It is folly for the US and its European allies to continue to regard Russia as the primary threat, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
There is little doubt that Russia must have sought to influence the 2020 election, most likely in favour of an unstable Trump rather than an untested Biden. For Vladimir Putin would only be repaying the compliment paid to him by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she activated the operation designed to turf then President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. This was when Yanukovich proved a bit too amenable to Russia for Hillary’s comfort or that of her friends in France and the UK.
The Ukrainian Orange Revolution replaced an elected leader not through the ballot box or through the bullet but through the power of streets teeming with those who wanted Yanukovich out. As Mrs Clinton will remember from the “Lock her up” chants of Trump supporters during the 2016 US Presidential elections, in any democracy it is not difficult to find folks eager to turf out an incumbent. In the US, more than 40% of the population still believe the absurd claim that it was Trump and not Biden who won the 2020 polls.
Drawing on his experience in the KGB, it would not have been difficult for President Putin to understand and replicate elsewhere the tactics used by the US during the time when the energetic change agent Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and together with Clintonites in the Obama administration, had a decisive role in policy. Such intervention took place in a variety of countries, including during the 2011 Arab Spring that rapidly morphed into a Wahhabi winter. In the Ukrainian case, not only did Yanukovich go but stability as well. That country teems with citizens who dislike the presence of Russian-speaking citizens and who have resorted in a multitude of ways to throw them out of Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
Given such a history, it would occasion little surprise if Putin had looked with disfavour on another Clinton in the White House. It had been Bill Clinton who as President of the US sought to convert Russia into a pastoral state in the manner that Treasury Secretary Morgenthau sought for Germany once the war unleashed by that country got over in 1945. Neither Morgenthau nor Bill Clinton got their wish, although not for lack of effort. The Clintons have bought in its entirety the viewpoint of the European big powers that Russia remains a predator even after the collapse of the USSR by 1992, and is THE enemy to be fought, certainly not China, from which country their family, friends and donors get generous handouts in various ways and through multiple pathways.
After Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, China never had it so good under a US President as was the situation under Bill Clinton. When he was chosen by those around Boris Yeltsin as the next President of the Russian Federation in 1999, Putin was an enthusiast of the “Common European Home” thesis of Mikhail Gorbachev, who destroyed the USSR in his efforts at placating a western world that refused to be placated even after the Soviet collapse, seeking nothing less than a further breakup of the now truncated Russian Federation and its conversion into a low tech power from a technological leader.
It was improbable that France and Germany, not to mention the UK, would want Russia to join the EU and NATO, as the country would dominate all existing members with the exception of the US. Given the Eurocentric mindset of US Presidents and staff except for Barack Obama, it proved impossible for Putin to actualise the Gorbachev vision of integration into Europe.
The fact is that Russia is a Eurasian power, neither Asian nor European, and hence stands alone, as do the PRC, India and the US. These are the 21st century’s Big Four, replacing the triumvirate that formed during Hitler’s 1938-45 war on civilisation, the USSR, the US and the UK. Battered by defeatism, France had succumbed to the Wehrmacht without resistance. This is the same defeatism that the info warriors of the Sino-Wahhabi alliance are seeking to cause within the coalition of countries intent on a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific as opposed to its waters becoming a PRC lake. The trajectory of the WHO-approved governmental response to SARS2 among the democracies rather than the virus itself is helping to create a situation where the will for a showdown with China is concerned.
The Russophobic section of the Ukrainian population has been encouraged in its antipathy towards Moscow by repeated promises of help against the Russian Federation. Thanks to the ouster of Yanukovich, Putin realised that Ukraine had become the handmaid of forces out to remove him from office and send his country down the path followed by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, of concession after concession with only further demands in return.
After around six years of playing nice to the NATO member states in Europe, President Putin accepted that it was futile to make any further concessions, and moved to protect the interests of his country in vulnerable. pressure points such as Georgia and Ukraine. It came as a surprise only to Russophobes among the Georgians and the Ukrainians that NATO declined to put boots on the ground to carry out their promises to Tbilisi and Kiev. The reality is that the streets of any European capital that sends troops to do battle against Russia in Georgia or the Ukraine (or indeed in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) would seethe with protest even absent any encouragement from the Russian side.
Given this, it is folly for the US and its European allies to continue to regard Russia as the primary threat. This must be welcome in the PRC as well as in the minds of Russophobes in Europe, but makes little geopolitical sense. It is obvious by now that there is an ongoing Cold War between the US and China, just as there was between the USSR and the US, and that this too is existential. One or the other side will see a meltdown of its governance system at the close of Cold War 2.0, just as Cold War 1.0 ushered in the demise of the USSR.
Given that, the policy pursued by India under Narendra Modi needs to be followed rather than put aside, which is to try and make Russia a neutral country in an inevitable kinetic conflict with the Peoples Republic of China, the starting point of which will be either Taiwan or the Himalayan massif, not to mention a PLA effort to choke off access to the South China Sea. This belongs mostly to ASEAN where its waters are not part of the global commons, but are almost entirely claimed by China on grounds that would be laughable were they to figure not in real life but in a novel about Great Power jostling.
President Biden claimed that his scurrying away from Afghanistan was motivated by the need to concentrate on China, forgetting the reality of the Sino-Wahhabi alliance that General Bipin Rawat mentioned. And then he focuses obsessively on Russia, forgetting China just as much as George W. Bush did once the military wing of the Wahhabi International carried out the 9/11 attack. Since then, the PRC has gotten ever closer to the Wahhabis, seeing in them a useful diversion that could keep the US and NATO distracted and unmindful of the activities of a PLA turbocharged under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. The hostility of NATO has given no option to Putin but to cosy up to Xi, a leader seeking ensure China displaces Russia as the Eurasian pivot. A two-front war in an existential conflict is folly. President Biden needs to learn from the example of Modi and work towards ensuring that Putin will in effect remain neutral in the future kinetic conflict between the PRC, India and the US.