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Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar: Cold War II

Cold War II


By Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar

Francis Bacon once said that “he that gives good advice, builds with one hand; he that gives good counsel and example, builds with both; but he that gives good admonition and bad example, builds with one hand and pulls down with the other”.

History of US-Russia relationship since the collapse of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 is one of first building friendship with one hand then destroying it with the other. A close examination of available documents and US actions since the fall of USSR reveals how President Clinton and later President Bush, each in his own way, turned a major friendly power into almost an enemy.

Russia has historically been a major power in Europe. It has a population of 142 million. It is the largest country in the world by land mass. With an area of 17 million square kilometres, it is almost twice the size of the next-largest country, Canada. Russia has advance military technologies, enabling it to produce some of the most effective military products in the world. It is the world’s largest oil producer and it is close to the world’s largest oil reserves in the Middle East. It borders Japan, China, Middle East (through Caspian Sea) and EU.

Clinton and the Bad Advice

With the fall of the USSR, Russia went through a chaotic period. Its industries, economy and defence forces had to be restructured. Russians saw US as a friend; a country that they could form a lasting partnership with. Kremlin doors were opened wide to Washington. Russians, eager to improve their economy, were eager to embrace new ideas. Who better to show them the way than the leader of the “capitalist world”. So when the United States offered advice they accepted it wholeheartedly. But as history shows those advices almost ruined the Russian Federation and caused immense hardship to the Russian people.

In 2000, the extent of the American contribution to the Russian economic decline became clear. A report commissioned by the United States House of Representatives and produced by the leaders of six committees of the House, produced a comprehensive picture of Clinton Administration’s involvement in creating a system of corruption and oligarchy in Russia. The report listed a number of “mistakes” by the Clinton administration in its dealing with Russia. Some of those “wrong policies” are listed bellow.

  • “A strong preference for strengthening Russia's central government, rather than deconstructing the Soviet state and building from scratch a system of free enterprise
  • A close personal association with a few Russian officials, even after they became corrupt, instead of a consistent and principled approach to policy that transcended personalities
  • A narrow focus on the Russian executive branch to the near exclusion of the Russian legislature, regional governments, and private organizations
  • An arrogance toward Russia's nascent democratic constituencies that led to attempts at democratic ends through decidedly non-democratic means
  • An unwillingness to let facts guide policy, or even to make mid-course corrections in light of increasing corruption and mounting evidence of the failure of their policies

By focusing on strengthening the finances of the Russian government and on transforming state-owned monopolies into private monopolies, instead of building the fundamentals of a free enterprise system, the Clinton administration ensured that billions in Western economic assistance to Russia would amount to mere temporizing. The Gore-Talbott-Summers focus--on macro-management of the Russian economy instead of the legal fundamentals that would permit individuals to start businesses, grow a competitive market economy, and create a tax base--doomed their "privatization" efforts to failure.

Worse, by using massive lending and aid to plug the gap in the Russian central government's operating budget, the Clinton administration exposed these funds to theft and fraud” [1].

Of course by the end of Yeltsin administration situation had become so critical that nothing short of a major restructuring of the system could stabilise the situation. Putin was the right man for the job. He started by restricting the activities of the oligarchs and stopped the corrupt and uncontrolled “privatisation”. But the damage that was done under Yeltsin was enormous and will take many decades to repair.

By the end of the Yeltsin presidency, the Russian people had lost all faith in the capitalist system. The ordinary people often equated privatisation with theft. As ordinary hard working Russians struggled to keep themselves warm in the harsh winters, the rich spent astronomical amounts on luxury yachts and villas abroad.

By encouraging uncontrolled privatisation, wholesale auctioning of important government assets to a few corrupt friends, excessive borrowing, opening local markets to imports, etc, Clinton Administration was destroying the Russian economy. All considered, the Clinton era “intervention” in Russia can be called disastrous for Russia. How much of these “mistakes” were by design and how much it honest mistakes, we don’t know. But one thing is sure; the Russians have learned a very good lesson.

The Road to Cold War II

The history of the Neocons is well known. Neocons are a group of people bent on making the US the sole hegemon of the world. Barely a year after the collapse of the USSR, this group published its plan on how the sole superpower should act. The Defence Policy Guidance, crafted by the then-Defence Department staffers I. Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz at the behest of Defence Secretary Dick Cheney set the agenda for the new world order.

