Provoking the Bear

by Claude Garrod and Judy Reynolds

That most people forget what they've read or heard ten or fifteen years ago is completely understandable. They have other things on their minds. Their major attention is directed at their job or family affairs. However, when professional journalists exhibit a form of amnesia about major news events and even their own previous writing, the phenomenon is much more serious. It lends itself to governmental manipulation of public information and opinion. When it's convenient for the government's policies, all of past history goes down the memory hole. In this column, we'd like to reach down that memory hole and pull back a few items that might help the reader to better understand the recent bloody events in Georgia.

The first item is a NY Times article, from the mid 90s, by the conservative columnist Michael Gordon. It describes a meeting between US Secretary of State Baker and Gorbachev, and states:

"There would be no extension of NATO's current jurisdiction eastward,'' Mr. Baker said, choosing his words with lawyerly precision.

Former and current Russian officials say that NATO's expansion flatly contradicts Mr. Baker's assurances. ''When we were told during the German reunification process that NATO would not expand, we believed it,'' Anatoly Adamishin, a former deputy foreign minister who is Russia's Ambassador to Britain, complained to The Daily Telegraph. Nor are the Russians the only ones who say Washington switched signals. ''When Gorbachev and others say that it was their understanding NATO expansion would not happen, there is a basis for it,'' Jack F. Matlock Jr., the US Ambassador to Moscow at the time, said in a telephone interview.

The administration of President George H. W. Bush actually maintained that non-confrontational policy with respect to Russia. In Bush's words, the US and the Soviet Union (which soon became just Russia) were to be "partners in peace." Two examples of that cooperative atmosphere are:
(From the Independent of Aug. 8, 1990) "As two Soviet warships steamed last night towards the Persian Gulf, Moscow appeared to be ready to join forces with the West to punish Iraq for an act described by Pravda yesterday as ''piracy''. The Soviet Union would apply all the sanctions approved by the UN Security Council, a foreign ministry official announced, hinting that ''further action'' might soon follow."

(From the Boston Globe of Aug 2, 1991) "President Bush warned pro-independence forces in the Ukraine yesterday to shun 'despotism' and go along with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's plan for a looser union of states."
Starting with the Clinton administration, the attitude of the US toward Russia changed entirely. Because of its severe internal problems, the country was considered a failed state, not worthy of serious consideration. While the US has national interests all over the world, Russia was assumed to have no national interests that had to be taken into account, even directly outside its own borders. Strobe Talbott, in his book, the Russia Hand, aptly communicates the new attitude when he describes a conversation he had with Clinton.
Clinton explained: "We haven't played everything brilliantly with these people; we haven't figured out how to say yes to them in a way that balances off how much and how often we want them to say yes to us. We keep telling Ol' Boris, 'Okay, now here's what you've got to do next - here's some more sh_t for your face.'"
Is it hard to understand that, today, Russians are proud of the fact that no one tells Putin "Here's some more sh_t for your face"?

The NATO military alliance, which was not supposed to extend beyond Germany, was soon extended to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Rumania. In every one of these countries, NATO is viewed as an anti-Russian defense pact. Russians now find themselves with American F-16s, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, at Lithuanian airfields, one or two minutes flying time from their border. Is it strange that this makes them nervous and causes serious stresses between their country and their neighbors? Articles in the neoconservative house organ, Commentary Magazine, boast that the US, the world's only superpower, already has First-Strike Capability - that is, that we can destroy the Russian nuclear force before it leaves the ground., Placing ABMs in Poland is a step toward making this boast come true. A glance at an atlas debunks the notion that the ABM’s are for protection against alleged Iranian missiles.

Most of the newly-independent countries have had serious ethnic minority problems. In the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the ethnic minorities were primarily Russian speakers. In Georgia the minorities are two non-Russian ethnic groups, the Ossetians and the Abkazians, concentrated in two regions that had been largely autonomous within the Soviet Union. After Georgian independence, when attempts were made to remove the autonomy of these regions and to force them to adopt the Georgian language, violent conflicts broke out. With UN agreement, Russian peacekeeping troops were moved in to quell the violence. However, starting under Clinton and accelerating under Bush, American policy became strongly anti-Russian and the ethnic tensions were exploited to bring the former Soviet republics into military alliance with the US. For example, large amounts of American equipment was transferred to the Georgian military, which were given training under US supervision. Recently, joint military maneuvers were held involving US and Georgian forces. On the border of Russia, these are extremely provocative acts.