Putin’s Russia is playing defense, not offense

vladimir-putin-riding-bearI don’t see Russia’s Vladimir Putin as a threat.  He has been backed into a difficult corner.

Russia’s economy suffers under economic sanctions, the Russian intervention in Syria isn’t going as well as hoped, and the Russian governmental structure is riddled with corruption.

But Russia has a nuclear force second only to the USA.  Russia is the only national in the world with the power to bring about the mutual destruction of itself and the USA.

It is a bad idea to back Vladimir Putin into a corner in which he thinks Russia is threatened, over matters in which the United States has no vital interests.

President Obama says Putin is an aggressor.   If so, he is a highly unsuccessful aggressor.

Russia’s position is much weaker than it was five years ago.  Back then, Russia had good relations with Ukraine and it was integrated into Russia’s economy.  Now the best Putin can hope for is continued Russian occupation of Crimea, a devastated eastern Ukraine friendly to Russia and a hostile western Ukraine.

Putin planned Russian oil and gas pipelines through Turkey as an alternative to going through Ukraine.  Now this is out the window relations between Turkey and Russia are even worse than between the USA and Russia.

I think Russia’s air power and Syria’s ground troops have a better chance of defeating the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) than the U.S. attempt to fight Assad and ISIS at the same time.  But Russia is in danger of being sucked into a regional Sunni-Shiite conflict on the side of the Shiites, just as the United States has been sucked into aligning with the Sunnis.

madhhab_map-final-2

This is not in the interest of either country, but it is a greater danger for Russia, because Russia has a large Muslim population that is predominantly Sunni.  Presumably they would not support Russian intervening in Muslim conflicts on the Shiite side.

Putin is a realistic and effective leader, who may deceive others but does not deceive himself.  I think his goal is to restore Russia to its place as a great power, as it was in the 19th century, and I think this is a reasonable goal.

Russia will always be an important country by reason of its geography.  It has a strong military—not strong enough to project global power as the United States does, but strong enough to defend Russian interests in neighboring countries.

As the world turns against U.S. domination, Russia will benefit from its central role in economic alliances that exclude the United States—the BRICS bloc, the Eurasian Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

But Russia’s manufacturing industry is weak, and its government is hostage to corrupt vested interests.  Unless Putin or his successors find a way to change this, Russia’s long-term destiny is to be an economic satellite of China and a supplier of natural resources to its manufacturing industry.

I don’t see Russia as a clear and present danger to the United States.  The main potential threat to the United States is not any one country.  The potential threat is if all the countries which Washington has designated as enemies—Russia, China, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and the rest—join forces, while U.S. allies fall away.  This will happen if American leaders continue to assert U.S. power based mainly on economic sanctions, military threats and covert action, rather than seek allies based on shared mutual interest.

LINKS

Putin Blues by Israel Shamir for the Unz Review.

Putin’s Shaky Tsardom by Masha Lipman for The New Yorker.

Incredibly Shrinking: Putin’s ‘Russian world’ in the post-Soviet space by Paul A. Goble for Euromaidan Press.

Collapse of Russian economy accelerates transfer of raw materials sector to China by Paul A. Goble for Euromaidan Press.

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[12/24/2015.  I changed the headline and made some minor additions to the text.]

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