By Andrew Kroybko
The New Cold War, despite only ‘ officially ’ being a little over a year old, has already seen its fair share of dynamic developments, some of which had been totally unexpected. These include the Ukrainian Civil War, the sanctions war , the death of South Stream and birth of Turkish (and perhaps Balkan ) Stream, the US’ flipping of Cuba , and failed American threats against Vietnam, to name some of the most newsworthy. Given all the action that’s unfolded in such a short period of time, it’s likely that the momentum will continue and more dramatic surprises will certainly await. Two of the most shocking events that could possibly happen by the end of the year would be the defection of Armenia and Belarus to the West and away from Russia. While it may sound like the realm of political fantasy to some, a closer examination of key statements and developments reveals that it’s uncomfortably not as far-fetched as one would initially like to think.
Part I of the analysis will begin by explaining American grand strategy in the context of the New Cold War, followed by an assessment of its outreaches to both Armenia and Belarus. Part II then continues by examining what kind of perceived benefits the West is dangling in front of Yerevan and Minsk in order to tempt their leaders into becoming the “Eurasian Sadat(s)”. Finally, the series concludes with a brief description of the disastrous consequences that an Armenian and/or Belarusian foreign policy pivot would have for Russia.
US Grand Strategy
The US is reviving two concepts from the last century in an effort to promote its quest for unilateral dominance in the current one, hoping that the combined interplay of both resurrected strategic doctrines will weaken and eventually dismember the Russian Federation:
The Asymmetrical Neo-Barbarossa:
The US has structurally commenced a North-to-South offensive against Russia on geographic par with the one that was initiated by the Nazis in World War II, the pivotal difference being that it remains asymmetrical and has yet (key word) to transition into conventional, direct aggression. Washington is capitalizing off of a mix of interrelated advantageous factors such as the Soviet dissolution, NATO expansion, and EU enlargement. Here’s what it looks like in detail, moving from North to South along Russia’s Western flank:
The states of Greater Scandinavia have recently formed the Viking Bloc , the northernmost component of NATO’s new strategy of regional fighting blocs . This sub-regional military organization is meant to aggressively confront Russia in both the Arctic and Baltic, behaving overly assertive due to their knowledge that the US’ nuclear umbrella covers most of their members.
Everyone is already familiar with the Ukrainian Civil War and the causes behind it so there’s no need to redundantly describe it, but what’s less known is the formation of a Commonwealth Bloc between Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine. These three states, two of which are NATO’s most anti-Russian members, are coalescing together over the historical lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and providing backdoor Shadow NATO membership to Kiev (which for its part, now officially wants to join the bloc).
US aims in this region include the expansion of destabilizing ‘ missile defense ’ installations in Romania (which might one day be outfitted with offensive missiles to target Crimea) and the agitation of the Transnistria conflict in Moldova. Furthermore, since Romania is a littoral Black Sea state, the expansion of its naval capability under American stewardship could present a tantalizing workaround for circumventing the Montreaux Convention ’s limitations on out-of-regional warships (read: American) in the Black Sea. The ideal end game for the US is to create a Black Sea Bloc centered on Romania and including Bulgaria, Moldova, and perhaps even Georgia to create complications for Russian policy in the region.
Georgia’s steady march towards NATO is alarming to Russian policy makers, and the intensification of the country’s Shadow NATO integration poses serious headaches for the already convoluted Caucasus. Just like Romania, Georgia by itself poses no significant threat to Russia’s interests, but when it takes on the role of regional node in a larger, coordinated North-South strategic offensive against Russia, that’s when the real problems for Moscow begin.
* EU-NATO Convergence
As icing on the cake, both Brussels-based organizations have an overlap of geopolitical interest in the Neo-Barbarossa, focusing intensely on Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. Each of these states has signed their own Association Agreement with the EU, and per the so-called “ Ukraine Freedom Support Act ” signed last December, the US also recognizes all three of them as major non-NATO allies . Thus, one can see a clear pattern of the EU’s Eastern Partnership evolving from an economic battering ram into a military one for use against the Russian Federation’s interests.
