There are those, who say that the phrase ‘Russians are attacking’ has become a metaphor of politics. For some, it is a phrase that justifies political effort and expenses for defense, for others it is a mocking remark to political decisions that are not always justified and incomprehensible. There are some who say that no one is attacking at all, there will be no war – we live in different times now. There were similar people already in ancient Egypt and in all other epochs, although absence of war did not serve the purpose, they still happen.
Anyway, no other than the Russian state, whatever its name may be, Moscow, the empire, or the union – in recent centuries there has been the greatest threat not only to the security of Lithuania, but also to the security of the whole region. Since times of Tsar Peter, when he began to cut the window to Europe (instead of politely entering through the door), Russia has become an unsolvable problem in European politics. It attacked more than once; the Russian army had even reached Paris, not to mention Berlin where it stayed for almost half a century.
The power of Russia has always been full of paradoxes. From the duchies to the superpower, to the current weird status that political scientists call Nigeria with a nuclear weapon. So, are Russians still attacking when the 21 century is gaining the momentum. Maybe they are attacking?
The short answer is very simple – they are attacking. And they will attack. Because if they do not attack, it will no longer be Russia, which means not just the name of the state in politics. It is a chrestomathic political phenomenon – to be aggressive is simply in its nature. Russia, which does not attack, is a typical seller of raw materials that is typical to so-called Third World state. And nothing more. We can say that it is primitive and old-fashioned, but nothing prevents even some political old maids from reaching professional heights.
This is the situation. How is it attacking us here and now?
In its official rhetoric of security needs, Russia is truly old-fashioned. Mainly because it seeks to go back to the past, to the “old-good” times of the superpower, to the world in which the description from political summaries is moved to history textbooks. The so-called national security strategy of the Russian Federation states (similar as in the times of the USSR) that the most important threat to its security is the United States and NATO. Thus, the weakening of NATO and US by all possible means (not only physical, but also informational and propaganda) is the task of that security policy. The essential difference is that half a century ago the USSR had a hope of winning World War III and did not hide it. Now there is no hope of a Third World victory, but Russians can really win small wars for small relative) things. Especially when you give in to them more than you resist. This is called geopolitical kleptomania – the weaker places of weaker neighbors find themselves in the pockets of Russians one after another.
Geopolitical kleptomania of Russia is not just a disease. Causing a sense of insecurity in neighboring countries is one of geopolitical measures of Russia. Especially in the light of NATO claim a few decades ago that NATO accepts only safe countries, not those that need further protection. So, there is no need to have any illusions – Russia will not return neither Crimea nor Donbass in exchange for something; it is not an object of exchange, but simply property of Russia. If it was possible to conquer something a few hundred years ago, the question is, why can’t they do it now?
Of course, today Russia wants to dominate in Eastern and Central Europe, but it cannot do so not only for political reasons but also because of technical weakness. A military alliance with some former USSR republics is not the strength of the former Warsaw Pact, but rather allowing Russia to act in its own interests if it is “badly” needed. In the recent Karabakh war, the most important Armenian argument “Russia will help us” failed.
Russia is forced to demonstrate strength, because otherwise it will not be Russia and there is another dilemma here – it simply cannot be peaceful, it will be the Duchy of Moscow, it will change all geopolitics. Zbigniew Brzezinski once said that after the Cold War, Russia has been gradually returning to its normal (duchy) state, which is a good process, but we should not rush it, because Russia just does not want to be that normal.
What are chances of Russia of being a great state and why does it not succeed so easily. What are strengths and weaknesses of Russia?
Modernization of Russia is underway, in the military field as well. People are talking about the so-called hypersonic weapon – “new generation” fighter jets. However, in the global context that modernization is no longer so impressive in the qualitative transformation of warfare. Strengthening of military power is not focused on defense, but rather on the projection of power in the specific context of Russia that requires an authoritarian power.
