Needling Russia

“Mother Russia” should not be trifled with.

At least not by other European countries.

It’s OK for the U.S. to say bad things about Russia, impose sanctions, and get away with whatever the Senate, or the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress wishes to impose. It’s also fine for Nikki Haley, the Permanent Ambassador of the U.S. to the U.N. Security Council to utter very bad things about Russia, which are in any case, totally ignored by Russia.

Russia is a difficult country to deal with, no doubt about it. Russia is also unpredictable on most occasions. It is true that Russia sometimes takes inexplicable decisions, and sides with some of the world’s worst dictators. It is also true that minus the energy (oil and natural gas) business, there is virtually nothing in Russia that the world would want to buy (except of course, its defence equipment). It is true that Russia is not a transparent country.

Notwithstanding all of the above, Russia is still one of the top 5 greatest countries in the world (in my opinion). It has the largest land mass for a country, almost twice the size of the U.S. or China, but with less than half the population of the U.S. It is a permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council. It possesses massive weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a space power as well. And, Russia has huge natural resources.

The erstwhile Soviet Union was even bigger, and more powerful than Russia. But, under President Putin, Russia has been fast regaining some of the power it had lost, with a rapid military modernisation program, and an assertiveness which is yet to be matched by the Western nations. Russia has a strong mind of its own, and makes its own calculations on the emerging strategic scenario, and does not toe the line of any other major power. Russia has been a constant thorn on the side of the U.S., which has not been able to completely claim its world super power No.1 status after President Putin’s ascendancy.

Given this situation, what is the best course of action for European nations, many of who share borders with Russia?

Sabre-rattling with NATO is one way, which most European countries are already doing in a visible manner just to threaten Russia. Do they honestly think that Russia is bothered? Of course, it is annoyed, and somewhat concerned when it sees the most advanced missile systems from the U.S. in its backyard. Increasingly, Russia also sees NATO military exercises happening very close to its borders. However, notwithstanding such provocations, Russia knows that one missile strike by NATO, or one misadventure of any sort by NATO, would set the clock back on Europe to medieval times. All of Europe is very conveniently located within easy reach of Russia’s airforce and missiles, and any war over European skies is sure to cause extensive destruction. And, the U.S. is far away to have a real problem on its soil.

Given this scenario, it is only but natural that Finland has set a model for dancing with the big white bear. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and there has been no military adventure of any sort along its border for a rather long time. In fact, Russia has long ago pulled back its armed forces from the Finnish border, and maintains a peaceful relationship with Finland. Though technically Finland is a Western country, it is not a NATO member. That fact has helped to maintain the peace and the calm between the two nations.

In any case, why fight against a very large country with nuclear weapons and long range missiles? Of course, the forced acquisition of Crimea by Russia back in 2014 has upset all European nations, especially the ones who were under Soviet occupation after the Second World War. It has brought back rather unpleasant memories, and the real possibility that President Putin would go far to reclaim the lost Soviet glory.

In my opinion, Russia wants to be recognised genuinely as a world power, compatible with its status as a U.N. Security Council Member. It does not like the constant needling by NATO at its edges, and the expanding threats that it sees everyday on the tactical side and the expansion of NATO on the strategic side. Left alone, Russia is not a threat, it just wants respect and recognition. It wants trade with the West, not sanctions on the basis of  unproven assertions, such as what has been imposed on it by the U.S. Congress earlier this week. It would like to settle the war in Syria, and could be leveraged to pressurise North Korea. It sees that the U.S. sanctions are going to affect its export of natural gas to Western Europe, affecting its hard currency earnings.

Russia sees some positive signs from Germany, Italy and France, though not from the U.K. Europe does not like the ongoing confusion in the U.S. with President Trump’s Government, and is afraid that further tightening of the sanctions against Russia would affect Europe as well.

Given all of the above, it would be better for EU/NATO to sign a peace treaty with Russia and constrain both sides from aggression. Imagine what would happen when an unknown person succeeds President Putin as the next Russian President – wild cards are terrible for foreign policy, like what we have seen with President Trump.

Time for peace, Europe and Russia. Work for a stronger Europe and a stable Russia, and engage Russia in joint policymaking and mutual trade, rather than constantly threatening each other.


Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2017





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