Bullying only takes Russia so far
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images While President Bush is spending his birthday week with “smart guy” Dmitry Medvedev, his secretary of state is embarking on you might call a tour of the front lines of Western-Russia tension. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice travels to Prague to formally sign an agreement on the construction of a U.S. missile-defense radar system ...
DMITRY ASTAKHOV/AFP/Getty Images
While President Bush is spending his birthday week with “smart guy” Dmitry Medvedev, his secretary of state is embarking on you might call a tour of the front lines of Western-Russia tension. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice travels to Prague to formally sign an agreement on the construction of a U.S. missile-defense radar system in the Czech Republic. Later in the week, she heads to Georgia, an American ally locked in a standoff with Russia over its increasingly violent breakaway provinces.
Russia strongly opposes the building of the missile-defense shield and the Foreign Ministry has warned that “appropriate steps” will be taken to punish the Czechs. Since the Russians’ amped-up support for the Georgian provinces began as retaliation for Western recognition of Kosovo, it’s safe to assume they don’t make such threats idly. But compared with historically unstable Geogia, there’s not much Russia could do to push around the Czech Republic, a country where Moscow hasn’t held much sway since the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
In fact, it’s clear Czech leaders are excited to be under the U.S. military’s protective wing, and the same goes for Georgia’s efforts to join NATO. Poland, which the U.S. hopes will also host part of the missile defense system, is still holding out, but that seems to be mostly about the Poles negotiating a better deal.
These countries, even if purely for cynical reasons, see cooperating with the U.S. as a strategic advantage. Russia, on the other hand, only seems to influence other nations by undermining their governments or shutting off their energy supplies. This can work in bordering countries like Georgia or Ukraine, but places like the Czech Republic and Poland no longer have to fear Russian tanks rolling down the street.
There’s a lesson here: For all the talk of the Putin/Medvedev tandem’s international assertiveness, they seem to lose a lot more battles than they win. And despite everything that has gone wrong in the last eight years, the United States still seems to be much better at making and keeping friends than the Russians.
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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