June 08, 2007

Wily Vladimir

PUTIN TO BUSH: So, what's so special about putting the interceptors in Poland? (Putin and Bush comment here).

Putin, I think it's fair to say, rather outmaneuvered Bush on this issue at the G-8 meeting, first by making the case there's nothing particularly magic about the Polish and Czech locations, second by making the point those locations leave countries like Russia (and thus other countries east of Poland, like say Ukraine) exposed to the supposed Iranian missile threat to Europe, third by looking like he's in good faith trying to work with the U.S. on a responsible collective security posture, while nevertheless rejecting key elements of the U.S. approach (which now no longer enjoy quite the same trappings of constituting a fait accompli), fourth by appearing now like he's acted in good faith to broach a compromise so that when the U.S. essentially rejects in large part (as is ultimately likely) the Azeri option, Putin doesn't appear the bad guy, and therefore, allows himself room to more robustly counter the ultimate American decision made (particularly re: the interceptors in Poland), so that he'll be on firmer footing to showcase his disgreement. (Meantime, and under-reported, the Azeri option would likely also have significant implications for Iranian-Azeri relations--keeping in mind there is a somewhat restive Azeri minority in parts of Iran's north--probably none of them particularly good ones).

Regardless, my gut tells me Putin floated this option, in the main, as a short-term tactical move (one appropriate for a wily KGB alum & judo-aficionado), mostly meant to throw the U.S. team off-balance at the summit, and not because he thinks the Azeri location necessarily has real legs as a viable option. But as U.S. and Russian technical teams now bore into the detail to study the proposal, and combinations as between the U.S. and Russian approaches, as I said, interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic no longer quite have the same aura of inevitability they did just a couple weeks back.

In short, Russia, now really just a middle ranking power, has (at least temporarily) deftly ham-strung the hyperpower some on its missile defense plans. And while said plans may ultimately go forward nonetheless (not that I think they're a good idea as presently constituted), Putin has at least accomplished, via a combination of saber-rattling (we'll turn our missiles on Europe!) and impressive tactical skill (Azerbaijan, anyone?), catching the Americans by surprise, and throwing them for something of a loop. It's another example why Putin is likely one of the very most competent leaders on the global stage of these past years (which somewhat pains me to say, given Putin's many, shall we say, authoritarian tendencies). Sure, high energy prices haven't made his job any harder, but he's a skillful practitioner of statecraft, to be sure, as this latest episode showcases rather well. So, at least on this last missile defense round, (soulful) Pootie-Poot-1; Dubya 0.

P.S. Daniel Larison chimes in, rather more succinctly, here.

Posted by Gregory at June 8, 2007 03:53 AM
Comments

I'm mordantly amused about Putin's visit to the Kennebunkport palace. I expect he'll have Bush and Cher Condi dancing like puppets by lunch.

Posted by: sglover at June 8, 2007 02:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well exactly, Greg - Putin is playing a game, he wants to seem reasonable and does a very good job of doing so, a much better job than Bush does of trying to appear presidential. Missile defense is an obvious answer to the decline of MAD, of super power symmetry and the rise of rogue states and global terror. Some sort of missile defense will be necessary in order to maintain conventional force hegemony and the only way China and Russia et al can counter this is by either casting their lot in with the 'insurgents', isolating US on diplomatic front, or by cunningly pursuing a mix of the two.

Posted by: culltech at June 8, 2007 02:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This was a throw away gesture designed to make Putin look reasonable. He probably knew full well the technical reasons why the Azeri radar won't work in the overall GMD missile defense plan for Europe (essentially the radar and interceptor geometries are awful for an intercept). But you are correct that the US didn't anticipate such an offer and we're now off balance. We will look like the idiots when we reject this.

Posted by: anonymous at June 8, 2007 03:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US is in a tenuous position right now, that is while this Prez still occupies the WH. He is a dim bulb who is beginning to understand
that his 'legacy' might accurately reflect his slouch toward 'worst President ever'.

A few months back he said he was going to stick to his guns on Iraq
even if Barb and Barney were the only ones backing him. It's a lonely job and he needs a friend. That puts us at a distinct disadvantage when
'He who must be obeyed' is doing the face to face with leaders like
Putin. His sappy, sloppy sentimental grasping at any accord reached with such folks works to our demise.

Keep him home til 2008. It's
to Bush's advantage as well, as his 'legacy can only be further disparaged by additional historical examples.

Posted by: Semanticleo at June 8, 2007 04:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hi Greg,

The earliest Reuters report on Putin's offer, now dissapeared from their site, said one of Putin's conditions was full access to the entire ABM technology and dual control of the ABM system. In other words, the ABM for Russia too, not just America and its allies.

Like any US president could get away domestically with handing Russia that!

So his offer will be rejected, at which point Putin will say "Aha, so it must be intended as a threat to Russia's missiles after all, if you won't let us have access to it!" And it will be believable.

Putin's playing chess while the White House plays tiddlywinks.

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig at June 8, 2007 04:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The earliest Reuters report on Putin's offer, now dissapeared from their site, said one of Putin's conditions was full access to the entire ABM technology and dual control of the ABM system. In other words, the ABM for Russia too, not just America and its allies.

Like any US president could get away domestically with handing Russia that!

