Russia and the West

Feanor

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An incident took place recently in the Black Sea allegedly involving a British destroyer entering Russian territorial waters around Crimea. Russian sources claim warning shots fired, and 4 warning bombs dropped by an Su-24M ahead of the course of the ship, after which the HMS Defender changed course. Confusingly enough there was a BBC correspondent (Jonathan Beale) aboard the ship, while the UK MoD denied any warning shots were fired. The UK story is an unscheduled Russian exercise in the area, with shots fired and maybe bombs dropped but in no relation to the passage of the British ship.

 

Feanor

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Some interesting RAND corporation publications on Russian grand strategy and use of force abroad. Definitely worth a read.

 

Vivendi

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“The whole idea that you know, it’s a provocation to Russia that small neighbors join NATO is absolutely wrong. That’s the provocation — that anyone is saying that,” Stoltenberg said during the speech at Georgetown University. “To be honest, also, some voices in the West would say, ‘No, no, we should be careful because we are provoking Russia.’ But then you’re saying that small countries don’t have the right to choose their own path, which is a violation of their sovereignty.”

That kind of thinking, the former Norwegian prime minister said, plays exactly into Russia’s argument that there are still Cold War-era spheres of influence that need to be respected. “That’s not the world I would like to live in. And actually, we have tried for decades to move away from that world,” he noted.

The issue of whether to enlarge the alliance or back off to placate Moscow has been a major discussion point among national security scholars and politicians in the aftermath of the Cold War, when nations previously under Russian control applied for membership. In particular, the addition of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in 2004 seemed to antagonize Moscow. Overall, 14 countries have joined NATO since the fall of the Berlin wall, with North Macedonia becoming the newest member in March 2020.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine have all declared themselves aspirants for NATO, and all three have work to do to meet the alliance’s political and military requirements. According to an alliance document [PDF] those requirements include “a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority populations; a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully; an ability and willingness to make a military contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.”
NATO Must 'Step Up' For Aspirant Members, Not Bow To Russia: Stoltenberg - Breaking Defense Breaking Defense - Defense industry news, analysis and commentary

I fully support this position -- if and when countries like Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine become ready to join NATO, they should be allowed to join. Countries outside of NATO should not get a final say in who should be allowed to join NATO.

Currently there is a long way to go, and no doubt Russia will do their outmost to keep new countries from entering NATO -- that also includes Finland and Sweden. Those two countries already meet all requirements in terms of having a functioning democratic system, low corruption, as well as military requirements. However, mainly due to pressure/influence from Russia, Sweden and Finland are not (yet) members.
 

Feanor

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I fully support this position -- if and when countries like Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine become ready to join NATO, they should be allowed to join. Countries outside of NATO should not get a final say in who should be allowed to join NATO.
Assuming existing NATO members want them there. And that's a big assumption, especially considering Georgia and Ukraine have unresolved territorial disputes. I think NATO should think about what benefits new members bring , vs what risks and costs. And in that context existing territorial disputes and frozen conflicts involving Russia are definitely worth considering. I another Saakashvili decides to have a go at South Ossetia again and attacks Russian forces stationed there, is NATO interested in jumping in? Especially if he claims Article 5 on the strength of South Ossetia being widely regarded as part of Georgia?
 

Vivendi

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Analysis by Alex Vershinin, on the logistics challenges Russia would face if they decide to invade e.g., the Baltics or Poland. Interesting read.

What do people think? Is this analysis sound, or are there any flaws or missing pieces?

Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli - War on the Rocks

The Russian army will be hard-pressed to conduct a ground offensive of more than 90 miles beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union without a logistics pause. For NATO, it means it can worry less about a major Russian invasion of the Baltic states or Poland and a greater focus on exploiting Russian logistic challenges by drawing Russian forces further away from their supply depots and targeting chokepoints in the Russian logistic infrastructure and logistic force in general. It also means that Russia is more likely to seize small parts of enemy territory under its logistically sustainable range of 90 miles rather than a major invasion as part of a fait accompli strategy.

From the Russian perspective, it does not appear that they are building their logistic forces with fait accompli or blitzkrieg across Poland in mind. Instead, the Russian government has built an ideal army for their strategy of “Active Defense.” The Russian government has built armed forces highly capable of fighting on home soil or near its frontier and striking deep with long-range fires. However, they are not capable of a sustained ground offensive far beyond Russian railroads without a major logistical halt or a massive mobilization of reserves.

