Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a few days ago Russia’s new military doctrine that names NATO expansion as one of the key threats to Russia though NATO claims not threatening Russia. Another potential threat – international terrorism – brings Russia’s security in connection with Afghanistan, Syria and ISIS. How these issues are connected with Russia’s security shall be discussed in this article.
Who wants to harm Russia/Putin?
Taking a look at those parties that might have or actually have an interest in harming Russia or more concrete Putin’s regime, the first party that comes into one’s mind are the United States of America. Clearly the USA as well as Russia have geostrategic and geoeconomic interests in Ukraine and both sides (the US with support from the EU) are influencing and interfering in Ukraine. There area reasons to believe that the war in eastern Ukraine is some sort of proxy war.
Excursus 1: Generally regarding US intervention abroad, it has to be kept in mind that the geographically remote location of the USA allows their government to take more risks in geopolitics. Meaning that political and/or military intervention to achieve own goals is a key content of US foreign policy as they literally do not have to care when they put the neighboring “village” (Europe, Asia, Middle East) on fire. Surely any crisis abroad will have a negative impact on US economy, but mostly the risk for America’s fundamental safety is calculable. The long history of (failed) US interventions in other countries including unverified allegations regarding the same matter or false flag operations depict US foreign policy pretty well. It also has to be mentioned that additionally to the publicly known interventions there are rumors and conspiracy theories of a big number of other (CIA) operations and US interventions in different countries not only in the Middle East. While some of these allegations are in fact conspiracy theories others can’t be so easily ignored when coming from serious sources. Taking this into consideration and assuming that the US might actually plan a regime change (with unforeseeable consequences especially for Europe) in Russia by harming Russian economy, it is not understandable why European countries would help the USA to play with fire in their own “village”. Putin is surely not that freedom loving democratic president as some want him to see, but an after-Putin-era caused by a regime change might become an uncontrollable threat that makes Putin look like a mere school bully. It could get better after Putin, but it also can get worse, who wants to take that risk? It has to be mentioned that Russian economy which is too depended on natural resources might have hit now (speed up by sanctions) what was inevitable anyway. The sanctions and the bad shaped Russian economy seem to harm Europe more than the USA – directly and indirectly. On top of that Europe threatens itself by negotiating in secret about a free trade agreement with the US (TTIP). If the European Union (resp. its predecessor) included Russia in the 1990s stronger in European economy and perhaps even negotiated a free trade agreement with the Russian Federation, coming generations would have thanked. Now Europe (Russia can be actually considered as part of Europe) has alienated from its own neighbor Russia and it will decades to heal the wounds, but there are high chances that this is exactly what the USA want.
Ukraine is not the first country where Russian interests and views have openly clashed with NATO or rather US interests and views, to mention are among others: Serbia-Kosovo, Iraq, Georgia, Libya, Syria. Regarding Syria it has to be remembered that Russia has/had its only Naval base in the Mediterranean Sea at the Syrian coast in Tartus. So Russia’s opposition to any intervention in Syria is pretty logical as a regime change in Damascus is a potential threat for Russia’s naval base. Taking a closer look at the parties involved and taking influence in Syria in short there can be identified following religious/ethnic groups: Shiites and Alawites (Syrian government (Alawite) backed by Iran and Hezbollah (Shiite) and Russia) VS. Sunnites (Rebels (FSA backed by USA and the West) and terrorist organizations such as ISIS, al-Nusra Front and others (backed by Saudi-Arabia, Quatar, Turkey). On top of that there are the Kurds that are spread in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and are most likely striving for an own state in the area and receive support in fighting against ISIS. Regarding ISIS the conflict has spread to neighboring Iraq, too.
In the Middle East the Sunni powers Saudi-Arabia and Turkey are competing with Alawite Syria and Shiite Iran for a dominating position in the region. When OPEC under the lead of Saudi-Arabia decided in November 2014 to not reduce oil production to stop the decreasing oil prices, it harmed especially Russian economy that is dependent on global market prices of natural resources it exports. The decision makes also production of oil shale (USA) less profitable. Harming Russian economy in that way can potentially not only have an impact on Russian policy in the Ukraine conflict, but also in Syria where other parties are involved, too. And over all that is the sword of Damocles of a potential regime change in Moscow caused by an unhappy Russian middle class.
