Russia has a couple of other cards to play. The most important of these is Russian excellence in surface-to-air missile technology. Putin has played an on-again, off-again game with Iran about prospective delivery of the S-300 interceptor system. At the moment the deal is off. But who knows what concessions Putin extracted from other players for this demurral.
If we want to reduce Russian influence, we need to
1) Thwart rather than support the Muslim Brotherhood,
2) Stick by our allies (including the Gulf states as well as Israel) and undermine our enemies,
3) Neutralize Iran’s nuclear weapons program right away and by any means necessary (a gun to the head might do it, but I would prefer an immediate bombing campaign, just to be on the safe side) and
4) leapfrog Russia’s SAM technology. That’s the hard part. Suppose, instead of spending some part of the $1 trillion we unwisely spent on the great nation-building folly in Iraq and Afghanistan, we had invested more in defense R&D with an emphasis on missile defense? It’s a fair bet that Russia’s S-300 (and even its reportedly hyper-advanced S-500) would look like yesterday’s junk by comparison.
5) Drill, drill, drill for hydrocarbons and build nuclear power plants at home to eliminate dependence on foreign oil.
Acting tough doesn’t help. Being tough does. The one area where it does not pay to tangle with Russia is in parts of what it calls the “near abroad” with very large Russian-speaking populations, notably Ukraine. Former Secretary of State Rice made a mess of things by backing the so-called Orange Revolution, as I discussed in a 2008 analysis. It didn’t take long for the Russians to regain the upper hand.
We should run rings around the Russians in energy and strategic defense, and make selective concessions on issues that Russia views as existential. Some of my Catholic friends will never agree to this, in light of the late Pope John Paul II’s special affection for the Ukrainian Uniate Church. But Ukraine is a dying country with catastrophic demographics. Before long there won’t be anything to quarrel about. If we restore American power, then some day, some Russians will take a chance and follow our example. To get there we need deeds rather than words.
Image courtesy shutterstock / gillmar