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Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’


Whose Sovereignty Is It?

   Posted by: Pat    in Russia   Print Print

During our GPP Power Ranking debate, Hubbel made this comment:

“Russia’s power comes from others’ perception of them and their totalitarian nature of conducting international affairs. I think the West is stuck in the Cold War and continually gives Russia too much deference. This translates into significant influence in their region. For instance, NATO induction of Eastern European countries should be a sovereign decision that is made with an eye towards protection against aggressive neighbors, i.e., Russia. The fact that we see people supporting Russia’s right to forcefully oppose countries like Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO appears to be an implied acceptance of Russia’s ability to use military force against those countries in the future.”

Perceptions of Moscow are an important topic, but I want to discuss his emphasize on state sovereignty. Hubbel argues that the US should not heed the ‘sovereignty’ of Eastern European states such as Georgia and Ukraine to Russia’s main influence, because A. this is against US interests B. it undermines the sovereignty of those states.  The Bush administration cautiously carried pretty much the same viewpoint.  As Germany lead most European states to take on a realist view of Russia’s eastern sphere of influence, the Bush administration continued to push back, pushing for Georgia/Ukraine NATO membership during their last breathes in office.  Germany and most other Western European countries spoke out about state sovereignty, but their actions really told Russia that they were in control of their ‘near abroad.’  I saw this not with much criticism either, as for German interests (being so close in proximity to Russian power and gas manipulation) the move looks pragmatic.

Well, how will Obama’s administration tackle the sovereignty of states which is challenged by nearby great powers?  While at least in terms of Eastern Europe, it looks like it will be similar to Bush in making it well-known that the US views these states as having sovereign control over their territory and foreign policy views.  This view was reiterated by VP Joseph Biden at the Munich security conference.  In discussing NATO expansion the MDS in Czech and Poland, Biden stated: ”It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.”

This looks like a diplomatic line in the sand that will be tested time and again during the next few years as it has in the past.  The Eastern European states do not want to resume a US-Russian standoff, but they very much desire some political cover to make moves that go against Russian interests and views.  A strong American presence and voice of support will help them do so.  That being said, the Georgia war showcased that geography is destiny.  For all the US power, when it came down to it, Georgia’s future and present was largely in Russia’s hands to mold.  

So I see it as important that Obama showcase to the world that state’s have a right to their own foreign policy and that America will be there to support them.  However, the idea and reality of sovereignty can become sticky rather quickly and the US, just like Germany, will need to be flexible along the way, as I’ve said before, at times ‘geography is destiny.’

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Russia’s Strength and Weakness

   Posted by: Pat    in Russia   Print Print

Right after Russia’s successful ‘endeavor’ into Georgia last August, its leaders attempted to consolidate their geopolitical position with other former Soviet states, with a decent amount of success.  Medvedev, Putin, and other Moscow high officials visited Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, mainly solidifying and enhancing prior energy, military strategic deals.  In Azerbaijan for instance, Moscow offered to buy all of the gas rich country’s energy reserves.  These efforts by the Russians threaten to further the energy stranglehold on Europe, which receives about 30% of its gas reserves from Moscow, while increasing Russia’s geopolitical clout and position.

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However, all is not right with Russia as energy prices are (were?) dropping to dramatic lows and the nation was fighting a geopolitical battle for regional dominance with the US and NATO over Ukraine, Georgia, and the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.  One would think Moscow’s latest gas spigot choke off of Ukraine, and therefore Europe, would exemplify Russian strength, and in some ways of course it does, but in reality I believe Russia to be in a weak, or struggling position.  NATO’s expansion, combined with the Bush administration’s continual pressure for Ukraine and Georgian admission, US/EU encroachments into Central Asia and the Caucasus’s (weak as these efforts have been), VP Cheney’s visit to Azerbaijan and Georgia (with a $1 billion dollar pledge of aid promoted by current VP Biden) and the official signing of missile defense deals with Czech and Poland all have moved the West closer and closer to Russian territory and within what Russia believes is its ‘sphere of influence.’

Peter Zeihan of Stratfor agrees, calling the possible loss of Ukraine into NATO and the EU as the ‘kiss of death’ for Moscow.  Zeihan correctly asserts that this strategic loss would transform Russia into a purely defensive power with little ability to project its power outward.  It is in this context that we should see Moscow’s current gas cutoff efforts, as they seek to reel Ukraine back in and threaten the EU to back off. This type of strategy has major benefits for Moscow, the aforementioned and extra revenues from charging higher and higher prices and transit fees, and very little costs.  The EU just does not have that many alternative energy suppliers.  The BTC pipeline, which goes through Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkey, is the only serious pipeline to the EU that does not go through Russian territory.  The Trans-Caspian and Nabucco pipelines are also alternatives, but have consistently run up against numerous hurdles that Central Asian energy expert John Daly sees as too high to cross.  Daly actually calls the current energy supply situation for Europe a ‘high water mark’!  So in other words, Moscow does not have to fear its trapped customers from getting free anytime soon.  

Russia's Transnational Pipeline Empire

How do you see Russia’s geopolitical situation?  Weak? Stable? Strong?  What about Europe’s gas supply situation?  Can they find away out of Moscow’s grasp?  What about this idea?

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NATO has just finished another formal summit of member foreign ministers yesterday and several interesting issues were debated. Going into the summit were the central issues of Georgia and Ukraine’s future membership, the US missile defense system in Eastern Europe, relations with Russia (connected to the previous two), and the war in Afghanistan.

