Our guest today is Colonel Viktor Baranets, a military commentator from Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. Welcome, Mr. Baranets.
Global security is a key issue today. How has the world changed? How have weapons needed to guarantee security changed? Which weapons should we rely on if we abandon a policy of nuclear deterrence?
Globally, the temperature of confrontation of Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization with NATO has been falling. However, the only practical step taken by the United States within the “reset” policy is its refusal to deploy ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.
It was a positive signal, yet we have likely been too optimistic about it. Barely two hours after President Obama announced the decision, it was said that we had misunderstood him, and that the United States would do it, but a bit differently.
Moscow is closely monitoring the situation, but still, the decision not to deploy ABM systems in Europe is a very serious positive signal.
As for nuclear confrontation, you know that the global trend was to gradually cut nuclear weapons within the START-1 and START-2 treaties. We are now working hard on a new treaty, which will cut the number of nuclear warheads to 1,200-1,500 per side.
This move could be interpreted as both nuclear parties’ decision to lower the nuclear threshold – theoretically. However, in practice we cannot reach an agreement with the U.S. on the rules of the game. Secretary of State Clinton made a statement during her visit to Russia which could interest only professionals, or which only professionals could notice. She said they would allow Russian officers to inspect U.S. nuclear arsenals.
What does that mean? Under the treaty, an American commission inspected Russian arsenals, and a Russian commission went on a similar mission to the United States. And it turned out that Russia liquidated warheads in compliance with the treaty, while the sly Americans stored the scrapped warheads, which created the serious problem of “return potential.” The U.S. can take warheads from storage and mount them on a missile, which puts Russia at a big disadvantage.
The negotiating teams are now focused on rapidly drafting fair rules for the game because we are tired of being duped.
A few words about the latest Russian statements on nuclear weapons. Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, recently made a series of high-profile statements, one of which frightens our foreign partners. He said that since Russia has nuclear weapons it also has the right to use them as it deems necessary, and also that it reserves the right to deliver preventive nuclear strikes.
Some Western critics immediately said this means that Russia will deliver blows at whomever it wants. But the idea is that Russia has not only intercontinental missiles but also other types of nuclear weapons – tactical missiles – as well as weapons that interest other countries the most, small nuclear charges. I believe it was these nuclear weapons Mr. Patrushev was referring to.
It was a hint to Georgia that if Russia fails to repel another potential aggression it may consider delivering a nuclear strike. It would not be a strike that pulverizes half of Georgia; it would be a strike delivered within the limits of expediency, only to stop the enemy.
In general, nuclear bargaining has never stopped, and nuclear weapons have always been the core of the Russian armed forces. Nuclear weapons are the umbrella giving Russia a historical chance to reform its armed forces. If not for nuclear weapons, Russia would have been treated quite differently in the world especially since foreign intelligence services are not sitting on their hands. They cleverly analyze the real situation in the Russian armed forces, which are halfway to a new destination and are undergoing radical change.
The main thing is that possession of nuclear weapons allows Russia to restructure its armed forces. Taken together with petrodollars and mineral resources, this allows Russia to advance progressively, even though it is making some mistakes in the process. Military reforms have provoked contradictory views in the expert community both in Russia and abroad.
You mentioned Georgia. Is there still a potential threat coming from the Saakashvili regime?
Yes, the unfriendly political regime led by Mikheil Saakashvili stands at the helm in Georgia and its army has been working with combined NATO assistance to strengthen its muscle after its failure in August 2008.
Over 22 NATO and several other countries helped arm Georgia before it attacked South Ossetia. For example, Israel supplied unmanned air vehicles. It later asked forgiveness from the Kremlin and promised never to supply UAVs again. However, the chief of Israel’s main intelligence agency recently admitted officially that Israel is again supplying UAVs.
But they are acting within the framework of international law, aren’t they?
Certainly. When I analyzed the issue of Ukraine’s military supplies to Georgia, and when we found documents of the Ukrainian parliament’s special commission which undeniably showed that Ukraine supplied weapons and specialists to Georgia, Ukrainian politicians said: “Sorry, but Ukraine has a military technical cooperation agreement with Georgia.”
And this is true. The supply of weapons to a country adjacent to Russia immediately sets into motion other mechanisms – mechanisms of political morals. The Ukrainian air defense missiles supplied to Georgia were used to kill Russian servicemen, down Russian aircraft, and murder peaceful South Ossetians.
Russia has nothing against military technical cooperation between Ukraine and Georgia, but it also understands the meaning of this cooperation. These two countries have been working hard to get into NATO, and are doing their best to prove their worth. Everyone can see this. Intelligence data, unofficial information and statements all point in this direction.
What has Moscow done in this situation? The Russian president said we should draw proper conclusions, thereby hinting that Russia could apply economic sanctions. I can understand this – when the United States dislikes a country where Russia supplies weapons, it immediately uses sanctions against that country.
Which types of weapons is Russia relying on now?
Russia is using every achievement in the world that could be interesting and expedient in the military sphere. The Russian S-400 air defense missile system is certainly one of the best in the world, and we are now completing the S-500 system. Although the process is very difficult, the much-lauded U.S. Patriot can’t hold a candle to the Russian system.
This also means that Russia’s military technical potential is very strong even though 8,000 Russian scientists have emigrated in the last 18 years. Not all of them are working for the military, but some 20% are surely strengthening other countries’ defenses.
As for new types of weapons, we are now actively using tank protection systems. When an enemy missile is fired at a tank, the tank protection system intercepts and destroys it. Foreign intelligence services have been watching our efforts closely over the last 18 years, buying one bit of the project after another. This is evidence that Western military highly value Russian achievements.