Date: Wed, 23 Dec 1998 22:27:05 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: IRAQ BOMBING: Russia Ends its Flirtation with the West
Article: 50769
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 161.0 **/
** Topic: IRAQ BOMBING: Humiliated Russia Noa Against “West” **
** Written 9:55 PM Dec 22, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:37 PM Dec 22, 1998 by in labr.newsline */
/* ————— “Global Intelligence: Russia Ends Fl” ————— */

Russia Ends its Flirtation with the West

Global Intelligence Update, 21 December 1998

In the midst of last week's chaos, a single, crucial, clear and historically significant event took place. Russia's geopolitical flirtation with the West finally came to an end. There will undoubtedly be periods of reconciliation, cooperation and even good will in the future. But a sudden and powerful consensus emerged in Russia that held that Russia had been betrayed by the United States over Iraq, and that the only way out of this situation was for Russia to once again reassert itself as a great power. What is most important in this view is that it is the only issue on which all factions appear to agree. Apart from a few, isolated pro-western liberals, the view from the office of Boris Yeltsin to the most extreme nationalists and communists was that the decision by the United States to bomb Iraq was intolerable. It has the potential to be the foundation of a new Russian political consensus, with critical consequences for the international system.

The problem was not only that the United States bombed Iraq, but that it did not even consult Russia. Indeed, that is one of the most peculiar aspects of this attack and the one that led us not to expect this attack. One of the operational principles of the Clinton administration has been that it was unwilling to take unilateral military action. Repeatedly, even at the cost of substantial delays in initiating military operations, the Clinton administration worked slowly and deliberately both to maintain a broad coalition of international support and to remain within the framework of international organizations, such as the UN and NATO. The administration completely departed from this pattern this time. The Russians, who normally are carefully informed and consulted, found out about the attack from their own intelligence services, according the Yeltsin's press spokesman. In fact, he complained, while French President Chirac had told Yeltsin that an attack was coming, he himself had given the wrong time, indicating that the French weren’t informed either.

The administration's position was that, after the last crisis, the United States had warned Iraq that it would proceed without further consultations if Baghdad violated its agreements. But this warning had been given before in the aftermath of other crises. Unless the United States had some intelligence warning that the Iraqis were about to take some imminent action that had to be prevented, there was no urgency in the timing. No one in Washington has asserted an immediate threat from Saddam, certainly nothing that would not have permitted 48 hours of diplomatic consultation. Nevertheless, the United States needed urgently to launch its strikes on Wednesday night, and therefore violated its own avowed diplomatic norms.

The reason for the hurry-up strike is obvious. The effectiveness of the attacks is minimal. Neither Saddam nor his weapons of mass destruction have disappeared. The attacks achieved little accept a 24 hour delay in the impeachment vote. But the failure of the United States to consult with the Russians has, we think, had a permanent effect. A process that has been underway for several years has crystallized. Russia has been retreating from both its liberal economic reforms and its pro-Western foreign policy slowly for several years. The trend has accelerated since Primakov, the former head of foreign intelligence for the KGB, become Prime Minister. Now, the increasing anti-Americanism in Russian foreign policy has been galvanized. It was something that was waiting to happen. Nevertheless, it has happened now, and we need to consider its meaning and consequence.

What must be understood is that a firestorm swept Moscow last week. It was not only the government that was shocked by the air strikes on Iraq. The rhetoric from across the Russian political spectrum was startling. The lower-house of the Duma passed a resolution that resolutely condemned “the barbaric bombing of the Republic of Iraq,” and said that it was an act of international terrorism that posed a direct threat to international peace and security. The resolution passed 394-2. Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow who is leading polls to succeed Yeltsin as President, said, “In these conditions, we have to develop our defense industry,” and that, “Russia must be a great military and sea power.” According to Itar-Tass, he also said that “We need a modern army, a reliable nuclear deterrence system. The international community needs a strong Russia as a great power that respects itself and other powers.” Gen. Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry's international military cooperation department, said that Moscow “will be forced to change its military-political course and may become the leader of a part of the world community that disagrees with the (U.S.) dictate.” Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov summed it up: “We condemn the United States, and nobody should doubt our negative attitude.”