No matter how much we talk about lack of preparation of NATO countries (and talks are not from nowhere) Russia does not have a technological advantage over NATO armed forces. This was partly demonstrated by the already mentioned Karabakh war, in which Armenians were fighting “the Russian way” and Azerbaijanis were fighting “the Turkish way”, Armenians were fighting yesterday’s war, Azerbaijanis were fighting the tomorrow’s war. Compensating for the lack of quality with quantity is not so simple, and in some chains of warfare it is not even possible. Therefore, the so-called conventional war against NATO is difficult to imagine today. You should seriously ‘get out of your mind” to tart it. Although, as I said here … Military training of Russia and all the above-mentioned projection of power show that war in Central Europe is probable. Vladimir Putin survives not because of the collapse of communism; he survives because of the collapse of the Soviet Union as a geography. The USSR was Russia with a protection zone, Russia with fur. Now it is kind of “naked”, and that nudity is a message, very unpleasant for Russia.
Some decades ago, the formula for geopolitical expansion was as follows: force first, then politics. Now it is different – first politics, then force. Russia, being weak, does not strengthen itself, but weakens the opponent. And this is a fundamental attack of Russia today. It is a far more effective unconventional weapon for Russia, targeting the weaknesses of NATO and the entire Western community. Russia seeks an advantage in areas that do not require technological advantage.
Perhaps weakening of the unity of the Euro-Atlantic community goes first. Here, indeed, the Russians are attacking, taking every opportunity to provoke turmoil and mistrust among Western states. Both Germans and Hungarians are exploited for their own purposes, and Greece and Cyprus for their own. The recent espionage spy scandal crossed over trust in Italians or Bulgarians and is a small victory for the Russian attack. The Russians understand that it is difficult to expect NATO to lose one country or another, but mistrust can undermine the credibility of the alliance. At the same time, the conflicts in those parts of the world that are causing NATO countries to “have a headache” in their own way, let them decide for themselves, the more NATO stumbles somewhere in Africa or Asia, the better for the Russians. Russia cannot export “all politics” today, as it once did with Angola or Ethiopia, but it is able to export mercenaries.
Cyber hooliganism of Russia has become so common that nobody gets surprised any longer and protest, simply looking for ways to make the Russian attack in this area less damaging. However, the Russians should not be very happy here – common solutions are the best way to ensure cyber security, so cyber security consolidates rather than divides the Western community. The Russians do not want to win the election in the West, but to cause distrust in the election process is a big win.
Probably the most successful attack of Russia takes place in the field of information (or disinformation). Some decades ago, the West enthusiastically created all sorts of “reporters without borders” schemes, hoping that the truth from the democratic world would change the mindset of people in authoritarian countries. The result was almost opposite. Russia is closing all those channels for reporters without borders, and its own channels of liars registered in respectable Western states are … legally inviolable. We have become victims of our own announced freedom of information. I do not know if anything will change after the pandemic, but I know from my business travel experience that no more decent hotel, no cable TV package can do without a Russian (and even Chinese) channel of false news.
So, what is left for us.
The easiest way is to convince yourself that the Russians are not attacking. There are no military officers in NATO countries (formally not even in Donbass). The option let’s face it, is cheap but risky. Our troops are still preparing for peace. They need to be prepared for a war.
It is possible and very important to prevent the Russians from establishing themselves in such “gray areas” as Ukraine. Now we are basically forcing the Ukrainians to defend us, when in fact we should defend Ukraine. By the way, Belarus, which (at least in the military field) never separated from Russia.
We should be less surprised by soft power capabilities of Russia and strengthen our own. Central Europe needs that not only the countries of Central Europe themselves, but the whole Alliance would feel ‘pain’ for its fate. I keep hearing in Brussels that Vladimir Putin needs to know how strong and united we are. Vladimir Putin knows; he knows that we are not so strong and often not so united.
On 11 September 2001, three passenger planes from a NATO country were hijacked by Islamic terrorists. NATO regarded this as an Alliance attack and activated that all-encompassing Fifth Article. Now, Russian assistants have hijacked a passenger plane from another NATO country. According to case law, we should declare war because the situation is analogous. Or not? Russia is attacking…