The Russian bear growls

WHEN the Russian bear growls, one is well advised 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 apparently did not.

By Eric Margolis

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Published: Sun 25 Feb 2007, 8:21 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:10 AM

In a 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, ntrying to monopolise world energy sources, destabilising 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 sympathises 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.

The US and its allies shrugged off Putin’s warnings while the Western media blasted the Russian leader for daring challenge the Pax Americana.

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, charges many also level at President George W Bush over Iraq.

But Putin is absolutely 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 modernising the US nuclear arsenal and planning to deploy ballistic missile defense systems(BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In response, General 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. He did not explain how a US BMD system in East Europe would threaten Russia’s long-range missiles, whose trajectory would be over the Arctic regions.

The Russians still 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. Why on earth would Iran fire missiles at Warsaw or Prague?

These new strategic systems, says Moscow and some Western defence analysts, are part of the Bush/ Cheney administration’s profoundly destabilising efforts to erect anti-missile defences in Alaska and Europe that may nullify the nuclear arsenals of Russia and China.

The White House is 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.

Russia has let the US do pretty much what it wanted around the globe for the past 16 years. Putin’s angry speech is a warning that 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 modernise 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 influence of Israel’s right wing parties and return to its traditional more balanced role.

Some Europeans also quietly welcomed Putin’s speech. There is growing irritation in the EU and NATO —what former US National Security chief Zib Brzezinski cruelly terms ‘America’s vassal states’ —at being brusquely ordered about by Washington and told send troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many Western Europeans are starting to long for the Cold War days and old bi-polar world order. No one loves Russia, but many Europeans say a strong Russia —and China —are necessary to restrain some of America’s more overly assertive or unwise instincts.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun

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