Of particular interest here is the universality of the condemnation and the nature of the rhetoric. Russia has been deeply fragmented, a polity in search of a center. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has found a center around which virtually every major faction has been able to rally: opposition to American hegemony. There is also a growing consensus that Russia must somehow recover the international greatness it lost. Izvestia ran an article asserting that the past days simply prove that Russia is no longer a superpower. The liberal newspaper Sevodnya asserted that, “Russia has the same influence on world affairs as any third-world country.” The business daily Kommersant, lamented that Russia had poor real-time intelligence from the region because it has only one electronic intelligence satellite that provides coverage only once every 24 hours. In addition, it complained that the missile tracking station in Azerbaijan does not track cruise missiles of the type used by the United States. Now, Kommersant is normally much more interested in an IMF tranche or in trade issues than in doing careful analysis of Russian operational military capabilities. Everyone is upset.

There is a general sense that the international strategic decline of Russia has gone too far and must be reversed. This sensibility has become so strong now that it will, we think, become not only a rallying point in Russia, but more important, something from which no Russian aspirant for political power will be willing to stray. Except for a minor handful of Russian politicians, a dual commitment is emerging. First, there is a commitment to reverse the decline in Russian power. Second, there is a commitment to improve Russia's military posture. Anyone not committed to this is not going to be a political contender.

This evolution has, as we have long argued, been inevitable. On December 29, 1996, in our 1997 Forecast, we wrote that: “The Russians have given away their empire in return for very little… Yeltsin, unfortunately, has delivered little order and less greatness—and Russia is sick of it.” Liberalism in Russia has been a disaster without any silver lining. The average Russian is poorer today than he was under the Soviets, and much less secure. Perhaps worst of all, Russia does indeed have the influence of a third world country. The United States would never have ignored the Soviet Union in deciding to attack Iraq, as it has ignored Russia. It is absolutely essential for non-Russians to understand just how intolerable this indifference is to the Russian psyche.

There is a real parallel here between Russia today and Weimar Germany. The collapse of Imperial Germany ushered in a period of economic decline, desperate poverty, massive inequality and a sense of the impotence of the liberal regime not only in economic life but also in international affairs. The combination of poverty and the sense of being treated with contempt by the international community created uncontrollable social forces committed not only to the abandonment of political and economic liberalism, but also to a massive readjustment in the international system. National Socialism was the outcome.

Russia is in precisely the same position today. Liberalization had created economic disarray: poverty, inequality, and hopelessness. But what is going to galvanize the Russians psychologically is their loss of international standing. Bill Clinton rubbed their faces in the fact that it really doesn’t much matter what Russia thinks. Focused on his own problems, he failed to calculate the impact of his actions on Russia. It is not that this evolution wouldn’t have taken place anyway. Clinton's action produced a galvanic revelation. It drove home American contempt for Russia's views and brought together the entire Russian polity around a single issue: the return of Russian greatness.

The reconstruction of Russia's military is inevitable. Economic dislocation does not block this. Remember that Germany revitalized its economy with a rearmament program. In only five years Germany went from essentially disarmed to being able to overawe its enemies. Russia's armed forces are in far better shape today than Germany's were in 1933. Although in disarray, its research and development has continued and it has substantial technologies in the pipeline as well as a massive standing force. Revitalizing those forces and increasing defense production could be precisely what is needed to kick-start the Russian economy. It worked for Germany. At various points, it worked for the United States and other countries as well. Since nothing else is working for Russia, they may as well give it a try. We think they will.

Even today's Russian armed forces, if merely paid and fed, pose a real challenge to its neighbors. We believe that one of the things that will flow out of this consensus is an increased determination to recreate the old Soviet Union, in the sense of reintegrating the fragments into a whole. There is already a great deal of economic integration and dependency. It is inevitable that the new Russian nationalists will want to create an integrated political framework over that. It will use economic power to achieve its ends. It will also use existing military forces to force coordination and reintegration. There is not much talk of reintegration yet. There will be.

