Putin’s controlled chaos is fueled by empty peace proposals

Putin’s controlled chaos is fueled by empty peace proposals
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Five years ago a Russian diplomat observed that if the price of stability in Central Asia was an American presence there, then that stability and presence were unacceptable. In other words, war was preferable to stability in Russia’s borderlands if Russia did not provide that stability. Another way of saying this is that if Russia cannot or does not provide stability then it will make certain nobody does.

War on Russia’s frontiers is the precondition for Russian security as long as Moscow can manage that war. As many have discerned, Russia has long honed its skills in generating “controlled chaos” in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Syria, Moldova and Ukraine. So it should be clear to us that Russia’s policies for these regions is more of the same until they are totally subordinated to Russia.

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This diplomat was also consciously voicing as well Moscow’s belief that it alone decides how far the actual sovereignty (and implicitly territorial integrity) of post-Soviet states should extend and its definition of Russia’s needs overrides any international accords it may have signed regarding that sovereignty and integrity. Moscow is not merely restating the infamous Brezhnev doctrine of diminished sovereignty for the Soviet bloc. It also is reminding us that Moscow’s mission is essentially an imperial one because the precondition for empire is that the borderlands and subordinate regions possess diminished sovereignty.

 

In Eurasia, the pursuit of empire means long-term war.

Russia neither possesses the material capabilities to sustain empire or the moral authority to legitimize it against the wishes of its would-be satrapies. So to the extent that Moscow pursues empire, and that clearly is the alpha and omega of its policies, it hastens its own day of reckoning for its domestic system because the resistances to empire will inevitably multiply beyond Moscow’s capacity to deal with them.

The fact that war and imperial pretensions are inherent to Vladimir Putin’s project has profound repercussions throughout Eurasia. In both the Caucasus and Central Asia we see examples of diminished sovereignty. Armenia recently went back on its promise to participate in NATO exercises, presumably because Moscow cracked the whip or stated it would do so, or because the very threat that it might do so constrained Armenia from exercising its sovereign rights.

Similarly in 2013, Moscow threatened not to support Armenia in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh and leave it isolated if it did not reject an association membership with the EU and turn instead to Moscow’s alternative, the Eurasian Economic Union that has become a predictable failure. Earlier in Central Asia, Russian opposition barred Central Asians from cooperating with American initiatives for counternarcotics, a grave threat to their societies, due to Russian displeasure. Russia prevented them form joining this program even though Russia suffers horribly from this plague that, in no small measure, is due to the corruption of its own officials and military.

Another area where we should grasp the meaning of Russian policy is Ukraine. At the very same time as Putin made a sham proposal concerning the introduction of OSCE and U.N. peacekeepers only to the front lines of the war in Ukraine that would do nothing to redress Russian aggression there while granting it a free hand to control the course of that war, he also threatened that if the U.S. provides Ukraine with the means of defending itself, Russia would arm terrorists around the world. Since Russia is, in fact, a state sponsor of terrorism in Ukraine, the Middle East and at home it is not surprising that it is so nonchalantly willing to threaten the U.S., Europe and Ukraine with the prospect of arming terrorists. But this threat should remind us just how deeply war and empire are baked into the cake of Russian policy.

Some European officials believe that we should now pursue conventional if not nuclear arms control with Russia.

It’s clear war and empire are intrinsic to Putin’s project. The fact that Moscow has violated virtually every existing arms control treaty on the books with impunity proves as much. Moscow has long since declared war on its neighbors and interlocutors. This is not merely by military means, as in Ukraine, but also by extensive and protracted campaigns against their electoral systems.

So what basis is there for discussing arms control with a power whose raison d’etre is war and empire? Moreover, how effective and verifiable would such accords be if they were reached?

The breaking of existing treaties, e.g. the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty led directly to Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine. Would repeating the same experiment again and expecting a different outcome be a saner approach when Einstein allegedly called that insanity? Undoubtedly, Europe stands to benefit from real arms control. But to get there it first needs peace and to obtain peace we must understand who is at war and why.

Stephen Blank is a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He is the author of numerous foreign policy-related articles, white papers and monographs, specifically focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia. He is a former MacArthur Fellow at the U.S. Army War College.