- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Russia watchers and military analysts say some of Russia’s recent military moves speak louder than the words of Russia’s leaders. But the words of President Vladimir Putin and others at the top of the Russian hierarchy have sent an icy chill though relations between Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States.

In just the last week:

c Russia reinstituted long range bomber surveillance patrols of U.S. vital areas including the military installation at Guam and our aircraft carriers at sea. These are the first routine bomber patrols since the Cold War.

c Russia said it would again deploy naval forces to the Mediterranean. This also is a return to Cold War-style military deployments and operations. Russian Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Masorin said: “The Mediterranean is an important theater of operations for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. We must restore a permanent presence of the Russian Navy in this region.”

c Russia joined with China and several oil-rich Central Asian former Soviet Republics that are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to conduct war game maneuvers. For the first time ever, Russia hosted Chinese soldiers in peaceful yet provocative exercise on Russian soil. The U.S. Embassies in Moscow and Beijing said the U.S. had asked to take part but was told any U.S. participation or observers would not be welcome.

c Finally, President Putin from Russia and President Hu Jintao of China participated in a multinational meeting of the SCO that included nonmember luminaries such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad ranted against the proposed U.S. deployment of missile defenses to Poland and the Czech Republic, a deployment also criticized by China and Russia. China and Russia have blocked attempts by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to sanction Iran in the United Nations for its nuclear program.

“Diplomacy between Russia and the West is increasingly being overshadowed by military gestures,” says Sergei Strokan, a foreign-policy expert with the independent daily Kommersant. “It’s clear that the Kremlin is listening more and more to the generals and giving them more of what they want.”

Said Mr. Putin at the SCO’s largest-ever annual gathering of regional leaders: “Year by year, the SCO is becoming a more substantial factor in ensuring security in the region. Russia , like other SCO states, favors strengthening the multipolar international system providing equal security and development potential for all countries. Any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally have no future.” Former Soviet members of the SCO include Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

For more than two years the SCO, prompted largely by Russia, has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from two member countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Uzbekistan evicted American forces supporting U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, but Kyrgyzstan still hosts a U.S. base. Russia also maintains a military base in Kyrgyzstan.

Much of regional wrangling and politics in Central Asia relates to oil. Russia’s new hubris and military activity is funded by recent oil wealth. China has an agreement to buy Russian oil and during this last week the leaders of China and Kazakhstan agreed to finance and build a network of pipelines to supply China with oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region.

“The SCO clearly wants the U.S. to leave Central Asia; that’s a basic political demand,” says Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow director of the independent World Security Institute. “That’s one reason why the SCO is holding military exercises, to demonstrate its capability to take responsibility for stability in Central Asia after the U.S. leaves.”

Believing the U.S. too greatly dominates the post-Cold War world, Russia and China agreed to form a “strategic partnership.” Creation of the SCO in 2001 was a key part of that relationship. But the outreach by Russia and China to leaders like Iran’s Mr. Ahmadinejad has caused Western analysts to refer to the SCO as the “club of dictators” or “OPEC with nukes.”

Moreover, a year of bellicose rhetoric from Mr. Putin worries many Western observers. Last February at the Annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, Mr. Putin called American foreign policy “ruinous” in a speech reporters called a “scathing attack.”

Mr. Putin also said the United States was a reckless “unipolar” power. He accused United States of making the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that led to war, ruin and insecurity.

America’s new Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a follow-up to Mr. Putin’s speech, “As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.” He added: “One Cold War was quite enough.”

At the end of July, the secretary-general of NATO, Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said, “Nobody wants a new Cold War, neither the Russians nor NATO, nobody.” He urged Russia to abandon its “confrontational” rhetoric and join the Western allies to combat the common threats of terrorism and failed states.

Judging by Russian activities last week, it is not clear Mr. Putin is listening.

John E. Carey is former president of International Defense Consultants Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

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