The Iraq issue is a good place to start. Primakov, who knows the Arab world from his KGB days, can use his pro-Iraqi stance to increase Russian influence among Islamic factions in the breakaway fragments of the former Soviet Union. By aligning Russia with Iraq, Moscow becomes a friend of Moslems rather than an enemy. This not only increases Russian influence with opposition groups in countries like Kazakhstan, it increases the probability that Moslem countries will use their influence to move these groups into a pro-Moscow stance.

But the real test will come in the West. The situation in the Baltic countries is intolerable to Russia. Kaliningrad, part of Russia, is cut off because of Baltic independence. Aligned with the West, these countries jeopardize Russian presence in the Baltic. More important, with Poland entering NATO, these countries become the only buffers between St. Petersburg and NATO. Russia cannot allow this to happen. The Baltics, like the Ukraine, are part of the Russian sphere of influence. However, since 1989, the Baltics have had the luxury of neglecting power politics. This should not be mistaken for a permanent condition. While western investment flowed, Russia was motivated to forego its national security interests. Now that investment has stopped, Russia will resume its natural search for national security, especially as this will also make for good domestic politics.

This will have serious repercussions for Europe in general and Germany in particular. German officials were, to put it tolerantly, babbling incoherently in the face of the Washington- Moscow crisis. As if trying to convince himself, Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said, “Everyone, even the United States and Great Britain, felt that what was happening in Iraq had nothing to do with NATO.” When asked whether Germany would participate in attacks on Iraq, he said that, “We haven’t been asked, but we gave clear political support, and that's where things will stay.” Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that he “expressed solidarity with the United Nations,” as well as with the United States and Britain. Taken together, the German position seems to be that Germany supports everyone and is confident that nothing means anything and that they sincerely hope that all this will go away.

Germany's anxiety is completely justified. Not only is Germany massively exposed on Russian loans that are not going to get paid any time soon, if at all, but the reemergence of the Red Army along the Baltic countries' frontiers or worse, along the Polish border, is a dreadful German problem. Russian nationalism is Germany's worst nightmare. The only thing worse would be a Franco-Russian alliance, which certainly seems to be taking shape. According to United Press International, a French diplomat in Amman stated that France “is in constant consultation with Russian leaders.” He also went on to say that France could never support any demands to change the Iraqi regime by force and from outside in harmony with its constitution and international laws, saying “this was why Paris did not take part in the latest military operations against Iraq.”

Now obviously, a Franco-Russian arrangement in 1999 is very different from one in 1938 or 1914. Many things have changed. Nevertheless, France's growing anti-Americanism and links to an anti-American Russia will pose a serious challenge not only for Germany, but also for the European Union. It will pose questions for the SDP-Green coalition that it would be best not to have to answer. It will force open the question of the relationship between a unified economic apparatus and Europe's foreign policy, a question that the EU is not at all ready to confront. Finally, the inclusion of China in this alignment affects both the global balance of power and the structure of Asian regional politics. On a question of fundamental importance to the United States, Iraq, a coalition consisting of France, China and Russia has emerged very publicly, with Russia playing the leading, active role. This is a matter of great significance. It is far more important than the future of Iraq.

In this sense, the U.S. attack on Iraq has had a thoroughly unintended consequence. It has triggered a response inside of Russia that will have lasting effect. This response will change Russian defense policy and, in turn, will provide Russia with opportunities to assert itself along its current frontiers, increasing tensions in Europe and Central Asia dramatically. But the global effect will be the most significant. Since 1989, the world has lived in an unnatural condition of imbalance, with only one major power. This could not long endure. As in 1972, when the U.S. and China aligned themselves to contain the Soviet Union, a new alignment designed to contain the United States is emerging. Including France and China, its center of gravity is a re-energized Russia. This has been developing for a long time. What is most interesting is that it was an act of carelessness on the part of the United States that provided the trigger for a sea change in Russian politics, a sea change that will reshape the international system.