US-Russia Relations in the post-Trump Era

Moscow’s Achilles heel in Central Asia is exploitable
Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Waseem Shehzad

Rabi' al-Thani 24, 1440 2019-01-01

Main Stories

by Waseem Shehzad (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1440)

Through careful analysis of political trends, Crescent International has over the years been able to accurately predict several developments. These have included the inevitable break out of the Islamic Awakening that some have erroneously dubbed the “Arab Spring,” the Yemeni factor in the decline of Saudi monarchy, the downward spiral of the EU and the reimposition of sanctions against Islamic Iran. Continuing with our analysis of global trends, we will attempt to make one more projection relating to the evolution of US-Russia relations once the presidency of Donald Trump ends.

Since the malfunction of the US selection system, which put Trump in the White House, Russia has become a fixation of the corporate media and the entire US deep state. One of the principal reasons for this obsession is the fact that the US security and political establishment assumed that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia would not be able to return as an influential player in global politics. They were proved wrong.

Trump’s unexpected elevation to the White House destabilized the US from within and his crude “statecraft” opened several cracks in the façade of Washington’s imperial dominance. One of the key issues about which the US socio-political elite are upset with Trump is his inability to counter Russia’s resurgence, and to do so with some degree of sophistication as was the case in the past. Thus, they indulged in half-truths and cooked up scandals over Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government.

Over the past few years, from Ukraine to Yemen, Moscow has gained influence at the expense of the US whose global influence has suffered considerable decline. All of this is part of the inevitable emergence of the multipolar global order.

Nevertheless, the US political establishment has come to believe its own lie, that Trump’s softness toward Russia is the reason Moscow is making gains. The corporate media is beaming this message to the largely ignorant American public 24/7. Therefore, whoever succeeds Trump as president will have to adopt a confrontational approach to Russia in order to appear different and to appeal to public sentiment. If Trump’s successor is a Democrat, the confrontational rhetoric and policies will be much harsher than if a Republican were to replace him. The US political system has become tribal, resembling the many autocratic regimes Washington supports worldwide. This is another sign of its imperial decline.

While it appears unlikely that Trump will be a two-term president, he still has a chance of getting back into the White House. Our analysis, however, will look at the period after Trump, be it in 2020 or 2024.

At the beginning of the new presidency in the post-Trump era, we expect Washington to adopt a rigid and hostile attitude toward Russia in Ukraine and Syria. There will be additional economic sanctions and other forms of pressure, for example through the media, by providing more space to anti-Putin opposition voices in the media. By then, however, Moscow will probably have solidified the gains it has made during the Trump presidency. Thus, most of Washington’s leverage against Russia will not be effective. The only exception to this scenario is the possible destabilization of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

One of Russia’s major aims in its relationship with NATO is to gain strategic leverage to secure Western non-involvement in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Russia views them as its privileged sphere of influence. Russia reacted with alarm to the US-coached overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 because it saw it as a step toward the expansion of NATO to its borders. For the same reason, Russia launched a war against Georgia in 2008 after Tbilisi attempted to establish its territorial sovereignty over the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Moscow would not have gotten involved in Syria were it not for the establishment of the Wahhabi-minded anti-Syrian militias led and manned by Muslims from the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia sees its involvement in Syria as a pre-emptive strike, against those who would come back to Russia and launch an armed rebellion within the Muslim regions of Russia or destabilize the Moscow backed despotic regimes in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Most of the influential takfiri groups fighting for the NATO and Israeli agenda in Syria have established strong connections to Western intelligence services, that can and will at some point utilize them as they have been doing in Syria, Libya, and Algeria.

In its June 2018 edition, Crescent International had explained that the takfiris are still playing a crucial role among Islamic groups in the region of the former Soviet Union (FSU) and within Russia. Thus, it is only to be expected that at some point in the not-too-distant future, Washington will use them as leverage to undermine Russia.

Moscow is very sensitive to instability on its borders. It is a multi-ethnic and federal state that can be easily sucked into conflicts in neighboring regions. This would jeopardize Russia’s territorial integrity. One of the primary state objectives of Russia can be summarized in one phrase: avoid the destiny of the USSR by any means possible.

Central Asian republics east of the Caspian Sea, which were part of the Soviet federation and all of which have Muslim majorities, have not seen the degree of autonomy experienced by the former European republics of the USSR, not only because it would be problematic for the West to invite them into NATO but also because they are re-source rich, and Russia will not let them detach easily. However, unlike their Eastern European counterparts, they represent a ticking ethnic and religious time bomb for Russia. The repression employed by Russian-backed regimes to prevent the further incursion of salafi-Wahhabi influence has thrown all the Muslims into one boat, so to speak, and thereby excluded the nonviolent and solutions-oriented Islamic parties from the political and representative process. Making peaceful political participation impossible will make violent over-throw inevitable. Western exploitation of such a condition is what drew in, and ultimately destroyed, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan some four decades ago.

Russia’s susceptibility to Western interference is that for historical reasons, a significant percentage of native Muslim population in Russia and Central Asia does not have a favorable orientation toward Russia. This mood is far less than what it used to be in the 1990s, but a large part of Central Asian and Caucasian peoples still view Moscow as an imperialist power. Thus, separatism is still a threat. What adds fuel to the fire is the fact that all autocratic regimes in the FSU region are backed by Russia. Thus, all Washington needs to do is to mobilize people in Central Asia against the local despots. Moscow will inevitably react harshly, and the destabilization plan will go into effect.

During the recent popular revolt in Armenia that toppled a pro-Russian regime, Moscow reacted wisely and in a sophisticated manner. This, however, is mainly because Armenia, due to its geopolitical realities, has always been a Russian ally. No matter who is in power, Armenia sees itself as a strategic ally of Russia, whom it needs to counter Turkey and to a lesser degree Islamic Iran.

In Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Western political establishment cultivated deep ties to both the autocratic regimes and the visible opposition. Russia on the other hand, placed all its eggs in one basket, namely the ruling regimes. This feeds into the Western narrative projecting Russia as a regressive force in the region seeking to reimpose Soviet era imperialism.

Overall, most prominent opposition figures in the FSU region are Western oriented and greatly distrust Moscow. Russia’s track record also does not help it to dispel this mistrust. In the mid-1990s it gave a tacit backing to the Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) and together with Islamic Iran facilitated the end of the Tajik civil war. Once Moscow regained confidence and strength, through its local proxy-regime it facilitated the dismantling of the IRPT and its outright ban in Tajikistan.

Most of the leadership of the regimes in the FSU region comprises ex-communist bureaucrats from the Soviet era. The Russian government understands their kleptocratic mindset and most probably has a lot of dirt on them. Moscow sees these regimes as buffer tools against Western influence since they are committed to preserving the status quo with which Moscow is satisfied. Russia correctly foresees the reality that any conflict or tension will spill over or show significant destabilizing effect within Russia itself.

Taking the above into consideration, it is not difficult to surmise that NATO regimes see the Achilles heel of Russia. Thus, the campaign of destabilization in Central Asia is coming, as this will also create additional headaches for China. Beijing’s harsh measures against the Muslims of East Turkistan and the Western corporate media’s wide coverage of their plight are warning signals. The role of Muslim leaders in the area is not to become NATO’s pawns as they did in Syria, Libya, and Egypt. Neither should they turn themselves into Russian or Chinese proxies against NATO.

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