U.S. Vs. Russia

October 8, 2008

October 8, 2008

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the Renewable Fuels Association, Wal-Mart Stores, Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

We have too much on our plate. Everything cannot be a priority. We have a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, security concerns in Asia, nuclear threat from Iran and N. Korea, a huge budget deficit, a weakened economy, energy security worries; and now, somehow we just can't control Russia.

Russia invades Georgia just when it looks like that country might be invited to join NATO.

I think we need to reevaluate our relationship with Russia. Let's take that one problem off the table.

We all remember when Earl Butz sold grain to the old Soviet Union. We remember the Carter grain embargo. I worked to get that embargo lifted and signed a long-term grain agreement with the Soviet Minister of Trade. The Cold War ended and the Soviet empire disintegrated.

But now, Russia is rich with oil. Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev are very popular with an 80 percent approval rating. Finally, PM Putin, with his invasion of Georgia, is saying to us: "You are beating me up and I'm not going to take it anymore." Let me explain. After the Soviet Union collapse ending the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton promised that NATO would not be expanded into former Soviet empire territory. But we did. NATO added Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic -- all of Eastern Europe and some Baltic States. Now, we are reaching for Ukraine and Georgia. Proud Russia is not happy to be encircled by NATO.

We have further angered Russia by insisting on putting a missile defense system in Poland. We say it is defensive to protect against an Iranian missile attack. But Russia sees it as a threat.

Finally, we pushed to separate Kosovo from Serbia against Russian protest. This gave Kosovo independence. That is the precedent that suggests that the North of Georgia could separate from Georgia and become part of Russia. We have pushed and pushed and now Russia is pushing back.

With all the challenges we face, I think it is time we seek a truce with Russia. We don't need Georgia. We're not going to fight Russia. Let Russia have a diminished sphere of influence. We need Russian help to deal with Iran's nuclear ambition and North Korea. We don't need Russia playing "footsie" with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and selling him arms. Both the U.S. and Russia would benefit from a strong global economy and stable military relationship.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.