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April 21, 2005
Rice Pushes Ukraine For NATO, Looks Towards Belarus Next

The Bush administration has quite obviously decided to counter the increasingly autocratic rule of Vladimir Putin by combining an old encirclement strategy with the new theme of democratization. One key part of this new effort will be the application of newly-democratic Ukraine to join NATO, a process which Condoleezza Rice will start and promote in Vilnius this week:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other NATO foreign ministers held the alliance's first major meeting on former Soviet soil on Thursday, planning to offer Ukraine fast-track membership talks. ...

"NATO is an important forum for transatlantic dialogue on political issues, it is the premier forum," Rice told reporters on Wednesday, after visiting Moscow where she criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for having too much personal power.

But Russia will take part in the Vilnius talks and NATO officials said they saw Moscow as a partner. The meeting in Lithuania, a former Soviet republic which joined NATO last year, underlines how the world has changed since the Cold War ended.

While Russia moved towards democracy, the West took more care with extending NATO membership, although at one point NATO did contemplate including Russia itself. With Putin gathering increasing power back to the Kremlin executive, however, Europe and the US want to keep as many of the old Soviet satellites out of Putin's grip. He tried to undermine democracy movements in both Ukraine and Georgia, unsuccessfully on both occasions, probably due to their proximity to the recently liberated former Warsaw Pact nations. Having NATO in the Baltics is nettlesome enough for Putin, but expanding into Ukraine and other Russian-language provinces may be intolerable for his strongman plans.

The next battleground has already been selected, apparently. Rice also announced that she will meet with key Belarussian opposition figures in an attempt to undermine the autocracy of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko:

After criticizing Russia, Rice turned her attention to Belarus on Wednesday, saying "it was time for change" in the former Soviet republic in an effort to stoke opposition against what she called President Alexander Lukashenko's dictatorship.

She plans to meet Belarussian opposition academics and politicians in Lithuania on Thursday.

Belarus sits to Ukraine's north, between Lithuania and Russia, and also borders old Warsaw Pact nations Poland and Latvia. The conversion of Belarus from Moscow-leaning autocracy to independent democracy would create a buffer zone between traditional Europe and Russia and create more pressure for democratization within Russia itself from its western borders. It's a clever strategy, designed to remain low-key to allow Putin to ignore it publicly, while getting a clear private message from George Bush about the direction in which Putin has steered Russia the last two years.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 21, 2005 6:56 AM

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