Streetwise Professor

November 5, 2010

Day of the Jackal

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 4:38 pm

Russia is in the midst of another charm offensive, this time with Japan.

Not really.  Just kidding.  Instead, Russia is deliberately kicking dirt on Japanese shoes, in the form of a trip by Medvedev to the Kurile Islands.   These Godforsaken rocks in the storm tossed waters between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Northern Pacific, immediately north of the Japanese home island of Hokkaido, were taken by the USSR in the waning days of WWII.  The Japanese consider them theirs, but the Russians disagree, claiming them as spoils of war that are now indisputably Russian territory.  The two nations have been discussing the issue for years, but Medvedev’s visit–the first by a Russian or Soviet leader–incensed the Japanese, who howled in protest; they even withdrew their ambassador from Russia for consultations at home.  The Russians–or more specifically, Sergei “The Tarantuala” Lavrov–replied scornfully.  Lavrov said that the Japanese warning that a presidential visit would “seriously damage relations” was “an insult” to Russia, and that the Japanese objection undermined Russian territorial integrity.

Lavrov’s tender concern for territorial integrity is touching; I think I’m tearing up.  I’m sure he and the Georgians talk about it all the time.

Pavel Fulgenhauer presents an argument as to why Russia wants to retain control of the Kuriles.  Control of the Kuriles makes the Sea of Okhotsk a Russian lake in which they can station SSBNs with less fear of attack.  It is indeed true that the ability to mine the La Parouse Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the passages between the Kuriles makes it more difficult for US (or Japanese) subs to penetrate the Sea of Okhotsk to get at Russian boomers (if they ever get there–and if they have missiles that like, you know, actually work).  But the Sea is still accessible to anti-sub aircraft based in Hokkaido, so the protection is not complete.

But even if you grant Fulgenauer’s argument, that cannot explain why Medvedev made the extraordinary effort to visit the islands in full knowledge of Japanese sensitivities about them.  This was a calculated public humiliation of the Japanese, and anybody with multiple functional synapses a little knowledge of culture and history knows that the Japanese are extraordinarily sensitive to public loss of face.

And it wasn’t as if Medvedev just dropped by on his way to the store, or something. The efforts needed to make the visit truly were extraordinary.  The weather over the islands is usually appalling, and bad weather forced Medvedev to abort an earlier trip.  As it was, he had to fly to Sakhalin, change to smaller plane (no airport in the Kuriles being capable of handling his normal aircraft) and risk getting marooned there for an extended period by a bad turn of weather–which almost happened, in the event.  In other words, he had to work very, very hard to deliver this facial to the Japanese.

So why do it? One contributing factor is that this gave the elfin Medvedev an opportunity to strut his nationalist stuff with an eye on the upcoming presidential contest.  (I won’t say election–it is a contest that will be determined well before a single vote is cast.)

It is also likely just another example of Russia’s foreign policy opportunism.  Japan is reeling economically, and is reeling as well from a recent maritime confrontation with China.  Japan crawled away from the contretemps with China about as cravenly as you could imagine.  So, it’s no surprise that after this abject confession of weakness that Russia makes a jackal’s leap (think Churchill’s characterization of Mussolini’s invasion of Greece while the Germans were annihilating the Greeks in 1940).  (This article in the China Post, of all places, argues that the Russians are just taking advantage of Japan’s distress.)

Yes, Japan is weak, but it’s not like Russia is a colossus.  Every Japanese weakness–economic, demographic–is more than matched by a more acute Russian one.

And this is just another example, as if one were needed, of Russian short-sightedness.  As I wrote some weeks ago, referring to Walter Russell Mead’s analysis of the Japan-China face-off, bullying Japan is likely to be counterproductive to the bully.  Mead was speaking specifically of the foolishness of Chinese obstreperousness that only served to push Japan and other democratic Asian states closer to the United States, just at a time when there was considerable unease about the US-Japanese relationship (over Okinawa, especially).  Whereas Russians are usually pretty good at the divide-and-conquer thing, here they are playing try-to-conquer-and-unify.  Not smart, especially since the objective factors (geography, military force in the region, economics) are not on Russia’s side.

