The world is not uni-polar
Except running brothels and drug rings, Russian President Vladimir Putin has done everything nefarious in Europe. This is the central idea of Douglas E. Schoen and Evan R. Smith’s book, Putin’s Master Plan: To destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and restore Russian power and global influence, published in 2016 by Encounter Books, New York. Both Schoen and Smith are political consultants and strategists in the US. This opinion piece intends to discuss Schoen and Smith’s certain ideas expressed in the book.
In the introduction chapter, Schoen and Smith give a glimpse of Putin’s four-pronged plan: “By fracturing the transatlantic relationship between America and its European allies, undermining or even destroying the NATO alliance, dividing the European Union, and establishing Russian hegemony in Europe both within and beyond the former borders of the Soviet Union, Putin seeks to usher in a new world order that recalls the bipolar rivalries and tensions between political systems during the Cold War.”
Putin’s plan can fracture the transatlantic relationship between America and its European allies in two ways. First, by breeding Euro-sceptical parties, as Schoen and Smith write on pages one and two: “Putin has struck at the core of the transatlantic alliance, breeding Euro-sceptical parties that want to do away with the EU (European Union) and encouraging anti-American politicians who advocate for the dissolution of NATO”. Second, by tempering the common set of values such as human rights, a free economy and liberal democracy, as Schoen and Smith write on page three: “America and Western Europe share many political and cultural values (such as human rights, a free economy and liberal democracy) and a deep generations bond forged in the fires of twentieth-century history (underpinning the transatlantic project).” However, Schoen and Smith think that these values were compromised while allowing the entry of former Eastern Bloc (or Communist countries) into NATO and EU and the vulnerability offered would be exploited, as they write on page three: “Putin has noticed our wavering devotion to Western values and our lackadaisical defense of core Western ideals.”
Putin’s plan can also undermine or destroy the NATO alliance in two ways. First, by making the NATO members realise the impotence of NATO, as Schoen and Smith write on page 30: “In 2014 alone, NATO members scrambled jets 442 times in response to Russian activity…Alarmingly, NATO has become so impotent that some member states are taking steps to build defense and security relationships outside of the alliance. In Northern Europe, NATO members Denmark, Iceland, and Norway are meeting and directly coordinating security policy with non-NATO members Sweden and Finland. These new mutual-defense arrangements are directly driven by Russian aggression in the Arctic and Scandinavia. (The same is what the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia) and Poland are doing).” Second, by fostering friendly relations with some NATO countries, as Schoen and Smith write on page 37: (S)ome NATO members that were hostile to the Soviet Union are not necessarily as hostile toward Putin’s Russia, and indeed some have friendlier relationship with Moscow than they do with Washington, London, or Brussels. Greece and Hungary are at the top of this list, with both having denounced as a ‘Trojan horse’ for Putin within NATO (and this may lead to “Finlandization” (or complacency) of Europe with Putin).”
Putin’s plan can disrupt the unity of Europe in two ways. First, by encouraging Muslim migrant crisis in Europe, as Schoen and Smith write on page 10: “(W)hen Putin began supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria in 2011, he knew or hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce a large-scale migrant crisis in Europe… (It happened) because of Assad’s brutality and the Russian military support that enabled it. The migrant crisis benefits Putin by fostering division among Western allies and showing Europe’s inability to deal with a major challenge to its political and economic systems. By precipitating the United Kingdom’s exit (i.e. the Brexit) from EU, the migrant crisis struck a blow to European unity that may even be fatal.” Second, by using proxies in Europe, as Schoen and Smith write on page 107: “Unlike the Soviet Union’s subversive support for communist and socialist parties in the West, today Russia’s proxies (in the form of political lackeys and private sector agents) are ideologically diverse, from the far left (socialists) in Greece to the far right (nationalists) in France (to become Putin’s fifth column in EU).”
Putin’s plan can establish Russian hegemony in Europe in two ways. First, by launching a hybrid warfare in Europe, as Schoen and Smith write on page 44: “By employing hybrid warfare, which combines conventional military forces with unconventional forces, information warfare, subterfuge, and propaganda (which is designed to slip under NATO’s threshold of perception and reaction), Russia has pioneered a new and dangerously effective method of conquest – as the world saw when Russia (made a soft annexation of the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in August 2008 and) annexed Crimea (from Ukraine, in March 2014, with the help of the Little Green Men, who were in fact Russian Spetsnaz forces incognito, defying the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of December 1994 guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity on giving up nuclear weapons).” Second, by enjoying monopoly over the supply of energy (oil and gas) to Europe especially central, northern and eastern, as Schoen and Smith write on page 95: “Putin has effectively weaponized Russia’s energy reserves and leverage them as a foreign policy tool … The EU gets one-third of its natural gas and 35 percent of its crude oil from Russia.” Further, they write on page 98: “The EU is, after all, among the world’s largest economies, accounting for 24 percent of global GDP. Putin knows that if he pulls the plug on European energy supplies, the world economy will take a hit. Russia holds an energy trump card over Europe and, by extension, on all of global trade.”
While drawing the attention of a reader towards Putin’s master plan, the book underscores the comparative failure of the former US President Barack Obama each time Putin succeeds. For instance, Russia reasserted when Obama submitted to Putin in Syria, as Schoen and Smith write on pages 38 and 39: “Obama’s failure to enforce his infamous ‘redline’ (against the Assad regime in 2012) on chemical weapons in Syria discredited him in the eyes of the world. It suggested to America’s allies that we don’t keep our promises and suggested to our enemies that testing our rhetorical commitments with military assertiveness pay offs. If a Putin-backed Assad can walk all over Obama in Syria (since 2011 when the Syrian crisis erupted and since September 2015 when Russia sent its military to Syria to help the Assad regime), then why can’t Putin himself do the same in Ukraine, or the Baltics, or anywhere else he chooses, Article 5 notwithstanding? Indeed, …the Kremlin identified Obama’s failure to enforce the red line in Syria as a turning point in the Russian calculus over using military force in Ukraine.” That is, the weakness showed in Syria by the US emboldened Russia to invade Ukraine and occupy Crimea in March 2014.
Whether Putin has devised a master plan or not, he is out to perform two tasks. First, defending Russia against the Western propaganda of all types, and second, making people believe that the world is not uni-polar, as Schoen and Smith write on pages 68 and 69: “Late in 2014, Russia announced Sputnik, a new communications effort focusing on radio and the Internet to supplement RT (Russia Today, which is a multi-lingual broadcast media started by Putin in 2005 to be an alternative news source to Western media). (Sputnik’s focus is) Countering Western ‘propaganda’ and the ‘uni-polarity’ promoted by Western allies. ‘We are against the aggressive propaganda that everybody is fed with and that imposes a uni-polar model of the world…We will say what others are silent about. The world is tired of one country thinking of itself as exceptional’…”
Schoen and Smith believe that understanding Putin’s master plan will help neutralise it accordingly. Nevertheless, one of the most interesting features of the book is that it considers Putin a permanent factor in international politics to steer Russia indefinitely.