STRATFOR forecast for the second quarter of 2014
15 years ago, when an unknown Russian official named Vladimir Putin came to power, Stratfor began observing the revival of Russia. This former KGB officer quelled the insurgency in Chechnya , bridled influential Russian oligarchs and transformed resource-based companies in the country in large public corporations. Then Putin’s Russia took advantage of the U.S. employment and other matters reestablish its sphere of influence in the former Soviet periphery, while forging strategic relations with Germany on the North European Plain. It was only a matter of time before the United States began to feel the need to respond to Russia’s attempts to redefine its borders with Europe.
That deja vu of the Cold War that ensued in Eurasia in recent months, in no way is neither the beginning nor the end of the US-Russian confrontation. Stratfor has followed the ebb and flow of the struggle, including the Orange Revolution in 2004-2005, during which American and European non-governmental organizations tried, but could not reliably bind the Ukraine to the West, as well as for the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, by which Putin demonstrated the limits of the West’s support to countries around the perimeter of Russia. Whenever the United States tried to establish a Russian border and frame, as it was in 2011 when the American non-governmental organizations encouraged anti-government protests in Moscow, Putin has always been ready the appropriate response.
At the end of 2013, when Russia first outwitted the U.S. in Syria, and then exposed to the forefront information leakage from the National Security Agency , organized by Edward Snowden , purposefully trying to undermine U.S. relations with its allies, the United States had already prepared its response . It was at this point that Stratfor miscalculated in its analysis of how Washington would begin to actively act against Moscow , while trying to balance the rest of his foreign policy priorities, such as the difficult negotiations with Iran. In its annual forecast for 2014 we decided that Russia would be able to neutralize the Ukraine after the former President Viktor Yanukovich decided to refuse to sign an association agreement with the EU. We waited for the demonstrations, but did not expect that the United States and European countries would take advantage of protests and strike at the most sensitive place for Russia on its periphery.
However, certain fundamental issues formed the basis of our forecast, and retain their significance. Germany is not ready to tear their relationship with Russia over Ukraine – and certainly not at the moment when it tries to manage an increasingly fragmented Eurozone. And the United States, though glad to remind Russia of its covert capabilities, is not yet able to maintain a serious confrontation with Moscow.
Looking ahead, we expect that the outbreak of the first quarter will fade, and the situation will return to a framework that defined it during the main period of the Cold War. Of course, both sides will discuss various issues with the Europeans, but the boundaries of the present confrontation will be determined in negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.
We cannot say that the United States and Russia are ready this year to conclude a comprehensive agreement and to draw a line between the West and Russia in the marginal zone of Europe . This is a long conflict and the parties thereto will be closely and carefully demonstrating their leverage in Europe and beyond, not going beyond a certain threshold of the conflict.
At the heart of all these dynamics is Ukraine. For Russia to turn Ukraine into its side, or at least neutralize it – is a critical issue of national security. For the U.S., Ukraine is a tool by which America can deter Moscow, until Russia has disproportionate power on the continent. Therefore, Russia will lead Ukraine into a long game. The revolutionary euphoria will fade quickly in Ukraine, and will take effect when the austerity measures and the political scene in Kiev with its new force will be felt as a natural cause for contention. As it was after the Orange Revolution , Moscow until the end of the year will be playing at Ukrainian differences , using the inevitable economic dependence of Ukraine from Russia , and slowly but surely will be restoring its influence .
In the game will also be involved the Baltic countries; Moldova and Georgia . Russia will supply its traditional signal for the protection of Russian minorities abroad, sending threats to the Baltic States, and at the same time emphasizing its impact on the breakaway territories of Georgia and Moldova. Tensions will persist, but Russia, mindful of their limited opportunities, will not resort to predatory military action in the near abroad. The annexation of the Crimea was designed to demonstrate Russia’s readiness to resort to military action to protect their interests. An invasion of eastern Ukraine, and especially a march across the Dnieper in the direction of Moldova – is already too much, which will cost the Russians, and Putin is well aware.
The United States will show restraint in dealing with Russia. Washington cannot rely on a coordinated European response, with which one could attach a line against Moscow. Although the question of economic integration of Moldova and Georgia with the EU will be the subject of negotiations, the United States will refrain from discussing much more important topic of the integration of Ukraine and Georgia to NATO. Nevertheless, the U.S. and NATO will still have limited ability to provide military assistance to countries in the Eastern European periphery, as the Scandinavian states and members of the ‘Visegrad Four’ in the face of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary discuss with each other and with the United States question the elaboration of a unified military stance against Russia. But it’s a long process, and if US-Russian confrontation will remain within certain limits, this year will not contain a sufficiently powerful forceful moment for the transition from the debate on military integration to significant practical actions.
The second quarter of the quasi-Cold War with its dead-end confrontation between the U.S. and Russia may not be as eventful as the first, but on other issues will be carried out in a very proactive way. We remain optimistic about the US-Iranian negotiations, although it is possible that Moscow will try to divert the attention of the United States in the Middle East. Russia asserting itself – is just one of several critical issues confounding Europe. And China, not seeing the prospects for economic improvement, will be forced to further postpone structural reforms, trying hard to resolve their growing financial problems.