MOSCOW 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 by anyone.
The subsequent decade, during which Russia lost its foreign policy positions, and its former satellites and even provinces became U.S. and NATO allies, seemed to have buttressed this idea.
The first signal that the situation could change came on Sept. 11, 2001, when it suddenly transpired that U.S. domination did not guarantee Washington absolute security. Moreover, for the first time since the Soviet Union's collapse, the United States had to bargain in order to guarantee the loyalty of its allies. With the start of the Iraqi conflict, U.S. 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 Central Asia.
The second half of the first decade of the new century saw a new trend. Russia's consolidation, buoyed by a favorable economic situation and political stabilization, raised the issue of spheres of influence, at least in the post-Soviet space and Eastern Europe. Many analysts saw the series of colored revolutions that spread across the post-Soviet space as the final renunciation of peaceful settlement of disputes between Russia and the West; but this was not true Russia did not give up attempts to come to terms with pro-American governments.
The issues of missile defense 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 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 territories.
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 us without hurting itself as much, if not more.
As a result, Russia's main lobbyists to Western governments are the Western companies, for which a quarrel with the eastern neighbor could be financially ruinous.
Apart from oil and gas, I could recall agreements on the supply of 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 programs, not as obvious as oil and gas supplies, 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 passed. 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.
Revision of values is inevitable. The weight categories of the political players will be revised, and many countries which had been seen as subjects will come to be viewed as objects bargaining chips in a big power game. Their elites will not welcome this change. This is why some East European and Baltic countries quickly expressed their unreserved support for Georgia.
Where will the next round of confrontation take place? 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.
Ilya Kramnik is a military correspondent for the Russian News and Information Agency Novosti; Web site: http://en.rian.ru/. The Washington Bureau of RIA Novosti can be reached at [email protected].