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No spheres of influence

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, March 4
The USA has several times stated that it does not accept the notion of a Russian sphere of influence and does not recognize the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. It has also stated that it is the sovereign right of every country to decide independently which union or alliance it will join. Most recently this was repeated by Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

However, for the Russian leadership the sphere of influence, ‘independence’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and dictating to its neighbours are the most crucial issues at this time. The Putin-Medvedev neo-imperialistic tandem is not going to give up its claims. Moscow is energetically promoting its policy in these directions despite the economic crisis it faces and the hardships its population suffer as a result.

There is no doubt that during the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on March 6 these issues will be seriously discussed. Fried’s statement is probably the overture for the above-mentioned meeting, which could itself be understood as a dress rehearsal for the Obama-Medvedev meeting scheduled for London on April 2. The skeptic would comment however: discuss the issues as much as you like, Russia is not going to give up its claims, in particular after the August events and their profitable outcome for Moscow.

Hopefully both sides already understand that their cooperation is crucial for the world and can be built on the basis of common values. However, what hinders any such understanding is the fact that Russia always ignores civilized norms of behaviour and becomes aggressive, unfair, dishonest, deceitful and so on when roused. Obama needs to be very attentive. Russia will not take a single step in the direction of concessions, as it has become confident that the world will not lift a finger against it if it shows its teeth, as it has already done.

Recently Moscow has managed to undermine the US position in the former Soviet space, which Russia considers its ‘sphere of its influence.’ Its first attempt to do this was of course the attack on Georgia – the US’s strategic partner in the South Caucasus. Russia now occupies Georgian territories and recognizes them as ‘independent.’ What is most alarming is that the Russians are also establishing several military bases on these territories. The next American defeat in this region was the impending closure of the US airbase in Kyrgyzstan due to Russian pressure. Now Moscow intends to pressurize its CIS partners into recognizing the illegal states it created on Georgian territory, having previously managed to influence the NATO summit in Bucharest which denied MAP to Ukraine and Georgia. The list could be prolonged but these instances already illustrate the major characteristics of Russia’s imperialistic position.

It is unlikely that any kind of argument will force Russia to step back from its position. The only argument Russia will accept is strategically important counter measures which will loosen Russia’s influence over its neighbours. Russian analysts are concerned that the US will concentrate its interest on the Central Asian states, trying to increase its presence there. Moscow is also concerned about the possibility of an improvement in US-Iran relations which would damage the Russian position in the region, and analysts are also perturbed by the possibility of resolving the Karabakh knot, because this would render Russian military bases in Armenia less necessary. If Russia’s position in Armenia was diminished it would lose certain levers it can use to blackmail Azerbaijan, also a former Soviet state.

The problem of supply for Russian military bases in Armenia would become very acute if relations between the US and Iran improved. Armenia has no land connections with Russia. The only possible transport route is through Iran, a connection which would be put under threat by improving US-Iran relations. So Moscow is facing serious challenges if the Obama administration maintains a very consistent and principled position, which we hope it is capable of doing. Russia has more to lose by not changing its attitude than it might realise, but even so, it may be more concerned with dragging everyone in its ‘sphere of influence’ down with it.