The Wall Street Journal Stands Up to Russia

Two brilliant op-eds from a trio of lawyers writing in the Wall Street Journal show that it, along with the Washington Post, is clearly on the cutting edge of leadership in the new Cold War.

First, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, who served from 2004-2007 as members of the U.N. Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, expose the mafia-style “governance” in Russia that they call “the Kremlin’s Protection racket.”

Russia’s invasion of Georgia will be a defining moment for America’s credibility and global stability. If the Medvedev (or, rather, Putin) regime succeeds in using force to topple a democratic and pro-Western government, based on spurious claims of “protecting” Georgia’s population against its own government, the stage will be set for similar aggression against the other states — from the Baltics to Ukraine — that border Russia but look to the free West. The dangers of the post-September 11 World will be combined with the challenge of a new Cold War.

Russia is fully aware of these ominous implications. It has accordingly sought to cloak this act of aggression in the raiment of modern international justice. Its officials and surrogates (including Mikhail Gorbachev) have falsely accused Georgian leaders of violating international law in the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, which have “Russian” populations on account of Russia’s extralegal issuance of its passports in those areas.

President Dmitry Medvedev has called for the “criminal prosecution” of the perpetrators of these supposed abuses and Vladimir Putin has alleged that if “Saddam Hussein [was hanged] for destroying several Shiite villages,” Georgian leaders are guilty of much more. Ruthless Kremlin realists have learned the language of global humanitarianism.

The language of “protection” was once a favorite pretext for Tsarist expansion in the 19th century. It is also the same rationale that Germany offered for absorbing the Sudetenland in 1938. The Kremlin’s current claims are no more credible than its tattered justifications for invading Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Afghanistan in 1979. Russian assertions that Georgian forces provoked the conflict by attacking Russian troops call to mind Hitler’s story that his 1939 invasion of Poland was justified by Polish attacks on Germans. This is particularly ironic, given the Kremlin’s penchant for comparing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Adolf Hitler.

Moscow’s sudden embrace of a “limited sovereignty” for Georgia doesn’t square with Russia’s own previous protestations about the sanctity of its sovereignty and stubborn insistence that it was free to act on its own soil as it saw fit. Moscow’s concern about alleged atrocities and genocide is also preposterous in light of the Russian government’s callous indifference to the very real genocides conducted by its allies in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda and Darfur — not to mention Moscow’s own exceptionally brutal military campaigns in Chechnya.

Predictably, Messrs. Putin and Medvedev also assert that their actions in Georgia are no different from Western behavior vis-à-vis Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. Accordingly, they have demanded Mr. Saakashvili’s resignation.

Moscow’s clear goal is to replace a pro-Western government with a new Russian satellite, both through military action and by discrediting Georgia’s leadership through false war crimes and genocide accusations. Behind the hypocrisy, Russia may be trying to lock in a new set of international rules, by which Moscow will be free to intervene at will in its “near abroad” while the United States looks on. These claims, reminiscent of the Brezhnev doctrine which posited that Moscow had a right to use force to preserve its empire, ring particularly hollow in the 21st century.

Moscow’s attack on Georgia is only part of a broader campaign against its real and perceived enemies, a mission that has been conducted without the least regard for settled principles of international law. This campaign includes the de facto annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — which must now be considered “Russia-occupied territory” protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention. It also encompasses cyber attacks against the Baltic states, state-ordered assassinations of individuals in Western countries, and economic intimidation, as in the recent cutoffs of Russian oil and gas shipments to Ukraine or the Czech Republic.

It is important that Moscow pays a concrete and tangible price for its latest aggression, at least comparable to the price it paid for the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Visa denials to all individuals connected to the Russian government and vigorous oversight and enforcement activities against Moscow’s state-owned companies would be a good way to start. Given Russia’s historic insecurities, and the desire of Russian plutocrats to travel freely throughout the world, educate their children in the West, and own property overseas, such modest measures would be quite effective. Russia’s WTO membership should be blocked and its G-8 participation suspended.

