“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

US and Russia - No Love Lost- Part Two

Last of Two Parts from
Part One.
By Peter Zeihan

Option Two: Imposition

Russia has no horse in the Iraq war. Moscow had feared that its inability to leverage France and Germany to block the war in the first place would allow the United States to springboard to other geopolitical victories. Instead, the Russians are quite pleased to see the American nose bloodied. They also are happy to see Iran engrossed in events to its west. When Iran and Russia strengthen -- as both are currently -- they inevitably begin to clash as their growing spheres of influence overlap in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In many ways, Russia is now enjoying the best of all worlds: Its Cold War archrival is deeply occupied in a conflict with one of Moscow's own regional competitors.

In the long run, however, the Russians have little doubt that the Americans will eventually prevail. Iran lacks the ability to project meaningful power beyond the Persian Gulf, while the Russians know from personal experience how good the Americans are at using political, economic, military and alliance policy to grind down opponents. The only question in the Russian mind pertains to time frame.

If the United States is not willing to rejigger the European-Russian security framework, then Moscow intends to take advantage of a distracted United States to impose a new reality upon NATO. The United States has dedicated all of its military ground strength to Iraq, leaving no wiggle room should a crisis erupt anywhere else in the world. Should Russia create a crisis, there is nothing the United States can do to stop it.

So crisis-making is about to become Russia's newest growth industry. The Kremlin has a very long list of possibilities, which includes:
• Destabilizing the government of Ukraine: The Sept. 30 elections threaten to result in the re-creation of the Orange Revolution that so terrifies Moscow. With the United States largely out of the picture, the Russians will spare no effort to ensure that Ukraine remains as dysfunctional as possible.

• Azerbaijan is emerging as a critical energy transit state for Central Asian petroleum, as well as an energy producer in its own right. But those exports are wholly dependent upon Moscow's willingness not to cause problems for Baku.

• The extremely anti-Russian policies of the former Soviet state of Georgia continue to be a thorn in Russia's side. Russia has the ability to force a territorial breakup or to outright overturn the Georgian government using anything from a hit squad to an armored division.

• EU states obviously have mixed feelings about Russia's newfound aggression and confidence, but the three Baltic states in league with Poland have successfully hijacked EU foreign policy with regard to Russia, effectively turning a broadly cooperative relationship hostile. A small military crisis with the Balts would not only do much to consolidate popular support for the Kremlin but also would demonstrate U.S. impotence in riding to the aid of American allies.

Such actions not only would push Russian influence back to the former borders of the Soviet Union but also could overturn the belief within the U.S. alliance structure that the Americans are reliable -- that they will rush to their allies' aid at any time and any place. That belief ultimately was the heart of the U.S. containment strategy during the Cold War. Damage that belief and the global security picture changes dramatically. Barring a Russian-American deal on treaties, inflicting that damage is once again a full-fledged goal of the Kremlin. The only question is whether the American preoccupation in Iraq will last long enough for the Russians to do what they think they need to do.

Luckily for the Russians, they can impact the time frame of American preoccupation with Iraq. Just as the Russians have the ability to throw the Iranians under the bus, they also have the ability to empower the Iranians to stand firm.

On Oct. 16, Putin became the first Russian leader since Leonid Brezhnev to visit Iran, and in negotiations with the Iranian leadership he laid out just how his country could help. Formally, the summit was a meeting of the five leaders of the Caspian Sea states, but in reality the meeting was a Russian-Iranian effort to demonstrate to the Americans that Iran does not stand alone.

A good part of the summit involved clearly identifying differences with American policy. The right of states to nuclear energy was affirmed, the existence of energy infrastructure that undermines U.S. geopolitical goals was supported and a joint statement pledged the five states to refuse to allow "third parties" from using their territory to attack "the Caspian Five." The last is a clear bullying of Azerbaijan to maintain distance from American security plans.

But the real meat is in bilateral talks between Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the two sides are sussing out how Russia's ample military experience can be applied to Iran's U.S. problem. Some of the many, many possibilities include:
• Kilo-class submarines: The Iranians already have two and the acoustics in the Persian Gulf are notoriously bad for tracking submarines. Any U.S. military effort against Iran would necessitate carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf.

• Russia fields the Bal-E, a ground-launched Russian version of the Harpoon anti-ship missile. Such batteries could threaten any U.S. surface ship in the Gulf. A cheaper option could simply involve the installation of Russian coastal artillery systems.

