My somewhat alarmist view of Putin’s Russia, especially in light of America’s current weakness ~ some of which is caused by decades of irresponsible economic mismanagement, some created by a timid executive and a focus on domestic politics ~ is growing.
I think Putin, once again, judges that the US led West is unwilling and, in most cases, unable to respond to Russian pressures and, according to a report in Newsweek, his envoy to NATO, “Alexander Grushko, told state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta that the Black Sea would not become a “NATO lake.” Russia sees the region as vital to its foreign policy—since the annexation of Crimea two years ago more than a dozen warships have been stationed there … “Presently NATO is trying to move its confrontational schemes on the territory of the Black Sea,” [and] “NATO knows perfectly well that the Black Sea will never be a sort of ‘NATO lake’ and we will take all necessary measures to neutralise any threats and attempts to put forceful pressure on Russia from the south.”“
That’s a pretty explicit threat. “Neuthralize” has a meaning in both diplomatic and military lexicons and, as Newsweek says, the threat is intended to worsen relations between NATO and Russia.
I am not entirely unsympathetic to the Russian position. I believe that, back in the 1990s, when the old USSR and Warsaw Pact collapsed I think the US and NATO indicated, even if they never exactly said, that NATO would not expand into the former Warsaw Pact states, but, between 1999 and 2004 Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia had all joined NATO. That was, pretty much, the whole of the old Warsaw Pact and it was the “buffer” that Russia says it believed it was promised by the West. It doesn’t really mater what we said or they believed … you can see the change, and it is dramatic. Russia has some reason to feel threatened and, as I have said before, I believe that wars are caused by fear and uncertainty as much or more than anything else, and I suspect that Putin’s Russia is talking itself into a situation similar to what the Germans convinced themselves was true circa 1910. Again, it doesn’t matter what we said or meant to say, it is all about what enough Russians, including educated thoughtful Russians, come to believe is true. When a critical mass of Russians believe that we are an existential threat to them then they will want to launch a pre-emptive strike.
What we ned to do is to bring clarity and some sense of certainty to the table: Putin, and those Russians who are still weighing the evidence, need to know, with absolute certainty, that attacking the West will result in the total destruction and dismemberment of Russia. It will wipe out 800 years of history because the Asian ‘hordes’ will, once again, occupy everything East of the Urals and European Russia will be at the mercy of the Teutons. These are the historical nightmares for Russia: they are, they believe, surrounded by enemies, European and Asian, and they are tempted to strike first, unless it is very clear that they must not.
The clarity we can offer is by stepping up and honouring the commitments we (Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Germany and others) made to spend 2% of GDP on defence. If the Russians see a sharp increase in NATO defence expenditures then they will understand that they cannot match our economic, industrial, commercial and military muscle and they will be less likely to make a strategic blunder that could lead us all into a war than no one, except, perhaps, the Chinese wants ~ and they only want it if they can sit it out and then exploit the outcomes.
Left unchecked, Putin’s opportunistic adventurism is very, very likely to lead to serious, unintended consequences … it would be much, much cheaper to spend 2% of GDP on precautionary defences, now, even though it will, hopefully, be “wasted” (in that it will never need to be used) rather than 10% of GDP (as we spent in early 1950s) to fight an unnecessary war to restore order to Europe.