Recent stirrings in Russia and Eastern Europe, coupled with the latest round of “Where in the world is Vladamir Putin?” have led me to give more thought to what will happen in that part of the world in coming times. I put together a few ideas on the matter, but in the interest of getting a second opinion, I turned to one of the best geopolitical minds in Neoreaction, Mitchell Laurel, who blogs over at A House with No Child.
I e-mailed him with my speculations, and he not only agreed to critique them, but also graciously allowed me to post our exchange here. I present to you the relevant transcript of our discussion, mildly edited for clarity:
Donovan: I’ve been thinking over potential Russian war plans (assuming such a thing will happen, which you’ve convinced me is quite likely if not certain) and was hoping to get your opinion on some of the speculations I’ve been coming up with. Would you mind if I bounced a few ideas off you?
Mitchell: Sure thing,
D: Some of the North Sea naval mobilizations and preparations for Arctic warfare don’t make sense if the goal in only a conflict in Ukraine, but would seem to indicate potential for combat in Scandinavian countries, north Russia, or in a colder world (what are the Russian climate forecasts?). Do you think Putin is making preparations in case of a northern front being opened up or do you think he intends to do something along those lines himself?
(I suppose the flip-side of that idea is that Russia’s been training specifically in Arctic warfare over the past several years, some say as part of a plan to lay claim to Arctic territory, so this might not mean nearly as much as I’m reading into it).
Additionally, I can’t help but get the feeling that Putin expects quick gains early on before grinding down into a protracted conflict. Sounds plausible or suspect? My first intuition was that he would only try to take and hold Ukraine, settling into a defensive war, but it’s also occurred to me that he might gamble and plow ahead full-steam into Europe, taking out as many NATO countries as possible before the US steps in. I’m leaning towards the former as more likely, but it is hard to tell. The latter would certainly draw the US in, but if Putin thinks the US will step in anyway, it makes more sense.
Building off that, what if the intent was to draw the US into a protracted conflict in order to suck us into a cataclysmic financial situation that cripples us (or worse)? Russia alone couldn’t do it, but they’ve got China in their corner and the Chinese have been buying quite a bit of gold…
Anyway, what do you think? Do any of these sound plausible or am I totally off-base?
M: Good Evening Donovan,
I don’t think you have it wrong, I do think what you have is ordered incorrectly. I’ll address the points piece by piece.
For starters, conflict in the Ukraine is important, but a footnote to Russia’s larger strategy. In terms of their military prowess they are no threat. They are 20 years behind in military technology and have the morale of the Iraqi Army that defended Mosul (they ran, btw). Nor does Russia seek conflict with Scandinavia, who are no names anyways. Who cares about Sweden, after all.
But you got much closer with your interest in Russian climate forecasts. The Russians see that the coming decades are going to be characterized by more and more extreme cold, in a little ice age scenario at best, possibly a real one at worst. I don’t talk about that much on the blog or in NRx, because it’s not a popular position, but all the signs are there in the markets and in the increase of armaments among the arctic nations. The arctic will also be increasingly important for resource extraction going forward. Also a factor. It’s a great big goldmine waiting for the tech to make it commercially feasible.
Putin has no intention of declaring war on the West. That would be foolish, and in fact he is doing everything he can to avoid it. It is the Americans who pushing as hard as they can for a controlled and limited war that can justify uncontrolled and unlimited political repression and military rearmament. The Americans know they’re on the decline and want to ‘lock-in’ as much of their controlled territory as they can when the dollar goes down. If they fail to lock in the west, Europe will become its own center of influence and a competitor to American might. And if America were to lose the West (or even its East Asian allies) we would see a fall from hegemony which cannot be allowed. The hegemon will take extreme risks to preserve its position.
Here’s the thing about the Russian military. It’s advanced, high morale, and designed specifically for defending Russia. From a military perspective Russia is pretty much impregnable to conventional forces (though vulnerable to asymmetric ones). But in terms of looking outward Russia is fairly useless. Russia doesn’t even have large ships capable of effective amphibious landings (like the Mistral). Russia has the power to knock out the Ukraine in under 24 hours, but not the strength to hold it. Never mind Poland or any nation farther West, that’s just fools talk. They simply don’t have the equipment or the resources to facilitate that kind of expansion.
Again your analytical mistake here was in the application of intentions and purposes. It’s not Putin who wants war and is trying to push into the West. It’s the West, mostly America, that wants war in order to preserve its hegemony. The dollar is going down either way. Everyone knows that. The key question American policy makers have is how can the collapse of the dollar be used to maintain and expand American hegemony? Their conclusions explain why they have been so pro-active in their aggression towards Russia via Georgia, Armenia, the Ukraine, the Baltics, and the ‘Stans.
With Russia, they have a descending set of goals: 1. Break Russia into smaller countries that can be effectively absorbed into American hegemony. 2. Should that fail, provoke and demonize Russia in order to utilize ‘Russian aggression’ to lock-in Europe and east Asia via the TTP and the transatlantic treaty. If they can lock them in American hegemony can actually be expanded despite the collapse of the dollar. The 3rd goal, and the weakest, is simply to postpone the rise of Russia and China, even should America’s hegemony be slowly eroded.
Russia is more a reactive force than a pro-active one in this whole drama. The primary objective of the Putin faction is to secure Russian longevity by eliminating the great enemy that seeks to break Russia, which is American hegemony. Not America itself, but American hegemony. That’s why they’ve made every effort to avoid open war with the Ukraine, to avoid the threat of Europe being ‘locked in’ the American hegemony. Peace plays to their strategy. With their close alliance with China economic gains are on their side and they make more friends every year as the American attempts to maintain dominance become increasingly desperate and drive allies away. In the ideal scenario America falls like the Soviet Union fell, with relatively little bloodshed no full scale war.