Poking the Bear Back

 

Proving that a story can be simultaneously utterly bizarre and make perfect sense, the New York Times reports that Middle Eastern and African refugees are crossing into Europe through … wait, Finland!?

Compared with the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or hardship who made the trek to Europe last year through Turkey to Greece, the flow of refugees and migrants on the Arctic route through Russia — first into Norway and later into Finland — is tiny. But the stop-go traffic has added a hefty dose of geopolitical anxiety, not to mention intrigue, to a crisis that is tearing the European Union apart. It has sent alarm bells ringing in Helsinki, Finland’s capital far to the south, and in Brussels, where European Union leaders, at recent crisis meetings on migration, discussed the strange and ever-shifting Arctic route through Russia. The intrigue flows from a growing suspicion in the West that Russia is stoking and exploiting Europe’s migrant crisis to extract concessions, or perhaps crack the European unity over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine. Only one of the European Union’s 28 member states needs to break ranks for a regime of credit and other restrictions to collapse.

All of which comes as further confirmation — as if more were needed — that Vladimir Putin is: 1) a nasty piece of work; 2) a clever and dangerous one at that; and 3) someone with the dissolution of intra-European and transatlantic relations firmly in his sights. Do read the whole piece by the way; the details about how the Russians and refugees circumvent European law are hilarious, while the implications are frightening.

The problem in this and all other recent crises involving Russia is that Europe has been put in a defensive position while Putin acts with impunity, confident that he can get away with his mischief. But it needn’t be that way. Putin is no superman and there are plenty of things short of kryptonite that can hurt him (though I’m game for that, too,).

So, Ricochet, let’s say it’s 2017 and the new president asks us for ideas he can present to his NATO and EU colleagues on how to poke back at the Russian bear. The objective is to cause a positive change in behavior from Moscow while minimizing the risk of something like the situation in the Norwegian series Occupied (which is excellent, by the way).

To get your creative juices flowing, here’s one possibility my father — who knows a thing or two about messing with Russians — suggested: bypass Putin entirely and send a clear message to the oligarch billionaires who enable him:

The key to forcing these Russians to act, and thus to making the sanctions strategy succeed, will be to rapidly widen the gap that already exists between their financial interests and Putin’s political ambitions.  Russia’s corporate business leaders don’t really care about Ukraine, or about Putin’s lunatic dream of re-creating the old Romanov Empire.  They fight in boardrooms, not on battlefields; they would rather launch a hostile takeover bid for Kaiser Aluminum than for Kiev.  Russia’s oligarchs are among the most pushy, self-indulgent, thoroughly unpleasant bunch of billionaires in history; the old phrase nouveau riche doesn’t come close to evoking their ostentatious behavior. All they care about are their yachts, their private jets, and the blonde-bombshell-shopoholic mistresses they stash at their multi-million-dollar condos in London, New York, and on the Riviera, and like to flash around at swishy restaurants.

Over to you.

Published in Foreign Policy, Immigration
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  1. Richard Fulmer Inactive
    Richard Fulmer
    @RichardFulmer

    Keep the price of oil low.

    • #1
  2. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I read the article. The article does a poor job of explaining why there is an arctic route for these migrants. Why don’t they go through central Europe? It doesn’t quite make sense unless Finland has very liberal asylum laws.

    As for your question: We enter into a new OPEC with Saudia Arabia stating that we will keep the price of oil down until Russia backs off with their aggressiveness and Iran ends it’s nuclear programs.

    • #2
  3. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Isn’t it a version of the same issue with Turkey?

    Europe wants Turkey to be its gatekeeper, and Turkey wants something in return (access for its citizens to Europe, I think, oh and also cash).  The deal seems rotten (on a number of levels) but workable.

    From your Dad’s article:

    Simply put, we should make clear to the Russian business executives and oligarchs who are the target of Western sanctions that Putin is their problem, not ours…

    Since subtlety doesn’t work with Russians, the president and his European counterparts should also make absolutely clear that we have no interest whatever in how these people solve their Putin problem.  If they can talk good old Vladimir into leaving the Kremlin with full military honors and a 21-gun salute — that would be fine with us.  If…the only way to get him out of the Kremlin is feet-first, with a bullet hole in the back of his head — that would also be okay with us.

    That was the way sanctions were supposed to work with Saddam Hussain, but they didn’t.  The West can squeeze the oligarchs financially, but Putin can confiscate their assets outright (and kidnap or kill their in-country families while he’s at it).  Who has more control over them?

    What does Putin want that the West can give him without compromising its core interests?

    (Also assuming that Finland’s interests don’t diverge from the rest of Europe’s or the US’.)

    • #3
  4. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar: What does Putin want that the West can give him without compromising its core interests?

