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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Don't Fear the Spinach

In the book "Emperors of Illusions," author Sergei Lukyanenko tells the story of aliens who study Earth and conclude that humans are unable to reproduce without spinach. Accordingly, they employ a bacteriological weapon that eliminates spinach from the face of the Earth. Humanity nevertheless survives.

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Watching reports of the latest U.S. shenanigans on state-run Channel One television always reminds me of spinach. It is rich in vitamins, of course, but that doesn't mean that we cannot survive without it. Of course the United States is acting impudently by installing an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland. But that doesn't mean Russian security will actually be compromised.

But the media here are attributing the missile plan to aggression, not impudence. The chief of the General Staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, said Russia may respond by backing out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. And Strategic Missile Forces commander Nikolai Solovtsov threatened to retarget Russian missiles at Poland if the anti-missile battery is installed. At a recent security conference in Munich, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia would respond "asymmetrically" to the American anti-missile defense system, "but it is of no significance to Russia, because it employs weapons Russia can overcome."

The 10 proposed anti-missile batteries in Poland would, however, only intercept missiles passing over the country. Let Putin, Baluyevsky and Solovtsov explain how these could stop Russian missiles targeted at the United States, which would have to leave the Earth's atmosphere and follow the shortest route available, over the North Pole. Even if, for the sake of argument, these missiles were a threat, this raises a whole series of questions.

First, if there really is such a threat to Russia, does it make sense to choose a former furniture store director as defense minister? Isn't that excessively "asymmetric"?

Second, instead of arguing over what could happen in space, shouldn't we focus on terrestrial issues instead? How about Belarus, which falls within Russia's zone of strategic interests? Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko survives on Russian patronage and uses this to his advantage whenever possible. Is our military capable of seizing the pipelines in Belarus the next time Lukashenko starts illegally siphoning oil? I'm not suggesting we start a war with Belarus: Wars are best won by never starting them. But if we had at least a plan regarding Belarus, Lukashenko wouldn't be wiping his boots on Russia.

Finally, does anyone remember that the treaty Baluyevsky is talking about was signed by a Soviet Union much more powerful militarily than modern Russia because it understood it couldn't counter U.S. Pershing missiles in Europe? Now, when the United States' military budget of $518 billion is twice the size of Russia's gross domestic product, we are talking about dumping the treaty.

The reality is that the United States is not threatening Russia. The more awkward truth is that Washington does not see any need to reckon with Russia at all. Unfortunately, this opinion is shared by a number of countries. North Korea did not warn Moscow before test firing rockets last year -- two of which reportedly landed in Russian territorial waters -- although it always warns China ahead of such maneuvers. Tehran doesn't really take Moscow seriously either, although it still expects Moscow to back it up in the UN Security Council.

Russia's interests are not taken seriously inside the country either -- not by the business community, soldiers, bureaucrats or the justice system. Even the Kremlin has other priorities, including a policy vis-a-vis Europe with the main goal of filling Gazprom's coffers.

Given this situation, it's not hard to understand why Washington wouldn't be too concerned about what Russia feels is in its interests.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.