Staunton, VA, October 12, 2016 – Many people have commented on the fact that Vladimir Putin accompanied his announcement that he was suspending a plutonium cooperation agreement with the United States with an ultimatum containing a list of demands that Washington could not possibly be expected to fulfill.
But that list, which included the lifting of all sanctions, the total disarmament of Eastern Europe “and – the icing on the cake – compensation for [Russia’s] losses,” is in fact the key to understanding what is going on, according to Pavel Shipilin, a commentator for the Utro news agency.
What is going on, he continues, is a fundamental shift in the relationship between Russia and the West, from one in which the two sides were at least willing to negotiate to one in which Moscow is going to defend its interests come what may given the increasing weakness displayed by the US, a weakness he says was on display as the West reacted to Putin’s words.
Putin said as much in making his announcement, Shipilin adds, and says that given this shift, “it is strange that Putin did not require that the US return Alaska,” although the commentator quickly points out that “the global conflict is far from finished so that not a few surprises may still be ahead of us,” including perhaps that demand as well.
The Kremlin leader, Shipilin says, specifically said that he had taken the decision on the plutonium issue because of “the radical change of circumstances” and “the threat to stability as a result of unfriendly actions.” And the place to see where that is happening is in Syria.
According to the Utro commentator, on September 20, “three days after the attack by the Americans on Syrian positions,” Russian forces responded by hitting a command post of the Western coalition in Deir-es-Zore, killing 30 officers from the American, Israeli, British, Turkish, Saudi and Qatar intelligence services.
“That is,” Shipilin says, “we completely consciously attacked the military personnel of NATO and its allies, inflicting quite serious losses.” But despite this, the Americans said nothing about this at the time, and neither did Moscow. There is an explanation for these silences and it explains a lot, he continues.
What it reflects is that on September 17, according to Shipilin, NATO coalition forces bombed and killed Russian military personnel during their attack on Syrian government positions. If that is the case, then, the killing of 30 Western intelligence officers was “an act of revenge which the US was forced to swallow and leave without an answer.”
This course of events, Shipilin says, led Putin to conclude that there was nothing more to talk about and to issue an ultimatum which the US could not possibly fulfill. And these actions demonstrate something else, and that is this: “NATO in the eyes of all lost this local battle, although it was an important one for American prestige. The halo of being Great Power No. 1 has disappeared over the US.”
Obviously, Shipilin is only one voice; and his conclusions are not necessarily those of the Kremlin. But to the extent that there are at least some in the upper reaches of the Russian state who think this way, the situation is far more volatile and dangerous than even pessimists in the West have suggested.
When leaders talk like this, they aren’t just engaged in brinksmanship: they are ready to go to war. And consequently, no one should ignore the Shipilins of Russia, including their hyperbolic comments about demanding that the West return Alaska to Russia sometime in the future.