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defence strategy and requires that we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia. There are three additional aspects to this objective: First the U.S must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests. Second, in the non-defence areas, we must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”[2]

The election of George W. Bush gave these people real power but not the opportunity to implement their plans. The 9/11 attack on the US provided the perfect opportunity and excuse. Soon after, they set about trying to deal with the perceived future challenges to the US power.

One of those countries that have historically managed to challenge others for supremacy in its region is Russia. This made Russia a natural target for Neocons. It didn’t matter if Russia was friendly or not. Russia had the capacity and desire to become a global power again. If not now, then perhaps later it would.

When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin took over the Russian Presidency in December 1999, Russian economy was on the verge of collapse. The oligarchs were in control of many important sectors of the economy and were trying to extend their control even further. Those in Yeltsin’s administration had hoped that by helping Putin they could control him. But Putin, a former KGB officer and the first civilian head of SFB (former KGB) had many other friends, such as the Siloviks (nationalists from military and various powerful ministries who define themselves as defenders of Russian national interest). Siloviks provided Putin with a counter-balance to the oligarchs. With their backing, Putin began to reassert the central government’s control over the country.

As Putin began his struggle to stabilise the country, the US began expanding NATO. In March 1999, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO. NATO was created in 1949 as (unofficially) a defence alliance against USSR and was limited geographically to the Euro-Atlantic regions of the Northern hemisphere. By late 1990s, with that threat gone, the talk across the Europe was about the slow death of NATO. Since Russia did not threaten to invade any of these countries, there was no reason for expanding NATO into Eastern Europe, so we thought. Russia under Yeltsin was in the process of extreme decline and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Russians of course saw this expansion as a threat but since they were hardly in a position to stop it, reluctantly accepted it. Then came the 9/11 and the war on terror. After 9/11, United States began to establish a number of “temporary” bases in Russia’s “backyard” in the Caucasus. US placed troops in Georgia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Once the invasion of Afghanistan was over, US began the preparation for the invasion of Iraq, a Russian ally. By this time the Russians were worried that US not only was going to turn their temporary bases into permanent ones but also trying to become a hegemon in the region as well. They tried their utmost to stop the invasion of Iraq but failed to stop the US from achieving its objectives.

Cold War II

In 2004 7 more countries: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined NATO. NATO was now at the borders of the Russian Federation. As the new members were being welcomed into NATO, other countries were being “encouraged” to apply. This encouragement usually takes the form of encouraging civil unrest and if possible revolution in the target country, with the aim of installing a pro-American leadership. According to Guardian these colour revolutions are directly supported by the Western governments [3].

Georgia was thus encouraged and got its revolution. Then Ukraine which houses the Russian Black Sea fleet at Crimea was encouraged. The same encouragement is being given to various countries bordering Russia. There are talks of Georgia and even Azerbaijan joining NATO. All this expansion has required Russia to reassess its relationship with the West in general and NATO in particular.

To start with Russia has started to strengthen its army by increasing its defence budget. For example in 2005 Russia’s defence budget increased by 27,6% and again this year by 22% (taking inflation into account, these numbers will be lower). The share of the Russian defence budget that goes to purchase of new equipment this year is around - 70% (164 billion Rubles), up from 60% in 2005 [4]. Russia is modernising its armed forces in a hurry. In 2004 only 14.2% of its defence budget went for procurement of equipment. In 2006 that share went up to 70%. New and better equipment, along with a smaller and more professional army is going to give Russia better ability to protect its interest in the region and internationally.

On the international arena, Russia has tried to strengthen its position by joining forces with China through the Shanghai five. This grouping was created in 1996 to address the “deepening military trust at the border regions” and included Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. In 2001 the group admitted Uzbekistan as the new member and then signed the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).In the same year Russia and China signed the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation. In 2002 the official charter of SCO was signed by all members. In 2004 Mongolia was admitted as an observer and in 2005 Iran, India and Pakistan received their observer status.

