Sundays in Russia, like Sundays in most of the Western world, are usually not news generating days. However, today Moscow broke that rule and provided Russia-watchers with a couple of very weighty international affairs developments that I will analyze in this article on Japan and in another article later today on what the termination of the INF Treaty will mean for Russian military doctrine, namely reaching for the Holy Grail of a first strike, a decapitating strike capability against the United States in the foreseeable future.
What these two developments today have in common is how the very harsh messages are being delivered: not by the head of state, Vladimir Putin, but by members of his inner circle, his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the knockout blow on Japanese expectations of a peace treaty so long as Shinzo Abe is prime minister, and the head of news on Russian broadcasting, Dmitry Kiselyov, as regards the detailed explanation of Russian plans for arms deployment following the end of the INF Treaty.
I have said a number of times that the USA and Europe have been lulled into disbelieving war is possible, because of Putin’s very gentlemanly demeanor and mild language when speaking to us, even as we impose potentially crippling sanctions on his country and wage an information war against him personally and against his country. Just a couple of weeks ago, I urged him to bang the table from time to time in the manner of his Soviet predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, to get our proper attention so that we might stir ourselves and demand that our mass media and political classes correct course before our current policies lead to nuclear confrontation with Moscow.
True, in his recent appearance before the bicameral Russian legislature for his annual state-of-the nation address, Vladimir has delivered a tougher line, but without spelling out his intentions in detail. He remains a practitioner of Teddy Roosevelt’s maxim: “speak softly but carry a big stick.”
What Putin has done, however, is to empower people in his close circle to say what he cannot allow himself as head of state.
In that connection, I call attention here to Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister. Lavrov has always taken his marching orders from the boss. When he reported directly to Putin in the first two terms of office, he took a tough stance. When he reported to Dmitry Medvedev during the interim presidency, Lavrov was very accommodating to the West. And now, especially in the past couple of weeks, Lavrov has shown his teeth to the West. We saw that during his Q&A at the Munich Security Conference a week ago, when the MSC director Ischinger pitched to him a typically snide “question” from a Washington Post journalist congratulating Russia for taking charge in Syria and asking how the Kremlin intended to prevent Assad from perpetrating further massacres against his people. Lavrov did not hesitate for a minute: he brushed off the question, saying he had…