Monday, January 02, 2006
Russia vs. Europe... Time for a Little Poker
I know it's just a stretch, but hasn't Europe fallen into global warfare over much less than what Russia is doing to it right at this moment? You remember, those little skirmishes that cost about 100 million lives in the first half of the 20th Century. Yes, those wars that were ended with the help of the United States military and industrial complex.
Vladimir Putin has decided to play a round of geopolitical poker. He's still bitter about the Ukraine's Orange Revolution and has decided to make them pay with their checkbooks for dabbling with real democracy. By quadrupling the cost of gas that flows from Russia through the Ukraine and to the rest Europe (25-30% of Europe's supply), Putin has shown his hand and has given the world a glimpse into the former Soviet Union's new strategic doctrine. That doctrine is to use its natural resources to fill the growing vacuum created by shrinking Middle Eastern output, ultimately retaking its seat at the Super Power table. With that power Russia will once again be a magnet for weaker regimes, reestablishing its control over the Former Soviet Republics throughout Asia and Europe. Even worse, Russia will again have a major influence in world affairs.
Since taking over the Presidency in 1999 Putin has made every effort to consolidate power in Russia. He's continued to strengthen his government's democratic facade, yet democracy in Russia has been reduced to the local or regional level, kept in check by the watchful eye of the Kremlin. No matter how hard it is to admit it, Russia is not a democracy.
Back to my original observation. Europe has crumbled into warfare over much less overt acts of aggression. The reason Russia is going to get away with this blatant power play with nothing more than a 'strongly worded letter' from the so-called power players of Europe is because those players are much weaker than they were 100 years ago. Not only are they militarily weaker, they've lost their ability to stand firm against aggression. They've lost their spines. The proof of this are their actions since 9/11. They've dabbled in peacekeeping in Afghanistan, but when it came time to actually go to war against a known sponsor of terrorism and genocidal tyrant, they showed their cards to the world... and to Russia. Europe has no hand to play.
Where this all ends up nobody can really predict this early on. How the United States deals with this, and we will inevitably have to deal with this issue, is still unknown. We may just let Europe work out its own issues internally for now, but history shows that waiting too long to do anything will prove disastrous. Russia may be counting on the fact that nearly all of our diplomatic and political attention is currently focused on the War on Terror and in Iraq. Our chips are stretched thin on the table, but do they really know our hand?
This is one poker game I look forward to seeing played out over the next year. That is of course as long as it stays on the table.
posted by El Capitan at 9:13 PM
We've been playing this game (the "new great game") since the fall of the USSR, but this spat with Ukraine really has brought it into the spotlight. One of the main goals of Clinton's energy/foreign policy in the Caspian Region was the construction of a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey (before, all Caspian oil went through Russia's state controlled network). Private industry thought it was a waste of money, but the U.S. govt pushed hard for it, and the economics eventually turned in favor of the project. We now have an oil pipeline free from Russian control (score one for us), but IMHO, I think we have really dropped the ball in the Caspian for the past few years. You're right, Russia is counting on the fact that our attention is focused on Iraq, and has strengthened its position in the Caspian/Central Asia by locking Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan into a variety of oil and gas contracts that virtually guarantees Russia will have a monopoly on either the extraction or transit of those resources for the long-term future.
You seem to focus on Europe's "lack of spine" towards Russia, but honestly I don't think the U.S., whether under Clinton or Bush, has done any better. Case in point, pre-2000 election, Bush rightly criticizes Russia's war in Chechnya, saying the U.S. should cut off loans and economic aid to Russia because it is killing thousands of Chechens and leveling Grozny. But now he's throwing his arm around "Pootie-Poot" and sitting behind the wheel of Putin's Volga? WTF? The Russian army is still performing its famous "zachistki" on Chechen villages and running male Chechens through its "filtration" camps, but oh, that's right, we're now partners in the war on terror, and every Chechen seperatist is now classified as being part of Shamil Basayev's merry band of Islamic terrorists. I haven't really heard Bush refer to the torturing, kidnapping, murdering and mass graves in Chechnya lately, but that's because he's now parroting the Russian Foreign Ministry and referring to it as an "internal affair" of Russia. I bet Putin and Lavrov chuckle to themselves everytime they hear that.
Sorry to sound so pessimistic, Cap, but the more I study about the former Soviet Union and our/Europe's/anyone's foreign policy towards it, the less idealistic I become about anything over there, whether in Russia, Ukraine, or the "stans". And whoa, sorry this is so long.
On every point you made... Da. You're spot on. We're so hesitant to do anything to Russia. Why? The only time we came close to steping on their toes was in Serbia, but they trumped us there too. I focused on Europe because it's easy to see how they're failing... and will fail in this game. They're so predictable. Just look at their current 'Diplomatic' efforts with Iran. Zero, zilch, nada.
I just hope someone in our government straps a pair on and grows a spine quickly. We seem to have one with Iraq and the GWOT, but it ends there. Just look at our failures in Sur America. Socialism is blossoming down there and we're doing little or nothing to stop it. We sound a bit like Europe.
I could write another Thesis on this if I had the time. To many things going on. Thanks for your comment.