When the Russian bears growls, it’s best to pay attention. Vladimir Putin’s harsh criticism of US military and foreign policy on 10 February should have set off alarm bells in the west.
But senior US officials are so obsessed with Iraq, and so used by now to having Moscow agree to whatever Washington wanted to do around the globe, even in Russia’s backyard, they mostly shrugged off Putin’s warnings. The US and British media self-righteously blasted the Russian leader for daring question the Pax Americana.
In his startlingly blunt speech at a security conference in Munich, Russia’s president accused Washington of seeking world domination, undermining the UN and other international institutions, trying to monopolize world energy sources, destabilizing the Mideast by its bungled occupation of Iraq, and unleashing a new nuclear arms race by planning to deploy anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe.
Russia has long fumed over NATO’s advance to its western borders, and Washington’s attempts to replace Moscow’s influence in Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This writer has long maintained that while one deeply sympathizes with the desire of East European states to take shelter from old foe Russia by joining NATO, pushing the alliance to Russia’s doorstep was dangerously provocative and militarily ill-advised.
`He who defends everything,’ said Frederick the Great, `defends nothing.’ The Baltic states are indefensible; Bulgaria and Romania military liabilities, as Germany found in World War II. Bulgaria and Romania were inducted into NATO because the US Air Force wanted use of their Black Sea air bases as part of its air bridge to the Mideast and Central Asia.
President Putin certainly merits strong criticism for his fabricated war against independent Chechnya and massive human rights violations there, and for his increasingly authoritarian rule – ironically, the same charges many also level at President George W. Bush over Iraq.
But Putin is right when he warns the Bush Administration has undermined the UN, made a dangerous mess in the Mideast, and threatens to ignite a strategic arms race by modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and planning to deploy ballistic missile defense systems(BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In response, Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces, warned US BMD plans may compel Russia to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a cornerstone of US-Russian détente, and deploy a new generation of intermediate-range missiles aimed at Europe.
However, it remains unclear amidst all the ruckus how a US BMD system in Poland and the Czech Republic would threaten Russia’s long-range missiles, which are mostly based in silos or on rail cars in central and eastern Russia, whose normal trajectory would be over the Arctic regions, not Eastern Europe.
The Russians scoff at US claims its new BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic are designed to stop missiles from Iran and other unspecified `rogue’ states. They certainly have a point. Why on earth would Iran fire missiles at Warsaw or Prague if it had them? A propos, Iran’s longest-range missile, Shehab-3,which carries a conventional warhead, is about 800 miles. The expected range of the Shehab-4 under development is 1,200-1,300 miles, not enough to even reach Eastern Europe.
The new US BMD strategic systems, says Moscow and some western defense analysts, are part of the Bush/Cheney Administration’s profoundly destabilizing efforts to erect anti-missile defenses in Alaska, Europe, and elsewhere around the globe that are intended to nullify the nuclear arsenals of Russia and China.
The White House appears to be heading away from the traditional balance of mutually assured destruction and toward absolute nuclear supremacy. Given the faked war against Iraq, and Bush and Cheney’s strident talk about `pre-emptive strikes against threatening nations,’ the Russians are understandably uneasy. Their nuclear arsenal remains the leading strategic threat to the United States.
Putin’s angry speech is a warning that a reviving Russia will not allow the US to attain unchallenged world nuclear, political, or energy domination. China echoes this warning. Ironically, high world oil prices caused in good part by Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq have boosted Russia’s oil-based economy, allowing Moscow to modernize its run-down armed forces.
Putin’s speech also suggest Russia will take a more active role in the Mideast. This could be a positive development given the striking inability of the Bush/Cheney Administration to separate itself from the policies of Israel’s right wing parties and return to its traditional somewhat more balanced Mideast role.
Some Europeans also quietly welcomed Putin’s speech. There is growing irritation in the EU and NATO – what former US National Security chief Zbigniew Brzezinski cruelly terms `America’s vassal states’ – at being brusquely ordered about by Washington and told send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.
History repeatedly shows that when one nation becomes too dominant, others will join forces to oppose it. Russia and China are drawing closer together to challenge American power. President Putin has said `enough.’ A new Cold War? Not quite yet, but there are plenty of alarming portents.