Kyrgyzstan: Obama’s Russian dilemma

Russia, it seems, pressured and bribed the parliament of Kyrgyzstan to close the U.S. air base located near the Russian border.

“The Biden prophecy has come to pass,” said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. Before the election, our current vice president predicted it wouldn’t be six months before our enemies tested President Obama’s foreign-policy mettle. Sure enough, a little more than a month after the inauguration, the parliament of Kyrgyzstan has voted to close the U.S. air base there, “an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.” Russia, it seems, pressured and bribed the Kyrgyz with promises of more than $2 billion in aid to kick America out. The move should be a “wake-up call to Washington,” said Ariel Cohen in The Washington Times. This is a clear signal that Russia wants to reassert its old dominance of the region and make a grab for the handful of tiny independent states “that emerged from the rubble of the collapsed Soviet empire.” For all his recent rhetoric about a “new era” in U.S.-Russian relations, President Obama cannot allow this to happen.

What a hackneyed pile of “Cold War nonsense,” said Joe Klein in Neoconservatives see the world in terms of “enemies, not opportunities,” and they’ve decided that we must all now fear the Russian Bear. Yes, Russia may want more respect, and more control over former Soviet republics in its “near abroad.” But the country’s economy is shaky at best, and its military is a shadow of its former self. Obama is making diplomatic overtures to Russia not out of weakness or fear, but for a truly important strategic goal. Russia has been providing technical assistance to the Iranian nuclear program and exerts real leverage in Tehran; without Moscow’s help, there may be no nonviolent way of denying the Iranians the bomb. Obama’s pragmatic strategy of making nice with Russia “may not work, but it’s certainly worth a major effort.”

Well, it “hasn’t paid off so far,” said Benny Avni in the New York Post. Russian officials have spent the past few months saying how excited they are about the coming thaw in U.S.-Russian relations, while behind the scenes they’re milking the new, softhearted administration for concession after concession. The U.S. has already signaled that in return for help with Iran, it’s willing to back down on plans to build a missile shield inside Russia’s old sphere of influence in Poland and the Czech Republic. Thanks, said Russia, offering nothing in return. Sooner or later, Obama’s team of “realists” will discover what a rough world they’re dealing with. When they do, “will reality undermine the realists?”

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