Streetwise Professor

March 16, 2009

Reset This!

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:07 pm

The Russian military has expressed its interest in basing strategic bombers in Cuba and Venezuela.  

A top Russian military official has confirmed that the Kremlin is thinking of parking some of its strategic bombers in Cuba or Venezuela, within easy range of the continental United States.

That’s just one of several options currently under discussion in Moscow that, if carried out, would see Russia’s armed forces take up positions around the world on a scale unseen since the cold war ended almost two decades ago.

Venezuelan President Hugo “Chavez has proposed to us a whole island with an airfield that we can use for temporary basing of strategic bombers,” Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, chief of Russia’s strategic aviation forces, told journalists on Saturday.

“There are four or five airfields in Cuba with 4,000-meter-long runways, which absolutely suit us,” he added. “If the two chiefs of state display such a political will, we are ready to fly there.”

For his part, wacky Hugo Chavez at first embraced the Russian presence, but is now claiming that he offered no bases to the Russians, just the temporary use of them if the Russians have a “strategic need”:

 President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Russian bombers would be welcome in Venezuela, but the socialist leader denied that his country would offer Moscow its territory for a military base.

Chavez — a fierce critic of Washington with close ties to Russia and Cuba — said his government did not raise the possibility, as Russian media had reported.

“It’s not like that,” the president said, responding to a report by Interfax news agency quoting the chief of staff of Russia’s long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, as saying some strategic bombers could be based on an island offered by Venezuela.

Zhikharev reportedly said Saturday that Chavez had offered “a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers.”

Speaking during his weekly television and radio program, Chavez said he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that his nation’s bombers would be allowed to land in Venezuela if necessary, but no such plans have been made.

Venezuela hosted two Russian Tu-160 bombers in September for training flights and joined Russian warships two months later for naval exercises in the Caribbean.

“I told President Medvedev that any time Russia’s strategic aviation needs to make a stop in Venezuela as part of its strategic plans, Venezuela is available,” he said.

Interfax also reported that Zhikharev said Russian bombers could be based in communist-led Cuba, but a Kremlin official said Zhikharev had been speaking hypothetically.

To me, this sounds like typical Russian posing: the military equivalent of vaporware.  It is intended to send a message: “Here’s what we could do if you force us to.”  A bargaining chip to be used in negotiations over NATO expansion, missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, and strategic arms talks.  

Two comments.

First, the Obama administration would be well advised to forego trading anything in exchange for promises regarding a Russian strategic air presence in the Caribbean.  Whereas missile bases, and strategic weapons (warheads, delivery systems, etc.) require long lead times and the expenditure of considerable political capital, bombers are eminently redeployable on rapid notice.  This means that a decision to give up a missile defense base, or warheads or delivery systems, is only reversible at very high cost, whereas a promise not to utilize Venezuelan or Cuban bases for Russian strategic bombers is reversible almost immediately and at effectively zero cost.  That is, there is a tremendous asymmetry between terminating a missile base, or a delivery system, and promising to end the deployment of bombers to the Caribbean.  Given this asymmetry, only a fool would trade the former for the latter.

Second, on matters of tone, this threat, delivered so close in time to Biden’s reset button speech, Hillary’s embarrassing follow up on that, and NATO’s decision to re-engage, indicates that Russia is perfectly willing to reset–on its terms.  Like Medvedev’s Iskander threat speech on the day of Obama’s inauguration, this suggests that Russia is in no mood to engage in mutual gestures of accommodation.  It will gladly take whatever Obama or NATO or Merkel proffer, and then push for more, and use threats to get it.  

How many cheeks does Obama have to turn?  You can be assured that every gesture will be met by escalating demands.  

So Obama, Hillary, and Joe: don’t bother.  It takes two to bargain in good faith.  All of your earnest desires to reach an accommodation with Putin and Russia will fail.  Such efforts will fail because (a) Russian ambitions to regain great power status require continuing proofs of its dominance, which come primarily through confrontations with the US, and US concessions, and (b) in the present economic crisis, tension with the US is very useful in Russian domestic politics.

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  1. The bluster is a test to see if the Monroe Doctrine is alive and well within Boy Wonder’s administration. I didn’t hear what should have been a firm response stating that America would not tolerate a Russian military intrusion into our hemisphere. The WH had expressed toying with a re-set button for Cuba. That’s what they got for their unwise utterance.