The Bush administration should also make an assertive effort to deny the legitimacy of all Moscow’s legal and policy claims, and defend Mr. Saakashvili without reservations. We should draw a sharp contrast between the American leadership in securing Kosovo’s independence — an infringement of Serbian sovereignty brought about by Belgrade’s real genocide and war crimes — and Moscow’s cynical encouragement of secessionist movements in countries formerly a part of the Soviet Union, which was designed to reconstitute Russian imperial control. John McCain has already taken the lead on this, quickly reaching out to the Georgian president and condemning Russia’s actions as a new form of empire building.

While rebutting Moscow’s claims of today, the U.S. should also press for a historical accounting. Russia’s history goes directly to its credibility. We should remind the world that Russia remains unrepentant for the sins of its past, not the least of which are its previous 1803 and 1922 invasions and annexation of Georgia, its 1939 partition of Poland with Hitler’s Germany, and the Katyn massacre that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of captured Polish officers (which Moscow still falsely blames on Germany). Russia refuses to take responsibility for its past oppression of numerous non-Russian “captive nations” — among them, of course, the Georgians.

American credibility is very much at stake here. If a true friend of the United States — an ancient country already twice annexed by Moscow in the past two centuries, a democracy that has enthusiastically reached out to NATO and the European Union, and even sent troops to fight in Iraq — can be snuffed out without concrete action by Washington, America’s friendship will quickly lose its value and America’s displeasure would matter even less. The repercussions would be felt world-wide, from the capitals of New Europe, to Jerusalem, Kabul and Baghdad.

Next Peter Choharis, a principal in Choharis Global Solutions, an international law and consulting firm, and an adjunct fellow at the American Security Project, shows how Russia’s threat is two-pronged, including the weaponization of Russia’s energy resources and calling for an economic response:

Moscow has much more than a military threat to intimidate countries in its neighborhood. Long before its foray into Georgia, Russia was using its market strength in oil and gas resources to strong-arm its neighbors and outmaneuver the United States and the European Union. As NATO considers how to respond to Russian troops in Georgia, the West should also consider how to counter Kremlin capitalism.

Ever since Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president in 2000, Russian authorities have used the power of the state to gut Russian companies and seize their assets for a fraction of their value. Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil producer, was seized by Russian authorities allegedly for back taxes. Its assets were auctioned off at bargain prices to Russia’s state-owned energy giants, Rosneft and Gazprom, while its CEO and other company officials were arrested and imprisoned.

The government’s seizure also deprived ExxonMobil and Chevron from buying major stakes in Yukos. Sibneft, Russneft, and other Russian hydrocarbon companies have suffered similar fates.

More recently, TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest oil company and a joint venture between British Petroleum and a group of Russian billionaires, has been the target of Russian government investigations. BP calls the government’s scrutiny a campaign of harassment. The company’s British head, Robert Dudley, was forced to flee Russia two weeks ago, and its British CFO abruptly resigned. This after Gazprom wrested control of the $22 billion Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project from Royal Dutch Shell for a fraction of market value.

BP vows to use “all legal means” to protect its investment. But lawyers won’t be enough. For the TNK-BP dispute is about geopolitics and Russian hegemony as much as it is about money.

Since Mr. Putin became president, the Russian government has renationalized much of the energy sector; it now owns 50% of the country’s oil reserves and 89% of the gas reserves. Beyond ownership, the Kremlin has positioned high-ranking government officials and other Putin-loyalists — elites in the security services known as siloviki (men of power) — to key positions in leading Russian companies, even while they keep their government jobs.

Before becoming Russia’s current president, Dmitry Medvedev was both Gazprom’s chairman and Russia’s first deputy prime minister. siloviki also control major companies in metals, mining and other strategic sectors. While profits are fine, the Kremlin ensures that these companies promote Russia’s foreign-policy goals.

This strategy extends beyond energy. Two weeks ago, Moscow announced the formation of a state grain-trading company to control up to half of the country’s cereal exports, which are the fifth-largest in the world. Its purpose, most analysts believe, is to provide the government with greater leverage over food-importing nations at a time of rising food costs and shortages.

