Anybody else feel a chill in the air?
I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about things in the old way, but it’s hard outside that context to understand how senior Russian leadership can simultaneously hold two such publicly and passionately conflicting beliefs:
Russia tested new missiles yesterday that a Kremlin official boasted could penetrate any defense system, and President Vladimir Putin warned that US plans for an antimissile shield in Europe would turn the region into a “powder keg.”
First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple independent warheads, and it also successfully conducted a preliminary test of a tactical cruise missile that he said could fly farther than existing, similar weapons.
“As of today, Russia has new tactical and strategic complexes that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems,” Ivanov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. “So in terms of defense and security, Russians can look calmly to the country’s future.”
So in that case, it seems like – from the Russian perspective, anyway – the antimissile deployment shouldn’t be a problem, right?
Unless the Russians’ problem is that the BMD system, which after all is designed to defend Europe from the threat of a small-scale attack by a rogue nation or non-national actor like, oh – and I’m just spit-balling here, Iran, say – might actually work.
So add another ice cube to the geopolitical freezer of jailed political opponents, petrochemical coercion, inflamatory language and murdered domestic and overseas critics. Oh, and mere petulance, too.
Russians have a traditional dread about encircling enemies, a cultural predisposition with strong historical roots which the rapid pace of NATO enlargement into the territory of the former Warsaw Pact has done little to allay. And perhaps it is not so unusual for a proud people forced by history to give up their cherished status as a superpower to use whatever leverage they can on the world stage – though energy policy is a blunt weapon which has been still more bluntly wielded. And even conceding that Vladimir Putin’s reputation at home has been enhanced by the order he created out of a post-Yeltsin chaos it’s still possible in these our modern times to hope that strong leadership and authoritarian thuggishness need not go hand in hand.
Russia has always been torn between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia and balancing between the two can seem a tempting and potentially rewarding strategy – but with a beady-eyed endworlder coming closer and closer to realizing his infernal visions, the center can be also a dangerous place to stand these days. Choices are called for and distinctions must be drawn.
It will be a long and difficult process to fully integrate Russia into the West, with many painful structural changes required all the way around.
Best to get started.