By Richard E. Caroll
In a diplomatic move that is reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s Triangular Diplomacy, President Joe Biden is moving to end the hostility between the United States and Russia.
Since the invasion and occupation of the Crimea by Russia; Russia and the West have been estranged. As a result of this, Russia has sought a tactical and temporary alliance with the People’s Republic of China. While China is a long-term threat to Russia, the Russian leadership has perceived (rightly or wrongly) that the West and NATO are a more immediate threat. Central to this belief has been the expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia since the end of the Cold War. With China increasingly a threat to a peaceful world order, the West must recognize that Russia is a major regional power, and has her own national security interests that cannot be ignored. An understanding between the West and Russia is needed by both sides.
The West’s Geo-Political Aggression after the Cold War
Towards the end of the Cold War, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the most pressing problem facing Europe and Russia at the time was the political question of the reunification of Germany. To achieve a peaceful reunification between then West Germany and East Germany, the West needed the acquiescence of the then Soviet Union. In a meeting held between then-Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Premier Gorbachev in February of 1990, the United States suggested “that in exchange for cooperation on Germany, the U.S. could make iron-clad guarantees that NATO would not expand one inch eastward.”
It was only after receiving these “iron-clad guarantees” that Premier Gorbachev agreed to the reunification talks. Not two weeks later, the U.S. began laying the foundation to bring Eastern Europe into the West’s sphere of influence and to begin the process of advancing NATO to the very frontiers of Russia. From 2004 to 2019, NATO has added the following countries to its membership: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In 2019, the countries of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia, and Ukraine were regarded as “aspiring members” into NATO.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West has forced Russia into a corner and forced her to seek allies, no matter how dangerous they are to Russia, to defend itself against the strategic aggression of the West. It is actually mind-boggling that the leadership of the West is blind to the history of Russia, specifically the history of the Rapallo Treaty of 1922 and the Non-Aggression Treaty with Nazi Germany of 1939.
It should be noted here that in the last 220 years, the West has invaded Russia four times if one includes the Crimean War in the 1800s. Three of those times, the invasions were of an existential threat to Russia. Russia has not invaded Western Europe except during WW2, where Russia moved west to defeat Germany, who had attacked her in 1941.
The Importance of the Crimea to Russia
The Crimea has always been important to the national security of Russia, the most recent example is the summer of 1942 and the siege of Sevastopol that delayed the start of the German offensive, code named Case Blue, until June of 1942. The key to southern Russia has always been the Crimea. Separated from the mainland, the Crimea acts as a natural fortress which would need to be subjugated before any invasion of southern Russia would have any hope of success. A simple look at a topographic map confirms the strategic importance of the Crimea. After the Crimea, there is only flat open plains, with no natural obstacle until the Volga River.
Before Case Blue could begin, the 1942 German offensive in southern Russia, the Russian naval base at Sevastopol had to be reduced, and the Crimea denied to the Russian air force. The Russian military airfields were within easy striking range of the oil fields of Romania, which German depended upon for her oil supplies for the German war machine. The fight for Sevastopol was long and costly for the German 11th Army. The 11th had been scheduled to accompany the German 6th Army in the drive to the Volga, and the capture of Stalingrad. However, the 11th Army was so depleted after the fight that it was not able to accompany the 6th Army. When the moment of truth arrived in the rubble filled streets of Stalingrad, the 6th Army did not have the strength to evict the Russian Army from the west bank of the Volga, and this led to the defeat and total destruction of the German 6th Army in February of 1943.
The Euromaidan movement and West’s support for the Ukrainian revolution
The Euromaidan’s Movement began as a result of the delay by the government of Viktor Yanukovych of the association agreement with the European Union. The EU was offering Ukraine $838 million in loans in return for major changes to Ukraine’s laws and regulations. Russia was offering $15 billion in loans and no demand for changes to its laws and regulations.
With Russia then being Ukraine’s biggest trading partner, President Yanukovych at the last minute decided to take Russia’s offer and to remain outside the European Union. Europe, along with the United States, launched a publicity campaign calling on the people of Ukraine to force the government of Ukraine to change its position, and to sign the association agreement with the EU.
In December of 2013, Senator’s John McCain and Chris Murphy addressed Ukrainian crowds urging them to continue to resist the government’s decision to remain in the economic and political orbit of Russia. On February 4th, 2014, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and the American Ambassador to Ukraine in a leaked phone call discussed plans to help form an interim government after the legitimate Ukrainian government had been dissolved.
In November of 2013, the EU Enlargement Commissioner, Štefan Füle, declared that he was happy to see that democracy had reached a point where young people could demonstrate peacefully and legally. On the same day, members of the European Parliament responsible for the Eastern Partnership policy, Elmar Brok and Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, warned Ukraine not to use force against the protestors or there “would be consequences.”
Shortly thereafter on February 22, 2014, the legitimate Ukrainian government was overthrown, and the elected president of Ukraine had to flee for his life. It was after the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine that Russia annexed the Crimea. Viewed from the point of the Kremlin, this further act of aggression by the West had to be countered, and from the point of Russian national security, this annexation made sense, both militarily and geopolitically.
When the West imposed sanctions on Russia after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Russia being isolated in the world began to move closer to China. And this dynamic in world politics has emboldened China in its aggression in the South China Sea and in Southeast Asia since at this point in time China does not have to worry about her northern border with Russia. From joint air patrols in Southeast Asia, to land based military exercises in September of 2019 in Siberia, and the stated goal of increasing trade between the two countries to $200 billion per annum by the year 2024, the economic, political, and military interests of the two countries are growing to the detriment of the United States and Western Europe.
A Realpolitikal Moment in US History
With China becoming more aggressive in the South China Sea, and the pace of her rearmament, it makes geopolitical sense for the West to come to a rapprochement with Russia. President Biden’s agreement to meet with Russian President Putin is designed for this type of diplomacy. The agreement to meet follows the diplomatic move by the United States to drop its objections to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
If President Biden is able to come to terms with Russia, as distasteful as Putin is, it will place military and political pressure on China. At the moment, China does not need to worry about her northern border with Russia. A rapprochement between Russia and the West would lessen Russia’s need for geopolitical security with China, that would mean China would have to contemplate her need to increase her military forces on her northern flank with Russia. In having to do this, China would have to moderate her behavior in Southeast Asia in fear of standing alone against a united West no longer fearful of a Russian response on the plains of Europe. In short, President Biden is using triangular diplomacy; playing the Russian card in the international game of politics among nations.
Richard E. Caroll is a retired economist and soldier.