September 01, 2008

Why is the West annoying the Russians so much?

I’m not quite sure what the long term policies of the West are right now as regards Russia. Historically, there has been an effort to play one of the communist super powers off against the other but, right now, the West seems emboldened into poking the Russian bear almost for the hell of it.

The emerging Central European democracies have been desperate to make friends with the West, joining up to NATO and the EU, so that the West has pushed into what the Russians would have historically seen as their buffer zone against Western imperialism. In fact, the ongoing encirclement of Russia has reached proportions that Truman and Eisenhower could only have dreamed about. It has almost been the case that drawing the ex-Soviet client countries into the Western sphere has been seen as the spoils of the Cold War, as though it is the end of history…

It is hardly surprising that the Russians looked for an opportunity to draw a line to this ongoing erosion of their sphere of influence and were gifted one by the Georgian leader who (I can only surmise did it for reasons of domestic politics) decided he needed to stamp Georgian authority over the Ossetian region believing that enjoying American support (following use of military facilities in the country for the latter’s War on Terror) gave him protection against Russia but leaving Russia with an excuse to invade. On the one hand, the Russians have the restless North Ossetian region to consider so need to look strong on their internal political stage but there is also the larger Great Power stage to consider.

Ten years ago, the Neo-Cons in the US wrote a book called the Project for the New American Century in which they hypothesised that the best way to intimidate a tiger in its cage was to use a stick to prod at it until it retreats into the far corner of its cage. Is this the Neo-Con approach at work, being used against the Russians to put them back in their place? Of course, the downside of poking a stick at a tiger is that sooner or later it gets really really annoyed and tries to bite back.

And then there is David Milliband. He has been going around trying to recruit various countries into a coalition to stand against Russia. When the US did it a few years ago before invading Iraq, they were a strong country looking to acquire friends before they bullied a weak country. David Milliband seems to have decided that the UK, a medium sized enterprise, should try for a coalition against a fairly strong country…

I am pretty sure that countries these days will not go marching off to war like they did in 1914 where one small incident in the Balkans set it all off, but it would be a terrible thing if NATO and the US commit to defending so many countries that they become hopelessly overstretched, and able to defend nothing. On the other hand, the West cannot commit to come to the aid of other countries then not lift a finger when these countries are attacked.

So what exactly is the West up to in its dealings with Russia?


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