Russia beefs up military, but Cold War unlikely

Victor Nieto:

Victor Nieto:

Victor Nieto

In 2001 on a diplomatic public relations exhibition to Russia, President Bush revealed to the world that he had looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin and was “able to get a sense of his soul.”

When I first heard this loaded statement I quickly came to the conclusion that this was just another propaganda move by Bush to reaffirm his Christian piousness. But now after the recent disclosure of Russian activities I believe Mr. Bush was actually onto something.

Last month, Russia announced that it will be expanding its military budget by 20 percent, with most of the funds to be diverted to its air force. And it’s no secret to most foreign affairs bureaucrats that Russia is pervasively using its economic might to influence and even control the foreign policies of its surrounding states, better known as the former Soviet Union. Hmmm, does some of the strategy sound familiar?

What’s crazy is that Russia shouldn’t be in this position of power and authority. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the area was a disaster zone. Civil war had broken out, Russia was one of the few countries with a negative population growth, corruption was rampant and the once great and economically powerful country had fallen on its foreign debt.

But what’s even crazier than overcoming such hardship and abysmal economical odds is that people are now floating around the ominous phrase “another Cold War.”

Now let’s not run to the underground bunkers and spend what little economic wealth we have on dried food products just yet. The re-occurrence of Sputnik-mania is about as likely as Anne Coultier turning into a liberal, and for the most part it is the clever marketing of journalists and authors trying to make a quick sell, authors such as former correspondent for The Economist Edward Lucas, who covered Central and Eastern Europe affairs for the publication. In his new book appropriately titled “The New Cold War,” Lucas suggests that a new arms race involving Russia and the neighboring states of Georgia and Kosovo may be imminent.

Under the leadership of Putin, Russia has done a fine job of gradually resurrecting itself from beneath the ashes as general income has risen 12 percent from last year and economic gains as a whole have increased each year over the past nine years. But with the increase of wealth and prestige come skeptics and cynics such as Lucas, who believe that Russia will enter into “pipeline politics” using its abundance of natural gas and oil to dictate its authority on nations dependent on its goods.

So what exactly is Russia supposed to do? Undercut its own profit by offering those countries a discounted price on its oil at a time when it’s selling at an all-time high? Does it seem reasonable for Russia to just accept the North Atlantic Trade Organization’s requirements after being snubbed for a seat at the table?

If Texas decided to separate itself in a brutal and costly civil war like Kosovo had just done, would you want to acknowledge its independence and grant it reduced priced trade agreements? And let’s not forget Bush’s proposal of establishing a U.S. defense system in NATO countries surrounding Russia as a subtle sign of friendly intentions.

Although Russia at times may appear brutish and intimidating, it has the right to better serve its own purposes by means of economic expansion. And compared to the projected U.S. military defense budget of $623 billion, the $40 billion projected budget for 2008 is not even a tenth of U.S. expenditure.

Whatever Putin’s doing, it’s working and although there is still corruption and criminal activities that are wide spread throughout, the people of Russia have a sense of hope. Even though Putin opted out of running for a third term as president, deciding instead to undertake the role of Prime Minister, the people responded by electing Putin’s former chief of staff Dimitry Medvedev as more or less the symbolic leader of the new Russia.

Russia and the people of Russia are not looking for a new war but a way to further its growing revenue and avoid a new, costly war that could ruin the work put forth in the past decade. As former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev once said after the realization of the Soviets loss in the cold war, it’s “bread and defense” which are the order of our priorities, and not the other way around.

Victor Nieto can be reached at [email protected]