Russia readies for a brave new world

Putin tested the waters and has put Russia on the right side of history, so to speak, which presents a study in contrast with the disarray and lack of conviction and mediocre leadership in the US and the transatlantic system as a whole. 

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The ceremony marking presentation of Gold Star medals to Heroes of Russia, St George Hall, Kremlin, Moscow, December 8, 2023

The announcement on Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he will seek reelection for a fifth term in office came as no surprise. That he chose the occasion of a Kremlin ceremony conferring the Hero of Russia medals to servicemen who had taken part in Russia’s military operation against Ukraine to make the announcement is striking. 

Putin was found responding to an exhortation by the Hero of the Donetsk People’s Republic Artyom Zhoga, commander of the famous Sparta Battalion (who succeeded his son Vladimir, who died at the age of 28 in 2022 and was posthumously awarded the title “Hero of Russia”) that the entire Donbass would like him to participate in the election. There is no question that Col. Zhoga voiced a collective wish of the Russian people. 

The Ukraine war has turned out to be a defining event in Putin’s political life. There was some misjudgement initially when the special military operation commenced in late February 2022 that it would be a short-lived affair and President Vladimir Zelensky would take up the Russian offer to negotiate. But where Moscow went horribly wrong was that the US wouldn’t get into a proxy war with them with such gusto and manipulate Zelensky from seeking peace.  (See an excellent account, in English, of the US’ sabotage of the Istanbul Agreement, titled Peace for Ukraine authored by a distinguished German troika of a diplomat, a historian and a general.)  

Indeed, Putin eventually steered the tentative special military operation out of the woods by making a tactical withdrawal of troops in the northern sectors, allowing a large mobilisation of troops to pursue a war of attrition and ordering an effective multilevel fortification of the frontline. In retrospect, his military decisions turned the tide of war and Russian weaponry and military technology outclassed what the US and NATO supplied to Kiev. 

As of now, Russian forces are pressing ahead all across the 900-km frontline and the momentum might carry them far even across the Dnieper. Crimea and the Black Sea are not in any serious danger; the four new territories are resource-rich and Russia controls all the ports in the strategic Sea of Azov, which is an important access route for Central Asia from the Caspian Sea via the Volga-Don Canal. 

However, although the US failed to achieve a military victory in Ukraine, the Biden Administration will try to prolong the conflict for as long as possible through 2024 hoping to bleed Russia in a gruelling struggle as in Afghanistan in the eighties. But it is a vain hope. 

Sergey Naryshkin, chief of Russia’s foreign intelligence service wrote last week in the agency’s journal Razvedchik (The Intelligence Operative) that “there is a high probability that further support for the Kiev junta, especially given the increasing ‘toxicity’ of the Ukrainian theme for transatlantic unity and Western society as a whole, will accelerate the decline of the international authority of the West.

“Ukraine itself will turn into a ‘black hole’ absorbing material and human resources the further it goes,” he continued. “In the end, the US risks creating ‘another Vietnam,’ which every new US administration will have to deal with until some sensible person who has the courage and determination to break this vicious circle takes over in Washington.”

Ukraine will remain a priority issue for Russia and that is one main reason why the Russian elite and the nation at large want Putin to remain in power until 2030. The heart of the matter is that Putin also brilliantly tweaked the economic and social policies to sequester the lives of ordinary Russians from the usual deprivations characteristic of a ‘war economy’. Life moves on, and the ‘new normalcy’ is working well. 

Putin has scattered the US’ goal to entrap Russia in an apparent quagmire — sending the Russian economy into a tailspin and stoking social discontent and creating conditions for an insurrection against the regime — to weaken Russia and remove it from the global stage as an increasingly effective counterpoint to the western hegemony by fuelling fissiparous tendencies to threaten the unity and integrity of the Russian Federation. 

In reality, Putin’s achievements are a work in progress and his continuance in power remains a pre-requisite for Russia’s re-emergence as a ‘superpower’ surpassing even the Soviet Union in some ways in circumstances that are as much challenging as offering opportunities that must be creatively seized in a volatile world environment in historic transition. 

Putin tested the waters and has put Russia on the right side of history, so to speak, which presents a study in contrast with the disarray and lack of conviction and mediocre leadership in the US and the transatlantic system as a whole. 

If the above-mentioned essay by Naryshkin (entitled 2024 Is the Year Of the Geopolitical Awakening) is taken as benchmark, the world in transition can be expected to have a trajectory on the following lines: 

  • A fundamental conflict between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ world, which has been maturing below the surface through the three decades since the end of the cold war, has “moved into an open phase” with the commencement of Russia’s special military operation and has “acquired a geographically all-encompassing character” in the last year. 
  • An increasing number of countries that “share the ideas of multipolarity and adhere to a traditional worldview” are pushing back the West’s globalist and anti-humanistic agenda.
  • Consequently, the risks of instability are multiplying, which lead to “an increase in the chaotic nature of the processes taking place in the foreign policy arena.” The emergent situation demands “remarkable restraint and foresight” from world leaders. 
  • In sum, the current situation is “increasingly reminiscent of a class revolutionary situation, when the ‘upper classes’ in the face of the weakening United States can no longer provide their own leadership, and the ‘lower classes’, as the Anglo-Saxon elite refer to all other countries, no longer want to obey Western dictates.” 
  • In order to preserve their global hegemony, the Euro-Atlantic elite will follow the well-trodden path of creating controlled chaos — de-stabilising the situation in key regions by pitting some ‘recalcitrant’ states against others and “forming a sub-system around them as operational and tactical coalitions controlled by the West.” 
  • However, “responsible world players, especially Russia, China and India and some others demonstrate their readiness to resolutely resist external threats and independently implement crisis management.” Even the closest allies of the US are striving to diversify external relations faced with lack of confidence in America as provider of security. The eruption of Israel-Palestine conflict is “a sobering example” for many Western politicians.
  • In such a backdrop, “the world stage will be marked by a further intensification of the confrontation between the two geopolitical principles — namely, the Anglo-Saxon, or island, ‘divide-and-rule’ and the continental ‘unite-and-lead’ directly antagonistic to it. Manifestations of this fierce confrontation in the coming year will be observed in even the most remote regions of the world.”

Interestingly, in Naryshkin’s prognosis, it is not the Indo-Pacific but the Arab world that will remain “the key arena of the struggle for a new world order” in 2024. By the way, the essay appeared on the eve of Putin’s daylong trip to the UAE and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday where he recieved a hero’s welcome. In an extraordinary courtesy by the host countries, Putin’s presidential jet was flanked by four armed Su-35 multi-role 4th + + generation multi-role fighter jets noted for great combat power, high speed and matchless flight range. 

M. K. Bhadrakumar

M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat by profession. Roughly half of the 3 decades of his diplomatic career was devoted to assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey. He writes mainly on Indian foreign policy and the affairs of the Middle East, Eurasia, Central Asia, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

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