In a now famous speech delivered at the Conference on Security, held in Munich in 2007, Vladimir Putin harshly clarified the structural determinants of his foreign policy.
Let list them briefly: according to President Putin, Russia does not tolerate in any way the encirclement that the Atlantic Alliance carried out and still carries out at the edges of the old Warsaw Pact.
Putin is not even convinced – and his argument cannot be faulted – that the network of sensors, radars, ICBM missiles currently operating around the Federation is bound to manage “instability in the greater Middle East”.
Moreover, Putin believed, and still believes, that the international system should only be based on the lawfulness of the United Nations and the other global agencies rather than on NATO and EU only, as the Russian President said to the Italian Minister of Defence at that time.
Or on the coalitions of the willing that had unleashed – with adverse and unexpected effects – the US (and Saudi) actions in the First and Second Gulf War, by wiping out a Russian traditional ally, namely Iraq, to create the void of bands, gangs and regional powers on a territory turned into “no man’s land”, for oil in particular.
Putin still remembers when the Head of the US provisional government in Baghdad created a system for road signalling which was very similar to Boston’s.
For the Russian President, the American unipolarity is the warning sign of the strategic void at the edges of empires, with incalculable negative effects for the future strategy of global leaders, even the United States themselves.
Furthermore, again in Munich, Putin stated he was extremely interested in an agreement with the United States for the reduction of the ICBM missile systems, to be later extended also to other regional players.
It had to be a negotiation to be carried out in strictly bilateral terms and within the UN bodies, and not delegated to other regional alliances.
Hence a “conventionalization” of confrontation which, for the Russian President, avoids the constant nuclear threat and allows a significant reduction in military spending, which will no longer be targeted to an impossible bilateral and final post-cold war confrontation, but to the control and reduction of the peripheral clashes of the States placed in the Rimland, in the peripheries of the old opposing blocs.
Once again there is special attention paid by Russia to the destructive effects of a future unipolar world: no power alone can control the world but, if it does so, it generates polarizations paving the way for a terrible war.
In those years the Iran case was evident.
For Russia, the future world must be multipolar, especially at a time when the United States have lost their geo-economic primacy and hence, basically, globalization is over. Indeed, it must be put to an end.
And Europe? Will it wait for the crumbs of the TTIP, namely the still secret Treaty with the United States, to believe it can expand its economy or will it begin to really think big, which, indeed, should be its role at global geoeconomic level?
Finally, after some very harsh comments on the US behaviour, in Munich Putin said that the undue pressures to export “democracy” were, in fact, bad forms of interference, together with international NGOs, which produced the opposite effect.
This means weak and viable States which are at the mercy of expensive international aid, as well as Trojan horse of multinational companies that subsequently generate further social tensions which, in some cases, lead to the rooting of Islamist terrorism.
An objective and well-grounded analysis which – with Machiavellianism and the harshness of the Russian decision-makers, from Peter the Great to the current time – avoids the rhetoric of fierce “tyrants” by nature, or the curse of religious ideologies ad memoriam which only lead to jihadists’ hegemony.
In Munich as currently, courage was needed to create a linkage between the global economic disasters and jihadist terrorism, as well as between globalization, unipolar policies, and social and political destabilization in the world.
For Vladimir Putin, in substance, the unipolar world ended with the crisis of what we might define “the first globalization”, cornered by the expansion of China, the BRICS and the other new centres of independent economic and political development which, over time, saw the United States be bogged down in a financial crisis that was directly derived from the geopolitical and financial overstretch of the only winner of the Cold War.
Today, we realize that some of the Russian President’s prophecies have come true: China is expanding geo-economically beyond its borders, both with the One Road, One Belt initiative, which will lead to the economic development and geostrategic unification of the whole Asian Heartland, and with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is bound to turn from an “Asian EEC” into a real “Eastern NATO”.
The United States, with current President Obama and his successor after the elections, are leaving the Middle East to its fate. This, however, will also be the end of Europe.
The traditional American pendulum swinging between the “necessary power” to be spent everywhere and the “house on the hill”, between T. Roosevelt and Monroe doctrine of the ‘kitchen garden”, to be fully exploited up to its limits.
Even Israel, which with Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused a meeting with President Obama in Washington on March 18, has resumed its ties with Russia.
The Knesset, namely the Jewish State’s Parliament, paid a visit to Crimea early February, while the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has expressed his dissatisfaction with the new bilateral agreement between Israel and Turkey.
Israel follows its own Global Strategy, which is the repetition of the old divide and rule strategy in the Arab region, typical of the Cold War, and its natural ambition to become a regional power, now that the Islamic world discovers itself at war with all its many souls and powers.
Currently Israel closely monitors the defensive infrastructure along its Syrian border and, while at the beginning of hostilities, it thought that Bashar al-Assad was the ”weak link” of the pro-Iranian axis, the subsequent evolution of the strategic framework in Syria has meant that Israel has no longer plans to support the so-called “moderate rebels” – a stance at the time passively inherited from the United States.