But it is in the natural gas sector where the Kremlin wields the most power. Numerous Western European countries depend heavily on Moscow for natural gas to heat homes and produce electricity, with some Eastern European countries almost completely dependent. Beyond supply, Russia also enjoys a near monopoly of the pipelines transporting gas to Europe from the east. In a further bid to extend its grip on gas supplies, Russia — along with such anti-U.S. governments as Iran and Venezuela — is supporting the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, which some fear will become an OPEC-like cartel.

While Russia may or may not intend to start a new Cool War, it is not afraid of leaving Europeans out in the cold — literally. In the middle of winter 2006, it cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and parts of Western Europe. It has also cut off gas to Moldova, Belarus and Georgia.

This past spring, critics charge that, in part due to Russian pressure, Germany opposed Membership Action Plans for Ukraine and Georgia, the first step toward NATO membership. They point to a Gazprom-led consortium building the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia underneath the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, while circumventing pro-U.S. countries like Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. (Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s role as Nord Stream chairman could not have hurt Russia’s influence.)

Last month, after the Czech Republic supported an antiballistic missile system opposed by Russia, the flow of Russian oil dropped 40%. President Medvedev had promised “retaliatory steps.”

Aware of their vulnerability, in March 2007 the Europeans developed an “Energy Policy for Europe” to coordinate energy security, competitiveness and sustainability. But agreeing on principles has been far easier than acting on them. Moscow continues to exploit differences among EU member states — whose dependence on Russian gas, voracity for lucrative pipeline transit fees and desire to tap into Russian energy markets vary considerably — in order to promote greater European dependence on Russian gas and pipelines.

Thus, when a consortium of European countries proposed the Nabucco pipeline, to pump gas from Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe without going through Russia, Mr. Putin earlier this year personally met with foreign government and corporate leaders on behalf of South Stream, a rival pipeline that would go from Russia across the Black Sea to Bulgaria and the rest of Europe. To ensure that South Stream would have gas to transport, Gazprom upped its offer to Caspian region suppliers to pay higher rates for natural gas. It also just signed a deal with Turkmenistan to invest in its gas infrastructure. Meanwhile, the Nabucco pipeline’s future is cloudy, with one of its original sponsors, Hungary, switching to South Stream due in part to European dithering and skillful Russian negotiating.

Just as NATO’s response to Georgia will be crucial for American credibility throughout Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, so too U.S. leadership is vital to maintain Europe’s energy security.

Short of sanctions, the West does not currently have much economic leverage. European, Japanese and American export credit agencies could refuse to finance any deals involving Russian companies that have acquired assets expropriated from foreign investors. European countries could also bar such Russian firms from operating in Europe, or could impose a special fee to reimburse expropriated investors. And rather than expel Russia from the G-8 as John McCain has proposed, members should demand that Russia respect the rights of foreign investors and ratify the Energy Charter Treaty.

Longer term, the U.S. needs to use its diplomatic and financial clout to push forward alternative energy routes. Washington’s backing was vital to building the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in five years. One of the longest of its kind, the pipeline bypasses Russia and carries crude oil from offshore fields in the Caspian Sea across Georgia to the Mediterranean. Washington must make financing and constructing the NABUCCO gas pipeline a top priority.

Washington also needs to reach out to Central Asia, and should push for a Trans-Caspian pipeline from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan and west to Europe. Years of Russian domination have made these countries open to Western investment. Moreover, they understand the strategic importance of diversifying sales and transport options for their oil and gas. Western companies also offer superior technology.

But after Russia’s use of military force in Georgia, these countries are wary of antagonizing their former overseer. Without a strong American presence, it is impossible for the West to compete in the region. Yet Turkmenistan has lacked a full-time U.S. ambassador for more than a year.

The markets can also help hold Russia accountable for its heavy-handedness. Two weeks ago after Mr. Putin targeted Mechel, a steelmaking giant — suggesting that Russian antitrust and tax authorities investigate the company — Russia’s stock market lost $60 billion. Market forces may not protect BP’s Russian investments or save Georgia, but they could make it far more costly for the Kremlin to proceed.

