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May 27, 2009 |  12 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Russia-West Partnership Hurt by Moscow's Paranoia

André Budick: Russia has an ongoing fear of being encircled and slowly pushed back by the West, making it difficult for other nations to have valuable relations with Moscow. Should the West even pursue a partnership with such a paranoid regime, even though the alternative is very unpleasant?

In the 1983 movie 'Wargames', produced and shown at the height of the Cold War, an out-of-control NORAD computer system starts playing games with different scenarios of a thermonuclear war on earth, while powerless humans watch with horror as their giant screens deep down in the Rocky Mountains are showing the ultimate nightmare of the war ending all wars. Finally, the computer stops playing the nuclear game, because - "the only winning move is not to play".

Russian foreign policymakers of our time apparently did not see that movie - or follow its conclusion. They are not just still looking to find a new role for their country after the end of its Soviet empire. Instead, they are playing the old games of power politics once again; this time, their weapons of choice are no longer soldiers, tanks, ships or rockets, but oil and gas. They are, however, playing filled with anxieties deep down in their mind, in particular towards the West - in fact, I think they badly need a good therapist.

The continuing Russian fear of being encircled and slowly pushed back by the West - these days not just directly by its old foe from accross the Atlantic, or the NATO alliance, but also by the seductive soft power of the EU - has been aptly described in quite a few recent writings by much more profound experts on Russian affairs than than the author of these lines can claim to be.

Still, beneath all the diplomatic analyses, economic number-crunching and military power estimates which should not be discounted as relevant factors for Russian concerns, something is hidden which cannot be explained away in completely rational terms. As no matter what the West proposes as a means for cooperation - take the idea of a strategic partnership as a prominent example -, the Russian reaction these days sounds like this: 'Thank you very much for that, but we're powerful and equal to you and have to be respected and by the way, do not dare to invite what we define as our near abroad to cooperate in any way with you, because we are calling the shots there, and you'll need our oil and gas!'

Criticism accepted: The author is playing a little game of caricature here. There exists, to be sure, a real base for Russian skepticism towards the rhetoric of cooperation and understanding emanating not just from the new American president. Russian decision-makers and its foreign policy elite pursue what they perceive as their national interest - no surprise there, and no need to invoke a certain Freudian touch.

Still, a recent survey of major Russian foreign policy publications done by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) reveals some interesting undercurrents of opinion: the vast majority of Russian authors who specialize in foreign affairs defend and justfy the scope of Moscow's military action against Georgia in August 2008.

More broadly, they subscribe to a zero-sum view of international relations. Russia, seen from that perspective, is surrounded by potential enemies who cunningly claim to pursue farfetched ideas like a 'strategic partnership' to deny Russia its fair share of power and influence in global affairs. Thus Russia has to show strength to pursue its legitimate interests: the bear is roaring again. Alas, he isn't roaring out of strength, but out of fear of being pushed around. The Russian bear is being afraid.

The eerie similarity of that mindset with Russian leader's rhetoric as well as actions in the Putin-Medvedev era during the last couple of years until today, in particular towards their self-defined "near abroad", begs the question of whether the West should continue trying to deal in good faith with such a regime.

Can there be a real partnership with a country whose leaders cannot help themselves but calculate every single move by one or the other side in terms of winners and losers? Can there be a real partnership, let alone be "strategic" one, with a Russia still obsessed with dreams of empire, feelings of loss, longing for the good 'ol days? Is the West just fooling itself here; does he just want to believe in partnership and cooperation because the alternative looks too unpleasant to contemplate seriously?

We may, however, be forced to admit that the alternative for another and another and yet another attempt to cautiously and judiciously work with that Russian leadership and its intellectual backers does, in fact, look too bad to even start thinking about.

Maybe Woody Allen could help us out with one of his shrinks?

André Budick is a Legislative Assistant with Bernhard Kaster, MdB.

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Tags: | Germany | US | foreign relations | Russia |
 
Comments
Unregistered User

May 28, 2009

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André, please try to see beyond your own opinion... Try to understand people/countries with various points of view... This will allow you to collaborate with those you disagree. We all needs broad based good faith efforts. Good luck!
 
Unregistered User

June 1, 2009

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-> "Alan Austin, USA"

"Try to understand people/countries with various points of view..."

