Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made an extraordinary statement this week that state authorities and society at large must mobilize their resources amid the West’s pressure. Addressing an audience in Vladivostok, Lavrov said,
“Now that they are pressing us for some concessions, for rejecting our principles and, as the West puts it, change our behavior, ie to behave well, as we were taught at school, it is important for us to mobilize all the resources of society, all state structures, including diplomacy and our lawmakers, our major parties, first of all, the United Russia.”
Lavrov’s remarks came on Thursday, the day after The New York Times reported that US President Joe Biden “emerged from a Situation Room meeting with his top cybersecurity advisers on Wednesday to declare that he ‘will deliver a response’” to Russia for the latest wave of ransomware attacks hitting American companies.
The report said, “The White House’s argument is that the attacks are emanating from Russian territory, so it is Mr Putin’s responsibility to take them down – and that the United States will act if he does not.”
The hopes raised by the Biden-Putin summit of June 16 in Geneva have been extinguished in just about three weeks. In fact, on June 23, the roof suddenly came down when a US spy plane took off from Crete to conduct reconnaissance over Crimea, which was followed by a British warship intruding into Russian territorial waters off Crimea. Moscow has since denounced it as a well-planned and deliberate provocation masterminded by Washington.
The sheer perfidy of the US operation took the Kremlin by surprise. Putin had heaped extravagant praise on Biden publicly after the Geneva summit. “The atmosphere was quite friendly,” Putin had estimated.
“I think we managed to understand each other, we managed to understand each other’s positions on key issues, they differ on many things and we noted the differences. At the same time, we established areas and points where we can possibly bring our positions closer in the future,” Putin said.
Yet Biden would have known as he sat down with Putin in Geneva that a major intelligence operation was being launched to test the Russian leader’s resolve.
In the Kremlin’s estimation, the operation aimed at probing any chinks in the defense perimeters of Crimea. No doubt, it was an extremely serious provocation. Russia has since threatened that any more such dirty tricks will not be tolerated and it will sink any vessel intruding into its territorial waters.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who handles relations with the US, remarked harshly in a media interview on Wednesday that provocateurs who play games in the Black Sea risk “getting punched in the nose.”
Basically, all this calls attention to the chaos that is spreading in US foreign policies. Both tactically and strategically, Washington has a dire necessity to cast Russia in the “enemy” image. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is custom-made for confrontation with Russia. And without the trans-Atlantic alliance, the US is a much-diminished power on the global stage.
In strategic terms too, the US sought to sow doubt in the Sino-Russian partnership but failed miserably. Moscow saw through the US game.
The new National Security Strategy document approved by Putin in early July underscores the expansion of strategic cooperation with China (and India) in the list of Russian foreign-policy priorities, which includes creating mechanisms to ensuring regional security and stability on a non-aligned basis in the Asia-Pacific region.
The document flags that Russia’s main threat comes from the West, not from China. The contradictions between Russia and the West have become so acute that the document doesn’t even discuss prospects of a partnership with the US.
In fact, the Russian Finance Ministry announced on Tuesday that the proportion of US dollars in the country’s National Wealth Fund (NWF) has been reduced from 35% to zero, and correspondingly shares of the euro and the Chinese yuan have increased.
The Finance Ministry said its steps aimed “at ensuring the safety of the NWF funds in the context of macroeconomic and geopolitical trends of recent years, and decisions aimed at ‘de-dollarization’ of the Russian economy.”
US sanctions and unpredictable economic policies have led Moscow to conclude that a sharp reduction, even elimination, in the use of the dollar in Russia’s foreign trade is crucial to securing the country’s economic security.
The Biden administration apparently finds very little use for diplomacy in managing the relationship with Russia. The compass is set for abandoning international obligations in the field of arms control and to develop the potential for a global missile defense system that would curb Russia’s second-strike capability.
Again, the planned deployment of US intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, weaponization of space, etc are intended to whittle down Russia’s strategic parity.
But Russia will not submit to a situation allowing the US to talk to it from a position of strength. So this standoff can only aggravate. There is a long list of Russian grievances – NATO’s relentless expansion toward Russia’s borders, the regime changes in Georgia and Ukraine (and the attempts afoot in Belarus and Moldova) to encircle Russia with a ring of hostile regimes, US deployments closer to Russia’s borders and so on.
Add to all that the mounting Western provocations lately in the Black Sea, which, as Ryabkov said, is not a place where “games are allowed.”
Yet the Sea Breeze naval exercise organized by the US and Ukraine from June 28 through July is the largest ever conducted exclusively in the Black Sea and covers amphibious warfare, land maneuver warfare, diving operations, maritime interdiction operations, air defense, special operations integration, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue operations.
The exercise specifically identifies Russia as the target. A top commander of US naval forces involved in the exercise says, “We are demonstrating to the world that the Black Sea is an international sea. It is open and available for the free transport of commerce and shipping for all nations. It is not owned by any one nation.”
The pronouncement has shades of “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. The NYT report of Wednesday on the ransomware attacks says Biden is “under growing pressure to take some kind of visible action – perhaps a strike on the Russian servers or banks that keep them running.”
Of course, the rational thing to do would be to expedite the talks with Russia on cybersecurity that Biden and Putin had agreed upon at Geneva. But Biden is instead abandoning diplomacy.
The US prefers muscle-flexing. The image of American soldiers stealthily leaving Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan under cover of darkness is becoming the stuff of folklore. Biden is in dire need of injecting some testosterone to prop up a strongman image. Diplomacy is of no help.
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.