Thanks, in part, to the past surge in oil prices, Russia seems to have the cash needed to get it back on the world’s military stage. It also seems to clearly have the will to act upon that stage in a rather violent manner. Perhaps the Russian leaders think that they need to match the United States once again. Perhaps they feel threatened by the fact that NATO seems to pressing in around them. Perhaps the leaders are dreaming of being a super power again. In any case, Russia now seems bold enough to grab US military equipment in Georgia.
The Cold War was partially won by the United States ability to out perform the USSR economically. While political factors were critical, the USSR could simply no longer afford to maintain its empire and hence things played out as the did.
Russia is a major oil exporter, though people often forget thus. Hence, when oil prices surged recently, Russia enjoyed a major increase in its cash flow. Some of this cash has been diverted into rebuilding Russia’s military and the country seems intent to flex her restored muscles.
European countries are in a bit of a quandry. On one hand, there seems to be a clear need to respond to Russia’s actions and to prepare for the possibility that the Russian bear might still be hungry for more. On the other hand, Russia is a major economic player in the area and the countries of Europe might prefer to let the bear roam a bit as long as it keeps the oil and money flowing. They will need to decide what best serves their self interest. One option is to stand up to the bear and hope it will back down. Another option is to mildly scold the bear and hope that it will share its berries (for a price, of course). A third option is to stand up to the bear and hope that it backs off. Naturally, there are other options as well.
The United States is a long way from Russia, but we have protected Europe since the end of World War II and have interests in the region. From a military standpoint, we are still the most powerful in the world. However, we have been grinding our military down in the seemingly unending war on terror. The Russians have no doubt taken this into account and believe that we cannot or will not pose a credible military deterence to them. Gearing back up for another Cold War (or a cool war) would be costly and would strain our already over-extended military. We will, of course, have to re-evaluate our military strategy, tactics and needs. Fortunately, we still have the right hardware for a traditional war (battle tanks, bombers, fighters and such). Interestingly, many experts claimed that the time of such conflicts was over with the end of the Cold War. However, it seems like things are getting cooler, despite global warming.
From a political standpoint, the Russians know that the United States has done considerable damage to its influence via its war on terror and its poor diplomatic approaches. We have strained and weakened many of our alliances and have lost much of our past influence. To counter Russia we will need to get back into the diplomacy game and play it right. Naturally, this goes beyond merely dealing with Russia but also dealing with the rest of the world in a constructive manner.
From an economic standpoint, we are helping Russia by driving up the price of oil. We need to treat energy as part of our defense strategy and act accordingly. The more we can do to lower the price of oil the more we can reduce Russia’s income. While an economically weakened Russia will suffer from internal problems, it will be less able to engage in foreign adventures. While it would be preferable to have a peaceful Russian with a strong economy, it is better (for us) for an aggressive Russia to have a weak economy.
I do hope that Russia will decide to use her growing power to do good in the world. However, empires are rarely agents of good.