I can't tell -- are you being ironic? Because if memory serves, that's pretty much exactly the kind of deal that the sainted "Great Communicator" offered to the Soviets, at some point.

Posted by: sglover at June 8, 2007 04:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So who outmaneuvered whom? If this works out, Russia would be on board for a full anti-ballistic missile defense system--the object of which would be to defend against rogue states with missiles and nuclear arms. Having Russia on board seems to me to be a major coup.

Posted by: lwolv at June 8, 2007 05:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So who outmaneuvered whom? If this works out, Russia would be on board for a full anti-ballistic missile defense system--the object of which would be to defend against rogue states with missiles and nuclear arms. Having Russia on board seems to me to be a major coup.

Posted by: lwolv at June 8, 2007 05:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Are we still pretending missile defense systems actually work? Not meant to be snark, I really wanna know. Has the technology improved dramatically since the last time I read that missile defense systems don't work?

Posted by: LL at June 8, 2007 05:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iwolv and LL,

Putin can read - he knows the next step in the neocon plan for ABM defense is to resurrect Brilliant Pebbles - something that's been carefully left out of WH pontificating about how the ABM plan isn't a threat to Russia's deterrent.

If Bush gives away what the extreme Right believes was Reagan's materwork in subduing the Soviet Bear, what's his base gonna say?

Regards, C

Posted by: Cernig at June 8, 2007 06:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It was a smart enough move to make a President feel sick upon realising he'd been hoodwinked, whoops, he did get sick :).
The really clever part was hoodwinking the US into saying Putin was playing cold war politics with his missile "threat", which when he makes the radar offer puts them in a very very uncomfortable position when they turn it down, the only thing wrong was it was a bit obvious, but then again there was a pretty big message in that to.

Posted by: Nigel at June 8, 2007 09:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"skillful practioner of statecraft"?
"Chess and tiddlywinks"?

Of course, it would never occur to the four of you left here that no one keeps score on such nonsense.

Quick question for the club: If we've been "so deftly hamstrung", where's that orbiter heading tonight?

Posted by: Tommy G at June 9, 2007 01:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Thanks for the link; to show you what a geek I am, I actually downloaded the 202-page pdf. I guess I'd feel better about what the report says if the people who wrote it weren't a bunch of military (or ex-military) and defense contractors (one of them works for Lockheed). I'm not saying we should have no missile defense at all, just saying I remain skeptical as to its efficacy vs. the enormous amount of money it costs.

Posted by: LL at June 9, 2007 08:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Putin outmanoeuvers Bush" isn't exactly a "Man bites Dog" story, now is it?

What kills me is that Star Wars is being sold as a defense for a weapon (Iranian Nukes) that Bush swears he will never allow to exist. Maybe a more realistic foregn policy (i.e. lets try to work with Iran to stabilize the middle east, let them make their nukes, but have Star Wars available just in case) would be an easier way to sell this boondoggle -- but obviously, a realisitic foreign policy isn't coming out of this administration.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at June 9, 2007 02:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's been interesting watching Bush and Putin lately.

Putin: I am absolutely outraged at your policies!

Bush: You're not nearly as angry at me as you think you are.

Putin: That's right.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at June 9, 2007 08:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How do you out manueuver someone by proposing an initiative that has been on the table for 20 years?The idea of bringing Russia into the western security apparatus goes back to Reagan. As to Putin being a skillful practitioner of statecraft how does his nutty non sequitur about retargeting Russian missles at countries deploying defensive shields fit into that? Even the Russians were embarrassed by that one. I think the urge to Bush-bash has over taken sensible thought on this site.

Posted by: Frank at June 9, 2007 11:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I may be missing something, but last I checked Azerbaijan was a sovereign nation. How can Putin offer their cooperation just like that?

Posted by: Klaus at June 10, 2007 01:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
I may be missing something, but last I checked Azerbaijan was a sovereign nation.

Putin claims he's already sought approval from the President of Azerbaijan.

Doesn't really matter though as the US will never go for it.

No Baku for U

Posted by: Davebo at June 11, 2007 02:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If you'd passed that college physics course, you'd know that Poland and the Czeck Rep are still most likely even if Putin can get the -stans to go along.

Pull out the old globe and take a look at the great circle from Iran to the middle of Europe. Then asked yourself about warning and reaction times.

Next, consider the state of the art. While intercept in the terminal phase is hard, it's all we've got right now. And, don't get me started on whether or not this works. You're just exposing yourself to the audience as someone who can't quite handle the thought that technology also solves problems. Inevitably.

Plus, it might be easier to just go with an eastern Europe site in a couple of NATO countries than try to solve all the sovereignty issues that would be involved with trying to put the Air Force's not-ready-for- primetime boost phase weapon into the middle of Asia.

Posted by: Larry at June 11, 2007 09:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And, don't get me started on whether or not this works. You're just exposing yourself to the audience as someone who can't quite handle the thought that technology also solves problems. Inevitably."

Posted by: Larry at June 11, 2007 09:47 PM |

I'm still waiting for SDI to be able to do, under excellent test conditions, with rigged tests, even a tiny fraction of what we were promised 25 years and $60 billion ago.

Posted by: Barry at June 15, 2007 07:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Putin, I think it's fair to say, rather outmaneuvered Bush on this issue at the G-8 meeting...."

Oh what a difference a week can make!

Posted by: JM Hanes at June 18, 2007 06:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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