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The Ukraine War Is An Opportunity To Squeeze Russia

Russia
Russian TOS-1 firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine in late February, the policy conversation in Washington and European capitals has revolved around how best the West can put an end to Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The answers, so far, have been economic and military aid to Kyiv, economic sanctions against Russia, and a recapitalization of NATO. Those solutions, however, are merely tactical, because their focus is on Russia’s current war and not its larger strategic ambitions.

To wage and sustain his barbaric invasion of Ukraine, the Russian president has had to concentrate his government’s foreign policy and military might almost entirely on the Ukrainian front. As a result, Putin has moved thousands of Russian troops and assets stationed worldwide – out of traditional areas of influence in places such as the Caucasus, as well as newer battlegrounds in Africa. Even in Central Asia, Russia’s geopolitical backyard, regional regimes are seeking a way out of Moscow’s downward spiral.

This trend, combined with massive losses in Ukraine, has greatly diminished Putin’s ability to project hard power or promote soft power. The United States and its partners, however, have yet to take advantage of these limitations to roll back Russian influence globally.

A logical place to start is Syria, which served in many ways as a prelude to the war in Ukraine, and where Russia has become a key enabler of the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Moscow’s military assistance to Damascus has reaped it tremendous dividends – including establishing a long-term naval presence and carving out a broad zone of influence. Increasingly, however, Russia no longer has the military or economic clout to assist Assad, or to help Damascus keep de-facto control of urban centers like Tal Rifaat and Manbij.

A natural ally in this regard is Turkey. Turkey has seized any opportunity to undermine Russia, opposing the Kremlin’s policies in Azerbaijan, Libya, and multiple times now in Ukraine, most recently with a game-changing grain deal. In the process, Ankara has proven that it is a willing partner of the West, particularly when it stands to benefit. And Turkey has a clear desire to expand its sphere of influence in Syria, an effort Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has portrayed as a counterterrorism priority. Giving Ankara a green light to do so would provide Washington a low-cost way of pushing back Russian influence in the Levant.

Meanwhile, in Africa, working with its European partners and Turkey – the main patron of the U.N-backed Tripoli government- the U.S can move to facilitate gas transfers from Libya to Europe. Such a maneuver would undermine Russia’s efforts to occupy and block strategic oil fields in the country, which have already started to hurt Europe.

In Central Asia, all the signs point to Russia losing its grip over the region from both an economic and moral standpoint. Sanctions on Moscow are making it a less attractive partner, while Russia’s military incompetence and pan-Slavic ambitions have led local governments to question their longstanding ties to the Kremlin. China is rushing into the resulting gap, but the door is open for the U.S to do so as well, especially as countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan increasingly look to the West for socio-economic advice, leadership, and democratic reform.

Finally, in the Balkans, renewed tensions have highlighted a forgotten dimension of Russia’s presence in Europe. Putin’s recent comparison of the legitimacy of Crimea to Kosovar independence has rubbed many in Serbia the wrong way, and given the U.S and the EU an opportunity to make clear to Belgrade that a time to break with Moscow is at hand. At the same time, Russia’s efforts to empower Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serb presidency, to secede from the country has increasingly undermined national integrity. But Dodik’s plans have been pared back because of Russia’s Ukraine campaign, giving the West the opportunity to prepare for a smooth political transition.

As the summer drags on, Russia is facing, at best, a military stalemate in Ukraine. But while this one battlefield looms large, Washington must not allow itself to lose sight of the bigger picture, as it is presented with an opportunity to hit Russia where it hurts. If, that is, it is prepared to do so.

Hazik Azam is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Written By

Hazik Azam is a researcher at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Neil Ross Hutchings

    August 10, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    Reads like the number one Key Consideration from the Washington briefing notes prior to the Russian invasion. Excellent article and thank you for articulating your thoughts. This obviously has been the main motivation all along for U.S. support for Ukraine but few have voiced this in western media. Time will reveal how well the Washington strategists truly understand how the Russian leaders and population will react.

  2. CRS, DrPH

    August 10, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks, this was a very well-thought out opinion piece! You touch on many interesting dimensions including long-forgotten sources of energy (Libya!). Please contribute more!

  3. Goran

    August 10, 2022 at 10:02 pm

    I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that people in Russia can go to prison for saying that there is a war in Ukraine, for calling it a war. Unbelievable. That in itself is the best example why Putin has to be countered, and not just in Bosnia or Ukraine but in every corner of the world.

  4. pagar

    August 10, 2022 at 11:28 pm

    Ukraine proxy war of 2022 is the great foreshadow of a real driller-killer US-NATO war against the slavic peoples of tomorrow.

