Tuesday, October 18, 2016

War Crazy

New America Fellow Josh Y has an interesting bit about why cause Russia is totally war crazy...

According to a deeply informed new book on Putin and his court, “All the Kremlin’s Men,” by the Russian journalist Mikhail Zygar, the idea, as Putin and his speechwriters had imagined it, was to “brand ISIS as the new Third Reich.” Putin envisioned a grand coalition, Zygar writes—just like in the good old days of the Second World War—that would bring Russia out of its isolation; what’s more, Putin seemed to hope that, by “defeating Islamic terrorism, the Russians and Americans would finally succeed in creating a new world order.” It would be Yalta, 1945, all over again—Putin’s dream scenario of how global diplomacy is meant to work.

For a while, things appeared to be going largely Putin’s way. 

 All that has collapsed in the past month. The ceasefire agreement fell apart after U.S. forces killed dozens of Syrian troops in a bombing raid—a mistaken strike, U.S. officials said—and a U.N. humanitarian-aid convoy was hit in an air attack outside Aleppo, leaving twenty people dead. That strike was widely blamed on Syrian attack helicopters working under the cover of Russian airpower. 

In the aftermath of the convoy strike, Kerry declared his interest in seeing Russia and the Syrian government investigated for war crimes for its alleged bombing of civilian areas in Aleppo. The notion that Washington and Moscow could work together to resolve Syria’s horrific war now appears to have been scrapped. At a press conference on September 28th, John Kirby, a State Department spokesperson, warned that Russia’s continued military campaign in Syria could lead to terror attacks in Russian cities and “troops in body bags.” 

Writing in the Financial Times, Dmitri Trenin, the head of Carnegie Moscow Center, a policy think tank, imagined that Syria “could easily turn into a battlefield” between Moscow and Washington, “with the proxies first taking aim at the principals, and the principals then shooting back not at the proxies, but at each other.”

 Last Monday, he cancelled a U.S.-Russian agreement on the disposal of weapons-grade plutonium. The program had been functionally dormant for some time, but Putin got rid of it with a flourish, producing a fantasy list of demands—which included the U.S. reducing its military presence in NATO member states, lifting the sanctions imposed over Ukraine, and paying compensation for lost revenue it caused—that would need to be met before the program could be renewed. The absurdity and impossibility was the very point, an unsubtle message to 44: don’t even bother trying to mend this relationship—it’s hopeless. 

 Then, last weekend, Russia delivered nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea. It was a purposefully provocative move. The missiles are potentially capable of reaching Berlin, and, more important, they make the defense of NATO member states in the Baltics more difficult for military planners. According to the Russian defense ministry, the country’s military timed the delivery of the missiles to insure that it would be seen by U.S. spy satellites. Even so, these moves might have garnered relatively little attention if not for the fact that the Russian state also appeared to be preparing its citizens for doomsday. On Monday, it was reported that the governor of St. Petersburg signed an order that guaranteed residents of the city three hundred grams of bread per day in the case of war. Then a Russian news site published a report saying that state officials had been advised to bring their relatives—in particular, children studying abroad or parents living elsewhere—back to Russia.

Why has Moscow gone, for lack of a better term, war-crazy?

  Russia obviously sees itself as fighting against U.S. hegemony, but what is it fighting  for? What is its strategic vision for itself and the world? 

  “For Yugoslavia! For Libya! For Syria! For everything you have done these past twenty years!” 

 Putin’s foreign policy at this moment is, in large part, about avenging the wrongs inflicted on Russia over the past decades, the insults and grievances borne by a generation. It may be a tall order to achieve by January 20th of next year.

 But Putin may certainly try.