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Tag: "russia"

Morning War Update

[ 13 ] August 10, 2008 |

The plot to distract the world from the glory of the 2008 Olympic Games continues to unfold:

  • Russia has not accepted Georgia’s cease fire offer.
  • Georgia claims to have fully withdrawn from South Ossetia. It’s unclear whether the Georgians mean the part of South Ossetia that was controlled by Russia/South Ossetian separatists prior to the war, or all of South Ossetia, but I’m betting the former, and I expect the Russians will be driving for the latter.
  • Russia has landed troops in the Abkhaz city of Ochamchire, to which it recently built a railroad; this could provide a good jumping off point for threats against the Georgian oil exporting city of Poti. Ukraine is threatening to bar the Russian Fleet from returning to Sevastopol.
  • Russia continues to bomb a number of Georgian military and strategic targets.
  • Russia (or motivated Russians) have launched cyber-attacks against Georgian government internet infrastructure. The attacks don’t appear to have been overwhelming thus far.
  • If the war continues, it would appear to be on at least two fronts, with substantial Russia troop buildups in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Evening Update

[ 45 ] August 9, 2008 |

Bringing you the news the other blogs won’t [okay; some of them will]… Here are some questions, and some attempts at answers.

What are the latest developments?

The fighting continues, including airstrikes near the main Georgian oil pipeline and in the port city of Poti, which is a major oil export terminal. Putin has indicated that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now off the table, and will not return to Georgian sovereignty under any circumstances. Putin also seems to be managing the situation from a base in southern Russia; sorry about that, Dmitri. US and European envoys are attempting to arrange a cease fire, but unless I’m terribly wrong (and I may be terribly wrong) the situation will, from this point on, be almost entirely dictated by Russian political calculation.

Did the Georgians wander into a Russian trap?

Quite possibly. More than a few people have noted that the Russians seemed extremely well prepared for intervention in South Ossetia. Believe it or not, there is more than one explanation for this, although we could hardly expect that someone like Ralph Peters, who has always lived in the ragged borderlands of sanity, would appreciate that. Russia could have had direct intelligence that the Georgians were preparing an offensive; as Doug Muir notes:

The Russians have put a lot of effort into intelligence in Georgia. Georgia has expelled various Russian citizens for being spies, but the real threat probably isn’t from Russians. Keep in mind that Georgia was part of Russia for almost 200 years, Georgians occupied a lot of high posts in the Soviet system, and a large minority of Georgians look back on the good old days with nostalgia and are not enthusiastic supporters of nationalist confrontation in general or Saakashvili in particular. So, there’s a pretty good chance that Moscow had the Georgian high command wired for sound.

However, Russia could simply be engaged in the entirely sensible and rational policy of keeping its best troops in places where it thought there might be conflict, and of developing contingency plans in case of conflict. It’s pretty obvious that the Georgian offensive wasn’t just an off the cuff response to the skirmishing in South Ossetia, either; it also looks to have been well planned, with the major flaw being the failure to predict a quick Russian response.

Even if the Georgians fell into a Russian trap, they’re hardly blameless; Saakashvili hasn’t been shy about employing the nationalist rhetoric, and I think it’s pretty absurd to claim that he was “forced” into the offensive, rather than seeing it as an opportunity (with the Olympics and the inevitable Rielle Hunter disclosure) to seize South Ossetia without much of a fight.

What’s going on in the Black Sea?

The deployment of the Black Sea Fleet is particularly worrying, because it may indicate that the Russians are planning to escalate again. Russian air attacks have already hammered large parts of Georgia, but an amphibious assault would be something else entirely. Even if they don’t invade, they can certainly blockade; the Georgian Navy is no match for the Black Sea Fleet, which has some exceptionally powerful ships. Most notable are the cruisers Moskva (Slava class) and Kerch (Kara class); Galrahn has a rundown on the capabilities of the former here. The Russians are already reporting that they have sunk a Georgian patrol boat. Galrahn also has a good discussion of what the deployment of the Black Sea Fleet might mean. It pains me to point out that if the Russians had been more careful with Giulio Cesare, the Georgians would really be screwed; if you want to say “I really mean it”, then say it with a 13″ shell…

What’s the US role?

