Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Post-Cold War Survival Tip: Don't Border Russia

Russia's decent into annoying aggressiveness disappoints me. I had hopes that by throwing off communism the Russians could join the West and become a prosperous friend. In that light, obscure events in Belarus matter.

I know there are those on the left--who until Trump came along and embraced Putin--opposed viewing Russia as a hostile force and viewed those who did as being "nostalgic" for the Cold war.

I find that charge insulting. I am not and never have been nostalgic for the so-called simplicity of looming nuclear annihilation.

After we won the Cold War, I had hopes Russia would be friendly given enough time. I certainly expressed that hope 9 years ago in this post (sometimes I find things while looking for other things):

Eventually, I think Russia will be incorporated into the West as Germany, Eastern Europe, Japan and South Korea have been since World War II.

[If writing that now, I'd add Italy to the list, given that I put South Korea in that list then. Their switching sides during the war muddies the water a bit, depending on how I am thinking of the context.]

Although even in that post I was worried about what anti-Western propaganda coming out of Russia could mean.

The Russian attack on Georgia in 2008 changed my mind about the Russians by matching actions to their rhetoric.

But even in 2013, mere months before Russia attacked Ukraine and then really upped their level of threats to the West, I didn't think Russia would try to march west in a Cold War repeat.

I knew that Russia's military wasn't capable of marching west and I thought Russia had resigned themselves to not challenging the loss of their western provinces by using military force. I was wrong about the latter although the former is true (although I was in favor of hedging our bets on that question).

Given Russian trends (that might abate and in the long run make Russia part of the West if the short run doesn't get all bloody), what happens in Belarus is vitally important to NATO and the West.

Belarus held "elections:"

Two opposition candidates have been elected to parliament in ex-Soviet Belarus, the first time since 2008 that critics of strongman president Alexander Lukashenko have made it into the rubber-stamp legislature.

The election of the tiny opposition contingent comes as Lukashenko, once dubbed by the US as Europe's last dictator, tries to burnish his image further with the West after the EU dropped sanctions against Belarus earlier this year.

If any country could prompt a conventional full-blown Russian conventional invasion if a "color revolution" broke out and "threatened" to bring democracy to the country, it is Belarus.

Which is why Lukashenko is never pressed more than lightly by the West for being a dictator.

So Lukashenko remains a dictator to satisfy Russia and makes token gestures to the West on democracy while keeping Russia at arms-length as much as possible (which is a dangerous game itself) to keep links open to the West.

UPDATE: I found a post that nicely summarizes my pre-Ukraine worries about Russia:

Alas, we are keeping our plans to go down to a single paratrooper brigade and a single Stryker brigade in Europe. Those are fine for the initial forces in the arc of crisis, but aren't sufficient for reassuring our new NATO allies in eastern Europe and keeping the Russians quiet as they shift west.

I hope we hedge a bit by putting heavy brigade sets in Poland.

And while I welcome NATO efforts to build small, high quality forces capable of being projected abroad that can work with our forces, I hope that the Europeans don't neglect the capability to regenerate conventional forces by maintaining a core conventional heavy capability backed by reserves and the capacity to build new units if the Russian threat is rebuilt by Moscow.

Look, Russia is a long way from threatening to march to the Rhine. But they are much more close to being able to threaten and bully a small country like any of the Baltic nations, as the 2008 Georgia War demonstrated. Ultimately, if we are reducing our presence in Europe to focus our shrinking military on Asia and the rest of the world, we need NATO Europe capable of holding their own territory without immediate and massive US help.

Ukraine has actually prompted us to reverse the draw down of our Army in Europe and add pre-positioned equipment to bolster European defense efforts which do show signs of reviving.