West must again shift from containing Russia’s leaders to defeating them, Pastukhov says

BUK-M2E at the Victory Day parade, Red Square, May 9, 2016. The Buk-M2E (NATO name SA-17 Grizzly) is a Russian made mobile medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to defend field troops and logistical installations against air threats. SA-17 Grizzly is an upgraded version of the proven Buk-M1 mobile air defense system and retains its main features. The SA-17 Grizzly is essentially a tracked chassis that carries a radar and a launcher with four missiles. A total of four ready to fire missiles are carried on a turntable type launcher assembly mounted on the vehicle's rear decking. The phased-array radar is mounted at a raised angle at the head of the turntable assembly. The Buk-M2 can engage a wide variety of targets from aircraft to missiles flying at an altitude of between 10 and 24,000 m out a maximum range of 50 km in given conditions. The SA-17 Grizzly can engage simultaneous of up to 24 targets flying from any direction. (Image: businessinsider.co.id)

BUK-M2E at the Victory Day parade, Red Square, May 9, 2016. The Buk-M2E (NATO name SA-17 Grizzly) is a Russian made mobile medium-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) system designed to defend field troops and logistical installations against air threats. SA-17 Grizzly is an upgraded version of the proven Buk-M1 mobile air defense system and retains its main features. The SA-17 Grizzly is essentially a tracked chassis that carries a radar and a launcher with four missiles. A total of four ready to fire missiles are carried on a turntable type launcher assembly mounted on the vehicle's rear decking. The phased-array radar is mounted at a raised angle at the head of the turntable assembly. The Buk-M2 can engage a wide variety of targets from aircraft to missiles flying at an altitude of between 10 and 24,000 m out a maximum range of 50 km in given conditions. The SA-17 Grizzly can engage simultaneous of up to 24 targets flying from any direction. (Image: businessinsider.co.id) 

2016/06/13 • Analysis & Opinion, Politics, Russia

Just as was the case at the beginning of the 1980s, the United States must shift from a policy of containing Moscow, which the Kremlin viewed then and views now as a sign of weakness, to one designed to bring victory over it, according to St. Antony’s College historian Vladimir Pastukhov.

In a comment to VOA’s Russian Service, he argues that neither Russia nor the US currently has a clear understanding of its strategic goals in the rapidly changing world of today and that both have fallen back on approaches from the Cold War that ultimately proved to be failures.

Battalion of Russian army on a way to Georgia, 9 August 2008

Battalion of Russian army on a way to Georgia, 9 August 2008

The United States has gone back to “containment,” the policy outlined by George Kennan in “the long telegram” just after the end of World War II, an approach that reached its apogee during the administration of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) before being replaced by Ronald Reagan with his strategy of victory over the USSR, Pastukhov says.

“To restrain [Putin] in the same area and with the same means as was the case in the years of ‘the Cold War,’” he argues, won’t work because the challenges Putin’s Russia presents are ones that are different in kind and have not yet become part of strategic thinking in Washington.

Russian invasion in Georgia in August 2008. A wounded Georgian woman in the town of Gori, 80 km (50 miles) from Tbilisi. (Image: Reuters)

Russian invasion in Georgia in August 2008. A wounded Georgian woman in the town of Gori, 80 km (50 miles) from Tbilisi. (Image: Reuters)

Over the last two years, Pastukhov continues, US policy toward Russia has been “a repetition of Carter’s policy” toward a Soviet Union that violated the older verities of the Cold War and invaded Afghanistan. But Moscow’s action there showed that these rules were no longer operating and that a new approach was needed.

That approach was offered by Carter’s successor as president, Ronald Reagan, who recognized that in response to the change in Soviet behavior, the West must move from containment to a strategy of victory. Unfortunately, the Russian historian says, the Obama Administration does not have such a strategy.

Putin speaking in Sevastopol during the Victory Day 2014 celebrating the Russian annexation of the Crimea (Image: kremlin.ru)

Putin speaking in Sevastopol during the Victory Day 2014 celebrating the Russian annexation of the Crimea (Image: kremlin.ru)

But it is “very important,” Pastukhov says, to have “some ‘strategy of victory,’ some understanding of what, how and by what means you will achieve your goals.” Containment didn’t work with the Soviet leadership and it is proving “ineffective” with the Putin regime because today the Kremlin views “containment” as a sign of Western “weakness.”

