I have some musings on the latest US-Russia spat at the Guardian:CIF. While doing a bit of “research” for the piece, I read the wiki entry on A Taste of Armageddon, the Star Trek episode where two planets have agreed to wage nuclear war without nuclear weapons. Kirk “saves” them from this by essentially breaking the mechanism, and forcing them to talk. I found it interesting that, in the expanded literature, one planet shortly thereafter annihilated the other, losing a third of its population in the process. We have the Prime Directive for a reason, people.
By the way, here’s “Mad” Matt Duss, in yet another of what seems to be an endless string of high profile media appearances:
Conscription in Russia continues to suck:
The year 1991 also had a particularly low birth rate, which makes a huge peacetime draft even more of a challenge. The young men are also entering employment and working age — and families in the middle of Russia’s economic crisis, which is sharper than the rest of the world’s, may not be so willing to give up their potential breadwinners. (Soldiers are paid a minimal and “symbolic” amount for service to their country, the equivalent of about $10 a month.) Moskovsky Komsomolets, a daily newspaper in the Russian capital, reports that 45,000 Muscovites, out of the 60,000 eligible to be conscripted, are currently trying to avoid military service.
Paying them more than $10 a month might help a lot; the remaining conscript armies in Western Europe offer relatively generous terms, as they understand that the dedicated can avoid military service without too much trouble. In any case, read the whole thing. Along with this, it serves as yet another refutation of the idea that Russia can offer any kind of serious peer competitor threat to the United States in the near or medium term. Russia can do much and is doing some to re-establish its military capabilities, but beyond the ability to effectively pound small neighbors into submission, we are very, very far from the Soviet heyday. The issue, as much as anything else, is political will. Putin and Medvedev are interested in a military establishment that can project prestige globally, but not one that can project power. Thus, we’ll continue to hear a lot about expensive high-tech projects that Russia is planning to engage in, or about to start up, or could pursue if it wanted to; such claims feed both the defense PR industry in the United States and the international prestige of Russia’s leadership.
Nothing much to see here; Chavez postures, the Russians posture, and perhaps a few lucky bomber pilots and ground crewmen get extended vacations to Venezuela.
Here’s the most interesting bit:
Cuban authorities made no comment last summer when a Moscow newspaper reported that Russia could send nuclear bombers to the island. While neither confirming nor denying the report, ailing former President Fidel Castro at the time praised his brother President Raul Castro for maintaining a “dignified silence” on the report and said that Cuba was not obligated to offer the United States an explanation.
Raul is keeping mum; my guess is that he doesn’t want bluster from Moscow and Caracas to derail improvements in relations with the US.
I have an op-ed up at Comment is Free:
Were Obama serious about exchanging missile defence for Russia’s assistance to Iran, he wouldn’t have been hinting at the elimination of the programme for the last several months. Rather, he’d be trying to convince the Russians that he actually valued missile defence.
Part of the Bush administration’s strategy for “locking in” missile defense in case of a Democratic presidential victory was to conclude agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic that would be difficult for the Democratic victor to break. The thinking went that while Obama might be skeptical of missile defense, he probably wouldn’t jeopardize the US relationship with Poland in order to kill it. This, along with the War over South Ossetia, was why negotiations over missile defense seemed so frantic over the last six months of Bush’s term.
Part of Bush’s problem, however, was that Poland and the Czech Republic are, by and large, utterly indifferent to the threat of Iranian missiles. This indifference is part of the altogether sensible European belief that the Iran isn’t crazy enough to launch missiles at Europe. What Poland and the Czech Republic really wanted, especially in the wake of the South Ossetia War, was a concrete indication that the US is committed to their security. The Poles have some concern that NATO, dependent as it is on the West Europeans, will not suffice to protect them from Russian belligerence. A separate bilateral commitment from the US, in the form of missile defense installations, was a goal of Polish foreign policy, and the desire for such a commitment in some sense guided the Polish decision to deploy troops to Iraq.
Now that President Obama is actively considering dumping missile defense (possibly as part of a larger agreement with Russia), the Poles are making their interests clear:
Poland is looking beyond a missile- defense system that President Barack Obama might scrap and is focused on other elements of a security deal with the U.S. while mending ties with Russia, the top Polish diplomat said.
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorskisaid his country is most interested in U.S. pledges in the agreement he signed last year in the face of Russian opposition, including an American garrison with Patriot interceptor missiles. The two sides also agreed to act jointly on military and non-military threats.
