What Motivates Russian Aggression, and What the U.S. Can Do to Curb It

As Vladimir Putin pursues increasingly aggressive policies, and successfully expands his country’s control of the Middle East, many Western observers have groped for explanations of his policies. Frederick W. Kagan provides come clarity:

Russia’s identity itself had collapsed as the revelations of [Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of “openness”] undermined the myths and narratives that had undergirded it for seven decades. [His successor] Boris Yeltsin could do nothing more than establish an identity of freedom and democracy—ideas that seemed increasingly bereft of value as the Russian economy collapsed in the 1990s.

Putin took power in 2000 determined to address these crises. He is redefining Russian identity in the terms the tsarist regime used in the 19th century—Russian Orthodoxy, nationalism, and strong government (they called it autocracy, but he does not). He claims the right to renegotiate the terms of the bad deals Russia made with the post-Soviet states, by force if necessary. He cites the plight of ethnic Russians in the new republics as justification for eroding or even erasing the sovereignty of those states. He seeks to restore Russia to the position of global eminence it had as the Soviet Union by re-establishing its positions in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. He stokes conflict with the West to distract it from these endeavors even as he blames the West for inventing the hostility he has created.

The West cannot appease its way out of this crypto-war. Putin requires conflict to justify his rule at home and his actions in the territory of the former Soviet Union. But Western appeasement cannot address problems that spring from deep within Russia itself. Putin is encouraging Russians to believe that they must regain suzerainty over their former empire, that they must weaken and fragment the West, that they must cut the United States down to size, and that the West will oppose them implacably in all these endeavors.  Appeasement can only draw him into further demands, since he cannot allow the hostility to wane.

The West, with the United States at its head, must rather persuade Putin and the Russian people to accept the terms they themselves negotiated for the post-cold-war settlement—or renegotiate those terms on an equal basis and in peace with their neighbors. We must persuade Russia that it will lose another confrontation, and that the consequences of another loss will be even worse than those of 1991. We must cajole Russia into developing a new national identity not bound in the subjugation of a large empire and military might but rather as a peaceful democratic state with an ancient tradition and a future of hope.

Read more at Critical Threats

More about: Mikhail Gorbachev, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Vladimir Putin

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy