Friday, August 22, 2008
recognizing the real world order
Through the 1990s, the successor states, particularly Russia, were inert. Undergoing painful internal upheaval - which foreigners saw as reform but which many Russians viewed as a foreign-inspired national catastrophe - Russia could not resist American and European involvement in regional and internal affairs. From the American point of view, the reshaping of the region - from the Kosovo war to the expansion of NATO to the deployment of U.S. Air Force bases to Central Asia - was simply a logical expansion of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a benign attempt to stabilize the region, enhance its prosperity and security and integrate it into the global system.
As Russia regained its balance from the chaos of the 1990s, it began to see the American and European presence in a less benign light. It was not clear to the Russians that the United States was trying to stabilize the region. Rather, it appeared to the Russians that the United States was trying to take advantage of Russian weakness to impose a new politico-military reality in which Russia was to be surrounded with nations controlled by the United States and its military system, NATO. In spite of the promise made by Bill Clinton that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union, the three Baltic states were admitted. The promise was not addressed. NATO was expanded because it could and Russia could do nothing about it.
quid pro quo -- russia expanded into georgia because it could and the united states (with or without its imperial institution of NATO) could do nothing about it.
From the Russian point of view, the strategic break point was Ukraine. When the Orange Revolution came to Ukraine, the American and European impression was that this was a spontaneous democratic rising. The Russian perception was that it was a well-financed CIA operation to foment an anti-Russian and pro-American uprising in Ukraine. When the United States quickly began discussing the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO, the Russians came to the conclusion that the United States intended to surround and crush the Russian Federation. In their view, if NATO expanded into Ukraine, the Western military alliance would place Russia in a strategically untenable position. Russia would be indefensible. The American response was that it had no intention of threatening Russia. The Russian question was returned: Then why are you trying to take control of Ukraine? What other purpose would you have? The United States dismissed these Russian concerns as absurd. The Russians, not regarding them as absurd at all, began planning on the assumption of a hostile United States.
wise old bear -- ever the realist. as stratfor earlier noted, "Protests -- much less revolutions -- just do not happen often in this part of the world. ... there is more than a grain of truth to their assertions that the West orchestrated the social/political movements in Georgia and Ukraine."
The Russians have now proven two things. First, contrary to the reality of the 1990s, they can execute a competent military operation. Second, contrary to regional perception, the United States cannot intervene. The Russian message was directed against Ukraine most of all, but the Baltics, Central Asia and Belarus are all listening. The Russians will not act precipitously. They expect all of these countries to adjust their foreign policies away from the United States and toward Russia. They are looking to see if the lesson is absorbed. At first, there will be mighty speeches and resistance. But the reality on the ground is the reality on the ground.
We would expect the Russians to get traction. But if they don't, the Russians are aware that they are, in the long run, much weaker than the Americans, and that they will retain their regional position of strength only while the United States is off balance in Iraq. If the lesson isn't absorbed, the Russians are capable of more direct action, and they will not let this chance slip away. This is their chance to redefine their sphere of influence. They will not get another.
The other country that is watching and thinking is Iran. Iran had accepted the idea that it had lost the chance to dominate Iraq. It had also accepted the idea that it would have to bargain away its nuclear capability or lose it. The Iranians are now wondering if this is still true and are undoubtedly pinging the Russians about the situation. Meanwhile, the Russians are waiting for the Americans to calm down and get serious. If the Americans plan to take meaningful action against them, they will respond in Iran. But the Americans have no meaningful actions they can take; they need to get out of Iraq and they need help against Iran. The quid pro quo here is obvious. The United States acquiesces to Russian actions (which it can't do anything about), while the Russians cooperate with the United States against Iran getting nuclear weapons (something Russia does not want to see).
stratfor is implying that perhaps russian threats of military action in response to polish-american agreements over missile system basing -- ludricrously passed off by american officials as directed against some kind of iranian missile threat! -- are not entirely hollow, even if the two are separated by belarus and ukraine.