Is Vladimir Putin a strategist extraordinaire?
It is not good form to criticize a sitting American President while he is meeting with world leaders. But we can view the current President’s recent attempts at foreign policy-making from the perspective of Sir Basil Liddell-Hart’s classic book on military strategy: The Other Side of the Hill. The trick is to try to figure out what the other side is trying to achieve, and what the other side is trying to prevent.
Of course, the real power in today’s Russia is Vladimir Putin, not Dmitriy Medvedev, the Russian Chief of State. In fact, Putin’s title is: Head of Government (HOG). We might think of Vladimir Putin as, well…the head hog.
Putin’s major foreign-policy goals are: To prevent any further losses of territory and to restore Russia to the front rank of world power. But if the Ukraine and/or Belarus were to break out from under Russian hegemony and join the West, Russia would end up somewhere in the rear ranks.
Former Soviet satellites Poland and the Czech Republic have already joined 26 other nations as full members of NATO. Twenty-one nations are in a junior “partnership” status with NATO, to include the Ukraine and Belarus.
As a hedge against possible Iranian nuclear missiles aimed at Israel and at NATO, the Bush Administration was negotiating to place missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. If Poland and/or the Czech Republic welcome U.S. missiles, then the Ukraine, in particular, might see that as a strengthening of the West and a weakening of Russia. Putin cannot allow that to happen.
So, if you were Putin, you might do this: Figure that the U.S. has a major problem with getting ground convoys of supplies through Pakistan and into land-locked Afghanistan. You could offer the U.S. a “favor” by allowing American re-supply planes to fly over Russian-controlled territories.
In return, Putin would want the U.S. to back off the idea of U.S. missiles in Poland and/or the Czech Republic. He knows the Ukraine, in particular, is watching.
But Putin’s “favor” has a further purpose. He figures Afghanistan will be another Vietnam. By making it easier for the U.S. to re-supply its forces, Putin would hope to keep the U.S. twisting and failing in the Afghan winds for a long, long time.
Moreover, Putin has another trick up his sleeve. He knows we are not going to nuke Russia. He isn’t going to nuke the U.S. Thus, a mutual nuclear-weapons reduction poses no problems for either side. But Putin wants the agreement to include a reduction in the number of aircraft and/or missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons.
Here’s Putin’s trick: Our B-52 bombers, some other aircraft and some of our missiles, are dual-purpose. They can employ either nuclear weapons or convention weapons. We need the B-52s to drop conventional bombs on the Taliban and al-Qaeda. By tying the B-52 or any of our dual-purpose delivery systems into a nuclear weapons reduction scheme, our conventional/un-conventional warfare capabilities would be diminished.
Bottom line: if Putin can get the Obama Administration to back off the idea of a missile defense system in Poland and/or the Czech Republic, the Ukraine and Belarus would be more likely to remain in the Russian orbit. Moreover, his Iranian allies would be pleased. (Unfortunately, Israel would have even more reason to conduct a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.)
If Putin can get the U.S. to agree to a reduction in the number of B-52s and other dual-purpose delivery systems, he would be showing the Ukraine and Belarus that Russia is a really smart player on the world diplomatic stage and is regaining its former world-class status.
Putin could achieve all of this in return for the simple “favor” of allowing our re-supply aircraft to overfly Russian-controlled territory into Afghanistan. He must think our folks in Washington are really stupid.
William Hamilton, a syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today, studied at Harvard’s JFK School of Government. Dr. Hamilton, a former intelligence officer, is a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers (AFIO).
©2009. William Hamilton.