May 9, 2005

May 9, 2005 | Commentary on Europe

On the Road to Moscow

President George W. Bush's visit to Latvia, Russia and the Republic of Georgia underscores how much the geopolitical landscape changed 13 years after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. 

In Riga, Mr. Bush will address leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These are America's new allies -- members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They are also members of the European Union. Russia is an ex-rival and a strategic partner, a vague term indeed. Georgia (and neighboring Azerbaijan) are emerging allies.

In Riga, Mr. Bush should avoid new dividing lines in Europe, but call for recognition of Latvian and Estonian borders by Russia and the signing of a peace treaty. The president should also tell people of the Baltic States that their well-earned and much-deserved freedom should not be dishonored by occasional expressions of sympathy to Nazis or by discriminatory measures against the Russian population.

Mr. Bush should also acknowledge our new allies' great achievements in making the transition to democracy and market economy and integration into NATO. He should remember a new generation has come of age, which did not suffer from Soviet occupation and is not as pro-American as its parents. The president should remind these young people the U.S. supported Baltic independence and never recognized Soviet annexation. The task now is to keep these young people friends of America.

Presidential challenges in Russia are different. He should address Russia's people through press conferences and in the meeting with democracy activists.

He should acknowledge the great sacrifices of the peoples of Russia and the former Soviet Union in World War Two -- a topic most dear to every Russian's heart. Josef Stalin no doubt enabled Adolf Hitler to start the war, and the Soviet regime then was as bloodthirsty as the Nazis. Stalin also destroyed the top Soviet generals and was criminally negligent and oblivious to the coming Nazi attack -- Operation Barbarossa, which started in June 1941. In it, millions of Soviet soldiers were surrounded and whole field armies destroyed.

It was, however, the blood and heroism of Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, Georgians and others who stopped the Nazi war machine. Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk broke the backbone of the Wehrmacht. The strategic gifts of Marshal Georgi Zhukov helped a lot. Still, Soviets lost 25 million sons and daughters.
Mr. Bush can also remind his audience that the victories of the Red Army were due to a large degree to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "lend-lease" program: Studebaker trucks, Cobra fighter planes, SPAM and GI boots.

Today, the president should say, the United States and Russia face a new enemy: implacable Islamist terrorism coveting weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In talks with Mr. Putin, Mr. Bush should advance joint anti-proliferation efforts, such as the Nunn-Lugar program worth up to $1 billion a year aimed at securing and destroying the creaky Russian WMD arsenal and related materials.

The United States and Russia should work on ways to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. While Tehran can hit Russian soil, it still lacks the missile capability to strike the U.S. The two leaders should also discuss the future challenges U.S. and Russia may face from assertive and resource-hungry China.

The president should extend a helping hand to the Russian people. America can help address Russia's catastrophic social trends: an HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics and a male life expectancy of 58-59 years -- behind that of Egypt.

Russia suffers from a wave of alcoholism, drugs and related illnesses, and the abortion rate remains among the highest in the world. This is not about geopolitics, it is about helping Russians lead healthier, happier lives.

In meeting with Russia's democracy activists, President Bush should explain why America promotes democracy around the world. Without stentorian lectures, Mr. Bush should explain why smooth and bloodless transition from one power elite to another benefits Russia, why free media helps fight corruption, why transparency and the rule of law attract foreign investment. If Russia wants to modernize, it needs to liberalize. It is in the Russian national interest to be free. The United States can help -- if the Russians want it to.

Finally, a speech at the Independence Square in Tbilisi is a great opportunity to look into the future. Mr. Bush should acknowledge Georgia's accomplishments in its Rose Revolution, a bloodless pro-democracy power change. He should express America's -- and the world's -- firm hope that Georgia will remain on the democratic path and its territorial integrity and sovereignty be restored. U.S. should support return of secessionist Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia's fold, and withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgian soil.

Further, President Bush should demand the end to "frozen conflicts" between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Transnistria in Moldova. These conflicts lasted too long, and make everyone miserable and unable to economically develop.

Finally, the president should express our hope the right will be respected of the region's peoples -- from Belarus to Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan -- to elect their leaders. Tbilisi will be a terrific place to launch a new campaign for a better future in the former Soviet area, a future where dignity, the rule of law, civil society, economic development and freedom prevail.

Ariel Cohen is a senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies and international energy security at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The Washington Times