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Russia’s Missile Diplomacy By: Ariel Cohen
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 08, 2007

“Vladimir – I call him Vladimir”, explained President George W. Bush, “you should not fear the missile defense system... Cold War is over. Why don’t you cooperate with us on the missile defense system? Why don’t you participate with us?”

The answer is: because Cold War is over for some, but not for others. And because Russia does not trust the United States and feels psychologically more comfortable in confrontation with it.


It feels sometimes like Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin did not exist. In 1994, Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin have signed the de-targeting agreement, not to point ballistic missiles at each other. Later, other European powers signed such agreements with Russia.


The Latest Flap. After the United States and Poland announced that it will locate the limited missile defense battery on Polish territory, with a radar in the Czech Republic, the Russian bear decided to show that it is not Winnie the Pooh.


Putin said that Russia will take “adequate steps in return. New targets will appear in Europe. The systems that may be used to destroy these targets our military believe to be a potential threat to Russia – by ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or something else…” Then Putin said that Russia is not to blame, as it “has not started this arms race”.


This is a chilling statement, which clearly demonstrates that Russia views a possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear attack or a massive atomic strike against the United States as a realistic option – twenty years after Reagan and Gorbachev publicly buried the Cold War.


In fact, the Cold War was exactly when Putin earned his spurs as a spy in Dresden, East Germany. It was a happy place where Russia (then still the Soviet Union) was back then, not just respected, but feared. The intelligence services and the military were at the top of the food chain and got the lion’s share of the budgetary pie. The dissidents were in the camps, not in parliaments, and no nouveaux-riche oligarchs could order “men of power” (siloviki) around.


If Russia enters into a time warp and goes back, this will be Putin’s “Great Leap Backward.” In the rational world, responsible rulers just don’t do that. People’s mentality and institutional cultures have a funny quality – they are stronger than public declarations and signed documents.


Chilling and Absurd. Russian statements that the new missile defense somehow threatens its massive retaliatory capabilities is not just factually wrong. It is absurd. 10 interceptors cannot threaten a massive Russian Strategic Missile Forces with their 7,000 + warheads. 10 interceptors cannot shoot down submarine launched ballistic missiles with individually targeted warheads called MIRVs in English. Nor can they touch long range supersonic cruise missiles on dozens of supersonic bombers, like TU-160 called the White Swans (almost a replica of American supersonic B-1 bomber from 30 years ago, whose design was stolen from Jimmy Carter’s USA by Russian agents). But these defenses can be a pretext for an all-out psychological attack aimed at checking US power in Europe and elsewhere.


Outsider’s logic. The chilling statement is a result of Russia viewing itself as the country outside the Western trans-Atlantic community. Russian elites under Putin and his mentor, former spy chief and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov are increasingly viewing themselves as Eurasian. They are the guardians of Eurasia’s “heartland”, as the formerly quasi-Nazi theorist of Eurasianism Alexander Dugin would say. Many of them are also vehemently anti-“Atlanticist”, anti-American and anti-Catholic.


Militant Eurasianism is a wholly artificial brand, the not-yet created, post-communist ideology. It is a a newly manufactured brand, with a pseudo-historic narrative to go with it. Like a Mickey Mouse character one finds in the McDonald’s hamburger package: plastic and ready to go. This is post-communist political brand management. Made in Russia.


The Russian Military. The Russian military and security elite has a long list of complaints, the recent one being just the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Moscow bitterly complained about the enlargement of NATO to Central Europe and the bombing of Kosovo in 1999. It raised furor over further enlargement of NATO to the Baltic States and claimed that promises were made in the late 1980s that as the Soviet Union withdraws, NATO membership will not be extended to liberated countries; and NATO soldiers or military systems will not be positioned in Central Europe.


The litany also includes the December 2001 Bush Administration abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.


Russian military also harbors feelings of humiliation in Afghanistan, after US- , Pakistan- and Saudi-backed moujahedeen defeated the Soviet war machine, and that Solidarity and other democracy activists pushed Soviet troops from Central and Eastern Europe – with US support.


According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a prominent Russian military analyst, in 1999 the Russian military conducted Zapad-99 maneuvers that simulated NATO’s blockade of Kaliningrad. Russian military simulated “preventive” nuclear attacks with cruise missiles launched by strategic bombers, with two targets in Western Europe and two in the U.S. hit. Moscow General Staff reported a victory in that simulated war, as if U.S. would refrain from massive retaliation.


In May 2003, a Russian naval task force in the Indian Ocean conducted a war game in which a US aircraft carrier task force was attacked and sunk, with a simultaneous nuclear attack on the US naval base at Diego Garcia island. This was to demonstrate that Russian can stop an attack on an ally in the region (presumably Iran). Such saber rattling, as well as missile diplomacy, raise serious questions about effectiveness of Russian political and security integration with the West.

Finally, Russian elites are unhappy with the U.S. military bases in Central Asia. Last year, they enticed Islam Karimov, the authoritarian Uzbek leader, to kick the American Air Force from an airfield in Uzbekistan. The reason Karimov wanted Americans out was because he was afraid of a U.S.-supported “colored revolution.”


The Vodka Revolution? Moscow deeply mistrusts Bush’s agenda of democracy promotion. The Kremlin was beyond itself when Washington supported Mikheil Saakashvili’s Rose Revolution and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Moscow views the Bush administration’s democratization policies, as directed against Russian interests. The bottom line is domestic insecurity: If the U.S. can bolster a Rose Revolution in Tbilisi, why not a vodka-and-caviar revolution in Moscow?


The specter of a velvet revolution is also about fat pocketbooks and Cyprus bank accounts. The elites fear that the oil bonanza will disappear overnight, together with their villas on the French Riviera and Swiss ski vacations.


What Next? At their G-8 summit, the two presidents should take this chance to define a common agenda and repair the deteriorating relations between the two countries.


After a 20-year hiatus, Russia is forcing its way back on the global scene as an adversarial actor. It is assembling a coalition of fruits and nuts from Caracas, Venezuela, to Teheran.


President Bush’s team must design better strategies for coping with this old/new Russian geopolitical challenge in Eurasia and beyond. If America is perceived as weak, Russia may continue bullying her neighbors and supporting rogues.


Russia respects power. It’s time for Mr. Bush to reassure his Russian counterpart the U.S. has plenty.


Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security at the Sarah and Douglas Allison Center of the Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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