For Internal Use Only
December 7, 2007The main question being asked these days by foreign diplomats in Moscow is: What is the meaning of the recent hostile military rhetoric of the Kremlin? Is it a sort of temporary insanity, brought on by the uncertain future of the system of power in Russia, or is it a long term bet on confrontation?
At first glance, everything suggests that Moscow is setting itself up for a long-term conflict with the U.S. In the days leading up to the elections, the President repeatedly emphasized that the military might of Russia was needed to keep anyone from sticking their “snotty nose” into Russia’s internal affairs. And a few days after the electoral victory of United Russia, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a fierce commentary accusing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE of being “non-objective” in declaring that the elections in Russia did not correspond with international norms demanded of democratic countries. This was followed by a series of mini-scandals in connection with meetings Vladimir Putin held with international leaders. The Kremlin’s press service claimed, for example, that the Italian Prime Minister congratulated the president on his success in the elections. However, Roman Prodi’s secretary announced that there had been no such congratulations. In turn the Kremlin press service repudiated the President Bush’s pronouncement of deep concerns regarding the conduct of the elections. The sharp pronouncements of the majority of European leaders, among them Angela Merckel, left no doubt about their intention to meddle in the internal affairs of Russia.
The situation called for slamming the door on these snotty little foreign noses. And voila - the Commander of the 37th Air Force Major General Pavel Androsov is telling journalists about the accomplishments of recent training missions (to emphasize their importance the president insists on calling them “military patrols” - боевое дежурство) of strategic bombers. In the course of these long flights over neutral waters of the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the planes conducted 270 so-called “tactical launches” of cruise missiles (in which the crew carried out all the procedures for a launch, without the missile actually leaving the plane). In every one of these 70 flights, the Russian bombers were intercepted and escorted by NATO fighters. Although the Russian military scrupulously avoids discussing who the potential adversaries are, the Russian planes went to the brink of attacking only bases located in the U.S. and other NATO countries. It is worth noting that there have been no known flights near the territory of China.
The next day the Russian Minister of Defense met with the president to propose sending ships from the Northern and Black Sea fleets into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to “reestablish a naval presence in the world’s oceans”.
These events would seem to be clear evidence that Russia is preparing for a serious confrontation with the West. A confrontation which - to the extent Russia is slipping toward authoritarianism - would also seem to have some ideological basis.
But it turns out to be evident only on first glance. Russia is completely lacking in the resources needed for another Cold War: the Russian military budget is currently only one-twentieth the size of the American. Russian military expenditures amount to only 2.7% of GDP (analysts have estimated that the USSR spent 40-80% of GDP on the Cold War).
Answering a question on the status of a new squadron of strategic bombers, which last year then-Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov promised to deliver to the Air Force, General Androsov could only say that “the military order is being fulfilled in accordance with the timeline.” At the same time, it is well-known that the only Tu-160 bomber that has been produced to date is in no condition to leave the factory in which it was built in Kazan. Furthermore, without fighter escort, strategic bombers are sitting ducks for enemy fighters. And Russian military industry has not been able to produce so much as a single fighter aircraft.
It is the same story with the Russian Navy, which is supposedly reestablishing the Russian presence on the world’s seas. Last summer, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, at the time the commander of the Northern Fleet, announced that a group of ten vessels was being sent to the Atlantic. Now it turns out that there were only four. After every such expedition the heavy cruiser “Admiral Kuznetsov” has to spend six months undergoing repairs. A second ship, the cruiser “Moscow”, the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, was built over 30 years ago. With ships in this condition, any talk of a permanent presence in the world’s seas is just that - talk. The surface navy is big enough only to occasionally show the flag. For good measure three years ago, during the last exercise in the Atlantic, a Navy Su-33 crashed due to the pilot’s lack of experience.
There is going to be no Cold War starting up until the West sees a genuine threat to its security. And there is no such threat. Moreover, while official propaganda keeps telling the Russian citizens that their military is busily preparing to repulse an attack from adversaries, the military is quietly taking measures to preserve its partnerships with these exact same supposed adversaries. At this moment in Germany, the joint Russian-American military training exercise “Torgau-2007” is underway, the purpose of which is to create a unified brigade for peace-keeping missions. During this time, the head of the Russian chiefs of staff in Washington, D.C. signed a Russian-U.S. memorandum of military cooperation. The details of this memorandum were not made public. And I don’t think it was because the agreement contained military secrets of any sort. Rather, it is simply strange to be developing one’s military cooperation with the same people you are calling the “blood enemy”. At the same time, of course, one has to wink desperately away at this “enemy”, hinting to him that he is an “enemy” for internal purposes only.