Russia’s Christmas message to Obama: We will use force

By John Burke | Related entries in Barack, Foreign Policy, Russia

For the second time since the Barack Obama won the U.S. Presidential election, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a none-too-subtle threat aimed at his soon-to-be American counterpart.

Medvedev — who is starting to make his patron, the former KGB apparatchik, Vladimir Putin, look soft — warned that Russia was prepared to use force to secure unspecified “interests” and appeared to link a contemplated Russian cutoff of natural gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe with fierce Russian opposition to further expansion of NATO.

As reported by Reuters:

In an end-of-year interview that signaled an uncompromising stance toward U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration, Medvedev said Russia’s war with Georgia in August showed that tough action was sometimes unavoidable. “Russia’s interests must be secured by all means available, this is my deep conviction. First of all, by international and legal tools … but, when necessary, by using an element of force,” Medvedev said in the interview, which was shown on Russia’s main television stations.

Further expansion of NATO membership is “inadmissible”:

In the interview, a transcript of which was posted on Medvedev’s official Internet site, he also attacked long-term plans by the NATO alliance to expand eastwards by allowing ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia to join.

“Today I do indeed feel an attempt to ‘put Russia in its place’. And if, sometime ago, when Russia was in a quite different situation, such attempts could still yield some results, in today’s situation….this is simply inadmissible.”

He threatened Ukraine with sanctions if it failed to pay some $2 billion Moscow says it owes for gas. Russia has said it may cut off supplies to its neighbor from January 1, potentially disrupting gas deliveries via Ukraine to European states.

The threatened gas cut off supposedly arises from a “contract dispute,” and Gazprom, the Russian gas supplier, claims that it will continue to deliver the “full volume” of gas destined for EU countries who receive the fuel from pipelines across Ukraine. However, the same assurance was given in January 2006 when Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine using a similar business excuse. The result was, not surprisingly, that much of the gas never reached the EU, creating shortages of 20 to 50 percent in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria in the middle of a freezing winter.

Russia’s geopolitical aims were then and are now to intimidate Western-leaning people and leaders in Ukraine, reminding them who’s boss, and to warn the West to stay out of Russia’s self-declared “sphere of influence.”

Now, as a new administration prepares to take over in Washington, Medvedev is saying clearly if indirectly that Russia is prepared to fight — as it did in Georgia — to secure its “interests,” which unquestionably include an interest in binding Ukraine to Russia, whether or not it wishes to be bound.

As readers may recall, Medvedev first snarled at Obama the day after the American election when he ratcheted up Russia’s threat to station missiles near the Polish border, if the U.S. and Poland went ahead with plans to install components of an anti-missile system (designed to thwart Iranian intentions) on Polish territory.

To be sure, backed off his missile posturing the following week, and since has issued more diplomatic statements occasionally, expressing hopes for warm feelings between Russia and the new American President. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to view this Ukraine gambit, with the prospect of a January mini-crisis in central Europe over essential fuel, as anything but a deliberate effort to test Obama.

It’s not the only test the new White House team will face, but it’s not small potatoes. Russia may have its “interests” in reasserting control over what it calls its “near abroad,” but the U.S., the West, and not least, the Ukrainian people have an interest too — in moving Ukraine forward as the fully sovereign, prosperous and democratic nation it deserves to be.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 24th, 2008 and is filed under Barack, Foreign Policy, Russia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

12 Responses to “Russia’s Christmas message to Obama: We will use force”

  1. Alex Says:

    Russia has promoted an idea of a multi-polar power balance in the world, which at a time of Bush years many in the US welcomed (progressives and intellectuals the most). Will be interesting to see if all these who voted for “Change” voted for Change to Good Old Days or they actually want to the new world order to be more just, open and equal among all countries. Because, I am convinced, you can’t sustain a democratic paradise to enjoy by citizens of a single country (I mean us) at the time of rapidly expanding, economically and socially united world . My suggestion is simple – we should work with Russia no matter what it do, and not try to corner it in the corner with NATO expansion. Russia won’t attack us directly, and bad leaders happens everywhere, as we in the US don’t need any more of fresh reminders

