While millions follow on Twitter a proxy war in eastern Ukraine between Cold War nemeses, there is a bigger and far more serious fight that is well underway and undocumented that unless reversed, will irrevocably change the geo-political and economic landscape in Europe, Great Britain and the United States, in the coming decade.
Instead of deploying the levers of economic warfare such as the current sanctions' program, the Western powers should be urgently courting Russia, creating a strategic wedge between a long-time adversary and its closest ally, China. However, today befriending Putin’s gangster state is unconscionable, as he tries to stomp out any burgeoning hopes of democracy and freedom of speech in his despotic rule, it is imperative for the long-term success of democracies.
But, conversely, Western sanctions championed by the republicans and hardliners have only provided Putin with the chance to use them to divert attention away from himself, onto the West as the architect of Russia’s woes. From a strategic perspective, the West’s best scenario at this stage, is a regime change in Russia which in all probability, could result in a more Western friendly leadership (as it could not be more unfriendly). So the question is: how to maximise the chance of that outcome?
I have outlined 6 key strategies:
Strategy 1: Russia is not our enemy. Back away from antagonising Putin and do not give him any excuse to fight the West. This action includes lifting the sanctions on the grounds that only the people are suffering.
Strategy 2: Create a strong containment strategy to Putin’s ambitions via NATO with a clear collective commitment to deterrence through strong defence and a clear intention.
Strategy 3: Avoid any foreign policy areas that would allow Putin to gain the traction he needs.
Strategy 4: We must not repeat the error of Western covert involvement in the Ukraine revolution, but leave regime change to the Russian people. The recent shooting of Boris Nemtsov demonstrates how exposed Putin is with two scenarios. Fistly that he openly had his opposition murdered as he is feeling politically vulnerable and needed to demonstrate his strength. In this scenario, Putin actions can be perceived as a demonstration of weakness not strength. In such an action, he may have miscalculated. The second option was that the murder was carried out by his ennemies, who sought to weaken his position further by implicating Putin. Either way Putin’s position has been significantly weakened, which will make him potenially more dangerous. Only time will tell if the removal of Putin will be sooner or later.
Strategy 5: The West must enact a containment strategy and countries like Germany must wean itself off Russian gas, reducing their exposure to energy blackmail.
Strategy 6: Politically, the West must do all it can to prevent a formal alliance between Russia and China from coming into being.
In summary, the big prize requires Obama, Merkel, Hollande and Cameron to look beyond the short term to navigate the coming decade of the political, economic and military expansion of China across the globe and to secure the future with the creation of a containment strategy that includes Russia as a Western ally, not AS our enemy.
The question is: Do our leaders have the political courage to do what is right at the expense of populist votes? The next elections in Great Britain and the United States will reveal how Western governments develop a strategy of containment that includes Russia, but excludes China.