Putin’s Next Domino

Putin’s Next Domino

By Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | 8/22/2008

As soon as the U.S. and Poland signed their long awaited missile defense pact on August 20 (a deal recently reported in FrontPage), the Kremlin issued a sinister threat reminiscent of its old Cold War rhetoric.  

The deal places 10 missile defense interceptors on Polish territory, 115 miles from the Russian border. The missiles are designed to deter and, if necessary, defeat an Iranian attack, not to attack the former Soviet Union. But the Russians don’t believe that.

Hours after the signing, Russia’s Foreign Ministry described the new base as “one of the instruments in an extremely dangerous bundle of American military projects involving the one-sided development of a global missile shield system.” The Foreign Ministry insisted that the interceptors don’t have “any target other than Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles,” and issued a veiled threat: “In this case Russia will be forced to react, and not only through diplomatic” channels.

A few days earlier, Deputy Chief of Staff General Anatoly Nogovitsyn had warned, “Poland, by deploying [the system] is exposing itself to [nuclear] attack, one hundred percent.”

Earlier, the chief of Russia’s strategic missile command suggested aiming nuclear missiles at Poland, while Vladimir Putin himself has warned Poland’s neighbor that “Russia will have to point its warheads at Ukrainian territory” if Ukraine joined NATO.

In Poland to sign the aggreement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed any suggestion that the new system represents a threat to Russia, and denounced General Nogovitsyn’s threat.

Comments like this “border on the bizarre, frankly,” said Rice, adding, “The Russians are losing their credibility.” “Missile defense, of course, is aimed at no one,” Rice futher explained. “It is in our defense that we do this.”

“It’s also the case that when you threaten Poland, you perhaps forget that it is not 1988,” Rice continued. “It’s 2008 and the United States has a … firm treaty guarantee to defend Poland’s territory as if it was the territory of the United States. So it’s probably not wise to throw these threats around.”

Perhaps, but Russia seems eager to turn back the clock, to a time when it was the United States’ most feared enemy, and not merely a nation among others.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Gabriel Schoenfeld reports that, like the United States since the end of the Cold War,

Russia has also reduced the size of its tactical nuclear arsenal, but starting from much higher levels and at a slower pace, leaving it with an estimated 5,000 such devices — 10 times the number of tactical weapons held by the U.S. Such a disparity would be one thing if we were contending with a stable, postcommunist regime moving in the direction of democracy and integration with the West. That was the Russia we anticipated when we began our nuclear build-down. But it is not the Russia we are facing today. (…)

As in the Cold War, nuclear weapons are central to the Russian geopolitical calculus. “The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have [nuclear] parity they will talk to us in a different way.” These words are not from the dark days of communist yore. Rather, they were uttered last year by Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, and they perfectly capture the mentality we and Russia’s neighbors are up against.

In other words, the Kremlin has the hardware to back up their bluster. In recent months, the Russians have sent bombers on sorties along the Alaskan coast, and have threatened to station nuclear weapons in Cuba in response to the U.S. Poland pact.

Because Russia is the world’s second largest oil producer, its newest threats helped oil prices shoot up to $115 a barrel on Wednesday. The situation was compounded by Russia’s recent invasion of Georgia, which threatened to disrupt important regional pipelines. The price of gold, which has historically risen and fell in unison with international tensions, also rose yesterday due to “increasing geopolitical risk.” One veteran market observer analyzed the situation on Thursday and issued a distressing prediction:

Venezuela, Syria and Iran are aligning themselves with Russia. President Assad has said that Israeli assistance to Georgia shows that Russia and Syria should bolster military cooperation. Venezuela’s Chavez is also aligning himself with the Russians. Chavez said at the weekend that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev wanted to send a Russian naval fleet to visit Venezuela and that the Russians naval fleet would be welcome in Venezuela. Venezuela has been seeking closer relations with Moscow, in part to buy military hardware, including 24 Russian Sukhoi fighter jets recently delivered.

Geopolitical risk is higher now than at any time since the end of the Cold War and looks set to remain heightened in the coming months.

So far, the U.S. and Poland have issued calm yet firm statements in response to the Kremlin’s belligerence.  For example, on August 21, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski suggested that the Russians be invited to inspect the new bases on Polish territory.

However, whether or not the two nations and their allies can maintain this sanguine front in the face of Russia’s threats of nuclear “payback” remains to be seen.

A blogger since 2000, Kathy Shaidle runs FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new e-book Acoustic Ladyland has been called a “must read” by Mark Steyn.

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