What Russia Could Look Like in 2035, if Putin Gets His Wish

Sorry, Europe: It ain't a pretty picture.

Russia's foreign policy has two intertwined reflexes: Bad things happen when Russia is no longer allowed to protect its neighbors, and worse things happen when those neighbors look elsewhere for protection.

But it may be that Russia has plans for these unruly and ungrateful neighbors. A series of maps -- first published by the Moscow-based newspaper Express Gazeta in July 2012, well before the outbreak of the current Ukrainian crisis -- has recently resurfaced, and the maps appear to reveal Moscow's ultimate designs in Ukraine and Russia's near abroad. By 2035, Russia will not only have annexed Crimea (check!) and the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, currently hotly contested between forces loyal to Kiev and pro-Russian insurgents. The Kremlin will have also absorbed the tsarist-era territories of "New Russia" in southern Ukraine, linking up with Transnistria, the eastern sliver of Moldova loyal to Moscow, and thereby cutting off Kiev's access to the Black Sea.

It's doubtful the map represents Russian President Vladimir Putin's actual game plan. Express Gazeta, probably best described as a sensationalist tabloid, said unnamed "geopolitical experts" drew the map based on "open source" information from research institutes, as well as (oddly) from the works of strategists Alvin Toffler, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Samuel Huntington.

Instead, the map should be read as a cartographic illustration of Russian wish fulfillment, reflecting the hopes and frustrations of at least a small segment of Russian public opinion. Some in Russia, the map seems to say, hope Europe in 2035 looks fragmented, is increasingly Islamized, and suffers under a resurgent Germany. None of this would happen, the article hints, if Russia were still the superpower it was before the 1991 Soviet collapse.

In his 1899 book, The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud defined wish fulfillment as the satisfaction of repressed desires through unconscious thought processes such as dreams, daydreams, and hallucinations. This map is the daydream of a Russia frustrated with its diminished place in the world, exacting satisfaction from its European neighbors by acting out its geopolitical fantasies.

Western Europe

In an attitude that hasn't really changed since communism, and perhaps has been amplified by anti-Western resentment since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia sees Western Europe as morally and economically bankrupt -- decadent and near collapse. Hence the breakup of almost all major European states, starting with Great Britain. After Scotland chooses independence in the 2013 referendum, Northern Ireland feels the pull of the Republic and joins a united Ireland, effectively reducing the United Kingdom to England and Wales.

According to Express Gazeta, the recent economic crisis has sped up the decentralization of Spain, which will see Catalonia and the Basque Country split off, leaving the rest of Spain to cohabitate in a Spanish Confederacy.

Neighboring France loses some territory to the Basques, but the main story is the "multicultural collapse" due to the failure to assimilate the "wild people of color" -- immigrants from France's former colonies. The map suggests that the situation will get worse to the point that the French government will have to deport ethnic minorities to an area in its southeast called "Arab Piedmont" -- an Islamic foothold, presumably with Marseille as its capital. (For good measure, Corsica goes it alone, and Germany reannexes Alsace and Lorraine.)

Belgium is also a goner, split along ethnic-linguistic lines. The Flemish in the north join with the Netherlands in a Dutch Union, but the map ungenerously keeps French-speaking Wallonia out of French hands.

Central Europe

Italy also splits in two, along economic lines: the Northern League controls the country to about the Tuscany-Lazio border. Rome is part of South Italy, which is too poor to prevent the secession of Sardinia and Sicily.

Bosnia-Herzegovina -- a product of U.S. diplomacy -- is wiped out, divided between Croatia and Serbia. In compensation, Turkey obtains the enlargement of (mainly Muslim) Albania with Kosovo, and adjacent parts of Serbia and Macedonia, creating a Greater Albania. Revanchist Hungary is finally able to regain some of the territory it lost after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, and it reannexes Vojvodina from Serbia and part of Transylvania from Romania.

But poor Poland. Once a firm Slavic friend, then a staunch communist ally, now a wannabe Westie, Poland is punished for its disloyalty to Mother Russia by dismemberment. In the west, Germany reclaims coastal Pomerania and inland Silesia. Berlin even reabsorbs East Prussia, forcing Russia itself to abandon the northern half of that territory. It seems strange that Russia would willingly part with its westernmost territory, but the point being made takes precedence over the sacredness of Russia's borders: to drive home to Warsaw the foolishness of stepping out from under Russia's protective umbrella.

