Cold wind from Russia
DESPITE consistent Kremlin claims that Moscow isn't trying to resurrect the Cold War, a landslide of Soviet-style actions over the last few weeks is doing a pretty darn good job of indicating the exact opposite.It is not so much neglect, but lack of funds for maintenance that caused the Soviet era military to fall into disrepair. However, there is a longing within Russia for the heady days when they could thwart western action to thwart local despots. The Soviets used local despots as a tool in their power plays and Putin would like to play that game. That is why he has had a hot and cold relationship with the despots in Tehran.
One of the frostiest events was President Vladimir Putin's announcement a little over a week ago that Russia's nuclear bombers were resuming regular long-range patrols on a "permanent basis" after a 15-year hiatus.
In fact, British Tornado and Norwegian F-16 fighters had already escorted the newly-started Russian flights off their coasts going back to mid-July - and the Americans launched to meet the Russians en route past U.S. bases on Guam earlier this month.
But Putin's announcement made it in-your-face official. And that same day, Russia launched 14 such bombers on patrols well beyond Russian borders - with the defense ministry claiming the missions were over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.
Again, this was regular Soviet behavior right up to the fall of Communism. Tu-95 "Bear" bomber/reconnaissance aircraft flew regular missions along the U.S. East Coast, as well as Pacific missions against U.S. forces in Alaska and Asia.
Putin insisted that suspension of such bomber flights in 1992 had undermined Russia's security. Other nations, he noted, had continued such missions despite the Cold War's end - a plain reference to the United States' global reconnaissance program.
More pointedly, he made those comments on the closing day of joint war games of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Russia's Ural Mountains involving 6,000 soldiers - ending a week of seemingly successful counterterrorism exercises in a mock village. (The SCO consists of Russia, China and four Central Asian states. Some consider it, perhaps prematurely, to be a Eurasian counterweight to NATO and the United States - "NATO with oil.")
Moscow's military buildup also continues apace. The Russian armed forces are receiving a major injection of cash - mostly thanks to profits from nationalized Russian oil and gas firms - to overcome years of abject neglect.
He sees the flight of the bears as a return to the gory days of the Soviet era. In reality they make as much sense as sending wooden square riggers out for battleship diplomacy in the age of nuclear air craft carriers. They do create better photo ops than missiles just sitting in silos. I suspect that the Russians rather enjoy seeing the pictures of the western fighters which could easily knock the bears out of the sky doing their flybys. They believe the pictures are a propaganda coup.
Douglas Hanson looks at another aspect of the Russian offensive in the Caucasus region with simulated attacks in Georgia. I think all of these moves should be looked at as coordinated. The Russians are missing an opportunity with this step back into a discredited past.