Superpower Russia: We're Back!

Tuesday, 04 Mar 2014 02:14 PM

By Arnaud De Borchgrave

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In assessing geopolitics in the Kremlin, believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.
 
“Under international law, force can only be used in self-defense or by decision of the U.N. Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the U.N. Charter and would constitute an act of aggression,” said President Obama. Wrong.
 
It was Russian President Putin’s message to President Obama when he was considering military action to put an end to Syria’s civil war, now in its fourth year with 130,000 killed and 2.5 million refugees.
 
President Obama seemed almost relieved by Putin’s geopolitical admonition.
 
Neither superpower respects the U.N. Charter in matters of war and peace. Kosovo (1998-99); Iraq (2003); Libya (2011); and Israel’s almost half a century occupation of the West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights, are but a few samples since the end of the Cold War.
 
In the Suez War of 1956, Britain, France, and Israel were forced to withdraw by a U.N. Security Council resolution, initiated by the U.S.
 
It's a long list. So it was not a bad geopolitical calculation that led Putin to reckon the “sequestration” crimp on U.S. defense spending, and the U.S. defense drawdown at the end of two unsuccessful wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), would leave no appetite for a U.S. military challenge to Russia.
 
Half a century ago, Soviet supremo Nikita Khrushchev wrecked the “Prague Spring” and ordered the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
 
The U.S. is coming out of its second trillion-dollar war since 2003. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was busy on the Sunday TV talk-show circuit explaining how the drawdown will make the U.S. stronger and better equipped for the wars of the future.
 
But robotic and cyber warfare are double-edged swords that don’t lend themselves to punitive strikes.
 
President Obama’s admonition to Putin this time round the superpower defense track was promptly ignored by Putin, flush with Olympic Games successes in Sochi, Crimea, Ukraine, that garnered rave reviews from around the world.
 
Putin felt strong enough on the world stage to absorb the brickbats of the G-8 nations that were scheduled to hold preparatory talks in Sochi this week for a June summit in the Black Sea resort to be chaired by Putin. And, without missing a beat, he got his own parliament to authorize the use of Russian troops to reoccupy the Crimean peninsula where Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based.
 
This left Ukraine in geopolitical limbo with one third of its population looking to Moscow and the rest of the country under an inexperienced provisional government hoping for early acceptance in the European Union.
 
A slight change in Putin’s game plan came when Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia as anti-Russian fighters were about to take over his rococo kitsch mansion on the edge of Kiev.
 
Russian expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Andrew C. Kuchins says Putin has dramatically raised the stakes with what amounts to a stealth annexation of Crimea by securing a unanimous vote from the Russian parliament that allows the deployment of Russian military force in Ukraine.
 
Fed up with the role of a defeated superpower, Putin’s message via his own parliament: “We’re back” in the superpower stakes “and you’d better pay attention to what we decide in our own backyard.”
 
Next to Putin’s deployment of military power in Crimea, the U.S. retaliatory threat to boycott the G-8 summit in Sochi next June projected weakness and inability to respond in the wake of the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
Secretary Kerry arrived in Ukraine today to bolster the morale of a severely shaken friend now governed by a makeshift group of local, untried politicians. The U.S. and its allies are hoping to deter Putin from moving militarily into Ukraine proper, ostensibly to protect Russian speakers, or one third of its population.
 
Meanwhile, Putin was off to observe military maneuvers in the region that included barrages of ground-to-ground missiles.
 
As CSIS’ Kuchins points out, Obama’s advisers in the current contest of superpowers have evidently overlooked that the G-8 threat no longer rattles the Kremlin.
 
China is not a member of the G-8 club and its GDP is 14 percent of the world’s total. Unless the G-8 pull back from what Putin sees as a meaningless threat, Russia may opt for China’s route and abandon the G-8.
 
Only problem with that option is that Germany is its major western trading partner,
 
If Putin decides to go beyond the annexation of Crimea that is part of Ukraine, America’s western European allies will have to retaliate. But following a decade-long commitment in Afghanistan, America’s allies do not have much to offer militarily. Economic and financial retaliation will harm rather than help the part of Ukraine that is determined to remain in the Western camp.
 
More fragmentation of Ukraine, says Kuchins, could be catastrophic, not just for those living in Ukraine, “but also for European security and the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it.”
 
Failure by the West to keep Ukraine whole would be a NATO failure of major magnitude. It would follow the twin failures of Iraq and Afghanistan — and spell the end of NATO.
 
Heady worldwide acclaim for a terrorist-free Olympic Games that gave Russia 33 medals, including 13 gold vs. the U.S. with 28 medals, including 9 golds, has given Putin the conviction that Russia is back as a superpower — with commensurate geopolitical ambitions.
 
Noted editor and journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave is an editor at large for United Press International. He is a founding board member of Newsmax.com who now serves on Newsmax's Advisory Board. Read more reports from Arnaud de Borchgrave — Click Here Now.
 
 
 

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