Moscow Aims to Dominate Central Europe Again
From the July 16, 2007 Insight
July 17, 2007
by Andrei A. Piontkovsky
When in his Victory Day speech on May 9 Vladimir Putin compared the United States to the Third Reich, he was setting a new standard in anti-Western rhetoric. Now any gathering which passes without similar comparisons will be regarded as a relative success, as was the case at the summit at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport that has just ended.
This dialogue of the deaf on the issue of missile defense did not conclude with a public row, but with the setting up of a working group to continue the fruitless discussion.
The project to create a hugely expensive ABM system of highly questionable military effectiveness against even single missile attacks by pariah states has been under discussion for the past quarter of a century. During the 1990s, a Russo-American seminar on nuclear strategy was regularly held in the little Italian town of Erice. In an informal setting, I once asked the 85-year old patriarch of American physics, and father of the Star Wars program, Edward Teller, “How on earth did you manage to persuade Reagan that the idea of anti-ballistic missile defense was feasible?” “Young man,” he replied, “I needed money for interesting physics.”
The new version of the ABM defense system being deployed by the U.S. also involves some very interesting physics and huge sums of money. It may even prove effective against the threat of a couple of Iranian missiles. What is absolutely clear, however, and fully recognized by every serious military analyst in Russia, is that this project is no threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent capability. Russia and the U.S. will continue to enjoy a remarkable capacity to destroy each other many times over.
So why is there so much hysteria coming out of Moscow, shrieking about an imminent attack on Russia, and threats to retarget nuclear missiles at Europe? First and foremost, it is part of an overall anti-Western propaganda campaign conducted with incredible intensity in Russia for several years now. The corrupt regime of billionaire bureaucrats in the Kremlin relies absolutely on presenting the West as a deadly foe of Russia. This is their sole means of justifying and legitimating their authoritarian regime in the eyes of Russian society.
There is, however, another reason. Intoxicated by the power conferred by its oil and gas resources, the Putin regime is flexing its muscles as it contemplates trying to restore its dominant position in Central Europe. Moscow would hardly have raised such a hullabaloo over radar in Norway or an interception facility in Turkey.
The Kremlin's determination to use every means at its disposal to get the Czech and Polish projects canceled (including suggestions at the summit to locate elements of an ABM system in all sorts of places: Azerbaijan, South Russia, Moscow, Brussels) confirms that this has nothing to do with ABM defense or Russia's security. It is the first serious attempt to reassert the Brezhnev concept of limited sovereignty of the countries of Central Europe.
The fact of the matter is that, if Moscow had not indulged in all of this hysteria, the Czech and Polish projects might well never have gotten off the ground. The U.S. Congress is very reluctant to fund them and half the populations of the Czech Republic and Poland are opposed to having ABM sites in their countries.
Now, however, after Moscow’s threats to target nuclear missiles at them, for those countries to refuse to allow ABM facilities would be tantamount to their acknowledging the Brezhnev-Putin doctrine of limited sovereignty, which is as unacceptable to Poland and the Czech Republic as it is to the U.S.
“Will deploying interceptor missiles in Poland not worsen our relations with Russia?” a Polish journalist asked me a few days ago. “Do you really think they could get any worse?” I asked her.
Poland was singled out by Moscow as one of the main targets of its new "assertiveness" for a number of reasons. There are deep-rooted historical antagonisms, a fortunate combination in Poland’s image of features of the hated West and of a perfidious former ally, and finally the part played by the Polish president two-and-a-half years ago in the triumph of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which scared Moscow out of its wits. At that time, Kremlin insiders repeated to me on more than one occasion, “Vladimir Vladimirovich will never forgive the humiliation he has suffered in the Ukrainian elections.” In short, Poland seems likely to continue to be placed high up on the Kremlin’s list of the principal enemies of Russia.
Andrei Piontkovsky is a visiting fellow with Hudson Institute.