Keep an eye of Russia

Posted: Aug 23, 2002 12:00 AM
Amid all the hubbub about corporate corruption, Martha Stewart and an impending attack on Iraq, the biggest development of the last decade is being overlooked: Russia is renewing her relations with America's enemies. Fire up the time machine because we're returning to the Cold War. Even amid widespread speculation of an American invasion of Iraq, Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon ink a $40 billion trade deal with Saddam Hussein's regime. For years, the Russians have been strong trade partners with Hussein, ignoring U.N. sanctions and continuing to consume Iraqi oil. As Iraqi Foreign Ministry official Abbas Khalaf explains, "We give Russians full priority. Over 200 Russian companies are now working in our country." This relationship is nothing new, but to revitalize it pending America's upcoming attack on Iraq is surprising. Russia opposes any plans to topple Hussein's regime, so placing thousands of Russians in Iraq in the face of an American offensive might be a desperate attempt to stave off a new Gulf War. Putin's effort to prevent war will fail; as one Washington insider said to me, "It's not a question of if but of when." Still, Putin could come out looking rosy to the Arab nations surrounding Iraq. A Russian-Arab alliance would help both sides. Russia could use its protection as leverage to pressure Arab countries to end support for the Chechnyan War. Russia also could corner the world's oil market, causing oil shortages in the United States and plunging us into a deep recession. At the same time, Arab countries fearing America's opposition to terrorism could use a valuable ally like Russia. Politically, Putin's support for the War on Terror has been priceless to President Bush, and he could pressure Bush to go easy on Russia's Arab allies. Militarily, Russia is still a force, possessing vast arsenals of nuclear weapons. Russia's emerging international power is not mere speculation. The Russians are binding themselves tightly to Iran and North Korea, as well as Syria and Egypt. Putin announced in March his intention to reinstitute sales of weapons to the Iranian government and to assist in the completion of a nuclear power plan in Bushehr. The power plant would almost certainly be used to create nuclear weapons for Iran. In February, the CIA identified Russia as a supplier of ballistic missile technology to Iran. A Russian/North Korean alliance is also forming, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visiting Moscow only last week. Russia provides North Korea with sophisticated long-range weaponry, as well as upgrades to its aerospace technology. Russia sells arms to the terrorist state Syria. And Russia has close ties to Egypt both in the area of investment and in weapons supplies, despite Egypt's ambiguous/contrary position in the War on Terror. Russia is perhaps more dangerous now than it ever was. During the Cold War, the country was burdened by its own communism, making it bulky and ill-equipped to meet the challenge posed by Ronald Reagan and American capitalism. Today, the situation has nearly reversed. Russia has risen like a phoenix from its own ashes, instituting a virile brand of capitalism that makes the United States look socialist by comparison. Russia's 13 percent flat tax has created a consistent economic boom. In 2000, Russia's gross domestic product jumped 6.3 percent, and in 2001, it rose at least another 5 percent. Russia is moving quickly and efficiently, and combined with a sense of Soviet nationalism, it is once again becoming a force to be reckoned with. And the United States must take swift action. While still pursuing close ties with Russia, we must make clear that Russia cannot maintain its connections with dangerous rogue states. This means clear language from President Bush. The Bush Doctrine defines as enemies those who support or harbor terrorists; it must also define as enemies those countries that support terrorist regimes. We must drastically cut taxes in this country to reinvigorate a stagnant economy and stop giving disincentives for employment. We must develop a working missile defense shield to prepare for the eventuality of a new Soviet threat. We must act quickly in opposition to those countries that would constitute a new Russian sphere of influence: Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and others. We cannot allow Moscow to ally with these countries, creating a new Russian satellite system. A new Cold War is lurking on the horizon. It is not a certainty, but it is a possibility. We must be prepared for that possibility in every way.