Russia and Putin have been in the news a great deal in the past few months. Admittedly, many of the stories have been shrill and hysterical conspiracy theories about “Russian hacking” purveyed by Democrats still angry over the election results. Nevertheless, we should not allow left-wing insanity and hypocrisy to distract us from Moscow’s strategy and thereby assessing the Kremlin’s aims, strategy, and intentions in a dispassionate and realistic manner. That is why Douglas Schoen’s latest book, Putin’s Master Plan, is well worth reading, although some of the author’s statements should be taken with a grain of salt.
The author describes Moscow’s objectives thus: “By fracturing the transatlantic relationship between America and its European allies, undermining or even destroying the NATO alliance, dividing the European Union, and establishing Russian hegemony in Europe both within and beyond the former borders of the Soviet Union, Putin seeks to usher in a new world order that recalls the bipolar rivalries and tensions between political systems during the Cold War,” all while “seeding an endless series of global crises that drain the West’s ability and desire to influence global affairs.” The primary goal is to “make the twenty-first century the Russian century.”
Schoen claims to be the first author to describe Putin’s “master plan.” However, Janusz Bugajski, in his Dismantling the West: Russia’s Atlantic Agenda (2009), and Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, in Intermarium: The Land Between the Black and Baltic Seas (2012), have already written insightful analyses of post-Soviet Russian grand strategy. One wonders whether the author is aware of these contributions; if so, they were certainly not consulted. A glance at the endnotes indicates that the book is based almost solely on news articles, some analytical papers, and interviews with European political and business leaders.
Since (according to the author’s bio) Schoen “has been one of the most influential Democratic campaign consultants for over thirty years,” liberals should pay particular attention to his critique of Obama’s policies vis-à-vis Putin’s Russia. For, as the author demonstrates, the chief legacy of Obama’s eight years in office has been to appease Putin and help make post-Soviet Russia much stronger and aggressive than ever before. Schoen is frustrated with Obama’s lack of strategic vision and his refusal to lead the free world, pointing out that the outgoing administration’s “leading from behind” has simply been a case of no leadership.
The author minces no words when he describes as naïve, imprudent, and ill-conceived Obama’s decision to scrap the Bush-era missile shield in Central Europe, attempts to appease the Kremlin by launching the “reset,” and refusal to offer Ukraine any meaningful, lethal assistance (primarily weapons). Schoen even refers to Obama’s complacency in the face of Putin’s increasingly expansionistic designs to seize control of the Arctic and its vast energy reserves as “criminal.” He is also very critical of Obama’s legacy-motivated nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, as Schoen reminds us, is an ally of Moscow, which supports Tehran to undermine our interests. In other words, Barack Obama was Putin’s chief enabler and, even after the inevitable failure of the “reset” and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has further encouraged the Kremlin by his weak and indecisive response. No wonder that the Russian leadership has referred to Obama’s time in office as a golden opportunity — “furtochka Obama” (the Obama window of opportunity) — to further its geostrategic agenda.
The weakest and most problematic sections ofPutin’s Master Plan deal with Syria and Moscow’s political “proxies” in Europe.
In the case of Syria, Schoen cleaves to the conventional liberal/neocon anti-Assad line. Our enemies, Moscow and Tehran, support Assad, ergo we should seek to topple him by supporting the anti-Assad rebels and to treat him as an enemy on par with ISIS. In fact, he claims, Putin and Assad have directed most of their military efforts against the rebels while largely leaving ISIS alone. The problem here is that no one really knows for certain who is who among the “rebels,” many of whom (60% according to one British think-tank) are radical Islamists not very different from Al-Qaeda or ISIS. However, Schoen is certainly correct when he urges Washington to offer greater support to the Kurds — even if that irritates Ankara (after all, Erdogan is hardly a friend of the United States).
Part of Putin’s strategy in Europe, Schoen continues, is to cultivate both left-and-right-wing “proxies” to undermine NATO and the EU. Linking the two is already problematic, for one can be simultaneously anti-EU and pro-NATO. Schoen does not appear to believe so, however, for he depicts Britain’s “Brexit” as somehow beneficial to Putin’s designs in Europe … as if the UK was ditching the NATO alliance. What Schoen calls the Kremlin’s “proxies” include Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain on the radical left, as well as the French National Front (FN), the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and Hungary’s governing Fidesz on the Euro-skeptic nationalist right.
However, portraying anti-EU and anti-Islamic-immigration movements as mere pawns and collaborators of the Kremlin is a misleading oversimplification; just as labeling Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, Putin’s “puppet” is a gross distortion. Some European nationalist-populist movements are admittedly working with Moscow — and that is a problem and a cause for concern — but they are undoubtedly pursing their national interests (as they perceive them) in an alliance of convenience with Russia, not simply following directives (like the old communist parties). This collaboration is much less a product of Putinophilia or some alleged “fascist” inclinations, and much more a reaction to globalist liberalism of the Western trans-Atlantic elites, mass immigration (including the deluge of refugees), open borders, cultural and moral libertinism, and various other excesses of the radical left. The sooner Western talking heads stop pretending they don’t understand this reality, the better.
Last but not least, Schoen completely fails to mention the highly suspicious Smolensk Plane Crash of April 2010 — which claimed the lives of Poland’s pro-American president and ninety-five additional members of the country’s patriotic elite — and which bears numerous suspicious signs of KGB-style foul play. Given that the author mentioned the shooting down of MH17 by the Russians several times, why not revisit the case of Smolensk?
Putin’s Master Plan offers a list of suggestions to stop the Kremlin’s offensive. The U.S. must strengthen its military and modernize its nuclear arsenal. America and her European allies should pursue energy independence and diversification to wean Europe off dependence on Putin’s energy blackmail. Thus, Schoen supports fracking, U.S. exports to Europe, and greater energy cooperation by Europeans themselves. America must also pay attention to and halt Moscow’s expansionism in the Arctic. In Central and Eastern Europe, the U.S. must once again assume leadership of NATO (whose European members have to start contributing their fair share to the alliance) and welcome such threatened former captive nations as Ukraine and Georgia into its fold, regardless of Russian objections — after all, they are sovereign nations who have the right to decide their own future without Moscow’s interference. NATO expansion must also be backed up by permanent US/NATO military bases in vulnerable frontline nations, such as Poland and the Baltics. Only a tough and determined stand, Schoen believes, can deter Putin.
Paweł Styrna is a Ph.D student in Russian history at a DC area university. He holds two MA degrees, one in modern European and Russian history (University of Illinois at Chicago) and another in statecraft international affairs (Institute of World Politics in Washington DC). Mr. Styrna is also a Eurasia analyst for the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.