    Can’t be done. He’s now running an extractive kleptocracy such that he’s going to have to take bigger and bigger risks, and push the corruption further and further out, to keep the show rolling. It ends badly for him — or if he dies soon, of natural causes, it ends badly for his successor.

    The question is how we manage the next transition (because there will be one) and whether we can get a normal country out of Russia the next time — and whether we can avoid accidentally nuking each other in the meantime. And during that time, it’s either deterrence and containment or Russia corrupting and mobbing up Eurasia — perhaps not quite as bad as communist enslavement, but it’s sure not freedom, either.

    • #4
  5. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Most of the obvious is already happening:

    Demographic collapse: check

    Oil price collapse: check

    Embargoes and disinvestment: check

    Restless Muslim populations in Russian territory: check

    Beyond that:

    If we’re not already working quietly to get non-Russian natural gas supplies to Ukraine and Europe at large, we should be.

    Slip Ukraine some decent anti-armor weapons.  A hail of smart weapons on the next false-flagged advance in Donbas should focus Putin’s mind.

    Go on a deliberate talent spotting and recruiting effort on Russian brain power.  Many of them have ‘self-deported’ already, but it’s the thought that counts.

    See if we can stir up trouble on the Russo-Chinese border.  Northward migration of Han peoples into sparsely populated trans-Ural Russia is a long term strategic issue.

    Espionage and cyber warfare focus on compromising Russian command and control in case they get frisky.

    Some information warfare aimed at creating unrest about casualties and economic losses due to Putin’s adventures.

    • #5
  6. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    The intrigue flows from a growing suspicion in the West that Russia is stoking and exploiting Europe’s migrant crisis to extract concessions, or perhaps crack the European unity over economic sanctions imposed against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

    So it took them this long to figure that out, not good.

    • #6
  7. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    People are thinking as if Obama never existed.  We have lost a lot of ground, and will not regain it anytime soon.

    No wonder you people aren’t angry.  You think an election will change things.

    • #7
  8. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The Soviet Union stirred the pot from the end of WWII to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin as a former KGB agent knows this and will continue to stir the pot to divide European nations until he gets what he wants. The Soviet Union operated under a looters mentality, Putin is no different. Unfortunately Russians still long for Stalin and they have found him.

    The Bolshoi Ballet and Tolstoy is a very thin veneer on top of a long history of Russian barbarism.

    putin-riding-bear-601x368

    • #8
  9. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Locke On:Restless Muslim populations in Russian territory

    That’s Russia’s most obvious (and historic) fault line. The green bits are with majority/high Muslim populations:

    Islam_in_Russia

    And:

    Russian_scenarios

    (Fun fact: Moscow is the European city with the highest proportion of Muslims – about 15%.)

    Though going with that kind of thing has tended to backfire in the past (I’m thinking Afghanistan – Mujahideen – Taliban – etc.).

    So: proceed with care, if at all, in that direction.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Doug Watt: The Bolshoi Ballet and Tolstoy is a very thin veneer on top of a long history of Russian barbarism.

    I don’t think their veneer of culture is any thinner than ours. I would argue that their history of barbarism is worse than ours, but ours is not as different as it should be.  In any case, I don’t think barbarism explains the problems we’re dealing with.

    • #10
  11. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The Reticulator:

    Doug Watt: The Bolshoi Ballet and Tolstoy is a very thin veneer on top of a long history of Russian barbarism.

    I don’t think their veneer of culture is any thinner than ours. I would argue that their history of barbarism is worse than ours, but ours is not as different as it should be. In any case, I don’t think barbarism explains the problems we’re dealing with.

    Ask millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death.

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Doug Watt:

    The Reticulator:

    I don’t think their veneer of culture is any thinner than ours. I would argue that their history of barbarism is worse than ours, but ours is not as different as it should be. In any case, I don’t think barbarism explains the problems we’re dealing with.

    Ask millions of Ukrainians who were starved to death.

    Ask them what?

    By the way, I once ran into a Russian-Ukranian (his home was still in Ukraine when I knew him, but now has been seized by Russia) who argued that data showed that something like Holodomor happened in the United States in the 1930s.  It was nuts, of course, and I tried to explain how something like that could not have been covered up in our country like it was over there. I’m not sure I was successful.  He was here to get his PhD, and was a nice guy to talk to. He once gave me a great lead on a camera purchase, and gave me one of his soil science books (in Russian) when he left, which I have in front of me now.

    But intelligent people get wacky ideas in their heads, such as that the U.S. had a Holodomor analogous to Ukraine’s, or that Russian actions can be explained as a thin veneer of culture over a history of barbarism.

    • #12
  13. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    And what’s with this bare back  poking?

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Ball Diamond Ball:And what’s with this bare back poking?

    Giggity?

    • #14
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