Changing Power Equation

The Russian Question Returns

Farooque Chowdhury

A militarily resurging Russia is now clearly visible. And, a difficult US position is also seeable. The Syria case is not the latest development. Further developments follow it. A recent comment by a responsible Russian official is the latest show of an assertive Russia.

Dmitry Rogozin, Russian deputy prime minister, warned on December 11, 2013 that Russia will use nuclear weapons if it comes under an attack. "One should keep in mind that if there is an attack against us, we will certainly resort to using nuclear weapons in certain situations to defend our territory and state interests", said Rogozin at the State Duma. He said: "We have never diminished the importance of nuclear weapons—the weapon of requital—as the great balancer of chances."

Rogozin, in charge of the armaments industry, went further: Russia's. Fund of Perspective Researches will develop a military response to the American Conventional Prompt Global Strike (PCS) strategy.

It is told that the PCS is the "main strategy" the Pentagon is nurturing. It will allow the US to strike targets anywhere in the world, with conventional weapons within an hour. The Russian assertive tone is clear in Rogozin's voice. It's not without base. Moscow's military moves simply in one region—the Arctic—tells a lot.

The Arctic holding vast untapped oil and gas reserves is the new area of competition. The region is gradually turning into a center of disputes between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US. Intensity of disputes, it can be assumed, will increase there.

Russia has made claims on a number of Arctic shelf areas and is planning to defend its bid at the UN. To Russia, the Arctic is a region of significance.

In December 2012, Rogozin said Russia risks losing its sovereignty by the mid-21st century if it does not assert its national interests in the Arctic today. "If we don't do that we will lose the battle for resources and therefore will lose the big battle for the right to have our own sovereignty and independence." He warned that toward the mid-21st century the struggle for natural resources will begin to turn "utterly uncivilized forms".

Russian military officials already have warned against the danger of NATO warships' presence in the northern seas in proximity to Russian borders. The NATO warships, it has been reported, move through the Northern Sea Route.

Probably this prompted Putin to issue an order in early-December 2013 to boost military presence in the Arctic and complete the development of military infrastructure in the region. He said Russia should have all means for protection of its security and national interests in the region.

With Russian military ships including nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser in the eastern part of the Laptev Sea, Russia now has a permanent military presence there. "We arrived there or—more accurately—we have returned there forever," said Arkady Bakhin, Russia's deputy defense minister. Russian airborne assault forces and military transport aviation units have conducted an exercise in the Arctic. Russia has already started deploying aerospace defense units and constructing an early missile warning radar system near Vorkuta, a far-northern town. The Temp military airfield on the New Siberian Island is also being renovated. Moscow plans to deploy a combined arms force in the Arctic in 2014. Goal of this plan is to protect its political and economic interests in the Arctic. The plan includes reopening of airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago. At least seven military airfields on the continental part of the Arctic Circle will be restored. There is a plan to upgrade and open a round-the-year functioning military airfield on the Novosibirsk Islands. A number of Russia's air units will start returning to abandoned Arctic airfields. Two arctic brigades Murmansk or Arkhangelsk will be stationed by Russia. Putin has also ordered the development of the navy, first of all, in the Far East and Artic zones. In other areas, the emerging scene also signals a militarily assertive Russia.

Russia is strengthening its integrated regional air defense network, part of the integrated air defense network of the Commonwealth of Independent States, with Belarus and has set up similar networks with Armenia and Kazakhstan. Moscow is assisting Yerevan to modernize and expand its air force. The air defense networks ‘‘contributes to strengthening peace and stability in Eurasia’’, said Putin.

Russia plans to set up regional air defense networks with members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a regional security bloc that also includes Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Within home, Russia's defense and armament plans are vigorous also as the country is increasing its defense spending. By 2016, it will be increased by about two-thirds. Kremlin plans to increase annual spending on nuclear weapons by more than 50 percent in the next three years.

Moscow's arms procurement plan for 2014 will find more than 40 of the newest ICBMs, 210 aircraft, and more than 250 armored vehicles. In 2014, Russia will continue deployment of the new ICBMs including 22 land-based ICBMs to the Strategic Missile Forces, tactical ballistic missile to the ground forces, and two new ballistic missile submarines.

Putin said the number of contract servicemen in the Russian armed forces should be annually increased by no less than 50,000 persons.

A comparison between this fact and the number of combat ready units of the superpower and the problem the US is facing regarding manpower in its armed forces will help perceive a changing reality.

