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September 20, 2004

Backgrounders on the Caucasus Situation

Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.


After the terrible massacre at the school in Breslan, N. Ossetia, more information on the situation in the Caucasus is sorely needed. Fortunately, Dan Darling comes through at Winds of Change. And Rantburg has suggestions on Russia's options for response.

It seems to me that Russia's options are actually pretty limited. They don't have the military to do what we are doing, and neither we nor the Europeans have enough surplus force to fight on Russia's behalf, even though it would help us long-term. Russia doesn't have the economy nor the time to build up a military that could fight cleanly and win as we do. So I'd say the options are these:

  • Small Surrender - As Dan Darling points out, the Russians tried to surrender Chechnya and it didn't work.
  • Big Surrender - The Russians could give up the whole of the Caucasus (well, that of it that they control), in the hopes that they'll be eaten last. Except that this would result in Putin being eaten first, and he's not going to take that. Too, this would be a massive disaster for the non-jihadi world.
  • Occupation - Much of the Caucasus is voluntarily Russian - including N. Ossetia - and what isn't is largely occupied. The Russians could go into the Pankisi Gorge, which would help them short term (at a likely horrible casualty toll) but would lead to real long-term problems, because it's questionable if they could win a war with Georgia, especially if the US backs Georgia.
  • Brutality - The Russians could crack down - hard - including not allowing Chechens or Arabs anywhere in Russia except the "traditionally Muslim" areas, including internal isolation, much wanton killing and the like. The problem with this is that it's unlikely to work, unless Russia is willing to depopulate the Muslim areas the way that Stalin solved the internal dissent problem. If they're willing, and unafraid to cross borders to do it, this would likely work in time. At a huge cost, but it would probably work.
  • Annihilation - Russia could destroy the Pankisi Gorge and Chechnya, along with any other areas that get rebellious, with nuclear weapons. They could kill any Muslim found in Russia. They could, in short, commit genocide on a mass scale. I don't really like to contemplate this option very much, because genocide is repellant to me.

There's one other option, though, which would play to Russia's strengths and weaknesses, and would solve the problem over the long-term. I haven't seen it discussed, but I hope that our State Department is raising it with the Russian government right now: Russia could unequivocally join the US in the Terror Wars. While there would be a bit of a bitter-pill of pride to swallow, the benefits for Russia would be enormous.

First, the Russians would be able to get US money and expertise to transform their military into a force capable of waging the kind of war that can actually defeat the insurrection by killing off the enemy combatants without leveling whole towns or otherwise turning the neutral population against them. Second, the Russians would get an inside line on all kinds of US technical, political and economic aid, which would greatly help their economy as well as their war efforts. Third, the Russians would get an in-depth intelligence sharing in both military and law-enforcement arenas, which again would help them immensely. Fourth, almost everything they'd have to give up (except pride) would actually be to their benefit.

Consider: By rotating troops through Iraq (and possibly other countries later, though most emphatically not Afghanistan or Pakistan), they would get experience working with the US in a combat theater that they could take back to their battles in the Caucasus. The capabilities they gain from this experience would be precisely those they now lack: how to fight a pinpoint war, so as to avoid angering the populace into supporting the terrorists.

While the Russians would have to give up lucrative nuclear contracts in Iran, the US could (and I believe would) compensate them for the loss of revenue in exchange for the intelligence value and the setback to Iran's nuclear program, making this a neutral matter from a monetary standpoint. Indeed, canny Russian negotiators would demand the US help to train and largely pay for Russian nuclear scientists and engineers to upgrade Russian plants and secure Russian nuclear materials. The US would likely consider this a bargain!

The Russians would lose diplomatic influence in the EU core states of France and Germany, but would gain influence with Britain, Poland, Italy and the US (among others) which would be more directly to Russia in any case.

The Russians would likely be required to wage a less brutal war in the Caucasus (to the extent that they can), but this is to their benefit in that it alienates the local population less than a savage war in any case.

It goes without saying that this would be a big win for the US as well, so I won't say it in any more detail.


Jeff, nice post. I have suggested elsewhere that Jerry Pournelle's US-USSR co-dominium, which appear in several of his novels in the 70's and 80's might come about thanks to al Qaeda. The slight difference is that they get to play bad cop, while we play good cop (from an EU perspective: we will both always be bad cops from Islamofascist persepective - but who cares expect for a few tired US and EU Marxists?) AT one time, I thought China might join in, as they could put even more nasty feet on the ground than Russia, but I think that they will simply end up being next on the list after Riyadh vaporises.

Posted by: Oscar on September 5, 2004 09:21 PM

Jeff, that's exactly the kind of action I wrote about in my post What is to be done?


I sincerely hope the U. S. is taking the initiative in encouraging it. Closer engagement and cooperation with Russia is in the interest of both countries.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on September 6, 2004 08:54 AM

I seem to have wandered into some sort of alternate reality here. I mean, you are living in some other world.

First, you're advocating the USA give the russians money and weapons and technology so they can build up their army? What the hell? The entire cold war was designed to turn them into what they are now, and you want to build them up?

Second, you think we have the technology to kill off enemy combatants without flattening cities or turning neutral populations against us. If so, why the hell aren't we using it? That would be just exactly what we need in iraq.