Deciphering Russia’s intentions right now is increasingly difficult. Its military buildup on the border with Ukraine could be preparation for an invasion or it could be yet another round of coercive diplomacy. Nevertheless, thinking through Russia’s military logistics capabilities could give NATO some insights into what Moscow might be planning to do next — and what the Western alliance might do to protect its interests.
 

STURM

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There's a video on YouTube in which a Russian expert points out that despite Western fears about trouble in the Baltics; Russian planners see the possibility of trouble breaking out with the West in Belarus and the Ukraine as being a much higher possibility.
 

Feanor

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There's a video on YouTube in which a Russian expert points out that despite Western fears about trouble in the Baltics; Russian planners see the possibility of trouble breaking out with the West in Belarus and the Ukraine as being a much higher possibility.
Russia has a complex question in the form of Belarus. Lukashenko is now pushed firmly into Russia's orbit by western sanctions and the hare-brained attempt to push him out of power during the last election. However he's not young, and it's not clear who could replace him. It's also pretty clear, from how quickly western support coalesced for Tikhanovksaya that Belarussian opposition has ties in the west. So when (not if) Lukashenko leaves power, be it voluntarily to hand off things to his replacement or in a casket, there will likely be another internal crisis in Belarus during which Russia needs a pro-Russian candidate to succeed. In principle it might even be better for Russia if he succeeds un-democratically since that will limit his foreign policy options vis-a-vis the west, and tie him firmly to Russia. However the risk of a successful color revolution is high. Russia is also currently on course for much deeper integration with Belarus and over time these ties will improve Russian odds of holding on to Belarus. Which is why, in principle, Russia is interested in pushing back Lukashenko's eventual replacement.

Overall I would agree with this assertion. Russia will definitely not be willing to accept a Belarussian government that tries to go the route of Ukraine, and with the high risk of direct Polish intervention, this could be a potential hot spot.
 

STURM

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Feanor,

Please bear with me as this question might be a bit too broad or hard to answer. In the Russian national psyche which holds more sentimental/emotional attachment : Belarus or the Ukraine? Also; would I be right in saying that linguistically and culturally; Belarus has more in common with Russian than the Ukraine?
 

Big_Zucchini

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Feanor, I don't know how much it's still relevant, but IMO NATO is not an obstacle at all. And public opinion in Russia does not really matter all that much.
First, Russia, not being a democracy, is still not in a position where influencing public opinion is very worthwhile. The government will just go its way.
Second, NATO is more or less just a concept. If it didn't exist, those foreign troops beefing up eastern European nations would still be there - under a different framework. The western military presence would be for the most part unchanged.
NATO is a framework that today reduces friction and hostilities between members by assuring cooperative protection.
Any Russian-western rapproachment would be greatly boosted by its accession to such a framework
 

Feanor

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Feanor, I don't know how much it's still relevant, but IMO NATO is not an obstacle at all. And public opinion in Russia does not really matter all that much.
First, Russia, not being a democracy, is still not in a position where influencing public opinion is very worthwhile. The government will just go its way.
Second, NATO is more or less just a concept. If it didn't exist, those foreign troops beefing up eastern European nations would still be there - under a different framework. The western military presence would be for the most part unchanged.
NATO is a framework that today reduces friction and hostilities between members by assuring cooperative protection.
Any Russian-western rapproachment would be greatly boosted by its accession to such a framework
I'm inclined to agree with the general statements, but what exactly are you responding to? Or is this just general commentary on the topic of the thread?

That having been said, NATO as a framework for reducing hostilities would work for Russia if Russia was an equal part of NATO. If Russia is outside of NATO, then all the reduced friction inside of NATO doesn't help Russia at all. There needs to be some sort of security architecture in place that includes Russia. It doesn't have to be a military alliance like NATO (in fact I think it really shouldn't be) but something that includes Russia instead of appearing as a large outside menace. Emphasis on appearing.

