It was some time in the bumbled, if not ill-advised intervention in Iraq, which was falling apart by 2003, and the Libyan and Syrian escapades of 2011-2012 that Putin’s view of the US as incompetent began to be replaced by a feeling of suspicion and mistrust – a feeling that what looked like ineptitude was a clever policy of destabilizing regions in order to gain control of them or garner some other unclear advantages, while saddling other states with the cleanup.
—The American Education of Vladimir Putin, Hill & Gaddy (2015)
We looked, a few days ago, at a number of short clips of Western officials talking tough (see You are Here), be it directly or tangentially, to Russia. Rounding out the picture, today we look at Russia and her reach. Despite her rhetoric, the United States is embedded in a unipolar world view (she cannot see beyond it). Russia and China appear equally adamant about their wish for multipolar global governance.
The Russian mindset is that NATO is surrounding Russia with a missile defense system (in eastern Europe) to neutralise any nuclear threat posed by Russia. By simultaneous naval containment of China’s east coast, America can help entrench the West’s global preeminence — one which the West would use to erode Russian strength further and maintain a global power status quo for the remainder of the vaunted Asia century.
And we have now paved the way to what are early (somewhat beyond preliminary) tit-for-tat escalations.
An Asian century is hosting the rise of many middle-powers, all the while the West contends that it still can maintain its power of arbitration — it’s ability, as has been the case for most of the last century, to set the rules of commerce, diplomacy, and engagement. Yet among the rubble of the Middle East, the likes of Turkey, Israel, and Iran, are emerging from the plume as powers in their own right. It is no stretch of the imagination to see these three vying for regional honours. A Sunni conglomerate, led by Saudi Arabia and bound together as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are doing their best to stymie, in particular, the ascent of Iran. For the moment, however, Iran seems to be regaining the upper hand — in Syria, in Iraq, and in Yemen.
For their part, Russia is looking to by-pass any NATO neutralising forces in order to maintain a deterrence position of her own. To their mind, this is borne out by observation of NATO missile movements into Baltic nations (Germany, Poland, Romania, and NATO talks with Estonia etc.) and her courting nations on Russia’s border — the Ukraine and Georgia among others. This is Russia’s great fear, President Putin has said so himself.
As push comes to shove, President Putin is well prepared to shove if he must.
The following videos discuss the defensive posture taken by Russia in Syria, visa-vis the S-300 and S-400 missile systems at Tartus and Khmeimim air base, as discussed here last week.
The bigger picture
NATO is working diligently toward full-spectrum dominance, recognising that war is fought on many fronts (battlespace) — Land, Sea, Air, Space, and Information. To that end, it has concentrated on restraining Russia and containment of China. And while gradually positioning itself to do just that, until now it has been content to embroil Russia in endless conflict and skirmish — “bait and bleed” — particularly with the mercenary du jour (Islamists) and in their cradle of chaos — the Middle East. The West is well aware of President Putin’s tendency for restraint until, finally, impetuousness win out. All the while, NATO is tightening the noose around Russia’s European border and at her underbelly.
[It’s unlikely that Russia will put up with this for much longer. President Putin saw the fins circling in the water some time ago. He is convinced that he has no other choice but to act.]
This game will go on until Russia takes the first major step — one that the West will use as pretext to commence their proceedings. Russia has no choice, she is being put in a choker hold. She will have to act. And that act can, and will, be used against her. Meanwhile, a war of attrition — the long war — is backed up by a missile system in eastern Europe that is felt, by the West, to negate a superior Russian nuclear ICBM threat. Against the somewhat weaker Chinese, on the other hand, the modus operandi is pure containment, and then mostly financial (consider, also the TPP, which included almost all Pacific nations bar one (no prizes for guessing which), through control of the seas. The other facet of the agenda against the Chinese involves the allied Pacific nations, such as Japan and the Philippines.
Weaken and busy Russia until the choker-hold is on, bogging her in Middle East wars against mercenaries and fomenting unrest in her backyard nations. This is — as the East sees it — the Western mindset. The Russian counter to this strategy involves asymmetric warfare: launch unconventional attacks from outlying pockets (Kaliningrad exclave, Syria, Iran). Needless to say, a high-risk high-reward game is at play. One side cannot see beyond a unipolar world, the other is restive under the constraints of the same unipolarity. The global consequences, with these two nuclear giants at cross-purposes, are frightening.
Common sense says it’s folly to poke a bear in the eye. Neither do empires die wondering.
- Reflections on Hill’s and Gaddy’s “The American Education of Vladimir Putin” (The Atlantic, 16 February 2015) – Russian and Eurasian Politics Gordon M. Hahn, February 17, 2015
- Why the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte Hates America, Prashanth Parameswaran – The Diplomat, November 1, 2016
- Pentagon Pushing ‘Multi-Domain Battle’ Concept – National Defense Magazine
- The American Education of Vladimir Putin, Fiona Hill and Clifford G Gaddy – The Atlantic, February 15, 2016
- The Pentagon’s Strategy for World Domination: Full Spectrum Dominance, from Asia to Africa, Bruce K. Gagnon – The Plymouth Institute for Peace Research, August 20, 2014
- The Five Most-Powerful Navies on the Planet – The National Interest, June 6, 2014
- U.S. Geopolitics: Afghanistan and the Containment of China, Joseph E. Fallon – Small Wars Journal, August 12, 2013
American journalist Charlie Rose interviews Russian President Putin – President of Russia, September 29, 2015