Facing Russia's viewpoint

Many events over the past six years have played into Russia's hands and may point to a covert but obvious global strategy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, March 4 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, March 4 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 By calling Russia a "regional power," attempting to undervalue its international menace by saying it is acting in a 19th century manner in the 21st century, US President Barack Obama has expressed an attitude of global powerlessness. And he is making policy out of this attitude. For him Russia is a regional rather than a global power mostly because it isn't convenient for him or other Western powers to deal with Russia. It's easier to dismiss Russia than to confront it – easier to insult Russia than to admit that it poses a real and present threat to the world order. And the potential detente playing out now should be seen not only as a solution to a crisis but in the context of the aggressive moves that created the conflict in the first place.
Many events over the past six years have played into Russia's hands and may point to a covert but obvious global strategy. In all three post-Soviet countries that saw color revolutions in 2003 and 2004 – Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan – a steady policy was implemented to undermine the governments of those revolutions, either by war or covert pressure, often resulting in their ousting. The mysterious downing of a Soviet-era Tupelov plane killed not only Poland's political elite but also its top army generals – those most involved in plans for an American anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. 
Regardless of whether Russia had a hand in that crash, it would do us all well to remember that Russia plays dirty. Today we may still remember the recent moment when Yulia Tymoshenko was wheeled out onto the protest stage directly from her bed in a prison hospital; but let's not forget that one of the factors leading to the Orange Revolution was the attempted poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko – who in 2004 ran against the very same Viktor Yanukovych that Russia managed to re-install in 2010 and whose ousting was the goal of the current revolt. 
Sometimes events reflecting Russia's politics have had a comic rather than tragic aspect: In 2009, a local Latvian party called "For the Motherland" registered for elections with a list of political unknowns boasting the names of real Russian leaders – Medvedev, Lavrov, Kudrin – headed by a certain Vadim Putin. This may be funny, but by 2011, a pro-Russia party called "The Harmony Center" won a majority of votes in Latvia's elections, forcing conflicting Latvian parties to unite in order to block the Russian party from entering parliament – an unprecedented circumstance in a country that is both inside the European Union and NATO. What is common to all these events is that they are aligned with an agenda to bring regional political entities within Russia's influence – one way or another.
Until recent weeks, the most overt Russian intervention in world events was in Syria. For over two years Russia has provided cover for Syria in the United Nations in order to let the Assad regime continue its fight against rebels of all sorts – resulting in so many tens of thousands of civilian deaths that they are no longer being officially counted. During the only real confrontation between Assad and the West – last August after an unprecedented chemical attack – Russia went on the defensive for the first time in a decade, revealing more about its true interests than it had in a very long time. The world got the sense that Russia was invested in seeing Assad stay – and it's safe to assume it wasn't because Russia is concerned that al-Qaida will fill the power vacuum and threaten Western interests.
The question then becomes what Syria has to do with Russia's plans for geopolitical growth and influence. The answer may very well be Iran. Just as peace needs allies so does aggression. Two regimes bent on increasing their regional power through force can support each other in a way that one alone cannot. As one Hezbollah fighter saw it fit to tell The Los Angeles Times after a victory in June, 2013: "The Russian viewpoint won. We are one united axis that runs from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and down to Gaza." A world in which Hezbollah is touting the Russian viewpoint is a dangerous one indeed.
Russia benefits from an unstable world – not only because this raises oil prices, as is often mentioned, but also because in an unstable world it is easier to grab land and to impose of one's own geopolitical order. If a geopolitical entity is not invested in the peace and stability of regions beyond its direct control – and with those that are is willing to foster a false stability through oppression and autocracy – the rest of the world has to respond. This means beginning to relate to Russia as the adversary it insists on being rather than the finicky partner it pretends to be. 
One look at a map of Ukraine is enough to understand that Russia will invade the east of that country – if only in order to have territorial contiguity between the mainland and its ports in Sevastopol. This should be clear from the very way that Russia has already annexed Crimea – especially in sending unidentified commandos while pretending that their origin was unknown. But there is also a very palpable geopolitical result: they have blown their cover. The world can no longer let Russia advance its agenda under the pretext of global partnership. It's not just a question of isolation, it's a question of confrontation - if not direct military confrontation then on every possible issue in which Russia attempts to secure its influence. 
Such a policy should start with renewed focus on Syria – since the fall of Assad would break the Iran-Syria-Lebanon-Gaza axis that is a key partner to Russia's own geopolitical aims. This would put pressure not only on Russia but also on Egypt – whose renewed boldness reared its head only a week after the West backed down from confrontation with Syria. It would also place pressure on Iran at a time when such pressure may still yield results. It may even have a positive influence on the peace negotiations underway between Israel and the Palestinians. And if instead the world continues merely to express its distaste for confronting today's aggressors, in a few years we may indeed find that, as the Hezbollah fighter said, the Russian viewpoint has won.