Feanor,

Please bear with me as this question might be a bit too broad or hard to answer. In the Russian national psyche which holds more sentimental/emotional attachment : Belarus or the Ukraine? Also; would I be right in saying that linguistically and culturally; Belarus has more in common with Russian than the Ukraine?
Sorry I missed this. And yeah, that's a tough one. I don't really know. Belarus is more russified then Ukraine, that's for sure. And historically Belarus hasn't had the kind of nationalist movements that Ukraine has had, or at least hasn't had them on a scale anywhere near what we've seen there. I suspect that if foreign "democracy promotion" that involves working with Belarussian nationalists begins to push an anti-Russian agenda, the reaction will be no better then it was to events in Ukraine. As it stands, Belarus is currently relatively stable and quiet. But this is a deceptive quietude preserved by Lukashenko's ossified post-Soviet regime. Belarus needs a way forward, and Russia will have to think long and hard about how to provide Belarus a way forward if they don't want to lose influence and positions there.
 

Vivendi

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Putin talks about being a taxi driver in the early 90s:

Russia's President Vladimir Putin reveals he had to moonlight as a taxi driver after the collapse of the Soviet Union | World News | Sky News

This quote caught my attention:

"We turned into a completely different country. And what had been built up over 1,000 years was largely lost," he said.

In general, when talking about empires and borders, going back 1,000 years is never a good sign in my book. Also, the USSR originated from the 1920s, to my knowledge.
 

STURM

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The question is what compromises both sides are willing to take? Ultimately it's all about compromises. NATO has no desire for war and neither does Putin.

Russia has made clear that the Ukraine joining NATO or NATO or the U.S. placing certain types of weapons in the Ukraine will be crossing a "red line" [to use the cliche] which Russia will not accept.
 

ngatimozart

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Putin talks about being a taxi driver in the early 90s:

Russia's President Vladimir Putin reveals he had to moonlight as a taxi driver after the collapse of the Soviet Union | World News | Sky News

This quote caught my attention:




In general, when talking about empires and borders, going back 1,000 years is never a good sign in my book. Also, the USSR originated from the 1920s, to my knowledge.
If I remember my history correctly, the Kingdom of Rus was founded by Princes of Kiev who in turn were Vikings from Scandinavia who had gone walkabout from their original homeland conquering, pillaging etc as they moved south east towards Kiev and points further south in modern day Ukraine.
 

Vivendi

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Russia will respond “militarily” to what it perceives as NATO’s encroachment on its western borders, a senior diplomat said Monday.

Deputy Foreign Ministry Sergei Ryabkov’s threat follows Moscow’s complaints over NATO weapons deployment in Eastern Europe and Western warnings of Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.

“Our response will be military” if the Western military bloc does not guarantee an end to its eastward expansion, Ryabkov told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

“There will be confrontation,” he added, warning that Moscow would deploy weapons that were previously banned under the INF Treaty, which expired in 2019.

“Currently, [these banned weapons] do not exist; we have a unilateral moratorium. We call on NATO and the United States to join this moratorium,” Ryabkov said, lamenting that “they just don’t respond to our proposals.”

“There’s basically no trust in NATO,” the senior diplomat told RIA Novosti. “Therefore, we’re no longer playing this kind of game and don’t believe NATO’s assurances.”

Elsewhere in Monday’s interview, Ryabkov derided the United States’ “inexplicable fixation” on the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“This isn’t so and cannot be,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a videoconference with U.S. President Joe Biden last week, where he did not say whether he planned to go on the attack but insisted that Russia has a right to defend its security.

Putin also demanded from Biden that the West guarantee in writing that Ukraine would not be a staging ground for NATO.

On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry demanded that the U.S. formally close the door to NATO membership to the ex-Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

The Foreign Ministry also demanded that the Western military bloc guarantee the non-deployment of weapons threatening Russia’s security on its western borders.
Russia Threatens ‘Military Response’ to NATO Expansion - The Moscow Times

People in Eastern Europe that prefer democracy and "Western values" will certainly not appreciate this. The major NATO countries (US, UK, France, Germany) no doubt need to consider the actual military strength of Russia -- and Germany in particular also need to consider energy supplies.

Perhaps Western Europe will finally wake up and start taking the threat from Russia a bit more seriously. Defense spending should be increased in Europe, in particular Germany.
 

SolarWind

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Europe can certainly increase military spending, and thus build more deterrents, but ultimately there is no military solution to the culture or value clash, as any serious war would leave no winners, only losers. Everyone will eventually realize that, if not already. Germany, I think, has a good understanding of that. Its joint history with Russia and Ukraine, as well as Poland, goes back a bit, and I recommend history buffs to consider that as something with more relevance to the present day situation.
 
