Return of the great game (Comment)
By Ilya Kramnik
Moscow, Sep 6 (RIA Novosti) After the breakup of the Soviet
Union, many intellectuals in Russia and the West announced
"the end of history". It seemed that the United
States' complete domination of the world was not disputed
The subsequent decade, during which Russia lost its foreign
policy positions, and its former satellites and even provinces
became US and NATO allies, seemed to have buttressed this
The first signal that the situation was changing came Sep
11, 2001, when it appeared that US domination did not guarantee
Washington absolute security.
For the first time since the Soviet Union's collapse, the
US had to bargain in order to guarantee the loyalty of its
allies. With the start of the Iraqi conflict, US domination
was called into question even more openly, despite obvious
successes in the post-Soviet space such as the admission of
the Baltic nations into NATO and permission to use bases in
In the second half of the first decade of the new century
a new trend has become visible. Russia's consolidation, buoyed
by a favourable economic situation and political stabilization,
raised the issue of spheres of influence, at least in the
post-Soviet space and Eastern Europe.
The issues of missile defence and the Kosovo problem proved
the Rubicon of East-West relations. The West demonstratively
ignored Russia's position, and this was bound to evoke response.
Russia had to face military confrontation and settle disputes
in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to its own
benefit, without looking to the West.
Almost as soon as Mikheil Saakashvili came to power, many
observers began to see Georgia as the most probable arena
of an armed conflict with Russia. All the prerequisites for
this were in place - Georgia's conflicts with Abkhazia and
South Ossetia, the presence of many Russian citizens in these
republics, and Tbilisi's open desire to subjugate the rebellious
There is no need to describe the history of the five-day war
again. Its main geopolitical result is not the recognition
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but the return of political
confrontation between Russia and the West.
What could it lead to?
Nobody wants a military solution to the conflict, which could
be fatal for the whole world. Both sides will have to prove
their cases by political and economic means.
Russia's integration into the world economy over the last
15 years has led to a situation where the West cannot inflict
serious damage on it without hurting itself as much, if not
As a result, Russia's main lobbyists to Western governments
are the Western companies, for which a quarrel with the eastern
neighbour could be financially ruinous.
Apart from oil and gas, there are agreements on the supply
of Russian titanium spare parts for the world's biggest aircraft-builders,
the Russian market for cars and other hardware, and many other
spheres where cessation of economic cooperation will deal
substantial damage to Western interests.
And there are political, as well as financial, interests that
would be damaged by confrontation with Russia.
Space cooperation between Russia and the United States, the
air corridor granted by Russia for NATO flights to Afghanistan
and some other programmes are not as obvious as oil and gas
supplies, but are too important to be jeopardized over Moscow's
recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
What will global confrontation be like now? It is clear that
the point of no return has already been reached. Russia is
not prepared to renounce its positions as it did in the 1990s.
The West may be indignant, but it will have to face reality
- it has become too expensive to risk.
Where will the next round of confrontation after Georgia take
It is hard to predict with certainty, but it is likely to
be in Ukraine, where not only the destiny of the Black Sea
Fleet but also Russia's influence in Eastern Europe is at
stake. This round will be bloodless. At any rate, I would
like to hope that Ukraine is not going to oust the Black Sea
Fleet from the Crimea by force.
However, the propaganda confrontation will be much more intense
than in Georgia. A world event is not the one in which 10,000
take part, but the one which is being filmed by 10 TV cameras.