    It’s fortunate that today putin has stepped forward to (temporarily) stop US-NATO because otherwise when tomorrow arrives, the globalista-fascista horde would by then be right at the frontdoor of russia carrying dreaded hypersonic spearheads.

    By then, it’d be game over for the slavs.

    By then, people would be pointlessly asking for a savior to save them from the clutches of the angloist-led nazist globalists.

    By then, it would be too late. The horse would have long bolted off and the stable door detached from its hinges. By then, too late for regrets.

    But today, there’s still hope. Still enough time to arm a coupla of RS-24 rockets and finish off the neo-nazis in kyiv. Do it now, while the sponsors of 2022 ukraine war are still unable to roll out their end-game hypersonic show on the road.

    They’re only just gettin’ started, jusy warmin’ up. Tomorrow, full speed at full revs. Full slaughter!

  5. Yrral

    August 11, 2022 at 6:46 am

    The end of the war is over,it will culminate,when Ukrainain are force to somekind of agreement,where Russian continue occupy Ukraine territory, Ukraine corrupt and delusional policies have already doomed them

  6. aldol11

    August 11, 2022 at 7:08 am

    we will escalate the weapon supply and bleed Russia till it is no longer a threat to its neighbors.

    at which point Putin will end up like Gaddafi and Russia like Yugoslavia .

    it is inevitable

  7. Oakhill1863

    August 11, 2022 at 8:13 am

    Yeah, we need to prepare for war against that evil Putin guy-and he is evil.

    I mean, he’s the type of guy who would have the Russian legislature investigate his main rival for 18 months and then raid his private home and other such authoritarian acts.

    People and their glass houses.

  8. Fluffy Dog

    August 11, 2022 at 9:31 am

    This is the first time someone other than myself brought up the question of disintegrating RF. There are several parts of it that would jump at the possibility of independence; the north Caucasus comes to mind first.

  9. Jacksonian Libertarian

    August 11, 2022 at 9:50 am

    Expecting Leftist Biden to make the right decisions in American foreign policy when he has never made the right decisions before, is a wasted effort.

    The West should be thankful that Putin is making the wrong decisions, and the West is just along for the ride.

    The corrupt authoritarian Russian culture has lost and continues to lose support now that one of the Rump nations from the extinction of the Soviet Union is successfully fighting back.

  10. Ravi Agarwal

    August 11, 2022 at 9:59 am

    An interesting perspective that correctly points out that this war is bigger than just Ukraine. Even if the Russians scrape some sort of victory there, losing everything else seems like a handy geopolitical bargain.

  11. John Titor

    August 11, 2022 at 10:30 am

    So after losing against the taliban, you’re gonna try to act out your power tripping fantaisies onto Russia a much more formidable foe. And in the meantime you’re gonna fight China too.

    You’re right something is inevitable, that’s the collapse of the USA. I can’t imagine the level of delusions it takes to believe you can pull up a plan like that, after you’ve suffered so much humiliating defeats all around the world, and with an economy in the starters…

    NATO leaders and their boomer worshippers must live in an alternate reality, a by-product of living as an over pampered child all their lives.

  12. T

    August 11, 2022 at 10:51 am

    Flawed analysis. The true threat is that Russia’s “weakening” is further aligning and strengthening China – building gas and oil pipelines to them, relying on their currency (China accepts rubles). This stabilizes Russia while helping China surpass us. What’s next – China cornering the world’s precious metals? Oh – they are already doing that… Russia is just a pawn in China’s game…

  13. oakhill1863

    August 11, 2022 at 12:51 pm

    My last comment was deleted, albeit it was about as tepid as one could be while nonetheless having an edge. It is so different a country from the one I grew up in where one could just actually express themselves. I know quite a few Eastern European immigrants, every one of whom says that their freedom of speech was greater in the communist systems in which they were raised.

    So, repeating my comment in a ready for prime time fashion, I merely inquire who are we to squeeze Putin, bad as he is, with our own political system getting as oppressive as it is and fashioning political crimes.

  14. oakhill1863

    August 11, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    Ok, ok, the author will not let me post anything, no matter how moderate the language that opposes his viewpoint even slightly.

    Ok, I surrender. Nuke Putin now. Right now.

    Now, the author can sleep well tonight.

  15. MaxAmoeba

    August 11, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    Yeah, we see how crippling the “squeezing” has been to Pooty Poot, I’m sure he is just dreading more of it.

  16. ww22

    August 11, 2022 at 7:05 pm

    Very well written. I appreciate highlighting many parts of the world that are often overlooking in current discussions on this subject and how crucial they can be to the West through swift and effective action against Russia. It would be interesting to see if Central Asia specifically would eventually come around to supporting the West as you claim; let’s hope!

