Russia Strikes Back!
Tension between Washington and Moscow has been growing. The United States has accused Russia of backing away from “democratic” reforms, and the Kremlin slams the US foreign policy and vehemently objects to, among other things, US plans to deploy a missile-defense system in former Soviet Bloc countries. Putin wished the US celebrating its Independence Day on 4th July, but did not hesitate to restate the Kremlin's rhetoric of assertiveness and aggressiveness. Putin might have played with a family dog of US President Bush when he visited him in the USA, but when it comes to business he sticks to his position very firmly.
Initially in 2000, US president was happy with the new Russian president Vladimir Putin and called him an "honest person and a good friend", although USA still considered him a "riddle" wrapped in an enigma. A very serious clash has surfaced in the relationship between Russia and USA over the latter's decision, after Sept 11, to walk out of the ABM treaty signed by them in 1972 and has gradually snowballed in to the return to the old style "Cold war" between them now, following the NATO decision to deploy anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in Eastern Europe. Earlier this year, Putin said Russian missiles could once again be aimed at targets in Europe if the US builds a missile shield on the continent, and last month Moscow suspended its compliance with the conventional arms forces in Europe treaty. The Russian leader made it clear the resumption of long-range bomber missions was in response to threats posed by the United States and NATO.
It may be recalled that former Soviet President M. Gorbachev and US President R. Reagan had declared the so-called “cold war” closed and the world free and safe. But fact remains that Cold war has been on intermittently and protected in a frozen form. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, after a brief friendship with the USA and Europe, got disillusioned with them and described the US-Russian equation as "hot peace". The declaration by Russia to pursue the NATO fighter planes by its own fighters is a clear indication of a continuing Cold war.
New Russia has thus put the US-led West on notice about Kremlin's global importance. Putin told reporters that Russia is resuming strategic long-range flights because other countries have not stopped these kinds of flights, creating what he called security problems for Russia. Last week, a Russian military plane flew near the US military base on the Pacific island of Guam, but the US military said it did not get close enough to be intercepted. Russia conducts global patrols by its long-range bombers to deal with threats to its national security.
President Putin announced that 14 bombers and six supporting airplanes took off at midnight on 24 August for 20-hour missions across the world. “We have decided to restart flights by Russian strategic aviation on a permanent basis,” Putin told reporters after watching the largest yet military exercises with China and four central Asian states in Russia's Ural Mountains. Putin said last week that he ordered patrols of long-range aircraft to begin immediately and said they will be permanent. The long-range bombers are continuously flying missions over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. The Russian military and media report that NATO planes are escorting some of the bombers, but NATO will not confirm that. Russia still insists that NATO, the old Cold war baggage, be dismantled if the relations between USA and Russia is to improve. Moscow said negotiations on the deployment of missile defense elements in Europe are becoming problematic, adding that the West doubts the need for such discussions. "We are being told that there is no need to conduct consultations now that the decision to deploy a missile defense system has been made, and that Russia is only interfering in the dialogue between the US and Poland and the US and the Czech Republic.
Not only Russia considers Eastern Europe as its “legitimate backyard” and out-ring security zone, but Russia seriously views the missile shield as a threat to its security as it would be placed at the very border of Russia. Kremlin hinted on July 04 that it would station missiles in its most westerly region bordering EU members Poland and Lithuania, if the United States does not retrace its steps to cooperate over plans for a European missile shield. In early August 2007 Russia withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF). The INF treaty was signed in December 1987 by US President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. It entered into force in June 1988. On 17 August Russian President Putin retaliated against the US proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe on behalf of the NATO which it heads, with a counter-threat of resumption of global reconnaissance by strategic bombers over Atlantic and Pacific oceans that could pierce through the European countries. Putin himself viewed the patrolling of the bombers. Russia and China have had a joint strategic military exercise in Russia.
At the recent SCO summit at Bishkek, Putin again slammed USA for its threat to Russian security and integrity with its shield in its neighboring countries. (The SCO, a regional group largely seen as a counterweight to US influence in Asia, comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and has Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia as observers). Russia sees no threat emanating from Iran, the "rogue state" the United States is building its missile shield in Europe against, the Russian foreign minister said. The US announced in January plans to place a radar and a host of interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic to fend off what Washington sees as a growing missile threat from "rogue states," including Iran.
The US has said it wants to place radar and a host of interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic to fend off what Washington sees as an impending missile threat from Iran and North Korea. But Russia regards the plan as a threat to its national security and says Iran does not pose any threat to US security. Moscow has warned Poland and Czech against letting their countries being used by USA against Russia. The Soviet Union used to conduct long-range bomber flight with planes carrying nuclear missiles. The practice ended when the Soviet Union collapsed. “In 1992, the Russian Federation unilaterally stopped strategic aviation patrols in faraway areas,” Russian President Putin said. “Regretfully, not everyone followed our example, and strategic aviation flights by other states have continued. This has created security problems for Russia.” Putin said the bombers would fly primarily “in the regions of our busy sea routes and economic zones.” Russia has since August 2007 resumed long-range bomber flights after a 15-year suspension. Fourteen long-range bombers took off from seven airfields across Russia.
