by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

The toughest challenge Americans face in dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia is that we insist on complicating the obvious. Putin’s schemes are plain as day, but we insist on polishing up his motives.

Recently, Prime Minister Putin bribed the Kyrgyz government to shut down US access to the Manas air base, which is crucial to sustaining NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, Moscow offered us a lengthy caravan route through Russia and its Central Asian client states to make up for the loss of Manas.

The strategy couldn’t be more straightforward: With our main supply route through Pakistan increasingly threatened, Putin wants to addict us to an alternative under his direct control.

Why? Because Putin judges that the supply route would grow indispensable as our troop commitment rises. By his calculation, that would leave him free to gobble up Georgia, intervene forcefully in Ukraine or even return to bullying the Baltic states.

Putin figures that, faced with a choice between Georgia’s death as an independent state and the loss of our new main supply route for Afghanistan, we’d grumble but opt to keep the logistics flowing.

And he might be right. Washington has developed so severe a case of the chronic stupids when it comes to Russia that we’re napping on the strategic railroad tracks.

The mockery aimed at our last president for claiming to have seen into Putin’s soul missed the broader phenomenon. The Russians are so skilled at conning individual American leaders and diplomats that Republicans and Democrats, soldiers and statesmen, repeat the same error again and again and again: Each thinks he’s the exception, that he can develop a special relationship, that his Russian buddy really likes him.

Otherwise hard-headed US generals meet their counterparts one-on-one and routinely come away convinced that they’ve made a new friend who shares common values with us and genuinely wants a constructive partnership that advances our mutual interests.

But we’re looking for true love in a clapped-up cathouse.

The Russians whom we meet, then describe as “friends,” are thoroughly coached in advance by the GRU (military intelligence) or the FSB (the eternal KGB). A Russian general or diplo-huckster sitting across the table from one of our reps has been carefully schooled on which buttons to press to win at “con the gringo.”

Today, we have no strategy for dealing with Putin’s Russia. None. And our lame responses to Putin’s provocations increasingly seem “made in Europe.”

One minor example among many: At the close of last summer’s war of aggression against tiny, democratic Georgia, the Russian military seized US Marine Corps equipment that was on the docks awaiting shipment home after an exercise. The Russians refused to give the gear back. And we rolled over.

Now key voices inside the Beltway argue that we should entrust the Russians with the life-support supplies for US and NATO troops whose numbers may go as high as 90,000 (two-thirds American).

Would any reader of this paper buy such an idiotic proposal? Of course not. But you’re not “brilliant” like the Beltway crowd. Trusting the Russians with our supply lifeline is the equivalent of handing over preschool education to the Child-Molesters Union.

There’s nothing wrong with cooperating with Russia where we have mutual interests and Moscow isn’t running another of its scams. But we always have to approach any “partnership” with Putin with open eyes, healthy skepticism – and a Plan B.

Russia can be our ally in specific cases, but will never be our friend. Why? Because Russians don’t want to be friends. Threatened by his fiefdom’s economic collapse – which worsens by the day – Putin needs both internal and external enemies on whom he can blame his country’s home-grown ills.

Russia is entering a stretch of severe turmoil. Let’s not entrust the welfare of our troops to a viciously paranoid, aggressive and murderous state. Better to leave Afghanistan than to leave our soldiers at Moscow’s mercy.

Then the Russians can deal with the fundamentalists next door. ExileStreet

Ralph Peters is a former army officer who wasted too much of his life studying the Russians.

courtesy NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

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