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STURM

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People in Eastern Europe that prefer democracy and "Western values" will certainly not appreciate this.
No doubt but the West will also have to seriously consider that Russia too has it's "red lines" and strategic concerns to watch out for. But sides want to avoid being seen as weak but both sides also have to make compromises, that is the only way to decrease tensions.

The West has made it clear that it will not fight for the Ukraine but that there will be consequences for Russia. The Russians have made it clear that it will not accept Ukraine being part of NATO, that would be a "red line" given that the Ukraine is on Russia's doorstep and that NATO has been steadily expanding closer to Russia's borders. A compromise has to be
reached.

A very interesting podcast with a Russian analyst. He gives his opinions about what the Russians are trying to do, the Russian units involved and about how both sides can avoid a conflict.

 

Vivendi

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I completely agree that there are no military solutions, and hardly anybody in Western Europe is proposing that (perhaps some fringe politicians with no political power). The point of Western Europe to increase defense spending significantly would be, as you mention, deterrence. Since Western Europe is so weak militarily, Russia can and will use it's military strength to threaten the stability of various European regions go weaken Europe and gain concessions, we have seen this repeatedly. Russia believes this is in their interest. This is definitely not in the interest of Western Europe, also not in the interest of Eastern European countries that prefer EU and NATO over Russia.

In addition to increasing defense spending Europe should also become much more effective in how they spend their money. How many different types of tanks, frigates and fighter jets does Europe need? A consolidation of European defense industry is long overdue!
 

STURM

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Do you remember that old saying about NATO being intended to keep the Americans in Western Europe and the Soviets out? Talk about the Europeans taking a joint approach towards defence and being less reliant on the Americans have been ongoing for decades. Kosovo was a prime example of just how much reliance the Europeans had on the Americans and how they needed to spend more.

Fast forward two decades later, have the Europeans actually made a significant progress? Even if Europe were to start spending more on a sustained basis, would it deter Russia? Does NATO actually realise that a lot of what they are doing is perceived by the Russians as being agressive and dentrimental to their interests? How would the Europeans react if in the coming years the Americans started focusing more on the Asia-Pacific?

A lot of questions with no clear answers. With regards to Russia, my view is that NATO or the West needs to have a sharp look at its current policy and ask itself how far it is actually willing to go and what can it do better to enable some level of accommdation to be reached?
 
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Vivendi

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The really sad thing is that I am pretty convinced that if Russia had moved in a democratic direction starting in the early nineties, and accepted that USSR was no more, and also accepted a "rules based" system (Strategic context: The rules-based international system - Atlantic Council ) Russia could have become part of NATO and perhaps even EU. That would have made Russia much richer and safer than today; in addition also Europe and the US would have been safer and richer with the addition of Russia to the international rules based system. Alas that did not happen. Instead Russia seems to try to weaken the rules based system, and also have ben proven to actively try to weaken democracies in Europe, as well as the US democracy.

Gedanken experiment:
Imagine if, during/after WW2 a dictator had grabbed power in Sweden, and focused on building nukes and a strong military. No doubt NATO and EU would have reacted negatively. Sweden would gradually feel more and more insecure, and "threatened" by NATO in the West, and Russia in the East. Having limited strategic depth, perhaps the dictator would start dreaming about grabbing land, perhaps parts of Finland to get a better buffer in the North East, and also some islands in the Baltic Sea would have been nice. Finland was part of Sweden, so there is an historic precedent. Norway was also part of the Swedish kingdom. If we expand the gedanken experiment to assume that Norway had gone "non-aligned" after WW2, no doubt Norway would suddenly feel very threatened and worried by the Swedes, in addition to Russia. This would have forced Norway to also strengthen their military and perhaps even considering nukes.

Just a silly gedanken experiment. In reality Norway is part of NATO, however Sweden and Finland are not. All 3 countries are nevertheless at peace, in fact they collaborate on many issues. Sometimes they disagree on things, but those disagreements are always resolved diplomatically.

Edit: info on the "Swedish empire": Swedish Empire - Wikipedia
Using the kind of thinking promoted by Putin (going up 1,000 years back in time to justify actions today), the Swedes could have "justified" a lot of aggressive and expansive actions...Luckily for us all (including the Swedes!) the Swedes do not have this mindset at all. They accept that their empire is no more, and that the most sensible and fruitful thing is democracy, free press, and collaboration with like-minded neighbors.
 
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