Blue Pill or Red Pill?

(To Gino Lanzara)

Sometimes the past returns, and the dynamics that gave rise to the events, with their consequences, may not necessarily be repeated with different actors.

Let's go back to the 1984, without neglecting the Italian political trend that, with regard to "backyard" issues, underestimates the international dynamics. Despite the glow of the Cold War, we remember Springsteen's rock with his "Born in the USA", Orwell's 1984 or maybe, on the emotional thrust, the death of Enrico Berlinguer ... and then? Little was the geopolitics still beyond awakening attention; yet the story went on, whether one was able to understand the fundamental correlations.

Already from the 1982 all the conditions for the explosion of a world conflict were being created, at a time when East West bipolarity was reaching its points of maximum friction. The rise to power of the former Director of KGB Jiurij Andropov is part of an increased antagonism with the USA which, having found in Reagan an extremely congenial interpreter in terms of abrasiveness, reiterates particularly complex challenges: an anti-diplomatic opposed to a granitic court and heir to a revolutionary tradition bureaucratized over time, but no less powerful and fearful of developments outside the established canons.

The post Brezhnev period is marked by intense intelligence activity, aimed at monitoring the state of preparations for a NATO attack taken for granted; unknowingly we experienced a historical moment characterized by gross errors of technical evaluation (incorrect satellite confirmations of intercontinental ballistic launches and demolition of airliners), and American power projections (invasion of Grenada).

The death of Andropov consecrates Konstantin Chernenko to power, free from the pathological fears of his predecessor, but not for this reason not in difficulty towards a volitional leadership, unscrupulous and capable of ensuring political continuity. Why then did the Russians, strong of an unquestionable conventional superiority, attack Western Europe even using the nuclear means in their possession?

Luttwack has never ventured concrete hypotheses, leaning towards a bluff; more than one analyst, on the other hand, gave credit to the hypothesis of a sudden change in power relations, consequent to the accident occurred in the Severomorsk Base in the Kola Peninsula, where the explosion of a missile depot, in May of the 1984, it deprived the Northern Soviet Fleet, the most powerful of those on the high seas, of the necessary military means. What is certain is that the Russian classified exercises followed one another without interruption until September 1984, and that there was already a planning aimed at a massive use of tactical nuclear weapons capable of reaching 14 days from the beginning of attack, the Atlantic shores except for an unforeseen event: the incident that occurred in the Kola Peninsula, a strip of strategic territory and above all facing an unrestricted sea.

Paradoxically, in the potentially safer base, the 13 May 1984 after the traditional spring maneuvers, explodes the ammunition depot of Okolnaya, the largest powder magazine in the Northern Fleet, a few hundred meters from the docks. The escape from the inhabited center towards Murmansk is immediate, while a very high dust mushroom dominates the area.

Causes and news are missing: censorship blocked every possible channel, but what could not be curbed were the consequences: an irreparable loss of equipment, of men and most probably of naval means even if not nuclear, which compromised for at least two years the strategic potential indispensable to launch an attack on the west; game over, anticipated end of that last appendix so dangerous of Cold War, so that a source of the Pentagon could declare to the Washington Post that "the Soviet Arctic fleet would be in trouble in the event of a clash with the American navy", and Jane's spokesman could assert that "The destruction represents the greatest disaster to occur in the Soviet Navy since World War II".

A first consideration: how many were there accidents (known) that affected the Soviet Union first and then Russia? Many, and serious.

Also in the 1984 a spaceship explodes on the launching pad killing 3 cosmonauts; in the 1979 an anthrax epidemic develops in the Sverdlosk region, so much so as to suggest an explosion in a biological weapons factory; in the 2000 the Kursk sinks; a few weeks ago the Losharik spy submarine has a failure that causes the death of 14 crewmen. If the deposits of the Severomorsk nuclear warheads had been invested, would there still be a Western civilization now? How much does Severomorsk still count? The Kola Peninsula remains a springboard to the west and north, and regains value in the 2007, when two Russian boats lay the Federation flag in the Arctic Ocean at 4.200 mt. of depth to mark a clear possession, in the light of a reaffirmed presence in the Caucasus and Central Asia, of a mutually interested opening towards China, of a contained cleavage of the old backyard, of a renewed continental push towards the Arctic, however opposed by the enemy of all time: NATO.