How much did the US know about Georgian plans before the offensive was launched? David Weman highlights this, from Doug Merrill:

A senior State Department figure was here in Tbilisi last week, and I would expect that the Georgian side at least hinted very broadly about what was up. He would have to deny that, of course, in the way of these things. We can assume that the Americans did not warn them off.

I’m really, really skeptical of the notion that the Georgians would have prepared for, then launched, the offensive to retake South Ossetia without providing any clue to the United States. Even if the State Department figure wasn’t notified, American trainers must have noticed the preparations. I would like to say that it’s simply not plausible that US intel failed to detect preparations for the attack, but then… you know. I suppose it’s an intelligence failure either way; either the Americans failed to detect the Georgian offensive, or they failed to note Russia’s capability and willingness to respond. Either way, we got played by somebody. If the administration did know that the Georgians were planning something and didn’t stop it, then it’s just one indictment of the ineptitude of “the grown ups”

… I am also remiss in failing to note the excellent contribution of Daragh McDowell, including this on the potential impact of the war on the Putin-Medvedev. partnership

Russia-Georgia Afternoon Update

[ 36 ] August 9, 2008 |

Last post was getting a little clogged…

The NYT is reporting a bunch of interesting stuff, not least this:

The de facto government of pro-Russian Abkhazia asked United Nations peacekeepers to depart from their posts in the Kodori Gorge, a small mountainous area that Georgia had reclaimed by force in 2006. The peacekeepers withdrew, and aerial bombardments of the gorge began soon after, the official said.

…the 650 armored vehicles said to have transited from Russia to South Ossetia in the last 24 hours is roughly 3 times the total number of armored vehicles in the entire Georgian arsenal.

…Before Putin returned to Russia, he and Bush spoke at a luncheon hosted by Hu Jintao. Must have been awkward. I wonder if George still thinks Vlady has a “good soul”?

…the Washington Post appears to be incapable in thinking of any but the simplest strategic terms:

This is a grave challenge to the United States and Europe. Ideally, the U.N. Security Council would step in, authorizing a genuine peacekeeping force to replace the Russian one that has turned into a de facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But a Russian veto rules that out. Thus, the United States and its NATO allies must together impose a price on Russia if it does not promptly change course.

What price can NATO impose? The editorial has no answers, and offers no suggestions. Military action? Military assistance for Georgia? Sanctions against Russia? A strongly worded letter? Whoever started this thing, it’s clear that Russia has intentions that go beyond the acceptable, but bluster like this gets us exactly nowhere.

Morning Russia-Georgia Roundup

[ 154 ] August 9, 2008 |

Your morning Confrontation in the Caucasus (somebody tell me if CNN picks up that catchy alliteration, so I can sue) update:

  • Georgia claims to have shot down ten Russian aircraft; the Russians say they’ve lost two. Significant Russian air attacks over Georgia, which makes me suspect that the losses are from SAMs.
  • Russian paratroopers are in Tskhinvali; don’t know whether they got there by foot or by airdrop.
  • The Russians claim that they’ve taken Tskhinvali, while the Georgians disagree. If Tskhinvali is in dispute at this point, then things are not going well for Georgia.
  • As predicted, neither Putin-Medvedev nor Saakashvili are backing down. [Update: Georgia is asking for a ceasefire, but without details of what’s going on in South Ossetia, hard to know what that means. Georgia is also apparently withdrawing its troops from Iraq. Thx, Cernig.]
  • Among other targets, the Russians are bombing the city of Gori, where Georgian troops are massing. Let’s hope they avoid the Stalin Museum.
  • Death toll is running as high as 1600. Long time fans of political science will note that this means the Confrontation in the Caucasus is now a legitimate, genuine interstate war.

…this is illuminating:

Russian Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev claimed in televised comments Saturday that Russian troops had driven Georgian forces out of the provincial capital. Witnesses confirmed that there was no sign of Georgian soldiers in the streets.

Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili proposed a cease-fire Saturday. As part of his proposal, Georgian troops were pulled out of Tskhinvali and had been ordered to stop responding to Russian shelling, said Alexander Lomaia, secretary of his Security Council.

Russia did not immediately respond to Saakashvili’s proposal. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said earlier that Moscow sent troops into South Ossetia to force Georgia into a cease-fire.

Just a couple of hours ago, the Georgians were claiming that they controlled Tskhinvali. I wonder if cooler heads have prevailed in Tblisi.

…This Der Spiegel report highlights the true threat of Abkhaz participation in the war. The problem isn’t that the Abkhaz might head to South Ossetia and join the fighting, because the Russians aren’t exactly facing a manpower crisis. The problem is that the Abkhaz might open a second front, threatening Georgia’s flank and preventing it from deploying additional forces to South Ossetia.

…Dan Nexon has plenty of additional analysis here.

…Reports indicate that the Black Sea Fleet is moving near Abkhazia. This is a substantial force.… the Georgians seem to think that an amphibious assault is going to take place. This would be extremely surprising, although the Black Sea Fleet does have some small, aging landing vessels.

NYT says Russian television reported 650 armored vehicles entering South Ossetia from Russia. Putin has returned from China. This, to put it mildly, could get very ugly.

The War for South Ossetia

[ 0 ] August 9, 2008 |

Further thoughts on the developing crisis…

Whose Fault?
In an earlier post I suggested that the question of moral righteousness in this war is muddled; both Georgia and Russia have plausible justice claims, and as such the determination of “fault” can’t really depend on an evaluation of principle. This pushes practical questions into the foreground, and I think that I was unclear (both to myself and others) regarding how those practical questions should have leaned very heavily against Georgian escalation of the situation in South Ossetia. To be a bit less muddled, I am less sympathetic to the Georgian case because I think that escalating the war (and providing an excuse for Russian counter-escalation) was a damn stupid thing for Saakashvili to do, and a remarkably damn stupid thing for him to do absent an extremely compelling cause. Small, weak states living next to abrasive, unpredictable great powers need to be extremely careful about what they do; in most cases, their foreign policy should, first and foremost, be about avoiding war with the great power. This is what Saakashvili failed to do. The war didn’t need to escalate; it was a Georgian decision to move from the village skirmishes that were happening on Tuesday to the siege of Tsikhinvali on Thursday.

I understand that there can be a bit of “blaming the victim” to this analysis. Russia has consistently pursued imperial aims in its Near Abroad (so does every great power, including the US) and has treated Georgia badly, with a succession of threats, boycotts, and efforts to promote the secessionist forces which are causing the trouble today. Georgia had every right to seek NATO membership in order to limit Russian efforts (although NATO had every right to turn Georgia down). Russia has been a bad actor, but it was nevertheless a terrible and unnecessary mistake to pick a fight with Russia over South Ossetia, not least because the balance of perfidy on South Ossetia is uncertain. This is why I’m unsympathetic to Saakashvili and to his claims that Georgia is fighting for freedom against tyranny. For example, I think that the Taiwanese would be considerably more justified in a declaration of independence from the PRC, but such a declaration would still be reckless, and would leave me less sympathetic to Taiwanese calls for aid.

The United States also bears some responsibility. US rhetorical and material support for Georgia may have given the Georgians unrealistic expectations about likely US behavior in a Russia-Georgia confrontation. Specifically, anything other than “we will not support you in any way or under any circumstances” might have led to the Georgians having the wrong idea.

The Military Balance
At Defense Tech, my good friend John Noonan has briefly run down the military balance between Georgia and Russia. Georgia has an entirely respectable post-Soviet military for a state of its size, which has probably benefitted from US training and from its experience in Iraq.

Russia is… Russia. It has overwhelming advantages in manpower, equipment, and technology. The Russian Army is not your… uh, older brother’s Russian Army. It’s not the Army that lost the First Chechen War, but rather the Army that won the Second Chechen War, and that has significantly improved itself since then. Because of the extended oil boom, all of the equipment that Russia used to sell to India and China but not buy itself is now standard. That puts it a generation and a half ahead of Georgia; not quite US vs. Iraq, but not far off. Moreover, there’s good reason to believe that training, discipline, and morale have substantially improved under the Putin-Medvedev dynasty. On paper, Russia should be able to utterly crush Georgia.

