Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is it Getting Colder in Here?

Leon Aron, the director of Russian studies and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in an editorial published in the Wall Street Journal, asks. . .what is Russia’s next target? His question is very similar to the question I asked a couple of weeks ago, “Is it getting cold in here?” According to Mr. Aron, the evidence supports the belief that Russia’s invasion and occupation of Georgia is “the onset of a distinct, and profoundly disturbing, national security and foreign policy agenda” with new priorities, “the most compelling” of which is the “recovery of the assets lost in the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.” Profoundly disturbing is right. It seems I’m not alone in wondering if a new Cold War is beginning.

If Russia’s new national security and foreign policy agenda includes the goal of reconstituting the old Soviet Union by absorbing (again) the break-away republics, how are they doing it? Mr. Aron thinks that they do it “[b]y dominating the domestic politics and, more importantly, economic- and foreign-policy orientation, of the former Soviet republics.” In Mr. Aron’s opinion, Russia has the attitude that

“Anything considered antithetical to Russia's interests, as interpreted by the current Kremlin leadership, must be discarded -- be it democratization, oil and gas exports that bypass Russia, and, especially, the membership in the Western organizations such as the European Union and NATO. And if, in the process, Russia must sacrifice most or even all of the fruits of the post-Soviet rapprochement with the West -- including membership in the G-8, entry to the World Trade Organization or ties to the EU -- so be it.

Russia's "targets of opportunity" include simmering border disputes (and virtually all Russia's borders with newly independent states could be disputed, since they are but the very badly demarcated internal borders of the Soviet Union), and the presence of the ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking minorities in neighboring countries.”

So with Georgia still occupied and Russia recognizing the two Georgian provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as independent, what is the next target in the Russian sights? According to Mr. Aron, it’s the Ukraine. They’re pro-democracy and pro-Western. They want to join NATO (although we should wonder why when NATO has been totally ineffectual lately). And nearly 1 in 5 Ukrainian citizens are ethnically Russian. Additionally, as Mr. Aron says, “the Russian political barometer seems to augur storms ahead.”

For example, “Mr. Putin has made his contempt for Ukrainian sovereignty clear, most notably at the NATO summit in Bucharest last April when, according to numerous reports in the Russian and Ukrainian press, he told President Bush that the Ukraine is "not even a real state," that much of its territory was "given away" by Russia, and that it would "cease to exist as a state" if it dared join NATO.” Then there’s the dispute over the Crimea. “A solid majority of the Russian parliament” does not want Ukraine to recognize the Crimea as a part of Ukraine. Russians, many of them retired Russian Navy, are vehemently against Ukraine absorbing the city of Sevastopol, which was the base for Russian’s Black Sea fleet and important to Russian Naval history and lore. As recently as September 5th, the Ukraine Foreign Minister accused the Russian consulate in Crimea of distributing Russian passports for those living on the Crimean peninsula. Sound familiar?

I don’t want to be a harbinger of gloom and doom, but I continue to wonder, “Is it getting cold in here?

1 comment:

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