RUSSIA, THE U.S. ENTER A NEW PHASE OF GEOPOLITICAL RIVALRY

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The US Congress recently allocated $500 million for supporting national armed forces and security structures of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005. A substantial sum will be allocated to the post-Soviet republics. Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other CIS republics will receive over $20 million each.

In all Washington will spend around $1 billion on supporting former CIS republics and countries, which are located in Russia’s zone of interest (Iraq, Afghanistan and more). This is equal to 5% of the sum, which Moscow plans to spend on its defense in 2005. The Pentagon’s military budget is almost equal to Russia’s GDP in which the defense budget amounts to around 2.8%.

It seems that the gap is huge. However, Russia continues playing a very important geopolitical role in post-Soviet republics and in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East.

The oil crisis and the Iraq war demonstrate Washington’s inability to solve the world’s problems. However, the Pentagon explains its activities by the necessity of combating terrorism. It has won over the respect of the CIS nations where Russia has its own interests. It should be noted that Washington’s influence in the CIS has increased substantially over the past ten to 12 years.

The US and NATO have created its military bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. As is known, this is part of George W. Bush’s plan to relocate 70,000 US servicemen from Europe and South Korea closer to countries, which are part of so-called Instability Arch (Central and South Asia, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Africa). Thomas Donnelli, deputy executive director of Project of the New American century, noted in a monthly bulletin sent to US political analysts: “The perimeter of the empire expands to Central Asia.”

In the meantime, precisely Central Asia becomes the arena of geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the US. The US and NATO realized plans of military operations and deployment of its troops in Afghanistan after September 11 terrorist acts. They did not change anything in this region but managed to show Russia its place. At the same time, Russia supports the Tajik lobby in Afghanistan, hoping to use it for influencing the situation in this region. This is why the Russian Defense Ministry passed over military hardware to Afghan units on October 6. Military aid will amount to $110 million. This is not much in comparison with the alliance’s aid. Meanwhile, it’s not clear if the US and NATO will be able to control the situation. It’s a very difficult question, and it’s obvious that one of the main objectives of NATO’s tasks in this region will boil down to neutralizing Moscow’s influence. The dollar cannot do this – Washington will have to make political moves. To all appearances, the US understands this.

Such moves are most active in Tajikistan. It’s not true that Dushanbe decided to oust Russian troops from the republic under pressure from the US. However, Imomali Rakkhmonov demanded that Russia withdraw its border guards when Washington promised to give military aid to the republic. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tajikistan was postponed, which means that problems between Russia and Tajikistan remain.

The situation in the Trans-Caucasian region is another example. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is an active supporter of Washington’s interests. On the one hand, Washington could rely on him. At the same time, his attitude to Moscow and Georgian provinces is as aggressive that active support of Tbilisi’s position would anger Moscow. Washington hinted that Saakashvili had better reach an agreement with Russia. At the same time, the US tries to convince Russia to let the US create military bases in Georgia. Washington is prepared to share them with Russia.

Moscow’s position towards Georgia is uncertain yet. The same concerns Tajikistan. In the meantime, the main success of the Russian diplomacy boils down to Kiev’s refusal to integrate to NATO. Moscow manages to keep Azerbaijan in the zone of its interests. In addition, Russia can exert pressure on Kazakhstan and other members of the Organization of the collective security treaty. In other words, Moscow and Washington are strong rivals in post-Soviet republics. Moscow does not have enough money to defeat the US and defend its interests in post-Soviet republics. At the same time, Washington does not take in consideration the post-Soviet mentality of CIS republics. In the meantime, the energy crisis can strengthen Moscow’s positions in the world, and it is very likely that Moscow will not miss this opportunity. However, no one is insured against mistakes – even Putin. We hope that Moscow will not do something very stupid here…

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