Russia would take all steps to ensure its security if Washington rebuffs its offer of cooperation on missile defense. Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov handling Defense portfolio and a leading contender to become the country's next president in 2008 suggested that if the United States accepted the Putin plan then Russia would not place missiles in its most westerly province of Kaliningrad and the need will disappear for Russia to deploy new missile weapons in the European part of the country, including in Kaliningrad Region. Kaliningrad lies on the Baltic Sea coast and is surrounded by Lithuania and Poland. It is not connected by land to the rest of Russia and the city of Kaliningrad is far closer to Warsaw than to Moscow. Ivanov warned that Russia would base new missiles in western Russia if Washington continued with its plans to set up a missile defense system with components in the Czech Republic and Poland. “If any one had concluded that the old "Cold War" has ended, should devise their position accordingly. Call it a New Cold War or Cold War II. If the proposal is accepted, then Russia will not have need to base new rocket forces in the European part of Russia, in Kaliningrad, in order to parry the threats that will arise from the missile defense system," said Ivanov. "If our proposal is not accepted, we will take adequate measures." Ivanov also asserted that Russia's proposal would also protect a greater number of European countries than the United States' proposal.
The US, trying to underplay the episode, reacted with thinly veiled irritation. “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,” said Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the US State Department. Washington says the shield is needed for protection from possible missile attacks from states such as North Korea and Iran. Bush said he would study the Russian proposals, calling them "very innovative." But he insisted the anti-missile system must still be based in Eastern Europe. The US military will move its secure command center from deep inside Cheyenne Mountain even as Russia revives military maneuvers that led America to burrow under the rock almost 50 years ago. Many arguments are put forward for more than a year against the backdrop of tension between Washington and Moscow and Russia's decision to resume long-range bomber missions common during the Cold War.
Recently, Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos has called US plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe a "provocation" reviving Cold War debates. "The US has chosen the wrong path in my opinion. There is no point in building up a missile defense shield in Europe. That only unnecessarily rekindles old Cold War debates." The United States plans to deploy elements of its shield -- designed to intercept and destroy missiles from "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea -- in Poland and the Czech Republic. On Tuesday Russia's military chief told the Czech Republic that hosting the shield would be a "big mistake”. Darabos said he saw no danger from Iranian long-range missiles and the US should try for a different solution.
The restart of global patrolling by Russian long-range bombers marks a major shift in Russia's strategic posturing. Their nuclear-capable cruise missiles will be able to strike targets deep inside the US at a moment's notice. The Russian move is a part of Moscow's response to the relocation of NATO forces closer to Russia's borders against INF regulations by US plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile defenses in Eastern Europe. China's increasing military capabilities and concerns about the intentions of North Korea and Iran, have led some officials at Cheyenne to oppose the move out of the mountain. They say the new command center at Peterson cannot be protected from nuclear, chemical or biological attack and its systems will not be sufficiently hardened against an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear blast overhead. A former senior defense official who led Pentagon efforts to close unneeded military bases said Cheyenne is one of just three facilities the United States should never close.
USA supported Russian position on Chechnya following the Sept 11 but that event has faded away and Russia does not like if USA again, in line with its Kosovo plan, would support Chechnya's independence from Russia as well. Obviously Moscow would like the USA to revive the ABM treaty, get Russia a membership in WTO, dismantle NATO and strive collectively for universal disarmament including nuclear weapons. Besides, US should consider the legitimate interests of Russia as a veto wielding UNSC member and a former super power that had sway over most of the countries in the world. More importantly, Russia should not be taken for granted and considered as a weak nation because it is smaller by territory now. The Kremlin's drive to reacquire global leadership with less input should be understood by the USA in its proper prospective. Issues like Kosovo should be resolved as Russia expects. However, going by what the US does under conditions of pressure from “non-friendly” countries, Washington would not reconcile to Russian demands and alter any of its own positions, come what may. White House cannot quite appreciate the SCO build-up against US interests.
The Russians have very useful, capable, powerful armed forces and they would be unwise not to use them in whatever ways in their best national interests. Some US strategists characterize both Russia and China as “partners” and Iran and North Korea were not yet capable of a precise strike in the middle of North America; they believe that Russia may not intend to harm the United States but certainly has the capability. Threat is capability and intent and Russia is no threat to USA.
However, it is note-worthy that President Putin is upbeat on US-Russia relations. Putin, in a statement marking US Independence Day, said he was certain that relations between Russia and the United States would progress despite disagreements. "We look with certainty to the future of mutually satisfactory working together. I am sure that, despite known disagreements, which are unavoidable in an open and honest dialogue, the policy of comprehensive development of bilateral ties in all areas will continue," Putin said. During a summit in the US state of Maine, Putin and US President George W. Bush met in an effort to halt the deterioration in US-Russian relations at a critical time. In a sign of some progress on that front, the two countries pledged to reduce their stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons "to the lowest possible" level.
Russia is terribly upset over US decisions of the recent past. A threatened Kremlin could be deadly even for the USA. The earlier reasons put forward by the US strategists for Moscow's opposition to US unilateral moves as being a strategy for acquiring advanced technology from USA and Germany or a membership of WTO don't look tenable now. One factor seems to be very emphatically stressed through these clashes between the virtual super powers: Putin's ratings have been on an upswing and his chances of continuing as Russian President beyond 2008 are even greater now. But whether one calls it 'Cold War” or “Hot Peace” to describe the US-Russian relations, world is going to see at least bitter rhetorical wars that could be dangerous for the humanity in the future. One can't exactly predict the outcome of such a scenario if the clash continues endlessly.