Russia has been more moderate and restrained than the USA and NATO
The news background of the past few days, and materials in the foreign media, suggest that global politics is being remilitarized – and this is being linked to Russia’s actions. This much is true: remilitarization really is under way. But Russia is only playing a secondary role in this process.
The news background of the past few days, and materials in the foreign media, suggest that global politics is being remilitarized – and this remilitarization is being linked to Russia’s actions. Russia, they say, is firing missiles at the defenseless Georgia; and the leading Western nations are already prepared to take this issue to the UN Security Council. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is holding a large-scale exercise in the Chelyabinsk region; they say this is intended to intimidate the West, and is evidence that the SCO is turning into a military-political bloc aimed at counterbalancing NATO. After a lengthy interval, Russian bombers are resuming patrol flights over the Atlantic and the Pacific; therefore, Russia is bringing the military force component back into politics – a component relegated to the background after the Cold War.
This much is true: remilitarization really is under way. But Russia is only playing a secondary role in this process.
In recent years, military force has come to be regarded as an entirely acceptable and applicable political instrument. I won’t go into the question of whether its application is justified; too much controversy there. Russia has been slammed for years on account of Chechnya. Yet it’s worth noting that the United States and its allies have conducted three major wars: in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are a very long way from being resolved, and there have been hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. In contrast, no Russian soldier has fired a shot anywhere outside Russia’s borders.
Demilitarizing international relations became possible largely because the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. But the NATO bloc continued to exist and grow. We recently marked the tenth anniversary of the Russia-NATO Act, signed as a symbol of our country’s reluctant and forced semi-consent to NATO expansion. Back then, a decade ago, NATO developed three principles for its approach to new member states: “no nukes, no troops, no critical infrastructure.” And what happened? So far, they haven’t deployed any nuclear weapons. But they are preparing to open some new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania. And no matter how you look at it, or what kind of infrastructure you define as critical, that definition would certainly apply to the American missile defense elements which are to be installed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Overall, the missile defense probrams is nothing other than a revival of the Star Wars program on the basis of new technology. Missile defense elements are being deployed in space; they will be deployed in Eastern Europe, Alaska, California, Japan, Australia, Greenland – and now there’s talk of Romania and the Caucasus as well. Clearly, all this will elicit retaliatory measures.
After that, there are plans to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO; and the Russian leadership would obviously see this as crossing the line, making any further cooperation with NATO undesirable.
Against this backdrop, Russia’s moves appear exceptionally moderate. Yes, we are resuming patrol flights by strategic bombers which haven’t even been modernized since the flights were suspended in 1992. But the United States never suspended its patrol flights at all; and according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), out of the 106 strategic bombers in the US Air Force, 72 (carrying almost 2,000 cruise missiles and nuclear bombs) have been on duty all along, regularly flying around Russia’s borders.
The SCO is not NATO, and does not intend to become a military-political bloc. Neither does it regard itself as a counterweight to anything, NATO included. The exercise in the Chelyabinsk region was limited in scope and focused on counter-terrorism; if it was intended to intimidate anyone, that could only apply to extremists in Central Asia.
But the event that really causes concern is the “missile conflict” with Georgia. I find it hard to believe that Russia was behind the incident; I can’t see a single reason why Russia would have wanted to do such a thing. There are no grounds to disbelieve our highly authoritative military experts, who have concluded that this is yet another act of provocation on Georgia’s part. But the fact that Tbilisi’s version of events has received unconditional support from the USA and its allies prompts some gloomy thoughts. This seems like a political operation aimed at pressuring Russia and its peacekeepers out of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone, so that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili can achieve his long-standing goal: remilitarizing the conflict and re-fighting the war with South Ossetia. If so, war in the Caucasus may indeed become a reality.
A great deal of effort has been required to place Russia in a position where it’s paying attention to the SCO’s military component and resuming strategic bomber patrol flights. But why was it necessary to do this? Did they really assume they could treat Russia any way they pleased?