Georgia/Russia: A good cop emerges, but is that a tin badge?

This business of a U.S. ballistic-missile defense system in Poland is a long story, but if you’re still reading my posts on the Georgia conflict, you will almost certainly have noticed the bellicose reaction of a senior Russian general, who said:

“Poland, by deploying (the system) is exposing itself to a strike — 100 percent,” Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff of Russia’s armed forces, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

He noted Russia’s military doctrine sanctions the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them.” Nogovitsyn said that would include elements of any strategic deterrence system, according to Interfax.

That’s maybe not ideal, this threatening a nuclear war thing. But I’m struck by the reaction of Russia’s president (should I put quotes around that word? “President”?), Dmitri Medvedev, who said the U.S. deployment in Poland “is sad news for all who live on this densely populated continent, but it is not dramatic.”

I frankly don’t know what to make of the two quotations juxtaposed. My hunch is that if you think you do know, you’re faking. Things are moving quickly, both Russia and the U.S. and its allies are changing the equation every few hours, but there seem to be two very different messages going out. One question though: If I was the president of a big country and one of my top generals was recklessly threatening nuclear strikes, I’d sack him. Yet Nogovitsyn keeps his job. Does Medvedev approve of his messaging, or is he unable to discipline his generals? (Again, perhaps that one needs air quotes: ” ‘his’ generals.”)

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