Twenty years after Perestroika, Gorbachev lamented that his concessions -- rather than creating more peace and harmony -- had produced a "winner's complex" among the American political elite. Gorbachev had envisioned for post-Soviet Russia a social democracy similar to the Scandinavian nations. What actually followed were a series of brutal "free market" reforms engineered by technocrats from the Chicago school of economics. It took decades for Russia to regain some semblance of stability. Now that it has -- and despite the vanished pretext of an ideological battle between capitalism and communism -- the Cold War is back with a vengeance.
When Gorbachev allowed for the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet Union, he was promised by George H.W. Bush that NATO would not expand "one inch to the east." Instead, NATO has expanded to much of the world -- including Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, the Baltic and Central Asia. Coinciding with these aggressive policies of expansion and encirclement, the US has insisted on establishing anti-missile systems in Poland designed to eliminate Russia's nuclear deterrent.
The theoretical basis behind America's treatment of post-Soviet Russia crosses party lines. Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defence under George W. Bush, wrote in Defence Planning Guidance(1992): "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere." Similarly, Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard that control of Eurasia -- to the exclusion of Russia -- is the key factor in ensuring American primacy .
In February 2014, the democratically elected albeit corrupt government of Ukraine was overthrown in a right-wing putsch supported by the United States, prompting Vladimir Putin to engineer a referendum in Crimea allowing for its annexation into Russia. Long before the crisis, and in response to previous provocations on Russia's borders, Putin delivered a speech to the Kremlin in which he stated:
Their [U.S.] defence budget in absolute figures is almost 25 times bigger than Russia's. This is what in defence is referred to as 'their home -- their fortress'. Clever"Very clever. But this means that we also need to build our home and make it strong and well protected. We see, after all, what is going on in the world. Comrade Wolf knows whom to eat, as the saying goes. It knows whom to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems.
In Putin's portrayal of America as a ravenous wolf we see an echo of Bakunin's maxim that states must "devour lest [they] be devoured."
The desire by Russian leaders to retain control of their Black Sea port in Crimea and to project power into neighbouring (hostile, NATO-affiliated) states is a classic expression of the cordon sanitaire or "quarantine line." In state-craft, the term is defined as a protective barrier against a potentially aggressive nation or dangerous influence.
Putin has not been without his own forays into military violence, such as the brutal subjugation of Chechnya in the mid-90"s (during which the capital, Grozny, was largely reduced to rubble). Nevertheless, the Russian leader has focussed most of his attention on building economic alliances, most notably that of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Following the first BRICS summit in 2009, member nations called for a new global reserve currency (rather than the US dollar) that would be "diversified, stable and predictable."
Apart from the small matter of nuclear weapons, it is in the economic realm that Russia is considered most dangerous. Russia provides the European Union with about a third of its gas, remains one of Germany's largest trading partners, and is currently arranging a massive natural gas supply deal with China.
In the same way that NATO has attempted to encircle Russia, the Pentagon's "Asia pivot" seeks to quarantine China militarily. China has responded by announcing a new Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea, overlapping disputed territories with Japan. In April, the US established a new "Defence" pact with the Philippines.
Russia and China have repeatedly vetoed US-sponsored Security Council Resolutions that would have allowed for the "legal" bombing of Syria (which houses one of Russia's last foreign military bases outside of the former Soviet Union). But this has not prevented the United States from attempting to subvert the Syrian government through semi-covert means. The CIA, the British SAS, Saudi Arabia and NATO member Turkey have been training and supplying Syrian rebels in Jordan since the beginning of the insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Syria, in turn, has a mutual defence pact with Iran.
As always in the recent history of the Middle East, the wild card is Israel.
The destruction of Iran remains Israel's primary foreign policy objective. Though Hezbollah has sensibly warned that an attack against Iran would "set the entire middle east ablaze," Israeli leaders perceive Iran as a potential counter-check to Zionist power. In addition to geopolitical concerns, Israeli leaders embrace a peculiar military strategy known as the "mad dog" doctrine. First articulated by Israeli military leader and politician Moshe Dayan, it calls for Israel to behave "like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother."
The most disturbing manifestation of this strategy is the so-called "Samson option." Named after the biblical character Samson, who pushed apart the pillars of a Philistine temple, thereby killing both himself and his captors, the Samson option calls for destroying much of the world in response to an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld explains: "We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions"We have the capability to take the world down with us."
The Samson option, and Israel's behaviour in general, has led the American political scientist Norman Finkelstein to describe the country as a "lunatic state."