Without knowing it, many have swallowed the blue pill to wake up the next day to believe what they would have preferred more. We propose the red pill, which is not very reassuring and impolitic.

Days of a past future

A geopolitical analysis cannot do without calibrating all the possible aspects, a difficult task for the Kremlin; the question is simple: how strong it is now the Russian Bear? What are the criteria that determine your power? What are your areas of strength?

Anglo-Saxon literature proposes the concept of powermetric by Miroslaw Sulek, an applied science that calibrates the power of actors in the modeling and forecasting of relations between states, a version of the ever valid Theory of Games, which attributes a position of the State in the international context according to the factors of power and weakness.

The Arctic Theater lends itself to game: covers a large area, and is under the control of the NJSC1 which guarantees both nuclear attack capabilities, defense and control of nascent shipping lines, as well as strategic mobility to cover air defense deficiencies in such a vast area.

The Russian Navy at the moment recognizes a limited risk of a global conflict, even nuclear, but is aware of an increase in the relevance of military power in the international sphere, an aspect that led it to preserve a strategic nuclear equality with the Americans given the continuing conventional military asymmetry, both to reiterate the strategy of the deterrence.

In summary, little has changed, and indeed the Arctic has further increased its importance, given the richness of the seabed, the mercantile passage, the presence of numerous submarine communication cables, as well as the potential opening of new maritime communication routes; after the Baltic, also the central stretch of sea that divides the two Atlantic and and Arctic basins has become populated with Russian units; from the mists of the Cold War the has returned to appear the Giuk gap, the bottleneck between Greenland, Iceland (the geographical key of the system) and the United Kingdom, which describes the geopolitical space to be kept in the strategic possession of London and Washington to prevent access to the North Atlantic to other possible hegemons otherwise capable of interrupting any logistic flow between the USA and Europe, and the vulnerable point constituted by the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, a possible object of the Russian aims, aimed at testing Atlantic cohesion and solidarity.

But how real is the resurrection Russian military in the light of the American geostrategy which, by reconstituting in the 2017 the command destined to the protection of the lines between the United States and Europe, aims at a cold war narrative that could divert from more precise analyzes?

Meanwhile Severomorsk, the Phoenix of the Kola Peninsula, resurrected once again in operational terms, given the proven resurgence of both air and underwater activities and Russian nuclear power in areas that have always been under Western control; after all the Morskaja Doktrina2 expresses nothing but the attempt to secure access to the Atlantic through the Arctic, considered as a natural national offshoot, without forgetting both the propensity towards the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and a state of operational efficiency that can only be affected by the financial resources required for the appeal Soviet to the asymmetric weapon system par excellence, the submarine, especially to nuclear propulsion and armament.

Kola is therefore the northern bastion par excellence, and Severomorsk its nodal point that still extends towards the Arctic while protecting the entrance to the White Sea, the gateway to theheartland Russian. In summary, Kola is still an instrument of power projection from which any war event would begin, according to a line that, starting from the Arctic, reaches Syria. The Russian strategy is clear and goes back to old styles: control of the Barents Sea, interdiction of the Norwegian Sea, disturbance in the Atlantic. The past, with other actors, is repeated.

The white rabbit den?

Russian projects to build a northern sea route that exploits the north east passage up to the Pacific with adequate infrastructures facilitated by the global thermal increase, if on the one hand they lead to think of a sort of innovative and profitable Silk Road which would also benefit China, on the other hand they must also consider economic aspects to be dealt with unpopularly, something that Lavrov himself, foreign minister, knows perfectly well. Severomorsk and the Northern Fleet, who escaped a nuclear holocaust in the 1984, would therefore find themselves at the center of designs that, by strengthening the more strictly military aspects, would affect the wider national economic context. The current strategic vision would follow the Soviet one, where the evaluation of contingent asymmetric and concrete factors would prevail; closed to the west and forced to remedy the shortcomings due to sanctions, the Russians are already pushing for greater integration towards the east, disavowing those who interpret the strategy only in military and non-holistic terms.

Small note for our country; underlining the incompleteness of a course of action that involves our Mediterranean interest, even if extended, cannot be separated from assessments that concern the general interests of the Alliance. We should perhaps show that we are capable of it.

1 Northern Joint Strategic Command

2 Maritime Doctrine

Photo: web / MoD Russian Fed