Last for this part of Europe -- and also least -- a tiny fragment of western Ukraine declares independence. Once the easternmost part of Czechoslovakia, Subcarpathian Ruthenia had the distinction of being independent for a single day before Hungary overran it in the run-up to World War II. Perhaps this is where Andy Warhol, an ethnic Ruthenian, got his concept of "Fifteen minutes of fame"?

Eastern Europe

A disintegrating European Union enables Russia to wrest control of Russian-majority areas from the Baltic states. Estonia loses the Narva District, an area surrounding the mainly ethnic-Russian town of Narva, and Latvia loses the Dvinsk Region, around the small city of Daugavpils. And Moscow subordinates Belarus into a region of Russia.

Like Poland, Ukraine is punished for its Western sins: Not only does Russia annex its east and south, but its west splits off as independent Galicia (which even manages to grab an eastern corner of Poland).

To compensate for the loss of Transylvania to Hungary, Romania gets Moldova -- except for the part that goes to Russia. Bulgaria, which has been fleeing from its traditional place by Russia's side into the embrace of Brussels -- is punished by Turkey's chomping off of an area around the Bulgarian port city of Burgas, to accommodate Bulgaria's Turkish minority.


What does Russian wish fulfillment look like in the Caucasus? Strangely, the region's northeast sees the emergence of a Caucasian Emirate. Perhaps this is a strategic retreat, minimizing the loss of territory and the spread of Islamist separatism to Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan.

Georgia also pays the price for standing up to Russia and cozying up to the West: Russia straight out annexes the renegade province of Abkhazia -- and that's if the Georgians agree to play nice, because on this map they regain control over South Ossetia, that other Russian protectorate on their soil. But that's not the end of Georgia's troubles. To establish a lifeline to its ally Armenia, Russia extorts a corridor straight across Georgian territory, de facto dividing it into West Georgia and Kakheti.

The Express Gazeta article wisely includes the caveat that "not everything" on this map will happen exactly as predicted. Of course that's true; but it's also a bit disingenuous. Humans are conditioned to trust maps. This cartographic fantasy panders to Russia's foreign-policy frustrations by predicting future defeats for its "enemies" and future victories for itself. If 2035 might seem a long time to wait, that too is par for the course: Predictions gain traction the further into the future they're placed.

Laugh if you want. However ludicrous this map might seem now, compared with the way things looked back in 2012, the situation on the ground sure seems to be moving in this direction.

Photo by DMITRI ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images

Maps via Express Gazetta:


Why Negotiating With Our Enemies Is Not a Sin

The Taliban swap for Sgt. Bergdahl is just the latest in a long line of occasions when America willingly dealt with bad guys. And like it or not, this is how wars end.

Not surprisingly, President Barack Obama's decision to negotiate with the Taliban to obtain the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Haqqani network by agreeing to release five Afghan Taliban prisoners to house arrest in Qatar has been pilloried by his political opponents.

The list of criticisms is long: that the president didn't provide adequate notice to Congress, that the U.S. intelligence community identified these five Taliban captives as among the most dangerous being held in Guantanamo, and that Bergdahl was -- at best -- a complicated individual for whom to strike a bargain with America's enemies. But at the heart of these attacks is a central complaint: that America never negotiates with terrorists and that it sets a bad precedent for the United States to make deals with enemies who have American blood on their hands.

Sorry, but this claim is without analytic or historical merit, and it completely ignores the positive aspects of the release.

First, a bit of history. The United States has negotiated with unsavory groups before, in order to advance our national interests. For example, beginning in 2006 in Iraq, in order to dampen the outbreak in violence, the United States not only negotiated with, but armed and financed, the terrorist group the Sons of Iraq as part of the Sunni Awakening. In addition to being affiliated with al Qaeda, the Sons of Iraq had slain hundreds of American soldiers and their fellow Iraqis. However, U.S. officials negotiated with them and armed them because they needed their help to fight a greater menace, al Qaeda in Iraq. It was a pragmatic short-term deal that included putting pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to take members of the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi armed forces.

