IMMEDIATE RELEASE 10 December 2021
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The Russian bear adopts Chinese finesse
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON — Russian President Putin is not just a bully. In the mode of previous Russian leaders, he is also a brute devoid of Machiavellian subtlety or finesse, but he may be learning. He may be looking eastward for a new way.
There was nothing subtle about his actions against Chechnya or Georgia or in his ongoing military actions in support of Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine. Even his 2014 takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula was a blatant exercise in raw military power.
Now, the brute, Russian bear mentality may be on the verge of a personality change, thanks to the Peoples Republic of China. For years now, China has been extending both its borders and hegemony. A weakened UK honored its 99-year lease of Hong Kong, a lease made with a China far-removed from the present-day rulers and turned the colony over under the unrealistic umbrella promise of “one country, two systems.” No shot was fired.
In recent years, China expanded its bloodless expansion into the East and South China Seas, building military installations on every rock, outcropping or island in the area, despite the claims of its several neighbors. Meanwhile, the U.S. 7th Fleet continues to operate freedom of navigation sorties in the seas, not only to keep those crucial sea lanes open, but to protect Taiwan. But as those sea lanes narrow, Taiwan is looking increasingly vulnerable, and a pro-mainland China minority is gaining strength.
So, here is Putin watching China gobbling up land, seas, enormous natural resources, and possibly Taiwan, all without firing a shot. It is an expansion that would evoke grudging envy from his country’s past strongmen, dictators, and tsars.
How will that envy play out in Ukraine? Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops on the border. Will the brute bully invade, or will he follow the Chinese example?
His inclination, of course, will be to play the Russian bear, but he cannot ignore the Chinese finesse.
He still brittles over NATO’s inclusion of the Russian-bordering Baltic countries – Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania – in that anti-Russian alliance. And he has been adamant that Ukraine shall not join them. No one knows better than Putin that Article Five of the NATO Treaty stipulates that an attack on one is an attack on all. So, as long as Ukraine is kept out of that sphere, Putin knows there is every reason to believe NATO will not come to its aid, at least with troops and planes. Military supplies are another matter, but Putin also knows that no amount of supplies can overcome Russia’s military advantage in the event of an open conflict.
Since 2014, Russian-speaking separatists supported by Russian “volunteers” in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas region have been carrying on a low-level war as part of the Russian plan to annex Greater Rusia (Greater Russia), that east-to-west southern portion of Ukraine filled with a large Russian-speaking population.
This is why President Biden warned Putin in their recent two-hour conversation of severe economic consequences if Russia invades Ukraine. But there are such items as the proposed Russian gas pipeline to Europe that Europe wants and needs. In short, economic sanctions are not likely deterrents.
What is a deterrent is world standing. Russia cannot afford to be labeled a pariah state and still function in the global economy. That concept did not work out well for the axis powers in the 1930s and 40s.
China’s leaders seem to understand this, and Putin is likely to follow their lead. The Russian military threat will remain. Ukraine will not join NATO. The fighting will continue in the Donbas because no one seems to object. And Putin will employ every political and propaganda disruptive means at his disposal to influence the Russian speakers in New Rusia. As the Chinese have demonstrated, there is no rush. Time is an ally.
Douglas Cohn’s latest books are The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
© 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 10 December 2021