17:42 Oct. 19, 2016
Ksenia Kyrylova, observer of RFE/RL special project ‘Krym.Realiyi', asked analysts on Russia's 'nuclear blackmail' issues
During the last few weeks, Kremlin has been ramping up the rhetoric similar to one used in the most dire moments of the Cold War. One by one, specialized shows pop up on Russian TV, telling not just about the quality of bomb-shelters, but also of missile-defence technologies. Moreover, the official channel of Russian Ministry of Defence broadcasted a story, 20 minutes long, loudly titled "Obama threatens Russia" and boldly stating that US was – quote – "an enemy of humanity" – unquote. A number of experts consider that Moscow's militaristic propaganda targets mainly commoners, both Russian and western.
Meanwhile Dana Walsh, the former analyst for DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency) suggests that playing with the "nuclear club" can become extremely dangerous.
"I don't think Putin prepares to wage nuclear war against the US. However, he uses Russian nuclear potential as a crucial negotiation component, thus proving his own legitimacy and Russia's status as a great state. He mentions nuclear potential far more often than Americans do. Most likely, he uses nuclear blackmailing to intimidate Western states and to make the West respect him. For in Putin's vision fear equals respect," Dana explains in her interview for ‘Krym.Realiyi'.
At the same time Mrs. Walsh, who worked at the DIA during the Cold War, warns: considering vast choice of paranoid fears circulating in Russian high offices, one cannot rule out the possibility that Kremlin leaders can simply overplay and believe in their own propaganda, miscalculating possible risks – as it has already happened, once in the 80s.
"I learned about this KGB operation after the Soviet agent in Great Britain, KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky had fled to the west about 30 years ago – it was at least 5 years after the operation had begun in May 1981. The details he revealed were just astounding. I remember listening to him during the briefing with some scepticism: how could the Soviet Union take seriously words from Reagan about the possibility of nuclear war with Russia? It was so obvious he was joking! However, history teaches us that words can have real weight. So, seeing the current environment, watching mass disinformation campaigns from Putin, Trump and their like, who claim that the US acting leadership bears aggressive intentions, I suspect that the situation can repeat," Dana Walsh warns.
According to already declassified KGB reports, published on website or US National Security Archive, Kremlin's fears appeared after Ronald Reagan's election and his following anti-Soviet rhetoric. Meanwhile the influence of the head of KGB, Yuri Andropov had been growing. So all those fears culminated and led to the creation of this program. According to an annual KGB report, it was initially discussed in 1981 and was called RYAN (short "nuclear missiles attack" in Russian). One of this document's paragraphs reports that the Committee carries out measures to strengthen its intelligence capabilities "to prevent possible sudden beginning of war with the enemy and to actively gather information on military and strategic problems concerning aggressive plans of imperialism and its supporters".
"As a result, KGB sent soviet agents to foreign embassies of NATO states. Their goal was to find out any plans of possible attack and to distinguish separate markers indicating the decision had already been made or that preparation to assault were under way. They listed several priorities in information gathering, which included both military and civilian objects. Some of the most interesting tasks were monitoring the military and administrative objects after the end of working hours, estimating the routes of evacuation for high-ranked officials, even taking into account increased amounts of donor blood," veteran of American intelligence recalls.
"In 1983 Andropov became the General Secretary of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and eventually Soviet leadership agreed to consider NATO drills as the main marker of possible sudden nuclear attack on USSR. "Able Archer 83" NATO drills caused the biggest concern, for the purpose of the exercise was to simulate a nuclear response to a hypothetical Soviet attack on Western Europe. Reaction of Russian security ministries to these drills demonstrated that confrontational public statements of higher officials carried out dangerous potential. They could increase the risks of nuclear war in case of miscalculation. Apparently, that case caused Reagan to soften up on his rhetoric and eventually put his efforts into reducing nuclear tensions by facilitating the conclusion of agreements on arms control with the Soviet Union," Dana Walsh adds.
Meanwhile well-known Soviet dissident, journalist and editor of the new "Chronicle of current events" (That's the name of chronicles of political repressions first in the USSR, now in today's Russia) Victor Davydov also considers there is nothing new neither in Putin's nuclear ultimatum, nor in his foreign policy as a whole.
"Putin does nothing Soviet leaders hadn't already done before. Yes, his ultimatum is a game changer comparing to the times when both sides considered nuclear disarmament talks to be "the holy cow". But it was not always like that, that only started in the 1970s. Earlier Khrushchev also put forward ultimatums, promised to show everyone "Kuzka's mother" and sent missiles to Cuba. Putin's ultimatum is just a returning to that old style," he notes.
Also, the soviet dissident is positive that Putin doesn't expect his demands to be granted – at least while there would be no one to do it during the pre-election process in US.
"However he aims to get a stronger position in Russian-American relations in the future, wants to hold Americans off his politics in the neighbouring countries. Taking into consideration the weakness of American diplomacy he will likely get what he wants. So we can see some new ultimatums in the future – up to the day when someone like John Kennedy appears and just announces the blockade. After that all the ultimatums will become nothing at all," Viktor Davydov suggests.