In 1981, when it had become obvious that containment was not enough, the Reagan Administration shifted to a policy of rolling back and defeating Soviet communism on the basis of the ideas of the so-called Team B led by Harvard scholar Richard Pipes. Reagan’s plan was perhaps a “poor” one, Pastukhov says, but “it was a plan of victory,” and Washington pursued it.

Devastation in the Donbas - the product of Putin's military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy)

Devastation in the Donbas – the product of Putin’s military aggression into peaceful Ukraine. (Image: Slavyansk Delovoy)

But shortsightedness is not limited to Washington, the historian continues. Moscow is displaying it as well, believing that Donald Trump is a better candidate for Russia’s purposes because of his expressions of admiration for Putin. That misses the point, Pastukhov says, because Trump whatever else is unpredictable and would hardly be likely to be kept within “the paradigm of ‘containment.’”

Commenting on his observations, Irina Pavlova, a US-based Russian historian and blogger, says she agrees with Pastukhov, adding that it is “the deepest illusion” that current Western shows of force in Eastern Europe alone will affect Moscow’s policies or cause protests against it in Russia.

Russian mercenary at the devasted Donetsk airport in Donbas, Ukraine (Image: LB.ua)

Devastation at Donetsk airport caused by the Russian aggression in Donbas, Ukraine (Image: LB.ua)

“On the contrary,” she writes. “In Russia, it is the regime which gets solid dividends from such actions of the West. They ideally serve Russian anti-American and anti-Western rhetoric and propaganda … and promote still greater unification of both the people and the ruling elite around Putin and the Kremlin.”

Such actions, Pavlova continues, “make him undefeatable and justify his policy of militarization, the strengthening of the siloviki, and the persecution of dissidents. And in economics, [they have the effect of justifying] the Stalinist variant of economic development of the country as a military encampment.”

“Yes,” she concludes, “the Russian authorities must be deprived forever of the temptation to build their policy on human ignorance, lies, and disinformation.” And they must be blocked from using “Stalinist methods of provocation in foreign policy. But the answer must be not blunt force but clever, precisely targeted and unexpected.”


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Terry Washington

    The trouble with this theory of “rollback” is that (whether Reagan ever admitted it to himself is besides the point) it could hardly have worked without the work of his predecessors from Harry S.Truman to Jimmy Carter and where should we “roll back” Russia to- Kamchatka? Vladivostok?

    • Quartermaster

      Containment was an act of weakness. It was simply an act of doing little until a certain line was crossed, but the line was never drawn and it got us into small shooting wars that resulted in little because the US leadership wasn’t willing to win them outright.

      In the end, the waiting allowed the Soviet Union to weaken from its own internal contradictions.Reagan was able to take advantage of the weakening and the Soviet Union collapsed not long after he left office. The same thing is happening with Russia now because of Putin’s stupidity. The rollback will be another collapse of Russia as it declines to a rump state confined by the Urals in the east, and the Baltics, Finland and Belarus on the west.

      • Terry Washington

        So the West should have pursued a policy of”rollback” from the beginning? Sovietologist George F.Kennan( and every President from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter) wisely rejected this policy. It is worth noting that biggest opponents of containment were not left wing revisionists but right wing mastodons who wanted to “roll back” the Iron Curtain by force of arms – as Dwight Eisenhower did during the 1952 US Presidential election campaign- once in power “Ike” wisely jettisoned this policy.

        • Quartermaster

          Containment was wise for the simple reason that we didn’t have the strength to do anything else at the time. It wasn’t a matter of “wisely rejecting” anything. Why Eisenhower campaigned in the way he did, knowing that we couldn’t do anything else, is a mystery to me.
          As things turned out, we didn’t have the moral strength to even execute containment properly. That’s why we ended up with Red China, The Korean War, and Cuba.

          • Terry Washington

            So WHAT should the West have done- pursued a policy of “rollback” even if it risked WWIII???

          • Quartermaster

            You’re over reacting to what I said. Settle down and re-read it.

    • Alex George

      “Kamchatka? Vladivostok?”

      Can’t – the Japanese want those places. ;o)

  • Kruton

    Surrender Bolshevik savages or be annihilated?