However, the war will not be fought between the full Russian and the full Georgian militaries; rather, it will be fought between the Georgian and whatever forces the Russians can get to South Ossetia and keep supplied there. And that may have been the crux of Georgian strategy. As Doug Muir notes, there is only one road between Russia and South Ossetia, and no substantial airfields. Doug:

There was always this temptation: a fast determined offensive could capture Tsikhinvali, blow up or block the tunnel, close the road, and then sit tight. If it worked, the Russians would then be in a very tricky spot: yes, they outnumber the Georgians 20 to 1, but they’d have to either drop in by air or attack over some very high, nasty mountains. This seems to be what the Georgians are trying to do: attack fast and hard, grab Tsikhinvali, and close the road.

It looks right now as if that strategy has failed. The Russians seem to have been able to deploy a substantial armored force in South Ossetia, and also seem to control the sky. Of course, we don’t know what things will look like tomorrow, but right now they don’t look good for Georgian efforts to close the road. And if the Georgians can’t close the road, they are in very serious trouble. Indeed, even if they do close the road they might be in trouble; the other way that the Russians might get into South Ossetia is to go through Georgia. That would be an escalation, but the Russians might be tempted by their overwhelming theater superiority, and by the stakes.

The Local Political Situation
Saakashvili was having political trouble before the war began, and will enjoy a bump even if Georgia loses. That won’t last long; if the Russians don’t remove him themselves, the Georgians probably will at some point. The stakes for Saakashvili are, thus, quite high, which is possibly why he spent half the day begging for Western assistance on CNN.

The stakes for Putin and Medvedev are also extremely high. I think that they could have given up on South Ossetia without taking a severe domestic hit; their popularity is solid, Russia is still making plenty of money (even with oil dropping), and Abkhazia has always been the more important of the two frozen conflicts. Now that they’re committed, however, I suspect that it will be very hard for Putin and Medvedev to disengage. It’s war; anything can happen, and if the Georgians somehow manage to pull it out, it’s a political disaster for the Russian leadership. The Putin dynasty’s legitimacy is based around the idea of Russian national resurgence, and if a ridiculous little country like Georgia manages to give the Russian Empire a bloody nose and get away with it, Putin and Medvedev become vulnerable. This, I think, is the most dangerous part of the crisis for Georgia. Russia will pull out the stops to win this war; if they can’t win easy, then they’ll win hard, because Russia’s leadership really doesn’t want to be beaten. The problem isn’t just external. I don’t really believe that reputational effects matter for international politics, but even I wonder whether the rest of Russia’s Near Abroad would get restless if the Russians failed to discipline Georgia. And I’m damn sure that Putin and Medvedev do take reputation very seriously, and will spend considerable blood and treasure to make sure Russia’s neighbors remain intimidated.

Moreover, it’s not just the downside of defeat that will drive Russian behavior; the Russians really want to win because they will see serious gains from victory. Putin will likely be able to dispense with the Prime Minister nonsense after pounding Georgia to dust, because the Russians will elect him God King, or at least “discover” that he’s actually the heir to the Romanov throne. The Ledeen Doctrine works much better for Russia than for the United States, because people understand that Russia really doesn’t care; she will destroy you without troubling her conscience about democracy. Russia gets to demonstrate her power, solve two of the Frozen Conflicts (the Georgians are never getting Abkhazia back if Russia wins here), and humiliate the United States, all at the same time. They hit the trifecta if they win this war.

The Larger Political Situation
If the war develops as expected, and Russia pounds Georgia until the latter cries uncle, the United States will have suffered a substantial political setback. Hegemony or no, the United States will have been unable to give significant military aid to an Iraq War ally facing the prospect of interstate war. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not great.