Nice advise.

But if you take it over the edge, you get the old good appeasement and Chamberlain's infamous "peace for our time".

One should be realistic and not to substitute good faith and wishful thinking for the harsh reality.

"This will allow you to collaborate with those you disagree" - It surely will. I read once that IBM sold calculating machines to Nazis, which were used to organize and control logistics for transfer of prisoners to the death camps. As you see, the opportunities for *collaboration* are endless.

Another option is just to say to yourself, that "enough is enough".

As a person who is personally familiar to Soviet/Russian "modus operandi" I can assure you, that ideas expressed in Mr. Budick's article are very correct and timely.

History goes in circles. So it certainly would not hurt to freshen up memory and read about George F. Kennan and his "long telegram" : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_F._Kennan
 
Donald  Stadler

June 1, 2009

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Funny exchange, this. An American rebuking a German for being too 'realist' and sunk into hius own POV, in turn rebuked by a Latvian who quotes George Kennan.

I largely agree with Andre and Janis myself, but must caution that Kennan didn't support the policies which were followed as a result of the 'long telegram'. Kennan would not advocate isolation of Russia in the particular circumstance (not that Andre or Janis has advocated that).

I think few reasonable people wold. The question is not whether to engage Russia - I think most knowledgeable people would agree. The question is how far to go in propitiating Putin
& Russia. That is where the differences in opinion lie.

Despite having been something of a hawk back when, I think the strategic balance has shifted and Russia shares more fundamental goals with the West than it once did.

The question is whether Putin sees that also, and I'd say the evidence is that he doesn't. So now we need to manage the relationship in a way that doesn't burn the house down or give away the store, and hope the next leaders see things differently.
 
Unregistered User

June 3, 2009

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Gentlemen,

Let me just quote a well known Russia expert Princeton University professor David Billington: “The government is attempting to modernize along essentially Western lines. Russia already has a world class educational system. The top priority of its leaders now is to translate this asset into a more entrepreneurial spirit in the country that gives emphasis to innovation. While reality can always fall short of aims, these goals strike me as inimical to an authoritarian state.

Medvedev and Putin have gone to considerable lengths to stress accountability, digitizing public records, and anything else they can do to penetrate the layers of inertia in Russian public life. They are also shrinking the army. With the goal of Internet access to be as ubiquitous as electrification, the current leaders want to empower the Russian people technically as never before. All of these signs point to a state that realizes it must change and draw the Russian people into its workings and into a modern economy and society. The question is whether the current leadership can succeed.

…Russia has no desire to re-conquer wholesale the former non-Russian republics and doesn't need to look back to ideas that suggest otherwise”.

Russia is a world power with rich culture. Europe must embrace Russia and bring her in as a friend. Former soviet block countries that surround Russia would be much safer and better-off should they join this process.

 
Donald  Stadler

June 3, 2009

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That is an interesting quote, Alan, thank you for sharing it.

It sounds a little like Putin/Medvedev are trying a partial liberalisation somewhat along the lines of what Bismark's generation did in Germany in the 1860's or more recently in China, although there are differences with China, I think the German simile is closer to what Russia is trying. For that matter one could compare this to the US prior to 1776 in a way.

This should be applauded and abetted - to a point. The Bismarkian system worked very well for about 50 years, but in that case economic liberalisation without political liberalisation eventually led to a half-century of major instability. I suspect something similar may happen with the Chinese experiment, and arguably with the Russian should they indeed go that way. They may not; Russia has quasi-democratic institutions which may well grow into the real thing given time and nurture within Russia (this is not something which can be effectively done by the US or the EU, I think).
 
Donald  Stadler

June 3, 2009

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One more point to reply to Alan:

For a long time Western 'experts' have striven to see signs of 'western' values in the machinations of Russia's leaders (or rather the USSR). Sometimes there has been some slight merit in that idea, but more often it has come to tears because Russia is different than us, and Russia's leaders have their own interests which are not the same as those of Germany or the US. Why this should come as a continual surprise to otherwise intelligent and learned people I don't quite understand, but it's true nonetheless.

So I am advocating that we adopt a friendly atttitude toward Russia but keep in mind that what the likes of Putin wants will not be what we think he ought to want. And obviously he is not chary of using very strong methods, including war, to achieve his objectives.
 
