On March 11, US president Donald Trump asked Congress for $500 million to counter Russia’s “malign influence” in Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia, as part of its 2020 Fiscal Year Budget Request. Once we analyze the timing, wording, details and size of this budgetary request, a certain picture of the implicit strategic thinking behind it emerges.
Firstly, the budgetary proposal’s wording does not seem commensurate with the amount of money requested. The proposal earmarks $500 million “for assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia to: advance shared security; safeguard the territorial integrity of U.S. allies; support partner countries’ efforts to transition away from Russian military equipment, particularly through Foreign Military Finance lending; and address weaknesses in the macro-economic environment that the Government of Russia seeks to exploit, such as dependence on energy and trade.”
It hardly requires explanation that $500 million is a paltry sum for such a wide range of goals.
The task of assisting American allies and partners in Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia to transition away from Russian military technology to any significant degree alone would require far more than $500 million.
For that matter, attempting to re-engineer the macro-economic factors which drive trade between these countries and Russia would require tens of billions of dollars, and quite probably hundreds of billions.
So if this budgetary proposal’s size is completely incommensurate with the scope of its stated goals, then what exactly is the proposal devised to do?
Firstly, we need to remember that 2020 is an election-year. Trump is sending a signal to congress and to the US deep state that he’s ideologically on-side when it comes to Russia, that he will do what he’s told if he is re-elected. In order to avoid being once again branded by Democrats as the Manchurian candidate in 2020, he needs to rebrand himself.
Secondly, to whatever limited extent the budgetary request is actually devised to do what its wording proposes, it is intended to increase the commercial reach of American defence-contractors and bolster the United States’ attempts to geo-strategically encircle Russia. The proposal’s internal logic sees all Russian influence with neighbouring countries as “malign influence” by definition.
The wording of the budgetary request implies that for Russia to even have stable, mutually beneficial economic relationships with its immediate neighbours is an inherently evil scenario in itself. This is precisely the same the logic which led the State Department to sponsor the 2003 rose revolution in Georgia and Euromaidan in Ukraine in 2013-14.
However, as $500 million is such an inadequate sum considering all of the tasks proposed in the budgetary request’s wording, we must decode it further. For example, how could some fraction of $500 million most effectively be used to change economic relations between Russia and a kaleidoscope of other countries on the Eurasian land-mass? $500 million would do nothing whatsoever to alter the macro-economic fundamentals.
The most effect that it could have was if the money was earmarked for bribing government officials.
Therefore, if we assume that the budgetary request is actually intended to achieve some of what it proposes, then we have to interpret the proposal’s reference to “addressing weaknesses in the macro-economic environment that the Government of Russia seeks to exploit, such as dependence on energy and trade” as a euphemism for systematic bribery. There is no other way that less than half a billion dollars could have any discernible effect.
Historically, this is true to form. The US used a campaign of widespread systematic bribery to de-industrialize and bankrupt the countries of the post-Soviet space during the 1990’s. It’s easy for as long as dollar-hegemony enables the Americans to print money with minimal inflationary effect.
Even though the budgetary proposal refers specifically to military and macro-economic issues, it still bears certain parallels with the statement concerning the EU’s future relations with Russia made by the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, exactly 3 years ago today. In this statement, Mogherini paid particular emphasis to "strengthening relations with our Eastern Partners and other neighbours, in particular in Central Asia," and "strengthening internal European Union resilience, in particular in view of energy security, hybrid threats and strategic communication."
Translated into English, what this means is “If Russia has mutually beneficial, non-hostile relationships with its immediate neighbours, then this is inherently evil in itself. If we do everything which we routinely accuse the Russians of doing in these same countries – including flooding their information-spaces with our propaganda – then it’s okay, because we’re the good guys.”
Projection is the oldest game in town.
Insofar as there is a parallel between Mogherini’s 2016 statement and this new budgetary proposal from the Trump administration, and also considering that the amount of funding requested in the budgetary proposal is so modest, I cannot help but suspect that the task of “safeguarding the territorial integrity of U.S. allies” refers to these countries’ information-spaces. Implicitly, this may very well be a reference to informational warfare.
However, while the Trump administration’s budgetary proposal seems, at face-value at least, to be more focused on conventional military issues, and Mogherini’s 2016 statement focuses more on informational warfare, there is still a shared core-logic between them. Both are clearly geared toward the economic isolation and geo-strategic encirclement of Russia.
In addition, both simply presuppose that for Russia to even have non-hostile or mutually beneficial economic or strategic relationships with her own immediate neighbours is an inherently bad thing in itself, implicitly because Russia is inherently evil. This is a metaphysical belief. It is utterly impervious to argument.