(Written in early 2019)
Russia’s Relationship with Western Europe — Two Centuries of War
Fritz Berggren, Ph.D.
21 March 2017
1. Summary: This paper frames the West’s historical relationship with Russia, speculates on the rationality of a general war, and possible outcomes of such a war. This perspective aims create a strategic and historical framing of Russia’s relationship with the West and offers a scenario of how Russia may justify a strategic attack on the United States. It begins with some history, and ends with a worst case scenario that has been rationally (even if wrongly) justified.
2. In 1783, Russian annexed Crimea after a war with the Turkish/Ottoman(Muslim) forces in the 1770s. This ended two centuries of Islamic slaving sorties with removed and estimated 2 million people from the Ukraine and Russia. Sevastopol, on the Crimean Peninsula, became the base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. From 1783 to 1954, Crimea was Russian. (In 1954, at the pinnacle of the Soviet era, the Soviet Presidium granted Crimean to the Ukraine recognizing their geographic proximity and “indissoluble friendship.” Some perceive that this transfer was engineered by Nikita Khrushchev in order to consolidate his hold on power.
3. In 1812, the French and Allied forces, under Napoleon, invaded Russia with 600,000 soldiers. A political pretext for the invasion was to “protect Poland” from Russia, but control of trade (the Continental System) was the heart of the matter. Napoleon, the military embodiment of the French Revolution, unified Europe, reformed it’s laws, established a trading system, and imposed an “international order.” The Russians, after suffering badly in a battle with Napoleon in Konigsberg in 1807, refused a stand up fight. Instead, they retreated and burned the land behind them. When Napoleon captured Moscow in September 1812 the Russian military governor ordered the city evacuated and put to the torch. Although the West was “victorious” in every battle and help complete strategic overmatch, they gained nothing.
War with Russia today would look like Napoleon’s invasion; although possessing military overmatch and defeating the Russians at every point, there was no meaningful victory for the West. Russia survived. Napoleon lost.
4. In 1853 the British, French and Ottomans (Muslims) declared war upon Russia. The western “Allies” prevailed, invaded Crimea, occupied Sevastopol, and destroyed the Russian fleet. The terms of surrender dictated that the Russia could no more have a Navy in the Black Sea (although Russia did not comply with this for long).
This was the second time the west invaded Russian in the 1800s.
5. World War One: With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, the new Russian/Bolshevik government made its peace with the Kaiser and surrendered the Baltics (under Russian hegemony) to Germany. The western allies (France, England and the U.S.) responded by sending troops (including 13,000 US soldiers) into Russia. The Japanese also sent forces into Russia. The US refused to recognize the Soviet Government until 1933.
This was the third time the West invaded Russia since 1812.
US Soldier guarding Russian Prisoners
6. Operation Barbarossa (1941) was the largest invasion force in the history of warfare. Germany’s purpose in the invasion of Russia was to capture the wheat and oil fields of the Ukraine and use Slavics (Russians) as cheap/slave labor. At great loss, the Russians stalled the German advance on the outskirts of Moscow. Of the five million Russians captured by the Germans over 3 million died in captivity. German policies of starvation further reduced Russian and Ukrainian populations.
This was the fourth invasion of Russia by the West since 1812.
7. At the end of World War Two, after defeating the Nazi’s and pushing them back into Western Europe, the Russians declined to retreat back to “Russian” borders.
8. As a result Western European Allies formed NATO in 1949 in order to resist further Russian advances.
9. In 1955, the USSR responded with the formation of the Warsaw Pact in 1955.
10. After the collapse of the Soviet Union (1991) and the Warsaw Pact (1991), instead of disbanding, NATO expanded. Since 1990, twelve additional European countries were added to the NATO alliance.
11. The possibility of Ukraine leaving the Russian orbit and joining NATO provided incentive for Russia to counter with their own Ukrainian initiatives which, though short of a strategic war, is war none-the-less.
12. American political leaders began to refer to Putin in the same terms they had referred to other despots including Sadaam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Moamar Kaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
Senator Rubio called Putin “a gangster and a thug.” President Obama called him a “thug.”
