Upsetting the Reset

Last week, the Federation of American Scientists released “Upsetting the Reset: The Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense” [.pdf]. The introduction includes a recurring theme of the Bush-Obama years:

In September 2009, the Obama administration discarded its predecessor’s European missile defense initiative that called for powerful ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in Poland with a large radar site in the Czech Republic. … Some Russian critics characterized them as threatening because they could potentially be re-engineered to be offensive nuclear-tipped missiles.Remember when Putin seized the North Pole? This bear won't forget.

The Obama administration instead proposed the new European Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), presented as a more flexible alternative based on the roughly ten times smaller SM-3 interceptors. …

The shelving of the original plan was initially greeted with much optimism as it was seen as the first step in “resetting” bilateral relations with Russia, which had suffered under the George W. Bush administration. It allowed the discussions of New START to get off the ground and cleared the way for greater cooperation on areas of common concern, such as addressing the possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program.

Over the last two years – as details and analysis of the PAA plan have emerged – Russian officials have voiced increasing concern about its scope and implications for Russia’s strategic deterrent forces.

How dare they! With popular villain big bad Vlad on his way back to the Kremlin, expect a surge in stories about Russian paranoia and expansionism.

Medvedev’s ‘Tough Guy Act’

According to CBS, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s first six months in office have contradicted the “liberal” reputation he (apparently) had when he was first elected. Maybe it’s a shock to some that one can be “soft spoken” and never have been a KGB spook and yet still, as president, look out of the interests of one’s country. But the examples given for Medvedev’s alleged illiberalism don’t hold water.

Opposition to missile defense? Nearly everyone with a clue is opposed to the US basing a missile defense system, especially one that does not even work, in Poland and the Czech Republic. Being a liberal in either the contemporary American or the classical sense doesn’t preclude opposing US imperial ambitions, anyhow.

Criticizing the US financial system? Hasn’t everyone all the way up to our own president done so by now? Economists have been warning of a collapse for years and classical liberals have been warning about bubbles since before anyone alive on this planet was born. This is hardly a “continu[ation]” of “Cold War rhetoric” on Medvedev’s part.

Georgia. Please. I think any journalist who would like to remain credible at this point should just recognize that Georgia did indeed begin the August conflict, and not desperately reach for something, anything with which to bludgeon Russia — even for filler in a weak hit piece. Really, if all you have is that Russia “used excessive force against Georgia” — not at all an objectively measurable statement — you simply must shut up.

And then, oh no! Russia sends a warship to Venezuela. Somehow, the completely insignificant country of Venezuela has become the boogeyman not just of the right wing, but of the mainstream as well. You don’t have to be a fan of that Chávez clown to be confused by all the wasted breath over a government with no choice but to sell Bush’s America its oil. That Russia wants to add a little luster to its rusty, crumbled image does not make Medvedev suddenly anti-liberal.

No, it’s not Medvedev’s image as a liberal that is in doubt — if it ever existed. It’s CBS’s as a significant source of original journalism. This frivolous, vacuous bit of tripe doesn’t belong on a news page. For more sophisticated analysis of Russia and its foreign (and domestic) policy, I suggest War Nerd.

War Doesn’t End With Treaties

Something made me perk up this morning, going through the weekend’s news. After two weeks of reading about South Ossetia’s irregulars, the militiamen blamed for everything from looting to attempted genocide, in the periphery of news stories, this morning I read this in the Washington Post:

In Khetagurovo, housewife Ofelia Dzhanyeva said she had lost her brother during the war in the early 1990s when South Ossetia threw off Georgian control, and after the latest conflict nothing would induce Ossetians to accept Tbilisi’s rule.

“None of the Ossetians is even thinking of reconciliation with Georgia now,” she said. “In 1991 our children turned into refugees. Now they have grown up to defend their homeland.”

She’s talking about the 1991-92 South Ossetia War, when the Ossetians declared independence from Georgian rule, and Georgia retaliated by invading the territory. The children who suffered in that conflict grew up internalizing simmering hatreds. When Georgia once again attacked this year, bombing South Ossetian villages, they finally had a chance to unleash their pent-up rage. The comportment of the official South Ossetian Army, some 2500-3000 men, was eclipsed by the rampaging of nearly 20,000 irregulars.

A cease-fire was agreed upon in the 90s conflict, but officials cannot sign away the damage done to a generation of young people by their policies. The latest conflict, with its thousands of refugees, may be setting the stage for the next generation of children obsessed with revenge. Official independence, especially if only recognized by Russia, isn’t likely to paper over those wounds.

Even though the scale of this conflict is relatively tiny, with “mere” tens of thousands of refugees, the entire world has been in some way affected. Western-Russian relations are at the lowest point since the cold war — and one shudders to think of the possibilities if Georgia had been allowed to join NATO.

Now consider the numbers we’re dealing with in Iraq. A “ripening,” so to speak, of the personal crises of every young Iraqi may be 10-15 years in the future. Barring a far-reaching patching up of grievances between Westerners and Iraqis, as well as between groups throughout that ethnic maze, the world might be in for another South Ossetia — times 1000.