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Don’t Be Fooled: Russia is Weak and Dying

The Russian presidential elections are two weeks away and the outcome is hardly in doubt. Vladimir Putin on Wednesday gave his annual state of the nation address to the Russian Duma. During his speech, the strongman-president raved about Russian strength. Then, with bizarre computer-generated images of weapons projected behind him, Putin detailed five new Russian weapons systems.

The new weapons are dangerous, of course. But their appearance is misleading. In reality, Putin’s announcement was a sign of desperation and weakness. Fact is, the Trump Administration’s yearlong show of strength against Russia from Ukraine to Syria has worked well. Now would be an excellent time for the president to open negotiations with Putin.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying…
Among the new systems were hypersonic glide weapons that both the United States and China have also been developing for several years. These weapons can deliver bombs anywhere in the world in under an hour (and can overcome any known air defense system, thanks to their ability to travel at five times the speed of sound).

The Russian version of these weapons can carry nuclear warheads. They can fly higher, faster, and undetected compared to what we would consider standard nuclear missiles. This would also have the effect of mitigating antiballistic missile defense systems, such as THAAD ground-based interceptors, which the United States has been developing (and China has recently begun testing).

Russia views any antiballistic missile defense system as a direct threat to its nuclear deterrence, which Russia believes is the only thing standing between Russia and a foreign invasion.

The most frightening (and equally hilarious) weapon Putin previewed was his “doomsday device.” Like something from “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Atomic Bomb,” the weapon is an unmanned submarine that can carry a nuclear weapon underwater, and attack any position on Earth without raising any alarms. The video behind Putin detailed nuclear strikes being carried out over my old home state of Florida. Intelligence agencies have believed that Putin possessed this weapon since at least 2015, yet many observers mocked the unmanned, underwater nuclear weapon as having no practical use other than to indiscriminately destroy massive amounts of human life (as if rationality ever played into Russia’s atomic ambitions).

National Self-Defense or Imperial Buffer Zones?
Throughout his speech, Putin insisted that the Russian Federation was strong and each new weapon was meant to display that strength. Even as he hissed about the greatness of Russian weapons of mass destruction, Putin unconvincingly assured his rapt audience that such weapons would only be used in self-defense. They were designed, according to Putin, with Russian “historical and cultural” experience in mind. In other words, since the Mongolian invasions, which subjugated and weakened Russia a millennia ago, the Russians have long feared foreign encirclement, encroachment, invasion, and dismemberment.

Of course, it is fair to wonder what the Kremlin regards as Russian “self-defense.” No one seriously desires to invade Russia. Yet, given Putin’s rhetoric, one would think that Russia was about to be invaded by NATO. When Putin speaks of “self-defense,” he is talking about creating buffer zones between Russia’s “core” of Moscow and NATO’s European members.

Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 because both countries—former Soviet states—were on the verge of joining the European Union and NATO (which Putin believes are aimed at destroying Russia).

Now, the Russians appear poised to strike again. Some believe that it will be in a Baltic state with a large ethnic Russian population. Thus, Latvia, Estonia, and Moldova are all potential targets. Trump’s policies toward Russia have kept Putin back. It is now imperative to switch tacks and engage in a reasonable deal with Putin to allay further aggression (without abandoning our allies).

Putin’s Global Ambitions
Elsewhere in Syria, Russian military operations in support of Bashar al-Assad continue unabated. Also, Putin has brilliantly maneuvered Russian influence into the resource-rich Middle East: he has empowered Iran at the same time he is partaking in history-making energy deals with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Putin has rekindled the old Russo-Egyptian military alliance; and Russia has a strengthening relationship with Israel.

To Russia’s east, Putin has signed historic energy deals with the world’s leading importer of oil (and a country whose thirst for raw materials is boundless): China. All the while, Russia provides diplomatic cover for a procession of rogue states, including North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and several others. From all appearances, then, it would seem that Russia is dominating the world yet again (Fareed Zakaria dubbed Putin the “Strongest Man in the World” last year, for instance).

Given all of his moves on the diplomatic and economic fronts—maneuvers that have had a far more positive impact than anything Putin has done militarily in Europe—why does President Putin always feel the need to beat his chest to the world with these mad nuclear threats?

