Eastern Europe at Russia’s Mercy

Eliot is a strategic consultant and American expat currently based in Brussels, Belgium.


timthumbThe Obama administration’s constant stream of foreign policy blunders has seen the United States alienate old allies while cozying up with other countries whose motives seem, at the least, questionable. Nowhere is this pattern more clear than in Eastern Europe, where the United States has largely abandoned any attempt to maintain its influence, granting Russia free hand to impose its will on smaller European neighbors to an extent unseen since the Soviet era.

There is much reason to be content with the United States’ current retreat from the world stage. As our country recently stood on the brink of making the disastrous decision to enter the fray in Syria, many Americans rightly asked what business it is of ours what happens in a forgotten corner of the Middle East. Does the United States really have a responsibility to intervene in a bloody and complex civil war over 9,000 miles away? It is difficult to make the case that we do.

While the Syria debacle has hopefully forced Obama to recognize that U.S. citizens do not want to get embroiled in pointless military interventions (especially when this means siding with militants who then turn on us, desecrating our flag and burning our embassies), maintaining our influence around the world is just as essential as ever.

Much of this influence comes through the image our country has abroad. After 8 years of what was largely viewed as a massive decline in the United States’ international reputation under George W. Bush, Obama sought to win over the hearts and minds of our foreign detractors with several choice speeches, in Berlin and, as President, in Cairo. What the Obama administration failed to understand, though, is that strength is a much more important trait than likeability on the world stage. Bill Clinton was one of the most popular U.S. Presidents abroad that we ever had, but did his likeability stop the 9/11 attacks from occurring less than 9 months into his successor’s term?

More than anything, world leaders want to see an American President who delivers on his promises, someone who can get things done. It is this quality in particular that Barack Obama lost after his calamitous handling of the Syria crisis, having promised rebel groups U.S. support if the “red line” of chemical weapons use was crossed. Once this arbitrary red line was crossed, however, Obama backed away from his promises in the face of public opinion. While this writer, and doubtless many readers, will feel relieved that our country has thus far avoided a new war in the Middle East, there is little comfort to be felt in the consequent loss of U.S. credibility in the international arena.

It is exactly this international credibility that is currently allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to wreak havoc in Eastern Europe. Inspired by his decisive foreign policy win on the Syria issue, Putin has doubled down on the smaller ex-Soviet countries around Russia, keen to bring them back under Moscow’s control. The most recent example is Ukraine, whose government declared its firm ambition to break its dependence on Russian gas by signing an Association Agreement with the European Union despite fierce pressure from the Kremlin to back away from such a deal.

Over the last 6 months, Russia has charged Ukraine exorbitant gas prices, suddenly banned key Ukrainian imports from entering Russian territory (letting trade between the two countries fall by 25%) and even threatened to back Russian-speaking Eastern regions of Ukraine that favor reunification with their former Soviet masters.

Russia’s use of such aggressive negotiating techniques is nothing new. Another frequent victim in recent history has been the small country of Georgia, which until recently was led by the pro-U.S. President Mikheil Saakashvili. In 2006, after Georgia refused to support Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Kremlin promptly implemented a blanket ban on Georgian wine, a product for which the small ex-Soviet country has become famous and on which many Georgians depend, because of reported health concerns. Levan Gachechiladze, the founder of Georgia’s most successful wine company, a former presidential candidate and now the head of the NGO Defend Georgia, which seeks to support and protect Georgian industry, said at the time that the idea of Georgian wine suddenly failing to meet health and safety standards was “absurd” and masked a more logical “political reason”.

One might reasonably asked how Russia is allowed to bully its neighbors with such impunity. The answer is that the U.S.’s gradual withdrawal from its position of leadership on the world stage has allowed other ‘great powers’ to fill the void. While many Americans do not want their country to be the ‘global policeman’, responsible for maintaining law and order in chaotic regions, much can be gained from engaging effectively with other countries, whether it be trade or strategic partnership. As a country, let’s not make promises we can’t keep but let’s not retreat from the world either.

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  • RevRoy

    Sir:
    When you say..”The Obama administration’s constant stream of foreign policy blunders”..I believe you would be much closer to the truth if you stated..”The Obama Administrations planned and orchestrated foreign policy of demeaning and destroying America’s credibility and power worldwide”. This is exactly what he has done/is doing. The “Caliph-in-Chief has conquered the mighty U.S.A without firing a shot and the pundits are still claiming that he is a naive and bumbling “Clouseau” type leader. Boy, has he (and his handlers) got them fooled.
    It is way past time to call a spade a spade (no, that is not a slight against his color…maybe the color of his heart), and to see the writing on the wall (Mene Mene, Tekel Upharsin) and prepare for the funeral of the once mightiest nation on earth and the arrival of the new Theocracy that is on His way. Jesus the Messiah. That’s right, the King of Kings is just about due to return and restore His Chosen people, His church, ( and His planet ) to the perfection it was He created it…” And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good”. Gen. 2:31
    We are a loooooong way from that time, and He has given mankind every opportunity to change and follow His ways. Now, time is just about up and He is coming back. Acts 1:11 (and many more).
    Obama is one grain of sand on the beaches of the world in the plan of the Almighty, so it is time to “look up, pack up and pray up because we are going
    up” (in the words of a famous Pastor) for those who are prepared and looking for His coming. You WILL meet Him, either as your JUDGE or your SAVIOUR. It is YOUR choice. Are you ready ???
    Rev. Roy….<

  • vladimirval

    It is high time for America to reexamine its foreign policy. Who are our true friends and who are our dire enemies? What actions are most favorable to America’s interests and people? For the past ten years American policy has turned from standing with those nations that most admire our way of life and political system to appeasing those that are determined to destroy us. This is especially true with the Obama administration. History teaches that appeasement is interpreted as weakness. Strong nations are respected and not messed with. When Reagan ordered the bombing of Qaddafi’s compound he gave up his nuclear aspirations. When Israel bombed Syria’s nuclear plant Syria did not build an other one. When Israel gave up conquered lands to the Palestinian regime, they were rewarded by thousands of rocket attacks. The lack of a show of force resulted in the death of our Ambassador and three heroic men. Strength begets respect, cooperation from friends, and deters aggression by our enemies. That’s the way it is!

  • Hap Harris

    In today’s world the Eastern European nations will be much safer schmoozing with the Russians than with the West. There’s an inversion of policy in Russia that is leading towards a more free society than you will find in America today.

  • Texas Patriot

    The only thing more absurd than thinking America has the right to influence other governments around the world is thinking we have the economic power to do it. Thanks to the failed ideas of neo-conservative global interventionists, America is now a bankrupt shell of its former self, with the worst and most expensive system of education in the industrialized world, the most sedentary, obese, and illness-prone population in the industrialized world, and the least competitive industrial economy in the industrialized world. And as proof positive of our abject failure across the board in each of these critical areas, we now have the largest debt of any nation in the world and are borrowing money at the clip of roughly $1.6 billion a day just to stay afloat. Obama didn’t cause the fifty year decline that destroyed the greatest industrial economy in the history of the world. Rather, he’s the man who promised Change We Can Believe In, but failed to deliver.

  • defcon 4

    Better at Russia’s mercy than the corrupt oligarchy that runs the EU. A corrupt oligarchy trying to impose islam0nazism on all of Europe.