The Cold War Returns


The recent invasion of former Soviet Republic of Georgia by the Russian army over the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia has finally provided a true picture of the Russian Bear that even the most fuzzy headed polyannas can no longer deny.  It should have been obvious long ago, what with Putin assassinating journalists and critics, jailing detractors, nationalizing industries, bullying and blackmailing its neighbors, ripping off western investors, and gathering power unto himself while usurping the democratic process in his own country; but for some reason, our trusting and naive friend in the White House (and many others) kept believing he could see into the "soul" of Vladimir and do business with him. 

The reality though is quite something else.

Russia maintains imperial and territorial ambitions just as it always has; but unlike its bankrupt predecessor, the Soviet Union, it is awash in petrol dollars that give it a high degree of latitude and control.  That it also has a near stranglehold on oil flowing into Europe does not help either.  It also has a US preoccupied elsewhere and a military that was not retooled adequately after the drastic underfunding of the Clinton years.  Then, of course, there is Europe, which is allergic to even the thought of military force or action. 

Not that military force will be needed.  Only its good to have so when you actually sit across the table from the Ruskies, they know you've got something other than sharp words and idle threats.  Peace through strength, and all that.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle has been the myopic and gullible mindset that held that after the fall of the Soviet Union, there was going to be a "new world order," a new era of comity and cooperation, an "end of history," so to speak, in which everyone everywhere was going to get along and be good little democrats and trading partners as they wound their way inevitably towards liberal democratic capitalism, the whole world looking just like, say, Denmark or Switzerland (including even the Russians and Chicoms), and that military power, agression, wars over territory, resources, and national pride were things of the past.  Sure. 

The smugness of the economic progressive determinists and transnationals can be overwhelming sometimes.  (Repeat after me: Evil Does Exist.)

Then 9/11 rolled around and suddenly those pesky terrorists who killed innocents on a grand scale featured prominently in the nation's imagination and our focus shifted, occupying ourselves in two theaters of war overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other efforts in the so called "war on terror."  All well and good and even appropriate: but not at the neglect of other significant and more traditional threats such as we find in Russia and China.  Many unwisely believed that Russia would even become an ally in the battle against radical Islam and other Western efforts given its own experiences in Chechnya and their gradual integration with Europe.  Sure they would. 

While focusing our military, economic, and diplomatic might on the terrorist mice, we lost sight of far stronger adversaries, the traditional, old, great power enemies that were simply biding time and waiting for the right opportunity to strike: and now Russia, probably the single greatest threat, has bared its claws.  Also, waiting out there in the wings is China.(And still to be dealt with: North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and, yes, the Jihadists...)  These, by the way, are real threats, formidable opponents, industrialized monsters, great powers.  They are slightly more substantial, shall we say, than al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, which obviously pale in comparison and have preoccupied us for way too long.   

But the bitter truth is now exposed for all to see.  

Russia is an adversary, not a friend, and will not assist the West in its agenda unless it temporarily serves Russia's interest.  It will not assist in reigning in Tehran's nuclear ambitions nor will it apply pressure to North Korea.  Why should it?  If anything, it sees these two nations as allies and happy to see them thwart Western demands.  It also has no interest in promoting democracy or human rights in its own country, in former Soviet satellites, or anywhere else.  Russia is, in other words, the Soviet Union without the ideology or global intentions: it is an expansionist, agressor, autocratic state interested in regional hegemony but not necessarily in leading some international collectivist movement. 

But it does aim to dominate, comandeer, and, if necessary, brutalize its own neighborhood (the "near abroad"), including in the former Soviet Republics  - and that means Georgia, the Ukraine, the Baltic states, Central Asia, and elsewhere.  In fact, all the former Soviet Republics and former members of the Soviet bloc have reasons to be worried by what is going on in Georgia - and are. 

So, it is time now to face up to the reality that the brief period of cooperation that existed between the West and Russia after the breakup of the former Soviet Union is over.  And has been for some time.  And many in our foreign policy and political class chose to ignore this.  They should have known better.

We have, in other words, a brand new Cold War, or, let us say, a continuation of the old one, altered slightly after a brief hiatus.  No, Russia probably will not be engaging in overseas military adventures or involve itself in promoting the Bolshevik agenda in far flung corners of the world, but it will assert itself where it chooses, and, in particular, in bordering territories it formerly controlled.  It has powerful nationalist and territorial ambitions, and operates under the twin notions of a "sphere of influence" and "satellite states" within which it has final say.  It will not be a cooperating member of the international system forged by the US and Western partners (unless it benefits).  It will also go out of its way, where possible, to subvert US and Western intentions; it also does not believe in liberal democratic capitalism.  Rather it believes in autocratic, centralized, monopolistic, crony capitalism, controlled by Putin and the Kremlin that promotes the Russian agenda as it sees it.  Russia also will move to undermine former Soviet states, especially those that seek close ties with the West.  It will not tolerate them joining NATO, nor will it accept them forming Western style democracies.  It wants subservient little impoverished puppet states surrounding it, that take their marching orders from Moscow. 

