Exclusive: The Rise Of The New Soviet Union: The ‘Architect’? Putin!
by DR. ROBIN MCFEE
February 10, 2010
Whoever said life happens when you aren’t paying attention was absolutely correct. Consider the rise of Russia. While the U.S. is mired in numerous domestic and global challenges, our friends in Moscow, most specifically Vladimir Putin, have been strategizing how to bring Mother Russia back to her former vaunted self on the world stage. And the biggest mistake we can make is to consider Russia as the bumbling former evil empire – long on military but short on finesse and led by oafish party hacks.
As of this writing, Russia is a major player in South America and Cuba; a growing player in Africa, Indonesia and the Pacific Rim; a significant shareholder in the U.S. (between China and Russia they own a bunch of our financial instruments); patron or patriarch in Iran and the Middle East; power broker in parts of Europe, Eurasia and, most masterful of all feats if they can pull it off – being wooed as partner, if not member, of NATO by NATO! Ever feel like you are in the looking glass? You have to admit that Russia, through Vladimir Putin, has accomplished a fair amount since the dismantling of the USSR – an event he likens to one of the worst disasters in history and something he has sworn to reverse. He sounds like a man on a mission. We would be well not to underestimate him, although it will require a lot of savvy on the U.S. and West to counter him. It’s not looking good right now for the good guys.
Ironically, consider that Russia has taken pages from our playbook. After the end of the Cold War, the U.S. reached out to the former satellites. The U.S. tried to assist their economies, aided in the reconciliation of the poorer Europe with the wealthier Western Europe. And then took our eye off the ball. There was some new sign of life in our foreign policy when the U.S. tried to counter the influence of Russia in the gas pipeline wars. We led the way doing business in Russia’s back yard – and other adversaries’ back yards. But now we seem to be losing that influence. Influence, commerce and national security go hand in hand. This is a bad time to develop amnesia.
Some will quickly jump in and assert the tired old stereotype that Russia is grey, poor and ineffectual, suffering from a collapsing economy under the weight of corruption and vulnerable to the same financial markets as other capital intensive countries. Nyet! Even with a teetering global economy, we should not make the mistake of thinking it will
derail the folks in the Kremlin. Why? Simple: Russia has something much of the world needs and therein rests one of her greatest protections – ENERGY! And President/Prime Minister Putin has deftly led both Gazprom and his nation from distant second former super power to major global player. Gas and oil are the lifeblood of global commerce: combining those two resources makes Russia the top gun in energy exports.
Unlike other world leaders, Vladimir paid attention and learned from the victories and mistakes of others. For example – the US and much of the world pays homage to the likes of OPEC for the most practical of reasons – they have oil and the world, especially the US and Chinese economies run on petroleum. Until someone can find a cost effective and plentiful alternative to fossil fuels for medicines, synthetics, and energy we will all be held hostage to the energy nations of which we are not the prime player (although we could become one if we’d go into the Arctic and claim our rightful portion, as I’ve suggested in the past).
Some will even argue what’s the big deal, the U.S. can’t be the only nation exerting influence in the world, as if competition is always a good thing. Sometimes it is, as we saw Massachusetts where Scott Brown won the election in what has become a one-party state, demonstrating that competing ideas can be healthy. But Russia is not Scott Brown! And while it can be argued that the U.S. has sometimes backed the wrong folks and for the wrong reasons in a number of banana republics, overall the good we have done exceeds the missteps. When in our collective memories can we remember cutting off the heat to schools or using children as pawns to exert influence and instill a sense of fear? Or invading a peaceful nation without provocation? Yes the U.S. invaded Iraq, but it was not a sneak attack and it was not without a coalition of other nations. Yet Russia and her leaders have made no secret that they will use the carrot or the stick to their advantage. Georgia is certainly not Iraq or Afghanistan.
At one time our strategy was smart: we went after the former USSR satellite nations and critical crossroads countries. But like so many of our efforts, we got distracted. Or perhaps, as befitting our national character of entrepreneurs, we enjoyed the hunt more than the capture. Unfortunately, as Dr. Johnson once opined centuries ago, “Friendships must be kept in constant repair.” We seem to have forgotten that one and are watching our influence slip through our fingers.
While the devastation of Haiti was playing out, a few events went relatively unnoticed over the last couple weeks that warrant some attention.
