Teaser: Washington and Moscow are positioning themselves for a drawn out tussle over the United States' missile defense plans, which will impact Central European countries.
Quote: Central Europeans are caught square in the middle of this mix. Inthe face of a resurgent Russia, a concrete security commitment from Washington is exactly what these countries need.
In a meeting with military attaches in Moscow onWednesday, Russian Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the General Staff of Russian armed forces, said that the Russian armedforces have begun to implement several military measures inresponse to U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in Europe. Thesemeasures, which Russian President Dmitri Medvedev outlined in a televised address just two weeks earlier, include activating an earlywarning radar in Kaliningrad and strengthening Russia's defensivecapabilities for Strategic Nuclear Forces installations. In the same speech, Medvedev stressed Russia's desire to cooperate with Washington in ajoint BMD framework, and said further measures such as deployingadvanced offensive systems -- includingsuch as Iskander mobile short range ballisticmissiles -- would only be usedenacted if "the aforementioned measures prove to be insufficient."
But Russia has wasted no time in beginning to follow through with manyof thesethose harsherOKAY? OR MAYBE "MORE PROVOCATIVE?" measures. On the same day as Makarov's statements, the pressservice of Russia's Western Military District (ZVO) said that an S-400surface-to-air missile regiment will be placed on combat duty inKaliningrad before the end of the year.Meanwhile the chief of theBelarusian Armed Forces' General Staff said that his country expects to receive Tor-M2 surface-to-airmissile systems will be delivered byfrom Russia this month, adding that anIskander deployment to the country would soon follow. OKAY?not be far behind.
Russian opposition to U.S. BMD plans is nothing new. For Russia, thefundamental issue at hand is not the BMD system itself (which isnominally geared toward deterring the ballistic missile capabilities of rogue states like Iran)I WOULD SAY COUNTERING MISSILE CAPABILITIES, OR DETERRING BALLISTIC MISSILE ASPIRATIONS, WHICH IS ACCURATE? but rather with the associated U.S. military presence the system would bring along with it. Given that U.S. BMD plansare focused on Central Europe, which directly abuts Russia and itsformer Soviet periphery, ARE THERE PLANS THAT DIRECTLY ABUT RUSSIA ITSELF, OR JUST THE FORMER SOVIET PERIPHERY? meaning Moscow can't help but feel threatened by thesystem and the U.S. military commitment to the Central Europeans itto the region that the system represents.
While Russia had spoken against U.S. BMD plans many times previouslyon many occasions overthe past few years,Wednesdaymarked a clear escalation by Moscow on the issue --onthe part of Moscow—particularly aftersince Russia softened its stance on U.S. missile defense after the so-called “reset” in Russo-American relations in 2009. One importantreason for this is timing.The timing of this escalation is important. OKAY? OnThursday, a foreign minister-levelRussia-NATO Council (RNC) meeting will take place in Brussels -- and Moscowhas grown increasingly frustrated with Washington's unwillingness to cooperate oreven discuss the BMD issue with Russia in the weeks leading up to themeeting. According to STRATFOR sources, the United States has also been preppingpreparing totake BMD off the agenda forThursday's meeting, and possibly even exclude it from the more significant NATO-Russia summit slated to beheld infor March in Chicago. Russia continues to press the issue and demand talks,and press theissue, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stating that he planson elaborating Medvedev's position on the issue at theduring Thursday'smeeting.
But perhaps more important than the timing of the upcoming meeting is the occurrenceMAYBE GROWTH, EVOLUTION, SOMETHING LIKE THAT? of awider shift that has occurred inbetween the two main parties that are tusslingover the position of U.S. BMD.position.Washington has no shortage of issues to deal with --on its plate,includingthese include wrapping up the war in Afghanistan; an increase of Iranianaddressing Iran's increased influence in strategic Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Syria; shifting its focus to the Western Pacific region; and a possible economic collapse in Europe that would have global implications. All ofThesehave served to distract Washington and limit its room for maneuver outsideof the theaters it is already committed to, so the last thing the United States needs is another crisis on its hands.
Conversely, Russia has seen its position steadily improve over time.Unlike the United States, the Russian military is not drawn into protractedconflicts far away from home. Russia is flush with cash from energyrevenues and has been looking to take advantage of the crisis raging in Europe. Most importantly, Russia has increased its leverage vis-à-vis Washington thanks to the United States' increased reliancedependence on the Russian-dominated Northern Distribution Network (NDN) at the expense of the Pakistan-based supplylines into Afghanistan.has subsided in favor of the Russian-dominatedNorthern Distribution Network (NDN), giving Russia increased leverageover the US due to its reliance on NDN lines of supply. Moscow hasalready begun threatening to close the NDN if its interests over BMD are not taken into account.
Central Europeans are caught square in the middle of this mix.are the Central Europeans. Inthe face of a resurgent Russia, a concrete security commitment from Washington is exactly what these countries need,just what the doctor ordered, and the BMD system has come to serveas a symbol of that future commitment. But Russia is quite aware ofthis,Russian knows this and has worked to chip away at this commitment by attempting toforcewedge the United States between two bad scenarios: either abandon the BMD system and withit the Central Europeans, or risk a potential disruption to the UScurrentWashington's most pressing commitment, in Afghanistan. Essentially, Russia is attempting to force a USthe United States to make a decision -- does it want NDN now or BMD later? -- hoping that Washington leaves the Central Europeans out to dry.
But the key words here are attempt and hope. Russia knows that, whateverdespiteits levers it may hold against the United States, it is not immune to global economicproblems and to blowback from Afghanistan. Moscow knows it must be careful in not taking these leversnot to press its current advantage too far. OKAY? The United States, despite its current relatively poorposition,currently, is still the dominant power on which the globalsystem pivots, and can bring a range of forces to bear against Moscow if deemedabsolutely necessary. Ultimately, in anyit comes down to a sparring matchbetween the United States and Russia, but neither player has a knockout punch. Andwhilehowever long the match can provebetween the two powers may d drags out,for quite some time, it is theCentral Europeans that will in the meantime be caught in the middle. OKAY?