The Neo-Reagan Doctrine:
As the author wrote about in a previous article focusing on Central Asia, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a 21st-century modification of the Reagan Doctrine in order to disrupt Russia’s post-Soviet integration plans. Clinton had threatened to destroy the Eurasian Union back in December 2012, one year before EuroMaidan broke out in Kiev, when she warned that:
“There is a move to re-Sovietise the region, It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that, but let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.”
As the author remarked at the time, “This is none other than a 21st-century application of the Reagan Doctrine, whereby the US will now seek to aggressively roll back Russian influence in the Near Abroad instead of Soviet influence across the world”, which is exactly what happened in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia through the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. While the specific template of the Neo-Reagan Doctrine can of course be adapted and improvised for forthcoming circumstances, thus far it appears as though the Eastern Partnership will continue to lead the way in destabilization along Russia’s Western reaches, which will be described more fully in the following sections. Still, the importance of this subsection lies in educating the reader about the US’ formal plan to disrupt Russian-led post-Soviet integration processes, which is essentially one of the main themes of the New Cold War.
Progress On The Front
Since the West’s grand strategic context against Russia has been clearly established, one can now better understand the specifics of the progress they’ve made in Armenia and Belarus. Here’s what’s happened on both fronts:
Angling For Armenia:
The West is eager to poach Armenia out of Moscow’s sphere of influence, taking advantage of the vulnerable geographic fact that its territory is not contiguous to Russia or any of its official Eurasian Union or CSTO allies. The aim is to dislodge the last bastion of influence that Russia holds in the strategic South Caucasus, which is its military base in Gyumri and the CSTO relationship it has with Armenia. There are three methods in which the West is going about its goal, and they are as follows:
* Genocide Politics
Western representatives and commentators recently shed crocodile tears for the Armenians in commemorating the centennial of their genocide, seeking to exploit the sorrow and emotions emanating from this historical wound for their own geopolitical advantage. The genocide remembrance has become a part of the Armenian national identity, and accordingly, foreign recognition of such weighs disproportionately to other factors in Armenians’ political calculations, equal in national significance to perhaps only Nagorno-Karabakh.
The flood of Western grassroots support in recognizing this tragic historical event as genocide may have disarmed Armenian decision makers into believing that those states’ political representatives also honestly support the Armenian people, which shouldn’t automatically be the assumed case. While no one doubts the sincerity of grassroots activists and supporters, one would be naïve to not do so when it comes to Western political leaders, be they national leaders or elected members of parliament, some of whom grasp the geostrategic nature of cultivating closer ties with Yerevan in the context of the New Cold War.
* Nuland Intrigue And The Washington Visit
Troublemaker and regional nuisance Victoria Nuland visited the Caucasus in February to meet with the region’s leaders, including Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. During her stay in the Armenian capital, she also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial, thereby hinting at implicit recognition of this event even if it’s not formally acknowledged by the US government for political reasons as regards its relationship with Turkey. It doesn’t matter whether the US really believes it was genocide or not – what’s important in this context is that the impression was conveyed upon the Armenian President that the Americans are on the right side of history and can thereby be trusted.
It’s not known what the two discussed during their meeting, but Nuland’s ploy seemed to have worked since Sargsyan visited Washington at the beginning of May and actually flew straight from the American capital to Moscow in order to attend the Victory Day celebrations. Given the rock-bottom relations between Washington and Moscow, and especially in the context of the “ War on Victory Day ” that the West is currently waging, it’s inappropriate at best and treacherous at worst for Sargysan to have been cavorting with Congress on the eve of such an historic and sensitive commemoration (and one that the US has been speaking out against).
