John Hinderaker adds:
The double-act of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin has come up with a series of security initiatives that seem designed to provoke, or at least irritate, the new administration in Washington. Without even waiting to hear how President Barack Obama intends to conduct his relations with Moscow – something that Joe Biden, his vice-president, may well address on Saturday at the annual Munich Security Conference – the Russian leaders have thrown down the gauntlet.
First, they leaked details of naval and air bases to be established on the shores of the Black Sea in the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia, whose independence is recognised by Moscow alone. Then they signed an air defence treaty with the former Soviet republic of Belarus, apparently paving the way for an anti-missile defence system to counter one planned by the previous US administration across the border in Poland. Moscow appears to have persuaded the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan to oust the US from its air base at Manas, outside Bishkek, in exchange for $2bn (€1.6bn, £1.4bn) in loans, and $150m in financial aid.
Russia and the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – the so-called Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) – have agreed to form a “rapid reaction force” which is intended to be just as good as the equivalent force operated by the Nato alliance, according to President Medvedev.
Outside analysts are sceptical whether any of these moves amounts to a particularly effective military gesture but they are certainly intended to suggest that Russia is not rushing to embrace the new US administration.
Foreign policy setbacks continue to multiply. Kyrgystan has ordered
the U.S. to close its air base at Manas, "a vital link in the supply
chain to NATO forces in nearby Afghanistan," reportedly under Russian
pressure. Yemen has released 170 suspected members of al Qaeda from custody. In Pakistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of nuclear proliferation, has been released from house arrest and freed to re-enter the world of international nuclear intrigue.
It's too early to conclude that the world views Barack Obama as a
weakling, so that the time is right to shift allegiances to stronger
and more reliable (or more threatening) allies. But the trend is