May 4, 2005

May 4, 2005 | WebMemo on Russia, Russia and Eurasia

President Bush's Messages to the Baltic States, Russia, and Georgia

President George W. Bush's visit to Latvia, Russia, and Georgia underscores how much the geopolitical landscape in that part of the world has changed in the 13 years since the collapse of the Soviet Empire. In Riga, Bush will speak to the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, now members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union and strong allies of America. Bush's second stop, Russia, once a rival, is now a strategic partner-an appropriately vague term, to be sure. Georgia, the President's final stop, and neighboring Azerbaijan are emerging allies. The President must convey different messages to the people and leaders of each country, while promoting American foreign policy and security interests.

 

In Riga, Bush should acknowledge our new allies' great achievements in transitioning to democracy, adopting market economies, and becoming a part of NATO. But he must remember that each of these countries has raised a younger generation that doesn't remember Soviet occupation and is not as pro-American as its parents. This generation needs to know that the U.S. was firm in its support of Baltic independence and never recognized Soviet annexation. The task now is to keep these young people friends of America.

 

While Bush should avoid creating new dividing lines in Europe, he should still call for Russian recognition of Latvian and Estonian borders and for Russia to finally sign a peace treaty with them. The President could also tell the people of the Baltic states that their well-earned and much-deserved freedom should not be dishonored by expressions of sympathy to Nazis or by discrimination against their Russian populations.

 

Russia presents different challenges. The President should address the people of Russia through the usual press conferences and also by meeting with democracy activists. He will likely address the great sacrifices of the peoples of Russia and the former Soviet Union in World War Two-a topic dear to every Russian's heart.

 

Joseph Stalin was no doubt Adolph Hitler's enabler in starting the war, and the Soviet regime then was as bloodthirsty as the Nazis. Stalin removed the top Soviet generals and was criminally negligent and oblivious to the coming Nazi attack-Operation Barbarossa, which started in June 1941. Soon millions of Soviet soldiers were surrounded, and whole field armies were destroyed.

 

It was, however, the blood and heroism of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, Georgians, and others who stopped the Nazi war machine. The battles for Stalingrad and Kursk broke the backbone of the Wehrmacht. Marshal Georgii Zhukov's gift for strategy helped a lot. Still, the Soviets lost 25 million of their sons and daughters.

 

Bush can remind his audience that the Red Army's World War II victories were due in part to Franklin D. Roosevelt's "lend-lease" program: Studebaker trucks, Cobra fighter planes, SPAM, and GI boots all played crucial roles.

 

Today the U.S. and Russia face a new enemy: implacable Islamist terrorists coveting weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In talks with Putin, Bush should advance joint efforts against proliferation, such as the Nunn-Lugar program that spends up to $1 billion per year to secure and destroy the creaky Russian WMD arsenal and related materials. The U.S. and Russia should work together to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. While Teheran still lacks the missile capability to strike the U.S., it could hit Russian soil today. The two leaders should also discuss challenges the U.S. and Russia may face in the future from an assertive and resource-hungry China.

 

America can also help the Russian people address several catastrophic social trends: HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics and male life expectancy that has fallen to just 58 to 59 years-lower than even in Egypt. Russia suffers from waves of alcoholism, drug addiction, and related illnesses, and its abortion rate is among the highest in the world. This is not about geopolitics but helping Russians to lead healthier, happier lives.

 

When meeting with Russia's democracy activists, President Bush should explain why America is promoting democracy around the world. Without stentorian lectures, Bush can explain how democracy benefits Russia, why free media helps fight corruption, and how 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 U.S. can help-if Russians want it to.

 

Finally, his speech at the Independence Square in Tbilisi will be a great opportunity for the President to address the future. Bush should acknowledge Georgia's Rose Revolution, a bloodless victory for democracy. He should express America's and the world's hopes that Georgia will remain on the democratic path and that its territorial integrity and sovereignty will be restored. The U.S. should support the return of secessionist Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia's fold and the withdrawal of Russian military forces from Georgian soil.

 

Further, President Bush should demand an end to the "frozen conflicts" between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh and in Transnistria in Moldova. These conflicts have gone on for too long and leave all sides miserable and impoverished.

 

Finally, the President should express hope that peoples of the region-from Belarus to Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan-will have their right to elect their leaders respected. Tbilisi would be a terrific location 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, Ph.D., 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