Congressman Paul Ryan one-upped the President by calling him a “devious thug.”
Compare this to comments from US leaders toward other enemies: Sec State John Kerry called Bashar Al-Asad: “a thug and a murder.” President Bush called Sadaam Hussean “a thug” and called Al Qaeda “a group of thugs.” Bernie Sanders called Khaddafi a “thug and a murderer.”
If anyone thought the new Administration would change US policy towards Russia, few think so now given the public statements of US UN Ambassador Nikki Hally, Sec. Defense Mattis, and Sec State Tillerson. Compound this with the condemnation of Russia by the American press, leading Senators from both political parties (including Senator John McCain) and one would be hard pressed to predict a near-term reversal in this chilly relationship.
12. Historically speaking, it can be argued that Russia continues in a defensive war with “western European allies” that began in 1812. Events since 1991 (expansion of NATO and the non-recognition of Putin’s legitimacy and Russia’s interests) could rationally be interpreted as a continuation of the historical animosity. Give the West’s history with Russia, given the expansion of European influence eastward toward Russia, and given the heighted anti-Russian rhetoric in the west matched by military deployments eastward toward Russia, it is not hard to imagine that Russian paranoia has some substance behind it.
13: Continuing War with Russia: A Historical Analogy: In the late 1930s Japan was at war in its own near-abroad. The United States opposed “Imperial” Japan and instituted a series of economic sanctions against the Island not unlike the sanctions currently imposed upon Russian interests. Japan concluded that its best option was to attack US Naval Forces in Hawaii and end American military power in the Pacific. Japan perceived that the alternative to general war would be the surrender of the Japanese empire and the loss of economic independence. The Japanese attack succeeded — for two years. Then reversed— slowly — beginning in 1943.
It is not unreasonable for Russia to come to a similar conclusion: strike now, or await strangulation.
A strategic attack would be a to set-back the United States even if the long term calculus showed a defeat for the attacker. Russia was vastly over-matched in the Allied Invasion (1812) but were never defeated — this is something Western strategists should consider as they contemplate a general war with Russia.
14. Nuclear war is not only conceivable, but occurred and did not result in the “end of History” for Japan.
15. Our national leadership experienced the “defeat” of the Soviet Union, and continuous warfare in the Balkans and Middle East since then. We lack the “uh-oh” experience that was the Cuban Missile Crisis (1961) and the resultant willingness to seek detente.
Questions to ask ourselves include:
Is the US Foreign Policy establishment willing to fundamentally change its orientation toward “international norms” and “rule of law” in order to accommodate Russia?”
“Are we prepared to risk nuclear strikes on the US in order to achieve our objectives of acceptable international norms and rule of law?”
“Are we prepared to accept nuclear strikes on the US in order to achieve our objectives?”
“Can POTUS reverse a confrontation with Russia in light of alleged Russian assistance with his election?”
Strategic miscalculation, similar to that which led to Pearl Harbor, is not unthinkable. Japan’s attack on the US Pacific Fleet — a bold and risky move —was not irrational even though they eventually were defeated.
16: Conclusion: Russia already perceives itself already in a defensive war with the West. Given Russia’s experience in war, its willingness to absorb unimaginable losses, and the inexperience, instability and hostility of the West toward Russia, a strategic attack on the United States should not be dismissed out of hand and should factor into US strategic calculus.
Should Russia decide to strike, it would be optimal to strike during the window (which will eventually close) in which American ability to counter Russian delivery systems is not assured.
Due to the psychic composure of American citizens, and our dependence upon relatively fragile networks (just in time delivery of food, petroleum, medicines, banking, the US dollar, networked devices.) compared with that of Russia (in which 90% of their staple crop – potatoes – is grown locally), Russia may perceive itself as more likely to emerge intact from a general strategic war than the United States. Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, but Russia never surrendered. It was willing to absorb enormous loses and, in the end, Napoleon lost his power and Empire while Russia remained.
Put another way, a strategic war may create such a massive DSCA event that Russians may calculate that an American collapse is more likely than a Russian collapse. The Russians remember Napoleon, perhaps more that we do.
(Paper written in March 2019)
Colorado Springs, CO