Do you feel that chill in the air? There’s a cold breeze swirling, and it’s not a sign of the coming winter. It’s the frigid relations between Russia and the United States. Some people are calling it the beginning of a new Cold War. Whether or not this is true, there is certainly much to be worried about.

Bolstered by skyrocketing energy prices, Russia, under new president Dmitry Medvedev (a puppet for former president and current prime minister Vladimir Putin), is becoming more adventurous about throwing its weight around in Asia and Europe. And this newfound bravado has been to the detriment of the United States and its ideals.

First, the facts. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Russia is in a position of unprecedented energy wealth. Among the rest of the world, Russia is No. 1 in natural gas reserves, No. 2 in coal reserves and No. 8 in largest oil reserves. In August 2007, Russia resumed Cold War-era strategic bomber flights. This September, Russia and Venezuela agreed to conduct joint military exercises. Russia has plans to move at least four naval ships into Venezuelan ports. And after both the Czech Republic and Poland agreed to house important aspects of a U.S.-developed missile shield designed to protect Europe from ballistic missiles, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded by saying a “military response” would follow.

So how are we to tackle this growing anti-American influence spreading throughout Eastern Europe and perhaps the world? One thing is certain: Diplomacy alone isn’t the answer.

Diplomacy from a position of weakness doesn’t work and won’t work to reign in what is increasingly becoming a rogue Russian regime. Look at the North Korean approach. For years, the Bush administration backed tough sanctions against North Korea, refusing to give the oppressive regime of Kim Jong Il the legitimacy of face-to-face talks. Finally, the Bush administration gave in to the sentiments of the State Department and many liberal commentators and negotiated a six-nation effort to end the country’s nuclear program. The result: A little over a year after the agreement was signed, North Korea decided to restart its program last week.

Considering its current weak position, the United States must tackle this problem head on, develop a position of strength and not be ashamed to proclaim its motivations. Missile defense installations must be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland, despite Russia’s threats. These installations will undoubtedly make Europe safer (from yet another perturbing threat: Iran), and will help the United States stay safer at home as missile defense technology is put into action and we learn more about how to perfect the process.

The United States must also commit itself to defend its allies that so proudly hold up the democratic ideals that we share. It’s understandable that the United States’ European NATO allies aren’t quick to criticize Russia given that a majority of their energy supplies, including natural gas, are imported from Russia. The rest of Europe doesn’t want to experience the cold winter that Ukraine did two years ago, when Russia shut off its natural gas for the better part of a week during intense negotiations.

Russia is in such a strong strategic position that it would be tough now to undo the influence and power it has in contemporary Europe. But make no mistake: The price of failing to stop this new Russian aggression will be steep. According to Freedom House, in 1972 there were only 42 democratic nations in the world. Today, there are 123. A domino effect of countries wilting under Russian pressure, especially in the former Soviet Bloc, could reverse this significant progress. And Russia already began its brazen power play with its recent invasion of Georgia.

In a cowardly act, the United States promised aid to Georgia, not military assistance, while the democratic former Soviet Republic, was steamrolled by a merciless invading force from Russia. As Russian troops marched toward his capital, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said it best, “What’s at stake here is America’s ideals. If freedom collapses in Georgia, it will collapse … in other places as well.

His fears are well founded. Ask the Ukrainians left in the cold by Russia just two years ago. Ask the thousands of refugees from Russian’s recent invasion. Hopefully these fears will be addressed by a new U.S. president in January who is seriously committed to maintaining peace through strength.

Alex Prasad can be reached at atprasad@umich.edu.

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