"Russiaï¿½??s actions in Georgia are not much different from the typical conduct of other great powersï¿½??including the United Statesï¿½??in their neighborhoods. A few weeks before the onset of the fighting, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted that the notion of ï¿½??spheres of influenceï¿½?? in world affairs was obsolete. That argument was either naÃ¯ve or hypocritical. Certainly, Washingtonï¿½??s conduct in the Western Hemisphere suggests that U.S. officials have not abandoned their belief in an American sphere of influence. Since World War II, the United States has invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, and Haiti. Washington orchestrated a successful coup against the government of Guatemala and tried to do the same both to Fidel Castroï¿½??s regime in Cuba and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. It is a bit much for American leaders to admonish the Russians not to molest small, hostile neighbors.
Moscow is also increasingly angry at the Westï¿½??s repeated disdain for Russian policy preferencesï¿½??indeed, core Russian interestsï¿½??in Europe. The insensitivity of the United States and its allies was already apparent in the mid-1990s, with the effort to expand NATO by adding Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. That move violated assurances given to the Kremlin when Mikhail Gorbachevï¿½??s government agreed to the reunification of Germany and continued German membership in NATO. Secretary of State James Baker assured Russian officials that the alliance would not expand eastward from Germany.
Not content with that provocation, in 2004 the U.S. pushed through NATOï¿½??s incorporation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, entities that had been part of the Soviet Union. And NATO expansion is not the only manifestation of contempt for Russiaï¿½??s interests. So is Western policy in the Balkans, traditionally a key region for Moscow. In 1995, NATO forces intervened in Bosniaï¿½??s civil war to undermine the Serbs, Russiaï¿½??s coreligionists and longstanding political allies. Then in 1999, the United States and its allies waged an air war against Serbia, ultimately wrenching away its province of Kosovo. They bypassed the UN Security Council to do so, thereby evading a Russian veto.
That result illustrates the limits of Moscowï¿½??s power. Russia may be capable of establishing a modest sphere of influence along its perimeter, but it does not have the strength to reconstitute the Soviet empireï¿½??much less pose an expansionist threat to the heart of Europe as the USSR did during the Cold War. American opinion leaders need to curb their alarmism. Moscowï¿½??s conduct in Georgia may have been brutal, but it is not out of the norm for a great power to discipline an upstart small neighbor. There is no credible evidence that Moscow has massive expansionist impulses. And even if it did, Russia lacks the power to achieve such goals. Russia is not the Soviet Union, and it certainly is not the equivalent of Nazi Germany. U.S. policymakers need to take a deep breath, accept that Russia has returned to the ranks of major powers, and realize that Washington can no longer ignore, much less trample on, core Russian interests. The sooner they make that course correction, the better."