As a few people have noted, Georgia’s chances of getting into NATO are dead. They probably weren’t going anywhere anyway; lots of people foresaw just this problem, and NATO involvement here might well have made the situation immeasurably worse. If Russia had been deterred from responding, then the Georgian effort to conquer South Ossetia would have gone okay. If Russia had called the West’s bluff, then we would have had a serious problem; my guess is that hundreds of diplomats in Europe and North America would have been begging Saakashvili not to invoke Article 5. If he had, NATO would have been thrown into the most severe crisis in the history of the alliance, and might well have been destroyed. And that’s the upside; if NATO went to war with Russia, the damage would have been inconceivable.

In any case, I certainly hope that the conflict is brief, and that casualties remain as low as possible.

Is John Edwards a Russian Stooge?

[ 9 ] August 8, 2008 |

How better to explain that the war between Georgia and Russia is no longer the number one story on CNN or Memeorandum or ABC or CBS? To their extraordinary credit, the New York Times, NBC, and Fox News (!??!) are still fronting the Confrontation in the Caucasus.

On the General Principles of the Russia-Georgia Issue

[ 61 ] August 8, 2008 |

[I would redirect people towards this post (a more recent analysis) and this one (a roundup of the morning’s news and analysis]

We’re likely to here quite a lot from the right about Russian perfidy in the next couple of days, but the situation is, of course, a lot more complicated than all that. Both the Abkhazians and the South Ossetians would, apparently, rather not be part of Georgia. The Georgians are, I think, correct to suggest that this isn’t the full story; ethnic cleansing of Georgians has taken place in both locales, both are pretty much run by gangsters, and the Russians have been playing non-stop shenanigans. Principles also clash; countries shouldn’t be able to just set up private fiefdoms in neighboring countries, but people shouldn’t be forced to live in countries where they don’t want to live.

Both the Russian and Georgian cases are generally unsympathetic, but I guess that I’m mildly less sympathetic to the Georgians. Saakashvili didn’t need to start this; the situation was pretty much stable before, and in general things would be better for the people of South Ossetia (and Georgia) if bombs weren’t being dropped on them. Moreover, the Russians have a fair case, based on the Kosovo precedent, that the Georgians shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally settle the disposition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. And yes, I know that this produces as many questions as it answers; pro-Russian and pro-Georgian trolls should feel free to battle each other in the comment section.

…incidentally, CNN coverage is terrible; virtually no mention of the fact that the Georgians launched an offensive prior to the Russian attacks.

…Saakashvili is playing the “freedom” card pretty hard:

“This was a very blunt Russian aggression. … We are right now suffering because we want to be free and we want to be a multi-ethnic democracy,” Saakashvili said in the interview. “We are in this situation of self-defense against a big and mighty neighbor. We are a country of less than 5 million people and certainly our forces are not comparable,” the president said.

Saakashvili also said it was in the United States’ interest to help his country. “It’s not about Georgia anymore. It’s about America, its values,” he said. “We are a freedom-loving nation that is right now under attack.”

Sure. Nexon also points out that rhetoric has consequences.

…Russian tanks are firing on Georgian positions outside of Tskhinvali. Josh Keating points out that Georgia’s hopes of entering NATO are as dead as Caesar’s ghost; there is no will whatsoever in NATO to actually defend Georgia from Russian attack, and it ain’t just the Europeans.

… Nathan Hodge points out that it’s not just the rhetoric that might have inclined the Georgians to push harder; it’s also the training and weapons they’ve been receiving from the US.

Russian Tanks on the Move: It Feel Like the Cold War Again!

[ 4 ] August 8, 2008 |

Looks like we have a situation developing between Russia and Georgia. Were I Saakashvili, I probably wouldn’t have picked this fight…

…Doug Merrill has an update on the situation, and provides a link to Tblisis based Wu Wei. The Tblisi airport appears to have been bombed.

Great Power Confrontation for its Own Sake

[ 0 ] August 4, 2008 |

I know that most people don’t have time, but this diavlog between Francis Fukuyama and Bob Kagan is really worth watching in its entirety. I think Fukuyama goes a bit easy on Kagan, but then many of Kagan’s arguments are self-refuting; in particular, his claim that if China were actually a status quo power, then it would maintain a much smaller military than its economic and geographic positions indicate is laughable both from a realist theoretical point of view and in the context of the massive military buildup that the US has pursued over the last eight years.

