by Patrick Armstrong, Russia Observer (February 3, 2022)

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THE ANSWERS. Here they are. Not good enough; not serious; no grasp of reality. NATO says it’s not to blame for anything and Washington’s willing to talk but only about a few things. “We did not see our three key demands adequately considered: stopping NATO’s expansion, refusing to use strike weapons systems near Russian borders, and returning the bloc’s military infrastructure in Europe to how it was in 1997.” But, and this is the foundation for the next step in Moscow’s diplomacy offensive, both answers pretend allegiance to common security principles.

RULES-BASED INTERNATIONAL ORDER. The West is always gassing on about this. Moscow’s next move will demonstrate that what they really mean is that they make up rules, break them whenever they feel like it, and order the others to follow them. (A recent example of the mutability of the “Rules-Based International Order” is that gay rights are very important in Russia but not at all in Washington’s new “major ally” of Qatar). Moscow will invite every signatory of OSCE declarations (for example, Helsinki, Istanbul and Astana) to formally re-commit themselves. If they do, then Moscow will say “act on it now or we will”; if they don’t, then Moscow will say “we won’t either”. Remember R2P? If I were running Moscow, that’s where I would make my move.

THE BIG PRINCIPLE that Moscow is talking about is, quoting the 1999 Istanbul Summit, “(8) Each participating State has an equal right to security… They will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States… (9) The security of each participating State is inseparably linked to that of all others.” Kennan saw it in 1998: “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia“. Russia was weak then and NATO was strong; now it’s the other way round. NATO strengthened its security at the expense of Russia’s and now its security is weakened as a direct consequence of that very act. That’s the whole issue in a nutshell.

PLANNING. What we see today has been planned in Moscow (and coordinated with Beijing) over a long time. Did it start with NATO expansion in 1999? US quitting ABM in 2002? Putin’s 2007 Munich speech? The destruction of Libya in 2011? I don’t know but this is no sudden whim; it has 30 years behind it. The preparations are complete, Russia is ready for anything.

NATO UNITY is crumbling. Maybe Croatia and Hungary aren’t so important but there are signs that Germany and France are not happy. Europe has to understand that Washington is not its friend: it will sanction Russia to the last Euro and cubic metre of gas. But all we can realistically expect from Europe today are baby steps. It will take time for the unpleasant reality to sink in.

NATO WAR POWER. NATO’s a paper pussycat and so it is being shown to be. Ritter explains that it hasn’t got the military muscle to influence anything. All it can do is destroy third world counties and lose anyway. I wrote this seven years ago and I see nothing to change; do you? Afghanistan? Iraq? Anywhere? Moscow has the military power and, despite the boasts, NATO forces would be just a speed bump.

RUSSIAN WAR POWER. Russia can’t land an expeditionary force in Mexico and conquer the USA, or conquer Europe, or win a naval war in the South Pacific, or conquer Ukraine; its power projection capability is limited. But it can beat anybody at home. And that’s all its armed forces are there to do.

UKRAINE. It must now be plain to everyone in Ukraine that their BFFs will only fight to the last Ukrainian. Their biggest cheerleaders are pulling out their citizens and moving their troops back. Does Zelensky understand that there is precisely one actor whose word he can trust? Russia has been about to “invade Ukraine” since October and it’s amusing to watch Kiev try to strike a balance between “help me!” and “don’t ruin me!”: “at the moment, as we speak, this number is insufficient for a full-scale offensive…“. Washington is dialling it back too. Another glorious NATO victory soon to be declared! Of course, Moscow never intended to invade and be billed for the repair costs of that shattered polity.

RUSSIA/CHINA. Putin and Xi will be meeting on Friday. I expect a significant announcement. Beijing is perfectly aware that Moscow is fighting for it too.

AUDIENCE. The West in its more orotund moments likes to call itself “the international community”. It isn’t. Others watch and notice. Moscow is talking to them too.

PUTIN DERANGEMENT SYNDROME. I like to say that nothing they can invent about Putin surprises me. And then they do: he’s the reason aliens haven’t phoned.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Canada Russia Observer