Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0
© NY Times
In the opening days of this year's St Petersburg International Economic Forum, there were a number of signs that the Kremlin is taking a much tougher line in its relations with the West than hitherto in response to the war mongering rhetoric that has come out of Western Europe in the past week. France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States had publicly stated that the weapons they have supplied to Ukraine can be used as the Kievan authorities see fit, meaning that attacks on the Russian heartland with long range missiles coming from their factories and programmed by their specialists are permitted.

Meanwhile, in the run-up to the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landing commemorative activities in France yesterday, Emanuel Macron had done his very best to enrage the Kremlin by excluding Russians from the ceremonies and instead by warmly embracing the defender of the Bandera Nazi collaborators, President of Ukraine Zelensky. Macron compounded the insult to Russia by announcing that he will send Mirage 2005 all-purpose fighter jets to Ukraine before year's end and that Ukrainian pilots are now in training in France.

Sergei Ryabkov
© CNN.comSergei Ryabkov.
The new hard line from Russia was evident already at the start of the week when deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was allowed to speak his piece to the press, condemning the entry of West European powers into what is essentially co-belligerent status in the conflict. Ryabkov, you will remember, was the hard liner from the Ministry back in December 2021 demanding a voluntary roll back of NATO to its 1994 borders through negotiations over a draft document to that effect, lest Russia be compelled to push them back by force.

Then the tough condemnation by Ryabkov was repeated to the press by his boss, Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov.

At his meeting with representatives of the leading news agencies from 16 countries on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin sounded a tough note when he said that Russia's response to a possible attack on critical Russian infrastructure in its heartland using the long-distance missiles supplied by the West would be met by an asymmetrical response, namely by Russia's supplying similarly advanced weapons to armed forces that are in confrontation with the United States and are in a position to inflict significant damage on them if properly equipped. This sounded very much like a plan to arm the Houthis of Yemen, who could take good advantage of Russia's hypersonic ship killing missiles to take revenge on the U.S. aircraft carrier force in their region. Or to give an assistance to Iraqi and Syrian militias who have been attacking U.S. military bases that are being maintained in their territories illegally.

Of lesser importance, but still valuable as indication of which way the wind is blowing in Moscow, at that meeting with the press Vladimir Putin allowed himself to use some vulgar terms that are out of character. These came in his answer to the Reuters journalist who asked about Russia's possibly using tactical nuclear weapons against the West. Aside from saying that Western talk about Russia's supposed plans to attack them were as dense as the wood of the desk before him, he called this all 'bullshit' (бред or чушь собачья). We also know that in the last day or two for the first time ever Putin alluded to the United States as an 'enemy' rather than using the now conventional term 'unfriendly country.'

Admiral Gorshkov warship
© Gorshkov warship.
Then came the news yesterday, that Russia is dispatching the Admiral Gorshkov warship and task force to the Caribbean for exercises. The Gorshkov is not just any ship in the Russian fleet. It has been fitted with the latest Zircon nuclear capable hypersonic missiles. I imagine that from waters near Cuba its missiles could reach Washington, D.C. in five or ten minutes.

This looks as though the Kremlin is deliberately setting up a Cuban Missile Crisis 2.0, but basing its missiles in ships operating freely in international waters as is their right.

Apparently, the Biden administration has responded with feigned nonchalance to this development, saying that Russian exercises in the Caribbean are an innocent affair that take place periodically. Such is what Reuters reports.

However, I very much doubt that Pentagon officials are in fact so laid back.

Sergei Karaganov
© frontiere.euSergei Karaganov.
All of the foregoing was the warm up. Today, at the Plenary Session of the St Petersburg Forum we saw that the hard line - soft line debates are still raging in the Kremlin. This was clear in the very odd decision to designate the political scientist Sergei Karaganov as moderator, pitching questions to Vladimir Putin and to the two honored guests on the podium with him, the presidents of Bolivia and Zimbabwe. Still more peculiar were the, shall we say, very unfriendly questions that Karaganov put to Putin, all of which hinted at a power struggle in Moscow over how best to respond to the West. This will be the subject of the segment below.