Sure, materially russia would be better off as a US vassal-state, as long as we could afford to bail them out with money. But how long could we do that? We are hemorraughing dollars. We aren't providing what it takes for iraq, how would we provide for russia? And do we want to inherit their problems with china? If we accept their fealty it isnt just war-on-terror, we have to support them in vladivostock too. We're talking land war in asia, if it goes to fighting. Or maybe we'll need to help them ethnic-cleanse the chinese out of siberia. Or help the russians retreat....

We want those former russian provinces for ourselves. We want them as staging areas to invade their neighbors. We want their oil. We want to build pipelines across them. I doubt we want to give them back to russia, when there is no reason to think russia would be a reliable vassal at all. There's the problem with unreliable allies, the more you need their troops the worse off you are when they switch sides or play for themselves.

Your proposal sounds like it would solve a whole collection of problems if it worked. But it looks very very risky.

Posted by: J Thomas on September 8, 2004 03:49 PM

Actually, I seem to remember the purpose of the Cold War as halting the spread of and eventually reversing Communist imperialism. We seem to have done that for the most part. Never do I recall any intent on the part of the US to reduce Russia to a failed state, but it is currently heading that way.

I'd like to head that off, and make Russia into a successful and modern Western state. If they would accept our help - a big if - with such bedrock principles as free speech, rule of law and property rights, there would be an improvement in Russia over the long term. I want them not our vassal but our equal, and they could be so if they chose. Look at Germany and Japan: we don't leave our former enemies in the dust; we build them up to be free and powerful nations in their own right. This way, we make our enemies into trading partners, and excellent exchange by any measure.

This would not require much cash on our part, actually, since Russia has vast natural resources. If we could help them to extract and sell those resources without massive corruption - and again here we're back to property rights - then Russia would be able to pay to modernize itself rather quickly.

Your second point is inane. Anyone who has seen pictures of Dresden, Tokyo, Seoul, Grozny (or even Charlotte, NC at the end of the Civil War) - that is, anyone who has seen even pictures of a flattened city - would recognize the difference between that and the cities in Iraq right now. (Kabul is different: it was largely flattened during the decades of war before we got there, and it's beginning to recover now.)

The interesting thing about Iraq as well is how few Iraqis ended up in the resistance - a few 10's of thousands at most out of a population of 25 million. The vast majority of the resistance is foreign (mostly coming in through Syria and mostly funded by Iran), and the vast majority of Iraqis are neutral, passive or on our side. It will be a while before the Iraqis are able to reduce Fallujah, Ramadi, et al on their own, but they eventually will do so, ending the insurrection to all intents and purposes.

Your next, um, point bears so little resemblance to what I am advocating that I almost don't know where to start. I guess you mistake "join us" to mean "apply for statehood". That was not what I was suggesting. Nor do I think we want Russia's former provinces for their resources, though I suspect we'd buy them on the open market if they were available. Yes, we want to use the central Asian nations as bases; that only makes sense given their proximity to the jihadis and the states that support them. Wanting to rent bases from a nation is not the same thing as wanting to colonize them. Actually, I take back my earlier guess: I don't think you are confused by my argument; I think you are trolling (and possibly confused about how the world and the US work).

And, last point, risk is relative. There is virtually no interaction between nations that does not carry some risk. In this case, the risk for all concerned would be less than the risk of not acting together.

Posted by: Jeff on September 8, 2004 07:08 PM

Thank you! That is much clearer. So, you are not like a neocon who wants an american empire. You believe that we could live in peace and harmony with a russia that was equal to us. Got it.

I applaud your idealism. It is far too rare in these degenerate times.

I agree that millions of americans thought that the Cold War was about stopping international communism. But in practice it was largely about profits for large corporations. We wanted to keep third world nations trading with us and not with the soviet empire. And when one of our third world nations got uppity we could accuse them of communism before we disciplined them. Fervent communists weren't much more important to the russians than John Birchers were to us. In practice it was mostly empire against financial empire. We had found that colonialism didn't work; it cost too much to administer colonies, and it wasn't at all necessary. Each third world nation could have a little group of rich people who could control the whole thing for us, and it cost much less than imposing a government on them. In general we didn't use american troops to prop up the aristocracies, if a coup started, the plotters would ask us first if it was OK and we'd agree to it if they looked in any way better than the old guys.

Our planners don't want russia to be a failed state, but they also don't want russia to be an equal or anything near it. The better the russian economy goes the more of the world's oil they'll use, and the less will be left for us. Ideally we would finance their extractive industries, that provide us with oil and other raw materials, and in return for lots of oil etc we'd provide them with value-added goods that they couldn't make for themselves. So your first job is to replace our cynical geopolitical planners with people who will actually take democratic ideals seriously.

Then there's the small matter of setting up a russian democracy that wouldn't turn into an empire itself. Russia would certainly be susceptible to that, and the stronger russia got the more alarmed various americans would get at each little sign it might be heading that way.

I won't answer about the details now, maybe later, they aren't so important. But note that we've developed the habit of destroying buildings to get snipers. We take fewer casualties that way but it's hard on the landscape, we didn't take Fallujah because we'd have to level it and we did level a lot of the center of Najaf.

Anyway, I like your idealistic stand and I'd like it if there were more people like you.

Posted by: J Thomas on September 8, 2004 11:03 PM
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Posted by jeff at September 20, 2004 12:00 AM

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