The Results of Strategic Deterring Russia
Doctor of Military Sciences
As developments show, despite Moscow’s official statements in support of the process of peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Donbas, Russia has not in any way abandoned its strategic goals for Ukraine. Evidence of this is the continuation of Russia’s actions to impose on Ukraine its own version of resolving the Donbas problem solely from the point of view of Russian interests. First of all, such interests remain the disintegration of Ukraine as a single integral state under the guise of its federalization. Today, Russia’s actions include ultimatums to Ukraine to de facto recognize the “DPR” and “LPR” by agreeing to hold elections in the self-proclaimed republics and enshrining their “special statuses” in the Constitution. At this, in order to force Ukraine to accept the above-mentioned demands, Moscow continues to demonstrate force near the borders of our state, and from September 6, 2020 has resumed open armed provocations in the conflict zone in the Donbas.
Besides, Russia is deliberately manipulating the issues of holding meetings in the Normandy format, which are of fundamental importance to the Ukrainian authorities as a tool of promoting the peace process in the Donbas. For example, in August 2020, Russia disrupted a meeting of advisers to the leaders of the Normandy quartet. Right now Moscow is questioning the possibility of holding talks between the foreign ministers of the Normandy group in September 2020.
…The aggressive nature of Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine is an integral part of Russia’s foreign expansion…
In general, these circumstances confirm the persistence of the aggressive nature of Moscow’s policy towards Ukraine, which is an integral part of Russia’s foreign expansion. In view of this, it is important for Ukraine to have a correct understanding of Russia’s capabilities to realize its neo-imperial ambitions both on the Ukrainian direction and in the international arena in general.
In this regard, quite indicative are Russian President V. Putin’s intentions to take part in the 75th session of the UN General Assembly on September 22–29, 2020 and to address its participants. It is quite clear what he will say from this high international rostrum. Everything he has been saying since 2014, including at various international events taking place on Russian territory. In particular: about the “peacefulness” of Moscow’s policy; about Russia’s “non-involvement” in the events in Ukraine; about the need to build a “just world” with “equal opportunities for all”, but in fact — to restore the sphere of the “Russian world”. And finally, about the West’s intentions to destroy Russia through “unjustified” sanctions.
All these maxims are well known and, in general, not interesting to anyone. Except for Putin’s personal supporters, both in Russia and abroad. Something else is interesting. Why did he decide to speak at the UN General Assembly, while avoiding participation in such events since Russia’s attack on Ukraine? And, again, for a very clear reason, namely — because of criticism of Moscow’s actions towards Ukraine, including V. Putin’s personal role in them. Of course, who wants to hear such words when they are said right in your face.
…The Kremlin, like all of Russia, is in a hopeless economic and political situation. As a result, the Russian leadership is forced to seek at least some compromises with the West…
However, what has changed since then? Almost nothing. Therefore, during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, V. Putin will hear the same thing. And will meet with exactly the same negative attitude to him of most of the world community. Moreover, the agenda of the UN General Assembly includes the situation in the annexed by Russia Crimean Peninsula and the occupied territories of the Donbas.
So, why has V. Putin decided to go to New York, where the international forum will take place? The answer to this question is also quite obvious: the Kremlin, like all of Russia, is in a hopeless situation in both economic and political terms. As a result, the Russian leadership is forced to seek at least some compromises with the West, even at the cost of V. Putin’s public humiliation. How else can one explain what has been happening in and around Russia lately?
…Most of the Kremlin’s problems are systemic rather than temporary, which does not allow Russia to resolve them on its own…
No matter how hard Moscow tries to silence the real situation in Russia, including by claiming that the country is beginning to emerge from the economic crisis in which it found itself in the spring of 2020, however, as the saying goes, “smoke cannot be hidden”.
In particular, in the first half of this year, Russia’s economy had been falling by 12–16 % quarterly. The same trend continues in the second quarter of this year. As a result, the Russian state budget deficit this year is expected at 5 % of GDP, or 5 trillion rubles.
With this in mind, they are going to reduce most expenditures of the Russian budget, including such important spheres as: economic support — by 10 %; development of industry and agriculture — by 29 %; health care and education — by 9–17 %; space exploration — by 10 %; for military and security agencies — by 4.5–10 %. As before, to cover the country’s state budget deficit, the Russian government has launched measures to address the financial and economic problems at the expense of the Russian population and small and medium-sized businesses by raising taxes.
At this, most of these problems are systemic rather than temporary, which does not allow Russia to resolve them on its own. First of all, this applies to changes in the global energy market, which have significant negative consequences for Russia’s oil and gas sector as the backbone of the Russian economy.
For example, widely known is the situation with the fall in world oil prices in the spring of 2020, almost to a negative level. Then they rose again, but not to the level that would suit Russia. Similarly, there continue to exist global reasons for the decline in oil prices, which are not the conflict between Moscow and OPEC or the COVID-19 epidemic, but the world’s widespread use of new technologies, which include abandoning oil and switching to other types of energy.
