Putin’s recent lament about the fall of the tyrannical-Soviet system as the "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century" received only passing notice within the general press. This misguided view is not only tragic but also potentially dangerous for the millions in Russia whose freedoms are under attack daily, in addition to hundreds of millions of others around the world whose futures are at risk because of Putin’s policies. If one is to understand the implications of Putin’s statements for the future, one must look to history in addition to events unfolding outside of Russia.
To understand Putin, including his view of government and the role of State, one must remember the situation present in Russia at the beginning of his professional life. Following the removal Khrushchev in the Sixties, Brezhnev allowed the diffusion of control away from the position of Secretary General of the Soviet Union to the "power ministries." At the time in the 1970’s when Putin joined the KGB, which was under the leadership of Andropov, these ministries and in some respects, the Soviet Union itself was at the height of power. From this pinnacle Putin was witness to the decline and fall of Soviet system that many of his generation blame on the liberalization within the Soviet Union. With this came the accompanying loss of the privileges enjoyed by the elite, of which Putin was a member, and the loss of power on the world stage. This power was based on the amoral application of fear oppression and violence, which the Soviet leadership misunderstood to be respect.
With this history in mind it is easy to see why Putin would be nostalgic for a time when he and his fellow elites were veritable masters of their world. It also explains why, Putin has been systematically dismantling many of the freedoms that were won by the Russian people because he likely blames these liberties for the decline of Russia’s strength and its position of ‘respect’ in the world. Putin seems to believe that by looking back he can move Russia forward, unfortunately, not only do these domestic policies, which include curtailing basic liberties while centralizing more control in the Kremlin, have grave repercussions for the Russian populace, but the evolving foreign policy portion of the Putin worldview presents dangerous challenges to the U.S., its allies and even Russia itself.
The most obvious, but apparently ignored challenge to the U.S. from this neo-Soviet policy is a growing cooperation between China and Russia. This cooperation has included the signing of the treaty creating the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO in June 2001 followed a month later by the bilateral "treaty of good neighborliness and friendly cooperation."
Comprised of almost every nation from the former Soviet Union in Central Asia together with China, Russia, and Mongolia, the SCO is perhaps the most dangerous organization that the American people have never heard of. Although the SCO does not currently possess the same nature as the Warsaw Pact, it is not as its apologists claim purely an economic organization with limited military characteristics. By its own post September 11th definition its purpose is to fight the "three evils" of separatism, extremism, and terrorism, however, considering the nature of some of the member states the actual definition of those "three evils" is extraordinarily loose. This includes the Chinese leaderships policies in Tibet, Xinjian, Hong Kong, and Macao, as well as the obsessive desire to extinguish the freedom, democracy, and sovereignty of Taiwan whose existence the PRC view as examples of extremism, separatism, and continuously labels any attempt by Taiwan to defend itself as terrorism. In one ironic yet fitting twists the regional anti-terrorism center of the SCO in Uzbekistan is known by the acronym RATS.
Under the formal structure of the SCO, the senior leaders from all the ministries of the member countries, including the heads of state/government, meet at least once a year to increase cooperation and coordination. An additional concern for the U.S. and our allies is the potential future inclusion of Iran in this organization, particularly since one of the programs of the SCO is the linking of the road systems in the region, which would ease the transportation of all manner of dangerous goods between the world's leading state sponsor terrorism and the communist régime of China which views the proliferation of WMD and ballistic missile technology as an extension of diplomacy. These road systems could potentially place such shipments out of the reach of the U.S. under the existing efforts of the Proliferation Security Initiative.
More worrisome than the SCO however, is the bilateral treaty between the Russia and China. Although this is often dismissed by those who either can’t or don’t wish to deal with the implications of a growing Sino-Russian relationship, the July 2001 treaty has some strong language that cannot be denied. Article nine of the treaty reads as follows:
When a situation arises in which one of the contracting parties deems that peace is being threatened and undermined or its security interests are involved or when it is confronted with the threat of aggression, the contracting parties shall immediately hold contacts and consultations in order to eliminate such threats.
Perhaps the most chilling portion is the last words of that provision, particularly if one compares it to the second paragraph of article three from the Warsaw Pact which is analogous to Article 5 of the NATO treaty:
They [the contracting parties] shall immediately consult with one another whenever, in the opinion of any one of them a threat of armed attack on one or more the Parties to the Treaty has arisen in order to ensure joint defense and the maintenance of peace and security.
This language from the Warsaw Pact was the basis of nightmares during the Cold War, and yet it is civil when compared to the bold assertion that China and Russia will, when they deem it appropriate to their definitions of peace and security, hold "consultations in order to eliminate such threats."
It appears that Putin somehow believes that the post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relationship is governed by the same zero-sum paradigm as it was during the Cold War. This together with Russia’s apparent nihilistic approach to the current global position of the United States has led Russia to becoming China’s arsenal of tyranny.
If Putin and the Kremlin leadership cannot see the dangerous path that they are on, after all this time Moscow would be in the subservient position to Beijing, it will continue in the direction of creating an extremely dangerous situation for Russia, the United States and the world. Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to clearly explain to Russia that if it continues to undermine the very domestic institutions and freedoms, which provide the only potential for raising Russia up, while at the same time arming and strengthen the Chinese, that Russia may one day awake to find its Far East and its natural resources have become the sovereign territory of China while whatever remains of Russia is nothing more than a client to China forced to follow orders from Beijing.