April 19, 2021
There are plenty of topics to tackle, and I’ve devoted my last two newsletters to writing about Vladimir Putin, Ukraine, and Alexei Navalny. Today I’m returning to these issues because I believe what’s going on in Eastern Europe is not a neighborhood squabble nor is it random. This is about a trillionaire with a nuclear arsenal whose fascist playbook is not about rapprochement nor peace. Putin disdains and damages the World Order and wants to replace it and yet the world’s leaders — led by President Joe Biden — do not fully understand who and what they are up against.
Last week, Biden blinked. He inexplicably sent two warships to the Black Sea and turned them around. Then he made a speech declaring America’s “unwavering” support for Ukraine; its desire to build a “stable, predictable relationship” with Russia; its use of sanctions “in a measured and proportionate way”; and finally a blunt request to “de-escalate”.
Putin’s reaction? Immediate and dramatic escalation. Within hours of Biden’s speech, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced it would close the waters leading to the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov (with important Ukrainian ports along its coast) to warships and non-commercial vessels of other countries until October 2021. Russia then began moving 15 warships from the Caspian Sea to the waters off of Ukraine in both the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. And further troop enhancements were reportedly dispatched to Crimea, in addition to the 30,000 already there.
It was humiliating for Biden but his reaction was simply to warn that more sanctions would be imposed. Biden’s speech was tone-deaf. Putin doesn’t want a peaceful and stable relationship with America or Europe. He does not respect a policy of restraint, and he has no intention to de-escalate. In fact, Biden’s pre-emptive decision to turn warships around gave Putin a perfect opening to move in plenty of military ships and keep Ukraine’s and others out. The upshot of Biden’s first salvo was that Putin launched a de facto blockade against Ukrainian ports and has gotten away with it. Fortunately, Britain is sending two warships to the Black Sea to arrive in a few weeks in a show of defiance.
But Putin cannot be cajoled or coaxed or charmed. He has flouted demands and rebuffed critics for decades and continues to raise the stakes and tensions and land grabs and terrorist attacks because there are no consequences that he cannot endure, delay, or fend off. This is, in part, because Putin and his military and security elites are not transactional but seek a new World Order, with Russia in control. Their playbook is a 1997 book written by a Rasputin-like character, Aleksandr Dugin, (with General Nikolai Klokotov of the General Staff Academy) called The Foundations of Geopolitics. It espouses “world rule for the Russians” and provides the road map to get there.
Dugin’s 1997 template to win the geopolitical game has been chillingly prescient. His “Eurasianism”, or the creation of a Eurasia Empire controlled by Russia, casts a new light on Russia’s attitude and actions. It should be required reading.
Dugin separates war into two types: “hybrid wars” or “hot wars”. He tailors tactics regionally. For instance, he recommended that the United States and the United Kingdom be isolated from their European allies, and the divisions and racism in their societies exploited to demoralize and create chaos. This was proposed in 1997 and we are now just realizing that this is exactly what has been happening. Russia played an outsized role in electing an isolationist and disruptive President Donald Trump and in bringing about Brexit, effectively orphaning Britain from the European Union.
Dugin’s book also explains why Russia has waded into the Middle East through an alliance with Iran, why it has courted India intensely, helped militarily destroy Syria, and why it is now in Libya and at Turkey’s door. All this has paid off in the interests of creating his notion of a Eurasian Empire, but the biggest gains have been made in Russia’s own neighborhood: Since 1997, Russia has conquered one-eighth of the largest country in Europe (Ukraine) as well as a major portion of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and, alas, all of Belarus.
Dugin’s Eurasianism is also worrisome. Rooted in phony ancient mythology about the superiority of Russians, it’s creepily reminiscent of Hitler’s mystical belief in a superior white Aryan race and its need for lebensraum or an expansive territory to reach its potential.
Dugin is not Putin’s Rasputin but it’s an appropriate nickname. He’s also on a first-name basis with alt-right American guru Steve Bannon and various notable European extremists. And many of his ideas have been executed or are underway. Consider some of his 1997 recommendations and how eerily “prophetic” they were:
— Russia’s oil and gas must be weaponized to bully or co-opt countries. This has been well advanced. Russia’s growing influence in OPEC (and with Saudi Arabia) has allowed it to exploit price shifts for years on financial markets. Its massive infrastructure projects to flood Europe with Russian natural gas and oil are mostly completed, except for the largest one, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which Biden has failed to stop cold. That project should have been axed the day he took office.
— Dugin believed that Germany must have political dominance over the Protestant and Catholic states in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s already true politically and financially, and if Nord Stream 2 (in partnership with Russia) is completed, Germany will dominate European energy markets. Dugin also wrote that France should be encouraged to form a bloc with Germany. Notably, these two countries have been co-opted economically by Russia and hand-picked by Moscow to manage peace talks with Ukraine. Not surprisingly, both have failed to make any progress in helping Ukraine against its aggressor. Dugin argued the two would be helpful to the Eurasian Empire because they both harbor a “firm anti-Atlanticist [anti-American and anti-Anglo] tradition”.
— Dugin also described in 1997 the United Kingdom as an “extraterritorial floating base of the US” that must be cut off from Europe. Mission accomplished. Brexit.
— Dugin believed that the Orthodox nations in the east — Greece, Serbia, Romania — should be joined closely to Moscow and that Ukraine should be annexed outright.
— Back in 1997, Dugin also stressed a “Russian-Islamic” alliance against the U.S., with Iran as a key ally. He believed that Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia should be dismembered or annexed by Russia, all now underway. He suggested that Russia create “shocks” to control Turkey by backing the Kurds, Armenians, and others to bring about internal strife there.
— Naturally, Dugin wanted all the “stans” of Central Asia to be Russian again, but China – which he said represented a danger to Russia – must be dismantled with Tibet going to Russia as a buffer. In return, Moscow would help China conquer or control southeast Asia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. Japan, he said, should be given the Kuril Islands as long as it turns against the Americans. Mongolia would become Russian.
— The United States was to be destabilized by stirring up racism, secessionism, and isolationism. We now know that dark money support for America’s alt-right organizations, as well as for white supremacists, the National Rifle Association, and conspiracy websites — or secessionist movements in California or the Deep South — has been partially or fully Russian financed. Back in 1997, Dugin also suggested that similar strategies be applied to South and Central America, and they have been, notably involving Venezuela.
We may never know whether Putin ascribes to Eurasianism or merely wants the Soviet Union back. But what’s certain is that he has no interest in peace, security, compromise, or a relationship. From now on, retaliation must be aimed at seriously destabilizing Russia and standing up to Putin’s ultimatums by using his tactics. For instance, the NATO deterrent should be deployed immediately, once removed, by basing a contingent of soldiers from NATO countries in Ukraine until Russia de-escalates and obeys the ceasefire agreement signed years ago with Ukraine. Secondly, NATO should reimburse Ukraine’s defense bill for keeping Russia at bay since 2014.
With Putin, there are no Marquis of Queensbury rules or olive branches. Russia’s predations must be matched and anticipated, and, if necessary, Russia’s economy must be ruined, its energy exports impeded, his companies and cronies sanctioned. After decades of watching Putin in action, I believe the world is now post-diplomacy when it comes to dealing with him. As I wrote before, we are all in peril. We are all Navalny. We are all Ukrainians.