Today, an official of the Collective Security Treaty Organization said the Russian-dominated grouping will create an integrated air-defense system that will cover the skies from China to Europe. Specifically, there will be three such systems anchored by the Russian one. Of these, a Russia-Belarus system looks like it will be the first to be put in place.
The move is just the last of a series of Russian initiatives to reclaim leadership in Central Asia and comes on the heels of a major victory for the Kremlin. On Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan’s president, speaking from Moscow, announced his country was expelling the United States from the Manas air base, a vital link in the supply of NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Kremlin insisted that Kurmanbek Bakiyev’s base-closure decision had nothing to do with Russia providing Bishkek $150 million in aid and $2 billion in loans as well as forgiving $180 million of its debt. The Russians have always resented the presence of American forces in what they believe should be their sphere of influence, and now they are tightening their bonds in the region to exclude others.
“One Cold War was quite enough,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously said two years ago as he tried to damp down tensions with Moscow. Unfortunately, we don’t get to determine whether there will be another multi-decade struggle with the Kremlin. There is one going on at this moment whether we choose to recognize it or not.
Are we completely clueless? We still have a we-are-the-only-superpower view of the world and maintain a we-can-afford-to-ignore-hostile-acts approach. The conciliatory tactics of the last few years failed to achieve a sustainable relationship with Moscow, so the change I can believe in is recognizing that our engagement policies have failed. In short, we need to understand that Moscow, through a byproduct of its initiatives, is indirectly aiding the Taliban, and we should treat the Russians accordingly. The watchword for the coming years should be “reciprocity.”