Yes, in the short run, playing the jackal to the Chinese tiger may generate some advantages, and may make Medvedev and assorted nationalist mouth breathers feel tough.  In the long run, however, it is self-defeating.  It just cements Russia’s reputation as a revisionist, opportunist power, which will have adverse military, economic, and diplomatic effects.  Not a good idea, when you’re really not a power in any sense of the word, except for nuclear weapons and a rather ambiguous energy weapon.

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  1. The U.S. refused to cooperate with a recent participant of the Soviet-Nazi alliance. Bad, bad U.S.

    Comment by Ivan — November 10, 2010 @ 1:47 am

  2. Actually Randy, you might want to visit Georgia to check on the “particularly exclusionist tone of Georgian nationalism maintained to this day”, you will find things quite a bit different to what you think.

    Abkhazian is a state language of Georgia, by the way not even Gamsakhurdia (idiot that he was) thought the Abkhaz had no right to be live in “Georgian territiory”, he was the architect of the power sharing deal that allowed 17% of the population (Abkhaz) to have 51% of the vote in the Abkhazian autonomous regional government. To this day Abkhazian is a state language of Georgia.

    The Georgian government nowadays makes great efforts to ensure ethnic minorities are not discriminated against, and while there is still work to do, they are light years ahead of their neighbors in this regard (take a look at the Armenian attitude to ethnic minorities for example).

    It is interesting to note that the Ossetian head of the pro Georgian administration in Georgian controlled areas prior to August 2008 was Dimitry Sanakoyev, one of the heroes of the Ossetian separatist movement in the early 90’s.

    I also suggest you talk to the UNDP rep in the Caucasus, I can put you in touch if you want.

    Comment by Andrew — November 10, 2010 @ 3:02 am

  3. Yet recruiting, hiding Nazi war criminals from justice is good? BTW, a non-aggression pact is not an alliance. In the inter-war period every Tom, Dick and Harry entered into one. It meant nothing.

    Comment by So? — November 10, 2010 @ 3:13 am

  4. No, hiding Nazi war criminals is obviously not good. Extraditing any people into the hands of Soviet mass murderers who sent millions of innocent people to Gulag would be even more obviously bad. The most notorious war criminals, like Georgy Zhukov, died of old age in Russia, not in the U.S.

    Comment by Ivan — November 10, 2010 @ 3:40 am

  5. How is Zhukov a war criminal?

    Comment by So? — November 10, 2010 @ 3:52 am

  6. So? You are a complete idiot.

    Have you ever read the secret protocols of the Molotov Ribbentropt pact?

    Germans and Russians dividing eastern europe between them.

    Then there is the small matter of the joint Russian-Nazi invasion of Poland, the joint victory parades, the Russian military assistance to the Nazi’s including the use of bases for submarines and assistance to German commerce raiders.

    Obviously you have no education in history.

    Comment by Andrew — November 10, 2010 @ 4:03 am

  7. It was Russia regaining her territory. The West was doing everything to channel German aggression east. Stalin had no illusions about Germany, nor Soviet weakness, and tried to delay the inevitable for as long as possible. Poland was doomed anyway. The buffer space gained in ’39 probably made all the difference in the end.

    Comment by So? — November 10, 2010 @ 4:42 am

  8. […] that’s not enough on the Kuriles, check out Streetwise Professor’s take – like Vadim he’s wondering just what on earth Russia is doing tweaking Japan’s […]

    Pingback by » Weekly Russia Blog Roundup 6 November 2010 — November 10, 2010 @ 8:28 am

  9. @50: No, no, no. By moving the capital to Kiev, Rus (the word “Russia” was created by Freemasons in order to divide the Rus people) will be in a better position to go after the Polish, Czech and Slovak traitors to Slavdom, and to save Serbia and return Constantinople to the Orthodox world. What kind of a Russian nationalist are you?

    Comment by AP — November 10, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  10. So? So the baltic republics, and eastern Poland were Russian territory?