At the time, there was considerable skepticism about aiding former militants, even if our short-term goals were aligned, and doubts about how the Sons of Iraq would be integrated into a stable, secure Iraq. Indeed, as Iraq's security deteriorates, many of these Sons of Iraq have re-allied themselves with al Qaeda in Iraq. However, the Sons of Iraq and the Sunni Awakening played an absolutely essential role in stopping Iraq's slide into all-out sectarian war. A pragmatic partnership with them was the best of limited options available at the time, and stabilized Iraq sufficiently to begin planning an end to the United States' military role in the country.

Similarly, our major ally in the Middle East, the democratic state of Israel, routinely negotiates with Palestinians who many view as terrorists and has released thousands of Palestinians prisoners who have killed and maimed hundreds of Israelis, in order to gain the release of their soldiers. For example, in order to obtain the release of Pvt. Gilad Shalit, the Israelis negotiated the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

Moreover, critics of the Bergdahl prisoner release deal ignore the fact that at some point, the United States and its Afghan partners will have to negotiate with the Taliban as the war in Afghanistan concludes. Indeed, as Obama has said: "This is what happens at the end of wars." This has ample historical precedent. By July 1951, the United States recognized that a stalemate in the Korean War was the least-bad option and began negotiating with the communist government of China to end the war and return to the status quo ante. Washington didn't recognize the communist government of China as legitimate, but negotiated with them anyway. The negotiations lasted from July 1951 to July 1953, while bullets were still flying in Korea, and produced an armistice that persists to this day. Similarly, Washington negotiated with the communist North Vietnamese for almost five years to end the American involvement in the war in Vietnam, while the fighting still raged. And a major issue in negotiations to end both of these wars was the release of prisoners in exchange for the release of American prisoners.

During the negotiations with the Chinese to end the Korean War, Beijing insisted that all prisoners on both sides be repatriated. However, the United States could not agree to forcible repatriation, as it had at the conclusion of World War II, as thousands of prisoners of war would have been returned to China and what became North Korea against their will. After two years of negotiations, the U.S. position prevailed. Similarly, during the negotiations with the North Vietnamese, the American public's main concern was that American prisoners and troops come home, not a security guarantee to the South Vietnamese. Just as Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon did not let South Korean President Syngman Rhee and South Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Thieu undermine their negotiations, President Obama did not let Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, undermine the negotiations with the Taliban for the release of Bergdahl.

The exchange of POWs is a normal part of ending a conflict, and part of the laws of war. While the Taliban may be a terrorist group, they are also America's enemy in the war in Afghanistan, just as the communist Chinese were in Korea. As the White House has labored to explain in recent days, the release of five Taliban in exchange for Bergdahl is a POW exchange.

Finally, the claim that the release of five Taliban in exchange for one American soldier has hurt our combat operations in Afghanistan or that it will lead other groups to seize U.S. prisoners for leverage is simply spurious. It ignores the fact that while these five Afghans, who have been in U.S. custody for over a decade, could eventually return to the battlefield after their year under house arrest in Qatar, the U.S. military will have ended combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. It also ignores the fact that these instances are exceedingly rare: Bergdahl was the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, despite over 13 years of conflict. With U.S. forces set to draw down to 9,800 troops by the end of 2014, even if the Taliban were to dramatically change its tactics, it will have very limited opportunities to capture American soldiers. In addition, this argument overlooks the fact that Bergdahl could provide us with a good deal of information about the Taliban, potentially including actionable intelligence.

The negotiations for Bergdahl's release could also pave the way for direct talks with the Taliban as the United States winds down our role in Afghanistan -- talks that the U.S. and Afghan governments have been trying to achieve since late 2010. Since both the United States and the Taliban showed good faith in the Bergdahl negotiations, and since both sides received something valuable to them, it is likely that the groundwork was laid for negotiating over issues critical to the future of Afghanistan, like how the Taliban will become part of the political process, support the Afghan constitution, and respect the rights of women.  

This prisoner-of-war exchange marks the beginning of an end to the war in Afghanistan, just as prisoner exchanges during the end stages of the wars in Korea and Vietnam did. It brought back an American POW from captivity, at the cost of five Taliban detainees who would have had to be released anyway when the war in Afghanistan ends. Moreover, the successful negotiation process itself could help lead to greater stability in Afghanistan. That's a good deal for the United States, Sgt. Bergdahl, and his family.

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