It is also important to understand the other dimension to Russia's Georgia adventure beyond humiliating the nation and its pro-Western, American educated President, Mikheil Saakashvili (of the pro-democracy, American supported "Rose Revolution" in 2003) and grabbing territory. 

It is also about resources, specifically oil.  Georgia has two crucial oil pipelines that bring oil from central Asia, including the strategic Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries about 1% of the world's oil, bringing it from Azerbaijan, through Georgia to the coast of Turkey, and then to the rest of Europe and elsewhere.  Without this crucial safe "corridor" the West will be increasingly dependent for its energy needs on - guess who?  Russia and Iran.  Exactly where Russia and Iran want the West to be.  Dependent and subservient.  And ready to be squeezed at any moment.  Preserving Georgia's independence is important not just for its symbolic significance as a democratic state in a former Soviet Republic, but for a very critical and practical reason: maintaining oil supplies that do not rely on the cooperation of these two despotic states. 

What should be our response? 

The US, in concert with Western allies, should establish and strengthen relationships with all former Soviet Republics.  It should actively seek them out as a matter of foriegn policy and national interest.  It should also arm them and build up their militaries.  It should develop economic and cultural ties with them and implement various exchange programs.  More and more, they should be integrated into the Western system.  It should promote democracy there and support their democratic institutions.  It should offer to them the opportunity to join NATO as well - and be prepared to defend them.  An American/NATO military and humanitarian airlift to Tbilisi (Georgia's capitol) ala Berlin in 1948 with visits from high level American officials including Condoleeza Rice (who has already been there), Robert Gates, Senators, Congressmen, and even the President are important to demonstrate solidarity.  The same for European and former Soviet states and Soviet bloc nations.  

Russia, on the other hand, should be removed from the G-8 group of democracies.  It should be barred from entry into the WTO (World Trade Organization).  Assets overseas can be frozen.  Plans for holding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on the Black Sea should be put on hold.  The West should also stop investing there or significantly curtail it.  Both to achieve foriegn policy objectives and to avoid losing equity when Putin decides to change the rules.  Let us see how long the Russian economy thrives without foriegn investment, capital, trade, and technical know how. 

We must also begin developing other energy sources, especially our own, which, by the way, plays nicely into Republican and, specifically, McCain's hands. 

Long term, we should also develop a Community of Democracies, a new international organization with only valid democracies among its membership, a proper counterweight to the dysfunctional UN, especially now that Russia can be expected to use its veto power on the Security Council to oppose Western interests.  A return to the old Cold War days of UN paralysis is of no benefit to the US.

The Soviet Union is dead.  Little prosperous western style democracies dotting the border of the Russian giant are no threat to Moscow, other than its wounded ego.  These nations do not owe Russia anything.  Not subservience, not obedience, not giving into Russian demands.  Russia, too, could move in this direction, but for cultural and historical reasons will not.  Its former Soviet states do not have to follow it into the autocratic Gulag.  American foriegn policy and military posture must now be restructured to help these nations and prevent them from becoming once again puppet client states of an authoritarian and oppressive Russian regime - all while countering the Jihadist and other threats.  Yes, the world just became more complex.

In a move reminsicent of the bad old days of the Soviet Union, of Hungary in 1956, Prague in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979, Chechnya in 1994 and 1999,  Russia has returned us back to a new Cold War.  The US should respond and make Russia pay a price.  If nothing else, this should make Americans think twice before voting the inept and unqualified Obama into the White House.






  • Tom L. Paine

    August 24, 2008

    Yes we should get tough with the Russians, but we're in a hole, not only because of the epically clueless Prez. and his clueless Sec. of state, Confoundedleeza Rice ( some Russian expert she turned out to be. ), but how tough can we get when we have squandered our precious troops and treasure in Iraq, and haven't even enought troops to fight in the real location of Alqueda ?

    To blame this on the Clinton administration is the height of blind partisanship. the ball has been squarely in Bush's court, where any admin. paying minimal attention could have prevented 911.

    Those of you who looked the otherway and gave Bush a free pass and voted for him the second time, we'll thanks alot for continuing to keep us in the mess we're in in Iraq, as well as in our economy. What were you thinking ?

    Did you somehow think he and his arrogant pals were going to get any more aware of what's going on ? What reason can you give to justify rewarding their monumental incompetence with 4 more years ?

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