English

Is it in Europe’s Interest to Push Russia into China’s Arms?

May 24 2016

By Roberto Savio*

ROME, May (IPS) No mention in the media of the dangerous increase in tension between Europe and Russia. But Nato has just made operational in Romania a missile system, the ABM, which the US has declared will protect from “rogue” states, like Iran.

Russia, especially after the agreement reached with Iran on the control of its atomic industry, is convinced that the system is intended for use against its military forces. The US has announced it will build another second site in Poland in 2018.The intention is to move from “reassurance” of eastern Nato allies to “deterrence” of the Kremlin. That means more troops and equipment, longer deployments, bigger exercises, and a “persistent” presence of Nato and American troops in countries like Poland and the Baltic countries.

In June, as many as 12 000 American troops will join servicemen and women from a number of European allies in Poland for an exercise called Anakonda, which will be the largest military exercise in Europe for years. Altogether, 25 000 troops from 24 Nato and partner countries will be involved. The US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Robert Work, has announced that 4 000 Nato troops, involving two US battalions, will be moved to the Russian border, permanently:” The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises at the border, with lots of troops – extraordinarily provocative behaviour”. Germany is to provide one battalion.

For a long time, the official UD line in military circles was to see in Russia a regime intent on aggression, after the annexation of Crimea, and the intervention in Ukraine. When General Ray Odierno retired as Chief of Staff, he declared, “Russia is the greatest threat to the United States of America”. His predecessor, General Joseph Dunford, was more specific. He thought the then USSR was a bigger threat than ISIS. Odierno said that as a result, he saw threats to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.

It is useful to remember that Putin began his tenure by continuing Boris Yeltsin’s line of total cooperation with the United States. As George W. Bush famously said: “I have seen inside Vladimir Putin eyes, and finally we have a strong ally for US interests”. But then Bush took a number of actions without consultation that convinced the Russian that he was considered a marginal player.

While it is obvious that Putin suffers from paranoia, and uses confrontation to get popular support, it would be wise to see matters also from the Russian viewpoint. To begin with, it has been established behind doubt that Mikhail Gorbachev agreed not to intervene militarily in the European countries that were under USSR dominance, provided that NATO kept existing borders.

The fact that this agreement was not maintained has always been present in the Russian psyche. When Reagan met Gorbachev in Reykavik in 1986, Putin was in his mid-30s, and the Soviet Union stretched from the river Elba to the Bering Strait, and from the Artic to Afghanistan. The USSR was a superpower, present in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America, with important allies in Asia.

When Putin turned 40, his country had splintered into 15 separate. And when he came to power in 1999, the USSR had lost one-third of his territory, and half of its population. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Azerbaijan were gone. Nato continued its endless habit of encircling Russia. After he persuaded Kiev to join a Moscow –led economic union, Putin saw the Ukraine-pro Russian government overthrown in a US backed coup. The encirclement continues today, comprising even militarily insignificant countries like Montenegro (some 3 000 soldiers), to join Nato.

“Russia has not accepted the hand of partnership “says Nato Commander, General Philip Bredlove, “ but has chosen a path of belligerence”.

Well, it is significant that an impressive 80% of the Russian population shares Putin’s paranoia, and does not see the “hand of partnership”. When Putin annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, his popularity increased at home dramatically. Also because Crimea was always part of Russia, until Nikita Khrushchev donated it to Ukraine, in a symbolic move in 1954. The 65% of Crimeans were Russian speakers, as those living in the Eastern part of Ukraine, a country that was created by joining western Crimea, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with eastern Ukraine, which was part of the Russian empire. Putin very adroitly said that his task was to protect “Russian citizens, wherever they live”, and this struck a chord with Russian people.

It should be made clear that there are no excuses in legal terms for Putin’s actions. But in real life it is always useful to look into events by taking into account both sides of the story. And the fact is that Putin reached the conclusion that Russia was considered, in US jargon, “just a regional power”, and that to be admitted into the G7 and other similar Western fora was not giving him an opportunity to have Russia and himself considered an important player, he thus decided to take the path of confrontatio, in order to be taken seriously. He put a knife in a side of the West, by dividing once again the two halves of Ukraine, obliging the West to sink hundreds of billions of dollars to sustain a deeply corrupt government in Kiev, and its ability to turn the knife when he wanted.

