As the day of the US-Russian talks in Geneva over revising the security architecture in Europe approaches, analysts on both continents are publishing their prognoses of the outcome. Among them are great optimists that the ongoing acute confrontation can be scaled back, and also pessimists who see a clash of arms as inevitable with the risk of its becoming an end in itself.
I would categorize my position as optimistic, though predicated upon actual military action occurring in the weeks ahead. That and only that can be the lever to force a diplomatic settlement which is unattainable through talk alone.
I also remark up front that it is totally unclear at present which scenario will be realized and which will fall by the wayside.
Notwithstanding my calling a “crackpot” the Russian author of the “window of opportunity” argument for muscular behavior in my last essay, his argument on this narrow issue is very strong and no doubt is guiding present Russian foreign and military policy. Moreover, as I said in passing, his time line for resolution of the critical security issues before Russia falls within Putin’s remaining time in office on this mandate. So there is also the personal timeline of Vladimir Vladimirovich in play. If Russia’s military security is assured to the same degree as its economic security has been secured on his watch, then Putin can retire in 2024 and Russia can proceed on its way to normal democracy, because the system will no longer depend on one strong man in power to protect it from a hostile world led by a hubristic America.
By making their theses so public, nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, so to speak, the Russians have not left themselves wiggle room to settle for something as limited as some of my peers are suggesting, to wit a formal American pledge not to install attack missiles in Ukraine on what will be nominally ABM bases, such as have been built in Romania and Poland.
The Russians will not tolerate de facto US and NATO control of Ukrainian territory, which presently includes the holding of massive war games directed against Russia in Ukraine during this year. They will not tolerate further US and NATO delivery of advanced arms to Ukraine enabling Kiev to retake the Donbas and possibly even Crimea by force. They want a formal renunciation of plans for Ukraine’s accession to NATO now and forever.
They also want agreements that prevent the United States and NATO from redirecting their attention to Finland and Sweden, turning them into advance posts for attacking Russia from close proximity to its borders, and to prevent the considerable upgrading of airbases in Estonia, which are less than 20 minutes flying time to Petersburg in a conventional jet fighter, not to mention a hypersonic cruise missile. In short, the Russians want a global solution with the United States amounting to a real backdown or capitulation from its encroachments and threatening positions of the past 30 years.
But there is no way that Joe Biden can yield to the Russian demands if there is no Russian demonstration of strength, not just jawboning.
One has to understand that the American and European foreign policy establishments, not to mention the broad public, still do not believe the Russians were capable of recovering from their degraded state in the 1990s to match or overtake the United States in military technology and physical deployment in 2022 on a budget that is ten times less. There are snide remarks from our pampered expert community which have to be smashed by proofs that the Kremlin is not bluffing. So some kind of military action is needed.
I continue to believe it will be surgical strikes, probably against NATO installations being built on the Ukrainian coast. There is also the possibility that the Russians will announce the positioning on patrol just outside US territorial waters of their latest hypersonic cruise missiles and Poseidon deep sea nuclear drone, presenting an existential threat we have not seen since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
Such actions would demonstrate that the Russians really and truly have strategic arms which reinstate MAD and also have enormously powerful and precise conventional arms which go toe-to-toe with America’s. And what does the latter mean? It means that the Russians are ready for a full scale war in Europe that they may just win without resorting to tactical nuclear arms, which would open the Pandora’s box of end of the world scenarios.
Does the US really want to have Russian missiles with a 5 minute flight time to the nation’s capital permanently positioned off its coast? Does the United States want to fight a full scale conventional war in Europe? I doubt it. And that hesitancy would give Biden the political strength to tame Congress and cut a deal with the Russians giving them extensive revision of the European security architecture.
Now what I have just written is only one of many possible scenarios. None of us knows what actually lies ahead.
We have some optimism over the final outcome given Biden’s responding positively to the Russian initiative. He did not dismiss the two draft treaties out of hand as NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg did at once. But how far can Biden go on his own, without the Schumers and Pelosis of this world on board, supporting his capitulation? And the Republicans on The Hill have to be similarly scared.
As for the Europeans, they will bark while the caravan of US-Russian negotiations proceeds and reaches solutions the Europeans will have to accept absent alternatives.
As any market observer knows, man is driven alternately by fear and greed. The United States has had 30 years of greed. The day of fear is about to arrive.
PS: This article, as re-posted on http://www.antiwar.com in the early hours of 8 January was immediately translated into Russian and has been posted on half a dozen Russian news websites including yandex.ru, fbm.ru, discover24.ru, rznonline.ru. It also was placed on the youtube channel 24NEWS plus : Российский беспилотный подводный аппарат «Посейдон» убедит НАТО принять условия России
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2021