Part 1 here.
Viktor Kalashnikov is a Russian freelance journalist and a former KGB colonel. In the autumn of 2010, he and his wife Marina, a historian, were treated in a hospital in Germany for mercury poisoning in what they said had been an attempt on their lives by Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB. He is a distant relative of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47.
Kalashnikov and his wife have been publishing articles critical of the Kremlin since the 1990s. After living in Europe for several years they are now back in Moscow.
By J.R. Nyquist
Continuing my discussion with former KGB officer Victor Kalashnikov, I was eager to learn more about Russian strategy. Kalashnikov told me that Russian grand strategy has one focus. “It’s all about struggle against the United States,” he said. “All allies are measured in terms of their anti-Americanism. If they are anti-American, they are our friends.”
This is how we should understand the activities of Syria and Iran, for example. Russia is helping these countries acquire new weapons, new capabilities. To measure the degree of Russian enmity let us consider the Syria crisis, noted Kalashnikov: “The head of the Russian state has publicly warned the West that starting arms deliveries to the opposition in Syria might result in terrorist attacks against Europe. That’s a clear causes belli – a real terrorist threat.”
The average reader might imagine that Washington has taken alarm at Putin’s threatening remarks. But no such alarm has been registered. The American side barely acknowledges a threat has been made. And this is normal for us. For whatever reason, our leaders ignore the threat from Russia. Again and again, the Cold War is said to be over. There is no longer a threat from Russia, which is now described as a “normal” country.
But Russia is not a normal country. “The majority of Russians are supportive of Putin,” Kalashnikov explained. “The popularity of Putin is growing while American society and ideology are depicted as hostile to Russian interests. Therefore Russia is hungry for new allies or friends of any kind whatsoever. And these allies must be anti-Americans. All of this helps place the military issue in a broader context. It is not about tanks on the battlefield of Europe. It is about rockets in the arsenal of Hezbollah.”
The Cold War is not over. The rulers of Russia haven’t given up their goal of smashing America. Today, however, their strategy follows an indirect approach. The old direct approach of threatening Europe with tank armies has been replaced with a new strategy based on Islamic terrorism.
“Now this is another topic,” Kalashnikov confided, “but we have to ask what happened to the Soviet Union in 1991. It was dismantled for the sake of reorganization and for the sake of Russian power. I remember quite well, even before Gorbachev, that our military showed discontent with the strategic picture. These huge tank masses were a wasting resource, especially after 1983.”
The grand strategy of the Soviet Union had to be overhauled and modernized while costs had to be brought down. Therefore, new methods of defeating America had to be devised, and new opportunities would then appear. These methods included the arming of terrorist states with nuclear and biological weapons.
Kalashnikov continued: “I mentioned the year 1983. At that time the core strategy was splitting Europe from America. Europeans worried that Soviet troops could reach the Atlantic in one or two weeks. Therefore, the West recognized an imminent threat. And there was real fear on the European side that the Americans would not defend Europe. In 1983, when America deployed Pershing missiles in Europe, this whole Soviet strategy of massing tanks was finished. It was futile. That was the starting point for a new strategy.”
Once the old strategy had failed, it was time to apply new strategic concepts. Kalashnikov asked, “What need was there for huge armies in central Europe when the result was always a standoff with the Americans?”
Inspiring your enemy with fear may lead him to capitulate. That was not the only possible outcome, however. There was always the possibility that he would call your bluff. In the case of America and NATO, the West’s defenses were strengthened rather than weakened in the 1980s. As Kalashnikov noted, “I remember our officers asking, ‘what shall we do next?’ Well, we were forced to start over with a new design.”
According to Kalashnikov, “The West sees that with friends like Iran and Hezbollah the Russians could start a lot of trouble. Add this to Russian ballistic nuclear weapons targeting American cities and you have a new formula: Nuclear rockets plus Hezbollah makes Russia invincible, and it is quite dangerous. It’s a new combination of military tools. That’s why I was irritated by certain statements in President Obama’s speech.”
I asked Kalashnikov about the increasingly precarious position of Israel. Kalashnikov replied, “The Israeli position is twofold. They are anti-Syria and anti-Hezbollah. But their position versus Russia was ambiguous. They have a growing population of Russian immigrants. So they would like to develop their relationship with Russia. Yet Russia is moving closer to the anti-Israeli side.”
While Israel remains uncertain toward Russia, Russia’s president charts a steady course, noted Kalashnikov: “Some of the top Israeli security figures met with Putin and asked him not to deploy anti-ship missiles which are effective against the American navy, and also the S-300 missiles that will greatly limit Israeli airpower against Syria. Putin rejected the Israeli request.”
How will Russia stop the Israelis from destroying the delivered missiles before they are deployed? Kalashnikov offered a surprising answer: “Syria’s military is going to be quasi-integrated with Iran. That means an attack on Syria implies an attack on Iran. Meanwhile Russia is sending ships from the Pacific Fleet, even as they modernize the Black Sea Fleet, with a new naval base at Novorissiysk. So the Russians are bound to increase their naval pressure on the Eastern Mediterranean.”
By strengthening Russia’s regional military presence, and by integrating the Syrian and Iranian armed forces, Russia hopes to build a soon-to-be impregnable stronghold in the Middle East. “I see Russia’s position growing there,” said Kalashnikov. “An Israeli attack on Syria would involve Hezbollah. And if push comes to shove, we can make trouble for the Americans in Lebanon, or somewhere in Asia.”
The West may not be willing to support Israel under these circumstances. As Kalashnikov explained, “The Western allies are going to think twice whether they will support Israel because of their growing vulnerabilities elsewhere. You have the bombing of the Boston Marathon. You have the vulnerability of NATO’s left flank in the Baltic States. Russia is saying, ‘You mess with our friends, we mess with yours.’ It’s a new game that you didn’t have to play during the good old days of the Cold War. “
Kalashnikov continued, “What happened on 9/11 was just an omen of things to come. At the time of 9/11 America’s dispute with Russia had reached its peak. George Bush was going to leave the ABM Treaty. Putin said, ‘If you do this you will not be able to defend against new threats.’ Bush said, ‘I am leaving the Treaty.’ So 9/11 happened. You had broken the strategic balance based on strategic missiles. You had been warned that new security challenges will emerge. But you didn’t listen in the summer of 2001.”
Part 3 coming soon.