The animosity between the West, dominated by the United States, on one side and Russia and China on the other is becoming ever more apparent. This manifests itself not only in allegations of meddling in the US Presidential Election and accusations of “wet jobs” in Britain but also in what blatantly looks like an open global trade war that encompasses not only Europe and Asia. It is all part of a greater geopolitical game much resembling The Great Game of the 19th Century.
However the reasons this time is not only due to control of territory and not even oil. This is a faceted issue. For instance when it comes to European theater the US is quite keen to sell it’s much more expensive liquefied natural gas – LNG to Europe instead of the latter purchasing less expensive Russian natural gas from already existing and future distribution systems. Washington of course claims that it is unwise to put onself at the mercy of the Kremlin, and this is a relevant observation to a certain extent. Hence the Hungarian PM Viktor Órban’s visit to Moscow the past week, where he suggested Russian gas transit over Hungarian territory, was seen as more or less traitorous behavior both in the eyes of Washington as well as Brussels. Órban is however already seen as the black sheep of the European Union due to his defiance to Brussels’ proposed agenda of refugee quotas, an agenda that after the latest top meeting in Strasbourg seems to change into a much more Australian-inspired one however, much due to the resistance from the Visegrad countries.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine can also be seen as part of a greater geopolitical strategy as far as the European theater is concerned, as a Ukraine hostile towards Moscow would significantly complicate things for the Kremlin. Thus it’s not difficult to see why both Washington and Brussels so quickly endorsed what could only from an objective perspective be labelled an illegal coup against the corrupt albeit elected Yanukovych, albeit due to different reasons. The increasingly federative agenda of Brussels needs a Russian boogeyman for it’s own political reasons while the US has less altruistic reasons. The Russian response to the coup wasn’t hard to predict. There was substantial squabbling over the status of the predominantly Russian Crimea already back in the 90’s between Moscow and Kiev. So the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea was not really a sign of Russian strength, rather a sign of weakness. The Kremlin was put in front of a fait accompli when the West supported a new Ukrainian Government that expressed it’s intention of booting out the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol.
For anyone not so knowledgeable in Russian history and geopolitics it is hard to grasp the importance of this city with it’s harbor on the shores of the Black Sea. It was fiercely contested several times throughout history, not least during the Crimean War of 1853-1855 but also during WWII, or the Great Patriotic War as that conflict is called in Russia. Both times the city fell, after much bloodshed, to invaders from the West, although it would eventually be returned to Russian ownership. So Sevastopol has tremendous symbolic value apart from a strategic one to the Russians. In 1954 the Crimea would be transferred from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR, something that was of less significance during the Soviet era. However with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the ownership of the Crimea and the naval facilities in Sevastopol became much more of an issue. Russia’s geostrategic situation was resolved by renting the naval base in Sevastopol from Ukraine, with a contract signed to 2042. However with ultra nationalist elements, such as Svoboda, ascending to power in Kiev in the wake of the ousting of President Yanukovych Russia was facing a situation that was hard to control through diplomatic means. Hence Russia used it’s military might but at the same time became diplomatically non grata in the eyes of the West. Thus Russia secured a short term “victory on the ground” but lost tremendously in a long term political perspective, something that only served the interests of Brussels and Washington. With Hungary’s Viktor Órban nurturing good relations with Moscow it is hardly difficult to see how this thus only fuels already existing resentment in the West towards Budapest.
The stand off between the West and Russia can also be seen further down south though, in the Levant, where Russia stepped in at the brink of collapse of it’s Syrian ally who had been fighting a loosing war against Western- and Gulf States supported militants. The Russian intervention wasn’t Moscow’s first military presence in the war torn country however, there has been a naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus since the 60’s in order to supply first Soviet and then Russian naval assets in the Mediterranean with a naval base close by. With Turkey joining NATO in 1952 this port was of importance as the Bosporus Strait could easily be cut off, thus confining the Black Sea Fleet to it’s home waters or leaving Soviet ships in the Mediterranean in a dire situation. With the deteriorating relations in modern times between Russia and the West, with NATO expanding eastwards with for instance Romania joining the alliance in 2004 – thus giving the West even greater access to the Black Sea, the geostrategic importance of Tartus as been renewed.
However there are not just military and moral aspects of the conflict in Syria, the description of the the conflict as a civil war just isn’t correct given it’s apparent international aspects and obvious economic dimensions. The support to the various opposition groups has come not only from the West but also from states in the Persian Gulf, like for instance Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These countries adhering to Sunni Islam have both religious as well as geopolitical interests in the weakening of their Iranian Shiite foe, which also happens to be an outspoken ally of the Syrian Government, although the latter is predominantly secular in nature. Qatar was very much interested in exporting it’s natural gas to the European market through a pipeline to Turkey. However that would necessitate a process of regime change in Syria in order to accomplish this project. Understandably on it’s behalf Russia wasn’t terribly thrilled about competition on the European energy market, thus bolstering the regime of al-Assad became imperative. Russia has however tried to turn the tide in Syria with at least some level of diplomatic finesse, not trying to turn the situation into a shooting war involving a direct confrontation with the West or Israel. However the downing of a Russian Il-20 ELINT plane by a Syrian S-200 battery last week, due to Israeli F-16’s using the Russian airplane for cover according to the Kremlin, has caused Russia to announce the delivery of S-300 SAM systems to Syria. The S-300 is not as capable as the S-400 already deployed in Syria to protect Russian assets, however the system is substantially more capable than 1960’s era S-200 currently operated by the Syrian Air Defense, especially since the Syrian S-300’s will be integrated with Russian surveillance assets. However the announced delivery of these capable SAM systems should probably be seen more as diplomatic pressure, to force Israel to think twice before attacking Syrian targets or putting Russian servicemen in danger, rather than an outright escalation of the conflict per se. Of course the delivery, which has previously been postponed due to diplomatic reasons, also serves as a clear signal to Britain, France and the US to refrain from further attacks upon Syria, of which there has been several due to alleged use of chemical weapons by Damascus. Additional attacks from the western allies can be anticipated since the last real pocket of resistance against al-Assad in western Syria in concentrated to the province of Idlib where several militant groups do not adhere to the Russian-Turkish brokered deescalation zone. Hence there is a heightened risk of further Western military strikes against Syria. Western concerns for the well being of the inhabitants of Idlib province are more to be seen as political justification for military intervention in the eyes of the voters, the real reason has more to do with loosing the campaign of regime change in Syria however.
When it comes to the United States interests in the Levant these are closely knitted to those of Israel’s. The latter is to be described as a land based aircraft carrier in the eyes of Washington. Thus weakening non-friendly Arab neighboring countries, especially if they are allied with Iran and Hezbollah, is thus of great interest. However Israel also have a burgeoning interest in the field of energy, both at sea as well on the occupied Golan Heights. These interests are also closely associated with American financial ones, such as Genie Energy. Thus Israel has had few hesitations in supporting opposition groups in Syria, even if the latter could at best be described as unsavory in character. Israel is adamant to fight the Hezbollah, that once forced Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon, and it’s main supporter, Iran. In this light must be seen the unilateral US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, usually called “the Iranian Nuclear Deal”, which President Trump called “the worst deal ever..”. In this case the EU and the US have diverging economic interests and the EU was instrumental in the signing of the agreement. The United States have threatened to place any country that trades with Iran under embargo, thus putting itself head to head with not only it’s allies in the EU but also Russia and China among others. The unilateral US withdrawal from the INF Treaty and subsequent building of a ABM missile shield in Romania and Poland, under the pretext of protecting it’s European allies against a non-existing Iranian nuclear threat, brought down considerable Russian criticism since this shield could just as well can used against Russia and thus altering the balance of nuclear deterrence between the powers. Hence Russia views the West as woefully untrustworthy, not only due to he US voiding the INF Treaty but also due to the fact that one of the fundamental promises made to former Secretary Gorbachev in lieu of a Soviet military withdrawal from eastern Europe was that NATO should not expand eastwards. The West did not stand true to that promise. It is however quite understandable from national perspective that for instance the Baltic countries joined the alliance, given their less than favorable history when it’s comes to their relation with Russia and given the significant Russian minority population in Estonia and Latvia.
