So much for the “reset.” It’s business as usual for the freedom-hating Russians, and that means trying to undermine the United States by any means possible — up to and including nuclear weapons.
No sooner had Barack Obama returned from his first visit to Moscow, at which he attempted to reset relations with Russia by holding out the hand of friendship (and practically begging for nuclear arms reductions) in a manner eerily similar to the kiss Jimmy Carter bestowed on Leonid Brezhnev, than for the first time since the collapse of the USSR two nuclear-powered attack submarines were found patrolling international waters off the American coastline.
It’s unknown whether these subs carried missiles that could strike the U.S., but it’s clear that if they didn’t, the only reason would be that Russia’s creaking, rust-bucket sub strike force can’t currently be mobilized for that purpose. Yet another SLBM recently misfired on launch after a test (now more failures have occurred than successful launches), so the Kremlin sacked its top nuclear missile official and went back to the drawing board. In other words, following a meeting with Obama, Russia immediately returned to its disturbing pattern of harassing the United States with direct strategic provocation, something the U.S. hasn’t done to Russia since the Cold War “ended” years ago.
So much for the naïve president’s effort to make friends with the KGB thugs who prowl the Kremlin.
Last December, for the first time since World War II, Russia sent a warship through the Panama Canal. A month before that, Russian navy ships participated in war games with the forces of psychotic Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, publicly sworn to the destruction of the U.S. Russia has long been providing huge quantities of military hardware to Chavez and it has been aggressively seeking to reestablish military support for Cuba as well. Five months ago, Russia announced it was exploring the basing of nuclear bombers in either Cuba or Venezuela. In September 2008, Russia had actually landed two nuclear bombers at a Venezuelan airbase.
In February 2008, two Russian strategic bombers buzzed the U.S. carrier Nimitz, and the carrier group had to scramble fighter jets to ward them off. One flew directly above the carrier at an altitude of just 2,000 feet, clearly displaying an open intent to terrify and provoke.
In August 2007, two Russian bombers harassed the U.S. military base in Guam, again forcing the emergency scrambling of attack aircraft to ward off the threat — the first time such a challenge had been mounted since the end of the Cold War.
In September 2007, fighters were scrambled against six Russian bombers that were flying perilously close to Alaska. Since then, buzzing Alaska has become a ritualistic practice. So far this year, Russia has done it thirteen separate times, including three times while Obama was in Moscow, a direct slap at the new American president.
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.