• Russia and India have developed the BrahMos anti-ship cruise missile, which has the uniquely deadly feature of being able to be launched from land, ship, submarine or air. While primarily designed to target surface vessels, it also can act as a more traditional -- and versatile -- cruise missile and target land targets.

• Flanker fighters are a Russian design (Su-27/Su-30) that compares very favorably to frontline U.S. fighter jets. Much to the U.S. Defense Department's chagrin, Indian pilots in Flankers have knocked down some U.S. pilots in training scenarios.

• The S-300 anti-aircraft system is still among the best in the world, and despite eviscerated budgets, the Russians have managed to operationalize several upgrades since the end of the Cold War. It boasts both a far longer range and far more accuracy than the Tor-M1 and Pantsyr systems on which Iran currently depends.

Such options only scratch the surface of what the Russians have on order, and the above only discusses items of use in a direct Iranian-U.S. military conflict. Russia also could provide Iran with an endless supply of less flashy equipment to contribute to intensifying Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq itself.

For now, the specifics of Russian transfers to Iran are tightly held, but they will not be for long. Russia has as much of an interest in getting free advertising for its weapons systems as Iran has in demonstrating just how high a price it will charge the United States for any attack.

But there is one additional reason this will not be a stealth relationship.

The Kremlin wants Washington to be fully aware of every detail of how Russian sales are making the U.S. Army's job harder, so that the Americans have all the information they need to make appropriate decisions as regards Russia's role. Moscow is not doing this because it is vindictive; this is simply how the Russians do business, and they are open to a new deal.

Russia has neither love for the Iranians nor a preference as to whether Moscow reforges its empire or has that empire handed back. So should the United States change its mind and seek an accommodation, Putin stands perfect ready to betray the Iranians' confidence.

For a price.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The first thing Bush said when he went to D.C. was that he was a uniter, not a divider. What a rude awakening he must have had both domestically and internationally. Whatever success he may have had in Texas certainly didn't translate to the "big leagues."

    I would love to hear him frankly talk about what he has learned.

    It is going to be very interesting to see how the world reacts to this "new Russia" which is like a gangster flush with money, cockey, thuggish, dangerous.

  3. Flankers flown by whoever against American pilots in F-22's? That's a kazillion to zero kill ratio in the making. Russian air defense? Like in Syria? A Russian made Cruise missile hitting an American warship? Right. Come on.

    Russia wants turmoil in the oil markets. Big money deal, there. They know that if history is a guide they will be attacked for their oil when the world starts to "starve." It wouldn't be the first time. That's probably their biggest objection to the missile defense.

    He'll stir some shit; nothing more.

    Oh, btw, my tax guy says I'd better get used to "Cheaper" Beer. Any suggestions? :)

  4. Deuce had made a comment about Bush and while I was responding, he was deleting...

  5. Well, you can try your hand at homebrew and who knows, maybe someday become the numero uno microbrewery in the country.

    If Uncle Sam hands you grief, make beer.

  6. This is the price we have to pay for a faith based foreign policy from an ideologue short on history and real world experience. Bush thought he could good old boy a hardened KGB operative. Putin did a quick study on Georgie Boy and has punk-assed him ever since.

  7. Russia is capable of some astonishingly bold moves, remember when they took over the Belgrade airport without NATO permission, by simply being the first on the ground?

  8. Pelosi backtracks on Armenia ‘genocide’ bill
    By Daniel Dombey in Washington

    Published: October 17 2007 20:16 | Last updated: October 18 2007 01:30

    Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, on Wednesday backtracked on her support for a congressional resolution that has infuriated Turkey’s government, amid doubts over whether the measure would ever be approved.

    As recently as the weekend, Ms Pelosi said she planned to take the bill, denouncing mass killings of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire as genocide, to the full House this year.

    Ms Pelosi is a longstanding backer of the measure, despite the anger it has caused in Turkey.

    But, on Wednesday, facing increasing criticism and high-profile defections from among the bill’s supporters, she toned down her commitment to take it to a full House vote. “Whether it will come up or not and what the action will be remains to be seen,” she said.


    Editorial: Putin’s Iran Visit
    18 October 2007

    PRESIDENT Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran may not have got everything he wanted from the visit of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to Tehran on Tuesday but he certainly got the most important thing he was after: A boost for him personally and for his country at a time of increasing Western pressure.

