March 14, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6347

Russian Political Analyst Sergey Karaganov: The Escalation Of The Conflict Between Russia And The West Has Brought The Nuclear Issue To The Fore

March 14, 2016
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6347

On February 13, 2016, the Russian foreign affairs journal Russia in Global Affairs published an article by Russian political analyst Sergey Karaganov, entitled "A Time of Trouble and A Time of Opportunity." In the article, Karaganov argues that Russia and the West are in a pre-war state, similar to the one that led to World War I, adding that the sharp escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West has brought "the nuclear issue to the fore." The article notes that Russian sea- and air-based long-range cruise missiles that were used against Islamic State (ISIS) targets in Syria are "theoretically" capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

With the incorporation of Crimea and support for the rebels in southeastern Ukraine, Karaganov continues, Russia has brought the confrontation with the West into the open, and the subsequent sanctions against Russia have further strained relations between the Kremlin and the West. He asserts that these acts in Ukraine have allowed Russia to create conditions to prevent the further expansion of "Western alliances into territories that Russia considers vital to its security." Karaganov adds that these demonstrations of "Russia's readiness to resolutely defend vital interests" increased the West's fear of Russia.

The Russian analyst also claims that the West's intention to influence a regime change in Russia through sanctions did not succeed, as the "Russian society and elites" have instead united around the Kremlin. The Russian elites have abandoned the dream of integration with the West, realizing that the West seeks a collapse of the Russian economy, Karaganov says, and concludes that Russia lost the Cold War, and in order to win in the future urgently needs a new forward-looking strategy and policy, which includes increased patriotism for a domestic economic revival.

The following are excerpts from an English translation of Karaganov's article that was published on the website of Russia in Global Affairs:[1]

Image source:, March 1, 2016

The War Of All Against All Will Be A Major Trend In Global Politics For Decades

"The war of all against all, which has begun in the Middle East, will be a major mega-trend in global politics for decades. The reasons behind the war are mainly domestic, but they were aggravated by the West's repeated reckless, if not malicious, interference in the region's affairs over the last decade. In 2015, Russia directly intervened in one of the local conflicts in the region, namely in Syria, in order to keep the terrorist threat as far away from Russia as possible, and to strengthen its position in the region and the world at large. Russia's action is quite consonant with the spirit of the status quo balance of power and complies with the Russian and Soviet legalistic tradition; that is, it relies on the invitation of the legitimate government of Syria. But the Middle Eastern tangle of conflicts poses a danger of getting bogged down in them.

"The 'stab in the back' from Turkey was the first alarm bell. Unfortunately, such things will happen again due to the specific political culture and development dynamics of the region. Therefore, military and diplomatic achievements should be repeatedly cushioned with caution, and the understanding that the problems of the Middle East cannot be solved in the foreseeable future.

"The most frustrating of the mega-trends that emerged in 2015 was the rise of terrorism Societies and states, including in Europe, will have to go through painful transformations to adapt to the new challenges, including taking ever-tougher police measures and limiting freedoms. Another possible response is joint international action.

"The former is already taking place; the latter has been insufficient so far. Factors standing in its way include the old and new distrust and reluctance - primarily on the part of the West - to admit that the strategy of promoting democracy through outside interference and multiculturalism from the inside has failed, and to learn lessons from it. For the time being, green shoots of cooperation are being suppressed by the negative propaganda and actions driven by the principle that can be described as 'Your terrorist is my freedom fighter' (and vice versa). Yet limited accords seem possible, in particular concerning Syria."

Talk Is Increasing Of The Possibility Of A New War Between Russia And The West

"A global conflict has not yet begun, despite the presence of all the prerequisites for it (above all, an incredibly rapid redistribution of power)

"Objectively, the world has been in a pre-war state, similar to the one that had developed by 1914, for seven to eight years. Concern is growing in the professional military-political community that strategic stability, which seemed almost unshakable by the end of the 1980s and not really important during the first two decades after the formal end of the Cold War, may be eroded and undermined. (Strategic stability is an indicator of the level of the risk of nuclear war.) Talk is increasing of the possibility of a new war. The sharp escalation of the conflict between Russia and the West, which for decades was based on nuclear confrontation, has also brought the nuclear issue to the fore. Against this background, Russia has drawn international attention to the role of [the nuclear] factor. At the level of propaganda, the rhetoric may sometimes go too far, but at the official level it was quite correct.

"Launches of sea- and air-based long-range cruise missiles against ISIS targets in Syria gained worldwide attention. Theoretically, these missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads and are not covered by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. When the treaty was being negotiated, the United States, which had a monopoly on such missiles, took advantage of the Soviet Union's weakness and insisted that they not be subject to the treaty's limitations. Now, the United States must be regretting this. But the main role in giving a high profile to the nuclear issue has been played by Western propaganda, which seeks to demonize President Vladimir Putin and Russia, accusing them of nuclear blackmail and violations of international treaties.

"The United States has announced nuclear rearmament plans. The present semblance of hysteria further increases anxiety, but it also deters reckless decisions, such as large-scale interventions, as was the case in Yugoslavia and Iraq, or the escalation of conflicts, as in Ukraine or Syria. Despite the universal propaganda rampage, rationality and caution, which were almost lost during the 'unipolar moment' [from the fall of the Soviet Union to Putin's presidency], are returning to politics"

Russia Brought Its Confrontation With The West Into The Open

"The year 2015 was one of the most successful years in the history of Russian foreign policy. In early 2014, Russia decided to put an end to its latent confrontation with the West, which had become obvious in the previous year, and hit first, thereby bringing the confrontation into the open. This turn of events sharply strained Russian-Western relations. Russia was faced with unpleasant sanctions and the West's attempts to organize its international isolation, while centripetal tendencies were increasing within the Western alliance.

