Cold War Repeats as Farce

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to oped@imedia.ru, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Marx has often been attributed with the famous quote that history repeats itself first as a tragedy and second as a farce. I'm not sure if the 40-year Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States can be called a historical tragedy, but the games Russia's leaders are playing now definitely resemble a farcical repetition of the Cold War.

At first glance, however, the increasingly aggressive rhetoric appears very serious. A few days before the State Duma elections, President Vladimir Putin asserted that Russia needed powerful armed forces to make sure nobody pokes "their snotty noses" into our internal affairs. This type of language creates the ideological basis for a confrontation at a time when the country is slipping further into authoritarianism.

Russia recently demanded that NATO countries ratify the adapted version of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe that sets country-based rather than bloc-based limits on weaponry. But just some days ago, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was necessary to adapt further the already-adapted treaty by putting some limits on weaponry used exclusively by NATO member countries. In this way, Moscow is trying to divide Europe and Russia once again into military blocs. It would seem that Russia is trying to function single-handedly as a its own military alliance, and it is seeking the legal foundation to increase its level of conventional forces that will allow it to achieve this new status.

The Russian armed forces are ready and eager to demonstrate their growing capabilities to potential adversaries. Major General Pavel Androsov, commander of the 37th Air Force, told reporters of the results of Russia's recently resumed training flights by strategic bombers. During their long flights over the neutral waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans, the bombers, equipped with test versions of cruise missiles, carried out 270 training missions. Jets from NATO countries accompanied the Russian bombers on 70 of the flights. In addition, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov reported to Putin that ships of Russia's Northern and Black Sea fleets were cruising the Mediterranean Sea in order to "resume the country's naval presence in the world's oceans."

Thus, on the surface, it would seem that Russia is preparing for a serious military confrontation with the West. But there are no resources for maintaining a new Cold War since Russia's military budget is one-twentieth that of the United States. Moscow's defense expenditures equal just 2.7 percent of gross national product, while researchers suggest that, during the Soviet era, they totaled from 40 percent to 80 percent of GNP.

With regard to the promise First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov made last year to deliver a squadron of strategic bombers to the Air Force, Androsov could only say that "defense orders are being fulfilled according to schedule." Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that the single new Tu-160 bomber produced has yet to leave its hanger in Kazan for over two years now.

The situation in the navy is quite similar. Last summer, then-commander of the Northern Fleet, Vladimir Vysotsky, said it was previously customary to send out naval squadrons of 10 ships on maneuvers in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, we learn, the squadrons consist of only four ships. What's more, after every such tour, the heavy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov must undergo six months of repairs.

Those problems won't be solved in one year's time. A true Cold War won't start until the West perceives an actual threat to its security, and there is no such threat at present. Moreover, while official propaganda for the domestic consumption boasts the motherland's readiness to oppose the enemy, military leaders simultaneously take steps to preserve cooperation with those same so-called adversary countries. At this moment, the joint U.S.-Russian Torgau-2007 training exercises are underway in Germany, based on the idea of building a joint brigade during peacekeeping operations. Also in recent days, the chief of Russia's General Staff signed a U.S.-Russian memorandum on military cooperation in Washington. The details of that document have not been disclosed -- not so much to protect state secrets, but because it would look strange for Moscow to be strengthening cooperation with the same country that it calls a "treacherous enemy."

Considering the circumstances, it seems that Moscow is winking at the United States, sending a cryptic signal to Washington that the label of "enemy" is meant only for domestic consumption.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.