Archive for the ‘Russia and the West’ category

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018

December 30, 2017

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018, Gatestone Institute, John Bolton, December 30, 2017

Yesterday’s 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump’s continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.

Russia and China will be among the Trump administration’s key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.

China has likely been Trump’s biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing’s foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.

Even worse, Beijing’s belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.

Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea’s Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul’s strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China’s frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.

On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the “rodina” (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.

No better proof exists than Russia’s reaction to Trump’s recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump’s weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump’s aid is a small step compared to President Bush’s 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin’s calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow’s adventurism in Ukraine.

Just as troubling as Russia’s menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia’s naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.

This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia’s support (even more than Iran’s) for Syria’s Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia’s assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran’s nuclear-weapons program on America’s list of threats emanating from the Middle East.

Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court’s November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president’s focus on protecting American sovereignty.

Trump’s first insight into the rage for “global governance” among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization’s adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of “who governs” and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don’t need international treaties to “improve” it.

No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

Russian News Agency RIA: It Will Become Clear That The Eastern European Countries’ Fear Towards Russia Is Not Unfounded; ‘Russia Is Preparing For War’

October 2, 2017

Russian News Agency RIA: It Will Become Clear That The Eastern European Countries’ Fear Towards Russia Is Not Unfounded; ‘Russia Is Preparing For War’, MEMRI, October 1, 2017

On September 21, 2017, Russian news agency RIA published an article, titled “The West Was Right To Fear ‘Zapad-2017, For Russia Is No Longer Nice,” by journalist Irina Alksnis. According to the author, the recent Russia-Belarus joint Zapad-2017 drills (September 14-20) reflect Russian military policy towards the West.[1] “Russia is preparing for war; it is preparing in earnest. And first and foremost, on the Western axis,” writes Alksnis.

The author adds that Eastern European countries understand that “the flamboyance and overtness” of Russia’s drills indicate that Moscow is guided by the classical principle “if you want peace, prepare for war”‘. However, Alksnis stresses: “The world also knows two Russian maxims: the classical one about the rifle hanging on the wall, and the modern one: ‘Russia will never again fight on its own territory’.”

Alksnis’ analysis dispenses with the usual Russian reaction to Western apprehension over growing Russian military might. This is not irrational panic, or an attempt to divert public attention but recognition over growing Russian military might. This is not irrational panic, or an attempt to divert public attention but recognition that Russia has returned to the international arena as a dominant player and shed of its previous sentimentality. In other words Western fears prove the efficacy of Russia’s foreign and defense policies and should be viewed with satisfaction.

The following are excerpts from Alksnis’ article:[2]

Irina Alsksnis (Source: YouTube)
Zapad 2017 (Source: Sputniknews.com)

‘The Zapad-2017 Exercise Reflects A Significant And Absolutely Real Trend In The Russian Military Policy’

“The ‘Zapad-2017’ military exercise has given those Russians interested in politics plenty of new reasons for entertainment watching the extremely emotional, bordering on nervous breakdown, and reactions of our closest Western neighbors, primarily those in the Baltics. Of the latter, of course, the most noticeable was Lithuania’s reaction to the alleged violation of the republic’s airspace by Russian transport aircraft. Although one could hardly top the Polish defense minister with his declaration that ‘nuclear weapons are being used as part of the exercise’.

“It is customary in Russia to mock the nervous – sometimes downright hysterical – attitude of our Western allies to the ‘Russian threat’, and any attempts to understand it usually end with a statement along the lines of ‘They must realize it is nonsense; therefore, it is nothing but  a PR stunt for some personal gain’. Russophobic propaganda in these countries and whipping up a spiral of public fear of Russian aggression are viewed in the same context. They are seen exclusively as mechanisms for solving some of their internal problems, and in particular, transferring public attention public from really important issues to artificially inflated ones.

“Without denying that all of the above does exist, it is still worthwhile to take a closer look at the situation. And then it will turn out that for them, for the authorities and the elites of East European states, it is not a game at all.

“The truth is that they are indeed afraid of Russia. Moreover, if you look deeper, it will become clear that their fear is not unfounded. Their fear of Russia has quite serious and absolutely rational motives, which are worth understanding and recognition.

“By the way, it is not hard to do – it is enough to look at what is happening in the world through their eyes.

“Firstly, Russia has again cheated the entire world and instead of dying, having placed its resources at the disposal of the world community, has managed not only to survive but to return to the global stage in good shape.

“Secondly, the Russia that has returned is displaying manners quite uncharacteristic of its former self — absence of sentimentality concerning those it used to call fraternal peoples for centuries, and rationality that is more akin to refined cynicism. It has already made them pay (instead of the traditional forgiveness) — by trade restrictions, food import ban, and direct multi-million punitive sanctions (compliments to Bulgaria for violating the contract on the Belene nuclear power plant).

“It is enough to look at the way Russia has behaved towards Ukraine, whose people it did not simply consider fraternal but viewed as part of it very itself. In fact, Russia has chosen the most ruthless possible course of action concerning Ukraine: it has been left to its fate, and when necessary, Moscow acts in its own interests in such a way that the situation there is exacerbated.

“A quite obvious thought occurs to Russia’s neighbors: if Russia has gotten rid of sentimental feelings towards Ukraine, just how cynical can it be in its decisions and tough in its actions towards others?

“Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly — Russia is preparing for war; it is preparing in earnest, and first and foremost,on the Western axis. The Zapad-2017 exercise reflects a significant and absolutely real trend in Russian military policy.

“Russia is building up its military muscles demonstratively and at all possible speed. In addition, there are overt full-scale preparations in the sphere of mobilization arrangements and in civil defense.

“Our neighbors are capable of understanding that the flamboyance and overtness of these preparations directly indicate that Russia is guided by the classical principle ‘if you want peace, prepare for war’, that in this way it is trying to prevent a possible military conflict. But this does not put them at ease.

“Because, in addition to the Latin principle of ‘[vis pacem] para bellum’, the world also knows two Russian maxims: the classical one about the rifle hanging on the wall [in the first act that is used in the second or third act], and the modern one: ‘Russia will never again fight on its own territory’.

“Also, there is the overall global situation, which our anxious neighbors cannot ignore. The situation involves the disintegration of the prevailing hierarchy of powers, the degradation of the global hegemon, degeneration of the elites and the grand-scale increase in general instability.

And hopes that the proverbial ‘rifle on the wall’ will not fire in this situation are increasingly diminishing. Even though, as history has shown, in the end the Russians will probably manage to spin it in such a way so as to say afterwards: ‘They started it’.

“But the Baltic and Polish peoples, as well as other East Europeans, don’t feel better for all that. Because if, as they say, things go ‘boom’, they will be the first to find themselves in the wrong place. And taking into account the above-mentioned Russia’s loss of sentimentality regarding East European nations, their fears are not so ridiculous after all.

“So, one can understand the panic of the Latvian authorities over malfunctions in mobile service in their country. After all, Russia is a world leader in the sphere of electronic warfare.

“Thus, they can no longer count on ‘Russia will take pity on us’, but only on ‘Russia does not need us’.”

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[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7094, Zapad-2017 Exercises An Embarrassment For Belarus As Fictional State Achieves A Life Of Its Own, September 15, 2017.

See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7097, Russia This Week – September 19, 2017, September 19, 2017.

[2] Ria.ru, September 21, 2017.