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Strategic restraint or assertive containment?

By Leni and Dr. Jiri Valenta
Monday, September 21
To two visiting Americans from Boca Raton, Florida, developments in international politics in the last 72 hours are so deja vu their heads are spinning. First, Russia has linked potential regional conflicts in the Caucasus and the Black Sea with South America. Hence, the hand clapping of Venezuela and Nicaragua (and perhaps Cuba, Bolivia and Honduras) to Russia’s theft of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moreover, unlike Yeltsin, who cut off economic ties with Cuba, Putin is not only rebuilding them but discreetly assisting its new proto-Leninist clients, Chavez and Ortega. Deja vu? Remember the Soviet-Cuban alliance?

In America we had a Monroe Doctrine which formerly limited the sovereignty of America’s hemispheric neighbours. It became obsolete with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and America’s 1977 return of the Panama Canal to Panama. Yes, we have in times past behaved like Russians, according to a doctrine of limited sovereignty in our “Near Abroad”, using indirect intervention in 1973 in Chile and in the late 1980’s in Nicaragua. But we don’t devour countries and no longer create new ones. Contrast this to Russia’s 08/08/08 invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moreover, while visiting Gori, 35 km from the South Ossetian administrative border inside undisputed Georgia, we personally spoke to people who had been bombed and spoke of many civilian casualties.

Thursday, while both superpowers readied to announce the cancellation of U.S. rocket deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia, hours earlier, had concluded an agreement with its two new puppets providing for the permanent stationing of 1,700 soldiers in each region for 49-99 years. In short, the Russians are determined to stay in Georgia. No U.N. resolutions will change the situation. Uprooted Georgians will not return and the OSCE and UN missions will not come back. Georgian guards at the South Ossetian “border”, ordered not to return unfriendly fire, will not see their restraint rewarded. Only the West can save Georgia.

But it’s not just Georgia. The frictions between Ukrainians and Russians also bring into sharp focus the conflict brewing in the Crimea. The Russian Parliament, as expected, has lately recreated itself as the old Supreme Soviet, a body which snored through meetings as it rubber stamped whatever the supreme leader decreed. The new, expanded Russian law justifies future military interventions - this time not of Leninist regimes but to “protect” Russian citizens and shipping lines wherever they may be!

Why the new law? The Russians are supposed to give up their Black Sea naval base to the Ukrainians when their lease runs out in 2017. But based on the new law and deja vu, its not hard to predict what Russian intentions are. Is it coincidence that a Russian Admiral is demanding new helicopter carrier ships? The new law also has strategic implications not only for the Ukraine and Georgia, but for Moldavia and the Baltic States, where many Russians live.

Russia is also facing the starting up of the NABUCCO pipeline bringing oil from Central Asia and Azerbaijan through Georgia and Turkey to Europe. Thus, she has begun demanding the replacement of Georgia by more malleable Armenia as a transit route. Moreover, the Russians are intensely wooing the centuries-old enemy, Turkey, with deliveries of nuclear reactors.

Overall, it’s not a pretty picture and surely Obama’s latest rocket “reset” of U.S.- Russian relations is already viewed in Moscow as weakness. Don’t be confused by talk about superior new U.S. technology. There is a quid pro quo. The endless war in Afghanistan and the need for the maintenance of our strategic northern entrance into that country through the Central Asian states was surely part of the deal. So, probably, is some sort of strategic cooperation on Iran. Disturbingly though, Obama’s announcement on the Czech Republic and Poland came at a time when Russia has chopped up Georgia and a Damocles sword hangs over the Ukraine.

There is no need to appease Russia in the Caucasus and the Black Sea, the regions in which the British for 200 years resisted Russia’s political advances. A return to George Kennan’s assertive doctrine of containment is what is mandatory. This doesn’t mean going to war with Russia. We can still partner with them over strategic arms control, Al Qaeda, and terrorists in Chechnya and Afghanistan. But the time has come to show Russia that the new Putin Doctrine is the Humpty Dumpty Doctrine and trying to put its empire together again would just be another disaster for Russia.

Dr. Jiri Valenta is a longstanding member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. Leni Valenta is the CEO of JVLV, Inc. They can be reached at