SCO is evolving from a regional economic and security cooperation to something else. If the observer states were to actually join the SCO, it could become one of the most powerful organisations in the world. Russia and Iran combined would have more energy reserve and production capacity than any other nations on Earth. Population wise, the organisation would represent the over 2 billion people. Economically they would have the energy resources of Russia, Iran and caucuses plus the manufacturing might of the Chinese and burgeoning service industries of India. With the Russian space/military industrial complex behind them they would become a formidable world power.

To counter this US has tried to bring India into its camp. The US, despite all its declared goal of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, welcomed India into the nuclear club. US even offered to help India with its “civilian” nuclear technology. But Indians have taken a wait and see attitude. They are very concerned with their future energy supplies, and being close to both Russia and China, don’t want to side with a group unless they are absolutely sure that that group will win. Another problem is the Indian internal politics. Will the majority of Indians accept the US lead in international affairs?

This week, the US House International Relations Committee (HIRC) added a markup (i.e., amendment) to the Bush administration’s proposal – HR 4794, which is supposed to allow India to receive US nuclear technology. This amendment requires India’s “full and active participation in United States efforts to dissuade, isolate, and, if necessary, sanction and contain Iran for its efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapons capability (including the capability to enrich or process nuclear materials), and the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction. [5]” This is the beginning of US pressure on India to follow US foreign policy. How much is India willing to oblige is something that only Indian parliament can answer. Eventually India has three choices: stay neutral, join SCO, or join the American camp.

Conclusion

The cold war II started in 1999 by expansion of NATO into the Eastern Europe. The George Bush’s actions since then have pushed Russia and China together. America’s invasion of Iraq, placing of troops in Caucasus, expansion of NATO into the Baltic area and now the Iranian crises have convinced both China and Russia that America’s grand strategy is to contain both nations and ultimately (if possible) to create another colour revolution in their countries as well.

America having reached the Baltic border of Russia is trying to reach its central border through Ukraine. Ukraine is and will be the main focus of attention for some time to come. The Russia’s only warm water naval base is in Crimea (Ukraine). Losing that base will deal a heavy blow to the Russian navy’s ability to operate in the region.

Another area of contention is the Caucasus. US having successfully brought Georgia into its camp is focusing on other small nations in the region. Control of oil in this region and the pipelines going through it, is of vital importance to the US. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, having substantial reserves of oil, are going to be the battle grounds for the opposing sides. Kazakhstan is particularly important since it borders both China and Russia and is the main launching pad for nearly all of the Russian space vehicles.

Iran is yet another major concern. An unfriendly Iran can assist the Americans in creating tremendous problems for the Russians in their southern republics. Iran is the key to the Persian Gulf and can act as a buffer against the American advance from Iraq and Afghanistan towards the Russian southern borders. Iran and Russia combined sit on 42% of the world’s natural gas reserves. Together they can create a very powerful energy cartel. It is doubtful then, to assume that Russia will in future go along with US plans for a regime change in Iran.

What will happen in the future is determined by the new American President, and not President Bush. The current administration has turned a friendly Russia into a strategic threat. The Neocons by looking hard for perceived threats have created an environment in which many nations, Russia included, do not feel safe. The continued American advance into the Russian backyard and its attempt in reducing Russian power has triggered a resurgence of nationalism in Russia. Russia will strive to strengthen its military. By all likelihood, Russia and China will create the world second centre of power opposing US hegemony. If Iran and a few other nations join in, we will see a powerful alliance in the East that will not be so easy to contain.

FOOTNOTES:

1. United States House of Representatives 106 Congress, “RUSSIA'S ROAD TO CORRUPTION
How the Clinton Administration Exported Government Instead of Free Enterprise and Failed the Russian People
”, Washington, D.C. 20515, 2006

2. New York Times, “Excerpts From Pentagon's Plan: 'Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival’ ”, March 8, 1992, Sunday, Late Edition

3. Guardian Unlimited, “Orange rebolution oligarchs reveal their true colours”, October 14, 2005

4. WAREFARE.RU, “Russia's Military Budget 2004 – 2006”,

5. The Tribune, “India must help contain Iran, says amended US Bill”, June 28, 2006, Chandigarh, India

*************

Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar lives in Norway. He is a consultant and a contributing writer for many online journals. He's a former associate professor of Nordland University, Norway. Bakhtiarspace-articles@yahoo.no

(c)Abbas Bakhtiar All Rights Reserved


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