A clear review of the evidence indicates that Russia’s leadership has returned to a cold war posture.
An Examination of both worldwide and Russian sources indicates that Moscow has engaged in:
- vigorous and greatly expanded armaments expenditures; (while the U.S. has slowed its military budget, and may reduce it sharply starting in 2013)
- adventurous military patrols across the globe;
- seeking naval bases abroad;
- support of belligerent anti-western regimes in Syria, Iran, and Venezuela;
- a belligerent attitude towards other nations;
- threats of a “pre-emptive strike” against American missile defense installations in Poland;
- energy “blackmail” against Europe;
- Joint wargame maneuvers with China;
- Soviet-style repression of its own people; and
- Soviet-style treatment of the former captive nations of Eastern Europe as well as former Soviet Republics.
This month marks the fourth anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, one of the former Soviet republics known to the Kremlin as “the Near Abroad.” Henry R. Nau, writing in National Review Online, stated that “Moscow seeks a sphere of privileged interests in the former Soviet zone and feels uncomfortable with democracy in Ukraine, Poland, and Russia itself.”
Observers have noticed a sharp increase in Russia’s Cold War attitude following Vladimir Putin’s return to his nation’s highest office.
THE LATEST SPECIFIC INCIDENTS
During this summer, two Russian Bear-class nuclear capable bombers buzzed the American west coast on July 4, and had to be chased away by U.S. interceptors.
At the same time, to the apparent delight of Russian media sources (including the Voice of Russia, as quoted below) an Akula-class attack submarine capable of carrying long-range ballistic missiles patrolled the U.S. coast undetected for a month in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the Center of Social and Political studies, said:
‘This is a good lesson for the U.S., demonstrating that it should not pursue its foreign policy interests all over the world using force. Other states also have some military potential…the U.S. should realize thatit is also vulnerable because the anti-missile system is not efficient enough when it comes to cruised missiles…this destroys the image of U.S. invincibility…”
Defense expert Bill Gertz, writing in the Washington Free Beacon, quotes naval analyst and submarine warfare specialist Norman Polmar:
“The Akula was built for one reason and one reason only: to kill U.S. navy ballistic missile submarines and their crews…sending a nuclear-propelled submarine into the Gulf of Mexico-Caribbean region is another manifestation of President Putin demonstrating that Russia is still player on the world’s political-military stage.”
Gertz described the extraordinary abilities of the Akulas, which include firing cruise missiles and torpedoes, anti-submarine missiles, and laying mines.
The Akula incident, deeply reminiscent of cold war activities, enraged Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) who stated:
“This submarine patrol, taken together with the air incursions, seems to represent a more aggressive and destabilizing Russian military stance that could pose risks to our national security. This is especially troubling given the drastic defense cuts sought by President Obama, which include reductions in funding for antisubmarine defense systems.”
A similar incident occurred earlier in the Obama administration when two Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines were reported patrolling off the East Coast of the United States.
ENHANCING MILITARY CAPABILITIES
The similarities with the Soviet Union extend to Moscow’s renewed concentration on military prowess, accelerating a trend towards restoring the intimidation factor Russia possessed during the Cold War.
The Heritage Foundation reports that the Kremlin as begun an extensive nuclear and strategic force modernization program, while the U.S. equivalent suffers from increasing neglect.
R.James Woolsey, writing in 2009 for the New Deterrent Working Group, noted that:
“The Kremlin is simultaneously engaging in more and more direct nuclear threats against our allies, eroding confidence in the United States’ extended deterrent. And Moscow is irrefutably doing hydro-nuclear and hydrodynamic experiments at Novaya Zemlya, underground nuclear testing of a sort the United States claims is impermissible under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and that it has, as a signatory (albeit not a state party to the treaty) forsworn.”
In recent years, according to the New Deterrent Working Group, Russia has made numerous nuclear threats against American allies. “These direct threats have been made from the level of senior generals all the way up to the Russian president…In addition to the numerous threats of direct targeting, Russia has also used the forward deployment of nuclear missiles, provocative “combat patrols” by its long range bombers and an aggressive nuclear buildup as instruments of foreign policy. Russia has also announced the lowest nuclear weapons-use threshold in the world.”
