by Our Own Correspondent (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 1, Rajab, 1443)
As western media outlets continue their fixation with news from Russia and NATO capitals over the unpredictable geopolitical developments in Ukraine, the end game for all sides remains unclear and not properly understood. While both Russia and NATO regimes adjust their objectives and tactics based on the rapidly evolving situation, there are certain fixed points.
Since Russian objectives are clearer, let us begin with them.
When it comes to the bigger picture, Russia knows that the US is an empire in decline. Based on this reality, Moscow wants to snatch a strategic geopolitical concession from the US using the Ukrainian crisis as leverage.
Moscow wants to clearly establish that the regions of the former Soviet Union will be out of bounds for NATO domination. It wants an official acknowledgement from Western regimes of its own “Monroe Doctrine.”
As recently as 20 years, the US treated South America as its exclusive sphere of influence. Washington arrogantly established a political framework called the Monroe Doctrine. It dates to the 19th century that declared South America off limits to other powers.
While Russia’s grand objective is quite straight forward, its tactics are flexible. From using its virtual monopoly of energy supplies to Europe to its proxy militias in Eastern Ukraine, Russia uses its leverages in multiple and diverse ways.
It should be noted that Moscow is not against western economic and political presence in the regions of the former Soviet Union per se. It simply draws a line at the question of domination. It wants all key decisions in the region to be made via Moscow.
Russia’s good relations with the regime of Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan demonstrates this point. The Aliyev regime has comfortable political and economic relations with western regimes but knows not to cross Russia’s geopolitical and security redlines. In the pressure tactics used by both sides (Russia and the West) in Ukraine, Moscow wants to make sure that the other does not perceive its activities as bluff. In western calculations this may seem as petty politics, for Moscow it is not trivial.
Russian decision-makers probably assume that if western regimes end up exposing Russian sabre rattling as political bluff and begin engaging Moscow based on this assumption, they may unintentionally cross Russian geopolitical red lines. This will force Russia to react far more aggressively in the future. This is a scenario that Moscow wants to avoid.
Thus, the more the western regimes and their corporate media parrot the narrative of “imminent Russian” occupation of entire Ukraine, they unintentionally increase the chances of greater Russian pressure on Ukraine. In Russian calculation, it is important to make it clear to western regimes that while it is not planning a conventional invasion, it can create a check-mate situation for NATO without committing itself to armed conflict. This tactic would mainly involve dragging the Ukrainian army into combat with pro-Russian militias. The repercussions of this move would be politically and economically costly for NATO.
While a large-scale military action in Ukraine will be unpopular among Russians and carry huge costs for Russia, Moscow sees itself as being under economic pressure to get NATO to agree to halt its expansion. Russia knows that once Western Europe establishes a well-structured deployment of natural gas to Europe reducing its purchases from Russia, it will be more difficult to pressure NATO to halt its eastward expansion.
For now, West European regimes do not have a viable option to significantly reduce Russian supplies. The 2015 European Commission’s series of proposals still remain as vague plans. Its most realistic alternative—the TANAP pipeline—is unlikely to be implemented on a large scale to serve as a viable substitute for Russian natural gas.
Regimes in Central Asia and Azerbaijan will not dare to act as economic leverages to cut Russia gas supplies to Europe. They will be ousted from power and the US is in no position to install its proxies in the region as it does in the Persian Gulf or North Africa.
It would be inaccurate to characterize Washington’s political and military goals in Eastern Europe today as concrete objectives. America’s understanding of current events is grounded in its unwillingness to admit that a multipolar world order is the new reality and the US is no longer the global superpower it once was.
Thus, in this context, it is inaccurate to speak of US goals and objectives. Politics is the art of the possible. The US “goals” are impossible to achieve in the geopolitical setting of 2022. Thus, it is more accurate to label them as a wish list.
The fact that the US stubbornly refuses to halt NATO’s eastward expansion and recognize the fact that it is not living in the era of the 1990s, shows that Washington elite are quite detached from the geopolitical realities of 2022.
Russia has been warning since 2007 that it will not accept NATO expansion towards its borders. It should be noted that the German magazine Der Spiegel published documents from a March 6, 1991 meeting with the political directors of the foreign ministries of the United States, Britain, France and Germany during which a promise was made to Russia to not expand NATO.
After Putin’s speech in Munich in 2007, western regimes made several statements hinting at incorporating Ukraine and Georgia into NATO’s security and political umbrella. Such decisions, just like the decision to incorporate Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia into NATO are based on the unipolar world order mindset.
American ruling elite want to maintain Washington’s global relevance by any means and this broad aim undermines its ability to formulate a realistic strategy relevant to today’s environment. Since it is unlikely that the US ruling caste will accept the decline of their global hegemonic status anytime soon, Washington is unlikely to formulate a substantive counter-measures against Russian geopolitical ambitions.
