The New American Cold War
Why have Democratic and Republican administrations believed they could act in such relentlessly anti-Russian ways without endangering US national security? The answer is another fallacy--the belief that Russia, diminished and weakened by its loss of the Soviet Union, had no choice but to bend to America's will. Even apart from the continued presence of Soviet-era weapons in Russia, it was a grave misconception. Because of its extraordinary material and human attributes, Russia, as its intellectuals say, has always been "destined to be a great power." This was still true after 1991.
Even before world energy prices refilled its coffers, the Kremlin had ready alternatives to the humiliating role scripted by Washington. Above all, Russia could forge strategic alliances with eager anti-US and non-NATO governments in the East and elsewhere, becoming an arsenal of conventional weapons and nuclear knowledge for states from China and India to Iran and Venezuela. Moscow has already begun that turning away from the West, and it could move much further in that direction.
Still more, even today's diminished Russia can fight, perhaps win, a cold war on its new front lines across the vast former Soviet territories. It has the advantages of geographic proximity, essential markets, energy pipelines and corporate ownership, along with kinship and language and common experiences. They give Moscow an array of soft and hard power to use, if it chooses, against neighboring governments considering a new patron in faraway Washington.
Economically, the Kremlin could cripple nearly destitute Georgia and Moldova by banning their products and otherwise unemployed migrant workers from Russia and by charging Georgia and Ukraine full "free-market" prices for essential energy. Politically, Moscow could truncate tiny Georgia and Moldova, and big Ukraine, by welcoming their large, pro-Russian territories into the Russian Federation or supporting their demands for independent statehood (as the West has been doing for Kosovo and Montenegro in Serbia). Militarily, Moscow could take further steps toward turning the Shanghai Cooperation Organization--now composed of Russia, China and four Central Asian states, with Iran and India possible members--into an anti-NATO defensive alliance, an "OPEC with nuclear weapons," a Western analyst warned.
That is not all. In the US-Russian struggle in Central Asia over Caspian oil and gas, Washington, as even the triumphalist Thomas Friedman admits, "is at a severe disadvantage." The United States has already lost its military base in Uzbekistan and may soon lose the only remaining one in the region, in Kyrgyzstan; the new pipeline it backed to bypass Russia runs through Georgia, whose stability depends considerably on Moscow; Washington's new friend in oil-rich Azerbaijan is an anachronistic dynastic ruler; and Kazakhstan, whose enormous energy reserves make it a particular US target, has its own large Russian population and is moving back toward Moscow.
Nor is the Kremlin powerless in direct dealings with the West. It can mount more than enough warheads to defeat any missile shield and illusion of "nuclear primacy." It can shut US businesses out of multibillion-dollar deals in Russia and, as it recently reminded the European Union, which gets 25 percent of its gas from Russia, "redirect supplies" to hungry markets in the East. And Moscow could deploy its resources, connections and UN Security Council veto against US interests involving, for instance, nuclear proliferation, Iran, Afghanistan and possibly even Iraq.
Contrary to exaggerated US accusations, the Kremlin has not yet resorted to such retaliatory measures in any significant way. But unless Washington stops abasing and encroaching on Russia, there is no "sovereign" reason why it should not do so. Certainly, nothing Moscow has gotten from Washington since 1992, a Western security specialist emphasizes, "compensates for the geopolitical harm the United States is doing to Russia."