Peace in our time: Belarus, missiles, and the revenge of the “Reset”

When there is no peace.

For whatever reason, peace is not busting out at all over.  After months of coyness and denials from Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, Russia has deployed the first of what will reportedly be a full squadron of fighter jets to a base in Belarus, where they will remain deployed for defensive alerts against – well, NATO.  Hard as that is for members of NATO to believe, given the parlous state of our unity, purpose, and military readiness.

The former Soviet Union used bases in what was then a “federated socialist republic” in Belarus during the Cold War.  But the Russians will be using a different base this time.  Their Su-27 Flanker jets will operate out of Baranovichi, where the Belarusian Air Force has had its main base for the last two decades.


Old moves are new again.  Where Russia has just deployed military force.
Old moves are new again. Where Russia has just deployed military force.

Baranovichi has special historical significance, having been disputed for centuries between Russia and Poland.  The Poles held it, off and on, up through the beginning of World War II; by the end of the war, after the death struggle between Soviet Russia and Germany, Baranovichi was in Russian hands, and the Poles who were still there in 1944 and 1945 were forcibly deported to the Far East and Central Asia.  About half of Baranovichi’s population had been Jewish, in the century preceding World War II; during the period of German occupation, virtually all of the city’s 12,000 Jews were sent to the death camps.  Some 250 are known to have survived.

As the Pax Americana fades, history is back with a vengeance.  Everywhere Russia goes – or China, or any modern mover and shaker – there will be history trodden on, scattered like broken glass.  Russia remembers, and means to make points with her geographic choices, her timing, and the choreographed nature of her activities.  Poland has good reason to be concerned.

The context just keeps growing.  Only today (Monday, 16 December), Russia has confirmed deployment of the short-range Iskander (SS-26 Stone) ballistic missile to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave tucked between Poland and the Baltic republic of Lithuania.  The Russians have been threatening to deploy the Iskander there for several years, in a move they characterize as a counter to U.S. and NATO missile defense plans in Europe.

The difference, of course, is that NATO’s missile defense deployments involve weapon systems which can only be used in a tactically defensive role.  The Iskander is a weapon that is used to attack; it is not used to intercept incoming missiles.

Still MAD after all these years

That being said, the Russians have long espoused a strategic philosophy that rejects the U.S. view of defensive preparations as purely “defensive.”  The Russian view is carefully crafted to reject the whole Reaganite perspective on strategic defense: that strategic defense can and should be a basis for eliminating “mutual assured destruction” as the maintainer of the peace.  Russia continues to operate on the axiom that she can only be secure if she can hold foreign populations hostage with her nuclear arsenal.  For Russia, having the ability to attack promptly is “defense.”

But that only works one way: for Russia.  No one else is assumed to be preparing merely for defense if he makes any kind of preparations, whether to attack or to shield himself from attack.  Regardless of what the U.S. and NATO do, the Russia of Vladimir Putin, reverting to her old patterns, assumes we are preparing to make threatening moves against Russia.

There was a brief moment, between 1987 and 2007 or so, when a different perspective struggled for a while to emerge among the Russian leadership.  The American presidents after Reagan hewed, if to differing degrees, to the perspective of the Strategic Defense Initiative.  George W. Bush went all-in with it, in 2001 explicitly disavowing MAD as the basis for U.S. security, and announcing that the U.S. did not feel bound by any expectations related to mutual nuclear hostage-holding with Russia.  Bush’s policy was that the U.S. would rely on defense against nuclear missiles, not on a balance of hostage-taking capability with them.  Russia agreed to disagree, perceiving a reliable continuity in the U.S. position, if not a change in the overall “correlation of geopolitical forces.”

But U.S. military operations in Southern Asia, dragging on for years after the original regime-change campaigns in 2001 and 2003, made Moscow nervous.  Then Obama came along, and effectively repudiated the SDI premise, along with most of the other longstanding premises of American security policy.  He has done this in practice, but without making policy announcements to clarify his intent.  This has not made Moscow feel more secure, nor has it reassured the Russians about our intentions.  It has actually had quite the opposite effect.

So, in the space of a week, Russia has dispatched fighters to Belarus and missiles to Kaliningrad.  I perceive Russia to be trying to exert pressure on the West to abandon our missile defense plans, apparently while the opportunity looks especially promising; i.e., our leadership looks weak.  Russia’s push won’t stop with that, but that’s the proximate goal of the current campaign.

