Russia, how it could all work out
To me, Russia is a bit like the school bully who no one really likes but everyone puts up with their crap because, well, they are a bully. But, like most bullies, there are usually extenuating circumstances. Why is Russia like they are?
Hundreds of books have been written and thousands of folks in and out of government are employed just to figure out the answer to that question. I will not attempt to explain all of that in this little ol' blog, but here is a very short bit of history to explain how I think we got to where we are.
Russia was a monarchy for a very long time and like most nations prior to the 20th century, almost all advances in wealth and power came from conquest. As much as present attitudes like to blame any royalty or ruler (especially a white one) as evil, wicked and anti-poor, every powerful tribe, duchy, principality, state or nation gained power and kept it by fighting with other entities. If a nation wasn't taking property, they were soon likely to be giving it up. It was a zero sum game.
During the final years of the 1800s Marxism became popular as monarchies waned and the proletariat around the world desired to shed the shackles of kings. The US went largely unscathed by the siren call of Marx-Engels because we had already fought our fight a hundred years earlier. Russia wasn't so lucky and after a revolution in 1905 weakened the Tsar, Lenin and his Bolsheviks agitated and fought until they were able to take over the country in 1917. Lenin became Chairman of the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 and Stalin took over the leadership of the Soviet Union in 1924 after the death of Lenin in January of that year.
Because Marxism was definitively anti-Capitalist, the Soviet Union was by default an enemy of the United States and most of "The West" in spite of a large number of USSR supporters in the United States. What has become not only cliche, but a proven requirement of Marxist and Communist regimes is repression. When people are held down, ordered what to do and how to do it and given no freedom to move on or decide their own fate, there will be dissention regardless of whether the repression is by a King or by a Dictator. This is a proven fact and no amount of whitewashing will make it go away. Why else would Stalin purging several million during the Great Terror, the Jacobeans purging France during the Reign of Terror or Pol Pot killing over two million Cambodians in the late 1970s be necessary? If it is such a great deal for the poor and the peasantry, why do so many have to die to make the "Communist Paradise" happen?
There was a short period of cooperation during World War II where the Soviets were allied with the US and Great Britain to fight the Germans and the Japanese and after the war, the world was effectively carved up between the West and the Soviet Union. Thus began the Cold War which continued until roughly 1991. During this time the US and the Soviets were mortal enemies, agreeing on virtually nothing and being extremely competitive in military and in sporting competition.
When the USSR broke up in 1991, virtually all of the "satellite" states that had made up the Union became their own sovereign nations. Countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia and Belarus along with nations such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania and East Germany which had remained aligned with the former Soviet Union became free, adopted some form of democracy and otherwise left the orbit of what was now the Russian Federation.
This would be like the US losing Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia as well as Alaska, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas. Along with that, Canada and Mexico changed their government and became hostile to Washington. What was left of the United States probably wouldn't be too happy. North Dakota had a lot of our nuclear missile silos, Texas, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina had big military bases and of course, Norfolk, Virginia had the Atlantic Fleet which, along with Florida, was the home to most of the carriers and submarines on the East Coast.
I think that after the fall of the USSR, Russia really didn't know how to act. No one there had any experience with running a free nation. Through fits and starts, several people tried. Boris Yeltsin gave a lot of folks hope, but he didn't work out. Their economy tanked, most of the population was used to the government providing subsistence. It wasn't much but it was all they had. Now they had to fend for themselves and get a real job? Along comes Vladimir Putin. He is going to make Russia Great Again. One way a leader can hold his people together is to fight a common enemy. What better enemy than the United States? It worked so well for almost 70 years. During Glasnost and the post-collapse thawing of the Cold War, the US helping Russia probably made the Russians feel a bit put upon, like a former bully would feel if a bigger bully moved into his territory and started "helping" him out..
Russia may not be a Marxist regime any longer, but it retains a lot of control through legal and "extra-legal" means. When a famous Russian journalist, politician or opponent suddenly dies or gets a deadly illness, we are aghast and appalled, but the Russians just see it as a mini-purge, like they and so many authoritarian regimes have done over millennia. We see the world through our rose colored lens and we expect the rest of the world to be like us.
There are things, such as gassing hostiles, which are banned by acclamation and signatures by virtually all nations of the world. There are also things such as carpet bombing, fire bombing and nuclear attacks which are, if not proscribed, are at least severely frowned upon by most nations. We in the US, as a free and powerful nation, see ourselves as righteous stewards of this latter form of weaponry, to be only used in the most egregious situations. I truly believe that we would rather compete (fairly or unfairly) economically with other nations than militarily. Do competing nations see us that way?
