‘Russia Is Behaving Like a Country That If Necessary Can Afford to Wage War’

At the end of the day, Russia wants Ukraine in its camp a lot more than the West does, and will go to far greater lengths to secure it

The West has provided Moscow with the written responses it had demanded to Russia’s draft agreement on European security. As expected, the responses rejected the main demands of an end to NATO expansion and retreat from Eastern Europe, but did offer some hope on secondary issues. Now the ball is in Russia’s court: will it appreciate the low-key but substantial concessions offered by the West, or refuse them, paving the way (or so the world expects) for a war with Ukraine?

In some ways, the two sides appear to be negotiating over different things. Russia is talking about its own security, while the West is focusing on Ukraine’s. This switch in focus looks to Russia like an attempt to turn the conversation away from the issue at hand toward less important details. Yet for the West, the security problems it has created for Russia didn’t even exist until very recently. One important consequence of Russia’s actions in articulating its demands is that the West has been forced, albeit unwillingly and cautiously, to recognize that there is even anything to discuss.

Previously, it was the West’s firm position that there could be no threat from market democracies, states governed by the rule of law, and open societies approaching Russia’s borders. If Russia is not a rogue state, what does it have to fear from this? Now, as a result of the ultimatum issued by Russia as it massed its troops on the Ukrainian borders before Christmas—that NATO must pledge never to admit Ukraine into its ranks, and scale back its presence in Eastern Europe—cracks in this position have appeared. The West still believes that it does not pose a threat to anyone, but is now willing to concede that others may view its expansion toward Russia differently, and is prepared to enter discussions in order to prevent such misconceptions from creating very real problems.

So what is the source of Russia’s fears? The modern Western view of security is based on the principle that democracies and autocracies do not pose equal threats. [They don’t. The “Indispensable Nation” and its vassals are much more inclined to start wars.] Free market democracies supposedly cannot be a source of aggression or pose a threat of war because their politicians have to answer to voters, and voters do not want to fight and die for their government in an aggressive war, while autocrats can send their people off to die for the regime. Autocrats, therefore, suspect—and not without reason—that until their countries become free market democracies, they will never be afforded equal security rights. The security of people living in autocracies is considered secondary to their freedom.

The question of whether Russia had any concerns for its own security was considered a bad joke: after all, not only was it stronger than its western neighbors, those neighbors were both richer and more advanced in terms of their legal and institutional development. Accordingly, there could be no threat from such neighbors. Yet in the last two hundred years, Russia has been attacked by European armies three times—by countries that were wealthier and more developed, both at a domestic and sometimes institutional level. Soldiers from countries that see themselves as perfectly harmless, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, and Sweden, all waged war on the Russian army and civilians on Russian territory during the last world war, centuries after any Russian soldier had set foot on their land, if ever. So if the generational trauma and fears of Poland, the Baltics, Czechia, and Ukraine can be seriously taken into account as part of their political motivation today, so can Russia’s.

The many months of speculation of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine are in sharp contrast to Russian President Vladimir Putins usual method of a swift, covert, and unexpected special operation. [Albeit this assumes that a swift and cover operation is possible.] It looks, therefore, as though Russia wanted to use Western fears over Ukraines security to achieve its broader aims. As those fears grew, so did Russias ambitions. Now, with tensions reaching boiling point and the world watching, its hard for either side to back down.

But it’s also hard to keep an army mobilized and in field conditions indefinitely. The threat of the use of force is very effective in the short term, but loses value the longer it is drawn out. This explains the deadlines set by Russia in its negotiations with the West. If the West steps out of rhythm with Russia and stops reacting within the given timeframe, Moscow will have to take action to show that it is serious or run the risk of not being listened to next time. It looks like Russia is indeed prepared to take action, even if it is not necessarily the action anticipated right now by foreign observers.

Moscow’s goal is clear: it wants the world to listen to it and to realize that the country speaking is not the same as the one that once lost the Cold War. Russia has a new confidence that has inspired it to revert to the language of the Soviet superpower.

That confidence springs from several sources. The first is Russia’s modernized army and new weapons. Judging by some of Putin’s statements, he is confident that Russia has a temporary technological advantage in some types of weapons, and that the West knows it.

Secondly, modern Russia is not the Soviet Union, and did not lose anything to anyone.