Moscow has vigorously disputed U.S. and NATO missile defense plans for some time, as little mollified by Obama’s cancellation of the Bush plan in 2009 as by any other conciliatory measure.  Since the non-deal Iran “deal” was non-concluded in November, Russia has been relentlessly flogging the theme that now the U.S. has no excuse for insisting on deploying missile defense assets to the European theater.  (See here as well.)

There is no meaningful deal with Iran; there is only the possibility of continued “negotiations”; but Russia has seized the opportunity afforded by the mirage of a deal, and the West’s longing embrace of it, to press for the abandonment of our missile defense plans.

The Russians made another overt move in late November, right about the time of the non-deal Iran “deal.”  Around 23 November, Cypriot and Greek media began reporting that the Russians were requesting a lease for the Andreas Papandreou military air base in Paphos, Cyprus, to be used for the deployment of Russian military aircraft.  According to Hellenic media, the U.S. was pressing Nicosia to reject Moscow’s request.  It’s probably only a matter of time before Russia gets the use she wants of a Cypriot air base – which, of course, would improve the tactical favorability of her posture vis-à-vis foreign ships patrolling off Syria, among other things.  The request to Cyprus comes at a time when Russia is emphasizing her ongoing enlargement of the Mediterranean fleet.

Russia arm-wrestles the US for an air base on Cyprus.
Russia arm-wrestles the US for an air base on Cyprus.


As an aside: it speaks volumes that the U.S. is mentioned in the Greek reporting, but not members of the EU, such as Britain, which has a long relationship with Cyprus and has been deploying military aircraft there for years (much more routinely, in fact, than the U.S. does).  It is equally interesting that Russia is making so many military moves less than eight weeks before the Sochi Olympics start, on 7 February 2014.

We might almost suspect here a lack of respect for America and the West: at the very least, an absence of concern about any political backlash from them over Russian military activities.  (Perhaps The Russians figure nothing worse can happen, after the top officials of both France and Germany have announced they won’t be going to Sochi.  The speculation, of course, is that the European leaders are protesting Russia’s policy on “homosexual propaganda.”)

It bears repeating that when Russia perceives the West to be weak and inconsistent, that makes her more likely, not less, to engage in destabilizing military activity.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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19 thoughts on “Peace in our time: Belarus, missiles, and the revenge of the “Reset””

  1. You can’t fool those Russians. . . the West is weak and inconsistent. . . and acting downright childish. Between them Germany and France alone have 3 times the GPD of Russia, and the EU as a whole has 8 times the GDP of Russia. For a very long time we should have been telling the people of the EU quite openly and persistently that the Yanks aren’t coming to the aid of anyone unwilling to make at least some effort to defend themselves.

  2. Obama retreats and appeases, Putin advances. It is ever so with the criminal mind-set, ‘reasonableness’ is seen by the criminally inclined as an invitation to further aggression.

    China is in the process of seizing de facto control of the South China Sea. China’s State Media Blame U.S. for Near Collision of Warships “Global Times says Cowpens posed threat to China”

    While Iran vows to continue work at Arak plutonium site and “Announces Development of Ballistic Missile Technology”.

    Storm clouds gather on the distant horizon, while the willful denial of fool’s pretense, ensures future conflict. Moral cowardice is ever responsible for the suffering of innocents, it’s pretense of well meaning ‘dialog’ a cover for the banality of its accommodation of evil.

  3. Message is clear enough.

    If some Polish or Lithuanian (or Swedish) hotheads get any notions that they’re going to resurrect a modern incarnation of their lost empire in the East through a EU/NATO backdoor without a fight ,,,, fogetaboutit.

    Russia is reacting with hard power solutions in order to defend against (mostly) soft power challenges into what she believes to be (rightly or wrongly) her territory. She has very few soft power weapons in her arsenal. Although, she possesses excellent diplomacy at this stage The world’s best.

    Like I’ve said before, we should have taken the whole kit and caboodle including Russia into NATO back in the nineties. But we chose to implement classic Germanic geopolitical theory in the Balkans and east-central European heartland (as if we were the Germans) instead.

    We should mention the German population that was forcibly deported from what is now Poland. The more vocal the propaganda machine gets about western Ukraine’s and Belarus’ “Polishness”… the “Germanness” of western Poland and the Baltic will become a factor. Sooner or later.

    Iskanders have been deployed in Kaliningrad for a year. The question is, why did it go public in this way now? It’s not as if Russia is in violation of any treaty. Well, the Ukraine business is one obvious answer, along with the missile shield.

    About those Poles, Lest we forget, the peace loving Poles, victims of Nazi aggression, had no qualms about demanding and annexing pieces of Czechoslovakia, with the full support of Hitler, as a result of the Munich agreement we are so fond of referring to.

