Saturday, 15 November 2014

IS RUSSIA A GLOBAL SECURITY THREAT?



If one reads, watches on TV, or listens on radio what the Western media produces the impression is that Russia poses a threat to regional security owing to the Ukraine crisis, but to the security of the entire world because it is a nuclear power. Many analysts in the West and its allies from Australia to Saudi Arabia and Israel argue that Russia poses a threat because it possesses nuclear weapons and it has a large conventional force, although it is but a tiny fraction of what the US and NATO possess.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko has gone so far as to argue that Russia is not just a threat to global security but a terrorist state. After all, Russia annexed the Crimea, continues to support the separatist rebels inside the eastern provinces of Ukraine, and refuses to accept Ukraine’s economic, political, and military integration into the Western zone of influence. 

According to Russians living in London, there has been a cultural backlash because the majority population has reverted to Cold War days when Westerners loved to hate Russians. In other words, it is not merely the government of President Putin on target for Western hatred but the entire nation. If one observes what comes out of right wing media in English-speaking countries, things are not very different than in London. Russia is the nation to hate because it poses a global security threat, no questions asked.

Needless to point out, Russia sees the US and NATO as global security threats, that the only nation on earth ever to use nuclear weapons is the US, and the only nations on earth perpetually involved in militaristic interventions around the world is the US, with NATO following its lead. Russia further sees a concerted US-led effort to weaken Russia which uses energy as a political leverage on which its economy rests. Furthermore, the close relationship Moscow has had with Iran, Syria and China is something that bothers the US and many of its allies because it means that the effort to weaken it and reduce to a regional power without much influence has not worked.

It certainly does appear that Vladimir Putin may be much stronger than the capabilities of Russia could possibly carry him. This is an impression that the US and EU governments and Western media have created in order to build up the “monstrous threat” that the Russian bear represents once again after a period of hibernation during the 1990s and early 2000s.

With the total mess in the Middle East where the US became involved militarily and indirectly only to create much bigger problems than it proclaimed it wished to solve, the Ukrainian crisis looks even worse than it really is for the US and EU. After all, Obama had no choice but to work with Iran at some level, and to water down his commitment to remove Assad from power, considering that Turkey has been playing all sides, including the US and Saudi Arabia that had been providing financing for the rebels in Syria.

Upon closer examination, the US and NATO are the most potent military force in the world. However, the question is whether military force can be used as a deterrent instead of diplomacy to solve what are in essence political issues. Have military solutions really worked so well in Iraq and Afghanistan that it is time for yet another one in Ukraine? Is Russia so adamantly opposed to a political solution that it will not sit at the negotiating table?  Is the US really interested in testing the limits of Russia’s military power and China’s diplomatic resolve in backing Moscow over Ukraine?   

Russia has indeed displayed its predisposition toward military resolution to the current crisis over Ukraine, which in the view of Moscow is a crisis between Russia and the West that wishes to impose a strict containment policy on Russia. However, this is because Moscow feels that the West refuses to permit Russia a sphere of influence that Russians regard historically theirs. Besides, if Moscow agreed to everything Washington demands over Ukraine, which former Soviet republic is next in line for integration with the West?

While there are constant reports of Russian military exercises everywhere from the Mediterranean and Baltic to the border of the Ukraine and Australia, exactly what do these military exercises mean, other than to send a symbolic message? I would like to emphasize that Russia under Soviet rule was always more about displaying its military power and about making noise than actually carrying out military campaigns. The history of Soviet intervention was always limited to Communist regimes.

It is true that Russia has no qualms moving militarily when it comes to its own borders, but only if it faces a threat to what it defines as “national security” zone. Let us keep in mind that Russia from Czar Peter the Great until the present has always had a policy of “continental imperialism” (expansion within Eurasia) in comparison with European imperialism that was always “extra-continental” involving territories in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Having said this, Moscow is acting largely out of a defensive posture because Putin feels the US and EU have been ganging up on Russia, encircling it to contain it and not permitting a zone of influence Moscow regards as its historical right. Attempting to integrate Ukraine in the Western zone of influence would be comparable to Russia trying to integrate Mexico into its zone of influence. After all, there is the Cuban example.    

I seriously doubt that Germany and France are interested in a conflict with Russia, especially now that they realize sanctions have backfired and Russia’s decision to float its currency has come back to haunt EU. Having spent billions defending the rubble, Russia opted for a floating currency, thus ending the euro-dollar pegged currency. This move forces all currencies on a downward path, but places special burdens on Europe and especially on Germany that relies heavily on Russia for energy and as an export-import market.  Considering that EU is faced with a contracting economy at this juncture, and considering that major businesses including European defense industry, refuse the take the fall because the US wants sanctions on Russia, EU governments feel the squeeze from their own business community.

Russia will have a competitive advantage because of the floating decision which comes at a time that EU economy is stagnant and undergoing enormous global competition. Putin has in effect neutralized Germany and France forcing them to distant their policies from the US aggressive diplomacy/military-solution option. The risk/benefit ratio for France and Germany is to determine how far it can go along with US policy before striking out on their own and proposing some kind of solution over Ukraine that both Moscow and Kiev can live with. 

The simple answer to this scenario is absolutely no chance. It is true that there are Russian nationalists with dreams of a large Russian empire, but even the most delusional nationalists have the sense to realize EU means NATO and nuclear weapons.  Russia is only interested in recovering a part of its lost glory from the past, but within reason and that means within Eurasia, and not beyond it.  It is interesting that Western politicians and analysts in the media play up this card of making Russia a much more aggressive power than it really is simply because they are interested in strengthening their own defense budgets. 

What a better way to convince public opinion to accept more military spending, as the US insists must take place, than to present Russia as an aggressor whose long term goals are to take Paris and Berlin. The scenarios are simply absurd and serve only the defense industry, as well as governments shifting the public’s attention away from domestic issues like unemployment and low living standards for workers and the middle class. 

For now, there seems to be no easy answer and the stalemate will continue. Nothing so far seems to satisfy Moscow, Kiev and Washington as far as a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, but things can change in a few weeks or a few months. The pessimists fear that as a result of the lingering cat-and-mouse games between Moscow and Kiev the result may be escalation toward conventional war that would then invite NATO intervention on a limited basis, that would then invite China to side with Russia and then we are faced with a very serious scenario for WWIII. I do not want to dismiss this as absurd because anything is possible when no government is willing to make concessions at the negotiating table.

However, with all due respect to Ukraine, is this country worth going to war as far as Russia, the US, and especially the EU are concerned? How many French and German politicians and military officers would answer yes to this question?  True, the British will always side with the US as they have historically, but even they have to think of the dire consequences confronting Russia. And for all this for Ukraine and for what it may mean if Russia scores a few more points toward the realization of its dream in restoring the former glory of the USSR? 

I like believe that even the most hard-headed ideologues in Moscow, Washington, Kiev, and London are driven by a greater sense of national responsibility and continue to retain some modicum of their rational faculties so they would never go to the brink.  My prediction is a resolution that will probably come after Franco-German pressure on Washington and Moscow. China may play a role here because it wants a more tamed Russia, and certainly a less adventurist US trying to destabilize various regions around the world where China needs to expand its business. Improvement between Russia and EU are inevitable because of geography and common economic interests. As Erick Fromm noted in his famous book about the madness of the Cold War, May Man Prevail, we still have political solutions to pursue through negotiations, because in the last analysis the alternative is madness.

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