Who lost Russia? This may be one of the questions of the decade if relations continue their downhill slide.

Today, as Condoleeza Rice flies to Moscow for talks with President Putin, a Washington Times story, datelined Tiblisi, begins, “Emboldened by its growing alliance with the United States, Georgia is increasing pressure on two separatist territories that have bedeviled it since it gained independence from the Soviet Union.”

The “separatist territories” are Abkhazia (pop. 200,000), an old Russian resort area on the Black Sea, and South Ossetia (pop. 50,000). Both enclaves border on Russia as well as Georgia.

“Although the territories are small,” writes the Times, “the conflicts have a superpower dimension reminiscent of the Cold War.

“Russia backs the separatists in both territories, while the U.S. has given substantial support to Georgia, including help in training and reforming the military.”

Georgia is now backing a new pro-Tiblisi regime in South Ossetia and a government-in-exile for Abkhazia and vows to bring both back to Georgian rule by 2009. The separatists are trying to escalate their conflict with Tiblisi into a Washington-Moscow collision.

Says Sergey Shamba, foreign minister of Abkhazia’s breakaway regime, “The U.S. and NATO give Georgia military support and, because of that support, Georgian authorities conducted that operation [in Upper Abkhazia] and destabilized the situation. So there’s only one way out, the military option.”

Query: what is the U.S military doing in the birthplace of Joe Stalin? What is the vital interest in Georgia that has us training its military? To fight whom?

Can we not understand the rage of the Russians at what we have been up to?

We brought six former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO: East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria. Then we brought in three Soviet republics: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. Now NATO expansionists want to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.

Why are we moving a U.S.-led military alliance into the front yard and onto the side porch of a nation with thousands of nukes? How would the Union have reacted if, after the Confederacy won independence, the Royal Navy put bases in Charleston and New Orleans, the British army trained troops in Tennessee, and half the Confederate states entered a military alliance with Lord Palmerston’s Britain?

Have we forgotten that General Grant sent Sheridan and 50,000 U.S. troops to the Mexican border in 1865, and Seward told Napoleon II to get his army out, or we were coming in? Can we not understand that other nations might want their own Monroe Doctrine?

President Bush has junked the Nixon ABM Treaty and is putting anti-missile missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic. We say they are to defend us against Iran. But Iran has no ICBM.

Estonia has just enraged Moscow by removing a World War II statue of a Red Army soldier and the remains of 14 soldiers from the heart of Tallinn to a suburban cemetery. The perceived insult has ignited anti-Estonian demonstrations in Russia. Bush’s response? He has invited the Estonian president to the White House.

Why is he involving us in quarrels that are none of our business?

The United States has also colluded with Azerbaijan and Georgia on a pipeline to ship Caspian Sea oil to Turkey, bypassing Russia. Dick Cheney, on a trip to commune with that great democrat Nursultan Nazarbayev, former first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, ripped Russia for backsliding on democracy.

After helping dump over a government we did not like in Serbia, our Neo-comintern—the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House, and other fronts—interfered in Ukraine and Georgia, helping to oust pro-Moscow regimes and install pro-American ones. Since then, NED has been on a losing streak, routed in Belarus, with its subsidiaries about to get the boot from Moscow.

Can we blame the Russians for being angry? How would we react to a nest of left-wing NGOs in Washington, flush with Beijing’s boodle, aiding and abetting elements hostile to the Bush administration?

Truman is often condemned for having started the Cold War. This is an historic libel. Indeed, Harry was late, mighty late, to recognize just who “Good Old Joe” really was and what he was up to. But if Harry did not start the first Cold War, George W. and the neocons have a strong claim to having started the second.

A first order of business of the next president should be to repair the damage this crowd has done to Russian relations. And the way to begin is by getting NATO out of Russia’s front yard. Respect Russia’s turf, as we would like her to respect ours.