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Friday, August 24, 2007

On Putin and the New Cold War

Moscow Times columnist Alexander Golts sees Vladimir Putin's decision to begin bomber flights against the West as his formal declaration of a new cold war:

Militarism is not only when the military makes all the key government decisions. It is also when civilian politicians use military solutions as the universal tool to solve all of their problems.

This can lead to some interesting results. One example was when President Vladimir Putin announced last week the start of a new Cold War. While standing on an artillery range during what was called anti-terrorist military training maneuvers by members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Putin declared that Russian strategic bombers would resume regular, long-range patrols -- or "tours of duty" as Putin said in televised remarks Friday -- for the first time since 1992.

I can imagine how professional military leaders winced when they heard this statement. After all, resuming regular patrols means that planes are flying with nuclear weapons on board, ready to be fired at the order of the commander in chief. The last time Moscow's strategic bombers flew regular sorties was during one of the more heated stages in U.S.-Soviet relations -- from January 1985 to April 1987.

But I really don't think that the 14 strategic bombers, which carried cruise missiles with nuclear warheads, completed their sorties Friday over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans with any intention of launching an attack. If that had been the case, the U.S. reaction would have been much harsher than the caustic comments we heard from U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack: "If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."

Last week's announcement regarding regular, long-range bomber missions is just the latest in a series of threatening stances by the Kremlin that take us back to the era of the 1980s. Remember Putin's statement in February 2004 during military exercises, where he claimed that Russia had developed a "miracle missile" that could overcome any anti-missile defense system. And of course there was the explosive Munich speech, in which, among other things, Putin revealed his belief that the heightened U.S.-Soviet confrontation of the 1980s was one of the most stable periods in international relations. This was a time when Moscow and Washington focused on mutual containment by significantly strengthening their military capabilities.

Putin has become quite nervous of late about a fictitious danger that he seems to have concocted himself: the West's intention to interfere in Russia's transfer of power in 2008, when Putin's second term comes to an end. The president is trying to protect his country from outside enemy influences by playing the Cold War card. This tactic enables him to rally the people and convince them that any criticism of his Kremlin is an insidious ploy by foreign powers to prevent Russia from "getting up off its knees" to become a global superpower again.

This whole anti-West campaign is a farce, of course, but the question is whether this farce will grow in intensity and become a very real and dangerous drama. This could happen if Washington begins taking at face value the Kremlin's repeated declarations of its growing military potential. Although the Kremlin's bold statements against the West may have been designed for primarily domestic political goals, it could, nevertheless, lead us back to a serious confrontation.

The Peace Mission 2007 maneuvers, a joint military exercise of SCO member countries held last week in the Chelyabinsk region, show once again that conventional military forces are ill-equipped to fight an effective battle against terrorism. The exercise involved about 6,000 troops from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and about 1,000 pieces of military hardware, from fighter jets and bombers to heavy artillery. In these simulated training maneuvers, a group of mock terrorists seized a population center in SCO member nation "A." An armed gang of fighters from country "N" then broke through to them. Under these conditions, the SCO states consulted and decided upon a coordinated anti-terrorist operation. The combined military forces of the six SCO member nations then killed the terrorists and set the hostages free.

On one hand, these maneuvers demonstrated a new level of military cooperation between Russia, China and the Central Asian member nations of the SCO. It would seem that, on the surface, much was achieved: A mechanism for joint action and decision making has been established; China has proven its ability to project its armies and military hardware -- including air power -- into Russia; and military leaders were able to coordinate complex military operations among six different nations.

What is most important, however, is that the Peace Mission 2007 training exercises -- despite all of its claims -- have no application whatsoever in the fight against terrorism. It is obvious that the army is the wrong tool for battling terrorists. The bombing of the Moscow-St. Petersburg train shows that a conventional army cannot prevent a terrorist act. Law enforcement agencies must be the ones to combat terrorists, using their agents to infiltrate the ranks of terrorist organizations. Fighter jets and bombers, like the ones paraded with so much fanfare in Peace Mission 2007, are of very little use in this struggle.

In addition to terrorists, the joint exercises of Peace Mission 2007 identified another target -- separatists and insurgents. It is no coincidence that some analysts saw a connection between the Peace Mission 2007 maneuvers and events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, in May 2005, when the regime of President Islam Karimov used bullets from government troops to disperse a protest in the town's main square, resulting in scores of civilian deaths. Karimov called the protest a terrorist uprising, and Moscow supported that version of events.

