Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 214

A host of Russian government officials and leading political figures have used the runup to the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as an opportunity to rebuff Western criticism of Russia’s war in Chechnya and to sound off over Moscow’s dissatisfaction with the West on a host of other issues as well. But no leading Russian officials have spoken any louder than the country’s two top uniformed military leaders–Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin. In remarks made on November 12 and 15, respectively, the two men used language reminiscent of East-West confrontations during the Cold War period. Their bellicosity appeared to be yet another indication of the increased political influence being wielded in Moscow of late by military hardliners. It also reflected exacerbated tensions between Russia and the West–and particularly between Moscow and Washington–which had exploded during the NATO air war against Yugoslavia and that have been re-ignited by recent U.S. arms control decisions and by Russia’s bloody war in Chechnya.

Sergeev made his remarks during a meeting of top military leaders in Moscow which was also attended by Russia’s hawkish prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Among other things, Sergeev accused the West of working to weaken Russian influence in “strategically important regions of the globe” and, especially, to drive Russia from the Caspian region, the Caucasus and Central Asia. He went so far as to suggest that Washington has a vested interest in seeing Russia’s problems in the North Caucasus continue to fester. This would advance American plans “to weaken Russia,” Sergeev said, and would also help the United States “establish full control over the North Caucasus” (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, November 12; Washington Post, November 13).

Sergeev’s allegations, which Washington quickly rejected, reflect broader suspicions which have long been harbored by Russian military leaders and have only in recent months been vented fully in public. One of Sergeev’s main charges–that the West is trying to limit Russian influence around the globe–is drawn straight from the country’s recently drafted military doctrine. Other of his remarks reflect frustration over deteriorating Russian influence along the southern rim of the former Soviet Union and especially Moscow’s fears that it will lose control of energy resources in the region.

Kvashnin’s remarks, which came during a meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic academy, were as condemnatory of the West as were Sergeev’s and covered a broader array of issues. The Russian general lambasted NATO for having expanded into Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and warned that Moscow would regard any further expansion into central and eastern Europe “as a challenge” to Russian national security. He also criticized NATO’s new strategic concept–which could make it easier to use the alliance’s military power outside the territory of member states–and charged that the alliance was increasingly ready to use “military force in its simplest, crudest form on various levels.” Kvashnin repeated Russian accusations that Western military actions in Kosovo and Iraq might be only a warm-up for attacks on former Soviet states, presumably including Russia.

But the Russian general was only getting started. He characterized the NATO air war against Yugoslavia as a cynical ploy by the alliance to “occupy a strategically vital bridgehead in the center of Europe.” Talk of helping the Albanians was only a pretext for the action, he said. Kvashnin also accused the United States of seeking to exploit differences among European Union members to weaken the EU and to ensure that it does not emerge as a political rival to the United States. On the subject of U.S. plans to develop a limited national missile defense system, he went beyond most other Russian commentators in saying that the proposed initial locations of the U.S. system–in Alaska and North Dakota–showed that it is intended to stop Russian and Chinese missiles. He vowed that Moscow would take “retaliatory steps” if the United States proceeds with plans to build a national missile defense system (Reuters, AP, Russian agencies, November 15).