The same, but for somewhat different reasons, is happening in the gas sector, which is another financial foothold for Russia. In particular, in the first half of 2020, the profits of the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom decreased by 1.5 times compared to the same period last year — from 4 to 2.9 trillion rubles. The main reason for this trend is again not the temporary decrease in gas consumption due to the pandemic, but the change in the system of gas supplies to world and European markets. This is primarily due to the development of the system of production, transportation and reception of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which reduces consumers’ dependence on traditional pipeline infrastructure and reduces its profitability.
According to estimates of European experts, recognized by Russian energy experts, today the capacity of LNG-terminals that have been built in Europe in recent years, already allows to completely cut off gas supplies from Russia. As a result, the United States, Qatar and other LNG-producers have already become Moscow’s direct competitors in the European gas market, which has led to falling gas prices in Europe.
Besides, European countries are implementing a number of their own energy projects, allowing them to reduce gas imports from Russia. In particular, Poland, the Baltic states and Turkey have so far completely or partially abandoned Russian gas. And Ukraine meets its gas needs through reverse gas supplies from Europe at prices acceptable to us.
The consequence of this is the actual unprofitability of the new Russian gas pipeline Turkish Stream, which was put into operation in early 2020. In fact, the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 is facing the same threat.
A similar situation exists in Russia’s defense industry, which not only produces weapons and military equipment for the Russian Armed Forces’, but is also a powerful source of export revenue. Thus, as a result of Western sanctions, Russia has lost access to the modern electronic components and composite materials, which were previously imported from Western countries and used in Russian military equipment. At this, Russian industry has never managed to replace their loss on its own.
At the same time, again, due to Western sanctions, many countries refuse to purchase Russian weapons. An example of this was the refusal of the Philippines in 2018 to purchase 16 Russian Mi-171 helicopters worth 200 million US dollars. Instead, American-made Black Hawk helicopters were purchased. And in 2019, under pressure from the United States, Egypt refused to purchase Su-35 fighters from Russia. For the same reason, in March 2020, Indonesia refused to purchase Russian Su-35s. The contract value was 1 billion US dollars.
Russia “turn to the East”, designed by Moscow to counterbalance the United States and NATO, and to compensate for Western sanctions through deepening the strategic partnership with China, has also failed. Thus, in 2019, trade between Russia and China really grew to a record level of more than 100 billion US dollars. However, this in no way covered Russia’s losses from the reduction in trade with the EU, which was almost three times larger.
Besides, Russia has de facto become a raw material appendage of China, economically dependent on it, and has been forced to accept Chinese expansion in Eastern Siberia and the Far East. And since 2020, the situation with China has become really threatening for Russia. For example, on the one hand, China has become a source of COVID-19 epidemic for the Russian Federation, and on the other hand, Moscow’s decision to restrict the entry of Chinese citizens into Russian territory have complicated Russian relations with China. During the same period, the decline in Russian-Chinese trade began. At this, the situation was not been saved even by the commissioning at the end of 2019 of a new Russian-Chinese gas pipeline Power of Siberia, which again proved to be unprofitable for Russia.
…Russian economy is entering a systemic crisis. The consequence of this is the emergence of qualitatively new political problems facing Russia in external and internal spheres…
In general, these circumstances indicate the irreversible nature of the negative trends in the Russian economy, which is entering a systemic crisis. The consequence of this is the emergence of qualitatively new political problems facing Russia in external and internal spheres.
Thus, the decline of the Russian economy and weakening of its position in the global and European energy markets is a catalyst for the process of Russia’s decreasing influence in the international arena, which was caused by the USA’s and the EU’s political sanctions. Today, the world’s leading powers do not actually take into account Moscow’s views and interests in their important political decision-making. Evidence of this is the failure of all attempts by Moscow to reach compromises with the West on the Ukrainian issue. Moreover, the United States has recently moved to open demonstrations of readiness to provide military assistance to Ukraine in case of an expansion of Russian aggression against it. Manifestation of such US actions is the beginning of systematic flights of American strategic aviation over the territory of Ukraine with the approach to Crimea and the Russian borders. The first of them took place on May 29, 2020 and included two B-1B strategic bombers, and the second — on September 4,2020 — included three B-52H strategic bombers. In this way, the United States is strengthening its military presence in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltics. As a result, Moscow’s attempts to curb the process of US and NATO expansion to the East failed, which became a real geopolitical catastrophe for Russia on the Western direction.
Moreover, this process is already beginning to involve Belarus, which remains Russia’s only ally in Central and Eastern Europe in its confrontation with the United States and NATO. Despite the allegedly pro-Russian nature of opponents of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, they are, in fact, supported by the West. This is what will determine the future of Belarus. Especially in the situation of the significant advantage of the potential of Western countries over Russia and the loss of the latter’s attractiveness to the countries of the former Soviet Union.
