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Secretary of State Clinton’s tour of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus last week demarcated a catastrophe for American foreign policy that the mainstream media has not yet absorbed: the return of Russia to great power status. at the expense of the United States.

In the Georgian capital of Tblisi, Clinton denounced Russia’s military role in the Caucasus as an “invasion and occupation.” As M.K. Bhadrakumar wrote today in Asia Times Online, “This is the first time since the August 2008 conflict in the Caucasus that Washington has used the condemnatory expression.” Bhaddrakumar observes:

US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said Clinton embarked on the tour “to reiterate and demonstrate” that the “better relationship with Russia does not come at the expense of our relationship with sovereign, independent countries that are near Russia.”

Second, as Clinton put it in the presence of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi, “With respect to Russia’s claims to any sphere of influence, the United States flatly rejects that. We are living in a time when independent sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions about organizations they wish to join, to make determinations that are in the best interests of their own people and how they see their own future.”

Clinton said that the US would continue to fund non-governmental organizations to promote democracy in the former Soviet Union, and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a blistering denunciation of Clinton’s remarks, “which verge on interference in internal affairs.”

This caustic exchange should be read in light of the facts on the ground:

1) The pro-Russian party won the Ukraine elections last February, putting Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych in office and unseating the “Orange Revolution” founder Yulia Tymoshenko. As George Weigel wrote in this site’s On the Square column May 25, the Yanukovych administration signaled its orientation towards Moscow by inviting Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to come to Kiev from Moscow to give the blessing at his inauguration, replacing the traditional ecumenical blessing.

2) Russia is now Turkey’s closest ally, as Turkey breaks from the West and pursues a rogue foreign policy in the Middle East. Turkey has become the principal hub for Russian energy exports, while 7 million Turks or Turkish-speaking citizens of former Soviet republics in central Asia are working in Russia. Turkish construction companies and Turkish labor are building most of Russia’s infrastructure, replacing the dwindling supply of Russian labor.

3) Germany is moving closer to Russia, proposing a Russian-European “cooperation on security” following talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in June. A number of commentators, e.g., Stratfor’s George Friedman, note the growing coziness between Berlin and Moscow.

4) As the European Union suffers financial strains due to the prospective collapse of the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain), Germany “fell out of love with Europe,” according to a study by Wolfgang Proissl for the Bruegel thinktank in Brussels. Germany’s economic orientation towards Europe is becoming more of a liability than an asset; the German elite sees its economic future in Eastern Europe, Russia and China.

5) Georgia’s doubts about the value of America’s friendship were expressed in what Owen Matthews of Newsweek June 30 called a “love-in” between Georgia and Iran. “A flurry of diplomatic visits will culminate in a trip by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to Tbilisi in July, followed by an official visit by Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri to Tehran to set up a bilateral economic commission. On the table are Iranian investments in Georgian hydro-electric plants, Georgian wind-power projects in Iran, and visa-free travel between the two countries,” Matthews reported.

Playing an inherently weak hand, Russia has been able to place itself at the center of Eurasian policy, using its energy resources to form alliances with Turkey on one side and Germany on the other. Europe is in danger of gradual dissolution as a political entity, and NATO’s southeastern flank has ceased to exist. Russia is the beneficiary of both. In this context, Clinton’s tour is an unconvincing cosmetic exercise. American influence under the Obama administration has imploded, and Russia, despite its economic and demographic weakness, has moved into the vacuum.

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