Russian Rubicon: Impending Checkmate of the West
by Joseph Stroupe
Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's potential to
regain genuine global power has been discounted by many as a
conspiracy theory or a remnant of Cold War mentality. With
world leaders transfixed on the rise of China, Russia has
been relegated to the category of a spent force.
Strategic-forecasting expert and Asia Times Online
contributor Joseph Stroupe's new book goes against the tide
of Western smugness and makes a brilliant case for
up and taking notice of how the Russian bear is
opportunistically wrestling to divest the United States of
its world hegemony.
Notwithstanding disarming public proclamations, Russia is
cutting into US interests around the planet, rolling back
"color revolutions" in the post-Soviet space and allying
with key powers in Asia, Europe and the Americas that are
inimical to Washington. Using the "energy trump card",
Moscow is constructing a dense network of like-minded states
that is coalescing into a rival pole to counterbalance the
Stroupe begins with the realist views of history that
unipolarity is a "passing anomaly", an aberration that
cannot be sustained by the international system. The
"Anglo-American Empire" is partly strong and partly weak, "a
mixture of iron and clay". (p 24) Dissenting liberal
ideologies such as democracy and human rights prevent Pax
Americana from following in the footsteps of earlier
empires and imposing outright conservative colonial
Moreover, Stroupe maintains, Russia was only temporarily
thwarted in 1991 and is now mounting a second challenge as
the US stock of global goodwill declines swiftly. "Since the
Serbia air campaign in 1999, the gap between America's image
of power and real power has become a chasm, providing
opportunity for rivals to displace it from the geopolitical
center." (p 44)
Russia's organization of the anti-Iraq-war bloc in 2003 is
one manifestation of the new "complex lopsided bipolarity",
with the US on one side and a "rising multifarious East"
with Russia as the core on the other. "Thinking Russia" is
attempting neither to re-create the Soviet Empire nor to
threaten its neighbors with military intervention. Instead,
it is weaving around itself a collective power bloc "of
truly unprecedented structure, proportions and influence".
(p 50) This bloc will end US hegemony by multi-layered
economic and diplomatic means in the arena of competition
for control over strategic resources.
Stroupe discerns a clear pattern in Russia's recent
diplomacy whereby crude oil, gas or other strategic minerals
play a central role in every relationship it cultivates.
This applies to thickening ties with China, Venezuela,
Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Spain, Algeria, Turkey,
South Africa and the Central Asian states. To scatter and
disintegrate Russia's bloc, the US attempts
"democratization" (alias pro-Western regime changes).
However, the color revolutions are backfiring, and the
"China model" of rapid economic growth without political
freedoms is becoming the norm among energy-rich states of
the world. In spite of the 2003 "Rose Revolution" in
Georgia, Moscow still dictates to Tbilisi through its gas
monopoly. Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" failed to stem
Kiev's return to Russia's yard owing to Moscow's oil-and-gas
leverage. To battle the United States' economic pressures,
Russia's central bank has diversified 50% of its
foreign-exchange reserves to non-dollar denominations and
set the example for other states to desert the US dollar.
Stroupe insists that "multipolarity" in the international
system is a misnomer because lesser poles tend to align with
or orbit greater ones, causing power to converge around two
principal poles only. The result is a complex
circumambulation of lesser powers around the "Russia-China
axis" that will soon outdo but not annihilate the
Anglo-American pole. Moscow and Beijing's joint efforts to
gather around themselves key global exporters of minerals,
oil and gas are leading the world to "uneven bipolarity". (p
In the security sphere, Russia has developed a wide array of
sophisticated weapons systems that are relatively
inexpensive but "smart" enough to withstand a US military
onslaught. Supersonic land-attack and anti-ship cruise
missiles, laser-guided anti-tank weapons, nuclear-capable
torpedoes, ultra-quiet submarines and other strategic arms
that can dodge Washington's anti-ballistic-missile shield
are already in Russia's arsenal.
They "limit US ability to project military power in various
places in the event of a crisis" (p 97) and have been
proving effective in the Iraqi resistance since 2003. The
Sunni-dominated Iraqi insurgency against the US occupation
is equipped with Russian arms technologies funneled through
Syria and Iran.
Diplomatically, Russia leads a host of like-minded states at
the United Nations in opposing unilateralism and preventing
the formation of pro-US "coalitions of the willing" that can
share costs of invasion and occupation with Washington. The
subsequent failure of the United States in Iraq has
increased international reluctance to be a deep strategic
partner with Washington. Contraction of US influence leaves
a vacuum that Russia and its partners are filling.
Fatal weaknesses in the US economy - deep indebtedness,
deficits, slowing growth, plunging currency and real-estate
bubbles - are transferring massive wealth to powerful
economies in Asia through high energy prices and cheap
exports. "The world is no longer forced to look for its
fortunes within the old US-centric order." (p 181)
Central banks around the world are accumulating reserves in
euros and precious metals and abstaining from buying US
dollars. Diminishing US access to oil and gas contrasts with
a bewildering web of Russian agreements with
energy-producing countries that aims to achieve an "economic
encirclement of the West." (p 131) The fundamental decay in
the US economy is expediting the ascendance of the
The Iran-US standoff has great geopolitical stakes for
Russia and China. For Moscow, "the US must actually be
stopped somewhere, and Iran is the red line". (p 152)
Russian radars, weapon systems and missiles in Iranian and
Syrian possession can complicate any US or Israeli attack.
