Reliable Security Information

The Russians are Coming?

Have we gone back in time? Russian bombers shadow U.S. naval vessels in the Pacific; Russian naval vessels patrol in the Caribbean, and once again, nuclear attack submarines are off the coast of the Eastern seaboard. The two "Akula" subs came as close as 200 miles to the the United States, and, just like in the old days, one proceeded southward to make a port call in Cuba.

A "return to the Cold War" makes for great headlines, but is there a real threat? Russia certainly has individual ships and planes that can "show the flag" around the world, far from the Motherland--in places where Russian (Soviet) vessels haven't been seen for decades.

But while modest increases in Moscow's defense spending has rehabilitated a few ships or provided the budgetary resources needed to finish vessels that were languishing unfinished in shipyards, Russia does not have the wherewithal to put together what is needed to sustain its projection of power. It cannot resupply or reinforce the ships it sends--and these air and sea missions are also gambles in their own right. Moscow's ability to send rescue forces in case its planes and vessels run into trouble is quite limited. In other words, the flag can be shown--but it can't be protected. Tom Fedyszyn, coordinator of the Eurasia Studies Group at the Naval War College, sums it up as follows: "It's showmanship, not real power."

So why the fevered reactions on the part of the pundit classes and some on the Hill? Is it because even the ghost of a conventional threat posed by a resurgent Russia helps to justify capabilities that the partisans of unconventional warfare have said the U.S. no longer needs for the types of conflicts it finds itself engaged in in the greater Middle East?

Perhaps. It is also clear that these Russian military missions--as miniscule as they are--are designed not to achieve any grand strategic objective but rather to irritate the United States. As American and NATO power has advanced to the borders of Russia, being able to send a nuclear sub to sit off the coast of Georgia (USA, not ex-Soviet) and to have Senator Saxby Chambliss demanding that the Pentagon get answers as to why the Russians were there is Moscow's way of signaling that what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If the United States involves itself in what Russia sees as its neighborhood, then the Western Hemisphere is not off limits to Moscow.

Expect these missions to continue--but recognize them for what they are.

Comments (8)

The sources of "the fevered reactions on the part of the pundit classes" are to be found in the absence of thinking about seriously about Russia's military potential. Even when oil was at $150 a barrel Russia simply lacked the resources to modernize existing force structure. There has been very little consolidation of defense industry, the military industrial workforce has aged, the civil economy provides no basis to support military modernization, and so forth. The Russian military remains a threat to the near abroad, but only by virtue of sheer mass, as was the case a century ago.


Russia can only irritate the U.S. if we allow ourselves to be irritated. As long as we keep our heads cool and play their game while making a few semi-friendly gestures every now and then, we'll win.

Stuart Russell:

Russia should have learned from Soviet history. Conflict, be it hot or cold, with the United States is a self-destructive proposition.


Russia may not be as strong as they would like us to believe, but we forget that the US military is a shadow of what it was in the 1980's. Russia is improving(somewhat), as we atrophy militarily and economically. The playing field could very well be equal in the next 20 years.


what about the possibility of the Russians providing war fighting training for their forces?
That was not mentioned in the article written, it was simply from the political side. Not practical military necessity.

Jeff T:

Please...Russia maintains extensive diplomatic and defense relationships with any nation in the Western Hemisphere that proclaims itself an enemy of America. This is nothing new.


"It's showmanship, not real power.".. The question I have is: Why is either necessary.??. Hey, wake up, it's the 21st century!! Russia is an empire in search of an enemy, and no one wants to play. No one wants to be Russia's enemy, so it has to create one. Is war, and battle, and conquering and being conquered forever a part of the Russian psyche now?

Anan Luckman:

Russian Federation's(RF) new regime in the past decade has demonstrated the potential re-emergence of the Soviet Union, and Cold War period. RF Victory day parade in 2008, was a showmanship, shifting from pre Soviet times, RF's use of modern media technology and English medium of broadcasts and publications are another sample of their soft-agressive ambition to regain what's lost during Elstein's era. Both EU and US cannot undermine RF's new capabilities, Economic and natural resources that monopolises and counters any further encirclement of RF by Western powers.
Also RF challenged the United State's hegemony in the Eurasia-Pacific region, even extending its trade/defense relations with Central America, Africa, Indonesia, through sale of defence hardwares, and even sea and air missions of its modernised and robust Air- Sea Defence capabilities. US's overstretch of its capabilities on GWOT in Iraq and Afghanistan has limited its ability to act as the traditional "policeman" in these instances. China is a threat to both, economically and militaryly to US and RF, hence they would reshape their relationships in future with understanding on balance of power and sharing through diplomacy than any direct confrontations rather leading to interdependency, which is the wise way ahead for Global Security. Russia is emerging as a new partner in Global governance, wanting to have its fair share.
Anan Luckman, Security Analyst.

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