“We have been taken up with the Americans on the war on terror while rather glibly assuming that postcold war settlement in eastern Europe remained in place. We have rather forgotten that Russia has never accepted that settlement.” Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the British Royal United Services Institute to TIMESONLINE 10/6/07
Putin’s Russia is creating maximum mischief and damage to the surrounding liberal-democratic world. Our world that arrogantly believed that history had ended and that we only had to deal with the remaining problems and issues like islamic terrorism, global warming and African misgovernment and poverty on the way to general human race happiness. It is done to feel good and prop-up the wounded national ego by rolling-back history, and get the ‘respect‘ demanded by a mafia boss. In order to reinvent an identity, Russia has chosen to regress to the good time-spirit and international style of the autocratic Aleksandr III, the last really successful Russian leader. The later most successful leader of Russian expansion – the Georgian Stalin – is treated again with proper respect.
We should remember that the Russians have tried to use any window of internal Western trouble to advance their positions or do dirty work in own backyard. World-views that aren’t based on geo-strategic ‘reality’ are naïve and dangerous nonsense to the Russian leadership. As the Russians know from repeated experience that their instruments are crude as well as the likely detrimental effects of failure, their opportunism is normally deliberate, limiting risks. If met by similarly actions that ‘speak their language’, they reconsider their actions.
From summer 1939 to summer 1940 they used the inter-European war and French defeat to move the geo-strategic borders in the West to those of the Russian Empire. Only Finland spoke their language by a determined defence – that had to be repeated in 1944.
In 1956 Western trouble in the Middle-East covered the disciplining of Hungary. Later general generational confrontation in the West and the domestic results of the Tet-offensive in the U.S. sheltered similar actions in Czechoslovakia in 1968.
American doubts and soul-searching after the Vietnam defeat and immature Western European fascination with a ‘third way’ utopia created a rather un-Russian optimistic strategic grab for world power to feed the inherent national inferiority complex. When the Americans reacted with a revitalised challenge, the Soviet system had to reform to meet that challenge. The attempts removed the supports of the rotten system, and it collapsed. The Russian Empire in Europe, lost during the defeat to Germany in 1918 and the ‘Revolution’, but partly regained during the Civil War and fully in 1940-45, disappeared again. In a final attempt to keep the Empire, the Russians used the cover of the Gulf War in 1991 in a half-hearted and clumsy attempt to discipline the Lithuanians and Latvians.
The cover of the ‘War on Terror’ after September 2001 has been used to remove Western criticism of a barbaric 19th Century type colonial campaign to keep control of North Caucasus, a part of the empire that had resisted the Russian presence from its start.
Thereafter the situation has created an ever widening gap of opportunity for deliberate Russian geo-strategic engineering. We are only beginning to see the political and military effects of the American unnecessary defeat in Iraq. It is doubtful if a soul-searching U.S. will use the future military freedom of action to follow the British example and ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, thereby enhancing NATO’s diminishing chances of success in its half-hearted ‘too little – too late’ state building and counter-insurgency campaign.
At the same time the Putin Clique has advanced quickly in a campaign to get control over Russia by means that totally reject all elements of the liberal democratic project – that is presented as alien to the simple Russian Soul.
In parallel campaigns the media have been disciplined and the decisive energy sector harnessed to state control. Assassination of independent journalists has been allowed – to reach quick results. Critical Western journalists are denied visa.
The Institute for Military History of the Ministry of Defence has been given two missions. Firstly to create the material used in the nationalistic education and brainwashing of Russian school children. Secondly to write historical misinformation to be used to smear critical neighbour states (the information is from a recent briefing by the leader of the institute during a visit to Denmark).
Nearly 60% of Putin’s present leadership cadre has its background in the claustrophobic and tunnel vision world view of the Soviet military. From reforming to meet terrorist threats, the Russian military is now again focusing on fighting or confronting states, NATO-states.
Critical voices among the Russian community abroad are silenced by pressure, if necessary by allowing assassination, legitimate under new Russian legislation.
The confusion and naivety of the West is used to the maximum. The ‘informed‘ West European public opinion is always without any historical perspective, always ‘understanding’ the other side – it must be tough to loose an empire – of course you have to find your national identity in your own way. In Western Europe you always trust the other side to be basically a well-meaning liberal wishing ‘peace in our time’.
All means of influence are used by the Russian leadership to bully and influence the former parts of the empire: By ‘sponsoring’ corrupt members of the elite, by mobilising the Russian speaking ethnic groups using the fact that they only watch Russian state controlled TV, by Russian state controlled investment in strategic economic areas of the neighbours like energy, by vilifying the neighbours and confusing the historically illiterate West European public opinion, by applying the energy and trade weapons, by using military threats in attempted coercion.
Ukraine is probably lost and Georgia is under siege. The Baltic State’s future full independence and security is presently depending on a self-serving divided EU and a NATO mired in Afghanistan. Thank God for Angela Merkel’s understanding of the issues.
Arms Control instruments that are basically anachronistic in their substance are used to tease and split a Western strategic community only capable of analysing with its vintage memory. The Russian use of the venerable CFE-treaty deliberately ignores the most important development: NATO has forced all new members to drastically reduce their self-defence forces to a level where they cannot defend themselves against even the weakest intimidation or attack. The members bordering Russia, Belarus and Ukraine had to concentrate on small expeditionary forces to become members, and most West European states have followed or are on the same path.
It might be a good idea for NATO to conduct all the future combined training for Afghanistan in Eastern Europe, thus discretely marking the continued relevance of Article V of the Washington Treaty. It would be seen as comforting by the East Europeans, it might awaken some West Europeans to the continuation of history, and it will be registered by the closely observing Russians. The Russian military knows that ready, deployable forces created for overseas operations are also capable of crisis management deterrent deployment to a front-line sector, especially if that deployment is exercised regularly.
The problem will not disappear next year. The Russians agree that the next president should be Putin’s controlled puppet, probably Ivanov, and that the master puppeteer should return to the center stage in 2012 for another two terms.