The Resurgence of Russia
The collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union also heralded the degradation of this nation’s status as a major power monger in what was called the Cold War era of yore. The Western bloc, spearheaded by the United States of America, continued without any competition thereafter and has generally secured for itself the title of the world’s sole super power in current international relations. The USA has gerrymandered in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Asia Pacific region with impunity and is presently busy trying to browbeat Iran. All this has been possible because there is nobody to present an effective opposing front to America’s dominance of most global sensitive spots. Russia’s problems were further exacerbated through two successive ineffectual Presidents. First was Mikhail Gorbachov whose glasnost and perestroika made hardly any difference either to his country’s standing or to the Western bloc’s attitude towards it. Next came Boris Yeltsin who took refuge in vodka whenever he found things were getting too complicated for him to handle. His performance during the Balkan crisis was deplorable. Consequently, Russia became somewhat of a loose ball without any direction and remained so till Vladimir Putin took over the presidency.
A dynamic person, Putin has firmly set his sights on two aspects of Russia’s resurgence ~ first of all, to positively address its faltering economy and second, to regain its place as an appreciable power centre. He appears to be on the right course for both his objectives. While the economy is taking its own path to betterment, President Putin is now trying to uplift Russia in global politics with the intention of relocating itself in a position from where Moscow can dictate terms in international relations again. His initial pronouncement in this context was strongly objecting to NATO’s expansion eastwards to within reach of Russia’s European border. However, the Western bloc with the European Union playing a leading part, paid little heed to his objections and is at present locked in a fresh controversy over a missile defence system that this bloc wants to set up in eastern Europe. Although the bloc’s leader to wit, Washington furnishes vague replies when queried by Moscow as to against which “enemy” is this shield being established, it is apparent that the bloc is pursuing a policy of sanitising its territorial entity from any visualised Russian threat be it real or notional.
Another factor that bothers Russia is the increasing membership of the European Union wherein former Russian states are being wooed to join. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic set the stage for this entry and these states are now xxxxing a snook at their previous master! Russia today has virtually no influence in West Asia as all the Arab nations directly or indirectly enjoy a good equation with the USA. Making matters worse are periodic reports that Russia’s insurgency problem with the Chechen rebels is being fuelled by Wahabi ideology from some West Asian parties, egged on by the USA. The question now is, what steps should President Putin take in order to take his country to a position where the international community realises that Russia is becoming a political force to reckon with? The first practical move in this regard was Russia’s recent foray into the Arctic Circle and declaring this area to be under Russian control. A special metallic Russian flag has been driven into the Harris Ridge, a prominent sunken feature in the Arctic Circle, to prove the point. Expectantly, there were immediate responses from Denmark and Canada with both countries sending their respective cartographic teams to this area in order to assert their ownership of this extremely important geo-strategic cum geo-economic stretch of territory. However, it is doubtful whether either of these two countries would be in a position to physically challenge Russia’s claim. The Arctic Circle that covers a huge area has two principal assets: it holds a great deal of ocean wealth that would be a boon for any nation’s economic development and it provides a convenient politico-military pivot, especially for seafaring states. Russian main interest in the latter category would certainly be a capability to maximise on what is commonly called the North West Passage for moving from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and vice versa. In fact Canada already fosters some unhappiness on this subject with the USA since American warships have been known to “trespass” through this pathway at will even as Canada asserts that the strategic shipping passage is its own.
Russia needs to establish a strong naval base as well as an air force station in the Arctic Circle without any delay. While Greenland that belongs to Denmark is not really of immediate concern, Russia has to exercise its muscle over the Queen Elisabeth Islands complex that lies north of Canada and quickly create an operational zone for its military in this complex. Russia must pre-empt the USA from bullying Canada to have its way, now that the Harris Ridge incident has occurred. A full-fledged Russian military base in the Mediterranean Sea, including units from all the three services, is another compulsive necessity for Moscow. There is no gainsaying the strategic value of this waterway and with a none-too-friendly Europe trying to reach out towards Russian mainland, Moscow can balance the odds by projecting a quid pro quo stance from the seaward side. Russia should get as close to Iran as possible. Teheran enjoys a high status in the Organisation of Islamic Conference and it would definitely be to Moscow’s advantage to build an effective friendly relationship with this major Islamic nation. Ideally, Russia should take the initiative to recreate the earlier Warsaw Pact group, this time with Eurasian states. As a leading member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Moscow could even toy with the idea of forming a multinational military force with members of the SCO, including India and Iran by upgrading the latter two to full membership from their current observer nation post. An appreciable military force thus formed would set the Western bloc thinking about further expansionism ideas.
Another suggestion would be to befriend Turkey. Ankara has been facing negative vibes from Brussels in its attempts to join the European Union, hence inviting it to join the SCO might be an acceptable option for Turkey. Lastly, Russia has to increasingly ensure that its presence is adequately felt in the Asia Pacific region. Moscow should counter the American influence in this region, an influence that encompasses pro-Washington nations like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and going south, Australia and New Zealand. A maritime component from the modified SCO should meet the requirement. Efforts are also needed to encourage the Asian littorals to look at the SCO as a “friend in need” and not as a suspect.
(The author is a retired Lt-Col of the Indian Army)