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Iron Troikas: The New Threat from the East

Iron Troikas: The New Threat from the East - Cover

Authored by Dr. Richard J. Krickus.

March 2006

76 Pages

Brief Synopsis

There has been widespread discussion of Russia's efforts to exploit its energy assets to influence developments in Ukraine; specifically, to put pressure on the leaders of the Orange Revolution who have adopted a Western orientation, rather than one toward the East—Russia. The author explains how the Russian leadership has exploited its energy assets to advance its security interests in the vital East Baltic Sea Region, particularly Poland and the Baltic countries. This triad of power is comprised of former members of the military and security service—the siloviki; economic warlords, members of organized crime, and rogue military personnel; and "local elites" in Poland and the Baltic countries who have advanced Russia's security interests in the region. The author provides recommendations on how this can be addressed by the U.S. military and the EBSR defense establishments.


In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, American security analysts preoccupied with global terrorism have ignored Russia as a security threat, but this is a mistake for two reasons. First, violence in the Caucasus, a demographic and health crisis, economic uncertainty, income inequality and a return to autocracy suggest a problematic future for Russia. Though deemed implausible, an imploded Russia would have massive security implications for the international community.

But second, there is an existential threat posed by Russia which Janusz Bugajski has described in his book, Cold Peace: Russia’s New Imperialism. It involves Moscow’s campaign to reassert its influence over the security policies of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The purpose of this monograph is to identify the actors and circumstances—characterized as Iron Troikas—which the Kremlin is employing to achieve these goals. The focus will be upon four U.S. allies in the East Baltic Sea Region (EBSR): the Baltic countries and Poland. Toward this end, the monograph will analyze:

• The siloviki, the “men of power” who represent the first component of Iron Troikas. Like President Vladimir Putin, they hope to create a strong state that will project Moscow’s security interests in areas formerly dominated by the Soviet Union by exploiting Russia’s massive energy wealth.

• The economic warlords, Mafia, and rogue military personnel, who have exploited the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the drive toward privatization, comprise the second component. Even if they are not working under the direction of the siloviki, they have advanced the Kremlin’s goals in the EBSR. As Keith Smith of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has documented, Putin’s renationalization of Russia’s energy sector is designed to project Russian influence throughout the EBSR; that is, through its “energy card,” compel the Baltic peoples and Poles to adopt security policies favorable to Moscow. Simultaneously, criminal and rogue military personnel have shipped contraband through the Baltic Corridor—including weapons—and one day may provide an infrastructure that terrorists can exploit.

• The Old Nomenklatura and New Oligarchs in the EBSR countries constitute the third component of Iron Troikas. They provide a network of “local” actors that aid and abet—primarily in pursuit of economic and political advantage and not subversive goals—Russian interests seeking to penetrate their societies. The 2002-03 presidential crisis in Lithuania provides evidence that Russian officials, with the complicity of Russian economic interests, came close to achieving that objective.

Against this backdrop, Western defense analysts must acknowledge that Iron Troikas represent a “new threat from the East”—in the EBSR but throughout the Near Abroad as well. To date, the Western security community has failed to acknowledge this threat primarily because it does not involve classical military operations. Simultaneously, American and European political authorities have been reluctant to challenge Russia on Iron Troikas out of concern that to do so will place at risk joint Russian-Western efforts to fight the global war on terrorism, to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to gain access to vital energy assets from areas other than the unstable Middle East.

But on the basis of this initial assessment of Iron Troikas, it is apparent that Russia hopes to achieve a number of goals, all of which are detrimental to U.S. security interests in New Europe. For example, to foreclose the possibility that New European states will join the United States in future military ventures similar to Iraq, to promote a common European Union security policy that diminishes North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) effectiveness, and to coerce the Poles and Balts into accepting a security arrangement more in keeping with Russia’s interests.

The U.S. defense community must revisit Russia not as a peer military threat, but as an unstable area that could influence developments throughout Eurasia. Most specifically, it must acknowledge that Iron Troikas represent an existential security threat to America’s EBSR allies. The region represents a potential theater of strategic operations in the easternmost frontier of NATO and can provide access and bases that one day may be required out of political necessity or for operational reasons. Its importance may grow as developments in Belarus, Northwest Russia, and Ukraine become more problematic.

Measures therefore must be taken by the defense community to address this “other than war” threat. Toward this end, the U.S. Army should develop programs bilaterally or with NATO and through existing networks help the military establishments in the region cope with it.

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