    No surprises that you are a Russian imperialist wanker.

    BTW, one reason for the disater that befel the Soviet military in 1941 was the fact that they were all deployed in offensive, rather than defensive formations.

    That and the usual Russian military incompetence…….

    Comment by Andrew — November 10, 2010 @ 9:46 am

  11. Let’s not extrapolate. Just because Ukrainians, Belorussians and Russians are one and the same people doesn’t make me some kind of pan-slavist. Besides, Poles are not Slavs anyway.

    Comment by So? — November 11, 2010 @ 7:07 pm

  12. Whether they were or not is academic. The limitrophs were doomed anyway; the Poles were openly hostile, and the Balts were pro-German. Idealism in this situation would have meant the German war machine would’ve been even closer to the heartland.

    The Red Army was deployed neither offensively, nor defensively, but was in the middle of restructuring and redeployment. In any case, the incompetent russkies did a hell of a lot better than the competent Allies against the best army in the world.

    Comment by So? — November 11, 2010 @ 7:38 pm

  13. So?, more rubbish from an uneducated Sovok.

    The Red Army, even by the end of the war showed little tactical acumen, but won the way Russians always win, all noise and frontal assaults. The supposedly superior strategy of the Red Army was simply having the ability to attack everywhere through massive superiority in numbers. Sooner or later you find a weak spot.

    The Red Army consistently lost far more men than their Nazi opponents, even in the final battles of the war.

    As for doing better than the allies, not really. The loss ratios were far more in the western allies favor than in Russia’s. Of course one factor in this is that the western allies actually cared about their men. Human compassion is not really a Russian cultural characteristic.

    As to why the Poles and Balts were openly anti Russian, well just look in the mirror. In fact the fact that all of eastern Europe was anti Russian at the time might give you some idea, and all of it still is except for the Serbs.

    The Red Army was deployed offensively, if you had bothered to read anything about Barbarossa you would see that quite clearly, as for the “restructuring” if you mean replacing all of the officers killed in the purges maybe, but tactical and strategic doctrine were well established.

    The disasters that befell the Red Army were unprecedented in the history of warfare. It is interesting to note that the army that was destroyed in 1941/42 was almost exclusively Russian (because the Russian state did not trust minorities).

    Comment by Andrew — November 12, 2010 @ 1:59 am

  14. Smothering the enemy with your dead was hardly feasible 300 years ago, and became a complete non-starter when the machine gun was invented. Besides, the Red Army never enjoyed the hyperbolic numerical advantage the Wehrmacht apologists drone on about. As for “finding the weak spot”… German memoirs are not unlike the French ones. “We were doing great! But suddenly they were all around us.” I wonder why? Likewise, to the Americans every German tank was a Tiger. The Germans saw 10 times more Russians than there really were. But then you probably believe that in 2008 Russia attacked Georgia with 2000 tanks.

    The Allied loss ratios were favorable because they sat back and let the Red Army bleed for them. Patton was the exception, but he lost a lot more men as well. The Germans fought a lot harder in the East, knowing full well what they’d sowed.

    In the 17th century Poland had more people, a better army, and an excellent chance to absorb Muscovy. From the Baltic to the Black Sea to the Pacific. They screwed up and ended up in the dustbin of history. And they’ve been bitter ever since. Who cares what they think? The Balts had been ruled by a Germanic nobility whether it be the Swedish or Russian empire. They wanted more of the same. I’d say it wasn’t just the Eastern Europeans. Russia was single-handedly fighting all of Europe. Let’s face it, everyone became a longtime member of the Resistance only when they heard the rumble of approaching Allied tanks. As for Jews, Gypsies and Commies – most Europeans thought their removal was long overdue.

    The Red Army was in the middle of redeployment. End of story. The “all the smart officers were killed in the Purge” is one tired canard. Tukhachevskiy was an idiot.

    So the Red Army lost because of Russians and won because of minorities? Is this some kind of new variation on “winning in spite of Stalin”?

