For sometime, I have been saying the last few years of the Obama administration would be a very dangerous time for America and the world because of the complete abdication of American leadership on the global stage. Now, it is coming true due to the mastery of the great game by Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president’s actions on the world chessboard have truly been a remarkable thing to watch whether you support his agenda or not. It’s been patently obvious that Mr. Putin would have until the end of the Obama administration to get what he wants, free of American interference. It’s also obvious he has decided to do so.
For some time, Russia has been persistently building military capability. Its nuclear forces are formidable but its conventional forces have been the focus of a drive for improved capability. In spite of economic hardship, Russian spending for modernization of armed forces will continue. Readiness drills will continue. The probing of NATO defenses and response times will continue. Threats to the Baltics, the Nordic countries and elsewhere will continue.
The world saw the first glimpse of this new Red Army during the Crimean invasion. What most have not realized is that this operation had to have been planned for some time. Moving 20,000 troops into position in Crimea was not a snap decision. It was a long-term process. What we are seeing unfold is a long-term, deliberate strategy by the chess master.
Mr. Putin has not been shy about using military force. The world should have been put on notice early on during the Chechen wars, where Mr. Putin made his reputation, and the Georgian conflict. Upon Ukraine’s tilt toward the European Union last year, Mr. Putin acted and has now achieved a de-facto annexation of East Ukraine. He’s put this conflict on hold while he devotes precious resources toward Syria, but Russia’s influence remains.
Mr. Putin knows what the Russian people want. The Crimean annexation was a master stroke for public opinion which has given him latitude for further adventures, the sanctions be damned. When faced with the unexpected, precipitous drop in the price of crude oil which had a marked, negative effect on the Russian federal budget, Mr. Putin has acted again, this time in Syria to fill the vacuum left by the pathetic withdrawal of American forces from the region. He has effectively removed what remained of American influence in the fertile crescent and the Levant, and now is free to dominate the Middle East with his ally, Iran. The Israeli prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, has even come to court in Moscow, seeking the good graces of the tsar. The Kremlin must be shaking its heads, amazed by their good fortune. The Russian public is eating it up, gleeful at their newfound respect after the disaster of the 1990s.
The one remaining move for Mr. Putin is to further drive a wedge between Eastern Europe and the Western NATO nations, although the migrant crisis seems to be doing that for him. Bringing the lost Warsaw Pact back into the fold will be more difficult, but don’t think for a second that move is not being pondered.
Russians are not opposed to this agenda. It’s been said that the happiest day in the Soviet Union was when the U.S.S.R. invaded Hungary in 1956. Russia will continue to support a nationalist, expansionist foreign policy. You see, Russians believe it is Russia’s rightful place in the world to be an empire, other people’s politically correct feelings be damned.
While Mr. Putin acts, Americans are more concerned about microaggression and “unhealthy masculinity.” I can’t help but wonder if Mr. Putin thinks it shouldn’t be this easy.
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