Why is Russia Trying to Provoke the US Military Into a Confrontation, with Near Collisions on Sea, Air and Land?
It's economy is so weak, what is left for Russia to do but collide with US military vehicles in Syria, and chase jets in the Black Sea?
September 3, 2020
A dangerous vehicle collision between U.S and Russian soldiers in Northeastern Syria on August 24 injured 4 US soldiers. On August 28th, Russian Air Force Jets flew within 100 feet of a US F-35 Fighter in the Black Sea. In June of 2019, an American guided-missile cruiser and a Russian destroyer came within 165 feet of each other in the East China Sea. The USS Chancellorsville was forced to wave off a chopper that had been preparing to land and reverse all engines at full throttle to avoid a potential collision .
These incidents shed light on the fragile relationship between Russia and the United States. Clearly these are not accidents or negligence. Rather, they show a "Broad test of wills between the two major powers,"
The National Security council released a statement saying the vehicle struck by the Russians was a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) and that Russia's behavior was "a breach of deconfliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019." If you assume that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a mad man, what then is his game?
Russia sees itself as a great power. Indeed, geographically, it is, commanding 18% of the Earth's land area, three times as much as the US or China. Its population of 252,000 is smaller than the US population, and its economy isn't even 1/10th as big.
Putin has inherited the reigns of a country that is more of a clay giant than a superpower, and he knows it. All that is left for him is bluster, and what better target than the US.
Russia has taken on as client states some of the world's pariah regimes, including Iran, North Korea, and Syria. For example, Russia's government in August accused the Trump administration of attempting to provoke a war with Iran, calling recent U.S. actions in the Middle East "reckless."
Imagine yourself trying to project power when the economic statistics do not support your claim to be a super power. What is left for you to do but collide with US military vehicles in Syria, and chase jets in the Bering Strait? The U.S. has retained its position of being the world's largest economy since 1871. The size of the U.S. economy was at $20.58 trillion in 2018 in nominal terms and is expected to reach $22.32 trillion in 2020. The U.S. is an economic superpower, because the economy constitutes almost a quarter of the global economy, backed by advanced infrastructure, technology, and an abundance of natural resources.
Russia, the largest country on Earth in terms of landmass, is the 11th-largest economy in the world, with a nominal GDP of $1.63 trillion. Russia moves up the ladder to the sixth spot for rankings, with a $4.21 trillion GDP based on PPP.
The dependence of the Russian economy on oil was exposed during the 2008–2009 global financial crisis and eventually again in 2014. The situation worsened with the imposition of sanctions by the West. The economy contracted by 0.2% in 2016, however, it rebounded with a 1.5% growth in 2017. IMF projects a growth of 1.7% and 1.5% during 2018 and 2019, respectively.
"Pity the poor Russians, the heirs to Byzantium in an era dominated by the descendants of Rome," wrote Historian Richard Pipes. It's difficult to project confidence and act like a great power in the shadow of the US. US Military planners realize that the Russians are just trying to show their allies that they are worthy of an alliance, and the economic benefits that come with it, through incidents like the one's we have discussed.
How should the US react? As it has, pretty much. With condemnation, comments about Russian military unprofessionalism, and little else. At the end of the day, the US has little to fear from the Russians, and military planners need to focus on the rising threat from China's People's Liberation Army, or PLA. This is the real future threat to US military dominance, not Russia.
Video of the near collision involving the USS Chancellorsville on June 6 2019: https://youtu.be/0BGbbAeuAvQ