First was the anniversary of Russia turning off the heat to the Ukraine, which sent a chill…figuratively and literally…through Europe. If New England can be described as a region with two seasons – summer and winter – such can be said about much of Eastern Europe, prime customers of Russian energy. In early January 2009, Russia/Gazprom (terms used interchangeably) shut off gas supplies going through the Ukraine to Europe. In spite of our (U.S.-led coalition) best efforts to try and counter the Russian/Gazprom juggernaut and its pipeline projects into Europe, the reality is that approximately 75 percent of the Russian gas that transits to Europe is shipped through pipelines crossing the Ukraine. While other pipelines run through Belarus and Turkey, the Ukraine is the linchpin. And therein rests one of the most strategic and fundamental values in the global tug of war between the U.S. and Russia for influence in Europe. The Ukraine is symbolically important – the Orange revolution was supposed to tap into the West and offer untold benefit to the nation. Such did not happen and the country slowly but surely was courted by Moscow as if the failures of Yuschenko, who leaned towards the U.S., became a vindication of Russia.
And how did Moscow play a power game? By letting the victims of their efforts huddle together or find other ways to heat their homes and schools in the dead of winter. This was not a price dispute as Putin and Putin Lite (Medvedev) would have us believe. It was a brutal “shot across the bow” to remind Europe not to mess with Moscow. And it worked! From NATO to Kiev, you will notice a warming effect towards Russia. Recent round one of the Ukraine elections saw two Russia leaning candidates vying for the presidency: Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Neither shared Yuschenko’s affinity for the West. Now to be sure, neither if they are smart will jump too far too fast towards the Kremlin without at least keeping one eye on Washington; playing both ends against the middle is not a bad strategy when you realize your nation is “the prize” for rival super powers – symbolically and practically. If the Ukraine lands in the Russian alliance it will be a major coup for Putin and another validation of his strategy of pseudo-annexation or recreation of the former USSR through alliances based upon energy, weapons, the politics of jealousy, the implied promise of protection. The U.S. needs to stay very involved in Ukraine, Hungary and Bulgaria. All three still have a need for what the West has to offer and folks at the street level can still become a powerful force – but not if they are cold and hungry.
An impressive list of allies and potential allies warm themselves on a Russian gas fire: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey. Austria, France, Germany, Hungary and Poland fared a little bit better, as they only had some of their supplies cut. The message from Moscow was not subtle but it was effective! Quelle surprise – Moscow won. That was in 2009. In 2010, their strategic and tactical efforts continue to pay off handsomely.
Secondly, Russia has just completed a test flight on their new stealth fighter, the Sukhoi T 50. Why does a country that decries cold war mentality build a cold war weapon? For one thing, it is a commercially viable commodity. India and several other nations will want to participate in and/or acquire some. It is likely when the Russian T 50 is fully developed – Putin suggests 2015, which means in a couple years or less in Moscow speak – quite a few customers will be waiting. To be sure, some military experts think it is all smoke and mirrors while others suggest it is a giant leap forward for Russia. Historically, the former might be correct – Russia’s best weapons or certainly most beloved, and the AK 47 immediately comes to mind – have been simple, rugged and low maintenance. The T 50 like other advanced weapons requiring complicated integrated components which means subcontractors, have been plagued with problems and delays. But their resolve alone should be cautionary.
To be fair, there are some in Russia who wonder why build a weapon for which there is no conflict or adversary. That is naïve in that as long as one super power exists the other will or should always be wary and prepared, if for no other reason than to keep each side honest.
There’s a brilliant deceptiveness about all the public denunciations by Moscow about the cold war mentality of the West, and the need to put behind old rivalries for the sake of the world and the need for Russia and NATO to unite against the new threat – terrorism. If Moscow considers the Cold War so yesterday, then why is it building weapons that are designed to counter those of the US? If terrorism is the threat, why the advanced tank, advanced interceptor missiles, advanced ballistic missiles, advanced stealth fighters, planning a new nuclear fleet including submarines and super carriers?
“All warfare is based upon deception.” –Sun Tzu – The Art of War
Never let what you see dissuade you from what you believe. The Russian “let’s turn our swords into ploughshares and put our prior differences in the past” sound bites are working. NATO has Russia right where Moscow wants them! It is almost palpable, Pavlovian, how much some of the NATO leaders want to sing Kumbaya with Russia. Wasn’t NATO created to counter the Russian threat? I could be wrong. But the world, especially NATO would do well to read about the Trojan Horse. Welcoming Russia into the inner circle of NATO, is a dangerous move. We have been lulled into thinking Russia wants to help “us” in the global war on terror. Considering it might be argued Russia is behind some of the evils going on in the world – as patron, educator, enabler, financier, armorer or provocateur – it would also be foolish.
