We have, in the past year, entered an entirely new dynamic in Eastern Mediterranean and South-East European strategic affairs. We are in a period and a region in which Russia, not the West, is taking the key initiatives and has much of the advantage. This is particularly significant given that Russian policymaking receives scant attention in US and other Western media, and remains as opaque to Western analysts as it was during the Cold War era when Russia was veiled by an Iron Curtain. At least during the Cold War, the West threw its best intellects into attempting to understand Russia and the Soviet Union.
Russia’s recent major thrusts — for a variety of historical, economic, and security reasons — have been to dominate the Caucasus and Northern Tier, the Greater Black Sea Basin, and Central Asia. This has been evidenced particularly by Russia’s successful initiatives to build strategic relations with Turkey and Iran. The profound depth of this transformation cannot be under-estimated, and, along with the stability of the European Union itself (which is inextricably bound to Russia for its energy), vitally affects the fate of South-Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean states.
At the same time that this tectonic shift is occurring, US policy toward the Eastern Mediterranean and adjacent lands has, for the past 60 years — perhaps longer — been heavily based on wishful romanticism, ignorance, and an overwhelming and narrow preoccupation with the containment of the now-defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. US policy toward the region continues to be based around a premise of a Soviet threat which no longer exists, but which the US — and for that matter, some in Britain — cannot bring themselves to retire or revise. And by continuing to treat post-Cold War Russia as though it was still the Soviet Union, the US and UK have to a large degree caused Moscow to act in manners contrary to Western interests.
The US-led NATO caused alarm in post-Soviet Russia by moving to bring former Soviet bloc states into NATO, by treating Islamist terrorism in the Caucasus as something Moscow deserved while 9/11 was something the US did not deserve, and so on. The poorly-handled attempted deployments of missile defense systems by the US into Poland, the Czech Republic, and Azerbaijan further alienated Moscow, quite apart from the gratuitous refusal to allow Russia to become part of the West; US tacit or active support for Georgian attempts to seize control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; the US blatant interference in the elections in Georgia, Ukraine, and the Kyrgyz Republic and in creating Kosovo as a supposedly independent state — with attempts to do the same elsewhere — were all further examples of perceived post-Cold War US hostility toward Moscow. There are many other examples of events which forced Moscow to return to a lonely course of action in pursuit of securing its own interests in a hostile world.