Category Archives for "International Relations"

December 30, 2016

Why Russia Seems Strong but is Weak

The new nationalism builds on traditional Russian insecurities, resentments and jealousies and is something the population want to believe.

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What’s it about?

Arkady Ostrovky looks at Russia, Putin, Wars and Nationalism, and why Russia has not yet become a free-market democracy.  His review illuminates how much has changed and stayed the same in Russia over the last half century.

Why Russia Seems Strong but is Weak:

  1. Russian’s knowledge of the past is patchy, filtered through the myths created by the current regime.
  2. The economy has descended into stagnation after a decade of economic growth. The market reforms of the 90’s have petered out, oil prices are low, and the States share of the economy has doubled. Competition has withered, the rule of law is patchy, the economy is run by a small clique of insiders, connected with the ruling political elite.
  3. The KGB has been rebuilt as the main vehicle for political and economic power, restoring the two main pillars of the Soviet state: propaganda and repression.
  4. Russia has a vibrant urban and wealthy middle class. Russian cities are modern and European. The young are educated and open minded.
  5. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and attack on Ukraine came after protests against his rigging of the 2011 election. Rattled, Putin began to spread nationalism, creating the notion of Russia as threatened by the West.
  6. Military triumphs and anti-American propaganda flood the airwavess, fueling the idea of a besieged country protected only by Putin and the security forces.


Russia has no intention of going to war with America or its allies. Instead it will act through non-military means “to undermine the general political and strategic potential of major Western powers, to disrupt national self-confidence, to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity…

Anti-British talk will be plugged among Americans, anti-American talk among British. Germans will be taught to abhor both Anglo-Saxon powers. Where suspicions exist, they will be fanned; where not, ignited.”

So wrote George Kennan, the “wise man” of American diplomacy, in a famous telegram from Moscow in 1946.

Seventy years later the telegram seems as relevant as ever, because the system that Kennan described is being rebuilt.

Resurgence and Decline

Russia modified and liberalized after the collapse of the Soviet Union, creating private ownership, launching new industries, and freeing people to make money, consume and travel. The state retreated. Although TV, radio and print are controlled, the internet is free. At critical junctures an elite came to dominate the economy resurrecting the old spy service. The path of least resistance seemed to be chauvinism and paranoia, and the Kremlin’s traditional neurotic view of world affairs.

Putin’s skill has been to co-opt the public along the same lines. His propaganda builds on the disrespect and disbelief Russian’s have for objective truth. When all facts serve some purpose, it is easy to portray the West’s policies as rigged and as hypocritical as Russia’s are.

The new nationalism builds on traditional Russian insecurities, resentments and jealousies and is something the population wants to believe.

Take Away Points and Context

  • It was naive to think that after 74 years of Soviet Rule, and several centuries of paternalism before, that Russia would emerge as a functioning Western-style democracy. Nevertheless, Russia’s current state was not inevitable and has been brought about by decisions the Russia elite have taken when facing hard choices.
  • The economy is stifled by corruption, lack of external investment, an over-mighty state, weak rule of law, and an authoritarian culture that thrives on fear and keeps young minds closed. This increases the risk that Russia will face slow economic and intellectual degradation.
  • Russia’s interventions abroad have, in the Russian people’s eyes, restored Russia’s status to that of a Great Power. Yet the Russian military is weak, its growth limited by a declining population and aging technology. Russia uses both military and non-military means to assert itself, and as a generation of leaders who lived through the second world war passes away, a new generation, less afraid of violence, threatens the use of nuclear power.


Full Article:

Russia: Inside the bear

A Special Report in the Economist.


Why Russia Seems Strong but is Weak. Your comments welcome below.

December 20, 2016

Russia’s Growing threat to the West

The way NATO is currently arranged it cannot defend the territory of the Baltic countries.

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What’s it about?

Robert Cottrell looks at the increasing threat of Russia to NATO and the Baltic States. He reviews 2017: War with Russia by General Sir Richard Shirreff, recently NATOs second in command, examining the possibility of conflict, how it might happen, and what went wrong where.

Russia’s Growing threat to the West

  1. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Turkey’s post-coup crackdown call into question the strategic direction of two of NATO’s military powers.
  2. Donald Trumps’ statement that America’s richer allies need to spend more on their own defence weakens America’s previous unconditional commitment to its allies.
  3. Sherriff was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, NATO’s second-ranking military officer, from 2011 to 2014. Before that he was commander of NATO’ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.
  4. Russia’ economy is struggling under the weight of low oil prices, bad policies and corrupt government. Vladimir Putin is using military adventures to unify the country and distract attention from his economic failures.
  5. As with Ukraine, Russia tends to think of the Baltics countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania- as being part of Russia. They were part of old Russian Empires and part of the Soviet Union. Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine have large Russian speaking minorities, which Russia poses as a protector for.
  6. The way NATO is currently arranged it cannot defend the territory of the Baltic countries. Numerous war games have shown Russia could capture the capitals of these countries and leave NATO with little options.


Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga is 60 hours.

Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but disastrous consequences for the Alliance and the people of the Baltics.

A Possibility

Sometimes the impossible is only seen to be possible after it’s happened. 2017: War with Russia is written in the manner of a popular thriller, yet it is based on the facts of senior military commander. It outlines a real possibility. Imagining a Russian invasion it shows how NATO could come under attack.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Vladimir Putin has changed Russia using oil wealth to create a measure of surface prosperity. Rewarding a segment of Russian society that supports his rule, allowing crony capitalism to flourish, and cracking down on all opposition.
  • His flouting of the rule of law has deterred investment and caused capital flight while his controll of the media has created an angry nationalism. Many Russian’s look forward to war and the reclamation of territories they feel they have lost.


Full article:

Russia, NATO, Trump: The Shadow World

From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR

by Louis Sell

Duke University Press, 408 pp., $27.95 (paper)

Russia’s Growing threat to the West. Your comments are welcome below.