Russia flexes its muscles while swapping spies

William R. Hawkins
The mainstream media has reflected the Obama administration line that the Russian spy swap is a sign of improving relations between Washington and Moscow. The New York Times on July 9 reported the espionage case

Evoked memories of cold-war-style bargaining but underscored the new-era relationship between Washington and Moscow. President Obama has made the "reset" of Russian-American relations a top foreign policy priority, and the quiet collaboration over the spy scandal indicates that the Kremlin likewise values the warmer ties.

Washington Post story the same day took a more balanced, but still positive view,

The deal was expected to remove an irritant from the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has improved markedly under the Obama administration. But one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that "vestiges of an old Russia" are evident in the spying case. "Frankly, that's why we were as aggressive in rolling up this operation as we were," the official said.

Yet, the revelation of deep-cover Russian agents operating in the U.S. is not the only "vestiges of an old Russia" evident in Moscow's "post-Soviet" re-emergence as a global power. On June 29, Russia launched the Vostok-2010 (Orient-2010) war games in the Far East involving 20,000 troops, up to 70 combat aircraft and 30 warships. The exercises ran until July 8. Leading the Russian fleet was the nuclear powered guided missile heavy cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter-the-Great), the world's largest non-aircraft carrier warship with a displacement of 25,000 tons. The warship was designed to engage enemy capital ships and has been called in the Russian media a "killer of aircraft carriers." It is the U.S. Navy that is built around aircraft carriers.

On July 4, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, fresh from his "burger diplomacy" chat with President Barack Obama, arrived on board the Pyotr Veliky flagship to watch the naval exercise. "Russia was and remains a great naval power capable of accomplishing tasks in the problem regions and is ready to defend its interests," he declared.

One area of interest for Russia is the disputed South Kuril archipelago, called the "Northern Territories" by Japan. The Soviet Union seized these islands at the end of World War II. Tokyo protested when Russian forces conducted amphibious drills on one of the islands during the Vostok 2010 wargame.

Another Russian interest is the defense of North Korea. The recent exercises can be seen as a "show of force" supporting Pyongyang in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean corvette by a North Korean submarine in March. While the Russians were holding their naval exercise north of the Korean peninsula, China was conducting naval exercises south of the peninsula. Proposed U.S.-South Korean naval exercises have been postponed as the Obama administration has sought to lessen tensions in the region. This is also a vestige of an older era known as appeasement, when democracies faced with more assertive rivals fell back in disarray.

The contested theater today is Northeast Asia rather than Central Europe, but the United States, Japan and South Korea seem just as paralyzed by the threat of confrontation as England, France and Czechoslovakia were in the late 1930s. The challenge is being made at sea, the realm of allied superiority. But without the will to use their strength, the democracies will fail to protect their security against the rising capabilities of authoritarian rivals.

The mainstream media has reflected the Obama administration line that the Russian spy swap is a sign of improving relations between Washington and Moscow. The New York Times on July 9 reported the espionage case

Evoked memories of cold-war-style bargaining but underscored the new-era relationship between Washington and Moscow. President Obama has made the "reset" of Russian-American relations a top foreign policy priority, and the quiet collaboration over the spy scandal indicates that the Kremlin likewise values the warmer ties.

Washington Post story the same day took a more balanced, but still positive view,

The deal was expected to remove an irritant from the U.S.-Russia relationship, which has improved markedly under the Obama administration. But one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that "vestiges of an old Russia" are evident in the spying case. "Frankly, that's why we were as aggressive in rolling up this operation as we were," the official said.

Yet, the revelation of deep-cover Russian agents operating in the U.S. is not the only "vestiges of an old Russia" evident in Moscow's "post-Soviet" re-emergence as a global power. On June 29, Russia launched the Vostok-2010 (Orient-2010) war games in the Far East involving 20,000 troops, up to 70 combat aircraft and 30 warships. The exercises ran until July 8. Leading the Russian fleet was the nuclear powered guided missile heavy cruiser Pyotr Veliky (Peter-the-Great), the world's largest non-aircraft carrier warship with a displacement of 25,000 tons. The warship was designed to engage enemy capital ships and has been called in the Russian media a "killer of aircraft carriers." It is the U.S. Navy that is built around aircraft carriers.

On July 4, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, fresh from his "burger diplomacy" chat with President Barack Obama, arrived on board the Pyotr Veliky flagship to watch the naval exercise. "Russia was and remains a great naval power capable of accomplishing tasks in the problem regions and is ready to defend its interests," he declared.

One area of interest for Russia is the disputed South Kuril archipelago, called the "Northern Territories" by Japan. The Soviet Union seized these islands at the end of World War II. Tokyo protested when Russian forces conducted amphibious drills on one of the islands during the Vostok 2010 wargame.

Another Russian interest is the defense of North Korea. The recent exercises can be seen as a "show of force" supporting Pyongyang in the wake of the sinking of a South Korean corvette by a North Korean submarine in March. While the Russians were holding their naval exercise north of the Korean peninsula, China was conducting naval exercises south of the peninsula. Proposed U.S.-South Korean naval exercises have been postponed as the Obama administration has sought to lessen tensions in the region. This is also a vestige of an older era known as appeasement, when democracies faced with more assertive rivals fell back in disarray.

The contested theater today is Northeast Asia rather than Central Europe, but the United States, Japan and South Korea seem just as paralyzed by the threat of confrontation as England, France and Czechoslovakia were in the late 1930s. The challenge is being made at sea, the realm of allied superiority. But without the will to use their strength, the democracies will fail to protect their security against the rising capabilities of authoritarian rivals.