Russia has a strategy, the USA doesn’t seem to

Richard Hanania, an international relations scholar, said the difference between the Russia and the USA over Ukraine is that Russia has an objective and a plan, and the USA has neither.

Instead, he wrote, U.S. policy is the result of conflicting political forces—the interests of foreign governments, the national security bureaucracy and weapons manufacturers, and also U.S. culture wars, including the conflict over gay rights.

Russia is not one of the 71 countries that outlaw gays, Hanania said.  But, in 2012, the Russian government sentenced two members of Pussy Riot, a lesbian performance art collective, to three years in prison for sacrilegious acts during Sunday religious services in a Moscow cathedral.  And, in 2013, Russia passed a law outlawing gay advocacy to minors.

This was the start of Vladimir Putin being defined as an enemy of Western freedom and democracy, Hanania said.  Of course Putin never was a champion of freedom and democracy, but he was no different in 2014 from what he was in 2012, when President Obama’s re-election campaign ridiculed Mitt Romney for trying to restart the Cold War.

Hanania said Russia and also Hungary provoke the ire of the American liberal elite because they claim to be defenders of Christian civilization against secular liberalism.   Unlike persecution of gays in, say, Saudi Arabia, this plays into the U.S. culture war at home.  

That’s only one factor, but I think it is a real one.

Russia’s objective is to prevent the expansion of NATO, to keep offensive weapons out of hostile neighboring countries and to protect the autonomy of the Russian-speaking minority in eastern Ukraine.

If the USA doesn’t agree to these things, Russia has threatened to take some unspecified “military-technical” action they say will change the balance of power.

I have no idea what they have in mind. Putting nuclear missiles in Venezuela would be a game-changer, but I don’t think President Maduro wants to make his country a target.

But I’m sure that whatever it is, it is a plan the Russian leaders have been working on for years and intend to carry out.

I don’t think President Putin expects the USA to give in. The ultimatum and the demand for the written response is to enable Moscow, after the fact, to say, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

The foot-dragging U.S. response also seems like window-dressing. It is intended to enable Washington to say, “If you had waited just a little longer before you acted, we could have worked something out.”

We know the announced Russian objective, but what is the U.S. objective?

Suppose Ukraine and Georgia are brought into NATO, offensive weapons are positioned in eastern NATO nations and the secessionists in Lugansk and Duhetzk are crushed. What will have been achieved?  What would be the benefit to the USA? to Ukraine?

There’s one possibility.  It is possible that President Biden intends to give Russia the bulk of what they demand.  All this war and invasion talk is to enable him to claim that he averted an invasion by his firm policy.  I think this is unlikely, but it is possible.

We’ll soon see how things play out.  

I think Hanania is right in saying that the U.S. lacks a grand strategy.  The question is whether the U.S. establishment is capable of a grand strategy, or whether policy will forever be the product of conflicting, ever-changing political forces.  This is what Russians mean when they say the USA is “not agreement-capable.”


Russia as the “Great Satan” in the Liberal Imagination by Richard Hanania.  About U.S. policy and LGBT issues.  Important.

Public Choice Theory and the Illusion of Grand Strategy by Richard Hanania.  About the lack of an overall. U.S. strategy.

Let’s Not Have a War by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  Video version.

China’s government is targeting “sissy” men, with devastating consequences by Xintian Wang for  In China, the new Cold War is a culture war.

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One Response to “Russia has a strategy, the USA doesn’t seem to”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Putin is scared. Russia is losing its position as a global power. Russia is also losing population and the economy is suffering. He sees the only way to regain that power is to regain some semblance of the old Soviet Empire. So he’ll crush reform movements where he can and intimidate where he cannot to bring as much of the old empire back as he can. That particularly means bringing ethnic Russians back into the fold by any means necessary.

    He’s also a dictator with problems at home. Historically they tend to start wars to distract and shift blame.

    He cannot possibly keep a near-peer military going forever with what he has to work with. The nation will simply fail. That’s what sank the Soviet Union. NATO doesn’t present any offensive military threat to him at all but were he to attack a NATO member it would rouse itself from its slumber and be problematic. If he can just get them to back down, his job would be much easier – and he’d look like a hero.

    OTOH China would love to move north into eastern Siberia and turn Mongolia into a satellite. There’s an alliance that may not last. China is hoping Putin can draw US attention from the South China Sea. Biden is not cooperating.

    He walks a very dangerous and thin line. If he allies with China he’ll end up playing a distant second fiddle to a rising superpower with his own country in decline. He can’t draw close to the west because he’ll end up playing third fiddle to the US and the EU – and his base probably wouldn’t stand for it.

    OTOH I saw a poll indicating that 2/3 of Russians don’t see any need for Russia to be a superpower or global leader. If he does start a real shooting war and the bodies start coming back in the tens of thousands, he could lose his support. Ukraine won’t go down easy.


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