    This was the first visit to Tehran by a Kremlin chief since World War II. There is much more than symbolism here. Soviet leader Josef Stalin visited Tehran after the Allies defeated Hitler’s forces in World War II. Ahmadinejad is the new “Hitler” to the West. The German leader plunged the world into a catastrophic world war. But according to the new lexicon, you don’t need to have designs on your neighbors or visions of grandeur for you to become a Hitler. All you have to do is to refuse to go along with the Western notions of what an ideal world order should be.

    To many observers in Iran and outside, this is what infuriates Israel and its Western supporters about Iran, not any secret plans by Tehran to produce nuclear weapons.

    Of course the UN Security Council has imposed two rounds of limited sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. This was backed by Russia and five other world powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain and China. Washington and Paris are pushing for tougher steps. The message from Putin on Tuesday was: This far and no further. Moscow says it sees no evidence of a military program. It has also been alarmed by the strident talk of war to stop Iran from producing nuclear weapons, though Iran denies it has any such plans or ambitions.

    But then such denials did not prevent Iraq going under Anglo-American boots. Four years after the war, Iraq is still in turmoil and threatening the stability of the region and beyond, not to say anything of the rising spiral of killing and violence. Do we need a replay of this bloodbath in the Middle East?

    Putin does not think so and he said it plainly and unambiguously during his visit to Tehran. More than any world power, Russia is interested in keeping stability on its southern border.

    So Putin made it clear to Washington that Russia would not accept military action against Iran. “We need to agree that using the territory of one Caspian Sea (state) in the event of aggression against another is impossible,” he told the presidents of Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan at a summit of Caspian Sea states earlier. This was a message to ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, Iran’s neighbor, where the US military has inspected airfields. Russia is separated from Iran by Azerbaijan.

    Some say Putin’s visit to Iran was about boosting Russia’s economic and security interests more than helping Tehran. That may be true. But there is no denying that he has “sent a minimum positive signal to the Iranian side on its nuclear program but a maximum negative message to the West,” as Alexander Shumilin, a Middle East expert at the USA-Canada Institute in Moscow said.

    This may not stop another war in the region, but it required courage and a genuine commitment to the norms of

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  11. So the US Government summitts to dhimnitude towards our Islamic betters, in Turkey.

    Maybe, just maybe they'll leave US alone in Iraq... if we do not insult them, further.

    Proof positive, Islam is not the problem.
    Not for the US, Mr Gul whistles a tune, the US dances a jig, just for him.

  12. Homebrew, Rufus, homebrew. Use Idaho barley, and Washington hops.

  13. No we are not over extended:

    Pentagon To Alert 8 Guard Units For Duty

    By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer
    23 minutes ago

    WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is preparing to alert eight National Guard units that they should be ready to go to Iraq or Afghanistan beginning late next summer, The Associated Press learned Wednesday.


    The U.S. military is reaching out to more Guard units in an effort to maintain needed troop levels, ease some of the strain on the active duty Army and provide security for ports, convoys and other installations.

    According to defense officials, seven of the units would deploy to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the orders had not yet been signed and the announcement is not expected until the end of this week

  14. With an ageing, dying, non-reproducting population, NATO on the borders, and a rising China, I'd be concerned if I were a Russian. But I have no idea what the game is. Everybody missed the call on the Soviet Union coming apart like it did. I thought it was a good idea to arm the Afghans when the Russians were in there and that led to Osama.
    A mystery, an enigma...

  15. Bobal: Homebrew, Rufus, homebrew. Use Idaho barley, and Washington hops.

    And start an Oregon microbrewry.

  16. Rufus,

    You want animal beer. Good and cheap.

  17. Neat chart. Guess who the top two wheat producers in the world are?

    Guess who the number two corn producer is?

    Guess who's NOT the top soybean producer?

  18. 1,875/day. 684k/year. Man, that can't be a good thing. That adds up pretty quickly.

  19. Yeah, but it gets you one of the neatest holidays in the known universe.

  20. In about 160 years there won't be any Russians left.

  21. China, India, USA, Russia.



  22. 'Reagan radiated optimism' What a fantastic description of the man.

  23. bobal: In about 160 years there won't be any Russians left.

    Bobal, if you remember your calculus class, when you talk about population growth (or in this case negative growth) you can't take straight line depreciation, because that 1,875 people Russia is losing per day is a function of their current population, which means you should use e^(-kt) and treat Russia's population like a cup of cooling coffee that will approach some baseline equilibrium figure. And presumably as the Orthodox Russians disappear, Muslim Russians will be happy to supplant them by birth or immigration.

  24. That's me, always confusing bushels and pecks.