Finally, the Soviet Union might have had its own military bloc behind it in the form of its Warsaw Pact allies, but Russia likely feels stronger than the Soviet Union ever did, thanks to its partnership with China. Beijing may not be Moscow’s formal military ally, but it’s a reliable source of support with elements of a second anti-Western front. China is also an alternative market and supplier, including of high-tech goods. These are all things that Russia lacked both during the Cold War and in the turbulent 1990s.

In its negotiations with the West, Russia is behaving not like a country preparing to wage war, but like a country that, if necessary, can afford to do so. The aim of the West, on the other hand, is to avoid war. Consequently, Russia can exploit Western fears of war—without actually using force.

Another important asset at Putin’s disposal is the resilience of the Russian people, most of whom remember worse times, though they would of course prefer not to see their return. With the further sanctions it is threatening, the West is capable of worsening the current living standards of ordinary Russians, but so far, nothing it has proposed could make life harder for Russians than it was in the 1990s, when the West was considered a friend of their country. In other words, Russia is better prepared to be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system than Europe is to be cut off from Russian gas supplies.

Then there is the emotional involvement the Russian public feels concerning Ukraine. It’s not just the Russian government, but the Russian people too who are prepared to pay more to keep Ukraine from going over to the West than people in the West are prepared to pay to bring Ukraine over to their side. Russia is convinced that it is defending its vital interests in Ukraine, while the West believes it is defending its principles. All else being equal, vital interests are simply worth more.

Russian diplomats and ministers have made no secret of the fact that they are carrying out the orders of the commander in chief, Putin. What they haven’t clarified is what will happen if those orders are not carried out. It appears that, like army commanders and various fronts during a war, the diplomats have been given their own instructions, but only the headquarters knows what the master plan is—and there may be more than one.

The Kremlin is often crystal clear about its intentions, and highly evasive on the means to be used. Its aim of stopping NATO expansion, above all into Ukraine, is genuine. How that aim will be achieved depends on how circumstances develop. Putin, for his part, will make that decision not as a politician, but as someone preoccupied with his legacy and place in history.

After all, NATO’s expansion and advance toward Russia’s borders has been described as the main threat to Russia and the most dire consequence of the failed foreign policy of Putin’s predecessors. Yet the most sensitive stage of that expansion—into the Baltic countries—happened on Putin’s watch. It was also during Putin’s tenure that NATO pledged that Georgia and Ukraine would one day become members. For this reason, the president will do everything he possibly can to avoid becoming the Russian ruler who presided over that moment, too. Just like with that other dilemma Putin faces—whether to stay on or step down when his current term ends in 2024—a decision has not yet been made. As usual, there will be several different plans of action on his desk. What is certain is that he will pursue policies that leave both possibilities—of staying in power and of using military force—open to him.

One question remains unanswered, however, and that is why countries that were Russia’s allies in World War II and during the Cold War, not to mention a whole host of nations that were once part of Russian territory, have all ended up as potential enemies.

In one respect, the Western responses are entirely in keeping with the spirit of Russia’s approach to Ukraine: we have created the crisis, and we will help to resolve it. In the West’s case, this refers to the supply of arms to Ukraine and withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which is now once again up for discussion. This is enough to facilitate work on practical issues of national security. Whether it’s enough to burnish Putin’s historical pedestal remains to be seen.

Source: Carnegie Moscow

  1. Peter says

    Are you trying to tell me Marko, that this is an intelligent commentary? Or is this a test to see how stupidity reins among your readers?

    1. vlax says

      Yes Peter right quesstion !!!! He is totaly PRO-EMPIRE…… and fu** liar !!!!!

    2. Field Empty says

      Yes, the article has some very insightful sections that are a valuable read as we struggle to guess what is coming. And if you’re too butthurt to see that, that’s your business.

  2. Ilya G Poimandres says

    No Russian I know, other than some large fraction of dumb expats (like my brother in London), believe Russians either like, or want to wage war.

    Props for balancing the site’s news, but this is level 10 bull.

    Putin is strong, but he is moulded by post WWII Russia. I grew up in a Moscow of the 90s – and we still had a bombed out building until 1991 in Sokolniki (where us kids loved to play by the one remaining wall).

    No Russian wants war these days, probably not for another generation or two (humans will change without direct understanding), but the Soviet experience was so harsh, this article is blind.

  3. Hostage (Raptar) Driver says

    It is a given that the Russians don’t want war.
    But what you want & what you get can be two different things.