At this, like Ukraine, Belarus is becoming an example for the population of Russia, where anti-government sentiments are also spreading. Thus, according to opinion polls in the summer of 2020, the level of confidence in V. Putin fell to the lowest level during his tenure — from 15 % (closed surveys) to 25 % (open results). At the same time, the number of citizens who want changes is 75 % (95 % — among young people), which is fully correlated with the downgrade of the RF President.
The rating of the ruling “United Russia” party, which is losing local elections in the country’s regions, is falling even faster. And Moscow’s attempts to rectify the situation through repression against the opposition only lead to further complication of the situation in the country. This is exactly what happened after the federal center arrested the governor of the Khabarovsk Krai, S. Furgal, a representative of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Instead of regaining control of the region by bringing to power in Khabarovsk its protege from the same LDPR, Moscow received mass protests by the population of the Far East. At this, local law enforcement agencies actually refused to disperse them. Moreover, protests in the Far East were supported by residents of other regions and cities of Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.
As a result of these processes, Russia has not only failed to implement its strategic plans to reach the level of a “great world power”, but has found itself in the position of a satellite of China and faced a real threat of revolution in the country. At this, for the same reasons as in 1917 and 1991. By the way, they were defined by the leader of the Russian Bolsheviks V. Lenin in his classical formula “the lower classes do not want, and the upper classes cannot”. The same reasons explain the beginning of V. Putin’s losing control over the situation in both Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, which situation is becoming close to chaos.
On the one hand, Moscow is trying to reach compromises with the West, but on the other — continues to demonstrate force to the United States and Europe. Similarly, the statements of the Russian leadership regarding the desire for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Donbas are accompanied by ultimatums addressed to Ukraine and military exercises near the borders of our state. And, now, direct violations of the truce on the front line. The same can be said about Belarus, when Russia first promises to provide military assistance to the Lukashenko regime and then refuses to do so under the threat of Western sanctions.
Moscow’s domestic policy is just as chaotic. In particular, the Putin regime does not dare to use force against protesters in Khabarovsk and other cities in Russia’s Far East. At the same time, the same actions in Moscow and St. Petersburg are being severely suppressed.
In the same series is the attempted assassination of one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, A. Navalny, with the use of Novichok nerve agent in August 2020. Of course, he was creating problems for the Kremlin, especially, in the context of the spread of protests in the East of the country. Therefore, it is quite logical that he was poisoned at this time, after his campaign tour to Siberia and the Far East. However, according to Russian experts, based on the real rating of A. Navalny, he did not pose a significant threat to the Russian government and was even beneficial for it in terms of fragmentation of the country’s opposition.
…The Kremlin’s policy provokes an even more negative reaction from the West. First of all, it concerns the attempted assassination on A. Navalny, which became a “red line” for Western countries…
As expected, such the Kremlin’s policy provokes an even more negative reaction from the West. First of all, it concerns the attempted assassination on A. Navalny, which became a “red line” for Western countries. Thus, after a period of attempts to establish a dialogue with Russia, NATO and EU leaders have again called it a major threat to the Western world. In addition, the issue of imposing new sanctions on Russia was raised.
In this regard, the reaction to Russia’s actions by Germany, which earlier tried to maintain normal relations with it and was its main trading partner in Europe, is quite revealing. In particular, since March 2020, German investors have withdrawn from Russia more than 1.1 billion Euros and the level of German investment has become the lowest in 20 years.
However, that’s not all. Since the beginning of 2020, trade turnover between Russia and Germany has fallen by 24 %. As a result, Russia ranked only fourth in terms of trade with Germany after Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Which once again shows the real level of Russia’s economic potential. Moreover, after A. Navalny’s poisoning, even those German politicians who supported the Russian Nord Stream 2 project are now beginning to speak against it. What does all this mean to Ukraine?
…Further complication of Russia’s internal and external problems will lead to a further increase in the unpredictability of Moscow’s policy…
The emergence of a critical situation in Russia objectively reduces the possibility of its attack on Ukraine. Given this, Ukraine can take a stronger position in relations with Russia, including on the issue of settlement of the conflict in the Donbas.
Besides, the coincidence of the interests of Ukraine and the United States, NATO and the EU in the issue of deterring Moscow, opens wider prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our country. Evidence of this is the position of the United States, which demonstrates the possibility of direct military support for Ukraine.
At the same time, further complication of Russia’s internal and external problems will lead to a further increase in the unpredictability of Moscow’s policy. The same applies to Russia’s actions against Ukraine, which may take the form of open armed aggression against our state.
Taking into consideration these circumstances, we should not be afraid of Russia in any way. Beware? Yes, and prepare for the worst. However, still not giving up our positions and interests. As Ukrainian saying goes, “the devil is not so terrible as he is painted”.
And, again, by the way. On old European maps, Russia is referred to as “Tataria”, or “Tartaria”, i.e. “hell”, or the place where its natives live.