By Abdul Ruff
The end of Cold war and dismantling of mighty Soviet Union along with dissolution of Socialist system in East Europe, Russia, having lost the Cold War to USA, was forced to lay down for years as its allies began dropping the Kremlin and joining the USA and Europe through NATO and EU, one by one. Further, dismantling of anti-West military alliance Warsaw Pact increasingly weakened Russia as it gradually lost its influence globally.
Over years since the Sept-11 hoax, Russia and its strong leader President Vladimir Putin have gained in international importance in the comity of nations, notwithstanding the occasional reverses they were subjected to by US led western nations.
In recent times Russia has raised its role and prestige first with its annexation of Crimea and then by sending its military to Syria, where USA is helping the anti-Assad forces, to defend President Assad and his autocratically illegal regime. Fall of Aleppo has considerably added to the prestige of efficacy of Russian military operations
By confrontation and cooperation as effective tool Moscow played its card rather too well for alliance particularly with USA so that the west cannot operate without Russia. Notwithstanding economic sanctions of USA and Europe, Russian economy is not shrinking because of its natural resources, oil output and arms sale.
As such, one thing is plain today: the world cannot ignore Vladimir Putin’s Russia and America has to take into consideration the views of Russia in world affairs. Twenty-five years after the humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union, President Putin is well on his way to making Russia the “ubiquitous state and indispensable partner” of his dreams, expect Russia to be very active on the diplomatic, military, and cyber fronts.
Syria offers the most dramatic illustration of Russia’s ambitions. It was the Russian Air Force’s brutal bombing campaign that turned the tide in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s favor. Syria offers the most dramatic illustration of Russia’s ambitions. It was the Russian Air Force’s brutal bombing campaign that turned the tide in Syrian President Assad’s favor.
And the week before Christmas, Putin hosted Turkish and Iranian officials for political talks on how to end the civil war in Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry was nowhere to be seen as he busy with Mideast peace process by shoring up support for the UNSC vote for Palestine state. Nor is he expected to be invited to Russian-planned talks in Kazakhstan between the Syrian government and opposition.
Maybe, Moscow thinks USA is sincere about peace in Syria and other Arab nations. Now the Kremlin has made no secret of its intention to thwart the USA, and the West more broadly, whenever it sees fit. In a foreign policy “concept” document published this month, Moscow framed its view of the world as a “competition in the form of dueling values,” and announced it intended “to prevent military interventions or other forms of outside interference” justified on humanitarian grounds. Russia “reserved the right to react very strongly to unfriendly actions, including retaliatory or asymmetrical measures.”
True, Russia’s oil-dependent economy is weak, its state structures inefficient, its soft power limited. But it has a strong military that is getting stronger, and Putin is ready to use it. Russian troops have intervened in Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria. Those operations have boosted Russia’s military confidence. They could be tempted to use military force more easily than before, if they think that will give them influence.
Especially nervous in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Crimea are the three Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia – NATO members neighboring Russia, which has been bolstering its military forces in the region. According to the NATO treaty, an invasion of Estonia, Lithuania, or Latvia would mean war. But US President-elect Trump hinted on the campaign trail that he would not necessarily feel obliged to come to their aid. And there is much speculation about the prospect that Trump would be more conciliatory toward Moscow than has President Obama.
However Trump and Putin get on, Russia and the West will remain divided over fundamental issues, not least Washington’s plan for a global missile defense system. Moscow considers the scheme a threat to its national security, the foreign policy document made clear. If the USA goes ahead with it, Moscow “reserves the right to take adequate retaliatory measures.”
In the USA, a conservative split over Putin is emerging as the old guard clashes with rising hard-right nationalists over the direction of foreign policy under a president Trump. Traditional Republican hawks like Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona continue to view Putin as a danger to the West. Based on standard conservative objections to Putin’s disregard for personal freedoms, human rights, and his challenge to the West in Europe, Senator McCain says the Russian leader is a thug and a murderer and a killer. He cites shadowy killings of Russian dissidents, Russian undermining of Estonia, “dismembering” of Ukraine, and precision Russian airstrikes on civilian hospitals in Aleppo, Syria.
