Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Rumors of War - King of the North

Russia strengthening military in challenge to NATO -
UPI reports: "Russia is set to establish three new military divisions -- around 30,000 troops -- along its borders in a direct challenge to Western allies' troop buildup in the region. NATO revealed last month that it would be sending around 4,000 troops to Poland and the former Soviet countries in the Baltic. Now Moscow has hit back by announcing its own plans to expand its military presence."

Comment: I think what's happening here is a sad example of dueling narratives. Russia and NATO look at the history of the last thirty years and they each see something different.  NATO sees a Russia under Putin that appears to be desperate to recapture the glory days of the Soviet Empire. In an almost classic example of a revanchist power, Russia is expanding and recapturing territory (Crimea) and expanding a sphere of influence among neighbors (Ukraine). Russia's neighbors are unsettled and turning to NATO for reassurance and protection. Russia, on the other hand, sees a NATO alliance that never disbanded, even after winning the Cold War, and instead added new members among former Eastern bloc countries, pushing NATO right up to Russia's borders. Russia, in this view, is responding to the NATO threat by increasing defense spending and carving out a frontier or buffer in Eastern Europe between it and NATO. Usually diplomats are able to negotiate when leaders talk past one another, after all, there are many common interests, but in this case, Putin has established his national narrative so strongly in the minds of his people that his ability to maneuver is hampered by is own rhetoric (assuming he doesn't actually believe the "Russia is a victim of NATO" narrative) and this makes compromise (so necessary in avoiding conflict) unlikely.   It's more likely that Russia will continue to act out as an expression of frustration and aggrievement with NATO, nationalism, or Putin's personal agenda to stay in power.

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