Earlier this week I spoke at length with former KGB Lt. Col. Victor Kalashnikov, who has been traveling in Germany. Kalashnikov wanted to talk about British Gen. Sir David Richards, who was interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph. Here was the British Chief of Staff explaining that "you can't defeat the Taliban or al Qaeda militarily." In fact, clear-cut victory is unnecessary, said Richards. All we have to do is contain Islamic militants, so our lives won't be disrupted. Upon reading this, Kalashnikov wondered about a shift from offensive strategy to defensive.
Under George W. Bush the West was on the offensive. American and British troops, together with NATO forces in Afghanistan, were taking the war to the enemy. But this has apparently changed. After following Bush's strategy for a spell, President Obama wants to pull American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Europe is not going to fill the gap. One might ask what is going on. Why does it matter whether Europe follows an offensive or defensive strategy? The struggle against radical Islamic forces, says Kalashnikov, hasn't been placed in proper context. "The West is slow to grasp that the end of the Cold War merely signified a shift toward asymmetrical warfare." Kalashnikov is reminding us that during the Cold War the West was confronted by the massive tank armies of the Warsaw Pact. But now the West faces something different. The Russian side did not give up its quest for the "Common European House." It merely changed the game, and altered the mode of conflict.
Russia hoped that the unification of Germany in 1990 would lead to the breakup of NATO. Feeling cheated when this didn't happen, another front was activated. According to Kalashnikov, Moscow "engaged" Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait, luring the West into a strategic trap while making itself the West's indispensible partner. Once the West had decisively intervened in the affairs of the Middle East, it was only a matter of time before the provocation of 9/11 would utterly distort Western strategic priorities. Here is the brilliance of asymmetrical warfare, says Kalashnikov. The West is now involved in a conflict described by a leading British general as "unwinnable." So the West goes over to the strategic defense while turning to Russia for support. "And that," says Kalashnikov, "is going to be the West's position for the next 30 years!"
After attending a series of meetings in Germany, Kalashnikov could only shake his head: "I got the idea of some sort of distortion of mind.... They are still under the impact of the Cold War, as they understand it. But they didn't understand. Even military experts have an odd idea of what happened twenty years ago. They don't see that ... the bloc confrontation was replaced by another one." Kalashnikov said it was difficult to understand the Germans and the British. "NATO is not united as before," he noted. "And if we sound out countries, we find a different story in different countries. There is a difference between America and Europe, and serious differences between Europeans."
And part of the reason for NATO's weak and divided situation? It is NATO's enlargement. If Estonia feels threatened by Russian troops on its border, does America take notice? According to Kalashnikov, "The question used to be how America would react if Moscow caused serious troubles in Western Europe. Now there is a further question. How would America react if Russia arranged trouble with regard to Estonia or Lithuania? If we notice the increasing economic ties to Russia, the potential for blackmailing or pressuring NATO has increased in recent years, and NATO has become more vulnerable." And there is another thing, Kalashnikov explained. Russian influence throughout the Baltic States and Poland is growing. "Russian delegations are coming one after another," he observed. "Despite all the rhetoric, Russian influence is on the rise in Central Europe as well. Then we see the story with Ukraine. It is a clear case where NATO has retreated from its previous intention to make Ukraine into a full-fledged member. Now there is no movement in this direction. And we see growing Russian influence with certain Islamic and Arab powers as well; so we hear calls for Russia to become involved in the Middle East peace process."
Why is Russian influence growing? "I was at the German Defense Ministry," said Kalashnikov. "They are preoccupied with the European theater during the late Cold War, which is not correct. If we recall the global picture of events, the Soviet Union launched the biggest military operation on African soil since the Second World War, advancing steadily toward South Africa. Down in the Eastern part of Angola, about 1,400 tanks and armored vehicles participated in a large maneuver. Eventually, the South African Communist Party was brought to power through the ANC. So the battle for power in South Africa was won by the Soviet side. This is especially remarkable, since South Africa was a nuclear power at the time, with four or five nuclear devices."
It is remarkable, indeed, that a former KGB officer should remind us of something we never properly learned. "That is just one example," explained Kalashnikov. "Then there was the installation in Central America of certain people, like Daniel Ortega, who are still in place. There is a larger military situation, which is global, and is underestimated in its importance by Western analysts. There is an incorrect political assessment of what happened twenty years ago," he added. "They consider the fall of the Soviet Union as a decisive moment. What they missed was, that the forces of the Soviet Union retreated and regrouped. So what we have today is an obvious phenomenon. We have asymmetric warfare [i.e., terrorism] targeting Western capitals. Moscow has tenfold superiority over NATO in terms of tactical nuclear rockets. And that category is beyond any discussions between NATO and Russia. Moscow simply denies any need for talks on this."
The political establishments of the Western countries cannot confront the truth of what has happened. Hard decisions, in this case, are to be avoided. It is now unthinkable to devote resources to a new round of confrontations with Moscow. "And frankly speaking," said Kalashnikov. "The West is not so well equipped to react properly. In the case of the Germans, they nodded their heads and agreed with me. But what are they doing about it? Nothing. Here is Russia, pressing on the borders of NATO and supporting Hugo Chavez, and being victorious in Africa, and Europe is stuck with a crisis because millions of Muslims have immigrated here."
The Germans attempted to adopt politically correct attitudes toward Muslims. Now they see this is untenable, that they have a problem with so many Muslim immigrants in their midst. "The Germans are realizing they made a mistake and they cannot control the Muslim problem," says Kalashnikov. "So they expect a shift in politics, in culture, etc. So there is a huge complexity of problems that Western governments avoid to address, because they don't feel comfortable addressing them properly, let alone solving them. But the people in Moscow see this quite clearly."
One might say there are countries whose leaders look thirty years ahead, like we find in the Kremlin; and there are countries that wake up to find themselves fighting unwinnable wars and mired in hopeless domestic crises. "The Germans complained that the Russians are recruiting their people, extracting political information from them in a traditional way," Kalashnikov said with mild amusement. "They imagined the Russians had stopped doing this. But no, the Russians are still spying on Western leaders and attempting to study their political thinking. It is a systematic process of stealing confidential information from European leaders. And there is muted reaction from the Europeans."
NATO is disoriented, and must turn to Russia. At the same time, America and the dollar are growing weaker. There is a philosophy behind this process, says Kalashnikov. "Western intellectuals are still influenced by the idea of progress. That is basically wrong." The former KGB officer laughed at the idea that Russia would adopt Western values. "We are not about progress," he admitted. "Russians are happy already. The Russian elite ... would never admit that Western norms would ever be transferred to Russia.... So there is a huge barrier, of the kind which can never be removed. The West thinks they are at a higher stage than Russia; but that is the source of many mistakes.