By Ardain Isma
In the face of inevitable NATO expansion right at its doorstep, the Kremlin leadership has been hard at work to render ineffective US missile shield in both Poland and in the Czech Republic. For some time, Russia has been trying to stave off US imperial aims over the former Warsaw Pact countries. But that could not be possible in the nineteen nineties knowing the depriving state of the Russian Federation—a humiliating war in Chechnya, exacerbating poverty and the alarming growth in the gap between the vast majority of the population and the new oligarchs rushing to cash in off Russia’s riches. That was then. Now that poverty seems to be in remission, visibly apparent through the newfound wealth of the nouveaux riches, the Russian Bear has awakened from hibernation to usher a new wave of nationalism that can only be sustained by the reconstitution of the country’s past glory. That means creating a new Mother Russia, not under ideological lines but with the reemergence of its superpower status lost during the spectacular dissolution of the Soviet Union 17 years ago, is of utmost importance.
Stopping the United States from building a uni-polar world under its command has been the cornerstone of Russia’s foreign policy. What began with former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov under Boris Yielsin grew substantially under Putin with the creation of the Shanghai Group. Revanchist attitudes from former European-Soviet republics have accelerated the Kremlin effort to preempt any US diplomatic victory at the expense of Russia’s security. Thus, talks on forging a union with the Belarusians—long resisted by the Kremlin—have suddenly become a matter of national security. Belarus is the only East European country still wanting to be part of Russia. On December 2007, Belarusian president, Aleksander Lukashenko hosted a two-day summit in the Belarus’ capital, Minks, with then Russian President Vladimir Putin just ahead of a session of the Russia-Belarus Union, a body established in the 1990s to encourage integration between the two countries.
According to Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union executive body responsible for facilitating any unification process, no major constitutional changes were agreed to in Minsk. And he added that any draft of a constitution for a possible unified state would have to be taken by representatives from both countries, would be subject to ratification by respective parliament and would be quickly followed by national referenda in Russia and in Belarus. The Kremlin did its best to downplay the summit, but acknowledged that Putin and Lukashenko focused more on technical issues dealing with how to make the existing partnership more workable. But the discussion centered on a core issue: closer military cooperation—something that Russian officials later acknowledged was part of the agenda.
In the quest to paralyze the deployment of US missile shield in Poland, Belarus has become a country of vital importance for it shares a common border with Poland, and is not far from the Czech Republic. Belorussia (now Belarus) up until 1939 was part of historical Poland. “Belarus is ready to play its role in the issues of the planned deployment in Europe of US missile defense systems,” confirmed Lukashenko, referring to US plans to establish missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic—something that Russian official vehemently oppose and consider it as a major threat to the country’s strategic deterrence. Lukashenko also said he would work with Russia on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits weapons levels of both NATO and Russia. The Belarusian president declaration was quite in line with the Russian leadership position, for few weeks earlier, Putin formally announced the suspension of Russia’s obligations under the CFE, citing Washington’s disregard for the limitations it imposes.
Even though Lukashenko did not give further details of what help his government would give to the Russian military, the agreement between Russia and Belarus signed at the Black Sea resort of Sochi last August designed to creating a unified air defense system was more than enough to confirm all suspicions. Sergei Prikhodko, an aide to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the two presidents agreed to hold a regular meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus union in Moscow, which took place last fall, when an agreement on building a unified air defense system was signed.
The countries are developing a unified air defense system in line with plans to create a Union State, which they have been working on since 1997, envisioning a common economic, customs, and political space. Belarus has several Russian-made S-300 air defense battalions on combat duty and is negotiating the purchase of advanced S-400 systems from Russia, which will be made available by 2010. Last year, Russia’s defense ministry announced that the country would continue to supply arms and military hardware to Belarus at subsidized rates and on a priority basis.
When conventional wisdom dictates the reality
Russia’s try to forge a second front in Asia has been shaky from the get go, and in the pursuit of the snow leopard in Central Asia, the new silk road has been one of the most hotly contested. US constant drive to chip away part of the region’s riches at the expense of Moscow not withstanding, China and India’s growing influence in that part of the world annoy Russia, an area it considers its backyard. So the new consensus in Moscow is for the emergence of a paradigm shift in its newfound clout in foreign diplomacy.
This would be done in two-fold: Glamorizing Russia’s wherewithal in military-industrial developments—seizing the economic windfall from the latest oil boom—and exercising this capability to demonstrate Russia’s power and leverage over countries far beyond the boundaries of Asia. Russia no longer hides its imperial aims and its grand ambition for a bipolar world where IT would be at the head of one pole. Nostalgia for past glory, one may say, but it is a dream that the Kremlin leadership no longer long for its realization. Through the prism of The United States’ exposed economic weakness and the ever-growing polarization of the US society, Russian officials now wholeheartedly believe their goal is downright achievable.
It was no coincidence on the day of Barack Obama’s electoral victory, the Kremlin staged its biggest ceremonial gathering. The entire hierarchy was at hand, including the Russian patriarch. President Dmitry Medvedev, flanked by his top generals, praised Mother Russia and sent a stern warning to the United States. “Russia is a great power, and will forever remain so,” he said emphatically. Few days later, Russian strategic bombers were spotted in Venezuela. That was soon followed by a lavish diplomatic tour in Latin America—a tour that took Medvedev to Venezuela, Cuba, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, where agreements on industrial cooperation were signed.
The coming months will be crucial for Washington as the Obama administration tries to develop its own approach to Russia’s growing influence in sensitive regions like Latin America. Although US foreign policy is never subject to change no matter who is president, cosmetic changes in one approach over another can make big differences on how America is perceived in its dealing to potentials superpower rivals like Russia. As for the Kremlin officials, they still believe only THEY can forestall US imperial ambitions in Central and South Asia. So, they are ready to flex their military muscles to achieve their desired end.