Russian Strategy vs Western Tactics

Once again Vladimir Putin has outmaneuvered the West regarding Ukraine. I’m no fan of his but Putin’s emphasis on strategy rather than tactics seems to be paying off. The USA/Europe seem to only use tactical thinking rather than have a clear strategy in mind. Maybe they should start learning how to play chess.

obama_putinWhat has struck me recently is the similarity between ex Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Putin. Khrushchev could be a bit of a blunt instrument at times but he was also a strategic thinker. He understood how to restrict the movement of his enemy, in this case the USA. Neither he or President Kennedy wanted war, even at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 but he understood how to keep tension at its maximum without spilling over into full blown war which would have been a disaster for everybody. If you pour water into a glass until it reaches the top, this is tension, if the water spills over the side then it becomes war. Keep the glass full so your enemy can not add his own water to the glass without it spilling over the sides and you make him powerless.

Looking at the situation in Ukraine and it would seem that Putin is using the same strategy. Determined to weaken Ukraine, Russia has been sending large amounts of weapons and soldiers to help the separatists of eastern Ukraine. What can the West do? To be honest not much, if the USA were to send weapons to support the government of Ukraine the glass would be overfilled with water and open direct conflict would surely be a result, something neither side wants, so Russia has been increasing the tension from its side, giving very little room for movement to the USA or Europe. Now with the agreed ceasefire starting on Saturday 14th of February, Putin has been able to make an agreement very much on his own terms, the separatists will keep the land they control and if the ceasefire holds it will become a frozen conflict that the West can do nothing about. But there is more to this I think than meets the eye.

Although Russia is trying to hide its involvment in Ukraine, supporting the separatists with heavy weapons and support is expensive. Sanctions and low oil and gas prices have hit the Russian economy hard and war costs a lot of money. A frozen conflict in Ukraine that gives favourable conditions to the separatists will allow Russia to use its resources elsewhere. Where could that be? Considering Russia’s very close relationship with Iran and Bashar al Assad of Syria the answer has to be the Middle East as it joins “the war on terror” against Islamic State. Why do I say this? Iran has until the summer to agree to stop its nuclear development program, if it does not then the USA will pull back in certain area of Iraq and permit Islamic State to enter Baghdad and slaughter the Shia Muslim population which Iran, being Shia, is sworn to protect. It would be a very costly exercise for Iran to defend them as the low price of oil has also hit its cash reserves hard too. It is conceivable that Russia will give support to Iran through weapons and support. It is a very strong indication that Iran is not prepared to give up its nuclear development program come the deadline and is preparing for all possible outcomes, with Russia its ally, supporting it. The other reason would be to more directly support Bashar al Assad against Islamic State in Syria and maybe more importantly against the Sunni rebels in southern Syria, who are not only receiving strong support from the USA/UK but also Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Israel. With a real possibility that southern Syria will become autonomous, like eastern Ukraine, Assad needs all the help he can get and Russia needs to maintain as much influence in the Middle East as possible.

By freezing the conflict in Ukraine on his own terms, Putin now has the resources to help his buddies in the Middle East, This time last year he could afford to support many different battle fronts, now with the low price of oil and gas, he can not.

Putin is thinking strategically, whereas it would seem the USA puts more emphasis on tactics, it reacts to situations rather than having a long term plan of what it wants to do and how to get there. 2015 is going to be a very interesting year. As always, international politics and those with a thirst for power, Islamic State included, could not care less about the lives of ordinary people. They never have enough power, one day the glass will truly be overfilled.

This article is cross-posted to

7 thoughts on “Russian Strategy vs Western Tactics

  1. “The USA should learn to play chess” very funny Russell. Mind you one of the greatest of all time was American…Bobby Fischer…..
    Russia is so different….it has been through so much over the past hundred years that its poker face is pretty solid.

  2. how do you know Putin didn’t agree to the ceasefire under pressure from the US? How do you know him stopping activity there is not what the US wants. Russia supporting Ukraine with weaponry seems silly considering it is a large manufacturer of weapons already. Why buy from Putin when they can just make them?

    Since they are a big arms mfg, mainly for India and China, but also Brazil, it would seem US relations improvements with those countries would be beneficial in a) gaining allies against enemies in the Middle East, b) keeping oil channels open c) keeping money moving, among many other things. Getting Pitingvto stop fucking around in the Ukraine allows them to return to normal mfg in order that we keep the arms trade flowing smoothly in the direct of good rather than letting it fall into the hands of ISIS et al.

    and why would Putin stop a spat in the Ukraine and jump whole hog into a shit storm like the ME if war was expensive? He’d be smarter to just stay and play war games in the snow, gain more ground as a buffer to the west, and let the ME kill itself.

