Sunday, February 24, 2008

Western belligerence fuelling a belligerent Russia

This was the week where international relations took a turn for the worst.

Russia is upping the ante on Kosovo, threatening military force should the EU or NATO move to officially recognise the newborn Balkan state.

Why do international powers constantly toy with the Balkan chessboard in order to test each other's patience? Not that I'm predicting a repeat of the events that led to World War I, but there is not one major power in this world that is acting responsibly.

US State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, claimed Russia had taken an isolated position in regards to Kosovo, but reality points to a much more evenly, polarised world. Russia has acquired the backing of China - the fastest growing economy, Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim nation, Spain and Argentina, to name a few.

The West is demonstrating an overconfidence in its relations vis a vis Russia. Since the turn of the century, and the hardening of Moscow under Putin, the West has itself taken on an incredibly belligerent attitude towards Russia. Often in the West, we look upon the Russians as having the stubborn tempers, but are the actions of our leaders excusable?

I can think of a number of things that have led to an angry, threatening Russia today:

In recent years, the US, along with its European allies, have:

- actively supported anti-Russian movements in Russia's sphere of influence such as Ukraine and Georgia.

- scrapped armament treaties in pursuit of America's star wars missile plan

- welcomed former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (still considered by Russia as its backyard) into the European Union

- drawn up plans to install anti-missile shields in former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic

- expanded the borders of NATO to Russia's frontline, when Moscow was assured that NATO's expansion had come to an end (after all NATO came into existence as a result of the Cold War, hence why Russia is baffled at the West's insistence on expanding NATO to Russia's borders)

- and this week, backed the independence of Kosovo, further breaking up Russia's key ally in southern Europe, Serbia.

After all the above, I can somehow understand why Russia (with the support of the majority of Russians) is becoming more hardline in its attitude towards the US and the West. There's one important principle of international relations that should never be forgotten ... cause and consequence. When Putin spoke about dire consequences, it was worth paying attention. Today, Russia does not have the means to compete with the US - let alone the entire Western alliance - but eventually, when the balance of power shift in the world, Russia won't be there as a friend. Putin is warning the West that Russia will not forget the last decade of provocative Western moves towards it. That should be worrying.

Russia painfully and helplessly watched in the 1990s as its Yugoslav gem in southern Europe came to an end. It swallowed the loss of Serb power in the 1990s, but it has enough stamina today to not sit back and allow a repeat unfold.

What is the West trying to achieve? It won the Cold War, Russia was brought to her knees. This was the West's chance to reconstruct a friendly Russia. It is foolish to assume that the largest nation on earth, with the largest gas reserves on earth, and one of the largest nuclear arsenals, was going to remain weak. Russia will always have enough strength in the world to influence the policy of other states. From a Western point of view, I would prefer having a Russia that is on our side than against it.

Indeed, Russia made the attempt. Post-9/11, Moscow demonstrated a willingness to assist the US in its global war on terror, with the establishment of US bases in Kremlin proxy states in central Asia a key example.

Russia feels it is only receiving slap after slap in return. It begs to see what will be Moscow's actions re Kosovo, but the day is nearing when Russia will return the slap. Every action has a reaction, and we are already beginning to feel the effects of a reactionary Russian bear.

What we have (perhaps provoked) today is a Russia that is willing to use its resources and clout in the world to thwart the US and Europe at every possible turn. It is forging closer ties with China (including large-scale war military exercises, and the co-chairing of a regional Asian council); it is boosting Iran's military and nuclear capabilities; and it is developing Syria's military capabilities (including the re-establishment of a Russian naval base). In addition to all the above is Russia's gas tactics to twist the arms of neighbouring states that are thinking of turning to team USA.

Kosovo's declaration has set the precedent for a more belligerent Russia to counter Western belligerence. One ill turn deserves another. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has made one ill turn after another where Russia is concerned.

The only development the West has aided is the strengthening of ties between its foes - potential and current - such as China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The West must stop abusing its power if it wants to preserve its status as the world's policeman in a century's time. Otherwise, there is a dangerous possibility that the West may find itself isolated in a world of increasingly hostile, anti-Westerners.

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