Countering Russia’s Expansionism

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Countering Russia’s Expansionism
WikiImages / Pixabay

Despite the decline of the Russian economy and its world standing, the Kremlin under the helm of President Vladimir Putin continues to pursue an expansionist policy. The conflict in East Ukraine is but one piece of this policy which leaders in the West have so far failed to effectively confront, much less understand. A time will come when the Kremlin forced by economic circumstances realizes that its current agenda is unsustainable though that should not be a reason for inaction on the part of the West.

Russia’s Expansionism

Since November 2013 when pro-Russia Ukrainian President Yanukovych rejected an EU association agreement, Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been extensively covered in the news. This was followed by violence between pro-Europe Ukrainians and security force, the Euromaidan Revolution, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and ultimately the conflict in the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine. Despite repeated denials, Russia is actively supporting and fighting in East Ukraine and is working towards making the region a de facto state. Right now this conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands is in a lull, hanging on to a ceasefire that is frayed and which can snap at any time. Russia’s actions elsewhere though are not as well covered but just as important.

In Syria, the Kremlin is one of the few sources of international support that President Assad’s regime has. Russia continues to funnel arms into Syria including aircraft and advanced anti-air missiles that can serve to prevent interference by the West in Syria’s civil war. The Russian Navy has been working on expanding its naval base in Tartus, the only warm-water base it has worldwide. Just recently it has emerged that Russian troops and pilots might be fighting alongside Assad’s forces while Russia is upgrading the airfield at Latakia far beyond what is needed to handle humanitarian flights.

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In Kaliningrad, Russia’s exclave in Europe that borders Lithuania and Poland, the Kremlin is bolstering its military presence at an alarming rate. It is feared that 400km range, nuclear-capable Iskander tactical missiles are being permanently stationed there. Recently, General Peter Pavel, the incoming chairman of NATO’s Defense Committee warned that Russia can occupy the Baltic NATO-member states of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia in two days. Already these states once occupied by Russia are clamoring for a greater U.S. and NATO presence in the region to deter Russia if the Kremlin decides to move against them. Russian-backed activities reminiscent of past actions in Georgia and Ukraine including distribution of passports and accusations of anti-Russian bias by the governments of those countries are occurring.

The situation in Belarus, the Kremlin’s only real “friend” in Eastern Europe seems to be changing. Ever since the conflict in Ukraine emerged, relations have thawed between Minsk and Moscow and Belarus’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has been increasingly defiant of Putin. The Kremlin is not pleased with this or with Lukashenko’s flirtations with the EU. Russia wants to construct an airbase in eastern Belarus though Lukashenko is actively opposing this, fearful of giving the Kremlin any more power in his country. Some analysts are already predicting that Russia is laying the groundwork to destabilize Belarus if Lukashenko continues to resist while the upcoming October 11th Belarussian presidential election provides the perfect opportunity to do so.

In the race for the Arctic and the mineral resources that lay beneath the ice, Russia is leading. Naval and aviation assets are being redeployed North to protect Russia’s claims while old northern Soviet bases are being reactivated to accommodate them. Despite the decline in commodity prices over the past year particularly crude oil, Russia is still striving to be in best position to take advantage of the Arctic. Moscow has even found a partner in Beijing in moving to secure the Arctic, an opportunity which China is happy to take advantage of.

The West and Russia’s Mutual Misunderstanding of Each Other

The Kremlin’s current policies cannot go on forever. The fall in commodity prices have seriously harmed the revenue stream of the Russian government. Sanctions imposed due to the conflict in Ukraine have sent prices of many products in Russia soaring while the ruble has fallen dramatically in value. These problems will eventually force the Russian leadership to at least pull back on some of its endeavors. Even without the sanctions and low energy prices, the Russian economy is not diversified enough and its infrastructure is decaying while the country is suffering from a brain drain. Truth be told, the situation is not promising.

The question though is when will this eventual forced pull back occur. Despite the economic down spiral brought on by the Ukraine crisis, Putin has stayed the course and has in fact upped the ante with his most recent actions. Undoubtedly, the lack of a clear policy from the West in countering Russia has encouraged Putin’s actions. The West has shown time and time again that it does not understand Russia and this is seen in its reactions to Russian provocations.

The Bush Administration after a brief dalliance with Putin realized that he was not to be trusted after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in late 2004 and early 2005. The hand of the Kremlin in the election fraud that occurred in Ukraine’s presidential election was clear as was its role in poisoning the eventual true victor of that election, President Yushchenko. Despite this the West failed to take any significant action; the EU for the most part did not want to risk incurring the Kremlin’s wrath through Russian natural gas cut-offs.

