The Consequences for Russia Begin

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday in his press conference (video can be found here, transcript can be found here), Russia's actions in Georgia will result in our allies, especially those in the Russian power sphere that Putin is trying to re-establish, quickly moving towards closer relations with us on all levels, including militarily.

The first manifestation of that occurred last night. USA Today reported that Poland has finally agreed to a missile defense compact with the United States, something that Putin furiously opposed: U.S., Poland agree to missile defense deal. The reason given by Poland? The offensive military actions by Russia in Georgia, of course.

Note the following statement by the Polish Foreign Minister, as reported by Bloomberg News last evening:

"We are now harvesting the fruit of many months of hard work," said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at a joint press conference with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Rood in Warsaw. "Only people of ill intent should fear this agreement."

As if on cue, the Russians have responded in a predictable way to the just announced missile compact, thus proving Sikorski's point:

A top Russian general said Friday that Poland's agreement to accept a U.S. missile interceptor base exposes the ex-communist nation to attack, possibly by nuclear weapons, the Interfax news agency reported.

..."Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike - 100 percent," Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff, was quoted as saying.

With that statement, Russia has officially entered the theater of the absurd. Putin will not use nuclear weapons unless attacked with nuclear weapons. Russia isn't functioning under a governing ideology that makes a self-destroying nuclear war, as long as the enemy is also destroyed, a fast-track to heaven. Russian are, fortunately, vested in their own survival - unlike a country such as, say, Iran.

Furthermore, this is a much different world than during the time of the last Soviet territorial expansion. Putin might have been successful in taking over Russia's internal press, but externally, and on the Internet, information flows freely. Russia does not have a self-sufficient closed economy anymore. The country needs the outside world.

Putin feels that as long as they control European oil and gas (the real aim of the invasion of Georgia), the West will bow to them. While some nations might in the short term, this will put energy self-sufficiency on the fast track for the rest of the world. Soon, Russia will find as its only allies and customers countries such as Iran, Venezuela, and Cuba. The first two countries don't need to buy oil from Russia - they have plenty of their own. Cuba has no money. The Russian petro-dollar bonanza will disappear.

Let's look closer at the USA Today article from yesterday, to see how Russia got itself into this mess:

Poland and the United States reached an agreement Thursday that will see a battery of American missiles established inside Poland, the prime minister said, announcing a plan that has infuriated Russia and raised the specter of an escalation of tension with the region's communist-era master.

The deal, which Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said was to be signed later Thursday in Warsaw by Poland and the United States, includes what he called a "mutual commitment" between the two nations - beyond that of NATO - to come to each other's assistance in case of danger.

That was an obvious reference to the force and ferocity with which Russia rolled into Georgia in recent days, taking the key city of Gori and apparently burning and destroying Georgian military outposts and airfields.

Tusk said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be too slow in coming to Poland's defense if Poland were threatened and that the bloc would take "days, weeks to start that machinery."

Notice that Polish Prime Minister Tusk is quite critical of NATO, recognizing that the defense treaty organization is too bloated to provide effective aid in the event of aggressive action by Russia similar to that taken by Putin in Georgia. That's a reference to the other half of this agreement, which promises a significant military upgrade package from the United States - a provision that was added to the agreement at the last moment.

This agreement will not prevent a Georgia-like invasion, of course. But it does prove that this Putin-directed attack will prod NATO members and other Western allies to request NATO or other friendly militaries to position assets and provide updated military technology to more countries, especially those that border Russia.

In the middle of July, the United States held joint military maneuvers with Georgia immediately outside of the Georgian capital. The South Ossetians waited until the U.S. military force (approx. 1500 Marines) left Georgia, at which time they started launching small attacks across their border against Georgian troops. It was designed to induce a reaction from the Georgian military, and that's exactly what happened.

On Wednesday, AEI held an event assessing what just happened in Georgia. Participating was Lt. Col. Bob Hamilton of the U.S. Army, who just returned from Tbilisi. The Lt. Colonel made the following observation:

Recently returned from a tour as the chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Hamilton explained that the American capacity-building program in Georgia has been focused on developing the skills necessary for conducting counterinsurgency and counterterrorism missions--not for prosecuting a "full-spectrum, maneuver war." An inexperienced senior leadership corps, limited command and control capabilities, and a severe numerical disadvantage against Russia further hindered the Georgian military. The small republic's armed forces were no match for those of their northern neighbor. "This was not a fair fight, and it was never going to be a fair fight," Hamilton said.

Future military training and capacity building will be more focused on repelling invaders, no doubt. And that will be the case with all of our Russia-bordering allies.

I'd encourage everyone to watch and read carefully Secretary Gates' full presser from yesterday, including the question and answer period. It's quite enlightening. There is one part that is a bit controversial, where Gates seemingly takes off the table any U.S. military option in Georgia. But in later questions, he refines that answer, making clear that his response was predicated on Russia doing what it had agreed to do in the ceasefire (which Russia has apparently not done). Gates also made clear that both he and the United States were doing everything in their power not to respond to Russia's aggressive rhetoric with aggressive rhetoric of our own.

Having said that, Gates also made clear that he felt that there should be major consequences for Russia. He stated that Georgia's NATO membership will be taken up again during the organizations regularly scheduled meeting in December, and made clear that he expected that updates from the U.S. military survey team now in Georgia, and their upcoming report, were going to be major factors in determining how the United States proceeds from here.

Gates also makes it clear the he feels that he and other United States officials were lied to during the development of this conflict, as they all were given assurances by their counterparts that Russia was not going outside South Ossetia into greater Georgia. When the Secretary was asked if he thought that Russia had been planning this all along, he paused and said, "I don't know".

Putin was betting on the West doing nothing in response to their aggression, as he thought would have certainly been the case if Barack Obama were President. But, contrary to what Putin might see on TV and read in the international press, Obama is neither in power nor inevitable. It's true that there probably will not be direct military engagement with the United States (unless Russia does something very, very stupid), but Putin seems to have underestimated the long-term significance of other potential consequences. The Russian Prime Minister felt that by punishing Georgia, other countries would turn away from the West and the United States. In addition, it's clear that Putin felt that he could intimidate the pro-Western government of Georgia into resigning, after which Russia would have installed a puppet government.

The Russian Prime Minister is going to be disappointed. Poland has just shown the world that nations under threat from Russia are going to move closer to the West, and quickly. The Georgian government remains in power, and the West is rallying around it. Military cooperation with Russia has just ceased. Economic and trade sanctions are threatened, and several existing arrangements will disintegrate (hopefully starting off with the G-8 agreement). The United States' missile defense shield will be deployed throughout Europe. Military ties to Western allies will be tightened. Western business investment in Russia will cease.

While Russia might be petro-dollar rich at the present moment, its greater economy is still in shambles and its infrastructure is disintegrating. The new wealth has mainly gone into Putin's military, and into the pockets of Russian power brokers. Based upon the Russian military's performance in Georgia, however, that investment does not look like it was well spent. Had the Georgians been equipped and trained properly (as they and other nations will be in the future), they would have been able to at the very least halt, if not outright repel the Russian troops.

Remember the old line about winning a battle, but losing a war. Putin might have succeeded in flexing his muscles a bit on the world stage, giving everyone a glimpse of the old Russian bear.

But at what long-term cost to his country?

Patrick Casey is the proprietor of the site