Sunday, June 26, 2016
Why does Vladimir Putin call the United States the only remaining superpower? Clearly, he has modern weapons, more nukes than he knows what to do with, and lots of manpower. Russia spent an estimated $66 billion in 2015 on arms alone. She can field 766 thousand active front-line troops with almost 2.5 million in reserve. Her military expenditures have been leaping forward in recent years, and some of her weapon systems are often more modern than our own. By calling the US the only superpower, every humiliation, every moment when Russia gets her way (think Crimea, Ukraine, Syria, etc.) make her look that much more powerful, that much more willing to take on the “big boy”… an in the eyes of the Russian people, more aggressive than a constantly frustrated and humiliated America.
Putin wants the U.S. to plummet in global power, leave the CIS nations in Russia’s orbit (several Soviet bloc nations are now in NATO) without interference, allow him to support his allies (such as Syria’s Assad regime) freely and get the U.S. to butt out of trying to put a wedge between Russia and an increasingly fractious and wary Europe. While Donald Trump mirrors his devil-may-care attitude, Putin is also reveling in the growing distrust of a gun-crazy, Muslim-bashing and trade-treaty-killing new political culture that allows a huge segment of the American body politic to nominate a mainstream candidate that most of Europe, notwithstanding equally locally-growing xenophobic right wing parties, simply cannot understand and fears greatly.
The pressures to undo the European Union, reflected in the Brexit movement, have brought a knowing smile to Putin’s lips. A divided Europe creates many more opportunities for détente and perhaps even entente for a battered Russian economy. And Europe seems to understand that even with oil prices still low, there is a real need for Russian oil and gas in most of Europe. The signs of European frustration with this U.S.-Russian battle are clearly in the cards.
On June 19th, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz suggested that the long-standing sanctions against Russia, prompted after the Crimean invasion and the destabilizing support for breakaway rebels in eastern Ukraine, be lifted gradually. Despite outward appearances of solidarity with anti-Russian sentiments driven by U.S. policies, even Germany quietly admits that economic realities dictate that relations with Russia must improve.
But there may also be a dose of military reality driving some of this movement. NATO just might not be ready for new Russian threats. In a recent BBC interview, top American European commander, Lt-Gen Ben Hodges, noted that Putin’s forces can move much faster than NATO counterparts: "The Russians are able to move huge formations and lots of equipment a long distance very fast.” To be truly responsive to Russian mobility, NATO clearly has to up its game.
German resolve, probably the most important factor European power in resisting Russian aggression, is eroding fast. “More than 31,000 troops from 24 nations took part in Nato's Anaconda-16 exercises in Poland, from 7 to 17 June… The day after they ended, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned Nato against ‘sabre-rattling and warmongering,’ calling for exercises to be replaced with more dialogue and co-operation with Russia. ‘Whoever believes that symbolic tank parades in Eastern Europe bring more security, is mistaken,’ he told Bild [German] newspaper.
“Former Soviet bloc countries, now Nato members, were alarmed by Russia's rapid annexation of Crimea during the Ukraine crisis in March 2014. That operation caused the biggest chill in relations with Russia since the end of the Cold War in 1991… Russia's occupation of Georgian territory after a brief war in August 2008 also signaled a Russian readiness to intervene militarily in what it calls its ‘neighbourhood’." BBC.com, June 20th.
Even in Japan, there are voices suggesting that such NATO actions are deeply provocative: “Moscow fiercely opposes the NATO moves, billed by the U.S.-led alliance as part of its ‘deterrence and dialogue’ strategy.
“And the Kremlin reacted angrily to the start of the manoeuvres, NATO’s biggest since the Trident drills last year involving 36,000 troops in Italy, Spain and Portugal… ‘The exercises… do not contribute to an atmosphere of trust and security,’ said spokesman Dmitry Peskov… ‘Unfortunately we are still witnessing a deficit in mutual trust.’” Japan Today, June 8th. With tensions between locals in Okinawa (Japan’s large southern island) and “bad behavior” from locally-stationed U.S. troops, there are pressures on Tokyo to ask that American contingent to leave. All this against the backdrop of a rather clearly xenophobic political movement in the United States. All over the world, nations are reexamining their relationships with China, Russia… and most of all, the U.S.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the notion that the United States can and will call the shots in the free world is something our policy-makers should no longer count on.