“Russia is concentrating” 2.0: Putin’s new policy of “active defense”

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October 28, 2016 – 

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ- translated by J. Arnoldski – 

At yesterday’s session of the international Valdai Discussion Club, Vladimir Putin made a number of statements about the system of international relations. He reminded listeners that American hegemony has already left a long trail of military invasions of sovereign countries – Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. This was followed by the reminder that Russia “opened up” in the mid-1990’s and hoped for equal dialogue, but did not receive the expected. 

By this Putin had in mind the (naive) trust in Western countries during the decade of Yeltsin’s rule that was unprecedented in Russian history. The United States responded to Russia’s openness with attempts to maximally weaken Russia from within (including by means of ‘reforms’ and privatizations carried out with the participation of American specialists) and from without, such as by creating a chained perimeter of border countries controlled by Washington around Russia’s borders. Russia was forbidden from having its own interests beyond its borders while US’ interests stretched up to Russia’s borders and even inside the country. 

President Putin also could have added that he himself, at the beginning of his presidency, pursued policies maximally open towards the West. After all, it was he who first lent a hand to the American people after the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001 by clearly condemning this act of terrorism and allowing America to establish air bases in Central Asia. Patriotic experts harshly condemned Putin for this. The Russian president also closed the country’s last military bases and intelligence stations in Cuba and Vietnam. After the closure of Russia’s last military bases abroad, NATO expanded its borders East and accepted the former Warsaw Pact countries and union republics (the Baltic states) into its ranks. If not for Russia’s tough diplomatic resistance, Georgia and Ukraine also could have been added to the list of NATO member countries.

This was a huge mistake on Moscow’s part, but the president gained invaluable experience and is now no longer inclined to trust the pseudo-democratic demagogy of Washington, now constantly calling on Eastern European countries (Poland and the Baltics) to defend against the mythical Russian threat.

In fairness, let us note that many serious observers in the West have spoken against the disastrous policy of pushing Russia into a corner. Very bold predictions were made (which seemed fantastical 16-20 years ago) that Russia would revive its military might and restore the country to the status of a great world power. 

The semi-marginal, “light-heavyweight” American politician Patrick Buchanan, for example, called for relying on Russia’s remaining strength rather than constantly annoying it. Today, his views do not appear to be marginal even though, as far as we can see, they remain the ideology of the minority. On the other hand, in Russia there is the marginal liberal minority whose ideology is that of unilateral concessions to the West. Putin’s popularity lies in that he is supported in foreign policy issues and issues of national security even by opposing trends, from communists to nationalists. 

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In his Valdai speech, President Putin demonstrated a realistic understanding of the external and internal challenges and threats facing Russia. Russia has a number of domestic problems ranging from economic and social to demographic ones, but the US has no less such problems. 

Hence why Russia is not going to pursue and is not pursuing an expansionist policy. Not only because this contradicts its principles, but also because it is contrary to Russia’s national interests. In NATO itself there are those who don’t believe that Russia actually has plans to conquer the Baltic states or Poland. Pushing this line is, perhaps, in the interests of these countries (or rather, their comprador establishments), but not Russia’s. 

What Russia is interested in is searching for allies in Europe and even the US itself, mainly those outside of the these countries’ political classes that are so tightly controlled by Washington.

As shown by the legislation on “plutonium disarmament” and Putin’s speech yesterday, Russia is already tired of giving unilateral concessions and sacrificing its own interests without getting even moral compensation. Thus, Vladimir Putin’s strategy in recent years and even months can be called a transition to active defense.

Russia is outlining the (not too extensive) circle of its interests outside its borders and concentrating on its internal problems. As the foreign minister of the Russian Empire, Prince Gorchakov, said after Russia’s defeat in the Crimean War and the signing of the humiliating Treaty of Paris in 1856, “Russia is concentrating.” After a long 20 years, Russia has come to pursue a policy of active defense, carefully avoiding occasions for war. 

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Russia has not suffered any defeats in 2016, but it still faces the same problems, such as concentrating on resolving internal tasks. But Russia does not intend to surrender its positions, whether inside our outside the country. This idea was the main message of Vladimir Putin’s speech on October 27th. 

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