Presidents Bush and
Putin concluded their brief summit in Kennebunkport, Maine, without resolving
any of the main issues. Bush seeks Putin's help to pressure Iran into giving up
its nuclear enrichment program and Putin wants Bush to abandon his plans to
deploy the US Missile Defense System in Czechoslovakia and Poland. No progress
was made on either topic.
Russia and the
United States are now more politically divided than any time since the breakup
of the Soviet Union. In fact, following the meeting in Maine, First Deputy
Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, blasted Washington in the blistering rhetoric of
the Cold War era.
"They are trying to push us into knocking heads with
Europe . . . in order to create a new dividing line, a New Berlin Wall,"
bawled Ivanov. "It is obvious that continuing with the plans and carrying
them out by placing rockets in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic will
present an obvious threat to Russia."
Ivanov is right. Missile Defense poses a clear danger to
Russia's national security. It integrates the United States entire nuclear
capability (including space-based operations) with systems that are inside
Russia's traditional sphere of influence.
Putin summed it up like this in a press conference at the
G-8 meetings: "For the first time in history, there are elements of the US
nuclear capability on the European continent. It simply changes the whole
configuration of international security . . . Of course, we have to respond to
The Bush administration is trying to achieve what nuclear
weapons specialist Francis A. Boyle calls the "longstanding US policy of
nuclear first-strike against Russia." By placing weapons systems and radar
on Russia's borders the US will have a critical advantage that will disrupt the
essential balance of power. This is forcing Putin to restart the arms race.
The media has tried to downplay the gravity of the situation
by focusing on the personal aspects of the Putin-Bush relationship. But this is
intentionally misleading. Putin did not go to Kennebunkport to win-back Bush's
affections or for sensitivity-therapy. He went to see if he could change Bush's
mind on an issue that could quickly escalate into a nuclear standoff.
Putin has made a number of offers designed to satisfy Bush's
concerns for "enhanced security." For example, Putin proposed a
"global integrated missile shield that would protect all of Europe"
and would include both the United States and European countries, including
neutral ones such as Austria, Finland and Sweden. All of the participating
countries in the program would have equal access to the system's control."
"We are proposing to create a single missile defense
system for all participants with equal access to the system's control,"
Ivanov said on the state-run Russian TV.
The Russian proposal would "create missile defense data
exchange centers in Moscow and Brussels, headquarters of NATO and the European
Union. Ivanov also did not rule out the sharing by Russia of some of its
'highly sensitive' technologies with the West as part of creating the new
integrated system, in order to generate trust in thwarting rogue missile
threats." (There's been no coverage of this offer in the Western media)
Putin also reiterated his earlier offer to allow the US to
use existing "early warning" radar located in Azerbaijan that can
observe the launching and flight of any long-range ballistic missiles from
Iran. Bush politely rejected that offer, too.
These are reasonable offers made in good faith to allay
Bush's so-called concerns about security.
But Bush is not serious about defense or security. His real
intention is to force Moscow to do whatever Washington wants by putting a
loaded gun to its head. Putin can't allow this to happen.
Bush's doggedness has already triggered a strong reaction
from the Kremlin. When Putin was rebuffed by Bush at the G-8 meetings a month
ago, he promptly retaliated at the International Economic Forum in St.
Petersburg less than 24 hours later. In his address to the conference, he
called for "a new architecture of economic relations requiring a
completely new approach (with an) alternative global financial center that will
make the ruble the reserve currency for central banks." He said that the
World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the IMF are "archaic,
undemocratic and inflexible" and do not "reflect the new balance of
Putin's speech is seen as a direct challenge to Washington's
global leadership and the institutions which preserve its position as the
world's only "superpower." He rejects "US hegemony" and the
prevailing doctrine of a "unipolar" world order.
The Kremlin reacted just as quickly after the "Lobster
Summit" at Kennebunkport. Less than 10 hours after Putin's departure from
the US, Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov warned that if Bush deployed Missile
Defense in Eastern Europe, Russia "would place medium-range nuclear
missiles in Kallingrad," a small finger of Russian-owned territory sandwiched
between Lithuania and Poland. This would put Russian-controlled nuclear weapons
just a few hundred miles from the heart of Europe.