This move led to the establishment of sanctions by the West in 2014, with the declared goal of having Putin capitulate and abandon his intervention in Ukraine. But then, Putin again intervened outside its borders, by intervening in Syria, where since Stalin’s time, Russia has a naval base. The arrival of Russia has completely changed the situation in Syria, and now everybody agrees that there cannot be any military solution without Russia’s agreement.

Is Russia still “ a regional power”, or has it become again a global player?

Of course, one key principle behind US foreign policy is that nobody should challenge its power. Yet it is a principle, which is becoming increasingly unrealistic, as the emergence of China shows. But in the American psyche the USSR is gone, and any attempt to recreate it, under any guise, is just a provocation. And while China has not yet had a direct clash with the United States, Crimea and Ukraine where a slap on the hand…

Now, seen from outside the western world, as many analysts have pointed out from Latin America and Asia, this situation does not make much sense. Let us take the sanctions. They have cost over US$100 billion in lost exports to Russia. But this figure hides a difference: the US exports to Russia dropped by 3.5%, while for Europe 13%, especially from the fragile European agricultural sector (which fell by 43%). Imports from Russia in Europe fell by 13.5%. According to the European Commission, the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) is going to drop by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015 due to the sanctions. But that is a quite a considerable draw, considering that European growth is expected to be just 1.5 as an average, with countries, like Italy, barely over 1%.

Meanwhile a new trend is developing, seemingly ignored by the media. Since 2014, Russia has been deepening its partnership with China, with which it traditionally had difficult relations. The Chinese economic slowdown, due to its change of economic model based on export now to one based on internal market expansion, does not make this the best moment for economic cooperation. Yet, Russia and China have just signed a US$25 billion deal to boost Chinese lending to Russian firms, and a host of other accords. Russia has agreed a US$400 billion deal to supply China with 38 billion cubicmeters of gas annually, from 2018 for the next 30 years.

Russia’s Sberbank has received a US$966 million credit line from the China Development Bank. China is launching a US$2 billion-investment fund, targeting agricultural projects. And US$19.7 billion will go to open a rail link between Moscow and the Russian city of Kazan. At the same time, Russia agreed to cancel it ban on weapon’s sale to China, and a deal was done for the sale of an S-400 air defence system to China (to the great annoyance of the United States and Japan), for US$3 billion with another US$2 billion for the sale of 24 Su-35 fighter planes. The two countries declared that they would increase their bilateral trade to US$200 billion by 2020.

But what is totally new and important is that both countries also decided to strengthen military cooperation. This year they will join in a Joint Sea-2016 naval drill, hosted by China. Deputy minister of Defence, Anatoly Antonov has declared: “Military cooperation between the two countries is highly diverse, and has improved significantly over the last three years .A more tight interaction between the military departments corresponds to national interests, and we expect this interaction to increase”.

This should really lead Europeans to pause and reflect. Is it in the interest of Europe to keep pushing Russia into the hands of China? Or suggest a European initiative – over US priorities, is it not time to search for a settlement with Russia, that would include the Ukraine, Syria, and an engagement to end “deterrence”, for an agreed status quo, which would reopen trade and cooperation, and satisfy the frustrated ego of Russian citizens? It should be recognized that even between allies like the EU and US sometimes there are different priorities, without being traitors…Maybe the American elections will change all the rules of this game.

*Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

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Annex 1:

Vladimir Putin’s Dangerous Obsession

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD – THE NEW YORK TIMES

The United States and Russia are now proposing to drop food and other emergency aid from the air if President Bashar al-Assad of Syria does not allow trucks to deliver supplies to his besieged cities. Airdrops are a risky and desperate move — costly, hard to deliver accurately and, if poorly targeted, a threat to kill or injure the people they are supposed to help.

