Georgia/Russia: A good cop emerges, but is that a tin badge?


This business of a U.S. ballistic-missile defense system in Poland is a long story, but if you’re still reading my posts on the Georgia conflict, you will almost certainly have noticed the bellicose reaction of a senior Russian general, who said:

“Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent,” Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

He noted Russia’s military doctrine sanctions the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them.” Nogovitsyn said that would include elements of any strategic deterrence system, according to Interfax.

That’s maybe not ideal, this threatening a nuclear war thing. But I’m struck by the reaction of Russia’s president (should I put quotes around that word? “President”?), Dmitri Medvedev, who said the U.S. deployment in Poland “is sad news for all who live on this densely populated continent, but it is not dramatic.”

I frankly don’t know what to make of the two quotations juxtaposed. My hunch is that if you think you do know, you’re faking. Things are moving quickly, both Russia and the U.S. and its allies are changing the equation every few hours, but there seem to be two very different messages going out. One question though: If I was the president of a big country and one of my top generals was recklessly threatening nuclear strikes, I’d sack him. Yet Nogovitsyn keeps his job. Does Medvedev approve of his messaging, or is he unable to discipline his generals? (Again, perhaps that one needs air quotes: ” ‘his’ generals.”)


Georgia/Russia: A good cop emerges, but is that a tin badge?

  1. Thanks for all the coverage on this issue Wells. I have tried not to comment b/c my famiy roots come from eastern europe(Lithuania), and I have mixed views on this issue.

    I am very interested in the internal politics of Dmitri Medvedev and V.Putin in all this.

    Eventualy Dmitri Medvedev will have to break from the Puppet label. But sacking a minster for saying Russia will nuke poland is not it(it would never happen IMHO just saber rattling russia style).

  2. Wells says…

    “Does Medvedev approve of his messaging, or is he unable to discipline his generals?”

    Why would he? “Messaging” this is classic example of the Russian bear poking his chest out.

    It’s like when Harper says he wants an election, when we all know that he want’s to govern as long as he can. But it backs the opps into a corner.

    The same thing goes with Russia, but on the bigger scale of Geo-politics.

  3. totally agreed.

    if the choice is a Putin-led dictatorship or a loose-cannonship of self-directing generals, maybe the Putin-led dictatorship ain’t the worst of all possible worlds.

  4. I was wondering earlier this week if the Russians were doing good/bad cop routine. When the invasion was first launched, the headlines were all about Putin. Then on Monday or Tuesday, can’t remember which, the headlines were about Medvedev wanting a ceasefire.

    You could argue the Russian general is just stating a fact. The armed services are not the greatest for quelling our unease.

    As an aside, I was out last night with some friends and were joined by people in their early 20’s. I am mid 30’s and we got around to talking about this situation and did I ever feel old. I was talking about cold war, can’t trust the russians, trying to figure out what they are up to … etc and the young ones were just staring at me incomprehensibly. They had no idea what I was on about.

  5. Not that it couldn’t be coordinated, but perhaps they think they have us so freaked out by this point that it doesn’t really matter what they say, as long as it’s a) inscrutable and b) creepy. Anything that has the desired effect of making all the paper in the State Department fly into the air at once.

    Russia nuking Poland is rather problematic from a prevailing-winds POV, no?

  6. According to the AP story, American officials are referring to their anti-missile system as one “meant to block missile attacks by rogue nations like Iran.”

    On his website, however, John McCain says that effective anti-missile systems will act “to hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China.”

    The Russians may not be the only ones sending out different messages.

  7. “But taken together these actions were bound to engender deep-seated feelings of national resentment among Russians, especially as, through the nineteen-nineties, they suffered an unprecedentedly rapid downward spiral. Even ordinary Russians find it mightily trying to be lectured on questions of sovereignty and moral diplomacy by the West … ”

    This passage touches on what I have been wondering about. How do the ordinary Russians view this? I have read some articles recently about China that claim the Chinese are bursting with nationalism and patriotism, they want to show the world how great they are, because they have been cut off from the wider-world for at least a seventy years.

    What do Russian people think about what’s happening in Georgia? I assume they are conflicted because it might be nice to see your country flexing its muscles a bit but their image is going to be tarnished in Western Europe where so many Russians now live.

  8. To repeat:- Russians don’t like Georgians.
    There is a history.

  9. It is hilarious to hear Pres Bush lecturing Russia on invading other countries. The U.S. invades countries on the other side of the world but don’t like Russia objecting to U.S. forces on thier border? The U.S. has never had to fight a war on their own turf like Russia has. I don’t think either Napoleon or Hitler ever walked the streets of Moscow but maybe ole Duby will be the first!

  10. He probably doesn’t know those guys were better War Presidents than he is. Maybe astonishing incuriosity has its benefits.

  11. The US should not add Georgia to NATO. Imagine if Georgia was in NATO today. We would be mobilizing a million soldiers to fight Russia to free Georgia.

    Georgia and Russia have a long history and NATO should be careful not to get in the middle of it.

    The ecruitment by NATO of former soviet bloc countries to the missile shield program or NATO is needlessly provactive. Russia judges these provaocative acts in the same way that the US viewed Soviet nukes in Cuba.

    Bush is playing a very dangerous game by antagonizing Russia.

  12. Alberta dude,

    I agree on letting Georgia hang in the wind, but I would point out here that former soviet bloc countries are REQUESTING their addition to missile defence – or at least the Ukraine just did (that should silence the “Putin as strategic genius theme – he may have won Ossetia, population 70,000, but he has just decidedly lost eastern europe).

    I am against “antagonizing Russia”, but it is hardly the case that Russia has a “sphere of influence” that encompasses all former Soviet countries. Indeed, the Ukraine elected Yuschenko, and have gone on a decidedly pro-western tilt – Ukraine and Poland emphatically do not want to be part of any neo-Soviet sphere.

    Indeed, a lack of clarity about where the line between western and Russian interests lies is precisely the kind of thing that is most likely to lead to wars – as it did most notably in Korea, and as the USSR’s Afghanistan war torpedoed detente. Poland is already a member of NATO, and the European Union – surely if Russia had designs on Poland the major provocations have already taken place.

  13. Not to be obtuse, but haven’t various factions of the US administration been threatening pre-emptive tactical nuclear strikes against Iran for the last three years? The Bush admin. has worked very hard to “normalize” the use of nukes, and I’m not surprised that someone listened.

  14. Russia’s 10,000 nuclear warheads is the only sphere of influence it needs to make me want to avoid this dangerous game.

    So what if old soviet bloc countries are asking to join NATO? Why do we want them to join? I don’t understand how it is in our national interest to commit ourselves to saving them from Russian invasion. We can commit to saving the countries we choose after they have been invaded (or not, in the case of Georgia. Or yes in the case of Kosovo or Kuwait) based on our national interests as they exist at the time.

  15. Right on, dude.

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