Putin is too strategic a leader to create his own ‘Afghanistan’, but he will not let the alliance go forward.
There appear to be two leading western narratives on Vladimir Putin. The first suggests that he is a ravenous, bloodthirsty hound out to restore the former glory of the Russian empire, be it via gunboat diplomacy or violence and war. The second narrative argues that he is an irrational ex-KGB soldier who is hell-bent on the creation of a greater Russia. For the United States (US) and its allies, Putin is either stuck in the past or is fantasising about a nightmarish future. He is always painted by the West as a villain – a man against the inclusive concept of democracy, human rights and international cooperation – and a tyrant who bullies his neighbours into submission and obedience.
The leading opinions in the West regarding the Russian response to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)-Ukraine alliance is being evaluated in the wake of these skewed portrayals of the Russian president. Ironically, the true dilemma here isn’t Russia resorting to military means to deter the alliance but the perplexing behaviour of the West. The flag-bearers of peace and democracy knew this was exactly how Moscow would retaliate, yet they continued in their quest for NATO expansion. Exploiting the rifts of an escalating ethno-linguistic conflict in Ukraine, the West continues to double down on Russia, hoping the country will relent under economic pressure.
Ascribing to John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism, it is quite evident that the US and its allies have knowingly pushed Moscow on the offensive. As a result, the blame for the current NATO-Ukraine-Russia crisis rests on the shoulders of the West.
The dynamics of the conflict are easy to understand. Ukraine wants to ally itself with NATO, while Russia thinks this alliance is a threat to its national security and will resort to any means possible to stop it. In its final declaration of the Bucharest Summit of 2008, NATO announced that Georgia and Ukraine were soon to become its members. Russia’s response was instant – Putin labelled the two former Russian territories joining NATO a direct threat to Russia and faced the Georgian troops on ground in 2008 – culminating in a massive victory for his country. Georgia and the NATO members had learnt their lesson – Russia would not stand for western dominance in its own backyard. After the 2014 coup in Ukraine, Russia strengthened its stronghold in the country’s eastern front by allegedly backing Russian separatist movements, and as civil tensions escalated, Russia annexed Crimea. The Russians have always had a singular policy towards the NATO-Ukraine alliance – it is the US that changes its policies as per its interests. The Barack Obama administration did not expect as severe a response from Russia back then. However, after seeing the reaction, Washington resorted to its ‘white-man’s burden’ politics to liberate Ukrainians from the bereaved fate that is not being aligned with the West. The US plays the blame game with Moscow just as the Ukraine-NATO deal moves forward, without any consideration for realpolitik, all the while fueling the tensions.
What does America want?
A more important question here is why is the US forcing Ukraine into the NATO alliance? The superpower has no strategic interests in Ukraine other than real estate, nor is Russia the same great power it once was. With Asia being a core strategic interest of the US, Russia is far more valuable to Washington as an ally than a foe to counter the Chinese threat. The cost-benefit analysis points to US neutralising the tensions and returning Ukraine back to the pre-2014 scenario where it served as a buffer between the NATO countries and Russia.
America cannot win this fight
History has shown that countries suffer a great deal to protect their strategic interests. They bear all sorts of economic strains to protect their sovereignty – a classic play of the ‘balance of power’ politics. American policy-makers need to realise that their manifesto as being the champions of all things good in the contemporary world has lost all credibility, especially in the East. Wreaking havoc in the name of peace and all that is ‘humane’ has lost more than it has won – the Afghan war being the latest example. Russia will not invade Ukraine because if it had wanted to, it already would have done so by now. Putin is too strategic a leader to create his own ‘Afghanistan’. However, it looks like he will desecrate the country before he lets the alliance go forward. The US cannot win this war, nor is it important enough for it to win. The neo-liberal agenda no longer works in the East.
A lesson from history
Russia will not back down – just as the US did not back down. The US labelling Russia as the aggressor is rather comical when the country itself has resorted to a more brutish reaction in a somewhat similar situation in the past during the Cuban missile crises. The Monroe Doctrine, which states that the US will not tolerate any nefarious designs which threaten its interests in the western hemisphere, was used to justify the escalation of nuclear tensions in the Cold War. Concocting an idealist front to promote a realist doctrine does not take away from its realism. Russia is only protecting its backyard and, by America’s own standards, the Russian response is valid and expected.
Putin’s security demands of reversing the already made NATO alliances will not become a reality. But the mere fact that Russia is making such demands is a blow to the benign hegemon’s ideas of exceptionalism. China is rising and the world is being divided into two distinct blocs once again. The US cares as much about Ukraine as it did for Haiti, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Ukraine simply isn’t worth the fight or the resources. Rebuilding Ukraine to better serve as a buffer state is the best course of action because if history as taught us anything, it is that the hound knows his terrain and hunts best in familiar environments.