[This is a long article, well worth the entire read]
Something significant happened in the last few days of April, but it seems the only person who noticed was Stephen Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University.
In a recorded interview, Cohen notes that a section of the Russian leadership is showing signs of restlessness, focused on President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. We are not talking of street protesters. We are not talking coups against Putin — his popularity remains above 80 percent and he is not about to be displaced. But we are talking about serious pressure being applied to the president to come down from the high wire along which he has warily trod until now.
Putin carries, at one end of his balancing pole, the various elites more oriented toward the West and the “Washington Consensus“ and, at the pole’s other end, those concerned that Russia faces both a real military threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a hybrid geo-financial war as well. He is being pressed to come down on the side of the latter, and to pry the grip of the former from the levers of economic power that they still tightly hold.
In short, the issue coming to a head in the Kremlin is whether Russia is sufficiently prepared for further Western efforts to ensure it does not impede or rival American hegemony. Can Russia sustain a geo-financial assault, if one were to be launched? And is such a threat real or mere Western posturing for other ends?
What is so important is that if these events are misread in the West, which is already primed to see any Russian defensive act as offensive and aggressive, the ground will already have been laid for escalation. We already had the first war to push back against NATO in Georgia. The second pushback war is ongoing in Ukraine. What might be the consequences to a third?
In mid-April, General Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (a sort of super attorney general, as Cohen describes it), wrote that Russia — its role in Syria notwithstanding — is militarily ill prepared to face a new war either at home or abroad, and that the economy is in a bad way, too. Russia, furthermore, is equally ill prepared to withstand a geo-financial war. He goes on to say that the West is preparing for war against Russia and that Russia’s leadership does not appear to be aware of or alert to the danger the country faces.
Bastrykin does not say that Putin is to blame, though the context makes it clear that this is what he means. But a few days later, Cohen explains, the article sparked further discussion from those who both endorse Bastrykin and do precisely mention Putin by name. Then, Cohen notes, a retired Russian general entered the fray to confirm that the West is indeed preparing for war — he pointed to NATO deployments in the Baltics, the Black Sea and Poland, among other places — and underlines again the unpreparedness of the Russian military to face this threat. “This is a heavy indictment of Putin,” Cohen says of the revelations from this analysis. “It is now out in the open.”
What is this all about? For some time there have been indications that a key faction within the Kremlin, one that very loosely might be termed “nationalist,” has become deeply disenchanted with Putin’s toleration of the Washington Consensus and its adherents at the Russian central bank and in other pivotal economic posts. The nationalists want them purged, along with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s perceived Western-friendly government.
The opposing faction wants to see an immediate mobilization of the military and the economy for war, conventional or hybrid. This is not about wanting Putin ousted; it is about pushing him to wield the knife — and to cut deeply.
What does this faction want apart from Russia preparing for war?
They want a harder line in Ukraine and for Putin to reject U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s snares in Syria. In short, Kerry is still trying to force Assad’s removal and continues to push for further U.S. support for the opposition. The American government is reluctant as well to disentangle “moderates” from jihadis. The view is that America is insincere in trying to cooperate with Russia on a settlement and more intent on entrapping Putin in Syria. Perhaps this is right, as Gareth Porter and Elijah Magnierhave outlined.
The Obama administration is acting to weaken Putin and Lavrov’s hand, and therefore strengthening the hand of those in Russia calling for a full mobilization for war.
But in both of these objectives the Obama administration is acting to weaken Putin and Lavrov’s hand, and therefore strengthening the hand of those in Russia calling for a full mobilization for war. It is not coincidental that Bastrykin’s alarm-raising article came now, as the Syria ceasefire is being deliberately infringed and broken. Is this properly understood in the White House? If so, must we conclude that escalation against Russia is desired? As Cohen notes, “the Washington Post [in its editorial pages] tells us regularly that never, never, never ... under any circumstances, can the criminal Putin be a strategic partner of the United States.”
Is the die then cast? Is Putin bound to fail? Is conflict inevitable? Ostensibly, it may seem so. The stage is certainly being set.
Just days after the U.S. and NATO moved forward on a missile defense program in Europe, Russia responded by vowing to modernize a launch detection system alerting Moscow to potential attacks, Russian media reported Tuesday.
Get Ready, Russia and China: American Missile Defense Is Going 'Star Wars'
“We will develop and test, by 2017, MOKV command and control strategies in both digital and hardware-in-the-loop venues that will prove we can manage the engagements of many kill vehicles on many targets from a single interceptor. We will also invest in the communication architectures and guidance technology that support this game-changing approach,” Rick Lehner, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency, told Scout Warrior a few months ago.
Steve Nicholls, Director of Advanced Air & Missile Defense Systems for Raytheon, told Scout Warrior the MOKV is being developed to provide the MDA with “a key capability for its Ballistic Missile Defense System - to discriminate lethal objects from countermeasures and debris. The kill vehicle, launched from the ground-based interceptor extends the ground-based discrimination capability with onboard sensors and processing to ensure the real threat is eliminated.”