What does this signify
A few days ago, Mr. Zhirinovsky –President Putin’s, sometimes bizarre but always faithful and effective ally–, said, on record, that Americans should vote for Donald Trump next month or risk being dragged into a nuclear war by Mrs. Clinton who would then be the last President of the US. This astonishing statement, in reality a menace of war and extinction, unheard of since the end of the Cold War, did cause some initial sensation, but failed to attract the attention it deserved, largely dismissed, on account of Mr. Zhirinovsky’s known “extreme” style and views.
The reason why what Mr. Zhirinovsky said merits much more attention, and should have caused greater worry than it did, is that it depicts the ruthless determination of the Kremlin to seek the destabilization of the West and reclaim the lost part of USSR heritage, not hesitating to resort to all available means, methods and tactics, even lethal and reckless as in Ukraine and Syria.
There is little doubt, in this context, that time and circumstances are ideal to exploit and enlarge the breaches already opened on both the European and the Transatlantic structures by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, as well as by all sorts of populist, anti-establishment and anti-globalization stalwarts –agitating, as it appears, on both sides of the ocean.
It is not, thus, of much import if Mr. Zhirinovsky is, or not, a mainstream representative of Mr. Putin’s regime. It suffices to know that he is by no means a “lose gun”; all the guns of that regime are tightly controlled and their fire –metaphorically but also literally–, is centrally directed from the top, in accordance with the best Soviet traditions, which have, largely, been restored in the space of internal administration. That part of Soviet heritage has been almost fully reclaimed. The recovery, however, of the Soviet sphere of geopolitical dominance still remains to be achieved.
Nevertheless, heavy blows have already been inflicted on neighbours of the “near abroad”, such as Georgia and Ukraine. Blows have also been dealt on the prestige and authority of the UN, the US & NATO and the EU, especially in Syria and the Middle East. The Russian Airforce operates unopposed in that troubled region, for the first time, ever, anywhere not within the airspace of the former Soviet empire. What has already been methodically and boldly obtained, either in substance or in terms of impressions, is by no means negligible – and yet it is hardly sufficient; President Putin is as a maximalist, at home and abroad.
In this sense, Mr. Zhirinovsky’s ultimatum to the electorate of the US, combined with the electronic –and not so covert– warfare against Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, depict, as we said, the ruthlessness and the aggressiveness of the present Russian regime in its endeavour to reverse Russia’s defeat in the Cold War and its readiness to accept, in persuite of this ultimate goal, high risks of globalized destabilization including a mercurial and unpredictable President of the US.
President Putin dares; he and his retainers do not hesitate, and the spot aimed at will always be high: the jugular. The immediate and definitive removal of rivals is expected, not merely their temporary incapacitation. The rise of tensions to levels reminiscent of the worst moments of the Cold War, will not, therefore, intimidate this regime. Quite the opposite is true; autocratic regimes are always conscious of their inherent instability in environments of normalcy.
At the same time, the conviction seems to grow roots, and not only in the Kremlin, that both the US and the EU enclosed and immobilized in vicious circles of introversion will persist in their attitude of timidity and appeasement. Such a misunderstanding must be prevented. The momentum of the attempt to overturn the status quo which emerged after the collapse of the USSR could become increasingly violent. It must be effectively opposed. One must not forget what the end of the Treaty of Versailles was.
Mrs. Clinton must remember this. She had correctly and timely advised President Obama to impose a non-flight zone in Syria. Had she been heard, the window of opportunity for the intervention of Russia’s Air Force in support of a genocidal regime, would not still be there, left wide open. Now, if elected, she will have to pull back the frontiers of western tolerance.
President Obama’s foreign policy left much to be desired. Not only in Syria but, first and foremost, in Iraq, where the early withdrawal of US forces allowed Mr. Maliki’s Shia led government, under unchallenged, malefic Iranian influence, to oppress so much the Sunni community, driving many to the ranks of the ISIS. Even in Ukraine the US could have done more to arm Kiev’s forces. President Obama and Mr. Trump have one trait in common: they both center their attention on domestic priorities. This is what renders the election of the Republican candidate so desirable to the Kremlin.
In all events, several months of Russian temerity and “daring acts” may lie ahead, in order, first, to exploit the period of transition between the present and the next Administration in the US, and then, to test the melt of the new President. A President Trump could find himself under a flood of charm and flattery – and President Clinton before challenges to her assertiveness and determination, possibly as extreme as those President Kennedy had to respond to in 1960 and in 1962. She must not be found wanting.