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JUNE 2021

Russia in the Invisible War

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Russia in the Invisible War

Original by Rostislav Ishchenko published by RIA-Novosti; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

Rostislav Ishchenko answers the question how Russia was able in twenty years, without wars or upheavals, raise itself from the status of disintegrating semi-colony to the level of a recognized global leader, equal among the firsts.

Kitchen “strategists” who believe a massive nuclear strike to be a universal method of resolving any foreign policy problem (even the most serious ones bordering on military confrontation) are most unhappy with the moderate approach adopted by the Russian leadership in the Turkish crisis. They view direct Russian military participation in the Syrian conflict insufficient. Moscow’s actions on the Ukrainian issue also do not suit them.

But nobody has attempted to answer a single simple question. How was Russia one day able not only to actively oppose the global hegemon but to outplay it in every respect?

Why now

After all, in the late ’90s Russia was a country on a par with the Third World in the economic and financial sense. An anti-oligarchic rebellion was brewing in the country. It was embroiled in an endless and hopeless war in Chechnya which was starting to spill into Dagestan. The country’s security was ensured only by its nuclear arsenal since the military did not have sufficient trained personnel or modern equipment to conduct a serious operation even on its own borders. Aircraft did not fly and ships did not sail.

Of course, anyone can explain how the industry, including defense, gradually recovered, how the situation in the country stabilized as the standard of living improved, and the military modernized.

But the key question here is not who did more to restore the Russian Armed Forces: Shoygu, Serdyukov, or the General Staff. And not who is the better economist, Glazyev or Kudrin, and whether even more money could have been spent on social programs.

The main unknown factor in that task was time. Where did we get it or, more to the point, why did the US give Russia time to prepare itself to repel its assault, to strengthen its economic and military muscles, to annihilate the pro-US foreign policy lobby among the politicians and the media which was so carefully nurtured by the State Department?

Why did the open confrontation in which we are clearly outplaying Washington not begin 10-15 years ago when Russia had no chance to survive sanctions? Because in actuality the US adopted a policy to establish puppet regimes in the entire post-Soviet sphere, including Moscow which was to be but one of many capitals of disintegrated Russia, already in the late 1990s.

The diplomatic corps’ healthy conservatism

The foundations of the current military and political successes were laid down over the course of decades on the invisible diplomatic front.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was one of the first central agencies to overcome administrative chaos caused by the early ’90s collapse. In 1996 Yevgeniy Maksimovich Primakov took the post of the Foreign Minister and turned around his plane on the way to the US as a means of protesting US aggression against Yugoslavia, thus turning around Russia’s foreign policy which would never again obediently follow that of the US.

Two and a half years later he recommended Igor Sergeyevich Ivanov who slowly, almost unnoticeably, but surely bolstered Russian diplomacy’s independence. Ivanov was in turn replaced in 2004 by the acting minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov during whose tenure the Russian MFA acquired sufficient resources to shift from positional defense to a more offensive posture.

Of the three ministers mentioned above, only Ivanov received the Hero of Russia star, but I am sure that his predecessor and his successor deserve it just as much.

The rapid restoration of MFA’s effectiveness was facilitated by the traditional caste mentality and healthy conservatism of the diplomatic corps. The externally unhurried demeanor and adherence to traditions for which diplomats are often criticized. Kozyrev’s ways did not “stick” in the MFA because they did not find a fertile soil.

Internal consolidation phase

But let’s return to 1996. Russia is at the bottom of the economic chasm and it is yet to experience the 1998 default. US starts to openly ignore international law and undermine international structures through its arbitrary and unilateral actions. NATO and EU prepare to advance toward Russia’s borders.

There is no way to reply. Russia (just as USSR) is able to destroy any aggressor in 20 minutes but nobody is about to go to war with it. Any departure from the Washington “party line” any attempt to conduct an independent foreign policy would cause economic strangulation and, as a consequence, internal destabilization as the country was utterly dependent on Western credits at that time.