* Another Shot At The Association Agreement
Putting all speculation of Armenia’s shifting allegiances to an end, the country’s Foreign Minister officially declared that his country hopes to discuss a new EU Association Agreement during the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit at the end of the month. While thus far it appears to only be political in nature, there’s no guarantee that it won’t contain any economic caveats or eventually transition its authority over into that sphere. The geopolitical significance of Armenia’s Westward progression cannot be underestimated in any regard, nor should the distinct possibility that it can evolve into formalized economic relations between Yerevan and Brussels. One should immediately recall that the incompatibility of the EU and Eurasian Union’s economic arrangements was at the core of the Ukrainian Crisis, since Moscow was and still is adamantly against Ukraine ever becoming a backdoor for an unregulated de-facto free trade area with the EU, and the same logic holds for Armenia and other countries as well.
In all actuality, the prospects of Armenia fulfilling the long-warned-about Ukrainian stealth role may even be more disastrously impactful than that of Ukraine doing so itself, since Kiev isn’t partner to the Eurasian Union like Yerevan is. The idiom about the “weakest link” may turn out to be true in the geopolitical sense, since it’s bitterly ironic that the smallest and weakest member of the Eurasian Union may end up being its true Achilles ’ heel (at least until Kyrgyzstan joins and confronts a likely Color Revolution later on in October).
Belarus seems to be no better than Armenia when it comes to backtracking on its commitment to Eurasian integration, since President Lukashenko is engaging in an unnecessary high-risk balancing act in order to legitimize his government in the eyes of the West. The governing structure in the country is peculiar in the sense that it’s largely dependent on the whims of the man in charge, thus making it a personality-driven system that’s vulnerable to flattery and direct diplomacy. Belarus’ center-stage diplomatic role in hosting the Minsk Talks seems to have gotten to Lukashenko’s head , and the de-facto acceptance of his government by Germany and France (evidenced by Merkel and Hollande’s globally publicized visits to the country) may have made him think that he’s now “one of the club”, or perhaps, even a prestigious member.
Lukashenko has always tried to balance between the West and Russia while retaining a preference for the sovereignty that Moscow allows him in handling his country’s domestic affairs, but he may now be involving himself in matters above his head and beyond his control. It’s unknown whether he can continue to successfully enact his balancing policy under the overly intense pressures of the New Cold War, and it may be that the application of his old “balancing tricks” ( milk and energy disputes with Russia, customs crises , strong ‘ independent ’ political rhetoric , etc.) might cumulatively add up to create situations where he can’t extricate himself from without dealing irreparable damage to his relations with Russia. Here are Belarus’ latest moves and statements from Lukashenko that make one wonder whether he’s already made his choice in turning towards the West:
* Complicity In Breaking The Counter-Sanctions
Belarus has been the base that counter-sanctioned EU countries have been using to evade Moscow’s legislation and illegally sell their goods on the Russian market. This breach of trust between close partners underscores the self-interested nature of the Belarusian leadership in advancing its own profit at the expense of its allies, thereby raising questions about its overall reliance in other commitments as well. If the West ever offered Belarus a ‘better’ economic deal than the one its already signed with Russia, would Lukashenko abandon his ally and take it, or would he remain as loyal to Russia as Syrian President Assad has been to Iran when the Gulf States offered him their own pipeline deal ? After all, the Belarusian President spoke about the future possibility of leaving the Eurasian Union when the newly founded organization was only a couple of weeks old, demonstrating that he’s already weighing his options in the event that another opportunity more to his liking presents itself one day.
