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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nationalists Paranoid on Joint Exercises

It was with a degree of bemusement that U.S. Senator Sam Nunn on Wednesday proposed that joint military exercises between American and Russian troops scheduled for July should take place in the United States rather than in the Ural mountains as planned. Most of the senators traveling with Nunn, according to James Exon of Nebraska, had only heard of the exercises for the first time when they were briefed for their trip to Moscow last Thursday. The maneuvers were or are to involve about 250 lightly armed troops from each country. In Washington they amounted to an obscure detail of military planning that would not demand the attention of the legislature's armed-services committee. In Russia, by contrast, they have been a political hot potato splashed all over the media. No question about it, that is a bemusing fact. Nationalist feeling in the State Duma apparently ran high over the idea of American troops running riot in the Urals, prompting President Boris Yeltsin at one point to say that the exercises would have to be rethought in deference to concerns in the parliament. Concerns about what? Even the most rabid American patriot would be hard pressed to say that 250 of Uncle Sam's finest are capable of taking on the might of the Russian armed forces. To look at such a tiny force as a security threat is clearly absurd. Yeltsin's first flip-flop on the exercises was explainable as a tactical maneuver and none too worrying. His initial hesitations about the exercises were expressed just days before he managed to get the majority of his political opponents to sign a peace accord. He offered up the exercises, small and symbolic as they were, as a cheap and temporary political sacrifice. Several weeks ago -- not long after the accord had been safely signed -- the president took another U-turn on the exercises, saying they would go ahead as planned. That was fully as expected. But last weekend, Yeltsin flip-flopped again, putting the date for the exercises off indefinitely and prompting Nunn's offer to hold them in America. Has the influence of Russia's nationalists become so great that even when they make a patently absurd contention -- namely that 250 U.S. troops can pose a threat to the 2 million or so soldiers of the Russian armed forces -- the president of the country is forced to humor them? But maybe Senator Nunn's suggestion will work out for the best. For once 250 Russian troops have visited the United States for military exercises without causing a ripple of concern among the American populace, perhaps it will help to expose Russia's nationalists in all their manipulative paranoia.