Putting Russia in perspective

A second cold war? Russia regains its great power status? There’s a lot of SF fans who said my geopolitical ideas were crazy. But turn on the TV, and Russian tanks are steamrolling over Georgia. And now I’m getting emails from *other* SF fans who are asking me whether I’m going to use this to claim vindication.

Well, no, I’m not.

For one thing, gloating ain’t attractive. But more importantly, despite the media’s hysterical claims of a new cold war, this isn’t the one I had in mind. What’s presented in THE MIRRORED HEAVENS is a Russia capable of projecting force on a global basis. But the Russian Federation of today is a long way still from anything that approaches the all-encompassing global reach of the Soviet Union.

And that’s something the U.S. ought to bear in mind as it weighs its options in the aftermath of the Georgia fait accompli.  A lot of people who should know better are calling for Bush II to get tough on the Evil Russian Bear.  But what they’re forgetting (or ignoring) is that we already HAVE been getting tough.  We promised that NATO would never expand into the former Soviet Union, but then NATO did.  Not only that, but we withdrew unilaterally from the ABM pact and started building missile defense infrastructure in the Czech Republic and Poland.  And while we were at it we intervened in Ukrainian politics.

But although the Russia we’re dealing with now may not be anywhere near as powerful as the Soviets, it’s still a damn sight stronger than the broken reed we trampled over in the 1990s.  And although American domestic politics has reached such a lamentable state of affairs that both candidates feel they have to immediately jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon (any rhetoric besides the mindless assertion of American power being deemed unpatriotic these days), hopefully something at either the State Department or the Pentagon is weighing the facts:

Item #1:  the bulk of our military forces will be engulfed in the Mideast quagmire for some time to come
Item #2:  the question of whether America intervenes in the former Soviet Union means a lot more to the Russians than it does to the Americans
Item #3:  we need Russia’s help with Iran whether we like it or not.
Item #4:  Putin ain’t Hitler. (This doesn’t mean that Putin’s a saint.  It just means that he isn’t the leader of a state hell-bent on conquering all of Eurasia and killing entire ethnic groups while he does so.)
Item #5:  While Putin may not be Hitler, he really has the potential to fuck with the price of oil.

Bottom line, regardless of what Russia does next, we’re idiots if we go to the mat with them right now over territory inside what was once the Soviet Union. And we’d be unwise to forget that for-too-long discredited concept in international relations called spheres of influence.  And I’m more than a little concerned that over the next few years (regardless of who wins the election) we’re going to start to see just how flimsy some of the assumptions that guide American foreign policy have become.

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8 Responses to “Putting Russia in perspective”

  1. Jenny Rae Rappaport Says:

    But if Russia is gaining power this way (and I haven’t been following the news as well as I normally do, since I’ve been caught up with the Olympics), then what’s to say that Putin won’t want to escalate it into something resembling a second cold war. He’s pissed off enough as it is, and the guy who is ostensibly president of Russia (Mendev?) doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

  2. meesh Says:

    i just like watching it all unfold.

  3. David Williams Says:

    @ Jenny– I think the primary reason Putin’s pissed off is the same reason we’d be pissed off if Russia were supplying Mexico with weaponry and backing their government. I.e., he wants the U.S. out of his backyard . . .

    And you’re definitely right that the current Russian prez is a figurehead. Putin’s the one in control.

    @ Meesh: : )

  4. Daniel Wargo Says:

    Even as we must practice ‘realpolitik’, we Americans are tasked with, no matter how our mistakes add up in Vietnam and Iraq, the fate of opposing Tyranny and Oppression…It pains me to see former colony states of Russia being invaded, and denied territorial integrity because of Russia’s refusal to give up its empire…We should trade the missle shield for all of the former satellites of Russia who want to be integrated into the West so that NATO can advance defensive guarantees to any of these Peoples who ask for them. Russia is imploding with a declining population count, and a declining average lifespan…Sometimes our ideals are our very best strategy…

  5. narciso Says:

    In the chronology of “Mirrored Heavens, you have Marshal Olenkov rising to power at age 44, is that likely. Consider that the recent aspirant to strongman status, General Nagovitsyn, who interestingly never served in Afghanistan or Chechnya is 56; a contemporary of Putin. That it not unheard of, in the long stretch of Russian history, some of the Ivans and even some of the Peters, but out of the ordinary. Admiral Andrew Harrison, 41; one assumes from a Special Forces background, that seems a little unlikely specially considering that he’s not in a military campaign till age 31, probably at Lt. Comdr level.(that is unless he was enlisted in the US-Brazil War). So if the Thrones, is the American Empire, realized; do you mean him to be Caesar, Marius, or Sulla. You may have to retcon this; for your paperback edition Another question, if oil is out of the question, and fusion seems rather risky, what would you power this vessels and weapon systems with.

    “Interfered with internal Ukrainian politics,” Is that what they call showing concern when the President of an independent country is poisoned. Frankly we have been too soft on Russia; we did the perfunctory criticism over Chechnya back in the 90s; a quagmire that drew in jihadist elements including several of the September 11th
    hijackers, providing men and material for Iran’s ballistic missile program, executing
    journalists and opposition leaders like Stairova & Polititskaya ,among just a few details. Now they threaten to attack or even nuke Poland, if they set up a system to defend themselves from those same Iranian or Russian rockets.

  6. David Williams Says:

    @Daniel W.–the Russians fear encirclement more than anything, and that’s essentially what’s been happening to them across the last several years. Without some kind of clarification of our intentions, they’re likely to react in a negative way, and given that reassuring Russia has been a very low priority for us since 1989, the situation’s rife for further misunderstanding.

    @ Narciso– I’ll respond in a separate note to the (very cool) analysis on the book. On the Ukraine– both America and Russia have supplied funds and sought to turn the domestic political scene to their advantage (and no, I’m not trying to establish moral equivalency-as you note, we didn’t try to poison anyone). In many ways I think our involvement there is entirely defensible–but I’m trying to underscore how this looks to Russia as part of a broader pattern. And on Poland-I regard Russian threats here as saber-rattling, but it shows how scared they are by BMD.

  7. David Williams Says:

    @Narciso– on the MIRRORED HEAVENS timeline: there’s a deliberate parallel I’m drawing in there between Olenkov and Harrison that you’re right to pick up on–both are clearly very unusual individuals, and both end up taking the supreme power at a very young age. (hey, Napoleon became first consul of France when he was 30–the makers and shakers in history have a way of not waiting till their hairs get grey.) The only thing I’m not tracking right now in your analysis is your assumption that Harrison wasn’t in a military campaign until he was 31–i.e, the Second Eco War of 2078. The timeline only shows the really major stuff-there’s plenty of covert ops and counterinsurgencies going on throughout, so it’s safe bet that Harrison was in a position to see conflict (probably in South America) throughout his 20s. And your assumption that he was involved in Special Forces is on-target.

    I should also probably clarify “the Throne”–it’s strictly a colloquial reference: intel slang for the U.S. president. Officially, the U.S. remains a democracy under the Reformed Constitution; obviously it’s really an authoritarian system, but there’s certainly no attempt to declare the U.S. a monarchy or anything like that.

    As to what that makes Harrison in the Roman Analogy Sweepstakes–hard to say, because his career’s still in progress….stay tuned….

  8. David J. Williams » Blog Archive » Obama, McCain, and foreign policy Says:

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