"If our proposals are accepted, however, Russia would no longer need to
deploy new missile systems in our European territory, including
Putin and Ivanov
apparently rehearsed this "good cop, bad cop" routine before Putin
even arrived in the USA. But their point is still well taken. Putin is forcing
Bush to decide whether he wants to work for regional stability or "turn
Europe into a powder keg." It's up to Bush.
Putin knows that the
Bush administration is full of Cold War militarists who deliberately sabotaged
the ABM Treaty, so they could expand their nuclear arsenal while surrounding
Russia with American bases. He also knows that these same armchair warriors
embrace a belligerent National Security Strategy that advocates
"preemptive" first-strike attacks on rivals and which may include the
use of low-yield, bunker-busting nuclear weapons. Putin, who has watched the
destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan from the sidelines, knows that the threat
of American aggression cannot be taken lightly. He must carefully consider the
"stated goals" of the administration for global domination and
prepare for the worst. He cannot allow the Missile Defense System to be
deployed even if that means "unilaterally" taking it out.
But why would Bush
choose to confront Russia now when American troops and resources are already
stretched to the limit? What is Bush thinking?
The Bush administration and their counterparts in the
far-right think tanks still believe that America can be a big player in the
fight to control resources in the Caspian Basin and Central Asia. The war on
terror was basically designed to conceal US geopolitical ambitions in Eurasia,
not Iraq. The neocons managed to expand the conflict to Iraq, but ruling elites
have had serious misgivings about the invasion-occupation from the very
beginning. Now the failures in Iraq are weakening the military, constraining US
involvement in Central Asia and Latin America, and triggering anxiety among
"old order" conservatives who think that the greater project may
collapse altogether if Iraq does not wind-down quickly so the US can refocus on
its original goals. This may explain why the defections in the Senate are
beginning to snowball and why the establishment media is suddenly calling for a
drawdown of troops. The situation has gotten so bad that it's impossible for
Washington to execute its broader imperial strategy.
The personal attacks on Putin are no different than the
attacks on Iran's Ahmadinejad or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. Any leader who has
the temerity to control his nation's own resources -- and use them for the
common good rather than enriching privately owned corporations -- is the de
facto enemy of the Empire. In truth, Putin is neither a tyrant nor an opponent
of the United States. The criticism directed at him is mostly hot air. He's
demonized because he has used Russia's vast natural wealth to rebuild his
country and to improve the standard of living for the Russian people. There's
nothing more to it.
Presently, Putin enjoys an 84 percent public approval rating
-- the highest rating of any world leader today. He has reduced poverty,
stabilized the ruble, strengthened defense, deposed the rapacious
"oligarchs" and restored Russia's international prestige. He is
fiercely nationalistic and the Russian people admire him for it.
More importantly, Putin has successfully out-maneuvered
Washington in every major energy deal since Bush took office in 2000. Even the
invasion of Afghanistan -- which was supposed to clear pipeline corridors for
transporting resources from the Caspian Sea to Pakistan -- has turned out to be
a complete fiasco. The resurgent Taliban have ensured that the safe shipment of
resources will be impossible for the foreseeable future. Also, setbacks in
Afghanistan have exacerbated divisions in NATO which are causing the European
allies to reconsider their involvement in the US-led mission. This is a dodgy
predicament for Bush & Co. If NATO falls apart, the Transatlantic Alliance
will probably unravel, leaving America friendless in a world that is
increasingly hostile to foreign adventurism.
While Bush is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin has
continued to consolidate his power in Central Asia while making impressive
inroads into Europe. In fact, Russia seems to have already won "The Great
Game" of controlling Eurasia's massive natural resources without even
clashing with the US.
In this year alone, Russia has increased its "strategic
dominance over Europe's energy supplies while US-led efforts to promote energy
diversity for Europe are faltering and the EU's policies are in disarray."
("Escaping Putin's Energy Squeeze" Adrian Karatnycky)
In June, Russian energy giant Gazprom firmed up a deal with
Italy to build a gas pipeline to southern Europe via the Black Sea sabotaging
Washington's plan for a similar project called Nabucco.
