A Russian warship is set to sail through the Panama Canal this week for the first time since World War II. Coupled with Russian President Vladimir Medvedev’s tour of recent American foes Cuba and Venezuela, and with recent joint Russian/Venezuelan naval exercises, this is the final play in what can only be construed as a not-so-subtle display of Russian power and their renewed adversarial role towards the US.
The reasons for this shift go far deeper than recent hostilities in Georgia. Under Putin, Russia has been moving away from the democratic gains it made under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, and in many respects has reverted to many of its old Soviet ways. American plans for a missile shield in Poland may have rattled the cage, but it would also be naive to label this a major reason for the chilling in relations. Russia has for the last decade been sliding further away from the West and aligning itself with powers such as Iran, China, and Syria.
These bold moves into the Western Hemisphere ought to be troubling, especially as they seem to be intentionally goading the US. The Russian navy even refers to the Panama naval base under its former US name, a dig at America’s dwindling influence in the region. Indeed, it ought to be concerning that Russia seems ready and all-too-eager to ramp up its role and influence in our own backyard.