“Defense initiatives” never been the Kremlin’s game

The Kremlin has no history of “defense initiatives” and is traditionally suspicious when others do that.

I worked in propaganda in the heyday of the anti-Pershing II campaigns, SALT/START negotiations and the “Star Wars” scare. I recognize much of the same logic in the Russian response nowadays.

Tip of the iceberg

First of all, whatever NATO does, it always finds both staunch opponents and gleeful challengers (“oh yeah, let’s beat these Yankees in their own game!”) among our generals and heavyweights in the military-industrial complex. The policy-makers always voice whatever gives them most leverage, or complaint points, at the negotiation table. Which means, the objections may disappear the moment we get something in return for our grievances.

Catch-up game

Second, strategic anti-missile systems have never been the field where our side was eager to compete. It was considered a high-tech stuff where the West seemed to have an unfair advantage because of the sheer size of resources they could throw at it. This is why the range of suggested reactions to President Reagans “Strategic Defense Initiative” among the Soviet decision-makers varied wildly between panicked red-level strategic deployment around the time of KAL-007 shoot-down to the “let’s sit down and talk” moves that came to fruition during Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika.

Brute force

We always found most reassurance in the brute force of MAD counterbalancing. Since the defeat of Tatars, no one could ever beat us when brute force decided the outcome. Anything that circumvents brute force is therefore in our books a trickery, a ruse, a threat.

The level of distress caused by the US Strategic defense initiative spawned an entire sub-genre of visual propaganda. anti-anti-missile posters. The space shuttle program was believed to be a crucial part of the anti-missile system. Therefore: “No!” to space shuttles.

“Strategic defense initiative – life danger!”

“Stop the militarization of the outer space!”

“Peace to the outer space! SDI is dangerous insanity”

“SDI: the final rain of gold!”

“Another turn”

“American Gambit” in Stalin’s Korean war 1950-53

Stalin wanted to make the US and Mao’s China to butt heads in the Korean war of 1950-53

Soviet strategy in the Korean war was decided by Stalin alone. Throughout his entire rule, Stalin was a firm believer in the “American gambit”—and this precluded any direct confrontation with the US in the Korean war.

American gambit

In the 20th century, the US installed their Pax Americana thanks to a very simple European strategy: in both world wars they waited until the Europeans exhausted themselves, then entered the fray and dictated the terms of post-war arrangement.

Lenin, Trotsky and other Communist leaders brilliantly executed this inside Russia in 1917. They were late to enter the fray. But when everyone else were at the end of the tether, they easily took power and imposed the terms of the game for the next 74 years. After WW1, the Soviet foreign policy focused on provoking a new continental war in the west, while we would watch the massacre uninvolved. In due time, the Bolsheviks would execute the American gambit once again, now on the international level.

Germany, take one

This is how the Rapallo rapprochement started, with all the undercover cooperation in rebuilding the Soviet and German military might. The Nazi takeover only marked a short interlude in this strategy.

In 1936, Stalin tried the American gambit in the Spanish civil war.

Stalin realized quite early that Trotskyists and Anarchist were too influential for him to firmly control the Republican forces. Also, Spain was too far for the Soviet military logistics. Instead, Stalin did his bit provoking a direct confrontation between the Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on one side, and the leftist government of Popular Front in France on the other side.

Germany, take two

The American gambit fell through in Spain. But Stalin tried it once again striking an alliance with Hitler about partitioning Eastern Europe in August 1939. The deal redirected the German aggression to the west, and promised much good to the USSR at the beginning.

However, the French disappointed Stalin again by loosing the war too soon. Then, Stalin made a terrible miscalculation that Hitler wouldn’t attack him prior to striking a kind of armistice with Britain. On June 22, 1941, Nazi’s Operation Barbarossa ruined Stalin’s plan.

The American gambit in WW2 was executed by the Americans, once again. Damn. “This should have been us”.


After WW2, Stalin made a half-hearted move to try the American gambit in China. But it became clear rather early that there were no chances to drag the Americans into the civil war. Also, Mao reacted angrily to Soviet attempts to stay chummy with Kuomintang.

In 1950, Korea sailed up as a perfect occasion for Stalin to make Mao and the US to butt heads. The US would hardly attack us with atomic weapons in the Far East, as they risked to strip their European forces of the little nuclear capability the Americans had at the time. China seemed to be an easier catch for the US.

A Chinese-American war starting in Korea looked like a perfect set-up for a successful Soviet “American gambit” in eastern Asia. Why would Stalin want to spoil it by a direct military involvement? Our role in the conflict was strictly to be limitted to the level of covert operation.

In the photo below, Soviet military pilots who fought against the US Air Force during the Korean war of 1950–53. They were wearing Chinese uniforms, and had Chinese IDs with Chinese names. The sorties were planned in a way that would totally exclude a capture of these men on the enemy territory. The Soviet Army was as masterful in the execution of plausible deniability as the Russian troops involved in the nationalist insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014–15.

Soviet pilots Korean war Chinese Uniforms
Soviet pilots operating in the “MIG Alley” during the Korean War. 1st from the left Boris Abakumov, 3rd from the left Ivan Kozhedub.

How did WW2 contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union?

After the war, despite all the efforts, the USSR never managed to regain this level of strategic advantage over the West.

As a result of WW2, the Soviet Union lost the military supremacy we had built up on the eve of the war against Germany:

After the war, despite all the efforts, we have never since managed to regain this level of strategic advantage over the West.

As a result of WW2, the traditional American isolationism ended. The US took global leadership in preserving the new world order. The old Leninist strategy of “let them fight each other for us to pick the spoils” would no longer work. The USSR faced NATO, a global coalition of democratic countries possessing an economic and military muscle that we, in the long run, could not match. It was now the turn for our new Chinese friends to push for a nuclear US vs. USSR showdown in the hope of picking up the spoils in the after-war rubble.

History gave the USSR no new chance of running over Western Europe. Eventually, the Cold War bankrupted us.