Grand Strategy Revisited
Aug. 24, 2018
We live in the world of models, all kinds of them. Some models are simple, others—very complex. The main task of those models is to predict how things, those models describe, will behave depending on the circumstances. Some of those models work brilliantly, others fail miserably. Worst models in terms of reliability are those dealing with geopolitics. A record of dismal failures of Western in general, and American in particular, geopolitical models to predict anything right is widely available for everyone to see. Time after time those models and predictions turned out to be wrong. In terms of “predicting” anything in regards to Russia, those predictions were not only wrong, they were downright dangerous.
No better demonstration exists of a complete breakdown in the process of predicting anything than evolution of Russian military and economic power. As late as 2016, claims that Russia remained nothing more than, in the words of John McCain, a gas station masquerading as a country continued to pour in by all kinds of “experts”, who, despite a huge collection of facts to the contrary, continued to believe that these are only Russia’s nuclear forces which keep Russia as some secondary factor in the international relations. There are even some Russian experts who shared this point of view. Their models and predictions turned out to be wrong. They lacked the most important predictor of them all.
Fast forward to March 1 this year to Putin’s speech to Federal Assembly— the loud echo from this speech is still being heard today, half-a-year later. It is still loud. In fact, the volume increases. It was the day majority of models of international relations and balance of power, all those matrices, differential equations, arrays of information became completely irrelevant, because military power and full ability to wage both nuclear and, what is most important, conventional war, and win in it, not some abstract financial or cooked military “rankings” data, is what defines geopolitical status of the nation. Any serious military analyst knew already in 2014 that neither US, nor NATO as a whole, could defeat Russia in conventional war near Russia’s borders.
On March 1 it became clear that Russia can strike any targets, including within the US, conventionally with US not being able to do anything about it. Today Russia can also sink any NATO navy, or combination thereof, without nuclear weapons and the list of what is possible is long. In what seemed to a layman as one day (in reality it was 10 years in the making) Russia not only obtained a full right to speak at the formation of the new world order, Russia became a main driver behind this new order of things globally. Cutting edge military power translates into geopolitical benefits extremely well. Real military power, assessed within proper strategic, operational and technological framework, was and is this predictor. In other words—only world-class, superpower, economies are capable of producing the state-of-the-art weaponry or, in general, military power. Russia fits this definition today perfectly. I will quote myself:
Military power in humanity’s conflict-ridden history mattered, matters and will continue to matter as one of the main, if not themain, pillars on which national power rests. It remains the case that, in the modern world, first rate military power is a function of a first rate nation-state which possesses the wherewithal to have such military power. Great military power by definition is a continuation of a greatly developed, economically strong nation-state.
Fast forward to today. Next state of Russia’s existence, yet again lost in all those modelling and prognosticating methodologies. Russian GosKomStat (main statistics agency) reports that industry, specifically manufacturing and processing, grew in 7 months of 2018 an impressive 4.1%, the consumption of energy—one of the main indicators of real economy growth—grew 1.9%. These are stunning numbers for the country which lives under sanctions non-stop since 2014, in reality much longer than that. One is forced to ask the question—how is this growth even possible, despite some undeniable Russia’s structural economic problems?
The answer is in Russia’s grand strategy which was formulated more than hundred years ago by a man, who played one of the crucial roles in unleashing revolutionary processes in Russia, namely Tsar Nicholas II former prime-minister of Russia Pyotr Stolypin. His strategic dictum was simple to grasp: “Give Russia 20 years of internal and external peace and quiet and it will change beyond recognition.” Vladimir Putin and his team follow this dictum to the letter.
Obviously, many in Western world immediately tried to assign to Putin, who quoted Stolypin not for once, all features of a “liberal” without, as always, paying any attention to a gigantic difference of Stolypin’s and Putin’s Russia. Stolypin wanted to change Russia’s peasantry and its centuries’ old commune by means of his namesake reforms, and through it, Russia herself. He tried to do so in most brutal manner. He was assassinated. Putin needs to stop “liberal” economic experimentation in Russia and, unlike Stolypin 100 years before him, he has an overwhelming support of his nation to do so. He has still massive industrial, technological and scientific heritage left from the Soviet Union. He is also doing this in evolutionary manner.