Make no mistake about it – the world is a chess board. Each piece represents a major domain – economics, energy, weapons, methods of disruption, public relations, all overlaid on desired regions to acquire.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
The first mistake we make is underestimating the influence of and ignoring the stated objectives or actions by competitive if not adversary nations. Putin has never made it a secret that restoring Russia is his prime motivation. He is a true leader. Although his tactics are a bit rough to say the least, he clearly understands his job as Russia’s CEO – take care of business. And the business of nations is to project influence, protect assets, grow an economy and conduct commerce. Our leaders would do well to remember that.
So let’s look at how Putin is handling those four domains:
Russia uses the politics of anti-West, anti-U.S. jealousy very well. They also use energy, money, weapons, friendship or fear to promote alliances. Ask Europe how it feels to be warm. Point made. Or, ask Syria who is helping them rebuild the Port of Tartus, or provides money and technical expertise for their weapons (biological, conventional and were it not for Israel, their nuclear aspirations). Point made. Or, how about Iran and their missile systems, nuclear program, biological and conventional weapons, energy deals, pipelines and other commercial as well as geopolitical influence? Or feeding the anti-U.S. fires in Cuba, Venezuela and other places in South America or the Caribbean. And the U.S. would do well to watch our own back yard – poverty breeds jealousy and dissent – the very foundation that Russia builds alliances upon.
Our leaders should also keep an eye on the poorer nations in the Caribbean, especially those building ties with Russia, Venezuela and Cuba.
Let’s not forget the “CSTO.”
Russia and six ex-satellite nations – former Soviet States – agreed to jointly (translation – Mother Russia rules) create a special military force designed to challenge the influence of NATO. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) members Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have also pledged to deploy their “special forces” units as well as collaboratively contribute to this new military alliance. According to several sources, the scope of the military presence will be significant – the name “rapid reaction unit” notwithstanding. In typical Russia-speak – that is, language designed to deceive – this will not be a SWAT team or even a SEAL team in the U.S. definition of “rapid reaction” force to handle small insurgent attacks, but a force to be reckoned with.
Russia, increasingly sensitive of U.S. and Western influences with their border nations, has expended significant effort and various forms of persuasion – economic, military, energy and political – to reign in or reestablish relations with the “Stan” nations and others critical to creating a buffer zone. Moreover, the members of the CSTO have valuable transit routes for United States interests – supply lines and military bases to support the war effort in Afghanistan, and Russia – pipeline routes for oil and gas. Our pipelines could be vulnerable to “accidents” or sabotage.
Though publicly billed to be able to suppress “terrorist” aggression, Dmitry Medvedev let there be no room to miss the Sicilian message “the military alliance would allow operational reaction to threats and would not be less powerful than NATO forces.” The Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian tried to put a more temporizing tone – “the rapid reaction force is aimed at strengthening the military capacity of our organization.” It sounds good, but Medvedev (heretofore considered “Putin lite”) was letting the world know, “We’re baaaaack!”
Turkey is perhaps one of the most critically important nations to U.S. interests abroad, and we are losing our influence. Historically, the U.S. and Turkey have had reason for common ground and cooperation. Our military bases have been there for years and are strategically a key to our influence in the region. Turkey is geographic crossroads for commerce, military operations and another key energy transit nation. They are a moderate voice in a volatile Islamic region. Turkey is one of the few Muslim nations – secular or not – to recognize Israel.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
In the aftermath of the Cold War, Russia and China created the SCO – primarily serving as a security cooperative arrangement and provider for the Central Asian region. It has since evolved to become a framework for strategic partnerships. The original members of SCO were Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This alliance represents 25 percent of the world’s population, a significant supply of oil, gas and other natural resources, as well as significant economic growth potential. Is it surprising that Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mongolia have expressed great interest in joining? Terrorism, separatism and extremism are designated the focus areas for which the SCO was formed. Though not specifically stated in their organizing documents, it is clear the group aims to reduce U.S. influence in resource-rich (as in energy) Central Asia. Not surprisingly, the United States was rejected for membership. The SCO is a challenge to Western interests; an alliance created to counter U.S. influence. Some observers have viewed it as a Warsaw-Pact like organization.
Fortunately for the West, not all is pure harmony in the organization. While Russia would like India to join, China wants Pakistan. Good for us – for the moment. Iran enjoys participation/observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
One of the strategies of the SCO is to create an oil and gas club similar to OPEC – as well as technology and other entities. Being wooed for membership is Turkmenistan, a nation trying to dip a toe in both giants’ camps – the U.S. and the SCO. Recognizing the friendship with Washington on the one hand, yet realizing regional affiliations may be beneficial. Russia (Putin – Gazprom) wants an energy cartel in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – naturally under its guidance. Turkmenistan could be an important producer. If Putin wants something, it is worth the U.S. to take note.
