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Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter. His latest book is "The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership." He spoke from Washington, D.C., with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

Nathan Gardels: Mikheil Saakashvili, the new president of Georgia, argues that the "near abroad" around Russia is now going through the "third wave of liberation" from authoritarianism. The first wave came to a freed Western Europe after the end of World War II, then came the period of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution and Solidarity for Central and Eastern Europe, and now comethe democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine.

Do you agree that this is the historic process taking place?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I might quibble with his designation of stages, but one critical fact is clear: Democratization is at last transforming the former Soviet system. What is distinctive about the Ukrainian phenomenon, like the Georgian one, is that democracy has become the genuine aspiration of once Soviet-dominated societies that were not just satellite states but an integral part of the Soviet Union. This process can't be stopped in Georgia or the Ukraine. It will inevitably spread to Russia itself.

Gardels: If, as expected, Viktor Yushchenko wins the election on Dec. 26, he has made it clear he wants to join the European Union.Can Moscow tolerate this defection? After all, in the 1300s, Ukraine, or the Kievan Rus, was the birthplace of what later became the Tsarist empire. Also, Russia's infrastructure links to Europe and its gas pipelines pass through Ukraine. And Russia's only significant fleet is based at Sebastopol, in Ukraine'sCrimean peninsula.

Brzezinski: There is a very simple answer to that: Ukraine is not Russia. And Russia is not the Ukraine. The fact that both countries share historical roots going back 1,000years doesn't mean they are the same country. It certainly does not mean that Russia should decide what Ukraine does or what its aspirations ought to be.

If the Ukrainians want to join Europe, that is their right. If they join Europe, it increases the probabilitythat, one day, Russia will join Europe. And that is a good thing. On the other hand, if Russia succeeds in preventing the Ukraine from joining Europe, Russia again becomes an empire that rules by coercion. It cannot be a democracy. Inevitably, it will be a threat then to its neighbors.

Indeed, for the last several years, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been pursuing a neo-imperialist line which tries to subordinate Russia's "near abroad," which became independent in 1990-91, even if not to incorporate it into the Russian system. He has tried to do this with part of the old Russian empire, though he realizes he can't do it with Poland or the Baltics.

Gardels: Should Ukraine join NATO, then, as a way to consolidate its democratic gains and resist Russian subordination?

Brzezinski: That decision is up to the Ukrainians. If they wish to be part of NATO — and if they meet the criteria for membership — then there is no reason to exclude them if they are a genuine democracy willing to contribute to the wider collective security. But, I don't think we in the West should be in the business of recruiting or trying to entice new members into NATO. It is up to the Ukrainians to decide if joining NATO would enhance their security. I am sympathetic to their membership, but it is up to them.

Gardels: Do you fear the West is headed toward a new Cold War with Russia? There are now many points of conflict with the West: Ukraine, Chechnya, a new nuclear weapon, the Yukos affair and Putin's control of the media and re-centralizationof power. Condoleezza Rice told me earlier this year, for example, that "there is too much power concentrated in Putin's Kremlin."

Brzezinski: There is a cooling, certainly, but I don't think a new Cold War. The Cold War was waged between superpowers armed with nuclear weapons. Russia is no longer a superpower. Presidents Bush and Putin will certainly try to maintain correct relations, but there are the strains you mentioned. If Russia persists with its neo-imperialist policies, it will isolate itself not only from the U.S., but from the rest of the world. It will lose even the tenuous standing it has had recently as a country at least considering the democratic option. Already, Freedom House has downgraded Russia from its list of "free nations" to a "non-free nation."

The West should not assist Putin in masquerading as a democrat when he is acting otherwise. We should be forthright. We need to deal with Russia on a whole range of issuesin which there must be dialogue and negotiations. But we must not pretend Russia is something it is not. Certainly, under Putin, Russia it not marching toward more democracy. It is reducing the scope of democracy. We should not legitimate that masquerade.

Above all, the West should support democracy. So, when President Bush meets President Putin in February, it is imperative that he also show support for democracy by meeting Viktor Yushchenko (if he is in fact elected president of Ukraine on Dec. 26).

(c) 2004, Global Viewpoint
Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC. (12/21/04)