  2. TerenceC Says:

    Russia is weak militarily, has an economy in the toilet, enormous natural resources, shares a huge border with China, and is owed billions by NATO countries that could easily kick their butts in a shooting war. They don’t have any choice except to talk tough. The Chinese will come streaming across that border for oil at some point, it’s too close and too easy a target. Russia needs to play nice with NATO and the US and they know it. This is just “positioning” as insecurity is masked for toughness.

  3. Ryan Says:

    This article is ridiculous in assumptions, especially the ending.

    “Russia may have its “interests” in reasserting control over what it calls its “near abroad,” but the U.S., the West, and not least, the Ukrainian people have an interest too — in moving Ukraine forward as the fully sovereign, prosperous and democratic nation it deserves to be.”

    How can anybody take that serious? The Orange revolution was exactly the same as the Rose revolution, in that the USA installed a ‘crook & liar’ as a ‘would be dictator’. It was that Georgian Prez who started shelling South Ossetia back in August, which caused Russian retaliation; not the other way around.

    Take a look at Ukraine’s currency (in the toilet) & economy (in shambles). Was that the fault of Russia? No, it’s because of capitalist reforms brought-on by the IMF & World Bank… and we all know who the wizard is behind the curtain of that operation, don’t we?

    Ukraine is moving towards sovereignty, prosperity & democracy under direction from the USA? Yeah right!

  4. Marc Krizack Says:

    The US’s post cold war policy must be understood as just that: Cleaning up after the cold war. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Neocons view was that the US should move as rapidly as possible into the ensuing vacuum. But this was viewed from the vantage of power rather than diplomacy, and from the traditional view that US national interests should (and could only) be promoted through military and economic expansion at the expense of other nations. So, without opposition, the Neocons promoted re-militarization after the Clinton years. (Co-incidentally, they just happened to also buy up at bargain basement prices the shares of military-industrialists such as Boeing, Lockheed and others most Americans have not even heard of.) But the policy bogged down in Iraq, the capitalist ideological coup de grace of privatization led to massive popular rejection of collaborationist regimes all over the world, in particular throughout most of South America, and the rest of the world began to ally against the U.S. The ridiculous policy of extending NATO to Eastern Europe and Georgia and the patently absurd claim that missile and radar emplacements in Poland and the Czech Republic were aimed towards Iran was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So, it would be a huge mistake to scoff at the Russian response as being just the rumblings of evil, dictatorial, nationalists. They have also repeatedly spoken of working collaboratively and in partnership with the US. Will the Obama policy toward Russia be conciliatory and try to undo the damage caused by the Neocons? Or will it continue in this vein. The second course would be disastrous because it would immediately drain much of the good will gained from the Obama election and also lead to escalating military expenditures that are both wasteful and unsupportable during this grave economic crisis.

  5. Scott Gregory Says:

    The U.S. corporate-military complex is already positioning itself to fabricate a crisis in Eastern Europe early in the Obama Presidency. The Russians have every reason to oppose U.S. missile bases in Poland and Czech republic, as they understand that the justification of an anti-Iranian missile defense is absurd politically and also in terms of the true technical performance of the missile defense systems; the bases will really be used to launch first-strike nukes against Moscow, their proximity (with launch to detonate time being only minutes) is such that the Moscow leadership would not have time to formulate a response.
    Russia will go to war to stop such missile bases. The governments of Poland and Czech republic are placing their people at great risk for absolutely no cause. Left to themselves (i.e., no more velvet revolutions, no Georgia-type invasions, no harm to Russian nationals in former Soviet Republics) etc.) Russia would leave the former soviet republics alone. I am quite sure of that, as that is what they were doing and planned to do prior to the provocations of the Bush era.