Iran's leadership claim over the Middle East is being
"sponsored by greater powers rivaling the US". (p 162)
Stroupe predicts that "if the US militarily strikes Iran,
geopolitical forfeiture to Russia-China would be the
unavoidable result". (p 163) It would trigger even higher
oil and gas prices and hand Moscow a huge economic windfall.
In East Asia, ongoing realignments of South Korea and Japan
toward Russia on the basis of energy security and
multilateralism are thinning America's hold. Stroupe remarks
that "axis of evil" crises drive a wedge between US allies
and shift power to the Russia-China pole. Moscow and Beijing
use Iran, Syria and North Korea as proxies to undermine
Since 2000, Japanese, South Korean and Southeast Asian
exports to China have been galloping while those to the US
are stagnating. Two-thirds of China's exports are heading
now to non-US destinations even as domestic Chinese
consumption increases its share in the country's overall
Stroupe sends a chilling message that if economic warfare
ever broke out between the US and China, the latter could
cause an accelerated Asian exit from the dollar to other
currencies while the former's dependence on cheap imports
would leave it with no ability to retaliate with tariffs or
embargoes on Chinese commodities.
Russia's core strength lies in its marshaling of oil and gas
alliances. Through state-owned Gazprom and Transneft, Moscow
is extending its sway over strategic energy resources far
beyond its borders and forming a "de facto multinational
confederation with global reach" that is different from a
typical cartel. The confederation is cohesive and
self-sufficient, comprising both producer states and
consumer states, with Russia as the underwriter.
The producer countries in this confederation are
"resource-based corporate states" with domestic political
repression similar to that in Russia and China. The
confederation supports preferred markets and customers and
excludes the liberal West. Energy-based cross-investment
between producer and consumer states cements the internal
unity of the confederation. For instance, the Russo-German
Baltic Sea pipeline is heavily financed by Berlin, but
Russia also invests in German gas companies.
From Russia's standpoint, the inordinate advantages afforded
to the West in prior energy agreements with producer states
are obsolete. In President Vladimir Putin's words, "No
one-sided solutions will be accepted." (p 235) For producer
states, the current US-backed global oil-market arrangement
is less preferable to the solid guarantee of stable and
reliable demand offered by reverting to the pre-1973
state-to-state long-term supply contracts. Nervous consumer
states such as China and India are also keen on abandoning
the US-benefiting global market and pursuing the Russian-run
assured supply route.
State-to-state energy agreements are politically hued and
help Russia "cheat the American constellation of its stars".
(p 271) Stroupe credits New Delhi-Beijing energy cooperation
to Moscow's facilitation, as "deterioration in Sino-Indian
relations is a regional catastrophe for Russia". (p 252)
Significantly, Russia couples arms sales with energy
supplies to clients either to crush indigenous opposition or
to withstand invasion by the US.
Perched atop the new confederation, if ever provoked, Russia
will be able to "single out the US for a targeted oil
embargo", devastating the latter's already emasculated
economy. Putin's moves to launch a new oil-and-mineral
bourse denominated in the ruble will also amplify the
dollar's calamitous fall.
Stroupe concludes that reliance on foreign supply of
strategic resources is the Achilles' heel of the
Anglo-American pole as well as the lever to power for the
Russian-led confederation. Since China-India cooperation is
a crucial requirement for the confederation to stand up to
the US, he reasons that New Delhi's "economic interests and
fortunes lie much more with its Asian and Russian partners
than with the US". (p 308) Washington lacks the cards to
lure either producer states or Asian consumer states such as
India away from the Russian camp. The writing on the wall is
thus an epitaph for unipolarity.
Though logically sound in its thesis, Stroupe's book could
do with some qualifications. First, the impression that
Russia and China have absolutely no domestic economic flaws
that can mar their march to match the US is erroneous.
Russia still has a huge underclass (more than 20%) of
impoverished people and enormous income inequalities that
threaten social stability. China's banking system is
moribund, and its regionally unbalanced growth has implosive
Second, how much of the Sino-Indian strategic rivalry can be
subsumed by synergies in the field of energy? Internal
divisions within a loosely structured "confederation" are
bound to exist, especially due to the abiding grip of
nationalism and differing attitudes toward the US.
The anti-Americanism of some of the confederation's
adherents is evident, but others such as Saudi Arabia and
Turkey could be fifth columnists of Washington to sabotage
the second pole. Stroupe excels in warning not to
underestimate Russia, but he should not totally
underestimate the defender of unipolarity.
Russian Rubicon: Impending Checkmate of the West by
Joseph Stroupe. Global Events Magazine, 2006. ISBN:
0-9789068-0-2. Price: US$21.95, 319 pages.
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