WASHINGTON (Rooters agency) – Not since the end of the second Obama administration have relations between the United States and Russia been so tense. Once again, Russia’s government is putting pressure on and interfering with its neighbors, forcing the US, as part of its NATO commitments, to impose sanctions and warn Russia against “continuing on the path of discredited 20th century big-power policies”.
Washington insiders say the administration was genuinely surprised by Moscow’s decision to dramatically escalate tensions with Kazakhstan. A year ago, Moscow reacted fairly mildly to the election of a pro-European government in Astana, following several weeks of anti-government protests.
Newly elected Kazakh President Bugaminehbors pledged a “new era of good relations” with both Russia and China, and Russia made no formal objection a month later, when the European Union announced an agreement under which European companies would explore Kazakhstan for minerals including zinc, chromium, uranium, copper, lead, zinc, manganese and gold.
However and inscrutably, the Kremlin reacted angrily to Astana’s approval of the construction of a petroleum refinery by a US-European consortium and the simultaneous opening of talks on a customs union between Kazakhstan and the Caspian Republic.
It is recognized in the West that the Kremlin felt that it had lost face after Ukraine joined NATO and then the Caspian Republic was formed, with generous US financial assistance, by Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (at the same time that Armenia was joined to Turkey in “a historic act of reconciliation and forgetfulness”).
However, US analysts point out that NATO has scrupulously abided by its pledge not to give membership to the Caspian Republic. The extension of the “NATO shield” to the CR two years ago did not give the Republic any say about which countries NATO might make war on, but only guaranteed it protection from Russian aggression.
But several geographers at the University of Fort Knocks have suggested that the Kremlin’s concerns may relate at least partially to the rapidly shrinking size of the Caspian Sea, which some geographers have, unofficially, begun referring to as the “Caspian Puddle”. In the past, when the sea had a lot more water in it, the countries bordering it treated it as water: they didn’t try to check passports of passengers on boats until the boats had docked. But if the Puddle were to shrink much more, and Kazakhstan were to join the Caspian Republic, the CR would have a legitimate claim to the land under most of the former Puddle, and Russia would no longer have a common border with Iran. (Why Russia should want a border with Iran is another issue – maybe to make an invasion easier. Next the Kremlin will be claiming the right to a common border with Argentina or Alaska.)
It was a sign of how much tensions had escalated when Secretary of State Jeb Bush announced that an urgent (not “emergency”) NATO summit meeting would be held in Archangel, the capital of the newest NATO member, the Polar Bear Republic.
And it did nothing to reduce tensions when, in Washington, the President misspoke, although she immediately corrected herself: “We seek only peaceful relations with Muscovy – I mean Russia.”
There are questions, however, about the ability of the administration to continue its “pivot to central Asian NATO,” given the increasing frictions between the US and Beijing concerning the proposal by the government of Manchugwo (Manchuria) to incorporate “our brothers” in Inner Mongolia.
Almost equally worrying for the Chinese government is the growing threat to its control over the Kamchatka-Vladivostok Special Autonomous Region, where there are reports of political unrest. The US administration originally endorsed the referendum that transferred those areas to Chinese sovereignty. It is now expressing doubts as to whether that referendum was totally free and fair. Secretary of State Bush’s seemingly unrehearsed remark on a national TV program has been widely quoted: “We may have been misled when we endorsed that vote.”
But administration insiders insist that efforts to settle things amicably with the Russians reflect long-term US intentions, not merely a delay while other hostilities are settled. This attitude is reflected in the President’s clear public statement that the US would not support Nizhny Novgorod being admitted to NATO, “although of course we respect the right of Nizhny Novgorodians to chart their own course democratically.”