On the surface the move seems a humanitarian gesture from two nations that are supposedly partners in ending Syria’s bloody civil war. What it really does is highlight, once again, the duplicity of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, in Syria and elsewhere. Mr. Assad remains in power largely because of Russian military assistance. It is hard to believe that Mr. Putin, who fancies himself a man who can get what he wants, could not persuade Mr. Assad to let aid get through to the cities if he chose to try.

While promising Secretary of State John Kerry that he would work with America to end the war that has reportedly killed up to 470,000 people, Mr. Putin has been unable or unwilling to stop Mr. Assad from shelling civilians and, according to reports, is continuing Russian airstrikes as well. A temporary cease-fire that raised hopes for a more durable peace has now largely collapsed, talks between the Assad government and opposition forces have broken down and plans to begin a negotiated political transition to a more inclusive government by Aug. 1 seem ever more remote.

Syria is just one arena where Mr. Putin’s obsessive quest to make Russia great again has fueled instability and reawakened political suspicions and animosities that faded after the fall of the Soviet Union.

A year after invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia signed an agreement in Minsk that was supposed to end the fighting. It is now violating that agreement; violence between Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatist forces has reached its highest level since a 2015 cease-fire.

Russia is also engaging in aggressive and dangerous behavior in the air and on the high seas. Last week, British fighter jets intercepted three Russian military transport aircraft approaching the Baltic States. On April 29, a Russian warplane came within 100 feet of an American fighter jet over the Baltic Sea and did a barrel roll over the jet, which could have been catastrophic. Two weeks earlier, two Russian warplanes flew 11 simulated attack passes near an American destroyer in the Baltic.

All this risks direct confrontation with the United States. American military forces have gone out of their way to exercise restraint, but decisions on whether oncoming planes are a threat are made in an instant, and restraint cannot be assumed.

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Anxieties about Russia among NATO members in Eastern Europe had forced the alliance to make plans to deploy four combat battalions of roughly 1,000 troops each in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Two battalions will be American, one German and one British. They aren’t enough to repulse a Russian invasion, but NATO hopes they will deter Moscow from crossing alliance borders. NATO is also proceeding with a European missile defense system intended to protect against Iranian missiles. Last week, a base in Romania became operational and ground was broken for a base in Poland. More and bigger military exercises are also on the agenda.

Mr. Putin has long misread NATO, which was significantly demilitarized after the Cold War, as a threat. His more assertive behavior may produce exactly the reinvigorated alliance he feared, one that is much more serious about military spending despite problems with economic growth, Syrian refugees and political dysfunction.

NATO’s 28 members will meet in Warsaw in July, a good time to reassert resolve. In June, sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine will expire, and will need to be renewed, though NATO members would be wise to keep channels for dialogue with Russia open as well. Mr. Putin would have greatly improved his chances of regaining the international standing he craves had he diversified his country’s economy and worked constructively with the West.MAY 19, 2016

Annex 2:

WWIII? A “Hybrid Geo-Financial War” Between NATO and Russia Is Dangerously Escalating

Submitted by Tyler Durden – ZERO HEDGE

Russia is preparing for war against the West.

Putin is being urged to do so because the U.S. and NATO have been preparing for war themselves.

Syria and Ukraine have just been warm ups. The real thing could be around the corner, and other proxy flashpoints are ready to line up.

The rising tensions for military conflict are sharply complicated by the stealthier financial war that is nonetheless taking a serious toll across the globe, in particular as collapsing oil prices put incredible pressure on those regimes who have cast a big social benefits net financed primarily by $100/barrel oil.

As SHTF previously reported, that made Venezuela the most vulnerable, and it is plain today that the oil rich nation is collapsing. However, the manipulation of these prices was also meant to put pressure on Russia (as well as other countries)… while the attempt to undercut Russian natural gas by taking over Ukraine and have NATO supply gas to Europe instead of Russia has so far failed.

