The bear fights back

Putin, like any Western leader today, fights the security challenges that his country confronts.

Muhammad Ali Ehsan March 24, 2014
The writer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Pakistan Army and is currently pursuing PhD in civil-military relations from Karachi University

Is Crimea being annexed? Those setting the bear trap must also expect the bear to fight back. There is little doubt that the referendum which was held allows Crimea to become a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. There is no point in accusing Russia, which has done everything within its powers to safeguard and protect ‘Russian interests’ just as the Americans, the British and all other countries do. Russian interests in its neighbourhood were being threatened and it is primarily in this context that we may view President Vladimir Putin’s move to reassert Russian political and military influence over Ukraine.

There are some pertinent worries of Putin that the West disregards and downplays. Why is Nato expanding threateningly towards Russia? Was not one Cold War enough for the world? Is the US not militarily exploiting a unipolar world? To Putin’s mind, Russia needs no lecturing. Especially with its 1,000 years of history and a former status of a world power that not very long ago, as part of the Soviet Union, not only matched and challenged US military dominance but led, controlled and directed important world affairs. Russia continues to be bitter and resents the independence of the Baltic states and their quick ascendance as Nato member states. The current and ongoing efforts of the West to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the Nato fold also do not go down well with Putin’s Russia.

Putin, like any Western leader today, fights the security challenges that his country confronts. Russia rightly fears encirclement by Western powers. If it allows Ukraine to join the EU and Nato, its western borders will be directly threatened. It will also put to risk the security of one of the most important Russian naval bases located at Sevastopol in the Crimean Peninsula.

People in Crimea may have voted under the barrel of the gun but what about the opinion of the people in Poland where, according to a recent poll, 57 per cent people oppose the deployment of US missile system there? Half of the people in the Czech Republic oppose the deployment of US radars. Have the US or the EU given any importance to the public opinion in these countries?

If the referendum in Crimea is an unpopular political act conducted under the shadow of Russian military power, then the anti-Russian Nato expansion and other US military ventures are equally unpopular political and military acts that earn no favours from the people of Russia. Kremlin, on its part, has a duty to protect Russian sovereignty and also the lives of the Russian people. President Putin is doing just that.

The rapidly unfolding events concerning Ukraine clearly suggest that military confrontation between the Russians and the West is most unlikely, but the economic confrontation is definitely on. Leading the Western world, the US may impose economic sanctions, including an oil and gas embargo on Russia. It may shun Russia from the G-8 Summit and may also suspend its membership. But Russia sits on 50 billion barrels of oil and the world’s largest gas reserve. Even the annual trade that Russia conducts with the US and EU countries is momentous. This means that not just Putin’s Russia but the West, too, will feel the “return address heat” of the economic sanctions.

Lastly, despite American political and military resolve, it is the Russians who have prevailed and sought favourable solutions in a military conflict, at least, on two occasions. Firstly, President Bush in 2008 provided military aid to Georgia, even airlifted Georgian troops from Iraq and sent them home to fight Russian aggression. Result: Russia took control of a fifth of the Georgian territory and controls it to this day. Secondly, last year, the US threatened Syria with military strikes if it used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war. That was the red line that President Barack Obama warned Syria not to cross. It did. Instead of initiating strikes, the US president conceded to the Russian offer to help dismantle Syrian stocks of poison gas. Result: the US preferred to avoid fighting a proxy in a Russian satellite state — Syria.

Arizona Senator John McCain’s recent statement that “Nobody believes in America’s strength any more,” aptly sums up why the Russian bear may again be waking up from its deep slumber. If pushed to a corner — it will fight back and bite.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2014.

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Sexton Blake | 10 years ago | Reply

@Rex Minor: Dear Rex, We are more or less on the same wavelength. President Obama's European trip appeared to have all the glitter of a Hollywood set piece, such as lights, camera, action, as he met up with increasingly low caliber political figures. Added to this, his role which varied between a Knight straight out of Camelot coming to the rescue of European damsels in distress, and extracts from American mythology which was all about saving democracy from the brutal Russians in spite of the fact that 97.5 % of Crimean Ukrainians voted for Russia. Unfortunately for President Obama he has been out-maneuvered by Mr Putin, and is becoming yesterdays man. President Obama would be well advised to spend more of his time on domestic matters such as attempting to lift the US economy, which is on a downward spiral. An international statesman he is not.

Rex Minor | 10 years ago | Reply

@Sexton Blake

Mr Obama did put up a good show in his speaches in Hague and Brussels, considering that there is nothing that Mr Obama or the defunkt NATO can do anything against Vladamir Putin, the new heavy weight in the world. Now he is seeking audience with the Papa Francis to avoid humiliation at home. If only his NSA had not spied on the European leadership, things might have taken a different course.

Rex Minor

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