The last century saw the emergence of America as a global super power and the likes of Germany and Japan wreathing havoc all over the world and one can say that the last century belonged to the Germans for starting Two World Wars and the United States of America becoming the so-called leader of the free world which one could feel in the G20 summit when Putin had to beat a hasty retreat due to a frosty reception given by Australia.
It seems that the world is hurdling towards another conflict which could take a global shape and this time America, Europe and Japan are in one side and Russia and to an extent China on the other. Old partners America and Russia who fought the Fascist Germany and an Imperialist Japan are now at loggerheads. America is now supported by one time enemies Germany and Japan against a very belligerent Russia as it continues its aggression in Ukraine which will have serious consequence for the whole region. Several states which are adjacent to Europe want to have the same life style that their western neighbors have enjoyed for so long. Association with America and investment by American businesses have brought prosperity but all could be lost if Russia keeps drumming fear in that region.
The cult of the Personality
The current crisis in Russia reminds me of the novel “The Icon” written by the brilliant Fredrick Forsyth about the fictional Russian leader Igor Komarov who after winning the elections would go and reclaim the lost territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the pogrom which follows with it. Now to equate Putin to the fictional character of Forsyth novel will be an understatement, but to a large extent the pathology of Komarov and Putin are very similar. Both were disillusioned with the breaking of the old Soviet Union and want the Super Power tag back. Both want the lost territories join fold with a new Russia after the disintegration. These attributes are enough to label Putin as a threat for the stability in Eastern Europe.
Political and Strategic Miscalculation by the Russia and the West
Ethnic Russians are spread throughout the Eastern Europe and the Caucasus and if Russia tries to take back lost territory, it is in for a rude shock. It seems the world has learned from the mistakes which were made just over 75 years ago when Britain and France agreed to appease Germany by giving her Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union signed the Non Aggression Pack with Nazi Germany did not go well for any party. But one has to concede, Putin has played this game very well, all he did was use a morally corrupt Victor Yanyukovich who had weakness for indulgences which was promptly fulfilled by the Russian. Putin extended his support to Yanyukovich and when things got difficult for him, they simply dropped him because his usefulness was over.
it can also be said that the ouster of Yanyukovich worked in favor of Russia and bad for West because if he stayed in power he would side with Russia and discard NATO and if he is ousted the Russians can claim the people who are in charge in Kiev are puppets of the west and intervention was must heed the call of ethnic Russians cry for help. It is correct to by supporting the opposition the West only precipitated the event of the annexation of Crimean peninsula which the British and even the Americans have been eyeing for a long time.
Putin is in a similar situation as the former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev who was responsible for the Cuban Missiles Crises in 1962 which brought the world on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Lucky for us cooler head prevailed and the combination of much needed luck, we are still alive. Right now the invasion of Ukraine is not going according to plan and when high tech weaponry is given into the hands of mercenaries who do not know how to use it, or worse when to use; it is as good as giving a wrench in the hand of a monkey. But now the question is how far he can push it. Should he reach a settlement which is agreeable to both parties or just move further west. This is his dilemma because if he pushes further, he will face resistance maybe like Afghanistan. If he gives up he loses politically and in Russian politics appearance of being powerful is a must.
Putin and his advisors did not realize or anticipate how strong a stand European Union has taken backed by America. There is documentary called “The Fog of War” and it about the life and times of Robert S McNamara the former Secretary of Defense under John F Kennedy who was one of the main advisors during the Cuban Missiles. In that documentary, McNamara talks about empathizing with your enemy. Yes Putin is very belligerent but he must also know the consequences of a protracted conflict in this region which will bring economic which leads to political ruin.
The sanctions are working and Russia is beginning to feel the economic consequences of its action and the only reaction to counter is aggression which will not work. Russia has never been comfortable with NATO gaining more members, especially from the old Warsaw Pact countries like Poland and Romania. For a long time it has felt surrounded by America and its NATO allies and this new posturing in Ukraine is simply create a divide in Europe.
But Ukraine is not Georgia where the Russian forces faced no problem when it took South Ossetia territory and did not face any problems besides some strong condemnation from the west, however it South Ossetia declared independence and the Russians left. But this conflict is too close to Europe and many eastern neighbors of Russia like Poland and Romania still remember the hardship faced by them.
Recently the Russian President said “no one can mess with a Nuclear Russia” and instead of feeling threatened, the world needs to see it as a sign of a man crying out for help i.e. “Political Face Saving.” He has peddled this idea as far as he can and knows if he moves further he will face stiff resistance and Russia does not have too many allies. If he wins the west he will lose the South and will have his flanks open for China to take advantage which is one of its biggest importer will desert as Europe and America are a far bigger market for export.
The annexation of Crimea is gives Russia a Strategic advantage to the black sea but getting the entire Eastern Europe is nothing but fulfilling ego. Yes it has many ethnic Russians living there in places like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but has there been a report of abuse against them? No. The ball is in his court and he has to decide how far he is willing to push because he would need a lot of help from NATO and America when it comes to terrorism because soon experienced and hardened fighters who are engaged in Jihad in Syria and Iraq will return to central Asia.
Many of the fighters are from Central Asia and caucus region and when they will return Putin will have to deal with them in a bloody unconventional and asymmetric war which will sap all his energy and resources. If Putin wants the lost territories then the Islamic fighters want their caliphate. Only the most committed win the war, but pragmatism can also help. Hopefully an agreement can be reached which hopefully prove to be equitable for both parties. In this current scenario chest thumping and threatening nuclear weapons will not work. Putin should look back and learn how the 1962 missile crises were solved and then what happened to Khrushchev because he could be next. He may be the winning bet for Russian businessmen but when business starts to hurt all bets are off. Putin has to submit to market based economy and it only works best when there is democracy.
This is truly a full circle, during the First and the Second World War Britain was an ally of Russia, but now it stands united with Germany. The relationship dynamics have completely changed and yes Russia still has a very large and strong conventional military force, but using it against European Union will be a folly. Yes NATO does not have what is takes to get into a serious confrontation with Russia but any plan to push further into other lost territory will be catastrophic. Perhaps this weakness is what has prompted him to push further this conflict, but it will have no end. The comment which he made of taking Kiev in two weeks is militarily possible but politically and economically ill advised.
Putin is in the driving seat right now, but the West must remind him about the 1994 “Budapest Memorandum” which guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine in return giving up 3000 nuclear warheads. What if Ukraine had kept these nuclear weapons, then Russia would not have violated its borders. It clear that the treaty which was signed back in 1994 by Russia is nothing but a piece of paper.
The behavior of Putin is no different from how the Nazi’s acted during the prelude to Second World War because the hurt of lost territory and the glory of Soviet Union has still not diminished the only difference is now it is no longer the Struggle of the Proletariat but resurgence of Russian Nationalism at the cost of a man’s ego which will ruin the Russian economy all in the name of Lost Glory.
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