Russia has been getting to the West's wits. First, in 2014, it annexed Crimea (after a referendum vote); then it signalled it wants to occupy eastern Ukrainian territory; then, in 2015, it got involved in the Syrian civil war (first to protect its base in Latakia, and then to protect its ally Bashar al-Assad); meanwhile, it has been conducting numerous military exercises; then it sold S300 defence systems to Iran while at the same time denouncing the position of Hezbollah militants and their weapons cache; and now it is sending signals of aggression towards the West, having thus prompted NATO to place 300,000 soldiers on standby in case a war against Russia erupts.
A couple of weeks ago, President Putin ordered the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, accompanied by a submarine, down through the English channel to the Mediterranean in order to carry out air-strikes in Syria. This “stunt” made a lot of politicians nervous and NATO was put on a state of alert. Everyone is preparing for an eventual war with Russia, but is it warranted or is Russia involved in something else?
Russia values its independence and own identity. (..) We don't want world domination or expansion or confrontation with anyone. - Vladimir Putin
Indubitably, a very diplomatic statement. I personally do not fret over Russia (as, in my opinion, there are other nations we need to really be concerned about) - in fact, Russia would have much more to gain if it would work openly with the United States of America (a reason why I truly hope President-elect Trump will officially normalise the ties between the two countries – the old Cold War shtick is beyond démodè). But while Russia is not in the right place yet, we need to verify its activities. The West should not be complaining, or upset, at Russia's moves because they quite frankly encouraged it: the imposed sanctions caused Moscow to increase the production and sales of weapons; it led them to be more directly involved in the Syrian civil war to showcase their arms to their clients; and it unwittingly strengthened Russia's Position in the international board (since they were reactive, instead of doing a thorough analysis of the situation).
Sending the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, a vessel that has had its share of troubles, down the North Sea towards the Mediterranean is very symbolic: the carrier was built, during the Soviet era, in the Black Sea Shipyard (in what is now Ukraine); and in 1991 (when the Cold War ended) it sailed up to the Northern Fleet awaiting to be deployed in the Mediterranean again. What common item does Ukraine and Cold War invoke? Sanctions. The US/Western sanctions on the Soviet Union may have been harsh on the bloc but not effective enough to bring it down; therefore, Putin is telling the world that Russia lives on in spite of the present US/Western sanctions (triggered by the crisis with Ukraine), and thus it won't be that easy to bring him down either.
News that a third Russian Black Sea fleet ship leaves for Mediterranean to join anti-ISIS operations (source), in Syria, are very curious.
Every now and then there are two questions that come to my mind:
- What did President Obama mean, back in 2012, when he told then-President Medvedev that he would have more flexibility after the elections? How is that conversation related to the margin of manoeuvre, and rise to stardom, Russia has been enjoying in these last four years?
- What if Russia is assisting the US in pressing the Europeans to spend their due in defence, to fulfil their NATO obligations?
Russia could be serving as a distraction for the Europeans who focus on Moscow's apparent signals of aggression rather than addressing their Islamic problems. While the Europeans now react to Putin's activities, to Trump's victory, and distract the people with it (through mainstream media); Iran, ISIS, AQ, Hamas, PLO, Hezbollah et al are slowly infiltrating operatives among the migrants swarming into the European Union - which serves as a gate to the United States. These Islamic agents will sit here and await leaders like President Abbas, for instance, to activate their cells.
Most political analysts repeat the mantra that the US allowed Russia to take a prominent position in the Middle East, but whenever I replay the 2012 Obama-Medvedev tête-à-tête the same thought pounds in my head: the two nations have been cooperating behind the scenes, while inducing the world into thinking they are renewed foes. Bearing this in mind, is Russian presence in the Mediterranean Sea intended to fight ISIS only; keep al-Assad in power; prepare for a possible Libyan incursion (which is also related to anti-ISIS ops, since the terror group is controlling the oil productive-regions in the country), keep the Europeans on their toes, or all of the above? We may be talking about a multi-layered operation here.
The European Union (minus the UK) should ponder more on the situation, especially if Washington and Moscow are indeed cooperating with each other to press them (among other things) – which could be beneficial in the long-run (i.e. eventually they would get a grip and live under their defence obligations); but dangerous in the short-term (i.e. they are vulnerable to terrorist attacks).
Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate. – Sun Tzu
We could ask ourselves: what does Russia get in exchange for working under the table with the Americans? That is a question for China to answer...when we look at the Asian countries that stand with the Kremlin and the White House.
(Image: Obama and Medvedev in 2012 - NYT)
[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]