Why Russia Will Continue to Say No to Olive Branches From Obama

Most importantly  – it doesn’t need to say yes.   Warmongering pays. Russia believes it had no price to pay for its war against Georgia, and therefore armed force and aggression paid off. Russia now has military bases both in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, adding to its military strength in that area. A famous strategist, Herman Kahn, warned many years ago of the dangers of “creating a market” for successful military aggression. The US and Europe have not learned this lesson. Russia unfortunately has.

 When communism fell the West missed a huge opportunity to turn the relationship with the Soviet Union/Russia from an adversarial one to that of a strategic partnership. This would have required Europe, the US, and the rest of the West to put in significant financial resources to help Russia recover. It did not do that. The administration in the US of “Bush the Elder” was incapable of such a visionary action. However the strategic miscalculation was even greater in Europe, as Russia is on Europe’s doorstep. Russia now views the EU as an irrelevancy, preferring to deal directly with European powers on a divide-and-conquer basis, an approach which unfortunately France, Germany, and Italy are only too willing to reciprocate. In sum the West is seen as an adversary, if not an enemy. Understanding this is  central  to understanding why Russia, unless it faces a doomsday situation, will always say no.

The Russian  regime , and in particular its control of its people and its internal hold on power, is completely dependent on the creation of climate of paranoia, based on the country supposedly being encircled by hostile powers. Following the collapse of communism, Russia has no other political legitimacy, so it relies on the creation of nationalist fervour and an endless stream of enemies abroad.

This was very evident for some  years before the conflict with Georgia. Public opinion polls in Russia showed that the public, following significant indoctrination by the state-controlled media in the main, saw  tiny Georgia as amajor enemy of the country. In this regard the “deal” between the regime and the people of Russia was very clear: you can hold on to power as long as you keep improving our standard of living. The Great Recession, initially portrayed by the Russian regime as a US conspiracy, has significantly impacted on Russia and on its ruling elite’s ability to keep its end of this bargain. In the circumstances the fanning  of nationalist fervour and pushing supposed encirclement by hostile powers   is the only basis for the regime’s continued  control. There is nothing on the horizon that will change this position, according to Oksana Antonenko , an expert on Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who has extensively interviewed prime minister Putin  and his surrogate president Medvedev.

The notion  that Medvedev is a liberal alternative to Putin is nonsense according to Antonenko. She cites his  letter to the Ukraine challenging its sovereignty as a sign of  his  hardline views. He has also recently made it much  easier to deploy Russian forces outside the country and his attack on the Ukraine is very much part of the Putin approach. Antonenko was also  clear that in 2012 Putin will be back as president, and , as he can then  serve two further terms, this will keep him, and these policies , active until 2024.

It is also quite clear that Russia sees Iran had a friendly neighbour, threatened by a (Green) “colour” revolution emanating from the West, just as the Orange revolution in Ukraine and the Rose  revolution in Georgia are also blamed on evil western machinations. To the Russian regime either they or Iran  “are next”.  Because Russia sees itself as threatened by many nuclear missiles, it accords  nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament a much lower priority than the West. It is therefore to be expected that it will place few significant deadlines on Iran with respect to its nuclear activities, limited serious sanctions, and will strongly and support the current autocratic regime in power there to the end.

 It is ironic that it is the weakness of the West (particularly that of the EU) rather than its strength that makes conflict with Russia, particularly on Europe’s eastern borders, more likely. Those who opposed  the Lisbon treaty because of supposed militaristic/imperialistic designs by the EU clearly are on another planet. Zog perhaps? On planet Earth the Russians, the Chinese, and many in the US,  see an EU that is incapable of defending itself and its people, and the European heartland, as shown dramatically in the conflict in Bosnia and the current dismal effort in Afghanistan. A Europe with a declining, ageing population is viewed by Russia, China and many in the US  as  ineffectual and in essence powerless.

 In a recent report — NATO’s Uncertain Future: Is Demography Destiny? (By Dr. Jeffrey Simon, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute For National Strategic Studies, National Defence University, which is close to the Pentagon in the US) the impact of these issues was  summarised in the following comments: “some European[ NATO] allies may have to face the question of whether they will be able to maintain a viable military …  Europe’s rapid demographic marginalisation and diminishing social, economic, and political  weight will mean that  it will no longer be the “center” of the world or of US attention… It is hard to foresee how demography will not prove to be NATO’s European allies ][Achilles heel.”

 This type of analysis  led to the conclusion in that paper that  striking deals with Asian powers is much more likely to ” leverage”  U.S. power than relying on Europe. Russia clearly shares this view.

What could change this very dark future for the world in general, and the EU in particular?

 Three issues could dramatically change Russia’s threat perception. The first interestingly would be a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. This would leave Russia facing a deadly enemy that defeated it already in that country, and bordering some key “near abroad” Asian states of interest to Russia. The second would be the failure of the Russian army restructuring and reform effort. Such a failure could make Russia more amenable to common sense. If this failure were to happen at the same time as a NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, that could have disastrous i implications it will for Russia. Finally  a military conflict over Iran and its nuclear activities (ironically more likely because of Russian and Chinese unwillingness to use serious sanctions against the country) could mean that all bets were off.

One way or another, with the mindset currently prevalent amongst the tiny Russian elite, the world is facing into an uncertain and difficult future, particularly on Europe’s eastern borders.

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