Jan-30-15 - by Rosendo Fraga
1. At the start of 2015, Europe is a region of strategic
conflict, where Russia plays a major role. At the beginning of January, Putin
presented the new strategic doctrine of his country, including a review of the
defense policy: NATO is described therein as a "primary threat", thus
formally going back to the situation of the Cold War, when such alliance -composed
of the U.S. and European countries - was its main enemy. He argues that "yesterday's
foes have returned". To address this threat, just as a series of actions
in the military field are determined for strengthening the Armed Forces and
making them more effective, a series of actions in foreign policy are proposed.
The first is to deepen cooperation with the Shanghai Group, which Russia makes
up along with China and four of the five countries of Central Asia. This means
moving forward in an alliance with the Asian power, which also sees the US as a
threat to its leadership in Asia. He also intends to further strengthen and
expand the "Eurasian Union", which became in effect on January 1 this
year. It is a common market that seeks to rebuild the USSR space, having
already obtained the signing of 4 of the 15 countries that were part of it:
Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia, as well as Russia. It also promotes greater cooperation
with the BRICS, the group of emerging powers that it integrates together with
China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Russia arises thus as the great
"Euro-Asian" power - that indeed is as it spans geographically from
the Atlantic to the Pacific, as is the case with the US as well.
2. This happens when the decline in the price of oil leads
Russia to an economic crisis, which Putin perceived as a threat to his
governance, as he explained. The Russian President has publicly said that the
US in partnership with Saudi Arabia, has decided to lower the price of oil to
affect its adversaries, beginning with Russia. At the beginning of the year
stocks fall due to capital flights and growing inflation. The Finance Minister
has said that by 2015 the deficit will reach 3% of GDP and that it can fall 4%.
Putin appears to be very clear that the fall in the price of oil which took
place a quarter of a century ago precipitated the dissolution of the USSR. Back
then, Gorbachev, beset by the economic crisis, could not control an orderly
reform and Russia - in Putin's view- hit a period of "humiliation"
that reached a peak under Yeltsin's tenure. Based on the background and his
personality, Putin wants to avoid the fate of Gorbachev. He considers that the
drop in the oil price and the trade sanctions imposed by the West entail a
deliberate plan to destabilize him and remove him from power; in response, he
redoubles the bet. This means putting the military matter on the table, which
is the only area in which Russia remains a world power.
3. But the Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, which is
another strategic threat to Europe, should generate a common interest with
Russia. In the second week of January, a member of the Islamic State (ISIS)
aged 12 killed two Russian alleged agents in an action spread by social media.
They were accused of spying the volunteers coming from Russia and from the
former Soviet republics, who like thousands of Europeans are fighting this
terrorist organization. ISIS publicly killed Americans, British and French citizens
before the two Russians and has just murdered a Japanese citizen. In view of cartoon
journal Charlie Hebdo issue after the attack, protests were launched
repudiating the caricatures of Mohammed in the majority of the 56 Muslim
countries of the world. They were also carried out in Chechnya, the
"Republic" of the Russian Federation with a large Muslim majority,
where a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist movement has developed. For Russia, the
cooperation with the West in the fight against this threat, as well as the joint
efforts for the exploitation of the Arctic resources with the US, have not be stopped by the
conflict that has resulted from the occupation of Ukraine almost a year ago. But
the fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militias continues these
days, in the framework of a civil war that, according to the UN, has already claimed
5,000 lives. At the same time, Putin was not invited to commemorate this month
in Poland the 70 anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration
camp by Russian troops, as opposed to Merkel, who was invited, in a clear sign
of tension between Russia and Europe.
4. Islamic terrorism and Russia are two strategic threats to
Europe, which also faces other political imbalance risks in 2015 with strategic
impact. The victory of the left in Greece raises the possibility that a
unilateral debt relief may cause the first exit of a country from the European single
currency. While it would not have the effects that it would have had four years
ago, it can generate a "cascade effect" in other countries. Political
forces in the style of Siryza -the Greek left- are growing in Spain and
Portugal, two of the countries which, together with Greece, have been most
affected by the financial and economic crisis on the continent. The anti-Europe
right is also growing in major countries such as France, where Marie Le Pen
remains first in the polls. Parties of a similar trait also grow in other
countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands. "Islamophobia"
emerges as an ideological movement in Germany and this helps the anti-Europe
nationalist parties. The rejection to immigration makes nationalist parties
like the UKIP grow in Britain. The separatist movements which saw their
aspirations limited by the failure of separatism in the referendum in Scotland
have not disappeared and add another destabilizing factor to a Europe
complicated on the economic, social, political and strategic fronts.
5. To conclude:
a) In early 2015, Russia considers Europe as a strategic
conflict zone perceived as a threat, and formally defines NATO as its main
enemy, projecting itself as a "Eurasian power".
b) Putin considers the oil price decline and the economic
sanctions of the West as a deliberate plan that threatens his governance and so
redoubles the bet seizing the role of Russia as a military power.
c) While Islamic terrorism is a threat to the EU and Russia
alike, it fails to cool off confrontation, as shown by the exclusion of Putin
in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation.
d) This happens when Europe is faced with destabilizing
political factors such as the victory of the left in Greece, the mounting
"Islamophobia", nationalism and separatisms.