* The Francis Flip
Pope Francis played a primary role in brokering the Raul Castro-Obama deal on Cuba’s capitulation , and if he gets to mediate relations between Belarus and the EU, as the Vatican has recently offered to do, then a similar capitulation can also be expected. Catholic Poland, whose compatriots comprise a very small but politically agitated minority in Belarus, has ambitions of restoring its hegemony over the lands of its former Commonwealth, and it aspires to use identity warfare and the support of the Vatican in bringing this about. Warsaw already hosts the anti-government Belarussian House and other groups that are dedicated to regime change (of which Warsaw has directly been accused of conspiring to carry out), and in the interests of aggressive papal proselytization in historically Orthodox lands, it’ll doubtless team up with the Vatican in attempting to bring Belarus under its boots. The intervention of Francis in trying to ‘improve’ ties between the EU and Belarus is just soft power cover in giving Lukashenko a ‘face-saving’ way to surrender if he so chooses.
* Washington In Minsk
Some observers such as Daniel McAdams at the Ron Paul Institute of Peace and Prosperity believe that the key characteristic of the Minsk Talks was that the US wasn’t involved in the format, hence why it’s ultimately still in effect today (no matter how imperfect), but if one asked Lukashenko, he’d strongly disagree. He recently spoke favorably about the US possibly getting involved in the format, which would completely upset the diplomatic balance that’s been carefully constructed thus far.
In fact, Lukashenko is so adamant about bringing Washington to Minsk that he even wants to normalize relations with the US , which would lead to an expected influx of American diplomatic and NGO personnel that might be tempted to provoke a repeat of the Ukrainian scenario if Belarus ever stepped out of line afterwards. It would also create an oddly uncomfortable situation if Belarus, Russia’s CSTO and Eurasian Union partner, gained a clean slate of pristine relations with the US at the same time that Moscow and Washington are battling it out in the New Cold War. Such an occurrence would surely raise concern in the corridors of the Duma and lead to a lot of second-guessing about Belarus’ geopolitical loyalty.
* Rethinking The Belarussian-EU Relationship
The Belarusian Foreign Minister was quoted at the beginning of this month speaking about the necessity of normalizing relations with the EU, and considering the inroads that both sides have made with one another over the past year, such a move can’t be discounted. As with the criticism of Lukashenko’s suggestion that the same be made with the US, it would be inappropriate for Belarus to normalize ties with the EU while its Russian ally (if it can even be called so at that point) is engaged in New Cold War rivalry with Brussels, including a sanctions war that Minsk has repeatedly undermined for its own profit. Lukashenko’s initiative to simultaneously move closer to the US and EU at the height of their asymmetrical hostilities against Russia portends negatively for its faithfulness to Moscow-led Eurasian integration processes.
PART II: Are Armenia And Belarus Wandering Westward?
(It’s recommended that the reader review Part I in order to place everything into the appropriate context that is necessary for understanding the final part of this series.)
Win-Win Or Win-Lose?
Yerevan and Minsk are under the false impression that siding with the West in the New Cold War against Russia might be a win-win scenario considering the benefits that are being dangled in front of them, however, this are actually a carefully crafted misperception designed to entice and mislead their leaders into making a major mistake. While the short-term ‘benefits’ may appear to be shared, the only long-term beneficiary would be the West, which would gain valuable geostrategic advantages from its unwitting Armenian and Belarusian benefactors.
The core of each country’s temptation comes down to establishing what they believe to be economic relations with the West that would be more profitable than the currently existing arrangement with Russia. Armenia is the poorest country in its region due to its size, geography, and the over-two-decades-long Turkish blockade , and there’s simmering discontent against the current authorities that could possibly be corralled into Color Revolutionary social infrastructure. Sargsyan just signed the first-ever Trade and Investment Framework Agreement between Armenia and the US during his visit to Washington, showing that he’s eager to expand his country’s economic relations with non-Eurasian Union states instead of intensify the ties it already has with its formal partners like Russia.
