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Russia's Iron Belt & Road Initiative

Comparative Autocratic Methodologies


Not to be outdone by his Chinese counterparts, Putin has boldly and brutally undertaken his own Bridge & Road Initiative (BRI), Russian style, with the ultimate objective of linking his two annexed “pearls”, Crimea and the Donbas region, and eventually landlocking Ukraine. The warm port cities along Ukrainian south are the pearls in this critical path along the land-bridge corridor westward with Odesa representing the “jewel in the crown”.


China has a soft-power approach to developing its BRI albeit through aggressive diplomatic checkbook initiatives with enticing yet usuary terms & conditions. These contractual agreements enable China to lock in partnerships that consist of heavy exit penalties such as infrastructure forfeitures in case of loan payment defaults. In the meantime it continues to build up its blue navy fleet to support and defend those interests.


China develops its BRI through construction while Russia develops through destruction. Russia intends to secure Ukrainian southern ports through which 90% of agricultural exports pass through the Black Sea to squeeze political and commercial concessions from the west to end the conflict. The difference is the methodology: China’s carrot & stick vs Russia’s hammer & sickle.


During its surge to becoming a global economic superpower China, has prioritized securing essential commodities as part of its long-term security through commercial deals which are buttressed afterwards by the military.


On the other hand Russia utilized its military to pre-positioning themselves by targeting Ukraine’s southern region by annexing the Donbas region to be used as an overland staging area and Crimea as military maritime stronghold and dominance over the Black Sea.


Russia has its ignominious history of developing roads through fire & brimstone most notably the 1,250 mile Kolyma highway called the “road of bones” constructed with gulag labor under Stalin whose construction has resulted in an estimated 250,000 deaths with allegations that the fallen slave labor were buried in the road itself.


Despite their military blunders Russia need not actually physically occupy those pearls in the south rather prevent export trade which have already been achieved.


Furthermore, Russia has practically eliminated spring planting and summer/fall harvesting of Ukrainian crops through the destruction of farm equipment, limited diesel fuel and the deliberate mining of agricultural fields, more than enough to literally sow world chaos with famine-level food shortages globally this summer.


Mafia State, Mafia Tactics


Akin to your local mafia, Putin’s mafia state has the insatiable thirst for only two things: money and power but with far more firepower and resources.


Russia’s military gambit is the new Cold War Iron Curtain along the southern coast for the purpose of controlling Russian and Ukrainian food exports from which dozens of countries are highly reliant. In the pure mafia spirit, this constitutes geopolitical resource extortion.


Russia doesn’t have the economic wherewithal to outspend the west on arms and R&D. As proven in the ongoing campaign in Ukraine, their military is a paper tiger. Instead Russia seeks to level the playing field by controlling the logistical chokepoints and weaponizing essential commodities, specifically energy and agriculture, in their Near Abroad. Control the Ukrainian south and control the world’s food supply.


Although these commodities are fungible the present-day and near-future global inventories are precariously low. For this reason, controlling a large energy and agricultural market share provides Putin an enviable amount of leverage not only with the West but with developing countries that they can demand political support for Russian foreign policies in the international forum in exchange for food exports.


For Putin this personal crusade of destiny is nothing more than a “business decision” with the sacrifice of the Ukrainian people and Russian military conscripts for the creation and glory of a Greater Russia.


An Uncomfortable Post-Putin Aftermath


The more frightful possibility is that in a post-Putin world, the new Russian leadership, regardless how “enlightened” they might be to cooperation in the international community, may be slow or even loathe to withdraw or surrender captured Ukrainian territory. Crimea would be non-negotiable.


Firstly, the post-Putin Russia needs to justify the deaths of thousands of Russian soldiers to the Russian citizens by maintaining control over some Ukrainian territory as political and economic leverage to ensure a durable internal and external peace.


Secondly, the post-Putin Russia would link a gradual and progressive withdrawal from Ukraine in exchange for the easing and eventual elimination of sanctions and other western imposed restrictions.


Regardless the West is unlikely to be forgiving of any new Russian government. As they did with the Axis powers, the west will insist on the “unconditional surrender” of all pre-February 24, 2022 occupied territory or risk the continuation of severe economic pressure. For this reason, the territorial unwinding will certainly be fraught with tension.



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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.

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