Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Clinton Trying to Resecure American Ties

Hillary Clinton and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev

Secretary of State Clinton has just returned from a five day, five country whirlwind tour of countries that Russian Prime Minister Demitri Medvedyev refers to as the Russian "zone of privileged interests." Specifically, Clinton called on NATO ally Poland and four countries of the former Soviet Union: Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. All are countries that counted themselves as friends of the United States two years ago, but have either become neutral or rejoined Moscow's orbit. If the United States is interested in access to Caspian oil, the Clinton visit is long overdue.

Against withering criticism from Moscow, Poland gave former President George W. Bush permission to build part of a missile shield there. The United States said the missiles were to defend against the Iranian threat; the Russians pointed out that Iran was nowhere near Poland. President Barack Obama sacrificed the missile shield as part of his efforts to reset relations with the Kremlin. Poland found itself questioning its importance to the United States and to NATO.

Georgia and Ukraine had been considering joining the NATO alliance, but Germany dragged its heals on their applications. Since then, Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Ossetia have broken with the central government in Yerevan, and their separation is enforced by Russian troops. The United States did not respond to this use of Russian force, and America's ally in Ukraine, former president Viktor Yushenko, was turned out at the next election. The new president, long-time Moscow ally Viktor Yanukovich, has presided over a parliament that has extended the Russian lease on their Crimean naval base and -- hours before the arrival of Secretary of State Clinton with a reminder that NATO membership is still on the table -- passed a resolution declaring Ukraine a non-aligned country.

Armenia is unhappy because the United States has not forced the Turks to open its border and for refusing to accept the Armenian occupation of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan, by contrast, is unhappy because the United States encouraged Turkey to open its border with Armenia before the staus of Nagorno Karabakh was settled. Azerbaijan has signalled its unhappiness by signing new energy agreements with Moscow and with Tehran -- not with the West.

If one looks at where the region's energy resources originate, Azerbaijan, and how they get to the West, via Georgia and Turkey with the Ukraine as an alternative, it is interesting that the US has alienated large portions of the populations and governments of all these countries. Clinton's visit may be just in time; or it could be too little, too late.

Dr. James J. Coyle is available to speak to your organization or at your event. Please contact him at jimcoyle@verizon.net.