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Soviet redux: Cold War lite

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A new, leaner, meaner Russia is picking up the Soviet torch. Watch for the fireworks, predicts Eric Walberg

28/6/7 -- It's official. As the US proceeds with its new world order in the Middle East, the world at large and even space, Russia, resurgent with its oil revenues and booming economy is again taking on the G8 coterie on all fronts. No apologies and no looking back.

The bid to control space, once openly referred to in Reagan years as "Star Wars", accelerated this spring with anti-missile deployment plans in Poland, the Czech Republic and even Georgia, and the triumph of Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections, who publicly supports this development -- "trying to reach your left ear with your right hand", as Russian President Vladimir Putin put it. The Star Wars talk, of course, is long gone -- this gives too much away.

Instead of highlighting this dangerous subtext, Western media has loudly been shaking its collective finger at... yes, Putin, for using Cold War rhetoric to score domestic points. Putin has also said he would likely suspend the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty negotiated by former presidents Reagan and Gorbachev in the heady days of perestroika which basically gave the US what it asked for. The West of course portrays this as another sign of Russian sabre-rattling, but it in fact is thoroughly defensible in light of what the US and NATO have been up to.

As usual in the US political system of "checks and balances", a treaty signed by a president must be ratified by a 60 per cent majority in the Senate. The 1988 treaty, modified to try to ensure Senate approval in 1999, was, even 11 years later, never ratified by the Senate. Like many other treaty partners in the past, Russia was sold a bill of goods. The only countries that ratified the treaty are Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The US never honoured the treaty, so why should Russia?

And what's wrong with the treaty? At the current arms control talks in Vienna, Russian delegation head, Mikhail Ulyanov said it did not take into account the extraordinary expansion of NATO since then: first Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, plus seven more in 2004 -- all former members of the socialist bloc. Ulyanov said the treaty prevented Russia from deploying substantial forces along its flanks, particularly in the northern Caucasus, where NATO bases are popping up like daisies, with the US establishing large bases in NATO member countries Bulgaria and Romania, right next door, with Georgia lining up.

In a speech given at the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy in Germany in February, referring to the Cold War days, Putin reflected: "there was an equilibrium and a fear of mutual destruction. And in those days one party was afraid to take an extra step without consulting the other. And this was certainly a fragile peace and a frightening one, but as we see today, it was reliable enough. Today, it seems that the peace is not so reliable."

There's an irksome commonality between US-Russian and Israeli-Palestinian relations here. In a negotiating strategy straight from Israel's war plans, US assistant secretary of state for European and Euro-Asian Affairs, Daniel Fried downplayed these new bases (read: settlements) though he added that NATO was prepared to consider Russia's concerns after it withdrew its troops from Georgia and Transnistria. "Let's solve Transnistria, let us ratify, and then we can talk about the flanks," reasoned Fried. Do I hear: "Let's have unconditional recognition of Israel by the Arabs, and then we can talk about a Palestinian state. Oh, and in the meantime we'll just build a few more settlements?" Nice try, Fried.

Among their many locations around the world, US troops are patrolling Kosovo in the NATO "peacekeeping" mission to carve a second Albania out of Russian ally Serbia's southern province. The only thing stopping this are Russian vetoes, though the writing is on the wall. Pop star President George W Bush just returned from a tour of Albania itself. And, in classic Cold War tit-for-tat, threats to recognise Kosovo unilaterally have been met with threats by Russia to recognise Georgia's breakaway Abhazia region unilaterally, where citizens have already been granted Russian citizenship.

On Star Wars, disarmament and Kosovo, Russia is just not willing to go along with US imperial plans. So the Western media to the rescue! The increasingly vocal criticism of Russia is dressed up in totalitarian, authoritarian rhetoric which neatly sidesteps the real issues. Funny how early post-9/11 neo-con boasts about the US as an empire have long ago been silenced, as the grim side of empire has come to the forefront in Afghanistan and Iraq, and US plans in Europe make it unseemly. But dropping Star Wars and imperial rhetoric doesn't change the facts on the ground (or in space).

Meanwhile, US attempts to continue its control of the world financial institutions is also under threat from this newly confident Russia. At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in St Petersburg, dubbed by Russia as a Davos for the emerging markets, and clearly timed to undermine the recent G8 circus, Putin attacked international economic institutions for protecting the interests of a select few developed countries and called for a new global economic order that would give rapidly growing developing economies a bigger role. Putin said they "look archaic, undemocratic and awkward "as they protect the interests mainly of developed economies. Today protectionism, which the WTO is intended to fight, often comes from developed economies that set up this structure." He cited the Doha Round of global trade talks which have been bogged down for the past six years because of disagreement between rich and poor countries over eliminating agricultural subsidies, and called for the creation of new regional trade bodies.

Russia remains the only major economy outside the WTO. To give its green light to WTO membership for Russia, among other demands, the EU wants Russia to loosen control over its energy sector and export duties on raw lumber, which are intended to spur processing capacity at home. But just as in Cold War days, when many Western companies were happy to do business with the Soviet Union, the world of dollars and sense goes its merry way with or without the WTO stamp of approval. At the WEF, a multibillion dollar deal between Boeing and Aeroflot was unveiled, with delivery of 22 Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets to begin in 2014.

Confounding Western criticisms of Russian recalcitrance on international economic issues, Putin went on the offensive with regards to EU criticisms, saying that many developed economies were guilty of blocking investment. "It turns out that foreign investment is not always considered a good thing. Russia, quite to the contrary, wants to establish the most favourable regime for foreign investment." Putin also called for "the creation of several world currencies, several financial centres." Maybe Putin's crystal ball has revealed that the WTO is a paper tiger, along with the WB and the IMF, and he's making other plans.

Russia is looking very much like the old Soviet Union these days, but leaner and sharper, stripped of its east European baggage, with a decisive leadership and alliances with Belarus, Central Asian nations, Iran, and China, however cynical. We can only await the next withering quote from the newly confident Russian bear about the emperor's new clothes. Too bad there is no one to blow the whistle so clearly for the Palestinians, though Putin's forceful calls for charting a new anti- US imperial course can only help lay the groundwork for everyone outside Disneyworld.




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