It is a truism that in 2016 there are only three functionally sovereign countries on the planet: Russia, China, and the International Community. This despite there being more than 190 member states of the United Nations. But I digress.
One of these three sovereign countries is a common topic in dissident spheres for its brash leader and open rejection of Western progressive liberalism. Although China is stepping up purges to oust Western influence, it is Russia that has been the flag-carrier since Vladimir Putin took power. It was Russia that annexed Crimea with a world-class poker face. It was Russia that terminally complicated American efforts to destroy the Syrian Arab Republic. It is Russia that promulgates a state doctrine of ‘spiritual security.’
It is Russia that funds and fuels far right movements across Europe.
While all these things make Orthodox Russia a fascinating part of the news cycle, Russia’s destiny in the 21st century is far more momentous, and, like Russia itself, much harder to see without a satellite. With that in mind, let’s take a satellite’s view of Russia’s future and ask a question: what do Russian geopolitics look like in the next few hundred years?
What Sputnik can see is a Russian arc stretching from the Middle East to the West Coast of the United States. The arc of Russia begins in Jerusalem and ends in San Francisco, with a mid-point somewhere in frozen Siberia, deep within Russian borders.
Viewing Russia from Europe, Fritz or Francois can see an easily discernible West-East gradient that Russian armed forces need to traverse – or vice versa. The geopolitical logic of European Russia is the same logic that Napoleon and Hitler followed in reverse on their journeys to Moscow, and the logic that Stalin followed when he turned all of Eastern Europe into a protective buffer zone for the Russian heartland.
Viewing Russia from space, the West-East game of shifting buffer zones in European Russia is just a tiny part of Russia’s overall geopolitical picture. European Russia has three-quarters of Russia’s population but is just one fifth of the land area. European Russia is perched on the edges of Central Europe, Anatolia, and the Caucuses. The rest of Russia’s territory makes an arc around the top of Asia, snaking around Central Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. That same arc extends into Alaska and down the West Coast of North America.
Alaska used to be Alyaska, a possession of the Czar of All the Russias, and Russian frontier forts – kreposts – used to extend all the way down to the San Francisco Bay Area. The West Coast used to be called Russian America – up until 1867, two years after the end of the American Civil War. That was not a bizarre accident of history, but the inevitable result of Russian explorers and settlers reaching geography’s logical conclusion. Adjusting the parameters of Russian and American power in the early 19th century might have led to a 21st century city of Svyati Fransisko in the oblast of Kaliforniya.
As American power recedes alongside the self-inflicted implosion of Western civilization, there may yet be an oblast of Kaliforniya before 2100. That is, if the Chinese don’t get there first.
At the far western end of the arc of Russia, Russia’s biggest rival will be China. China has a headstart with an influential diaspora buying up and settling large parts of Vancouver and California, but China’s trans-Pacific growth is naturally limited by easily exploited perches in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. These perches are occupied by or allied with the United States Navy at the moment, but as the USN returns to patrol the Gulf of America, a major incentive to take over Korea, Japan, and Taiwan will materialize for Russia. China’s expansion will be unchecked otherwise.
While the futures of the island of Taiwan and the Korean peninsula are up in the air – either Russia or China could plausibly bring them under control in the next century – the Japanese islands are almost certainly going to become part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Barring a military takeover of Japan, the best option for a powerful Russia in the near future will be to reduce an independent but shrinking Japanese population to vassal state status. Russian naval bases across Japan would be sufficient to redirect Chinese power South and away from the North Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska. Hawaii would be an excellent prize for the Russian Navy: a forward post overlooking the South Pacific. Coincidentally, the Russians used to have a fort on Hawaii.
Russian military men know and have known all this already, which is why in 1945 they occupied the island chain linking Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido to Kamchatka, and why to this day they refuse to return the islands to Japan. Russia does not give up such geopolitical prizes. Russian villagers sing ‘Kakalinka’ across from Hokkaido and the Kremlin likes it that way.
Although Russia and China are tentative allies in the defense of inland Asia against American naval power, it is written in the stars that China will be Russia’s main competitor in the race for power in the North Pacific and the West Coast of North America. In this struggle, Japan will be Russia’s victory prize. If Russia can take Japan, Russia will secure the Eastern end of its transcontinental arc.
At the other end of the arc of Russia, a similar dynamic emerges, but with different players.
Much like Russia will compete with China in the East, Russia will compete for influence in the West. The major difference is that, in the West, Russia will have a choice of paths to take based on its three largest competitors: Poland, Turkey, and Iran.
I have previously discussed why Russia’s major competitor in Europe will be Poland, or, to be more accurate, a metaphorical-geopolitical Poland that is actually a Central European power centered around the Visegrad Four – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Austria may even eventually join this group. This Greater Mitteleuropa will compete with Russia for power over Scandinavia, the Baltic States, Ukraine, the Balkans, and the Black Sea.
