Putin is ready to bet on war with the West

Bosnia may be on the verge of falling into civil war. Belarus throws refugees from the Middle East to the Polish border. Russia is strengthening its forces on the eastern border of Ukraine.

These events, in a series of hot spots in Eastern Europe, have developed at a frightening speed. Individually, they have complex roots, but let’s not be deluded: Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is behind them all.

Outgoing Chief of Staff General Sir Nick Carter is right that we must be prepared for conflict. It sounds shocking, but we have sadly ignored the true nature of the Russian regime for years, refusing to face the painful consequences of what it means.

Germany’s decision to temporarily suspend approval of Russia’s highly controversial NordStream 2 pipeline is a start, but unless the move is permanent, it will be far too little, far too late.

The “arming” of refugees in Belarus is nothing new. It is happening on a scale that Western governments are finally noticing. It was widely used by the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war, by Russia on the Norwegian border in 2016, and by Belarus this summer. It is one of the many tools of hybrid conflict practiced by Russia and its allies.

Confusion remains about this form of conflict. Hybrid War is not a “non-military” conflict. It is the combination of military and non-military tools of state power into one whole, an idea clearly articulated in Russian military doctrine. This doctrine maintains that the first characteristic of contemporary conflicts is “the integrated use of military force, political, economic, informational and other measures of a non-military character, implemented with … special operations forces”. Modern hybrid warfare arms and unifies all state tools in the service of conflict.

Putin’s Kremlin has been preparing for conflict since he declared the new era of hostility in a 2007 speech in Munich. His words were largely ignored by nervous Western nations, who made the usual excuses about Putin addressing an internal audience.

During his last decade in power, Putin wants to do three things: first, destroy an independent Ukrainian state; second, to break NATO; and third, to consolidate Russia’s role as an illiberal rival to the West. He will risk war, calculating that Germany’s strategically disastrous energy policy – shutting down nuclear power while becoming more dependent on Russian coal and gas – will mean the EU will blink first. The Prime Minister is right that the EU must choose between gas or Ukraine. Despite Germany’s decision today, the EU will likely choose Germany, a consequence of the long-term weakness of European leadership.

Regarding the first of Putin’s three goals, he does not accept a Ukraine separate from Russia. After Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, the Kremlin waged a conflict against Ukraine using non-military tools. These include the use of Russian orthodoxy (culture), the influence of the oligarchs (economics), corruption and blackmail (the old tools of the KGB), propaganda via television and Russian media (information operations), control of political parties (politics), all mixed with occasional assassination and other spy tools.

He narrowly failed to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s strategic orbit. When the corrupt, pro-Russian government collapsed in 2014, Putin ordered the annexation of Crimea and started war in eastern Ukraine, setting up and arming paramilitary groups, often in reality. Russian contract soldiers and security agency personnel.

This summer, in a trial, On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians, and follow-up interview, Putin hinted that he does not recognize Ukraine within its current borders. He signals his intention. He wants to seize the territory along the Black Sea coast to Odessa and Moldova. Needless to say, in Ukraine there is virtually no support for Putin’s ambitions. Putin’s wars helped form a modern Ukrainian state, in opposition to Russian authoritarianism.

Thanks to rearmament, paid for by the EU’s fossil fuel addicts, Putin can try this time for a more conventional invasion, but the integrated mix of tactics and tools will still include provocations, cyber attacks, deceptions and the panoply. military and non-military forces. tools. The incitement of ethnic violence – indeed a controlled conflict – in Bosnia and an intensification of the refugee crisis in Belarus could well serve as strategic diversionary operations. But Putin’s main goal is, and will be, Ukraine.

Putin also wants to destroy NATO. Like many KGB conspiracy theorists, he believes the West destroyed the USSR. He thinks democratic revolutions are Western plots to undermine pro-Russian regimes and Russia itself. He wants revenge; for the USSR, for the loss of the Baltic republics, for the loss of the Russian Empire in Eastern Europe. Denouncing a sclerotic EU and a nervous NATO like paper tigers (although it will not attack the Baltic republics that are members of NATO) will give it the victory it aspires to. He wants revenge for the humiliation of Russia, which he blames entirely on the West.

Third, Putin’s conflict and constant war propaganda in Russia help control its own population and give it the space to reshape the identity of the Russian state in opposition to what it sees as corrupt Western values. . The external war, real in Ukraine, virtual so far against the West, allows this internal control and the recasting of the Russian identity. He must stop democracy from working in Kiev to ensure that it cannot take root in Moscow.

Images of conflict, Russian Air Force jets buzzing with American and British ships in the Black Sea, paratroopers landing in Belarus and repeated threats of nuclear weapons use, are designed to to show a rearmed Russia ready to fight the decadent West – as if the USSR never ended. The Russian population has experienced almost 20 years of increasingly intense propaganda.

Polls show that many Russians expect not only war with the West, but also nuclear conflict. Putin has been preparing his people for years. He now decides if, what and how much to play to achieve his three ambitions.

Bob Seely is the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight


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