by Our Central Asia Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 10, Safar, 1436)
Russia and the West are heading towards Cold War type rivalry, especially in Central Asia that Moscow considers its sphere of influence.
As the Western neocolonial regimes grow weaker, they are beginning to adopt the same primitive media tactics that the dictatorial puppets they installed in power elsewhere have practiced for decades. Nothing illustrates this point better than the largely ignored speech by the corporate media of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the Valdai International Discussion Club (VIDC) on October 24, 2014. Putin’s tough/legalistic rhetoric filled speech addressed many important issues. Analyzing his speech closely, however, the most important aspect of it is how Putin probably subconsciously identified the weaknesses and strengths of Russia and the West in the region of the former USSR.
During his Valdai speech Putin once again almost explicitly implied that Moscow views the ex-Soviet region as its strategic and privileged sphere of influence. The Russian president once again confirmed the evident: Western intrusion into the former Soviet regions is Kremlin’s red line. Russia demonstrated that it is capable of reacting to the violation of the identified redline by its actions in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014).
Washington, on the other hand, also showed that it can push its own interests in the region against Russia’s will by facilitating “colored revolutions” as it did in Georgia in 2003 and twice in Ukraine, the orange revolution in 2004 and the Evro-Maydan in 2014.
Conventionally speaking, Moscow’s reaction to Western actions in the region of the former Soviet Union shows that Russia’s strength lies in its hard power while Western advantage is in its soft power. Putin unintentionally confirmed the Western advantage during the question and answer session following his speech at VIDC, rebuking Western interference in Ukraine by declaring, “enough of revolutions, we are saturated with them.”
Today Russia and the West are locked in tactical rivalry for regional influence, which can unintentionally lead to a strategic Cold-War type conflict. Putin’s displeasure with Western-instigated “national revolts” probably made Western policy makers quite happy. Now they know what their opponent does not like and following the logic of a struggle, they will be doing more of what the opponent does not like, namely creating headaches for Moscow by facilitating other “national revolts” in the region.
It is easy for the West to pursue the policy of “national revolts” because Moscow only sees the current Soviet-era groomed power elites in Central Asia and the Caucasus as its most reliable tools. Russia’s current allies are a perfect pretext for Washington to enter the stage in Central Asia and the Caucasus and win sympathy of the people under the contrived slogan of human rights and democracy. Unless Moscow initiates its own “popular revolutions” by getting rid of the outdated regimes and begins selling itself as a beacon of freedom and a free electoral process, Russia will remain vulnerable. If Moscow decides to embark on this path, Washington’s soft-power advantage will be significantly reduced. The question is will the Kremlin go for this option? The answer to this is quite complicated and cannot be answered in simple “yes” or “no” terms.
Strategically speaking if things remain exactly the way they are, which they probably will not be for too long, Moscow is unlikely to embark on this ambitious project. However, if Russia sees that the only way to stop the West from crossing its redlines is by acting preventively, Putin will act. What will cause Russia to act preventively? Some potential scenarios that can push Russia toward a preventive facilitation of its own “national/popular revolts” are outlined below:
The above outlined scenarios can only occur if Western regimes decide that the only way to contain Russia is to create conflicts along its sensitive borders. Under present circumstances, the West is far from making this decision, but since both Moscow and Washington are having great difficulty controlling the ground situation in Ukraine, someone can easily overplay his hand.
The intensity of potential events in Central Asia and the Caucasus depends on how strategic the conflict between Russia and NATO becomes. This probability depends on other non-regional issues. One of the main issues is a temporary freeze (the West will never accept an authentic Islamic system in Iran or elsewhere) in Western hostility toward Islamic Iran by its agreeing to sign a nuclear agreement with Tehran. If Islamic Iran adopts a neutral stance vis-à-vis Russia-NATO competition, the conflict will intensify, based on the West’s arrogant assumption that it will be able to cow down Russia in a one-on-one, as it will not have to worry about strategic assistance to Moscow from the Islamic front led by Iran.
The coming weeks will tell which way the wind turns and who comes out on top!