19 September 2019

Vladimir Putin-From Lisbon to Vladivostok

Sergiu Medar

As stated many times before, Putin is seeking to create a great Eurasian continent from “Atlantic to Pacific” (2012) or from “Lisbon to Vladivostok”, the latter expression being used at the recent meeting (August 2019) he had with Emmanuel Macron, by France’s president himself. Given European Union’s failure in becoming a global power, the Russian leader considers that creating the Eurasia Union, to include Europe also, he could create a new global power pole, which would, eventually, fight US. At the same time, aiming at the same thing, Russia is getting closer and closer to China.

Image source: Mediafax

After Berlin’s wall fall and Soviet Union’s collapse, Russia aimed at two major things: the integration into the Western structures, following terms to favor Kremlin, and the reintegration of the former Soviet space, to allow the creation of a bloc led by Russia. Putin could not accomplish any of these objectives. The relations with the West are based on competition and, for some fields, even confrontation. Except for some cases, the former states of the Soviet bloc have chosen democracy’s path, and those which could not make it, have tried to stay away from Kremlin. The relations with China are getting tighter and tighter mostly being based on the fact that both super powers are strongly fighting US.

On one hand, Russia will never accept US’s global leadership, because it would definitely cancel its integration chances into Western state’s structures, even if only related to the economic ones. An example to that end is the return from G8 to G7 format. At the same time, US would obviously not accept any of Kremlin’s too independent foreign policy, exclusively based on its own interests, which would break UN’s Carta and the international relations’ regulations. White House’s reaction against Russia’s intervention in South-East Ukraine or the illicit annexation of Crimea are relevant to that end.

One the other hand, the EU does not agree, for now, with Russia’s integration in the West, due to its domestic policy which is dominated by serious breaches of human’s rights and the freedom of press.

Russia addresses US and NATO as threats against its national security within the National Security Strategy and the National Defence Strategy. Although, geopolitically speaking, Russia cannot be isolated, given its dimensions, from a political perspective it is separated from the other great powers of the world. However, Russia is interfering, without consulting any of world’s powers, in the hottest areas, especially in conflict zones. Its stances are always opposed to US’s ones, trying to compromise Washington’s interests. A relevant example is the support for Bashar al Assad’s government, although the entire democratic world is accusing him for crimes against humanity. Turkey has recently acquired S-400 defence systems from Russia, despite US’s warnings, this way leading to White House’s prorogation of F-35 aircrafts delivery for the Turkish state. Another proof for Moscow’s togetherness to Ankara is the possible delivery to Turkey of modern fight aircrafts. The S-400 systems were delivered also to other Middle East states, an armament market which was, historically speaking, shared between US and Russia.

Although Russia has the 11th place in the world in terms of GDP’s level, being seriously affected by the US and EU sanctions after Crimea’s annexation, it does not only have global ambitions, but also a great power attitude. The fact that US mentioned it in the National Security Strategy as one of the challenges against its national security and in the National Defence Strategy as competitor to great powers’ competition, it has raised Moscow’s status at a global level. Still, the Russian state has many vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Economically, Russia is extremely fragile as it is only relying on energy market, in different forms. Therefore, any fluctuation of oil and gases’ price can strongly affect the state budget.

Even if, for the past 20 years, the scientific research, which once had remarkable successes, was badly financed, it still allowed the creation of niche military systems and products, together with, highly performant fight aircrafts and missiles. The Artificial Intelligence field is also one that Russia has addressed along with other great powers. However, it is noteworthy saying that Russia’s military power was many times steamrolled by the Russian propaganda.  

Russia’s most effective weapons now are the capabilities it has in informational war’s non-kinetical field. It made huge progresses in this filed, which have allowed it to go from trolling to robotrolling and from strategic influence operations to psychological war.

Also, Russia is always thinking and acting globally against US’s interests. Due to the lack of financial resources, Kremlin cannot act preventively, but reactively, because of opponents’ intervention. Given that its political actions are always going against US’s interests, these are also becoming quite predictable.

Geopolitically speaking, Russia does not belong neither to Europe, nor Asia. This is the reason why it created the Eurasia Union. Without it, Russia does not belong to any regional economic or political community. Geographically, Russia is so big that it cannot be integrated in any such community, in fact, being, the “Russian world” and just that. This is where its uniqueness comes from and the fact that is uncontrollable.

At the end of May 2012, within the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Summit, Vladimir Putin stated that he wants: “… I would like to see a stability arch from Atlantic to Pacific”. The ambitions of Peter the Great were from the Baltic Sea to the Persian Gulf, from North to South, meanwhile Putin’s are from West to East. Also during that time, the Russian propaganda was launching on the internet a map wherein Europe was called Europe Peninsula of the Eurasian Union. We should not forget that in 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev was talking at Europe’s Council about a “Common European Home”, a project that can be created today.

In the years that followed that event, Putin had the same dream, however with a different shape, still, the same content. He proposes a united Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Not noticing the tendency of Putin’s imperial proposal, stated at the meeting with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, encouraging the Russian leader in accomplishing his megalomaniac objectives related to Europe, has mentioned a united Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Even in such circumstances, Putin sees Russia standing close to the Western Europe states, but against US. He wants to take advantage on the transatlantic relations fragility. In fact, although there were times when fashion was concurrent in Paris and Sankt Petersburg, the cultural difference between West Europe and Russia is insuperable. Although the American culture is different from the European one, the latter, which causes envy to so many of the North America inhabitants, and available vice versa as well, the difference between these two is smaller than the one that is separating them from the Russian state. Therefore, the cultural component and both parts’ recognition of liberal democracy’s values, in the transatlantic relation, cannot be neglected, being just another element which is claiming the maintenance and consolidation of Atlantic’s both rims’ relation.

After the 1990-2010 period, when there was some hope from the US-Russia relation, starting with 2014, both powers have embraced opposed stances, which even led to direct confrontations, between Russian mercenaries and US forces in Deir-es-Zohr, Syria. It is less likely for these relations to change, even after the US 2020 and 2024 elections and after an eventual government change in Moscow. For a change to actually happen, Russia would have to admit its defeat and come to compliance with US’s rules or for them to admit Russia’s rights to promote its national interests in the world, as agreed by Kremlin. This is why, in the following period, these two powers’ relations will not get better, given also that Russia’s interference in US’s presidential elections’ is still questioned.

Russia’s togetherness to Europe is, also, less likely to happen, as the European Union could not, until now, become the global power that it wanted. Great Britain’s withdrawal is not going to consolidate Union’s position on a global level. Minimizing the military costs will hardly lead to important results in Europe’s security process. Hence, Russia thinks it can be a hard power in European security’s consolidation.  Due to the cultural and mentality differences, as well as the fact the Europe is only feeling threatened by Russia, this is impossible.

However, Russia does no give up the idea of unifying Europe and Eurasia economically and politically. To that end, it got closer to China, which, through the Belt and Road Initiative, created in 2013, is establishing new connections between these two continents, favoring Putin’s concept. Russia’s togetherness to China relies on a strong common denominator: the aversion against US. From Beijing’s perspective, this is also amplified by Washington’s trade war.

Given these circumstances, Russia remains, from a geographic perspective, a state built on two continents, embracing mentalities, cultures and interest from both of them. As of now, this approach did not help it to become the second world power. Russia is, still, a great power, which cannot simply be ignored when states, economic or security international organizations are making strategic decisions.

Translated by Andreea Soare