Friday, July 25, 2008

The ascension to power of new president, Dmitry Medvedev, in May has done little to reverse the anti-American course established by his predecessor and current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Riding high on an economic boom and an energy monopoly, Russian leaders are now crafting an assertive foreign policy that seeks to undermine American unilateralism and its unipolar ascendancy. Russian officials long to restore the international stature they had during the days of the Soviet Empire.

This policy is most recently on display in this week’s trip to Russia by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Mr. Chavez is negotiating a $2 billion arms deal, signed lucrative energy pacts and is attempting to erect a mutual financial institution. The Venezuelan leader asked for a “strategic alliance” in order to safeguard his state from a potential American invasion. Mr. Medvedev concurred and declared that Russian-Venezuelan relations “are one of the key factors of security in the [South American] region.” Venezuela spent $4 billion on international arms purchases, mostly with Russia and China, between 2005 and 2007. Commercial trade between Russia and Venezuela increased by 200 percent last year.

The Russians are making incursions in almost every region of the world. The newspaper Izvestiya reported that the military is considering landing its bombers, which have nuclear capabilities, in Cuba for refueling. The Foreign Ministry refused to confirm or deny the report. If true, this act would certainly be in step with similar assertive moves. In mid-July, Moscow announced plans to send warships to patrol Arctic waters for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ostensibly, this is for “security,” but military analysts deem this to be an opportunity to fan Russian nationalism. The Russians also began sending aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean Sea in December and resumed long-range bomber patrols in August.

Since Mr. Medvedev took office, he travelled to Kazakhstan in order to strengthen relations with countries within the former Soviet Union. He also went to China in an effort to erect an Eastern pact as a counterbalance to American power. Indeed, Russia and China have collaborated to impede American foreign policy even in areas where American efforts are mostly humanitarian. They blocked an attempt by the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on President Robert Mugabe for persecuting opponents in Zimbabwe. They have also stymied Western attempts to pressure Sudanese President Omar Bashir from waging his genocidal campaign in Darfur. Both Russia and China supply oil to Sudan; China is also Sudan’s largest arms supplier.

Much of the Russian animus toward America is fueled by the Bush administration’s plans to expand NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine. The United States also seeks to enact a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland; America recently signed an agreement to this end with the Czech Republic. American leaders insist these measures are necessary in order to counteract the influence of rogue nations. But Russian officials see these efforts as a threat to their nation’s security. Mr. Medvedev has repeatedly “warned” that there will be serious consequences for those who accept these American initiatives.

Russian leaders are trying to create a wedge between America and its European allies. In his foreign policy address during his visit to Germany in early June, Mr. Medvedev stated that it was time to create a new European security structure. He insisted that this is not intended as a rejection of NATO. Yet it is difficult to conclude otherwise. In his foreign-policy speeches, Mr. Medvedev portrays Russia as “European” and as committed to upholding international law. However, he is also “anti-Atlantic”- a euphemism for a policy that seeks to demonize America and weaken its European ties.

The restoration of Russia to its former international glory is in itself not problematic. Europe has achieved decades of peace predicated on a “balance of power” among leading nations. In some respects, America even welcomes Russia’s growing strength since collaboration is needed to achieve common objectives. Yet, the problem with Russian resurgence remains that its closest neighbors do not trust the Russian bear. In essence, we live in a unipolar world not because Americans seek world dominance but because so many nations prefer American protection to any other alternative.

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