Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Russia's strategic adventures

Flying to and from Europe this time, I was very conscious of just where the plane was flying and wondered about missile risk. That came back when I watched the release last night of the Dutch Safety Board Report into the downing of MH17.

I don't think many in Western countries believe the apparent official Russian Federation line that it wasn't a Russian made missile that brought the plane down. In fact, I don't think that many people believe much that President Putin says full stop.

These things have a habit of working themselves out with time. It's actually quite difficult to make a position stick in the longer term where that position is based on a fundamental untruth. Ultimately, the position unravels. Of course, a lot may happen in the meantime.

The MH17 report made me look back at the small number of posts that I have written linked in some way to Russian foreign policy and strategic objectives. Since I first wrote after the start of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia has consolidated its hold over Crimea. The war in Eastern Ukraine has entered an uneasy stasis in large part, I think, because Mr Putin and his colleagues have achieved their immediate objectives, have other fish to fry, and so need to let things rest.

The importance that Russia places on the Eurasian dream has become clearer, linked to President Putin's vision of the re-assertion of what he sees as Russia's traditional place in Eurasia. The Russian involvement in Syria is, to my mind, a coldly calculated strategic decision that serves several objectives. It protects existing Russian bases; it tells Russian allies we will protect you; it further complicates life for the West; and it provides Russia with new bargaining chips and allies. And, by the way, it helps sell a variety of military kit! It's win-win all round.

The model that the West including Australia has been using with its focus on terrorism and existential threat seems to me to be flawed, flaws further exposed by Mr Putin's Syrian adventure. Sometimes there is something to be said for asking the most basic question, what's in it for me? That, I think, is Mr Putin's sole rule-stick.

So far as Syria is concerned there are obvious risks, but is still looks like win-win at this point regardless of the particular outcome.



Rod said...

The lack of leadership from the worlds most powerful democracies has led to Putin looking like the only leader that actually does what he says. I think the west is in a very sad state when even Putin looks good (MH17 aside).

Anonymous said...

The most important expected result of the Russian millitary action in Syria is to have a dreamed access to Mediteraneen see. Unfortunatly even M.Snowden can't say us what was decided between new VIPs of the fourth countries implied in the game but Putin haven't invest in without any solid profits. The game just started. The old occidental lions are eliminated. Sorry but it's the new reality.

Jim Belshaw said...

You point to one of the difficulties in the Syrian case, Rod. The West including Australia have created a particular terrorism based narrative, but they have added to that a democracy or reform narrative going back to the Arab spring. With the West's mixed or unclear strategic objectives, Mr Putin is able to play to the terrorism story.

I'm not sure that I agree with Anon that the old occidental lions are eliminated, but it has all become remarkably complicated.

Anonymous said...

This AEP article should be taken with a grain or two of salt, but it makes me think of potential similarities of Russian economic reliance upon resources, and Australia's:


Jim Belshaw said...

That was an interesting piece kvd and at two levels.

Most importantly, its goes back to the doubts that I first expressed on the Russian economy in my initial piece on Ukraine - could the Russians afford all this? There is a reference to Nazi Germany in the piece. The key point missed is that German rearmament provided an economic boost, but then created unsustainable economic structures that compelled further military adventures.

Then, as you note, there are lessons for Australia.