Immediately to the southeast of this new European power lies a resurgent neo-Ottoman Turkey. This New Turkey took a predictable and significant step towards Imperium just last week with a failed coup justifying greater central power. As the 21st century drags on, the New Turkey will only become more confident in its expansion. It will form one edge of a competitive geopolitical triangle around the Balkans and the Black Sea including Poland and Russia. It will form one edge of another triangle around the Caucuses, the Caspian Sea, and Central Asia, including Russia and Iran.
These same three players will compete in another area: the Levant. The area comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan is important to all three. To Turkey, this area represents the first ring of old Ottoman colonies.
To Russia, the area is Russia’s potential stronghold in the Mediterranean, as well as the way to control the Suez Canal, one of the two most important waterways on the planet. Much like, at the peak of Imperial Russian power in the 19th century, Russians extended their influence to California, Russia was an important player in the Eastern Question of the 19th century that dealt with the privileges and rights of European powers in the collapsing Ottoman Empire — which stretched way past the Levant and Palestine at the time.
To Iran, the area is worth everything it is worth to Turkey and Russia, since the loss of the Levant threatens Mesopotamia, and the loss of Mesopotamia would threaten the Persian homeland like happened in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
The linchpin of designs on the area for all three powers is a historical anomaly: the State of Israel. Israel is the most powerful state in the region besides the Big Three. Furthermore, it maintains de facto control over the Suez Canal: as evidenced by wars with Egypt in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, the Israelis are perfectly capable of overrunning the Sinai at will and reaching the canal, kept in check only by Arabist factions within the Anglo-American governments that demand Egyptian territorial integrity. Alliance or occupation of Israel by a competent military would mean control over the Suez Canal, the Sinai, and the Levant.
While both Iran and Turkey attempt to insert themselves into Israel’s geographical position – Iran by funding Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon, and Turkey by trying to oust Bashar Al-Assad in Syria through proxies like ISIS – it is Russia that, through a stroke of breathtaking historical luck, finds itself best placed to extend control over the ancient lands of the Old Testament.
Over 20% of Israelis are fluent in Russian. The former Soviet Union is the single largest ancestral location for Israeli Jews, five times greater than the second largest location, Poland. These Russian Jews have been at the forefront of Israel’s transformation from a revolutionary left-wing, socialist, cosmopolitan state centered around coastal Tel Aviv and dependent on aid and arms flowing through the Mediterranean from the West, to a religious, right-wing state centered around surrounded, inland Jerusalem, led by the ideological descendants of nationalist Jewish terrorists and militiamen.
There is a genetic and historical link between Russia and Israel comparable to the link between Anatolian Turks or Iran’s Persians with Palestinian Arabs. It is Russia’s good luck that the valuable territory of Palestine is already occupied by its militarily supreme cousins.
The Polish-Russian-Turkish triangle will cause an endless epic of backstabbings, broken alliances, and shifting borders. The Turkish-Russian-Iranian triangle will cause the same. But that will only be because Russia’s forward post in the Land of Israel will allow it to maintain the geopolitical high ground and play Turkey and Iran off each other at will.
In the struggle at the Western end of the arc of Russia, Israel is the Russian victory prize. If Russia can bring Israel into its sphere of influence, Russia will have no trouble countering Turkish and Iranian advances, and will therefore avoid a permanent alliance between the three against Russia, and instead hold all three hostage in an advantageous stalemate with Russia calling the shots.
Russian alliances with Turkey, Iran, and Poland would all be built on quicksand due to overlapping geopolitical interests, but a Russian alliance with Israel is a masterstroke for both that keeps mutual enemies divided and isolated. Israel need only complete the transition from a cosmopolitan left-wing mega-kibbutz to an authoritarian Eastern European state in the Middle East. Benjamin Netanyahu is on the task.
In the long-term, geography will dictate that Russia attempt taking over Turkey. Turkey is the power equidistant between Iran and Poland, as well as the power dividing Russia from its future Israeli perch. Turkey is a major power and the task could not be taken lightly, but it is conquest of Anatolia that would cement Russian power from Germany to India. It is not a simple goal, but the retaking of Constantinople is Russia’s geopolitical destiny.
Geography dictates that the Third Rome reconquer the Second.
Russia may not fully secure the Western and Eastern ends of its arc until the year 2500, but the contours that are visible are impossible to ignore. On a timescale of a few years to a few decades, we can easily see that Russia’s projects will be in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and the Caucuses. Increase that timescale, and the future of Russian power lies everywhere from Jerusalem to San Francisco.
Or, put differently, from Palestina to Kaliforniya. Almost sounds like a slogan, doesn’t it? From Palestina to Kaliforniya, and eventually to Tsargrad – which would be the old Slavic name for Constantinople.
At that point, the only two sovereign countries left on the planet might be China and the Mezhdunarodnoye Soobshchestvo. International community, that is.