As the SCO members attempt to develop conventional military solutions to solve terrorist threats, the question is who will they label as terrorists in each concrete situation. It is clearly in Russia and China's best interests to ensure stability in Central Asia. But, according to Moscow and Beijing's interpretation, stability means one thing -- keeping the current ruling regimes in power. What's more, these leaders do not understand that the most serious threat to stability in the region is the crushing poverty among their citizens. At the same time, Moscow and Beijing have made it quite clear that they are not willing to work with the West to resolve the problems in the region.

The joint training exercises last week clearly demonstrated Moscow and Beijing's readiness to use military measures to keep the weak and corrupt Central Asian regimes in power. And the Kremlin has once again shown that military force is an unsuitable tool to achieve political goals. Putin's announcement on Friday that regular, long-range patrols of strategic bombers will be re-established is just the latest example of this fundamentally flawed policy.


Anonymous said...

Phoby, phoby, phoby. All this of military stuff is just misdirection. Fact is, Russia has extremely powerful non-military tools, rendering military stuff pretty much irrelevant in US-Russia and EU-Russia relations.

The greatest of these is the lack of any actual need to sell energy just to plow the proceeds back into T-Bills and Agencies. Just think. Russia cuts her oil exports in half.

This has a couple of advantages for Russia. First, since over the short term demand for oil is highly inelastic, they make up lots of the financial hit on the subsequent price rise.

Second, the lower production rate means Russian oil reserves will last lots longer due to a lower rate of depletion.

Now, what would that mean for the rest of us? Do a quick google on the words "Ghawar" "Cantarell" and "North Sea", and note that Kashgan, the only field out there that can make up for the decline rate in the above fields is a llloooonnnnggg ways from even a 1 mbpd production rate.

Get ready for your life to change, phoby.

La Russophobe said...

That's interesting. The USSR said the economic stuff didn't matter because it was so strong militarily, and it went belly up, and now you say the opposite.

Russia's "economy" is less than $1 trillion. America's alone is $12 trillion, and then there's NATO.

Russians work for a $0.25/hour minimum wage and a $3.00/hour average wage. Men don't live to 60, and 1 million are lost from the population ever year.

Your "economics" is pure garbage.

And even if it wasn't, and Russia won the economic front, then NATO would simply resort to its overwhelming military advantage and wipe Russia off the face of the earth. After all, everybody knows that America is a nation of crazy aggressive militarists, now don't they.

Just a question: Do you think at all before you post? MUST you quaff so much vodka to get up your silly little boy's courage?

Dream on Russophile idiot, just like your Soviet ancestors. And follow them right into oblivion.

La Russophobe said...

BTW, that's MS. Phoby to you, greaseball.

Anonymous said...

Phoby, Phoby, Phoby. The point is, it really ain't Russia. Its Ghawar, Cantarell, North Sea, etc., plus the lack of discoveries of any significance. Your life is gonna change even if Russian oil production increases.

It'll just change faster, and a lot more harshly if Russian production decreases.

Anonymous said...

And as to the US-NATO military stuff going to get the oil, do a little math.

T.E. Lawrence sez that to secure a country you must deploy a post manned by 20 men every 4 square miles.

Petraeus sez that to secure a country you must garrison it with 20-25 troops per 1000 population.

Now, where is the US/NATO gonna get an army that big any time soon?

Then you gotta look and see that its an awful long way from the Polish or Ukrainian border to the oil and gas fields near the Urals, and those are the ones depleting. Fow the new fields, you gotta get well beyond the Urals. And be careful nobody wrecks the thousands of miles of pipelines while military ops are ongoing.

That's why I said from the start that the military stuff is pretty much irrelevant.

But your propensity for military aggression is noted.

Anonymous said...

You can't eat raw oil. Any country unable to feed its own population is naturally dependent on countries capable of exporting food. 50% of all food currently consumed in Moscow and St Petersburg is being imported. China is not an answer either - it can hardly even feed its own huge population at present. Besides, food is not the only issue here, actually Russia imports the most of all consumer goods etc. it needs. And when thinking how much Russian political and business elite and even middle class loves anything "Western" (from clothes and technology to apartments in the French Riviera) you can't say that the dependence is only one-sided - at the least.

Anonymous said...

Its true you can't eat raw oil. Russia is also a grain exporter, mainly out of the port of Novorossisk.

Anonymous said...

Yes, even the USSR exported grain. But - now as then - eating only grain results in searious malnutrion. I.e. Russia is one of the largest net importers of meat and meat products in the world. The consumption of milk products is also heavily dependent on imports. Furthermore, for example the OECD and FAPRI both predict that the dependence on imports of all these products is not going to decrease during the next ten years - rather the opposite.