The latest US National Intelligence Estimate: an update.

Analysis of most important challenges to US security was published in Washington, the first document of this sort drawn for President Barack Obama. The National Intelligence Estimate covers the whole world with a special emphasis on the situation in Pakistan, Iran, and Middle East. A special paragraph of the document deals with Russia.

Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence who monitors all 16 American intelligence services, said work of thousands professionals had gone into the document.

Russia is first mentioned in the National Intelligence Estimate in the Estimates part. Authors of the document refrained from calling it America’s enemy (they do not think that any foreign country has the military capacity to threaten the United States) but listed all aspects of the Kremlin’s foreign policy that had been disturbing Washington. These included advancement of relations with China, Iran, and Venezuela. They also included attempts to establish control over deliveries of energy to Europe and East Asia and efforts to protect and expand presence in European markets (through establishment of a gas cartel together with other major exporters, among other things).

“Moscow strengthened its conventional armed forces so as to turn them into a reliable instrument of foreign policy and proclaim its own political restoration, so as to dominate nearby countries like Georgia,” the document pointed out. Triumph over the Georgian army in August 2008 was acknowledged with certain astonishment since it happened “despite the extended period of reduction-in-force, deteriorating quality of conscripts, and difficulties with modernization.”

The National Intelligence Estimate emphasized Russian leaders’ positive attitude toward the possibility of improvement of the Russian-American relations. Unlike other parts of the document, however, this one included no recommendations on how to go about this improvement. “Matters like NATO’s expansion, conflict over the Georgian separatist regions, and ABM will keep complicating the relations,” the authors stated. “Even insisting on negotiations over a new agreement to replace the START I, Moscow points out that Georgia’s and Ukraine’s entry into NATO will compromise the existing arms control regimes and negotiations (over the future ones – Nezavisimaya Gazeta) and may occasion Russian military counter-measures and an increase of pressure on Tbilisi and Kiev.”

Neither did the document anticipate abatement of tension over the so called latent conflicts. On the contrary, its authors acknowledged the increasing risk of provocations and erroneous decisions that could renew the hostilities over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. US intelligence offered no real insight into how the confrontation between President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili and the opposition would continue or what it would result in – reinforcement of democracy in this country or digression from it.

Authors of the document anticipated appearance of another conflict area in the Caucasus, namely in Nagorno-Karabakh. “Declaration of independence of Kosovo and recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia, as well as improvement of the Armenian-Turkish relations foment fears of isolation in Azerbaijan,” the document stated.

The National Intelligence Estimate was quite pessimistic with regard to the future of Central Asian states. Falling oil and gas prices might foment social tension in Kazakhstan. Financial crisis could further undermine domestic stability in Tajikistan heavily relying as it was on what its nationals were transacting from Russia.

By and large, American intelligence anticipated settlement of no existing conflicts in 2009. As for appearance of new ones, authors of the document were clearly upset by prospects of the confrontation between Israel and Iran over nuclear aspirations of the latter.

Threats to American interests were recognized originating in Pakistan were Al-Qaeda leaders were suspected to be hiding and in North Africa where European and local terrorists were thought to be charting new terrorist acts against the United States.

Recognizing the financial crisis under way as the primary threat to the United States, US intelligence never even ventured a guess on when the recovery could or should be expected to begin.