In other words, the Bush administration’s strategy, which was largely based on the idea that our European allies would desert us if we displayed weakness in front of the Russians (an oldie but a goody) has essentially failed; Poland knows what it wants, and will probably get what it wants even if the US forgoes the missile defense system. Whether or not Russia decides to play ball on Iran, I consider this last eventuality extremely likely.
H/t Josh Keating.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.
I’m not sure this is what Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov had in mind when he green-lit the Kirov class battlecruiser:
A Russian nuclear-powered cruiser has captured 10 Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean armed with grenade launchers, automatic rifles and landmines, a navy spokesman said Friday.
“The nuclear cruiser Pyotr Veliky has detained three small pirate boats,” said Igor Dygalo, adding that 10 armed men of Somali citizenship were seized in the operation Thursday.
The pirates had been spotted by the cruiser’s helicopter southeast of the Yemeni island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean, the spokesman told AFP.
“It was visually established how weapons were being dumped from the boats into the sea,” Dygalo said in a separate statement.
Via Galrahn. It appears that the Russians are planning to take the apprehended pirates back to Russia for prosecution. Cold, in every sense of the word.
My hopes for sanity between Russia and the US may have been premature:
The United States will pursue a missile defense plan that has angered the Kremlin, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Saturday, in a signal that the post-cold-war tensions that have flared recently between Washington and Moscow could continue into the new Obama administration…
But any chance for a rapprochement between the United States and Russia at this conference all but evaporated, foreign policy experts said, after the announcement on the Kyrgyz base. Mr. Obama plans to send as many as 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next two years; shaky overland supply routes through Pakistan would make it difficult for the United States to adjust to the loss of the base, in Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
This is entirely unsurprising, given the circumstances of the loss of the base. What bothers me isn’t that the game is being played, but that the players seem to be approaching it incoherently. On the upside, Biden left plenty of rhetorical space for compromise on the Polish-Czech missile defense system; it’s unclear whether the Russians will prove receptive.
It appears that the Bush administration’s effort to diplomatically “lock in” a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic has failed:
Russia has dropped plans to install missiles near Poland after the Obama administration signalled a change in US attitude to the region, a Moscow military official has reportedly said. The official suggested that Mr Obama’s White House had made clear it would not prioritise executing the Bush administration’s plan to install a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
An unnamed official in the Russian military’s general staff said: “The implementation of these plans has been halted in connection with the fact that the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy” elements of its missile defence shield in eastern Europe, according to the Interfax news agency.
Congratulations to Obama and Medvedev; Russia will save money, the United States will save money, and Poland won’t have Russian missiles parked on its border. It’s a win for everyone who’s not a missile defense zealot.
Cross-posted to TAPPED.
Russian submarine launched ballistic missile tests not going well:
“After its firing from the submarine Dmitry Donskoy, the Bulava missile self-liquidated and exploded into the air” – Russian MoD spokesman to Interfax 23 Dec 08
That’s three successful launches out of eight tries. Three out of eight actually works in terms of nuclear deterrence, but you’d still like to see the success rate a bit higher. But more importantly, I’m going to try to work the term “self-liquidated” into as many conversations as possible over the next few days; it’ll be my Christmas-Hannukah theme for 2008.
The government of India has more important things on its plate right now, but if you’re interested in how the Admiral Gorshkov negotiations might play out, take a look at Galrahn’s discussion. He partially translates a Russian article on the subject, which points out that if the carrier doesn’t go to India, it’s not likely to go anywhere. The Russian Navy doesn’t want Gorshkov (and is apparently deeply ambivalent about the idea of building a carrier fleet in the short term), and the Chinese probably wouldn’t want it, either. Accordingly, the Russians should probably be careful about antagonizing their only potential customer.
Peter the Great has arrived in Venezuela:
The flag of Venezuela already flies on the mast. It is naval tradition to fly the flag of the countries in whose port you are conducting a friendly visit. Today the sailors checked out the missile tubes. The Peter the Great’s armament will be shown to the presidents of both countries.
What is there to show? The Peter the Great is the largest non-aircraft carrier warship in the world. Two hundred and fifty meters of steel with dozens of missile tubes. And beneath each of these three ton hatches lays the main battery – the Granit nuclear anti-ship cruise missile (RNB comment – Huh! Well how about that!). As opposed to American cruise missiles, the Granit flies to its target at supersonic speed like a fighter jet. There is no ship as powerful as the Peter the Great in the world.
After finishing exercises with Venezuela, Peter the Great and his task force will head to India. After that, Galrahn speculates they might be on their way to Somalia.