Was I right on Russia?

Russian consulate in Svalbard, which looks like my kid built it out of Legos. From The Barents Observer.

Russia continues to make big news that stays under the wave tops of COVID-19 news. I’ve written about Russia many times in the past, and made a few predictions:

I’ve also said that Russia would never give up footholds in Ukraine and Georgia. So, how is that playing out? Sadly, I’m not far off.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is facing a spread of COVID-19 in its country. Who has lined up to help? Russia, of course. They’ve done this while trying to find ways to boost Turkmenistan’s economy, all while Turkmenistan gets closer to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which is Russia’s stand-in for the USSR.

Belarus

Belarus recently arrested a number of Russians that it accuses of inciting riots ahead of its 8 August election. Not surprisingly, Russia asked those people be released. There was in fact a large rise in the democratic movement that seeks to unseat the 5-term Belarussian President Lukashenko. With a soon-to-be contested election and shared border with Russia, what could go wrong?

Svalbard

Russia has started the messaging train once again for Svalbard, this time demanding that Norway comply with Russian demands on Svalbard. Which they still call Spitsbergen, just to make the Norwegians angry.

Georgia

Russia continues to manufacture a “border crisis” in Georgia. It’s slowly stopping any aid from reaching the breakaway sections while not removing troops in accordance with the cease fire.

Russia isn’t pulling any “crazy Ivan” moves. It knows that the US and Europe just don’t care enough (with the exception of Norway in Svalbard) about Georgia, Belarus and Turkmenistan. If Americans can barely find these places on a map, they certainly won’t care enough to risk their sons and daughters in the military to save them. In truth, if we want to stop this, we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to go to war with Russia to save some territory in Georgia. And because the Russians think we won’t, they aren’t likely to stop taking that territory.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

Russia’s next move: Svalbard

Abandoned Russian mining town on Svalbard
By Bjoertvedt – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

We will continue to watch Russia divide up Ukraine into pieces until it is essentially Russian territory, and as I previously noted, don’t be surprised when Russia moves into Central Asia. But for anyone that thinks Russia will hesitate against a NATO ally, I say, look to Norway. Because it is here that Russia is beginning its information drumbeat to take territory.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide and Justic Minister Monica Maeland wrote an op-ed in VG titled “Svalbard Treaty 100 Years.” The discussion focused on a resource discussion, because while the treaty gave Svalbard to Norway, it allowed treaty signatories rights to fishing, hunting, and mineral resources. At the time, the Soviet Union continued to call the island Spitsbergen and kept repeating the claim they had discovered it first.

Flash forward, and Russia responded to the op-ed on the news site E24. First they claimed that Norway was ignoring their concerns over Spitsbergen. They also point out that Svalbard “is not originally Norwegian territory,” and that only Russia and Norway have commercial interests on the island. Russia operates a defunct coal mine on the island, which loses money every year, simply to maintain this claim.

If this sounds like Ukraine and Georgia, you’re catching on. While we might be a bit far away from a Russia land-grab on Svalbard, we are in the setup phase. I see Russia first making claims that Svalbard is a Russia-Norway issue. They don’t want NATO involved, and since the treaty was made before NATO, they’ll use that as a wedge to keep other countries out. Then we’ll start seeing stories about Norwegian “atrocities” against the approximately 400 Russians that live on the island. As a side bonus, we might see Russia make claims that the tourism is causing negative climate change, so only someone that cares about the environment like Russia should be in charge.

While not on the same level as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Russia has found an opening in Norway, and it will settle in for a long fight to take away territory and chip at the NATO alliance.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.