ISIS and Russia’s nuclear capabilities are two greatest threats to the U.S. – that’s what we have been hearing over the past recent months. And while nobody argues about ISIS being a threat, there are those who don’t understand why Russia is considered a threat to the U.S.
First and foremost, ever since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and ever since it started sending its troops to eastern Ukraine to create chaos in the region, Russia has become an unpredictable and threatening country.
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Although the Kremlin denies the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, there have been numerous reports about Russian troops being spotted and even captured in the region.
To counter the aggression and not let it spread further into Europe and beyond, the West imposed sanctions, as a result of which the relations between Russia and the U.S. have reached its worst since the Cold War.
What do we expect from Russia? And is Russia more dangerous than China? These are the questions answered by Lt Gen Evgeny Buzhinsky, one of Russia’s most senior international military negotiators until he retired in 2009.
Mr Buzhinsky had a long career in the Soviet and Russian armed forces. He was a key figure during the coldest years of the Cold War, and is now the chief of the PIR Centre, a military think-tank in Moscow. Mr Buzhinsky keeps in touch with his former colleagues from the General Staff and in the Defense Ministry.
Mr Buzhinsky does not agree that there can be a potential attack from Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Baltic states and rejects such a notion as irrational. Gen Buzhinsky explains it by saying that it would be irrational to attack a country protected by NATO’s Article Five, which means that an attack on one member of the Alliance is seen as an attack on all of the others as well.
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Mr Buzhinsky also believes that the possibility of a military confrontation between Russia and the U.S. has significantly abated largely due to the Minsk peace agreement signed in February.
However, the General also attributes it to the fact that Russia might have interpreted U.S. President Barack Obama’s unwillingness to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine as his unwillingness to unleash a possible all-out war against Russia.
“If you supply weapons, then you have to send instructors, and it is a fairy tale that they can be somewhere in western Ukraine training Ukrainians, who then take the weapons and go east,” Gen Buzhinsky told the BBC.
“Instructors should be on the front line. And if so, there should be casualties, losses, hostages and prisoners. And that would mean direct involvement of the U.S. in the conflict,” Mr Buzhinsky added. “To my mind that is the reason why Obama is so unwilling to send lethal weapons.”
However, Mr Buzhinsky warns that if the Ukrainian government decides to send its troops across the ceasefire line to try take back eastern Ukraine, it would unleash a war.
“If Kiev starts a major offensive on the pretext that they are being shelled… then Russia might interfere, and that of course will be war.”
Although according to numerous reports, Russia is already directly involved in the conflict, Gen Buzhinsky means a full-scale invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine. Gen Buzhinsky adds that this is something he mentions in every conversation with Western officials in order to get them to persuade Kyiv to be cautious with the current situation.
Russia is much closer to the U.S. than China
However, Mr Buzhinsky does not view the West and the United States as Russia’s natural enemies and openly regards the foreign agent law as “stupid.”
Even though Moscow has felt more of a threat from the West ever since the Ukrainian crisis began, Gen Buzhinsky cannot say that the U.S. and Russia are opponents.
“It is my strong belief that though we occupy part of Asia and part of Europe, Russia is a European country – in our way of thinking and everything. We are much closer to the US and Europe than to China, India and Korea,” he said.
“I do not think the Russian people even at the time of the Cold War considered Americans as enemies,” he added.
Now it’s all up to Vladimir Putin to confirm the General’s words about Russia being a European country, because right now it seems that Russian President would like his country to be closer to the Moon than to Europe and the West as a whole.
It’s all up to only one person now
On July 30, U.S. Department of the Treasury expanded the list of sectorial sanctions against Russia by including a number of legal entities and people into it. The sanctions come into effect today, Monday August 10.
The U.S. included into the list firms that were registered in Cyprus and Finland to prevent Russian oligarchs to wriggle out of the sanctions.
However, the sanction policy toward Russia will inevitably lead to a breaking point in the relations between the countries, after which the cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the regions where it is crucial – such as Syria and Iran – will be extremely difficult.
The West has been beefing up its sanctions against Russia for a while now, but this time they have touched upon the oil and gas area, the precious goldmine of the Russian economy. The sanctions would thus create certain difficulties for Russian energy policy.
So we are yet to see whether Russia can withstand the sanctions and remain “a European country” or it will see its downfall.
And again, it’s all up to only one person – Vladimir Putin.