3 responses to “The Wall Street Journal Stands Up to Russia

  1. Russia’s unilateral invasion of Georgia deprives the soviets(oops) of their moral objectivism. In the age of new media, the only thing comparable is the invasion of Iraq. The only problem is that if a citezen was on the ground, he was being either detained or arrested. With that picture it is obvious that he was being intimidated.

    Americans were ordered to stand down when Iraqis were robbing their own banks, museums, and manufacturing plants. With video of russians robbing a Georgian bank, there really is no comparison. Morally or even relatively.

  2. valentine akishkin

    Valentine Akishkin
    Russian entrepreneur


    Bolstered by the Bush administration the EU has been rigorously digging itself into series of ungovernable brisances. Two coloured revolutions in Georgia and the Ukraine sponsored and adorned by transatlantic unity have brought nothing but confusion. Bush’s spate to expand NATO by including these two subversive handcrafted “democracies” was premeditated as an instrument to vie “resurgent” Russia; the whole evasion being enshrouded behind a veil of “honorable” purposes.
    Not the least pertinacity was paid to either diagnose the consequences of hastily ushering these machinated political appendages into power or determine why the cheerleaders of these “democracies” so insistently sought entrance to NATO. In the first case the EU’s unscrupulous and unresisting demeanor, consecrated by US doggedness was humbly assumed by Saakashvili to be a blessing for his bloody swashbuckling assault of South Ossetia.
    At the same time, the EU bestowed itself the role of an innocent, sinless bystander, whereas EU stolidity and disregard multiplied by US pandering was the fuse that instigated Saakashvili’s intervention of South Ossetia.
    Today, Europe is facing its next self-pollinated Gordian knot based on the same quaint transatlantic doctrine, “Russia can never be right”. The present day “orange” political elite in the Ukraine; a regime that the Transatlantic Unity has so lovingly fostered has emerged with an “orange” interpretation of resolving financial problems. Apart from siphoning or bluntly saying sealing Russian gas, transatlantic fostering has brought Yushenko and his associates to the belief, similar to the case of Saakashvili, that there is no limit to unheeding maleficence as long as it implies harm on Russia. Blocking Russia gas supplies, crucial to Europe, found pardon in the “transatlantic agenda”, although it is only fair to say that the negative impact affected mainly on east European countries, some of which are not EU members, and others have little say in European affairs.

    Ukraine’s blocking gas supplies to Europe is only a consequence of today’s toothless European policy following up “transatlantic fraternity” stipulating that support to any regime be offered as long as it opposes Russia. What better way would there be to contend Russia other than surrounding it with a military block or by showing how vulnerable its gas supplies were. The US plan of finding an alternative route for gas to Europe is scoring points supported by the Ukraine’s disrupting gas supplies to Europe. Immediate Ukrainian interests fall in unison to US long term aspirations and explain how Yushenko with a popularity rating of 2 % dares to harass both Russia and the EU.
    Transatlantic patronizing of “colour” revolutions, the expansion of NATO or the installation of US anti rocket systems in Europe will not disgruntle “resurgent” Russia as it will at length backfire on Europe itself. Georgia has lost all hope of finding a way to integrate South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the Ukraine has become a territory of unpredictable political upheaval. The EU must understand that the time has come to put serious doubt on the Cold War reflexes that constitute today’s transatlantic agenda.

  3. “Valentine” Akishkin, what are “you” trying to say? Can you “not hide” behind meaningless platitudes and express yourself with some clarity?
    Also, what qualifications do you have to judge other people opinions to be “illusions”? Being “entrepreneur” in Russia gives you that authority?

    Last, if you are writing your own article, why hide behind the veil of comments to somebody else’s? This brings nothing but confusion. What better way would there be to express your opinion than to have your own publication, printed or online?

    Last, why are you insisting to be “genderless”? “Valentine” – neither valentin nor valentina! I think it’s time for you to put serious doubt on hermaphrodite reflexes that constitute today’s “article”

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