Weeks ago i discussed here, how the Bush administration was making a strong push for a more rapid acceptance of Georgia and Ukraine into the Alliance. Much has been made of Germany’s leader Angela Merkel’s resistance to such a maneuver, arguing that it would just incite Russia and would need to wait. Germany, along with other European states, has many reasons to desire to go slow on Georgia and Ukraine’s membership as the country is strongly tied to Russia in energy and other business ventures central to its economy and national well-being. Trade between Russia and Germany increased by over 25% last year and Merkel probably fears further antagonizing Moscow into further destabilizing actions, as the joining of NATO by its former vassals Georgia and Ukraine would likely do.

Now the US’s Bush Administration wants to give no concessions to what it has described as a ‘newly aggressive’ Russia. By outwardly supporting the integration of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO it is sending a message to Moscow that the Alliance cannot be intimidated or have its decisions made from an outside power. Of course, the fact is that Russia is a great power that matters greatly to NATO, as the military alliance would not exist without it. Basically, Germany is advocating ‘guiding’ Russia and the US ‘containing’ it.

What happened at the NATO summit was a little bit of accommodation and containing regarding relations with Russia. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated the Alliance would begin “a conditional and graduated reengagement” with Moscow, saying that “Russia is such an important factor in geopolitical terms, that there is no alternative for NATO than to engage Russia.”

In terms of the ascension of Georgia and Ukraine, the Alliance members reconfirmed that the two states would eventually become full-fledged members and that cooperative reform programs, like the NATO-Ukraine Commission and newly formed NATO-Georgia Commission, would be accelerated. This outcome has to please Germany and other members who desire a more moderate growth strategy, and I would think placate the US, as progress toward the two’s acceptance is at least involving other mechanisms besides the lengthy Membership Action Plan. Russian Ambassador to NATO Mr. Rogozin told his home audience back in Moscow that this signaled a break or a weakness in the Alliance: “there is an open split within NATO and it will widen if NATO tries to expand further. The schemes of those who adopted a frozen approach to Russia have been destroyed.” It should be noted that as members of NATO are having this debate, the people of Georgia are still dealing with a rather menacing Russian force on and in some places inside their newly reduced borders.

The US defense missile defense shield (MDS) was also a topic of debate during the summit and this brought unquestionable good news for the Bush Administration. In the final communique of the summit, all foreign ministers gave their unanimous support for the Czech and Poland based MDS, calling it a ‘substantial contribution’ to Western defenses. The communique also called for Moscow to embrace American proposals for greater cooperation regarding the system. In this debate, Moscow clearly suffered a setback, at least for the moment.

Lastly, Afghan troop levels were discussed in the light of the upcoming Obama administration arrival in January. Secretary General Scheffer stated in an interview; “It’s crystal clear that we need more forces in Afghanistan.” Scheffer also stated that he was sure that leaders’ phones would be ringing all around Europe soon after the inauguration, with Obama on the other line asking for troops and money. The consensus seems to be that these leaders may have a harder time saying ‘no’ to a newly elected Barack Obama then to a lame duck Bush, but I’ll believe this only when I see it. I’ll leave you with a call to action by Scheffer to all his members:

“The allies need to do better. I want to see the balance in this alliance. I don’t want to just see more American troops. It has to be a combination of a military and civilian surge, and what slightly concerns me is that allies on this side of the ocean will have difficulty in matching the extra effort a new U.S. administration might put into Afghanistan.”

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Bush’s NATO Gambit

   Posted by: Pat    in Russia   Print Print

In a surprise move for a president being called the lamest of lame ducks, the Bush administration is making a hard push to get both Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. The diplomatic push is not just advocating the acceleration of the MAP method, a slow process of aligning military and political structures between a state and NATO, but is in fact pursuing the outright immediate acceptance of each of these Russian neighbors.

This is a surprise move for several reasons. The US tried to go through the usual Membership Action Plan (MAP) process back in April during a NATO Summit in Bucharest, but Germany, France, Spain, Italy and several other members opposed even this, apparently fearing antagonizing Russia. For these NATO members, there was not many positives to come out of such a move. Does this current US move therefore mean that the Bush administration believes something has strategically or politically altered this position? Or is this just a last minute effort by the Bush administration to get these allies and Russian neighbors into the Western alliance?

This diplomatic move by the US comes just days and weeks after reports that the government of Georgia was guilty of an aggressive attack in South Ossetia that no doubt helped provoke a Russian counterattack and from bellicose statements by President Medvedev regarding the US missile shield in Poland and Czech. This seems indeed like a gambit by the Bush administration. While everyone has been talking about a return to an ‘old world order’ and a setback for US democratic and strategic gains, the Bush administration seems bent on showing the opposite. Most foreign policy scholars and pundits all asserted that the US overreached in its encroachment into Eastern Europe and that it would be forced to back down to Russia’s ‘sphere of influence’, but the near opposite seems to be occuring as the US has stood strong on the missile shield, given Georgia $1 billion dollars in aid, and now is asking its NATO partners for a Ukrainian and Georgian shotgun wedding.

Man oh man, what do you think France, Germany, and other NATO members who were against Georgia and Ukraine’s membership think about this new purposal?  Is there a chance they could change their mind?  What does the US have to gain by this move?  Is this just a hopeless last gasp by the Bush administration?  Does Bush fear that Obama may not pursue further NATO membership and therefore wants to get it done or at least started before he leaves office?  And most intriguing, what would Russia do if Ukraine and Georgia were all of sudden in NATO?

This is truly a gambit by Bush, one that may have some very important implications for NATO and European security :

“This is a real turnaround of the U.S. position,” said a senior NATO diplomat who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue. “We reached a compromise in Bucharest after much haggling. Now, we are being asked to cancel it and effectively discard the MAP program. This is putting the unity and credibility of the alliance at stake.”

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