It has been a hectic few weeks in the Baltic. Sweden spent nearly seven days searching for a possible Russian submarine, NATO fighters were scrambled to intercept a Russian Ilyushin-20 surveillance aircraft and Estonia reported the abduction of a security official into Russia. This is on top of Cold War era harassment of the U.S. embassy in Moscow and recent cyberattacks in the United States. Following Russian activities in Ukraine, we have to ask if Russia is turning its machinations to the Baltic. Is the bear coming out of hibernation?
What Is Russia Up To?
In a recent speech, Russian Foreign Ministry special representative for human rights, democracy and the rule of law Konstantin Dolgov said “The international community must decisively prevent the further gross restriction of the rights of the Russian-speaking population of the Baltic countries and the worsening of already alarmingly politicized Russophobia.”
This is reminiscent of President Putin’s remarks in the Kremlin on March 18: “We hoped that Russian citizens and Russian speakers in Ukraine, especially its southeast and Crimea, would live in a friendly, democratic and civilized state that would protect their rights in line with the norms of international law. However, this is not how the situation developed. Time and time again attempts were made to deprive Russians of their historical memory, even of their language and to subject them to forced assimilation.”
Why is Russia focusing so much of its foreign policy on ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers in neighboring states, risking further alienation and sanctions? An argument can be made that it is a diversionary tactic meant to distract from internal issues. Internal politics are a major factor in Russian foreign policy, but this may not be the whole story.
A New Foreign Policy
The Kremlin’s foreign policy appears inspired in part by the work of Alexander Dugin, a Russian philosopher who has been described as a crazy ideologue, a modern Rasputin and, in a March 31 article in Foreign Affairs, as “Putin’s brain.” Dugin, a former chairman of the geopolitical section of the Duma’s advisory council on national security, professor at Moscow State University and head of the Russian Center for Conservative Studies, has been a staunch advocate of Russian expansionism and the fight against Western values. He referred to the struggle in Ukraine on March 7, a week and a half before Putin’s address to the Kremlin, as “a struggle for reunification of Slavic people.”
Dugin has been a strong opponent of Western political systems, offering instead a fourth political theory in opposition to liberalism, communism and fascism. He does not advocate a return to Soviet borders or alliances, but rather proposes a new concept. In his book The Fourth Political Theory, Dugin advocates a system of “large spaces” or “Regional Universalism” in which regions like Eurasia coalesce over centuries and unite politically, culturally, economically, socially and psychologically. His envisions a multipolar world where the solution to “the American Century” is “a global crusade against the U.S., the West, globalization and their political-ideological expression, liberalism.”
Beyond Ukraine (and North Africa)
Dugin’s hopes for Russia are purely expansionist, and his vision is clear: “Our revolution will not stop in Western Ukraine. It must go further into Europe. We will begin the expansion of liberation (from American) ideology into Europe. It is the goal of full Eurasianism – Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Great Eurasian Continental Empire.”
There is a great scene in the movie “Patton” in which the general’s portrayer, George C. Scott, beats back an attack by German General Rommel in North Africa and yells, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” If the world wants to better understand Russia’s current and future intentions, perhaps we should take a look at Alexander Dugin.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.