Russian reprise

International | Do Putin and Medvedev have their eyes on other prizes?

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

Ministers meeting in the French town of Avignon sounded downright hawkish on Russia. "We say to the European Union citizens in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia: 'You are no longer alone! A threat to your country would constitute a threat to the European Union as a whole,'" said European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering. If the European Union is regretting how many swords it has beaten into plowshares, how much socialized butter it has melted from its guns, it has good reason to. A quiet axis has formed around Russia since the government of Dimitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia a month ago and then recognized two regions within its borders, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as independent.

First was Nicaragua, now under former Marxist guerrilla Daniel Ortega. Then Venezuela and Cuba, former Soviet satellites, announced support without formal recognition. Then came Belarus, and recognition from the Transnistria republic in Moldova. Transnistria is recognized by no one but Moscow, but has a large Russian population and a leader sympathetic to the Kremlin. Russian expert Yuri Maltsev told WORLD that the positioning of a Russian 14th Army unit-more "peacekeepers"-makes it an ideal choice for Russia's next incursion across someone else's borders. One problem: To get there, additional Russian forces will have to cross Ukraine.

And finally, two farms in Estonia have formed this month what they are calling an independent "Soviet republic" and are asking Russia for recognition. Estonia is possibly the most radical reformer among former Soviet satellites, ranking as the world's 12th-freest economy-fifth in Europe-in the Index of Economic Freedom. In the old days Russians were moved into the Baltic countries to create bases of Kremlin support, a nation of "soviets." Those bases, battered and boosted by freedom, with all its choices and hard work, are calling in feeble voices for the attention of Moscow's suddenly attentive leaders.

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