West Misses the Forest for the Trees

The Wall Street Journal explains how the West is missing the forest for the trees where Russia is concerned:

Just two years ago, it looked like Russia was losing its grip over what had been part of its empire for centuries. U.S. troops were based across energy-rich Central Asia, where Moscow was struggling to rebuild its influence. Pro-Western governments had swept to power in Georgia and Ukraine, emboldening the White House to talk about a wave of democratic change sweeping the region. Russian officials blamed the U.S. for orchestrating the revolutions and worried openly that Washington had similar plans to install a friendlier government in Moscow. Since then, the most important of the uprisings, Ukraine’s Orange revolution, has seen its leaders become mired in infighting, opening the way for the appointment of an openly pro-Russian prime minister in August. Last month, he said Ukraine was putting its NATO membership bid on hold. Central Asian governments that had sought to play the West off against Moscow have largely shifted into the Russian camp, ousting U.S. military bases and tightening security and other ties to Moscow. This year, Russia secured long-term contracts to purchase Central Asian gas, tightening its control over the supply to Europe. The turning point in Central Asia came in May 2005, when Uzbekistan’s government killed hundreds of protesters in Andijan. Criticized by the U.S., the Uzbek government turned to Moscow, which concurred that it had faced a terrorist threat. Uzbekistan then kicked U.S. troops out of a military base established to support the war in Afghanistan. This summer, it joined the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. Next door, Kyrgyzstan — where the so-called Tulip Revolution toppled the government last year — yesterday wound up joint military antiterrorist exercises with Russia. The U.S. still runs a military base in Kyrgyzstan, but the rent it pays increased sharply this year.

In other words, by confronting Uzbekistan rather than seeking respetful negotiation, the U.S. pushed the Uzbeks right into the arms of the Russians, where they will be free to abuse their population as much as they like. So the U.S. achieved nothing positive, while allowing Russia to enhance its malignant sphere of influence. This is the height of hypocrisy, since the U.S. so far has refused to directly confront Russia itself over its grievous litany of human rights abuses — to say nothing of its direct frontal assault on U.S. national security in Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Syria.

Russian imperialism in the region clearly knows no bounds. As the Journal reports, it is pulling out all the stops in seeking to crush one area of hot resistance, Georgia, after the nation discovered a Russian-sponsored coup plot and arrested the conspirators:

Within hours Moscow was tightening the screws. It announced it was cutting off all flights, trains, shipping, roads and postal links to Georgia, which has a population of about 4.7 million. Since then, it has closed down Georgian-owned businesses, including a popular Moscow casino, and imposed restrictions on visas for Georgians. Parliament this week will consider a bill preventing Georgians making bank transfers to relatives back home. That could prove a powerful blow, because hundreds of thousands of Georgians rely on the transfers. Russian officials have given no indication when they might ease the restrictions, insisting Georgia take a more deferential line. “Russia does not want to be provoked. Russia wants to be respected,” deputy foreign minister Alexander Yakovenko said yesterday. “Russia wants the anti-Russian campaign to stop.” But the pressure could escalate much further. At a meeting with Russian parliamentary leaders in the Kremlin Wednesday, Mr. Putin discussed the possibility of Russia recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two areas of Georgia controlled by Russian-backed separatists since the early 1990s.

That Russia would even consider recognizing breakaway regions of Georgia when it is faced with is own breakawy crisis in Chechnya shows how detached from reality, and how dangerous, the Kremlin has become.

Russia is in no position militarily or economically to resist a concerted Western effort to drive back its imperialist designs in the former Soviet slave states, but if Western resolve is found lacking, just as it was in dealing with Hitler and Stalin, then even diminished Russia can consolidate its gains and become still more troublesome in the future.

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