K.S. Rajan (29 Dec 2011)
"Russia: Back to the Future"

Russia: Back to the Future
Bob MaginnisBy Bob Maginnis
Putin played to Soviet-era nostalgia when he called for building a Eurasian Union. On October 4, Putin published an article in Izvetiia announcing his Eurasia Union initiative that will have an economic focus similar to the euro zone, though led by Russia politically and bears a suspicious resemblance to that of the former Soviet Union.

The objective is not to rebuild a unified state dependent financially on Moscow, but create a supranational political and economic structure that gives Moscow strategic oversight of countries on its periphery. Russia already has a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan has indicated it intends to join. That union integrates their economies and reduces restrictions on movement of goods across their borders.

A Russian-led Eurasia Union will attract former Warsaw Pact countries especially now that Europe is collapsing. It also suggests a reorientation of Russian foreign policy strategy under soon-to-be-president Putin that de-emphasizes Europe and puts Moscow in the catbird seat.

Keep in mind even though the proposed Eurasia Union starts as a political and economic association it could become a defense alliance. The former Warsaw Pact was the military compliment to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, the regional economic organization for the former communist states of Eastern Europe.

Putin is modernizing Russia’s military already armed with the world’s largest atomic weapons arsenal. Last month Putin declared, according to Interfax, the Russian armed forces will be brought up “to a new level in the next five to 10 years” so that both the army and the military-industrial complex “are capable of guaranteeing Russia stable peace without undermining the national economy.”

Moscow is aggressively rebuilding its atomic strike capability, doctrinally the nation’s primary means of defense. For example, just last week Russia’s Northern Fleet successfully carried out the salvo launch of two Bulava intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Yuriy Dolgorukiy, a submersed nuclear submarine in the White Sea. Such strategic modernization of its nuclear forces does not contravene the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the U.S., but it is leaving the U.S. in the dust because America stopped atomic weapon modernization projects.

Moscow is also aggressively building conventional expeditionary platforms. It is constructing over 100 naval ships, over 1,000 helicopters and 600 military aircraft including the fifth generation Sukhoi PAK-FA fighter. Meanwhile, Russian ships and aircraft are returning to distant seas and air space to challenge the U.S.

Putin promises an anti-U.S. foreign policy. He told the United Russia congress he “will continue to pursue an active foreign policy” while “straightforwardly and honestly” defending Russia’s interests. He cautioned that dialogue with Russia is "possible only on an equal footing" and that "nothing can be imposed on Russia from outside."

These comments are aimed at the U.S., which Putin considers Russia’s primary adversary. His concern is with NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe and America’s European-based ballistic missile defense (BMD), which he claims threatens Russia’s sovereignty.

Putin is especially weary of America’s BMD which he says is intended to neutralize Russia’s nuclear deterrent and is a pretext to station American forces in Eastern Europe. Washington argues the BMD is to counter the emerging Iranian missile threat.

But President Medvedev and by association Putin threaten that if the U.S. continues to refuse cooperation with Russia regarding the BMD, Moscow will deploy its Iskander mobile ballistic missiles and early warning system on its border with Poland and Lithuania. He will target the American BMD and fit the Iskanders with advanced maneuverable re-entry vehicles and penetration aids.

On other fronts Moscow is re-engaging the Middle East, such as building a military port in Syria to re-establish a Mediterranean presence. It is playing an active and unhelpful role in the ongoing nuclear crisis with Iran, leveraging its control of the Northern Distribution Network into Afghanistan, contesting arctic region claims, and moving back into areas that haven’t seen Russians for two decades.

The election protests express genuine discontent with Russian corruption. But the real story is the Putin dynasty is strong and soon will shed any pretense of reform. It will tap into the growing Russian nationalism to rebuild Moscow’s stature Soviet-style with a back-to-the-future agenda which means the Russian bear is back with a vengeance.