  6. Jim S Says:

    Marc,

    This assertion

    They have also repeatedly spoken of working collaboratively and in partnership with the US.

    is really out of date. They haven’t spoken this way for years now. I think that kind of talk went out of fashion in Russia about five years ago.

  7. JK Says:

    John, This post is wrong and dangerously misleading in both its content and its conclusions.

    When you, while referring to the dangerously destabilizing missile systems to be put in Poland and the Czech Republic (against the will of their citizens) assert (without noting how preposterous the claim is) that they are “designed to thwart Iranian intentions” you lose all credibility other than a purveyor of deadly and false propaganda.

    All genuinely independent experts and analysts scoff at this preposterous claim. It is clear that these systems not far from Russia’s border are aimed at Russia not Iran (who has neither missiles capable of that distance or a nuclear weapons program) as part of an offensive first strike capability and the coercive hegemony that would come with it.

    Either you are asleep at the wheel (on this post) or you are a dangerous willing participant in the propaganda of false pretense that threatens all of us and the way of life of the people worldwide.

    Peace,
    JK

  8. Den Valdron Says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. So the Russians are now saying that they’re prepared to use force in defense of what they see as their vital interests? So what?

    What has been presented as a shocking new aggressive posture for the Russians is actually SOP for the US of A. Consider that during the Bush era, the United States has invaded at least two countries (Iraq and Afghanistan), supported and backed invasions of two other countries by proxy states (Lebanon and Somalia), has involved itself in direct military raids or actions in two more countries (Yemen and Pakistan), has supported proxies in military raids upon other countries (Syria and Ecuador), has repeatedly threatened to use force, potentially up to nuclear weapons, on another country (Iran), and has been deeply involved in coups or coup attempts in two more countries. (Haiti and Venezuala). Recap: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Haiti, Venezuala and Ecuador.

    Under Bill Clinton, we merely had raids on Sudan and Afghanistan, intervention in Somalia, war in Kosovo and Serbia and intervention in Haiti.
    George H.W. Bush, of course, brought us Somalia, a brief war with Panama and the Gulf War. Reagan brought us dirty wars in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Grenada, Lebanon and Libya.

    Anyone see a pattern?

    Look, the point of this is not to bemoan how the USA is always pissing in other peoples breakfast cereal. The point is that any large powerful country will always be prepared to use force in order to advance or protect its interests. That’s definitely the US, its also Britain, France, China and Russia.

    I suppose its rude of the Russians to say so outright. But then again, we’ve basically threatened Iran with nuclear strikes.

    On the larger front, I would tend to see Russia’s more bellicose public stand as a response to their own perceptions of internal weakness. Basically, their economy is still playing catch up, oil and gas prices have fallen, their leverage is down… so all they got at the moment is talking tough.

    No big deal.

  9. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    This thread is enlightening. I guess since Bush says up, we must say down. Progressives have to pledge solidarity with Putin now? The republic of Georgia and Ukraine are run by NeoCon Warmongers? We should support the plight of the Ultra-nationalist, corporatist, expansionist Russia where the government controls the media?

    Left to themselves (i.e., no more velvet revolutions, no Georgia-type invasions, no harm to Russian nationals in former Soviet Republics) etc.)

    Damn those eastern Europeans with their desire for autonomy, democracy and human rights. If they would only roll over and allow themselves to be shot by ultra-nationalist russian militias, or become puppets of Moscow like the good-ole days, none of this would happen.

    Fantasitic. Thanks for the brave new world guys.

  10. Jim S Says:

    I’m sorry, JK, but no truly independent analyst thinks that the “missile defense system” is actually capable of making a dent in the kind of overwhelming numbers of missiles that Russia would use in any kind of conflict where they would come into play. The system is in fact a waste of our taxpayer money because of its limited abilities. So limited that in fact it gives the lie to the kind of claims you are making. In addition even as you speak out claiming that the systems are placed against the will of the people can you acknowledge that in fact most of these countries are in fact perfectly capable of tossing the politicians who agreed to providing bases for the missiles out on their ears come next election? Of course they can.

