Robert B. Scaife
October 12, 2016
As of late there has been quite a bit of consternation in the media about Putin’s every move and a coming war in Europe with NATO. Shortly after the Russian Federation’s unapologetic expedition into the Crimea there has been an overwhelming amount of disinformation, rumors, and sabre rattling. What is one to think of all of this and should we be concerned?
One could point back to the early summer of 2008, when Russian coffers were beginning to be flush with cash again due to extremely high petroleum pricing and their massive reserves of natural gas. It was here that we saw Putin beginning to flex the Russian military muscles again with several incursions of the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) by Russian Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bombers. During this time, I was working in Congress for the House Subcommittee on Europe and I remember the reaction to these incursions being little more than a scoff at Putin’s nostalgia for Cold War antics. Of course this was soon followed by the Russo-Georgian war that began and concluded in August of that same year.
For the sake of brevity and without getting too far in the weeds, skipping ahead to 2012, the “reset” with US-Russian relations has occurred, US/NATO forces are once again conducting joint training operations, and seemingly, the Russian Bear has been sated militarily. However, if one reads closely the after action reviews (AARs) and commentary from Atlas Vision 2012 and 2013, the Russian military was establishing a “peacekeeping” brigade that sought greater power projection and was based on US Military reforms from the Bush administration. Indeed, one can see their expeditionary mindset being fomented in the days just prior to the Crimean invasion in 2014 (whereupon all military cooperation with Russian ceased).
That brings us to today. In a nutshell, Russian expeditionary dalliances have typically been an interaction between the economy and domestic politics. As of today, petroleum pricing is at a decade’s low, Europe is rapidly turning to renewable energy and their reliance on Russian gas is diminishing, and the Russian economy is having difficulty recovering from their recession. Indeed, what we are seeing on the global stage is Putin desperately attempting to consolidate and shore up his power at home.
Unfortunately, media sources such as The Daily Mail will pry on people’s fears, recently publishing a story about the Russian government demanding that the family members of Russian diplomats abroad come home due to growing Western tensions with Russia. However, when one does their own research one can see that in the Russian-language news site Znak, which The Daily Mail cited as its source, there is a quote from Vitaly Ivanov, a political scientist, “Education of the Russian elite children abroad is subject to the constant complaints and derision against the regime … You cannot serve two gods, one must choose.” The Znak piece additionally went into greater detail about proposed legislation that would require the children of Russian officials to be educated in Russia. It should also be noted that Znak is typically concerned with Russian domestic politics and rarely gets involved in international political speculation.
Furthermore, in an article by The Interpreter, “Russia Preparing for War in the Media but Not in the Budget,” Moscow commentators say, Russian-language news site Meduza is quoted as concluding that “Russia is preparing for war.” The newspapers and television channels are talking about sudden checks of the military and military exercises “… the construction and location of bomb shelters… and rations… in the event of military action.” Yet, in the same article Ekaterina Schulmann from the Russian Academy of Economics and State Services is quoted as saying that “spending on defense is not growing but declining.” She is also alludes later in the piece that “If someone thinks that we are preparing for a world war, this isn’t visible [from the budget]. If we are preparing for something, then it is for some kind of internal disorders. We intend to feed our defense ministry a little less and to feed out special services and internal force structures more…”
In conclusion, what is going on with Russia is currently nothing more than an attempt by Putin and the United Russia Party to consolidate power and to crush any civil unrest that may occur from the continued recession. Any intimation of a war or another invasion must be read as an attempt to invoke nationalist pride from either the Imperial or Communist times. This is not to say that things couldn’t change, but Russia is in no position to fight a major war at this time.