be stepped up in order to avoid a repetition of the 2008 global crisis. The final declaration states that the global economic growth is increasingly less synchronized between countries, which entails risks to economic security, particularly given geopolitical tensions and financial unpredictability. To overcome this problem, it is important to step up interaction and increase trust among all parties in international relations.

The G20 states also announced that it was necessary to continue joint work on studying the impact that the digitalization of economy has on the global tax system, which needs to be adapted to current conditions by 2019 (final decisions on the matter will be elaborated and published in 2020).

Thus, the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires once again demonstrated the significance of the mechanisms of dialogue and achieving compromise based on constant information exchange between countries. The compromise-based approach was officially adopted as the foundation of all agreements, and was the leitmotif of the event. Given the circumstances, an increasing number of states recognize their significance as participants in international relations and, with each passing year, they strive to more forcefully state their stance on the most sensitive issues. Clearly, the Russian Federation wholeheartedly welcomes this trend.

Therefore, it should be noted that the recent summit in Argentina demonstrated that the G20 is just that – a group of countries – and not a political club. This fact increases its significance as an organization exhibiting a multilateral, multi-format and pluralistic nature of today’s international relations. Active discussions in such a format confirm the relevancy of multipolarity and the current processes of reconfiguring the world. In such circumstances, Russia can most fully implement its interests and convey its vision of international matters. An analysis of the volume of news reports in the European media is quite telling in that it proves that EU journalists were primarily interested not so much in meetings of heads of EU states, but in meetings with the participation of the leaders of Russia, China and the United States, meaning that EU representatives were running second in the newsfeeds of many news agencies. Thus, the results of the summit allow us to state that there has been a significant increase in the international community’s attention on Russia.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia Calling the Shots: Extrapolating from the Kerch Strait

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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The quasi-standoff this past week between Russia and Ukraine over the Kerch Strait has been painted in the West with a decidedly anti-Russian brush. After Russia fired near three Ukrainian naval ships attempting to enter the strait (which sits as a small maritime passageway between the eastern edge of Crimea and the western tip of the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation, allowing ships to move between the Black and Azov Seas) and ultimately resulted in their seizure by Russian border guards, political actors all across the West have been quick to snap judgment against ‘Russian aggression:’ the EU has debated whether it needs to enact new sanctions against Moscow; Ukraine invited NATO to send a heavier naval presence into the Black Sea; even the Trump administration has at least temporarily canceled a future visit that was scheduled between the American president and Vladimir Putin, although it is not entirely certain that this is perfectly aligned with the Kerch Strait incident.

As has been the standard media and political play when it comes to Russian-American relations over the past several years, no one seems to be attempting to analyze what the Russian position is, other than derisively dismissing the Russian accusation of the entire incident being a Ukrainian ‘provocation.’ Regardless of the strong desire to put the black cowboy hat on to Putin (and to be fair, Putin sometimes seems to actually enjoy donning it, if at least to thumb his nose at the West), the Russian position, if taken more seriously, does give Western leaders important information about how Russia views not just its immediate region but also its political mentality on the global stage. America would do well to pay attention to this at least for the insights it can give into the Russian mindset.

First, Russia clearly still harbors irritation and resentment over what it considers to be continued interference from the West in Ukraine, ostensibly giving Ukraine a false sense of being able to ignore Russia as the true regional power and harbor false dreams of closer military ties to the European Union and NATO. This gives Russia the marked perception that the West is thereby purposely fomenting dissension between Russia and Ukraine. Second, Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, has a unique talent for enflaming this Russian perception to near hysterical heights, what with his penchant for making nearly continuous claims about Russia intending to ‘steal his entire country’ and installing ‘partial martial law’ over part of his own country when it comes to access to Crimea. Third, the consequences of the first two problems create Russian exasperation with what the Kremlin considers a ‘foreign policy double standard’ that favors the United States, causes its neighbors to act ‘irrationally’ (at least irrational according to Russian national security interests) and which will simply never be accepted by Russia.

The Crimean referendum, which led to Russia accepting Crimea back into the regional fold of the Russian Federation formally, was the first obvious (to Russia) example that false promises were being made to Ukraine. After all, it was the Russian military that came into Crimea after the referendum and literally dared NATO or the EU to come forward and try to expel it from the peninsula. It was calling out the NATO promise – made to the leaders of the Maidan revolution in Kiev – that it would not allow Russia to make ‘any incursions’ into Ukraine, and proving it to be nothing but a bluff. Russia marched. Kiev called. NATO didn’t pick up. Even now, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, recently expressed disappointment with NATO over the Kerch Strait incident, declaring how the ‘good relations’ between Ukraine and the Western defense organization have not materialized into ‘stronger military communication.’

This has been the foundation of Russia’s tough love approach to Ukraine and its misplaced Slavic shuffle: stop thinking you have a bigger or more powerful ally than the one that has always been on your Eastern border and has deep historical, religious, and cultural ties to you. The EU and NATO will never stand up to Russia in favor of Ukraine when the issue is relatively small on the global conflict scale. And despite what current Russophobes may think, Crimea and the Kerch Strait, since they have not escalated into something bigger or more violent, apparently do not pass the Western intervention sniff test. Thus, with the Kerch Strait today (which not coincidentally is the maritime pass over which Russia built a massive superhighway, literally connecting the Russian mainland directly to Crimea and which, understandably, the Kremlin is a bit sensitive about when it comes to any appearance of military maneuvers near it by another nation), Russia is challenging what seems to be a second NATO bluff. Instead of hoping for NATO to draw a red line, Ukraine might be better off paying attention to the Russian red line.

In the end, this is not Russia trying to escalate violence or war with Ukraine. It is not Russia attempting to bring Western powers deeper into what it considers its own sphere of neighborhood influence (based on very simple, classical realist power considerations). Rather, it is Russia attempting to ‘educate’ Ukraine about who its real allies should be and who its false friends are. Perhaps more than anything, it is Russia somewhat condescendingly telling the West that no matter how much nonsense it fills in the heads controlling Kiev (consider Putin just announcing that Kiev would get away with ‘eating babies’ as long as it would make things more difficult for Russia, all major decisions in this region of the globe are going to remain firmly in Russian hands. The West may not like it, but so far in the game of Ukrainian Bluff, it is Russia 2, the West 0.

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