Geopolitical Drift

By Arnaud de Borchgrave  |  April 29, 2014 at 9:34 PM
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“Putin is a master strategist and a chess champion who excels in domains where we settle for the role of innocents, incapable of retaining the lessons of history” is the assessment of Vincent Desportes, former head of France’s Ecole de Guerre (War College), now with SciencesPo University.

Where the strategist and the tactician differ, says Desportes, is first of all vision, “pursued relentlessly, which Putin does not lack, seeking constantly and obstinately the preservation of Russia’s zone of influence, and beyond that, the reconstitution of a Greater Russia.”

As a good strategist, “he takes his time, adapting to circumstances and seizing opportunities,” adds the French strategic thinker. “And Putin had to wait six years between the seizure of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the ‘Anschluss' of Crimea. Now how much time will he need between Crimea and the western bank of the Dnieper, where pro-Russian insurgents are already maneuvering?

“It doesn’t really matter,” says the French strategist, as Putin is not in a hurry. That’s his “oriental strategist” mode, which means not to provoke the next opportunity, but wait for it “in the ambush mode.”

Putin also knows, he adds, that it’s the weakness of the adversary that must be attacked and not its strength. For him, it’s “power and vision vs. weakness and disunity.”

The arrival of 150 U.S. troops in Poland does not worry Putin. Poland is not on his hit parade. He is practicing the “artichoke strategy,” the one we do not wish to recognize as akin to the “remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss of Austria, and then the annexation of Sudeten land followed by Czechoslovakia.”

“Then came ‘1,000 years of peace,’ that Hitler promised Chamberlain and Daladier in Munich Sept. 30, 1938, at a conference that reminds us of the G7 get together at The Hague March 24 when our ranking officials acknowledged as a fact the Anschluss of Crimea while at the same time congratulating themselves on a lowering of tension between our civilized nations and a reborn Russia. Quite a coup. Putin had deployed a mass of tanks at the border with Ukraine and exchanged their stand down for (Western) appeasement.”

“And we were duped,” says Desportes. “The tanks are still there as more public buildings (in Ukraine) fall to the control of Russian units in disguise while our Western governments announce the probability of fresh cocktail party sanctions.”

Desportes notes that the chess player keeps moving on the chessboard while we think the game of checkers is over in a draw. Following a decade of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, the West has neither the military capabilities nor the moral strength to take on a showdown with Putin’s Russia.

“There is a little bit of Stalin in Putin’s makeup -- what’s mine is mine and the rest is negotiable,” says the French professor. So it won’t come as a surprise if Lavrov starts talking up “a confederal Ukraine.” But the West is not prepared for a military showdown. Nor is it prepared for the kind of massive cut in Western trade with Russia. There are too many vested interests at stake.

The West then learns to live with a new “status quo” as it returns, says Desportes, to its slumber and “small shopkeeper status.”

“Thank you president Putin,” he concludes, “for this grand course in strategy that presupposes a vision, means, willpower and method. And it is not sure that in this long-term struggle, we have means equal to yours.”

Desportes’ assessment strikes echoes in major Western capitals. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- a key proponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2004 and subsequent occupation that wound up costing $1 trillion -- warned that the U.S. is going into decline due to a weakened military.

Following another $1 trillion for the war in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld, now out with his new book “Rumsfeld Rules,” condemns President Obama for showing such weakness that America’s adversaries are growing bolder by the day.

Mr. Obama and an estimated 80 percent of Americans want the much neglected home front to get priority over foreign defense commitments, a finding that Putin uses for his own territorial ambitions.

When launched, a trillion dollar Presidential stimulus plan to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, from bridges to highways, would immediately bog down in litigation. To fix a bridge in New Jersey requires the approval of Indian tribes still located there.

Most of the 16 tribes that once were native of New Jersey ended up on Indian reservations in Oklahoma. But descendants of some New Jersey tribes that did not move can still hold infrastructure projects in abeyance pending financial settlements -- e.g., Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape; Powhatan Renape Nation; Ramapough Mountain Indians; Taino Tribe in southern New Jersey.

Putin will encounter tougher resistance in Ukraine but no legal barriers from displaced persons.

Putin can also count on a hesitant Great Britain. Wealthy Russian expats wield considerable political clout in London. A leaked British government briefing paper showed that Prime Minister David Cameron’s government would oppose any sanctions that closed London’s financial center to Russian money.

Russian billionaires now own two of Britain’s leading newspapers, two major football clubs; a very large chunk of London’s most expensive West End real estate.

Some of these wealthy Russians still maintain good relations with Putin.

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