2020: From the Middle East to the Baltics: Geopolitical forecasts in light of US-Iran conflict

Political experts are divided in their geopolitical forecasts for 2020, with opinions differing on the direction and dynamism: from a global nuclear war to Belarus becoming part of the Russian-initiated Union State. But one thing the majority of experts can agree on is that this will be an eventful year.

With experts I mean mainly those Russian political experts and bloggers who were forced to emigrate to escape repressions and who are well informed about the situation in Russia and are able to maintain objectivity. To name a few:

Andrei Piontkovsky (Андрей Пионтковский) – Russian mathematician and journalist, who in 2016 emigrated to the U.S. to flee repressions; currently considered one of the most prominent experts on US-Russia relations; a critic of Donald Trump.

Aleksandr Sotnik (Александр Сотник) – journalist and blogger; a fierce critic of Putin’s regime.

Aleksandr Kushnar (Александр Кушнарь).

Blogs and interviews of these people can be found on YouTube by searching their names in Russian.

I would like to mention an interview featuring the recently popular political analyst Valery Solovei (Соловей, Валерий Дмитриевич) published on 10 January on his YouTube channel. Solovei has a PhD in history and he is a former lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He is believed to be an “insider”, i.e. someone who has connections in Russia’s ruling elite – the elite that from time to time and for reasons known only to them like to leak information.

Some readers may struggle with the Russian language or may not want to watch an hour-long interview, so we will outline the key moments and give my own assessment.

The interview discusses Russia and its nearest geopolitical goals in the context of the conflict between US and Iran, arguing that the Middle East will not be the main vector of Russia’s foreign policies and that it will instead focus on post-Soviet states, including Belarus, Ukraine and the three Baltic nations as NATO members, while the conflict in the Middle East will be used by Russia to reach its objectives in Europe. I mentioned NATO when talking about the Baltic states because this, as you will see, is crucial.

How exactly does the US-Iran conflict benefit the Kremlin?

Initially, there were hopes that the conflict between both nations will develop and that the U.S. will get seriously “stuck” there, thus giving the Kremlin freedom to operate in Eastern Europe. This was not the case, because the Iranian government understands that engaging in an open conflict can result in the deaths of specific persons, and no bunkers will save them. Therefore, Russia initiated plan “B” – to assume the role of a mediator and maybe even attempt to convince Iran in the long run to give up its nuclear program.

Solovei argues that the idea of Iran’s mock missile attack against U.S. bases to exact its “terrible revenge” for the assassination of Qasem Solemaini belongs to the Kremlin. As they say – this way, the wolf is fed and the sheep are alive. The thought of Iran halting its nuclear program is not as unreal as it seems, considering that Israel will not allow the emergence of such weapons in a country that has declared the destruction of Israel its primary goal. We can assume that sooner or later Iran’s ayatollahs will understand that the sanctions will only get worse along with increasing internal unrest.

Secondly, it is suspected that Russia has helped Iran with its nuclear program, for instance, by not asking Iran to return nuclear fuel – which was supplied by Russia for the needs of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant – as stipulated by international law (nuclear fuel that has been enriched in centrifuges can be used to create nuclear weapons).

Why does Russia wish to be the mediator? As Solovei explains, Russia wants to wield the trump card against Trump so it can freely act in Eastern Europe. If this is true, it means the Kremlin is making the same mistake again because of the mentality of the ruling elite – the nation is run by a single person or a small group that do not care about anyone else.

I remember after Trump was elected Moscow celebrated with champagne, but in return came under sanctions, its mercenaries were shot in Syria and the U.S. retained control over the oil fields there and the Nord Stream project got delayed. Keep in mind that Trump may not be elected for the second term and the U.S. Constitution cannot be amended as required. Moreover, the U.S. Congress can remove the president if it deems his actions threaten national security. Everyone has an opinion of Trump, but he has certainly remained faithful to his campaign promise – America first.

What else does Russia gain from its presence in the region? According to Solovei, the opportunity to control processes and, if necessary, to escalate conflicts, thus inevitably increasing the flow of refugees to Europe and creating problems so severe that everyone will forget about Article 5 of NATO. Solovei calls this using the demographic factor as an element of hybrid warfare. In the case of France, for example, this is not even necessary, considering Macron’s statements about the “brain death” of NATO. Some say that on the streets of Paris you can see dark-skinned people more frequently than Europeans and that there are areas in the city that even the police are afraid to go to.

Angela Merkel has given in to the pressure of lobbyists and is willing to sit on the pins and needles of Russian gas, covering 30 and more percent of its gas consumption with Russian gas, despite NATO, which Germany is part of, regarding Russia as its number one strategic enemy. Meanwhile, Putin is scheming how to dismantle the Alliance from within not firing a single shot – and he is not even attempting to hide it. It should be noted that Poland plans to cease using Russian gas starting with 2023. Will it really be that the Poles will have shown greater foresight than the Germans?

Control over processes in the region allows Kremlin to affect oil prices in the global market, because in the case of any escalation oil prices automatically rise.

What concerns the refugee invasion of Europe, an article on Pietiek comes to mind – it was published on the website in 2015, when Russia’s activities in Syria were in their initial stage.

The article presents an identical view to his regarding the division of the EU and NATO.

Speaking of the Kremlin’s plans for post-Soviet states, Solovei stresses that Russia’s presence in the Baltics will most likely be nothing like the 1940 scenario with occupation or annexation. He does not outline the possible chain of events, but states that the Kremlin does not intend to be physically present in the region, and instead wants to erode faith in Article 5 of NATO that will bring about a non-violent death of the Alliance.

The possible scenarios for the Baltic states is a topic for a separate article. But elements of hybrid warfare are multifaceted, and information warfare is one if its most efficient tools. The primary objective of information warfare is to force the population to lose faith in the state, by making one part of the public against it and the other to become apathetic.

Augusts Augustiņš, Reserve Sergeant of the Latvian National Guard, especially for The Baltic Word

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