Saturday, December 03, 2016

Is Russia Really Willing to Trade Vladivostok for Western Syria? Winning!

The Russians continue to poke NATO while far to the east a real threat to Russia gathers strength. That might be a source of a true "reset" in Russian-American relations that actually benefits the West.

Russia is increasing the proportion of volunteer troops over far less effective conscripts. One problem with this solution is that Russia's defense budget is dropping as a result of lower oil prices and Western hostility to Russia's Ukraine and Syrian adventures plus general Russian hostility. The Russians know they have a problem that has nothing to do with paranoid imaginary NATO plots:

Russians note with fear that the Chinese now have an army three times the size of theirs and spend three times as much on defense. China is also building an effective NCO corps, something that has long made Western forces much more effective.

The one weapon Russia has while they try to build an effective army that doesn't have the ability to fall back on quantity is Russia's reliance on nukes to stop a serious invasion.

America went through this early in the Cold War and we found out that a strategy of massive retaliation threatened against an invasion of the NATO West through West Germany was not credible against lower-level threats that threatened less than vital interests. Russia will find the same thing: that threatening mutual nuclear annihilation makes no sense when the stakes are small.

To be fair to Russia, losing their Far East and access to the Pacific would cripple Russia's pretensions to being a great power with global impact and relegate Russia to being a regional European power at best. So threatening nuclear weapons against China which does not have a large arsenal might actually be credible.

Why Russia has spent their time provoking a near-militarily helpless NATO into creating the actual ability to defend eastern NATO (but not the ability to invade Russia), when the Chinese threat looms with little being said in Moscow is beyond my comprehension.

It is understandable that Russia would appease China in the short run, but masking that policy by talking tough on NATO will just create a two-front problem if Russia's nonsensical aggression continues.

The year 2020 is not so far off any more. That's the year a two-decade freeze of border disputes between China and Russia ends. Recall that Russia's critical Far East holdings were taken from China in the 19th century.

Perhaps that looming Russian problem could be a source of a true "reset" between America and Russia that doesn't rely on America flexibly going along with Russian aggression against our interests.

PRE-PUBLICATION UPDATE: Strategytalk discusses Russia, and mentions the Chinese threat to the Far East and penetration of former Soviet republics in Central Asia.