Everything Old is New Again…

[ 13 ] July 23, 2008 |

This has to be a joke:

Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons could be deployed to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a Russian newspaper reported Monday, citing an unnamed senior Russian air force official.

The report in Izvestia, which could not be confirmed, prompted memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war after Nikita Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. The weapons were eventually withdrawn in an apparent Soviet climb-down, but President John F. Kennedyalso secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report Monday, but did not deny it. Izvestia is often a forum for strategic leaks by Kremlin and other officials.

Via AG.

Sunday Book Review: The Sino-Soviet Split

[ 22 ] July 20, 2008 |

Why did the two Communist giants part ways in the early 1960s? Realist explanations have concentrated on the problems associated with two powerful states sharing a long border. Other explanations have focused on the efforts of the United States to drive a wedge between Russia and China. Lorenz Luthi, in The Sino-Soviet Split, makes an argument that isn’t exactly counter-intuitive, but that has probably received less attention than it should; the Sino-Russian alliance split because of genuine ideological disagreements over the past, present, and future of communism. To be sure, this isn’t the whole story, but Luthi makes a compelling case that it’s most of the story.

Perhaps the biggest problem that Luthi encounters in making his case is the person of Mao Zedong. This is a methodological problem as much as anything else; if we assert that ideology caused the split, yet acknowledge that on the Chinese side the problematic ideology was centered in the Chairman and contingent upon his battles against domestic opponents, are we really saying that ideology, instead of Mao or the always popular “domestic considerations” caused the split? Luthi doesn’t fully resolve this question, in part because resolution is impossible; the best we can do is try to convey as much as possible of the tapestry of decision. In this case, Luthi makes a compelling argument that Mao had significant ideological difference both with the Soviets (under both Khruschev and Stalin, but especially the former) and with “rightist” elements of the Chinese Communist Party led by Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping, and, to a lesser extent, Zhou Enlai. In 1958 and 1959, as the disaster of the Great Leap Forward (which the Soviets had bitterly opposed) became clear, Mao began to use ideological tension with the Soviets to highlight his disagreements with Liu and Deng. Eventually, Mao would intentionally exacerbate the split with the Russians in order to forge an ideological weapon against his enemies in the CCP. The two prongs of this ideological offensive were the battle against “revisionism”, in this case the idea that the through the adoption of a centralized bureaucratic economy the Soviet Union had ceased to be a revolutionary state, and the fight against peaceful coexistence; Mao believed (in public, although his private behavior didn’t match) that the socialist world had the advantage over the capitalist, and that nuclear weapons didn’t transform this calculation. The eventual result of this was the collapse of the alliance on the international side, and the Cultural Revolution on the domestic side.

The Soviets, it seems, were largely confused witnesses to this process. Luthi, who had access to Soviet and Eastern European archives, conveys genuine puzzlement on the part of the Soviets towards the Chinese. The Russians had their own internal political problems (Khruschev’s 1956 speech wasn’t the end of internal conflict against the Stalinists), but these conflicts don’t seem to have engaged in the same kind of synergy with the Sino-Soviet relationship as was present on the Chinese side. This is to say that the various combatants in intra-CPSU disputes didn’t use the relationship with China as a cudgel to beat the other side. Rather, the Soviet appraisal of the behavior of the Chinese Communist Party had two rather stable elements; first, the Russians believed that the Chinese were embarking on a series of economically disastrous policies, and second the Russians believed that the Chinese were far too risk-acceptant in relations with the United States. It could be argued that these are both pragmatic rather than ideological concerns, but I think in particular that the Soviet pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” was driven as much by ideology as by convenience. The Soviet response to Chinese aggressiveness and unorthodoxy was a steadily increasing limitation of military and economic aid, combined with occasional bellicosity in ideological organs (although the Soviet anger never came close to matching the Chinese). The big problem was that the Soviet Union was unable or unwilling to bend on either point, and that the Chinese were completely unapologetic in their attack. In spite of the abject disaster that the Great Leap Forward represented, the Chinese attacked the Soviets as “revisionists” for being unwilling to engage in a similar project, yet no one in the Soviet Union was interested in turning the Soviet economy into a bigger basket case than it already was. Similarly, the Soviet leadership was (generally) reluctant to take a more aggressive tack regarding the United States because it was the USSR, after all, that had to pay the greatest costs of superpower hostility. Finally, the Soviets had to keep the Eastern European parties (generally not sympathetic to the Chinese, with the exception of Albania and the partial exception of Romania) in line, which further limited their ideological flexibility.

