How much of this is a sober assessment and how much is a political paranoia?
The exact ratio is hard to determine, but it definitely is a mix.
It might be useful to separate the unhealthy and excessive suspicions, which is a burdening baggage from the times past and long gone (we all might have certain nostalgic troubles parting with our old baggage) from reality.
Basically, to put it in plain language, this "strategy" comes down to:
"We do not trust you. You are out to get us. You are getting closer and closer to our borders. But we will defend ourselves and we are able to do it."
Mr. Patrushev, current secretary of the Russian Security Council, stated many times that the West and the U.S. in particular are out to dismember Russia and to take her natural resources.
Guys, the "healthy competition" between the states, as the U.S. politicians like to say, is the way of life. But no one is out to get you, no plans and no particular desire to do this, as I see the situation. No gain in it. No need for it. Certainly, it is not worth a war, especially the nuclear war. Natural resources can always be bought, and, in our days, relatively easily. Territories and foreign populace can be more of a burden than a boon, that's how the empires crumble.
Frankly, many people, myself included would prefer to see Russia smaller, less unjustifiably ambitious, less threatening and less aggressive. But preferences are not easily translatable into realities, and there is always costs/benefits ratio. Things tend to resolve on their own, history takes its course, everything eventually falls into a place like pieces in a kaleidoscope.
There is another part in these preferences. Many people, myself very much included, want to see Russia as a part of the Western world (for the lack of a better, more encompassing term), a part of the Western culture and a part of the Western alliance, and, yes, eventually a member of NATO.
Tall order. But not inconceivable. Many obstacles have to be overcome, many issues have to be resolved. The main among them is the mutual trust.
Mr. Putin, restore the trust!
That's what my little old cerebellum tells me.
In his New Year greeting to President Obama Mr. Putin correctly describes the significance and potential benefits of closer U.S. - Russia relations: the two countries are the key factors of insuring the world security and their "constructive dialogue and cooperation could be an effective deterrent to the new challenges and threats".
What is missing is the great intangible: the mutual trust which was squandered and almost destroyed lately. Relations between the countries are not unlike interpersonal relations: it takes years to build trust and it might take just one phrase or action to destroy it.
And these phrases and actions were aplenty: annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine, whatever their historical and ethnic background and circumstances, contradict the common sense of fairness and fair play, at least in Western perceptions; "saber rattling" and talk about the possible use of nuclear weapons, which could not be seen as something other than a "nuclear blackmail"; numerous, persistent violations of airspace, etc., etc.
Russian economy is in dire straits and on the brink of collapse, mass poverty, and social unrest may be looming on the horizon; the patience of Russian people is legendary but not endless.
Why don't you consider some simple but bold and straightforward steps?
- The issue of Crimea, which was a trigger for these events is not closed and is not resolved. Invite Mr. Poroshenko, who appears to be quite a reasonable man, to Moscow, negotiate and try to resolve Crimea and Donbass issues with him in a bilateral format. If Ukraine is offered the monetary compensation and normalization of relations for this "geopolitical grab" (which it is, again, regardless of historical circumstances) it might be beneficial to both parties. Crimea presently is a raw gem, but its value viewed mostly from the Russian military perspectives, as a naval base. It can be a drain on a budget. Turn this gem into a diamond, polish and place it into a frame. It will take peace, cooperation and a lot of investments. It will take international participation. It is an ancient land, many different people and ethnic groups inhabited it and, hypothetically, may lay claim to it. Turn it into a showcase of international cooperation and a magnet for foreign investments, you will not be able to develop Crimea as it deserves this, by yourselves in the foreseeable future. Invite the NATO ships to visit as you mentioned yourself earlier.
- Join the Western coalition in the Middle East in honest, with fuller, more comprehensive coordination in all areas, including sharing intelligence and operational plans, and, hopefully under the unified command. I do not see anything wrong if Russian forces will be under American command or if the command alternates. This is not a question of misconceived pride, this is a question of learning how to work and fight together, it will enhance the camaraderie. And who knows, this experience might come quite handy in the future again. It will take a lot of trust, and if is done, will be done gingerly. Do not be dismayed by a setback with downing of a Russian jet by Turkey: one swallow does not a summer make. This experience of military cooperation might be very useful and a step to further cooperation.
- Cease all the hostile intelligence and "special operations" against the Western targets. They will not undermine the Western world and will, they will not sway the public and political opinions, eventually they will be discovered and understood and it will make people look at their authors as the madmen. Switch the strategy 180 degrees: start and enhance cooperation in intelligence, counterintelligence, and counter-terrorism. This is the extremely important aspect.
All this might sound more idealistic than realistic. Take it as a food for thought, and maybe as a food for fantasies. "Imagination rules the world, a leader is a dealer in hope." And, at the same time, "never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake". But sometimes, counter-intuitively, paradoxically, we do. Out of compassion, out of humanity? And keep in mind that more likely than not, it will not be appreciated and will be turned against you.
Are Russians our enemies? Definitely not. Rivals? Frenemies? Hard to say, cannot be defined in one word.
Is Putin our enemy? Not really, but he does not like us. He distrusts the West and America especially.
I would venture my advice to him: "Volodya, take two weeks of vacation and travel across America, meet the people, both politicians and ordinary people, of all walks of life. Get a feel of what the country is about: complex, incredibly complex but strong and really free. You will love the country and you will love the people."
For Russia, all this comes down to and is a part of general issues and questions, not unique to her but particularly acute at this stage and at this time: the issues of national identity, place and role in the world, alliances, rivalries, competitions and cooperation.
Russification Of The West or Westernization Of Russia?
Russification of Europe or Europeanisation of Russia?
Eurasianisation of Europe or Europeanisation of Eurasia?
These are the false dilemmas and false formulations.
The process of integration which appears and is as inevitable as it is quite protracted and painful, is much more complex than this simple or oversimplified formula.
This historical process has to be analyzed and understood.
The concept of dominant culture, the European, the Western, the Judeo-Christian culture in this case might be a key to this understanding. The reality is complicated further by the emerging issues of ethnic, racial and religious, within and outside the realm of Abrahamic religions, interactions and integration, by the contradictory and conflict ridden processes of social, religious and cultural integration and globalization.
For Russia, it would be a great mistake to try to drive a wedge between Europe and the U.S. and to try to exclude the U.S. from this process, as it is evident from her recent (within last 10 - 15 years, although this tradition goes further back) policies and foreign policy thinking, influenced by her renewed nationalism. It will be impossible and counterproductive. This strategy stems from insecurity and continuing imperial ambitions of territorial domination, which simply do not work in today's globalized world with the primary role of financial capital component in modern economies. Investments, not the territories are the key to social and economic development. Financial flows, not the flows of armies and arms determine the success and progress. Hence the new role of soft powers of economic warfare and economic sanctions, with all their inherent limitations.
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