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The Top Secret (Fake) Memo to Putin on How to Counter NATO’s Latest Move

Is the Kremlin worried about U.S. tanks in Europe?

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 10:  Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Kremlin May 10, 2015 in Moscow, Russia. Merkel is on a one-day visit to Russia. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MAY 10: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Kremlin May 10, 2015 in Moscow, Russia. Merkel is on a one-day visit to Russia. (Photo by Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)


Memo:
Our Winning Strategy in Europe
From: Russian Strategic Planning Cell
To: President Vladimir Putin

1. Let me begin by congratulating you, Mr. President, on our outstanding series of strategic moves in Europe. We have consolidated our annexation of Crimea, which now finds its rightful place back as part of Mother Russia. Your series of “snap exercises” all around the periphery of our country have clearly frightened NATO. Additionally, the brilliant concept of “hybrid warfare,” combining the deployment of Spetsnaz special forces, additional Russian troops and trainers in unmarked uniforms, vigorous propaganda, information warfare, and cyberattacks has everyone’s attention. And NATO freely admits it is not ready to face our new mix of tactics.

2. While we have lost a little bit of economic muscle from the combination of Western sanctions and falling oil prices from their glorious peak, we are a tough people — and naturally your approval ratings within Russia remain at stratospheric levels. We assess that by working with our Chinese friends, over time, we may be able to improve our international balance of trade positions despite the sanctions; and the future of our Eurasian Customs Union (despite an oddly small number of participating nations) is bright.

3. Geopolitically, we are reassembling a “ring of steel” of alliances around Russia with powerful allies like Belorussia, Armenia, Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the newly formed emerging nations of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas of Ukraine. Not quite what we enjoyed with the Warsaw Pact, but you can’t have everything.

4. There is one small problem I would like to bring to your attention, however: the intention of the United States to pre-position heavy military equipment in Eastern Europe. Thus far, the NATO nations have been “keeping an eye” to the east, but have not significantly raised their defense spending from an anemic level of 1.5 percent, well below the 2 percent goal they aspire to and that the United States continues to champion. But we are somewhat concerned that the addition of these pre-positioned units may actually galvanize the Western alliance. Let me explain.

First, these pre-positioned military stocks represent a real improvement in response times for NATO forces. If we were to rightfully intervene in one of the NATO Baltic nations on behalf of the down-trodden Russian minorities there (a case you have elucidated with extreme eloquence and brilliance, as always), the presence of these pre-positioned stocks of armor, artillery, ammunition, communications, transport, and missiles will be available to NATO — and especially U.S. troops — sent from bases in Germany, Italy, and in the United States.

Second, this will probably be only the first step toward permanently stationing other NATO and especially U.S. troops in Eastern Europe. This, of course, is something we have fought against with all our might since the tragedy of the implosion of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall. (You were right to call this a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, of course). Given Western perceptions about our “threat to the Baltics,” there will be a steady drumbeat from the Eastern European NATO members to add troops to the forward-positioned military stockpiles.

Third, given the presence of the stockpiles, there will inevitably be a whole series of NATO exercises revolving around using them. We can expect a great deal of rotational deployment in and around the area of these caches, to include not only troops coming to work with the equipment, but inevitably their supporting arms — high-performance aircraft, guided-missile ships, Special Forces and their V-22 Osprey transports, and on and on. This will be problematic from a number of dimensions, including the need for us to conduct frequent (and costly) demonstrations and exercises ourselves. Recently, our deployments have been somewhat less than perfect.

5. So the question for us is simple: How do we respond? Our planning cell has been looking closely at the options, and unfortunately they are not very compelling.

Assuming you will want to follow through on our bold and absolutely correct comments about moving our forces to the borders of NATO countries, this will put an expensive burden on our armed-forces budget. Despite raising it significantly over the past several years, we are still in need of modernization for our strategic rocket forces, our advanced fighter aircraft, and our maritime power projection — especially submarines. Moving troops around is expensive and will reduce resources to these priority systems. We could move more missiles into Kaliningrad, of course, but this does not seem to have gotten NATO’s attention.

We could respond politically, perhaps by obstructing Western efforts with Iran to obtain a nuclear agreement, find a sensible solution in Syria, or make difficulties in Afghanistan. Here the problem is that we actually do not have a great deal of leverage (with the possible exception of Iran). We have rightfully departed the old and tired G-8 (now pathetically called the G-7) and have little ability to influence via that route. So not much is available to us along these political and diplomatic lines. And so long as oil prices remain relatively low, our economic tools are limited.

Mr. President, I am sure you have already rejected any idea of actually executing the Minsk agreements in Ukraine? While I fully recognize the vital importance of supporting the heroic leaders of Luhansk and Donetsk, I am just a bit worried about the long-term cost of rebuilding that part of Ukraine, as well as the entire Crimea. What else can we consider?

I know this is delicate, but perhaps it is time for a little Maskirovka? Perhaps we should at least think about a sort of feint, wherein we nominally abide by the Minsk accords, settle for another “frozen conflict” with Ukraine (we can continue to manipulate events easily), and thus splinter the resolve of the Europeans? Brussels no doubt would be thrilled to have the chance to get back to “business as usual” (read: doing nothing) and is desperately seeking any excuse to do so. Even a hint of a relaxation in our posture — and something of a military withdrawal of some of our units from Ukraine — would be sufficient enough to begin breaking apart Western solidarity on this issue.

The good news is that the Americans have not made a final decision yet on the pre-positioned military stocks, and we would encourage the soft power advocates in their government to stop this idea. It would also reduce the growing possibility of the Americans (or others) providing some level of offensive weapons to the Ukrainian government.

If you agree, we could provide options to appear more accommodating on the surface, perhaps reducing easily traceable weapons, trainers, and forces in Ukraine. We could adjust our strategic public messaging to take a more conciliatory line. Naturally, we would redouble our more easily obscured support via cyber, cash, untraceable weapons, deep-cover agents, and the like — all the things you personally did so masterfully in your career in the KGB.

6. Please do not mistake our enthusiasm for all that is happening! If you don’t like this idea, we will continue with our current approach. As you often say in reference to having a “Plan B,” the best Plan B is so often simply to work harder at Plan A! After all, with our new Armata tanks, we can still roll to Kiev anytime we want. As Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin so cleverly mentioned a few weeks ago, “tanks don’t need visas.” His Twitter account is fabulous, by the way, and an inspiration to all right-thinking Russians.

7. The future is bright!

Very respectfully,

Your Strategic Planning Cell

Photo credit: Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images News

About the Author

James Stavridis is a retired four-star U.S. Navy admiral and NATO supreme allied commander who serves today as the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. His latest book is The Leader's Bookshelf. @stavridisj

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