Russia's costly battle with neighbors is causing a strain

Strategy Page:
Ukraine and the “war against NATO” is becoming an expensive distraction for Russia. While Russian backed rebels still hold parts of eastern Ukraine (the Donbas) it is costing Russia a lot of money to support the civilians there and the heavy-handed discipline (assassination and so on) required to keep rebel leaders in line also requires more efforts to keep foreign journalists out. Too many people in Russian occupied Donbas are willing to talk with foreign reporters. In the rest of Ukraine security measures and increasing popular hostility towards Russia has made it more difficult and expensive to carry out covert operations. Making matters worse is the fact that no matter how much Russia threatens Ukraine the Ukrainians become more determined to develop stronger economic, cultural and military ties with nations to the west, especially NATO and the EU (European Union). Every month Ukrainians are reminded that Ukrainian soldiers are still dying while confronting the Russian aggression in Donbas. In June 28 Ukrainian troops died in the east and over 170 were wounded. Since the Russian invasion began in 2014 about 10,000 Ukrainians have died, 70 percent of them civilians.

Ukraine has also suffered from more Russian Cyber War attacks, particularly the recent WannaCry and NotPetya attacks. This has generated a lot of sympathy from hackers for Ukraine, in part because Ukraine has long been home to lots of criminal hackers. Now this hacker underground is quietly providing evidence of how Russian Cyber War operations work and who is involved (along with lots of incriminating details). This is a cost of the Donbas operation that Russia will not admit even exists, yet it surely does and is getting worse. There is no easy way out of this mess for Russia and it seems to keep getting worse.

Further west a new American government has pledged more support for East Europe against Russian aggression and this has led to more orders for American anti-missile systems and all manner of military upgrades for the countries on Russia’s western border. Even Sweden and Finland, which remained neutral during the Cold War, are now joining military alliances with the rest of Europe to better deal with the Russian threat.

The U.S. has long sought to put anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe to protect against ballistic missile attacks from Iran. Russia has opposed this and sees it as a subterfuge to weaken the effect of Russian ballistic missiles attacking European targets. Most Europeans don’t know what to make of that, but East European countries (like Romania) that spent 1945-89 as involuntary Russian vassal (or “satellite”) states, do see a need for protection from Russian missiles.
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China, the only real threat to Russia, quietly makes progress advancing from the east. China has claims on much of the Russian Far East and is openly replacing Russia as the primary economic, military and political force in Central Asia. This area, which used to be part of the Soviet Union, has become an economic and diplomatic battleground for Russia and China and China is winning. This is something Russia doesn’t like to discuss, but among Russians the real threat is from the east, not the west. According to recent reports from the Russian government China has already become the dominant supplier and trading partner with the Central Asian states and is having the same impact on other nations that were part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Russia will allow open discussion of the Chinese economic impact but is rather more sensitive when it comes to the diplomatic implications. China is replacing Russia as the dominant foreign power east of Moscow.
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There is more.

Ukraine may have as big a problem with internal corruption as it does with Russia's "little green men" invasion.  China is also making inroads in what were once large portions of the Soviet Union.

The Russian economy has also been throttled by twin problems of Western sanctions in response to its aggression in Ukraine and the precipitous drop in the price of oil largely because of the US shale revolution.  Its response the latter problem has been to funnel money to Big Green in the US to help them push their anti energy agenda.

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