You have heard the statement “All is fair in love and war” before. This principle could apply just as well to geopolitics. Spying, interfering, and using leverage against one’s opponents are necessary tactics in one big game between global powers.
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was seen as the height of these strategies. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t meant the game has ended, however. Russia is still vying for international supremacy, and the US is still the prime target of their strategy.
The New Russia
Dr. Evelyn Farkas was the Pentagon’s foremost expert on Russia. She served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia up until October 2015, dating back to the 1990s. Her list of credentials in the Department of Defense is impressive.
In a recent op-ed in Politico, Dr. Farkas offered her perspective on Russia’s current “gameplan” vis-à-vis the US.
One of Farkas’ main points is the central role that Russian president Vladimir Putin in shaping Russian foreign policy. Putin has remained in power (either as president or prime minister) since 1999. Additionally, he embodies the international image of Russia, captivating the imaginations of his citizens’ ideas of a strong leader.
His popularity does not imply Vladimir Putin is above using tyrannical measures to accomplish his ends. Farkas sums it up:
“What precisely is the threat from Russia? Putin’s two main objectives—to keep himself in power and to rebuild Russia as a great power—do not in themselves endanger U.S. national interests. The threat lies in the fact that Putin is trying to achieve his goals by rewriting international rules and norms that are critical to U.S. security. Specifically, he seeks to inaugurate a new international order that permits human rights abuses by despotic leaders and invasion, occupation and political subversion of sovereign states.”
Dr. Farkas goes as far as calling the stand-off between Russia and the US “currently the greatest potential geostrategic threat to U.S. national security interests.” There are several components that make up this heated rivalry.
The first problem is military-related. Russia has aggressively invaded various neighboring countries since Putin took office, ignoring the right of these countries to govern themselves. (“Self-determination” for sovereign states was a key international policy pursued after the end of WWI.) The list includes Georgia (a small country in Eastern Europe), Moldova, Ukraine, and Crimea. While Russia insists that these small nations identify as Russians and want to be part of the Russian Federation, it’s not clear why the use of military force is necessary if that’s the case. Russia is now active in military conflict in Syria, supporting the unpopular Assad administration against rebel insurgent groups.
Another major conflict between Russia-US is the one between Putin and Obama.
The contrast between the two leaders is glaring. Obama is often heard calling for appeasement and sensitivity; Putin acts boldly without anyone else’s approval. Putin enjoys incredibly high approval ratings (over 80%) among the Russian population; Obama is the most divisive president in US history. Obama got famous for his rhetoric, while Putin is noted for his mastery of body language. Putin is also a black belt in judo.
The painting above is from a recent art show in Russia. It shows Putin gleefully placing a child-like Obama over his knee for a spanking. This not only reflects how many Russian citizens view the two leaders, but also how they perceive the conflict between the two nations in general.
Though Obama’s shortcomings are real, Putin is hardly without flaw. He cut his teeth as an intelligence officer of the KGB, the secret police of the Soviet Union. He has also overseen a period of economic failure for Russia. The country’s currency, the rouble, has plummeted in value due to the low price of oil. Economists predict Russia’s economy to contract 0.7% this year.
What Needs To Be Done?
Much of the new indirect conflict can change depending on the next US president. Besides this, Farkas is clear about how America can protect its interests vis-à-vis Russia. By countering Russian propaganda, growing the support of our European allies, and making it expensive for Russia to keep up its occupation of the nations mentioned above, Putin’s “military adventurism” can be quelled. Nuclear arms are also a problem; Russia has a large stockpile of them. However, Dr. Farkas does point out that China’s alliance with Russian aggression and territorial expansion poses a problem.
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