Monday, January 19, 2009

Russia-Georgia Revisited

By Douglas Kohn

20 years ago, America and the West were triumphant in the grand ideological conflict which pitted them against Soviet Communist barbarism. As the Soviet Union collapsed, America and Russia would be cooperating on a global scale in many areas. Russia could finally become a proper European country, not one driven to dominate the continent. America could go back to being, in the words of Jeane Kirkpatrick, “a normal nation in a normal time.” Such was the optimism of the age as new openness brought increasing contacts between the ex-socialist stalwarts of Russia and Eastern Europe, China and India.

Alas, although there is a long list of common enemies and interests between Russia and the West, it has not come to pass. This was greatly the fault of the Clinton Administration, failing to show Russia the respect it deserved. We made a ‘peace’ with Russia nearly as dishonorable as the one made at Versailles. George H. W. Bush came to an unwritten understanding that NATO would not be expanded into Russia’s backyard.

Now NATO has three very weak countries right on Russia’s border. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania all have large minorities of ethnic Russians living within their borders. Russia placed Estonia under cyber siege in 2007. All of these countries have populations under 4 million people. American law now dictates that our military is obligated to defend them.

A look at Russia’s history shows that they have always been overly concerned with encroachment on their borders and sphere of influence. This fear goes very far back to the time of the Mongols. Russian expansion was partially defensive in nature.

Now there are large movements in Washington to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Neoconservatives believe that if Georgia had been in NATO this summer Russia would not have invaded. This may be true, but are we really willing to risk going to war for Georgia, a small country that probably provoked Russia in some way? There is no justification for bringing either one of these countries into NATO. NATO expansion has rules. It is not allowed to take in countries that have existing border disputes. There are no definite US interests at stake by the fact that Russia has recognized the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkazia and South Ossetia. It is a situation that has to be watched, and certainly on a diplomatic level we should not let Russia do whatever it wants, but we should not be endangering US troops.

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