Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 5:38 AM

Russia Flexing Military Muscles: more Regional Bully than Global Superpower

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet and paratrooper units to go on full alert as part of snap military exercises in the Arctic … to include nearly 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships and 15 submarines.

(Reuters, March 16, 2015)

PUTINA chest-thumping feature of the relationship between nuclear powers (like Russia, China, and the United States) is the elaborate military exercises each performs as if conventional warfare between them were still probable.

After all, they may engage in proxy warfare in places like Ukraine and Syria, or invade hapless nations – as the U.S. did in Iraq in 2003 and Russia did in Georgia in 2008. (Just yesterday Putin signed a treaty formally integrating South Ossetia into Russia, similar to the one he signed last year formally integrating Abkhazia, another pro-Russian breakaway region of Georgia, both of which his military gobbled up in 2008.)

But Hell will freeze over before any of them triggers direct military conflict. And the reason can be explained in one, appropriately eponymous acronym: MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction).

Which is why these military exercises have always been more about advertising for defense contractors (to feed the military industrial complex that has become a cannibalizing sector in their respective economies) than about preparing for national security. Manufacturing threats to justify military spending is as old as warfare itself.

ria-6-1-10-russian-amphibious-assault-landing-ship-baltops-previewBut let me hasten to clarify that there’s nothing wrong with Putin ordering military exercises on Russian territory (including the disputed Crimea); not least because U.S. presidents routinely order similar exercises not only on American territory, but all over the world.

Indeed, reports are that Putin ordered his snap exercises in response the U.S.-led NATO exercises Obama ordered to be conducted in the Baltics—Russia’s backyard.

Incidentally, there’s also nothing wrong with China increasing its fleet of one aircraft carrier to twenty; not least because the United States has been deploying its fleet of twenty (aka flexing its military muscles) around the globe for decades.

In fact, some version of this is bound to play out in decades to come. And it will be interesting to see if the European allies defying the United States today to join China-led financial institutions, which aim to rival U.S.-led ones like the World Bank, will defy the United States then to support China’s equal rights to patrol the High Seas. Especially if Chinese naval vessels begin making ports of call on former European colonies in the Caribbean, from whence the United States announced just this week its navy is abandoning patrols.

I fear those European allies will be so indebted to China they’ll have no choice but to salute and abide. But I digress….

The only issue I have with Putin’s military exercises is that he’s using them to extract economic concessions from the West.

Russia has stepped up military activity to pressure EU leaders who are set to consider fresh sanctions against Moscow, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said Tuesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered massive military manoeuvres on Monday, including the deployment of nearly 40,000 troops in the Arctic.

(Agence France-Presse, March 17, 2015)

Not to mention his shameless boast this week about being fully prepared to go nuclear last year if that’s what it took for him to take Crimea from Ukraine. Of course, this ignores the fact that, had he done so, pro-Ukrainian nuclear powers – like France, England, and the United States – would have no choice but to respond in kind.

More to the point, though:

Having to resort to military force to win friends and influence neighbors makes Russia look more like a pathetic regional bully (akin to North Korea with more nukes) than a respected global power in league with the likes of China and the United States… The reputation Putin has manufactured as a strong leader is belied by the fact that, but for the Soviet-era nukes he commands, he’d be no stronger than the tin-pot dictators who lorded over kleptocracies throughout post-colonial Africa.

(“Berlin Wall 2014: Mr. Gorbachev, Take Back that Speech!” The iPINIONS Journal, November 10, 2014)

nk3-300x217In other words, far from making Russia look strong, these maneuvers only make it look as feckless as Putin is reckless. What’s more, it might be an unwitting demonstration of his intent to use desperate military threats to extract sanctions relief that he invited North Korea’s boy leader, Kim Jung-un, to make the first foreign trip of his reign to Russia.

The leader of North Korea is among 26 world leaders who have accepted invitations to Moscow to take part in celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany…

(The Associated Press, March 17, 2015)

Kim, after all, is heir to a presidential legacy that is defined by visceral threats to launch nuclear strikes (against manufactured foes as nearby as Seoul and as far away as Washington) to command world attention and extract economic concessions:

When it comes to psychological warfare, this North Korean gnome is one Chicken Little who manages to jerk the world’s chain every time. Indeed, true to form, statements of concern from world leaders about what Jong-Il might do followed his antic declaration [about launching nuclear strikes] with Pavlovian predictability. Which, in turn, made me constrained to wonder why — given his record of idle threats — world leaders even give him the time of day?!…

Well, evidently, like father, like son; because Kim Jong-un is now doing the same thing … for the same reason.

(“North Korea Craving Attention Dennis Rodman Can’t Give,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 19, 2013)

So, with all due respect to Karl von Clausewitz, Putin is now aping Jung-un in threatening war as just the continuation of trade negotiations by other means.

I shall end by noting that, in writing about Putin’s Russia, I’ve been obliged to make many references to Jung-un’s North Korea. Of course, one of the hallmarks of Jung-un’s rule is the frequency with which he executes members of his inner circle to keep others in line. Whereas one of the hallmarks of Putin’s is the frequency with which he imprisons his critics.

I’ve always been utterly stupefied by the fact that Jung-un is so deified that senior members of his military dictatorship would rather be executed, one by one, than conspire to assassinate this homicidal maniac; you know, the way Caligula’s Pretorian Guards conspired with senators and courtiers to assassinate him. Whereas members of Putin’s police/fascist state need not look all the way back to the demigods of ancient Rome to appreciate the categorical imperative of conspiring to stop him (i.e., before he turns Russia into a North Korean-style hermit kingdom).

They need only look to the attempt by Nazi soldiers to assassinate Hitler, and make sure that, if they attempt the same on Putin, they succeed where those heroic Nazis failed.

Related commentaries:
Berlin Wall
North Korea

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