Unregistered User

June 4, 2009

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Western foreign policy elite must accept the existence of a strong Russia. Otherwise, the Obama’s "reset" will go nowhere. The Russian government has demonstrated that it would never agree to Western power-grabs. Future disagreements with Russia would create many serious problems we will be dealing with for the next hundred years.

Are we holding Russia to a higher standard than we do other nations? Some analysts believe that Vladimir Putin has re-centralized power as a reaction to Western, especially American, actions. After a decade of American made and ill-advised “free market” shock therapy Russia decided to snap back. The more US actions isolate Russia, the more Moscow seeks to recapture its independent great-power status. Those who push us in this direction aim to achieve their own narrow-minded prejudiced goals.

Europe should protect her interests through independent and mutually beneficial relationships with her Russian neighbor.


 
Unregistered User

June 4, 2009

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Donald,

Forgot to mention the war… I think Russian people know something about the war. One in every twelve Russians - men, women, and children - alive in 1941, died during the Second World War. They died so we could leave…

When Russian solders were attacked and killed last Aug. in Georgia, Russia fought back. Any levelheaded government would do that. Russia has loudly declared that it will no longer tolerate US hostile (military) expansion in her geopolitical space.

If we want to do business with Russia, we should start by accepting Russian interests as Russians themselves define them.

 
Donald  Stadler

June 4, 2009

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"Are we holding Russia to a higher standard than we do other nations? "

I would not think so. Certainly Russia has been given almost a free pass for the ongoing Chechnian atrocity.

"One in every twelve Russians - men, women, and children - alive in 1941, died during the Second World War. They died so we could leave…"

What are you getting at? Russia has had at least three excessive bloodlettings within memory, not only WWII but WWI/Russian Civil War, and also 1812. That doesn'c count such lesser things such as the Crimean War, Russo-Japanese War, etc. Russia has also handed out more than a few bloodlettings in their time.

What did all those people die for, you ask? I'd have thought they died because of the overweening ambitions of dictators domestic (Alexandre II, Lenin, Stalin) and foreign (Napoleon Buonaparte, Hitler). and just maybe they died so their country could live. Some of them, anyway.

In 1935 the USSR had the best army in Europe in quality & quantity, until Stalin destroyed the majority of the Red Army's officer corps, with almost a clean sweep at the very top. One suspects the Red Army would have given a much better account of itself with all those seasoned veterans whom Stalin killed. As it was the USSR paid a huge price in blood and territory for that purge. So I'd say many Russians died for Stalin's folly. Nothing to do with the US, UK, France, or most of the rest of NATO.

The heartwrenching sacrifice of the Russian people during WWII does not give Stalin and Putin license to rule an empire any more than the evem more appalling loss of Chinese life during the Tai-Ping rebellion and their extended version of WWII (including the war Japan waged in CHina during the later 30's, and continuing witth the civil war after WWII) give China a license to rule Asia.
 
Unregistered User

June 4, 2009

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Thanks, Donald. I meant Russian heroic contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany.

All you say is true but it has nothing to do with the fact we do not allow other countries to live the way they see it fit. This is especially evident in our relationships with Russia and some Asian countries. They have been fed up and refuse to be lectured. We are always right and can’t hear people any more…

Fair enough. Good conversation.


 
Donald  Stadler

June 4, 2009

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Why do you single out the Russian contribution, Alan? Plenty of heroes to go around, many of them Polish, French, British, Canadian, and even from Dear Old Uncle Sam? And Russia of course, many of them completely unsung, and many who ended their days in the Gulag. Also Ukrainians, Balts, and lots of other nationalities formerly in the Russian Empire.

The Russians fought for their national life, but I fail to see why that makes them uniquely heroic - or entitles them to dominion.
 
Unregistered User

June 5, 2009

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Donald,

I thought we spoke about Russia and NATO, that’s why I brought it up. Besides, no country sacrificed more lives during the WWII than Russia. I am talking about combat deaths, GULAG is a different story. Of course, every life is equally important, whether it’s Russian, Polish, or American. All of them are uniquely heroic.

With regard to Putin and his policies, I respectfully disagree. What if it’s us who are expanding our own dominion, imposing our will on other people? Our elevated sense of self-righteousness doesn’t serve us well…
 

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