In the past, before the start of the Special Military Operation, moderators for the Plenary Sessions of the St Petersburg Forum were uniformly chosen from among well-known American journalists. Usually these were people who knew little or nothing about Russia and were reading to Putin questions prepared for them by their editors. A perfect case in point was CNN anchor, pretty woman Megyn Kelly who held the position at the 2017 Forum. Her list of questions was repetitive to the point of hectoring. But she added glamor and could draw a Western audience. When relations already were becoming quite strained, the organizers of the Forum slotted in the Vesti journalist, anchor of the widely watched
Sergei Brilyov
© interesnyefakty.orgSergei Brilyov.
Saturday evening news Sergei Brilyov. Brilyov could be said to be a half-way compromise, because he was deeply embedded in the West, with his family residing in the U.K. while he was a dual national with British passport.

As late as a day before the opening of this year's Forum, there was speculation that the moderator would be Tucker Carlson. In one sense, his taking that role would ensure a vast audience for the proceedings. On the other hand, his very American persona would be in contradiction with the dominant anti-Western current that I now see.

Instead, what we got was Sergei Karaganov, a political scientist whose name many in the West will find familiar because of the shocking call he made in June 2023 for Russia to put an end to Western provocations in and over Ukraine by striking one or another of its enemies in the West using tactical nuclear arms and forcing capitulation.

Karaganov's essay entitled "A Difficult but Necessary Decision" appeared in the most respected Russian foreign policy journal, Russia in Global Affairs". See

The article is worth re-reading because many of the points critical of Russian foreign and military policy that Karaganov made there, all indirectly deeply critical of Vladimir Putin's softly-softly approach to managing international relations, were repeated face to face in his exchange with Putin on stage this afternoon. The key point he made is that Russia must quickly climb the escalatory ladder and win by its own 'shock and awe' behavior; that this, in the end, will save millions of lives by disrupting the present gradual ascent towards all-out nuclear war between the superpowers.

Whereas Putin had allowed himself to be subjected to unfriendly questioning from Western journalists on stage at previous Forums, this is the first time I have seen him subjected to unfriendly questioning by a leading member of Russia's own foreign policy establishment.

The tension was visible in Putin's face as he argued that so far Russia's sovereignty and existence has not been threatened, so there is no reason to speak of using nuclear weapons in this conflict. Moreover, the Russian armed forces are daily pushing back the front line, gaining new territory and decimating the enemy's manpower. Ukraine is losing 50,000 men a month and even the most drastic mobilization plans now being foisted on Kiev by Washington will, at best, only fill in the losses, not strengthen the Ukrainian positions for a counter-offensive.

Karaganov also probed Putin's mentioning to the world press Russia's planned 'asymmetrical' response to any attacks on its territory. Would Russia be sending hypersonic battleship killing missiles to the 'enemies of our enemies' in the Middle East, he asked. Putin demurred, saying that nothing has yet been shipped, and that every future move would be taken only after thorough study.


Putin's speech to the Plenary Session about the 9 structural reforms that Russia will be implementing in the period to 2030 was itself an odd address for an audience consisting of not only Russians but of businessmen and government representatives from a great many foreign states. The speech was almost entirely about economic development of the country and improvement of living standards.

Before getting to his questions about Russian foreign and military policy, Karaganov had put questions to Putin from the economic domain. However, his dry manner, utterly lacking in charm, could not have warmed the hearts of the audience. And even in this domain, the questions he put to Putin were unfriendly.

Karaganov spoke as a true son of the alienated Russian intelligentsia when he asked his President whether in the ongoing recentralization of economic management there would not be reexamination of the whole privatization process of the 1990s which was directed in a criminal manner.

Without wishing to plead the case of the oligarchs, Putin put the blame not on criminal intentions but on mistaken economic assumptions of those managing the economic transformation at the time, namely that they had assumed that whatever the business under examination may be it would be in better hands if privately owned than to remain as state property. As it turned out, said Putin, we have found that the state is entirely capable of managing businesses and its role is essential for industries requiring heavy capital investment.

Vladimir Solovyov
© newsweek.comVladimir Solovyov.
No doubt there were many Russians in the audience who enjoyed the sparring on the dais. But there surely were others who shared my concern that there is a battle going on in the Kremlin for the direction of Russian foreign and military policy.

What we saw in the discussion on stage today was an indication of who will take the reins of power in Russia if Vladimir Vladimirovich is overthrown or assassinated, as the United States so fervently hopes: it will very likely be people thinking like Sergei Karaganov, like Vladimir Solovyov, like Dmitry Medvedev, who will have fewer qualms about taking risks, including dropping Russia's 70 kiloton tactical nuclear weapons here and there to vanquish the West and their Ukraine proxy. By the way, each of these 'tactical' as opposed to strategic bombs is four times as powerful as those dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.