The 2008 invasion of Georgia came as a shock to many for a variety of reasons. To encourage separatism in a foreign sovereign country is one thing; to invade the same country is another. Russia’s actions in Chechnya no matter how horrific can be justified as they were internal conflicts; Georgia on the other hand was not. While Georgian President Saakashvili made a mistake in attempting to recapture South Ossetia, Putin pushed the envelope by deploying his forces and then going on the offensive into Georgian-controlled territory.

It can safely be said that the West was caught off guard by this conflict. Then U.S. President Bush assisted Georgia by airlifting its troops from Iraq and by providing humanitarian aid while imposing sanctions on Russia. The West was not prepared to go to war with Russia over Georgia despite the latter’s enthusiasm for the EU, U.S., and NATO. Regardless, the overall response to Russia’s invasion of its neighbor was completely inadequate. Some thought though that Georgia was an anomaly, a small country in the Caucasus without longstanding toes to the West, the Kremlin could not and would not attempt something similar in Eastern Europe. Six years later they would be proven wrong.

Countering Russia's Expansionism

The Obama Administration attempted to reset relations with Russia in 2009 and failed miserably. The Kremlin never intended to work side-by-side with the U.S. or EU and instead took advantage of the idealistic naiveté of the Obama Administration while Russian diplomats have run circles around those of the U.S. and elsewhere. Furthermore the number of Russia experts in the U.S. military, intelligence community, and state department has been in decline in recent years, something which has seriously hampered the ability of the U.S. to understand and confront Russia.

The West cannot understand that Russia’s actions in the near abroad stem from a historical fear of encirclement. This encirclement is being brought on by increasing influence of China in the east and the expansion of NATO in the west. The West also fails to understand that its relations with Russia began to decline in the mid-2000s when Russia felt slighted by the West.

Hopes of close relations between the West and the new government of Putin fell as the Kremlin quickly realized that while positive relations could be built, Russia would never be treated as a true member of the West. Putin disliked being told of how political reforms were needed and the almost second-class treatment that Russia was receiving. The 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty (Anti-Ballistic Missile), 2004 NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe, and steps toward a missile defense shield all served to turn Russia away.

It must be said though that Russia is just as guilty of creating the current situation. Russia wanted to be treated as a great world power but was not deserving of it due to its political and economic situation. Russia wanted greater respect but was not deserving of it due to its global actions and rampant internal corruption. Yes the West failed to understand Russia but Russia is just as guilty. Now the West is faced with an incredibly popular and powerful strongman, Putin, who is governing a country that blames the West for its current situation rather than the policies of its own government.

What Must the West Do?

The West has a range of options to choose from in countering an expansionist Russia. Unfortunately any policies can only be effective if they have wide-reaching support and if backed up by meaningful action. The goal of the West should not be to isolate Russia or destroy the country through economic means, rather force the Kremlin to understand that its actions have lost it international support and that further expansionist activities will bring more isolation. Russia need not be beaten, rather it must be realized that this current path is unsustainable.

The West must reassure the countries of Eastern Europe that any military action brought upon them by Russia will be swiftly dealt with. Sure the Baltic states are NATO members and their defense is assured by treaty obligation though they are all too aware that there was an obligation for the U.S. and UK to protect Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum which was never upheld. Currently the U.S. is adding additional military forces in Eastern Europe in the hopes of deterring Russia and this is good. U.S. military forces in the region though will not be enough if guarantees of protection are not assured. Each time the West has failed to take action has served as an encouragement for Putin to go one step further. The West must take a stand and act on it, prove that it has the resolve. If the Kremlin sees this, they will realize that they cannot act without impunity.

In Ukraine, serious steps must be taken to end the conflict. Each ceasefire has only served to solidify the hold the separatists have in the Donbass and right now East Ukraine is at the risk of turning into a frozen conflict. This will not be an easy process by any means. Russia continues to deny that it has power over the separatists while the legitimacy of the government in Kiev in the eyes of the Ukrainian people will be lost if anything less than a full return of territory is agreed upon. Serious negotiations need to take place with the offer of greater autonomy for Donbass though within a sovereign Ukraine state. The Russian offensive in Ukraine has slowed, now is the time for diplomacy.

In Syria, the West found a partner in Russia in dealing with Assad’s chemical weapons. The situation now is much more difficult as Putin does not want to lose one of his only Middle East partners nor the military foothold he has there. Regardless there are opportunities for collaboration to bring about a better situation and the same rings true for Iran.

