to Preserve Stalin's Legacy?
Many Americans blame George W. Bush for the disastrous state of U.S. foreign policy in the region, but to be fair, the blame should go to the older Bush and Clinton as well...
It looks like the Western leaders, and especially two U.S. Presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and John McCain, are trying to outdo one other in condemning Russia's recognition of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, an impressive armada of U.S. and NATO military ships is docking in the Georgian port of Batumi or is on the way to the Black sea while Russia also sent three missile boats to show the flag. At the same time, British foreign secretary David Milliband has arrived to Ukraine to promote the idea of building some kind of anti-Russian coalition, and other EU leaders are making very tough statements too.
There is a great danger that if this verbal war continues at some point the inflammatory rhetoric will get out of control. To save face the West might be forced to follow words with deeds and we would arrive not just at the new edition of the Cold War but to something much hotter, perhaps close to 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, or even worse.
Statue of Soviet dictator Jossif Vissarionovich Dhzugazvili (Stalin) in his home town of Gori
So isn't it time to cool it? Especially if one takes into account that all sides had their share of (mildly speaking) mistakes. One could use stronger words, of course, but we do not want to spill more oil into the fire.
Most of objective observers agree that in this case Russia acted as a good student of America, and did almost exactly the same as the U.S. did in Kosovo. I say "almost" because both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have more legal and historical rights for independence than did Kosovo which became a part of Serbia at the end of the 11th century. South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, were never a part of Georgia until Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, an ethnic Georgian, handed over these territories as a generous gift to his native land. South Ossetia was turned over to Georgia in 1922 (obviously with the approval of another world criminal, Vladimir Lenin) and Abkhazia in 1931. Stalin's huge 50ft statue, probably the last one on the whole former Soviet space, still dominates the town of Gori, the dictator's birthplace. So, is the West ready to fight for preserving Stalin's and Lenin's legacies?
Many Americans blame George Bush for the disastrous state of U.S. foreign policy in the region, but to be fair, the blame should go to the older Bush and Clinton as well.
No one else but conservative Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, believes that this is the case. In 1989 and 1990 I helped to organize several trips to Moscow for Paul and his colleagues to see what was going on the scene and to explore the idea of Russia joining NATO after the collapse of communism which we correctly believed was imminent. On the Russian side our interlocutor was the secretary of the Interregional Group in the old Soviet parliament, Arkady Murashev. This was the most pro-Western group of parliamentarians which included Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov, Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov, and other democrats. Arkady brought the American group to President of Russia Boris Yeltsin who explicitly indicated that he was open to the idea of bringing Russia into NATO.
Weyrich had access to the White House and he brought this message directly to the Oval Office. As Paul recalls, President George H. W. Bush was not very impressed, probably because his advisers, one of them Condoleezza Rice, were absolutely against it. "If he had had the foresight to disregard their counsel and push for Russia's integration with NATO how different history very probably would be today," tells Weyrich.
What we got instead was Clinton's later and disastrous agenda of NATO expansion without Russia, something that George Bush, Sr. had solemnly promised Mikhail Gorbachev not to do. We abrogated the 1972 ABM Treaty and did not invite the Russians to join the effort of building a Global Missile Defense, which they were also ready to do. Putin was expecting some reciprocity for joining the anti-terrorist coalition and for his very impressive help to America in Afghanistan after 9/11. What he got instead was further NATO expansion into Russia's backyard and aggressive pipeline policy to weaken the Russian position in the energy market.
Today, the main thing on Bush's and Condi's agenda is how to punish Russia for its behavior in Georgia. Unfortunately, this idea of punishment is becoming a popular theme in the Western political circles and the media. So far, we did not hear too many confessions that such behavior was a direct result of the U.S.' injurious line of treating Russia as a defeated power, based on the false assumption that it will always be weak and would have no choice but to swallow its pride, no matter what was pushed down its throat.
Well, as everyone knows things have changed dramatically, and before America takes some drastic actions let us take a deep breath and consider the following points:
1. Do we need Russia's help to put pressure on Iran and to prevent WMD proliferation -- or can we handle it all by ourselves? That also applies to North Korea.
2. Shall we continue to ignore Russia's legitimate interests and think that what is good for the West is automatically good for Russia -- and if it is not, it is just Russia's bad luck?
3. Will the U.S. efforts to punish Russia backfire? Will they further destabilize a global order already facing rising threats from conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider Middle East?
It looks to some in Russia as if the West practically has abandoned the idea of having Russia as a strategic partner and is pushing very hard to make it an enemy instead. Why else would NATO, they think, keep encircling Russia and squeezing her out of the oil-rich Caspian region? The saddest story is that, judging from McCain or Obama rhetoric, neither of them has any clue how to extricate us from this mess. America badly needs someone with a greater vision of the world, but there is no one on the horizon, at least in the 2008 presidential elections.