Armenia’s leadership also believes that the West truly supports it in its international genocide recognition campaign, as was explained in Part I, and it believes that they can enact pressure on Turkey in this regard. Furthermore, since Sargsyan is now convinced that the West is on its side in the genocide debate, he also may feel that they can exert influence over Ankara in getting it to lift the blockade against Armenia. It’s obvious that Turkey would never comply with any external pressure on this topic, especially if it were presented in the form of ultimatum adjustments needed for it to join the EU. The West might perhaps tease such an initiative as a means of threatening Ankara for any further pivot towards Eurasia, but they obviously wouldn’t believe their own words, and would say such things to strengthen their image vis-à-vis Armenia in anticipation of Yerevan’s final flip. Any Western rhetoric supporting Armenia at the expense of Turkey must thus be seen as purely political and designed to be nothing more than part of a long-term geopolitical attack against Russia.
Armenia’s movement closer to the West is fraught with danger for its domestic stability, since its ‘new partners’’ promising words and supportive statements are purposely intended to raise the population’s hopes unrealistically high, thereby pushing many of them over the edge towards supporting a forthcoming nationalist Color Revolution if the gambit fails (similar in structure to what is being plotted against Iran per the nuclear proto-deal). The extreme nationalist government that likely emerges from the Western-supported coup will follow the template of their Kiev brethren and likely provoke a war with their regional foe, Azerbaijan. As it currently stands, Baku’s military spending and capabilities far outstrip anything that Yerevan can currently field in the near future, meaning that a Continuation War would likely be to the latter’s extreme disadvantage and consequently explaining why Russia would never advise its ally to partake in such a destructive military adventure.
This is why it would take a pro-Western nationalist Color Revolution to radically change the country’s leadership and blind it to these very real dangers involved, which would thus make them disobey their Russian ally’s guidance and launch a war without its approval. Such a scenario is precisely what the West intends to happen, since it wants to see Armenia destroyed by Azerbaijan, knowing full well the negative geostrategic reverberations this would have for Russia’s position in the South Caucasus, as well as for Russian-Azeri relations. Furthermore, since Armenia would be launching their war without Russia’s consent, it’s doubtful that Moscow would do much to assist it, since it would alarmingly sense a Reverse Brzezinski in the making and would likely opt to stay as far away as is reasonably possible so as to mitigate the risks of entrapment (with the Gyumri base practically becoming hostage to the West’s provocative strategy).
Minsk is in a somewhat different position than Yerevan per the economic motivations for its possible anti-Russian pivot. First off, it’s not a ‘Eurasian economic island’ and is contiguous to its partner and largest member economy, Russia. Additionally, it’s nowhere near facing the poverty that afflicts many Armenians, and its population is not as economically desperate for change as its counterparts in the South Caucasus are, thus mitigating the chance of a provoked Color Revolution. In fact, Belarus has a very stable national economy (especially when compared to its European counterparts), thus making it an ideal partner in any economic arrangement, ergo why the EU is interested in it. Lukashenko doesn’t simply want his country to prosper, he also wants to become internationally popular as a result, and since Brussels has been courting his ego lately, he’s becoming more amenable to their influence.
Another thing on Lukashenko’s European ‘wish list’ is to receive “regime reinforcement” (the opposite of regime change), in that his government is finally recognized all throughout the continent as democratic and legitimate (which it is) and no longer as the “ last dictatorship in Europe ”, the notorious American listing which struck straight through his inflated ego. He enjoys a high level of real popular support among his people, hence why the media stereotype of a Color Revolution (i.e. ‘a popular uprising’) is impossible, but Belarus is still vulnerable to Color Revolution 2.0 tactics such as those unveiled in Ukraine. If he doesn’t throw his lot in with the West, he’s afraid that violent street thugs (some of which could even be infiltrated in from Poland and Ukraine) will descend on Minsk the next time there’s an election and attempt to turn the capital into Kiev. Unbeknownst to him, the West will still apply this tactic whether he’s friendly with them or not, as it’s nothing more than a simple tool to them in pressuring second-rate leaders to do their bidding, which is exactly what Lukashenko would become if tries to join their bloc.