The situation was made more difficult by the government being held by the comprador pro-US elite (not unlike Ukraine’s current elite), and the compradors were engaged in a struggle against the patriotic “Putin levy” bureaucracy until 2004-2005. The last rear-guard action carried out by the compradors in their agony was the Bolotnaya Square revolution attempt of 2011. But what would have happened in 2000, when they had an overwhelming advantage?
Russian authorities needed time for internal consolidation, restoring economic and financial systems, ensuring and strengthening self-sufficiency and independence from the West, restoring battleworthy and modern armed forces. Finally, Russia needed allies.
The diplomats were facing a practically impossible task. They had to stand unyieldingly on matters of principle while at the same time consolidating the post-Soviet sphere around Russia, establish alliance ties with governments in opposition against the US and, whenever possible, support them while at the same time foster Washington’s illusion of Russia’s weakness and readiness to make strategic concessions.
The illusion of Russia’s weakness
The effectiveness with which that task was accomplished is testified to by the myths which still persist among Western analysts and pro-US Russian “oppositionists.” For example, that if Russia is against some Western international hooliganism, it is “bluffing in order to save face,” because Russian elites “are completely dependent on the West because that’s where their money is,” and that “Russia is abandoning its allies.”
Incidentally, the myths about “rusty rockets that can’t fly,” “hungry soldiers building generals’ villas,” and the “torn to shreds economy” have been all but dispelled. Only marginal players who are not so much unable to but afraid to objectively perceive reality still believe them.
That illusion of weakness and subservience made the West sure of itself on the question of resolving the Russia question and prevented it from hurrying to launch a direct political and military attack on Moscow, thus giving the Russian leadership its main asset–time–necessary for the implementation of reforms.Naturally, there is never too much time and we’d have preferred to have put off the direct confrontation with the US which began in 2012-2013 for at least three to five years or even avoid it altogether, but diplomats won the country some 12-15 years which is a long time in our rapidly changing world.Russian diplomacy in UkraineDue to lack of space I will cite only one example but a very characteristic one, and reflective of the current political situation.

Russia is still being accused of insufficiently active opposition to the US in Ukraine, of not establishing a pro-Russian “fifth column” to outweigh the pro-US one, of working with the elites and not the people, etc. Let’s assess the situation from the perspective of actual capabilities and not wishful thinking.

For all the respect for the people, it is the elite that defines the state’s politics. Ukraine’s elite is and has remained anti-Russian in all of its manifestations. The difference is only that the ideologically nationalist (and gradually sliding into Nazism) elite was openly Russophobic, while the economic (comprador, oligarchic) elite was simply pro-Western but had nothing against economic ties with Russia from which it drew profits.

As a reminder, it was the supposedly pro-Russian Party of Regions which boasted it did not allow Russian business into the Donbass. It is they who tried to convince the world they were the better “eurointegrators” than the nationalists.

It was the Yanukovych-Azarov regime which caused the 2013 economic confrontation with Russia by demanding that, in spite of Ukraine signing the association agreement with the EU, Moscow not only preserve but enhance the preferential treatment enjoyed by Ukraine’s economy. In the end, it is Yanukovych and his fellow Party of Regions politicians who materially supported the Nazis and transformed them from a marginal niche movement into a serious political movement when they had absolute power (2010-2013), while at the same time doing everything to suppress all pro-Russian organizational and information activity (not to mention political).

Ukraine’s Communist Party which preserved pro-Russian rhetoric never attempted to hold power and in actuality adopted a position of a loyal opposition which deferred to the oligarchs and which rendered harmless any protest feelings.

In these conditions, any Russian attempt to work with NGOs or to establish a body of pro-Russian media would have been interpreted as a violation of the Ukrainian oligarchic prerogative to have the monopoly on plundering the country and moreover would have accelerated Ukraine’s drift to the West which Kiev viewed as a counterweight to Russia. The US would have reasonably enough interpreted such moves as Russia shifting to open confrontation and responded by stepping up its efforts to destabilize Russia from within and by supporting pro-Western elites in the whole post-Soviet sphere.

