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Published: Saturday, 1/13/2001

Posturing summons Cold War memories

It's the 21st century. But the nuclear scare is here.

Russia's backsliding toward a Cold War mentality makes this 1960s' phobia real.

Look at what happened over the past year. Unable to sustain its conventional military, Russia:

  • Adopts a doctrine that allows for pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against military threat.

  • Deploys more new-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting any location in the United States with greater precision than ever.

  • Doubles the military budget, especially for military research.

    Russia still holds nuclear parity with the United States. It has up to 3,000 nuclear warheads on missiles that are hair-triggered to take up any target in the world. Most of the missiles are old, which makes an accidental launch a real threat. And there's no guarantee that their default settings don't include U.S. targets.

    Even more ominously, Russia:

  • Adopts an informational security doctrine, an inconsistent but generally xenophobic document used to hinder free press.

  • Holds a string of espionage trials, including one against a United States citizen - the first such trial against a Western citizen in 40 years.

  • Instigates international opposition to U.S. plans for a national missile defense system as a protection against possible missile attacks by rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran.

  • Resumes sales of weapons and military know-how to Iran.

  • Threatens to come up with an “asymmetric response” to what it sees at the U.S. military hegemony.

    Finally - barely into the new year - it accuses the United States, Poland, and the Baltic states of a “provocation.”

    That's what the Kremlin calls U.S. reports that Russia has been moving tactical nuclear weapons into its Kalingrad region, a tiny European enclave squeezed between Lithuania and Poland.

    Pro-Kremlin analysts in Russia accuse the United States of concocting this accusation to rally European support of the U.S. national missile defense plans by countering the Russian-proposed plan of a European missile defense program.

    I disagree.

    And that's not just because such practices are typical of the Byzantine foreign policy and domestic security practices of Russia and not of a comparatively open Western democracy such as the United States.

    The reported movement of tactical nuclear weapons could be staged by the Kremlin to test the Western readiness to counter Russia's re-emerging militancy.

    One can criticize U.S. policy toward Russia all one wants. Cited most commonly are NATO's expansion in the direction of Russian borders; bombing of Yugoslavia, a zone of Russia's interests, and the Clinton administration's refusal to match the Russian-proposed cut of nuclear warhead arsenal to below 2,500. These acts may have turned Russia from viewing itself as a U.S. ally to what resembles a Cold War stance.

    What caused this position was the recent collapse of the Kremlin's half-hearted effort to introduce a true market economy and a civic society in Russia under former President Boris Yeltsin that fell prey to corruption unparalleled in modern history.

    The United States - which was used as a model for such reforms - became a natural scapegoat in the eyes of general public.

    Russia's Vladimir Putin, a career KGB spy who became president a year ago on the strength of Mr. Yeltsin's support and the populace's longing for a strong hand, only helped finalize this transition.

    On the bright side, the new U.S. administration includes people who advised former President Bush on his Russian policy that helped end the Cold War. Hopefully, they will be equally masterful in preventing a new one.

    May a Russian saying - “He who's meddling with us will end up helping us” - work in regard to Russia's perceived nemesis, the United States.

    Mike Sigov, a Russian-born journalist, is a staff writer for The Blade. Email him at msigov@theblade.com.



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