When Weakness is Strength
Well, for starters, Putin is gaslighting his people. Putin wants to mitigate the potential for any protest—no matter how small or isolated—to form on the eve of his “victory.” Second, Putin knows that Russia is, in fact, weak. Moscow is doing reasonably well, but the rest of the country is teetering on the brink. Stories are coming out of towns less than 60 miles outside of Moscow, indicating that the Russian people are suffering. Protests in the east have erupted over shortages and onerous regulations imposed on them by Moscow for the last year.

It’s clear that Putin’s regime rests on a brittle framework. He rose to power because of his promises to make Russia great again after Boris Yeltsin’s disastrous presidency. Putin did elevate the standard of living for most Russians, in part, by tethering Russia’s economy to the global price of oil. Unfortunately, though, oil is a volatile commodity. When the global price swings for oil as drastically as it has since 2014, the Russian economy in particular suffers.

Also, Putin’s invasion of Crimea has prompted Western sanctions that have put an additional squeeze on Putin’s government. All of this has compounded into an awful situation for Putin.

Then, in recent days, news broke that upwards of 200 Russian soldiers operating under the aegis of a purported private Russian defense contractor engaged American forces operating in Syria and were massacred. Now, the Russian people are questioning their government. Whereas times have been bad since at least 2014 for the average Russian, they could at least soothe themselves with the knowledge that things were not as bad as when Yeltsin was president and at least Russia appeared strong to the world. Neither is true any longer. Vladimir Putin is now engaged in a vainglorious effort to appear stronger than he is. After all, every time that Putin stands up to the West, the Russian people ignore their own plight and cheer him on.

Where Do We Go From Here?
President Trump has stood up to Russia, and we appear strong again. Whatever the Left may think of Trump’s ties to Russia, the fact remains that the Trump Administration policies have forced Putin’s hand. Right now, Putin is taking drastic steps to appear stronger than he is—even running into the arms of China, which is not in Russia’s national interest.

Since the United States has reaffirmed its strength in Putin’s eyes, the White House should pivot and offer Putin a gracious way of saving face with his people. If the Trump Administration fails to reach out and build off its displays of strength, then all of this posturing will have been worthless, and we might have helped formalize a Sino-Russian entente cordiale.   

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30 replies
  1. andrewp111
    andrewp111 says:

    This is not entirely true:
    No one seriously desires to invade Russia.
    China wants to acquire eastern Russia,, which is sparsely populated and has vast resources. Will they do a military invasion? Of course not. But China is patient. They are willing to wait a very long time to grab what they want.

  2. Concerned Citizen
    Concerned Citizen says:

    The article states a few times that Trump has stood up to Russia, but gives no examples. When did that happen?

    • Robert Browning
      Robert Browning says:

      Why should we stand up to anyone who is not a threat to us? The only threat I see is coming from the Jews right here in America and their agitating toward war with Russia.

    • Brandon Weichert
      Brandon Weichert says:

      -Bombed Syria for purported use of chemical WMD AGAINST wishes of Russia
      -Has been intensifying American energy production (which harms Russia)
      -Continues to reaffirm American commitment to NATO
      -Arming Ukraine as of Christmas 2017

      • Concerned Citizen
        Concerned Citizen says:

        Okay. Thanks. I’m going to assume that you would agree that Obama similarly “stood up” to Russia, by increasing American energy production, reaffirming America’s commitment to NATO, and initiating sanctions regarding Russia’s actions in Ukraine and also against Russia’s interference in our elections?

        • cheatemandhowe
          cheatemandhowe says:

          Ha, ha, ha, Obama did his best to restrict energy production, he shut off all energy development on public lands and attacked fracking. He wouldn’t are the Ukrainian army (which Trump had to do) and announced on TV that there was no Russian interference in our elections. You should be concerned that your meds aren’t working since you’re totally delusional.

        • Dean
          Dean says:

          Limp-wristed former president Obama never stood up for anything but putting pervs in the Ladies room.

  3. Robert Browning
    Robert Browning says:

    But do you really want to take the chance to find out?? How about we let Russia test their new nuclear powered cruise missile on Israel first. Show of hands please.

