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Rising Bear: Russia Stands in Middle-East PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Wednesday, 17 May 2006 14:11

Rising Bear: Russia Stands in Middle-East

PEJ News
- Tom Porteous - Moscow has also acted. It hosted the Hamas leadership in Moscow earlier this year. And this month it blocked pressure from the United States for a UN Security Council resolution on Iran which would have opened the door to economic sanctions and military action. On both issues Russia is right to be alarmed. The U.S. effort to strangulate Palestine's democratically elected government will undoubtedly lead to further bloodshed in the Arab-Israeli conflict and further alienate already inflamed Arab and Muslim opinion against the West.

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The Bear and the Wolf

Tom Porteous

Agence Global
May 17, 2006

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global
[republished at PEJ News with permission of AG]


Russia has not only criticized the hegemonic foreign policies of the United States, it has begun to act, particularly with regard to the Middle East. Relations between the 'bear' and the 'wolf' are growing tense.



The Russian bear is finding new confidence on the international stage. On two crucial Middle Eastern issues -- Iran's nuclear enrichment programme and the new Hamas led Palestinian Authority -- Moscow has indicated that it regards the United States' hard-line policies as misguided, counterproductive and dangerous threats to international peace.

Moscow has also acted. It hosted the Hamas leadership in Moscow earlier this year. And this month it blocked pressure from the United States for a UN Security Council resolution on Iran which would have opened the door to economic sanctions and military action.

On both issues Russia is right to be alarmed. The U.S. effort to strangulate Palestine's democratically elected government will undoubtedly lead to further bloodshed in the Arab-Israeli conflict and further alienate already inflamed Arab and Muslim opinion against the West. And a hard-line approach to Iran will inexorably lead to another U.S. military adventure in the Middle East with consequences as bad as, or worse than, those of the Iraq war.

In Moscow's view Washington's apparent effort to secure total military and economic dominance in the Middle East will make the problem of Islamist militancy and terrorism worse not better. Moscow is therefore seeking to restrain the United States for the sake of international stability.

For its part, the United States is furious to see its former superpower rival challenge its authority in the affairs of the Middle East -- or anywhere else for that matter, including in Russia's backyard. The Bush administration has reacted with characteristic bad grace. At a conference in the former Soviet Republic of Lithuania on 4 May, Vice President Dick Cheney lashed out at Moscow for restricting the rights of the Russian people and for using oil and gas as "instruments of blackmail and intimidation" in its relations with its neighbours.

The charges have some merit -- Putin has a strong authoritarian streak and is ruthless in pursuit of what he sees as the interests of the Russian state. But coming from George Bush's hatchet man in 2006, the American accusations stink of hypocrisy and double standards.

Cheney's speech in Vilnius marked a culmination of American humiliations and betrayals of Russia since 2002. In the aftermath of 9/11, U.S.-Russian relations reached an all time high. Moscow, which had its own problems with Islamist militancy in the North Caucasus and Afghanistan, provided the fullest cooperation with the United States' campaign against Al-Qaeda.

But the United States has repaid Moscow by exploiting the "war on terror" not only to seek absolute dominance of the Middle East, but also to pile on the economic and strategic pressure on Moscow -- ringing Russia with a chain of U.S. military bases, pushing for eastward expansion of NATO, and challenging Russia's commercial and political interests in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Of course, part of this can be explained as good old big power rivalry. Washington won the Cold War. Extension of U.S. influence in Russia's "near abroad" was the inevitable fruit of that victory. But Russia's newfound confidence on the international stage suggests that the United States has overreached itself and may be damaging its longer term interests. President Putin's response to Cheney's outburst, delivered with withering sarcasm in his annual address to the Duma on 10 May, was cool and restrained.

"The wolf knows who to eat, as the saying goes," said Putin (who recently received a ringing endorsement from the old Soviet Union's most famous dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn). "It knows who to eat and is not about to listen to anyone, it seems. How quickly all the pathos of the need to fight for human rights and democracy is laid aside the moment the need to realize one's own interests comes to the fore."

Putin's new confidence rests on solid foundations. Massively increased oil and gas prices have brought Russia a huge windfall of revenues and unprecedented leverage over its neighbours, including Europe. And the United States' intervention in Iraq has led to a collapse of U.S. prestige worldwide and is tying down America's military forces in the Middle East.

In the light of the new balance of power that is emerging between the United States and Russia as a result of all this, is not clear what Cheney's undiplomatic broadside on Putin's government was supposed to achieve. One theory is that it was a sop to neo-conservative critics at home who have been calling on Washington to register its opposition to Putin's authoritarianism by boycotting the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July. If true, this is an absurdly costly (in diplomatic terms) way of placating the home base.

Another possibility is that Washington believes that if it bullies Russia enough Moscow will pipe down and toe Washington's line on the Middle East as well as on Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Central Asia, etc. If this is the case, then it suggests that Washington is in denial about its international standing in the aftermath of the failures in Iraq and is completely incapable of viewing the world from the perspective of its global rivals, let alone that of its enemies.

In any case Moscow shows no sign of giving in to U.S. bullying. On 16 May the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that "neither Russia nor China will be able to support a Security Council resolution that provided a pretext for coercive, let alone military, measures" against Iran and indicated that the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahamdinejad would attend a regional summit in Shanghai next month along with the leaders of Russia, China and four Central Asian nations.

A third possibility is that Cheney's outburst is simply a means of underlining to the Russians that, whatever the negative impact of its current policies and whatever others say or do, the United States still has the clout to continue to act the lone wolf -- whether against the Palestinians, Iran, Venezuela, Russia or anyone else it chooses to eat. Hello, Dr. Strangelove.



Tom Porteous
is a syndicated columnist and author, formerly with the BBC and the British Foreign Office.

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global

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Released: 18 May 2006
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Juan Cole, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 May 2006 14:11
 

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