This combined Putin (by this I mean him and people who support him in the top echelons of political power) is trying to achieve precisely Stolypin’s goal of 20 or even more years of internal and external peace and quiet but he knows that the only way to provide these conditions are through strength and in Russian geopolitical, cultural, historic conditions this means a completely new quality of strength. This is the quality which requires rejection of the liberal economic dogma. And it is being done.
As influential Russian economist and journalist Alexander Rogers states in his latest piece (in Russian) titled The State Will Get Everything Back the second, since 2014, wave of re-nationalization of Russia’s strategic assets and Rogers is spot on in his analysis. Apart from returning Russian State where overwhelming majority of Russians want it to be, in charge of Russia’s real national treasure and wealth—national resources and strategic industries—this transformation also requires new professional elites. Those are being prepared as I type this. But why such a long introduction?
The answer to this introduction is really very simple: to explain to very many real and fake Western (I will omit here Russian ones) supporters of Russia WHY Russia doesn’t act in a kneejerk manner each time combined West does something ultimately stupid and self-defeating against her. Russia plays a very long game whose main objective is to provide Russia with those Stolypin’s, now Putin’s, 20 or more, years of peaceful development. Under these conditions, Russia, as our very own Anon from Tennessee, succinctly observed in one of the discussion threads, will “negotiate with the devil himself if need be”. This is what Russia is doing while continuing to demonstrate her increasing military and economic clout. Russia is playing for time, for a relatively peaceful time that is, because today in Russia time means growth.
The correctness of this approach has been proven today by the overwhelming empirical evidence of mounting achievements in many spheres among which real economy, not some virtual financial markets, is most important. Today, when one reviews industrial projects Russia is implementing domestically and abroad, one cannot fail to be struck by a massive scale of those, be that development in Arctic, aerospace, radio-electronics, shipbuilding or transport infrastructure. Russia is building her own independent internet through massive Sfera (Sphere) Project, which in itself is a massive space exploration project. In parallel, increasingly fast de-dollarization is taking place.
Thus the warranted, in fact irresistible, question must be asked–would Russia of August 2018 be possible should Russia of March 2014 have followed all kneejerk advices on part of all those “supporters”, “patriots” and “experts” (many of whom are not experts at all, nor are real patriots) who every day, since the return of Crimea home, never relented on, in their opinion for a good reason, accusing Russia of being weak, cowardly, not tough enough, timid, not hitting back… you can easily add to this list. Yet, here we are in August 2018 with Russia not only not collapsing but every single day she defies grim, doom spelling forecasts. There are still many of those around.
It is obvious today that should have Russia involved herself in Ukraine in 2014 by means of full blown invasion, everything positive what today increasingly manifests itself would have failed to materialize because Russia, no matter how good it would have made some of her so called “patriots” (and ignorant “experts”) feel for a moment, would have lost time–the most important strategic asset, which Russia used for the last 5 years impressively well to prepare the country for a breakthrough the beginning of which we all observe today, some with joy, others with hateful desperation. The list of Russia’s accomplishments in the last 5 years is, indeed, for the lack of better word, stunning.
Most important of those achievements is Russia’s increasing independence from the West in some of the most crucial scientific and technological fields and, of course, her military-technological transformation which changed the balance of power globally. And here is the main point for those who still think that Russia should launch an all out war on the combined West which continues to insult, attack and accuse Russia of most despicable things–they desperately want Russia to respond emotionally and, hopefully for them, irrationally. Truly powerful and confident nations do not behave themselves in a kneejerk, instant gratification manner.
Russia will not do that precisely for the reasons of Russia being militarily, and increasingly economically, secure. So who is really a weak party in this setup? Certainly, not Russia but hysterical and self-defeating West which sees its geopolitical designs collapse in front of its very own eyes. The fact that West, or at least some very influential people here, begin to understand this dynamics made even US mainstream media news when on July 3 Republican Senator from Alabama, a chair of an immensely powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Richard Shelby was explicit in summarizing new 2018 geopolitical reality in his impromptu interview to the media on the stairs of Russia’s Foreign Ministry building:
This is the place where those proverbial “experts” should start reacting as the devil would react to a spray of a holy water. This, or maybe spend some time learning about Russia, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. But for those who want to really learn—you want to know what the real economic might and geopolitical weight of the nation are, look no further than what its military can do realistically, not in CGI animation. This is the most reliable predictor of them all in the last 100 years. Always was, always will be and that is why dogs always bark but caravan passes on.