The threat posed by such conduct is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated: the slightest mistake could easily be viewed as an act of war and Russia has already started making those mistakes. In February 2008, a Russian nuclear bomber crossed into Japanese airspace and two dozen attack aircraft were scrambled. Warnings were repeatedly given to the Russian warplane, but it ignored them. It was the second act of provocation that week; just days before the Japanese had been put on alert by an overflight of four strategic bombers.
There are no examples of Russia scrambling attack aircraft to ward off American nuclear bombers menacing Russian targets since the end of the Cold War. On the contrary, after meeting with Vladimir Putin in Slovenia in 2001, George W. Bush infamously declared that he had “looked the man in the eye” and got a “sense of his soul” and “found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.” Bush never retaliated tit-for-tat to the Russian provocations, yet for more than two years now Russia has been aggressively seeking to reestablish Cold War tensions.
Bush, at least, finally got the message. He vigorously pursued a missile defense shield for Eastern Europe despite howls of protest from the Kremlin, yet Obama has done nothing but back away from this plan since taking office. Obama’s display of weakness during his recent visit to Moscow so panicked Eastern Europe that a large cadre of its most prominent citizens felt the need to write him an open letter imploring him not to sell them out to the Russians.
But forget about protecting Europe. Is Obama capable of protecting our own shores? Despite expressing a desire to “reset” relations and dial down tensions, there’s no indication Obama has said a word about all this nuclear brinkmanship from Russia. To the contrary, it’s quite clear that his equivocation is being perceived as weakness by Russia and thus as an opportunity to escalate tensions in the hope that Obama will, in fact, sell out not only Eastern Europe but also the Caucasus region and Central Asia, giving Putin a free hand to reestablish the Soviet empire.
The acid test for Obama is Georgia. Europe has just announced plans to go forward with a pipeline called Nabucco which will circumvent Russia and allow Europe to tap directly into Central Asia’s vast stores of natural gas. The pipeline runs straight through the heart of Georgia. No sooner had the announcement been made than Russia was seeking to provoke Georgia by grabbing even more Georgian territory than it obtained last August by annexing Ossetia and Abkhazia and accusing Georgia of responding with military force. President Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia has been making declarations about restoring additional chunks of his “native land” and asking Russia for an even bigger military presence on his soil.
Expert Pavel Felgenhauer, who correctly predicted the last invasion, is blunt: “Russia is preparing the ground for a new war against Georgia with the goal of overturning the regime.” If Obama’s equivocations lead to the neo-Soviet annexation of Georgia and the escalation of Russia’s energy war against Europe, history will not be kind to the Obama presidency.
Obama spoke with Russian “president” Dmitri Medvedev on Tuesday and raised U.S. concerns about Georgia, but American policy remains hopelessly vague and, as such, an invitation to Russian aggression. Nobody in the White House will say whether Obama even discussed the military harassment issue. And where is Republican leadership on these issues? History will not judge the party kindly either if it fails to step into the vacuum created by the Obama administration.