Russia: Cold War Lite

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May 7, 2006: The Cold War is reviving, but as a kinder and gentler conflict. In fact, it's more about business than ideology. But Russia, and it's still-communist ally China, are still confronting the West. This can be seen, as in the past, in the form of UN conflicts over how to deal with troublesome nations. The most recent dispute involves Iran, which is still preaching Islamic world domination, and striving to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is a major supplier of oil to China, and customer for Russian weapons and technology. Iran will maintain these relationships if Russia and China run interference for them in the UN. That's exactly what is happening, with Russia and China blocking any serious efforts by the UN to stop Iran's nuclear program. But why isn't Russia worried about a nuclear armed Iran? Simple. Both Russia and China have a long, and well established reputation for playing rough with their enemies. If Iran tried any nuclear blackmail or terrorism with Russia or China, they can be sure that the response will be prompt and massively destructive.

There's another Cold War style arms race starting as well. Despite post Cold War defense budget cuts that left the Russians unable to buy many new weapons, or equipment, through the 1990s, the arms industry kept itself alive via exports. Now, with Russia flush from rising oil revenues, and a vibrant market economy, there is money for the military. But most of this new spending is going to rebuilding things you can't see very well, namely nuclear weapons and spy satellites. Both of these areas have declined in effectiveness since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. It's believed that the Russian early warning system is so worn down that the United States could launch a nuclear attack on Russian missiles, and destroy them before Russia could respond. In effect, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) has been circumvented. This explains why Russia is investing so much money into its nuclear weapons and early warning systems (which include space satellites). This is not really an arms race, as it was during the Cold War. No, Russia is trying to get back into the race after not moving much at all for over a decade. During that time, the U.S. maintained, and even upgraded, many of its nuclear weapons and early warning systems. America is also building a missile defense system. While Russia makes a lot of noise about developing new missiles that can get around this, the real problem for the Russians is the deterioration of their early warning system. So while you will hear of Russia buying new tanks, fighters and warships, note that lots of money is going into new ICBMs, satellites and "air defense systems" (where they still hide spending on ICBM early warning radars.)

The Russian military also looks enviously at the American military. The U.S. Army is better trained equipped than it ever was during the Cold War, and the Russians see the success of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as reason enough for Russia to copy the equipment and techniques the Americans are using. Similarly, Russia is taking cues from the U.S. Navy and Air Force.

Russia is also returning to Middle Eastern politics, an arena where the old Soviet Union competed, not very successfully, for decades. Russia has given the Palestinian Authority president $10 million, to help make up for the missing contributions from the U.S. and Western Europe. Russia is not giving the money to Hamas, the terrorist organization that now controls the Palestinian parliament (and government), but to the non-Hamas president, who was selected in an earlier election, and represents a non-terrorist (at least officially) Palestinian faction. Russia always had problems picking the right side in the Middle East, and this tradition appears to be continuing.

Unlike the original Cold War, there are many areas of cooperation with the United States. The CIA and FSB (its Russian counterpart) are in regular contact with each other, and exchange information on Islamic terrorists. Much of this activity is off the media radar, but it's there.

April 30, 2006: Spring comes to Chechnya, and with it another terrorist campaign. But the action is a lot lighter this year. The Chechen terrorists are fewer, thanks to more Chechen factions going over to the Russians. The deal is simple, the Chechens can run their own affairs if they keep things reasonably quiet in Chechnya, and keep Chechen gangsters and Islamic radicals from making trouble in other parts of Russia. There was an arrangement like this a decade ago, but the gangs and Islamic radicals got out of control, and in came the Russian army and police. Several hundred dead Chechens later, everyone is going to try to keep the peace.

 

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