  17. Serhio

    August 11, 2022 at 10:09 pm

    “To wage and sustain his barbaric invasion of Ukraine, the Russian president has had to concentrate his government’s foreign policy and military might almost entirely on the Ukrainian front. As a result, Putin has moved thousands of Russian troops and assets stationed worldwide – out of traditional areas of influence in places such as the Caucasus, as well as newer battlegrounds in Africa.”

    I want to argue with the author. Various experts estimate the number of the Russian army from 700 to 900 thousand. About 250 thousand allies are currently fighting in the Donbas. These are not only official Russian troops (Russia did not mobilize), but also the armies of the two Donetsk republics (mobilization was carried out there), but also volunteers from Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Thus, Russia is conducting a special military operation in Ukraine for about a quarter of its peacetime army. This is not very similar to the depletion of resources that the author claims. And judging by the fact that the NATO countries first stole from Russia its gold and foreign exchange reserves worth about $ 300 billion and then declared their goal the economic destruction of Russia, the remnants of the Russian Army are preparing to enter into conflict with the “peace-loving NATO bloc” after the end of the conflict in Ukraine. Do not forget about the DPRK’s proposal to send 100,000 fully trained and equipped soldiers with weapons to Ukraine. And I think that they will not be the only foreigners ready to help turn the head of Ukrainian Nazism, which was carefully fertilized and grown by the United States. Too many people on our planet perceive the conflict in Ukraine precisely as a confrontation between the United States and its vassals. The US has too many unpaid bills over the past 80 years.

  18. Serhio

    August 11, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    Fluffy Dog “This is the first time someone other than myself brought up the question of disintegrating RF. There are several parts of it that would jump at the possibility of independence; the north Caucasus comes to mind first.”

    Try to think about why at the moment the Chechens (who fought very bloody battles with the Russians at the end of the 20th century) are on the tip of the Russian spear, which is smashing the Nazis in Ukraine. Western mass media don’t really like to talk about this. Maybe because the Chechens (not the Chechens who were paid by the United States, but those who were thrown for slaughter) did not like it very much when they were used as a tool to weaken Russia and then, when the tool served its purpose, it was thrown into the trash. And you are very mistaken if you think that blind and deaf idiots live in Russia who cannot draw conclusions from the events in Chechnya about what happens when you get involved with lying Western politicians.

  19. Serhio

    August 11, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    “As the summer drags on, Russia is facing, at best, a military stalemate in Ukraine.”

    “stalemate in Ukraine” exists only in the brains of propagandists. The reality is that the fourth stage of mobilization has already taken place in Ukraine, while Russia has not carried out mobilization. The entire Youtube is filled with videos with appeals from Ukrainian soldiers to Zelensky that mobilized soldiers are thrown into battle after a week of training without fully providing equipment and weapons. Find a person who knows Ukrainian or Russian and see for yourself. Even official Ukrainian propagandists reluctantly admit that the losses of the Ukrainian army are colossal and the Russian army exceeds the Ukrainian army by DOZENS of times in terms of artillery power. As for the time, why should Russia hurry? By hastily announcing that the Europeans were abandoning Russian coal and oil, they provoked an unprecedented increase in energy prices. Winter has not yet come, and the economies of Europe are already suffering enormous losses. Four governments that announced sanctions against Russia have already collapsed: Great Britain, Italy, Bulgaria, Estonia. In France, Macron retained the presidency, but lost the parliament. The chair under Scholz swings. In winter we will see a bowling alley of European politicians. Governments will fall like skittles. Let’s talk about such a boring thing as economics: what do you think, if the price of fuel increases by 2 times, then how many times will the exporter’s income grow? Think twice? Let’s try to calculate. If a country extracts minerals and spends $80 per ton on extraction and transportation, and sells for $100, then it has $20 from each ton. However, if we sell these minerals for $ 200, we will get $120 per ton. That is 6 times more. That is why Russia now receives many times more money, while selling much less minerals than before. Why should Russia rush to finish the operation in Ukraine? First, it is necessary to compensate the 300 billion dollars that the Europeans and Americans stole from her, and then get the same amount as compensation. Who will pay for it? All those who will come to the gas station and compare gasoline prices with what they were at the beginning of the year. You and your neighbor and thousands more people you don’t know.

  20. Yrral

    August 12, 2022 at 6:50 am

    Ukrainain sellout are their worse enemy by taking Russia blood money Google Ukraine Hungary Oil Payment

  21. Froike

    August 12, 2022 at 10:42 am

    Wonderful article…thanks for the submission!

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