As of late, the economic crisis has dominated our politics, our media and our everyday lives. David Leonhardt, a columnist for The New York Times, writes, “This is the third great bear market of the last century.” The situation has proved exceedingly fragile as America lashes out with bailouts and equity injections in an attempt to save its crumbling financial system. The distraction is so overwhelming, as we have seen with the presidential debates and daily headlines, that it’s hard to look the other way. Nevertheless, another bear is looming.
Russia has become tremendously aggressive, impervious to international sanction and just downright dangerous. However, it’s importance on the international scene, paired with the collapsing world market, is enough to forget and forgive its recent antagonism.
While things may look up with Russia’s recent withdrawal from Georgia proper to Abkhazia and South Ossetia — the two disputed territories in the Caucasus — the “Russians have stationed almost 8,000 troops in the two enclaves. Villages in South Ossetia and beyond have been brutally cleansed of their Georgian inhabitants ... Moreover, the Russians still refuse to allow any of the 200-odd ceasefire monitors deployed by the [European Union] into the two disputed territories,” according to The Economist. Despite the bogus withdrawal, many EU leaders were swift to commend the Kremlin’s efforts and almost as quick to suggest a return to business as usual.
While this may seem relatively trivial, those assuming that the Caucasus are an insignificant region couldn’t be more wrong. They are strategically critical to European energy security and home to three nervous neighbors. Stating the concern often voiced by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, The Economist warns, “If the Russians think they can escape unpunished for the invasion and occupation of parts of his country, that could embolden further adventurism.”
To the west, Russia has threatened to “dismember” Ukraine if it is to join the ranks of NATO. The Kremlin is shameless in its plans to expand its power and counter America’s breach into its sphere of influence, specifically U.S. warships delivering aid to Georgia in the Black Sea.
In an almost childish act of belligerence, Russia has likewise sent the flagship of its Baltic fleet, along with three other Russian ships, to Venezuela.
This is in addition to a host of aircraft designed for anti-submarine warfare that’ll be temporarily stationed in the openly anti-American nation.
Historically, Latin America has been considered within the sphere of U.S. influence, dating back to the Roosevelt Corollary and the Monroe Doctrine in which President Theodore Roosevelt warned Europe to stay out of the region.
Venezuela has spent more than $4 billion on Russian weaponry, and on his latest trip to Moscow to buy arms, Hugo Chávez said Venezuela would “raise flags, bang drums and sing songs” for the Russian fleet. He called Russia a “strategic ally” that shared “the same vision of the world”.
To complicate matters, Chavez is closely allied with Iran, forging, as The Economist notes, the anti-American alliance that he dreams of.
With its huge stockpiles of cash, Russia has offered Iceland a $5.4 billion emergency loan in an attempt to expand its influence to the high north. Moreover, Russia has been aggressively pursuing disputed areas claimed by Norway, running military maneuvers that include mock-bombing exercises against the Scandinavian country.
While regional entities such as NATO have been successful in the past, a cohesive strategy to confront Russian bellicosity remains unfounded. America wants to begin making contingency plans to defend members that feel threatened by Russia, such as Estonia. But such an approach may simply further entice the Kremlin.
It’s not a comforting fact that prior to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, NATO was toying with the idea of extending membership to the Caucasus nation. The invasion sent a clear warning to NATO, along with former Soviet states such as Ukraine, that Russia won’t sit idly by as the West encroaches upon their dominion.
No matter what’s decided, it’s tantamount Russia understands there are and will be repercussions to its adventurism. European appeasement is unlikely to send the right message. Complacency in the face of a growing threat is likely to end in disaster, just as our deregulation has sowed the seeds for our current financial mess — a practice we pursued in the face of a mounting crisis.
Reach columnist Eric Shellan at email@example.com.
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