On 1 March 2018 President Vladimir Putin dressed a joint sitting of the Russian Parliament in what amounted to a State of the Union address. The speech by Putin was typically calm and comprehensive. In the speech he’s announced a wide range of social and economic measures. These included proposals to tackle poverty, labour reforms, demographic issues, infrastructure development, upgrading transport links as part of the hugely important belt and road initiative being propelled by China, development of state of the art of scientific centres, and improving health care to all citizens and particularly those in rural areas.
Putin also drew attention to the record high levels of agricultural production. Russia’s decision to be entirely GMO free will undoubtedly lead to further demand for Russian agricultural products. That decision was naturally very unwelcome to Monsanto and like companies. The deleterious consequences of GMO products are increasingly recognised in communities around the world. Being GMO free will be a competitive advantage.
A relatively small portion of Putin’s speech was devoted to military matters, but it is this component that has been seized upon by the western media. That coverage has ranged from the near hysterical to the outright skeptical. Almost none of the media coverage reflected an understanding of the Russian announcements and in particular few recognised the implications of the announcements made by Mr Putin for the geopolitical balance of power in the world.
Even fewer put Mr Putin’s announcement into its proper historical context, preferring instead to use inaccurate and pejorative epithets such as “boasts” or “threats” by the Russians toward United States and Europe. Typically there was a complete misrepresentation of Mr Putin’s character. As authoritative commentators such as Stephen Cohen and Gilbert Doctorow have repeatedly pointed out, Mr Putin is essentially a cautious man and rarely if ever makes statements without a solid factual basis.
Western commentators for the most part ignored Mr Putin’s speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007, which would rank as one of the most important geopolitical speeches in the 21st century to date. For those few who did pay attention, the March 2018 speech would be seeing as a logical continuation of the earlier themes that Mr Putin had developed.
The specific military developments noted by Mr Putin included the following key items. It should be noted that the level of technical expertise achieved by the Russians was done with a total military budget that is less then the increase in the United States defence budget for the coming fiscal year over the current year.
– the development of a new heavy ICBM known as the RS-28 Sarmat. It has a range that encompasses the entire planet, has multiple independently targetable warheads, and it is impervious to all known Western missile defence systems.-
– a hypersonic missile weapon system with a 2000 km range. Launched from an aircraft it reaches a maximum speed of Mach 10. It can be fitted with a nuclear warhead. Code-named Kinzhal it renders all existing naval fleets obsolete.
This is of particular importance to the US Navy, which relies heavily on its aircraft carrier based fleets for power projection. They are no longer anything more than expensive floating ducks.
– a hypersonic gliding warhead that can outmanoeuvre existing missile defence systems. It has a maximum speed of Mach 20. It is code named Avangard.
These developments are on top of Russia’s existing S-400 anti-missile defence system, itself vastly superior to anything in the western defensive armoury. It has recently been provided to Turkey (a NATO member) and China and is being actively considered by a number of other countries who have traditionally bought their weaponry from the United States.
A measure of American sensitivity on this point as evidenced by their threatening Iraq with sanctions should that country proceed with its proposed purchases of the S-400 system. The rich irony of the American position escaped the local media.
The net effect of these developments is that the entirety of Russian territory is less vulnerable to attack than any other country, and that it’s retaliatory capabilities have the capacity to devastate any other nation foolish enough to attack Russia.
As noted above the response of the western media was entirely predictable. The Russian announcement has been variously described as “another example of Russian aggression”, “a threat to the security of the west,” and a “threat to start a new arms race” and so on.
This is manifestly not the case. It is more accurately described as a Russian response to more than 20 years of aggressive moves by the United States against Russia. As long ago as 2002 the United States unilaterally abandoned the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and has essentially disregarded the concerns of multiple countries over its aggressive foreign policy initiatives including, but not limited to, the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and causing the destruction either directly or through its proxies of Libya and Yemen.
The United States has constantly declared that Russia and China are not merely geopolitical rivals but constitute a strategic threat to the United States. Throughout the 21st century Russia has consistently warned against the consequences of American foreign policy. At the 2007 Munich conference, Putin made an important speech, the message in which has been consistently ignored by the west.
In that speech he warned against the United States’ desire for a unipolar world, which Putin described as “pernicious not only for those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself, because it destroys itself from within.”
The historical context for this speech had two important components. George H W Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev had reached an agreement about the peaceful reunification of Germany. It included a promise by Bush that NATO would “not advance east by one inch”.
Germany was reunited, the Soviet Union split into separate sovereign states, and the Warsaw pact was disbanded. President Clinton did not honour Bush’s promise. NATO has progressively expended eastward ever since. United States military bases are now on Russia’s borders. In 2014 an American organized coup in Ukraine installed an anti-Russian puppet government. A major objective of that coup was for the Americans to take over the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea.
The people of Crimea thwarted that objective themselves by overwhelmingly voting for reunification with Russia (from whom it had been separated in 1954 by the unilateral action of the then Soviet president Khrushchev). The Crimean’s democratic expression of their preference to be reunited with Russia was entirely consistent with the United Nations Charter. Nonetheless it has been falsely vilified as an example of “Russian aggression” and consistently described as an “annexation” by the western media ever since.
In 2002 as noted above the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 anti ballistic missile treaty. That treaty had been an important guarantee of relative stability between the nuclear-armed powers under the rubric of mutually assured destruction (MAD). No nation had nuclear superiority and could not start a war without themselves being annihilated.
The whole thrust of US policy since then has been to try and reach nuclear superiority, thereby making a first strike policy a nominally viable option. To describe such a policy as rational would be a massive overstatement.
The United States has shown a similar indifference to other existing nuclear weapons treaties. There are two of note, the intermediate range nuclear forces treaty (INF), and the START treaty that expires in 2019 and 2021 respectively. There is no announced intention by the United States to negotiate either an extension of these treaties or to negotiate new ones in their place.
Rather, and this was prior to Putin’s speech on 1 March, the United States had announced a $1 trillion program to upgrade its existing nuclear weapons resources. The nuclear posture review, published a little over a week ago (again before Putin’s speech) envisages the use of nuclear weapons in frontline areas, and their first use in a battlefield situation.
In his speech to the Russian Parliament Putin, in marked contrast to the belligerent tone of statements by the American president, reiterated Russia’s willingness to
” come to the negotiating table to give thought to an updated, future system of international security and the civilisation’s sustainable development.”
This was completely ignored by the western media.
It should also be noted that’s the Chinese Dong Feng (East Wind) missile systems in their various formats are equal to many of the Russian weapons. There are no equivalent systems in the western armoury. Australia has no defence against the missile systems of either Russia or China, other than the ethereal assumption that the US would come to our aid if we were attacked.
As a result of the Russian and Chinese developments, Western strategic thinking about warfare with either or both of these adversaries (as they have been designated by Pentagon position papers) is now obsolete.
Rather than engaging in hysterical denunciations of Russia’s alleged aggressiveness, a more rational response would suggest the following:
(a) the west, including Australia, needs to rethink the premises underlying it’s whole post-World War II strategic posture; and
(b) accept Putin’s invitation to sit down and negotiate fresh arrangements to try and avoid the nuclear Armageddon that existing policies inevitably foreshadow.
Unfortunately, our history is such that rather than adopt a rational response, the Russian revelations will be seen by United States military industrial complex as a perfect argument for more resources to be poured into an ultimately futile endeavour to recapture United States hegemony.
The tragedy is that not only will that futile quest divert resources from rejuvenating the collapsing US infrastructure, it’s may eventually lead to a war that will destroy us all.
James O’Neill is a Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org