Russia and US Missile Defence

Note February 2016. These were done for the Russia Profile Weekly Experts’ Panel which I cannot find on the Net now. Many were picked up by other sources and I have given links where I can find them.

Missile defence is prudent: while there may be no realised threats at present, there may well be in a decade and, since any system will take time to emplace, starting today makes sense. Moscow knows that it could also be on the target list.

From Moscow’s perspective, involvement in a defence scheme with NATO has difficulties. The first is trust. The West likes to think that it is honourable and open but Moscow is not so convinced. NATO expansion took place despite a promise made to Gorbachev and it was soon evident that it was an expansion to include anyone but Russia. Distrust was hardened by the Kosovo war which Moscow perceived as NATO arrogating to itself the right to decide where borders should be. The “coloured revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia (do we still count the “Tulip Revolution”?) intensified the distrust. And the West’s uncritical swallowing of Saakashvili’s story in the Ossetia war made things worse.

But events have moved on: NATO expansion appears to be over, NATO no longer boasts about successes in Kosovo, the “coloured revolutions” have failed and Saakashvili is no longer the democratic darling. (I have argued elsewhere that we are seeing a “third turn” in the West’s view of Russia; But Moscow is no longer, as perhaps it was in the early 1990s, prepared to take NATO at its word.

The second problem involves the “higher nonsense” of nuclear calculations. I say “nonsense” because, even if a defence system could stop 90% of Russia’s warheads, the 10% that got through would constitute by far the greatest disaster that the USA had ever suffered. Even a “small” nuclear exchange would be an unimaginable catastrophe for each, no matter which “won”. Nonetheless, people in the nuclear business do make these calculations of first-strikes, secure second-strikes and all the rest. I suspect, however, that Moscow’s nuclear arsenal has as much to do with prestige as anything else. Many in Moscow are still frightened by the possibility that Russia could become an insignificant country helplessly watching other mightier powers make decisions. Being the second nuclear power is some assurance that it will not be ignored.

Moscow is also aware that for a significant sector of Western opinion – shrinking I believe, but still influential – Russia is the eternal enemy. For these people, President Obama’s decision to stop the plan for missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic was a betrayal and a sell-out to Moscow (despite the fact that previously they had argued that the deployments had nothing to do with Russia). (See

For these reasons Moscow is cautious and sceptical: NATO’s assurances cannot be taken at face value; Russia’s theoretical “nuclear deterrence” could be weakened; the significant anti-Russia group (and Moscow probably takes it more seriously than it deserves) will always work to twist any intentions against Moscow’s interests.

Nonetheless, given the threat posed to NATO and Russia by what used to be called “rogue states” with small numbers of nuclear weapons and missiles, a common defence makes sense.

A compromise between the two positions is not hard to imagine: Russian and NATO sectors as separate but integrated at a central headquarters. Similar solutions have been found before – NORAD, for example – and with good will, something like that could square the circle. An effective defence could be built and Russians would be assured that it was not pointed at them.

When one considers how far this issue has evolved – all previous Russian efforts to get involved having been rejected – some optimism is warranted.


REVOLUTIONS. The Arab Revolution is making a few people (Gorbachev for one) speculate about the possibility of a similar rising in Russia. Speculation about a Russian “Arab scenario” is little more than wishful thinking from a negligible opposition that agrees on almost nothing. The “Arab revolution” is sui generis: rulers-for-life enriching their circle while impoverishing everyone else and populations in which half are under 30 or 25 with little to hope for. And some outside advice. This is not Russia: simply stated, the necessary conditions are not there. The Duumvirate remains popular and for good reason: Russians can see and touch the improvement in their situation over the past decade. If in 15-20 years the same people were on top still taking about police reform, cooruption and modernisation that would be a different story. However, some of the other post Soviet states, especially those with rulers-for-life, could develop that way. One place to keep an eye on is Georgia: if Saakashvili contrives to stay in power (as he seems to be trying) and we have another few years of stagnation and blaming everything on Russia, it could happen there – at least some of the opposition says so.

DEMOGRAPHICS. Generally speaking the government’s efforts to correct the demographic decline by working at each end of the problem – ie birth and death rates – is showing good effects. Anatoly Karlin follows developments in greater detail than I; here is his latest entry. Population decline was never an exclusive Russian problem – most of the former communist countries had similar numbers (see below for one of the contributing factors) – and Russia is starting to pull away from its neighbours. The Health Minister unveiled a new program for 2011-2015 which aims to keep the population at least at the current level.

BOOZE. Figures from the WHO claim that Russia ranks fourth highest in the world in alcohol consumption (interactive data by regions here – this site is excellent for statistics, by the way). Interestingly, nine of the top ten on the list enjoyed the blessings of communism. That is a little too coincidental.

