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Commentary Last Updated: Aug 22nd, 2008 - 00:54:04

Beware! Don�t bait the bear!
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 22, 2008, 00:11

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On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski signed a joint missile defense pact amid great fanfare. This involves 10 American Patriot interceptor missiles being stationed on Polish soil as part of a global missile shield that also includes controversial US radar bases in the Czech Republic.

Russians have long objected to this plan which they believe is a Cold War-type provocation and they do not buy Ms. Rice�s repeated statements that the interceptors will not point in Russia�s direction. Indeed, Moscow characterizes these moves as a threat to its national security and has warned it is ready to retaliate. With the signing ceremony beamed about the world, this could be deemed by Moscow as a blatant slap in the face.

Russia is right to be skeptical, especially given the White House�s refusal to share an early warning system in Azerbaijan and the harsh and biased rhetoric currently emanating from Western capitals. While Ms. Rice tries her futile best to pull the wool over Russia�s eyes to the effect the defense system is entirely benign, Sikorski�s own statement contradicts this.

�This rampaging over Georgia, bombing over Georgia, degrading Georgia�s not just military but also civilian infrastructure has shown a face of Russia that we hoped belonged firmly to the past,� he said on Tuesday.

Russia may have overreacted by warning Poland its decision leaves it vulnerable to a nuclear strike, but Moscow is right to be concerned because those Patriots will be stationed just 100 miles from its borders and, thus, erode its own deterrent capacity.

Imagine the reaction of the White House if Moscow were to station its own missiles just 90 miles away in Cuba. But wait! We don�t need to imagine. If we cast our minds back to the 1960s, we already know.

Last year, Russia�s powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tried his best to persuade the EU to oppose the US proposals using that argument. �Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis. For us, technologically, the situation is very similar . . .�

If the Russian government feels the world is ganging up against Moscow, it�s got a point. First, Georgia�s pro-American president is egged on to make an attempt at grabbing back a breakaway enclave under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. And when Russia responds, it is painted by the West and its supine mainstream media as the bad guy.

Then, after the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his role as current EU president, persuades his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to sign-up to a peace deal, Washington and its European allies hammer nails in the coffin of their d�tente with Moscow.

One after the other, Western leaders orchestrated by Washington have been wagging their fingers at Russia for invading poor, innocent Georgia deliberately forgetting that the conflict was triggered when Georgian troops decimated the South Ossetian capital in their efforts to take control.

In Georgia�s defense, President Mikheil Saakasvili asked reporters: �Can you say that, you know, the victim of rape is to be blamed for the rape because she wore a short skirt? Or the victim of, you know, killing be blamed for the killing because he provoked the killer with, you know, some strange look in his eyes?�

Problem is none of this was caused by mini-skirts or weird stares.

According to Inal Pliev, an Information Department director with the Joint Control Commission, Georgian military action is responsible for the deaths of 2,000 residents of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

�Many people tried to escape by running or driving their cars but Saakasvili�s army killed them. There were people and children burning in their cars,� he says. Even hospitals and churches didn�t escape being fired upon, Pliev maintains.

Strangely -- or perhaps not -- Washington and friends are pretending that nothing happened in Tskhinvali while the Western media are busy playing down the numbers of South Ossetian casualties and refugees as though those people have little importance. Instead, Western sympathies and aid shipments are entirely meant for the initial aggressor.

Russia was further slapped in the face by an emergency meeting of NATO members followed by this joint declaration: �We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual.� In other words, Moscow will not be invited to cooperate with NATO or attend joint meetings until it pulls out of Georgia.

The NATO rebuke was much milder that the isolation sought by Ms. Rice mainly because many European states rely on Russian oil and gas. Nevertheless, Russia could easily read this as being a humiliation and may be encouraged to dig in rather than withdraw.

Moscow has also been warned its place at the table of the world�s wealthiest democracies -- the G-8 -- may be at risk as well as its potential to become a member of the WTO.

In the meantime, the UN Security Council has been hammering out a draft resolution demanding immediate Russian withdrawal but which does not include the six-point plan laid out in the Russian-Georgian cease-fire. Naturally, veto-wielding Moscow has rejected it. Some are even calling for Russia to be deprived of its permanent Security Council seat.

Make no mistake! This is a US-Russian geostrategic power play that has little to do with Georgia or any other European country. The bear is being baited and its neighbors are being told to take sides else risk being pummeled. With most of the former Soviet republics having turned against it along with the US, the EU, NATO and the UN Security Council, the nuclear-armed bear is being cornered and will have to adopt a siege mentality to survive.

Putin once accused the Bush administration of trying to take over the world. He might well be right. By callously throwing away the legacy of peace bequeathed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in an attempt to prolong US global hegemony, Bush leaves his successor and the rest of us an omnipresent threat of World War III.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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