Rostislav Ishchenko: Leaving the Impasse

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


In Russian and neighboring post-Soviet societies there are two relatively small but vociferous groups. One of them believes that due to the large nominal economic weight of the United States, and because Washington is monopolistically issuing the world currency, it is necessary to surrender as soon as possible on suitable terms. After this, every person and every family should engage in individual integration into the “civilised world”. The second group is sure for the same reasons that Russia should seize as soon as possible everything that the hands can reach (at minimum – the entire post-Soviet space) in order to maximally strengthen and secure itself against the aggressive encroachments of the West.

The lessons of the neighbors do not teach these adherents of simple solutions anything. The Baltic States, which in the near future are likely to become an importer – even of sprats [in the past it was precisely the Baltic countries that were the biggest exporters of sprats – ed], acted according to the first option. Saddam Hussein acted according to the second option. By the way, the US also tried to act in accordance with the principle “take everything, give back nothing”, but the longer the implementation of such a policy continues, the weaker the former hegemon becomes.

But maybe we’re dealing with special cases. Maybe the recommendations of one of these groups are systematically correct, and the problems of the Baltic States, Iraq, and the United States are only because of the random errors of insufficiently qualified politicians?

Well, let’s suppose that those who propose to surrender in front of absolute power are right. If their theoretical premises had a hint of truth, the history of mankind would have ended before it started.

The walls of the first permanently existing urban settlement – Jericho – were erected no later than 6800 BC, i.e., almost 9,000 years ago. This first urban civilisation had a clear economic advantage over neighbouring tribes, which were not capable of such mobilisation of efforts.

The civilisation of Sumerians in the interfluve began to develop after 5500 BC (we are talking about the whole complex of proto-cities). The most ancient unification of ancient Egypt was about 3000 BC. This is a real (albeit isolated) agrarian Empire. The first trade Empire – the Ancient state of Sargon – arose in Mesopotamia somewhere in the area of the 2300 BC. The civilisation centre of Mohenjo-Daro in India emerged at about 2600 BC. The legendary era of “three sovereigns and five emperors” in ancient China begins earlier than 2800 BC.

Each of these civilisational centers is obviously absolutely economically superior to everything around them and should’ve been, based on the theory of the capitulators, wildly expanding, without having competitors. Moreover, the appearance of the earlier centers completely negates the possibility of the emergence of the later centers, since over centuries, and in the case of Jericho – even a millennia, of non-competitive development such a center should have absorbed the whole world. But that didn’t happen.

Of course, it is possible to say that this was because of the primitiveness of the first civilisations, the technical achievements of which weren’t so significant compared with those of the surrounding tribal world. Let’s move on to a later period of time. Compared to Genghis Khan’s hordes, the China and Khorezm conquered by them were like the modern United States in comparison with Lesotho (they were absolutely superior to the conquerors technically, economically, demographically, and militarily,). In the 15th-16th centuries, Ming’s China was the most technologically advanced country and produced up to 60% of the world’s GDP. By the way, this same US won the War of Independence and the Anglo-American war of 1812-1815, being completely inferior to Britain in all respects.

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I.e., economic, technological, and even civilisational backwardness is not an insurmountable historical obstacle to winning the leadership race if the right strategy is chosen.

So then, perhaps those who say that there is a need, without overthinking it, to occupy everything they can and to launch missile and air strikes on anyone who looked askance are right?

Ironically, the largest British colonial Empire was created in an era when Britain didn’t fight its own battles. In Europe ever-changing allies fought for it, and the conquest of colonies was carried out by private capital, which was mostly either employed in the service of local rulers with their armies or formed private armies (today they would be called PMCs) from among the locals. But the British State enjoyed all the benefits of long peace. If someone was formally at war with Britain, then the Royal Navy reliably ensure the safety of the metropolis, while the heaviness of real warfare was dropped on allies and mercenaries.

When Britain changed this principle and involved itself in two world wars, the leadership was claimed by the United States, which preferred to engage in hostilities as soon as possible, when it was only necessary to register a victory over enemies that were exhausted or defeated by others. But the US also quickly started to lose its leadership as soon as it attempted to project its military power on the whole world on a permanent basis, and wars with their participation (albeit small and regional) became a permanent process.

Of course, the Anglo-Saxons aren’t a blueprint for us, but let’s suppose that Russia ten years ago adopted an expansionist strategy. During this time there would be a need to send an expeditionary force to Georgia (expansionists still complain that in 2008 Tbilisi wasn’t taken), to Libya (to save Gaddafi), to Ukraine (to Kiev and to save the regime of Yanukovych from a Nazi coup), to Syria (to help Assad), now expansionists sometimes say that the coming to power of Pashinyan in Armenia should’ve been prevented by force. Well, and the most frantic demand to simply cancel the Belavezha Accords and, on this basis, to occupy all the former territory of the USSR.

In Syria, Russia was obliged to send its troops. We can extrapolate this example to other cases. To ensure the combat capability of a relatively small aviation group and the partial control of liberated territories, Russia was obliged to involve at least 10,000 people (and most likely much more). In addition to its Air Force units (including technical and support staff at the Hmeymim base) there are also the anti-air units covering them, units guarding the land approaches to the base, a naval base in Latakia, the crews of the ships of the Mediterranean fleet, as well as the “Syrian Express” providing, along with military transport aviation, the logistics of groups. There are also special operations forces, military police, and even the crews of long-range aircraft, occasionally flying on a mission directly from Russia and the ships of the Caspian flotilla, dealing missile strikes from the Caspian sea.

