Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A new Cold War with Russia?

It comes as no surprise to anyone that it's come to this with Russia. After their invasion of Georgia many began the speculation that a new Cold War was on the horizon. Most analysts said that it'd be a slow march for Russia as they attempted to play both sides of the fence. (That is staying strong on their national interests, but still appearing to be caring about their neighbors' concerns.) I didn't buy the meme at all. Given the world's reaction to the Georgian invasion, I knew it wouldn't be long before we saw Russia rattle it's saber again. It now seems that the saber is rattling louder than before as Russia is now using it's oil and gas as weapons:

RUSSIA'S decision to cut off natural-gas shipments to Ukraine - and essentially 13 other European states that receive gas via its pipelines - is a lot more than a business decision based on failed year-end contract negotiations.

A lot more.

Sure, the Russian state-owned natural-gas company, Gazprom, is cranky about supposedly not getting paid for past natural-gas deliveries to Ukraine as well as the below-market prices Ukraine pays. That's why Gazprom's been trying to renegotiate with Ukraine's natural-gas firm, Naftogaz.

But cutting off gas in the dead of winter - especially with teeth-chattering, sub-zero temps in parts of Europe recently - is pretty harsh. (Happy New Year to you, too, comrade.)

In fact, Moscow is likely using the cover of a seemingly straight-forward business dispute to do some good ol' fashioned arm-twisting of its Ukrainian and European neighbors.

First, the Kremlin is unhappy with how things have gone politically in Kiev since the 2004 Orange Revolution, when a pro-West ticket won the presidency over Moscow's man. (In fact, Moscow's widely suspected of having had a hand in poisoning the pro-West candidate and current president, Viktor Yushchenko, with the dioxins that nearly killed him during the campaign.)

Cutting off gas in the depths of winter is a warning to Kiev - now in the midst of a financial crisis and facing elections next year - reminding it that Moscow can still call some shots there.

That is, it's a kinder, gentler version of Moscow's invasion of Georgia last year - sending a signal by walloping Kiev with an energy two-by-four. Message: Think twice about joining NATO - a red line that the Kremlin has been growling about, and may well be willing to go to the mat over.

Russia has gotten noticeably crankier lately, even after former iron-man Putin handed over the presidency to Medvedev. This marks the third time that Russia has shut off gas to the Ukraine in the last three years. Each time it's been used to gain capitulation to their former masters in Moscow, but this time the Ukraine doesn't seem ready to buckle. That's why this time they included Europe in the shut-off:

Russia also wants Ukraine to knuckle under on extending the lease for Russia's Black Sea Fleet base in Crimea beyond the agreement's 2017 expiration. (Kiev said it won't be renewing the pact.)

The cut-off is also a shot across Europe's bow. It gets nearly 40 percent of its natural gas (and one-third of its oil) from Russia - and it's clear: Moscow is in no mood to be messed with.

Russia is displeased with Europe about its support for a planned US missile-defense system in Eastern Europe, for Kosovo's independence from Moscow's ally Serbia last spring and for Georgia during Russia's invasion last summer - to name just a few matters.

At the very least, Russia might hope Europe will use tools such as potential European Union membership and aid to pressure Ukraine to pay greater heed to Moscow.

Europe raised a stink the last two times the Russians shut down gas to the Ukraine. By applying pressure to Europe Russia hopes that the European leaders will see things their way. Namely, they want them to back off of their support for the missile defense system, and they want them to pressure the Ukraine to back off of their demand they be included in NATO. The Russians don't want that.

Russia, in the wake of perestroika and glasnost, went through a great deal of upheaval. Yeltsin barely survived a coup in 1993, and eventually resigned in 1999. Over the course of the next few years, under Putin, oligarchs in Russia seized control, and they seem to be the ones calling the shots. They're backed by Medvedev, and more importantly they're backed and supported by Putin.

Make no mistake, we are on the cusp of a new Cold War with Russia. Drunk on the power their energy exports have given them, they're emboldened. Medvedev wants a meeting with Obama to size up the president-elect. No doubt that Putin would also like to have a sit-down, tea-and-crumpets meeting with Obama, as well. They want to know if they're dealing with someone who will stand opposed to their bold, brazen moves, or someone who will roll over; reluctant to rock the boat.

We don't know exactly what Obama will do, but things that send off warning bells in our heads include how utterly incompetent Obama's reaction to the invasion of Georgia by Russian forces in which he tried to condemn both sides when it was Georgia that was invaded. The other things that concern us is how he was willing to embrace the European leaders, and their mindset, on his vaunted, whirlwind tour of Europe during the election.

We don't need an appeaser-in-chief. We need a commander-in-chief, and we're concerned that the former was elected in a time where appeasement in the world would put the United States at great risk. Russia is busy rebuilding their missile stocks. They've threatened any nation that accepts our missile defense system. And now they're yanking energy supplies to their customers in Eastern and Western Europe. Yes, we are on the brink of a new Cold War, and unlike the start of the previous one, we don't have a president willing to resist the Russians.

Publius II


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