Also the United States, with NATO, believed that the Russian support for the Arab Syrian Army would be technologically and strategically irrelevant but the reality, with the Baath covert networks already operating in Raqqa, the “Caliphate’s capital city”, and Assad’s forces a few kilometres away from that city and now placed all around Aleppo, the key to the link between Isis and Turkey, shows us a very different course of events.
With its actions in Syria, the Russian Federation has proved to be a credible opponent of the Atlantic Alliance, while NATO is now deprived of a strategy in the Middle East and the Maghreb region going beyond the old peacekeeping rhetoric.
Hence, a new Russian-Israeli axis is likely to materialize, also thanks to the Russian and Chinese investment in the Israeli hi-tech sector, which is the most advanced in the world.
A bond which, as already happened, fills the gaps left by the old North American hegemony, which now persists in maintaining pressures around China, so as to limit its terrestrial and maritime power projection, and encircle the Russian Federation, as in a resurgence of useless Cold War.
The Philippines have offered six new bases to the United States, while China has built its new base in Djibouti and America is establishing a network of Special Forces that, starting from Eurasia and China, is global for its outreach and use.
In this regard, it is worth recalling John Maynard Keynes’ witty remark according to which “the difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones”.
The issue arises from Eurasia’ encirclement – that the Americans are pursuing – or from the Russian use of the Eurasian Heartland as hub for the expansion and hegemony of the new Russia (and current China led by Xi Jinping).
Today Putin is the most careful follower of the American geopolitician Spykman, one of the masters of the USSR containment, which attached priority to the “edges” of the world’s great continental land masses.
Furthermore, today both China and Russia tend to expand onto their “near abroad”, with a view to opposing the US unilateral order, both by means of the economy, considering China’s gradual relinquishment of its role as first buyer of US Treasury bonds, and with Russia’s “conquest” of the Middle East nerve centre.
Both new powers, which want to become the reference poles of a new multipolar world, are divesting dollars and buying gold, while now the current domestic imbalance in world markets enables China to sign contracts denominated in yuan-renminmbi with emerging countries and enables Russia to sell oil and gas to the small “third” powers and to China itself, thus offsetting the embargo imposed by the United States and Great Britain.
Hence a new distribution of world strategic polarities can be imagined in the near future.
It is an axis going from Russia, the Western strong point of the new Chinese Silk Road towards the Middle East, and the European Union, so as to oppose the pro-US Sunni axis in Syria, with a new independent role played by Israel.
Russia is still afraid of the US Global Strike, with or without NATO support.
Moreover, as early as the Munich Conference of 2007, Russia has attached essential importance to the decoupling between the Atlantic Alliance’s power, which Putin sees as part of the US global strategy and projection of US independent power.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation will at first be connected with India in a stable way, so as to expand its own international market, and later with the EU, which is currently undergoing a process of strategic separation from the United States, if and when Europe implements an effective foreign policy. Later it will head for the areas not yet penetrated by the Western bloc.
These areas are the Arctic, and the Russian share of the Antarctic, namely the primary aim of the Russian new maritime doctrine until 2020, and finally its “near abroad” that Russia sees destabilized by the doctrine of the US “colour revolutions”.
Moreover, NATO expansion is regarded by Russia as the primary threat to Russian strategic interests, in the new military doctrines followed by the Russian Armed Forces.
Hence destabilizing the Rimland of the great continental aggregates to directly hit Russia or China? Are Italy and the European Union really interested in doing so? I do not think so.
For the Russian strategic doctrine, a particular factor is the cultural and symbolic aspect.
Eurasianism is the mainstay of Russia’s geocultural issue.
The Soviet world has always seen cultural continuity between Western Europe and the “Third Rome” which, in the last Tzars’ political theology, was heir to the genuine tradition of a betrayed and forgotten West, in its deep and spiritual roots.
Even the Bolshevik revolution, long after Peter I and Tsar Alexander II, preserved the myth of equalizing, also violently, old Russia and its natural link with the Western spirit, merged with the popular and “oriental” traditions of the Narod, the Russian “people”, seen as the spiritual root of the Nation, of its specificity, but also of its heritage of merger between East and West.
Therefore, today, the philosophical Eurasia is a cultural and strategic model of autonomy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an attempt at cultural interconnection between the Eurasian peninsula and the Slavic Heartland.
All this, with a view to creating a geo-cultural and military “environment”, referring to a Russia which is still a great power capable of performing its function as a bridge between nations and traditional geopolitical areas, through the Russian spirit and its cultural autonomy.
Giancarlo Elia Valori * (@GEliaValori)
* Presidente della merchant bank “La centrale Finanziaria Generale S.p.A.”
– Presidente della “Cattedra sugli studi della pace, la sicurezza e lo sviluppo internazionale presso la Facoltà di relazioni internazionali della Peking University, nonché “professore straordinario” di economia e politica internazionale nello stesso Ateneo
– Honorable dell’Académie des Sciences dell’Institut de France