Russian Roulette



Moscow is playing a high-stakes game, and Canada and its allies must be prepared


The Russian Tupolev Bear bombers approached the northwestern edge of the NORAD air defence zone as two Canadian and four American fighters lifted off to intercept them. The USAF F-15s from Elmendorf air force base in Alaska moved in, as the Cold Lake-based Canadian CF-18 fighters provided backup in case the Russians penetrated farther into North American airspace. Eventually, the Bears headed home to a base somewhere on the Kamchatka peninsula. Such scenes between Russian and NATO forces, commonplace during the Cold War, have been quietly but repeatedly replayed since the tense 1999 standoff between Russian and NATO forces in Kosovo -- and is only part of a disturbing pattern of Russian behaviour. How many Canadians know that Russian forces have attacked Canadian Forces helicopters with lasers? In the nearly forgotten case of the Russian ship Kapitan Man in 1997, they even blinded a Canadian pilot. As the recent arrest of an alleged Russian spy in Montreal underscored, we had better be prepared to keep watch, just as we did back in 1946 after Igor Gouzenko revealed rampant Russian espionage in Canada, and Churchill declared that an Iron Curtain had come down from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic.

Stettin has a new name and new occupants. In 1999, NATO quietly established a headquarters, called Multinational Corps Northeast, in the Polish city now called Szczecin. This formation commands three mechanized divisions: Danish, German and Polish, and a Baltic brigade made up of units from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The corps is optimized for conventional warfare and not counter-insurgency or stabilization missions, even though portions of the formation may serve in Afghanistan.

Multinational Corps Northeast serves to reassure Poland of NATO's article five mutual defence guarantee, something very dear to the Poles after they suffered a combined 50 years of Nazi and then Communist totalitarian domination. NATO keeps the Germans close and allied, and keeps the Russians out. When Russia threatened to shut off natural gas supplies to Poland, as it did in 2004 (and cut off energy to the Ukraine and Georgia last January), or when the head of the Russian navy in the Russian port of Kaliningrad, in conversations with his Polish counterparts, claims to be able to sink the entire Polish navy in five minutes, Poland knows it is not alone. When Poland in September committed more forces to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in response to Canadian requests, that decision was connected to broader fears of Russian belligerence and the belief that Canada will come to Poland's aid in the future. Many are unaware that since 2003, Poland has made a significant commitment to the U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom, suffering 18 casualties -- for the same reasons.

Could Canada and its NATO allies have to reprise their former role in deterring Russian belligerence? Could Canada be asked to deploy forces to Poland and the Baltic states, as we did to West Germany in 1951? Some relics of the so-called peace movement from the 1980s might object that this is all Cold War nostalgia, but they are too busy opposing the West's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan (and not Russia's war in Chechnya). But while all of our focus is on the war against the al-Qaeda movement, the Russians are making some strategic moves -- which are not necessarily good for Canada and her allies.

Russia is engaging in confrontational tactics -- an indicator of increased confidence on the world stage. Internally, the assassinations of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, bank reformer Andrei Kozlov and others are an indicator that Russia has not embraced the values Canadians hold dear. Russia has suspended the activities of human rights organizations like Amnesty International for not registering under recent laws meant to intimidate those who pry too closely into Russian human rights violations. Belligerent international behaviour, despotic domestic moves: it all sounds familiar. But there are some new twists. The Russians have learned from our successful Cold War strategy, which destroyed them economically, and they are establishing the conditions to retaliate. These will allow them to achieve what they couldn't during the Cold War: influence over Europe. Economics, as we (and now the Russians) have learned from the Japanese, is merely war by other means.