  11. JK Says:

    Jim S,
    You’re wrong on this one.

    You are right about the waste of money in terms of our national defense. All use of the US military (and clandestine armed forces) in other countries since WWII has been a great waste of money, and has been conducted under false pretense for transnational corporations, not for any benefit to the American people or the people in the countries being attacked.

    It is true that (as a defense) these missile systems have limited abilities and are a waste of money for that purpose. Defense however was never their purpose. First Strike capability, wars of Aggression, US hegemony, and the incessant acquisition of capabilities to put fire-power on targets in the shortest possible time was, and is the goal. The Reagan star-wars program, I’m sure you know, was not for defense but for space based platforms able to launch 1st strikes in seconds rather than hours.

    The “crazies” , as the VIPs (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) members refer to those promoting wars and war crimes in the Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations, argued strongly during the Reagan administration that the US could successfully pull off a nuclear first strike against Russia. The push to do this was of course insane, not to mention evil, but so is everything this crowd has succeeded in convincing these presidents to do.

    As soon as the wall fell (more than 15 years ago) the clandestine forces of the secret US government began the acquisition and emplacement of as many puppet governments as possible in the countries bordering Russia.

    The orange revolution in Ukraine, the rose revolution in Georgia and most, if not all, of the “so called” elections in Eastern Europe have been the results of coordinated US operations but primarily those the CIA.

    Russia is now ringed by US puppet states. The now exposed hand of the US in the massive attack by Georgia on the civilians of South Ossetia and the murdering of the Russian peace keepers was to force Russia to respond so that the Bush regime could market its protection racket to Poland, the Ukraine and others. Russia can no more accept missiles in bordering countries than the United States could allow Russian missiles to be placed in Canada or Mexico. They could strike their targets before the US could respond.

    It is naïve to believe that the civilian populations can remove these leaders when the leaders control the media (information) and the US helps with whatever black bag tasks are needed to keep the puppets in place. Bush 43 lost both the electoral and popular votes in 2000 and 2004 and yet the significant majority of the US citizenry could not keep him out of office or throw him out due to the massive coordinated nation-wide election rigging pushed by the unindicted veteran felons of Nixon’s “Creep” (Committee to re-elect the president). The CIA has been interfering in, and rigging, elections in weaker countries from the time it was created and we have been suffering the blow-back by having all the techniques learned used to manipulate our own elections. The people of Central America learned that if the US candidate loses, then the death squads return. Ask the Palestinians how their election of Hamas candidates worked out for them.

    Polls in Poland and the Czech Republic have shown that the vast majority of their citizens are against allowing these US systems and resent the danger that they pose to their families.

    If you had to guess which of two countries is the ambitious aggressor, would you guess the country that has over 700 military bases in over 120 countries around the world and has averaged attacking more than one country per year for over a century? Or would you guess the country that does not have a single military base outside their borders.

    Peace,
    JK

  12. JK Says:

    Jim S,

    Thought you might be interested in this comment at Antiwar.com re: US Military Juggernaut unrelenting quest for a first strike:

    “According to former Trident missile engineer Bob Aldridge-www.plrc.org-the Pentagon´s strategy for Nuclear War is a coordinated First Strike attack on Russian and Chinese submarines and missile silos, command centres, and bomber bases. According to Bob Aldridge the US Navy can track and destroy all enemy submarines simultaneously.
    Please see the article by Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, “The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy”, in the 2006 March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.
    According to former Trident missile engineer Bob Aldridge the US aims to achieve a disarming, unanswerable first-strike capability. In his view, the deployment of the RS-24 missiles won´t stop the US from achieving a First-Strike Capability.”
    “The Russians may have no choice but implementing Launch On Warning.”

    Peace,
    JK

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