Since the fall of the Berlin wall, NATO and the United States has been undermine Russia. The United States has not missed an occasion to humiliate Russian from negotiating a troop withdraw from Eastern Europe and former republics, refusing to bail the rubble out, privatization to the Russian mob,making Yeltsin swallow losing Sevastopol, NATO’s bombing of Serbia and all those movies about with actors with tick russian accents drinking vodka and trying to sell nuclear weapons.
What people don’t understand is that this the same type of idiot behavior that lead to the Third Reich. France and to some degree the United Kingdom treatment of post WWI Germany lead to resentment and then nationalism and eventually Hitlers rise. I am not saying that President Putin is Hitler but the situation has lead to a resurgence of Russia very much like in Germany in the 30’s. Using corruption, crime and NATO’s perceived aggression as the banners to rally the people under one man. It has modernized its military, learned from its lessons in Chechnya and Georgia.
On February 9 1990, Secretary of State James Baker made a deal to with Russia not to expand into eastern Europe in exchange for Gorbachev’s backing of the reunification of Germany. The idea that NATO would add East Germany and stop there. It didn’t. Poland, the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Check Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, and Croatia. 11 countries later it found itself at the doorstep of Russia with Ukraine.
Ukraine’s historical, economic, and military importance to Russia was the last straw. After the 2008 Georgia fiasco, the Russians were in no mood to play games with the United States and a clear signal had to be sent. All signs pointed to a high probability of direct involvement in Ukraine. The night that Viktor Yanukovych fled his opulent presidential palace, I said to my wife watch President Putin take Crimea within weeks or months and eastern Ukraine within a year. Crimea would be taken because Russia could not trust Ukraine or NATO to abide by the 99 year lease that Clinton made Yeltsin accept (he threatened walking out of negotiations several times over Crimea). Crimea is not just an important Naval base but a symbol of Russia. It has major historical significance from the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and the Tatars, the Crimean War all the way to its heroic resistance to the Nazis. Crimea and Sevastopol is Russia. To lose it would mean losing Pearl Harbor for the United States. Russia would of wiped out the Ukrainian Army and gladly accepted sanctions if it was necessary. Luckily, Putin acted fast while Kiev was in disorder which resulted in no loses on either side. An impressive feat to say the least. President Putin had 4 objectives:
1.Take Crimea to safeguard the black sea fleet and any future the Navy would have in the Mediterranean
2. Make sure that Ukraine never joins NATO since the later would not accept a country which has a territorial dispute with Russia
3. Warn Ukraine that it could break with Russia but Russia would never break with Ukraine
4. Send a clear signal to NATO that it’s march east is over
With the Crimean situation under control, Putin could now turn to undermining the Kiev government with impunity. Seeing that NATO, the US, the UN and Ukraine was powerless to intervene it could now set about making sure the new government would be stuck in perpetual crisis and potentially collapse. In order to do that it needed to undermine the authority of the state and nothing is better for that than secession. The FSB pushed and bombarded Russian speaking Eastern Ukraine with propaganda to entice a move toward secession. Taking over a few towns was just enough to get a reaction from Kiev. Instead of calling for calm and reassuring the Russian speaking east, Kiev opted to send its underfunded, untrained, and clueless Army to the Donetsk region to crack down. The result was a disaster still unfolding. The current government of President Petro Poroshenko is in shambles and near collapse (corruption, economy in ruins, and Donetsk firmly under Russian control) leaving Russia in a better position to pull the strings with the next government that will take over (a very good chance that the government collapses and new elections are called within a year).
After successes in Ukraine and hesitations from the UK and the United States to not bomb Syria after the staged WMD attack, Russia saw an opening there. The idea that the Russians were going in for a little unused naval base was embarrassing reason when brought up by some pundits and experts in the media. The Russians saw Syria as vital to protect its natural gas market, eliminate Chechen mercenaries, and use the conflict as a bargaining chip with the US and Europe for lifting sanctions. Using ISIS as cover, Russia set about to change the situation on the ground to gain a negotiating advantage. It offer repeated proposals and offers of cease fires to get all parties at the table. The US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey repeatedly refused. Now with the Syrian regime in a offensive posture it has decided that Aleppo will fall and the so called FSA and Al-Nusra will be defeated there and sent back to the country side. It waited until after the election to commence its offensive which they hope the city can be taken before President Elect Trump takes over. This will change the facts on the ground and more than likely tie the hands of the next administration to cooperate with Russia and Syria.
Russia is in a good position and would welcome lifting of sanctions but is ready for the long game. President Elect Trump will have a difficult task of reigning in the CIA, the Republican establishment and allies to accept that Russia will be able to negotiate on its term a final peace in Syria and in Ukraine. I truly believe that US-Russian ties will defrost but slowly and with much resistance from regional allies. The fact is that without arming Al-Nusra more directly and with more sophisticated weapons (MANPADS, 3rd generations ATGM) the facts on the ground look grim. I hope that some in the new administration will be reminded that the last time we went to bed with AL-Queda it did not turn out so well. So lets just suck it up, swallow our pride and look at our long term interests. We can negotiate with President Putin but not with Al-Queda.