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The Russian Federation controls one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world. In fact, Russia’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons arsenal is likely larger and more advanced than its counterpart in the United States. To compound matters, the Russians have stationed a large portion of those nonstrategic nuclear warheads in a part of Europe they control known as the Kaliningrad. And, ever since 2008, the Russians and the United States have been on the brink reigniting the long-dormant Cold War.
President Trump is doing what every Cold War president from Eisenhower until Reagan has done: he’s keeping the lines of communication open to avoid a nuclear calamity. When John F. Kennedy or Jimmy Carter did it, Democrats and their kept media lauded their mature diplomacy. When Trump does it, Democrats and their kept media say he is Putin’s man in the White House. It’s a truly strange world we live in today. Yet, press forward with necessary diplomacy Trump must.
Decades of bad government policy—coupled with a sclerotic economy and autocratic rule—have created the perfect conditions for Russia’s economic malaise and an almost unstoppable decline (this is most evidenced by the decades-long decline of Russian fertility rates).
In fact, Russia is contracting in every way imaginable and Putin knows it, which is why he has tacked so hard toward the militant nationalism side of Russian politics. But none of Putin’s bluster can arrest the fundamental changes occurring in Russia.
That is, Putin cannot stop this decline without American assistance.
Why should we help shore up a collapsing Russia? Well, what happens when Russia collapses and a handful of basket case republics—some armed with weapons of mass destruction—arise in its place?
Such a world is too frightening to imagine. Remember the chaos that befell the world when the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German, and Russian Empires collapsed? Imagine that, but with loose nukes, other weapons of mass-destruction, and an anti-Western ideology.
Russia, like its neighbors in Europe, is dealing with a massive immigration problem that is placing undue pressure on the calcified regime in Moscow.
From the south, Muslims are pouring in from the Middle East and Central Asia. As a result, Moscow is now home to the largest Muslim population of any European city. Russians who can flee from the country to the West have been doing so at breakneck speed—further depleting the country in this most precarious moment in history.
To the east, the Chinese have been flooding the resource-rich (and sparsely-populated) Russian Far East for more than 20 years. If demographic trends persist, there will be more ethnic Chinese living in the Russian Far East than there will be native-born Russians in a few short years. Under such conditions, it is unlikely that the ethnic Chinese will wish to remain a part of Russia. Instead, it is more than likely that those Chinese will seek to return the Pacific side of Russia to China—as things were until the 17th century.
The situation in the Russian Far East is so problematic that a recently released Russian military assessment indicates that the Russian military is incapable of defending that part of Russia from an invasion.
Clearly, Moscow is worried that the Chinese juggernaut on their porous and undefended border will seek to reclaim the Russian Far East. The military document calls for an immediate repositioning of Russian forces away from Europe and into the Russian Far East, to deter potential Chinese aggression there.
As the old saying goes, “Russia without Siberia [and the Far East] is not Russia. It is simply Muscovy.” Plus, in order for Russia to be competitive in the global economy, it needs access to the panoply of natural resources that exist in the east—which is precisely what the Chinese ultimately seek to deny Russia.
Putin understands this and is desperate to refocus his attention to his far more important east. But that won’t be possible until he’s secured his western flank. Stabilizing relations with the United States would give Putin the room he needs to start standing up to China.
It’s fair to say that Putin has invited much of the antipathy he has encountered over the last decade from his Western neighbors. Then again, as Peter Conradi outlines in his first-rate book, Who Lost Russia? How the World Entered a New Cold War, the West since 1991 steadily has encroached upon Russian borders and reactivated Russia’s centuries-old paranoia of encirclement, invasion, and dismemberment by foreigners.
How would Washington respond if, suddenly, Russia and China started amassing on America’s southwestern border? No wonder Moscow has taken an increasingly nationalistic and militaristic approach in foreign policy.
Taking stock of Russia’s woes, how can anyone honestly believe that Trump is entering into the pending summit with Putin with anything other than a strong hand? What does Trump really need from Putin (compared to what Putin needs from Trump)?
Sanctions lifted in order to have a chance at rehabilitating his country.
Continued expansion of Russia’s ties with Western countries, so that Russia can sell Europe more oil and natural gas—the two commodities that drive Russia’s economy.
Legitimacy in the eyes of the West.
The conflict in Ukraine to end. While Putin can accept a more amicable peace in Eastern Ukraine, he cannot countenance returning the Crimea to Kiev’s control.
The Syrian Civil War to die down so that Russia can fully pull its overextended forces out of the region.
In exchange for stabilizing Russo-American relations and helping Putin get Russia back on its feet again, Trump should follow F.H. Buckley’s good advice:
We have one thing to offer Putin that he truly craves—legitimacy, both at home and abroad. That is what an understanding with America would give him, and in return we’ll want an end to Russian military sales to Iran and support for our withdrawal from the nuclear deal with that country. If Putin wants legitimacy, that’s the price of admission. It’s time for him to choose sides [in the U.S.-Iran conflict].
Putin’s hand is remarkably weak—and he knows it. Ultimately, Putin needs a deal more than Trump does, though there is no denying that a deal will be good for the United States, too. Whatever bluster Putin may exhibit in public, if Trump grants Putin the simple kindness that international law insists all world leaders be granted by fellow world leaders—legitimacy—then the Russo-American relationship will stabilize.
From there, the threat of another Cold War would be mitigated and, perhaps, Russia and America could bring much-needed stability to the world.
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