Thursday, March 10, 2005

The New and Improved Cold War
The New and Improved Cold War

March 08, 2005
Sara Townsley
Ah, the Soviets. Who doesn't miss 'em? The era of global terrorist networks is almost enough to make me nostalgic for the halcyon days of mutually assured destruction. I fondly recall how my high school government teacher danced a jig on his desk the day the Berlin Wall came down, bursting with glee at the demise of the "Russian commie pinko freaks," as he commonly referred to them. But is the Cold War really over?

Recent developments in the Soviet Union -- I mean, ah, Russia -- suggest that the same old evil empire is up to the same old tricks. From the suppression of political freedom, to consolidation of state control over the press, to convulsions of renewed anti-Semitism, the stink of recycled Communist totalitarianism hangs thick in the air. Of particular concern is Putin's support for our enemies and flagrant disregard for U.S. security, in what's shaping up to feel like a good old-fashioned proxy war.

Vladimir Putin served 16 years in the KGB, much of which was spent in the Soviet satellite state of East Germany. Later, Putin was head of the umpteenth iteration of the KGB, the FSB, for the year prior to succeeding Boris Yeltsin as President of Russia in 1999. Like many wistful, jealous autocrats whose primary strategy to regain past glory is to undermine everything the U.S. does (I'm looking at you, Eurabia), Putin seems real cheerful about antagonizing our interests at every possible turn.

The re-Sovietization trend is apparent both domestically and abroad. After the Beslan massacre, Putin's "anti-terror" measures included eliminating elections for regional governorships, as well as restraining parliamentary democracy at the national level. A few weeks ago, Moscow officials announced that new statues of Stalin would be erected in Moscow and near the Ukrainian border.

Curiously, this announcement came just after Viktor Yuschenko, a Western-oriented democrat, won the election for Prime Minister in the Ukraine -- defeating the "ex"-Soviet incumbent, Viktor Yanukovich. This rehabilitation of Stalin came shortly after it emerged that the KGB -- I mean, the FSB -- was likely involved in the attempt to "neutralize" Yuschenko in September by poisoning him with an odd choice of toxins. A statue of Stalin looming over the border will serve as a silent reminder to disobedient Ukrainians of the Great Famine of the 1930s, in which Stalin starved over six million of his own people.

And the Soviets -- I mean, Russians -- aren't playing any nicer on the international scene. Putin's opposition to the Iraq war was comprehensible only from the standpoint of Soviet spheres of influence, as the Middle East was traditionally the U.S.S.R.'s stomping grounds. After watching young conscripts get ground up in Afghanistan for nine years, Putin might have felt a tad unmanned when our guys took the place in three weeks. While one can only speculate as to Putin's motivations, the global war on terror has witnessed a revival of the traditional Soviet objective of subverting U.S. security.

Right up to and even after the Iraq war was underway, our Russian "friends" were arming Saddam, all in brazen violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Prior to the invasion, Russian military advisors were on the ground to shred records of arms deals, and to help Saddam prepare his defenses.

Besides plenty of Soviet (pre-1991) munitions, U.S. troops found all kinds of interesting Russian military equipment in Iraq when we arrived in 2003. Russian GPS jammers ringed Baghdad, and Russian night vision goggles and anti-tank guided missiles helped add to the U.S. body count.

Just last week, John Shaw, the former deputy undersecretary for international technology security, confirmed that Russian Spetsnatz units moved WMDs out of Iraq before the war, stashing Saddam's arsenal in Syria and Lebanon. This matches satellite surveillance that showed extensive large-vehicle traffic crossing the Syrian border prior to the war. And, Saddam paid kickbacks to at least 46 Russian companies and individuals out of Oil-For-Food proceeds.

Russia's support for a nuclear Iran is even more disturbing. As one report puts it, Putin has "undertaken to secure all of Iran's nuclear industry from top to bottom -- from the installation of sophisticated equipment to military planning and operational cooperation -- against American or Israeli attack," to include nuclear facilities, laser complexes, radars and two surveillance satellites to be launched on Iran's behalf next month. But Iran has been a Soviet client state of sorts since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, so maybe we shouldn't be so surprised.

Now that Russia has seen the Bushehr and Isfahan projects to completion, they've agreed to supply Iran with nuclear fuel. In exchange, the Iranians are to return the spent fuel to Russia, which could otherwise be processed to manufacture weapons. Just two days ago, Iran announced that it has indeed been pursuing a secret nuclear program -- though they comically maintain, and Eurocrats comically believe, that it's for "peaceful" purposes. Expect lurid headlines about the Wacko Jacko trial while truckloads of spent fuel never make it back to Russia.

Finally, it wouldn't be the Cold War without some cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Until last month, we had a mole inside Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's office who was able to transmit, in real-time, the innermost discussions of the mullahs. And they weren't talking about how much vaccum-cleaning their wives could do with peaceful nuclear energy. The head of the Cultural Heritage Council, and his family, are likely on the run, if not murdered by now. Who outed him? One seasoned analyst suspects the Russians -- or the French.

Putin's recent meeting with President Bush in Bratislava ended with the usual diplomatic charade. Putin reaffirmed his view that North Korea and Iran should not have nuclear weapons, and ruled out any turn toward totalitarianism. Well, that's a relief. For a minute there, I almost thought the Soviet Premier -- I mean, the Russian president -- can't be trusted.

Sara Townsley is a graduate student in BMCB.