Some close observers of the Trump transition speculate that Mitt Romney was ultimately passed over in the search for a secretary of State in part because of his perspective from the 2012 presidential campaign that Russia is America’s chief geopolitical foe – a view in line with a traditional Republican national-security outlook but at odds with the Trump camp’s perspective on Putin. But Pat Buchanan wrote in 2013 that instead of seeing Putin through an old “Cold War paradigm,” conservatives should see Putin as a defender “against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.”
More recently, some of Trump’s closest aides – including Steven Bannon, named Trump’s chief White House strategist, and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who will be national security adviser – extol the Russian leader for his strong defense of national sovereignty, his promotion of traditional values, and his war against radical Islam. Bannon told a gathering of European conservatives that the “Judeo-Christian West” should focus more on Putin’s promotion of “traditionalism” and values that support “the underpinnings of nationalism.” In August, General Flynn, a campaign adviser to then-candidate Trump, said Putin should be considered a partner in the global war on “radical Islamism.”
There’s no doubting Putin’s opposition to sexual minorities and his deep disdain for what he sees as a decadent West. In his often-cited 2013 state-of-the-nation speech, the Russian leader defended Russia’s “traditional” values against the West’s “so-called tolerance,” which he condemned as “genderless and infertile” and for promoting “the equality of good and evil.” But Putin holds very strongly that anything blurring the line between men and women is something to be fought. But he’s not a racist, he leads a vast country of diverse cultures, he’s proudly built mosques in Moscow. However, experts warn, anyone seeing Putin as some kind of crusader for white, Christian, European culture is misreading the Russian leader. Some of these other crusades being assigned to the Russian leader are part of a white-supremacist narrative that has little to do Putin
Gaining in popularity
When last week the United Nations Security Council proposed a resolution praising outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for supporting the world’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Russia stood up to its Western colleagues to oppose it. The wording about sexual minorities, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin disdains, was replaced with a benign reference to the “most vulnerable” and “marginalized.” The Security Council’s split on Ban’s promotion of LGBT rights may be a small thing at the UN. But it offers a partial clue as to why Putin, once roundly condemned in Western circles as a dangerous authoritarian, is increasingly viewed in a positive light by conservatives across the West – by the Trump wing of the Republican Party, but also by right-wing leaders in France and other European countries. They consider Putin as an ally, though may not be reliable one. The turnaround in the Russian leader’s image in the USA can be ascribed almost completely to Trump’s repeated contrasting of Putin’s strong leadership and President Obama’s weakness. The result is that people who admire Trump’s rhetoric and style now see Putin in a positive light as a man of action. They see Putin as a leader who was dealt a weaker hand than the president of the United States, but who has somehow been able to play it better.
A new poll released this week by YouGov shows that in the US, self-identified Republicans viewing Putin as very or somewhat favorably rose from 10 percent in July 2014 to 37 percent today. Even the uproar this week over Russia’s hacking of the presidential campaign and reports Putin signed off on the operation are taken as a mere gimmick and do not seem to be spawning universal condemnation of the Russian leader and his tactics.
However, none of them think the sanctions on Putin’s country could be lifted. Now instead of facing near universal rejection in the West over his oppressive governance at home, his seizure of Crimea, and his intervention in Syria on behalf of a despot, Putin is for some a hero. Nationalist conservatives see Putin as defending sovereign nationhood in the face of globalization, and traditional values against an onslaught of threatening forces: from multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism to nontraditional sexual identity and radical Islam.
Putin does not promote white supremacy
The revalorization of Putin as a Hero may be most visible in the Trump camp of Putin admirers, but there are signs the more positive image of the Russian leader is trickling down to Republican voters. The YouGov poll released this week not only shows an uptick in support over the past two years, but also a decline in antipathy. Nearly half of Republicans – 47 percent – still view Putin somewhat or very unfavorably – but those seeing him “very unfavorably collapsed from 51 percent in 2014 to 10 percent now. “If you look at public opinion in the United States, there were pretty universal negative views of Putin up to this summer,” Darden says. “Then we had the Republican nominee sounding very pro-Putin, and the public shifted shockingly quickly.”