Adding to that threat, the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense noted in 2008 that “Russia maintains a fully functional nuclear weapons design, development, test and manufacturing infrastructure capable of producing significant quantities of nuclear warheads per year.” This contrast sharply with the U.S., which according to the New Deterrent Working Group “has effectively eliminated its nuclear weapons production capacity and allowed its infrastructure to atrophy. We no longer produce successive generations of nuclear weapons and we have discontinued underground testing.”
In 2011, while the American nuclear arsenal shrank, its Russian counterpart grew larger, according to the Heritage Foundation. During that year, the U.S. reduced the number of warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers, by 0.6%. In contrast, Russia’s similar arsenal increased by 1.9%. In terms of total deployed ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers, America reduced its numbers by a dramatic 6.8%, while Russia’s decreased by just 1.0%. America reduced the number of launchers for ICBMs and SLBMs by 7.2%, while Moscow’s increased by 0.7%.
President Obama is advocating unilateral and unprecedented cuts to the American nuclear arsenal. His proposal would reduce U.S. nuclear weapons by 80%, down to levels not seen since the 1950s, leaving America with only 300 warheads, compared to Russia’s 6,000. This is based on the President’s belief that he has “reset” Washington/Moscow relations. His administration’s2010 Quadrennial Defense Review makes no mention of Russia’s military resurgence, and instead claims that the two nations are making progress in reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons since the two governments “share many interests-including countering proliferation and countering terrorism.”
THE NEW START TREATY
The New START treaty between Russia and the U.S., signed on April 8, 2010, does not add confidence to those hoping to limit Moscow’s nuclear drive.
A major flaw is the less stringent verification procedures. As noted by theCongressional Research Service‘s February 14, 2012 report, The U.S. will no longer maintain a monitoring presence outside the Votinsk facility where Russia assembles its mobile ICBMs, which may weaken the U.S. ability to count these missiles as they enter Russia’s forces. CRS also notes that the United States and Russia will no longer exchange telemetry data on all their ballistic missile flight tests, which, over time, could lessen the U.S. ability to understand and evaluate the capabilities of Russian ballistic missiles.
New START also lacks some needed restrictions on mobile ICBMs, which only Russia fields. At the same time, New START makes a major concession to Moscow in its statement on missile defense. The CRS report outlines that the treaty “recognize[s] “the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the parties.”
Critics of New Start, including Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) have pointed out that the treaty allows Russia to continue its 10 to 1 advantage in tactical nuclear weapons; reduces America’s ability to deploy missile defense, and allows Russia to modernize its nuclear weapons while the US remains idle.
The Administration’s extremely optimistic view of Russia’s nuclear ambitions was further evidenced by the August 14 report of the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), a federal advisory committee established to guide the State Department. It emphasizes President Obama’s goal to move towards “very low numbers” of nuclear weapons and the road to their total elimination. Among the ISAB’s recommendations:
“Change U.S. doctrine and posture away from defining our nuclear posture based on perception of Russia as the primary threat, toward a doctrine of general deterrence, a posture in which attacks from any direction are discouraged without singling out a particular adversary or enemy (reciprocal action required.)”
The ISAB also recommends ending trade restrictions between the two nations, including those enacted under the Jackson-Vanik bill, which imposed restrictions based on the USSR’s policy of hampering Jewish immigration. (The trend in Congress, however, may be in the opposite direction. Under the proposed “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act,” Washington would both deny visas and freeze the assets of Russians who engage in human rights abuses such as that imposed on Magnitsky, who was imprisoned for exposing official corruption. He was beaten to death while in jail in 2009.)
Some of Putin’s actions seem difficult to justify even from a Russian nationalist perspective. As disputes with Moslem nationalist groups from Chechnya, who have engaged in substantial terrorist acts (including airport and metro station bombings. The Hudson Institute‘s David Satter, writing in Canada’s National Post, notes that “the number of terrorist incidents grew six-fold between 2000 and 2009, to 738 from 135, and Moscow remains the only European capital to be hit repeatedly by terrorists.”) within Russia continue, Putin provides aid to Iran’s nuclear program, running the risk of eventually arming Chechnyan groups with nuclear material.
Some observers have taken to calling the Putin regime “a mafia state,” run for the enrichment of the leadership and not for the benefit of either the nation or its population.
