Underestimating Russia and the Russians appears to be a periodic and habitual sickness of the West, and it is usually paid for by the complete unwinding of the best laid plans and plots.
We all know the story of Napoleon's disastrous campaign in 1812, the disaster a year later at the Battle of the Five Armies at Leipzig, the eventual ruin of the French Empire and its Italian Emperor. Then of course there was the world's biggest military campaign with Hitler's invasion of the country in 1941, which was going quite nicely until the over-confident Hitler thought he could afford last-minute modifications to a carefully worked out logistical plan in August of that year. We know the rest of the story... the German armies stalled at the very outskirts of Moscow in the dead of one of the severest winters on record, the spires of the Kremlin within sight. Spurning little known-peace offerings from Stalin in 1942, Hitler paid the price of his arrogance. Four years later, Russian tanks were rumbling through the rubble of Berlin. Kaiser Wilhelm II fared somewhat better, actually forcing a Russian surrender in march of 1918, and (for those who think Versailles was "harsh"), placing the Baltic states and the entire breadbasket of Europe, under German military occupation. the Bolsheviks and Lenin, however, had calculated correctly; they could afford the short term surrender, knowing full well that Germany was on the verge of collapse herself, and, should her summer offensives in the West fail(as they just barely did), no German armies in the East would be able to digest their new found conquests. Earlier efforts in history fared no better. Swedish King Carl XII commanded, at the time, Europe's finest military machine, and decided to "go a-conquering" in the East. He did no better than Napoleon after him.
What emerges from this is one salient fact and feature: the Russians are willing to trade territory for time, in an intricate geopolitical game of playing one faction within the constellation of forces opposing them, against another. And from the Russian perspective, their biggest opponents, their greatest long-term foes, have been London, and London's child: Washington. The Russians well know the roll that covert operations and economic warfare played during the "end game" of the demise of the Soviet Union; they know the whole sordid history of the empty promises from the USA that NATO would not be extended into the former Soviet republics, promises that not only were ignored, but egregiously so, as Western-backed covert operations were mounted in the "color" revolutions to bring the Ukraine into the European alliance system, and to bring the latter to within easy tactical distance from Moscow itself. The Russians well know the looting of their country that began under Yeltsin.
And... since Putin, have been taking distinct, clear, calculated steps to rollback the West, without appearing to have any long term strategy or plan to do so. It is that perception of the lack of a long range plan and strategy that Russia is banking on, and that the West shows no real signs, at least at the common public level, of understanding. I mentioned yesterday Mr. Putin's very carefully chosen and deliberate use of the South Ossetia affair in 2008 to undermine a Brzezinski-inpired plan to wrest the oil-rich and strategically important trans-Caucuses region from the last vestiges of Moscow's influence. That plan backfired. Bigtime. Western proxies (Germany) were caught red-handed in shady arms transactions, and a Western-sponsored nutcase in Georgia was militarily reminded that, while the West talked big games, Moscow, and not the West, had the tanks in the region.
Prior to South Ossetia, we had Mr. Putin stationing Russian warships in Venezuela permanently, as a warning against noises of American intervention against the government of Mr. Hugo Chavez.
Then came the Syrian diplomatic defeat for the West, and the Russian leader's direct appeal to the American oligarchy via Mr. Putin's open letter in The New York Times. The letter was significant, not just for the fact that it was the first time a Russian leader had appealed directly to a moral consensus in the West (the last time anything similar was done was the Tsar sending the Russian fleet to the Union during the America Civil War... a little message to France and Britain to rethink their open backing of the Confederacy). What was unique about Mr. Putin's letter was its very clear use of his moral standing in the West, and of the West's own public opinion, against the policy Fuehrerbefehlen of Mr. Obama and his policy wonks and advisors.
And yesterday, of course, I wrote about the clear signs that the era of Russian "diplomatic flabbiness" was drawing to a close. Rather, it's been closing since South Ossetia, and Mr. Putin has used every diplomatic opportunity he can to signal to the West that its rollback and encirclement policies are simply unacceptable.
Now, here comes another hint of what is going on:
Now, while the military and operational language of the article may be a bit unclear to a layman, the strategic parameters are clear. To put it in context, Russia, and Mr. Putin, it will be recalled, were the driving forces in the formation of the Shanghai accords between Russia and China, a framework which was deliberately intended to be, and which in fact did become, the basis of an even greater realignment of powers fed up with Anglo-American dominance: the BRICS, or as I like to call them, the BRICSA nations.
The geopolitical game here is one that British and American geopolitical strategists should recognize, but alas, there is little in their public organs and media to indicate that they do(though one cannot say what is going on behind their closed conspiratorial doors at their CFR, Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg, or Royal Institute of International Affairs meetings). Russia, now, is not powerful enough on her own, to challenge that Anglo-American hegemony. In terms of the oldest measure of strategic power, population, she simply cannot do so, being half the size of the American population(and hence, Mr. Putin's domestic policies aimed at increasing the Russian birthrate). The other traditional measure of geopolitical power - strategic depth, or sheer landmass - Russia has plenty of, but inadequate population density to defend it adequately, much less directly challenge the USA.
It is Britain's problem of the nineteenth century, in reverse. And in that situation, Russia is playing Britain's nineteenth century game, and playing it every bit as well as the British played it: avoiding direct open confrontation, but not shrinking from sudden sharp applications of military and/or economic force and power when necessary. And building up another power that does have the population to be a threat, and that also has the strategic depth to do so: China. The "China card" was the long-term dagger that was used by the Anglo-American oligarchy to unwind the Communist world and undo the Soviet Union... but that hand was played out, and the cards have been redealt. And this time, it is Russia playing the China card.
Remember that, the next time Frau Merkel takes her entire Federal Cabinet to China to talk "trade," because chances are, the fuel that got her there didn't come from Saudi Arabia, but from Russia. And it wasn't the vast brutal cultural wasteland of the Middle East that she flew over to get there, nor were the ships and railroads to conduct that lucrative China-Germany trade plowing through the Middle Eastern backwater... It was Russia.
And Russia is once again playing a very long term game of geopolitics and strategy, a new "collection of the Russian lands." Next step? watch Kazakhstan and the central Asian "republics," and their relationships to Moscow very closely.
See you on the flip side.