China also has a strategy.
In the report “Unrestricted Warfare” by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, two officers in the Chinese military who outline a strategy to undermine a vastly superior super power – the US – offer the following thoughts: “When we suddenly realize that all these non-war actions (using the media, exploiting society trends, economics, cyber threats, political persuasion, financial instruments) may be the new factors constituting future warfare, we have to come up with a new name for this new form of war: warfare which transcends all boundaries and limits, in short: unrestricted warfare. Some might think of it as death by a thousand cuts….or attacking on a variety of targets; soft and hard.” Beijing is following the playbook extremely well. They have a map and are using it. Russia must have gotten a sneak peak!
And the U.S. is doing what to counter this?
Russia considers anything on, through or near its pipelines, or a threat to its interests as either sovereign territory or fair game regardless of the country involved. Georgia received a rude wake-up call in 2008 when the Russian Army invaded it. Just a touch of the stick to remind small neighbors who look toward Washington for friendship that thousands of miles is a long distance for the cavalry to arrive. Whether the threat of calling in the paper Russia holds in U.S. assets, the cyber threat, dangling their influence over Iran, or garnering global outcries against the West when the U.S. or other countries act in a way counter to the benefit of Moscow – nothing is off the table and we would do well to remember that.
Russia is picking up customers across the planet – from Venezuela to Vietnam. Russia is one of the major arms dealers in the world. Want to know what weapons are killing U.S. soldiers in the Middle East? Many have “made in Russia” on them. But the cash that such sales generate is only a fraction of the value being an arms dealer, especially to the rogues and state sponsors of terror affords. It provides access and allows influence. Weapons – low tech and advanced ones are the ultimate commodity to terrorists, insurgents and pirates require and demand.
Grow an economy
Perhaps the sign of a growing economy is the number of Ferrari franchises moving into an area. Let’s call it the Ferrari factor. Would it surprise anyone to learn Russia and China attract the high ticket purveyors from watches to wardrobes to watercraft and other toys for the rich? While the poor always remain poor, they are less poor under Putin than his predecessors. Having natural resources is only one part of the play. Commercializing them and developing the economic infrastructure are critical. Moscow is no longer grey, it glitters – well, parts of it do. And with the creation of a new generation of millionaires is the development of regions worthy of their attention; all these align to regenerate a variety of industries from hospitality and so much more.
Let me be cheeky and suggest that building missiles creates jobs – giving cash for clunkers only recycles a shrinking amount of spendable money. Russia understands this – they drill, baby, drill, they build weapons, and they make or buy things –.not services. Our bailout dollars have not bought the average tax payer much in benefit. And those executives bailed out have made a mockery out of the process. I’m reminded of the cartoon after WWI where a German soldier amputee is begging for change while the aristocrats head over to the restaurant in mink and jewels.
It has been said that nations build alliances, not friendships. Mutual interests or shared jealousy only go so far – it still is a supply and demand world. And much of the developing world increasingly demands weapons. Weapons are something Russia supplies very, very well. The U.S., of course, is no rookie in the arms industry but we would do well to keep an eye on the nation customers of Moscow’s military industrial complex – where weapons go, so grows influence. “Money makes the world go round” was a song often sung to emphasize the economic imperative on global events. Putin, Inc also realize their most valuable exports are weapons and energy, as well as technological and cyber expertise, even cold cash to buy things – like South Beach, Brighton Beach, parts of New York City, and the list goes on.
Now let’s look at the U.S. Why should we care what Russia does if we are all one world? Maybe because at the end of the day there are a finite number of people with whom we can do large scale business. Commerce is usually not between adversaries but between allies – allies of convenience if not affinity – and we are being outplayed in the “collect allies” game. Maybe it is because Russia has been following the playbook how to undermine a super power – not being one when Putin ascended, he is now well on his way undermining our interests – perhaps death by a thousand cuts, but nevertheless a concerted effort to counter our influence. We need to turn the table on Moscow, not acquiesce as has been the recent game plan.
With unemployment, outsourcing and a teetering economy, the U.S. needs to increase our commerce. The U.S. needs to build and sell things again. Great nations are only great when they have strong economies, the population enjoys available work that can provide a promising quality of life for the citizenry, build and sell things, have domestic security with the rule of law and the ability to defend against the bad guys before they enter the borders.
If we had to fight WWII today, the U.S. would have to outsource much of the enterprise. This is not a good way to be.