  4. Ragheadthefiendlyterrorist says

    Really? Russia is an “autocracy” and Putin is “trying to secure his plane in history”? Is this the depth to which “anti”Empire is willing to sink these days?

    1. Field Empty says

      Oh look what’s new, Raggy being a snowflake, constructing strawmen, not having reading comprehension, and making arguments in bad faith…

  5. mijj says

    > “The West still believes that it does not pose a threat to anyone”

    .. and where did you get that idea?
    (What the “west” says it believes and what the “west” actually believes are entirely dfferent matters – obviously)

  6. Mark says

    The Russian forces on the Russian side of the Russia/Ukraine border can be kept there as long as necessary, because they are in their own country and they can be rotated so everyone gets a chance for some leave. But they are not in that position to make scary faces at Ukraine and frighten the west that they intend to invade. They are a visible deterrent to Ukraine trying a lightning strike to roll up the Dmbas all the way to the border, and bring it back under Kiev’s control. Kiev only has to win once; the easterners have to win every time. If such an operation succeeded, however briefly, NATO troops would be rushed to Ukraine to ‘keep the peace’ – and, just incidentally, to give Ukraine breathing space to consolidate its big win while NATO kept the Russians off it.

    So the Russians sit there patiently to warn Ukraine not to try it. Because if they couldn’t get it done in an hour, they couldn’t get it done at all; the Russians would intervene, and exact punishment.

    Also, Russia does not want Ukraine, at least not until the west puts some serious money into fixing it up. Western think tanks would like to believe Russia would seize it and then spend every spare ruble to repair war damage and improve things. Then the west would stir up the nationalists again, and take it back – thanks, Russia! Well, that’s not going to happen.

  7. Adam says

    “One question remains unanswered, however, and that is why countries that were Russia’s allies in World War II and during the Cold War, not to mention a whole host of nations that were once part of Russian territory, have all ended up as potential enemies”.

    Because the Eastern Europeans including Russia have internalised their inferiority complex towards the west. They have been psychologically conquered and colonised. They see themselves as white people and the only way to validate their existence is to be part of the west. They have no self respect or value for themselves or their history, basically they are no different from the colonised countries of Africa or like battered wives, who would do anything to be accepted by the man who is abusing them. So the Americans and Europeans supply arms to the Ukrainians to kill Russians, colour revolutions all across the Russian near abroad, but the Russians refuse to sell arms to the Iranians, agree with UN resolutions on Libya or supply arms to the DNR and LNR to defend themselves and inflict defeat on the Fascist, but rather Russia keep calling them their partners an bending over to accommodate every western demand for the past 30 years hoping they would be invited to the western club as equals, that is why they find themselves in the predicament they are in now.

    This is reflected in how Russia handled their transition to a market economy comparative to how China handled their transition. The Russians behaved like a colonised African country, grovelling on their knees (they still do) to accept whatever prescription the westerners gave them to solve their ills. Basically their internalised inferiority complex towards the west (the same way the Africans and Ukrainians do today), that the west has all the answers and were superior to them, manifested itself in appointing western experts as economic and domestic policy advisers to Russia. The same applied to all the eastern Europeans who wants to be part of the EU and NATO. This colonised mindset still applies to Eastern Europeans including Russia, their populations from the elites, leaders, academics and ordinary people on the streets are all psychologically colonised, by their internalised inferiority towards the west. That is the stark contrast between the Russians and the Chinese. Its only a matter of time before all these bravado of defiance is reversed, because the immutable default psychological position of the Eastern Europeans and Russians is subordination to the west, because they perceive themselves as white and the only way to validate their identity and whiteness for them is to be western, so the assertion of Rene Descartes “I think therefore I am” does not apply to Eastern Europeans and Russians, because they can’t consciously articulate, validate or express their identity without subordinating themselves to a western European white identity narrative. The excerption to Russian identity and independence in contemporary times is Stalin and Brezhnev.

  8. Adam says

    The Americans, British and Europeans can not be and should never be trusted, they have never adhered to any treaty or agreement they have signed up to. Its always a tactic for them to find ways and strategies to deny and circumvent whatever they have agreed to. Don’t know why Russia is negotiating with them, that is Russia’s weakness: naivety, being gullible and willingness to subject themselves to every humiliation the west outs them through in the hope that they might be invited to join the western club, its a shame for a great country to subjugate themselves to constant grovelling for mercy, recognition and invitation.

