FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Winding Road

by BRIAN M. DOWNING

Russian geopolitical moves over the last year have been wide-ranging, ominous, and seemingly unconnected. They are often interpreted as evidence of the resurgence of Great Russian chauvinism, which had been dormant since the decline and fall of communism. Many analysts see Russia as bent on reacquiring its empire, and at least suspect a new Cold War is in the offing. But an alternate, less malevolent interpretation might be considered, especially when Russia’s numerous cooperative measures are taken into account, as they often aren’t. Russia likely has a more limited goal: countering the spread of NATO into Eastern Europe.

In the summer of 2008 Russia sent troops into Georgia, ostensibly to defend minorities there, but also to serve notice that NATO expansion into the region, including Georgia and the Ukraine, will not be tolerated. The lack of resolve with which most NATO countries responded to the invasion made it clear – or should have made it clear – that Eastern Europe cannot rely on NATO to defend it. Die for Tblisi or Kiev? Unlikely. The Georgian invasion and more recent pipeline maneuvers with the Ukraine also made it clear that Western Europe’s energy supplies from Russia and Central Asia depend on at least respectful relations with Russia. The Kremlin is planning to deploy short-range SS-26 missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to counter the US deployment of its SDI system in Eastern Europe. The Russian navy has participated in their country’s recent moves as well, plying the Caribbean, crossing the Panama Canal, and visiting the old cold war flashpoint of Cuba.

US defense thinkers look uneasily at these actions, but countervailing, cooperative actions and gestures might not be adequately considered in these scenarios, based as they are on worst-case scenarios and a reflexive return to cold war outlooks. Russia and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization have offered to train the Afghan National Police, which in the absence of a meaningful Afghan army, is the most effective indigenous fighting force against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Russia prevailed upon Kyrgyzstan to close down the immense Manas air base, which is used to bring in troops and supplies to Afghanistan. However, this action was preceded by measures to help the US/NATO effort in Afghanistan by opening air and land routes over Russia and its client states of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which had been open only to certain NATO countries.

It is clear that Russia has a great deal of control over Western Europe’s energy supplies and NATO’s logistical lines into Afghanistan, all the more so as supply lines from Pakistan are becoming unreliable. Russia has no interest in a second cold war. Its economy is frail and paltry compared to those of many NATO powers, especially after the price of oil dropped seventy-five percent since last summer, hammering Russian GDP and hard currency holdings. Its military remains backward and plagued with discipline troubles. Though wary of NATO’s presence along its expansive southern periphery, Russia does not want the West to leave Afghanistan and open the region to an Islamist empire spreading into former Soviet republics and worsening matters in Chechnya. Indeed, Russia might have more to lose in Afghanistan than does any NATO country.

So what do we make of these actions? The combination of carrots and sticks suggest that Russia is setting the stage for a negotiated settlement of NATO’s presence to its west and southwest, with the possible bonus of deepening the estrangement between Western Europe and the US that has developed over the latter’s unsound and bewildering actions in the world, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the counterproductive use of massive firepower in Afghanistan. The Clinton and Bush administrations have both pursued an aggressive expansion into Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria – with Georgia and the Ukraine in the queue – while Western Europe has uneasily gone along. One might dispute whether this expansion strengthens or weakens the security of NATO members, old and new, but it has undoubtedly caused security concerns – and legitimate ones – in a country that has endured devastating invasions that are incomprehensible to most countries.

Rather than interpreting Russia’s menacing moves as a quest for hegemony, the West should recognize the opportunity implicit in Russia’s cooperative moves and engage the Kremlin in negotiations regarding access to energy resources, logistical and training support in Afghanistan, and more broadly, cooperation on countering Islamism in Central Asia. A neutral Eastern Europe will benefit the region, the continent, and much of the world. No one – not the US, Russia, or Western Europe – can afford another cold war, especially while a global depression is beginning. US defense spending may have contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it cannot be repeated in the next decade or so. And the toll it took on the US economy is only now being reckoned.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail