The administration of George Bush was marked by such incompetence that it is rather easy to blame just about every problem on planet earth at the doorstep of the bumbler from Texas. Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin charges it was Bush who is responsible for the current crisis over supplies of gas and his nation’s dispute with the Ukraine. He believes the Bush administration created tension in the region by pushing for construction of missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Reports that Obama has no commitment to the Bush plan have led Putin to be “cautiously optimistic” concerning establishing positive relations with the United States.
The Russian government is still angry at attempts to push NATO eastward and include the Ukraine in the organization. Putin regards such efforts as deliberately provocative and this is a major factor in creating tension in the region. Talks between Russia and the Ukraine over gas broke down in December.
Step one for President Obama is to end any further efforts to construct missile bases. Step two is sitting down with Putin and dealing with a variety of issues including the gas dispute with the Ukraine.
President Medvedev made clear that Russia would impose its will on the gas front by cutting supplies to Europe in order to force the Ukraine to pay market prices for the gas from his nation. He told Ukrainian leader Yushchenko that he was prepared to negotiate at any time, but insisted, “the price for the gas needs to be the market rate corresponding to the European price levels.” Russia cut off gas supplies to the Ukraine and several nations in order to compel compliance with their demands. Russia is facing an economic crisis since the price of oil and gas has plunged which results in a loss of billions for the Russian government.
The current oil crisis is impacting those nations who were making billions out of the ever increasing price of gas and oil. The Russian nightmare is a shift in Europe from reliance on gas to alternative forms of energy. Putin operates on the assumption that gas and oil will remain dominant into the future, but there is always the possibility that nations of the world will shift and move away from traditional sources of energy. What then, Mr. Putin?
Over forty years ago during the Khruschev era, the Russian leader made a slight change in how the Soviet Union was organized by transferring the Crimea area to become part of the Ukraine. The Crimea had the Soviet Union’s only seaport in the Black Sea but no one at the time could forsee that decision would create problems in 2008. Today, Russian and Ukrainian ships share the seaport of Sevastopol. During the recent war in Georgia and South Ossetia, the Russian navy played an active role in dealing with Georgian ships. Russian Admiral Andrei Baranov, pointed out his ships played an important role during events in Georgia to protect the rights of Russian citizens, an interesting way of describing those living in South Ossetia.
Rumors are circulating in the Crimea that Russia is issuing Russian passports to thousands of Crimeans in order to create the impression Russians dominate the region. Many Russian political leaders want the 1954 decision to be reversed so Russia can once again claim ownership of the Crimea. Pro-Russia leaders in Sevastopol are furious that the Ukraine has invited NATO ships to dock in the harbor.
Now, is the time to deal with this issue rather than wait until some situation erupts that could have deadly consequences for Europe and the world.