"However, Western hopes for a regime change in Russia through a palace coup - provoked by the discontent of oligarchs targeted by the sanctions or even through hyped-up public discontent -predictably failed. Faced with strong external pressure, Russian society and elites united around the Kremlin, with only a tiny part breaking away. More importantly, the [Russian] incorporation of Crimea [in 2014] and support for the [pro-Russian] rebels in southeastern Ukraine allowed Russia to fulfill the minimum program of creating conditions to prevent the further expansion of Western alliances into territories that Russia considers vital to its security. Now, there is no further talk of expansion. Russia's demonstration of its readiness to resolutely defend such vital interests did not make the West love the country more, but increased its fear of Russia and, therefore, its readiness to respect Russian interests.

"Unfortunately, the expansion of Western alliances had to be stopped not by mutual agreement, but by a harsh policy. It turned out that Russia's partners [i.e. the West] did not want to understand a different language. Now they getting used to the new reality and rules of the game based on respect for others' interests. Crimea is almost never mentioned now. It remains only in the (somewhat toned down) rhetoric of the United States and its most obedient allies in Europe. New attempts to add fuel to the Ukrainian crisis are possible. But Russia has withstood the first round of confrontation and pressure and scored a political victory in the conflict over Ukraine. Conditions have been created for healthier relations with Western partners, based on respect for each other's interests. But this is only a potential possibility. The burden of mutual distrust, past mistakes, and illusions is great, and both parties still have the desire to use the image of an external enemy in order to consolidate their societies"

The Middle East Crisis Will Remain Unresolved For Decades; Russia Must Be Extremely Careful Not To Get Bogged Down In This Quagmire

"Another undoubted success in 2015 was the settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem. A solution would have been impossible without the active and creative participation of Russian diplomats. The Iran deal helped to avoid not only a chain reaction of nuclear proliferation in the most unstable region of the world but also a war against that country, which had seemed quite possible even two or three years ago. A war would have not only blown up the Middle East but would have had global consequences. Now, we can hope for constructive relations with potentially the most powerful country in the region.

"[Russia's achievements in foreign policy were] further boosted when Russia sent its air force to Syria to fight Islamic terrorism far away from its borders, to prevent the fall of the legitimate government, avoid the expansion of ISIS-controlled areas, strengthen its international position, demonstrate the new strength of its armed forces, and increase its ability to actively influence developments in the Middle East. So far, Russia has brilliantly succeeded at that. But I keep repeating that the Middle East crisis will remain unresolved for decades to come. We must be extremely careful not to get bogged down in this quagmire, something many would desire. We should also have the courage to withdraw quickly if such a danger appears and to prepare [our] society for such a possibility.

"The interaction [with the West] on the Syrian issue has helped to defuse the confrontation with the West...  and develop elements of cooperation with it. Yet the confrontation is not over and will not end in the near future due to many factors, including Western domestic ones: some of the elites, especially in Europe, want to have an external enemy [to enhance] internal consolidation. Another part wants revenge for the setbacks suffered in the past decade. [Still] others are trying to save the collapsing world order, whose rules were largely dictated by the West for its own benefit."

The Russian Elite Realized That The Confrontation With The West Was Not Accidental And That It Would Last For A Long Time

"In 2015 almost the entire Russian elite realized that the confrontation with the West was not accidental and that it would last for a long time. Russia will have to live in a new reality that differs from the past rosy dreams of integration with the West, while preserving its independence and sovereignty. These dreams prevailed in the Russian political class almost until the end of the 2000s. This realization, however, has not yet led to the required fundamental changes in the vector of economic and social development or to a firm commitment by the state, the bourgeoisie, and society to economic development and growth.

"The Russian ruling class does not want to see reality or draw conclusions from it yet. But this reality is very simple: one of the main motives behind foreign pressure is the hope that continuing economic stagnation will, sooner or later, force Russia to back down, if not capitulate or collapse

"For all its fluctuations, [Russian foreign policy] was strategically correct and consistent. Russia managed to move competition for international positions to areas where it is stronger - the military-political sphere and the competition of brains and will...

"But it is too early to celebrate. After all, a country's capabilities and influence are almost always, and especially in the contemporary world, determined by its economic strength, technological development, and the quality of its human capital.

"Yet I repeat: the quality of a country's leadership also plays a significant role. Here is one example: in the early 2000s, the United States was the undisputed economic and technological leader. Its defense spending exceeded that of the rest of the world combined. The United States was also a moral authority in many respects. But these advantages were wasted due to poor governance and hubris, which led to involvement in no-win wars, delay in crucial economic reforms, and growing debt.

"The Russian elites and leadership have not yet leveraged the confrontation and the increase of patriotism for a domestic, above all economic, revival on a liberal or anti-liberal basis, or... a combination of the two. Without it, the present brilliant foreign policy achievements will become more difficult to retain. Russia objectively lost after the end of the Cold War. In recent years, it has reversed the trend. But in order to win in the future, Russia urgently needs a new forward-looking strategy and policy, above all, for its domestic economy.

"Otherwise, Russia will most likely lose again, and lose unequivocally."



[1], February 13, 2016; the text has been lightly edited for clarity. The Russian version of the article was published on the magazine's website on March 6, 2016.

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