CORRUPTION. The push against illegal gambling in Moscow continues: the police chief claims that 388 illegal casinos have been shut down in the last six weeks. And, naturally, that’s not the only involvement of the legal authorities: the Moscow Oblast prosecutor and a number of other officials have been suspended during the investigation. Bribery is suspected.

DISMISSAL. Medvedev has dismissed the FSB deputy head Vyacheslav Ushakov at the request, we are told, of the FSB head. “Shortcomings in his work and code of ethics violations” were the reasons given. I’m sure there’s more to the story but we may never hear it.

TRIALS. The Governor of Magadan was murdered in 2002 and four people have just been sentenced. Some of this rather excessive delay is due to the fact that the two principals had to first be extradited from Spain. The trial for the murders of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and reporter Anastasia Baburova has begun. I wonder if the Kommentariat will take notice of that because it goes against its meme that Putin is killing reporters and nothing is done about it.

KHODORKOVSKIY VERDICT. Veniamin Yakovlev, adviser to Medvedev for justice, says he is ashamed to hear the allegation that the verdict was dictated to the judge from on high and that the allegation must be investigated. I haven’t the faintest idea what this means: a private opinion? (does a Presidential advisor of six years standing have private opinions that he publicly expresses)? A hint that the verdict could be overturned? That a really serious investigation of the whole Khodorkovskiy case will be conducted? That a better cover-up will be contrived? His retirement speech? Stay tuned.

INVESTMENT. General Motors announced that it intends to double output at its St Petersburg plant in 2011.

GAMSAKHURDIA. A Georgian Parliamentary Commission, headed by his son Konstantin, has concluded that Zviad Gamsakhurdia could not have committed suicide in 1993 as reported (I have always called it an “assisted suicide”). Gamsakhurdia was the author of much of Georgia’s present problems and was overthrown by a coup which brought Shevardnadze in to be its “beard”.

MANAS AIRPORT. It has just been announced that a Russian-Kyrgyz JV has been created to supply jet fuel to Manas airbase. Given the scandals associated with the last supplier, its alleged connections to the Bakiyev regime and Otunbayeva’s criticisms of its present behaviour, I expect that this consortium will get the contract.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


KURILES. I’m mystified why this issue has suddenly boiled up. Perhaps Medvedev’s visit last November has driven the two capitals into the inevitable rhetorical exchanges. Attempts are being made to calm things down: the two foreign ministers have promised to talk calmly and the chief of Antiaircraft and Missile Troops, responding to a suggestion that S-400 SAMs be deployed there, dismissed the idea as excessive and dangerous. The principal Japanese opposition leader has criticised his government for its language. At present each claims the islands and it is not easy to see how a compromise can appear. But there is at least one international example that might serve as a model – the Åland Islands.

KHODORKOVSKIY. An aide to the judge who sentenced Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev to another prison term has said: “Higher echelons didn’t like the verdict, so it was replaced by another one”. The judge denies it, and, although the aide fully expects to be fired, the court says “it has no plans” to do so. Apart from any other considerations, there has always been a strong political content to the prosecutions because Khodorkovskiy was trying to gain control of the Duma and thence the government.

POLICE REFORM. A detailed analysis of the new law is presented here by my colleague Gordon Hahn. On paper the reform looks good and even if execution is only 50%, it will be a huge improvement.

TOURISTS. One of the more noticeable changes since 1990 is that Russian tourists are all over the place (enough, as I have observed myself, to make it worthwhile to print souvenir booklets in Russian). According to RIAN, 2009’s three favourite destinations were Turkey, Egypt and China; there were about 7 million Russian tourists.

RUSSIA-UK. Moscow-London relations have been rather bad for some time. Moscow is not amused that Berezovskiy has a safe haven there to continue his attempts to overthrow the Russian government and there have been several painful events regarding British companies. The Litvinenko affair irritates both capitals. But, very gradually, relations are improving. Foreign Minister Lavrov has been visiting and so far, the atmosphere seems to be cautiously friendlier. But there is a long way to go: perhaps a serious investigation of the Litvinenko affair would be a good place to start.

EDUCATION. It’s being reformed too. The ministry has posted the projected standards for high school education (Russian) on its website; the idea is to encourage public discussion. Subjects will be taught at “minimum” and “dedicated” levels depending on the student’s choice. Subjects will be grouped as follows: Russia and literature (including the appropriate second language: eg Tatar, Ossetian et al); foreign languages; mathematics and computer science; social sciences; natural sciences; arts or an optional subject. Four subjects will remain compulsory: Russia in the World, life safety basics, physical training and a personal research project. This is supposed to come into effect in 2020. What ought to strike an observer from the West is how solid these subjects are.

