International mischief maker, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, is hoping once again to leave his own little sour imprint on U.S./Russian relations as some form of a little international gremlin who hopes to be the tail that can wag the dog. Chavez has made a new visit to Russia to further cement relations, partially boosted by Venezuela's growing appetite for Russian arms.
So far, Venezuela has purchased $3 billion in Russian arms including 53 helicopters, 100,000 Kalashinov rifles, and 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets, and is seeking to purchase submarines and more military hardware from Russia which seems only too willing to supply this arrogant little dictator whatever war materials he requests.
All of this puts Russian President Vladimir Putin in a tight little box. How far can he go in supplying an annoying figure like Chavez with military hardware when relations with the U.S. should remain the most important goal. You cannot ignore the power of the few superpower nations in the world, and Putin would be wise to consider that this relationship with the U.S. should remain the most important factor when considering close relations with a rascal like Chavez. Foreign policy is like a balance. You lose support on one side if you run to support the opposite side too strongly.
Putin has an upcoming meeting in Washington with President Bush. It is up to Putin to decide whether to make this meeting productive and cooperative, or else Russia can continue to paint itself into a corner as a far weaker counterpower to the U.S., with strong links to nations hostile to the U.S. interests. But no nation has ever done very well financially or politically with such a policy. Long ago, nations like China realized that the U.S. was the major world power and tailored their policies, political and economic around this reality, which has seen enormous economic and political benefits for China, where their world respect is at an all-time high and economy booming.
Which Putin will show in Washington remains to be seen. But a pragmatic Russia should understand that the good health of the U.S./Russian relationship should be the most important of all goals, with strong economic benefits surely to follow such a relationship. A Russian company is buying out Oregon Steel for example. But sour relations could spoil further megadeals of this kind, and even invite congress to block further deals.
Hugo Chavez may be a mouse hoping to cast a long shadow over U.S./Russian relations. But pragmatism on the part of Moscow should prevent this. The ball is in Putin's court.
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