Sunday, February 8, 2009

Russia, and the Former Soviet Bloc

With the relative decline in U.S. economic dominance over the last decade, openings exist for regional powers to assert themselves. Conflicts over 'spheres of influence' have developed, as they did in the past, over access to new markets, labor and resources, and buffer zones for security.

This is occurring now in the satellites of the former Soviet Union. The Russian invasion of Georgia marked its first pushback into a former sphere of influence. Other pushbacks include the gas shut-off in the Ukraine, and the current showdown over the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan. The idea of a 'sphere of influence' was promoted by the Russian President last August.
In his unabashed claim to a renewed Russian sphere of influence, Mr. Medvedev said: “Russia, like other countries in the world, has regions where it has privileged interests. These are regions where countries with which we have friendly relations are located.” Asked whether this sphere of influence would be the border states around Russia, he answered, “It is the border region, but not only.”

There is little evidence that the world recession has changed Russian strategy. Plans for a naval port in the Russian-occupied Georgian province of Abkhazia, were recently announced. This port might counteract a loss of the Sevastopol lease to Ukraine, in 2017.

The U.S. and the Euro Zone are also competing for influence. The Euro is planned for expansion into the Baltics, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, and Hungary. The U.S. is deepening military ties and will possibly locate defense missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. Georgia received a $1 billion dollar aid package from the U.S., after Russia's invasion last summer.

There will be quite a bit of economic, political and possibly military turmoil in this region over the next decade.

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