New York, Aug 22 : Washington fears that a newly emboldened but estranged Moscow could use its influence, money, energy resources, United Nations Security Council veto and its arms industry to undermine American interests around the world, if Russia's invasion of Georgia increases renewed tensions with the West.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad spent two days this week in Russia with a shopping list of sophisticated weapons he wanted to buy and the visit may prove a worrisome preview of things to come, The New York Times reported.
Although Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, it has held back until now on providing the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles.
But the Syrian president made clear that he was hoping to capitalize on rising tensions between Moscow and the West when he rushed to the resort city of Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitri A. Medvedev.
The list of ways a more hostile Russia could cause problems for the United States extends far beyond Syria and the mountains of Georgia.
In addition to escalated arms sales to other anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela, policy makers and specialists in Washington envision a freeze on counter-terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation cooperation, manipulation of oil and natural gas supplies, pressure against United States military bases in Central Asia and the collapse of efforts to extend cold war-era arms control treaties.
Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and the chief Russia adviser for Senator Barack Obama, said Russia appeared intent on trying to "disrupt the international order" and had the capacity to succeed.
"The potential is big because at the end of the day, they are the hegemon in that region and we are not and that's a fact," Professor McFaul said.
Russia may yet hold back from some of the more disruptive options depending on how both sides play these next few weeks and months.
Many in Washington hope Russia will restrain itself out of its own self-interest; Moscow, for instance, does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, nor does it want the Taliban to regain power in Afghanistan.
For Washington, there are limited options for applying pressure. Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wants to throw Russia out of the Group of 8 major powers.
Such a move would effectively admit the failure of 17 years of bipartisan policy aimed at incorporating Russia into the international order.
Yet Washington's menu of options pales by comparison to Moscow's.
Russia could also turn up pressure on Kyrgyzstan to evict American forces that support operations in Afghanistan and could block any large-scale return to Uzbekistan, which expelled the Americans in 2005.
Even beyond the dispute over Iran, Russia could obstruct the United States at the United Nations Security Council on a variety of other issues. Just last month, Russia vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe's government, a move seen as a slap at Washington.