    By calling a cease fire in the Ukraine, he gets good guy points, and open doors. He can also get more guns to Syria. Now with US, Rissia, Syrua, China, India, and Europe all painting their sights at ISIS, there is a better chance of shutting it down quickly. You ally with your closer enmities to defeat the world’s enemies.

    Not in the know, just throwing out some what ifs. Seems to me getting The worst problem contained is priority one. Iran can have its little fit all it wants, but what good is a nuclear program when USA and Russia both will obliterate it? Like how we’ve held the nuclear arms race in limbo all these years. Iran might put countries in check, but it’s whole back row would be decimated. Left with only pawns, their game is done. Iran becomes the 51st state or Saudi’s newest resort.

    The Ukraine is prime real estate to a whole lot more countries than just Russia; the ceasefire was a multinational agreement started almost a year ago. Ukraine gets more autonomy, Russia gets it’s Crimea back, insurgents lay their guns down, and Ukraine gets back to work creating resources needed for a united front elsewhere. And Putin did negotiate the actual ceasefire, Ukraine’s president did. He gets them in the EU, he has more weight and more money long-term because he gets more customers. Russia gets financial kickbacks. Putin can’t compete with the pull on the Ukraine from all points west. Ukraine wants to be EU, wants UN clout, wants peacefully resolutions for everything, and of course more business. To survive it can’t be dependent on Russia as a client, and Russia can’t have back up if it alienates it. Russia jumping into bed with Assad would be financial suicide.

    • Sorry for late response, had flu this week..

      It is interesting to see the difference a week makes since the so called cease-fire. Anyway you raise some good questions, it was simply an opinion piece. Watching the developments over the last week has clarified certain things for me.

      The first is that Putin seems determined to create a land corridor between Crimea and Russia. One has the feeling that he wants to see how far he can push USA/EU and that he is betting they don’t have the balls to try and stop him. If he gets his way in Ukraine then he might well feel strong enough to start adventures elsewhere, the Baltic perhaps.

      European leaders have no idea how to handle Putin. He sees them as weak and to be honest they don’t give any other impression. They are also terrified of doing something which could expand the conflict in Ukraine and lead to overspill into other European countries. On the other hand if they do nothing, where will Putin’s ambitions end? Add to this the fact that NATO is a shadow of its former self, European defence spending has been cut back over the years and don’t get me started on the fiasco that is the British military. This leaves just the USA which has the ability to support Ukraine, doing so risks the danger of spreading the conflict and alienating its European allies, on the other hand doing nothing gives Putin carte blanche to do as he pleases. Putin is on a power trip despite the Russian economy sliding into deep recession. The only thing which might curtail him is if the economy shrinks more and begins to cause social unrest. A Russian friend told me that a demonstration of 100,000 would be repressed by the army but if there were 1 million on the streets then no.

      Ukraine is screwed, its economy is in tatters, sure it is getting some help from the IMF but it isn’t enough, it doesn’t have enough money to rebuild its economy and is something it can hardly think about while fighting a war. Unless something drastic happens to improve its situation then Ukraine is in serious danger of becoming a failed state. Europe has made no serious commitment to supporting Ukraine financially, on the other hand corruption is rife in the country so any money given would most likely dissapear into a black-hole. It is a Catch 22.

      ME is very important to Russia, it needs to keep some influence in the region. It has its only Mediteranean port in Tartous in Syria and does not want to lose it. Iran is a long term ally, together they want to reduce the USA’s influence in the region. You can be absolutely certain that Russia will support Iran as much as possible. Iran supports Bashar al Assad who lets Russia keep a port in Syria. Russia will get more involved in the ME, not less.

      In many ways the USA and Russia are already at war with each other, neither side wants direct open conflict but as time goes by the chance of that happening is increasing.

      Have a great Sunday 🙂

      • We’re finally arming the rebels, and Turkey ditched its dead guy. So it begins.

        In the upside, you’re healing! Don’t get shot snooping around the front lines 😉

        As always, thank you most sincerely for the information we aren’t getting here.

      • If Communism (not a fan) had not collapsed the Cold War would have continued but the world would be more stable than it is today. It did collapse but the West totally disrespected Russia, allowing the development of the situation we see today.

  3. Hi Russell, this is not to do with Russia etc but ISIS!…what is your feelings about these guys (not women of course) and as David Starkey said this region is in the equivalent of our 14 century where barbarism was normal..however you saw where, not long ago, a ‘civilised’ country pushing thousands into gas chambers and even shorter memory will have pictures go GIs with Veitcong heads on stakes…

    • Hi Nick 🙂 ISIS are all about the power and simply use the religion as an instrument of control. I think Starkey is right, they want to take the region back to the 6th century using 21st century strategy and weapons. It is foolish to underestimate them and honestly I don’t see anything happening that will make them go away any time soon. The countries of the ME are divided by self interest, add to this the power games the USA and Russia are playing in the region, leaves ISIS to take advantage of all these divisions and games and get on with their own objectives.

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