LITTLE has been said about the price the White House paid to Russia to get a military green light in Haiti. The Haiti vote was secured by giving Moscow a ``peacekeeping'' mandate in Georgia. This is troubling, suggesting the Clinton administration is winking at the diplomatic hardball played by Moscow to assert control and occupy territory in former Soviet states. In Georgia, Russian troops helped create the crisis they then went in to solve.
The real question is, will the White House continue passively to allow Moscow to play an imperial game - swallowing free and sovereign states and doing so in the name of peace?
The test may come soon. The venue is Azerbaijan; Russia is lobbying hard to establish a ``peacekeeping'' presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, where the 1988 fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia continues. Azerbaijan was the only state to negotiate for a complete withdrawal of Soviet forces during the Gorbachev period. Any honest discussion of Azerbaijan's future must acknowledge that Azeris do not want Russians back - period. Moscow, however, wants a military base there. It would like profits from the sizable Azeri offshore oil fields. It wants control of Azeri borders with Iran, Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. The bear can get its claws under the tent by further destabilizing the Caucasus and sending in ``peacekeepers.''
The problem is complex; the key to a solution involves a settlement on Karabakh. A successful Armenian campaign to carve a ``Greater Armenia'' out of Azeri land has forced 1 million Azeris from their homes - as many as in Rwanda - and into crowded, ugly camps. (That there are no pictures or stories about this reinforces the Islamic world's belief that the West cares little about Muslim lives.)
Armenia is winning, though both sides bear blame. Azeris imposed a brutal energy embargo on Yerevan. But what President Clinton must stress with Armenian President Ter-Petrosyan when he arrives in Washington Monday is that continued fighting and no peace treaty will simply further Moscow's hold on Yerevan.
Mr. Clinton should rethink his Moscow policy. The Russian proposal for Nagorno-Karabakh is only one effort. A serious ``Minsk Group'' proposal exists overseen by the US, Germany, and France. In it, Armenians would accept autonomy in Karabakh in exchange for a withdrawal from Azerbaijan. But will Armenian troops leave?
Clinton and the US could do much in the Minsk Group to support two sovereign states. But so far, the White House seems to feel friendly relations with Moscow make this impossible.