Does the U.S. have a global policy or are we “winging it?” Are we bumbling along much like the giant in Gulliver’s travels? Let’s compare and contrast the strategic moves of Obama’s U.S. and Putin’s Russia. Being obsequious is not a strategy. True there is no reason to be bellicose when diplomacy can be utilized, but there’s also no reason to let our guard down either. While it is more likely that pawns will be used to disrupt our interests – we would do well to follow the ruble and follow the tentacles from Moscow to see where the game is being played.
Consider the reality that we have been outplayed literally across the globe from the North Pole and Arctic, to Central Asia, the Pacific Rim, the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. Since a new administration took over, a variety of disquieting events have taken place, and should give us clear pause to revisit the question: can this administration lead the United States amidst a world of global threats? Will liberal, “one world” ideologies compromise the sovereignty of our national interests worldwide?
But there are simple strategies we can employ, if we have the will.
First – Energy is the name of the game. No nation thrives without it. Throughout contemporary history wars have been fought over resources, not the least of which is petroleum. The U.S. needs to get away from the zero sum mentality, as if drilling for oil in the Arctic is tantamount to killing the planet. We can go green and still redevelop an industry, create jobs, tap into our natural resources. We not only can but we must! It is unlikely the entire enterprise known as the U.S. economy can be transitioned from petroleum based – oil, LNG, coal, gas – to eco-friendly ones overnight. Alternative fuels or technologies and the ability to protect the planet while weaning us off fossil fuels is a worthy goal but currently not practical and likely to fail or at least bankrupt small and midsized businesses. We should work toward those goals of fiscally sound, widely usable alternative energy. But with unemployment rising and a viable area of exploration known to house enough resources to help the U.S. become freer if not completely free of OPEC, we are foolish to squander such an opportunity. The U.S. needs to employ people, build things, become energy independent and even increase our exports. Can you think of a better investment, especially if the U.S. government is going to deficit spend our great grandchildren into debt? Why not put the trillions into an enterprise that, at the end of the day is a new industry? The Arctic is one of the last great frontiers and we own a piece of it. Let’s develop it in an environmentally sound manner – given much of the north central and northeastern U.S. have high unemployment – cold weather acclimated folks might just want a job.
Second – If we want to fight a war on terror, let’s stop the folks who are arming them. One could argue Israel has been more effective at keeping Russia from selling Iran an advanced missile defense system to protect its nuclear program than the U.S. has been. If Russia really cares about fighting that war against terror with the community of nations – then stop helping and arming the rogues.
Third – Get a map and use it. When in doubt, just check the frequent flier destinations of Putin & Company.
Fourth - Stay the course. Good will and aid go a long way when you are there for the long haul, not the short and quick fix. Haiti is a good example of a long term enterprise – and in both humanitarian “feel good” and strategic value having a greater foothold in the region – the U.S. should ensure rebuilding the nation. We need to keep our friends closer than we have.
The last few weeks commemorates events that should serve as cautionary for the U.S. – NATO pushing closer and closer to Russia, Russia reminding Europe that heat is in Moscow’s hands, Putin, Inc is spreading influence in all continents, especially focusing on our back yard and targeting our allies if not friends, and a stealth fighter test flight demonstrating a desire for if not complete capacity to develop advance weapons.
The U.S., like other leaders of the pack, should expect competition and attempts to unseat it as top dog. But are we prepared? Do our leaders even care? Some would argue Russia is only leading the way for what most have been nudged towards in the ultimate stealth war – socialism on a global scale; do our leaders willingly or unwittingly play into this? For the sake of our economy, our sovereignty and our security, I hope not.
It is not too late. We are still a powerful and respected nation. We remain a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for people the world over. Our nation is looked upon as a rescuer to the oppressed. Just think Haiti. We are generous and compassionate. The first on scene in times of global crisis. But the clock is ticking. We cannot apologize for who we are, nor should we. Greatness is not a flaw. But as Putin has demonstrated so impressively – his leadership has positioned a flawed nation into global leadership. Do we have a leader who can do the same for our nation? Is there one on the horizon? Bush had Rove as his “architect.” Russia has theirs. Who do we have? While we answer that question, we face the rise of a new Soviet Union.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Dr. Robin McFee is a physician and medical toxicologist. An expert in WMD preparedness, Dr. McFee is the former director and co-founder of the Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness (CB PREP) and was bioweapons-WMD advisor to the Regional Domestic Security Task Force Region 7 after 9/11, as well as an advisor on avian and swine flu preparedness to numerous agencies and organizations. Dr. McFee is a member of the Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council of ASIS International. She has authored numerous articles on terrorism, health care and preparedness, and coauthored two books: Toxico-Terrorism by McGraw Hill and The Handbook of Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Agents, published by Informa/CRC Press.