At the same time, Putin has worked out deals with Kazakhstan
and Turkmenistan to ship natural gas to Germany via a proposed pipeline under
the Baltic Sea. And, just last week, Gazprom put the finishing touches on
agreement with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to work jointly on a gas
pipeline project that will transport natural gas along the Caspian coast.
These deals represent huge commitments of resources which
will put Washington at a disadvantage for decades to come. The US military has
proved to be a much less effective tool in procuring dwindling resources than
the "free market."
The Bush administration has tried to exert greater control
over Central Asian resources by building pipelines from the Black Sea to the
Mediterranean. But the plan has failed miserably. Putin has out-flanked Washington
at every turn. The ex-KGB alum has proved to be the superior capitalist leaving
Bush with nothing to show for his efforts except a badly battered military.
Putin is also on friendly terms with Turkey and is pushing
for "long-term energy contracts for the Black Sea states." The
Turkish leadership shares Putin's belief that the US should be kept from
meddling in the region. This may explain why Dick Cheney is so mad at Putin and
has even accused him of "blackmail." But this is just sour grapes. In
truth, Putin is just doing what the United States used to do -- using free
market competition to his best advantage.
What's wrong with that?
An American energy specialist summarized America's defeat in
the Eurasian Resource Wars saying: "Western energy policies in Eurasia
collapsed in May 2007. During this month, Russia seems to have conclusively
defeated all Western-backed projects to bring oil and gas from Central Asia
directly to Europe . . . Cumulatively, the May agreements signify a strategic
defeat of the decade-old US policy to open direct access to Central Asia's oil
and gas reserves. By the same token they have nipped in the bud the European
Union's belated attempts since 2006 to institute such a policy."
Putin's greatest energy-coup may be the mega-deal he put
together with Austria earlier this year. According to M K Bhadrakumar ("A
Pipeline into the Heart of Europe," Asia Times), "Last September,
Austria entered a long-term contract with Russia whereby Gazprom will meet 80
percent of Austria's gas requirements of 9 billion cubic meters annually during
the next 20-year period." The project will involve "a massive
gas-storage facility near Salzburg." . . ."which has an overall
capacity of 2.4bcm. The facility is being built at a cost of 260 million euros
(nearly US $350 million) by Gazprom and, upon completion in 2011, will be the
second-largest underground gas-storage facility in Central Europe . . . [Putin
has expanded] Austria's role as a crucial gas-supply hub for transiting Russian
gas to France, Italy and Germany in Western Europe; to Hungary in Central
Europe; and to Slovenia and Croatia in the Balkans."
Gazprom's agreement with Austria is the death knell for the
Washington-backed Nabucco gas pipeline project. It will be very difficult now
for the major Western energy giants to catch up with Russia and compete head-on
in the European market. Putin caught them flat-footed once again. He has
consolidated Eurasian oil and natural gas and established a central depot for
distributing resources to consumers throughout Europe.
Game. Set. Match.
Russia is now in the catbird's seat peering over all of
Europe and the Balkans as part of its energy fiefdom. Meanwhile Bush and his
legions continue to toil away aimlessly in Mesopotamia. What a waste.
Missile Defense is an expression of Washington's frustration
with its own failures. The Global Resource War (a.k.a. The War on Terror) has
been so badly bungled that Bush will have to initiate "asymmetrical"
strategies to counter Russia's economic triumphs. We can expect that US-backed
NGOs will continue funding troublemaking "pro democracy" groups
inside Russia, hoping to trigger a "color-coded" revolution in
Moscow. At the same time, there will probably be a sudden outbreak of violence
in Chechnya, after rebel-separatists have been "mysteriously" rearmed
by foreign intelligence agencies. (Guess who?) The Bush administration will
also try to strengthen its military position on Russia's perimeter by pushing
NATO into Ukraine and Georgia.
But, will any of these plans succeed?
Bush and his fellows will do whatever it takes to disrupt
Russia's steady march to becoming the new century's Energy Superpower. The
"charm offensive" at Kennebunkport is just one part of America's
guerilla war on Putin. Missile Defense is another.
Welcome to the new Cold War.
Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.