Russia's new October
Archived Articles 07 Dec 2007  EWR
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"One man with one gun can control 100 without one," V.I. Lenin once said. The man who gave birth to Soviet Russia believed that strength is first and foremost a means of control, not of war. Exactly 90 years after the October Revolution — which actually occurred on Nov. 7, 1917 — Russia's strategy echoes Lenin's advice.

Right now, world attention is focused on Russia's stunning parliamentary election. Last month, however, other major news came from Russia. After several months of tension and negotiations, on Nov. 7 Russian President Vladimir Putin decided his country would withdraw Dec. 12 from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, seen as a cornerstone of Europe's defense. That move is a protest against a missile shield NATO plans to establish in Eastern Europe to defend against rogue states such as Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Putin objects to the missile shield because interceptor missiles would be located in Poland and a radar system would be stationed in the Czech Republic. Mr. Putin sees this missile shield as a threat to Russia and has criticized those who support it as trying to build a unipolar world while also breaking Russia's unity.

"My sacred duty is to bring together the Russian people, unite the people around clear tasks," Mr. Putin declared. "We have one Fatherland, one people and a common future." Rising from the Soviet Union's ashes after a decade of hardship, facing the United States, cooperating with China, flirting with India, and worrying the European Union, Mr. Putin has set up a straightforward strategy: Russia must be a world power.

Russia began its world power pursuit with an underwater territory conquest. A struggle over energy supplies resulted in a Russian submarine team planting a Russian flag on the seabed of the North Pole on Aug. 2. On Oct. 30, Russia filed a claim to obtain control of the huge oil reserves, gas and precious stones under the Lomonosov Ridge, which is considered an extension of the Siberian Continental Shelf. Such a conquest could make Russia the world's biggest oil exporter.

Building deterrence is another element of Russia's quest to become a world power. Already Russia's military arsenal is being modernized and the three elements of a nuclear triad are being developed. The first element of this triad is nuclear missiles. On Oct. 18, Mr. Putin declared Russia was working on new types of nuclear weapons, describing the program as "grandiose." Russia has already launched intercontinental ballistic missiles. And in September, the world's most powerful vacuum bomb — called the "Father of all bombs" — was tested with dreadful efficiency.

The second element of the triad is that nuclear submarines are being built and improved. On June 2, a Russian submarine launched an intercontinental missile to show its abilities. Russia is also looking forward to expanding its navy action zones, begun with an Aug. 3 project to establish naval bases in the Mediterranean, especially in Syria.

The third element of the triad is strategic bombers. On July 20, bombers flew toward Norway and Guam, resuming Cold War practices. This was confirmed by Mr. Putin on Aug. 11 while inaugurating a new radar station near St. Petersburg. It is the first stage of an air defense program to be in place by 2015. This move was underscored by the flights of 14 strategic bombers, which simultaneously took off on Aug. 17.

If deterrence is important, intelligence is what makes the difference between world powers — and Russian spies are already on duty. On Aug. 19, Mr. Putin stated that the SVR, the foreign intelligence service, heir of the KGB, was a key institution to Russia's international power. U.S. and British intelligence have confirmed that Russian spying activities in America have returned to Cold War levels.

Whatever its strength as a country, Russia has judged that being alone is dangerous, and thus believes it also needs an alliance. With the Warsaw Pact long gone, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may be a good substitution. The SCO gathers Russia, China and four Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — amounting to 1.5 billion people. Four other countries are officially observers: India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia, of which the latter three have applied for full membership and could add another 233 million people.

Were India to join, the SCO could reach 2.6 billion people. The SCO aims at strengthening international peace and security and is considered a counterweight to NATO. Russia and China organized the biggest joint exercise Aug. 17, which involved 7,500 soldiers in a war game in Chebarkul, Russia and showed deep determination to impress the rest of the world.

Yet waging war is no longer a soldier's monopoly. Internet warfare has begun. Consider the example of a cyber attack that was launched against Estonia after the Baltic country wanted to remove the Bronze Soldier, a Soviet World War II memorial, from its capital, Tallinn. Although it has denied any connection, Russia is thought to be behind the sabotage.

For three difficult weeks, from April to May, the Internet was blocked, clearly hurting Estonia's economy. Estonia's defense minister compared these attacks to those against the United States on September 11, 2001. Though NATO was extremely concerned, it could not act concretely since cyber attacks are not yet considered military actions. Russia, meanwhile, was demonstrated its ability and precision in in launching such attacks.

Conquest, deterrence, intelligence, alliance and Internet warfare: Ninety years after the October Revolution, a new Russian era has begun. Thanks to Vladimir Putin, Russians have found big sticks; now they can speak softly.


Sylvain Charat is a recent doctoral graduate from the University of the Sorbonne, Paris, director of policy studies for the French think tank Eurolib Network, and is a contributing scholar for the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City (Pa.) College.
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