U.S.-Russian Relations: What Should Be Done -and Not Done

Article excerpt


On Aug. 8, Russia decided to rewrite the rules of post-World War II European security. It repudiated the Helsinki Pact of 1975, which recognized the sanctity of borders in Europe, and violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of NATO aspirant Georgia, whose troops had attacked South Ossetia the day before. In the process, Russia also tore up its own peacekeeping mandate in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Moscow desires to become a hegemonic power in the former Soviet space. The Georgian war brought Russia back to the Southern Caucasus in force, outflanking oil-rich Azerbaijan, and affecting control over the principal energy and rail arteries bringing natural resources from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia to the West and consumer and industrial goods to the East. The Russian military practically destroyed the Georgian military, which protected the pipelines and the Georgian port of Poti, the important Black Sea terminal of the East-West corridor.

The war in the Caucasus, however, surpasses the regional agenda. In fact, Russia's war aims are far-reaching and include:

* Expulsion of Georgian troops and termination of Georgian sovereignty in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, something that was accomplished.

* Regime change by bringing down President Mikheil Saakashvili and installing a more pro-Russian leadership in Tbilisi.

* Preventing Georgia from joining NATO and sending a strong message to Ukraine that its insistence on NATO membership may lead to a civil unrest in the Crimea, where many Russian citizens reside, and potentially, to the country's dismemberment.

* Shifting control of the Caucasus, and especially over strategic energy pipelines and the transportation corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea, by controlling Georgia.

* Re-creating a 19th-century style sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union, by the use of force if necessary.

Such anti-status quo revisionism is the stuff of which world wars are made. Think the Balkan wars that preceded World War I or Adolf Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938 - with Europe's acquiescence.

Russia proclaims that it wants to shift the global balance of power away from the United States; Finlandize Europe; revise global economic institutions; and return to highly competitive and often confrontational great power politics, reminiscent of the 19th century. Realists: 1, Fukuyama: 0.

In his recent nationally televised statement, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced as much. He rejected unipolarity - the code word for U.S. global leadership, calling such a world unstable and conflict-ridden.

Mr. Medvedev declared that while Russia does not want to isolate itself, it would defend the life and dignity of its citizens wherever they are, as well as its business interests. Most important, the Russian leader declared that his country has regions of privileged interests, which are not limited to Russia's borderlands. One could include Iran, Syria, Cuba and even Venezuela in such a list.

Beyond that, Russia went into a diplomatic high gear, receiving the support of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes China and the five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) as members, and Iran, Mongolia, India and Pakistan as associate members. …