It is a sophisticated geopolitical gamble that perhaps no one is winning, apart from who manages not to topple over.

ww3-horizon

A detailed, but nonetheless alarming article by Alastair Crooke reports that there is significant pressure on Putin from other Russian leaders to take a hard line in the days ahead.

via the Huffington Post:

Putin carries, at one end of his balancing pole, the various elites more oriented toward the West and the “Washington Consensus“ and, at the pole’s other end, those concerned that Russia faces both a real military threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a hybrid geo-financial war as well. He is being pressed to come down on the side of the latter, and to pry the grip of the former from the levers of economic power that they still tightly hold.

In short, the issue coming to a head in the Kremlin is whether Russia is sufficiently prepared for further Western efforts to ensure it does not impede or rival American hegemony. Can Russia sustain a geo-financial assault, if one were to be launched? And is such a threat real or mere Western posturing for other ends?

What is so important is that if these events are misread in the West, which is already primed to see any Russian defensive act as offensive and aggressive, the ground will already have been laid for escalation. We already had the first war to push back against NATO in Georgia. The second pushback war is ongoing in Ukraine. What might be the consequences to a third?

In mid-April, General Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (a sort of super attorney general, as Cohen describes it), wrote that Russia — its role in Syria notwithstanding — is militarily ill prepared to face a new war either at home or abroad, and that the economy is in a bad way, too. Russia, furthermore, is equally ill prepared to withstand a geo-financial war. He goes on to say that the West is preparing for war against Russia and that Russia’s leadership does not appear to be aware of or alert to the danger the country faces.

[…] A retired Russian general entered the fray to confirm that the West is indeed preparing for war — he pointed to NATO deployments in the Baltics, the Black Sea and Poland, among other places — and underlines again the unpreparedness of the Russian military to face this threat. “This is a heavy indictment of Putin,” Cohen says of the revelations from this analysis. “It is now out in the open.”

[…]

The government’s economic policy is being criticized. The opposing faction wants to see an immediate mobilization of the military and the economy for war, conventional or hybrid. This is not about wanting Putin ousted; it is about pushing him to wield the knife — and to cut deeply.

There is every reason to think that the clashing interests of NATO and Russia can and will spark more flashpoints across the map and around the arc that generally surrounds the former Soviet empire, which the United States hopes to contain in order to maintain its own crumbling empire.

While President Obama, now officially the president to oversee the longest period of war (albeit somewhat contracted), may be reluctant to pursue in form of open conflict with Russia, a president like Hillary Clinton may be all-too willing to do so. She has already called in recent days for an escalated ‘war against ISIS,’ which handily also gives an open ended pretext to challenge NATO-Russian conflict points wherever they might appear.

Donald Trump’s positions here are as yet unclear, but he is beginning to surround himself with the same type of advisers – including Henry Kissinger – that have brought us to this point.

With economic decline and a definite fatigue for war, Americans face an end of the dollar as the world currency standard and an era where the BRICS nations, and in particular the militaries of Russia and China, pose an existential threat to the world that the U.S. and Britain carved out in the WWII era and which they essentially won away from the Soviets by the end of the Cold War.

These waxing and waning empires are dangerous as their vulnerabilities and short-comings become exposed, and their territories challenged.

That fact that Putin is being prodded from within Russia to be less diplomatic and more aggressive in posturing for war is downright unsettling. Many of our most dangerous American leaders are all-too willing to poke the bear and evoke a reaction.

Ukraine and Syria, as well as the Georgian conflict before it in 2008, prove that the U.S. will continue waging war and posturing for global domination in spite of the lack of a coherent narrative (but there’s ISIS), or any convincing pretext for sending troops and sponsoring proxy armies.

The American people are sick of war, but the misleaders in Washington are eager enough to reinvigorate their sense of power and entitlement to control the affairs here and abroad. After all, war – in a sick kind of way – is good for the economy, and a big one means a mandate of emergency powers and a period of unquestioning obedience from the domestic population.

The threat is all-too real, and a serious provocation, like the false flag attacks that have sparked most of the wars in the past, could be on the horizon.

That all basically points to WWIII… or at least a full second Cold War. It could be a long way off, but the sense is that the scent is in the air.

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