by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 16, 2008
THANKS TO ENERGY BOOM, RUSSIA IS NOW ON THE RISE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. --It looked like a flashback to the bad old days of the Soviet Union.
For the first time since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, tanks and missiles rolled through Moscow's Red Square last Friday for Russia's annual Victory Day parade.
The symbolism was unmistakable. Victory Day commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany and the enormous sacrifices that the people of the Soviet Union made to achieve that victory. More than 25 million Russians died during the war, so the Victory Day parades carried a special weight. During the Soviet era, it meant showing off the military might that beat the Nazis as a reminder to the rest of the world that the Russians weren't pushovers.
But isn't that ancient history now? Didn't the Russians, who once controlled about half of Europe and much of central Asia, lose the Cold War? Didn't the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain come down, and the United States become the world's lone superpower?
Yes, all that happened. But while our leaders congratulated themselves on victory in the miraculous year of 1989, the seeds were being sown for the United States to follow the Soviets into ex-superpower status.
Why? Because as the United States reveled in being Number One, it also became too accustomed to cheap and abundant oil. It never prepared for the day when oil would no longer be cheap and abundant.
Now, our nation imports 65 percent of its oil and most of it comes from countries that don't particularly like us. And Russia, which was driven into bankruptcy in the years following the end of the Cold War, is now ascendent.
Once the weak link in the Group of Eight, the world's eight largest industrial economies, Russia now has the G-8's fastest growing economy. It is the world's largest producer of natural gas and second only to Saudi Arabia in oil production. It is the only member of the G-8 that isn't dependent on other nations for its energy.
When President George W. Bush took office, oil prices were under $30 a barrel, his Administration could get away with pushing a weakened Russia around and ripping up arms control agreements. The United States and Russia were no longer on equal footing in their relationship.
The Bush Administration thought that with Russia broke and impotent, it could get access to its vast gas and oil reserves. Russian leader Vladimir Putin had other plans. Instead of allowing American oil companies free rein to exploit his country's resources, Putin put most of Russia's most valuable reserves in the hands of Gazprom, the state-controlled energy company.
Now that oil has gone past $125 a barrel, the United States and Western Europe are at Russia's mercy. And the Russians know this.
In an interview last week with The Daily Telegraph, England's leading conservative newspaper, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev accused the United States of mounting a military build-up to contain a resurgent Russia.
"Russia does not have enemies and Putin is not going to start a war against the United States or any other country for that matter," Gorbachev said. "Yet we see the United States approving a military budget and the defense secretary pledging to strengthen conventional forces because of the possibility of a war with China or Russia. I sometimes have a feeling the United States is going to wage war against the whole world."
While Russia has quadrupled its defense spending in the past few years, Gorbachev - who still consults with Putin and the new Russian President Dmitry Medvedev - need not worry. The United States is currently busy in Iraq and Afghanistan and is still mulling an attack on Iran. It doesn't have the time or resources to pick a fight with Russia, too.
The United States can rattle Russia's cage by trying to expand NATO into the former Soviet republics and by making plans to build an anti-missile shield. But in the end, the power lies not with the country with the weapons to destroy - the United States - but with the countries that have the brains and the money to build for the future. These are also the countries that have the resources our nation needs to survive.
Unimaginable sums of money are now going to other nations to sustain our oil habit and our weapons addiction. With every day that this continues, our claims to superpower status become more and more hollow.
AR Correspondentr Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.