    Comment by So? — November 12, 2010 @ 3:52 am

  15. So?, you really are uneducated when it comes to military history.

    Particularly that of the Russian military.

    Russian military doctrine was and is all about numbers.

    Look at Suvorov, who stated “The bullet is a fool, but the bayonet a fine fellow”

    As for the Germans doing great, well look at the loss ratio’s even in their defeats, such as Stalingrad or Kursk, particularly in the tank to tank engagements. Like the Sherman, the T-34 was a great tank in 1941 and early 42, but by 43 was a deathtrap when used against even the up gunned MkIV let alone any of the newer tanks.

    The Allied loss ratios were more favorable because they had a far more effective system of fighter bomber support of front line troops, and more effective artillery that was reactive and controlled by F.O.’s rather than the Russian system of preplanned bombardments, Russian tactics in general did not allow for initiative or flexibility in any way, a situation that continues to this day.

    As for how many tanks the Russians used to invade Georgia, well they had over 150 MBT’s in the conflict zone, along with the 60 or so T-72’s of the South Ossetian militia, and the more than 90 of the Abkhazian militia. The Georgians had 80. So a total force ratio of 300 to 80, nice.

    Then there were the around 1500 IFV’s (BMP-3’s), SPAA (ZSU-23/4), & SPA that the Russians deployed, compared to the Georgians 138 APC’s most of which were BTR’s.

    Then we get on to troop ratio’s…..

    Interestingly the Georgians destroyed several Russian tanks in tank to tank combat, but lost the majority of their tanks to RPG fire in close quarters battle (but then modern Russian tanks always were shit).

    For the force and loss ratio’s of WW2 battles, well the simple fact of the matter is that the Russian military performed very poorly, given the massive advantage they had in numbers and equipment. The main reasons for the German failure at Kursk were twofold.

    1. The British informed the Russians when and where the attack would occur.

    2. On the point of breakthrough, Hitler ordered several divisions westward to deal with the allied invasion of Italy. The Germans were on the point of winning, but took their eye off the ball.

    Comment by Andrew — November 13, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  16. Oh and by the way, you Russians are inveterate liars, a bit like the claim of capturing 44 Georgian tanks, then claiming a few weeks after the war that the Georgians had been “completely rearmed”, when in fact the Georgians only lost 18 tanks.

    Comment by Andrew — November 13, 2010 @ 1:09 am

  17. Sustainable Armor Capability for Small Powers: The Case of Georgia in the August War

    By Frederic Labarre, Head of Department of Strategy and Politic, Baltic Defence College

    Most of the Russian-Georgian contact was composed of infantry
    engagements. And most if not all tank destruction occurred at the hands of
    infantry. According to Maj. R.B., some hits were scored on Russian tanks.
    He recalls how a friend “used no less than four rockets to destroy a single
    tank.” The first two hit the glacis, but did no damage save clearing the
    infantry that was riding on the vehicle at that moment. The third knocked
    out a track, and the tank became immobilized. The fourth hit between the
    turret and the chassis which made the tank erupt.16 Another friend
    decommissioned a tank by dropping a hand grenade down the open hatch.17
    By the evening of the 8th of August, the three motor rifle regiments were
    attacking the Georgians in and around Tskhinvali. The 135th was already to
    the west, the 693rd was pouring below Tamarasheni (north) and the 503rd
    was possibly by-passing the city from the east.18 The Russians were taking
    deliberate care not to enter Tskhinvali itself with their armored equipment.
    The plain on the west of the city would allow the Russians to fan out and
    dislodge the traffic jam in their rear. Some one hundred and twenty T-72
    MBTs, one hundred and ninety BMP-3s and ninety-five BTR-80s19 were
    deploying against Georgia’s twenty remaining tanks and infantry vehicles.
    Still, the GAF felt it owned the day, having repulsed the South Ossetians and
    dislodging the Russian peacekeepers to the northern edge of the city.
    At the end of the day, the Georgians declared a cease-fire which lasted until
    the morning of the 9th of August.

    Comment by Andrew — November 13, 2010 @ 1:41 am

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