Putin's Dirty War, Geopolitical Adjustments and Prospects for Future Wars, Part IV
Among Vladimir Putin's greatest fears is the further strengthening and expansion of the 30-member NATO military alliance. He sees Europe and the world from a nostalgic mid-1980s peak-of-Soviet-power perspective when the Russian Socialist Republic was the epicenter of a Moscow-dominated empire surrounded by 14 other Soviet Socialist republics extending to the western borders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Moldova. This western flank was protected by the Iron Curtain, a wall of Warsaw Pact nations stretching from Poland in the north through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, all the way to Bulgaria. And in the Scandinavian region, a border buffered by a Soviet Union-dominated Finland, whose foreign and military policies were dictated by the Soviet Union.
That is a far cry from the current situation in which NATO includes all former Warsaw Pact members and all three former Soviet Baltic states; and where Sweden and a long de-Finlandized Finland are close to joining the military alliance; and more alarmingly, from Russia's perspective, NATO is open to incorporating the two former Soviet Socialist Republics of Georgia and Ukraine.
If Putin's intention was to stop the expansion of NATO, his strategy of invading Ukraine has backfired miserably, and rather than allowing him to reconstitute the former Soviet Union will likely push the old Iron Curtain further east.
While there is no equivalent to NATO in Asia and Oceania, a series of military alliances and increasingly tight multination organizations have cemented a democratic block to counterbalance China and North Korea. In October 2020, the United States and India signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which established long-term strategic and military agreements between the two nations. The following year, Australia, the United States and the U.K. finalized AUKUS, a military pact for the Indo-Pacific region. The G-7, for its part, has forcefully and unanimously condemned China's human rights record and in December 2021, as Russian forces gathered across Ukraine's borders, the United States hosted the first of two Summits for Democracy, a global gathering to discuss "the challenges and opportunities facing democracies in the 21st century."
In June's NATO meeting in Madrid, member nations hosted democratic allies from the Indo-Pacific region (Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand). On the occasion, NATO recognized that China's "stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values." It is premature to say, but we may be witnessing the gestation of a new SEATO, closely aligned with NATO.
The gathering storm is not as clear-cut as a standoff between democracies and authoritarian regimes. As united as the world's democracies are, in times of wars and rumors of war, they must explore and even cultivate alliances even with authoritarian states ruled by unsavory leaders. Remember that Josef Stalin's Soviet Union was an Allied Power during World War II. The Biden administration is doing precisely that -- if not seeking collaboration in the battlefield, at least strengthening bonds with partners that can supply the West with oil and other strategic wartime necessities.
In November 2021, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to turn Saudi Arabia into a "pariah" if elected. And on the closing days of the 2020 presidential campaign, as Democratic presidential nominee, Biden launched criticisms against then-President Donald Trump's friendly policies toward dictatorships in Russia, Belarus and North Korea, and uttered a statement that he later came to regret: "You see what is happening from Belarus through Poland to Hungary and the rise of totalitarian regimes in the world." While Poland and Hungary were veering in an undemocratic direction, they were and remain U.S. allies and NATO members.
But that was then and now Russia is at war with Ukraine, and average gas prices in the United States rose dramatically from $3 per gallon in June 2020 to $5 in June 2022. The United States and its allies are wooing potential undemocratic allies, the more oil-rich the better. Feeling increasing domestic pressures to help bring down the price of gas, Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who reportedly had been ignoring White House phone calls. Biden did not go as far as participating in a ceremonial sword dance -- as Trump had done in May 2017 -- but bumped fists and exchanged smiles with the dictator.
There are encouraging signs toward democratization in Poland, which is aiding Ukraine's war efforts and has taken on the lion's share of Ukrainian refugees, 1.25 million as of August 2022. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's regime remains firmly in control, and, while a NATO member, Hungary has been shy about sanctions against Russia, with whom it seeks to maintain friendly relations. The United States and Europe's democracies will be forced to look the other way to avoid pushing Hungary closer into Putin's orbit.
To be continued.
Luis Martinez-Fernandez is the author of "Revolutionary Cuba: A History" and "Key to the New World: A History of Early Colonial Cuba." Readers can reach him at LMF_Column@yahoo.com. To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www. creators.com.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.