Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Russia's Predicament

Pity Russia. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 the U.S. has done all it can to snatch up as much influence in Russia's former imperial playground. Oil surely plays its part especially in the Caspian region. There, the U.S. has grown chummy with most of the "stans" outside of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, where a brutal crackdown on protesters last year led to a meek U.S. response, but strong enough for local strongman Islam Karimov to boot the U.S. soldiers out of that country. Still the U.S. military has use of bases in Kyrgyzstan for 'operations' in Afghanistan. Further west, U.S. troops are ensconced in Azerbaijan and Georgia. In the Baltics, a thinly veiled cover for American military might, NATO, is the tool-de-jure. So desperate is Putin, that Alexander Lukashenko, a former kolhoz, or state farm manager, and two-bit tyrant and first-class clown, is the Russian leader's best bud. Enter Ukraine. Ask a Russian, and he will blather on about their "brothers" in Ukraine, who do share a lot linguistically and culturally with their "Big Brothers" further east. Indeed, for many Russians the Ukrainians are the "Little Brothers" who are really not that different than them, it's just they speak Russian funny. Now that upstart Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko wants to move his country closer to the West and further away from Russia. That doesn't sit well with Putin or the Russian military brass, which has use of a naval base on Crimea. So the Gas War has to be viewed thru that prism. Yeah, the Russians blew it big on the p.r. front, cutting gas off totally to Ukraine, interrupting gas supplies to the rest of Europe, didn't win them lots of sympathizers, even though their economic reasoning was sound. Selling Ukraine gas at four times under Market price surely must have struck a greedy chord in the Market-uber-alles crowd in the U.S. and Europe. But maybe the Russians intended it that way. Moscow made clear not only to Ukraine but to Europe that its military may be creeky, their ill-equipped, ill-trained, and just plain ill soldiers bogged down in Russia's own quagmire in Chechnya, yet Russia has a more effective weapon than any gun or missile: natural gas. It's real politik baby and all nations play by it.

No comments: