AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
For the last four weeks, President Joe Biden’s Administration has been discussing with Russia its demands for “security” guarantees, which includes a ban on NATO expansion and the withdrawal of the U.S. medium-range missiles from Europe.
Although Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S. was firm in pushing back on these proposals, Russia’s negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said it was “mandatory” that Ukraine never became a NATO member.
Despite the claims of some Western experts, foregoing an invasion of Ukraine in exchange for security guarantees is not the primary objective for Putin. After all, Russia already has a proxy war underway in the Donbas region in Southeast Ukraine.
Putin’s immediate objective is to create permanent conflict. Here’s how that would happen. Under a plan that Putin has been unsuccessfully pushing since February 2015 called the Minsk Agreement, Ukraine would be required to agree to a “special status” for the Eastern part of the country. The terms of the agreement would specify that these regions would only return to Ukraine after special elections were conducted, allowing Putin the time he needs to solidify Russian influence in this region. Then the Ukrainian Parliament members elected in the East would guarantee Ukraine firmly remain within the Russian sphere of influence.
Earlier this week, following talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko explicitly said that “[i]f the Minsk agreements are implemented, there will be no threat to Ukraine’s security nor to its territorial integrity.”
But the Minsk Agreement is only one element of Putin’s ultimate plan, which American policymakers don’t seem to fully grasp. Quite simply, Putin’s grand strategy is to dominate and implode the West.
To fully appreciate Putin’s motives, one must turn back the clock thirty years to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
At that time, the whole of Europe, including former Soviet Republics, welcomed the news with fireworks, champagne, and the wild exuberance of dance. For these formerly captive nations, it was a new beginning. But for the communists in Moscow, it was a shattering defeat. The pride and hope raised by Lenin that a progressive and prosperous Soviet Union would conquer Europe and the world came crashing down and dissolved into bitterness.
But already during the pro-Western Russian presidency of Boris Yeltsin, pro-Soviet Russian diplomats led by a former top KGB agent, Yevgeny Primakov, sought to restore Russian pride with a new strategy of “de-Americanization.”
De-Americanization focused on four main objectives: prevent the success of the U.S. international missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan; destabilize NATO and the European Union; remove U.S. influence from Russia, including Christian churches; and develop new Russian media with technology imitating CNN, and with a focused editorial line mirroring Radio Free Europe. That goal ultimately resulted in the creation of Russia Today. In other words, de-Americanization is about Russia fomenting chaos and instability in Europe and the United States.
One way the Kremlin has sought to achieve this is through regular attacks on countries like Poland, Lithuania, or the Czech Republic with bans on exports or an undersupply of natural gas. When those countries then struggle, “experts” from Moscow and abroad criticize them and portray the European Union as a failure. Similarly, Russia Today blames the U.S. and NATO for the atrocities committed in Iraq, conveniently leaving out Russia’s involvement.
Another early element of the de-Americanization strategy was Putin’s sudden desire for Russia to “join” NATO and the E.U., not as a member state, but as a partner with a voice equal to all the other members.
At a 2007 conference in Munich, Vladimir Putin referred to former NATO Secretary-General Manfred Wörner’s alleged promise to the Soviet Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall never to place a NATO army outside of German territory. During the speech, Putin fiercely attacked the United States’ supposed unilateralism that ignored Moscow. Putin demanded talks on a new architecture of global security.
For Putin, the foundation of the new architecture is Russia positioned on par with the United States on the global political scene. Last weekend, for the first time, he achieved it. Although Biden’s diplomats emphasized that the U.S. would not discuss European interests with Europe’s absence, no European diplomat was present in the room when U.S. and Russian diplomats discussed world security.
The Russians immediately portrayed the talks in Switzerland as successful negotiations between the equal powers. In the minds of Putin’s domestic audience, the Kremlin has won.
Indeed, the importance that Russia places on being seen as the winner is very deeply rooted. One historic example dates back to 1999 in a dispute between Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev in Prague. The last leader of the Soviet Union asserted that no side had lost the Cold War, and no single ideology had the answer. Lady Thatcher responded by saying that Gorbachev, like the Left, sought to escape all blame for communism while then trying to take credit for being more pragmatic, modern, and insightful about the world than those who fought communism. The Iron Lady reiterated that the anti-communists had won.
In the dark days of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan was convinced that the West could meet the Soviet challenge. Reagan echoed the words of ex-Communist and distinguished Christian writer Whittaker Chambers that defeating communism would require a faith in God and freedom as great as communism’s faith in Man.
Mr. Biden, a Catholic, is facing Putin, who likes to demonstrate his commitment to the Russian Orthodox Church.
President Biden should heed President Reagan’s example.
If Mr. Biden wants to defeat Putin’s current attempt to humiliate America and its allies, he must, as President Reagan did, publicly state the truth unequivocally. The United States, with its deep, historic commitment to the values of liberty and God-given dignity of the human person, defeated communism.
Biden must also publicly acknowledge that Putin’s goal is the destruction of the Western world that is based on these values, which values are the ultimate security guarantee of nations including Russia.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, theologian, and researcher.