Gordon M. Hahn’s interview to Azeri Today on US-Russian relations can be found in Russian at the following link: https://azeri.today/articles/6273
Bahram Batyiev: Why is the relationship between Moscow and Washington deteriorating, (despite) Moscow’s expectations of Trump’s election. Are Russian-American relations so profound that they do not depend on who heads the US administration?
GORDON HAHN: The relationship is plagued and being continuously undermined by the security dilemma created by NATO’s persistent expansion east to Russia’s western border. That expansion diminishes the robustness of of Russia’s security posture or, as the Soviets used to call it, the ‘correlation of forces’, between the West and Russia, making Russia increasingly vulnerable in the event of any potential military confrontation with the West. In addition to the economic losses created by the deprivation of weapons markets in eastern Europe, Moscow’s depleted military position resulting from NATO expansion weakens Russia’s political position which further weakens her economic positions all else remaining equal. Until Russia can force the West to recognize its great power status in western Eurasia at least (China may undermine Russia’s status in eastern Eurasia, specifically in Central Asia) or the West comes to recognize this on its own, tensions will continue to mount between Russia and the NATO countries. Ukraine’s proxy war is a key flashpoint but Moldova-Transdneistr and even someday Belarus — not to mention, of course, the war in Syria — could push tensions to the level of direct military conflict.
Bahram Batyiev: What is the role of Russian and American media in forcing American-Russian relations?
GORDON HAHN: Clearly, both Russian and American media are key elements but they are means not a cause of the conflict. They function at the behest of government organs – in the case of Russia directly, in the case of the US indirectly. Strategic communications in the service of state policy and hybrid warfare and politics now encompasses large sectors of the information space and is part of a new kind of total politics encompassing media, culture, social sciences and the like through the worldwide net.
Bahram Batyiev: Is the threat of a military clash between the US / NATO and Russia great?
GORDON HAHN: I do not think that the threat of a US/NATO-Russian war is great yet, but it is growing, significant, and approaching a dangerous level both in Ukraine and Syria.
Bahram Batyiev: Many experts suggest that Russia has no reason to fear a threat from NATO, since the real danger to Russia comes from China in the east and from jihadists in the south. Do you agree with this opinion?
GORDON HAHN: I do not. China has no designs on Russian territory whatsoever and is doing nothing to weaken Russia’s security posture along its borders or its political and economic influence abroad. To the contrary, Russia and China have gone to great lengths to resolve their mutual security and territorial issues and work closely in a number of military-political and economic blocs of their own making to expand their bilateral and unilateral relations and thus enhance their economic and political power jointly.
The Islamist threat is real but containable and not immediately existential at this point. But Western policies (including those of NATO member Turkey) in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have complicated Russia’s ability to secure its borders and territory against the Islamist-Jihadist threat. Although the West’s expansion of NATO and the attendant policy of democracy-promotion, which aims to help maneuver countries into NATO, are not intended to threaten Russia, they objectively do so. They do so by weakening her security posture, which requires countermeasures and additional defense expenditures to cover the new contingencies created by NATO expansion. Furthermore, they do so by destabilizing and turning against Russia countries along its border. They do so then further by creating crises in countries bitterly divided between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions – such as in Georgia and Ukraine – that put NATO and Russia on oppositie sides of the barricades, increasing the risk of military confrontation, which by definition weakens Russia’s national security.
Bahram Batyiev: In the 1990s, the South Caucasus was of great interest to the United States. First of all, in connection with energy projects in Azerbaijan. However, in recent years, this region has lost its relevance to the United States, and now Russia is more active here than the United States. With what do you connect this?
GORDON HAHN: Azerbaijan is simply further down the list on NATO’s expansion list. There is no powerful Azerbaijani diaspora and lobby as there is for Ukraine and Armenia and even Georgia, and it has proven too difficult to transform Baku politically such that it can be positioned to enter NATO. Moreover, the war on jihadism has placed Azerbaijan further down the US’s foreign policy agenda. Azerbaijan is Russia’s neighbor is crucial for securing Russia’s North Caucasus, protecting Russia’s Armenian ally, and potentially for dealing with Georgia, which is the West’s bridgehead in the Caucasus.
Bahram Batyiev: The United States, like France and Russia, is the co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group for the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh. However, Washington seems to have ceded settlement of the conflict to Moscow. Should we expect that under Trump the United States will give more importance to this issue?
GORDON HAHN: I doubt it. Trump’s inability to govern and lack of foreign policy expertise are likely to lead to the deepening of domestic and foreign political crises, further requiring Washington’s attention to the already existing crises. However, the fact that an oil man, Tillerson, is Trump’s Secretay of State could move oil states like Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh slightly up the agenda. But in the present atmosphere of US-Russian relations, any greater attention paid to Azerbaijan and the Nagorno-Karabakh frozen conflict by Washington is only likely to raise suspicions in Moscow and strengthen its support for Armenia’s military further escalating the risk of a re-start of the war.
About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an analyst and Advisory Board member at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, Ill.), http://www.geostrategicforecasting.com; member of the Executive Advisory Board at the American Institute of Geostrategy (AIGEO) (Los Angeles, Calif.), http://www.aigeo.org; a contributing expert for Russia Direct, russia-direct.org; a senior researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group (San Jose, Calif.); and an analyst and consultant for Russia – Other Points of View (San Mateo, California), www.russiaotherpointsofview.com.
Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War”. Previously, he has authored three well-received books: The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.