CORRUPTION. Yesterday the FSB raided a Moscow Oblast police station over alleged links to illegal gambling; two police officers having been arrested the day before. Medvedev has submitted a draft law to the Duma increasing penalties for accepting bribes and kickbacks.

LUZHKOVS. Police have raided Baturina’s company Inteco. I do believe that we will see charges laid eventually.

COSSACKS. Medvedev has proposed the creation of an All-Russian Cossack Association to unite Cossacks. “The Cossack Question” is something that never quite seems to get off the ground. They exist – or at least there are people who believe themselves to be Cossacks and organise themselves that way – and from time to time the government has muttered about Cossack self-defence organisations, Cossacks assisting the police, or Cossack units in the Army, but nothing much ever seems to happen.

DEMOS. Now there are plenty on Moscow – although none very large. Fearing another nationalist rally, police cordoned off Manezh Square last week and made some arrests. A sanctioned “anti fascist” rally organised by the Caucasus Congress passed off quietly. The sanctioned “Day of Wrath” rally attracted a few hundred but arrests were made as the Left Front movement leader Sergey Udaltsov attempted to move to the Presidential Administration building. I suppose that protests about the inability to protest will die away.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see


POLICE REFORM. The Police Reform Bill has been passed and signed into law; a simple summary of it by RIA/Novosti is here. Symbolically they will now be called “Police” rather than the revolutionary-sounding “Militia” and will get new uniforms resembling, we’re told, the Tsarist ones. Perhaps the most important part of the reform is that presently serving police will interviewed for their jobs, so to speak, and 20% will be let go. This last strikes at the heart of the problem, which is that too many serving police are corrupt and incompetent. But, as a former bureaucrat myself, I doubt that the process will thin them out much. This is undeniably another step but it takes a long time to change.

ARMS TREATIES. With the new START out of the way – Medvedev signed on the 28th and Obama on the 3rd – there is talk of new arms control discussions between Washington and Moscow. Obama said Washington intended to initiate talks on tactical nuclear weapons, of which Russia is believed to hold many more than the US. At the Munich security conference the Russian Foreign Minister called for re-animation of the CFE Treaty which Moscow finally denounced after NATO kept piling conditions on ratification. This was a particularly useful treaty: it was one of the few disarmament treaties that actually destroyed weapons and the inspection regime and data exchanges were great confidence and transparency builders. At the same conference the US Secretary of State called for cooperation on missile defence and talks at NATO began today on that subject.

THE THIRD TURN. The only mention of Russia in the new US National Military Strategy document speaks of cooperation.

KURILES. Yesterday Medvedev held a meeting with the Regional Development and Defence Ministers regarding the Kurile Islands and gave instructions to improve living conditions and defence readiness. At the same time it was announced that the first two Mistral class ships will be based in the Far East. The island chain runs from Kamchatka to Hokkaido; the issue with Japan relates to islands at the south of the chain: specifically Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and a few tiny islands (Habomais), not those north of 45º30’. But, as it happens, the troops that Russia has out there are based on the first two. This is an issue that is very neuralgic in Japan and is legally rather murky. For a long time it was a block in investments – although perhaps no more with the new Toyota agreement. Why Moscow is today talking about defence of these rather insignificant and poverty-stricken islands I do not know.

LUZHKOV’S MOSCOW. The noose does appear to be tightening, The Audit Chamber’s investigation, at the request of the new Mayor, found significant misspending on the transportation sector (especially on Moscow City’s airline – !!??). The head of the Metro resigned amid allegations of unlawful diversion of funds. Luzhkov himself is not having a lot of luck at finding a safe haven.

31. Alexeyeva’s demonstration attracted about 500 people and passed off without incident. When it finished Limonov and a few dozen tried his: they were arrested but quickly released.

KHODORKOVSKIY. Some see hints of a pardon for Khodorkovskiy and Lebedev in Medvedev’s request to the “legal expert community” to look into the case. The Moscow City Court has opened review proceedings on the second trial. But for a pardon Khodorkovskiy has to admit his guilt and this he has said he will not do.

CORRUPTION. The Public Chamber has announced that it will open a phone hotline and a website to receive citizens’ reports of official corruption; perhaps it will name corrupt officials: one author says it will be a “hall of shame”. This follows another reporting site created by the tax service last month

DOMODEDOVO BOMBING. More security chiefs have been fired; two suspects have been arrested. Doku Umarov, the leader of Caucasus Emirate, claimed credit for the bombing but the authorities doubt it, saying that it was an independent cell.

KAZAKHSTAN. Nazarbayev has modestly admitted that he’s prepared to serve for as long as the people want him. In short he will run in April and win. Perhaps he should look at the news from Tunisia and Egypt.

BELARUS. Minsk is back in the Western doghouse with the USA and the EU imposing new sanctions; on the other hand it is reported that nearly all the problems with Russia have been solved.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada (see