Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Getting What You Wished: Moscow Edition

I read an analysis that holds that even if Trump wants to improve relations with Russia, Putin needs hostility with the West to justify his control of Russia. That's sort of right and may be right enough. But perhaps not.

This author has a point:

As it stands, Russia seems to be on strong geopolitical footing. But things are not always as they seem. For example, though Trump’s support for closer ties would seem to be good for Russia, a major ingredient of Putin’s nationalist appeal is his ability to reinforce Cold War drama. For that, he needs the US – and the West, more generally – to be his enemy. Amity could spell long-term trouble for Putin. [emphasis added]

Putin needs a combination of portraying the West as an imminent threat to Russia combined with actual Western weakness that makes people who know understand that there is no threat.

What Putin has gotten with his unrelenting hostility toward NATO and other Western countries, including attacks on Georgia and Ukraine, is a West that is arming up and deploying east to meet the new actual threat of Russia's reviving--but still weak relative to America--military power.

Like in Romania now:

The U.S. embassy said the "Fighting Eagles," 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, will be stationed in the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in eastern Romania on a rotating basis.

It is just a stripped down battalion. But it is a heavy battalion. Which is probably a first for the United States Army there.

So what Putin is doing is creating a NATO that one day could threaten him. And today at least the West doesn't trust Russia and views Russia as a threat.

And in the meantime, a real threat to Russia's weakly held and sparsely populated Far East--that Russia took from China during China's self-described "century of humiliation"--continues its rise as Chinese military and economic power expands.

And if the point of the hostility toward the West is propping up his regime, Putin will find that he has problems responding to NATO's moves. Unless Putin rolls the dice and goes to war, NATO can build up defenses.

One response is to destabilize eastern NATO countries such as Romania and Hungary to make them less NATO-friendly.

But that risks a NATO response in kind to undermine Russia's remaining empire--which was the justification for hostility to the West in the first place.

Putin needs a pretend Western enemy to survive. And he's gotten a real one. That could spell long-term trouble for Putin--and Russia.

UPDATE: Russia continues to both provoke and deny doing anything at all, let alone anything that is wrong:

Multiple Russian military aircraft came close to a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea on Feb. 10, incidents considered "unsafe and unprofessional," a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The Russian Defense Ministry said no such incidents had occurred.

We do film these things, don't we?


UPDATE: Even if Trump wants better relations with Russia and is willing to ignore Russian aggression, the Trump administration focus on stopping Iran from regional aggression and nukes will knock out Russia relations with collateral damage given Russian efforts to arm Iran:

With little international notice, Russia is using the Syrian civil war as a live-fire boot camp to train Iranian troops as the region’s dominant military force. And the U.S. seems unable — or still unwilling — to respond effectively.

Iran has already dispatched up to 100,000 troops or proxies into next-door Iraq, allegedly to help its Shiite neighbor combat the Islamic State. But it is also arming and backing Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah in Syria, among others.
Political columnist Andrew Malcolm

Iran’s concerted buildup, including sophisticated new Russian missile defenses, is expanding its armed influence toward tipping the Middle East’s balance of power adversely to American interests.

Of course, I don't believe that Russia thought that Trump would be better for Russia than Clinton.

Although Iran already had experience with large-scale military operations from the nearly 8-year-long Iran-Iraq War.