Analysis

Putin is an unpredictable and dangerous leader and the West must remain cognizant of this in dealing with him. For that same reason, the West must deal and confront him. There are those who will brush off the idea of Russian action in the Baltics but it must be remembered the same sentiment existed prior to the invasion of Georgia and Ukraine. Russia just like any power has every right to exercise its influence overseas but there is a limit and that is when its purpose is to destabilize other countries. The U.S. and other Western states are not innocent of this by any means. Regardless, Russia must stop interfering in the affairs of its neighbors by fomenting unrest and threatening peace.

Russia has and will continue to act unabated as long as its leadership believes it can do so without serious threat from the West. Now is the time for the West to act.

Updated on

Stephen Paul Brooker is a writer, political researcher, and political consultant. His specialty is in East Asia security issues and he has lectured at St. John's University on conflict theory and international relations. He holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and a graduate certificate in International Law and Diplomacy from St. John's University and a Bachelor's Degree in Government from Wagner College. Currently he is pursuing a Diploma in Economics from the University of London.
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26 COMMENTS

  1. LOLOLOLOL….you tried everything in your power to “disprove” that America has become a sh*thole and it didn’t work!….LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

  2. I love trolls. all it takes a modicum of intelligence to show they lie and are very stupid. Which country has to prevent immigration and which country desperately needs immigration and is not getting the people they need? The US has to build fences to keep people out and the requirements to immigrate to the US are very stringent. In russia they get all the uneducated and islamic folks from the southern republics. who wants rubles and who wants dollars or euros? even russian companies are being forced by the kremlin to buy rubles; because russian companies do not want rubles. it all comes down to which countries want to be allied with your savior, Mad Vlad the Liar King and which countries ally themselves with the US. right now the US has a cowardly narcissist for president with a equally bad cabinet, but in 17 months we will have a new president, elected by the people not decided in advance as in russia. and our allies that do not like or trust Obama will be strong allies again. and who like russia with Putin? the chubby kid in N. Korea, Maduro in Venezuela, i think David Ortega in Nicaragua, and that about sums up the list. there is an old proverb, you are known by the friends you keep. those are all the friends Vlad has, not a good sign. as for you, the British have a very good description for a woman like you. A bloody stupid cow. just seems to fit you well.

  3. Look it up dumbo….Germany just signed a new gas deal with Russia. In fact, Germany, France, and Great Britain are meeting with Russia to discuss Syria. They see what fools they have been following US policy and look where it got them! Not only that, the idiots in the USA are stumped now because their plan to overthrow Assad isn’t working….now Russia is coming in to save the day and Kerry now wants to speak with Russia because he says “he would like to know what Russia is going to do in Syria.” As if Russia will tell him..and it certainly won’t be the mess that the US has caused with all the migrants fleeing Syria, Libya, and other countries due to the US warmongering…Now Russia has to go in and clean up US mess. US can’t beat Russia countries around the world are working with Russia and making deals…it’s the US that is isolating itself. Your western propaganda has brainwashed you well…the US is losing so you better get you money out the bank (if you have any) before they don’t allow you to withdraw it…the US government is going to need those funds…LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

  4. 1 german company signs a contract with gazprom and than means all of europe. you don’t read the facts because it interferes with your lies and deceit or stupidity, probably all of the above. you continue spouting all your kremlin propaganda and Vlad will love you as he feeds you and the rest of you trolls into the furnace to feed his machine

  5. I don’t have time to read all of your drivel….but you do know that Germany just signed a new gas deal with Russia? I’m not Russian my friend, but anyways…the USA goes around the world warmongering destroying countries and then leaving them. The only threat to world peace is the United States. U.S. is a broke country and the laughing stock of the world. Why do you think countries are asking for their gold back from the US? They see the writing on the wall. Soon the US will have to get a “real job” as the income from warmongering and weapons begins to dry up…..good luck sucker!

  6. The author of this blog does not get Russia when he says that the “fear of encirclement” is what drives its expansionist policies. For centuries, Russia always had Imperial ambitions, grabbing lands and subjugating populations. Perhaps after Russian women were raped by or mated with the Mongol-Tatars for 7 centuries, they bore children with these traits. Or perhaps it’s because the Tzars and the Communists convinced the Russians that the Russian Glory is in size of Russian Empire. But Russians are the nationalistic expansionists driven by a lot more than a Kremlin fabricated fear of the West. Russians seek national glory and will pursue it by all means possible.

