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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Cheney Chews out Energy Empire

Vice President Dick Cheney grabbed the Russian bear by the balls, in what sounds like the most vicious and delicious diatribe ever from the Bush administration’s Russian cuisine. As a guest speaker at a geopolitical get-together in Vilnius, Lithuania, Cheney made headlines by dishing out hot potatoes on the Kremlin’s conduct of foreign policy. Describing Russia’s current state of affairs, he used the words backsliding and blackmail.

Cheney, who has a background in the energy sector, elaborated on Russia’s decreasing democracy coupled with its increasing role as a global energy supplier. That the vestiges of the evil empire keep protruding themselves in Russia’s self-proclaimed vision of an energy empire breaks no news. Many of the Black and Baltic Sea leaders who assembled in Vilnius had long solicited Washington’s concurrence on their diagnosis of Moscow’s condition. The forum attracted not-so-big countries with not-so-small problems. Indeed, counties like Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine seek prosperity through preserving the fruits of democracy from the fungi of Russian despotism.

Vice President Cheney became the third top-level conservative to speak openly against Russia’s blackmail-thy-neighbor behavior. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds the lead for having vented her view on Moscow’s gasmanship. Senator John McCain has repeatedly reflected on the Russian issue and has urged President Bush to boycott the July G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Experts believe both Rice and McCain will run for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

Dick Cheney, a controversial figure loathed by liberals, still deserves respect from a purely Ukrainian point of view. In the late 80s, then-Congressman Cheney visited Chernobyl. He avidly supported Ukraine’s independence when the USSR could no longer support itself. As Secretary of Defense in the Senior Bush administration and a major hawk, he helped a chicken Kiev gourmet Bush see the forest for the trees.

The Kremlin and the conservative camp seem all the more at odds. In the gung-ho days of the GOP’s rodeo on terror, Bush and Putin used to ride together. We all remember that Kodak moment when Dubya looked into Puttie’s eyes and got a sense of his soul. It was a wedding ceremony where Condi, a distinguished Sovietologist and then-NSC adviser, played the maid of honor. With the honeymoon in full swing, Moscow made no big fuss when Washington withdrew from the ABM treaty.

Being Bush’s staunch ally supplied Putin with the geopolitical currency needed to buy Washington’s silent stamp of approval on Moscow’s imperial designs in the near abroad. One version has it that, while the US went after the axis of evil, the Kremlin framed the Kuchma regime to put Ukraine into its wheel cart. Much to Putin’s gastronomic advantage, on the eve of Operation Shock and Awe, the Kolchuha scandal set off shock waves on both sides of the Atlantic, portraying Kuchma as Hussein’s accomplice and casting Ukraine into monthlong isolation.

Thanks to the relatively low US Army casualties, lack of trophy evidence of the Kolchuha transfer, and the dispatch of 1,600 Ukrainian troops to Iraq, Kuchma redeemed some of his political value. That didn’t help his successor strategy, though. The rest is history — and something Russia can’t reconcile with.

In addition to Ukraine, Russia’s hit list also includes Georgia and Moldova. Russia has banned wine imports from these countries, apparently trying to strangle their chief source of earnings. Meanwhile, Russia continues catering to the separatist enclaves in these countries. Georgia’s Abkhazia, Adzharia, and South Ossetia, as well as Moldova’s Transdniesteria, operate as Russia’s pet geopolitical subsidiaries.

Whether it’s American crusaders or Russian regionalists, the tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow has not ceased. The Bush administration is credited with record budget deficits and tax cuts for the rich. America often behaves like a bull in a China shop. Likewise, Cheney is no saint, but when it comes to Russia he calls a spade a spade. Ukraine stands to benefit from the balance-of-power effects that stem from the Cold War instincts of his cohort.

Babysitting fledgling democracies requires no troop deployments. As the West counters Russia’s predatory posture diplomatically, it will help Russia reinvent itself and become a reliable partner.

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