Cold War Redux or Russian Paranoia

I ain’t no smarter than the rest of these clowns
I’m just making it up as I go along – Randy Foster, “Making It Up As I Go Along

From the constant babble disguised as debate among policymakers and the media, one would assume that Putin is the craziest muthafucka ever or he is a genius and the best strategist to deal with US and Europe since the end of the Cold War. Pragmatists probably fall into a middle camp and refrain from calling him names or singing his praises. Wrapping one’s melon around the who, what, and why of the Ukraine/Russia/Crimea foreign policy crisis is both laborious and confusing. Televised talking heads and clowns only make the debate more confusing, and their constant harping is nothing more than white noise on the radio dial. The real song and only song you should be listening to is Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” because this crisis is nothing more than a long-standing continuation of Russian paranoia. Gordon Adams, at ForeignPolicy.com, says it in “Don’t Poke the Russian Bear” with a disbelieving eye on US and European leaders’ responses.

National Security Strategy 101

Protecting one’s borders and pushing the buffer zone out as far as possible is the first thing one learns if one has any formal or informal national security training. From Kievan Rus to present day, the inherent (integral) Russian need to have vast expanses of land as protection from invaders is so rooted in the Russian mentality that one could argue that is almost visceral. Tsarist, Communist, and present-day Russian designs on empire expansion were not based solely on an Eurasian version of Manifest Destiny. It is also an attempt to ensure that breathing room was afforded to a people/nation that had to not only look warily toward Asia, but toward Europe. Mongols, Napoleonic forces, and Nazis have all knocked on Muscovy/Moscow’s door. Through Kievan Rus submission (payments to Mongols), geographical attrition (space that forced invaders to march endlessly across the steppes), and Mother Winter’s attention (Siberian winters are brutal), Russia has always figured out a technique in protecting itself. Today, Putin continues the natural course of Russian history by doing what is necessary to protect the integrity of Mother Russia. Arguably, Russia’s ability to do the necessary now to ensure survivablity for tomorrow is more of a long road approach to security, especially compared to US foreign policy that seems to be reactive and crisis-based. Just as the Kievan Rus’ Realpolitik action of paying tribute was necessary, Putin’s latest land grab in Crimea (and potentially eastern Ukraine) is both understandable and typical (in both national security and foreign policy terms).

US Foreign Policy

One would hope that those responsible for planning US policy toward Russia have pushed their thinking out like Russia has always pushed out its borders. Reportedly, Putin was dismayed at Muammar Gaddafi’s death and felt it was a direct result of US intervention in Libya. This view on US foreign policy designs further bolstered the idea of US’ actions that resembled empire expansion through its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following Gaddafi’s execution, the Syrian crisis reinforced Putin’s thinking on how Russian influence and security were being openly challenged by US foreign policy. Russian fears of reduced influence and security are one and the same, and this fear is manifested in Russian land grabbing. Honestly, with the exclusion of Germany (even with Merkel’s obvious dislike of Putin), Russia does not look at western Europe or NATO actions as anything other than the results of American puppeteer moves.  Russia is still reeling from what is now commonly agreed on as their loss in the Cold War. American actions since 1991 give further credence to this Russian loss. Russia has countered American moves in former Yugoslavia and Balkans, the Middle East, and Afghanistan. The final and most recent insult to Russia seems to be what appears to be American influence in the disposing of the pro-Russian government in Ukraine. “Regime Change” has been the foreign policy catchphrase for America since 2001, but in Russian translation it seems to say “influence/empire expansion.” Russian foreign policy is conducted in a strategic environment that resembles a zero-sum game. American gain will always be seen as a Russian loss. At times, one wonders if the Russians have either realized that America is obtuse to its reactive foreign policy actions or if Russians are convinced of some tinfoil-hat theory on America’s desire of world domination. As hopeful as one may be of some grand American strategy for the 21st century, reality of US actions seems to reflect something a little less sinister or forward-looking. Present debate and revelations on US foreign policy seems more of a concoction of constant crisis reaction and continued use of President Bush II’s Administration’s regime change policies. As perplexing as Putin’s actions may seem to us, American actions appear to be even more perplexing.

Rational Action

Putin’s latest moves may be out of desperation considering the Russian loss of a friendly (supplicant) ally in Ukraine, however, a foreign policy based on desperation could still be considered rational. No national security or foreign policy rulebook exists, but if it did, it would definitely have a chapter (with an extensive set of numbered sections akin to the USGA’s rulebook and probably as confusing) about how a nation is to respond in desperation. Basically, “desperation” and “crisis” are interchangeable at this point. Arguably, America’s actions right now might be considered desperate based on what appears to be limited amount of courses of actions available due to the American distaste for direct military action. If one is wondering if Putin is cognizant of American and European reactions, one must recognize that it appears that Putin and his planners have (at a minimum) thought about the intended and unintended consequences of their moves. Even the use of the word “rational” appears out of sync. What one may think here in America as rational is not necessarily so somewhere else. Examples of what US thought on other nations’ rational actions run the gambit from melon-scratching on North Korea’s constant attempts to piss the world off to total exasperation with the Mexican government’s inability to control and neutralize its drug cartels. One can hope that US planners and policymakers are attempting to walk a mile in Russian shoes prior to acting in response. Ultimately, that is the rub when it comes to this crisis…Putin and Russia have the initiative and the best America can do at this time is continue its reactive actions based on examining Russian actions. Reality deems it necessary to drop all references to “rational” or “irrational” because, either way, responding to the world as it is takes dominance over responding to the world as we think it should be.

Reality

In the end, it truly does come down to responding to the ground truth now. Tying Russian strategic thought with American foreign policy follows a somewhat linear path that shows that Putin was watching and feeling Russia’s security shrink. Questioning his or America’s actions as rational is (at this point)worthless. Continued US foreign policy planning that appears to be nothing but crisis response will continue to bolster Putin’s ability to dictate the moves of the US and Europe. If one was capable of predicting the future, one would probably be as confused at the final result of this crisis as everyone seems to be now in the midst of it. What really matters though, after one combs through some readings and research, is that Russia needs…viscerally needs…a buffer zone. Regardless of the Crimea’s Russian majority (or its fake “election” to leave Ukraine), regardless of the convoluted Crimean history of bouncing between Ukraine and Russia, regardless of the obvious Russian national security need for a warm water port…this crisis is the result of Russian memory of both real and imagined threats. US policymakers would do well to quit thinking it is about them and realize this is about Russia.

The clowns and their white noise that bounce between “Putin sees Obama’s weakness” and “Putin is insane” and “Putin is a fascist” would better serve their needs by recognizing the historical necessity of space…true geographical space…as imagined and experienced by the Russians. There seems to be a self-delusional thought among American policymakers that Putin and Russia are reacting to the most recent events in Ukraine…when really Putin and Russia are reacting to a multiple of historical events that predate the very beginning of the US. Sadly, clowns like me are forced to make it up as we go along because American policymakers are unable (or unwilling) to know another country’s history.

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