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Looming War: Who Is to Blame?

Jokes aside...

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

The film about nuclear war with Russia recently shown on the BBC, which is considered to be a serious and not an entertainment channel, suggests that such a war is no longer unthinkable but a real possibility. What was even more frightening was that the people in the film who made a fateful decision to start an Armageddon were not actors, but high level albeit retired politicians.

The film was timed to the release of the latest Pentagon analysis where Russia topped the list of threats to U.S. national security, followed by China, North Korea, Iran and finally, terrorism. The Zika virus was not mentioned - Ebola was not in the past - but from the tone, even if NASA were to warn that a huge asteroid was approaching Earth, it would not replace Russia as a major threat.

Ash Carter's statement no doubt brought considerable relief to ISIS, Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra, Boko Haram, and dozens of their affiliates around the world (according to the UN, there are at least 34 such groups), who can celebrate the fact that contrary to WWII, when Americans and Russians fought together to defeat the Nazis, this time for Washington, Moscow is a greater evil and therefore one cannot expect an East-West alliance against terror.   

Some cynics may say that the Pentagon’s threat classification is just a smart way, not only to avoid budget cuts, but to demand more for the deployment of heavy weapons and troops on rotating assignment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, quadrupling military spending in Europe from $789 million to $3.4 billion. Even the previously liberal but now Neocon New York Times complains that "even though the United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined, the Pentagon has been chafing under budget cuts."  The Times  editorial continues that "Deterring Russia is essential, but threats from the Islamic State and other terrorist groups are messier and harder to predict. America must be able to confront both, but it is unclear that Mr. Carter's plan gets the balance right."

Recently during a talk show on a major TV channel, a famous Russian film maker, now director of "Mosfilm",  Karen Shakhnazarov wondered what would it take for America to lift the sanctions and restore proper US – Russia relations through something like Reset 2.0. At this time, he noted, Washington would accept no less than Moscow’s abandonment of Syria, Donbass, and Crimea, plus replacing Putin with someone more likable However, even if all these things are implemented for the US foreign policy establishment Russia would still top the list of major threats.

Indeed, in the mid-nineties, when Russia was in ruins, oligarchs were on a looting spree. American darlings Yeltsin, Nemtsov, Kozyrev, Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, and the likes were in charge of Russian politics and business, but this did not stop NATO from expanding.

George F. Kennan, the American diplomat who designed the doctrine of “containment” in the early Cold War, suggested in a 1997 New York Times op-ed that expanding NATO would be “the most fateful error” of American foreign policy in the post-Cold War era, and could be expected to “inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy … and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

At that time Russia was too weak to derail this process, although nineteen Senators with vision did vote against it. Moreover, all three Russian presidents Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev almost begged for closer ties with the West and to join the European security infrastructure only to be unceremoniously rebuffed. NATO kept expanding and moving closer to Russia's doorstep, growing from twelve members at the height of the real Soviet threat to twenty-eight when the threat disappeared. All this, of course, was before the crises in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria.  

Had the West, and Washington in particular, had greater strategic vision, this would have been a historic opportunity to forge an alliance with Russia, but for the Neocons, who practically high-jacked US foreign policy, Russia is a lot more useful as an enemy than a friend.

So where do we go from here?

Obviously, there is no way that Russia under Putin, or for that matter under any new leader, would accept US hegemony.Threats, sanctions, and the recent tenfold escalation of informational warfare against Putin do not result in a regime change like the West was able to orchestrate in the Middle East or Ukraine.  A far more likely scenario is the acceptance by Russians of substantial belt-tightening, and their even greater support of Putin and mother Russia.

All this could lead to the horrifying, even if not intentional consequence of a direct East-West military confrontation, including a nuclear one, as predicted by many American strategic thinkers like George Kennan.

At this point, a lot will depend on the results of the US presidential elections, and one can only hope and pray that Americans choose someone who can divert us from the looming catastrophe.

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