Actually, that shift came only among Republican voters – surveys like YouGov’s show that Democrats have as negative an opinion of Putin as ever. Putin’s rising favorability in the US has more to do with politics than with the Russian leader’s “values” now touted by some Trump nationalists. It’s really the people who are opposed to Obama who are revising their view of Putin. It’s pure partisanship that says, ‘Putin was the enemy of Obama, therefore he must be a pretty decent guy.’ In spite of all strenuous efforts by Washington, Russia could not be made a US satellite nation to serve its global interests like many third world powers and even a few Europe nations do. Putin cannot be pro-America leader.
Russia’s anti-satellite weapon readiness
Even while trying to notionally reset relations with the West, Russia has also been continuously improving its military capability. Russia’s latest anti-satellite weapon launch makes I the point amply clear. Once more, Russia has conducted a successful test of an anti-satellite weapon on December 22. It was the fifth time the weapon, a PL-19 Nudol missile, had been tested. Some military analysts have expressed concern over the test, saying that it was a provocative demonstration of Moscow’s might on a relatively new military frontier: outer space. But they suggest that it’s more about Russian posturing than an imminent threat.
Over the past few years, the United States, Russia, and China have been gradually beefing up their space-based weapon capabilities, focusing on anti-satellite defense strategies and technology. With modern militaries and much of the world’s economy dependent on the information and communication systems supported by satellites in orbit, it has become a higher priority than ever to protect assets outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. If a direct conflict were to break out between space-capable powers, it seems likely that the battle front lines would be drawn thousands of miles above the surface of our planet.
The latest test of the Nudol missile took place on December 16. The launch originated from a facility near Plesetsk, about 500 miles north of Moscow, and was apparently successful, despite CNN reports that no debris was detected by US monitoring stations, meaning that no test target was destroyed. “We monitor missile launches around the globe, but as a matter of policy we don’t normally discuss intelligence specific to those launches,” Strategic Command, overseer of US space operations. “We remain concerned with growing space capabilities around the globe, particularly those of China and Russia, since both countries are developing or have developed counter-space capabilities.”
Both Russia and China have conducted successful anti-satellite weapons tests in recent years. Russia may have also developed kamikaze satellites designed to disable other satellites by crashing into them, and China’s military-run space program has also seen massive development in multiple areas at the orders of Chinese President Xi Jinping. “We have demonstrated ASAT [anti-satellite] capabilities in the past. And we have very high accuracy capability to monitor the threats.”
Concerns over Russia’s recent antagonism toward the West in the form of Syrian intervention, invasion of Ukraine, and the alleged hacking of the Democratic National Convention in order to influence the outcome of the recent presidential election, suggest that USA is likely to remain committed to ensuring there are no warlike surprises coming from the Russian space program. The Pentagon’s budget for space-based programs currently stands at $22 billion per year, which includes considerable funding for defense against emerging orbital threats.
Russia has flexed its muscles in orbit even during the cold war, the space race between the US and the then-Soviet Union helped to define worldwide politics during the second half of the 20th century. But after the cold war ended and Russia down, the USA became the only space-faring superpower for years, with most subsequent conflicts occurring between non-space capable countries and non-state organizations, leaving the possibility of satellite attacks by powers like Russia remote and unrealistic until only recently. Just wanting to let everyone know they are back to being a world power to be reckoned with, under Putin and clearly due to his leadership and standing up to the USA.
But while Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to reestablish Russia’s position as a global superpower may be worrying to the Western powers, this test is mostly hot air. “It’s just posturing.” Today, Russia is a new military power even with less economic prowess. There is no way the West could utilize it for advancing its capitalist or imperialist goals.