While NATO’s response to Russian invasion of parts of Ukraine was politically decisive, it does not mean that similar scenarios will be avoided in the future. Russia has its own geopolitical calculus. Since NATO regimes are likely to begin pressuring Russia via the Caucasus and Central Asia, Ukraine-style events are unfortunately not over.
This will be augmented by increasing support for anti-Putin opposition groups inside Russia. What this will result in is yet to be seen, as rural Russia is the west’s political blind spot in Russia.
Also, Ukraine’s socio-political scene is quite fragmented with many autonomous forces capable of going rogue. This is evident from the regime’s official response. This may not happen anytime soon, but can happen in the future. This factor will be partly utilized by NATO to keep Russia off balance.
The Russian society does not view a war with a brotherly Ukrainian nation favorably. This is something the Russian leadership understands; thus, it will try to make the armed phase as short as possible.
By recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, Moscow has achieved its primary objective. It has thrown Ukraine and the whole of Europe into a state of permanent instability. This will be used as a major bargaining chip whenever the US is forced to sit down and negotiate a new strategic security architecture with Russia pertaining to the regions of the former Soviet Union.
Another key geopolitical outcome of the latest Russian move will be the increase of Islamic Iran’s prominence in global affairs. As noted by the former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar “Statista ranks Iran as the fifth leading country worldwide based on natural resources value ($27.3 trillion) as of 2021 — above China ($23 trillion) and way above India ($0.11 trillion.) Unsurprisingly, Iran’s integration into the world economy makes the stuff of geopolitics. In a nutshell, an authentic regional power is rising, which has great potential to be a global power, given its agricultural and technological base, trained manpower, large domestic market (population: 85 million) and geographical location.”
Iran being one of the poles of power in the new multipolar global order will be wooed by western regimes to act as an energy substitute to Russia. This ploy is unlikely to succeed. Iran’s non-recognition of Russian annexation of Ukraine and its resistance to western imperialism once again highlights the fact that the foreign policy strategy formulated by Imam Khomeini—Neither West nor East—lives on. Iran is unlikely to change this position which forms its strategic Islamic identity and which has brought it much success. Thus, at the tactical level, the West is now more likely to sign the JCPOA agreement with Iran and probably on more favorable terms to Tehran.
Another important development will be the west’s global hunt for energy resources to eliminate importing Russian energy products and deprive Russia of foreign currency. This quest is likely to raise tensions in Africa and the Persian Gulf. NATO regimes will exert pressure on its vassal states in the Persian Gulf to come up with quick solutions to become energy substitutes to Russia in global markets. Such a scenario will create further tensions in the western camp.
Turkey’s role is also likely to be boosted, as it is a geopolitical corridor to energy resources which would act as substitutes to Russia. This, however, is only a theory. In practice it will be quite difficult to come up with quick substitute to Russia’s natural gas. Such changes are not achieved in weeks; they require gigantic industrial and political work.
China’s nuanced reaction to Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine suggests that while Beijing will not obstruct Moscow’s geopolitical plans, it will not be an avid supporter either. In-depth look at Chinese foreign policy and its state management philosophy reveals that Beijing does not favor blunt military policies. Instead, it favors co-option rather than coercion. However, one thing that can be stated confidently is that China is not going to repeat the mistake of the Cold War era and become Washington’s leverage against Russia. American policy-makers intoxicated on imperial hubris took disagreements with China to the level of strategic confrontation which will not be resolved anytime soon.
For the Ukrainian regime, current or future, Russian annexation will be used as a cash cow. Ukrainian bureaucracy is extremely corrupt, thus a strong argument can be made that just like other NATO dependent regimes, such as the former regime in Afghanistan, foreign aid under the label of containing Russia will be utilized as a source of income. This is likely to create much instability inside Ukraine, forcing NATO regimes to regularly micromanage the situation and provide openings for Russian interference.
While Russia’s conduct is worrying and quite aggressive, its moves disrupt the West-centric global order which has inflicted so much harm and injustices on the developing world. It also strengthens multipolarity. This is a positive development. Especially so if more developing countries manage to establish themselves as power poles in the new multipolar global order and strive to avoid being used as pawns and leverages.
As this magazine’s primary focus is on matters affecting the Muslim world and many of our readers seek to understand current affairs through an Islamic paradigm, Russia’s current conduct can be best understood via the following Qur’anic ayat: “…. For, were it not for Allah enabling people to defend themselves against [the aggression] of one another, [many] monasteries, temples, synagogues, and masjids wherein Allah’s name is ceaselessly invoked would have been incontestably destroyed. And Allah will decisively help those who rally round Him — for, assuredly, Allah is most definitely almighty, prominent — (The Ascendant Qur’an: 22:40).