  4. Jo Jo Cintia
    Jo Jo Cintia says:

    Russia looks a lot better now than it did under that goofball alcoholic Yeltsin. I was worried some nukes would walk away when that drunk was stumbling around.
    That American Century Plan DIED. Get over it. No global hegemony for you. America doesn’t look like a Superpower to me. You told White people to die and bet on black. When you go black you go broke. THE IRON LAW OF ECONOMICS. Dead malls attest to that.
    We can all look forward to crime waves and riots with that stupid “Black Panther” black power fantasy. All you cops better turn in your badges. You won’t be allowed to defend yourselves anymore.

    You goofballs in your gated communities aren’t safe. That diversity will bite you soon. When the thin blue line gives up, you’re toast. What goes around, comes around, Skippy.

    • Brian Backes
      Brian Backes says:

      “Russia looks a lot better now than it did under that goofball alcoholic Yeltsin.”

      Putin enjoys 60-80 percent job approval ratings, year in and year out. Russians love Putin because he does well by them; the American media gins up hatred for Putin precisely because Russia and Russians do well under his leadership. They likewise loved Yeltsin precisely because Russia and Russians suffered and weakened under his rule.

      American Greatness shames itself by joining the Putin/Russia-bashing bandwagon. Who do you think your readers are, Pablum-swilling grasseaters? This garbage is best left for the establishment WSJ, NYT, WP.

  5. Brett baker
    Brett baker says:

    I’m afraid there are too many people who think 1. Putin is Khrushchev, and going to take us on if he thought he could win. 2. One of the Romanaovs, and going to unleash the Cossacks in a massive pogrom. Getting along with Russia would allow us to reduce our Army, and put money into the Navy and Air Force, The branches that help maintain maritime supremacy, the true basis of American security.

  6. Proud Skeptic
    Proud Skeptic says:

    North Korea has been “dying” for two generations and they aren’t dead yet. Then, again, they have Red China to keep them afloat.

  7. SaguaroJack49
    SaguaroJack49 says:

    I don’t think there’s any realistic danger of China and Russia getting along for any period of time. Each wants to be the big dog, each ultimately relies on force, and neither wants to be seen as kowtowing.

  8. William Westchester
    William Westchester says:

    Since Reagan-Gorbachev, the ideological war between Russia and the US has been nonexistent (except for 2009-2017 when Putin stood for Christianity and 0bama was at least tolerant of Islam.

    There is virtually no casus belli between Russia and the US, although moving NATO to Russia’s borders is provocative. This raises the problem of how to provide security to Eastern Europe if NATO were to move back to its previous limits. The answer lies in a union of Eastern European states that would form a confederation/economic union/ military alliance that would be strong enough to defend itself against Russia but not powerful enough to provoke Russia.

    Then everyone could concentrate their attention on the problem of Jihadism in the arc from the Atlas Mountains to the Hindu Kush (and in Western Europe).

  9. wildbillcuster
    wildbillcuster says:

    A couple of points. In Syria, the Russians fired artillery at American troops and our forces responded. That’s not a “massacre”. Buy a dictionary. In regards to Russia and Putin, why throw him a lifeline? We don’t need to actively seek Russia’s downfall, we can just wait and let demography take its course. Ditto with China. I see Xi making himself President for life as a sign of weakness that will lead to big trouble down the line for them. It’s a step back for China. India is going to end up like Yugoslavia times a thousand. All the US needs to do is keep our heads and not do anything stupid (tough job, I know) for the next 25 years and we’ll be fine and on top.

    • Brandon Weichert
      Brandon Weichert says:

      Not what happened. Elements of the Wagner Company’s force decided to cross over into U.S.-held territory and began a hostile approach to our base. Immediately artillery strikes occurred, blasting Russian forces apart. Their losses are believed to have been as high as 200. The number of US forces was considerably smaller than the Russian force also.

      • wildbillcuster
        wildbillcuster says:

        However it happened, what’s your problem with it? Hostile forces threatened our guys and our guys took them out. The lesson for Putin, Assad, Xi or anyone else is not to threaten our guys.

  10. PugLife
    PugLife says:

    Dr. Strangelove: The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost…if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world, eh?!
    Russian Ambassador: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.

    Hey, at least Putin didn’t keep this a secret.

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