Friday, September 18, 2009

Putin Gets Everything He Wants: Or: Obama hands Putin a Beautiful White Elephant

"Everyone gets everything he wants."

- Capt. Willard, Apocalypse Now

I don't know how to say "when the Gods wish to punish us, they will answer our prayers" in Russian, but Putin and Co. should hope somebody inside the Kremlin does. To that end, God (or Obama) answered one of the Putin's favorite prayers this week by agreeing to pull GBI (ground based interceptors) out of Poland and the Czech Republic. Given Russia's truculence of late, and given Poland's history since 1939, its not surprising that Poland is none too please with Obama's decision.

Putin and his droogs really ought to take a minute to consider why Margret Thatcher asked Gorbachev not to "tear down that wall" in 1989. What Thatcher understood was that Europe had been at peace, at that time for 45 years, because it had been outsourcing its security to the U.S. and to a lessor extent to the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact-NATO axis preserved stability and kept the formerly rampant nationalism of Southern, Eastern and Central Europe in check. Thatcher was old enough to remember the last time no outside power would step in to guarantee the security of Eastern Europe and the massive war that followed.

In the end, thankfully, history has so far proved Thatcher completely wrong, in a way, because the former Soviet nations in Europe have, with the exception of Yugoslavia (never really part of the Soviet block anyway) remained fairly calm.

Of course another way to look at Thatcher's fear is to say, yes, she was absolutely right, and that Europe did need an outside power to whom it could outsource its security - it's just that that power could be the U.S. And indeed, after the Cold War the U.S. stepped in immediately to begin expanding NATO, first into East Germany and then all the way to Poland, the Baltic states and maybe someday Georgia and the Ukraine.

So this week, when the President of the United States seemingly bowed to Russian pressure to remove our ground based interceptors from Poland and the Czech republic, Obama began what I suspect will wind up being a long term experiment, conducted on live subjects in real-time, on whether or not Europe still needs to outsource its security to the U.S.

In the short term this is a win for Russia, but over a longer horizon, say, 5 or 10 years, this could go down as one of the worst things to ever happen to Russia foreign policy.

Now that Obama has suggested an answer to the age old question, "Would the Americans trade New York for ________ (insert European city here)" , the Poles, Czechs and Ukrainians have to be looking into other means of resisting Russian pressure. And those means come on two time horizons; short term and long term.

In the short term I expect the Baltic states, the Caucuses, the Ukraine along with Poland and Czech republic will be building up their capacity for asymmetrical warfare including a "leave behind" capacity to wreck Russian supply lines in the event of invasion as well as an increased "asset" gathering inside Russia proper (read: making contacts with Chechnyaians, Mafia types and any other anti-regime elements) and perhaps even the insertion of "sleeper agents" or sleeper cells who will lurk around inside the Russian Federation and go to work if things heat up.

Over the longer term, I suspect Poland and the Czech republic will soon take the lead on reducing their carbon output by building more "peaceful nuclear reactors" (like the reactors Iran is building) and getting themselves pretty quickly up to a "Japanese" level of nuclear ambiguity. Poland may already be in possession of 7 "Frogs", left over from the Cold War, and though an unguided short-range missile is not as effective as a missile that can hit Russia, the Poles should be able to reverse engineer the warheads in short order. Then with the warhead technology and nuclear fuel from their "peaceful civilian program" the Poles should have a hedge against Russian chicanery and can ask Russia "Would you be willing to trade Moscow for Warsaw?"

Of course, Poland is not the only neighbor of Russia which may be on the verge of going nuclear. And therein lies the beauty of Putin getting everything he wants, because, its certainly a short-term black eye for America, but it creates a long term challenge for a wizened, weakened and dying Russian. America's neighbors are friendly and unarmed, whereas Russia is surrounded by pissed off, nationalistic countries that will increasingly see fit to arm themselves lest they get carved up like Georgia , a country which I imagine is examining its carbon-output reduction options as we speak.

To top it all off, Iran, which already posses a missile that can hit Russia, had crowds in the street today shouting "Down with Russia!"

The day will come in the not-too-distant future, when Russia wants to throw its weight around in the Caucuses or central Asia and all of these answered prayers are going to haunt them. Until then, I hope the Poles and Czechs do their part to reduce global warming, I hope the protesters keep going until A-Jad either steps down or "gets Ceascued" and I hope Putin keeps getting everything he wants.

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