Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Russian Foreign Policy - a Mirror of the US, and a Bad One Too

Today US President Bush in a rare occasion has begun to voice his concerns over democratic progress in Russia as well as other pressing issues between the two states, such as Iran, Kosovo, US Missile Shield deployment in Europe, in the midst of a seeming showdown or a mutual freeze in relations. Reuters reports:

"You know, people in his government harbor suspicions about our intention, and I was trying to allay those suspicions. But there is a lot of tension with Russia, particularly with Europe now, that Russia is using her energy and denying market access to different countries, for example, Polish meat," Bush said.

Bush said he still is close to Putin personally but said "it's a very complex relationship" between the U.S. and Russian governments.

"He thinks they've got a democracy emerging there in Russia. Obviously there's a lot of suspicion about that, and I look forward to continuing to talk to him as to why he thinks his country is on the path to democracy. It looks like at times it's not to me," he said.

Bush, who will likely see Putin at a Group of Eight summit in Germany June 6-8, said he would be willing to "listen more about why he thinks that what he's doing is democratic in nature."

Despite the words of the US president being significantly less harsh than those communicated by President Putin in Munich in February, the cooling down in relations between the two former Cold War combatants has started as Russia began pursuing a foreign policy strategy almost identical to the country which it is criticizing; it is an even bigger paradox that such a foreign policy strategy has led to a giant loss of credibility for its North American counterpart.

The gas supply war against Ukraine, although necessary due to Russia's refusal to finance a government hostile to Russia by several billion dollars annually in cheap natural gas supplies, was proceeded with utmost haste; without consultations with outside partners in the face of the EU, which in the end proved to be the victims in the battle, after Ukraine simply started eating up European gas supplies from the pipeline on its territory.

The heavy economic sanctions initiated against Georgia, which, as Ukraine, was a host to a Western-backed "democratic" revolution, for detention of what it claimed to be Russia's spies working to overthrow the government, once again caused concern amongst EU and US partners.

Finally the face-off between Estonia and Russia landed the latest credibility blow to the Kremlin, with protesting around the Estonian embassy in Moscow, and by aggressive rallies in the Estonian capital, which was followed by debates on initiating unilateral economic sanctions against Estonia, an EU member. This event backfired completely, as the EU had to stand on the side of Estonia, claiming that economic sanctions against one of its members were de facto economic sanctions against the EU as a whole. What later followed was a pointless summit in Samara between the EU and Russia, where any treaties and cooperation agreements were blocked by anti-Russian feelings on the part of Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland.

All of these unilateral diplomatic wars with its neighbors backfired terribly for Russia. The recent failed EU-Russia summit was preceded by increasing demand on the part of Georgia and ruling factions in Ukraine to speed up integration processes with the EU and NATO, a clear anti-Russian position. Ukraine's president has been forcing through legislation to bar the Russian language from being taught in schools or used in administrative proceedings (for a country with close to 50% of the population speaking Russian, and a majority of that number not knowing Ukrainian this may cause havoc). The Georgian president hailed the opening of a museum of the Soviet occupation of Georgia, and many ruling government officials there now claim that Georgia was always occupied and oppressed by its Northern neighbor. Most of them forget the fact that Georgia was rescued by the Russian Empire from Muslim exploitation, and that the bloodiest men of Soviet history - Joseph Stalin and Lavrentii Beria were native Georgians.

What is even more disappointing, is that Russia's "bare bones" position in all of these disputes was right both legally and ethically, the execution went horribly wrong. The "democratic" Ukrainian president backed heavily by the West now faces an approval rating lower than that of George Bush, some fear his party won't make it into parliament at the next elections. Georgia, despite much democratic hype has not made any wide-scale economic progress and has pursued a strategy of heavy nationalism and unilateral love for George Bush; opposition parties in Georgia are facing government arrests, often on made-up pretexts including "spying" against Georgia. And Estonia's actions are simply ridiculous as they are supported by the Estonian prime-minister, Andrus Ansip, a former Communist party activist, who moved quickly up the party ladder back when Estonia was a member of the Soviet Union; he now has simply changed sides and attempted to win the backing of Estonian ultra-nationalists by ridiculing Red Army soldiers buried by the Bronze soldier monument, calling them either "drunken soldiers, who were run over by a tank", or "looters, who were executed".

The similarities with the US foreign policy almost long for identification. Refusing to deal with parties affected by a potential diplomatic conflict, or even refusing to build consensus on an issue has led the US to failure in Iraq, and its stance against North Korea and Iran. After several years of diplomatic failures it is now forced to return to negotiations with countries it considered "evil" - Iran and Syria, as their help is essential to resolving US security interests in the Middle East. Failure to negotiate has led North Korea to develop nuclear weapons, Iranians to elect a president openly hostile to the US, who threatens to wipe Israel off the map. US support of democratic freedoms coupled with failure to recognize and negotiate with those backed by a majority of a country has wiped out the potential for a peace settlement in Palestine fueling a stand-off in Palestine itself and giving Israel a green light to pursue military confrontation with its neighbors.

In the past, especially in the Soviet Union, the Kremlin's foreign policy centered on the "respect" factor. More specifically - "lust in exchange for goods" (military equipment, export subsidies, outright cash). In exchange Russia's "friends" would proclaim strategic partnerships and mutually inseparable ties for years to come. Russia never gained much from these "love affairs", except positioning military bases to counter the spread of US influence and maybe creating a market which would buy goods that the Soviet economy overproduced with money lent to that market by the Kremlin. This may be a prime cause for the misunderstandings on the Russian part of its relations with Georgia and Ukraine. Misunderstanding which lead to concerns on the part of the EU and the US

Pursuit of a more pragmatic foreign policy based predominantly on mutual economic and business interests will be more beneficial for Russia. Such policies do not play by the rules of a "win-lose" outcome, and offer means for negotiation, clear obligations, and more stable long-term relations. The "sphere of influence" policy, one based on the "respect" factor, can never be contracted, as the times of secret agreements have long passed with the end of the Second World War. Basing foreign policy on such a viewpoint of the current world leads to outright denial of consensus-based diplomacy, and proves extremely unstable; the sphere of influence can rarely be proven unless with military engagement or economic sanctions, with the former being unrealistic, and the latter often useless.

Russia's recent successes in pursuit of a policy of a tie-in of economic interests are clearly evident with it offering the right incentives to its Central Asian partners allying them at the expense of the EU and the US. Yet such a policy will be very tough to implement for Russia in the long-term, as it will require very substantial concessions on its part. A perfect example is the failure to build a sustainable cooperative organization on the post-Soviet landscape, with Russia demanding outright domination in all decision-making bodies, simply because its size and the size of the economy dwarfs most of its counterparts in those organizations. Russia is only willing to consider negotiating on an equal right principle with countries such as the G8 members, China and India. Yet it has been the smaller countries which have managed to put sticks into the wheels (or legs) of the giant, and hamper all the processes for Russia's movement forward, from entry into the WTO to cooperation agreements with the EU. Maybe it is finally time for Russia to operate on a principle of equality of all countries regardless of size at least in a broad context, no matter how tough this may seem. Otherwise, it may see an uglier version of itself by looking where denial of such a path has led the US.

Right now watching Russian and US attempts to undermine each other's foreign policies is like watching two barely floating ships firing at each other, while heading closer and closer into a rocky cliff.

1 comment:

Randy said...

A very thorough and impressive analysis of the issues. I thought it was interesting how you made the connections with the similar unilateral approaches of both the U.S. and Russia.