In October, the militarily resurging country successfully test-fired nuclear-capable ballistic missile RS-12M Topol. Moscow now houses 326 ICBMs with approximately 1,050 warheads.

One can easily perceive economic force as more powerful than the force of gun although there are experts, who only count aircraft carriers and canons.

Russia is organizing the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), its own economic bloc with former Soviet states, a rival to the EU. Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia established ECU in 2010.

There is a plan to expand the ECU as a Eurasian Union, an economic-political union of former USSR, which will include Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. The Eurasian Union could also include Bulgaria, Cuba, Finland, Hungary, Mongolia, the Czech Republic, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Armenia has decided to join the ECU. The Caucasus country has also decided to engage in the Eurasian integration process instead of negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU.

Ukraine and Moldova cases are no less interesting if one looks at these in the perspective of this integration initiative. The Middle East is witnessing increased Russian presence. There are signs showing increased Russian military presence in the region in future.

Reality in Moscow's opposite pole is significant. Washington is experiencing results of its "wise" policy regarding Egypt, which is not a happy one. In future, a Russian military presence in Egypt will not be surprising. Washington's Saudi ally is making moves troubling for. Tel Aviv's playing with Moscow card is also important. One can imagine Washington's gaining a bitter fruit in future from its Al Qaeda ally in Syria. No doubt all these will bolster Moscow's position.

"Backyard" of the superpower is now a treasure of dramatic political events. The Chicago Boys failed to dream these as the Latin American people, like people in other continents, are not cowed down. Moreover, the Latin American people are building up their organizations through long bloody years and after. All of these organizations are not full of stupids, and all of these organizations are not for sale in market. The Latin American people are identifying leadership engaged in chattering, and teaching lessons to that leadership, and trying to get hold on leadership. This internal development reacts in the area of geopolitics.

It's not now easy to reenact the Bay of Pigs or the Grenada invasion. United Latin America reaction to the Assange-Ecuador London embassy and the Evo-plane-European "civility", or flagrant aggression, incidents are only two examples.

More powerful, fundamentally, is, people, and winning over the Latin American people-mind is now a daydream for forces of status quo. Allies of the lone supepower are having a difficult time there as they are getting exposed. Lackeys in all lands get exposed over time. Over the last decades, the Latin American people have gained experience and are getting organized.

Russian military plane recently made a journey to Venezuela. It was a long journey—from Russia. Venezuela-Russia military exercise is now a regular event. There are other military related growths in the region also.

Nixon's playing of China card is now part of history as the two former Red countries are not engaged in immediate rivalry, are closer, are having huge amount of trade and initiating gigantic energy cooperation, have resolved border disputes, are united in common strategy, BRICS and Shanghai initiative, and are governed by common ideology—market ideology.

South Asia however, shows another picture. In mid-December, Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, said in New Delhi he no longer "trusts" the US. "I don't trust them", said Karzai. He accused the Americans of saying one thing and doing another in the war-torn country.

Karzai's other pronouncements were not also less dramatic. He warned against "intimidation" on security pact, the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), related to US troops stay in the country. He said the US was indulging in brinkmanship over security deal. He told pact with the US would not be signed unless his demands were met.

Karzai's utterances, no doubt, make the superpower angry. But, what can be done? Power has limits, and the limits are imposed by reality, and reality belies imagination. Who imagined Karzai's tone of anguish about his protector while he was flown from Washington DC?

Within the broader society in Pakistan, especially within its enlightened part, significant developments are trying to gain ground.

On Afghan issue, the US now, in many extents, relies on India. It has to. In the entire south Asia region, from Myanmar to Afghanistan, the superpower needs India. The sole-superpower-days are waning. Its ally on the other side of the Atlantic is also not that much powerful. To many, the UK appears a bit less than a superpower. To some, the UK is the superpower of yesterday.

In the south Asia region, now it appears, brushing aside Indian position is not an easy job. Geopolitical developments in the region, and the present state of India—economy, military power, scientific and technological capacity, etc.—have created the condition.

The incident related to the Indian diplomat has shown the stand the Indian people take. It's difficult for the Indian establishment not to consider the public-factor. Washington has already shown its limits, breach within.

These developments will help Russia as parts of the south Asian societies will consider playing Russia card, go closer to BRICS, and the Shanghai Initiative. South Asian countries may look for space based on these developments and may have plans in their pockets for ignoring bullying tact by the ‘lone’ superpower.

Vol. 46, No. 30, Feb 2 - 8, 2014

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