Spread of ISIS and the Russian Federation
The ideology of ISIS seems to attract popularity among muslims and even non-muslims across the globe. Surely only among a minority, but a minority with penetrating power as German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer warns. Assuming that ISIS is rather an ideology that theoretically could be adapted everywhere by simply joining them, such as is feared to happen in Libya, it can have a revolutionary-like effect in the unsteady countries of the Middle East and also Pakistan and Afghanistan leading to a potentially severe security risk for Russia.
Excursus 2: Regarding radical Islamic groups such as these proclaimed by ISIS, it has to be remembered that they also receive (professional) support from external parties, such as certain Arabic countries and the Turkish government as some sources claim (e. g. recently died German journalist Peter Scholl-Latour in his last book). Feared by many in the West and cause for xenophobic and racist protests and actions (e. g. PEGIDA in Germany) are allegations that some Islamic countries (in secret) support a policy that spreads extreme or rather harsh interpretations of the Islam also in countries where the Islamic belief is new. Also Turkey under Erdogan’s rule has allegedly moved closer to a conservative interpretation of the Islamic belief also in public life. Needless to say that exaggerated fears of Muslims and the Islamic religion (fueled by lies) serve the purpose of groups like ISIS as alienation of Muslims and members of other religions within a society helps radicalization in (religious) beliefs. Naturally this also applies to xenophobic movements and racist parties who benefit of masses’ fears. Organizations like ISIS seem to benefit in war torn areas as Iraq when they are able to organize and maintain state like structures, because their rule appears to be seen as a lesser evil with at least stable structures – a feature that is missing in many Middle East countries nowadays. What these countries are not missing is a large generation of the young, growingly desperate and seeking for fulfillment or escape from economic hardship – perfect ground for radical ideologies. On top of that the ISIS-ideology seems not to attract losers from around the world, but also successful young people who could have started a great career as a physician instead. This circumstance might indicate that people (also in the rich West) are seeking for a new reason of life after capitalism does seem to be the “promised land” only for a chosen few in the world.
In 2014 the majority of Western troops withdraw from Afghanistan after “nation building“-mission that is widely considered as failure or at least a mission with minimal success. Many in Afghanistan (and in the West) expect a comeback of the Taliban who are also a threat for the Pakistani government. Recently jihadists from the world were rather joining ISIS in Syria and Iraq and seemed to turn their backs towards the former jihadist “Mecca” of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Assuming that the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan would join ISIS which would also mean to follow the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, this adapting of a “trend” might pose a serious threat not only for Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also all neighboring countries. If the ISIS-state in Syria and Iraq fails and is defeated (which currently seems rather unlikely) the focus might especially turn again towards the region around Afghanistan since the ideology of ISIS has the potential of being something bigger as today many can think.
Scholl-Latour was one of those persons who expect Afghanistan (and eventually Pakistan) to fall again into the hands of the Taliban after the withdrawal of Western troops. From there a spread further North to restless Central-Asia is according to Scholl-Latour likely thus becoming a severe security threat for Russia, since the ultimate consequence would be a further expansion of radical Islamic beliefs into Russian Tatarstan. Tatarstan was already in 2012 in the news when media reported of a growth of radical Islamic ideas in this Russian republic. A dynamic and fanatic movement under the flag of ISIS first taking Afghanistan then heading North and additionally an unstable and weak Russia might cause implosion of the Russian Federation.
In a way it seems that totally different topics (crises) are linked to each other and Russia is always somehow in the middle of it. Time will tell whether there really is such a risk for Russia, but it seems likely. While waiting for that Russia might need to search for new Allies to deal with this. As Europe has disqualified itself as partner for Russia, new allies must be found. A potential ally or even more, could be India. This will be discussed in the next article in a guest contribution.