President Mikhail Gorbachyov (1931- ) (left) and US President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) (right) signing the INF Treaty in the White House in 1987, the actual ending point of the Cold War, in my opinion
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, many intellectuals in Russia and the West announced “the end of history”. It seemed that the United States’ complete domination of the world was not disputed by anyone. The subsequent decade, during which Russia lost its foreign policy positions, and its former satellites, and even provinces, became US and NATO allies, seemed to have buttressed this idea. The first signal that the situation could change came on 11 September 2001, when it suddenly transpired that US domination did not guarantee Washington absolute security. Moreover, for the first time since the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States had to bargain in order to guarantee the loyalty of its allies. With the start of the Iraqi conflict, US domination was called into question even more openly, despite obvious successes in the post-Soviet space such as the admission of the Baltic nations into NATO and permission to use bases in Central Asia.
The second half of the first decade of the new century saw a new trend. Russia’s consolidation, buoyed by a favourable economic situation and political stabilisation, raised the issue of spheres of influence, at least in the post-Soviet space and Eastern Europe. Many analysts saw the series of coloured revolutions that spread across the post-Soviet space as the final renunciation of peaceful settlement of disputes between Russia and the West. But, this was not true; Russia did not give up attempts to come to terms with pro-American governments. The issues of missile defence and the Kosovo problem proved the Rubicon of East-West relations. The West demonstratively ignored Russia’s position, and this was bound to evoke response. Russia had to face military confrontation and settle disputes in the CIS to its own benefit, without looking to the West.
Almost as soon as Mikhail Saakashvili came to power, many observers began to see Georgia as the most probable arena of an armed conflict with Russia. All the prerequisites for this were in place, Georgia’s conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the presence of many Russian citizens in these republics, and Tbilisi’s open desire to subjugate the rebellious territories. There is no need to describe the history of the five-day war again. Its main geopolitical result is not the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but the return of political confrontation between Russia and the West. What could it lead to?
Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (this section of the wall was near the famous Brandenburger Tor). This led to a false euphoria amongst American neocon pseudo-intellectuals, leading to the present series of empty “guarantees” to unstable post-Soviet successor states.
Nobody wants a military solution to the conflict, which could be fatal for the whole world. Both sides will have to prove their cases by political and economic means. Russia’s integration into the world economy over the last 15 years has led to a situation where the West cannot inflict serious damage on us without hurting itself as much, if not more. As a result, Russia’s main lobbyists to Western governments are Western companies, for which a quarrel with the eastern neighbour could be financially ruinous. Apart from oil and gas, I could mention agreements on the supply of titanium spare parts for the world’s biggest aircraft-builders, the Russian market for cars and other hardware, and many other spheres where cessation of economic cooperation will deal substantial damage to Western interests. Furthermore, there are political, as well as financial, interests that would be damaged by confrontation with Russia. Space cooperation between Russia and the United States, the air corridor granted by Russia for NATO flights to Afghanistan and some other programs, not as obvious as oil and gas supplies, are too important to be jeopardised over Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
What will global confrontation be like now? It is clear that the point of no return has already been passed. Russia is not prepared to renounce its positions as it did in the 1990s. The West may be indignant, but, it will have to face reality, it has become too expensive to risk [open conflict]. A revision of values is inevitable. The weight categories of the political players will be revised, and many countries which had been seen as subjects will come to be viewed as objects, bargaining chips in a big power game. Their élites will not welcome this change. This is why some East European and Baltic countries quickly expressed their unreserved support for Georgia. Where will the next round of confrontation take place? It is hard to predict with certainty, but it is likely to be in he Ukraine, where not only the destiny of the Black Sea Fleet, but, also Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe is at stake. This round will be bloodless. At any rate, I would like to hope that the Ukraine is not going to oust the Black Sea Fleet from the Crimea by force. However, the propaganda confrontation will be much more intense than in Georgia. A world event is not the one in which 10,000 take part, but the one which is being filmed by 10 TV cameras.
29 August 2008
Much of the present American hubris on the foreign scene is based on an incorrect and highly-propagandistic reading of the results of the Cold War. The Cold War ended in 1987 due to the mutual exhaustion of the main parties involved. It was NOT a US “victory” over the Soviet Union. US military expenditures over the course of the “conflict” were over 8 trillion dollars in the uninflated currency of the time, and the Soviet economic burden was even higher. The US needed a generation of peace to recover economically and to repay the vast debts incurred during this period.
It was not to be. American meddling started with the encouragement of separatism in the former Federal Yugoslavia, with the Serbians cast as the sole and uniquely evil villains. One federated state was replaced with five recognised (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro) and three unrecognised states (Kosovo, Srpska Bosna, and Macedonia). Of course, eight small statelets are easier to bully than one larger entity. Then, unwisely, the ex-Warsaw Pact states were allowed into NATO, in direct contravention of President Reagan’s word to President Gorbachyov. Finally, in the 1990s, the US rammed through the membership of the unstable and unviable Baltic states into NATO (probably, the genesis of the current split in the organisation). Today, Bush demands the accession of states led by certifiable lunatics into NATO (Saakashvili is American-educated, Yushchenko is married to an American-born woman, that is the sole reason both are kosher for the USA, otherwise these two are solid-gold loons).
It is intriguing to notice how closely the American neocon vision of the post-Soviet space corresponds closely to the plans of Imperial Germany, as seen its diplomatic papers (see Fischer for details) and the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Soviet Russia accepted Brest-Litovsk to gain a breather; post-Soviet Russia allowed American meddling on the post-Soviet space for the same reason. In neither case, did Russian inactivity signify acquiescence or acceptance. Soviet Russia bounded back; post-Soviet Russia is the process of bounding back.
Do not forget 1975. That year would be best called “The Year of Chicken Little”. Vietnam fell and the Portuguese pulled out of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea. The neocons ran about screaming that the sky was falling, the Roman Catholic church elected a Polish pope (in 1978) so that they would have a head that was experienced in dealing with the Soviets, and the Soviet armed forces were made up of soldiers ten-feet-tall and supermen. Just remember, the neocon cries of “wolf” in 1975 were false, the Soviet Union was not as strong as it appeared. Ergo, the neocon chest-beating in 2008 is false as well. Russia is not as weak as it appears. All literate people can see how I wove an old dictum of Metternich into this, “Russia is never as strong as she appears; Russia is never as weak as she appears”.
The neocons have forgotten this… no, I take that back. Due to the state of current American academe, the scary part is that they probably were never even exposed to it. They had to take a class in anger management, you see…