US Needs To End Its Putin Obsession And Focus On the Real Enemy: Xitler's China

by R Jagannathan - Dec 15, 2021 11:10 AM +05:30 IST
US Needs To End Its Putin Obsession And Focus On the Real Enemy: Xitler's ChinaXi Jinping and Joe Biden.
  • All sensible diplomatic options for the West start with rapprochement with Moscow. The taming of Xi’s China is more important than trying to bring Putin to heel.

The US, the European Union and their joint defence outfit, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), have simply not got their act together on how to deal with Russia. The latest confrontation is over Ukraine, where Russian troops are amassed on the border, and the US is threatening deep sanctions against Russia if there is an invasion. If both parties do not come to an understanding on how to deal with one another, there can be only one beneficiary: China, which is ruled by the only major political party and leader that has parallels to Nazi Germany, complete with a Xitler of its own.

Any US-EU-NATO obsession with Russia will directly help China, for it will push Russia deeper into Xi Jinping’s embrace, leaving China free to seek unification with Taiwan on its own terms, which could include war or intimidatory tactics that can end only in favour of China. The primary Western diplomatic objective with Russia should be to loosen the Dragon’s embrace without sacrificing the interests of the countries on Russia’s western periphery.

Vladimir Putin, bossman of Russia, has claimed that his country faces a threat from a potential NATO expansion into Ukraine, but he is not helping matters by threatening Ukraine in the name of protecting his fellow ethno-Russians in that country. Russia’s previous aggressive actions in Crimea and Georgia do not give any country on its western front any degree of comfort that it will not be the next target of Putin’s aggression.

The question is: how does the world pull back from this situation so that Russia behaves responsibly in future, and the West does not give it further cause to become a superpower beholden to Xitler?

The answer lies in understanding where the US (and EU and NATO) went wrong after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more recently during the Donald Trump years.

After the fall of the Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, two things happened.

One, Russia remained a military superpower, but without the economic might to support that status.

Two, as the Soviet Union withered, its defence alliance on the periphery, called the Warsaw Pact, was disbanded even while NATO expanded right upto its borders. It has 30 members currently. From an initial membership of 12 western European powers, NATO expanded eastwards to include almost all previous Warsaw Pact states, and several former breakaway republics that were earlier part of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union. It requires no strategic affairs genius to explain why Putin’s Russia may find this too threatening, especially if Ukraine were to become a new NATO ally.

Three, in the Donald Trump years, the Democrats were keen to show up Trump as sold out to Russian interests, if not actually a Russian stooge. This again makes its more difficult for Joe Biden to change course and focus on the real threat to global peace: Xitler’s China.

Western policy ought to focus on achieving three objectives, and one of them cannot be about seeing the back of Putin or making Russia more democratic. That has to be left for the future, and to Russians to make moves in that direction on their own.

The three prime objectives should be to reassure Russia on NATO’s expansion by not going into Ukraine and extending further into Russia’s periphery; the West can offer to support Russia’s economy by promising investments in return for guarantees on Ukrainian independence; it must also assure Russia space to influence foreign policy on its western borders, including protection of ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

One precedent from the past is a phenomenon called “Finlandisation”. During the Cold War, Finland was assured of a hands-off political relationship by the Soviet Union in return for synchronising its foreign policy with it. India, for example, has a similar relationship with Bhutan. There is no reason why Ukraine cannot try this out in the foreseeable future, even as we wait for a decade or two for Russia to rediscover its former self-assurance where it does not have to threaten its neighbours to show it can defend itself. Ukraine should be willing to wait awhile before gaining total freedom from Russian influence in exchange for peace in the coming decade.

The truth is NATO cannot prevent a Russian incursion into Ukraine, since it cannot commit troops to the project. Nor can the US help Taiwan defend itself against China beyond threatening another bit of economic sanctions.

The problem is all Western policy alternatives are weak, especially since economic sanctions will threaten the West’s own economic recovery and prevent it from addressing bigger issues like climate change and fix its structural economic problems.

All sensible diplomatic options for the west start with rapprochement with Moscow. The taming of Xi’s China is more important than trying to bring Putin to heel.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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