    When America is perceived as weak every thug on the planet will test our resolve. I can’t believe we are going to revisit Jimmy Carter, but, I guess lessons need to be re-learned with the passing of time unfortunately.

    Events seem to be overtaking the Empty Suit. Pakistan is soon to blow up in his face. Now that’s utterly scary.

    Comment by penny — March 16, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  2. The last time the US tried to enforce the Monroe Doctrine by trying to overthrow Chavez in 2002/03 failed miserably and had the opposite effect. Nowadays Hillary Clinton lectures Russia on how the US recognizes no nation’s sphere of influence. So really those suggestions are pretty bad, penny. 🙂

    Comment by Da Russophile — March 16, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  3. +++the US tried to enforce the Monroe Doctrine by trying to overthrow Chavez +++

    You may read about the essence of Monroe doctrine in Wikipedia, of all the places. That would be useful for you in order to avoid making embarrasing statements like that.

    And, by the way, you are not trying, by any chance, to implicitly suggest that Russia is in any sense “an equal” to the United States, are you? That woulbe a very ahistorical and, quite honestly, immoral suggestion.

    Comment by LL — March 16, 2009 @ 10:36 pm

  4. […] ethnic Russian region as part of Vladimir Putin’s amalgamation policy, say that this process Reset This! – 03/17/2009 The Russian military has expressed its interest in basing […]

    Pingback by Ладушки.Net » Blog Archive » Posts about Putin as of 17/03/2009 — March 17, 2009 @ 2:21 am

  5. In 1904, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America in cases of “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation”. –

    Thanks for helping me make my point. 🙂

    Comment by Da Russophile — March 17, 2009 @ 4:10 pm

  6. The Weekly Standard has a recent article on Russia’s near bankrupt defense industry:

    The fortunes of the Russian defense industrial sector at present make AIG and Bank of America look like the financial picture of health. The Russian industrial conglomerate umbrella company, Rostekhnologia (ROT) that has monopoly control over the entirety of the nation’s defense industry is headed by Sergei Chemezov. He is also a life-long–and perhaps the number one–FOV (Friend of Vladimir Putin) in the Russian government, the two having first befriended one another when they served together in the former East German Democratic Republic (GDR) as KGB officers during the waning days of the Cold War.

    Chemzov recently announced that 30 percent of Russia’s defense industry is on the verge of bankruptcy and that of the 70 per cent remaining only half of those may be categorised as “stable.” Those that are in danger of becoming insolvent include more than half of the enterprises in Russia that produce ammunition and explosives.


    One of the officials who showed up that morning looking for someone to talk to from the Russian delegation was the deputy defense minister of Cyprus. When told why the Russian pavilion was virtually empty, my colleague related, he admonished one of the handful of representatives from Russian industry actually present, saying, “if you keep selling your weapons the way you are now in five years you will be out of business” and stalked off.

    When Chemezov created ROT and acquired control of almost every Russian industrial enterprise worth owning he looked as though his corporate behemoth had also acquired that “too big to fail” label that we are hearing so much about in the United States during the current world financial meltdown. But, just wishing does not make it so. No one can undo the almost 20 years of neglect and zero investment that Russian industry has suffered. No matter how much is done now failure in the defense sector seems about the only option and drinking the night away in Abu Dhabi instead of tending to business is only going to accelerate that decline.

    Comment by penny — March 17, 2009 @ 8:22 pm

  7. 1. Venezuela welcomes the “Russian military intrusion”, so obviously penny is interpreting the Monroe Doctrine according to Theodore Roosevelt (US should intervene in the case of “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation”).
    2. As such it is the US which is supposed to decide what constitutes “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing” in the western hemisphere.
    3. This is classic sphere of influence if not imperialist politics.
    4. As such LL’s comment about how I am making embarrassing and immoral statements, turn out to be non-valid and perhaps hypocritical.
    5. There are encouraging signs that since about 2006 (and the decline of the neocons) Washington started abandoning its old-school interventionist / “bad” regime toppling habits in the region, and moved towards a more mature and mutually respectful position, and as such undercut the forces that drive anti-Americanism there. What penny suggests actually goes against US national interests as well as decency.
    6. Putin is a political hero of mine (along with Obama and Chavez), so I don’t mind acting like them. 🙂

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — March 18, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

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