Another factor that must be mentioned here is Lukashenko’s personal psychology, since the individual-centric nature of Belarus’ current political system makes this among the most important variables in considering the possibility of an anti-Russian pivot. The Belarusian leader initially had a superiority complex vis-à-vis Russia during the 1990s, when his country was largely spared from the economic and social turmoil over the early post-Soviet period mostly due to his own personal policies. In negotiating the Union State of Russia and Belarus, Lukashenko thought that he could overpower Yeltsin in the proposed arrangement and essential go from being the leader of Belarus to the leader of all of Russia.
The arrival of President Putin on the scene changed all of that, and Lukashenko then acquired an inferiority complex towards Russia and its leader. Simultaneously, he also harbors a deep-seated inferiority complex against the EU that he’s had since he first came to power, and the combination of two such identical complexes against his two primary neighbors explains his sometimes schizophrenic and unjustified “balancing acts”. Given his unstable psychological setup, he’s prime for any personal grooming that makes him feel acknowledged, respected, and powerful, which is exactly what the EU is currently doing, and therefore increasing the possibility that he may fully pivot towards them and against Russia.
Counting The Consequences
Aside from the previously mentioned scenario of a Western-staged Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War, there are several other serious consequences for Russia if Armenia and/or Belarus pivot to the West. Here’s what Moscow can expect if either of them breaks ranks:
The Eurasian Union Crumbles:
It’s been Russia’s plan all along that the Eurasian Union members would eventually enter into a free trade area with the EU through a bilateral agreement between both blocs, but if Armenia and/or Belarus jump the gun and try to do this on their own, then it would ruin this opportunity for Russia and its associated economic partners. As such, it would deal perhaps the greatest blow to the fledgling economic group that its received thus far and embody the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s Neo-Reagan Doctrine.
The CSTO Cracks:
The movement of Armenia or Belarus closer to the West may foreshadow their self-distancing from the Russian-led CSTO defense apparatus as well, thus initiating a crisis within the organization and raising questions about its overall cohesiveness and solidarity. Historical record from the 1990s and early 2000s clearly indicates that countries pursuing warmer relations with the EU simultaneously did so with NATO, and there’s nothing to suggest that this pattern won’t continue into the future with either of the two potential pivot states.
Geostrategic Vulnerabilities Widen:
Critical sections of Russia’s international security architecture would irrefutably be dismantled if Armenia and/or Belarus sided with the West in the New Cold War, thereby exposing the country to geostrategic vulnerabilities that were unthinkable just a year ago. These changing circumstances can work to tip the strategic balance against Russia and towards the West, possibly even ushering in emboldened asymmetrical offensive operations that could run the risk of leading to the dismemberment of Russia itself, which remains the sought-after ‘final solution’ for Western policy makers.
The New Cold War can succinctly be described as the efforts of the West to dismantle Russia’s peripheral economic and physical security before striking straight at the core of the targeted state itself. The massive asymmetrical North-South offensive undertaken in the past year reminds one of the infamous Operation Barbarossa that that the Soviet Union had to defend against over 70 years ago, albeit this one has been slowly in the making ever since 1991. The US has more motivation than ever to destabilize the Eurasian Union due to the coordinated integration that it will be pursuing through China’s Silk Road projects, as proudly announced during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Victory Day visit to Moscow.
While it remains possible that Russia can weather the blow of both Armenia and Belarus simultaneously straying from its intimate sphere of influence if it came to that worst-case scenario, it would still seriously destabilize Russia’s interests and offset its strategic balance against the West in two key theaters. Additionally, even if the full-fledged anti-Russian political pivots never reach fruition, the fact that two formerly trusted Russian allies are flirting so intensely with the West puts Moscow on the relative defensive of having to re-secure its partnerships and perhaps even compete for their future loyalty. No matter which way one tries to spin it, Armenia and Belarus’ advances towards the West in the context of the New Cold War surely create complications for Russian foreign policy and have the disturbing and very realistic possibility of devolving into nightmare scenarios for Moscow and the future of the multipolar world.