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Russian ogre or hero of our times?

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So Putin has the gall to say to Poland and its schoolyard pals "Niet", and indirectly to the schoolyard bully "Niet! Niet"? Eric Walberg reflects on the spoilsport -- the ever-dangerous Russian bear

3/5/7 -- As Poland and the Czech Republic dither whether to let the US put a few "interceptor missiles" on their territories as part of the US missile defence shield, it is high time to take stock of the latest phase in US plans for reshaping the world in its image:

having ripped up the hard-won anti-missile defence moratorium of the Cold War, it proceeded to absorbed ex-socialist block countries into its NATO defence arm -- plans are for Croatia, Macedonia and Albania (Al ban ia?) to join next year. And when Europe dithered about what to think of the US invasion of Iraq, the US succeeded in destroying any semblance of an independent European defence policy by conning Poland, Bulgaria and who- remembers-who-else into joining the carnage. Rather than quietly dismantling NATO after the Warsaw Pact was buried in 1989, it managed to slowly refashion NATO from its supposed role as bulwark against the nasty Russians into US world gendarme. The hat trick to beat all hat tricks.

Not satisfied with its brilliant success so far, it is now twisting rather flaccid arms in Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere into giving the US, sorry, NATO bases as part of its peace-loving anti-missile defence system.

What possible rationale is there for this? Aren't we all friends now, East and West? Didn't the "Evil Empire" collapse? Shouldn't the UN --if anyone -- be the world's policeman? Is it possible that the UN and the promise of world peace that the very creation of the UN embodied (or so we were led to belief) is intentionally being undermined by the US, sorry, NATO?

If, say, even 15 years ago, after the collapse of the "Evil Empire", in the days of Yeltsin's cowboy capitalism and Clinton's promised "peace dividend", one had tried to conjure up a more absurd scenario for the world -- Poland or the Czech Republic as the brave new defenders of democracy in the guise of airbases aimed at Russia, you would have laughed. If I had predicted such a nefarious plan 20 years ago, during the rosy days of Gorbachev's perestroika, 30 years ago during the stagnation of the Brezhnev period, or 60 years ago, during the dark days of Stalinism, you would have told me I was paranoid, that the mighty Soviet Union would never face such a frightening prospect. That these poor little countries were quite harmless. That the US was, after all, the defender of world peace.

But this is no laughing matter and unfortunately I am not paranoid. Russian President Putin told Czech President Vaclav Klaus last week that caving in to US demands would "raise the risk of nuclear destruction". Klaus pooh-poohed Putin's claim, denying the proposed missiles could possibly be directed at Russia, asserting that Iran and North Korea were the intended destination. Huh?

Enough humbug. Clearly the US is taking aim at what's left of its only real military rival. True, Russia has its dark side, as did the Soviet Union. Chechnya is one of the terrible tragedies of the Muslim world; Putin's cynical support of Uzbekistan after the bloodbath in Andijan is inexcusable; even the staunchly anti-imperialist Soviet Union flirted with pseudo-imperialism, when Polish and Czech patriots were unjustly persecuted, and Balts were forced, kicking and screaming, to join the Union itself. However, we must remember: this was part of the post-WWII agreement between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin which ensured a half century of peace and prosperity for the world. These were not necessarily pretty days, but they were sober ones, in keeping with a cruel world where much is not pretty.

In a world of pain and sorrow, we can find few knights in shining armour. But despite their many faults, all the past leaders of Russian contributed to world peace, with the very clear exception of the recently deceased Yeltsin, who was the one and only Russian leader who shamefully sold his country out to the imperialists. Funny how only ex-presidents Bush Senior, and Clinton bothered to show up at his funeral last week. What a shame US Defense Secretary Robert Gates didn't drop by to renew his oh-so-generous offer for Russia to join this latest bit of US of warmongering.

Yes, Stalin was psychotic, Brezhnev dull and scheming, Khrushchev and his political acolyte Gorbachev pompous windbags, but their gut instinct was true: they stood up to the plans of the imperialists -- European and US, and gave breathing room for Africa and Asia and even for a short while, Latin America, to live in peace and develop in a way that at least partly met the needs of their people.

Since the SU collapsed, this path has been blocked, and now the world is being forced to take a new road -- the road to hell in a US/ Israeli-nuclear-tipped handcart.

We must not be distracted by the Western media's orchestration of a new anti- Russian politics and solemn promises of US peaceful intentions. Putin objectively represents the forces fighting for world peace. And if he threatens to withhold gas to the EU, or "worse" -- a moratorium on the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, or deploying of medium range ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad -- he should be commended. Even if he changes the constitution and accepts a third term as president as the vast majority of Russians want, he should only be congratulated. His foreign politics embody the will of the people as no other modern Russian leader does. We have seen the glories of US-style democracy at work in Iraq. God forbid this "democracy" rule the world. Thank God the Russians have a leader with some backbone, and a tradition of world peace.

Now the Polands and Albanias are all flocking to the EU, seduced by Western goodies and moral relativism, sending their doctors to sweep London's streets and their young women to fill Western brothels. And now, in the absence of any clear European socio-economic alternative to US-led imperialism, they are being jockeyed into accepting nuclear weapons- related facilities -- the thin edge of a possible nuclear wedge? And to what end? At the same time, Arab and Muslim countries are being denied even nuclear power, and Israel is given carte blanche, not to mention interest-free loans for its German-made nuclear-tipped submarines, to spread its own nuclear terror.

Is this the road to world peace? Is this an honourable way for these new states to show their "independence" and their own desire for peace? Is the UN really to be dismissed as a pathetic plaything of US imperialism?

The Arab world must find its place on the world's political map -- and it should be located solidly behind Putin's efforts to thwart NATO's latest campaign. One can argue that Arab and Muslim countries have even more right to nuclear power than other countries. Islam means peace, after all, and no Muslim country has ever threatened another country with nuclear Armageddon. The one Muslim nation with "the bomb", Pakistan, makes clear it views it in the tradition of MAD (the wonderful acronym of Cold War days meaning "mutually assured destruction"). Armageddon threats have been the privilege of the Christian and Jewish nations, may God forgive them.

There really does seem to be a "clash of civilisations", but is it Christian and Jewish vs Muslim or just the good ol' imperialism vs anti-imperialism? Choose your terminology, but it looks very much like these are becoming synonymous.




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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html