Personalities often matter, of course, and both Mao and Khruschev possessed enormous personalities that exacerbated the conflict. Khruschev’s theatricality and general unpredictability was unsettling to the Chinese, who had great difficulty determining whether a particular statement or policy was the result of one of Khruschev’s quirks, or was intentional action of the Soviet state. Of Mao there is little more of use to be said; he was a megalomaniac who was happy to destroy not only the PRC’s most important international alliance, but also its economy and the lives of many of its citizens in pursuit of victory in intra-CCP disputes. The CCP bought this problem for itself, of course, by the decision to promote the Maoist cult of personality, which left the party in a very serious situation when Mao really went off the rails from the late 1950s on. Luthi deals with a few counter-factuals, the most interesting of which is (more or less) “What if Mao had died in 1957?”; it’s hard to conclude from his evidence that both relations between China and Russia, and Chinese domestic policy more generally, would have been much, much different.

Luthi details a couple incidents of near-hilarity that the increasingly tense relationship produced. At a 1964 cocktail party, the drunken Soviet minister of defense Rodion Malinovskii joked to the Chinese delegation “I do not want any Mao and Khruschev to hamper us… we already did away with Khruschev, now you should do away with Mao.” The joke, it is fair to say, didn’t go over well. In 1969, frantic efforts by Soviet Prime Minister Kosygin to reach Zhou Enlai in the midst of a border scrum were frustrated when a Chinese phone operator refused to connect the call, instead preferring to yell at the Prime Minister and accuse him of “revisionism”. And of course I also highly recommend the propaganda pamphlets assembled between 1959 and 1963 by the Soviets, the Chinese, and their proxies; on the Chinese side these include such classics as The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us, Long Live Leninism!, and More on the Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us. I plowed through most of these for a senior thesis back in 1997, and the best by far is a slow, patient explanation by the Soviets to the Chinese of how nuclear bombs cannot, when dropped on capitalist cities, distinguish between workers and capitalists.

Although it’s tangential to the question at hand, Luthi also reminds us that the Munich analogy isn’t just for George W. Bush:

It was only after the sudden end of the Cuban Missile Crisis that Chinese propaganda went into full swing. a media campaign denounced the withdrawal as “Munich” and blasted Soviet revisionism for “show[ing] vacillation in a struggle and dar[ing]not to win a victory that can be won.” The Chinese leadership staged mass rallies supporting Cuba’s struggle and accusing the USSR of “adventurism” for sending the missiles and of “capitualationism” for withdrawing them.

The lesson is that every country has its neocons, and that they always, no matter what country they’re from, say the same thing: The enemy only understands force; Negotiation is defeat; Compromise is capitulation; The prestige of our nation/people/movement depends on standing fast. The song remains the same, whether it’s being sung by Bill Kristol, Mao Zedong, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

I Wonder What He Means by "Neutralize"

[ 8 ] July 15, 2008 |

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak:

“If we see the development of systems that could reduce our deterrent potential, our military will have to take steps to neutralize the threat,” Kislyak was quoted as saying at a briefing in Moscow.

He did not specify the steps that would be taken, saying, “This will be decided by military specialists.”

“We would prefer not to have to do this,” he added.

I would assume, if he’s serious and not simply engaged in bluster, that this means refurbishing the Soviet missile force, perhaps rebuilding the MRBM force, and developing weapons intended to target the missile defense sites themselves.

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