U.S. Inter­ests Face Chal­lenges in Europe, Intel­li­gence Chief Says

By Jim Gara­mone
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2009 — (This is the sec­ond in a three-part series on the intel­li­gence community’s annu­al threat assess­ment.)

Russia’s per­ceived strengths and its poli­cies, ten­sions in Eura­sia, Cau­ca­sus and Cen­tral Asia, and insta­bil­i­ty in the Balka­ns all pose chal­lenges to U.S. inter­ests in Europe, the direc­tor of nation­al intel­li­gence said Feb. 12.

Den­nis C. Blair, a retired Navy admi­ral, told the Sen­ate Select Com­mit­tee on Intel­li­gence that Rus­sia con­tin­ues to rebuild its mil­i­tary and, as events in Geor­gia last year show, use those forces to impress on the world that the nation is still rel­e­vant.

“Russ­ian chal­lenges to US inter­ests now spring more from Moscow’s per­ceived strengths than from the state weak­ness­es char­ac­ter­is­tic of the 1990s,” Blair said in pre­pared tes­ti­mo­ny.

“U.S. involve­ment in Iraq and Afghanistan and gen­er­al anti-Amer­i­can­ism have cre­at­ed open­ings for Rus­sia to build alter­na­tive arrange­ments to the US-led inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic insti­tu­tion­al order,” he said.

Rus­sia is attempt­ing to increase its abil­i­ty to influ­ence events, he said, by “active­ly cul­ti­vat­ing rela­tions with region­al pow­ers, includ­ing Chi­na, Iran, and Venezuela.”

Blair said Russia’s ener­gy pol­i­cy is aimed at increas­ing the country’s impor­tance on the Euro­pean con­ti­nent.

“Moscow also is try­ing to main­tain con­trol over ener­gy sup­ply and trans­porta­tion net­works to Europe to East Asia, and pro­tect and fur­ther enhance its mar­ket share in Europe through new bilat­er­al ener­gy part­ner­ships and orga­niz­ing a gas car­tel with oth­er major exporters,” he said.

“Rus­sia appears to believe the con­tin­ued heavy depen­dence of Euro­pean coun­tries and for­mer Sovi­et states on Russia’s state gas monop­oly, Gazprom, pro­vides Moscow with polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic lever­age,” he said.

The Unit­ed States and Rus­sia can con­tin­ue to work some issues togeth­er, Blair said, but some issues – such as NATO enlarge­ment, Euro­pean Mis­sile Defense and the break­away Geor­gian provinces of Abkha­sia and South Osse­tia – will pose dif­fi­cul­ties.

Russia’s rela­tions with its neigh­bors – and once vas­sals – will always be strained to one extent or anoth­er. Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, Ukraine, Geor­gia, Belarus all have com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with Moscow, he said.

Ukraine will have a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion next win­ter, and pres­sure applied by Rus­sia pres­sure and by the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis will work on the coun­try, he said.

“Ukraine has moved toward democ­ra­cy and West­ern inte­gra­tion despite numer­ous polit­i­cal tests since inde­pen­dence,” he said. Progress will be dif­fi­cult because of weak polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions and on-going con­flicts with Rus­sia over gas-pric­ing and con­tracts, he said, not­ing that the Ukrain­ian econ­o­my is weak, and this may affect sta­bil­i­ty in the nation.

The for­mer Cen­tral Asia sovi­et social­ist republics – Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Turk­menistan, Tajik­istan and Uzbek­istan – are ill-equipped to deal with grow­ing Mus­lim extrem­ism, he said.

“Ener­gy helped make Kaza­khstan a region­al eco­nom­ic force, but any sus­tained decline in oil prices would affect rev­enues, could lead to soci­etal dis­con­tent and will derail to momen­tum for domes­tic reforms,” he said.

The glob­al finan­cial cri­sis will affect Tajik­istan and Kyr­gyzs­tan the most, since over 40 per­cent of the gross domes­tic prod­uct of both coun­tries comes from remit­tances, but all of the Cen­tral Asian coun­tries – with their weak gov­ern­ments – will be affect­ed, Blair said.

The Balka­ns are the great­est threat to sta­bil­i­ty with­in Europe, Blair said. Koso­vo could be a flash­point. The new coun­try is effec­tive­ly divid­ed into a Ser­bian eth­nic major­i­ty north and a Koso­var-Alban­ian south. Even as Serbia’s gov­ern­ment in Bel­grade seeks to align itself more close­ly with the Euro­pean Union and NATO, it will not com­pro­mise on Koso­vo.

There is also con­tin­ued shak­i­ness in Bosnia-Herzigov­ina and the future of the nation as a mul­ti-eth­nic state remains in doubt, Blair said, not­ing that inter-eth­nic ten­sions may have increased in that coun­try to “per­haps the high­est lev­el in years.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)