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Putin’s Russia Revives Soviet Deception

de (18-8-2008)

Russia’s invasion of Georgia is neither surprising nor an isolated case, but part of a pattern of behavior that began with Vladimir Putin’s rise to power. It has been encouraged by Western pusillanimity and fueled by high energy prices. Moscow’s methods remind me of Soviet propaganda in style and George Orwell in substance. Thus, after imposing its presence as a \”peacekeeping\” force in the secessionist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia (and Transnistria in Moldova), Moscow distributed Russian passports to local non-Georgians – and now excuses its invasion as the duty to protect its \”citizens.\” Prime Minister Putin even accused Georgia of \”ethnic cleansing.\” This after Russia and its local puppets have removed the majority Georgian population from Abkhazia.

Moreover, Moscow makes it clear that its real aim in Georgia is the removal of the pro-American, democratically elected (and Columbia-educated) president, Mikhail Saakashvili, presumably to be replaced with a Russian pawn. Mr. Saakashvili’s sin, in Russian eyes, is his pro-U.S. attitude, and a desire to join the European Union and NATO. In addition, the present invasion is transforming what until now has been a creeping occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into blatant annexation.

Georgia’s perhaps unwise and ill – timed attempt to reassert its sovereignty over South Ossetia only served as a pretext for Russia to fulfill ambitions that go beyond the Caucasus or the stated goal of removing the democratic government of its small neighbor.

To begin with, domination of Georgia, whether direct or indirect, would allow Russia to gain control over the oil pipelines bringing Caspian Sea oil to markets – and increase further its stranglehold on European energy supplies. Second, Moscow’s drive to re-establish domination over the former Soviet space presents an immediate threat to Ukraine, a country ten times more populous than Georgia, where Russia already has territorial claims with its main naval base in the Black Sea. As for Moldova, Russia’s support for secessionism there and control of oil supplies have already made that small country a de facto satellite.

While all of the above factors represent immediate threats to Europe, Russia’s recent behavior has global implications. For a few years now, Moscow has served as Iran’s supplier of nuclear technology and its defender at the United Nations. By selling major weapons systems to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s mercurial dictator, Moscow is creating the conditions of an arms race in South America – and close to U.S. borders. Even in areas where Russia has no ostensible interests, like Zimbabwe, it systematically opposes Western initiatives – obviously to demonstrate its global stature and importance.

What the West – Europe and the United States – should do is as clear as it is unlikely to happen – at least in the short term. To begin with, Europe is too disunited and weak to speak with one voice – at least beyond diplomatic bromides. Germany, for instance, is completely dependent on Russian oil and gas supplies, and unlikely to risk them by supporting a strong response to Moscow’s aggression. The United States is facing an uncertain period of transition under a lame duck administration.

The European assessment was best defined in a Le Monde editorial: \”By and large, the Westerners remain impotent. They could not openly incite the Georgians to give in to Russian pressure, but have no means to act against Russia … That is why realism, if not morality, should have pressed the Georgians to not provoke the Russians and not to answer to their provocations.\”

Ideally, the Western response to the Georgian invasion should be as follows. Start by a rapid and massive re-arming of Georgia with modern defensive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, via an airlift from NATO bases in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time NATO if possible, the United States if not, should guarantee Georgia’s territorial integrity. The alliance’s naval presence in the Black Sea should be significantly increased. At the diplomatic level, it should be obvious that all the post-Cold War attempts to bring Russia into a partnership with the West – including its membership in the G-8 – should be reconsidered. Clearly neither NATO nor the European Union should recognize any Russian change of the territorial status quo in Georgia – and provide the strongest support (and aid) to the government of president Saakashvili.

Most importantly, Europe and the United States should begin to act as if they really understand Russia’s new position – not as a partner but as a growing strategic threat. Whether that means the return to a sort of Cold War should only depend on future Russian behavior – and that is not encouraging.

Michael Radu is a Senior Fellow and co-chairman of the Center on Terrorism at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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  • Anton Constantinescu: (18-8-2008 la 00:00)

    Stiu, multi romani vorbesc engleza. Dar a expune un intreg articol direct in engleza cand totusi limba engleza nu este a doua limba oficiala in Romania (inca?) nu aduce acum nici un beneficiu, decat pierderea de cititori.
    De cate ori participantii simt ca pot intelege si traduce textele in romaneste, este de dorit sa o faca. La fel de putin confortabil s-ar simti majoritatea romanilor si cu texte scrise in ruseste.

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