Tensions between Washington and Russia
Currently the West and Russia can’t seem to get over their differences, with the tensions between the Washington and Kremlin changing the stakes for the world. How far would this confrontation go? Is there another Cold War coming? And finally, will the world once again know the horror of a Nuclear War looming over the humanity? See more here.
Sanctions devastating both sides
The speed of all that’s been happening has been at a breathtaking pace. Russia suspects that the US and Saudi Arabia are behind the fall of the oil prices, which have plummeted from $100 per barrel to less than $70. To round out its budget, Russia has had to drop the ruble more than 40%. The European Union sanctions Russian businesses, as well, but the counter-sanctions on Europe’s agriculture products by Russia are devastating to Spain, Poland and the Baltic countries. As soon hints emerged in Europe at undermining Russia’s gas positions in her traditional markets through fracking or LNG, Putin signed a 30-year contract with China. This contract was for building the gas pipeline that would give China with an unlimited amount of much-needed Siberian gas, hinting at the prospect of leaving Europe with zero Russian gas for European industries in some years. Then, when Europe killed the South Stream gas pipeline, the Russians dramatically re-routed it to Turkey, devastating the hopes of countries like Bulgaria and Serbia (through whose territories the South Stream had been scheduled to be built) of ever enjoying a share of European prosperity. Targeted sanctions on Russian arms and finance sectors have not forced Russia to change her stand on Ukraine, at least not yet.
But there is one looming threat that Russia seems to have no answer for so far. And it is the possibility of kicking Russia out of SWIFT—the electronic bloodstream of the international bank transaction system. The possibility was raised earlier this summer, and when, Bruce Johnston, a London-based analyst at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius told Business Insider, “This would be a major escalation of the sanctions. Most international payments flow through SWIFT. Banning Russian banks and companies from SWIFT would effectively cut off Russian businesses from the rest of world.” So aggressive a measure as cutting countries from SWIFT was used in 2012 against Iran and it showed itself to be extremely effective in damaging the Iranian economy. See more here.
The grandsons of the once mighty Red Army.
The barrage of trade sanctions Washington has imposed on Russia is an act of pre-war. We should remember that US sanctions imposed on Japan in 1941 that led Tokyo to attack the Western powers.
During the Cold War, the US had some 400,000 troops in Europe, 800 warplanes and potent naval forces. Today, the US has only 43,000 troops left in Europe: two combat brigades and the rest air force and logistics personnel. The old days when the Soviet Union had 50,000 tanks pointed at Western Europe are long gone, but Russia’s modernized armed forces still pack punch.
Meanwhile, the US has scattered forces all over the globe in what Frederick the Great would call an effort to defend everything. Most notably, US troops have gone to Afghanistan, Iraq, then Kuwait, and many have been brought home. America’s strongest divisions are now guarding Kansas and Texas instead of German’s Fulda Gap and Hanover.
America’s military power has been dissipated in little colonial wars, just as Britain’s were in the 19th century. When British imperial troops had to face real German soldiers, they were slaughtered. Similarly, the US military, reconfigured after Vietnam to wage guerrilla wars, is in no shape today to face the grandsons of the once mighty Red Army. See more here.
What does Russia Military look like today?
Russia is a nuclear superpower. Russia has an estimated 4,500 active nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Unlike North Korea or perhaps Iran, whose nuclear arsenals couldn’t inflict substantial damage, Russia could totally devastate the U.S. as well as the rest of the planet. U.S. missile defenses, assuming they even work, are not designed to stop a massive Russian strike.
For the 46 years of the Cold War, America and Russia were deadly rivals. But they never fought. Their proxies fought: Koreans, Vietnamese, Central Americans, Israelis and Arabs. The one time that U.S. and Soviet forces almost went to war was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither Obama nor Putin is crazy enough to want to repeat that. See more here.
Does the United States favor democracy?
Even to ask the question may be apostasy. But my answer is that the United States has a strong abstract preference for democracy. In abstract theory, we believe that every country in the world should be ruled with the consent of the governed, as expressed through elections. But in concrete cases, our preference for democracy is strong mostly when it produces pro-American leaders. Our preference slides rapidly down a sliding scale in countries where we have “vital interests” or “strategic interests” or at least some kind of “interests” (which turns out to be most countries). Then the abstract preference for democracy declines a bit and the concrete preference for leaders who understand and are sensitive to our interests gains strength.
Since rising to superpowerhood, the United States has a long, embarrassing history of long, cozy relationships with kings and dictators. Our country also has a long and even more embarrassing history of overthrowing (or helping or organizing the overthrow of) elected leaders. We’ve just been through a U.S. switcheroo on Egypt from a long alliance with the dictator Hosni Mubarak to mild support for the overthrow of the dictator, to not liking the guy (Mohamed Morsi) who was the first-ever democratically elected leader of Egypt, to mildly endorsing the takeover by the current military dictatorship. In Iran, the U.S. overthrew the only legitimately elected leader ever (Mossadegh), loved the unelected Shah who was a staunch U.S. ally, and despised (it’s mutual) the revolution that overthrew the Shah and turned into the mullahocracy that threw us out. Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua are three of the most famous Latin American instances where Washington preferred pro-American dictatorships to the available alternatives. See more here.
So What’s the Answer?
NATO should concentrate on finding a way to downplay the conflict with Russia, compromise on Ukraine, and not follow what the United States seem intent on doing; escalating, increasing defence spending across the bloc, sending more troops to the Baltic countries. Appeasement, if the starting point is dumb-headed NATO-expansionism, can be a virtue as well as a vice.
Military means are already at play in the conflict between NATO and Russia. Some call for even more. Before pushing Russia further in the direction they claim not to want—ethnic expansionism—politicians in the West must remember that nuclear arms are the last weapons in the arsenal of both.
Luckily, Putin seems quite sane, with superior rationality to many of his Western counterparts. The irresponsible comparison between Putin and Hitler is therefore wrong in many respects, but not least because Hitler never had the bomb. See more here.