Let's start with oil, the lifeblood. Russia is the world's largest exporter of natural gas and No. 2 for oil. The breakup of the Soviet Union put some oil reserves outside of Moscow's control. With oil and gas being the only real source of hard currency, this loss was compounded by the inept privatization of the remaining energy sector. At the same time, the restructuring of the economy, rampant corruption, and a brutal war in Chechnya near the oil-rich areas of the Caspian basin contributed to astronomical foreign debt. This forced Russia to turn to the IMF for a US$40-billion bailout that damaged Russian pride as much as the national pocketbook. Despite billions in Western loans, the Russians kept "renegotiating" the deal. Russia also invited in foreign oil companies to modernize the decrepit Soviet-era infrastructure necessary to extract and then export oil and gas, in part to pay off the loans.

With the high price of oil these days, Russia retired its IMF debt last year. Gratitude? None. Royal Dutch Shell and Japanese companies Mitsubishi and Mitsui, which are engaged in the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas field, now stand accused of violating Russian environmental regulations and could face a US$20-billion lawsuit for ecological damages. The absurdity of Moscow expressing environmental concerns aside, project costs soared in part because the companies caved in to environmentalists' demands to move a pipeline away from whale feeding grounds. Russia wanted to restructure its cost-sharing deal with the companies, and when it didn't get its way it began flexing its muscles to threaten Sakhalin-2. Now Exxon Mobil's project, Sakhalin-1, is in similar jeopardy. They aren't alone -- the Kremlin has been creatively targeting other joint ventures. Russia has used these companies to modernize -- and now is jettisoning them using creative methods.

Then there is the aerospace industry. Modern aircraft are made from aluminum and titanium. Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, 38, merged the Sual and RusAL companies to create the world's largest aluminum producer. Earlier this month, the Russian state's arms exporter, Rosoboroexport, took control of the world's largest titanium producer. Russia is now in a position to dominate the global industry in these strategic resources. This has forced Boeing to make deal after deal with Russia to ensure an adequate supply of material to build aircraft.

Meanwhile, Moscow-based Vneshtorgbank has snatched up 5.4 per cent of the EADS aerospace giant, which not coincidentally is the parent firm of Airbus. EADS is the leading European military and civilian aerospace technology innovator, and builds the Typhoon fighter and the Ariane rocket system, which is the basis of Europe's foothold in space. At the same time, Russia has consolidated all Russian aerospace design bureaus to form the United Aircraft Corp.

Elsewhere, Russia has undermined the UN through its veto power in the Security Council. It successfully aggravated a split between France and the U.S. during the 2002-03 run-up to the Iraq war. And those who criticize American behaviour regarding Iraq should also look at Russian behaviour. For example: the three top perpetrators of the UN's Iraq oil-for-food scandal were corporations from France, China -- and Russia. When critics asserted that "the U.S. armed Iraq" in the 1980s, they conveniently overlooked the fact that Iraq used Russian tanks and French aircraft. Iraq owed Russia billions for those weapons, and there was no way Russia was going to lose out if the U.S. effected regime change -- or if the UN decided Iraq should be subjected to an embargo.

The combination of these moves is, to use a cliché, chess-like and incremental. Russia can dominate the provision of energy resources to Europe and turn the taps on and off at will. It can interfere with Western aircraft production and repair. It can loot military technologies and upgrade its military forces. By attenuating internal criticism, the Kremlin has fewer and fewer checks and balances on its behaviour. Aggressive military behaviour against Canada and the U.S. is an indication that Vladimir Putin's Russia isn't merely interested in consolidating domestic power. There is a larger agenda, and the West needs to figure out what it is.

When the Conservative government revealed its interest in military deployments to the Arctic in 2005, many defence analysts looked askance, particularly since the focus was on the war in Afghanistan. Canada's strategic outlook has to again take into account the balance between forward security deployments overseas, and continental defence at home. It is one thing for Moscow to engage in economic competition: it is another to couple it with despotic domestic policies and needlessly aggressive military behaviour directed against Canada and her allies.

I think Russia resents the fact that they aren't as prominent on the World stage as they once were. Now we have this new wave of Soviet style tactics, Harper should get us some nuclear subs. Nobody respects our Arctic sovereignty, including our allies.

Similar Threads

Russian Spy School
by 1john2004 | Feb 15th, 2005