Current Events & Trends: Russia flexes its muscles

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Russia flexes its muscles

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One nation currently feeling the pressure is Ukraine. Russia has constructed 62 miles of barbed-wire fence along their common border. And the Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom has demanded that cash-strapped Kiev pay its overdue gas bill of nearly $900 million, threatening yet another Russian shutoff (James Marson, "Russia Warns Ukraine Over Gas Bill," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29).

Meanwhile the European Union and Ukraine are not far from closing a natural gas deal that would free Kiev from relying on Russian gas. Clearly Brussels and Moscow are vying for Ukraine. Some see Russian bullying as driving Kiev into the arms of the European Union. Yet the EU has also been exercising a milder form of bullying to encourage Ukraine to throw in its lot with Europe by joining the EU.

Russian influence is also increasingly felt in its ever-wary neighbor Finland. Moreover, the London Times reported Nov. 14, "Egypt's military leaders hope to strike a $2 billion arms deal with Russia today as Moscow seeks to capitalise on souring relations between Cairo and Washington."

But most disturbing of all are Moscow's plans to spend $755 billion over the next decade to bolster its military. While the United States and Britain pare their defense budgets considerably, both Russia and China are substantially increasing theirs. (Sources: Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times [London].)