The Long War [podcast]

Excellent insight into the long-term implications of conflict between Russia and the West. Hosted by Brian Whitmore (RFE/Power Vertical) and co-host Mark Galeotti, New York University professor and expert on Russia's security services, with guest James Sherr, an associate fellow with Chatham House's Russia and Eurasia program.

Podcast: The Long War

The Long War

It's going to be a protracted conflict and Ukraine is just the first major battle.

It's going to be fought in different ways and on multiple fronts: on NATO's eastern frontier; over the countries of former Soviet Union, in the energy market, over the airwaves, and in cyberspace.

We should have no illusions. The West's conflict with Russia is not going away anytime soon, regardless of how the current standoff in Ukraine is resolved.

And what is at stake is nothing short of the future of the international order.

This ain't no Cold War. Russia isn't strong enough for that.

But according to The Russia Challenge, a widely read and highly influential report issued by Chatham House last week, it is shaping up to be a Long War. A protracted looking-glass conflict with a weakening, but still very dangerous, Russia.

On the latest Power Vertical Podcast, we discuss the new Chatham House report and its recommendations.


The panel make some important points:

  • The post-Soviet transition to a modern democracy was poorly handled by the West and left Russians with a deep distrust of their motives.
  • The most important response to asymmetric warfare is good governance. The last 15 years shows a series of unmitigated blunders that would leave an independent observer with serious questions as to the competence of Western democracies. The West, Ukraine and Baltic States all need to get their house in order.
  • Conventional weapons are important, but the primary response should focus on improved intelligence and policing.

Trouble in the East

Expect a continued arm wrestle between Russia and the West over influence in the Ukraine. Russians obviously view their shrinking sphere of influence as a threat to future security. But Vladimir Putin’s actions in Georgia, Moldova, Crimea and the Ukraine — straight from the KGB playbook — are the biggest threat to their security.

A war-weary US and pacifist Europe may be slow to react, but their capacity when provoked to subdue any threat from the East, through their combined economic might, is immense. One should not be fooled by Putin’s macho posturing. He is playing a very weak hand.

The risks in a galvanized Nato | Business New Europe

From Mark Galeotti, Professor of Global Affairs at New York University:

…Of course, Nato still has a role, not least to ensure there is no temptation for rather more robust pressure from Moscow on Europe. But to think that it can or even should try to respond to the full range of challenges of the new age of conflict is foolish — and even dangerous.

First of all, the task of inoculating bordering states from potential Russian mischief — whether stirring up disgruntled minorities, subtle destabilization or unsubtle economic pressure — is more properly handled by other agencies. National governments, obviously, need to pay more attention to what, in military terms, would be called “target hardening.” Those minorities need to be integrated, due diligence should identify flanking Russian buyouts, political finance regulated. The trouble is that this means not just taking action now that Russia looks problematic, but sustaining it — turning away potential investment, alienating a neighbor and so on — even when things look quieter.

Of course, the EU could also play a positive role here, but to date the EU’s capacity to mobilize and maintain this kind of action is also questionable. But the second serious concern is that the more Nato eases itself comfortably back into its role as the defender of the West from the Russian hordes, the more it consolidates the current dangerous and zero-sum confrontation. It also plays to a nationalist, even xenophobic constituency within the Russian elite, especially strongly represented within the security agencies and the Orthodox Church, who actually appreciate any opportunity to cut themselves off from the West and its dangerously infectious notions of egalitarianism, transparency and rule of law. This faction is currently in the ascendant, but it need not be so, especially given the evident concerns of many within the Russian business community at the prospect of being locked away from the West.

This is the challenge. Nato patently still has a role. But it is far too blunt an instrument to be able to deal with the range of subtle, deniable or downright devious tactics Russia would deploy. Instead, the West will have to develop new, more appropriate defenses — and try to avoid playing into the hands of the ultra-nationalist wing in the Kremlin happy to find excuses to see their country surrounded and beleaguered.

Read more at STOLYPIN: The risks in a galvanized Nato | Business New Europe.

Putin Attacks the West’s Soft Underbelly | World Affairs Journal

From Arthur Milikh at the Heritage Foundation:

Alexander Hamilton lamented long ago, in Federalist 25, what may become our tendency to act as if “all that kind of policy by which nations anticipate distant danger and meet the gathering storm must be abstained from.” Putin knows we want to be deceived. But what nation would choose, as Hamilton puts it, to “receive the blow before we could even prepare to return it”?

Putin’s new genre of war in part stems from our Western intellectual deficiencies. He knows we cannot countenance full-on conventional warfare in such a critical region—but we can swallow ambiguity. He knows that we will likely intervene only on account of moralism or shame, but we will not act strategically, trusting in our judgment. Putin will provide us with empirical data to sufficiently muddy the waters and thereby destroy our confidence in our own intuition. The incursion of a “humanitarian” convoy of 200-plus trucks into Ukraine last month was a masterful example of this….

Read more at Putin Attacks the West's Soft Underbelly | World Affairs Journal.