Further east the Chinese dragon has awoken and the Chinese naval program at least brings my thoughts to that of Imperial Germany’s naval program of the early 1900’s that made German interests collide with that of it’s greatest trading partner, Great Britain. We all know how that ended. Beijing has the outspoken goal of having a flotilla on each of the world’s seas by 2035 in order to maintain the economic and political interests of China. Chinese economic endeavors in Africa has for instance been unparalleled in later years and the US has had a significant trade deficit in it’s relation with Beijing. Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, especially around the Spratly Islands has had the rather interesting consequences in bringing Vietnam closer to it’s former arch enemy the United States. Relations between the US and it’s old ally the Philippines is however becoming increasingly strained, even tough Manila’s interests in some cases are at odds with Beijing’s. This has to to do with among others things the US slapping countries that buy Russian military hardware with economic and political sanctions. Thus US attitude towards old allies can in some cases at best be described as outright clumsy. The policy of “America first” has for instance put into question the cooperation between Germany and the US, with Chancellor Angela Merkel outright saying that the US can’t be counted with anymore. An increasing number of Germans are thus beginning to question the Eueopean attitude visavi Russia, especially given Germany’s depence upon Russian gas. With the current modus operandi the West, i.e. the US, France and Great Britain as well as Brussels, is also actively pushing Russia into the arms of China. Keep in mind though that Russia of today isn’t the Soviet Union, the Komintern was abolished in 1943 and Moscow isn’t run by communists these days, on the contrary Russia wants to do business with the West. However the European Union’s geographical and political expansion needs a Russian threat as legitimization for the agenda, the same thing stands true regarding the very existence of NATO.
US involvement in Afghanistan has brought relations with it’s old ally Pakistan to the freezing point to which Islamabad today very much more can be seen as an ally of Beijing. The same thing goes for China after signing a deal for Russian made S-400 SAM systems as well as SU-35 air superiority fighters. Non-aligned nations such as India is also under the threat of sanctions and even so supposed NATO-allies such as Turkey after the signing of a deal to buy the Russian S-400 SAM system. Officially the American protests have to do with concerns of Russian systems lacking interoperability with NATO-standard, however the real reason has more to do with hegemony, both from a financial perspective but also a political one. To buy advanced military technology is to put yourself in political dependency.
With more countries trying to diversify their sources for military hardware the US looses in financial and political importance. Still the US is by far the most powerful nation on Earth, but so was Britain at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. Four years later the World was a different place though. However the are now regional players in today’s geopolitical game that have global aspirations and that refuse to the ordered around by Washington. With the latter behaving in an outspokenly unilateral manner the US is loosing both in influence and standing especially since Washington has begun to ostracize it’s allies. Certainly one should not be naive and believe that the Russian bear is all cuddly and the Chinese dragon is made out of rice paper, far from it, but at the same time one must not for one second believe that the unilateralism that we now see on behalf of Washington, and Brussels for that matter, is a constructive path. At least if stability and cooperation are concerned. On the contrary, especially the United States of today appears more like a school yard bully rather than an ally, a token of insecurity and increasing weakness. The Western behavior of today resembles in no small part to that of Imperial Germany after Kaiser Wilhelm II forced Otto von Bismarck to resign. The latter understood perfectly well the meaning of both realpolitik and the need for stability. After his retirement Germany embarked on a course that would ultimately lead to disaster. Hence the current state of affairs on geopolitical global arena bears very much resemblance to political development of the early 1900’s but also to that of the days of “the Great Game” of the 19th century in which British and Russian interests collided.
For those who know their history it is clear that that game was a loosing one in the long run for everyone involved..