AIR AND NAVAL FORCE ENHANCEMENTS
Russia’s intensive drive to develop a navy that could pose a threat to the United States will be strengthened by President Putin’s pledge to spend $138 billion on his maritime force. Former President Yeltsin had rejected the need for such a force, according to the Jamestown Foundation. However, the Kremlin today has a different perspective, deeply reminiscent of the first cold war. In addition to the building of new ships, it is purchasing two French built Mistral class amphibious assault helicopter carrier vessels with state of the art equipment.
To accommodate the refurbished fleet, Moscow’s vice admiral Viktor Chirkov is seeking additional bases outside of the former USSR around the world, in Cuba, Vietnam, and the Seychelles to add to its current base in Syria. In addition, Eurasia Daily Monitor reports that Putin has promised to build new naval bases in the Arctic, and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev promises that naval infrastructure hubs will be developed along the Northern Sea route.
Russia joined the 2012 RIMPAC international naval exercises near Hawaii, and the Voice of Russia publication recounted how Moscow’s marines practiced landing on a US warship.
The $723 billion modernization program includes providing up to 1,700 new warplanes, according to RT news. This year, the Russian Air Force will get Su-35 and Su-30 jet fighters and Mi and Ka-52 Alligator helicopters, according to a Voice of Russia report. In 2013, new air defense missile batteries will be delivered–a real irony, given Moscow’s vehement objections to US ABMs.
Igor Korotchenko, chief editor of Russia’s National Defense magazine recently noted in the Voice of Russia publication:
“New aviation training centers are being set up now, the one already operating in Voronezh, where Russia`s future aviation engineers are offered everything they could ever need to succeed in their profession. The federal arms-related program suggests adopting 1,200 helicopters and over 500 planes by the year 2020.”
According to Voice of Russia, “Mr. Korotchenko stressed that the way the national aviation is developing now cannot even be compared to how it was in the 1990s. Since the early 2000s the Russian army has adopted 92 Su-34 bombers, 48 multi-purpose Su-35 jets and over 100 fifth generation jets.The Sukhoi T-50 5th generation jet fighter is what the future of the Russian aviation is about. This is a unique aircraft which performed a demonstration flight during the air show in Zhukovsky. The jet`s radar system can spot and identify targets at the distance up to 400 km. Experts believe that T-50 will surpass America`s the F – 22 Raptor fighter jet. It means that the Russian military aviation is growing even stronger.”
DOMESTIC REPRESSION AND CORRUPTION
The environment for a return to a Soviet style brand of leadership includes repression at home.
David Satter notes that “Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia is again in political crisis.” He describes a nation rife with corruption and lawlessness, its government ranked 154th out of 178 by Transparency International, “on a level with Cambodia and the Central African Republic.”
Putin reclaimed the presidency in the May 7 election, which has been criticized as being rigged in his favor. His government has restricted public protests, prosecuted demonstrators, broken into the homes of opposition leaders, tightened controls on the internet and private organizations, and strong-armed the media. Corruption has been extensive. A Jamestown Foundation study notes that “Putin’s presidential pool journalists never publicly ask the president unwanted or un-vetted questions.”
A “Europe Online Magazine” report lists thirteen separate incidents since December 2011 in which Putin’s actions have prompted the ire of the Russian people, including irregularities in elections for parliament and the presidency.
Most recently, a political trial involving the female rock group”Pussy Riot” sent the musical band to prison for two years. Supporters of the musicians are said to be preparing an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. While awaiting the verdict outside the courtroom, Human Rights Foundation chairman and opposition political leader Garry Kasparov was severely beaten, apparently for nothing more than speaking with journalists about the case, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Putin’s impulse to subjugate political opposition may extend even to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was pressured to step aside from his former post as President to make way for Putin’s return. A Jamestown Foundation report notes that “After agreeing not to seek reelection for a second term as President and becoming Prime Minister last May, Medvedev has been visibly sidelined on the Moscow political scene and has been struggling to assert himself.”
Putin’s determination to make Russia an unequaled nuclear power with an extraordinarily powerful conventional military has not been recognized or responded to by the United States, which continues to adhere to a mistaken belief that the Cold War is gone forever.