Okay so check out the subheadline of this article.
The likelihood of Putin moves on Baltics and Central Europe is uncomfortably high.
No. No it’s not, actually. I can’t stand these neo-Cold Warriors who believe that they are resolutely defending Ukraine and democracy more than anyone, while in fact what they are doing is precisely what Putin needs them to do- run around like a scared chicken so his media can tell his vatniy base that the West is afraid of big bad Russia. That’s what all this Ukraine business and all those snap military drills and air patrols are about.
Putin, unable to make good on his so-called May promises among many others, is desperate for an external threat to excuse his failures. The problem is, that for the past few years the US has been getting out of Europe. In fact, that’s still happening to some extent. It’s even in this article too, though it uses this fact to explain why Putin is supposedly being so bold, an assessment I highly disagree with. Those hawkish types who want to see a big military buildup (without actually using these forces to help Ukraine) are essentially giving Putin precisely what he needs.
Another irritating thing about these big bad Russia articles is that they always let Western governments off the hook for creating the Frankenstein’s monster that is Putin’s current regime. Take a look:
There can be no denying that Europe’s overall military weakness has played a role in Russia’s calculus, not only during the annexation of Crimea and the escalation in Donbas but already in its 2008 war against Georgia, Putin’s first direct challenge to the normative security order, albeit not yet in Europe itself. Simply put: Weakness invites further aggression.
Bullshit. I’ll tell you what played a role in this- capitalism and the free-market-as-god ideology is what created this problem. For over a decade, even today to some extent, Western governments happily turned a blind eye as corrupt businessmen and oligarchs around Putin squirreled ill-gotten gains away in Western banks and real estate abroad. Meanwhile the West was happy to invest money in Russia and still does in spite of the massive capital flight as of late. Our globalized world is ruled by the idea that the market should decide everything, and as it turns out the market decided in favor of Russia for several years while oil prices were high.
The other problematic part of that passage is this idea about “weakness” inviting further aggression. It suggests that some countries, particularly Russia, could only be dealt with by force. This totally ignores the Russia-NATO cooperation of the 2000’s, or the fact that Russia was a founding member of US CENTCOM after 9/11. If weakness invites aggression, where do we draw the line when it comes to countries we should be “strong” with? How can we trust Canada not to invade us while we’re downsizing our military? Weakness invites aggression!
Then it just gets worse:
Putin has been successful in moving forward with his project to reestablish a sphere of Russia’s privileged interest in Eastern Europe in large part because the Western response has been weak and contradictory.
Okay but why is that response weak and contradictory? The reason has to do with capitalism. Russia’s a big market, a lucrative investment opportunity. Every time you hear opposition to sanctions in Europe, where is it typically coming from? Businessmen. That’s the main argument you hear coming from inside and outside of Russia- the sanctions are bad for business, Indeed, I believe wholeheartedly that what the two sides really want is a detente where Putin will be assured the supremacy of his regime in Moscow and the EU will eventually be allowed to continue integration with Ukraine. Right now they’re stuck at an impasse and don’t know how to achieve this without saving face. If they could, no doubt we’d go back to where we were a few years ago as dirty money flows out of Russia and Western money flows in.
To use a term coined by my good friend at The Russian Avos, the Kremlin takes advantage of “the rot.” The rot is partly the corruption in Russia, and partly the amoral, market-dominated neoliberal capitalism of the West. Both are steeped in cynicism. Many years ago, at a time when NATO/Russian cooperation was robust, the West could have made a stand with Putin. This is not to say a show of force or something overtly hostile, just a cold dose of reality. They could have informed him that they weren’t going to serve as shelters for laundered money and real estate. That he would have to transform his country into a functioning democracy with rule of law, but most importantly, that they would help him do this. But that didn’t happen because instead, the West and their Russian partners were growing fat and happy off of each other’s money.
But without significant military assistance to Ukraine to arm its military, Russia can contemplate its next steps at leisure, whether that’s another move in Ukraine or stirring up ethnic tensions in the Baltics, either keeping current semi-frozen conditions in place or choosing to escalate.
This is false, Russia cannot do anything “at it’s leisure” given the economic situation it is in and the fact that as it is right now, it is forced to prop up both quasi-states in eastern Ukraine. Escalation means more money, more dead soldiers, more deserters, and more sanctions. Of course the author doesn’t seem to consider this as they go on to write this:
“The risk of a war in Europe is greater today than it was a year ago because the allies have not used the time since the Wales summit to send an unequivocal message of reinforcement and deterrence along NATO’s Russian flank. Putin is still confident the game of escalation and de-escalation is his to play.
It is ultimately academic to try to second-guess Putin’s ultimate goals, and debate whether he will be satisfied with the current territorial gains in Ukraine or move further.”
This totally ignores the fact that Putin is an opportunist who can only think tactically, not strategically. He pulled this stunt in Ukraine because he could. He could have pushed further, at least maintaining the front around Sloviansk in June. Seeing as how at that point no one among his opponents believed that this was a local uprising, he could have said “fuck it” and used his troops to prop up the fight on that line. Instead he let the rebels flee and then trickled his forces in to stave off total defeat. If Putin were stupid enough to escalate, he would escalate in Ukraine, not against NATO member states. This would probably be a strike against Mariupol aimed at creating a land-bridge to the Crimea. This is the only territorial gain that actually holds some potential value.
Attacking NATO is something Putin cannot afford to do. For one thing all those NATO members in which he has friends will have to take a side. That means Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc. That also means an inevitable, visible military defeat, complete with footage of burnt out Russian tanks lining the highways and hundreds of dead within a few days. This is something he cannot afford. Russia has lost very few military personnel in Ukraine but the scandal is such that it has caused dozens of contract soldiers to risk prison and desert.
Of course it doesn’t even have to go that far. Plenty of talk from Russian politicians and ministers reveals that they are extremely concerned about the prospect of being cut off from SWIFT. This would almost certainly happen if they tried to acquire more territory in Ukraine, not to speak of the Baltic countries. If you’re afraid of sanctions, and Russia clearly is despite their claims to the contrary, you’re not going to risk going to war with pretty much all of Europe, the USA, and Canada. Moreover, that kind of war entails strategic thinking, and again, Putin is tactical, not strategic.
So once again we have another chicken-little article that seems like it ought to be sponsored by the defense industry if not the Kremlin itself. It will most likely be picked up by some pro-Kremlin source somewhere, and shown as proof of either A: “The neocon hawks plot war against Russia!” or B: “Look how the West trembles at the rising Russian superpower!” Either is bad.
Look, folks, the Kremlin spends a lot of money on propaganda. You don’t have to do their work for them. What the author seems to be pushing for, a Cold War style build up of forces as a “deterrent,” is precisely what Putin’s regime needs.