Russian Bear will Growl then Bite if Provoked


The West remains jittery after Russia awoke growling and upset from post Cold War hibernation, writes our Senior Soviet Geopolitical Correspondent, Pranav Bhatt “from Red Square”.

Well what did else the West expect? Any self-respecting bear will growl first as a sign to ward of attackers, then pounce and maul them if provoked sufficiently. Well, this is exactly what happened last year when the US thought it was a good idea to consider installing missiles on the Russian border and Russia finally ran out of patience with US arrogance and the flagrant non-adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFET) by its neighbours.

Vladimir Putin fishing

The Russian bear is confident and proud once more and looking more for respect in international affairs rather than a fight. This was made apparent last year when Russian President Vladimir Putin caused a stir with a simple ‘bear chested’ gesture.

Other world leaders would have looked foolish to have even contemplated emulating this confident foreign policy masterstroke. President Bush and Prime Minister Brown would’ve immediately lamented not using their political ‘pec-decks’, but perhaps it was too late to repair the damage done by now anyway.

It was an unabashed display of raw political power in front of the assembled world media. But it was more than a symbolic gesture. Sure, Putin beat his chest. Not just once either. Putin was signalling a new era in Russian foreign policy. It wasn’t just posturing either.

His counterparts must have flinched. It was unfair. They couldn’t dream of beating their chests, they’d be too flabby and would cause too much laughter. The best Bush could do to flaunt American power was to be flown down onto a US naval vessel wearing a jet fighter suit to prematurely declare victory in the Iraq invasion in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

But the key divergence is Putin delivered on his symbolic rhetoric. He went on to abandon the CFET ( and ordered bomber flight missions circling his neighbours to show he meant business.

An obsolete treaty

Moscow asserted that the CFET was drawn up in 1990 within the context of two rival blocs dominating Europe, the Warsaw Pact and NATO ( The pact had 22 signatories and intended to achieve peace, security and stability through a phased reduction of conventional military forces on the continent. After its initial impact the CFET became as useful as the paper it was written on as Europe was reshaped into the new century.

The changed political or security realities in Europe

Russia abandoned CFET because it was outdated. Putin claimed the treaty as it stood failed to reflect the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the collapse and break up of the Soviet Union and the enlargement of NATO (

Along with these shifts in the geopolitical climate, the security balance and allegiances within Europe had shifted significantly since 1990. Putin asserts that “…most of the East European countries are [now] members of NATO” too, and “the Baltic states and some of the Balkan countries have not signed the amended treaty at all” (

Uneven adoption and non-compliance

Whereas Russia had unilaterally signed, ratified and adopted the revised 1999 treaty, which was supposed to account for the post-Cold War situation, only three other parties had ratified it (

The remaining twenty-six signatories (including the US), both existing and new, have failed to commit to, or comply with the new obligations faithfully, only consenting to information exchange and mutual inspections (

A looming US-NATO alliance

Combining flagrant non-compliance with the potential extension of the US missile defence system into Eastern Europe provided Russia with a strong justification to question the integrity of NATO members and declare a moratorium on the treaty until complete transparency and compliance was in place (

In response to the rejection of the re-drafted pact by NATO members, when Russia had already partially accepted NATO’s demands to withdraw its military presence from Georgia and Moldova, Russia abandoned CFET on July 14th 2007.

Moscow accused NATO of destabilising the peace by consenting to the deployment of a new US missile defence shield close to its border (

Putin incensed by threats

US plans to install interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic, a radar in Poland and set-up bases Bulgaria and Romania gave Russia little option but to stand up and protect its own economic and security interests. US assurances that the shield was designed to protect its NATO allies and Russia from long-range missiles and nuclear strikes from Iran and North Korea could not simply be trusted from a geopolitical sense (

In response after a fifteen-year hiatus Russia resumed the Cold War practice of routine strategic bomber flights beyond its borders (

Reasserting Russian power and pride in response to superpower hubris

The resumption of provocative long range combat mission flights was Putin’s way of demanding the US respects its geopolitical interests and recognise his country’s right to defend itself from the looming expansion in the US sphere of influence in Europe.

Putin backed up the flights by committing to rapidly expand Russia’s defence budget as a means to achieve “strategic deterrence” ( and reassert itself in international affairs.

Russia’s historical context of collapse, isolation from global trade and finance flows, the disintegration of its Warsaw Pact, and the loss of its territory and peoples largely justifies its resort to “aggrieved ultra nationalism” ( to bolster its interests in the midst of suspicious manoeuvres on its borders from the US-NATO alliance.

After all, Russia had limited its army, naval, and aircraft capacity in line with its obligations under the arms agreement. Only since its provocation, had Putin instigated plans to revive his country’s military might ( Despite not even signing the pact, US Secretary of State Rice insists Russia should respect its treaty obligations because it is “purely ludicrous” and unjustifiable for Putin to believe US missile defence plans could threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent.

Putin has countered, declaring Russia’s defence forces will be equipped with the latest weapons and military hardware and has postured that Russia will become the top producer of military aircraft once more. Putin’s ‘top-down’ policies could also be justified in a historical sense, because it is the modern realisation of a thousand-years of czarist and communist history of projecting Russia as proud, assertive and resistant to US domination (

However, Moscow’s hawkish stance is unjustifiable if it is part of a plan to reignite Cold War tensions by modernising the Red Army to get them in “combat readiness” against the US (

Ties with China

In an attempt to recast the global balance of power and strengthen regional security and stability, Russia tightened its strategic ties with the emerging regional superpower, China (

Russia has become a key power in this powerful Asian alliance gaining a reputation as ‘Warsaw Pact II’ and ‘anti NATO’ – the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

Withdrawal from CFET has enabled Moscow and Beijing to conduct joint military exercises and show the US Russia’s ambitions as an emerging regional power.

With recent developments in the Russian political climate in 2008, there is little sign that the new direction of Russian foreign policy will change as the now Prime Minister Putin remains in a key position to growl, and then instruct his forces to maul any further threats.

This article has been written by Pranav Bhatt. He is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics and Business at Sydney University. He has an interest in world travel, cricket, politics, technology and the media.

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