On September 22, 2010, a few months before the Senate ratified the New START treaty, a bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia. New START is, of course, the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia.
Ever since the blast, many have raised questions as to who have would directly attacked the United States. Initially, Georgia’s assertions that Russia was behind the blast were dismissed on both the left and the right as a baseless allegation attempting “to stoke anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S.” However, The Washington Times’s Eli Lake now reports that, in a classified document released in January, after the ratification of New START, U.S. intelligence, led by the CIA, found that Russian military intelligence—the famed GRU—was responsible for the bomb blast.
The report identified a Russian intelligence officer, Major Yevgeny Borisov, based in the Russian-controlled secessionist statelet of Abkhazia, as the main culprit in preparing and directing a series of explosions, including the one at the U.S. embassy. If Georgian and U.S. intelligence conclusions are correct, this violent act would confirm that the “reset” is a sham and would mark the resumption of the 1970s, Cold War–style confrontation with Russia that involves the use of force by Moscow.
If confirmed, this attack may be a case of Russia marking its “sphere of privileged interests” by telling the U.S. not to become too cozy with a country in what Russia considers its “near abroad”—i.e., its backyard. As stated in a recent WebMemo by Heritage Senior Research Fellow Ariel Cohen and Professor Stephen Blank of U.S. Army War College, regaining Russian hegemony in Eurasia lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union has been the “driving force of Russian foreign policy” since 1993.
Russia has been trying to undermine the pro-Western Georgian government for many years, which includes the 2008 Russia–Georgia War, in hopes of installing a pro-Russian government. However, with the exception of the tragic murder of senior U.S. intelligence officer Fred Woodruff by alleged Russian intelligence agents in Tbilisi in 1993, the U.S. has never been a direct target of Russian intimidation in Georgia.
The Administration’s public response to these revelations has been cautious: “Those events…have been raised with the Russians at a high level and they have been raised with the Georgians at a high level,” said the unnamed official quoted by The Washington Times. One official went further, saying that “it’s not necessarily pointing a finger, but part of a dialogue expressing our deep concerns.”
As Heritage has repeatedly warned, these muted responses from the Administration are a continuation of a troubling trend of downgrading the importance of America’s allies in the Caucasus in favor of the continued misguided “reset” policy.
It is clear now that if the U.S. does not stand up to Russia now, when Russian intelligence allegedly attacked the U.S. embassy, the Administration will invite further probing attacks—and not only in Georgia. If confirmed, this is Russian truculence not seen since the Cold War’s nastiest episodes. No U.S. action after attacks means that our allies throughout the world may be justifiably worried, and America’s adversaries will be greatly emboldened.
In hopes of preventing this scenario, a group of Senators led by Jon Kyl (R–AZ) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials requesting explanations from the intelligence community on the bombing.
So far, the Administration has not yet publicly reported to Senator Kyl, and much of the information regarding the bombing remains classified. Nevertheless, if Russian intelligence is indeed behind this bombing, then this event cannot be swept away for the sake of the flawed reset policy. The American people deserve a full explanation as to what role Russia had in the attempted attack on U.S. territory—and what the implications are for the Administration’s reset policy.
Robert L. Nicholson is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. Click here to learn more about interning at Heritage.