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August 11, 2008

Cold War II: The Reemerging Soviet Sphere of Influence

America had a unique opportunity at the end of the Cold War. Russian control over its satellite states crumbled after glasnost brought nationalists to power in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The dismemberment of Warsaw left Russia without its comforting territorial shield and internal disarray kept it from remedying the situation. The fledgling governments of the former soviet republics and the satellite states were not necessarily pro-West, but they were uniformly anti-Russian. So whatever remnant sphere of influence Russia had was sharply limited.

Once upon a time, the Kremlin could say to the U.S. "this is our area, that's yours, stay on your side of the line." And it would have stuck. But that was all over at the end of the Cold War. Since then, the shaky new capitalist economies of those first years have exploded. We've gone so far as to admit states that the Russians thought of as theirs into NATO. Most recently, military and security cooperation under the guise of terrorism prevention has created a new military frontier in the former soviet sphere of influence. But this one isn't meant to keep the U.S out. Rather, if completed it would box the Russians in.

Unfortunately, the Russians are not blind nor are they stupid. Members of the Georgian military are running around in surplus U.S. Army uniforms. We train their troops. We and the Israelis sell them weapons. And next year Georgia's goal of joining NATO would have been a real possibility. By slapping down Georgia now, Russia is announcing that it plans to reestablish as much of its old sphere of influence as it can.

Putin's insistence that Georgian President Saakashvili be removed from office, to be replaced by a pro-Russia stooge no doubt, is only the beginning. This current war started over questions about the de facto independence of South Ossetia. When it's over we will be discussing the de facto independence of Georgia. What is most disturbing is that the other nations which formerly came under the soviet sphere of influence have only been able to muster token protests of the Russian invasion. Unfortunately, they are unwilling or unable to stand together. Russia will take them apart.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 03:44 PM

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