Laugh if you must, but if the war in the Middle East was about taking oil, then we were a colossal, bumbling failure. The war was more about changing a regime than stealing their treasure. We could have taken it all if we had wanted to but we didn't. That fact is important.
Let's go back to the US analogy. What if Russia had recruited Florida, Georgia, the two Carolinas and Virginia go join their alliance? How would Washington feel? A little threatened? Of course, Virginia would probably feel like they cannot take their eye off of Washington, since Washington had stated that Virginia and the naval base in Norfolk were rightly part of the US and that most of the people there wanted to be part of the US again, anyway. Also Washington, as part of keeping their military together, had worked out a deal with Mexico to have a huge navy base in Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula. Now Russia was trying to destabilize the Mexican government and get rid of the leaders who let them use the base at Cancun. Sound familiar?
So, how could all of this craziness get unwound? It could actually be easier than it looks. There is a lot of tension between Russia and the former Eastern Bloc on their western border. Also, Russia needs a warm water naval base. For all of Russia's size, most of their oceanic water gets very cold in the winter. The Black Sea stays open but passing through the narrow Bosporus Strait to get to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic is not a strategist's idea of an ideal military situation.The piers at Tartus, Syria are not large and mostly symbolic, but the potential is there for a much bigger facility.
If the United States and Russia could negotiate a non-aggression pact where Russia would agree to not attack any former Soviet satellite countries and have full rights to the port in Syria, the US would agree not to attack Russia and to not assist any other nation in doing so. Additionally the missile defenses in eastern Europe would not be used as offensive weapons against Russia. NATO could also change its charter from one of a mutual defense of greater Europe against Soviet and Russian aggression to one of a mutual defense alliance against ALL foreign threats including terrorist and cyber attacks. This would require a great amount of trust but it can be done by looking at the United States' past actions. We truly do not conquer nations. Our method of being great involves technology and wealth, not collections of nations.
If Russia would not sign an agreement such as that, then there must be something more that Russia has in mind with nations other than its own. Remember, Russia is a big-ass nation. They have oil, they have gas, they have huge natural resources and they have Pacific, Arctic and western ocean access. I cannot imagine them needing anything from nature or the earth that they don't already have or cannot buy. Japan has virtually no natural resources other than fertile land and look what they have made of themselves.
Russia can (and should) depose Assad and provide him and his entourage safe haven in Russia or some other protectorate. They should replace him with another ruler who is less of an asshole as Assad is or his father was. Why should we care? It couldn't be much worse as long as Russia had a Guantanamo-style lease on that port and the Russians could probably prop us a government who would keep Syria from going all Libya on us.
Trump was supposed to be in the pocket of Putin, bought and paid for by the Kremlin. That was absurd on its face then and it is laughable now with the way things have progressed over the past month. Sure, some of what Trump did was bluster and theater. Dropping that MOAB on ISIS in Afghanistan was quite a show. No, it wasn't chemical but it damn sure put a humongous hole in a mountain in Nangahar. It also put up notice that we are no longer afraid to use something like that to keep rogue nations and groups in line. Russia has their own problems with keeping people in line, like the Chechens and some of the Islamist groups in the southern former Soviet republics. As long as Russia and the US can agree upon what is OK and what is not, I think a strained peace could be worked out before the end of the year.
China would then feel left out and probably threatened by the new alliance. (Russia has a long border with China and Mongolia and even wraps around and touches North Korea near Vladivostok.) Once Russia and the US get used to not lining up against one another, China could come into the discussion and work out a similar deal.
China is an industrial powerhouse. Yes, much of their technology was stolen from the US and Western nations for whom they manufacture goods and from whom they purloin technology. Russia is a scientific heavyweight and has huge natural resources, but much of their defense advances have been stolen from the West. While it sucks that these nations steal so much of our intellectual property, it is probably for the better, since if they had not done so, the balance of power would be so tilted to the US as to make peace negotiations nearly impossible.
Peace, or detente, would allow Russia and Putin to relax a little, knowing that they are not under an immediate threat from the US or its NATO allies. Detente with China would allow us to work out a trade agreement where they purchased from us and did not penalize inbound goods with heavy tariffs.
Let's try to bring the competition between nations to one of business and productivity. Let's also use the strength of the three nations to defeat the 1 or 2 percent of troublemakers in Africa and the Middle East. If there is to be a purge or a gulag, those are they guys to put there. Let us compete like Coke and Pepsi, Chevy and Toyota, Chobani and Dannon.