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Russia Strives to Survive
By Strategy Page, January 27, 2024
Jan 27, 2024 - 12:20:03 PM

Plans to reassemble the Soviet Union empire stumbled and died in Ukraine. Not only that, but the Russian effort to annex Ukraine failed because the Ukrainians were willing to fight while too many of the Russian invaders were not.

Russia plans on going after Belarus and the three Baltic States next. All of these were part of the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, with the loss of half its population and some of the most productive territories. None of these former Soviet territories have asked to rejoin the empire and many have joined NATO in an effort to keep the Russians out. Russia invaded Ukraine twice, in 2014 and early 2022, and the 2022 war turned into a disaster for Russia, which is reluctant to completely give back the Ukrainian terrain it still occupies. The Russian plan was to keep fighting in Ukraine for years until NATO tires of supporting Ukraine and leaves Ukraine on its own. That is not likely to happen because neighboring Poland and the Baltic states are NATO members and well aware that Russia intends to attack them unless the Ukraine stops Russia now.

Inside Russia there are different attitudes. Former communist era secret police officers, led by Vladimir Putin, are using imperial nostalgia and the more familiar, to these former KGB professionals, police state tactics to at least stay in power and, if possible, make Russia a vast empire once more. Putin, the Russian leader since 2000, as president or prime minister, is officially opposed to the return of the leader for life rule in Russia despite his exceptionally long and questionably legal rule. Russia, like China, is a market economy run by nationalist dictators. For historical analogy, think of Russia as the equivalent to World War II Japan while China is the wealthier and more powerful Nazi Germany.

Russia’s western neighbor is another revived empire; the EU/European Union. Many Europeans see the EU as an unintended effort to revive a European empire that never really existed, although Charlemagne came close for a short time in the 9th century and a thousand years before that the Romans were a contender. There isn’t much nostalgia in Western Europe for these traditional empires, though many Europeans back a kinder and gentler empire that is based more on voluntary cooperation than coercion. The EU has run into problems because many Europeans see the EU developing into an unelected bureaucracy that can make all sorts of new rules and even foreign policy without any regard for what their constituents and, technically, employers, European voters, want. A growing number of Europeans think this EU Empire is a mistake and are demanding that their local politicians, who are still responsible to the voters, at least more so than the EU officials, fix this problem or get their country out of the EU. The imperial officials are not pleased with such ignorance and ingratitude by their subjects and are fighting back in a losing battle to keep their new empire together. So far, only Britain has withdrawn from the EU and did so in 2020. Since then, Britain has thrived, or just survived depending on who you ask. The success of an independent Britain forced EU bureaucrats to be more response to the voters EU members did have to pay attention to. Most EU members also belong to the NATO defensive military alliance. NATO was created in the 1950s to defend Europe from Russian aggression. The EU and its NATO military alliance cannot ignore EU and NATO member governments. This includes the United States, which belongs to NATO but not the EU.

The Americans have an economic and emotional attachment to Europe. Most Americans are descendants of Europeans. This is important for Europeans because the United States accounts for about 40 percent of worldwide defense spending while China, and Russia together only account for about 17 percent. The rest of the top ten are either allies of the Americans or friendly. Ukraine is, in terms of total defense spending, including recent donations from NATO countries, figuratively in the top five when it comes to defense expenditures. This is a dubious distinction for Ukraine, which is using it all to repel a Russian invasion. Poland, which borders Ukraine and Russia, has increased defense spending, and purchased nearly $15 billion worth of South Korea weapons and munitions. South Korea produces a lot more weapons and military equipment than North Korea and the South Korean weapons and munitions are top grade. One side effect is that once Poland receives all the South Korean tanks, mobile artillery, and rocket launchers on order from South Korea, they will have the most powerful army in NATO Europe. This is to discourage any Russian attacks on Poland or any other NATO nation in the area. The smaller Baltic states have made similar efforts to make Russian soldiers feel unwelcome.

Europe had been at peace since the end of World War II in 1945 and, until Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine in 2022, it was believed the 77 year-old peace would continue. Unlike in the 2014 attack, though, Ukraine was ready this time to oppose Russia effectively while NATO provided prompt and enormous quantities of military and economic aid.

The Russians were not expecting this. The Ukraine invasion was supposed to be the first step in rebuilding the Russian empire. That institution was run by monarchies for centuries until the early 1920s when the communist Soviets took over. The former components of the Soviet Union do not want to rejoin any Russian empire and that is why Ukraine fights so hard against the Russian invaders. There were other ways to resist the Russians and the most effective one was economic sanctions. Russia underestimated how dependent it was on key components of its weapons that came from EU nations and the United States. President Vladimir Putin sent his armed forces into Ukraine in early 2022 and by 2023 Ukraine’s armed forces, with NATO military and Western economic aid, had Russia on the defensive.

Since 2014 Russia has been making a lot of headlines but not much else. The economy is a mess, as in stagnant and shrinking. Russia has fewer friends or allies, and the future looks dim. Sending troops into Ukraine (2014), Syria (2015), Libya (2016) and invading Ukraine in 2022 has not helped solve any of the fundamental problems there but made for great propaganda. What went wrong? Russia entered the 21st century with a new elected government dominated by former secret police (KGB) officers who promised to restore economic and civil order. They did so but in the process turned Russia into a police state with less political and economic freedom. Many Russians opposed this, and the government responded by appealing to nationalism. Russia has turned into what Germany had become in the 1930s. This included police state ways and the traditional threatening attitude towards neighbors. Rather than being run by corrupt communist bureaucrats, the country is now dominated by corrupt businessmen, gangsters and self-serving government officials that characterized the last czarist government of a century ago. The semi-free economy is more productive than the centrally controlled communist one but that just provides more money to steal.

A rebellion against the new dictatorship has been derailed by astute propaganda depicting Russia as under siege by the West and NATO. Opinion polls show wide popular support for this paranoid fantasy, but some Russians continue to struggle for better government and beneficial reforms. For now, most Russians want economic and personal security and are willing to tolerate a police state to get it. The 2022 invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions did more damage than the ruling politicians expected. That atmosphere, plus the anxiety generated by having troops fighting in Syria, Ukraine and Libya has scared away a lot of foreign investors and many Russian ones as well. Russia can downplay this in the state-controlled media, but Russia cannot grow without foreign and Russian capital. Since 2014 most Russians can see daily that they are worse off than before. Meanwhile China, the only real threat to Russia, quietly makes progress in the east. There China has claims on much of the Russian Far East and is openly replacing Russia as the primary economic, military, and political force in Central Asia.
 



Source: Ocnus.net 2022