By John E. Carey
For The Washington Times
August 22, 2007
Russia watchers and military analysts say some of Russia’s recent military moves speak louder than the words of Russia’s leaders.
But the words of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and others at the top of the Russian hierarchy have sent an icy chill though relations between Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S.
|Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Владимир Владимирович Путин
In just the last week:
–Russia reinstituted long range bomber surveillance patrols of U.S. vital areas including the military installation at Guam and our aircraft carriers at sea. These are the first routine bomber patrols since the Cold War.
–Russia announced an intention to again deploy Russian naval forces to the Mediterranean Sea. This activity also is a return to Cold War-like military deployments and operations. The head of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Masorin said, “The Mediterranean is an important theater of operations for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We must restore a permanent presence of the Russian Navy in this region.”
–Russia joined with China and several oil-rich Central Asian former Soviet Republics who are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to conduct war game maneuvers.
For the first time ever, Russia hosted Chinese soldiers in peaceful yet provocative training exercised on Russian soil. The U.S. Embassies in Moscow and Beijing said the United States had requested participation in the events but were informed that any U.S. participation or observers would not be welcome.
–Finally, President Putin from Russia and President Hu Jintao of China participated in a multi-nation meeting of the SCO that included non-member luminaries such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad took the opportunity to rant against the U.S. proposed deployment of missile defenses to Poland and the Czech Republic; a deployment also criticized by China and Russia. China and Russia have blocked attempts by the U.S., U.K. and France to sanction Iran in the U.N. for its nuclear program.
“Diplomacy between Russia and the West is increasingly being overshadowed by military gestures,” says Sergei Strokan, a foreign-policy expert with the independent daily Kommersant. “It’s clear that the Kremlin is listening more and more to the generals and giving them more of what they want.”
Said President Putin at the SCO’s largest annual gathering of regional leaders ever, “Year by year, the SCO is becoming a more substantial factor in ensuring security in the region,” he said. “Russia, like other SCO states, favors strengthening the multi-polar international system providing equal security and development potential for all countries. Any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally have no future,” he added.
Ex-Soviet members of the SCO include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
For more than two years the SCO, prompted largely by Russia, has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from two member countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan evicted American forces that were supporting American and NATO operations in Afghanistan, but Kyrgyzstan still hosts a U.S. base. Russia also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan.
Much of regional wrangling and politics in Central Asia relates to oil. Russia’s new hubris and military activity is funded by recent oil wealth. China has an agreement to buy Russian oil and during this last week the leaders of China and Kazakhstan agreed to finance and build a network of pipelines to supply China with oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region.
“The SCO clearly wants the US to leave Central Asia; that’s a basic political demand,” says Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow director of the independent World Security Institute. “That’s one reason why the SCO is holding military exercises, to demonstrate its capability to take responsibility for stability in Central Asia after the US leaves.”
Believing that the U.S. too greatly dominates the post-Cold War world, Russia and China agreed to for a “strategic partnership.” The creation of the SCO in 2001 is a key part of that relationship. But the outreach by Russia and China to leaders like Iran’s Ahmadinejad has caused western analysts to refer to the SCO as the “club of dictators” or “OPEC with nukes.”
Moreover, a year’s worth of bellicose rhetoric from Mr. Putin worries many western observers.
Last February at the Annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, President Putin called American foreign policy “ruinous” in a speech reporters called a “scathing attack.”Mr. Putin also said the United States was a reckless “unipolar” power. He accused United States of making the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that led to war, ruin and insecurity.
America’s new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a follow-up to Mr. Putin’s speech, “As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost..” He added: “One Cold War was quite enough.”
At the end of July, the secretary-general of NATO, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, “Nobody wants a new Cold War, neither the Russians nor NATO, nobody.” He urged Russia to abandon its “confrontational” rhetoric and join the Western allies to combat the common threats of terrorism and failed states.
Judging by Russian activities last week, it is not clear that Mr. Putin is listening.
John E. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to the Washington Times.