The occupation of Tbilisi in 2008 would have required at least 30,000 troops to be stationed on the territory of Georgia. More than a 100,000 people would be needed to control the territory of Ukraine (it is enough to remember that the security of Crimea alone accounts for about a third of this number). Libya? Armenia? The Baltic States behaves like a bad boy? Maybe Japan can be attacked? It doesn’t want to recognise the Russian status of the Southern Kuriles. Oh, I almost forgot – we, after all, were supposed to start a war with Turkey for the downed jet – to crush it and, of course, occupy it.

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And all of this in less than ten years. Are you sure that there would be enough troops? The number of Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is defined as almost 2 million people, but from them only slightly more than one million are military personnel. And the economy – would it withstand the stress of constant military campaigns and overseas expeditions? And finances?

I will not argue – probably some of the territories of the former USSR could be successfully returned to Russia using armed force. The rest would be mortally afraid that they would be next and would look for an external protectorate. Trump would not have to shame the Europeans for not wanting to increase their contributions to NATO and take upon themselves the maintenance of American troops. Europeans and Asians would maintain these same military bases, the maintenance of which is now paid for using the money of American taxpayers, at their own expense. And more than a dozen would have been built if only the Americans agreed to place their contingents on their territories, protecting them from the terrible Russia.

And in this case Washington should not convince the EU to abandon Russian gas. Just like how Europe is now afraid of deepening its economic and political dependence on the unpredictable and aggressive US, which do not want to reckon with the interests of the EU – it would be afraid of Russia and would strive to get away from any, even the most minimal dependence on strategic supplies from the Russian Federation. The import substitution operation would be carried out in inverse. The EU would carry out import substitution in relation to Russian goods.

Crazy money would be spent on the maintenance of the expedition troops and the restoration of the post-Soviet economies, and it won’t be possible to even think about investing in the Russian economy. And the West, having quickly realised that Russia responds to any challenge with foreseeable expansion, would quietly organise the next provocations, leading to new costly military operations. And it would be impossible to stop it. But by stopping this expansionist process, Russia would make it known that it has exhausted the possibility of a military response – that it has simply overstrained. And it is at the moment that it would have finished, like how the USSR, which at the time overstrained under the weight of its expansionist strategy, was finished off.

In these circumstances, Russia has found the only possible solution, providing it with a way out of the strategic impasse – where you can neither fight nor reach an agreement. Moscow has given the West the opportunity to become involved in new and expensive operations, responding to it non-linearly by preserving and seizing control over strategic points that block the West’s operations. In Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Caucasian question was sealed off, in Crimea – the Ukrainian question, and in Syria – the Middle East question.

As a result, the West bore the economic, financial, political, diplomatic, and even moral costs of destabilisation, and Russia – via thought-over decisions – blocked the West’s possible use of the positions it captured for the development of success and even received certain bonuses. Moreover, the West was faced with the need to maintain regimes that are useless for it and are characterised by increased corruption. In the respective countries the standard of living sharply fell, and then also the level of trust in pro-Western politicians. In fact, abandoning explicit direct actions and using the West’s efforts to destabilise the situation in its interests allowed Russia to play with the West on an equal footing in the conditions of Western financial, economic, military, and political superiority, and in the last ten years to win more and more often.

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Of course, these are not “beautiful” victories: with bloody battles, heroic feats, parades in the defeated capitals, with liberated peoples and returned territories. These are victories in the spirit of the recommendations of Sun Tzu, who taught to win without military action. By the way, the commentators of his immortal work unanimously agree that those who win according to the precepts of Sun Tzu achieve the most effective and least costly victory, but at the same time they don’t receive awards because their victory is not manifested in ordinary material symbols: there are no mountains of corpses, crowds of prisoners, destroyed cities, and torched villages and fields. The enemy dissolves in time and space seemingly by itself. Why reward a commander if they seemingly did nothing?

So we constantly hear that all is not as it should. The bridges, roads, factories, and shipyards in the country [Russia – ed] are being built as if by magic. The budget, with the lowest taxes in the “civilised world”, is filled from thin air. The army somehow receives the latest weaponry and manages almost without the use of force to oblige the most desperate opponents to surrender. It’s not quite clear how diplomats make the country’s international prestige grow. Even in the capital, Zaryadye Park grows as if by magic, district after district is ennobled, and the transport problem is solved by itself. Russia is magically ahead of the surrounding post-Soviet world in all respects, and not even by orders of magnitude, but forever, although more recently [pre-Putin – ed] it was inferior to half of the world’s countries in many respects.

Some people start to think that this happens because they themselves are so special and they are drawn to Messianic life – to occupy everything urgently and to build a paradise on earth for everyone. It seems to others that it would be even better if Russia listened to the wise instructions of the West, and doesn’t climb into world politics with its ambitions.

It is good that both of them aren’t numerous. But they aren’t numerous because, in addition to foreign policy successes, the government also knows how to smooth out conflicts between different social and political groups without taking a clear side, without affecting anyone’s rights and limiting their opportunities. That’s why the forever unhappy candidates for the Messiah do not receive popular support. That’s why attempts to stop Russia from emerging from the geopolitical impasse that it found itself in after the collapse of the USSR – by stimulating internal contradictions in society and creating a Maidan situation – fail.

To understand just how beautifully and professionally Russia is being led out between Scylla of expansionism and Charybdis of capitulation it is enough to remember that in Russia alone the efforts of the West to create a favorable situation for a color revolution so far have completely failed. There were no failures in the rest of the world. And those post-Soviet countries that haven’t yet fallen into the color scenario are on the way to it.

In the end, all post-Soviet countries have either arrived at or are approaching a situation from which there are only two ways out: either towards Russia on any terms, or they will not exist anymore (and Moscow will not move a finger for this – they will destroy themselves).

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