Russia, China and Osama's Game Plan

An IDC Analysis

(With Inputs from Ben Boothe


New Delhi, 22 December 2004

This article has inputs from Jake Terpstra, former head of Children's Services for the USA, and our friend Ben Boothe. President Putin’s visit to India in December had some very clever innuendoes between the short announcements, as the parleys were very secret. It seems that on the pillars of oil, military exports, help from China, India, Osama and Iran –– Putin is attempting to bring USA down a shade or two in the next decade and a simple game plan seems to be unfolding. Bush’s ‘yes men’ team may not notice it. Revenge is always sweet and Russia has Osama's and China's tacit support. India can gain in the bargain and emerge stronger as USA needs India, and we can play the game too. Maybe we are playing it unwittingly?

In Russia Yukos Oil was sold to an unnamed bidder –– oil prices will play a great part in the future –– now Putin will have greater control over oil in his country. He appears to have fobbed off US interests in this deal. India and Russia are tied in the Sakalin oil fields and India is looking for more inroads there. Putin told Indian leaders when he was here that they should stick to their friend Russia for major defence, oil and nuclear needs or else he may not cooperate. He knows India's FFE reserves are bubbling over and so trade is the next step. He offered to support India for a seat in the UNSC with Veto powers, knowing very well that USA would never agree and he scored brownie points.

He also said he wished to see joint projects in all sectors including the advanced joint fighter, transporter and ships (both civil and military). He Larsen and Tubro advertisement tells the story. That India is now tied with Russia for its nuclear submarine ambitions and missiles led by the Brahmos. He stated that he would not give source codes for ballistic missile defence if India decided to unilaterally marry Russian and western technology. Indian leaders better listen, as the dollar retreats and our FFE reserves of $129 billion also deplete alongside.

India must note a recent report from USA, which portrayed Pakistan's nuclear arsenal to be bigger than India’s and more ready to fire. We have no reason to doubt the report. Also after meeting the India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative team of senior retired officers including a former Air Chief who came from Pakistan, it was clear that they too considered Pakistan's nuclear potential to be a potent one. It could harm all of us in the region who seek peace and prosperity.

We recall a detailed presentation made in the late 80s in the hallowed halls of the South block to the Strategic heads of India. The subject was Afghanistan, the theme simple –– USA was pumping in weapons and money of $1 billion per year into Mujahideen hands, including Osama bin Laden, Hekmatyar Gulubudin and others via Pakistan, to bleed USSR who were spending $8 billion per year and losing lives and equipment in Afghanistan. Full financial details were provided in the presentations and touts even offered India Stinger missiles from there. It was analyzed that the morale of the Russians would sag, and USSR would go broke in the bargain.

Playing to the gallery the analysis was scoffed at, as the Indian strategic heads were more inclined to heed India's RAW, which had good contacts in Afghanistan and they said Russia was winning and USA was losing. India bet on the wrong horse as Russia went broke.

Pakistan bet on the other horses till the Taliban was found out. Today Osama who knows that game well is singing the same tune against USA –– China, Russia and Iran are enjoying the fun. We must watch Iran closely and can say it has the bomb in the basement, whatever this means. US troops have no cause in Iraq, and so morale is bound to sag in the coming years especially if casualties mount.

Osama is hell bent to bring Saudi Arabia to the boil to add to the oil mess and incidentally the British actually played such a war game for the UN in the Diplomatic Enclave in Delhi recently and our IDC rep was one of the Judges.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's four-day visit to China last week was substantial, with an agreement to hold 'substantial military exercises on Chinese territory in 2005'.This was Ivanov's second trip to Beijing this year, and Chinese President Hu Jintao used the occasion to assert, 'Sino–Russian strategic coordination has attained an unprecedented high level.' The agreement to hold joint exercises was, in fact, unprecedented, and Hu went on to express satisfaction at the growth in relations between the two armies. But most U.S. print media –– The Washington Post, for example –– ignored the story like RAW did in the Afghanistan’s case. The New York Times cut it down to two sentences tucked onto the end of a roundup titled World Briefing on page A6.

Nevertheless, it is a significant development, pointing out how China and Russia are reacting to the actions of what they perceive to be the world's big bully. The announcement of the military exercises planned for next year comes after Soviet President Vladimir Putin, while visiting Beijing in October, said bilateral relations had reached 'unparalleled heights”. During his visit, Putin signed an agreement that settled the last of the disputes along the 7,500-kilometer border between the two countries with accommodation, and trade has increased.

Most important, China has become the Russian arms industry's premier customer closely followed by India. This year, the Chinese are buying about $2 billion in weapons, many of them top of the line. For Russia, these sales are an important source of earnings and keep key segments of its defense industry afloat. Cut off from arms sales from the West, Beijing has come to rely on Russia more and more for sophisticated arms and technology. For those familiar with the acerbic nature of Russia–China relations over the years, the announcement of joint military exercises should be an indication of ganging up. The switch from extreme hostility to rapprochement is a sea change in the broader strategic equation. NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo in 1999 had already heightened the need felt by China and Russia to buttress mutual security ties. Pre-9/11 progress in political, economic and military relations reached a highpoint with the conclusion of a Sino–Russian treaty signed by Presidents Putin and Jiang Zemin in Moscow in July 2001. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 greatly increased the incentive for such collaboration, which is what we wish to highlight.

The Russians and Chinese like Osama look at the quicksand in which U.S. forces are trying to stay afloat in Iraq with mixed feelings –– alarm at what they see as unconstrained, unpredictable U.S. behavior, and Schadenfreude at the fiasco brought about by ineptitude on the part of senior civilian defense officials and careerism among the generals, many of whom know better but have not the spine to tell their superiors that the war in Iraq cannot be won. What seems clear is that because of the U.S./U.K. attack on Iraq, China and Russia intend to give each other meaningful political support if Washington embarks on a new military adventure –– against Iran, for example.

That same assurance of mutual support and cooperation could also serve to embolden the Russians or Chinese for adventurism of their own-vis-à-vis Taiwan, for example, or Ukraine –– taking advantage of the fact that the United States is pinned down and preoccupied in Iraq.

The lid is now off Pandora's preventive box. Just before leaving for Beijing, Defense Minister Ivanov made it clear that Russia 'reserves the right to carry out preventive strikes with conventional weaponry on terror bases anywhere they are found in the world.' This is a warning to Osama. Indeed, it may be a short step to applying the 'terrorist' label to those wearing orange in Kiev. Like subterranean geological plates that shift imperceptibly, changes with immense political repercussions can occur so gradually as to be imperceptible –– until the earthquake. Over the past several years, there has been rather broad consensus among specialists that, despite the gradual rapprochement between Russia and China, both remain more interested in developing good relations with the United States than with each other. This may no longer be the case and the Russia–China–Osama game plan may work!

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