How High Can Russia Wield The Stick?

How High Can Russia Wield The Stick?
“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped inside an enigma,” Churchill said these words more than half a century ago and this has certainly been the prevalent wisdom in the West about Russia in recent history. From the time of the Tsars to the time of Putin, the West has always seen the country with suspicion and distrust. They have ignored the fact that after the Tartar yoke ended, Russia has only been invaded from one direction – the armies of Frederick the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte and Hitler in three different centuries concentrated en-masse only in one theatre. Russia’s landmass conjures up images of vastness which always piques the imagination of a would-be conqueror, and she has paid a heavy price for the burden of her geography.

In the present context, Russia sees NATO as that would be conqueror which is gobbling up parts of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In the early 2000s, Russia tried to become a part of NATO since the understanding was that the organization was formed to serve as a collective security umbrella for all of Europe. He was rebuffed. He tried his hand at making solid partnerships with the Americans and fellow Europeans multiple times but all he got in return was the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Yes, he threatens war now but that is like a stick aimed by a recalcitrant child at a much larger bully. The bully is obviously the World’s sole policeman which believes in dictating policies to nations across the World, interfering in their domestic issues and forcing regime change where it sees fit. Obama was right about Russia when he said it’s a second-rate power much inferior to the United States, and terribly insecure which makes her act out of fear rather than any rational sense of policy. It may be an inferior power, but it has still amassed 180,000 troops on the Ukrainian border presumably for training and exercises.

​Putin is a man of mystery, and to try to understand his true intentions vis-à-vis Ukraine is just a game of speculation. Every good card player knows though that the other player has only one agenda: to win. She might not know the other person’s cards but through seeing which cards the other person is throwing on the table, one gets an idea of what is running through the other person’s head. Russia is not showing its ace cards. The troops amassed at the border are auxiliary troops – second rate versions of the Russian Army stationed more for show than for any actual war, but Putin wants to throw this gambit at Western leaders: he can invade Ukraine is he so chooses, and he has wielded the stick, postured in front of the bully so the bully can back off. After this posturing, Ukraine might never join NATO.

​NATO is a creation of the Cold-War. The sole purpose behind this morbid organization was the defense of Western Europe against the Soviet Union. The organization should have devolved after the Soviet Union ceased to exist but organizations like these never do because they are remnants of the past. NATO is not just a relic of the Cold War, it’s also legacy of the Treaty of Paris signed in 1815 when Metternich realized after Napoleon’s fall that he must concentrate all the major European powers’ energies on creating a united front against an expansive Russia. The same idea carries forward to this day where Europe is wary of an expanding Russia, and Russia is wary of an expanding NATO – Putin compares placing missiles in Poland to putting missiles on the front porch of their house. This might not be the most apt metaphor. A better one would be to imagine China or Russia or any major World power drumming up an opposing government to the United States in Mexico or Canada.

​Even entertaining such an idea would seem obnoxious to policy makers in the United States, because of course America is America and Russia is Russia – in wholly different leagues but you get my point. America doesn’t shy away from lecturing the World on respecting other countries’ sovereignty but of course the same principles do not apply to her because she is above all of this. She can launch drone attacks on lesser countries like Pakistan and Yemen with impunity, make up false pretexts for war with dictatorial regimes like Iraq yet get away with all this because in the Hobbesian world of international relations only one principle holds true: “Jis ki lathi uss ki bhens” (Urdu) which loosely translates to “The guy with the stick dictates buffaloes”. Guess what, after anticipating a new multi-polar World order, now Russia has decided to wield its own stick. Only time will tell how high it can wield it before the punishing onslaught of sanctions cripple her economy.