Posted by: Juri Estam | November 20, 2011

Russia’s Threat to Nuke the “Near Abroad” is met with Silence

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Russia’s Threat to Nuke the “Near Abroad” is met with Silence

One gets the sensation that something is really out of kilter with the world that we live in. On Thursday, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, cautioned over NATO’s expansion eastward, and warned that the risks for Russia to be pulled into local conflicts have “risen sharply.”

Mr. Makarov would of course like to have it so that “what is sauce for the goose is NOT sauce for the gander.” No ethic of reciprocity here. If there is anyone who has constituted a threat to the Baltic peoples and a great many other peoples on the periphery of the Russian Empire for over the centuries, it is Russia herself, while the periphery itself gets beaten about the head and shoulders, and not vice versa. Russia continues to be permitted to take massive precautions against possible military threats, but perish the thought that any of her neighbors – overrun by Russia so many times before – might entertain thoughts of having viable defense postures.

Anyone who has studied Kremlinology and Russian history knows by heart the hypothesis about the Russians being terrified – to the point of not being able to sleep – of encirclement, which, if taken to its logical conclusion, would apparently give them some sort of unexplained right to expand their borders and keep expanding their borders because of this paranoia. Witness the rollback of the color revolutions and Russian attempts at reconquista of recent years.

For as long as I can remember, a large number of Western Russia-watchers have parroted in chorus: “poor things, they are deathly afraid of being encircled, we must try to understand them.” No one else in the world is permitted to prattle such nonsense, but then one is also not permitted to question the uniquely “mystical Russian soul”, which only Russians themselves are qualified to understand, while others are not. Don’t even try, it is beyond the comprehension of all others.

Wouldn’t it be more sensible for the Russians to create a reasonably reasonable form of government and a set of relations with their neighbors that are based on trust and goodwill? It is not as though Estonia had designs on Russia, nor does Georgia, nor Finland, nor Hungary, etc.

Makarov says that Russia is facing a heightened risk of being drawn into conflicts at its borders that have the potential of turning nuclear, blaming this on demographic issues. Russia’s military currently consists of approximately a million troops, but is set to dwindle somewhat. Those who track defense and armaments matters know of course that a future smaller (but better trained and better equipped) military force might be something that one needs to fear a good bit more than the larger but fairly undisciplined pool of troops that Russia has had in the recent past.

The entire Estonian population – in contrast to Russia – consists of about a million persons, with the Estonian Armed Forces being made up of some 6,000 men and women on active duty, plus reservists and the Defence League (think of a paramilitary Home Guard). Estonia doesn’t possess a single tank or warplane.

The US is engaged in Afghanistan and to some extent still in Iraq, and starting to focus on the Pacific. The US has wanted a reset with Russia pretty badly – unrequited love? Europe is nearly undefended, if one were to exclude the Brits and the French, and otherwise exaggerate a tad. What is General Makarov going on about?

So: while the top guy in the Russian military threatens the world (or at least its supposed Eastern European “sphere of influence”) with possible nuclear conflagration, engaging once again in the saber-waving and the pounding with shoes on lecterns that has unfortunately tended to be the hallmark of the country for just about as long as one can remember, what does Google News feature as its top story? A dozen protesting university students out at UC Davis getting pepper-sprayed by the police in the context of Occupy Wall Street. This with all due respect to the unresisting students, who didn’t really deserve to get maced as they were carted off to be booked.

Do we not live in a remarkable age? It is perhaps the best thing to do – to ignore the Russians and to not encourage them. To not take the bait proffered by the Bear.

Still, as Alice would cry: “The world is getting curioser and curioser”. Back in 1962, the world was brought to the brink of war by the Soviets trying to emplace nuclear missiles on Cuba. Now the head honcho in the Russian military warns of The End of Days for her neighbors, and is answered with a yawn as well as near media silence.

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  1. Yes, I remember dutifully learning the “fear of encirclement” argument in high school history; it has only become less convincing with the passage of time.

    A lot of people are talking about journalism being swallowed up by the processes of a global media… I tend to think that, rather than a generic media and the loss of local culture, what happens is that the broad sweep of TV and internet coverage facilitates a detailed focus on a few core areas, nidi of power and influence. And once again the peripheries vanish.

    Which is why, of course, we are so so pleased to have your blog. :)

  2. Wow! Nicest thing that’s been said to me in a while! Thanks for the observations.


  3. Estlased have been somewhat lulled recently by this vision of a peaceful, consumerist Euroland and it’s perceived but not real blanket of security – defenseless as you pointed out. Nice fantasy but time to get real again.

    Liberty and freedom can only be maintained if there is power to back it up. Hence in the US, our founders wisely understood that our inalienable rights must be supported by a citizen standing behind a barrel of gun at times-if necessary.

    Future conventional wars may in fact dissolve very quickly into asymmetrical affairs that disadvantage an aggressor as cost efficient, force multipliers take a toll. Fear and acknowledgement of this fact can itself be a deterrent. But how to get there? A carbine in every closet ( a la Switzerland) might be a good place to start.

    Thanks for your interesting blog and posts Juri.

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