As President Bush hosts President Putin at his Texas ranch, Russia seems but a shadow of what she was only yesterday.
Since the Reagan-Gorbachev summit at Reykjavik, Iceland, Russia has lost a worldwide empire stretching from Cuba to Cam Ranh Bay, including all of Eastern Europe. Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine are gone, as are Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the Caucasus, and the five republics of Central Asia. Smaller today than she was 150 years ago, Mother Russia no longer shares a border with Hungary, Rumania, Turkey or Iran. In the 1991 break-up, Moscow lost territory 10 times the size of France.
But that is only the beginning of a perhaps terminal crisis.
Russia is dying. In 2000, her population fell to 145 million, and Putin warns of a possible collapse to 123 million by 2015. That would mean the disappearance of one-seventh of all Russian people in 15 years, a loss greater than the death toll from World War II. The average Russian male today is dead before he is 60.
Russia’s dying population is the cause of the second and third threats to her survival. To the south, she faces the menace of the holy warriors of Islam coming north to aid secessionist movements, such as the Chechen rebellion. But an even greater danger is China.
In the 19th century, a weak China was preyed upon by all the great European powers, and the czar’s agents ripped California-sized chunks out of her land. Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, home port of Russia’s Pacific fleet, sit on terrain that belonged to China until 1860. Early in Richard Nixon’s first term, Chinese and Russian troops clashed repeatedly along the Ussuri and Amur rivers.
As China’s population soars to 1.5 billion and Russia’s falls to less than one-tenth of that, Beijing will begin to reoccupy her lost lands. Only a threat of nuclear war is likely to keep these lands Russian.
A Moscow-Beijing clash seems inevitable. With British Hong Kong restored, Han Chinese are now being transferred in the millions into Tibet, Mongolia and China’s far west. Beijing also lays claim to all the disputed islands of the South China and East China Sea, as well as Taiwan. When these are secure in the embrace of the Motherland, Russia’s turn will come.
In the Clinton years, Putin seemed to have concluded that the United States, which was moving NATO into Moscow’s front yard, was the once and future enemy. But Putin now appears to have decided that America – all the bluster from her elites about global hegemony and a Pax Americana aside – presents no threat comparable to Islamic fundamentalism, Chinese revanchism or a dying population.
His old comrades in the KGB and the ex-Communist Party and Red Army cadres must be appalled at Putin’s outreach to the Americans, but it should become clear soon, even to them, that U.S. and Russian strategic interests no longer clash as once they did.
Within days of the terrorist attacks on the United States, Putin not only lifted his objections to a U.S. military presence in the former republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, he began to provide ammunition and armor for the victorious offensives of the Northern Alliance that chased the Taliban back to Kabul.
He then ordered the closing of Moscow’s Cold War intelligence base at Lourdes, Cuba, and of the Soviet base at Cam Ranh Bay. Sept. 11 was one of history’s “plastic moments,” as Walter Lippmann called them, when new possibilities suddenly appear for the shuffling off of the carcasses of dead policies.
While Putin appears to see the post-Cold War realities, does the West? All of our recent blather about the inevitable triumph of free markets, free trade and global democracy now seem as great an act of self-delusion as the 1930s conviction that Hitler could be appeased with the return of lands taken away at Versailles.
We are approaching the end of the Western moment in history.
Not only have all the Western empires vanished and all the European colonialists gone home, the peoples they once ruled – Africans, Arabs, Muslims, Hindus, Chinese – are migrating in the millions into the West itself, where they will change forever the character and culture of our once-Christian countries.
Putin seems to have recognized that Russia’s place is with the West, inside the castle walls. If indeed he has, let us lower the drawbridge and bring him in. Russia belongs with the West.