Russia was not ready for an open confrontation in 2000 or 2004. Even when this happened in 2013 (against Moscow’s will), Russia needed two years to mobilize necessary resources to give a strong reply in Syria. This country’s elite, unlike Ukraine’s, rejected any possibility of kow-towing to the West right from the start.

That’s why Russia’s diplomacy pursued two main tasks over the course of 12 years, between the “Ukraine without Kuchma” action which was the first failed attempt of a pro-US coup in Ukraine, and February 2013.

The first was to maintain Ukraine in a state of unstable balance. The second was to confince Ukraine’s elites that it is the West that poses the threat to its well-being, while orienting on Russia is the only way of stabilizing the country and preserving it and the elite’s position within it.

 The first task was accomplished and then some. US was able to make Ukraine abandon its multi-vector policy in favor of becoming an anti-Russia battering ram only in early 2013, and even then only after expending a lot of time and money and achieving an internally conflicted regime incapable of independent existence in the absence of growing US material support. Instead of using Ukraine as an asset, US is forced to expend its own assets to prolong the agony of the Ukrainian state that was destroyed by the coup.

The second task was not accomplished for reasons beyond the control of Russian authorities. Ukraine’s elite turned out to be not up to the task, incapable of strategic thinking, unable to assess costs and benefits, captive to two myths.

The first was that the West would easily defeat Russia and share the spoils with Ukraine. The second was that one did not need any particular effort, other than taking up a stridently anti-Russian pose, to live well (with the West paying the bills). Facing a choice of turning toward Russia or staying with the West and dying, Ukraine’s elite opted to die.

But the Russian diplomacy was able to extract benefits from Ukrainian elite’s self-destruction. Opting out of a confrontation with the Ukrainian regime and having imposed a prolonged negotiating process on Kiev and the West concurrent with a slow-motion civil war, it excluded the US from the Minsk format, played on the EU-US differences, and made Ukraine the West’s problem.

As a result the consolidated Washington-Brussels position collapsed. European politicians who counted on a diplomatic blitzkrieg were unprepared for a long stand-off. EU’s economy was not up to it. The US, in turn, were not about to pay for Kiev’s upkeep on their own.

Today, after a year and a half of effort, the Old Europe (France and Germany) which determines EU’s policies abandoned Ukraine and is looking for a way to extend a hand to Russia over the heads of the pro-US quasi-states (Poland and the Baltics). Even Warsaw, Kiev’s former “chief spokesman” in the EU is openly hinting (unofficially, but still) at the possibility of Ukraine’s partition, having lost faith in Kiev’s ability to preserve the country.

Ukrainian political and expert community is experiencing growing hysteria over “Europe’s treachery.” The former first governor of the Donetsk Region (or so the Nazi regime thinks) and oligarch Sergey Taruta says that the country has 8 months left to live. Oligarch Dmitry Firtash (who is reputed to be Ukraine’s kingmaker) predicts the collapse for the spring of 2016.

And all of that was quietly and invisibly accomplished by the Russian diplomacy which did not need to rely on tank columns and strategic bombers. It was able to accomplish this in a head-on confrontation against an entire block of the economically, militarily, and politically most powerful states on the planet in spite of having started from an initially weaker position and having allies who are not always happy about Russia’s growing power.

Middle East Breakthrough

Russia was concurrently able to return to the Middle East, preserve and expand post-Soviet integration projects (Eurasian Economic Union), develop a Eurasian integration project (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) jointly with China, and work within the BRICS framework on a global integration project.

The article’s format unfortunately makes it impossible to discuss all the strategic operations carried out by Russia’s diplomacy over the nearly 12 years (since Primakov until today). That would require a multi-volume work.

But any individual who will attempt to answer the question how Russia was able to raise its status from that of a collapsing semi-colony to an acknowledged global leader must admit the contributions of the hundreds of people from the Smolensk Square. Their activities avoid publicity, noise, blood, and casualties, while yielding results comparable to what might have been achieved in many years of war by armies of millions.


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