View from the Kremlin Walls: Moves and Countermoves

Moves and Countermoves is a weekly column on developments of political importance and opposing reactions

A Mental Exercise

Counterfactuals. An often flawed tool, yes, but a tool that provides an opportunity to identify degrees of empathy for an analytic target. It reduces biases and mirror imaging, provides reflection on one’s own position, and how viable solutions may be accepted by otherwise uncompromising parties.

This is seldom done in Western media, and many analyses miss key and, importantly, valid views held by Moscow. Be it the current divisions in Ukraine or previous clashes in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Moldova, understanding how the world looks from Moscow is key to engaging in constructive dialogue and finding a new geopolitical status quo.

This analysis will take a slightly different approach to previous Leksika reports. Below, Moscow’s perspective will be outlined and an alternative outcome of the Cold War is considered. One in which the US is on the losing side and risks further humiliation in the face of advancing Moscow interests into America’s traditional back yard. This is not intended to be an all-encompassing exercise and room is left for the reader to consider extensions of this line of logic. With respect to Ukraine, the citizen’s concerns should take priority above all else in the conflict, but Russia’s legitimate concerns in Ukraine and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space must be taken into account.


The View from Moscow

It is often argued that the continued encirclement of Russia provoked Moscow’s actions in the Crimea more than any other factor. What Western countries saw as an expansion of Euro-Atlantic norms, Russia interpreted as the expansion of Washington’s sphere of influence—understandably unacceptable to Moscow. The once mighty buffer Russia possessed shielding it from Western intervention is now gone. Furthermore, American and Western activity in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf served to further tighten this noose. Many in Russia now see their country as a besieged fortress, with historical enemies ever closer to their western frontier, the continued destabilization of the Middle East to their south, and the rise of Asia to their east. Perhaps inadvertently, Russia has been pushed into a corner, not a good place for a major nuclear power to be.


German Reunification

In a major way, this issue is rooted in the reunification of Germany. Many forget that not a single Western European power wanted to see the country unified after the Cold War. The Soviet populace was even less supportive, given still-recent history. Gorbachev eventually agreed to reunification, and German membership in NATO, in exchange for guarantees from the George H.W. Administration that the alliance would not move any further eastward. This guarantee has since been broken 12 times with the extension of NATO membership to former Warsaw Pact states, former Soviet republics in the Baltics, and others.


The Reverse Scenario

Putting this into perspective, consider a situation in which the US collapsed instead of the Soviet Union. Military overstretch, flawed economic policies, internal cultural conflicts, and demographic strain led to the dissolution of the union. The United States was replaced by smaller, regional entities, all with different and legitimate grievances with the historical government. These new entities were then courted by varying power blocs, including the Warsaw Pact, which sees itself as having a new, global mission.

Former allies as well as peripheral regions of the former United States were then integrated into this bloc. Soviet military bases and missile defense systems are now positioned in Hawaii and Alaska in addition to new Warsaw Pact members: Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Imagine then if Canada found itself in a civil war and the fighting threatened to spill over into the former United States. Imagine if protestors from one historically suppressed and culturally and historically unique region, Quebec, toppled the corrupt government in Ottawa in a protest movement hailed as democratic by a Soviet dominated “international community.” The likely result would be the country’s large Anglophone population feeling alienated and disenfranchised, especially when the new government made moves to restrict official use of the English language.

If the situation escalated in a similar manner to Ukraine, it would be no stretch of the imagination to see secessionist attempts in Western Canada, which has little, if any, cultural and historical connection to Quebec. If this new government likewise sought membership in the Warsaw Pact, the situation would only continue to escalate, especially as Soviet ships approached Halifax and Quebec City.

The English speaking provinces of Canada, having strong relations to the UK and US, would certainly feel threatened and look to the remnants of the United States for protection. American intelligence agents, long present in the region, would find willing partners in bringing the region closer to them. The ideal plan would be to keep these English-speakers in Canada to act as a voting bloc, but if this could not be done, supporting secession would be a plausible course of action.


Calls for Dialogue

Obviously this is simplistic and does not precisely mirror the events in Ukraine, but such parallels can be drawn and are helpful in understanding Moscow’s position. Prominent U.S. experts, including Henry Kissinger, have argued that it was Western mismanagement that led to the current Ukraine crisis, and have called for closer dialogue and cooperation with Moscow rather than ineffective attempts at isolation.

Long standing U.S. partners, such as South Korea and Japan, Israel, Egypt, and a variety of Latin American nations have already made steps to improve relations with Russia. Furthermore, the recently established BRICS Bank and historic trade deals with China are indications that Russia can increase cooperation outside of traditional channels.


Moving Forward

It is hoped this exercise will contribute to an understanding of Moscow’s perspective of the world security environment. By providing such a perspective, the black and white terms often used to describe Russian foreign policy may expand to consider the degrees of uncertainty influencing political decisions. Future reports will consider the perspectives held by the new Ukrainian government and other neighboring countries.