It has been said that timing is everything. In the case of Vladimir Putin, indeed, timing has been his specialty: — to become prime minister at the right moment, in 1999, when Boris Yeltsin was eager to find a safe exit; to annex Crimea at the right moment, when Obama was president and NATO in weakened state; and now, Putin cashiers his own long-serving prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev.
What is the logic behind his timing in this instance?
The given explanation for “changes” in the Russian political system make no sense. Dmitri Medvedev resigns the premiership but keeps his number two seat in Russia’s Security Council. Why would you fire him and retain him at the same time?
Imagine if the U.S. Vice President resigned his office but retained his position on the National Security Council — with the new Vice President taking the number three slot beneath him. In the American system this kind of thing couldn’t be done. And it’s never been done in Russia until now. So how do we explain it?
Coming directly on the heels of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination, the Russians may be taking precautions. A government minister is a valuable commodity (in terms of knowledge, experience and skill). If a war boils over in the Middle East, perhaps it is wise to place one’s best and brightest out of harm’s way; that is to say, somewhere that is not to be confused with ground zero.
Why would Russia fear a strike against its leaders if the Middle East blows up? Let’s briefly review the score: The Americans killed a high-level Iranian leader. It is the Iranian turn to respond. If the Iranians kill an American leader or leaders in reply, there is no telling who will be dragged in next. And if the game becomes one of reciprocal assassinations, wouldn’t it be wise to take precautions?
Admittedly, most Americans believe that Iran “blinked” after the Soleimani killing. Such an assumption, however, may be unwarranted. After all, the red flag of war was raised over the Jamkaran mosque, and it cannot be taken down until Gen. Soleimani is avenged. Therefore, the Iranians are honor-bound to retaliate.
The Russians know this. They know that an Iranian response is pending. If that response involves an EMP attack, or cruise missiles fired from offshore against the White House — or, God forbid —- against the Capitol during Trump’s State of the Union Address, then there could be blowback on Russia if the situation escalates out of control.
In discussing the danger of a wider conflict with Americans, one finds an alarming nonchalance. “The Iranians cannot hurt us,” they say. Or, “They wouldn’t dare attack us.” It is cowardly, of course, to be unduly fearful. But it is rash to believe one is invulnerable. Nobody in this world is invulnerable.
Consider the Russian Club-K container missile launching system, which can be mounted inside an Iranian merchant ship. This would allow Iran to launch cruise missiles from an offshore freighter — directly against targets in Washington, D.C. (Please note: the Iranians most certainly have the Club-K system.)
Cruise missiles launched from an Iranian freighter, coming into the District of Columbia below radar, could not be intercepted by U.S. defenses. For obvious strategic reasons, such a freighter would be scuttled in minutes. The crew would then be picked up by a nearby submarine and carried away beneath the sea. There would be no trace of the attacking ship. The resulting decapitation strike would have a devastating effect. The U.S. Congress would be gone, along with the President and Vice President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Supreme Court. Would we correctly identify the attacker? Would we blame Iran or North Korea? (As reported in the press, North Korea has placed its government and military on a war footing since Soleimani’s death. Why?)
You say an Iranian attack is unlikely, and I agree. On December 7, 1941, a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was considered unlikely. But the Japanese attacked nonetheless. Days prior to the attack, U.S. military officials thought the Japanese would be committing suicide if they started a war. But they started a war anyway. Given the horrifying American death toll that followed, shouldn’t we have taken more precautions before Japan attacked? Shouldn’t we be more vigilant now?
It is an error to be dismissive of a relatively less powerful enemy. Therefore, why not hold the State of the Union further inland? Why not pay closer attention to Russia’s odd political reorganization? The Russians may be providing us with a valuable clue. But nobody in our government has noticed these subtle signs. Nobody is thinking things through.
It’s time to pay closer attention. It’s time for our national leaders to stop taking their physical security for granted.