Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Bear & The Dragon

Yes, I'm still here. I've simply been pre-occupied the last few days. My wife was out of town over the weekend, and in the process of trying to clone the old hard drive on my kids' PC over to the new (and much larger) one, the old drive got wiped. This necessitated starting from scratch with the new drive, from the Windows XP foundation up. One tends to forget just how long it takes to install that many applications in one sitting. Then the last couple of days at the day job haven't been among the most glorious I've ever had. The whole amalgam of stress-inducing experiences were very draining, and I've been on short sleep rations and trying to catch up, which was a lot easier before I woke up one day and noticed the paunch, bags under the eyes, eggplant-shaped head, shorter wind, and the lingering remnants of the illness that struck me six months ago that have never completely gone away.

Consequently this primary topic of this post - which is not my not-quite-miserable life - would have been commented on two or three days ago ordinarily. But as they say, better late than never.

A couple of weeks ago the Russians decided to revive one of the Cold War-era practices of their Soviet antecedents and claim to have conducted overflights of American military installations on the island of Guam. I say "claim" because according to American figher pilots, the ancient Tupolev-95 Bear bombers didn't get within three hundreds miles of Guam. This came just three days after Russian fighters buzzed Georgian airspace and fired an anti-radar missile that proved to be of the quality of manufacture typical of Soviet-era military hardware.

While great amusement was derived from this boobesque behavior in some quarters, it didn't seem to merit comment to me. Yes, Vlad Putin "has ceased being an ally and has decided to become an opponent," but that intention has been clear for some years now - George Bush's soul-reading prowess not withstanding. But it is opposition borne of weakness, not strength. Twenty-five years ago the Evil Empire really was an empire; it dominated half the globe, had attained nuclear superiority over the United States, and had all but strategically check-mated the West. But for the providential election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the Soviet Union would have conquered the entire planet - or destroyed the half it couldn't conquer.

Today the Russian Federation is a shadow of that empire. It still has nukes, though not nearly as many as in the Soviet heyday, and those are steadily aging and deteriorating. Its overseas possessions are gone, and even the former constituent "republics" are independent and not automatically subservient to Moscow. It has vast natural resources in Siberia, but a plummeting population unable to exploit them. About the only influence it does have, aside from playing games with us at the UN, is its the remains of its military-industrial complex, and the capability of distributing their most lethal "toys" to rogue powers like North Korea and Iran in order to make trouble for us via proxy. And there is considerable question about who is the horse and who is the rider even in those relationships.

But there is another relationship Russia has enterted into about which there is no question about which is the "dom" and which is the "sub," as another overflight incident last Saturday reminded us:

President Vladimir Putin placed strategic bombers back on long-range patrol for the first time since the Soviet breakup, sending a tough message to the United States on Friday hours after a major Russian military exercise with China.

Putin reviewed the first Russian-Chinese joint exercise on Russian soil before announcing that twenty strategic bombers had been sent far over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans - showing off Moscow's muscular new posture and its growing military ties with Beijing.

"Starting today, such tours of duty will be conducted regularly and on the strategic scale," Putin said. "Our pilots have been grounded for too long. They are happy to start a new life."...

These renewed strategic "patrols" have resulted in violations of both British and Norwegian airspace, prompting interceptors from both NATO powers to be launched to chase them away. The Russian warplanes have cooperated - so far.

But for how much longer, one has to honestly wonder, in light of bellicose communiques like this one:

Putin, Chinese leader Hu Jintao and other leaders of the SCO nations attended the joint exercise, which followed their summit Thursday in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek.

The summit concluded with a communique that sounded like a thinly veiled warning to the United States to stay away from the region: "Stability and security in Central Asia are best ensured primarily through efforts taken by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing regional associations."

This Sino-Russian war game was sold as an "anti-terrorism exercise," though the inclusion of dozens of aircraft and hundreds of tanks makes it look like a "swat a fly with a Buick" drill in that context. The Russkies and ChiComms also claimed it "wasn't aimed at the U.S.," but that's belied by the continued presence of an American base in Kyrgyzstan, which supports U.S. operations in the Afghan theatre of the War Against Islamic Fundamentalism. I don't know how crucial that base is to the war effort, but the open Russo-Red Chinese insistence that we abandon it sure looks like they're both siding with our jihadi enemies, and possibily preparing to back it up with more than just hostile press releases.

As if to confirm that suspicion, there was also this little tidbit in the AP story:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country has SCO observer status, attended the summit for the second consecutive year. On Thursday, he echoed Russia's criticism of U.S. plans to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, saying they were a threat to the entire region.

Vlad The Instigator may think he's restoring the might and glory of the days of Peter the Great or Leonid Brezhnev by pissing in our faces, but he's just a puppet of other enemies who plan to use the lingering echoes of the Soviet military machine that was to their own devastating ends. And it would behoove us to deal not with him, but with his puppet-masters in Tehran and Beijing before their plans reach a point of no return.