Russia’s Arctic Posture: Defensive or Offensive?

The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11
The Russian nuclear submarine Orel arrives in Murmansk, April 11 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Many Westerners interpret Russia’s behavior in the Arctic as offensive, going back to 2007, when the country resumed air and naval patrols in the area and planted its flag under the North Pole.

Alexander Sergunin, a professor of international relations at Saint Petersburg State University, argues The Wilson Quarterly that the reality is more nuanced. On balance, he writes, Moscow’s policy is pragmatic. Read more

The Octopus in Political Cartoons

Octopuses are a popular trope in political art. They came in vogue in the 1870s, when Frederick W. Rose depicted Russia as a giant octopus lording over Eastern Europe. The sea monster was quickly given to Germany when it posed a bigger threat to peace in Europe. During the early Cold War, it was Russia’s turn again. The octopus was the perfect metaphor for spreading communism.

Here is a selection of the best and worst tentacled sea creatures. Read more

So Much for Yet Another Russian Reset

A flag of the Russian Federation
A flag of the Russian Federation (Amanda Graham)

From Reuters:

US president Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law on Wednesday new sanctions against Russia that Congress had approved overwhelmingly last week, criticizing the legislation as having “clearly unconstitutional” elements.

Ever since the United States entered the stage as a world power, it’s brushed up against Russia. From the 1918-20 international intervention that halfheartedly tried to prevent the rise of Soviet communism to this latest American sanctions bill, the US has long hoped to turn Russia into yet another reliable ally, joined together in a liberal order of peace and prosperity.

That geopolitical naivety is deeply embedded in the American body politic: candidate after candidate has hoped to defang the Russian bear with arms outreached, only to discover that Moscow sees not friendship but subjugation.

It is a relationship between an idealistic, extremely safe nation state and a cynical, deeply insecure one. One finds every betrayal or turnabout shocking; the other sees them as a natural course of events. Read more

Ukraine Might Be Better Off If “Little Russia” Did Secede

Military vehicles of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic are seen in eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015
Military vehicles of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic are seen in eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons/Mstyslav Chernov)

Separatists in the southeast of Ukraine have declared a new country: “Little Russia”.

The announcement by Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, amounts to little, argues Gwendolyn Sasse of Carnegie Europe.

She points out that leaders in Luhansk, Ukraine’s other breakaway region, have distanced themselves from it. Russia, which otherwise backs the Donbas uprising, hasn’t voiced support either. And the local population doesn’t want independence. A survey conducted earlier this year found a majority in favor of remaining in Ukraine. Only a third want to join Russia.

Yet it might be better for Ukraine if the region does secede. Read more

Trump Gives Putin What He Wants, Pulls Support from Syrian Rebels

Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France inspect an honor guard in Paris, July 13 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

Donald Trump has given Vladimir Putin a win in Syria by withdrawing America’s support from the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad.

The Washington Post reports that Trump made his decision a month ago, before he met Putin at the G20 in Hamburg.

Russia and the United States seemed on the verge of a confrontation at the time. America had shot down a regime fighter jet that was attacking its allies in Syria. Russia responded by suspending a military hotline with the United States.

It supports Assad, calling him a bulwark against terrorism. Read more

Putin Has Already Got Most of What He Wanted from Trump

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Collusion or not, Vladimir Putin has already got most of what he wanted from Donald Trump.

As Rachel Maddow reported on MSNBC last night:

  • Russia wants the West divided, not united.
  • It wants to be recognized as an equal partner to the United States in the war in Syria.
  • It wants to keep Bashar Assad in power.
  • It seeks to defang American diplomacy.
  • And it wants back the “diplomatic” (spy) compounds in Maryland and Upstate New York the Obama Administration seized in retaliation for Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Trump has given Putin all this. Read more

A New Cold War? Yes And No

Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow's Red Square, November 7, 1983
Soviet T-72 tanks parade in Moscow’s Red Square, November 7, 1983 (Thomas Hedden)

Shirley Bassey reminds us that we all come full circle sometimes:

The word is about, there’s something evolving
Whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
They say the next big thing is here
That the revolution’s near
But to me it seems quite clear
That it’s all just a little bit of history repeating

Tension between the United States and North Korea, Russian involvement in Western elections, talk of a nuclear arms race and the use of phrases like “disinformation” — the present day has an aura of déjà vu. Like we’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, to paraphrase Ms Bassey.

Many are referring to our time as another Cold War. As an historian, I can’t help but wonder if this is an appropriate comparison? Read more