Russia rattles its dusty nuclear sabers
By Dale McFeatters
As he prepared to reassume the post of Russian prime minister in an orchestrated transfer of power, outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev told a Kremlin audience that the nation needed to keep its nuclear arsenal.
"They may still come in handy. We're not going to use them, but let's still keep them around because we have a big country ... We must value it and protect it," he said.
That is pretty much the U.S. position, too, but the U.S., unlike Russia, faces actual threats from North Korea, which has nuclear weapons, and Iran, which does not, and terrorist groups that would love to get their hands on them.
But, as the Financial Times noted, "In speech after speech this month, Russian officials have tried to out-Dr. Strangelove each other in warning of a potential nuclear conflagration."
Russia seems to be the only major country that believes any of this, and the latest round of bluster may be due to a number of causes. Russia senses that its superpower status is slipping, and the nuclear arsenal remains a claim on that status. The population has failed to rally around President Vladimir Putin after his awkwardly fixed election, and this may be a way to fire up its sense of nationalism. Or, speculates the Times, it may be the Kremlin's customary "recreational paranoia" when it comes to the U.S.
The specific incident that sent the Russian leadership reeling back to the days of the Cold War was the decision at the NATO summit in Chicago this past week to go ahead with a missile-defense system based mostly in Eastern Europe, specifically in countries that used to be part of the old Soviet Union.
The Russians don't buy the argument that the system would be aimed against Iran. They believe it will be ultimately aimed at them, although right now the U.S. contractors that stand to benefit from missile-defense contracts, the Republican right for whom the system is a matter of dogma and the Russians seem to be the only ones who believe it will work, let alone be effective.
Analysts point out that if ― if ― the U.S. wanted a defense system against Russian missiles ― of which there are too many to guard against ― it would likely be a mobile sea-based system, possibly aboard Aegis cruisers, and not in fixed installations within easy reach of the Russian border.
For reasons of political expedience, Cold War logic is being revived in Putin's Russia. Dr. Strangelove, indeed.
The writer is an editorial writer for Scripps Howard News Service.