  7. the US is a Sh&thole, right? that is why the russsian intelligentsia are migrating to the US. why our population grows only because of immigration and the russian population decreases even with immigration from the southern republics. Honey if you are going to stay in russia you better learn the koran and begin learning Chechnya, Turkmenistan, Uzbek, Kazakh, Krygyz, and Tajik traditions. the slavs will become the minority soon.

  8. Are you really that stupid? The EU is reducing their consumption of Russian Gas, it was over 30% now it is close to 20% and going down more. LNG from countries that do not use energy as a weapon is available and becoming more available. as for the dollar losing and the ruble gaining. have you looked at the markets lately. we all see how much the ruble and the yuan have gotten stronger. the ruble lost half its value in 1 year. everyone wants to by pass the dollar. lets see now? even russia and china that say they will not use the dollar value everything in dollars and do an exchange rate. it is heartening to see all the countries lining up to buy rubles. there is North Korea and Syria and? i guess that is all. as for no war on US soil. we had three, the first two for our independence and the civil war was a fratricidal war. as for foreign wars, maybe Americans are a lot smarter than you russkis because you bow down to people like stalin and allow him to kill more russians than hitler. As for libya, that was british and french bombing, (the US provided the french and Brits with logistical support and intelligence.) Ukraine the only bombing and killing done by a foreign country is Russia and Putin killing Ukrainians, and in Syria the US is leading a coalition of european and middle eastern countries. but it was America and Americans that stopped Hitler. if not for American ingenuity and productivity and generosity you russians and all europeans would be speaking german and goosestepping. But stupid trolls like you do not deal in facts or truth, you try and deceive everyone with stupid lies that even a retarded monkey can see is a lie, and I think you actually believe this dog feces yourself. it is time for you to return to your fountain head and keep sucking on Vlad.

  9. Apparently EU needs Russia!….LOL And whether you like it or not the US has become a sh*thole. The East is rising and the dollar is losing. Soon, America will have to get a new job as the warmongering will no longer be profitable. Countries are no longer trusting the United States; hence the need for the AIIB Bank, which will allow countries to bypass the dollar, which is already happening. You might as well take your head out of the sand and face the music…the US is a cesspool. You see, the US has never had war on their soil. The US population has never had their homes bombed, their cities crushed, their family members killed by relentless bombing like the US has done countless times…Look at Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, etc….you reap what you sow and now America shall reap. It’s best you prepare instead of living in denial….

  10. Putin is very predictable for those who know Americas theatrics. US propaganda will not help the world. Pretending to fight Isis while using them to unseat Assad – and – the many dead civilians. Dropping and delivering weapons to Irag army then tell them to run away for Isis to get them? Hypocrites. Stop this human suffering.

  11. The poisoning of Yushchenko was more likely perpetrated by Ukrainians than by the Russians government. There were too many people who stood to gain.

  12. Russian ”expansionism” ? in 1843 US forces clashed with Chinese & they invaded African coast ! Where is USA & where are China & Africa ?? Don’t ask me, just Google…& same USA in 1850s invaded Uruguay, Paraguay, Philippines ! So, Russia is expansionist ??
    Google, America has been at war 93% of the time – 222 out of 239 years – since 1776 !!
    & look at countries attacked, invaded, bombed, airstriked, droned, ten thousands of civilians killed in last 2 decades !! in 239 years 222 years of fighting !! USA is more expansionist than the Roman Empire & more bloodthirsty than Cenghis Khan’s Mongolian Empire !! America is most aggressive country in human history ! & still US Media doing propagandas & blame Russians !! Warmonger US Media brainwashing Americans & has undisclosed ties with US Military Industrial Complex !!
    Mr. Stephen Paul Brooker should read the history of his country first…before blaming Russia !!

  13. Conclusion of article is clear: the west is good guy, given by God, whever it do is good, and everybody should accept it. Russia, to be a good guy should follow orders from the west, even if they are against Russian interest. To keep good name by western standards, Russia should sacrifice its interests. If Russia has other ideas, and give preference to its national interests, over western line, it should change the course, align with the west, forget about national interests, and it will get good words from the west, “puppy good puppy”. If Russia is not ready do go down to knees, hard core Putin should be blamed, demonized, satanized, removed, killed or anything else, what is feasible, to bring the big nation to the right western course. If this doesn t work, threat of force should be used. Threat of force against the biggest nuclear power, possessing more than 10 000 nuclear war heads, capable to destroy the whole western world ? Ultimate insanity.from human brain.
    It will be much better for the west to accept the truth that monopolar western world no more exist, and interest of other side should be respected. The west should accept healthy competition in international affairs, to promote its interests and influence, not bombing, destroying countries, bribing elites, regime change by force and coups, corruption spreading. Russia is not a country that could be treated by the west as Serbia, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Georgia, Ukraine. The west should always keep in mind, that two greatest western leaders Napoleon and Hitler, tried to bring Russia to western line, but failed miserably. Who is the next western Hitler ?

