Eftychis John Gregos-Mourginakis:
Washington, D.C., April 13, 2012 -¬†If you believe the pundits over the recent news cycle, Mitt Romney is a political dinosaur thrashing about in some Cold War tar pit. The former Governor made the apparent error of criticizing President Obama’s open microphone faux pas in South Korea, in which the President appeared to promise Russian President Medvedev a conciliatory stance on missile defense issues after the 2012 election. Romney moved aggressively in front of the story. He declared that Russia is ‚ÄúAmerica’s greatest geopolitical foe‚ÄĚ and criticized President Obama‚Äôs negotiating as shortsighted. By and large, the media, dismissed Governor Romney‚Äôs perspective. The Obama administration and its surrogates have mirrored the remarks made by President Medvedev‚Äôs who said in response to Governor Romney, ‚Äúwe are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.‚ÄĚ
If we look beyond the veil of Mr. Medvedev‚Äôs Statesmanship, as Governor Romney has done, Russia does indeed present itself today as America‚Äôs greatest adversary. Since the early 2000s, the Kremlin has been motivated by a neo-mercantilist zero-sum ideology and an associated paranoia that has led it to continually and effectively antagonize the United States and her allies.
Today, Russia presents a relatively unimportant bilateral economic partner for the United States. Indeed, the recent shale gas revolution in the US will likely further decouple North American hydrocarbon commodities from global energy markets over the medium term. This American energy revolution will diminish the importance of Russia‚Äôs ‚Äėenergy weapons‚Äô in the eyes of American policy makers. Many in DC view Moscow‚Äôs remaining influence as little more than the glow from a power for whom the sun has already set. Russia‚Äôs growing internal ethnic and political strife, the increasing tensions in its Southern Caucuses, and an ever more uncontrollable border with northern China have made governing an increasingly impossible job for Moscow‚Äôs bureaucrats.
The leadership in Moscow, evermore unable to control domestic events beyond the Central Federal District, has become increasingly reactionary and paranoid. The collapse of commodity prices in late 2008 and the associated deflation of United Russia‚Äôs political fortunes, has exacerbated the Russian plutocratic worldview that they find themselves encircled by the US, NATO and her Azeri and Georgian allies in a 21st century ‚Äėgreat game.‚Äô
Unfortunately, the Obama administration‚Äôs disastrous reset policy was predicated on an inability for seemingly anyone in the White House to empathize the sentiment of the Russian elite. US attempts at reconciliation fail to take into account that Russian diplomats are convinced that the world is a chessboard on which there can be no win-win relationships.
This pervasive ideological temperament of Russian leadership has led to both Russia‚Äôs outspoken diplomatic support of and its impressive economic and material support for the totalitarian regimes in Iran and Syria. Both regimes provide important markets for Russia‚Äôs defense industry as well as a counterbalance against America‚Äôs Arab allies in the region. President Medvedev also must recognize the correlation between his party‚Äôs own political fate and the price of world energy prices, the calculation in Moscow to stoke tensions in the Middle East thereby must be a relatively easy one. Indeed, Russian support for the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela, among other things, provides a means for Russian retribution for America‚Äôs support for the Republic of Georgia, a classic cold-war era tit for tat.
Perhaps Moscow‚Äôs most disturbing current policy is their continuing to stoke ethnic tension in the 20-year-old Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Russian intentions here are clear: by keeping the conflict alive it provides justification for the Russian airbase in Armenia, a valuable flanking asset for the Kremlin‚Äôs war-planners should they instigate another war with the Republic of Georgia; the tensions hinder the construction of more direct pipelines from Azerbaijan through Armenia and into Turkey, making vulnerable Georgian territory the only export channel for Caspian energy resources; by keeping the conflict alive, Russia hinders the ability of Turkey to reassert its prominence across the Turkmen populations of the Caspian basin and beyond historical Asia-Minor, a development that would surely effect the balance of power in the region and one which over time could present an existential threat to Russia‚Äôs influence over all of the Black Sea, the Southern Caucuses, and the Caspian; should this latter development occur, Gazprom, Russia‚Äôs de facto state gas utility would find itself with little future gas supply as Russia‚Äôs own domestic fields run dry over the next two decades.
Turkey does not present the only threat to Russia‚Äôs economic fortunes. Fear of an expanding Chinese sphere of influence is the impetus behind Putin‚Äôs renewed push for a Central Asian Union. Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have historically provided a buffer between Chinese expansionism and Russian territorial integrity, but today these countries increasingly find China as their major trading partner, thanks to China‚Äôs insatiable demand for Central Asian hydrocarbon fuels and rare earth metals. The effect of China‚Äôs economic coziness with the Central Asian states has been to diminish the influence of their former Russian masters, making more probable the possibility that within a decade, these states will for the first time since the rise of the Russian Empire, have no need for Russia‚Äôs transit routes to western markets.
While the intentions and actions of Russia outlined above can be readily gleamed from public sources, the Obama Administration has evidently ignored their development. Instead of working to check Russian actions that raise the price of commodities, hurt American consumers, and impede global economic growth and security, President Obama has been increasingly conciliatory and apologetic toward the Russian regime.
Disturbingly, instead of working with America‚Äôs Chinese partners, who too bear the brunt of Russian belligerence, the President has embraced a policy that is now highly antagonistic toward Beijing. The Obama administration began its tenure with a series of encouraging steps toward Chinese engagement. Yet, now, the President‚Äôs recent visit to the Korean DMZ and the Department of Defense‚Äôs very public force re-posturing toward the Pacific all indicate that Washington is actively pursuing a policy of containment against an expansive China.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration is miscalculating. Indeed, America‚Äôs relationship with China is fairly symbiotic, intellectual property issues aside, both nations economic fates are intertwined.¬†¬†While this may change over time, as it is seen today, the relationship between China and the United States is closer to one of competition and cooperation than it is to belligerence.
One key area of cooperation for both countries may be in a shared understanding that their interests are incompatible with those of Moscow.
To that point, policymakers in Beijing and Washington should pay more attention to the constant stream of anti-American rhetoric and Chinese paranoia on display on the Kremlin‚Äôs propaganda mouthpiece, Russia Today. The channel espouses an endless stream of misinformation that would make Tokyo Rose blush.
After a thorough review of Moscow‚Äôs actions it is plain that Governor Romney is not off base, he is spot on. Indeed, his comments may have indicated an important breakthrough for his political fortunes, from that of Governor and Candidate to that of a true Statesman worthy of the grand geopolitical stage. Governor Romney‚Äôs comments, while horrifying for the apologists in the Obama White House, would make President Reagan proud. Governor Romney, as President Reagan did, recognizes that the regime in Russia can only effectively stir the geopolitical pot when the rest of the world legitimizes their behavior and provides them moral equivalency.
Mr. Medvedev, perhaps it is you who should look at his watch, it is 2012, it is time for your government to should stop acting like it is 1973.
Eftychis John Gregos-Mourginakis is the Executive Director of the Young Transatlantic Conservative Alliance