[Outlook]The Russian resurgenceA daily cartoon in the British newspaper The Independent got right to the heart of the conflict in Georgia. It depicted a kid going to the zoo with his father. Encouraged by his dad, the boy kept poking at a bear in a cage. The enraged bear attacked the child and tore him apart limb from limb. But the father didn’t do anything.
The father is the United States, the kid Georgia and the bear Russia.
The day before the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, Georgia attacked South Ossetia, believing that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would support it. Russia, the guardian of South Ossetia, then immediately attacked Georgia.
While the United States and NATO were not being particularly helpful, Russia occupied part of Georgian territory. President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia is now on the verge of being ousted.
Ready to stage a counterattack, the bear at the zoo was waiting for any provocation from the kid. Since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has endured a great deal of humiliation at the hands of the United States and Wastern Europe.
NATO has continued its eastern expansion policy into the former Eastern European region and the former Soviet Union sphere, ignoring Russia’s resistance. Not only Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, but also the three Baltic states that used to be part of the former Soviet Union, have all become NATO members. The United States even want to build missile defense bases in the Czech Republic and Poland.
When signing an agreement on the missile defense system with Poland’s foreign minister on Aug. 20, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the weapons in Poland will, for instance, fight off long-range missiles from North Korea and Iran. This was a simple trick which did nothing but upset Russia.
In the name of expanding freedom and democracy, the United States has encroached on Russia’s sphere of influence and interest in the Middle East, on the Balkan Peninsula, in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union region.
It was an intolerable insult for Russia when the United States secured a military bridgehead in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia in 2001 during the war in Afghanistan. The U.S. push for Georgia and the Ukraine becoming NATO members must have been even more insulting. It was also the United States that made the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline detour around Russia, if only slightly.
For nearly 20 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the United States has pursued exclusive military and economic privileges and interests across the Eurasian continent, vertically and horizontally. It enjoyed alone the fruits of the defeat of socialism and the victory of liberal democracy.
Russia couldn’t do anything about it in the 1990s. The former Soviet Union broke up into 15 republics and the Baltic states broke away. Russia had no means to protest the expansion of the influence of the United States and Western Europe until it restored its economic power in the 2000s thanks to Vladimir Putin’s powerful leadership and surging oil prices.
However, things are different now. Russia has restored itself to the extent that it is now a military and economic powerhouse on the international stage. Putinism is getting back Russia’s lost influence.
It was a fatal mistake by Saakashvili to underestimate the character and the vision of Putinism, falling into a trap set up by Russia. Saakashvili failed to see that Russia has long been seeking an opportunity to change the current state of affairs.
Despite the United State’s warning against attacking South Ossetia, the Georgian president mistakenly believed that once the country started the war, assistance and support would come pouring in. This is a typical case in which the people suffer because of their naive leader.
The war in Georgia may be a small incident that took place in a remote area in the Caucasus but it will and should change the existing order in Eurasia that was set after the end of the Cold War. NATO’s eastern expansion should be pulled back. Many pro-American countries will question the trustworthiness of U.S. promises of support and assistance to its allies.
The United States should accept Russia as a true partner, instead of greedily expanding its power and influence. There are too many issues that can’t be resolved without Russia’s cooperation. Peace in Northeast Asia, nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran, Middle East issues like Iraq and climate change are some examples. It was wise of the Korean government to postpone expressing its stance on the conflict in Georgia.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Young-hie