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The Russia That Can Say No

"Only Britain and France have serious armies among all of the European member nations of the NATO alliance. France has almost no effective rapid power projection capabilities and even Britain's are miniscule and overstretched. By contrast, Russia counts China, India and Iran as partners. It has formal, detailed treaty relationships with Beijing and Delhi."
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Feb 26, 2007
U.S. President George W. Bush did not deliberately set out to make Russia a formidable opponent: He just took her for granted. In particular, Bush and his top policymakers have repeatedly assumed that reasonable negotiations with Russia meant doing exactly what they wanted to do and expecting the Russians to grumble a bit but passively accept it without ever pushing back.

The complementary assumption was that Russia would never be able to push back because it lacked the power to do so and remained globally isolated.

Yet under President Vladimir Putin, Russia over the past seven years has recovered from its chaotic decade of powerlessness, economic collapse and humiliation under President Boris Yeltsin. It has become a formidable energy superpower whose annual revenues from its exports of oil and gas are greater than those of Saudi Arabia. And in terms of having allies who have serious military power in their own regions, it is arguably much less isolated than the United States.

Only Britain and France have serious armies among all of the European member nations of the NATO alliance. France has almost no effective rapid power projection capabilities and even Britain's are miniscule and overstretched. By contrast, Russia counts China, India and Iran as partners. It has formal, detailed treaty relationships with Beijing and Delhi.

Back in January 2005 we warned in these columns, "While Bush celebrates the heady reality of Western-style democracy, leaders and policies triumphing at last in Ukraine as they appear ever more embattled in Iraq, he must also face the ominous reality that his most important global strategic ally in the war on terror over the past three and more years -- Putin -- may be turning into a global enemy."

On Feb. 10, 2007, Putin gave the warning himself. His comments at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy were the toughest language against the United States any Russian or Soviet leader has used in well over 20 years since the last great freeze of the Cold War in the early 1980s.

However, the relative power positions of Russia and the United States today are the opposite of what they were in the early 1980s.

Then it was the Soviet Union that was upsetting the fragile balance of power in Europe by deploying intermediate range SS-20 missiles that could annihilate the great cities of Western Europe. It was the United States under President Ronald Reagan that moved to counter this threat by deploying mobile intermediate range Pershing II missiles of its own on the European continent.

Today, the Russians charge that it is the United States that is acting to upset the power balance in Europe by deploying ballistic missile defense systems in Central Europe, specifically in traditionally anti-Russian Poland that, they argue, threatens to neutralize Russia's own strategic nuclear deterrent.

Over the past two weeks, since Putin's Munich speech, Russian leaders have ominously warned they are prepared to pull out of, or openly break, the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that scrapped both the Pershings and the SS-20s and the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that limits regular military build-ups on the European continent.

Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, even warned last week that his nation is prepared to resume production of the intermediate-range missiles scrapped under the INF treaty.

That is no idle threat. Russia's military-industrial complex has been rebuilt since losing direct control of its Ukrainian factories, especially in the Don Basin or Donbass, when Ukraine became independent following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But the great missile plants and steelworks that support them are always hungry for new orders. And with a treasury bursting with windfall revenues from record gas and oil export earnings, the Kremlin can certainly afford to pay for those new intermediate range missiles.

Senior Russian officials have taken pains to emphasize since Putin's tough talk in Washington that the Russian president's speech was intended as a "cold shower", not the beginning of a new Cold War. But it takes two to tango and the Russian message appears very clear: "We will only continue to respect old arrangements like the CFE and the INF if you do not push ahead with new unilateral projects like the BMD in Central Europe plan.

Vladimir Putin's Russia is not the economic and geopolitical basket-case that Boris Yeltsin's was. Bush administration policymakers have to learn they must negotiate with an independent equal, and give concessions in order to get them. For this is a Russia that can say 'No.'

Source: United Press International

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