  9. Ultrafart the Brave says

    Credit to Anti-Empire for hosting a spectrum of views, but on reading certain tidbits in this article, eg…

    The West still believes that it does not pose a threat to anyone…

    The aim of the West, on the other hand, is to avoid war.

    The modern Western view of security is based on the principle that democracies and autocracies do not pose equal threats.

    … I get the feeling that I’m reading an opinion piece, not a serious analysis of the situation.

    The author, Mr. Baunov, seems to be accepting the Empire’s contrived narrative as fact. We can get that BS from any mainstream media outlet without reading an armchair general’s refinement of the propaganda into a detailed piece of fiction.

    The first two quotes are the exact lies fed to the Western masses – whereas the reality is the diametric opposite of these two claims.

    The third quote implicitly labels Russia as an “autocracy” and asserts that the Western world is replete with freedom-loving “democracies”. Neither position is borne out by the facts on the ground, as anyone familiar with the management of the Western world over the last two (let alone the last 30) years will understand.

    1. Field Empty says

      He’s explaining how the West sees itself and Russia. Do you deny this is how the West sees itself? Does he somewhere endorse this view? Are you such a snowflake your eyes can’t gaze upon where the West in its self-love is coming from?

      1. Ultrafart the Brave says

        He’s explaining how the West sees itself and Russia. Do you deny this is how the West sees itself?

        Is he? As I stated, the article reads like an opinion piece – an assertion of how the author himself views the world.

        And as I also said – being completely immersed and trapped in the very same West to which you refer – I really don’t need to read rehashed propaganda to divine how “the West sees itself”.

        Does he somewhere endorse this view?

        The author recites Western propaganda without qualification, and weaves this seamlessly into the logic of the article’s narrative.

        Perhaps you can see more subtle nuances in Mr. Baunov’s writing beyond it’s apparent meaning. Perhaps Mr. Baunov is playing 6-dimensional chess, just like President Trump.

        Credit to Anti-Empire for publishing a diversity of views.

        But I’ll pass on this one.

  10. vlax says

    Dokle bre Marko da lazes Ljude…… kazes da hoces mir….. A biras samo clanke ruskih neprijatelja….i podmukle insinuacije…..
    Budi hrabar i nazovi tvoj sajt PRO-EMPIRE….. slavicu te kao SAMPIONA… sve je na svom mestu.

    1. Field Empty says

      Ako ti nešto nevalja napiši svoj članak, pošalji, i biće objavljen. Što ja moram da pogađam šta ja tebi krivo, šta ti nevalja i koji su tvoji argumenti? Jel moj poso da ti čitam misli? Ili možda da imam iste misli ko i ti?

    2. Field Empty says

      A i koji kurac se pojavljuješ tu posle svega što si izpovraćao. Nije za tebe, nije za priglupe, ne moraš da čitaš. Budi dosledan i ne čitaj više sramotni sajt.

      1. Vlax says

        “poštovani” analisto “visokog ranga”
        Ispoštovaću tvoj savet; neću više biti član ovih ovaca što dolaze na ovaj sajt. A što se tiče inteligencije… Prepuštam ti zaključak… Čisto.. Da… Mirno spavaš…..

  11. edwardi says

    These are the same Barbarians at Russia’s gates/borders as have been attacking it the past 100 years or more. These are the same Nazi forces now called the U.S. military that armed and enabled Adolph and fomented WW2 as part of the never ending Western strategy to control the Eurasian land mass and defeating and controlling Russia has always been the major roadblock to such world domination Western wet dreams. The Western elites funded and created Hitler who then faltered and did not get the job done for them, and they then galvanized those forces into what is now called NATO. Now the strategic patience of Russia and its’ newfound alliance with China ( and Iran ) has come to a point where increased confidence has finally allowed for the frank assessment of the Barbaric threat of NATO, and the ship of state is rudder down and turning to openly confront the ever growing threats. I am thrilled, as an old man, to be finally witnessing this open push back and organized rejection of the NATO fascist pig barbarians, as this is about more than just the current U.S. home of Empire, but portends a complete reversal of the phony values of Western Empire, 500 years of European Empire, now led by the U.S., and it is thrilling that it is being confronted finally and hopefully now cast into the dustbins of ignoble history. Viva la China, la Russia and la Iran, rock on because the entire World opinion is the wind at your backs.

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