Russia playing the spoiler

Kazakhstan…as always, squished.

The news broke recently about Russian President Putin meeting with Kim Jong Un to discuss peace on the Korean peninsula. That move is less about peace on the peninsula and more about denying President Trump a foreign policy victory in Korea. With upcoming elections, President Trump needs all the wins he can muster, and Korean peace was shaping up to be a big win.

But Russia won’t just strike here. We’ve seen them move into Venezuela to thwart overthrowing the dictator, again, to protect Russian interests and keep Trump from a win. NATO, specifically the Baltic States and Turkey, are obvious targets. Circumventing the Iranian Nuclear Sanctions isn’t a surprise either. But what’s next? I think we should be watching closely for Russian interference in Palestine, Libya and Kazakhstan next.

Palestine

Trump is betting big on a new Israel-Palestine peace. In typical Trump fashion, he took a deadlocked situation and shook things up, moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and confirming Israeli claims to the Golan Heights. Most of the backroom dealings have stayed out of the news, which is probably a good thing, since early disclosures tend to radicalize people and close off avenues for negotiations.

Russia doesn’t want a peace deal. Not only would it allow Israel to shift more focus to Syria, but as Israel normalizes relationships, Syria could be left more isolated once a common enemy is removed. So Russia is proposing a different deal. It’s starting to crack the news, but expect details to emerge as the year progresses. I’d also expect the Russians to pay off people to deadlock anything America is doing.

Libya

What Libya really is…image from Wikipedia

Libya was never really one country. It’s more like three countries (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan) lumped together by Italy. So it’s no surprise that unless a dictator or powerful government is in charge that the region breaks out into civil war. The downside is that the US is blamed for causing the problem in the first place, so any continuing problem is a downcheck for America.

Although the current LNA head is American-trained General Khalifa Haftar, Russia is working to swing his loyalty in other ways. Still angry about the loss of $4 Billion in weapons deals from picking the wrong side during the 2011 conflict, Russia is pumping money and weapons into Haftar’s forces. Likely Haftar and the LNA will consolidate the House of Representative (HoR) government’s (representing what used to be Cyrenaica) power over all of Libya. Since Haftar will be the main hero for winning the war, Russia is hoping to downplay US influence and get back into the business of selling plenty of weapons to Libya, which in the long term will reduce US influence in the region.

Kazakhstan

Wedged between China and Russia, Kazakhstan has had to play off both sides while asserting its independence. Russia continued to make claims that Kazakhstan really belonged to Russia, which is scary when you consider what’s happened to Ukraine. So Kazakhstan was quick to cozy up to China when it offered its “One Belt-One Road” initiative. China’s detention of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, most of whom are ethnic Kazakhs, isn’t winning it many favors. Kazakhstan is now between a rock and a hard place, with two great powers potentially vying to carve up its territory.

To make matters worse, its long time dictator just stepped down. Now the country has real elections for the first time in 30 years. Who happens to be great at tampering with elections? Russia of course! Although in this case, it’s less about stopping a US gain and more about trying to check Chinese power. Interestingly, one has to ask: is it in the US’s best interest to support Russia in Kazakhstan to offset China?

So instead of watching more lame news about the fake Russian collusion and touchy-feely Joe Biden running for President, I would argue you should look for where Russia is going to push a narrative next. It’s part of their grand plan to both limit US influence and establish itself as a great power on the world stage. And it is far, far more interesting than any news being reported on now.

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.