2017 opened with a bang. Senior U.S. political leaders are calling for stronger sanctions and actions against Russia which is not matched by the statements the incoming president Donald Trump is making. From an U.S. perspective, Vladimir Putin is a manifestation of the evil empire. Maybe. Not so fast, says Trump.
Maybe we need to agree with Trump. First, having good relationships with Russia has served since 1991 U.S. interests. I know, I was there when it happened.
After all, China and Russia are closing ranks recognizing the weakness of the incoming administration. The South China Sea is threatening sea-lanes and free commerce to global trade. Besides, the Chinese are installing powerful radar and advance missile technology on the artificial reefs. So partnering up with Vladimir V. Putin, may sound not such a bad idea.
Second, Europeans under Angela Merkel have forgotten history. The Ukraine was the breadbasket and weapons industry supplier for the Russian Federation. In an epic political failure shifting the Ukraine out of the control of Russian security politics is like removing Canada from the U.S. strategic safety zone.
Moving the Ukraine into the EU space also had to deal with outstanding debts and loans by the Ukraine to Russia, and favorable trade terms for grain to Russia. Moving the Ukraine under the EU trade tariff regime, the Russians suddenly were on the outside of the trading zone. A political problem was seen in history before. The Japanese trade agreements prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Another rather major factor is the Russian fleet in Sevastopol. Shutting out the Russians from its naval access was another strategic no-no for Moscow.
Whereas the Germans and the EU thought history can be ignored, every social fabric in Russia is very well aware of concepts of “Rodina”, the motherland and Russia’s sense of belonging. Anyone who been on the streets in 1991, as the rubble of the Soviet workers paradise went to the heaps of history can attests that President Vladimir V. Putin will never allow a repeat of 1991. All actions by the Russian leadership since 1991 than are designed to restore the pride of the motherland.
Russians have warned everyone about consequences if the Ukraine joins the EU. The EU and the US, with a naivety of a six-year old, ignored the warnings. Predictably Vladimir Putin unleashed the Russian bear and behaved exactly as anyone who ever dealt with Ruski’s know best. Attack.
Russia one, Obama and Merkel…well zero. And, Ukraine drifted into civil war.
Syria, is another misreading of Pax Russia. Russia is known to be faithful to its selected interests. Syria is one of these interests. Historically, economically, militarily and long standing political interests are present in Syria.
Putin not only understands the strategic opportunity that presented itself but again, the Russian character shines through the decision making process. The deterioration of making Syria another heap of failed U.S. foreign policies, Russians took the high ground defending the regime while the U.S. stood by. U.S. political elites were quick to name the Russian actions as “propping up the regime of Assad” but today many in Russia are skeptical about the shallow title and ask if not the Americans have propped up corrupt regimes since the end of World War 2? A point, Trump certainly has raised in the past. Is U.S. foreign policy working? If no, changes are needed.
Syria, so far: Russia two, Obama and Merkel ….well, still zero.
Many in Europe are concern about the Russian manifestation and U.S weakness. Governments across the EU space are increasing defense spending.
So far, the United States are seen by many as fair-weather friends with a wake of destruction and failed wars under its belt. The economic model turned out a complete disaster, wars in Afghanistan are on-going, Iraq and Syria are destroyed, Yemen at war, Egypt terrorism, Europe, not much better, Asia, shaky. In the Philippines, the question by the controversial president Rodrigo Duterte, of what is the United States for, it hasn’t done anything for the Philippines, is getting plenty of support.
The past eight years of domestic shootings, Black Lives Matter, (but White, Hispanics, or Asians don’t?) are seen as problematic. The gender debate, driven by a strong leftist agenda, its political correctness is pushed back in the United States and in Russia.
Pursuing an overly progressive leftist socialist agenda, which oddly enough is resented by the former socialists of the Union of Soviet Republics. If anyone would know how socialism has failed, asked a middle-aged Russian. Many in Europe and Russia asked if the U.S. worldview is relevant.
In an historical twist, pragmatic statecraft, combined with Russian opportunistic behavior, is met with Democratic naivete and humpty-dumpty foreign policy failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East. Anyone with an undergraduate decree in political science could have told the Democratic administration that promoting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was a bad idea. But brighter minds prevailed, and failed miserably.
Republican Senator John McCain said on Sunday the United States could only improve its relations with Russia by taking a tough stance with President Putin, calling for stronger sanctions against Moscow.
On a tour of the Baltic states, Ukraine and Georgia, McCain and other senators assured the former Soviet-dominated countries that the United States would support them, despite President-elect Donald Trump’s praise of Putin and expressions of doubts about NATO.
“We will strongly urge our colleagues toward more meaningful and stronger sanctions against Russia because of their attack on the United States of America,” McCain told reporters in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.
“I believe that we must continue to improve our relations and to understand that Vladimir Putin – unless we stand up to him — will continue his aggression and we must stand up to Vladimir Putin,” McCain said.
On Thursday, President Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over the hacking of U.S. political groups during the election. A few perspectives need to be added,
First, if the Russians got caught, well its the name of the game. Same goes for the Americans. Spying is statecraft extensively in use by the United States and its allies. One just need to read the Wikileaks from Snowden. So, the Russians kept their cool. But, with Vladimir being an former intelligence operative, he knows when to hold and when to fold. He is, using a movie line, a ‘cool customer’.
Second, the U.S. intelligence is technology centric and since 9/11 kinetic centric. Understandable, but good old spying on the interests of other states remains on the top agenda. If the assertions made by U.S. intelligence are true, one must wonder why the findings were not released prior to the presidential elections.
Third, why are we shocked about the Russians trying to hack into the elections in the United States. The U.S. has been doing in most countries if it serves the strategic interests of the United States. So stop crying over it, deal with it.
Reinforcing the line that the U.S. Congress could oppose any move by Trump to take a softer line on Russia, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, traveling with McCain and others, said it was time “to push back against Putin, to be a better friend to our allies here including Georgia.” Russia does understand strength. But it requires an action-policy in which words are met with firm action. Russians are testing the new president already. This will led to the brink of statesmanship but strength is respected. Recklessness or naivety is not.
“So 2017 is a year of offense and we’re going to tell our colleagues what’s at stake if we don’t push back,” Graham said.
But Trump signaled during his campaign that he might take a softer line with Moscow, and on Friday congratulated Putin for not retaliating to the expulsions, tweeting: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
Earlier, in Kiev, McCain vowed continued U.S. support to Ukraine.
“I send the message from the American people – we are with you, your fight is our fight and we will win together,” McCain was quoted as saying by Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s press service.
“In 2017 we will defeat the invaders and send them back where they came from. To Vladimir Putin – you will never defeat the Ukrainian people and deprive them of their independence and freedom,” McCain said.