STRATFOR has never said it would be cheap or easy for the United States to push back against Russia's resurgence especially its former Soviet states. Compared to the United States, which is literally half a world away, Russia dominates its former Soviet states through a myriad of tools and levers, including politics, energy, military, social permeation and the security services. Given that, Tuesday saw the United States move forward on a couple of tactics that suggest that Washington is aware that should it want to contain Russia, it will have to work at it.
The United States made military moves in two critical pressure points bordering Russia the two bordering areas that Russia does not have under its control. The first involved joint American-Georgian naval exercises off Georgia's Black Sea Coast. The U.S. Navy has now been in Georgia for nearly a week. It made a port call in Poti last Thursday, a stop in Batumi on Monday, and conducted joint maneuvers on Tuesday. The second move took place in the Baltics, as NATO announced that it would carry out flight training exercises over Baltic territory on March 17.
Neither of these moves is particularly robust, but they symbolize what the United States will have to do to counter Russia, and they signal to Moscow that Washington is thinking ahead. But this is a step-by-step process for the United States, and not an easy one.
"The possible drawdown in Iraq would free up Washington's focus, giving it much more time to think about other problems, like Russia."
The first issue would be to gain some bandwidth meaning that the United States has to wrap up its consuming obligations in the Islamic world. This step is in progress, but could face some major bumps along the road. The United States is on the front end of wrapping up its troop commitment in Iraq. Theoretically, 50,000 troops could be freed up by the end of this summer though there are some indications this could be slowed down. The possible drawdown in Iraq would also free up Washington's focus as well, giving it much more time to think about other problems, like Russia.
Then the United States would need to firm up NATO within the Russian sphere of influence. This part is not highly difficult, but the United States will need a raft of bilateral defense deals with border region states for it to be successful. Outside the confines of NATO, the United States already has official bilateral military deals with Poland, the Baltic states and Georgia all Russia's sore spots. It is these bilateral deals that allow the United States to hold joint military exercises with these countries whenever it needs to remind Russia that Washington is still a player in the region. But NATO and the United States would need to stand by such commitments, especially in case any of these states either within or under the protection of NATO are compromised by Russia such as in the 2008 war with Georgia.
This leads to the next step in which the United States needs forward stationing of ground troops to contain Russia. This was seen during the Cold War when U.S. troops in Germany and Turkey contained the Soviet Union on its western and southern flanks. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States has moved that line to contain Russia inside the former Soviet sphere with logistical "lily pad" bases opening in Romania and Bulgaria. The United States is on the verge of taking it a step further by moving Patriot air defense missiles into Poland, but has yet to make overtures of stationing U.S. troops in more vulnerable Georgia or the Baltics. The Patriots in Poland, though important symbolically, are merely a token step. Truly countering Russia in these places requires brigades of combat troops, not a battery of air defense missiles. The United States has not indicated that it intends to make this move any time soon, though holding exercises in these countries does show that Washington is aware of the need, especially as Russia builds up its own forces on the Baltic border and inside Georgia's secessionist regions.
But a major problem stands in the way of the United States taking any significant steps toward attempting to roll back Russia. Any or all of the above plans are contingent upon the United States not needing Russia to get other aspects of its foreign policy accomplished. Even with more bandwidth gained from pulling out of Iraq, the United States is still locked in a dangerous standoff with Iran, and is entrenched in a war in Afghanistan. The United States needs Russia's help with both situations. Moreover, they are situations that Russia can make much worse for the United States should it choose to do so. The United States has not crossed that line, but it is certainly taking actions that Moscow is watching closely not only for signs of lines being crossed, but in anticipation of American behavior years into the future when Iran and Afghanistan may no longer overburden American bandwidth.
www.stratfor.com March 3, 2010
The U.S. Instigates Attempts at Containing Russia