  14. Nope. Without discussing who is right or wrong, the main motive for the Kremlin is to prevent the expansion of NATO. They are not really interested in acquiring big expensive failing state, maybe just as Crimea as long as Russia lacks deep water non-freezing ports. And that Crimea was stolen from Russia by one of previous USSR leaders.

  15. Russian “expansionism?” How many countries has the U.S either invaded, waged a proxy war or fomented a coup in, in the last, say, 20 years? Who has military bases in over 130 countries worldwide? Who has completely turned the Middle East into a living nightmare over the last half century? I mean, huh? NATO presses ever closer to Russia’s borders, yet, Russia is behaving “provocatively” and “audaciously” because it is just a little miffed about this?

    Look, here is the reality: the once unipolar, American world order is finished, and that is primarily because the U.S. has pressed the boundaries of acceptable behavior at every corner of the globe; no one likes us or trusts us anymore. We have also bankrupted ourselves to the point of economic disaster. Not to mention, those countries who are our biggest competitors but also, potentially, our best allies, are remarkably traditional societies that do not accept our newfangled, willy-nilly moral relativism and social reengineering.

    Many in the U.S., such as the neocons and the neo-liberals (they’re not that different), do not want this nor can they comprehend any other arrangement, so they will fight tooth and nail, even risking WWIII, to hold onto it, in spite of the fact that militarily both Russia and China are a permanent and viable threat to the U.S. and its intentions for empire abroad. Secondly, economically, the global order is clearly shifting toward China and India, and, eventually, yes, even toward Russia. Thirdly, countries such as Russia, China, and India are, as I said, very ancient, very traditional societies that are not, nor should they be, very interested in deconstructing certain social norms that are essential to the functioning of a well-ordered society.

    This article gave me my laugh for the week.

  16. So Russia is expanding since 2013?

    Really? Lets see what the US and NATO have done since the collapse of the Soviet Union under the self glorifying belief that we won a cold war, whatever the fruck this means.

    We bombed Yugoslavia, we bombed Iraq one time, we invaded Afghanistan, we bombed Iraq again, we bombed Libya to smithereens, we invaded Iraq AGAIN, we fomented and financed a coup in Ukraine to add to NATO’s 28 strong military and economic block, we financed the rebels in Syria to be able to wrestle Russia’s only base in the Mediterranean and install a puppet that we could control in Syria. In the process we have killed and displaced more innocent civilians than all terrorists put together in the last 50 years. Worse, we justify this under the collateral damage BS.

    Brooker either suffers from extreme myopia or if he is a propagandist. If it is the latter he is better suited to writing kitchen recipes because the propaganda he writes is so lame that insults a gnats intelligence.

  17. who needs russia? what does russia have besides oil and gas? and those are not commodities like gold and diamonds, there is plenty to supply the world. that is why oil is below $50 per barrel. so who needs russia? which countries are rushing to join Putin’s new soviet union the eurasia common market? who is rushing to ally themselves with russia? North Korea? Venezuela? Nicaragua? Even Belarus is putting distance between themselves and russia.
    this is typical troll slop. the entire world is wrong, only Mad Vlad the Liar King Putin is right and all his syncopates that suck from his fountain head are the chosen few.

  18. Why would he stop ?, he’s unopposed by NATO or the U S ! No reason to stop .. Middle East ? that’s cool for me .. He’s entering another Afghan that he can well afford .. lol U S/Nato should pull out and let Putin deal with it ISIL will be in Moscow this time next year ..

  19. Are you kidding!!!! I see the US brainwashing is working well on you. The real thugs are the US with their warmongering and hegemony. As soon as the EU wakes up, which they slowly are since the migration crisis, then they can stop the stupid sanctions against Russia; who they need, and get down to business. Any country following the USA is a FOOL!

  20. How many bases Russia have around the world.The answer is a few.How many bases have U.S around the world – around 800.So who is the real expansionist – Russia or U.S?

  21. well researched and thought out. logical and direct. too bad our cowardly lion president doesn’t read this and learn, but he is too much the narcissist and believes his own press, he is the smartest man in the world. so we have a renegade KBG thug as president/Tzar of russia and the strongest nation in the history of the world has a weak kneed coward for president. kind of scary

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