    Some other stuff.
    The Iskander has also been deployed in Armenia recently.

    In the EASTMED, Greece test fired its S-300PMU-1 system a few days ago. Something that hasn’t previously gone public. We can assume the system is now confirmed fully operational.

    This nonsense between the Russians and EU/NATO keeps up, the only winners are the Chinese and the Islamic lunatics.

    1. EASTMED addendum

      Oil reserves discovered under natural gas deposits in Cyprus’ Block 12?
      Just a reminder, Block 12 is a joint Greek Cypriot/US/Israeli venture.

    2. You’ve gone off the rails here jgets.
      The EU in conflict with Russia? Right.

      The 90’s are over, what we ‘should’ have done with Russia is water under the bridge. Russia is NOT ‘reacting’ with hard power ‘solutions’ to ‘soft power challenges’, Russia is taking advantage of perceived weakness, as the criminal mind-set always does.

      Polish, Lithuanian or Swedish ‘hotheads getting ‘notions’ of resurrecting “a modern incarnation of their lost empire in the East through a EU/NATO backdoor”?

      The Poles and Lithuanians haven’t been aggressive since the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 and the Swedes not since the 17th century.

      It’s 2013 NOT 1938 and the Poles who demanded part of Czechoslovakia were collaborators with Hitler and did not represent the Polish people.

      1. Just trying to share my take on what I hear from Russia GB.

        It would be an uninteresting comment section if we nodded our heads in agreement all the time.

        I’m waiting for the results of the Yanukovych – Putin Pow wow to see if I can sift out anything useful.

        In the meantime here’s a link to a decent summary on Ukraine.

        In Europe, 1938, 1812 or 1453 for that matter, isn’t as far away as you may think. Especially in the East.

        1. The Forbes article is very insightful, thanks. The Russian take on geopolitics is warped, as Opticon writes; “Russia continues to operate on the axiom that she can only be secure if she can hold foreign populations hostage with her nuclear arsenal.” That is an unacceptable level of paranoia because it guarantees a continuance of tensions. Russia’s paranoia results in actions that increase tensions. It’s an unsustainable balance that sooner or later brings conflict. Its fine to disagree but disagreement must be based in reason and logic and Russia’s paranoia is illogical. An illustration of reasonable caution is the Ukraine’s strategic importance to Russia and Russia’s awareness that threats can emerge that didn’t exist decades ago as in Germany in 1932 vs 1941. But the EU’s pacifistic societal consensus, its anemic military and its frail economy preclude it being a viable threat to Russia. Russia’s paranoia prevents it from appreciating that America’s military actions toward Russia have been reactive. Russia’s paranoia literally creates the very ‘threats’ it fears.

          1. Yer welcome GB

            Well, the ‘short question’ response to Russian paranoia is “Why hasn’t the West actively pursued the full integration of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus as a “package” (such as the Baltic states or Central European states were) into “Western” political, security and economic architecture? And, has instead opted to deal with all European states surrounding Russia individually. Effectively, isolating and surrounding Russia. That would feed my paranoia a bit.

            Russia is in much better, and stabler, economic and political condition than the Ukraine is for example. Or, EU/NATO members Greece and Bulgaria for that matter. Why is Ukraine next on the list for eastward expansion and not Russia?

            Muslim Turkey just got visa free travel to the EU accepted this week.

            Turkey is more European than Russia?

            No, GB. This is a two way street. It ain’t just Russian paranoia or some Russian’s dreams of imperial resurrection that are holding this up. There are people in the “West” that don’t want Russia integrated into the “West” under any circumstances.

              1. Yes you’re right. Putin is no Yeltsin.

                And Obama, Bush II, and Bubba ain’t Reagan or Bush I either.

                It works both ways GB.

                1. While a decent man, as a President I never was that impressed with Bush I. And yes, none of them are another Reagan.

                  To his credit Bush II did his best, as he saw it by the country.

                  To this country’s shame, they’ve rejected a candidate who could have been another Reagan, Sarah Palin.

  4. I hope I don’t get into too much trouble for posting this link 🙂

      1. Well, this next link will certainly endear me to the blog’s readers.

  5. It doesn’t take a genius to understand why isolationism is resurgent. Presidents Clinton, Bush and now Obama have more often than not half heartedly fought wars against an enemy they’re unwilling to clearly name, toward ends that have not been clearly defined, and as often as not for the benefit of enemies they’re unwilling to recognize.

    1. Jesus, FINALLY. some logic! Figure it out, America.

      Our main problems are domestic..

      Way to go Sully

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