August 28, 2008

What If Russia Threw a War

. . . and everybody came?

From Stratfor's Political Diary (subscription only; here's the money quote):

The Russians are getting increasingly bolder in their actions against the West, taking full advantage of the fact that NATO can do little to seriously undermine Russia’s moves in the Caucasus. But Russia is not invincible — especially when it comes to Russian defenses against the West in the Black Sea.

The Black Sea is absolutely critical to Russian defense. Though NATO does not currently have the capability to project power through land forces against Russia, it does have the naval assets to give the Russians pause. Already, nine Western warships (including U.S., Polish, Spanish, Turkish, and token Bulgarian and Romanian vessels) have made their way into the Black Sea in the name of humanitarian aid for Georgia. Russia is accusing the West of building up a NATO strike group in this body of water with which to threaten Russia’s hold on the Caucasus, and perhaps beyond.

The Russians simply cannot allow an increased NATO presence in this particular body of water to remain unanswered. The Black Sea is an important buffer for what is a direct line to the Russian underbelly, the Ukrainian plains and the land bridge that extends between the Black and Caspian Seas. Russia is well-aware of its weaknesses when it comes to defending this crucial frontier. The Black Sea, and the Aegean beyond it, essentially comprises a NATO lake. Controlled by Turkey through the Dardanelles, the Turkish and U.S. naval presence combined could easily overwhelm the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The last thing Moscow wants is a U.S. naval strike force in the Black Sea threatening Moscow’s control of the Caucasus, crucial for its logistical and supply links to Russian troops in Georgia.

And so, the Russian response is already beginning to take effect. The Black Sea Navy flagship “Moskva” sailed from Sevastopol today, and the Russians are likely to deploy more of their current — albeit limited — naval assets out of the Crimean Peninsula. Such moves are only likely to give NATO forces more cause to beef up their naval presence in the Black Sea, further contributing to the Kremlin’s sense of insecurity.

At that point, the next logical step for the Russians is to start spending some of their three quarters of a trillion dollars in reserves on covert operations that would force the United States to split its attention. It was not too long ago that the Russian intelligence powerhouse excelled in starting up fires in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East to keep the West preoccupied. In the Cold War days, the Russian FSB and KGB were neck-deep in backing groups like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the Red Brigades in Italy and the Palestine Liberation Organization across the Middle East. Names and ideologies have since shifted, but it is not beyond the Russian FSB to spread its tentacles once again into certain areas of the world where it can poke and prod the West.

This type of tit-for-tat escalation defined the Cold War. Now that the Black Sea has come into play, we are now just a few short steps from having this fracas in the Caucasus fully revive those Cold War tensions. Russia may have been looking for a relatively risk-free option to confront the United States with the war in Georgia. But now that we are seeing hints of a NATO naval build-up in the Black Sea, the Russians may be getting more than they asked for.

h/t: St9, who points out that we want to watch Germany's reaction particularly closely, and that Russia itself is not without splinter groups that could lead to a partitioning. A country with an antiquated military, he remarks, shouldn't bank too hard on a temporary petro-superiority.

I'm off to look for hybrid sedans to replace my husband's car with, after which I'll be installing a windfarm on the roof of my condo, and converting the cruiser to run on algae-derived ethanol. It's going to be a busy day.

Posted by Attila Girl at August 28, 2008 01:19 PM | TrackBack

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